These are my picks from my daily reading that I find particularly interesting. I will try to briefly state why. It is offered as is. No, I don't plan on engaging in debates.
None of my opinions here expressed should be confused with those officially held by UMCHP or the UMC:
Please note that all quotes (" ") are from the linked articles unless otherwise noted.
- Magic Tricks May Fool You, but These Birds Can See Through Them
"Eurasian jays are not newcomers to subterfuge: To thwart thieves while they’re storing food, jays will perform something very like sleight of hand — sleight of beak, if you will — if another jay is watching. They’ll pretend to drop the food in a number of places, so its real location is concealed."
"Looking ahead, what kind of a magic trick would play on jays’ expectations of the world? Ideally, the experimenter would be a bird and not a person, capable of the same motions and gestures as the jays."
Kind of neat. We deceive one another because we exploit our own weaknesses in perception. The other interesting point is that we do this because it is part of nature, our creatureliness, lower being. My dog, smarter than any crow, exhibits the same behavior. If I see her burying something, she quickly grabs it and moves it to another spot. While she is not using slight of paw, she is perceiving who is present and how to protect her trophy.
- New Paper Provides Further Evidence for Free Will
"Can physics prove there is no free will? No, but it can make physicists incoherent when they write about free will. It’s hilarious. Sabine Hossenfelder misses the irony that she insists that people “change their minds” by accepting her assertion that they… can’t change their minds."
"But is determinism true? Does science show that we fated to want whatever we want? Modern science—both theoretical and experimental—strongly supports the reality of free will."
- The Health Benefits of Coffee
"In a study of more than 200,000 participants followed for up to 30 years, those who drank three to five cups of coffee a day, with or without caffeine, were 15 percent less likely to die early from all causes than were people who shunned coffee. Perhaps most dramatic was a 50 percent reduction in the risk of suicide among both men and women who were moderate coffee drinkers, perhaps by boosting production of brain chemicals that have antidepressant effects."
What possible theological content could this offer? Well, coffee needs no explanation. It is simply one of God's miracles.
- Do Any Dogs Go To Heaven? If So, Why?
"In any event, on the view suggested by Lewis — call it a thought experiment, if you like — what might make a dog immortal is his identification with humans, who are immortal."
Who knew that being a pet owner could be so eternally important!
- Harvard-bound grad asks high school to give her $40,000 award to a community college student
This story was sent to me by someone in the congregation. The following is my reply:
Really nice story. Faith does not mean that one expects to have everything handed to one, but shores up the firm commitment that there is enough, and that is as good as a feast to be able to share with others. I also like the message that hard work, commitment, and perseverance still have value. We are given blessings to be blessings, not to remain dependent.
- The Coolest Tech on the Planet (Hint: It’s Inside You!)
"And as Dawkins himself has acknowledged, even today “no one knows” how the first life — with its complex information storage, transmission and processing system — might have arisen from non-living chemicals in “a pre-biotic soup.”
Not surprisingly then, some scientists and philosophers now doubt Dawkins’s confident assurance that evolutionary biology has shown that all appearances of design in life are an illusion."
There is a new weapon in the arsenal of the modern scientific materialist. They still use the old standby of vague conditional language and colloquialism, similar to the statement "this SUGGESTS that x caused y", or, in one article I just read that talks about hot smokers producing life, "the environment in the chimney produced the first cells, that then exited into the sea to produce the first life". Oh, that's nice, but where are the peer-reviewed articles that spell out HOW this happened. I forgot we don't ask that because there are none because biogenesis remains a mystery, or should we call it an illusion because that is the new weapon.
Human consciousness, freedom of will (and therefore accountability in behavior), and now design in life have all become illusions that don't exist. The new fad, if you don't understand it but want others to think that you do, dismiss it as an illusion and move on with your agenda. Wow, when Oscar Wilde wrote that “life imitates art far more than art imitates life”, in The Decay of Lying (1891), he did not know that the same could be said of the science in his day. Truly interpreting the world about one is an act of divorcing oneself from prejudice and preconception, both of which can be affected by partial information, usually only based upon the 4% of the physical universe we can see. A real open mind questions even its own perceptions for, as Scrooge so eloquently put it, they can be influenced by an act of indigestion, or plaques building up in one's brain. But they are not illusions.
