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.
Creative Commons License
The posts in this blog are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. You can copy and use this material, as long as you aren't making money from it. If you give me credit, thanks. If not, OK.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Sunspots 571

Christianity: Like many of us, the author of an article in Relevant is troubled by the idea of eternity in hell, for some people. But he decides that God knows more than we do.

Health: NPR reports that Utah has declared pornography a health hazard, and indicates why.

Literature: Listverse describes 10 attempts at punctuation marks that didn't catch on.

Politics: Relevant warns us not to confuse America with God's Kingdom. Some Christians have done that.

Surprise! FiveThirtyEight finds that politicians, as a whole (both parties, in both Congress and the Presidency) keep most of their promises.

Science: Wired reports on the difficulties of using modern genetic techniques on marijuana plants.

Science News discusses the "Goldilocks Zone" -- conditions on a planet, necessary for life as we know it.

Sports: Oksana Chusovitina has qualified for the Olympic gymnastics team from Uzbekistan. She is 41 years old. Good for her!

UK astronaut Tim Peake was the official starter of the London Marathon, and finished the 2016 marathon, while in the International Space Station, according to NPR. However, US Astronaut Sunita Williams ran the first Marathon in the ISS, competing, and finishing, the 2007 Boston Marathon. (She also competed, and finished, on earth, in the 2008 Boston Marathon.)

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Excerpts from Orthodoxy, by G. K. Chesterton, 67

Suppose we were investigating whether angry men really saw a red mist before their eyes. Suppose sixty excellent householders swore that when angry they had seen this crimson cloud: surely it would be absurd to answer “Oh, but you admit you were angry at the time.” They might reasonably rejoin (in a stentorian chorus), “How the blazes could we discover, without being angry, whether angry people see red?” So the saints and ascetics might rationally reply, “Suppose that the question is whether believers can see visions—even then, if you are interested in visions it is no point to object to believers.” You are still arguing in a circle-in that old mad circle with which this book began.
The question of whether miracles ever occur is a question of common sense and of ordinary historical imagination: not of any final physical experiment. One may here surely dismiss that quite brainless piece of pedantry which talks about the need for “scientific conditions” in connection with alleged spiritual phenomena. If we are asking whether a dead soul can communicate with a living it is ludicrous to insist that it shall be under conditions in which no two living souls in their senses would seriously communicate with each other. The fact that ghosts prefer darkness no more disproves the existence of ghosts than the fact that lovers prefer darkness disproves the existence of love. If you choose to say, “I will believe that Miss Brown called her fiancé a periwinkle or, any other endearing term, if she will repeat the word before seventeen psychologists,” then I shall reply, “Very well, if those are your conditions, you will never get the truth, for she certainly will not say it.” It is just as unscientific as it is unphilosophical to be surprised that in an unsympathetic atmosphere certain extraordinary sympathies do not arise. It is as if I said that I could not tell if there was a fog because the air was not clear enough; or as if I insisted on perfect sunlight in order to see a solar eclipse.

Orthodoxy, by G. K. Chesterton, is in the public domain, and available from Project Gutenberg. The previous post in this series is here. Thanks for reading! Read Chesterton.

Friday, April 22, 2016

The New Testament teaches that Christians should be stewards of the environment.

Psalm 19:1-4 and Romans 1:20 tell us that observing and learning about nature are part of God’s revelation to humans. If that is so, isn’t that a reason to try to preserve nature as well as we can?

The Bible is one of the ways that God reveals Himself to us. Christians believe that the Bible should be translated into the language people are most familiar with, so that that revelation may be as clear as possible. Similarly, it would seem that God’s revelation through nature should be as clear as possible. A person is more likely to see God in a beautiful clear stream than in a polluted river, or in a clear sky than in a smog-filled atmosphere. Seeing bison herds roam freely in Western North America, or immense flocks of passenger pigeons, gave people a glimpse of aspects of God’s power and majesty that they can’t get now. Helping to preserve nature in as good a condition as we can is one way to bring people to a saving knowledge of Christ. Not the most direct way, and perhaps not the most effective, but it is still a way to do this.
Colossians 1:15-20 says, of Christ, that “in Him all things are held together.” That passage also says that He is working to reconcile all things to Himself, and that He is working to make peace through the blood of the cross. As Christians, we believe that it is our duty to be His instruments in reconciling sinners to Christ, and to help Him in the ministry of making peace. 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 tells us that: 18 But all things are of God, who reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ, and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not reckoning to them their trespasses, and having committed to us the word of reconciliation.

