Serve the poor, serve the Earth

Helping the poor and caring for the creation often go hand in hand. From Scott Sabin of Plant With Purpose: The Connection Between the Poor and the Earth.

Here are a couple quotes:

I frequently get asked how we, as Christians, choose between caring for the poor and caring for creation, as if we have to choose one or the other. As often as I have been asked that question, it still catches me by surprise because my own concern for the earth first grew out of a concern for the poor.

As someone told me recently, creation care seems like a cause for bored middle-class Americans who want to have chickens in their backyard, whereas the poor don’t have the luxury of worrying about their environment. The idea is that environmental issues are primarily aesthetic and fall pretty high up on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

However, if you live in a world in which water comes in plastic bottles and food comes from the supermarket, it is easy to see the environment as purely decorative. In the US, we have been able to use our material wealth to purchase several layers of insulation from the earth. Therefore, I believe we have much to learn from our brothers and sisters in rural communities throughout the world. They recognize that there is a direct connection between environmental quality and the most basic of needs: food, water and air.


We quickly learned that the problem was not one of ignorance, but rather a lack of opportunity. I have had more than one poor, illiterate farmer give me an elegant description of how a watershed works. But, as I was told recently in Haiti, they also have a saying that translates to “Either this tree must die or I must die in its place.” Nonetheless, they are aware of the long-term stakes and would do more to care for the environment if they had the opportunity.

Thus, helping to create opportunity – serving the poor – helps to serve the environment and helping to restore the environment serves the poor. Both activities serve the Creator. We need not make a choice between the poor and the earth.

HT: Flourish

Grace and Peace

Seven years of Opportunity

The rover Opportunity has been on the surface of Mars for over seven years now. From Astronomy Picture of the Day for January 29th: Opportunity at Santa Maria Crater.

Credit: Mars Exploration Rover Mission, NASA, JPL, Cornell

The panorama is much more detailed on the APOD site.

The description from APOD:

Celebrating 7 years on the surface of the Red Planet, Mars exploration rover Opportunity now stands near the rim of 90 meter wide Santa Maria crater. Remarkably, Opportunity and its fellow rover Spirit were initially intended for a 3 month long primary mission. Still exploring, the golf cart-sized robot and shadow (far right) appear in the foreground of this panoramic view of its current location. The mosaic was constructed using images from the rover’s navigation camera. On its 7 year anniversary, Opportunity can boast traversing a total of 26.7 kilometers along the martian surface. After investigating Santa Maria crater, controllers plan to have Opportunity resume a long-term trek toward Endurance crater, a large, 22 kilometer diameter crater about 6 kilometers from Santa Maria. During coming days, communication with the rover will be more difficult as Mars moves close to alignment with the Sun as seen from planet Earth’s perspective.

Grace and Peace

The ESV Study Bible on creation — Noah’s flood

The ESV Study Bible is a theologically conservative Evangelical work, and is certainly one of the most comprehensive study Bibles ever produced. It has been out for only three years, but it looks like it will be a highly influential reference work for decades to come. 

One potential positive impact of the ESVSB relates to its treatment of the doctrine of creation. The ESVSB does not take a stand on geological issues such as the age of the Earth or the extent of the flood. In both of these cases it offers cautionary notes that could open the doors to old-Earth interpretations for many readers. The authors of the study notes, though firmly committed to the inspiration of the Scriptures, believe that it is not necessary to hold to the “literal” young-Earth interpretation of Genesis.

My hope and prayer is that, just as the Scofield Reference Bible led many to accept the Gap Theory (rather than young-Earth interpretations) a century ago, so the ESVSB will introduce Christians of our day to alternative viewpoints on Genesis 1, such as the analogical days and day-age interpretations.

