The Growing Commercial Spaceflight Industry

The following guest-post is from a young man trying to grow his essay-writing business. He contacted me and offered to research/write an original post on a topic of my choice. Since I had been meaning to return to the subject — well, some aspect of it, anyway — of commercial spaceflight, I decided to let him give it a go….

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Infographic of biconic craft from Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin aerospace venture

Infographic of biconic craft from Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin aerospace venture

Predominantly, US outer space missions have been largely dominated by the central role played by Government institutions or agencies, including NASA. Although several private entrepreneurial and start-up space companies began to make earnest efforts to drive private resources and technical know-how in the business of outer space travels, most of them ended in overwhelming fiascoes, some ideas plummeted back to earth after a short takeoff, while still other ideas have not yet moved off of their design boards.

This is understandably so, since space flights by private firms or even through public-private partnerships (PPP) do not fully realize the challenge in terms of relevant space technology, massive funding needs, technical support, and simply not knowing the right way to put private citizens aboard a space flight, destination outer space — maybe to the Moon or Mars.

But, with all fairness and serendipity, the private space flight scenario seems to have earned a reprieve with President Obama’s budget speech in 2011 in which he envisaged plans for NASA under which private sector firms as well as entrenched aerospace companies could join hands to fly US astronauts into space. The main objective, however, is to spend $6 billion over the next five years in order to help technology develop new commercial spacecrafts that could carry citizens into outer space. Thus, it is high time that private capital and entrepreneurship play more dominant roles in US Space Programs and offer technical, commercial, and funding assistance.

The case for growing commercial space flights is as follows:

1. Private capital and enterprise could provide a helping hand to NASA and its ambitious future space programs.

2. Outer space has infinite potential for future mineral exploitation. For instance, out of the different kinds of asteroids flying through space, a half kilometer, S-type is a veritable treasure trove of iron, magnesium, silicates, cobalt, and platinum, with estimated value of about $20 trillion.

3. Space technological advancements, especially in rocket propulsion, could very well ensure longer, safer, and deeper penetration into space.

4. A younger and more risk-bearing crop of new astronauts are ready to meet any challenges on the ground and in outer space.

5. Experiences in the USA have proved time and again that private capital and enterprise have safely and profitably turned around many projects pioneered by Government and made it handsomely profitable, high performance-oriented, and very productive. This could also hold true for future commercial space flight business.

However, all is not as rosy as it seems to be. There are indeed several risks, challenges and issues that need to be ironed out before commercial space flights could become a viable reality.

1. Political considerations: Historically, the administrations in power have not favorably considered carrying forth the unfulfilled legacy of previous administrations and this extends to the space exploration domain, too.

2. Funding is a major problem even with the enormous resources in the hands of private players.

3. The minimum cost to send a single person to space is around $50 million, although this may come down substantially in later years. Space shuttles cost between $750 million and $2 billion per flight for 7 astronauts, varying with number of launches each year.

4. At this stage, the private sector is not technically competent enough to send people to outer space. Besides, they need to involve NASA, too, who would need to establish mechanisms to certify commercially orbital vehicles that could also be safe for human transportation. The technology to send non-astronaut humans into outer space is nascent even for NASA Standards and may take many more years to be well developed and of practical use.

While the private sector and non-Government enterprise may have the courage, imagination, verve and tenacity, even funding, to place humans in space, at the moment it does lack technical and organizational skills. Besides, this concept is still in emerging stages, and it could take some more time to fulfill President Obama’s dream of seeing private enterprise driven spacecrafts, bearing insignia of Coca Cola, Wal-Mart or McDonald’s in outer space.


Author Bio:
Paul Bishop is a professional content writer. He writes more than hundreds of articles on several topics with great quality and originality. He has worked in many best essay writing services and still enjoying the profession.

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Response to a YEC about Creation and the Bible, part 2: Plain Readings and Explanatory Power

Unless you somehow missed it (and how could you?!), the previous post was the first part of my response to a Young-Earth Creationist, who expressed several concerns about my Old-Earth Creationist comments at the STR blog. I don’t recall the exchange being contentious, but “Doc” sure did think I was in danger of compromising the Gospel, God’s integrity, etc. (You know — the usual.) I tried my best to explain where I was coming from. Whether or not he accepted my reasoning and/or position as legitimate, I also hoped to make a good case for my view for the benefit of others that may have been “listening”.

Here is Part 2, for your consideration…

“Thanks, Doc.

And you’re right. It is an ‘in house’ debate, and we probably agree more than we disagree. In fact, I meant to say something to that effect before, but forgot.

sample of Biblical HebrewRegarding your comments about a “plain face reading”, there is much that could be said about literary genre and linguistic structure and what not. But, I will TRY to be brief. While the general, redemptive message is indeed “plain” to anyone willing to read the Bible fairly and literally, we are still called to “study” Scripture, and that includes getting at least a feel for the original languages and cultures in which it was written. (That’s what commentaries and lexicons and the like are for, after all.) Beyond the redemptive message and moral instruction (though it helps even there), we sometimes need to look more carefully to get an accurate and full understanding. For example, it helps to understand that biblical Hebrew had a very small vocabulary (<3100 words + proper nouns), so many words (especially the nouns) had multiple LITERAL meanings. We must ask what are the possible translations & interpretations, given the peculiarities of the language, the history & culture of the original audience, and the fact that it must harmonize with other biblical passages that speak to the subject, as well as a generally orthodox theology. (Did you know that there are 21 major creation accounts — i.e., sections of Scripture that reveal some aspect of God’s creation –, as well as scads of smaller passages and individual verses?) That way, we are less likely to make assumptions because certain English words look familiar and we think we know what they mean. (Not the most concise way of saying all that, but hopefully you see what I was trying to get at.)

