Thursday, November 20, 2008

Improbable Stories

When should parents and teachers raise questions about the literal interpretation of these stories?

Comics from Rubes, by Leigh Rubin.
(click for enlarged images)

Sales have been slow lately.

Comic from Rubes, by Leigh Rubin.
(click for enlarged image)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Reviewing Spectrum

Summer 2008
Volume 36, Issue 3

This edition of Spectrum is one of the best ever and a cover-to-cover MUST READ. My only ongoing criticism is that most Spectrum articles are about a third too long. That said, Bouquets all around! Bravo! I was particularly impressed by:

Allita Byrd’s skillful interview of Ronald L. Numbers.
Eric Scott’s comments regarding “Scientific Subjectivity: Bias Evolution, and Astrophysics”.
E. Albert Reece, Catherine Verfaille, Dan Kaufman, and Terry Burns knowledge of stem cell research.

Adrian James’ “Uphill, Downhill, and the Wretched of the Earth” was the story of a robbery and kidnapping that, at least to me, was less about racism than it was about mindless criminality.

A quote by Haney Lopez included in Maury Jackson’s “Answering the Call for a Sacred Conversation on Race” elegantly expresses something that I have attempted to communicate to my students for a very long time.

“The rejection of race in science is now almost complete. In the end, we should embrace historian Barbara Field’s succinct conclusion with respect to the plausibility of biological races: ‘Anyone who continues to believe in race as a physical attribute of individuals, despite the now commonplace disclaimers of biologists and geneticists, might as well also believe that Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the tooth fairy are real, and that the earth stands still while the sun moves.’”

A Conversation About God

In my review of the July 10 Adventist Review, I included the following words from Kenneth R. Miller’s, Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution. New York: Cliff Street Books.

In the course of a recent conversation with Sarah Andrews, a friend who is a geologist and mystery writer*, I shared Miller’s perspective. I was delighted with Sarah’s response. Both writers are brilliant scientists and philosophers. Each has challenged the way I perceive the world and made me a less narcissistic and more thoughtful Christian.

KENNETH MILLER: Believing in Darwin’s God
Evolution is neither more nor less than the result of respecting the reality and consistency of the physical world over time. To fashion material beings with an independent physical existence, any Creator would have had to produce an independent material universe in which our evolution over time was a contingent possibility. A believer in the divine accepts that God's love and gift of freedom are genuine - so genuine that they include the power to choose evil and, if we wish, to freely send ourselves to Hell. Not all believers will accept the stark conditions of that bargain, but our freedom to act has to have a physical and biological basis. Evolution and its sister sciences of genetics and molecular biology provide that basis. In biological terms, evolution is the only way a Creator could have made us the creatures we are - free beings in a world of authentic and meaningful moral and spiritual choices.

Those who ask from science a final argument, an ultimate proof, an unassailable position from which the issue of God may be decided will always be disappointed. As a scientist I claim no new proofs, no revolutionary data, no stunning insight into nature that can tip the balance in one direction or another. But I do claim that to a believer. Even in the most traditional sense, evolutionary biology is not at all the obstacle we often believe it to be. In many respects, evolution is the key to understanding our relationship with God.

When I have the privilege of giving a series of lectures on evolutionary biology to my freshman students, I usually conclude those lectures with a few remarks about the impact of evolutionary theory on other fields, from economics to politics to religion. I find a way to make clear that I do not regard evolution, properly understood, as either antireligious or antispiritual. Most students seem to appreciate those sentiments. They probably figure that Professor Miller, trying to be a nice guy and doubtlessly an agnostic, is trying to find a way to be unequivocal about evolution without offending the University chaplain.

There are always a few who find me after class and want to pin me down. They ask me point-blank: "Do you believe in God?"

And I tell each of them, "Yes."
Puzzled, they ask: "What kind of God?"

Over the years I have struggled to come up with a simple but precise answer to that question. And, eventually I found it. I believe in Darwin's God.