(Hebrews 1:3 also tells us that Christ is holding all things together.)  
Christians believe they should participate in Christ’s work of reconciliation. Shouldn’t they also participate in His work of holding all things together, including endangered species, ecosystems and biological communities?

What do you think? (See here for Old Testament teaching on environmental stewardship. There is lots of it!)

Thanks for reading. This post was modified from this one.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Sunspots 570

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

The Arts: (And science) Wired reports on the creation of some 3-D virus trading cards. You read that correctly.

Christianity: Ken Schenck on the command to not steal.

Christianity Today reports on a church in Texas that has attacked predatory lenders, and mostly won.

Computing: Relevant has an essay on the effect of pornography on society, and how some non-Christians are trying to stop wide-spread use of pornography. " culture offers an accessible, instant kind of sex but in the end leaves you with no sex at all. God offers sex that requires self-sacrifice and covenant, and it brings far more than just sex."

Gizmo's Freeware on the best video player for Android information appliances.

Gizmo's also notes a free tool that gives you all kinds of specifications of your Windows computer. (My motherboard is currently running at from 55-60 degrees C, for example.)

The Environment: (Or something) Wired has an article on the many ways that space under elevated highways is being used.

Science: Wired reports on a woman who "has no episodic memories—none of those impressionistic recollections that feel a bit like scenes from a movie, always filmed from your perspective."

Wired also reports on a quadriplegic who, with help from a brain implant, is able to control some of his movements by thinking about doing them.

Listverse describes 10 carnivorous plants and fungi that you probably didn't know about. Some of them are pretty gross.

Listverse also describes 10 amazing moth facts. Some of them are pretty gross, too. All are interesting.

From Discover: Fairy wrens teach their chicks a "password" while they are in the egg, which helps the parents to not feed brood parasites.

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Excerpts from Orthodoxy, by G. K. Chesterton, 66

But among these million facts all flowing one way there is, of course, one question sufficiently solid and separate to be treated briefly, but by itself; I mean the objective occurrence of the supernatural.

In another chapter I have indicated the fallacy of the ordinary supposition that the world must be impersonal because it is orderly. A person is just as likely to desire an orderly thing as a disorderly thing. But my own positive conviction that personal creation is more conceivable than material fate, is, I admit, in a sense, undiscussable. I will not call it a faith or an intuition, for those words are mixed up with mere emotion, it is strictly an intellectual conviction; but it is a primary intellectual conviction like the certainty of self or the good of living. Any one who likes, therefore, may call my belief in God merely mystical; the phrase is not worth fighting about. But my belief that miracles have happened in human history is not a mystical belief at all; I believe in them upon human evidences as I do in the discovery of America.

Upon this point there is a simple logical fact that only requires to be stated and cleared up. Somehow or other an extraordinary idea has arisen that the disbelievers in miracles consider them coldly and fairly, while believers in miracles accept them only in connection with some dogma. The fact is quite the other way. The believers in miracles accept them (rightly or wrongly) because they have evidence for them. The disbelievers in miracles deny them (rightly or wrongly) because they have a doctrine against them. The open, obvious, democratic thing is to believe an old apple-woman when she bears testimony to a miracle, just as you believe an old apple-woman when she bears testimony to a murder. The plain, popular course is to trust the peasant’s word about the ghost exactly as far as you trust the peasant’s word about the landlord. Being a peasant he will probably have a great deal of healthy agnosticism about both. Still you could fill the British Museum with evidence uttered by the peasant, and given in favour of the ghost.

If it comes to human testimony there is a choking cataract of human testimony in favour of the supernatural. If you reject it, you can only mean one of two things. You reject the peasant’s story about the ghost either because the man is a peasant or because the story is a ghost story. That is, you either deny the main principle of democracy, or you affirm the main principle of materialism—the abstract impossibility of miracle. You have a perfect right to do so; but in that case you are the dogmatist. It is we Christians who accept all actual evidence—it is you rationalists who refuse actual evidence being constrained to do so by your creed. But I am not constrained by any creed in the matter, and looking impartially into certain miracles of medieval and modern times, I have come to the conclusion that they occurred. All argument against these plain facts is always argument in a circle. If I say, “Medieval documents attest certain miracles as much as they attest certain battles,” they answer, “But medievals were superstitious”; if I want to know in what they were superstitious, the only ultimate answer is that they believed in the miracles. If I say “a peasant saw a ghost,” I am told, “But peasants are so credulous.” If I ask, “Why credulous?” the only answer is—that they see ghosts. Iceland is impossible because only stupid sailors have seen it; and the sailors are only stupid because they say they have seen Iceland. It is only fair to add that there is another argument that the unbeliever may rationally use against miracles, though he himself generally forgets to use it.

