Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Easy Budget video features wisecracking Nutcrackers

Here's my Christmas video promo for my "Easy Budget" ebook. Thanks to my wife and co-workers Joe and Jody for their help in the production:

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Jon Bon Jovi alive and well, but Kim Jong Il can't find Vaclav Havel in hell

 Rumors of Jon Bon Jovi's death were greatly exaggerated on the Internet Monday, so he went online with a photo to prove he is still among the living.

I'm glad he's still among us, though I was hoping for better relations with new lead singer Jon Bon Un.

Not to be outdone, departed Dear Leader of North Korea Kim Jong Il issued his own photo, showing himself in search of fellow head of state Vaclav Havel who died on the same day as Kim.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Living on a budget (video)

I've made my first promo video for my "Easy Budget" e-book. And, obviously, I did it on a budget. (Hey, proves I practice what I preach!)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Daily devotions not for all, Tim Ross says in new book 'The Nearest'

Do you struggle with a daily devotional time? If so, Tim Ross wants you to know you are not alone.

In his just-released book “The Nearest: Devotion Not Devotions” (O Books, 175 pages) Ross makes the case that while Bible reading and prayer are important, Christians shouldn’t beat themselves up if they have trouble with them. Ross himself, a retired Methodist minister in the U.K., found it difficult to set aside daily time for prayer and Scripture when he first became a Christian in his late teens.

He began to realize that it is one’s entire life that is a devotion to God and not just daily devotionals. Using one’s spiritual gifts is an act of devotion: helping a person in need, etc. And the short prayers uttered throughout the day keep one in contact with God no less than an hour devoted specifically for that purpose.

So how did we come to believe that a certain portion of time sequestered from the outside world was vital for recharging spiritual batteries? Ross says the medieval monastics led the way setting themselves apart to focus on their relationship with God, and over time lay people began to model that behavior with daily devotionals.

And while certain time set aside for devotions are beneficial to the spiritual lives of some, they aren’t for others.

“ The heart of my problem, I knew, was one of self-discipline,” Ross writes. “I am not a person who is happy in routines. I am not one of those people who have no problems with keeping to patterns and habits, just the opposite, in fact. Which raises another relatively serious question about patterns and habits of prayer. Just as there is an implied relationship between the frequency of prayer time and the presence of God, it is easy to make a connection between spirituality and discipline, which again risks exchanging the grace of God for spirituality by merit.”

Ross makes sound theological arguments, and his humor and personal stories make them easy to understand. His encouragements are worth a look to anyone who has ever wrestled with doubts over his or her ability to dedicate a set-aside time in prayer. He notes that his ideas aren't new, but they can be revolutionary for people who have spent years feeling inadequate in their spiritual walk.

(Disclaimer: A free review copy of this book was provided by the author. Read my interview with Ross about the book here.)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Church stained-glass damaged by tornado

My church's stained-glass windows, dating from the 1920s appeared untouched after the April 27, 2011 tornado outbreak that hit the Southeast United States, but when I showed up for church three months later some of them were missing. Find out what happened over at my blog, Jesus In Alabama (and Everywhere Else): Images of the Name.

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Friday, July 8, 2011

My stay-cation project propagating azaleas on the cheap

I've been on stay-cation this week, and I've worked myself silly. One of my projects was trying to root some of clippings from my Grandma's azaleas and spending $0 doing it. I wrote about it over on my Easy Budget blog. If you are interested in how it turned out, check it out here.

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Sunday, July 3, 2011

Must we act out the lyrics of worship songs? (Video)

"We stand and lift up our hands."

As we sing these words of the Chris Tomlin praise song in church everyone feels obligated to stand and lift up their hands.

OK, not everyone. Almost everyone feels obligated to stand. Those who never lift up their hands still don't do so even though they do feel obligated to stand.

I have one friend who bucks the trend. He says he's not going to stand just because some human being says he ought to stand. He'll stand when the Spirit tells him to. Although this morning he did stand at the line, "We stand and lift up our hands." Maybe the Spirit just happened to move him at that exact point in the song today. Or maybe it was because he was sitting on the front row.

Hey, I'm not judging him, because I always A) stand and B) lift up my hands when the line is sung, and I do so specifically because the line says it -- even though I sometimes both stand and lift up my hands during other songs because the Spirit leads me to. And sometimes I neither stand nor lift up my hands in other songs even though the Spirit does lead me to because, you know what, no one else is doing it -- or at least not many others are.

And I'm not talking about when I'm in a church where people don't make that kind of outward expression -- I'm talking about where I'm in the kind where they do, and where I'm comfortable doing it, but I don't do it because right then and there I'm afraid someone will think I'm putting on a show or being all holy-holy.

But back to that standing-and-lifting-our-hands song. Do you remember the next line? It's "We bow down and worship Him now."

Do you know how many of those people who stood and lifted their hands bowed down in unison at that line? Zero!

So my friend who never stood up to start with is the one who was in the right all along and the rest of are hypocrites! (Well, excepting for today he stood up -- but he still didn't lift up his hands, mind you.)

This was all after the singing of another song in which Jesus is called "The Rose of Sharon." Something struck me funny there, but I couldn't put my finger on it. Turns out my friend Googled it. During the passing of the peace he tells it was the Shulamite woman in the Song of Solomon who says she is the Rose of Sharon. So if you are among those you make the Song into a parable of Christ and the Church, shouldn't the Rose of Sharon be the Bride of Christ, not the Groom?

That's what he and I thought, though I have since found there are others who don't agree.

That notwithstanding, it's a great song. The peace of God be with you:

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Photo: Bibliothèque de Toulouse. Domaine public

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Getting a bowl from our dish drainer ...

is like playing Jenga:

I got out a bowl successfully with one hand, then knocked my wife's cell phone off the counter. Go figure.