SARAH ANDREWS: Experiencing God
It amazes me to think that any biologist worth his or her salt spends a minute of any millennium worrying about such matters. As a geologist training with a master, I was taught to leave thoughts of genesis out of my thinking as much as possible until I had my observations and facts together. Coming from that direction, one observes what is, rather than what one thinks it should be. By leaving out myself-centered and, in some obscure or obvious way, self-serving recipes for the universe, I can better hope to see it clearly and admire its divinity without judging it by my puny standards.

I don't believe in God; I experience God.

*Sarah’s eleven mystery novels entertain and explain what geologists do. I recommend them all. The setting of her latest novel, “In Cold Persuit”, is Antarctica’s McMurdo Station where Sarah spent two months on a research grant.

Comics from Rubes, by Leigh Rubin.
(click for enlarged images)

Reviewing Adventist World, NAD Edition

November 2008
Vol. 4, No, 11

This edition has a great deal to recommend it. I was particularly impressed by the ADRA materials. However, its juxtaposition to the advertisement for the eStore Music Cruise, “7 Days in the Western Caribbean” sponsored by the Quiet Hour was a bit unsettling. Two Black Eyes have been awarded, and I have some critical comments.

IS THE GENERAL CONFERENCE NECESSARY? General Conference president, Jan Paulsen, recently spoke with the Adventist World editor, Bill Knott, about the purpose and future of the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s world headquarters.
CELIAC DISEASEL by Allan R. Handysides and Peter N. Landless
AND THERE WAS LIGHT: A vision, a mission, and the story of this journal by Bill Knott

According to Gabriel E. Maurer and Angel Manuel Rodriguez, the Ten Commandments is a PERSCRIPTION FOR FREEDOM and THE NEW COVENANT IN HEBREWS and “should be internalized, shaping our character and actions. It’s not a burden but a joyful expression of our covenant relationship with God; a covenant instituted through the gracious blood of Jesus.”

Gentlemen, have you read Galatians 3? Here are some excerpts from The Faith or Observance of the Law chapter that might jog your memories.

“You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Have you suffered so much for nothing—if it really was for nothing? Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?”

“All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.’ Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, ‘The righteous will live by faith’.”

“What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.”

“Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.”

Bill, I was applauding your editorial, EVERY GOOD GIFT, until I hit the “just” in your last sentence. Here is the sentence. “That great numbered throng gathered at the Father’s throne will include JUST those who have allowed the Lord’s good gifts to transcend all other human categories. I was willing to forgive the word “categories” as being a confusing word choice, but the “just” smacked of perfectionism and would certainly eliminate Sampson and David and even, I suspect, the entire “great numbered throng”!

I was disappointed with the two articles that described plans for evangelism in North America. Both SAY IT BOLDLY by Gary Gibbs and CHRISTIAN MARKETING 101 by Dan Day ignore the message and hype the marketing strategies. “It’s the message, stupid!” The 28 Adventist Doctrines that finally surface at the end of Revelation Seminars, Amazing Facts, and It is Written evangelism don’t sell and are viewed as irrelevant by target audiences. According to Monte Sahlin, “Conventional evangelism is largely stalled, despite the widespread use of satellite technology, Web sites, etc., and increased funding. The majority of baptisms in North America come from immigrants, despite the fact that these are not the focus of most of the evangelism initiatives. . . .There are very few real converts among the cultural mainstream of America—less than one per congregation per year.” (Surprisingly, this quote is cited in Marketing 101.)

FOUR LESSONS FROM THE POTTER’S HOUSE by Keisha McKenzie was so well written that it is painful to take issue with the central metaphor that she so beautifully develops, namely the efficacy of suffering. In my experience, extreme suffering only succeeds in creating goodness in a tiny minority of survivors. The notion that God is responsible for these “fiery trials” is reprehensible. It mocks the words, the life, and the death of Christ. In addition, it leaves the Devil without a job.

Dilbert, cLAim Project Planning Consultant

Modified from the comic Dilbert, by Scott Adams
(click to enlarge)

Reviewing the Adventist Review

October 23, 2008
Vol. 185, No, 30

This issue is a MUST READ! BOUQUETS have been awarded to the following:

EDITORS AND TECHNICAL STAFF for doing an exemplary job

If you’re kind and caring, you can touch the hearts even of criminals. Fred Rogers’ car was once stolen from near the TV station where he worked. The story was picked up by the media, and, incredibly, the car was returned to the spot from which it was stolen. On the dashboard was a note: “If we’d known it was yours, we never would have taken it.”