About your statement that if we can’t re-create an event, we can’t test it… You do realize that Intelligent Design Theory is criticized for much the same reason, right? But, what ID Theory does, like many other disciplines (e.g., archaeology, cryptography, forensics), is look at the EFFECTS of past events to determine what happened (and if it was caused by an intelligent agent). The “winning theory” is the one with the most explanatory power — i.e., it best explains the most lines of evidence, and thus is most probable. The same is also true, by the way, for many arguments in Christian apologetics, including that for the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. The “inference to the best explanation” approach, which incorporates many lines of evidence and the explanatory power idea, proves to me (and I’m sure you agree) that Jesus did indeed rise bodily from the grave. Yet, we can’t re-create that event, can we?

You wrote about the metaphysical bias prevalent among those doing the research & proposing theories in astrophysics & cosmology. There may be something to that, but be careful not to commit the “genetic fallacy”. Such beliefs may color their interpretations and any metaphysical claims they make, just as our own biases/beliefs color our interpretations & claims. (The question, of course, is whether or not such biases are justified, perhaps supported by other means.) But, the facts — e.g., instrumental readings and mathematical formulations — are just that. Remember, even atheists like Hawking conceded the theistic implications for BBT.”

Apparently, this next comment is referring to Doc’s wish that prominent astrophysicists would make some sort of “official” declaration of their philosophical and (a)theological beliefs in general, or their positions on science/faith concerns, or… something along those lines. I wish I could remember. Sorry. But, you get the gist….

“How big a ‘phalanx’ of astrophysicists are you looking for? After all, there are more theists & Christians in physics, math, & astronomy than anywhere else in the scientific community. And I would be willing to bet that many of them are conservative Protestant inerrantists, too. Now, if only I had all their contact info, maybe I could get them to sign an official statement…. All kidding aside, it would be nice to see something like that, but convincing enough of them of the need for such a statement might not be that easy. Why don’t you send an email to Hugh Ross suggesting it? He’s got contacts (e.g., Allan Sandage and Guillermo Gonzalez).

Cover to "A Matter of Days" by Hugh RossIf you wish to continue our discussion on this stuff, I would be happy to do so within an email exchange. I also highly recommend those books and other resources I mentioned before. (The website was www.reasons.org. Btw, Greg Koukl is friends with these guys, and it was a link from their site that introduced me to STR.) The A Matter of Days book is about the YEC vs. OEC debate on the respective ages of the universe, Earth, and life on Earth. It is very irenic in tone and will give you a better understanding of why Old-Earthers hold the view(s) that we do. I recommend you read it first. The Creator and the Cosmos concentrates on the areas of cosmology, astronomy, and physics, showing the miraculous fine-tuning of everything from the laws of physics & chemistry to the formation of the Moon. I’m finally reading this one, now, myself. The Genesis Question shows the harmony of Genesis 1-11 with the various sciences from an Old-Earth perspective. This book was the first I read on the topic and was pivotal in my initially considering and then switching over to an Old-Earth position. Finally, another book you may find interesting is The Genesis Debate from Crux Press, in which three pairs of scholars present and debate the three primary interpretations of the days of creation (i.e., 24-hour View, Day-Age View, Framework View).

Take care…”

I don’t have a record of any further response given by “Doc”. (Pretty sure I would have saved it if there was anything of substance, so we probably just agreed to disagree and go our separate ways.) Regardless, I think I made some pretty good points and in a fairly clear manner. We agreed on the essentials of the Christian faith, which is most important, and also remained respectful in our interaction. So, I count this as a positive exchange of ideas. As for how fruitful it may have been, only God knows.

“Iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens another.”  — Prov. 27:17 (NASB)

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Response to a YEC about Creation and the Bible, part 1: Biblical Truth and Scientific Theory

Earlier this month, I posted (in 2 parts) a response I gave some years ago to a skeptic who questioned the cosmology represented in the Bible. The exchange occurred in the comments section of the blog for STR, and there were others involved in the larger conversation. One of them in particular was a Young-Earth Creationist calling himself “Doc”, who objected to some of what I’d said.

If I recall, Doc expressed concern that conceding “millions of years” (well, billions, really) and accepting the Big Bang leads to — or, is caused by — metaphorizing any or all of Scripture, surrendering on the Bible’s inerrancy and historical reliability, and capitulating to naturalism / Darwinian evolution as the explanation for life’s origin and diversity. Something like that. It’s a common concern/warning uttered by YECs, but it ain’t necessarily so. I replied to his complaints as follows:

George Smoot quote re Big Bang“Hey Doc!

