Archive for May, 2010

This should be sad news  for nerds everywhere. When I first heard that they were doing a movie of The Hobbit I thought it was great.  The Lord of the Rings was incredible, arguably the best film trilogy of all time, and The Hobbit handled well could be nearly as good.  Then I heard they weren’t just making one movie but two, and the second would bridge the gap between The Hobbit and Fellowship of the Ring.  Okay, I was a little skeptical of that, but then it was announced that Guillermo del Toro would be directing them.  Imagine a hobbit and a bunch of dwarves running through the fantasy world in Pan’s Labyrinth and you would have one crazy movie.


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Just read this article.   I was really pulling for the “Quick, fill the hole with dirt!” strategy and I’m saddened that it didn’t work.  What I find infuriating about the whole mess isn’t so much that one of these off-shore oil wells broke and oil spilled into the gulf, although I’m certainly not happy about it.  What really infuriates me is that BP seems dumbfounded by what to do when the spill happens so far underwater.   If it had been at the surface, they’d be fine.  They’ve got a guy on standby with a cork and a squeegee that’s ready to take care of it.  But 5,000 feet under water?  We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.  Now, I do understand that the problem being so deep does complicate things.  I get that.  But my point is this:  IF YOU’RE GOING TO DRILL FOR OIL NEARLY A MILE BENEATH THE SURFACE OF THE OCEAN YOU BETTER BE GOOD AND PREPARED FOR A CATASTROPHE TO HAPPEN AT ANY POINT ALONG THAT PIPE!

Bring on alternative energy, I’m tired of oil running our lives and ruining our environment.

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There is a tradition at Harding University that encourages people to read the Bible through in a calendar year.  If you manage to do it, you are rewarded with a steak dinner courtesy of the administration at the end of the fall semester.  At least, I assume it’s still a tradition.  I never actually attempted it because I was way to focused on maintaining my grade point average…..my terrible, terrible grade point average.   I have attempted it since college, and I finished successfully three years later.  This time, however, I’m actually on track to do it, and since the year is almost halfway over and I haven’t fallen behind I feel pretty good about that.   As I read and I come across interesting or challenging passages, I’ll try and post them on here, and discuss them a little bit.  This may be my first recurring theme.  My next will probably be about video games.

By the way, the picture at the top is of a fragment of the Gospel of John contained in the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin Ireland.  It’s one of the oldest New Testament fragments (150-200 CE), and it contains the point in the crucifixion when Jesus tells his mother “Woman, behold thy son.”

Here’s the passage that spurred today’s post.

[Solomon] spoke of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall.  He spoke also of beasts, and of birds, and of reptiles, and of fish.  And people of all nations came to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and from all the kings of the earth who had heard of his wisdom.   1 Kings 5:33-34

Solomon is the king graced by God with wisdom above and beyond all mortal men, and how does the biblical author try to convey that to his audience?

By telling us, he was a scientist.

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It seem’s like the “Quick, fill the hole with dirt!” strategy is one that should have been thought of sooner.

But what do I know.  I’m not responsible for millions of gallons of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico.

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I’m reading an interesting book right now, Why Would Anyone Believe in God? by Justin L. Barrett.  Dr. Barrett is an experimental psychologist, and this book is all about the psychology of belief, particularly how natural it is to believe in a God or gods.   I’m not really going to talk about the whole book at the moment, – partly because I haven’t actually finished it yet – but I did come across one particular analogy he makes that made me pause.

He’s trying to explain how natural it is to believe in a God or gods, and he likens it to belief in human minds.  Now that doesn’t mean the physical brain, obviously.  It means the consciousness within; that awareness that makes you who you are and looks out through your eyes experiencing all of the thoughts, desires, and feelings that go along with being human.  Why do we believe in the existence of the mind?  Not just in ourselves (for which we have direct experience), but in others.  Dr. Barrett points out that there is no empirical evidence for the human mind.  Furthermore, there is no way to gather empirical evidence.  There are no scientific tests or experiments that can be done to prove the existence, or nonexistence, of the human mind.  And yet, Dr. Barrett says, we all believe in them, from small children all the way through the elderly, educated and ignorant, in all four corners of the world.

Much like a belief in some higher power.

So.  Fair comparison?

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I’ve just finished listening to a series of lectures on Science and Religion (when you teach a lot of senior classes you find yourself with a little extra time at the end of the year), by Professor Lawrence M. Principe of Johns Hopkins University.  The lectures can be found here.

