The Cassini probe, which is orbiting Saturn, has mapped part of the surface of the planet’s largest moon. Like Venus, Titan is covered by a hazy atmosphere, which makes viewing the surface using visible light impossible. The Cassini probe includes a radar mapping tool, which has made it possible to construct a map of part of Titan’s surface. Last week, NASA announced the existence of a sea on the surface of Titan that is larger than the Earth’s Lake Superior. Being that the surface of Titan has a temperature of about −179 °C (or −290 °F), the seas on Titan are likely composed of either liquid methane and/or liquid ethane; all water on Titan is frozen and part of the planet’s crust.
Titan’s surface is obscured by its hazy atmosphere.
The newly-discovered sea on Titan is larger than Lake Superior. Image from NASA.
Grace and Peace
This item was originally posted in March, 2006. It is now part of my blog recycling program. Because I have more people reading The Earth is Not Flat! now than I did a year ago, I will occasionally go back and re-use some of my best blog entries. As a teacher, I’ve seen a few kids who regularly get D’s and F’s on their tests. I know how they feel, because I get a zero on this test every time I take it!
I got an “F” on a test today.
I have become increasingly aware that, for whatever reason, some of my children do not have a good grasp of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Because of this, I am directing more conversations in our family to this critical topic. Before one can comprehend the good news of the Gospel, they need to really understand the bad news about sin.
One purpose of the “Law” portions of Scripture is to point us to the fact that we are sinners. This morning, my family read the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) and then took a quiz out of the book Tell the Truth, by Will Metzger. Here’s the quiz:
GOD’S TEST FOR EVERYONE: MEASURE YOURSELF BY GOD’S LAW
- (Yes or No) I have never put anything else before God in my life. I have always given God first place in my thinking, affections and actions.
- (Yes or No) I have never had any wrong conceptions about God nor worshipped Him in a way not recommended by Him. I have always rejected any wrong imaginations or images of God that I’ve seen or thought and refused to remake God according to my liking.
- (Yes or No) I have never slighted or abused the character of the true God by using His holy name as a swear word or using it in a thoughtless manner, such as by calling myself a follower of God yet not obeying. I have always held the name of God, which signifies His character, in highest respect, invoking it with thoughtfulness and reverence.
- (Yes or No) I have never done less than a full week’s work, and never done any of my normal work on the day set aside to worship God. I have always worked hard and willingly at whatever task is set before me, seeing it as a God-given service each day, and consistently remembered to set apart one day weekly to worship God with others.
- (Yes or No) I have never disobeyed nor dishonored my parents or any others in authority over me. I have always respected and been thankful for my parents and given them honor and willing obedience, as well as other authorities over me.
- (Yes or No) I have never murdered anyone nor had hateful thoughts or taken the slightest pleasure in seeing harm done to another human. I have always thought more of others than I have of myself and practiced the highest regard for human life and justice.
- (Yes or No) I have never practiced any sexual impurity, either physically engaging in sex before marriage or mentally having impure thoughts about someone. I have always treated others’ sexuality with respect and dignity in both my physical actions and mental attitudes.
- (Yes or No) I have never taken anything that doesn’t belong to me nor been deceitful in any attitudes or unwilling to work for my needs. I have always respected the belongings, rights and creations of others and been completely truthful and fair.
- (Yes or No) I have never lied nor slandered another person or group of people. I have always told the truth in every situation regarding every person I have known.
- (Yes or No) I have never been greedy for something that wasn’t mine, nor jealous even of the abilities, looks, or status of others. I have always shared and given of my possessions and myself to others and I have been thankful in my heart for what they have and content with my possessions and situation.
(from Metzger, Will, 2002, Tell the Truth, A Training Manual on the Message & Methods of God-Centered Witnessing, 3rd ed., InterVarsity Press)
I scored 0/10 on this one.
Praise God that I have one who speaks to the Father in my defense: “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1-2 ESV).
Grace and Peace
People blog because they have opinions that they like to share. Here’s a thought to keep me humble:
I was reading in Proverbs the other day and I think I found the blogosphere theme verse! Proverbs 18:2: “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions.”
That was from a reader on Gene Edward Veith’s Cranach blog. May God give me insight as I meditate on his word and study his world, so that I can write with wisdom and understanding rather than airing my own foolish opinions.