Thanks for taking the time to read through my lengthy post and for responding with a thoughtful post of your own.

Obviously, my post was in response to Paul’s skepticism about the authority & accuracy of the Bible, particularly in matters of cosmology. While my intent was not primarily to come down on Young-Earth Creationism, since some of Paul’s complaints were about YEC-specific claims, I wanted to make sure he realized that there are others within orthodox Christianity that hold to different views on those matters. Since my statements were pro-Big Bang and I don’t have a problem with “millions of years”, I’m not surprised that someone of a more Young-Earth persuasion took exception. But that’s fine.

Up until a few years ago, I was a Young-Earther myself, because that was what I had been taught. Although, it wasn’t something I gave a lot of thought to, and I was only vaguely aware of the Old-Earth Creationist and Theistic Evolutionist positions. Then I started listening to and reading the relevant materials, getting a better handle on the arguments used by all camps (mostly YEC, OEC, & neo-Darwinist). You might say I was a reluctant convert to OEC (at least at first), and it took a while to get a handle on all of the theological, exegetical, and scientific issues, concepts, terms, etc. Not that I understand it all, now, mind you.

Let me clarify a couple things about my position. First, I believe that the Bible (at least, the original autographs) is the inerrant Word of God and that it is true and accurate on anything that it touches on, including history, science & geography. (Of course, when the Bible quotes someone who is lying or is in error, it is not meant to teach that lie/error as truth. Also, certain measurements should be taken as ballpark figures, since the ancients were not always as concerned with precision as we are.) I think it is obvious that we both agree that the Bible occasionally includes phenomenological language and poetic descriptions, thus using metaphors & analogies to express literal truths. I also agree that this is not the case with Genesis, and the persons and events described therein were indeed literal & historical.

Second, please understand that just because I accept the conventional dating for the age of the universe, the Earth, and life on the Earth, I do NOT believe in evolution beyond the species level. (Belief in cosmic “evolution” or stellar “evolution” does NOT necessitate or logically lead to biological evolution.) The fossil and genetic data, as I understand them, support intelligent design and sudden appearances better than gradual descent with modification via merely natural processes. Scripturally, I find extremely little exegetical wiggle-room for any sort of God-guided macroevolution, particularly for animals, and most particularly for Mankind. And I have yet to hear a theologically compelling argument for it.

I think it is really too bad that some Christians can’t “get behind” Big Bang cosmology, because it has such strong apologetic value for the Christian worldview and the accuracy of the Bible. The problem, of course, is that it establishes that the universe is several billion years old, which is supposedly a capitulation to both metaphysical & methodological naturalism and Darwinian evolution. (I assume this is the “glaring conflict” with Genesis to which you refer.) Ironically, the atheists who oppose Big Bang cosmology do so because they realize that even 13.7 billion years is woefully inadequate time (by several orders of magnitude) for life to (theoretically) arise on its own, and they also recognize the theistic implications of Big Bang theory.

nebulae in spaceA couple comments on scientific “theories”… With your scientific background, you probably know that a scientific “hypothesis” can be defined as a formulation that explains in a reasonable way that which is observed about a phenomenon or set of phenomena, while recognizing that not everything has been observed. So, it is only held to tentatively, until it can be subjected to more exhaustive testing. (Personally, I think the “neo-Darwinian synthesis” of evolution should still be considered a hypothesis, and a weak one at that.) The next step up, as it were, is a “theory”. A theory explains everything observed fairly successfully, with observations having been exhaustive enough to tell us that the formulation does indeed elucidate a general principle.

When it comes to scientific theories, Big Bang Theory is among the most exhaustively tested and proven. Btw, it was not a “bang” in the usual sense, implying chaos, disorder and destruction. On the contrary, the Big Bang has proven itself to be a carefully planned, sudden burst of creative power from which the universe rolled out in an exquisitely controlled expansion. The two parameters that govern this cosmic expansion — the mass density and the space-energy density (aka cosmological constant) — must be fine-tuned to better than 1 part in 10^60 and 1 part in 10^120, respectively, in order to yield a universe of galaxies, stars, and planets — i.e., one suitable for any kind of physical life. That sounds pretty intelligently designed to me! And that is just one of dozens of examples of design and fine-tuning just within the “simple” sciences of math, physics, astronomy & cosmology!”

Well, I got a chance to clarify some of my views and, hopefully, assuage Doc’s fears — at least, somewhat. I’ll continue with more in Part 2.

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The Tea Party Needs to Get Its Act Together

“You’ve got to think about big things while you’re doing small things, so that all the small things go in the right direction.”  — Alvin Toffler

Dr. Charles Kesler

Dr. Charles Kesler

I would like to share an excerpt from a lengthy article I read recently. It was in the January 2014 issue of Hillsdale College’s Imprimis magazine. The author, Charles R. Kesler, is a Distinguished Professor of Government (at Claremont McKenna College) and editor of, among other things, the Claremont Review of Books and the Signet Classic edition of The Federalist Papers (which I own).