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Not all writing advice is good

Consider yesterday's post. Whoever said to keep a notebook by your bed to write down ideas you have in the middle of the night is clearly an idiot.

Or maybe it's my implementation of that advice that's not so hot.

Be that as it may, I followed the advice. I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about how I didn't like people to throw balls at me, expecting me to throw them back.

I remember nothing about why I thought this would make a great blog post. I remember only the two sentences I ran to my laptop to write down before I forgot even that much: "I don't keep loose balls lying around. Someone will want throw them."

Later, I would write marvelous prose from this inspiration. At least, that was the plan.

What happened instead was a migraine. By the time I got over it I was way over deadline – and not feeling fantastic.

By the time I finished it sounded sad and pathetic. I posted it anyway. I made a joke on Twitter about how sad and pathetic it sounded. That would make it better, I thought. Problem was, some people would read it who hadn’t come from Twitter.

So I asked my wife to look at it. Should I just take it down. “Leave it up,” she said. “It sounds contemplative.”

“OK,” I wrote back. “But tomorrow I’ll be contemplative about what a bad idea it was.”

You might be thinking, “Your problem is that you didn’t stay up and write down the who idea.”

No. I’ve done that. The next day it was gibberish. So I should have learned my lesson.

It works for other people. I remember hearing years ago that Don Schlitz, who wrote “The Gambler” got the entire song in a dream. He got the first half one night and the second half the next night. Yes, inspiration came back and finished what it had left undone for that guy. He sold it to Kenny Rogers and they both made tons of money on it.

(I can't find this story on the Internet, so it might be entirely apocryphal.)

And Ed King, who wrote the guitar solos for “Sweet Home Alabama” says he got every note of them in a dream. He’s still living off the royalties. (His story is definitely true. He's told me so himself.)

So I guess the lesson is: Next time set it to music.

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Church revival text message from Cletus

I don't use text messaging; I call myself neo-Amish. But somebody claiming to be "Cletus" just sent me this one. If it was this Cletus, then I'm really behind the technology curve.

Maybe I should ask if there'll be skunk pot pie in the fellowship hall.

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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Play ball! -- just not with me

I don't keep loose footballs lying around. Someone will want throw them. And that will expose my lack of athleticism.

For some reason I never retained the ability to correctly throw one. Oh, I was taught -- time and again. But unlike riding a bicycle, I forgot. I can catch one, and I used to be able to run like crazy afterward. Once when I visited my cousins on a Sunday afternoon they were playing in the muddy vacant lot next to their house. I had on my church clothes. They were playing tackle. So every pass thrown my way was either incomplete or I scored a touchdown. But most were touchdowns.

"You should play, football!" they said repeatedly. They were nuts, of course. I was a scrawny kid who would have been killed on a football field. I was running only because I feared getting my good clothes dirty or torn. I'd have probably been running for fear of my life if I'd suited up, so, who knows, maybe I could've been a star at least at the junior high level.

I would've clearly never made it as a quarterback though: They would have had to re-teach me to throw the ball in every pre-game warmup.

I used to work with a guy who'd periodically walk around the newsroom tossing a miniature football. I avoided eye contact to ensure he never threw it to me. I still had to keep him in my peripheral vision just in case he tossed it to me anyway. I think he did once or twice. I kept waiting for the publisher to come in one day and have a snit fit over it. But no. It continued on.

Now he's in Chicago. I assume there are no men working for the Trib who can't throw a football.

People who aren't athletic always play outfield in P.E. softball. I don't mean to say outfielders aren't athletic, but what happens in P.E. class is that you have the normal number of infielders and everyone else is in the outfield. So you might have 8 or 10 covering the entire field. If you space it out right, someone who has talent will run over and catch the ball when your prayers don't get answered and the ball gets hit to you anyway.

Thing was, I actually could catch the ball. But I had some odd last-second twist I'd put on the glove when I caught it that made everyone marvel at my technique. I couldn't throw it for squat, though. Nor could I hit.

Until one day ...

For some reason, one day I connected and had a stand-up double. It was really only a base hit at best, but the outfield always moved in close when I came up to bat, so my unexpected hit put it over all their heads -- all 8 of the outfielders.

And it wasn't a fluke, I kept getting on base -- which was quite an accomplishment considering that they eventually figured out I was going to hit farther out, and there were eight outfielders.

I went from being next-to-last picked to batting cleanup. Yes, I said cleanup. I was pretty good until the girls came and watched us one day. Then I was back to striking out -- just like I did, well, with girls.

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Photo: "Push Ball Scrimmage, Columbia" George Granthan Bain Collection (Library of Congress)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Why we need editors: Only The Shadow knows how to diagram these signs

These side-by-side signs appear to have been made at the same time, so why not word them the same?

If only we knew.

I'm a professional editor, so me pointing out others' word foibles is like Mike Tyson telling me I hit like a girl. Plus, nobody's perfect; I'm occasionally the reason the newspaper I work for has to run a correction. But you've got to admit it actually looks like somebody wasn't sure which way was correct and so tried it both ways, figuring one of them had to be right.

Neither one is.

The sign of the left says the only purpose of this door is for a facilities staff member to open it. (Presumably, the real purpose of the door is to protect something inside from falling into the hands of anyone who isn't on the facilities staff.) The one on the right says that the facilities staff can't do anything to the door except open it. (Can't even close it once it's been opened.)

What the sign-maker really wanted to say was "To be opened by facilities staff only" -- no one except facilities staff can open the door. (The facilities staff can do other things with the door: shut it, lock it; and the door serves other purposes than for the facilities staff to open it.)