Grace and Peace
Happy Birthday to “The Earth is Not Flat!”
“The Earth is Not Flat!” had its humble beginning on March 16, 2006. This is the 209th post, and I have had 6170 page views (whatever that means — is that visits by people, or are many of those visits by automated systems?)
I named this blog “The Earth is Not Flat!” because one of my primary purposes is to dispel the myth that Biblical Christianity stands opposed to a valid scientific understanding of the universe. For example, the Church–including the medieval Catholic Church–never taught that the Earth is flat. Despite this, there are many–both inside and outside of Christianity–who have the suspicion that either the church once taught this, or that it is hidden away in some obscure Old Testament passage.
Much of the apparent conflict between Christians and science is due to misunderstandings by one side or the other. A common theme in my writing and teaching is that all truth is God’s truth. God has revealed himself in Scripture and in his son, Jesus Christ. God has revealed himself in nature as well. There are many things that we could never know about God if we only studied nature. We might infer the existence of a deity, and speculate about his attributes, but there is much that we could never discern. Similarly, there are things about the universe that we will not learn from the study of the Bible. Here is my firm conviction: When there appears to be a contradiction or conflict between what we learn from science, and what we learn from the Bible, then either we don’t correctly understand nature, or we don’t correctly understand the Bible. If God is the source of both, then in the end, there will be no contradiction between the two.
I also hold that the conflict between science and Christianity is actually quite small; small enough that I really don’t worry too much about it.
I appreciate every one of you who reads this blog, and appreciate your prayers as we minister in Romania, and as I write this blog. I’ve had fun, and I hope I have stimulated both thought and faith in Jesus Christ. Suggestions for improvement are welcome. You can post a suggestion here, or email me at kevin(at)nelstead(dot)org. Not everything I write is profound–and some of it is not meant to be profound–but I hope there is enough depth and insight here to strengthen and encourage you.
As can be seen on the “Page Views Report,” I have a considerably larger number of viewers than I did in March 2006. This means that I can start recycling old blog entries without boring everyone!
Grace and Peace
Note: The myth that Christianity once taught that the Earth is flat didn’t originate until the 19th century. The true story is best explained in, of all places, Stephen Jay Gould’s essay “The Late Birth of a Flat Earth,” which is included in his book Dinosaur in a Haystack.
March 14th is also Albert Einstein’s birthday (born in 1879). Here’s me on Einsteinstrasse (Einstein Street) in Munich in 2005:
Grace and Peace
March 14th — a day to celebrate the number pi. I can only recite it to 15 decimal places, which is good enough for most purposes.
Q: What do you get if you divide the circumference of a jack-o-lantern by its diameter?
A: Pumpkin pi
Q: What do you get when you take a cow and divide its circumference by its diameter?
A: Cow pi.
Q: What do you get when you take a native Alaskan and divide its circumference by its diameter?
A: Eskimo pi.
Q: What do you get when you take the sun and divide its circumference by its diameter?
A: Pi in the sky.
Grace and Peace
The middle school science textbooks we have been using for many years at BCA are old and worn, so it is time for a textbook search. Being that I cannot go to the National Science Teachers Association convention, I’m looking online for replacement textbooks. One of the first things I found was an article from the American Association for the Advancement of Science: Heavy Books Light on Learning: Not One Middle Grades Science Text Rated Satisfactory By AAAS’s Project 2061.
Here’s the first few paragraphs:
Washington, DC—Not one of the widely used science textbooks for middle school was rated satisfactory by Project 2061, the long-term science, mathematics, and technology education reform initiative of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). And the new crop of texts that have just entered the market fared no better in the evaluation.
The in-depth study found that most textbooks cover too many topics and don’t develop any of them well. All texts include many classroom activities that either are irrelevant to learning key science ideas or don’t help students relate what they are doing to the underlying ideas.
“Our students are lugging home heavy texts full of disconnected facts that neither educate nor motivate them,” said Dr. George Nelson, Director of Project 2061. “It’s a credit to science teachers that their students are learning anything at all. No matter how `scientifically accurate’ a text may be,” Nelson continued, “if it doesn’t provide teachers and students with the right kinds of help in understanding and applying important concepts, then it’s not doing its job.”
