Monthly Archives: July 2011

Weird Things

I remember the first time I realized that God has a masculine sense of humor.  I was reading about sea cucumbers, nondescript little blobs of animals that are at the bottom of the ocean food chain.  They are mostly sedentary, but if threatened can defend themselves by ejecting part of their internal organs.  This is called eviscerating.  While a predator is munching the jetsam, the sea cucumber can swim to safety and regrow its organs.  Another weapon in its arsenal is a toxic substance that it can eject, which poisons creatures nearby.  According to Wikipedia, the toxin is similar to soap.  Apparently, some creatures that live underwater cannot tolerate soap.  Go figure.

So, as I was saying, they are sea blobs that shoot out part of their insides and, when they’re really mad, they spit soap.  You know that’s a guy joke.

My new favorite animal is equally bizarre.  This is the cuttlefish, which I knew nothing about until I watched the Nova special (“Kings of Camouflage”) online.  Apparently, cuttlefish not only change colors, they are shape-shifters as well.  They’re invertebrates, and their outrageously flexible skin can stretch into different shapes and change colors at will.  According to Wikipedia, they have layers of skin pigmentation with 200 specialized pigment cells per square inch, which is about 350 dpi.  In other words, their skin has about the same resolution quality as an inkjet printer, and they can mimic patterns in their environment as well as basic colors.

What could be better than that?  How about three hearts, green-blue blood, and eight arms coming out of their heads.  As I watched Nova, I got the distinct impression that God was amusing Himself when He invented cuttlefish.  They put on a show that Hollywood couldn’t top with CGI and special effects.

We so seldom think of God as being entertained by His creation.  Perhaps that would sound more pious if I said that He is delighted with His creation.  Fallen and imperfect as the world most definitely is, there must still be endless moments when God takes pleasure in gazing at what He has made.

May I suggest that we might be better people if we learned to do the same.  Friday was a heavy day for me, full of anxiety and concern.  Today, I find myself back in the hospital with a loved one.  And yet I was thrilled and delighted yesterday by a program about cuttlefish, as if God were letting me take a time-out from life while He delighted me with something playful and amusing that only He could invent.  We get so bowed down and aged by life that we forget that we are, after all, only children of our Father.  Do we imagine that God has no time for playing in the nursery?  Once I would have thought so, but the older I get the younger I act.

 

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The Wisdom of God

Our ladies group finished our study of Ecclesiastes last night, and I have to admit that I’m relieved.  We’ve had fun with the study, but this is surely one intimidating book to teach.  It’s  full of hard questions and tough topics, and it requires a lot of cross-referencing to other books of the Bible.  There’s not a single aspect of the human experience that Solomon (a.k.a. Mr. Sunshine) can’t sum up with the line, “This too is meaningless!”

One comes to the end of Ecclesiastes wondering if, after all, there really is any use in human reason or logic.  The answer is yes, of course.  We can do our work wisely and well.  We can use our tongues and our good sense to get along with other people and help the communities that we live in.  We can use our time on earth to do our duty:  honor God and live according to His commandments.  Even in this, however, we are limited.  Solomon raises huge questions about oppression, injustice, pain and death.  Sometimes, these come from human  folly.  Sometimes, the most heinous suffering comes from nothing other than the human failure to act wisely.

A breakthrough (for me) came when I saw the definition of wisdom in Easton’s Bible Dictionary.  Specifically, Easton’s defines wisdom as a matter of morality rather than intellect.   Anyone who has endured a college philosophy class knows that there is no harder word for an academic to define than the word “wisdom” (unless it’s the word “truth”).  Perhaps, the reason for this is that we have been trying to define wisdom as an intellectual property when we should have been speaking of it as a virtue.  The validity of this may be easily tested:  is a foolish act and a wicked act the same thing?  I wouldn’t bet on the answer always being “yes”, but I’m guessing that it would be most of the time.