That said, I can't imagine what would be so exciting behind either of those doors that anyone, facilities staff included, would want to open them. But then, only you live once. And you can only prevent forest fires.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

On talking with a Southern accent (Video)

My wife says I do-up my Southern accent when I talk to people from my hometown and downplay it when I'm talking to everyone else.

Ah reckon ah do.

Actually, I'm capable of talking so that my wife can't even understand me -- and I don't mean because I'm talking about SEC football or eschatological theories. It's because I'm from Alabama and she's from Connecticut.

She can understand about every third or fourth word our auto mechanic says. My friend The Chemist, who is originally from Hong Kong, has the same problem with him. But I've been around people with such thick accents my whole life, so I think nothing of it. I hear they put captions up for that show Swamp People, but most of my friends who watch it don't need them.

I think I eased out of my thicker accent when I got a job in Birmingham 15 years ago. My wife says I have a "Birmingham accent" when I'm at work, but lay it on thicker at home now that I've moved back to my hometown and commute.

I did, in fact, noticed myself slipping in some thicker drawl in the office when I first moved back. I think I've got the two accents properly separated now.

The thicker one came in handy when I was moving my now-wife here a few years back and our rental truck starting giving trouble. We were in a far more rural area than my hometown, so the accents were huge. I think my wife would've benefited from Swamp People captioning that night.

I know a guy who has a "walking accent." Don't know how to explain it other than he shifts heavily from one side to the other when he walks. Interestingly, I catch myself throwing this walking style on, too, when I fear I'll be taken for a "city slicker." And if I open my mouth, I make sure I sound like Larry the Cable Guy.

I get self-conscious in places like New York City, but a friend of mine has no such worries. I ordered a sausage dog from a street vendor once and my friend followed right behind me asking for a saw-sij dawg. Even though I'd just ordered a sausage dog with my accent, the guy couldn't understand him.

I had the same problem in college when I was working in a grocery store. A woman with a northern accent came in and asked, I thought, where the raisins were.

"No," she told me. "Ace."

"Ace?" I asked.


"Ace bandages?"

"No. Ayyyyyce."

I only figured it out because when I looked up in puzzlement I spied the ice machine.

When she tells this story it probably ends with, "And then the guy says, 'Ohhh ... OSS!"

It's not just a Birmingham accent and a home accent I have either. There are word choices. In Birmingham you eat dinner as the third meal of the day. Back home, dinner is eaten at noon.

I found this out the hard way when I was in college in Birmingham. I made the mistake of calling lunch "dinner" to a classmate who laughed her head off. I quickly switched dinner to the third meal, but then friends at home laughed at me. Since then I've never eaten dinner. I eat breakfast, lunch and supper. You can make fun of me for saying supper if you want, but you'll always know what I mean by it.

Of course, not all Southern accents are the same. There's the Scarlett O'Hara and the Cletus the Slack-jawed Yokel. Miss Scarlett has the plantation oh-nah drawl; Cletus has the hillbilly twang.

But sometimes there are just plain personal accents. I worked with a guy who's gruff tone was so hard to understand he'd have to spell his name to people over the phone. Bad part: His name was Jay. So when he spelled it J-A-Y, they still couldn't understand him. You can't spell Jay without a J. If they couldn't understand "Jay" how were they going to understand "J"?

When he called out-of-state I always feared the person on the other end of the line was going to assume that's how everyone here talks.

Oh, well. Tuh-morah is uh-nuth-huh day!

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Why time travel is not possible

Don't get your hopes up. Time travel will never be possible.

A while back a guy claiming to come from the future, John Titor, found a following on the Internet. Any future predictions were hazy, but if anything he said failed to pass he had an out: It's possible he came from a different future than the one we will experience.

I'm sorry to be skeptical, but even if it were possible to build a time machine you couldn't just calculate the time you want to go to; you also have to figure out where in space you want to go.

You can't just return to the same spot. The spot on the planet you are starting at won't be in the same place in the time you are going to. First off, the world is spinning at about 1,000 miles per hour, depending on your latitude, so even going five minutes into the past won't get you to the same place. On top of that, it is circling the sun at about 62,000 mph.

Further, our solar system is circling the Milky Way Galaxy at 155 miles per second and the Milky Way is moving in our Local Group of galaxies at 185 miles/sec. Worst of all, we don't know exactly how fast the universe is expanding. It's about 71 km/s/Mpc, but that's only within a 5 percent margin of error. And you have to be exact on every single calculation to wind up in the "same spot" on the earth. (We didn't even discuss the wobble of the earth.)

Before you tell me I've forgotten relativity, I haven't. Maybe it's just like tossing a quarter up and catching it while you're on an airplane. The quarter travels with you as though you were standing still. Problem is, the earth experiences periods of irregular rotation which can't be predicted.

Still, for sake of argument, let's say you had all these calculations perfectly precise. You still have to know there isn't a person, animal or any other object in the spot you intend to pop into. (For that matter there has to be something there -- even if it's air. You and your machine cannot occupy the same space as air molecules any more than you can occupy the same space as a brick wall.)

But beyond that, if a time machine had ever been built someone would have already come back without being so secretive as John Piper. Once that ship has sailed it would be just like the atomic bomb. Everybody and his brother would have access to one eventually. There'd be a ride in Disney World.

Eventually somebody will use it for evil -- lots of somebodies, in fact. And every somebody who uses it for "good" will try to stop Hitler, John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, etc. Yet nobody ever succeeded in going back in time and killing Hitler. If they had, you wouldn't be reading this.

There is no time travel of the type we see in movies and never will be. Give it up.

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Monday, June 20, 2011

Who was best at creationism, theistic evolution conference?