The piece in question was actually adapted from a speech Kesler delivered at Hillsdale College last year. I confess, I don’t usually read Imprimis, though I probably should. However, this article’s title caught my eye: “The Tea Party, Conservatism, and the Constitution”. Not particularly clever, but I found it intriguing, because lately I have been doing a little ruminating on the actions of the Tea Party and certain of its luminaries. I still support the Tea Party ideals, of course, and I admire and generally appreciate their steadfastness to those ideals. But, I’m not always sure about the tactics they take. I find myself rooting for them, but then I hear a non-Tea Party (but not anti-TP) person that I greatly respect — e.g., Charles Krauthammer or Newt Gingrich — explain, either before or afterward, why such a tactic was ineffective at best, perhaps harmful to the cause at worst. So, I thought Kesler might have something to say about that.

Kesler’s focus, though, is a bit different. The Tea Party has established itself as the nemesis of Obama and Obamacare. Its goal is to return America to a more limited, more constitutional form of government, with less taxes, less regulation, and more freedom. But, Kesler thinks that the Tea Party’s success has been, shall we say, mixed at best.

“If I had to judge its performance so far, I would say that it has been courageous and right in its diagnosis of the problems facing American politics, but somewhat off in its prescriptions.”

So, what does he suggest?

“What the Tea Party needs now is a strategy — something it has so far conspicuously lacked — to allow it to achieve its worthy ends. Thinking through a strategy will help clarify those ends: What is it, exactly, that the Tea Party means by limited government? Limited to what? And limited by what? Clearly the Tea Party’s form of conservatism points back to the Constitution as the basis for restoring American government. But how practically to move in that direction?”

This is what must be worked out, in order to focus the means toward the desired ends. Kesler commends the Tea Party for concluding that the battles over Obamacare do not reveal two conflicting interpretations of the same Constitution so much as two different Constitutions: the original Constitution of 1787 vs. a “living”, progressively changing document. Recognizing this is crucial to the fight. The Tea Party and the President knew the stakes, but the GOP leaders? Not so much.

Before proceeding to formulate a strategy, though, it is worthwhile to acknowledge the Tea Party’s “paradoxical character” and its actions up to this point:

“It is a populist movement to defend the Constitution, but the Constitution is meant, among other things, to limit populism in our politics — to channel, moderate, and refine popular passion through constitutional forms, such as elections, officeholding, and the rule of law. The point was to ensure, as The Federalist put it, that the reason, not the passion, of the public would control and regulate the government. So it was incumbent on the Tea Party to try to keep its populist means in line with its constitutional ends. And it is in this respect that the Tea Party has sometimes fallen short.

Last fall, the Tea Party seized upon the latest Continuing Resolution to try to bring down Obamacare. Granted, Continuing Resolutions, the multi-thousand page omnibus spending bills that pass for appropriations bills these days, are abdications of Congress’s own budget process and derelictions of its constitutional duty to protect the public purse. Yet bad things can sometimes be used for good purposes. But mainstream Republican leaders warned that the Tea Party senators never had a realistic plan to obtain the votes to defund Obamacare in the Senate, or beyond that to overcome Obama’s veto pen. President Obama needed to fund the government, but he felt, rightly it turned out, that he could hold out longer than the GOP could. The architects of the government shutdown could never answer the question of how victory might be achieved.

Apparently their hope was that an outraged American public — fresh from voting in 2012 to re-elect Obama and to increase the Democratic majority in the Senate by two seats — would rise up and put such pressure on recalcitrant Democrats that they would defund the program that their party had been longing for since Franklin Roosevelt…. The implicit argument was that by going over the heads of party leaders and constitutional officeholders to appeal directly to the people, the Tea Party could generate its own mandate to trump the mandate just awarded in the election.

TeaParty.org emblem…So as the Tea Party’s unreasonable hopes faded, it had to settle for less and less: delaying the individual mandate rather than defunding it; verifying the subsidies of policyholders in the insurance exchanges; abolishing the medical devices tax; delaying the medical devices tax; and so on. The Tea Party leaders were pushed back and back and were forced to ask for less and less, until they ended up with virtually nothing.

To summarize, the Tea Party has been right about the threat posed to the fabric of constitutional government by Obamacare and by other brazen assaults on the Constitution, such as President Obama’s asserted prerogatives to choose which laws to enforce and to make recess appointments when there was no recess. But the establishment Republicans were right about the outcome of the effort to defund Obamacare by tying it to the Continuing Resolution….

The Tea Party could do itself and the country a great service by working out what a return to constitutional government might really mean, and thus the strategy and tactics appropriate to that. What is needed is less populism and more political thinking on its part, or on the part of its trusted advisors. Political thinking and constitutional thinking are not opposed, of course, any more than putting together a political majority and defending the Constitution are opposed. Indeed, these two great duties, properly understood, are implicit in each other. It’s doubtful that the Republican party can succeed without doing both.

After a century of Progressive mining and sapping of the Constitution, the great document we count on to defend us now needs our defense, and the form of government issuing from the Constitution is itself in need of restoration and renewal.”

