Death and Transformation

From left to right, Robert Kaufmann, JJ Brannon, yours truly, and John Ashmead.

I have to warn you. This post is different from the normal fare you will find on this site. It represents more of an unfinished thought than an argument or an analysis. However, I want to share this unfinished thought with you, because I can’t help but think that it might be important, at least in some way.

This past weekend, I attended a memorial service and wake for a man who was taken from this earth far too soon: James Jerald (JJ) Brannon. I met JJ at a science fiction convention that I speak at nearly every year. He was the cousin and dear friend of the man who invited me to participate in the conference, and he was also a speaker at the conference. In fact, we did several panel discussions together over the years, such as the one pictured above. That particular panel was about the diseases we might expect to see in the 21st century.

JJ was, in a word, unique. He had many awesome qualities, but he was, quite frankly, incredibly difficult to deal with. He often portrayed himself as an expert on subjects about which he was not well-educated, and unless you worked hard to hold him in check, he would monopolize any conversation he was a part of. He also went on and on and on and on and on when a subject was very important to him.

Now don’t get me wrong. JJ was incredibly difficult to deal with, but he was also an amazing friend. I genuinely enjoyed seeing him, and I was truly fond of him. Also, he loved me and his other friends (and his family) fiercely. However, after spending a lot of time with him, I often found myself getting annoyed with him. His cousin (the friend who introduced us) often felt the same way. One thing he would often complain about is that when JJ called, it was never a short conversation. As I said, JJ could go on and on and on, especially when a subject really interested him.

When I went to his memorial service, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. What would people say about this wonderful but annoying man?

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Facts and Truth

Me as Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha.
This past weekend I did something I have been dreaming about for more than 30 years. I portrayed the lead role in the classic musical Man of LaMancha. It was a wonderful experience. The cast was incredibly talented, and the production was both unique and beautiful. All the performances were sold out, and the audiences truly enjoyed the experience. I cannot express how thankful I am to The Alley Theatre for its support and its love of the arts.

As any serious art should do, the musical tackles a big question: How should we approach the world in which we live? On one side, there is the character Dr. Sanson Carassco, who says that we must face the world as it is. On the other side, there is Don Quixote, who says we should face the world as it ought to be. For example, Don Quixote meets a prostitute named Aldonza. However, he sees and treats her as a virtuous lady he calls “Dulcinea.”

In his insightful program notes, our director said this:

The simple, deconstructed storyline of LAMANCHA can be imagined as DON QUIXOTE standing at one end of a line. He is the dreamer and the crusader for change. On the other end of the line is DR. CARASSCO, the representative of “things as they are.” Walking from one to the other, in journey we should all take, is ALDONZA. She begins as “who she is” and ends as “who she should be and could be.”

While these notes give you the “big picture” about the show’s message, I want to discuss a side issue that centers around one of my favorite lines. When I first started rehearsing, I said the line one way, but our ever-patient director encouraged me to re-examine how Don Quixote would actually say it, and I ended up changing the delivery significantly.

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Where Did Western Philosophy Begin?

Artist Frank Wu’s interpretation of Job 1:20-21. (click to go to the artist’s website)

In my sophomore year at university, my roommate was Frank Wu. He was a fun, energetic guy, and we had a great time together. We remained friends throughout our time at university. I got married after my junior year, and Frank gave me and my wife an original painting, which is pictured above. It represents his artistic interpretation of my favorite passage in Scripture: Job 1:20-21. I have treasured the painting ever since he gave it to us. It hangs in my office where I can see it while I work. Now that he is an award-winning artist, it is probably worth some money, but that couldn’t possibly compare to the value it holds in my heart.

Because the book of Job contains my favorite passage in Scripture, I have probably read it more than any other book in the Bible, along with many commentaries. Imagine my surprise, then, when I came across an interpretation of the book that I had never considered. It comes from Dr. Susan Neiman, director of the Einstein Forum in Potsdam, Germany.

Dr. Neiman says this about the book of Job:

I am a philosopher who believes that Western philosophy begins not with Plato, but elsewhere, and earlier, with the Book of Job. That is because I believe that the problem of evil is the central point where philosophy begins, and threatens to stop.

The problem of evil, of course, is the apparently contradictory situation in which God is all-good and all-powerful, but there is suffering in the world. How could an all-good, all-powerful God allow that to happen? For centuries, Christians have written excellent answers to that question, so I don’t consider it a problem. See, for example, Chapter 14 in Warranted Christian Belief by Dr. Alvin Plantinga. However, it is a good question that every person who believes in an all-good, all-powerful God must consider.

Thus, I encourage you to read Dr. Neiman’s essay when you have time to consider it. I don’t agree with everything she says, especially when it comes to God’s omnipotence. However, the way she describes the roles of Job, his friends, and God is very interesting. I will spend more time considering her interpretation and perhaps write a follow-up article.