Hugh Ross addresses the conference in favor of old earth creation.

I've written the past four days about my attendance at Fixed Point Foundation's conference "In the Beginning: 3 Views on Creation." But I didn't give much opinion. I'm a trained journalist, and presented the speaker's words as objectively as I could. Still, I do have opinions.

I went into the conference knowing little about any of the speaker's views except for Hugh Ross. I watched his show Reasons to Believe years ago, and also read his books and heard his podcasts. Whether he's got everything exactly right none of us can know, but I was impressed that he takes science and Christian faith equally seriously and has no problem harmonizing them. I was so impressed, in fact, I bought copies of his book, The Creator and the Cosmos, and gave them to anyone who would take them.

So, needless to say, being able to see Ross up close and rub elbows with him was pretty cool. (A guy named Benjamin Moon who tweets as @CaptainAhmazing put it: "I totally just random campered Dr. Hugh Ross and Dr. John Lennox. They're like my Justin Beiber and Taylor Swift.")

Much like Captain Ahmazing, it was a given I'd like Ross' presentation of old earth creationism. The question was, would Terry Mortenson, a young earth creationist or Michael Behe, a theistic evolutionist, be able to sway me?

Unbeknownst to me, John Lennox, at left, would present yet a fourth view as he spoke on opening night. Actually, Lennox's theory sounded a lot like Hugh Ross' with some differences here and there. Lennox postulates that God really did "create" on literal 24-hour days, but it took perhaps millennia for that command to be carried out before he spoke another command on another literal day and the process began again.

He was jolly in his presentation, and I liked how he said it was just a theory and he isn't willing to die for it "though some of you wish I would."

I felt something of a kinship in that every time I tackle any theological controversy I always end up believing both sides are somewhat -- if not completely -- correct. That's how I found out in Bible college I'm a Molinist on the predestination/free will debate.

Each speaker had a little under an hour to present his case, and Mortenson, the "biblical creationist" or young earther wasn't able to give me enough details without purchasing the books and DVDs he had for sale out front. Every speaker was selling books, DVDs and CDs that he pointed to for more detail, but Mortenson did so the most. Since I didn't have the money to buy any, I was left without knowing why light seems to have traveled millions of light years when the universe is only about 6,000 years old. He did touch on carbon dating being unreliable, but Hugh Ross seemed to refute that argument later.

Still, Mortenson made some points about uniformitarianism and the danger that in parts of the world where the doctrine of creation has been dropped other important doctrines have fallen like dominoes behind it -- notably, original sin. I also respected his willingness to uphold the veracity of Scripture. He did nitpick a bit, though, on some of Hugh Ross' points, i.e. saying that Moses wouldn't have used "one rotation of the earth" as one of the meanings for "day" because Moses didn't know the earth rotated. Well, no, that was just Ross' terminology for a 24-hour day, not Moses'.

On the day Behe spoke, I stayed in bed most of the day with a migraine, so I heard only the ending of his talk, though I was able to make his Q&A session the next day. I'll have to wait until I get the DVD of the conference to hear his full argument. But I did learn that he doesn't get into the theological aspects of creation, just the biology. Behe is the Lehigh University biology professor who speaks out for Intelligent Design based on the fact that plant and animal "machines" are far too complex to have occurred through chance mutations, as Charles Darwin asserted. Though a Christian, he makes no attempt to harmonize biology with Scripture, instead noting that life is "irreducibly complex." In other words, it couldn't have slowly built up from scratch with no designer guiding it along.

I liked Behe, too. In the way I respect Mortenson not wanting to see Scripture belittled, I respect Behe for not wanting to see science taken as unimportant. Though I should be clear: Both men do respect both the record of nature and Scripture. That said, I still think Ross best explains how the two work together.

But maybe this journalist was already biased to think that.

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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Old earth, young earth, theistic evolution debate

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- John Lennox, at left, kicked off Saturday's session at Fixed Point Foundation's "In the Beginning: 3 Views of Creation" conference with a Q&A session at 9 a.m.

Asked about the "goodness" of God's creation, the Oxford mathematics professor said he believes what Scripture says. "It's the reason I've taken a stand in the public sphere."

He likened God's pronouncements of his creation "good" until finishing on the sixth day and calling everything "very good" to a house. The building site is good, and so is the foundation, but it isn't "very good" until the house in completed.

Disputing scientists who say ancient man believed in miracles because he didn't understand the uniformity of nature, Lennox said, "You can't recognize a miracle unless you know natural laws."

"If I went into my hotel room last night and put $100 in a drawer, then put in another $100 ... and in the morning I check the drawer and find $50 I don't say the laws of mathematics have been broken; I say the laws of Alabama have been broken!" In the same way, "When God inputs into creation he doesn't break the laws of nature."

The "big bang" wasn't the only singularity God was behind, he said. "The Resurrection and incarnation (of Jesus) also are singularities. In fact, every time Genesis 1 says "And God said" is a singularity, he said. "That's God inputting information."

Lennox believes in a real Adam and Eve. "They were not made from a pre-existing homonid."

As to what the Nephilim are, who are mentioned in Genesis, Lennox said, " I haven't a notion."

But he did have a notion on Stephen Hawking's belief that the universe was created by gravity, not God: "What if God made gravity? It's a bit like looking at a Ford Galaxie and I say 'Is it the laws of the internal combustion engine -- or Henry Ford?'"

Hugh Ross holds up the Gideon New Testament he signed his name in at age 17 after determining Christianity was the only religion that jibed with science's view of creation.