Is Kesler right about this? Are our Constitution and the freedoms it declares now at risk? Is the Tea Party on the right track but in desperate need of some focused (re-)strategizing? Maybe a TP v2.0? Can the GOP still save the Constitution and this nation?

I vote “Absolutely, yes” on all of the above. But, what should that strategy be? I’d love to hear what you think….

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Harry Potter and the Zero-Sum Game

You know her as the author of the phenomenally successful “Harry Potter” book series for young adults, which was then turned into the phenomenally successful “Harry Potter” movie series. Her name, of course, is J.K. Rowling (“Jo” to her friends), and she is loaded — the first author to reach a net worth of a billion U.S. dollars.

J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling

She has made some shrewd moves in her business dealings, isn’t overly ostentatious, and seems to be set for life. (She also donates millions to charities and philanthropic causes.) Like many creators, she loves her craft and has many stories to tell. Not just about Potter and friends, though.

In addition to expanding on the Potter “universe” in various media, Rowling has ventured into adult fiction. Her first non-H.P. book, The Casual Vacancy (2012), was fairly successful but not blockbuster. One critic called it “perfectly fine, but in no way outstanding.” Rowling’s next was a mystery titled The Cuckoo’s Calling (2013), published under a pseudonym (“Robert Galbraith”) ostensibly so it would sink or swim on its own, without having the advantage of Rowling’s fame. It got mixed reviews but then became a bestseller when one of her attorneys let slip that Galbraith was Rowling. (He has since been fined 1,000 pounds ($1,650) and issued a sternly-written warning.) Well played. A sequel to the mystery, The Silkworm, with returning characters Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott, is set to be published on June 24, 2014.

“Not fair!!!”

That’s the cry of some second-tier authors, particularly novelist Lynn Shepherd, who think Rowling has enough money & fame and should give other poor writers a chance at success. In an article at the Huffington Post, Shepherd claims that anything by Rowling can’t help but dominate the booklists, reviews, bookstore shelves, etc., thereby crowding out any lesser-known talents that might otherwise deserve attention and to get their shot at fame & fortune. Being a crime novelist, Shepherd doesn’t have a problem with the Rowling juggernaut eclipsing other writers in the young-adult section. But, when it hits closer to home (i.e., the adult market), she pleads with Rowling to remember her humble beginnings and put down her pen.

“[Y]ou’ve had your turn. Enjoy your vast fortune and the good you’re doing with it, luxuriate in the love of your legions of fans, and good luck to you on both counts. But it’s time to give other writers, and other writing, room to breathe.”

Shepherd realizes it might sound like the sour grapes of a jealous also-ran but assures us it’s more than that. I actually believe her on this account. But, she is reaping the “rewards” of voicing her opinion, receiving tons of hostile comments and one-star reviews for her own books on Amazon. (Ouch! That’s gotta hurt!) Those legions of Potter/Rowling fans can be very loyal, if blindingly so. Many admit that they haven’t even read Shepherd’s books and are retaliating against the Huffington Post article. They claim they “don’t have to [read them] in order to write a review,” which is an allusion to Shepherd’s admission that she hasn’t read the Potter books. But, that is totally irrelevant to Shepherd’s reasoning for her plea to Rowling.

I can also understand Shepherd’s thinking, especially as it concerns her own livelihood. Rowling is obviously set for life and, indeed, does not need to write or produce anything else ever again. But that isn’t the point. In fact, it is wrong-headed and betrays a zero-sum approach to economics/business on Shepherd’s part. The assumption is that there is only so much fame and fortune to go around — i.e., the “pie” is only so big –, so every success by person A necessarily takes away from person B, and maybe from C & D, too. But, in a free market, capitalist economy, the pie can grow, providing more opportunities for more successes without needing to reduce or take away anyone else’s success.

Obviously, I disagree with Shepherd’s request. Ironically, though, Rowling should not. Here’s what I mean…

cover of The Cuckoo's Calling, with Rowling insetFrom what I understand, Rowling is rather leftist/socialist, politically-speaking. These leanings were only hinted at occasionally in the Potter books — e.g., the members of the Order of the Phoenix tend to be named after Fabian Socialist leaders from the early 20th century. But, they come through much more clearly in her “grown-up” books. As Jerry Bowyer points out in his op-ed at Forbes, Shepherd’s zero-sum thinking falls right in line with the Keynesian redistributionism and stagnationism of Rowling’s “labourite, semi-socialist Fabianism”. (That’s a lot of isms.)

“If the massive redistribution of wealth is a moral imperative, then how can Rowling and any of her readers who are fellow political travelers argue that redistribution of market share, shelf space and fame are not? After all, these things are sources of wealth. If the rich getting richer, income gaps, inequality, winner-taking-all, and all of that stuff really are problems, then Rowling is a great offender and an all-taker, if there ever was one, who has pushed inequality in publishing to new heights. She’s not top one percent; she’s top one percent of one percent…. Rowling really should embrace fairness and give someone else a chance.”

Of course, neither Bowyer nor I think such reasoning is theoretically well-founded or practical. The U.S. may be moving leftward under the current administration, and the UK may already be semi-socialist, but where and to the degree that the market is reasonably free to work, capitalism still proves itself better for all concerned. Even struggling writers.