What really rocked my thinking on the subject was one of the references Easton’s recommended on wisdom, I Cor. 1:24:  “But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God” (NLT).  According to this verse, if we want to truly define wisdom, we cannot describe what it is.  We must describe who it is.  Christ, as God in human flesh, is wisdom.  Further, Galatians 3:27 states that when we became believers we “put on Christ.”  Putting on Christ is New Testament speak for holiness.

So here is what unfolded:  Wisdom is a virtue that Christ personifies.  To put on Christ-likeness is to put on wisdom, as one would put on a garment.  Therefore, to pursue holiness and to pursue wisdom is the same thing.  Both holiness and wisdom are terms that describe a life lived rightly and lived well.

I think this reading will stand in the light of 2 Peter 1:3:  “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence” (NLT).  It is knowledge of God that equips us to live godly (holy) lives, and the application of that knowledge may be properly called wisdom.

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Pause to Admire

For those of you who didn’t travel this holiday weekend – good for you!

I took my mother and brother to meet with family in Blowing Rock on Saturday, and the traffic was something else altogether.   It took us thirty minutes to drive through Elk Park because we found ourselves behind the town parade.  For those of you who have never been to Elk Park, I will indicate the size to you by noting that we might have passed all of twenty people lined up to watch the said parade.  Apparently, everyone else in town was in the parade, and that’s why it took them thirty minutes to do it.  Then we tried to take our usual route over Grandfather Mountain, but had to turn back because there were about fifty cars (and I’m not kidding) lined up outside the entrance gates to the park.

Needless to say, I was a bit chuffed by the time we and the traffic (finally) moseyed into downtown Blowing Rock and set about to find a parking space.  For those of you who think I should have just stayed home, I agree with you.  However, when one is meeting family, one does not always have the luxury of choosing the appointed day.  One should, however, try to avoid showing up in a bad mood.  I have to say that I was finding that hard to do.

That was when I saw something that delighted me.  Keep in mind that I am easily amused.

Isn’t he beautiful?  I think he decided to drop in for a photo shoot.  I got several pictures before he flew away.

I wish I could think of something more profound to say than, “Look at that symmetry!”  On the other hand, perhaps we are never more profound than when we simply pause to admire.

The day offered me another gift in the form of the rhododendron which are in full bloom in the mountains.  I do not know what dreary and unpoetic soul named them “rhododendron” (one of the ugliest words in the botanical lexicon), but they don’t deserve it.  Rhododendron grow in shady places, out of the sunlight.  They are hardy shrubs that thrive in the cooler weather of the mountains, and when they are not in bloom, they appear to be nothing more than tough, scrubby bushes.  Then summer comes, and they produce a blossom that is truly a lady among flowers.

It is hard to imagine how a shrub can grow such tough leaves and such delicate blooms at the same time, but here is another angle.

We all know that God grows some of his finest people in out of the way places and unpromising circumstances.  My mother is one of those people.  You cannot imagine more barren soil than what her childhood seemed to offer.  But Jesus himself was a “tender root out of a dry ground” (Isaiah 53).  Like rhododendron in the winter, His appearance had no particular beauty, no distinguishing loveliness to set Him apart from the other people He mingled with on a daily basis.  Yet those who measured His quality by the roughness of His exterior missed the incomparable glory of His godhead that those closest to Him were privileged to see.  His disciples saw the dead raised and the lame dance and the deaf hear and the blind see, and three of them saw Christ in his heavenly glory, shining like the sun.

All this we know from Scripture, but we forget over and over again to apply it to the reality of our lives.  We are angry at the traffic, frustrated with our loved ones, tired of the humid weather, weary at work, and a hundred other things.  Yet, God continually shines through His creation with an unspeakable beauty, and He reminds us that it was not beneath Him to come and share the ordinariness of our lives.  Indeed, He breathes upon that ordinariness, and it blossoms into “joy unspeakable and full of glory.”

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A Marvelous Machine

The July issue of Scientific American is out, and I couldn’t resist grabbing a copy.  For one thing, it’s hard not to notice a cover with a large picture of a human brain on it.  For another, the caption was an attention grabber.  The headline is “The Physics of Intelligence,” but they followed this up with a question:   “Evolution has packed 100 billion neurons into our three-pound brain.  Can we get any smarter?”