This is my third article on the ESV Study Bible’s coverage of issues related to the doctrine of creation. My first two posts were:

The ESV Study Bible on creation — Introduction and Introduction to Genesis

The ESV Study Bible on creation — Genesis 1

ESVStudyBibleThe ESV Study Bible‘s notes on the extent of Noah’s flood are not as comprehensive in some ways as were the notes on Genesis 1, but they still contain a lot of useful information to help the reader better understand the text. I have already noted that the ESVSB’s introductory notes to Genesis state that one should be cautious and not read too much into what the text of Genesis 6-9 says about the extent (global or local?) and work of the flood. The ESVSB Introduction to Genesis states:

One must take similar care in reading the flood story. The notes will discuss the extent to which Moses intended to describe the flood’s coverage of the globe. Certainly the description of the flood implies that it was widespread and catastrophic, but there are difficulties in making confident claims that the account is geared to answering the question of just how widespread. Thus, it would be incautious to attribute to the flood all the geological formations observed today…

The notes on 6:17 discuss the extent of the flood:

Although God intends the flood to destroy every person and his remarks have a strong universal emphasis, this in itself does not necessarily mean that the flood had to cover the whole earth. Since the geographical perspective of ancient people was more limited than that of contemporary readers, it is possible that the flood, while universal from their viewpoint, did not cover the entire globe. Indeed, Genesis implies that prior to the Tower of Babel incident (see 11:1–9), people had not yet spread throughout the earth. Many interpreters, therefore, argue that a huge regional flood may have been all that was necessary for God to destroy all human beings. The expression “all the earth” (7:3; cf. 8:9, “the whole earth”) does not exclude such a possibility: later, “all the earth” came to Joseph to buy grain (41:57), in which “all the earth” clearly refers to the eastern Mediterranean seaboard. In support of the view that the flood covered all the earth, other interpreters point out that the text says that “all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered” (7:19) and that the water was “fifteen cubits” above the tops of the mountains. If “the mountains of Ararat” (8:4) refers to the range that includes present-day Mount Ararat in Turkey (elevation 16,854 feet or 5,137 m), the amount of water necessary to cover it would be at least 16,854 feet above sea level.

The first part of this note won’t make all old-Earth advocates happy, and is in line with the writings of Hugh Ross, a prominent day-age interpretation advocate. It does bring out some important considerations:

  • The importance of perspective: from Noah’s perspective, a vast flood in the Persian Gulf/Mesopotamian basin (if that is where the local flood occurred) would have seemed vast, covering everything as far as he could see. That doesn’t mean that the flood necessarily covered the entire spherical earth.
  • Clearly, “all the earth” doesn’t always mean “all the earth” in the Old Testament.
  • The flood did not necessarily have to be global in order to be universal in terms of humanity.

I’ve written more about the extent of Noah’s flood elsewhere.

The second part of the ESVSB note on 6:17 presents what many young-Earth creationists would consider to be a weak case for a global flood. Most of them acknowledge that the flood didn’t have to be over 16,000 feet deep to cover the entire planet if pre-flood mountains were not that tall. But even aside from that, there are other ways to read what the text says about the depth of the flood (click on the “elsewhere” link above).

The notes don’t say much more about the extent of the flood, and say nothing about its work. But enough has been said to show that the text of Genesis 6-9 does not require a global flood, and there is certainly nothing in the text that would lead us to assert on Biblical grounds that the flood laid down the sedimentary rocks that blanket much of the planet.

Grace and Peace

Around the web 1/29/2011

Credit: Missouri Department of Conservation

Mountain lion in St. Louis County! — This doesn’t happen too often. A night-time wildlife camera captured a mountain lion in suburban St. Louis, less than ten miles from our home. We’re a little more used to opossums, raccoons, deer, and wild turkeys around here.

I don’t worry too much about mountain lions when hiking in Missouri. I’ve never seen one in the wild while hiking in the West (I’ve lived in Montana, Utah, and Colorado), but I suspect they have seen me.

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Mountain lion spotted in suburban St. Louis.

From the Missouri Department of Conservation: Chesterfield sighting confirmed to be a mountain lion.