So, what to make of all this?

I realize this is easy for me to say, but… I respectfully suggest that Ms. Shepherd reconsider her marketing strategy and perhaps get a different agent or publicist. Some of the earlier Amazon reviews indicate she may need to adjust her writing style, too. If she is truly a talented writer, then she is bound to break out of the pack eventually, provided she can find the right combination of product, representation, market, and timing. She might even be able to learn something from Rowling.

As for Ms. Rowling, I don’t know if she has or will officially respond to Shepherd, but I say, “Write on, Macduff, and damned be him who first cries ‘Hold! enough!’”

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Response to a Skeptic about Biblical Cosmology, part 2: Geocentrism and Bad Hermeneutic

 

Ptolemaic geocentric model

Ptolemaic geocentric model

A couple days ago, I published Part 1 of my response to a skeptic regarding biblical cosmology. I covered a couple major points and, hopefully, demonstrated that not all Christians interpret the creation passages the same. Furthermore, I think I showed how important is careful hermeneutic, and that it reveals a harmony of God’s special revelation (i.e., Scripture) with His general revelation (i.e., the created order, or “Nature”), when accurately tested and observed. In this post, I reproduce the second half of my response to skeptical “Paul”, which hits another of his, er, “concerns” about what the Bible claims. This time, though, a big chunk of my response was itself a reproduction of responses from the RTB scholar team….

“Still with me? Okay.

Now let’s look at the other major problem you brought up — namely, Biblical passages that seem to teach/support geocentrism and a flat Earth. As it happens, the current issue of the Reasons to Believe newsletter “Connections” addresses this very issue, as Dr. Hugh Ross, Dr. Fuz Rana, and Kenneth Samples respond to a reader/listener’s question. Rather than try to rewrite or summarize, I think I’ll just reproduce the article here.

Mike from Little Rock asked: “Does Psalm 104:5 teach that the earth is the center of the universe?” (‘He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved.’)

Hugh Ross: “The consensus of the Church today is that what we see here in Psalm 104 is phenomenological language. Galileo said at his trial that Bible interpreters need to understand the author’s frame of reference. When King David (assuming he wrote this psalm) says that the foundations of the earth are immovable, from what context is he speaking? If David is on a rotating Earth that’s revolving around the sun, he’s moving with the earth. From his point of view, the earth indeed is immovable. So there’s nothing incorrect about what the Bible is saying, if we properly establish the frame of reference. Galileo cautioned against the mistake of failing to identify the authorial frame of reference or point of view.”

Fuz Rana: “From a historical perspective, the Galileo affair not only led to the emergence of heliocentrism over geocentrism, but also it provided theologians with a hermeneutic that allowed for phenomenological language. People realized that they could simultaneously take the text literally and also phenomenologically. Galileo’s trial advanced biblical interpretive methods.”

Mike then asked: “Historically, has the church stymied scientific thought? How much damage has been done?”

Fuz Rana: “I would argue that we are still feeling the damage of improper Bible hermeneutic today, because time and time again people will cite the Galileo affair and heliocentrism versus geocentrism as evidence that Christianity leads to error and that science is ultimately the way of truth.”

Hugh Ross: “Let me point out two other areas where you get damage. People sometimes send me manuscripts where I think they put way more science into the Bible than the text warrants. When that happens the Bible can come under unfair criticism for saying things it doesn’t say. But there’s a flip side. Some people are frightened about putting science into the Bible. [Note: Dr. Ross is not advocating eisegesis but merely the recognition of when the Bible truly does make explicit or implicit scientific statements.] They try to strip the Bible of all scientific content so that there’s no opportunity for Christians to be embarrassed by some well-established scientific discovery. You want to walk that fine line in between putting too much science into the Bible and not enough science for Christians to be equipped for witness to a secular scientific society.”

Galileo demonstrates his new telescope

Galileo demonstrates his new telescope

Kenneth Samples: “Sometimes we make more of some of those historical difficulties than we ought. I have had skeptics bring charges of Christianity’s historical errors to my attention. I realize that there have been controversies and anti-intellectual pockets within church history that probably stood in the way of progress. But we sometimes forget that even in the High Middle Ages there was a growing scientific consensus with the development of universities in Europe and reflection about the universe. And then the Reformation ushered in a very strong intellectual era. So, yes, there have been anti-intellectual times in church history, but there have also been times when Christians have been the force behind great advancements in learning.”

Sidebar: “‘Phenomenological language’ refers to the language of appearances. It describes something as it LOOKS, irrespective of how it IS. Examples of phenomenological language in the Bible include ‘the four corners of the earth’ or that ‘the sun rises and sets.’ Obviously, the earth does not have four corners (or quarters, as some translations read), but it might look that way to an ancient reader. The sun appears to rise and set, but this motion is actually due to the rotation of the earth rather than to motion of the sun around the earth. In rare cases such as these, biblical descriptions can be interpreted metaphorically.”