Cool YouTube video referenced in the article:
- Do You Know Your Predestination? Understanding Romans 8:28-30
"Notice that this verse does not say everything that happens is good, or even everything that happens is God’s will. To the contrary, it says God is like a weaver, weaving together all sorts of things to a good end. God can even use suffering and sin and even evil for the good of those who love him. Second, we have here the rare phrase “those who love [God],” which in context clearly means Christians—those who have the Spirit of God in their lives and confess Christ. It is then not just anyone who has all things worked together for them. This is a promise for believers."
Nice article not only about how Arminian's interpret Romans 8:28-30, but also inspiring us to remember that life is the macro view and not microscopic perspective of a season. We run through our spells of challenges, depressions, frustrations, and griefs, yet through these, the richness of faith, for the long-suffering, emerges again to bring not only life but life abundant.
- Life Fights Entropy with Intelligent Design
"Consider: the best minds in science and engineering are trying to approach the capabilities of bacteria. That might suggest some thoughts about the origin of the target they are trying to reach."
Great article on the second law of thermodynamics. There are three things to underscore in the article:
1. Again we see that information is a driver in the basics of creation.
2. Entropy, disorganization, is always at work to create stasis. It is only the input of energy that order can continue.
3. It has only taken us 150 years from concept, through research, design, and finally application to mimic the efficiency found in creation for millions of years.
- The Scandal Rocking the Evangelical World
"The chasm that currently exists between how Christians like to think of themselves and how they are actually seen—between the invocations of grace and the acts of ungrace, between condemning impurity in others while engaging in it themselves—has to be fully acknowledged and dramatically narrowed. Christians would do themselves a favor if they spent a little less time obsessing over the secular left, a little less time feeling that they are victims and a persecuted minority, and a little more time in honest self-examination. As a well-known preacher from many years ago asked, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” He asked the question because he recognized the tendencies against which we all have to fight."
I can hardly say that I am surprised. "Neo-Evangelicalism", to distinguish it from classical efforts to share the Good News of the Way, in all of its manifestations, is way too centered on the easy root, the Constantinian answer to Christian social orthodoxy, that would be via political power. God still wants no earthly king, and heaven already has one, but we really don't learn, do we?
All I can say is kudos to Russell Moore. The mainline needs to go. Let us not mourn its passing. Too much do as I say and not as I do. Too much power politics. Too high of a cost, in so many ways. These megastructures have become a liability.
- We Are Now Informed: Consciousness Does Not Really Exist
"The non-conscious brain is, of course, the seat of much valuable information. But the conscious brain is what discovers that. Consciousness is the main thing that distinguishes human beings from sponges or sand. The mystery is not eliminated by calling it an illusion.
Deciding to give it up sounds clever at The Conversation but — in the end — it is just nonsense. And not even wrong."
I don't know if it is part of the cancel culture or not, but scientific materialism is going to increasing lengths to try to break apart the human faculties of understanding. I don't know if the Egnor or one of the writes at Mind Matters, but what the article is saying is that in an effort to try to get "behind the curtain" of human understanding, scientific materialism is eliminating the very faculty by which we apprehend and understand the human mind, which is our consciousness. My dog, who is non-conscious understands her life through simple impulses, like her favorite food. She never wonders why she thinks what she thinks, or reflects on the meaning of life. In that sense, she does not know what she is missing. "Turn off the light switch", as the author puts it, and the very pursuit becomes irrelevant and meaningless. Oh to be back in that garden of blissful instinct! But we have questioned and become awake to life's greatest question of meaning and thus place in the universe. The switch is on, whether we like it or not.
- Justin Bieber Shares His Opinions—And a Warning—About Celebrity Pastors
"While discussing the trappings of fame and celebrity culture, Bieber says, “I think so many pastors put themselves on this pedestal, and…church can be surrounded around the man, the pastor, the guy, and it’s like, ‘This guy has this ultimate relationship with God that we all want but we can’t get because we’re not this guy.’” He adds, “That’s not the reality, though. The reality is, every human being has the same access to God.”"