I know that the textbook is not the curriculum, but I do want a textbook that does a good job of supplementing and implementing our curriculum. Does anyone have any suggestions?
Grace and Peace
Additional thoughts 3/9/07. I actually have two textbooks that I am fairly happy with:
- Conceptual Physics by Paul Hewitt, Addison-Wesley. It is weak on math, but I can give supplementary work for that. The descriptions are clear and accurate, and it is a good book for a general physics course that all students can take.
- Biology, by Miller and Levine, Pearson Prentice Hall. This book is well written, and contains very few errors. Overall, I’m happy with the book, but like all high school biology textbooks, it is way too long. It has enough material for perhaps a 1½ year course, or maybe even more.
It is said that another evangelist told John Wesley: “The Lord has told me to tell you that He doesn’t need your book learning, your Greek and Hebrew.” Wesley is said to have replied:
“Thank you sir. Your letter was superfluous, as I already knew the Lord has no need of my ‘book learning’ as you put it. However, although the Lord has not directed me to say so, on my own responsibility I would like to say, the Lord does not need your ignorance either.”
–Maybe a quote of John Wesley
When my sons complain that a good book is hard to read, I say, “Raking is easy, but all you get is leaves; digging is hard, but you might find diamonds.”
—John Piper, Future Grace
The wise prefers the good,
the fool prefers the pleasant.
—John Michael Talbot, “Smaller Than Small”
The young man of leadership caliber will work while others waste time, study while others snooze, pray while others daydream.
—J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership
Discipline in early life, which is prepared to make sacrifices in order to gain adequate preparation for the life-task, paves the way for high achievement.
—J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership
If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been owing more to patient attention, than to any other talent.
We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.
Grace and Peace
“Ah, the poor child! My Lord, we do wrong to keep our guests standing. Quick, some of you! Take them away. Give them food and wine and baths. Comfort the little girl. Give her lollipops, give her dolls, give her physics, give her all you can think of–possets and comfits and caraways and lullabies and toys. Don’t cry, little girl, or you won’t be good for anything when the feast comes.”
From C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair, chapter 8: “The House of Harfang”
A great thought for a child who has been out in the cold: “Give her physics.” However, C.S. Lewis’s grasp of English was obviously better than mine. I didn’t know this, but the word Lewis uses here is the plural of “physic” not “physics.” A physic is:
1 a: the art or practice of healing disease b: the practice or profession of medicine2: a medicinal agent or preparation (from the Merriam-Webster dictionary).
I still like to think that the giants in The Silver Chair knew that somehow a good dose of Newton and Einstein would be good for Jill and her companions.
Grace and Peace
From Christianity Today: Dobson, Others Seek Ouster of NAE Vice President. Subtitle: Interim president Leith Anderson says he supports Richard Cizik’s work on creation care.
More than two dozen evangelical leaders are seeking the ouster of the Rev. Richard Cizik from the National Association of Evangelicals because of his “relentless campaign” against global warming.
In a March 1 letter to L. Roy Taylor, chairman of the NAE Board, Focus on the Family Chairman James Dobson and others said the NAE vice president’s activism on global warming is “a threat to the unity and integrity” of the organization.
“The issue that is dividing and demoralizing the NAE and its leaders is related to global warming,” wrote the leaders, none of whom are members of the association. “If he cannot be trusted to articulate the views of American evangelicals on environmental issues, then we respectfully suggest that he be encouraged to resign his position with the NAE.”
Perhaps the NAE needs to move cautiously, as there is obviously not great unity among Evangelicals on the issue of climate change. On the other hand, I applaud the fact that leaders such as Cizik are placing a much greater emphasis on “creation care” than has been the case up until now. How we care for the environment is an important issue, and many conservative leaders (religious or political) give lip service to “conservation” or “stewardship,” but support policies that lead to continued degradation of nature.
I liked the observation of Don at The Evangelical Ecologist:
Really, guys – there are lots of us Evangelicals out here, and we serve the God that created the whole universe with a word. I think we can handle more than one “great moral issue” at a time.
Grace and Peace
I posted last week about the Discovery Channel “documentary” “The Lost Tomb of Jesus”. My one word summary was, “absurd.” Don’t lose sleep over this one; even the folks at Scientific American magazine (who are normally not very friendly to Christianity) are ripping this one apart.
