Archive for the ‘nature’ Category

Tech Tidbits

September 6, 2013

Would you give up legroom on your next flight for better wi-fi access?  Nearly 30% of respondents in a recent Honeywell survey indicated they would.  I think it’s interesting that people are willing to sacrifice their personal comfort and perhaps even their health in order to not have to go without Internet access for a few hours.  Interesting, and also scary.  Are we becoming completely unable to be alone?  To be quiet?  To strike up a conversation with someone we don’t know?  To read a book?

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If you spend a lot of time in front of a computer screen, as I have and still do to a great extent, you worry about your eyesight.  How do you ensure that your computer viewing skills are the least harmful to your peepers as possible?  According to this Wired article, make sure you have your screen positioned the right way, at the right brightness level, with the right type of contrast settings.  
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If you are prone to complaining about how far away your grocery store is, you might want to check out this probably pointless graph measuring distances between towns and grocery stores.  Because you have nothing better to be doing right now, right?
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Finally, if you worry (as I do) about genetically modified organisms (GMOs), then the idea that processed food providers should indicate when they utilize GMOs in their products might seem like a good idea.  This article argues the opposite.  
While I agree with many of the points the author makes (while still feeling that GMOs are on the whole something we don’t understand well enough to make so pervasive, so quickly), I think that some of the points are strained.  The GMO principle seems to give us convenience organisms, not just convenience food.  It allows us to shortcut issues that we might well want to take a look at.  How do we utilize our water resources?  How do we determine what sort of crops we ought to grow?  While I enjoy the wide diversity of products you can find in almost any market, is my personal thrill for food diversity enough reason to grow organisms that really aren’t suited well to a given environment?  If we dislike the idea that as Westerners and Americans we are self-centered, shouldn’t we examine this charge in light of creating GMOs to accommodate our preferences and budgets, particularly since these GMOs might not content themselves to remain restricted to particular fields or states or countries?  All of which raises the question of ownership – can Monsanto or another GMO business claim to ‘own’ the rights to GMO corn?  And how are those rights enforced, and at what costs, and to whom?  
All questions that this author chooses not to deal with, but all part and parcel of a concern over GMOs (which also includes concerns over their safety, regardless of what “several tests” claim to show).  

Book Review: The Natural Knowledge of God

August 7, 2013

The Natural Knowledge of God: In Christian Confession & Christian Witness

by:  Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR)
(available for free download here.)
If you’ve been wondering about the usefulness or even the appropriateness of natural law and natural theology in terms of evangelism, wonder no more.  At least, wonder no more if you can make it through a largely historical and philosophical treatment of the topic without falling asleep. 
The CTCR is an LCMS theological committee comprised of lay people, professors, and pastors.  They are tasked with the job of responding to requests for explanations and other, non-binding statements or approaches to various theological issues.  The CTCR does not set LCMS policy or doctrine, but offers lay people and ministers help in thinking through issues that are sometimes complex and highly charged either culturally or within our own ranks.
This latest release is a response to a request from the 2007 LCMS Synodical convention asking how natural law and natural theology might be helpful to congregations.  Natural law is the idea that creation is hard-wired in such a way that some things are true – and obviously true or self-evidentially true – without the explicit need of Scripture.  Examples would be that murder is wrong, or stealing is wrong, or saying bad things about an innocent person is wrong.  Each of these are dealt with through divine revelation in the Ten Commandments, but each is also a universally recognized truth, embraced even by cultures who have never encountered Christianity, Judaism, or the Bible.
Natural theology is the idea that people can gain a basic awareness of the existence of a god, and some inklings even as to the nature of that god simply through an awareness and appreciation of creation – the natural world.  While natural theology can’t lead someone to a specific awareness or understanding of the God of Scripture, and can’t be salvific because it cannot lead a person to knowledge or faith in Jesus Christ, it can be a helpful starting point in congregations.  
Various strains of Christianity have had warmer or cooler attitudes towards natural law and natural theology for a variety of reasons.  This particular document begins with an overview of Scriptural passages that speak on the topic, then traces the evolution of thought on these topics through the Confessions, Luther’s personal teachings/writings, and the dogmatic developments of the Lutheran theologians who followed Luther.  Then this document traces the interactions of natural law and natural theology with the philosophical world over time, showing the influences both positively and negatively of secular philosophy on the Christian understanding of natural law and natural theology.  Finally, the document concludes with some pointers about how these two concepts might be used effectively in starting conversations with people who don’t acknowledge the divine inspiration (and therefore unique reliability) of the Bible.  
Throughout, the document is careful to remind us that natural law and natural theology are not the same as faith in Jesus Christ.  Natural law and natural theology are never adequate in and of themselves, but only serve to move conversations or open conversations to the profession of the Gospel.  The Gospel alone saves, but natural law and natural theology are tools that God has built into creation to help us get to that proclamation with certain people.  
The bulk of the document is historical in nature, a who’s-who of Lutheran theologians and secular philosophers.  While it isn’t necessary to be a philosophy or history major, a basic familiarity with philosophy and Lutheran history will prove helpful.  You may walk away from this feeling as though you have just spent a few hours studying something you already knew, or you may walk away with a fresh perspective and appreciation for the possibility of utilizing natural law and natural theology in conversations with non-Christian friends.  
At the end of the day, if you understand that creation itself and we as God’s creatures are hard-wired in certain ways that lead us towards a divine, but recognize that such general revelation isn’t enough, there is still the necessity of proclaiming the Gospel, then you can probably bypass reading this, or at least bypass the first half of it and skip right to the application material.  If you want to know why it is we can say this, or how this point of view has ebbed and flowed over time, read the first half of the document.  