Yellowstone Supervolcano eruption NOT imminent — From National Geographic: Yellowstone Has Bulged as Magma Pocket Swells. The ground within the Yellowstone Caldera has swelled upwards up to ten inches (25 centimeters) as magma slowly intrudes into a magma chamber 10 kilometers beneath the surface.

“At the beginning we were concerned it could be leading up to an eruption,” said [University of Utah geologist] Smith, who co-authored a paper on the surge published in the December 3, 2010, edition of Geophysical Research Letters.

“But once we saw [the magma] was at a depth of ten kilometers, we weren’t so concerned. If it had been at depths of two or three kilometers [one or two miles], we’d have been a lot more concerned.”

Apparently, intrusion into the magma chamber is somewhat cyclical:

Based on geologic evidence, Yellowstone has probably seen a continuous cycle of inflation and deflation over the past 15,000 years, and the cycle will likely continue, Smith said.

Surveys show, for example, that the caldera rose some 7 inches (18 centimeters) between 1976 and 1984 before dropping back about 5.5 inches (14 centimeters) over the next decade.

IBM Supercomputer wins Jeopardy — The 1997 computer victory over chess champion Garry Kasparov was nothing compared to this one. Chess is complex, but the logic of chess is nothing compared to the complexities of language as expressed in the TV gameshow Jeopardy. reports that the Watson supercomputer defeated two Jeopardy champions at the game, which means that the computer could understand the nuances of the categories and questions (actually the answers). The author believes that artificial intelligence (AI) will operate at human levels within two decades, and adds “I for one would then regard it as human.” He continues, “By the time the controversy dies down and it becomes unambiguous that nonbiological intelligence is equal to biological human intelligence, the AIs will already be thousands of times smarter than us.”

From PC Magazine: Why IBM’s Jeopardy Victory Matters (three parts) by Ray Kurzweil.

My questions:

  • Is there more to being human than being able to process information? (The Christian answer is “yes.” Humans are created in the image of God, and some things such as genuine emotions just cannot be programmed.)
  • How long will it be until someone falls in love with a computer? Until someone gets married to a computer?
  • What will stop the Episcopal Church or ELCA from ordaining computers as pastors? (Too bad these denominations don’t require baptism by immersion; that would prevent computers from being eligible for ordination).

HT: John C

Ski Joring Championship — Huh? From the Billings Gazette: World Ski Joring Championships in Whitefish.

The event involves horses and riders pulling a skier who navigates a course with a series of jumps and gates.

Somehow I missed that in the last Winter Olympics.

Stairs are more fun — I almost always take the stairs at work, rather than the elevator. I figure that I climb about 40,000 feet per year, which is more than climbing Mount Everest. But the stairs at work are not this fun…

Grace and Peace

Why can’t I just believe the Bible?

I’ve had a number of young-Earth creationists ask me, “Why can’t you just believe the Bible?”

My answer is, “I do believe the Bible. I just don’t believe Answers in Genesis.

Their assumption is because I don’t believe the Earth is only 6000 years old, or that Noah’s flood created most of Earth’s geological features, and a long list of additional young-Earth shibboleths, I don’t really believe the Bible.

Here are some dogmas of young-Earth creationism that are not in the Bible:

  • The Earth is only 6000 years old — There are several ways that conservative, Evangelical scholars look at the meaning of Genesis 1 in terms of how it relates to the age of the Earth. The young-Earth creationist interpretation only one of several reasonable interpretations that are consistent with what the text actually says.
  • No animals died before Adam fell into sin — Look at the relevant passages (Gen 3, Rom 5, Rom 8, 1 Cor 15). None of them say anything about whether or not animals died before sin entered the world. I wrote more about this topic here: Death before the fall — an old-Earth perspective.
  • The Flood was global — The text itself does not require a global flood. I wrote about this here: The YEC “Did God really say…?” tactic.
  • The Flood caused most of Earth’s geological features — Show me that in the Bible! I refuted Answers in Genesis’s best geological arguments for a global flood in my Six Bad Arguments From Answers in Genesis series.
  • Etc…

In each of these cases, young-Earth creationists either read something into the text that isn’t there, or draw dogmatic conclusions where dogmatism isn’t merited.