Reasons To Believe founder Hugh Ross was asked during his Q&A time about whether God might have built in appearance of age, as young earth creationists believe. When Jesus turned water into wine, it was noted to be "good wine" -- or aged, a questioner said. Ross, who is an old earth creationist, said wine doesn't have to appear aged to taste aged. He pointed to a Japanese company that recently distilled new whiskey that tastes aged.

The astrophysicist also noted that the fossil record shows that at the instant the earth was capable of sustaining life, the fossil record shows that it actually did.

Hugh Ross speaks with an audience member before Michael Behe's Q&A.

Theistic evolutionist Michael Behe, speaking with an audience member at right, spent the first half-hour of his Q&A on the first question, which dealt with critics of his belief that the "irreducible complexity" in nature demands a designer.

He pointed to an assertion on blood clotting he made in the 1990s that was disputed by Russell Doolittle, the leader in the field. It turns out Doolittle had misquoted a paper that he thought had said two mutations brought about the same result as if there were none at all, allowing blood in lab mice to clot normally --the opposite of Behe's assertion. Doolittle had misread the paper and apologized by email, but not publicly, and others still quote Doolittle's rebuttal of Behe today.

Behe is Roman Catholic, but said he doesn't in his science speculate on who the designer is. "It's easier to see that ID (Intelligent Design) exists from looking to than to see who did it and why." He said he left those speculations to Ross and Terry Mortenson, a young earth creationist at the event, who both also have studied theology.

Behe charts why his theory on blood clotting is correct.

Hugh Ross, left, makes a point as Michael Behe and Terry Mortenson listen.

Fixed Point Executive Director Larry Taunton, at right, posed questions to the three advocates during an afternoon roundtable discussion. Taunton asked questions submitted by convention-goers, and eventually Ross, Behe and Mortenson, a young earth creationist jousted among themselves over the issue of whether science was subservient to Scripture or vice versa. All three men agreed Scripture is God's perfect revelation, though Mortenson said he prefers to go with Scripture when the two seem to disagree.

Behe noted that he doesn't get into the debate over whether Adam and Eve are literal, he sticks mainly with the science. He did note, however, that science isn't necessarily fact, but rather man's current understanding of nature, and that that understanding might change in 100 years.
Gilbert Lennox, a church pastor in Ireland and brother of John, preaches on Genesis 1 to close out the conference.

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Photos: Greg Richter Photography (Click on photos to enlarge.)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Dr. Michael Behe on theistic evolution

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – My intent was to give you a synopsis of Dr. Michael Behe’s presentation on theistic evolution, but I woke up Friday morning with a migraine, which, despite medication, only got worse.

As a result I spent most of the day in bed, praying that I would be well enough to drive an hour to hear him at 7 p.m. I awoke after 6 p.m. and decided I would be able to make the trip, but I would get there late. As it turns out, I missed about three-fourths of his talk.

I’m sure you can read much of his story at his webpage on the Lehigh University website, and also, Fixed Point Foundation is selling audio and video versions of the conference, so both you and I will be able to hear his entire talk once those are mailed out.

I think it's generally safe to say that Behe sees the complexity in creation demanding an engineer with a purpose rather than it being the result of random mutations.

When I finally made my way into the audience, Behe was talking about travelling with a friend and looking at a mountain range. “Look at that slope,” he tells the friend. “From that mountain top to the other one is an angle of 19 degrees!”

“Yeah, so what?” his friend asks.

Next they travel to see Massachusetts’ Old Man in the Mountain formation. Behe notices how the rocks resemble a human face and wonders if perhaps they were designed my some primitive culture.

Finally, they arrive at Mount Rushmore, seeing the perfectly chiseled faces of four U.S. presidents. The slope from the top to bottom of George Washington’s nose clearly was formed by a designer.

Even noted atheist Richard Dawkins admits the “appearance” of a purposeful arrangement of parts in even some of the most simple of life forms, Behe said.

Behe coined the term “irreducible complexity” for his theory, likening it to a mousetrap, which has several components necessary to make it work. If you remove half the components, he said, “you won’t get a mousetrap that works half as well. It won’t work a fourth as well. It’s a broken mousetrap.”

Behe finds it amazing so many biologists would latch on to Darwin’s theory. “The bottom line: There is strong evidence for design, little evidence for Darwinism.”

Radio host Rick Burgess closed out the evening, noting that he, too, is an Oxford graduate. He got his high school diploma from Oxford High School in Oxford, Ala.

“I’m going to ask a question I’ll bet none of these men with Ph.D.s asked,” Burgess said. “I read Genesis and I wonder stuff like: What if, instead of a snake, it had been a giraffe that tempted Eve in the garden. Can you image giraffes with no legs? What if you saw a legless giraffe out in the garden and hollered, ‘Honey, bring me a shovel or hoe!’ then tried to cut that long neck off?”

Turning serious, Burgess said that while it’s good to engage in debates such as the origin of may, Christians shouldn’t make it a litmus test for salvation.

The conference concludes on Saturday, with Q&A sessions with Behe, young earth (or biblical) creationist Dr. Terry Mortenson and old earth creationist Dr. Hugh Ross, a roundtable discussion among all three, a sermon on Genesis 1 from Gilbert Lennox and a concert by modern hymn writers Keith and Kristyn Getty.

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Photo: Owen Tew

Terry Mortenson, Hugh Ross on new, old earth creation

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- Dr. Terry Mortenson presented the case for young earth creationism, and Dr. Hugh Ross made the argument for old earth creationism at Fixed Point Foundation's conference Thursday night at Briarwood Presbyterian Church.

The third night of "In the Beginning: 3 Views on Creation," continues tonight with Dr. Michael Behe arguing for theistic evolution. Fixed Point Executive Director Larry Taunton noted that all speakers agree on the authority of the Bible, they just have different interpretations of the text.