Stirred, Not Shaken

May 29, 2013

We’ve lived in California for six years now (as of July 4th).  In that time, there have been lots of earthquakes, but only one that I’ve really noticed.  That was several years ago in a large parking structure (the Disneyland parking structure, actually!).  That time, the car rocked as though the kids were romping around in the back seat.  I told them to calm down, then realized they weren’t in the car yet.  We hurriedly left the parking structure.  

This morning we had a more surprising earthquake experience.

I was wrapping up getting dressed for work this morning, about 7:45 AM, when the whole house shuddered as though it had been struck by something.  The noise was loud, and seemed loudest from upstairs.  I ran upstairs, praying that the bunk bed hadn’t somehow collapsed, and knowing that even if that had happened, it wouldn’t have made as big a noise as what we heard.  Everything was OK upstairs, though the kids were a little uneasy from the big noise.
Sure enough, scanning for news at work, the first reports started showing up around 8:30 AM.  There was an earthquake about 100 miles off-shore from Santa Barbara.  It was 4.6 on the Richter scale, but doesn’t appear to have caused any damage.  I was surprised with the briefness of it all.  There were no precursor rattlings or shakings that I noticed (and granted, I wasn’t fully awake yet).  Just a single, loud rattling that thundered through the whole house.   It was over about as quickly as it started.
I’m grateful that there doesn’t appear to be damage to the house.  Perhaps just as unsettling was to see in the newsfeed several other earthquakes that have struck the state recently that I hadn’t been aware of.  A good reminder of where we live and the particular danger we face here.  I’ll still take earthquakes over tornadoes or hurricanes, but I will probably change my mind pretty quickly if a big one ever strikes here.

Making a Mess of Things

January 2, 2013

The more we attempt to abstract cause and effect relationships from one another, the messier things get.  

As evidence, consider this interesting news report.  There are so many abstractions here that it’s somewhat dizzying.  
We have a same-sex couple (illegal in terms of marriage in Kansas), who are raising eight (8) adopted children between the ages of three and 25.  They’re attempting to live as a married couple in terms of their relationship to one another and the desire to raise children.  Except that it isn’t legal to do so there, and by pretending to do so, they throw the lives of these eight children into turmoil legally when the couple decides to separate.
We have this guy who donates sperm so that the couple can have a child.  The article implies that there is no further relationship than that.  It would be weird enough if this was a friend of one or both of the women, someone that they knew and trusted, someone that knew and trusted them.  That would be bizarre enough.  But the article implies this isn’t the case.  They guy just responded to a Craigslist ad.  No mention is made of whether or not the guy was compensated for his part, but they devised an arrangement intended to shield him from any legal links to the child.  Even though it is his child, they’re going to pretend that it isn’t.
It hurts my head.  I particularly find the comment towards the end of the article rather ironic.  One of the women states “I feel like the state of Kansas has made a mess out of this situation.”  Really?  Really it’s the state of Kansas’ fault?  Despite laws dictating marital relationships (which you ignored)?  Despite laws governing paternity (which you either ignored or never bothered to investigate)?  Despite the fact that even with eight adopted children, you and your partner decided to separate yet still somehow continue to co-raise?  
It’s a mess all right, but for once, I suspect that it isn’t the state’s fault.