True to our name, Adventists are students of last-day events, often attempting to identify the movements, causes, or even individuals God will use as specific instruments to fulfill His Word. A few among us invest countless hours filling in intricate, highly specific charts that detail the precise nature, order, and relationships of the final events of earth’s history, demonstrating, I think, a desperate desire to accurately predict the future.

But that is not our proper role. Rather than building faith in God, such an approach seeks to replace faith with knowledge. It springs from a desire to walk by sight, rather than by faith. And if John the Baptist and the Millerites could misinterpret events, so can we.

KIDS VIEW editors, young writers and poets, and graphic designers

Before I could change my mind I grabbed my box of laundry soap and walked over to the man. I tried to look directly into his eyes. For the first time in my life I stuttered: “Hi, I, uh, I noticed you might be a quarter or two short and I have extras. Can I help you start your machine?”

So here I was, sitting in the jail’s visiting room wondering what to say. I knew the girl he had molested—a 7-year-old with long blond hair and trusting blue eyes. She and her family had befriended Dad while his wife was suffering from cancer. They mourned with him when she died. They included him in family gatherings and outings. They had trusted him, and he had molested their daughter.

FIGHTING A KILLER by Allan R. Handysides and Peter N. Landless
We continue to be saddened by women who decline [breast cancer] therapies that can save their lives (and have been clearly documented to do so) in favor of untested, unproven, and often disastrous forays into such things as fruit and vegetable juicing.

The Theological Precipice

From the comic Frank and Ernest by Thaves
(click to enlarge)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Reviewing the Adventist Review

October 16, 2008
Vol. 185, No. 29

I am a committed supporter of the Review, but all too often the theology included in its pages leaves me shaking my head. The cover piece by Cliff Goldstein is, in my opinion, an egregious example of pseudo intellectual confabulation, and I have awarded him and the editors of the Review a Black Eye. I’ll make the case and give you the opportunity to disagree with me. One Bouquet has also been awarded.

This issue does an admirable job of informing members of the activities of the worldwide church. The graphics are a marked improvement over those of the “old” Review.

In the Kari and Julia Story by Sandra Blackmer, both girls died untimely deaths in spite of devout parents and fervent prayers. That doesn’t square with the naive assertion by Patty Frose Nthemuka that, “Although we can’t see Him, God is always standing outside the ‘cleft in the rock,’ with his hand protectively over us so we will be safe.”

Ms. Nthemuka uses the Mt. Sinai ‘cleft in the rock’ story in which God covers Moses with His hand “so the glory of God would not kill him” as an example of God’s protecting power. Another Sinai story in Exodus 24:9-11 illustrates God’s desire to fellowship with human beings on a more personal basis. Moses, along with Aaron, Nadab, Abihu and seventy elders of Israel, “gazed on God and then ate and drank” with Him on their visit to the mountain.

I’ll Tell the World That I’m a Christian by Fredrick A. Russell
“When I’m Adventist first and not Christian first, I can become exclusive and territorial when it comes to the message of God’s Word. When I’m Christian first, it doesn’t matter who tells the message as long as it gets out.” 

Reason, Faith, and Hope: Revisiting Daniel 2 by Clifford Goldstein purports to tell “the truth about the grand sweep of history” from a prophetic interpretation of the great statue described in Daniel 2.
It doesn’t.

While I honor the conversion experience of Cliff Goldstein, his tears and exclamation, “It’s all true! It’s all true!” when experiencing his “first ever” Bible study does not constitute a “proof” that his interpretation of Daniel 2 is the correct one. His conversion experience immediately preceding this Bible study is unique, bordering on the bizarre, and I am convinced that it has influenced Cliff’s attempt to create a prophetic reality that is not supported by biblical evidence. Here is his conversion story, as recounted in the first five paragraphs of this article.