Orthodoxy, by G. K. Chesterton, is in the public domain, and available from Project Gutenberg. The previous post in this series is here. Thanks for reading! Read Chesterton.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Psalm 84:11 poster

Good things Psalm 84:11 bread

For Yahweh God is a sun and a shield. Yahweh will give grace and glory. He withholds no good thing from those who walk blamelessly. Psalm 84:11, World English Bible, public domain.

This blog gets its name from this verse.

Some of the "good things" that God will not withhold from us are these:

Joy: Psalm 5:11 But let all those who take refuge in you rejoice,
Let them always shout for joy, because you defend them.
Let them also who love your name be joyful in you.

Abundant life: John 10:10b I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly. (And also see the next verse, below.)

Worthwhile purpose: 1 Corinthians 15:57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the Lord’s work, because you know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.
1 Peter 4:10 As each has received a gift, employ it in serving one another, as good managers of the grace of God in its various forms. 

Beauty: Genesis 1:31a God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.
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.

Food, clothing and shelter: Matthew 6:25 Therefore I tell you, don’t be anxious for your life: what you will eat, or what you will drink; nor yet for your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 See the birds of the sky, that they don’t sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns. Your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you of much more value than they?
27 “Which of you, by being anxious, can add one moment to his lifespan? 28 Why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They don’t toil, neither do they spin, 29 yet I tell you that even Solomon in all his glory was not dressed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today exists, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, won’t he much more clothe you, you of little faith?
31 “Therefore don’t be anxious, saying, ‘What will we eat?’, ‘What will we drink?’ or, ‘With what will we be clothed?’ The passage quoted doesn't mention shelter, but it seems to be implied.

God's love: Romans 8:35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Could oppression, or anguish, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 Even as it is written,
“For your sake we are killed all day long.
We were accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”*
37 No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from God’s love which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(*The quotation is from Psalm 44:22.)

This promise, and the "good things" that it was talking about, whatever they are, are God's general will for believers. That is not an endorsement for the Prosperity Gospel. And Psalm 84:11 doesn't mean that bad things, sometimes very bad things, won't happen. An internet source tells me that 322 Christians are martyred, around the world, every month. Paul listed some of the hardships he had gone through, in 2 Corinthians 11:21-32. The list of heroes of faith, in Hebrews 11, includes a list of anonymous followers of God who were tortured, neglected, and generally treated very badly. Christ, Himself, suffered a great deal, and was never well off. He apparently didn't own any shelter. according to Matthew 8:20 and Luke 9:58.

But forget the previous paragraph! God loves us, and wants the best for us. Don't forget the condition, however. This promise is for those who "walk blamelessly." It's possible to do that, with God's help.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

BioLogos homeschool forum

Raising and educating children to believe that there is no God, or that, if there is, He isn't very important, is obviously dangerous.

So is raising and educating children to believe that only one particular view of a controversial subject is valid, when there are strong arguments for other views, is also dangerous. Unfortunately, homeschooling in the US is dominated by Young-Earth Creationist views. Perhaps those views are right, but perhaps they aren't. There are other views held by Christians, and there are all too many people who have rejected the Gospel because they have had this internal conversation:

"The Bible says that the earth is only a few thousand years old. [It doesn't, but that's what they have been told.] But the geological and biological evidence indicates strongly that it is much older than that. If the Bible is so wrong about the natural world, why should I trust what it says about sin and salvation?"

The BioLogos Foundation has announced a Home Schooling Forum. BioLogos believes, and teaches, that evolution by natural selection has been one of God's method of bringing the earth's living things to their present condition.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Sunspots 569

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

Christianity: Relevant thinks that so-called Christian movies are usually pretty bad, and that it's not because of a giant anti-Christian conspiracy to call them bad. How to fix this? The article says to tell stories like Jesus did.

Relevant also points out that most churches don't serve -- in fact may hurt -- people with mental illnesses.