Says Scholar Whose Work Was Used in the Upcoming Jesus Tomb Documentary: “I think it’s completely mishandled. I am angry.” — From Scientific American’s blog SciAm Observations.
Don’t let your faith be troubled by this one.
An article in Friday’s Washington Post has an article with the headline USDA Backs Production of Rice With Human Genes.
The Agriculture Department has given a preliminary green light for the first commercial production of a food crop engineered to contain human genes, reigniting fears that biomedically potent substances in high-tech plants could escape and turn up in other foods.
The plan, confirmed yesterday by the California biotechnology company leading the effort, calls for large-scale cultivation in Kansas of rice that produces human immune system proteins in its seeds.
The proteins are to be extracted for use as an anti-diarrhea medicine and might be added to health foods such as yogurt and granola bars.
This is not the first time human genes have been inserted into other species. For instance, by inserting the human gene for insulin into a bacteria, we can mass produce human insulin. On the surface, this seems like a very good thing. Before these genetically modified bacteria were created, human insulin was difficult and expensive to produce in sufficient quantities.
Gene Edward Veith argues that this is utilitarian thinking. Utilitarianism is the ethical system in which right and wrong is determined based on whether the outcome of an ethical decision is desirable or not. In utilitarianism, there is no outside determination of right or wrong, what we Christians would call ultimate truth. Veith instead turns to natural law, and concludes that this transfer of human DNA to a rice plant is unnatural, innately wrong, and downright evil. Here’s part of Veith’s argument, from his excellent Cranach blog:
Well, going by “natural law,” it doesn’t matter if it is safe or not! Even if it is perfectly safe and cures diarrhea, human rice is UNNATURAL. The reason why most people rightly recoil from such a thought is that mingling species like this is intrinsically perverse. It is INNATELY wrong.
“Unnatural” in this theological sense does not mean going against nature the way we do every day when we heat our houses in the cold or take medicine to fight off sickness. Those are legitimate examples of our human dominion over nature. No, blending the genetic code of humanity with the genetic code of a plant is a VIOLATION of nature.
Such genetic engineering–and, I would add, reproductive engineering–is where Christians must draw the line. Perhaps on these issues they could make common cause with environmentalists.
And, remember, it’s not a question of whether such products are harmful or whether they will do a world of good. That is to think like a utilitarian, whose judgment about right or wrong rejects absolutes in favor of whether or not something is “useful.” That thinking, which many Christians have bought into, goes squarely against Biblical truth.
I am convinced that utilitarianism is a terrible way to do ethics. This type of ethical thinking can to abortion, infanticide, genocide, sexual immorality, and anything else sinful human beings can justify as being beneficial for themselves or their society.
However, I find the “natural law” argument to be rather vague. We fly airplanes by application of the laws of nature. I’m communicating through the internet by application of the laws of nature. Likewise, we cut and splice DNA through an application of the laws of nature. DNA is not a magic substance; it is a chemical compound that obeys the laws of chemistry and physics. Where is the line between what is natural and what is unnatural?
Placing a human gene in a bacteria or rice plant doesn’t mean that we have made that organism human, or even partly human. Humans have about 25,000 genes. Rice plants have even more. The genetically modified rice plant is still a rice plant, and produces rice seeds, not something else. Whether from a biological or theological perspective, an organism is much more than just the sum of its parts.
I’ve viewed the technology behind transgenic organisms (a.k.a. genetically modified organisms) as somewhat like nuclear technology. Nuclear technology, for instance, is neither good nor evil. Good uses of nuclear technology are abundant: radiation therapy for cancer, use of radioisotopes to understand natural systems, power supply for probes to Pluto. Human beings can use these technologies for good, and we can use them for great evil.
What are the ethical principles we need for technologies such as what some call “human rice?” The ethical issues here are not as clear cut, in my mind, as they are in controversies such as embryonic stem cell research or human cloning, where embryos are discarded or destroyed. Clearly evil things can be done with the transformation of living organisms with human genes (or the transformation of humans with non-human genes). How do we decide where the line is?
Grace and Peace
Update 6 March 2007: Veith has a follow-up blog entry on Natural Law.