“In the fall of 1979, under the looming shadow of my twenty-fourth birthday, I had a dramatic, life-changing experience. For two and a half years I had been writing a novel. The book consumed me, controlling my life outside the pages more than I controlled the lives I had created on them. Then, that evening, the Lord Jesus spoke to me in my room: “Cliff, you have been playing with Me long enough,” He said. “If you want Me tonight, burn the novel.”

“The novel was my god. And because we must have “no other gods before” the true One (Ex. 20:3), the book had to go if I wanted the true One, which by then I did. After hours of divine-human wrestling, knowing nothing about salvation, nothing about the three angels of Revelation 14, and nothing about myself as a sinner, I took the manuscript—two and a half years of my existence—and burned it on a small hotplate. That night in Gainesville, Florida, just after sunset, I became a born-again believer in Jesus.

“Now, my experience that night was just that—an experience—personal, subjective, interior. No one standing in the room that evening would have heard the Lord speaking to me. Nothing logical, nothing scientific, nothing from the common academic disciplines could have explained the moment. What happened was mystical, supernatural, beyond rationality, perhaps like Saul’s overwhelming experience on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-9).

“The next day, in a health food store, I had my first-ever Bible study: Daniel 2. When our study came to the part of the prophecy describing the great statue’s feet and the toes of iron and clay, I read the text that said: “They shall mingle themselves with the seed of men: but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay” (Dan. 2:43), symbolic of modern Europe. I burst into tears, looked up, and exclaimed, “It’s all true! It’s all true!”

“There in my hands for the first time was powerful confirmation, not only of God’s existence but of His foreknowledge and sovereignty. There on the page before me in that health food store was logical, objective, and publicly available evidence for belief. With Daniel 2, my experience of the night before was now underpinned by a firm platform for faith, a platform that remains as solid, as affirming, and as rational now as it was nearly 30 years ago.”


1. Read the entire Goldstein article.
2,. Read Daniel 2, 7 and 8.
3. Read the following scholarly reference.
“The date of composition [of the book of Daniel] is decided by clear evidence in Chapter 11. The wars between the Seleucids and the Ptolemies and a portion of the reign of and Antiochus Epiphanes are described with a wealth of detail quite unnecessary for the author's purpose. This account bears no resemblance to any of the Old Testament prophecies and, despite its prophetic style, refers to events already past. . . The book must therefore have been written during the persecution under Antiochus Epiphanes and before his death, even before the success of the Maccabaean Revolt; that is to say between 167 and 164.

“There is nothing in the rest of the book to contradict this dating. The narratives of the first section are set in the Chaldaean period, but there are indications that the author is writing a long time after the events. Belshazzar was the son of Nabonidus and not, as the book says, of Nebuchadnezzar; nor was he ever king. Darius the Mede is unknown to historians, nor is there room for him between the last Chaldaean king and Cyrus the Persian who had already conquered the Medes. The neo-Babylonian background is described in words of Persian origin; the instruments in Nebuchadnezzar's orchestra are given names transliterated from the Greek. The dates given in the book agree neither among themselves nor with history as we know it, for chronology. The author has made use of oral and written traditions still current in his own times.

“The late composition of the book explains its position in the Hebrew Bible. It was admitted after the Canon of the Prophets had already been fixed, and the place to between Esther and Ezra among the very the group of 'other writings' forming the last section of the Hebrew Canon.”

The new Jerusalem Bible, Leather Deluxe Edition, Introduction to the Prophets: Daniel, pages 1177 & 1178.

4. Ask yourself the following questions:

Is current Daniel 2 scholarship based on a “false hypothesis”?

Do the aspects of the image foretell the eventual dismantling of the Roman Empire?

Is the iron imbedded in the clay of the feet “symbolic of the transition from pagan to papal Rome . . . that remains until the end of time?

Two Images

Why do you think they appear together here?

It’s just a question.

This portrait of John the Baptist (Adventist Review, 10/21/08) looks like a “Review” Jesus, except for two things. What are they?

If you were Eve, would you be impressed?

Which creation story do you prefer? The first one found in the first chapter of Genesis and Genesis 2:1-4a) or the second one in Genesis 2:4b-25?

Comic from Rubes, by Leigh Rubin.
(click for enlarged image)