Friday Fragments

December 14, 2012

Rather than a single unified theme today, here is a collection of stories I found interesting while trolling for blog-fodder this morning.

  • Here is a cool visualization of the evolution of IRS form 1040.  No, it hasn’t gotten any easier.
  • While I prefer the historicity of the real Monopoly game, it’s interesting to see how the basic board data can be reduced to largely colors and symbols.  
  • Living long and prospering (at least in terms of our health) may yet be in the realm of science fiction, according to this infographic and article.
  • Do you believe in global warming?  Apparently more of you do.  Is your beef (if you have one) with global warming as a phenomenon, or the alleged reasons for global warming?  This article makes a big deal of the fact that more people think that global warming is a real thing.  Let’s ignore for a moment the fact that we’ve only really been monitoring this seriously for 100 years.  Let’s ignore for the moment that scientists assure us that the earth has repeatedly gone through cycles of heating and cooling – sometimes to extremes.  I don’t know many people who would outright deny that temperatures have been getting warmer, though they might acknowledge that within the context of either of the two facts just mentioned.  But I do know people – myself included – who are not convinced (based on the two facts mentioned above) that mankind is the source of this warming and therefore the solution to it.  
Happy Friday, everyone!

Grouper Think

October 6, 2012

I thought this little article from Scientific American was very interesting.  

It’s an interesting lesson in trusting ancient sources about something that you have no first-hand knowledge of.  In this case, a particular type of fish that ancient sources (and artistic sources, not scientific ones, at that!) cite as being quite large – far larger than that type of fish typically is today.  Yet a group of scientists are utilizing these ancient artistic sources to argue that, rather than being dismissed as myth or simple exaggeration, these sources ought to be trusted for relaying to us a truth about the size and abundance and location of this type of fish that we don’t have a way of seeing for ourselves today.
In other words, if we set aside our preconceived notions of whether or not something must be true based on our limited firsthand experience, it is possible to find truth.  Truth that may one day be vetted by empirical data, but that is accepted as truth for the time being without it, simply because some people 1500 – 2000 years ago said it was true.  
Of course, this can’t possibly have any wider implications for what we might believe from people who lived thousands of years ago who reported amazing and unlikely things.  Nope.  None at all.

Jesus is my DJ

December 11, 2011

Thanks to J.P. for sending this video link to me with the query “Amazing or manipulative?”

You can watch it here:
It’s a 14-minute clip, of which the majority of it is just elaborate build up to the final couple of minutes.  
Watched it yet?  
Yes, this is manipulative.  
The amazing-ness of nature and the universe is incredible beyond belief just as it is.  To work it into a mix tape of praise music is just tacky.  But then again, I am by my own admission, a bit of a curmudgeon.  

Other Duties As Assigned

January 12, 2011

This morning before chapel, I discovered that two birds had flown into the lobby area of our church (the narthex, to be proper).  Of course, this is a partially two story area, and the birds were panicked.  Fortunately the kids hadn’t arrived yet from the adjoining school, so I had to figure a way to get the birds out.  

I found a large blue, heavy duty trash can liner bag.  I started shooing the first bird – who was flapping all over the place – away from the stairs leading upstairs and towards the open door.  I thought I had success – the bird suddenly took off with speed directly towards the doors.  But unfortunately instead ran right into the glass window next to the doors.  He was stunned, so I was able to pick him up with the bag and carry him outside onto the lawn.  The second bird did exactly the same thing – even though I had opened up both double doors to make a more obvious exit target.  But he was well enough to fly out the doors on his own instead of needing my escort.
When I checked later, the bird I had taken outside was nowhere to be seen, so hopefully he’s ok.
I’m sure there’s a theological analogy in there somewhere, but I’m not going to pursue it right now.  And neither should you.  