Answers in Genesis has claimed that they believe the Bible from the very first verse, with the implication that conservative, Bible-loving Christians who differ from them don’t believe the Bible from the very first verse.

The truth is that

  • Those who hold to the day-age interpretation really believe the Bible.
  • Those who hold to the analogical days interpretation really believe the Bible.
  • Those who hold to the gap theory really believe the Bible.
  • Those who hold to the revelatory day interpretation really believe the Bible.
  • Those who hold to the framework hypothesis really believe the Bible.

Like me, they just don’t necessarily believe everything Answers in Genesis has to say about Genesis.

Not everyone who holds to these positions is a conservative Christian who holds to Biblical inerrancy, but then not everyone who holds to young-Earth creationism is even a Christian (young-Earth Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc.), so that is rather irrelevant.

I’ll close with my Creation Creed, a short statement of what I do believe about creation. This isn’t everything I believe about creation, but is a good summary.

As an old-Earth creationist
I believe that the universe was created by the triune God of the Bible
I believe that the Bible does not dictate when this creation took place
I believe in a real Adam
in a real garden
in a real fall into sin
in real consequences for that sin
and in Jesus Christ as the only solution for sin

Grace and Peace

The problem with fanaticism — it’s not what you think

“It’s OK if someone is a Christian, as long as they aren’t fanatical about it.”

We all know what they are talking about. Religion is OK to most people (except to Richard Dawkins and kin), as long as people don’t get fanatical about it.

Fanatics make the news, and it isn’t pretty. Fred Phelps and his band of funeral protesters. Islamic extremists blowing themselves up in a crowded subway station. Perhaps your relative, neighbor, or coworker who is rather pushy or judgmental in your opinion.

Fanaticism among believers is clearly one reason people are turned away from the Christian faith. Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, has some good thoughts on fanaticism in his book The Reason for God:

“Pharisaic people [i.e. moral fanatics] assume they are right with God because of their moral behavior and right doctrine. This leads naturally to feelings of superiority toward those who do not share their religiosity, and from there to various forms of abuse, exclusion, and oppression. This is the esence of what we think of as fanaticism.

What if, however, the essence of Christianity is salvation by grace, salvation not because of what we do but because of what Christ has done for us? Belief that you are accepted by God by sheer grace is profoundly humbling. The people who are fanatics, then, are so not because they are too committed to the gospel but because they’re not committed to it enough.

“Think of people you consider fanatical. they’re overbearing, self-righteous, opionionated, insensitive, and harsh. Why? It’s not because they are too Christian but because they are not Christian enough. They are fanatically zealous and courageous, but they are not fanatically humble, sensitive, loving, empathetic, forgiving, or understanding—as Christ was. Because they think of Christianity as a self -improvement program they emulate the Jesus of the whips in the temple, but not the Jesus who said, ‘Let him who is without sin cast the first stone’ (John 8:7). What strike us as overly fanatical is actually a failure to be fully committed to Christ and his gospel.

—from Chapter 4: The Church Is Responsible for So Much Injustice (emphasis added)

God, help me to be a fanatically loving, forgiving, serving, understanding, and humble. Help me to be increasingly committed to Christ, and therefore to be fanatic about loving the people I come into contact with.

Grace and Peace

I touched Mars and survived!

I had the privilege of visiting the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History a few months ago and got to touch a piece of Mars!

Naklha meteorite

The Naklha meteorite fell to the Earth near Alexandria, Egypt, in 1911, and is most famous for killing a dog (no human has been killed by a meteorite in recorded history). Click here for reasons why scientists believe this meteorite came from Mars rather than elsewhere, such as the asteroid belt.

I also got to touch a rock from the oldest piece of crust on the Earth. The museum has a sample of the Acasta Gneiss from the Canadian Shield, which is close to 4 billion years old.

Acasta Gneiss

Touching these was actually a rather moving experience for me.

Grace and Peace