To keep a balance among living things in the natural world, there have to be many ways for animals to get food. In lakes, oceans, and rivers this is especially difficult because of the amount of cover that exists in which small fish can hide. If small fish over-populate, they exceed their food supply and the whole ecosystem collapses. One way to keep balance is with a predator that is an electrogenic fish.
One of the agents designed into the ecological system is the existence of living things that send out electrical charges. Very little is understood about how this works, but new data is enabling us to understand how cleverly electrogenic fish are designed to enable them to find and eat forage fish.
The January/February 2018 issue of Popular Science (page 75) has an interesting article by Ken Catania, a professor of neurobiology at Vanderbilt University on his studies of electric eels. What he found is that when an electric eel discharges a high-voltage pulse, the nerve fibers in nearby animals are affected. If a small fish is swimming near the eel, it becomes frozen like a statue long enough for the eel to catch it. Even more interesting is the fact that the eel can make any creature that is nearby twitch when the eel fires off a blip of current. The eel can swim up to a clump of seaweed and fire off a pulse. Anything hiding in the seaweed, like a small fish, will reveal its presence by twitching.
A Newsweek article for November 30, 2017, reported that more Americans scoured the internet looking for proof that the Earth is flat in the past 12 months than ever before. The first “Flat Earth International Conference” in September drew 500 “believers.” I put the word believers in quotes because there is no way to tell how many of these folks view the whole thing as a joke, and how many people truly believe in a flat Earth.
Atheist and popularizer of secular humanism Neil DeGrasse Tyson got into the act by “sharing a photoshopped image of the moon on Twitter to undermine Flat-Earthers.” The image shows what a lunar eclipse would look like with a flat Earth. Tyson frequently equates belief in God with the flat Earth mentality. We may shake our heads in wonderment at this whole scenario, but it brings to mind the old proverb, “If people don’t believe in something, they will believe anything.”
While the Bible doesn’t discuss this issue directly, there are passages like Isaiah 40:22, Proverbs 8:27, and Luke 17:30-35 which infer that the Earth is round with daytime and nighttime activities taking place simultaneously. Unfortunately, we see some Christians taking positions on scientific issues that are similar to the Flat-Earthers. When the Bible is put in the same arena with flat Earth believers the Bible’s credibility suffers.
One of the great mysteries of cosmology is the fact that the cosmos is speeding up as it expands. Scientists explain this acceleration by an invisible pressure called dark energy which makes up about 70% of the energy in the cosmos.
This explanation is based on an assumption called the Friedmann-Lemaitre-Robertson-Walker metric which took Einstein’s equations and applied them to a universe they assumed to be homogeneous and isotropic. In other words, it assumes a smooth universe. Science has determined that the universe is not smooth. It is made up of great voids separating networks of dense galaxy clusters and filaments.
Emily Conover writing in Science News for November 25, 2017, (page 22) said, “If the universe were soup, it would be more of a chunky minestrone than a silky smooth tomato bisque.” When the equations are applied to a universe that is not isotropic and homogeneous, the acceleration of the cosmos seems to be explained without the need for dark energy. By the very nature of the lumpy design of the cosmos, its collapse is avoided.
It is interesting to note that the cosmos was created in such a way that its very existence contains the fingerprint of a design that allows great stability over an infinite amount of time. The more we know of the creation, the closer we get to the Creator.
Many aspects of the creation we may never understand, but as our instruments get better and data accumulates, we understand that we have, in the words of Issac Newton, “found a pebble of knowledge while an ocean of truth lays before us.”
There seems to be an unlimited number of methods by which plants and animals reproduce. In 2006 in England’s Chester Zoo a female Komodo dragon (a large lizard) who had never been in the presence of a male laid a clutch of eggs that hatched producing male Komodo dragons.
This self-fertilization process is called parthenogenesis, and it apparently happens often with Komodo dragons. When a female Komodo dragon is isolated so that normal sexual reproduction cannot take place, the isolated female can bear male offspring which will have the same DNA as the mother. When they grow up, they can be the female’s mate. This doesn’t allow for diversity in the gene pool, but it does provide a way for a geographically isolated population to reproduce.