I have to admit to a growing appreciation for Bieber as a Christian. Just before the whole Hillsong/Lentz debacle, Bieber left a church with which he had become disillusioned, not the Church. Immediately after Lentz was fired, Beiber gave him refuge and space to work things out, even though, from what the articles claimed, Beiber had become less than supportive of the Hillsong model of evangelism under Lentz's leadership. I thank God that I am too old, too unsophisticated, and too poor of an orator to be tempted by bright lights and the flash of "Christian popularism".
"Yes, to this thought I hold with firm persistence;
The last result of wisdom stamps it true;
He only earns his freedom and existence
Who daily conquers them anew.
And such a throng I fain would see—
Would stand on a free soil, with people free."
(Cotterill, H. B. (Henry Bernard). The Faust-Legend and Goethe's 'Faust' (Kindle Locations 1194-1195). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.
"‘I pass the test,’ she said. ‘I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.’"
(Tolkien, J.R.R.. The Lord of the Rings: One Volume (p. 366). HMH Books. Kindle Edition.)
- The Way Forward for the Southern Baptist Convention: A Very Personal Word from Albert Mohler
I am pessimistic and believe that a purge and new structures to maintain orthodoxy are what is needed. Too much of what Mohler seems to be advocating is aimed at preserving, or shoring up existing structures and understandings. I am a former Baptist who actually had studied Baptist polity and history, not Methodist, coming out of seminary in pursuit of ordination in the American Baptist Church. The problem with the SBC is that they are an extremely diverse group. Getting them all in the same room let alone at the same table will be nigh impossible, but it sounds good.
Like so many campaign platforms, Mohler is speaking to excite our hopes and dreams, but the reality in the trenches is very different. The social and societal issues that challenge the Christian church do not have any president in the past. There is a need for a remodeling of engagement with the culture that is about us because we are stuck in patterns of social engagement with contemporary issues using strategies that are 60 to 100 years old. There is a whole lot of water under that bridge, and when you look at the numbers across ALL mainline churches there is one and only one commonality, that of steep and prolonged decline.
We need new tools for evangelism and conversation with the world around us. Most clergy don't push themselves to understand the most basic of information that surrounds the greatest challenge for our youth, institutional scientific materialism that is "preached" with evangelical fervor in every primary and secondary school in our country. Why don't we have youth? We fill them full of Biblical stories in Sunday School. Appeal to their entertainment side as youth, and try to keep them suitably engaged with cookies, brownies, and games as young adults. All along they are learning from every other sector of society and culture that materialism has found the answer to what it means to be human and it is overt atheism. No wonder those who don't kill themselves leave the church by saying that it has nothing of any substance to give them.
Seeing those now going into ministry, Christianity for the most part is not attracting the best and the brightest. We are attracting the most emotive and artistic who are also the least persuasive. Again, I am pessimistic about the mainline, and the SBC is really not mainline in the normal sense because it is a loose confederation of vaguely like-minded churches who tend to adhere to a broad platform and not really a centrally organized denomination that holds strict accountability. Unfortunately, I suspect that they will slowly spin apart by their own inertia.
- What Drives Conspiracism
"What is behind the growth of conspiracism? Many things."
"It is pleasurable to know and hold a higher knowledge..."
"...people always have a spiritual hole inside,
and if God can’t fill it, Q will do. The unrealized and unhappy are always in search of a cause to distract themselves from the problems of their lives."
"Newsrooms are undergoing their own revolution, with woke progressives vs. journalistic traditionalists, advocacy versus oldschool news values. It is ideological."
And the list goes on. For me I think it is Noonan's first observation that is most poignant as a pastor: God has left the building and now anything goes because everything is subjective, hopeless, and self-serving. Bye, bye higher ideals of the upward call to perfect humanity, hello that which promotes my objective and elevates my status in the food chain of life as an alpha person.
- Street Tactics – Part 5
Found a new orthodox website. This article is in defense of the Trinity. The videos and podcasts are very cutting edge and contemporary. I would suspect that they would go over well with a younger crowd, but I am not of that population, so how would I know?
