The Great Eclipse

August 25, 2017

Did you watch the eclipse? The sun was only covered 81.1% from our location, but with special glasses and a pinhole box, it was still a glorious site. For the scientist, it is an important time of investigation.

Our sun is 400 times bigger than our moon, but our moon is 400 times closer than our sun. The math works out so that in a total eclipse of the sun, scientists can study the sun’s corona. Helium was discovered by studying an eclipse. The connection between spectral colors and elements was discovered from studying eclipses which has led to much knowledge about the universe. Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity was confirmed by studying an eclipse.

Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards in their book The Privileged Planet note “how our place in the cosmos is designed for discovery” as their subtitle says. There is a narrow band of conditions that have to be correct for life to be found. They call this the “Goldilocks Zone.” The temperature is not too hot or too cold to prevent having liquid water. But they note a high number of conditions that must be present for life.

  • just the right distance from the sun for the correct temperature
  • just the right thickness of the earth’s crust to allow tectonic plate movement
  • the interior of liquid iron which generates a magnetic field
  • a moon just the size of ours to stabilize the angle of our planet’s axis
  • a sun just the mass of ours

This is just a sample. One estimate is that there are 322 parameters that must be finely tuned for life to exist, in other words the odds of 1 chance in 10304. And not only must all of these things be finely tuned for life to exist, but these are also the conditions which produce total eclipses of the sun, our transparent atmosphere, and our position in the galaxy which makes our world a perfect place for scientific discovery. All of this raises the question of design rather than chance.

Some will look at all of this and still affirm chance. Benjamin Wiker and Jonathan Witt give an illustration in A Meaningful World that puts this in perspective.

Oxford philosopher Richard Swinburne likens such strange reasoning to the situation of a man before a firing squad who opens his eyes to find that the bullets have missed him and formed a precise outline of his body on the wall behind him. Instead of immediately and sanely looking for some purpose behind the firing squad’s precision firing that spared his life, “The prisoner laughs and comments that the event is not something requiring any explanation because if the marksmen had not missed, he would not be here to observe them having done so.”*

For me, the evidence points to a Designer. The eclipse was awesome, because “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1, ESV).
— Russ Holden

*Benjamin Wiker and Jonathan Witt, A Meaningful World, p. 168.

Public Prayer

August 11, 2017

Public prayer is a vital part of our worship together. It is a great responsibility to speak to God on behalf of the assembly. We want this part of the service to be meaningful and pleasing to God. Let me make a few suggestions.

Preparation to pray is an important ingredient. Be considerate of others. If you are not able to serve in the worship as scheduled, let someone know ahead of time. Your replacement will appreciate the advanced warning. Obviously, some public prayers do not come with advanced planning, like being called to pray in a Bible class. The greatest preparation for public prayer is our private prayer life. Public prayer is simply the overflow of private prayer.

The purpose of the prayer is a necessary consideration. An opening prayer is a call to worship. It expresses our praise to God and our desire to worship Him in spirit and truth. The main prayer of the service is usually of greater length and will include not only praise but the petitions important to the assembly. Remember the difference between public and personal. Don’t share other people’s burdens or petitions if they haven’t given you permission. Everyone on our printed prayer list has asked to be in our prayers.

It is great to be specific, but I would encourage variety as we approach the bulletin prayer list in public. There may be times to pray individually for everyone on the list. At times, we may want to emphasize certain parts of the list or summarize the list.

A prayer at the Lord’s Supper focuses on the death, resurrection, and return of Christ (“you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes,” 1 Cor. 11:26). Jesus is our model for this. He is said to have “blessed” or “given thanks” for the bread and the cup (Matt. 26:26-28, 1 Cor. 11:23-25). The prayer for the bread should focus on what the bread means to us; the prayer for the fruit of the vine should focus on what it means to us. It can include reflections our attitude and purpose in communing. It shouldn’t be a general prayer including things like prayer for the sick.

The closing prayer prepares us to go out into the world and live the faith. Although I think it is appropriate to allude to the lesson and our hope to apply it to life, avoid the temptation to preach the lesson all over again. Remember that a prayer that doesn’t match its purpose seems out of place.

Praise of God invigorates prayer. It is all too easy for us to begin and end with our petitions. Remember to praise God. Read the Psalms or the prayers in the New Testament for examples of such praise.

People need to be able to hear the public prayer. How can they say “amen” (which means “so be it”), if they have not heard (see 1 Cor. 14:16)? Speak clearly, and speak into the microphone. You really can’t get too close to the pulpit or communion microphones. If the system squeals, please don’t back away. Allow the person on the sound board to adjust. Backing away only compounds this task.

The Lord’s Prayer is a model of simplicity, yet it is filled with great meaning. It encourages us to pray. God is not seeking great eloquence from us, but open hearts. May our public prayers be meaningful and pleasing to God.

Slapping the Bible Around

August 4, 2017 is a web site that deals with evolution, neuroscience, bioethics, intelligent design and other science-related issues. It is a work of the Discovery Institute which promotes a Judeo-Christian worldview. Recently, they posted an article that is actually about archaeology and DNA studies, but the point of the article was not the science, but how the science was reported in the popular press.

The science of the story seems reliable. DNA was taken from ancient Canaanite remains dating some 3700 years ago. The study found a startling overlap with modern-day DNA among the Lebanese. So far, so good.

But how was this story reported in the popular press. Here is a sample of headlines as given by

  • “Study disproves the Bible’s suggestion that the ancient Canaanites were wiped out” (The Telegraph)
  • “Bible says Canaanites were wiped out by Israelites but scientists just found their descendants living in Lebanon” (The Independent)
  • “Bronze Age DNA disproves the Bible’s claim that the Canaanites were wiped out: Study says their genes live on in modern-day Lebanese people” (Daily Mail)
  • “Scientists Find Evidence That Ancient Canaanites Survive Today: Was The Bible Wrong?” (Tech Times)
  • “New DNA study casts doubt on Bible claim” (Mother Nature Network)
  • “The Bible was WRONG: Civilisation God ordered to be KILLED still live and kicking” (Express)
  • “Genetic evidence suggests the Canaanites weren’t destroyed after all” (Ars Technica)

What’s wrong with the headlines? The headlines fail basic Bible knowledge. First, although Israel was supposed to completely destroy the Canaanite people in the cities they captured (Deut. 7:2), this is also pictured as driving these people out of the land (Exo. 23:28-31). In other words, flight was an option open to the Canaanites. People who flee can pass on DNA to their descendants. Second, Judges makes clear that Israel failed in removing the Canaanites (Judges 1:27-36). So, the Bible does not claim that the Canaanites were completely annihilated.

Some retractions have occurred, but I wonder how many people see the original headline versus those who see the retraction. The Bible has been under extreme scrutiny since the beginning of the Enlightenment. In my opinion, the Bible has stood up under the testing. But knowing our Bibles well will help us defend against those who are slapping the Bible around.