Komodo dragons only live in the wild on seven islands of Indonesia. They are threatened by loss of habitat and poaching of the animals they prey on such as wild boar, water buffalo, and deer. They have been designed with a method to protect them from extinction.
Those of us who had a college major or minor in psychology in the mid-twentieth-century received a heavy dose of “Freudian Theory” and Freudian ideas die hard. We learned that there are forces that explain human psychology called libido, destrudo, and thanatos which refer to sexual, aggressive, and death forces. I was an atheist when I was taking my psychology courses. Since Sigmund Freud was not only an atheist but also a promoter of drug dependence and sexual manipulation in psychological treatments, I swallowed his theories and promoted his views.
After I became a Christian, it was obvious that Freud’s treatments didn’t work. I saw modern psychology in the late twentieth century promoting ideas that were compatible with the teachings of Jesus Christ. In recent years private letters Freud wrote to Martha Bernays, his fiancee, and research by Frederick Crews have shown the depravity of Freud. In Crew’s words, “…the product of a mind that conjoined illogical and bizarre ideas with misogyny, prurience, and cruelty.”
The problem is that Freudian ideas die hard. We still see his ideas and words used in discussions of psychological disorders. We have seen articles and letters containing Freudian ideas and vocabulary like dissociative reaction, conversion reaction, anxiety hysteria, conversion disorder, and somatization disorder.
Christian principles give the best foundation for psychological stability. However, the resistance to Christianity has made Freud’s ideas go on far longer than they should given Freud’s history and the lack of success of those who tried to use his methods.
Recently someone asked whether Christianity was just a European creation and never had worldwide distribution. What many people don’t realize is that Christianity came to China in A.D. 635. A limestone block called the Nestorian Stele was created in A.D. 781, and it records 150 years of early Chinese Christianity. The stele gives the story of the Christian mission work in both Chinese and Aramaic.
The missionaries established Christian congregations in China and Mongolia. They did not try to westernize the people they were teaching. They dressed and lived simply, learned Chinese, and respected the Confucian culture.
There was no state church in most of Asia, so unlike Europe, the early Christians in the East did not have protection by the state. However, when Marco Polo traveled the Silk Road to China in 1254-1324, he found that the gospel message had proceeded him.
Chinese Christianity continues to function today in the homes of people and in quiet, steady teaching by Christians. The state continues to try to suppress the Church, but it is alive and well. We have our “Does God Exist?” DVD series overdubbed in Mandarin Chinese and copies of the DVDs have been made in China. Benny Mullins has been a part of doing that work, and we continue to get emails, written questions, and requests from all over China.
Why do we need Christmas? That’s a question worth asking. There are many people who dislike Christmas, and they have various reasons. I have some reasons why I think we need Christmas.
For those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere, Christmas comes at the time of the winter solstice when daylight seems much too short. Christmas serves to cheer us up and get us through those winter doldrums. That leads to a second reason–the decorations and especially the lights which bring beauty and cheer, even on those cold, dark days.
A third reason is the emphasis on family at Christmas. It seems that everyone wants to spend time with family and those we love as we carry on the Christmas traditions we enjoy. Related to that is the fourth reason, and that is giving. We enjoy giving to others. Jesus said there is more joy in giving than in receiving (Acts 20:35). We naturally tend to want others to give to us. But when we give to others, we learn that what Jesus said was true.
Giving something of value (such as money) to someone for an item of equal value is buying and selling. Giving something of value to someone without requiring anything in return, while expecting that person to give something of similar value is creating an obligation. Giving something of value to someone who has done something to deserve it is compensation. Giving something of value to someone who does not deserve it, but who will appreciate it is love. Giving something of value to someone who does not deserve it, and who will perhaps not appreciate it is “agape.” That is the secret of gift giving.
“Agape” is the Greek term used in the Bible to describe God’s kind of love. It’s the “I don’t care if you spit in my face” kind of love. It’s the kind of love Jesus demonstrated when, as he was being murdered, he openly forgave those who were doing it. The gift of Jesus coming to Earth to live among those who would eventually despise and kill him is true “agape.” The gifts we give are lame by comparison.