Though Christians disagree on the details of the universe's origins, it's vital they engage the culture, Taunton said, because "whoever gets to tell the creation story -- they are the priests of our society."

Mortenson, pictured above, of Answers in Genesis, said the earth and universe were created in six 24-hour days about 6,000 years ago. He took exception with others who argue that the "days" mentioned in Genesis 1 might be long epochs. The literary form in Genesis is narrative, he said, not poetry, parable or prophecy, meaning it was to be taken as literal history.

"That was Jesus' view, and all the other biblical writers treat it as history," he said.

Mortenson, who said he didn’t grow up believing in a 6,000-year-old earth, said Genesis 1-11 is vital to the Christian doctrine of salvation. “Genesis is foundational to the rest of the Bible.” He said parts of the world where the church has accepted evolution have gone on to reject other biblical doctrines as well.

The previous night, Dr. John Lennox had argued that other creatures might have lived and died long before man came along, but didn’t see “decay” that entered the world after the fall of man. Mortenson said fossils have shown that dinosaurs had cancer, so if they existed millions of years before man, they did see decay.

Mortenson said the layers of sediment seen in the Grand Canyon don’t represent millions of years of deposits followed by millions more of erosion. They point to a cataclysmic event: Noah’s flood. He pointed to an atheist scientist who had reached the same conclusion about a deposit in England.

Secular scientists, and some Christian ones, get false results because they are using the wrong lens, he said, just as if he looks through the bottom of his bifocals he would presume members of the audience have heads, but no eyeballs. Looking through the top of the top lens, he can see more clearly. Most Christians who don't believe in his view haven't closely examined the evidence, he said.

Ross, of Reasons to Believe (pictured left), described his view as “constructive integration.” “The Bible and science can be completely integrated,” he said. “God has given us two books: the book of science and the Bible.”

Ross grew up secular, but at the age of 17 decided the complexity he saw in nature demanded a creator. He read the scriptures of all the major religions, finding only the Jewish/Christian texts describing creation the way science does.

The space-time theorem states that the universe began with a singularity, but it had to have an outside causal agent. That agent, Ross said, is God.

While Genesis provides an account of creation, Ross says the Bible contains 27 separate accounts of the universe’s origins. Genesis doesn’t say what God did between creating the universe and man, but elsewhere such things are explained, including his stretching out of the heavens. Science wouldn’t discover the universe is expanding for thousands of years.

Ross rejects young earth creationism, but does believe that God created creatures as they are today; he didn’t use the process of evolution. “There’s been no discernible change in human DNA in 25,000 years,” he said, adding that on average one new species appeared on earth until man showed up. Since then there have been zero.

He said Genesis 1 is written from the perspective of the earth, and that’s why light appears before the sun and moon. The earth was previously covered in clouds, as Venus still is. After God removed the permanent canopy of clouds, photosynthesis could occur, allowing plants to grow.

Ross believes Adam was on the earth a long time before Eve was created. Part of that reason, when Adam first saw his wife he exclaimed, in Hebrew, happa ‘am (At long last!)

Ross said it’s important to find a creation model that synthesizes the Bible with science or it will be impossible to win skeptics over. “If skeptics can’t get past the first page of the Bible, they aren’t likely to get to John 3:16.”

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Photos: Owen Tew

Thursday, June 16, 2011

John Lennox on creationism, and my slip with a banana peel

“Do you have a place I can throw away this banana peel?”

That was me creating my usual good first impression as I entered Briarwood Presbyterian Church to hear John Lennox (pictured right), the first of six speakers at Fixed Point Foundation’s “In the Beginning” conference on three views of the Genesis account of creation.

The young woman to whom I spoke didn’t have a trash can but pulled out a box top with some scrap paper in it and had me deposit the remains of my supper-by-commute in there. Next, she found the lanyard with my name on it which would grant me access to the event.

After finding a men’s room, which, of course, contained a trash can, I sheepishly made my way back to the Will Call desk and begged her let me put the banana peel in a more appropriate place. As you can see, I have not been blessed with elegance.

I had contemplated bringing, rather than a banana peel, my camera to take decent pictures to illustrate this post, but feared “good photography” might not be allowed since I wasn’t attending as an accredited member of the press. So you are stuck with lousy cellphone shots.

I was way early, and got a seat front row, center. At least I’d be as close as possible for those lousy shots. I guess most of the attendees were Baptist since it was quite a while before anyone else joined me on the front row. When someone did, he introduced himself, and said he was from Huntsville, which is about 100 miles to the north.

Huntsville, Alabama is a space and defense industry hub, and sure enough this guy was semi-retired from the business. “You’re a rocket scientist, eh? Not me. I just gave the woman at Will Call a banana peel – THEN TOOK IT BACK.” I didn’t say that, but I probably will if I see him again tonight. There’ll probably be a brain surgeon from UAB sitting on the other side of me.

My neighbor suddenly thought to turn off his cellphone, then I told him way more than he cared to hear about mine – including the fear I’ll forget to put it on vibrate in church one day and it will go off to my ringtone of the old Emergency Squad 51 call.

God eventually showed the rocket man mercy and allowed the event to begin. Husband-and-wife duet Keith and Kristyn Getty kicked things off with a few hymns, some of which they wrote themselves. You can see the rotten cellphone photo at left that makes them appear as angels in their brightness; actually, it’s just overexposure. Though their singing and piano was indeed heavenly. I think they said Kristyn is John Lennox’s niece.

Lennox took the stage next. His purpose was to give an overview of the three views that will be presented over the next two nights: young earth creationism, old earth creationism and theistic evolution. Give-and-take among the views will be Saturday.