- Resurrection Genomics: Millennia-Old Palm Trees Live Again
"Most interesting is the second explanation: active genomic maintenance. For days, weeks, years, centuries, and millennia, things were happening inside those seeds! In each cell, at the molecular level, machines were scrutinizing the DNA, identifying mutations and repairing them. For details on what a plant must do to ensure seed viability, see our article, “How a Dry Seed Can Live a Thousand Years.” For a list of six DNA repair mechanisms that operate inside our cells and in all organisms, see our article, “Contingency Planning in the Cell” under “DNA’s Repair Toolkit.” These repair mechanisms involve numerous enzymes working together to locate damage and repair it. Undoubtedly some of the enzymes had to be replaced over time with the aid of other machines that transcribe and translate the DNA."
Error correction, repairing, and inspection, for nearly 2000 years of being buried in the sand. This all sounds to me like the plot of a science fiction book suitable to Ray Bradbury, but this is God's handiwork and design, it is what sister nature does at God's orchestration.
- Caught in a 'pickle,' millions of Americans might not have had an adequate response to the Covid-19 vaccine
"Millions of other Americans are also taking immunosuppressive drugs that might weaken the effect of the Covid-19 vaccine, and they find themselves in uncharted territory, scared -- with good reason -- that their vaccinations might not have worked.
If their vaccinations did not work, they rely on the rest of the population to get vaccinated."
For millions of Americans the isolation does not end. If you have been vaccinated and do not underlying issues that make you vulnerable to reduced effectiveness, walk around in humble thankfulness, and remember that not everyone who wears a mask and physically distances has a choice. Scripture makes a clear claim on the Christian, when one of the body suffers, we all suffer.
- Pupil Size Is a Marker of Intelligence
"We found that a larger baseline pupil size was correlated with greater fluid intelligence, attention control and, to a lesser degree, working memory capacity—indicating a fascinating relationship between the brain and eye. Interestingly, pupil size was negatively correlated with age: older participants tended to have smaller, more constricted, pupils. Once standardized for age, however, the relationship between pupil size and cognitive ability remained."
Who knew that more than just beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I wonder if this correlates to the amount of time folks use their eyes in information gathering, like reading or just looking about the world verses a more sedentary focal length like view TV? But who is to say what "intelligence" really is? (See Has humanity reached ‘peak intelligence’? for more details.)
- Dawkins is wrong – grossly wrong – about Down’s syndrome
A good read but it misses the fact that Dawkins is not simply "...peddling his own brand of baseless religion", but, in fact, taking neo-Darwinism and thus scientific materialism to its logical conclusion. How did Dawkins get himself into trouble? Well, to quote from this article,
"Dawkins has a thing about Down’s syndrome. A few years ago, he offered advice to any women pregnant with a child diagnosed with Down’s. “Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.”"
Yup, he said that. Anyone who has had a friend with Down's syndrome know how special they are, often reveal and provoking the best of us. They tend to be the perpetual "little children" that Jesus so loves. Dawkins reveals the weakness when we start to see people only as sacks of genes that either on the way up or down. Remember that it was not any classical religion that led Hitler to his extremes, but a belief that he was purifying the gene pool on the way to the superhuman. I don't know, but while not all, many of the Down's syndrome folks I know of exhibit characteristics that I think of as on the way to a higher humanity, not to mention that through knowing them, I am provoked with those same emotions of the true "Übermensch" that surpass the understanding of either Dawkins or Hitler, but God took to heart in the love of Christ.
- Will Huawei’s Android knockoff appease China’s technology hawks?
So, why is this on my list? Well, no offense intended, but I think of China not as leaders in tech, but more as hacks, and I think it has to do with their lack of imagination that is part of an overly materialistic and oppressive political model that sees humanity as a labor force and a power base for systemic replication. For me, this is at odds with the benevolence of a freely created humanity that can even question its penultimate ruler, God. It is in this freedom from control and coercion that we find the creative and imaginative power of modern humans to see new futures, artistically apply new technologies, and systemically incorporate the latest advancements in a way that encourages and enriches humanity. God knew that freedom and choice are the only way to win and guide the human heart. Any political system that chooses coercion, manipulation, and suppression, is doomed to failure. Religion needs to be mindful of this as well. Not all Christian expressions of faith encourage this radical freedom that Jesus died to encourage. The moment we lose the dialectic balance and waiver one way or the other, we sow the seed of political compulsion and create a king when God wills for judges in which creative discernment encourages human ingenuity.