Here’s Another College That Gets It

Six years ago, I wrote an article about Anderson University, where I am an adjunct professor. While the university clings strongly to the essentials of the Christian faith, it does not force its faculty to conform to one interpretation of Scripture. As a result, students are exposed to many different views that exist within Christendom.

In addition, rather than just trying to proselytize for their own view, the faculty are committed to making sure students understand the different ways Christians interpret the world through the lens of Scripture. This is best exemplified by an example. One of the science professors is an old-earth creationist, but he regularly invites me into his classes either to give a young-earth view of the science the students are learning or to engage in a friendly debate with him on the issue of the earth’s age. I especially like the latter, since students see that two people can engage in serious disagreements and still be good friends.

Just before Christmas, someone I respect and admire sent me an article that I wanted to share with my readers. It gives you another example of a Christian College (in this case, a seminary and Bible College) that gets it. To fully appreciate the article, however, you need to know the history behind it.

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Thankfulness Despite Tragedy

I have written about tragedy and faith in previous posts (see here, here, and here). As Christians, we should understand that the pain we experience as a result of tragedy is temporary in light of eternity. We will eventually be in a place where all tears are wiped away (Revelation 21:4), and that should provide us with some measure of comfort. But there’s a big difference between being comforted and being thankful, isn’t there? Can we really be thankful if we experience a serious tragedy?

Yesterday, I preached at my home church, Wesley Free Methodist. I have preached there a few times before, and you can find three of my sermons and many better ones preached by others on the church’s “Weekly Message” page. This sermon was different, however, because it was not the sermon I wanted to give. It was challenging, and if you listen to it, you will hear my voice crack a few times due to emotion. However, I think the message I am trying to impart is important, so I am sharing it here.

You can listen to the sermon by clicking on the “play” icon in the bar below, or you can right-click on the link below the bar and choose “Save Link As” to download it to your device. If the message touches you and you think you know of someone else it might touch, feel free to share it.

When Someone Really Believes The Words of Jesus

The man who owns the company that publishes my new books (left) and the man to whom he donated part of his liver (right).

When some Jewish leaders were trying to pull a “gotcha” moment on the Son of God, the following exchange took place between Jesus and a Pharisee:

One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:35-40)

There it is, straight from God Incarnate. The two most important things you need to do in life is love God and love your neighbor. If I am being completely honest here, I don’t know many Christians who actually do both. I most certainly don’t. I try, but I tend to fail pretty miserably, especially at the second one.

There are, however, a precious few Christians I have met who honestly believe the words of Jesus and live their lives according to the two greatest commandments. One of them is pictured above, on the left. His name is Jon, and he owns Berean Builders, the company that publishes my award-winning elementary courses and my new chemistry course.

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More on the Flat Earth

The logo of the 2013 Flat Earth Society (click for credit)
The logo of the 2013 Flat Earth Society
(click for credit)
I have written about the concept of a flat earth several times before (here, here, here, and here). Since the time of Aristotle (and probably before), most philosophers understood that the earth is a sphere. In fact, Eratosthenes was able to measure the circumference of the earth’s sphere around 200 BC. Thus, the idea that most ancient scholars thought the earth is flat is a complete fabrication. Indeed, the idea that people thought Columbus would sail off the edge of the world originated in works of fiction, not works of history. Nevertheless, from time to time, I encounter a modern person who believes that the earth is flat or knows someone who does. Such was the case this past weekend when I attended the Indiana Association of Home Educators annual convention.

I love attending that convention. Not only is it close to home, but the organization that runs it is incredible, and the speakers they invite are usually quite wonderful. I don’t always get to attend, because I am often asked to speak at a different convention that same weekend. However, this year, I had no previous commitments, so I went to the convention to sit at my publisher’s booth and give a brief talk about my new award-winning elementary science series. At the end of my talk, a homeschooling mother asked to speak with me about the fact that some people in her family were beginning to believe that the earth is flat. She asked what she could do help debunk that notion.

I talked with her for a while and gave her a couple of resources, and I also gave her my e-mail address in the hopes that her family members would send me any questions they had on the issue. However, as I started thinking about our talk, I decided it would be best to produce a page where I could gather some of the resources that clearly show the earth is not flat. It’s rather ironic that an idea which could be easily refuted more than 2,000 years ago still requires refuting today. Nevertheless, I am happy to do my part.

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Memes: Spreading False Ideas Since 1980


If you have spent much time on the internet, I am sure you have seen memes like the one shown above. They usually contain a picture and some sort of message. I really enjoy the funny ones, but I typically don’t like the serious ones. It’s not because I don’t enjoy being serious. It’s because you rarely know whether or not the information in the meme is trustworthy. Consider, for example, the meme shown above. It attributes a quote to Dr. Werner Heisenberg, a giant in the field of quantum mechanics. Indeed, his work continues to guide our understanding of the atomic world. I fully agree with the quote, and I deeply respect Dr. Heisenberg. There is only one problem: the meme is almost certainly false.