For more information on these and related topics, I highly recommend the following three books by Dr. Ross: 1) A Matter of Days; 2) The Creator and the Cosmos, 3rd ed.; 3) The Genesis Question, 2nd ed. There are also many free resources — articles and podcasts of various types — at the Reasons to Believe website.

That about wraps it up for this one. I think Ross, Rana, and Samples made some great points and observations. What do you think?

P.S.  You may also find this post of interest, which includes a list of early scientists who were theists (mostly Christians): “Can You Accept ‘Revealed Wisdom’ and Still Be ‘Scientific’?”

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Response to a Skeptic about Biblical Cosmology, part 1: Big Bang and Creation Day 4

graphic showing progression in Big Bang modelLook what I found! Another apologetics-oriented exchange from several years ago (2005). It was in the comments of the blog over at Stand to Reason (aka STR, www.str.org). Unfortunately, it is one of those where I only preserved my response(s) and not the other person(s) initial comments. (So, technically, this is only half of the exchange.) But, it isn’t all that hard to figure out the gist of what he said. I think I did a decent job responding, and I hope you find it informative and instructive.

“I never thought my first posting to this blog would be so long, but I think a few things need to be cleared up, so here goes…

Actually, Paul, there is nothing wrong with Biblical cosmology. In fact, every week there are new scientific discoveries/experiments that strengthen what Scripture says. Take Big Bang cosmology, for example. There are many scientific evidences for a big bang creation event, and a few more are found and/or strengthened every year.

While there are many big bang theories, they all share three basic characteristics: 1) a transcendent cosmic beginning that occurred a finite time ago; 2) a continuous universal expansion; and 3) a cosmic cooling from an extremely hot initial state. ALL THREE are/were explicitly taught in the Bible, and the Bible is the only “holy book” of the world’s religions that DOES teach these three big bang fundamentals.

The problem has been, and sometimes still is, that people have certain presumptions (often based on modern and/or Western understanding) that they read into the Biblical text or they use improper hermeneutic when reading & interpreting it. And often people were/are ignorant of certain things about the relevant ancient cultures, their literary styles, etc.

For example, the 6-10K year age for the Earth (and often the universe) that is espoused by Young-Earth Creationists comes from three assumptions: 1) the genealogies of Gen. 5 & 11 are complete (or nearly so) and are to be used for the construction of a chronology; 2) the 6 days of creation described in Gen. 1 were of the 24-hr variety and consecutive; and 3) there was no significant period of time between Gen. 1:1 & 1:2 or between 1:2 & 1:3. But, the Bible nowhere states or implies the 6000 year date. Plus, there is much evidence from both Scripture and science that the preceding three assumptions are incorrect.

Another problem you said you had was that in Genesis “the sun and moon are delineated as being created after the Earth.” This is a common complaint of skeptics and scientifically-minded Christians alike. But, in order to get the REAL story, we need to step back and do two things. First, we need to recognize that the frame of reference of these and other passages is as an individual on or near the Earth’s surface. This means that certain things need to be read as “phenomenological” (we’ll get back to this in a couple minutes). Second, a closer look at the Hebrew words used in Gen. 1 reveals some interesting things.

When God created the cosmos — all matter, energy, space, & time — “in the beginning”, that included electromagnetic radiation, i.e., light. The verb used for “create” in Gen. 1:1 is “bara’”, which means “bring forth something that is radically new; produce through supernatural activity”. (God is always the subject of this verb.) OK, fine, so far. Skip forward about 9 billion years or so and verse 2 establishes the frame of reference as the surface of the primordial Earth.

Verse 3 has God starting Day 1 with “Let there be light.” The verb here is “haya”, which means “to exist; to be; to happen; or to come to pass”. Keeping in mind both our frame of reference and Earth’s initial conditions, we can imagine what likely happened on Day 1. Light penetrated Earth’s dense, dark atmosphere for the first time. God used things like gravitational accretion and the collision event that resulted in the Moon to clear away some of the debris that had previously kept light from coming through. The atmosphere effectively went from opaque to translucent. Though the Earth had been rotating all along, now was the first time that a “day” period could be distinguishable from “night.”

Sun breaking through clouds over seaFor millions of years, things like air temperature, pressure, humidity, volcanic activity and particulate matter in the atmosphere would have prevented any break in the perpetual overcast. Eventually, though, changes in these various environmental factors (and many others I won’t get into here) would have gradually transformed the atmosphere again — this time from translucent to transparent (at least part of the day).

Thus we come to Day 4 and verses 14-15, where God says, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years; and… to give light on the earth…”. In other words, the Sun, Moon, and stars became distinctly visible from Earth’s surface for the first time.

Here we get to the sticking point in verse 16: “God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also.” But, when we recognize this as a parenthetical note, it’s not such a problem. The Hebrew verb translated “made” is “‘asa”, meaning “produce; manufacture; fabricate”. It appears here in the appropriate form for completed action. So, verse 16 does not say that the Sun, Moon, & stars were created on Day 4, only that they were “made” sometime prior to Day 4. Notice that the next couple of verses echo those for Day 1, suggesting that the Sun was already in place to fulfill its role on the first creation day. This is consistent with what astrophysics tells us about the Sun and stars forming long before the Earth did. The Moon, on the other hand, may have formed on Day 1.”