- Should you wear a mask indoors? 7 vaccinated epidemiologists share what they're doing
As we begin to gather in larger groups and come back to in person worship, I find more folks asking about masking. I will probably continue to wear a mask in stores and out in public for the most part. I have no rational reason for such a position. I am fully vaccinated, as is my family, and will share my confirmation proudly with anyone who asks (it is on my smartphone, so I can involve tech in the task!). But my mask now feels part of my dress code, and will for a while. Just an underscore that not everyone who wears a mask and social distances has chosen not to be vaccinated.
- The congressional UFO report is expected soon. Here's what we know about it and when you can expect it
"Officials have cautioned that analysts did not immediately speculate that aliens were responsible for the phenomena. Instead, Pentagon and intelligence officials are most concerned that such objects are next-generation technology from American competitors such as China and consequently pose a national security concern."
Why would this be of importance for me? Well, I was just asked by a member of the congregation what I thought. I am an agnostic when it comes to extraterrestrial intelligent life in the universe. I really don't have a horse in that race. However, I do think that the current increase in unidentified flying objects seems awfully coincidental with the rise of another technology: Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI is really an augmented human resource tool that does not think or have a conscience of its own but can do a whole lot of human tasks extremely quickly. If you want to see a full discussion of the various understandings on the state of AI, I would suggest you spend a couple of days reading articles on the Mind Matters website. As for UFO's, I suspect that the Pentagon is correct, we are being dogged by foreign competitors who are anxious not only to spy on us, but to perfect their own AI algorithms in real-time, a prelude to offensive/defensive military AI, and the Pentagon should know because they probably have a similar program or let's hope they do. A really fast computer does not have to worry about g-force, oxygen, or any other biological. Massive amounts of data can be transmitted home to teams of human eyes to both interpret and resolve. Remember that AI really boils down to code and conditional statements that can only mimic human intelligence if it is not augmented by puppet masters behind the scenes.
- Where Your Watermelon Came From
I love coffee only second to watermelon. it is a consequence of childhood in Florida in a day when there were huge fields of large, seeded watermelons and warm days to eat them on. as kids, our family would go to the fields and get a couple of fresh watermelons that had ripened on the vines, spoiling us for a lifetime.
- Sperm Count is Decreasing in Rich Nations—and No One Knows Why
If this is your introduction to this issue then you wake up quickly. There has been a precipitous fall in human reproductive ability in post-industrialized nations for quite some time. I have been following this issue for at least 15 years, believe it or not. Up until just recently, this decline in fertility has been given a passing, back-page glance by news outlets. For me, reproductive health is a major factor in determining the health of a population. Humanity is in trouble. According to "Dr. Shanna Swan, an environmental and reproductive epidemiologist at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, found sperm counts have plummeted over the last four decades.... [B]ased on the current curve, sperm counts could be down to zero by 2045." (Crawford, A. L. (2021, May 18). Brink of a fertility crisis: Scientist says plummeting sperm counts caused by everyday products. wtsp.com. https://www.wtsp.com/article/news/health/male-fertility-rate-sperm-count-falling/67-9f65ab4c-5e55-46d3-8aea-1843a227d848.) We are sacrificing humanity's future on the altar of materialism, convenience, and just plain greed. But worst of all, we have neglected the signs because we just want to have fun, letting everyone do their own thing. Example: those nice shinny receipts you get at the store. Most commercial stores still use thermal printing to produce their receipts, not ink. Thermal printing is a chemical-dependent process that uses Bisphenol. (BPA in thermal paper. Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. (2020, October 28). https://www.pca.state.mn.us/green-chemistry/bpa-thermal-paper.) Bisphenol is absorbed through the skin and mimics estrogen. (Fiore, K. (2009, February 5). Bisphenol A Mimics Estrogen, Phthalates Target Testosterone. Medical News. https://www.medpagetoday.com/infectiousdisease/publichealth/12767.) This pseudo infusion of estrogen is problematic for both sexes, pregnant women, and male reproduction. This is only one way that we have created and normalized a toxic environment. Unfortunately, by the time a major news source like the Public Broadcasting Service gives something time, it may just be too late... God gives us warning signs and says "thou shalt not" not because we can't, but because certain things should raise red flags in our life together. I don't see any change what we are doing that will head off 2045.