I am a member of The Wesleyan Church. David Drury has written a brief essay on "What are Wesleyans for?" (as opposed to what, if anything, they might be against.)

Computing: Gizmo's Freeware reports on an on-line utility that can convert most any file format to any other reasonable format. This includes audio formats, as well as document formats.

Gizmo's has also found a free ransomware protection program. I installed it.

And Gizmo's has advice on how to recover your wireless password.

Wired reports on the progress, and imperfectness, of computer transcription of human speech -- there's still about an 8% error rate. (Humans doing the transcribing have about a 4% error rate.)

Health: Wired reports that only about 3% of US adult inhabitants have a truly healthy lifestyle, and that eating healthy, exercising, etc., doesn't guarantee that you will remain well.

History: Listverse tells us about 10 important African-American cowboys.

Politics: (And religion) Relevant has pointed out that some of President Obama's speeches sounded like Christian preaching.

FiveThirtyEight examines the salaries of state legislators (in New Mexico, they don't get a salary), and finds that state legislatures seem to do better work when better paid.

FiveThirtyEight also analyzes the Republican race for President, and finds that Donald Trump is doing worse than any other front-runner in the last few decades.

Science: Wired reports that nuclear power plants are actually very safe, but that they don't produce electricity as cheaply as other means, so they aren't getting built.

Wired also posted some photos of magnified peacock feathers, which are just amazing.

Listverse posts 10 facts about cancer cells from the late Henrietta Lacks, which cells have been critical to cancer research. For more about Mrs. Lacks, see here.

Sports: FiveThirtyEight on whether the Chicago Cubs will actually do something important in baseball this year.

Image source (public domain)

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Can evolution by natural selection be responsible for new information/new genes?

Last month, Stephen C. Meyer, an advocate for the Intelligent Design movement*, debated with two other persons.  I did not see, hear, or read the debate, but Meyer has posted about it, and Dennis Venema, of BioLogos, has also done so.

*Intelligent design is, in simplest terms, the idea that God planned the universe. The Intelligent Design movement, (ID) however, also believes this, but furthermore believes that God did not plan that natural selection would be capable of generating new information or new genes. ID also believes that it is possible to prove God's planning, and, by inference, His occasional intervention in living systems, scientifically, and that Intelligent Design should be taught as an alternative to evolution by natural selection in the public schools of the US. Some ID adherents also believe in a young earth. Some do not. I am not an IDer, but I do believe in intelligent design.

What was the debate about? Well, one thing that the debate was about was the question posed by the title. If the answer to that question is definitely shown to be "no," then ID gains considerable credibility. Not only that, but evolution by natural selection should not be taught in public (or private) schools as an explanation for the vast diversity of living things. Meyer believes that the answer is, indeed, no. He is wrong.

Why is he wrong?

One reason is that Meyer, and others, cite a paper by Douglas Axe. The paper was published in what I take to be a scientific, peer-reviewed, journal. Axe claims to have shown that the probability of protein being able to perform a new function is vanishingly small. However, there are some problems with Axe's work, or at least his conclusions. Some of them are detailed here. To summarize, Axe wasn't working with a normal protein, but with a chosen small subset of normal proteins. That means that his estimate of probability is too small. How much too small is impossible to state, but enough that it seriously weakens his argument. More criticism of the validity of using Axe's work to show that the answer to the question of the title of this post should be answered with a "no" is here.

The problem with Meyer's answer (and that of others) to the question is not only reliance on Axe. There is also a misunderstanding of probability. See here for more on that.

Dennis Venema argues, here, that the antibody-producing mechanism of vertebrates is, in fact, able, by natural means, to generate new DNA sequences, which can help defend against organisms, or substances, which have newly arisen. If the antibody-producing mechanism can do that, this shows that the answer to the question above is, at least partly, "yes."

Finally, what is probably the strongest argument that the answer to the question posed is, in fact, "yes," is that new genes have arisen within the recent past. One example of this is a gene in some bacteria which codes for a protein that allows them to use nylon as a food. (Nylon is a synthetic fiber which did not occur at all until the twentieth century.) That gene has arisen since the production of nylon, and its release into the environment. 

Another example of a new gene arising, in the recent past, is discussed hereThis post, discusses some posts by Venema, which describe another example of functional genetic material arising, apparently through natural selection.