Hmmm…You Don’t Say?

December 3, 2010

I wonder how many folks are going to be demanding that this study be retracted or discredited ASAP?

Tell Me Something I Know Isn’t True

November 4, 2010

I love my kids.  Hopefully not a major shock to everyone.  I tend to think that the vast majority of parents love their kids.  The question becomes not one of whether you love your kids or not, but what does love mean to you?  What does it mean to love your child?

Not exactly a light task, this love thing.  Part and parcel with it comes the necessity to guide and instruct.  To model as well as to teach those things that aren’t easily or tangibly modeled.  I want to teach my daughter the best I can about what it means to be a woman (at least from a Christian man’s perspective), knowing that my wife will contribute far more heavily in that arena.  And likewise, my wife has to trust that I can help to teach our sons about what it means to be a Christian man.  
I don’t think that we start with a completely blank template – at least in terms of basic moral law.  Some of these things are inscribed in our hearts and minds in surprising ways that we often aren’t even aware of.
Which is why I found this blog post interesting.  
I found it interesting that the boy himself – despite heavy feminine influence around him most of the time – recognizes (although perhaps belatedly) that there is a problem with his choice of costume.  What I find problematic is the mother’s unwillingness to both honor this and to use it as a teaching time.  I find it problematic that anyone who has some thoughts that differ from hers is suddenly a bully.  
(<Author’s Rant>:Mark my words – this whole bullying issue is going to be massively influential for a long time.  Anyone who disagrees with you automatically is a bully.  The only people who won’t be bullies are those who agree completely with you and support you wholeheartedly in whatever it is that you decide to do.  Eventually, even believing something contrary to someone else and not acting or saying anything about it will be considered tacit bullying.  The new tolerance movement does not tolerate disagreement.  Except theirs. </End Rant&gt

In reality, it is the mother who has become a bully in this situation.  She is pushing her son to do something that he has begun to have second thoughts about.  She has determined her righteousness in this situation and is willing to battle anyone who disagrees with her or her “sweet” son.  Except it’s not the son’s fight anymore, it’s now hers.  In this she ends up bullying her son as well as those around her, all the while claiming the moral high ground for defending her child.  
It’s a shame that children tease and bully.  Granted.  As I’ve said already, I don’t condone this.  Disagreeing with someone else and verbalizing it is not necessarily bullying, however.   It’s a shame that the mothers who so offended this woman couldn’t offer anything more intelligible as a legitimization of their concern than that this boy might be teased.  It’s a shame that this mother who clearly loves her son seems to think that love means not contradicting his initial request or seeking to guide him in his thought processes (as well as ignoring his eventual uncertainty).  It’s a shame that this mother who loves her son would ignore his misgivings and encourage him down a path that he already has recognized as problematic in some respect.  Doing something out of the norm does not necessarily make one valiant or brave or wise or virtuous.  Pointing out how something is out of the norm does not automatically make one a bully.  
Our kids – mainly our daughter and youngest son – are rather fond right now of laughing about and joking about who they will marry when they grow up.  They have no real idea what this means, only that it elicits responses from people (mainly their older brother who gets freaked out!).  We’ve already had to explain that they can’t marry each other, or their other brother, or my wife or I, or their grandparents.  And we’ve been very consistent in explaining that girls marry boys and boys marry girls.  We’re not concerned that our children are gay or bisexual.  We understand that they’re seeking to figure out how all of this may work, and we provide guidance to help them in figuring that out.   It’s how we love them.
I’m sure this mom loves her boy very much.  And I’m sure that there are plenty of ways that she guides and shapes her boy into the sort of man she hopes he will be one day.  It’s just strange that in the arena of gender and sexuality, she’s going to deny that she has a role to play there, and that anyone suggesting that she does is a bully.  Of course she loves her son. Of course she’ll love him regardless of who he becomes.  That is part of being a parent.  We love our children.  
We may not love what they become, however, and for that reason we are charged with guiding them.  I wouldn’t love if one of my children turned out to be gay – though I would continue to love them as my child.  I wouldn’t love if one  of my children committed murder, though I would still continue to love them as my child.  We guide because we love.  It’s part of being a parent, and it’s part of being in a larger community – whether it’s a preschool, a church, or a city or state or nation.