Setting aside the question of whether or not evolution is the means by which our brains came into existence, there remains the fact that evolution can only be a means.  It is a process not a cause.  Atheists in the scientific community are often guilty of academic provincialism, assuming that because science can demonstrate a how, that it can also explain the why and the what next without any recourse to philosophy or religion.  Atheists assume that science has already rendered religion obsolete when, in fact, science can answer very few of the questions that religion and philosophy pose.  Even if evolution is how the brain developed, it does not prove that there wasn’t a who developing it.

This matters to a discussion of the article in Scientific American because of the question that article raises:  Can we get any smarter?  This is neither gloating nor arrogance on the part of the editors.  Rather, it is a question that challenges one of the core assumptions of evolution, and that is that change over time continuously results in an increasingly better product.  Survival of the fittest is the process by which the best and strongest survive to pass on their genes, and the weakest are wiped out of the gene pool by their failure to adapt.

Ever since Nietzsche and George Bernard Shaw, atheists have counted on evolution to improve on the human race.  The whole idea of a superman is predicated on the idea that humans, as a species, will continue to get stronger and smarter as natural selection weeds out weaknesses and abnormalities.  If an atheist has hope for the future, it surely lies in the expectation that human beings will get better at solving problems that currently seem insurmountable.  Even our ability to survive the possible death of our planet depends on our finding new ways of transporting a lot of people over great distances in space – a prospect that is currently impossible by any technology we can now conceive of.  I don’t just mean that we can’t build the technology; I mean that we haven’t even imagined a solution that would really be feasible.  In order to fulfill the kind of destiny that Darwinism offers us, we need to get a whole lot smarter.

The article in Scientific American (“The Limits of Intelligence” by Douglas Fox) would seem to throw a monkey-wrench into this vision of our future.  The size of our brains could increase, but then they would get slower because information would have longer distances to travel across our neural network.  If we grew more neural connections, they would take up more space, plus they would consume more energy and our brains already use up about 80% of the energy we burn on a daily basis.  (Can I turn that into a diet plan?  Think more, eat less?)  On top of this, more neural connections would mean more information traffic and more “background noise”.  The conclusion would seem to be that the human brain is as good as it’s going to get.

For those who do not believe in a higher power (i.e. we’re out here on our own), that has to be a depressing thought.  The article does not, however, leave them without a ray of hope.  Perhaps, we might find a solution in connectivity.  Perhaps, the development of technology that allows us to “pool our intelligence with others” (43) will prove to be the next great step in our evolution.  As a matter of fact, I think we should continue to develop that connectivity, as long as we are aware that information technology has the potential to make us all dumber together instead of making us all smarter together depending upon how we use it.  (See the previous post on PBS’ special Digital_Nation.)  I applaud the new definition of polity that seems to be developing in countries like Egypt and Syria where the governments have too long been Hobbesian Leviathans devouring their own people.  Instead, the internet, through tools like Facebook and Twitter, has become the new Leviathan, the new embodiment of the will of the people.  I think there is great hope that this will ultimately (perhaps, not instantly) produce more democratic societies, and history has shown that democratic societies tend to be more just and innovative.

But I don’t think this revolution is attributable to evolution.  We have always been wired to live in communities, to pool our resources and abilities, and to depend on those around us to help us get things done.  We have certainly invented new ways of doing this, but it is not a fundamental change in us as a species.  It is simply a new and more efficient way of doing what we have always done.   Those of us who espouse a worldview that includes a Creator have always assumed that any being who could design and wire the human brain must be unimaginably brilliant.  If he has given us the best possible brain within the natural laws he established, why should we find that surprising?  We always knew that we were fearfully and wonderfully made. Moreover, our minds were created by a God who designed us to live in relationship with himself and with other people.  God alone possesses the absolute power of self-definition.  The rest of us have always learned who and what we were through our interactions with those around us.  If we are getting better at creating and facilitating those interactions, it does not create a new destiny for us.  It simply makes us better at fulfilling the destiny our Creator gave us from the very beginning of Time.

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