It appears that part of God's design was the mechanism of natural selection, which makes it possible for natural systems to come up with new means of coping with new or unique environmental conditions. To me, and others, that is at least as amazing as it would be if God had, as it were, stepped in to specially create such solutions. 

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Sunspots 568

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

The Arts: (Sort of) Listverse describes 10 bizarre musical instruments, and the people who play them (and usually invented them).

Computing: Gizmo's Freeware evaluates PDF file readers/annotators.

Wired reports that the Associated Press now (finally!) agrees that it's OK to not capitalize "internet," and "web."

Gizmo's also picks a new candidate for best free anti-virus program.

FiveThirtyEight tells us why media presentations of various aspects of college, including competition for admission, are unrealistic.

Politics: The New York Times reports that people in the USA like members of the other political party considerably less than they used to.

Science: Wired reports that the connections to about 50 neurons in a mouse brain have been mapped. This sounds easy, but it wasn't -- it took several people a few years.

Wired also reports on the scientific basis for itching and scratching.

Wired also tells us how to make a bottle rocket.

An under-30 female Ukrainian mathematician has solved a problem that has been worked on for a long time.

(Sort of science) Listverse reports on how 10 different chemical elements have been used to kill people. (They didn't include lead.)

FiveThirtyEight tells us why the sun hurts our eyes.

Note: This post originally linked to a Christianity Today article on the religion of one of the major candidates for President of the US. A few days later, the same periodical published an article rebutting the first one, so I removed the link to the first article.

Image source (public domain)

Monday, April 04, 2016

Does God expect Christians to specially support the state of Israel?

There are some who believe that Genesis 12 requires Christians, and, thus, the United States, to especially support Israel. Maybe so.

Genesis 12:1 Now Yahweh said to Abram, “Leave your country, and your relatives, and your father’s house, and go to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make of you a great nation. I will bless you and make your name great. You will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who treats you with contempt. All the families of the earth will be blessed through you.”

Here are two articles that believe that the matter is not so straightforward:

This article, among other things, points out that Galatians 6:9-10 tell us to do good to all men:

Galatians 6:9 Let’s not be weary in doing good, for we will reap in due season, if we don’t give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let’s do what is good toward all men, and especially toward those who are of the household of the faith. 

The article also says that Matthew 25:31-40 is not referring particularly or exclusively to Israel as those who should have been recipients of charity. (The article quotes from some who do say that it is referring to Israel.)

Matthew 25: 31  “But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32  Before him all the nations will be gathered, and he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33  He will set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. 34  Then the King will tell those on his right hand, ‘Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35  for I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you took me in. 36  I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me.’
37  “Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you; or thirsty, and give you a drink? 38  When did we see you as a stranger, and take you in; or naked, and clothe you? 39  When did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?’
40  “The King will answer them, ‘Most certainly I tell you, because you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

The article also points out that Genesis 12:3 says that all of the families of the earth, not just Jacob's descendants, are to be blessed. (Note that the Arabs are often considered to be descendants of Abram/Abraham, and Genesis 12 was addressed to him, not to Jacob, the founder of Israel.)

A second article is here. It also comments on Genesis 12, and, among other things, points out that Galatians 3:7 makes Christian believers children of Abraham:

7 Know therefore that those who are of faith are children of Abraham.

Thanks for reading. Be part of the children of Abraham.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

All good stories are like the Gospel - George MacDonald

Every tragedy of higher order, constructed in Christian times, will correspond more or less to the grand drama of the Bible; wherein the first act opens with a brilliant sunset vision of Paradise, in which childish sense and need are served with all the profusion of the indulgent nurse. But the glory fades off into grey and black, and night settles down upon the heart which, rightly uncontent with the childish, and not having yet learned the childlike, seeks knowledge and manhood as a thing denied by the Maker, and yet to be gained by the creature; so sets forth alone to climb the heavens, and instead of climbing, falls into the abyss. Then follows the long dismal night of feverish efforts and delirious visions, or, it may be, helpless despair; till at length a deeper stratum of the soul is heaved to the surface; and amid the first dawn of morning, the youth says within him, "I have sinned against my Maker—I will arise and go to my Father." More or less, I say, will Christian tragedy correspond to this—a fall and a rising again; not a rising only, but a victory; not a victory merely, but a triumph.

- George MacDonald, Adela Cathcart, Second Volume, Chapter VI, “The Broken Swords.” - public domain.