But Lennox added his own view: something in between. Noting that there are multiple interpretations for the word “day” in most languages, he pointed out that Genesis 1 says that God spoke things into creation and there was “evening and morning.” Young earthers say this proves the six days of creation are literal 24-hour periods. Old earthers and evolutionists say “days” refer to epochs. But Lennox posits that both could be true. That is, God spoke certain things into creation on an actual day, but “it might have taken a long time for what he said to work themselves out.”

Problems with his theory? One is the Bible’s claim that man’s sin in the Garden of Eden brought death. Lennox says that perhaps man’s sin brought death only to mankind, not animals and plants. But it brought decay and disease to all creation. A daffodil can get a disease and die, he explained, but if a daffodil blooms, then later dies out for the year, only to rise up again the next spring, that isn’t though of as disease or decay. It’s part of the natural cycle of the plant.

Lennox said he’s looking forward to hearing the other speakers – and perhaps even hearing them refute his theory. He admitted he might well be completely wrong. “I’m not willing to die for it,” he said, joking, “though some of you wish I would.”

Taking the Bible literally doesn’t mean that nothing should be seen as symbolic, Lennox noted. For instance, no one thinks that when Jesus said “I am the door” he meant he was an actual wooden door. “It’s because you have experience with doors.”

The Oxford mathematics professor said he got onto theology after one of his early students at Cambridge asked him whether he believed in God, then added, “Of course you do; you’re Irish. You believe in God, and you fight about it.”

The young man was making two common assumptions that Lennox didn’t care for: “He was saying my belief in God is genetically determined, and secondly, that it leads to violence.”

Lennox urged Christians, no matter what their view of creation, not to turn people off from faith by being overly dogmatic. He noted how Copernicus’ assertion that the earth circles the sun and not vice-versa wasn’t accepted by science or the church at first. And that debate was as hot as “creationism” is now. If the earth wasn’t the center of the universe it messed up the theology that the earth was important to God.

“The earth doesn’t have to be at the center of the physical universe for it to be at the center of God’s attention,” Lennox said.

Scripture talks about the origins of the universe, but it isn’t a science textbook, he said. “In Genesis, God encourages man to find things out for himself.”

He noted that many theologians of centuries past questioned whether the universe was created in six 24-hour days, among them Augustine, Justin Martyr and Origen. “And they weren’t influenced by contemporary geology.”

Lennox urged attendees to listen with respect to all points of view at the conference, even if their minds aren’t changed. He especially pointed out evolutionary biologist Michael Behe, who is taking a risk in his field by rejecting Darwinian evolution. “I am a mathematician, and I challenge it, too,” he said, “but not at the cost a biologist does.”

Fixed Point Executive Director Larry Taunton said he put the conference together because often in churches only one view is heard. “If you aren’t willing to submit yourself to some scrutiny within the church … I can assure you you’ll face some difficulty outside the church,” he said.

Oh, and my cellphone? It did go off with a call for Gage and DeSoto. I must have turned it off vibrate when I was taking one of those crummy pictures. Happily, I also accidentally turned the ring volume down to 1, which is 6 quieter than full blast.

It was my wife. When I called back she said a turtle was in the garage and she couldn’t coax it out. “Be careful when you come home,” she said. “Don’t run over it.”

And ruin part of God’s creation? Never.

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Photos: Owen Tew's cellphone and his wife

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

3 views of Genesis creation conference in Birmingham, Alabama (VIDEO)

Fixed Point Foundation, which normally presents debates between atheists and Christians, is putting on a four-day conference beginning tonight on three Christian views of creation. It will be held at Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama. If you can't make it, check back here each day for my observations. And they usually make DVDs, CDs and mp3s of their events available for sale.

Here, Fixed Point Executive Director Larry Taunton explains what the conference is about:

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I'm losing everything into a black hole

Well, everything I own now is getting sucked into some vortex.

I wrote a check the other day and 10 minutes later I couldn't find the checkbook. I still haven't. I never left the house so I know it's in there.

Yes, I looked the last place I was. Yes, I've retraced my steps. If one more person tells me to do those things he's going to lose his head and I'm going to lose my freedom after the sheriff finds me.

Yes, I've looked in all those places ten thousand times, and so has my wife. When I saw her open the refrigerator door I assured her "I already looked in there -- and in the freezer, too."

So don't tell me to retrace my steps. We've torn the house apart. I've even checked the garbage -- piece by piece. Just in case, we're putting the garbage out at someone else's house. Our garbage runs so early we have to put it out overnight, so I don't want anyone grabbing my checkbook -- and my one credit card, which was in there, too.

I can live without the checks and the card. I can just move on to the next batch of checks and have a new card issued. I use the card only for online purchases anyway -- and rarely even that.

They're all in the house, so nobody's going to steal them. But it's the frustration of not being able to find something you know is there.

While looking I found a receipt for the Boston butt I couldn't find on the Saturday before Memorial Day. Happily, the barbecue joint took my word for it that I had indeed bought it.

Today, I lost my camera. It's a digital SLR, not a tiny point-and-shoot. There's no reason you can't find a camera that big. I think everything's been sucked into another dimension.

And I think my virginity's in there somewhere.

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Photo: NASA/Chandra X-ray Observatory

Sunday, June 12, 2011

On eating a watermelon

I can’t believe I’m eating watermelon in the house. Watermelon was meant to be eaten outside. Is it age making me do it, or just plain laziness?

When I was a kid we ate watermelon only outside. It’s perfect when you’ve chilled it in the refrigerator, then you cut it open and dig in – preferably with the very knife you’ve just used to slice the melon open: a big butcher knife.