The story of Jesus from his birth to his death and resurrection is a story of giving. It is truly the most amazing concept we can imagine, and a story nobody would dare to make up. The Creator of the universe takes the form of one of his creatures to bring them to himself. I can see why many people refuse to believe it. It’s incredible, but I believe it’s true.
One of the interesting questions about Christmas is why people observe it as the date of Christ’ birth, and how December 25 was chosen as the Christmas Date.
Many people spend a lot of energy condemning the observance of Christmas as the birth of Christ, because the Bible doesn’t tell us to celebrate it, and because it almost certainly is not the actual date of His birth. Paul dealt with this kind of issue in Romans 14, and he clearly indicated what our attitude should be. In verses 5 and 6, Paul wrote, ”One man considers some days to be more sacred than others while another considers all days to be alike. On questions of this kind, everyone must decide for himself. The man who values a particular day does it in the Lord’s honor, and he who does not regard it does so to the Lord.”
Biblical Archaeology magazine had an interesting summary of the December 25 choice of the date for Christmas in their November/December 2013 issue. It may be instructional for all of us to understand the selection of the Christmas date:
“Most (but not all) Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus on this date. It was first identified by Christian historian Sextus Julius Africanus in 221 A.D. In his five-volume treatise Chronographiai, he calculated the day of Annunciation (Jesus’ conception) to be March 25 in the year 1 B.C.–the first day of the calendar year and 5,500 years after the Creation of the world, according to his estimates–thereby resulting in Jesus’ birth on December 25 of the same year. Later historians came up with the date March 25 for the Annunciation believing there was a connection between the date of the crucifixion, March 25, and the Annunciation. The Eastern Church also linked Jesus’ conception and birth but placed his conception on April 6 and his birth on January 6. In Armenia, Christmas is still celebrated on January 6. For the rest of the East and liturgical churches in the West, January 6 came to be celebrated as Epiphany, marking the arrival of the magi to the Nativity. The 12 days between Christmas and Epiphany became ‘the 12 days of Christmas.’ Many countries–including Russia, Serbia, Egypt, and Ethiopia–celebrate Christmas on January 7 and Epiphany on January 19 because they hold to the older Julian calendar, which is 13 days behind the modern Gregorian calendar.”
Many of us remember news broadcaster Paul Harvey, who had a series he called “The Rest of the Story.” He would tell us things related to a current news story that we might not be aware of, but which were significant to the story. I suggest that Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus Christ, is “the rest of the story” in this season as we look at Joseph’s role in Christmas.
Joseph was a Jew, as was Mary (Matthew 1:1-17). In the Jewish system, the marriage relationship was complex. The groom would make a verbal declaration to the bride of his intent to marry her. This promise involved a gift, it was made in the presence of two witnesses, and it could not be revoked without a formal divorce. The groom and bride would not have relations or live together for a year as the bride stayed with her parents. At the end of the year, the groom would come and take the bride to his family home and the marriage would be consummated. Part of the reason for this was undoubtedly to prove that the bride was not pregnant and that her claim to be a virgin was true. If it were established that the bride was not a virgin, she would be stoned to death by the men in the town according to Deuteronomy 22:20-21.
In Joseph’s case, it seemed clear that Mary was not a virgin because she was pregnant (Matthew 1:18-19). This meant that she could be stoned to death for violating the Jewish law. We see this in John 8:3-5. When the lawyers and Pharisees quoted the law, Jesus told the sinless ones to start throwing stones. They were all afraid to cast the first stone and one-by-one they slipped away.
Joseph loved Mary, and you have to know that his heart was breaking at the situation. He had a dream in which an angel told him that the baby Mary was carrying was a special creation of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:20-25). For that reason, Joseph should not fear that he was breaking the Jewish law. It would have been easy for Joseph to explain away the dream as a figment of what he wanted, or as a product of stress. Instead, he accepted the dream and went on with the marriage.
Joseph sets the standard of obedience to God by accepting Mary and the situation she brought into his life. He accepted being a father to Jesus and went through all of the painful experiences of a Jewish father (Luke 2:41-48). He did all of that even though he didn’t understand it all (Luke 2:49-50).