Quote of the Day

“Democracy as a social ideal contravenes all forms of racism and class privilege. When democracy becomes severed from its Christian roots and is made to serve expanding technology, however, new forms of racism and bigotry appear. In the ‘enlightened’ democratic social order, minority groups are discriminated against not because of color or ethnic background but because they deviate from the psychological or cultural norm”-  Donald G. Bloesch.

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Ancient Near Eastern Creation Stories

In his book Old Testament Cosmology and Divine Accommodation: A Relevance Theory Approach, Old Testament scholar John W. Hilber offers the interesting observation that:

“First, it is important to keep in mind that there is no ancient Near Eastern creation account per se, whether one considers Mesopotamia, Egypt, Anatolia, or the Levant. Various traditions that are related to creation were put into the service of texts with other interests. This in itself is instructive, since it shows that the interests of the ancients revolved around questions such as theogony, cultic order, the relationship between gods and humans, magic, participating in creation cycles to overcome death, or the concerns of agriculture – not the age of the earth or how earth’s natural history unfolded. What was important to the ancients was the final order of the universe as it pertains to time, weather, and food production as well as implications for temple service. In terms of relevance theory, it is inherently improbable that Gen 1 addresses chronology of natural history or any question of interest to modern science”

Speaking more broadly, it is to be expected that some of the symbols (and all language, including written language, is a system of symbols) produced by a culture other than our own may well appear to have straight forward, obvious interpretations that are, nevertheless, not correct. It really is the case that some things which are self-evidently true to people raised in one culture are self-evident nonsense to people who grew up in a different culture.

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The Heavens Declare the Glory of God

I’ve been looking at animations of the way galaxies evolve over time. Astronomy is not my specialty, so I’ve been staying with sources that are pretty universally regarded as mainstream and reliable, so as not to wander off into aesthetic but fanciful projections.

First from the people running the James Webb Space Telescope:

And one direct from NASA:

I hear from some people that God does not exist, and yet when you project stellar movements on a time scale of billions of years, they don’t just move, they’re dancing. The stars are dancing.

 

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Quote of the Day

“If you have to look along the shaft of an arrow from the wrong end, if a man has you entirely at his mercy, then hope like hell that man is an evil man. Because the evil like power, power over people, and they want to see you in fear. They want you to know you’re going to die. So they’ll talk. They’ll gloat. They’ll watch you squirm. They’ll put off the moment of murder like another man will put off a good cigar. So hope like hell your captor is an evil man. A good man will kill you with hardly a word.” – Terry Pratchett

 

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A Mass Shooting That Didn’t Happen

In the aftermath of the horrific murders in Uvalde, Texas, it’s normal to ask what could have been done differently. In considering that question, I think it would be helpful to also look at a mass shooting in West Virginia that didn’t happen, because one woman responded in time to stop it. Setting the two incidents side by side clearly illustrates a principle I’ve heard law enforcers say many times: when you are faced with an active shooter, it is critical to engage them as quickly as possible. If you are nearby when somebody begins a shooting spree, you should immediately get to some place where you can return fire. Yes, it’s dangerous, but it appears to be the only way to stop the carnage while there are still people who can be saved. And if you don’t currently carry a gun, then, unless there’s some specific reason you can’t, it’s long past time to go get trained and licensed to carry a concealed firearm.

I know some of you are thinking right now that you don’t want to live in a world where you have to be prepared to kill people. I don’t want to live in that kind of world either. But the universe doesn’t care what either of us wants. The bald fact is that you do live in that world. Conduct yourself accordingly. Work to change the situation, but until it changes, be prepared to deal with the world as it is now, not as you want it to someday be. If going armed gives you the ability to save the life of just one child, isn’t that worth some personal discomfort? Save a life; carry a gun.

 

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The Depot at Lone Pine

Once upon a time, the Southern Pacific had a line running from Mojave to Lone Pine, California. At the northern end it actually went a little past Lone Pine to a place called Owenyo, where it met and exchanged freight and passengers with the Southern Pacific Narrow Gauge. The narrow gauge line was abandoned in 1960, and the standard gauge line between Mojave and Lone Pine was abandoned in 1984. In 1997 the former depot in Lone Pine was moved to a different site, where it is my understanding that it is being used as a private residence. Owenyo is now nothing but a few foundations.

You can reach the former depot by turning off of Highway 395 onto Lone Pine Narrow Gauge Road at the north end of the town of Lone Pine, although it is on private property and you can’t get too close. I visited it in 2016 and took some pictures. (as always, click to embiggen)

 

 

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Quote of the Day

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.

– Matthew 6:7 (NIV)

I love the phrase, “do not keep on babbling like pagans.” It’s funny (why some people think that God doesn’t have a sense of humor is incomprehensible to me), it sticks in the brain, and it also makes the point; God is not a machine where I just pull the lever (perform the prescribed ritual) and the blessing that I want comes out. This theme is continued in the immediately following verses, in which Jesus teaches his disciples that when they pray they should address God as “Father,” and in the larger context of the portion of Matthew’s gospel that this verse comes from – the passage known as the Sermon on the Mount – in which the major idea is that neither God nor other humans are to be treated as objects (whether as a means to get what we want, or as obstacles in our way), but rather as people who are valuable in themselves.

 

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More Dog

I don’t really have anything I urgently want to say tonight, so here are some more pictures of Sally (click to embiggen).

 

 

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Why Archaeology?

In the movie Conan the Barbarian (the original one, with Arnold Schwarzenegger), there is a scene right at the beginning where young Conan’s village is attacked by raiders. The village is destroyed, the adults are all killed, and as the children are being led off into slavery the narrator says, “no one would ever know my lord’s people had lived at all.”

That quote, in a word, is why I am drawn to archaeology. There’s something in me that resists the idea that people should live and die with nobody to remember them. It’s not just that I’m curious about the past, although I am that. It’s that fundamentally, I think that people matter, and they should not simply be forgotten.

 

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Rant – Archaeology and the Bible

Historically, archaeology has been used both to defend and to attack the accuracy of the Bible. As an archaeologist, even though my specialty is technology in the American West, I see this a lot. In my view, both are misuses. The proper archaeological study of past cultures requires understanding the evidence on its own terms. It is not valid to use it as a means of “proof texting” either for or against any particular preexisting opinion. Using it that way almost necessarily involves cherry picking of evidence, and making decisions about how to weight archaeological findings based primarily on whether or not the support the desired outcome, which is not the way good science is done. It also commits one to a particular understanding of the archaeological evidence which may be undermined by future findings.

As a method of coming to understand past cultures, archaeology helps us determine how the biblical texts would have been understood by their original audience. It can also constrain modern interpretations, by ruling in or out certain readings, and can help us understand practices that are foreign or obscure to modern readers. But it is not the handmaid of apologetics, whether theistic or atheistic.

In the words of Old Testament scholar John H. Walton:

Archaeology is a discipline independent of biblical studies. Although archaeology in the Middle East has often served those in biblical studies, and at times in its history has been motivated and undertaken  by those whose interests were in biblical studies, it is not an arm of biblical studies. It is a scientific discipline that is driven by its own ends and means. This is why some today are uncomfortable with the label “biblical archaeology” – archaeology cannot be carried out with integrity if it is just targeting the Bible. As a science, it has a much larger task to fulfill as it focuses on recovering the material culture and successive lifestyles of the people of antiquity.

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