When I was a kid whoever cut the melon up ate with the big knife. The rest of us got the regular knife you normally used at the dinner table for cutting your steak. When it came to watermelon eating, sometimes company would prefer a spoon or a fork, but that meant incomplete cutting and/or picking out of seeds. I wanted no part of that.

You had to eat watermelon outdoors because the juice would run down your chin and all over your hands. You’d have to go to the hose to wash off before you could even go back in the house.

Indoor watermelon eating means you are in the air-conditioning, so you are robbed of the satisfaction of that cold sweet fruit chilling your mouth and then your belly in the hot, humid outdoors, perhaps after you've just finished an exhausting day of yard work.

Indoors, you also have to be oh-so-careful not to get that juice all over you – a waste of a good melon-eating experience. (I will give in on this, though: No wasps trying to steal your melon. And no ants, either.)

The eating
If you want the purest experience, first cut out the middle part – the heart – and save it for last. It’s the sweetest. The closer you get to the rind, the less sweet it gets. And don’t put salt on it. Why in the world do people put salt on their watermelon? You wouldn’t salt an ice cream sundae, would you? Then don’t put salt on a perfectly sweet watermelon. Get some common sense.

Anyhow, even though I’ve begun eating watermelon in the house I still eat it the same way as outside, so I have to stand over the kitchen sink. I will not concede to cutting it up into little squares to be eaten later off of a plate. That’s insanity. That’s “restaurant” eating. We are not talking about eating a piece of toast or a boiled egg, here. It should be a primal experience.

When you’ve eaten as much as you want, give the rest to your dog. Dogs will eat stuff that has rotted, so they’re no connoisseurs of tastiness. They’ll think that not-so-sweet stuff next to the rind is the best stuff they’ve ever tasted – and it is, compared to month-old bird intestines they likely ate this morning.

I’m sorry about that reference. It could put you off a perfectly good watermelon. Probably not, though, considering how good it is.

I’m actually a little concerned at my proclivity of late to eat watermelon in the house. If you see me reaching for a salt shaker anytime soon, please, I am begging you, stage an intervention.

Note that even my pooch, Mollie, above, doesn't eat the rind. And what's the deal with seedless watermelon? Nothing to spit!

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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Why do grown men play video games?

They used to say the only difference between men and boys is the size of their toys. I haven't heard that saying in years -- probably because men and boys now play with the same toys: video games.

A recent report cited a tripling over last year of the number of women saying they filed for divorce because their husbands spent more time on video games than they do with their wives. This survey was about divorce causes, so it didn't even count the number of men who aren't able to get wives because they play video games too much.

So, what is the right amount of time for a grown man to play video games? I would think that it would be whatever amount they could stand after their children forced daddy to play with them. I would be wrong, of course.

Full disclosure: I am 46 years old and have hated video games ever since I was a teenager. I thought my friends were insane to spend hours at an arcade hunched over a "Space Invaders" or "Frogger" machine. There seemed to be no chance of winning; all you did was see how long you could play before you lost to the machine.

I got "Pong" for Christmas one year, and quickly tired of it. I could easily beat my little sister, but never beat the computer. My dad played me a few times, but he had actual grown-up responsibilities so he wasn't much for competition.

Later games became more complex, but they weren't any more interesting -- at least to me. But lots of men as old as I am and older not only play this stuff, they're among the nuts camping out overnight to be the first to buy the newest gaming devices, which cost hundreds of dollars.

My dad can fix almost anything under the hood of a car -- at least on pre-computer models. I can't do anything but check and change the oil and keep the other fluids and tire air pressure correct. But at least I'm not driving pretend cars around pretend racetracks or running over pretend hookers for points with them.

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Photo: Creative Commons by tcp909

Sunday, June 5, 2011

I don't care what the Bible don't allow, gonna write with green ink anyhow

Quite a few Christians don't believe something in The Bible.

Even Christians who say they believe the Bible word-for-word.

To avoid getting off on a tangent arguing which verses we disagree about, let's make up an example that isn't actually in the Bible. How about: "Don't write with green ink." Let's say the Apostle Paul wrote this in III Goofians.

Some readers are going to foreswear green ink because the Bible forbids its use. Some of these foreswearers who are theologians will think up good reasons for the edict: Green represents the deadly sin envy, as in "green with envy," or perhaps the serpent who tempted Eve was a green snake. Others, who are just plain followers of the text (i.e. fundamentalists) simply note that green ink is a sin and avoid it.

Other readers who can't think of any logical reason not to use green ink -- or maybe they just think it's pretty -- will come up with reasons that this passage should be considered in context. Maybe in Paul's day you had to kill a kitten to produce green ink. Since catricide is no longer necessary to the process today, green ink is fine. Or maybe Paul was talking only to the Goofians because that city's culture associated green ink with worshiping false gods. Or maybe Paul never said it at all, and the green ink ban was put in later by makers of red ink who didn't want to change their business model.

Whatever the case, the disagreement brings about the creation of several churches based on either believing in or not believing in the green ink ban. Also, a publisher will get four theologians to contribute to a book titled "Four Views of Green Ink" in which this one verse of Scripture is dissected ad nauseam.

Then there's the whole loophole of writing in yellow, then tracing over it with blue. Is this sinful? After all, the intent is to produce green writing. Is it OK to write in green on computers since the text says "ink" and computers don't use ink?

Some people will say that anyone writing with green ink is going to hell. Others say that while green ink is clearly unbiblical, God's forgiveness is vast. And, in certain circumstances, green might be the only ink available with which to share the gospel in printed form. Is it better that the Word not be shared at all, or that it be shared in green?

In the end, the debate will not be settled, because I am right (no pun intended) and you are a child of perdition. Even though you think the same thing about me, that just makes you judgmental.

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Photo: Paper Mate