I am in the process of reading Dr. Shanna Swan's book, Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race, and will try to post in my reading section. In the mean time, if given the choice, refuse the receipt! Doing so is good for you, for the future, and for the environment.
- COVID-19 can infiltrate insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, study suggests
I think that all of the research is showing that, well, no one really knows what amount of damage this little bugger does to one's system. For me, and my house, this underscores that in the lottery of life, I would rather hedge my bets with a vaccine rather than not. God created us with a miraculous mind capable of tremendous good in manipulating the stuff of the universe. (Okay, we can also do, and have done, horrific evil with that potential as well, but let's not go there today!) The tweaking of mRNA is at the height of humanity's technical prowess, what a pointer to a designed system that even as the machine is running one can discern and modify a bit of code so that the hardware just takes off and incorporates it. Our bodies are like perfected mini Amazon warehouses that are fully automated to supply a self-contained ecosystem with what it needs to continue on demand. Exquisite and far beyond any purely human system, even those automated robot hamburger chefs! As any good parent that seeks well-adjusted children to grow into responsible adults, God's hand becomes less as our competencies increase, taking on more the role of co-creation. I just wish we were doing a better job of growing appreciating our uniqueness and therefore guiding our world to becoming a less base place.
- Why Don’t Changes to Our Bodies Create a Different Consciousness?
"From the chart available at the site, we learn that central nervous system cells and ova last a lifetime but — for example — stomach cells last 2-9 days, taste buds 10 days, and skeleton cells are replaced at 10% per year. The information available to our consciousness from these sources is mediated by constantly changing “personnel” but we perceive ourselves as single persons."
Really, with the massive turn over of our cells in a lifetime, it is curious why our perceptions of self and world rarely if ever change. When I put a new print head in my printer, I have to align it because the replacement is not a 100% copy of the one replaced. When that happens in like taste buds, every 10 days, why doesn't food taste totally different all the time?
- THE COHERENCE OF AN ENGINEERED WORLD
Not only a great summation of a lot of design understanding in the cosmos but also great biological and chemical pointers that only engineers could fully appreciate as we less technically minded look on with wonder. Make sure you download and read the full PDF. It will take about 15 minutes to read, but well worth the investment.
"Could it be that the realm of nature and the human mind were, in some sense, made for each other, possibly engineered to facilitate the communication of important truths leading to the impartation of vital wisdom and the consummation of the ultimate love relationship [63–65]. This idea goes a long way toward explaining the ﬁne-tuning of the universe for life and the grand success humans have had in reverse-engineering the cosmos."
- Think Again: Why Religion is Good for Us
“When it comes to our knowledge and opinions,” Grant says, “we often favor feeling right over being right… we favor the comfort of conviction over the discomfort of doubt.” I think that faith asks us to question our motives, emerge from ego, and rather than self-promotion calls us to prioritize the greater and higher good for humanity and all of creation. Faith-filled Christianity use their doubt to come to greater spiritual insights as they pursue God down the road of creation. Thanks, Dave for passing this along.
- Social Exclusion and the Evolution Debate
"If I never talk with you, I don’t have to think about the issues you raise. And if I don’t have to think about those issues, they might as well not exist." This could be the mantra of our age.
- The '3.5% rule': How a small minority can change the world
This is something the early church knew well. The apples they suffered cruel punishment for, they offered not by throwing them at Roman soldiers or politicians, not as weaponized fruit, but through freely giving them as food to the poor, needy, and neglected. To their powerless sacrifice, we owe the rise of the Western world, its democracies, and the ideals that we see now eroding through power.
- Why the Chinese Communist Party Feels It Must Destroy Religion
Again, unjust regimes have gone after the Church and sought to conquer religion, thus consolidating its power. Hitler was a master of this co-opting to move his implementation of a scientific materialist agenda of "Das Übermensch", the superhuman as the next leap in human evolution. For we Christians, the superhuman has already come to point us to peaceful co-existence through humble service and cooperation, not consolidation of power. Well, maybe that's why Xi and the whole of China tremble when they consider religion and the freedom it promotes.