A Facebook friend posted it on my wall because she knew that I would agree with it. However, I had read a lot of Heisenberg’s work, and the quote didn’t seem to fit the person who I had come to know through my reading. Consider, for example, his main work on the relationship between science and religion. It is called “Scientific Truth and Religious Truth,” and it was published in 1974 (two years before his death) in Universitas, a German review of the arts and sciences. In that work, he seems to argue that science and religion each arrive at truths, but the truths are unrelated to one another. Consider, for example, his own words:

The care to be taken in keeping the two languages, religious and scientific, apart from one another, should also include an avoidance of any weakening of their content by blending them. The correctness of tested scientific results cannot rationally be cast in doubt of religious thinking, and conversely, the ethical demands stemming from the heart of religious thinking ought not to be weakened by all too rational arguments from the field of science.

This is a common view among religious scientists. It often called the “Nonoverlapping Magisteria” (NOMA) view, and it was championed by Dr. Stephen Jay Gould, an ardent evolutionary evangelist who died in 2002. I strongly disagree with the NOMA view, so when I read Dr. Heisenberg’s work, I was disappointed that he seemed to hold to it.

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Does science undermine human rights? No, But Materialism Might.

Image copyright Benjamin Haas via
Image copyright Benjamin Haas via

If you have been reading this blog much, you probably know that while I am not smart enough to be one, I play at being a philosopher. As a result, I read a lot of philosophy, and I discuss it from time to time on this blog. If you have bothered to plow through what I have written on the subject, you might also know that I think the Argument From Morality is one of the worst arguments for the existence of God. Nevertheless, as any scientist should be, I am willing to change my mind on the subject, if I am presented with evidence that challenges my position. Recently, I stumbled across some of that evidence, and while it is not enough to change my mind on the subject, it makes me less certain of my derision for the argument from morality.

The evidence comes from Dr. John H. Evans, Professor & Associate Dean of Social Sciences at the University of California, San Diego. He wrote an article for New Scientist in which he summarizes his original research, published in an Oxford University Press book entitled, What is a Human? What the Answers Mean for Human Rights. In this research, he surveyed 3,500 adults in the United States, asking their opinions on humans and human rights.

He started by asking them how much they agreed with three different definitions for human beings:

I. The Biological Definition: Humans are defined (and differentiated from the animals) by their DNA.

II. The Philosophical Definition: Humans are defined by specific traits, like self-awareness and rationality.

III. The Theological Definition: Humans are created beings that have been given the image of God.

Here is how he describes the questions that followed:

I also asked them how much they agreed with four statements about humans: that they are like machines; special compared with animals; unique; and all of equal value. These questions were designed to assess whether any of the three competing definitions are associated with ideas that could have a negative effect on how we treat one another.

I finished with a series of direct questions about human rights: whether we should risk soldiers to stop a genocide in a foreign country; be allowed to buy kidneys from poor people; have terminally ill people die by suicide to save money; take blood from prisoners without their consent; or torture terror suspects to potentially save lives.

His results were quite surprising to me, but not to those who promote the Argument From Morality.

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I’m Not Surprised, But I’m Not Sure What It Means

One of the many results of a poll taken at 200 conservative Christian colleges and universities.  It indicates that the science faculty in those institutions are more likely to be young-earth creationists than their fellow religion faculty.  (click for credit)
One of the many results of a poll taken at 200 conservative Christian colleges and universities. It indicates that the science faculty in those institutions are more likely to be young-earth creationists than their fellow religion faculty. (click for credit)

In 2011, Answers in Genesis published a book entitled Already Compromised. It was based on the results of an interesting poll. The pollsters (America’s Research Group and Britt Beemer) attempted to contact four faculty/staff members (the university president, the academic dean, the head of the science department, and the head of the religion department) at 200 different Christian colleges and universities. Of those potentially 800 people, they ended up being able to interview 312. They asked a wide variety of questions, focusing on how those individuals interpreted different aspects of the Bible. The results are presented in the book, along with ample commentary.

The conclusion of the book is that many Christian colleges and universities have “compromised” their theology, subordinating the teachings of the Bible to the scientific consensus. In other words, they have decided that they must force their interpretation of the Bible to “fit” the scientific consensus, which includes flagellate-to-philosopher evolution and a billions-of-years-old earth.

Now please understand that I do not agree with the conclusion of the book. I don’t think that those who believe the earth is ancient or that God has created through evolution are necessarily “compromising” their theology. Non-literal interpretations of various parts of the book of Genesis can be traced all the way back to (and before) the beginning of Christendom, and there are literal interpretations of Genesis that result in conclusions other than young-earth creationism. Thus, the whole idea that people who disagree with me when it comes to natural history are “compromised” is absurd.

Despite the fact that I disagree with the book’s conclusions, I am interested in the results of its poll, especially the one highlighted in the graphic above. According to the poll’s results on this issue, the heads of the science department in these 200 Christian colleges and universities are nearly four times more likely to be young-earth creationists than the heads of the religion department!

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