I think it’s not a coincidence that he titled the series Science and Religion as opposed to Science vs Religion, since his main point is that the two, not only can co-exist, but that they did co-exist throughout history, and the idea that they must by necessity conflict is a very modern one.  Although I suppose to be more accurate he should have titled it Science and Christianity (He does mention that the same types of discussions were taking place within Judaism and Islam, but since Christianity was the dominate religion in the regions developing the most scientific discoveries, he limits himself for the sake of time).  Each of the twelve lectures is only thirty minutes long, so it is a brief survey of science and religion throughout history, but Professor Principe is able to make his point by taking some of the most well-known science/religion battles (Copernicus, Galileo, Darwin, etc.), and putting them in a historical context that greatly softens the perceived conflict by showing, oftentimes with primary sources (He quotes from the minutes of Galileo’s time with the Inquisition), that there were many within the Church that saw no problems with the science whether it was heliocentrism or evolution.

Some highlights from the lectures:

-The Inquisition originally found no problem with Galileo’s writings and were ready to let him go, but the Pope demanded a full trial, probably due more to a falling out that Galileo had with Pope Urban VIII than any real opposition to his science.

-In Darwin’s time, many clergy, but not all, looked at evolution as a beautiful, divine mechanism, and it wasn’t until the early 1900’s and the rise of Fundamentalism that anti-evolution sentiment became really widespread.  For some reason, it never occurred to me that the idea of Theistic Evolution was as old as On the Origin of Species, or maybe it never occurred to me that it was accepted by anyone even remotely mainstream.

-A great many of the natural philosophers/scientists throughout history were actually some of the great theologians and even clergy.  This is something I feel should have been more obvious to me, or at least stood out as being more significant.  Newton talked about God in his physics text, Galileo appealed to God, Robert Boyle was a theologian, Joseph Priestly, Copernicus, Kepler, the list goes on and on.

The lectures do confirm something that I’ve long believed, and which I’ve tried to convey to skeptics.

Science and theology have a lot in common.

Both are man striving for knowledge.  Both are a search for ultimate Truth.  Both operate through the cooperation of faith and reason.

That last one might deserve it’s own entry one day.

This idea that science and religion have to be at odds is a myth.  We’ve just built this chasm over time between willfully ignorant Christians and scientists who’ve lost their faith through having to defend their science, and it ends up presenting the average person with a false choice.   It also ends up damaging science and religion.  In reality, they are more like siblings.  And, just as in real families, it’s heart-breaking that now they seem to be estranged.   At least among the general public.  I’ll leave you with a quote from the last lecture in the series:

Conflict can be an opportunity for discussion, exploration, and discovery, or an opportunity for becoming shrill and self-righteous, and sulking off to our respective corners.  That’s a free choice, but it’s also clear which is the intelligent and productive choice.

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I don’t know if I can talk about the LOST finale without spoilers, but I’m going to try.  After something as emotionally charged as that final episode, you want to put a little distance between it and yourself before you start talking about it, if anything to see if it stands up to a little more objective scrutiny.   After sleeping on it, and spending quite a bit of time reading other peoples’ views today (People seem divided on it, oddly enough.  I can’t believe it didn’t please everyone), I’ve decided that my initial impression still holds true.

It was fantastic.  Sure it was melodramatic, but, really, it’s a final episode of a show stretching out over six years and 100+ episodes.  It’s all about reunions and goodbyes and big climactic confrontations.  How could it be anything else?  It provides closure for the characters.  The main criticism that I’ve read, and, don’t get me wrong, they make a good point, is that a lot of the plot threads and mysteries didn’t get satisfactory answers.  It’s true, a lot of them don’t.  But what you do get is enough information and explanations to form some strong conclusions about various loose threads floating around.  Of course you’ll never know if you’re right, but the point of LOST wasn’t to find out if you were right or not.  There was always more to it than that, and I think one of the main points of the finale, and the show as a whole, is that the overall themes of love, community, and redemption are more important than the details.  Besides, it would have been impossible to satisfactorily answer all of the questions.  Stephen King in Danse Macabre, his nonfiction exploration of what makes good horror, talks about why everything is always a little less scary once the monster is revealed.  You can always picture something a little bigger, a little more disgusting, and a little frightening in your head than what’s on the screen (“Oh a fifty foot tall grasshopper.  Whew!  I thought it was going to be a hundred feet tall.”).   I think the same principle applies to mysteries as well, particularly something like LOST which draws from so many wells:  myth, mysticism, religion, quantum physics…

Not that I’m not rankled a little by the fact that I’ll never have some answers.

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