Chapter 5 of Knowing God is “God Incarnate“. One of the foundational truths of Christianity is the incarnation of Christ. Jesus Christ is fully God and fully human at the same time.
It is from misbelief, or at least inadequate belief, about the incarnation that difficulties at other points in the gospel story usually spring. But once the incarnation is grasped as a reality, these other difficulties [miracles, the resurrection] dissolve.
If He was truly God the Son, it is much more startling that He should die than that He should rise again.
He was not now God minus some elements of His deity, but God plus all that He had made His own by taking manhood to Himself.
It is our shame and disgrace today that so many Christians–I will be more specific: so many of the soundest and most orthodox Christians–go through this world in the spirit of the priest and the Levite in our Lord’s parable, seeing human needs all around them, but (after a pious wish, and perhaps a prayer, that God might meet them) averting their eyes, and passing by on the other side. That is not the Christmas spirit. Nor is it the spirit of those Christians–alas, they are many–whose ambition in life seems limited to building a nice middle-class Christian home, and making nice middle-class Christian friends, and bringing up their children in nice middle-class Christian ways, and who leave the sub-middle-class sections of the community, Christian and non-Christian, to get on by themselves.
The Christmas spirit does not shine out in the Christian snob. For the Christmas spirit is the spirit of those who, like their Master, live their whole lives on the principle of making themselves poor–spending and being spent–to enrich their fellowmen, giving time, trouble, care and concern, to do good to others–and not just their own friends–in whatever way there seems need.
Grace and Peace
March 1 — The first day of spring!
The most common definition of spring in the U.S. is:
- the period of time between the spring equinox (March 21 this year) and the summer solstice (June 21 this year).
But there are other valid definitions as well:
- The meteorological definition is based on weather. Spring by this definition is the months of March, April, and May. This makes a lot of sense, as we often have spring-like weather in early March, and early June is often more summer-like than spring-like.
- The traditional Chinese definition of spring has the spring equinox in the middle of the season, so spring lasts from early February to early May.
- The traditional Irish calendar has February, March, and April as spring.
So take your pick. I go with the meteorological definition.
Grace and Peace
A few weeks ago I had a simple quote from Scientific American Blog:
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Don Darrick at The Evangelical Ecologist has good dietary advice, with a few more details:
Here’s how I have made my diet more natural:
1. Reduced soda (or pop) intake to virtually zero. Increased water intake and 100% fruit drinks (like orange juice). Get rid of the diet pop (no nutritional value, lots of chemicals) and have some O.J.
2. Switched to whole grain breads, pastas and cereals. Sorry, no low-carb or all-carb diet here. Extreme diets are generally not the way to go for most people. Balanced diets are. It’s the exercise/activity part most people have problems with.
3. Don’t add salt to anything. Yes, salt is natural, but spices are too and have lots of nutritional value. There’s enough salt in foods already.
4. No more of those fatty, prepackaged, shrink wrapped snacks. There’s a reason why they’re called “junk” food.
5. Eat out less and eat better when we do go out. Even “good” food like chicken can be bad at fast food places. But it’s better than hamburgers all the time. Skip the greasy appetizer and get a salad.
6. Regularly take multi-vitamin supplement. I’m not sure why everyone doesn’t do this because all of our factory foods loose a lot of their vitamins during processing and cooking. Haven’t been sick in over a year since I started taking vitamins on a regular basis. Granted, I didn’t get sick very often to being with, but it’s no medical secret that getting your vitamins improves all aspects of your health including the immune system.
I’ll have to work hardest on #1 — I drink too much pop. But I haven’t had any today!
Grace and Peace
Technological changes in our society tend to be exponential rather than linear. Some examples of this include:
- The density of transistors on integrated chips doubles every 24 months.
- Hard drive capacity increases about 40% per year (do you remember when that 20 MB hard drive seemed huge?)
- Computer RAM has gone from kilobytes in the 80s, to megabytes in the 90s, to gigabytes in the 00s.
What does the future hold? Check out the short video Shift Happens.
How will we as Christians respond to the technological changes that await us? What is the potential for good? What is the potential for evil?
(I thank Glenn at Be Bold, Be Gentle for this link).
Grace and Peace