Couldn’t have said it better mys… er, actually, I did. Was any of that helpful? Did you learn anything new? Have you been challenged to re-consider some preconceptions you may have had about the Bible’s position on cosmological origins? How about that Day 4 stuff? That one is a tough pill to swallow for skeptics, especially when the YEC interpretation is the only Christian view they’ve heard of. But, as usual, a more careful examination of the Hebrew text provides a reasonable explanation without violating either scientific discovery or Scriptural orthodoxy.

Of course, I didn’t know all of that stuff. OK, I may have retained some of it. But, I got most of my information from the writings of Dr. Hugh Ross from Reasons to Believe (aka RTB, www.reasons.org), which I’ll say more about in Part 2.

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Breakdowns in the States

Cover of 'Breakout' book by GingrichI just finished Newt Gingrich’s latest book, Breakout: Pioneers of the Future, Prison Guards of the Past, and the Epic Battle That Will Decide America’s Fate. As expected, it’s a great read. The selfish, stultifying attitudes and actions (or lack thereof) of the “prison guards of the past” that Gingrich writes about are incredibly aggravating. At the same time, the amazing discoveries and technological advances being made and opportunities to be taken are exciting and incredibly encouraging.

In the final chapter, he concludes:

“Our society, in this era of big government, is centered on bureaucracy, regulation, and law. This mindset makes breakthroughs difficult and general breakout almost impossible. To become breakout champions, citizens and elected officials need to think about society and government in a completely new way….”

Gingrich then proceeds to lay out eight key principles for doing so.

But, the particular topic I wanted to bring to your attention is from the chapter on “Breakdown in Government”. We often hear/read about the evils of today’s unions and how they can ruin a company (e.g., a car manufacturer) with their unreasonable demands. That is an example of a private-sector union “working with” a corporation to shoot themselves in the foot (feet?). But, here are a few examples of public-sector unions and local governments doing the same.

“It’s not just the federal government that’s breaking down. Many state and local governments, too, are falling apart in places where they have been disastrously mismanaged. Government at all levels is failing us. Meredith Whitney, a financial analyst, offers a startling example of the problem in her book Fate of the States. In the early 2000s, she recounts, the head of the Contra Costa County, California, firefighters’ union “negotiated a sweet new contract for his members.” The contract provided that “veteran firefighters could now retire at age fifty with an annual pension equivalent to 90 percent of their salary.” This deal was a great boon for the firefighters but not for the taxpayers.”

Sweet deal, yes! But, it strikes me as an unbelievably selfish and short-sighted one, too.

“Predictably, the weight of the pensions proved too much for the county to sustain. By 2012, in the wake of the recession, Contra Costa County could no longer afford to keep all its firehouses open and meet its pension obligations at the same time. When the director of the local taxpayers association looked into the matter, she found that there were 665 retired county employees with an annual pension of $100,000 or more and twenty-four who earned over $200,000, even in retirement. As Whitney puts it, ‘Everybody might still love firefighters, but what they did not like was retired fifty-five-year-olds taking home $100K a year at a time when many taxpayers were out of work and could not afford to put any money aside for their own retirements.’

The newspapers these days overflow with similar examples of excess. Whitney describes a California prison guard (the literal kind) who ‘with a base salary of $81,683 collected $114,334 in overtime and $8,648 in bonuses.’ This man ‘was eligible for an annual $1,560 “fitness” bonus for getting a checkup,’ and he ‘could retire at fifty-five with 85 percent of his salary and medical care for life.’”

Un-freakin’-believable!!

bad math - teacher - 2+2=5“Such reckless management and outright corruption has left states broke. Illinois has roughly $100 billion in pension obligations, the vast majority of which is unfunded, and another $55 billion in unfunded obligations for retiree healthcare. In California, the debt story is even more alarming. State and local governments in the Golden State carry a $1.1 trillion debt. Yet California continues to spend big on goodies like a hundred-billion-dollar high-speed rail line from San Diego to Sacramento. Many of the major states — California, New York, and Illinois among them — behave just as recklessly as the federal government.”

Wow! It is simply amazing how these things just go on, year after year. Can they not do simple math? Are they in denial of economic realities? Do they not look more than 5 or 10 years down the road? Do they not care? Gingrich is gracious enough not to point this out in the book, but it occurs to me that these state and local governments which have such enormous debts due to profligate spending and ridiculous union contracts are, by and large, politically liberal and predominantly led by Democrats (and, maybe, the occasional moderate-to-liberal Republican). I’m gonna go out on a limb and state that there is a connection, there. Just sayin’….

UPDATE: 3/10/2014: This just in! Another one bites the dust…

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Mere Christian Eschatology

Every so often, some big-time pastor or evangelist get into the news for making some “end times” statement or “prophecy”. Of course, there are many ministries and organizations that focus on this stuff all the time. That’s their thing, 24×7. It’s all over Christian media and there are tons of books on it — some scholarly, many not so much. Some people are really into it! And they can be very… opinionated. But, even if eschatology (i.e., study of the “last things”) was never emphasized in your family or church community, you’ve probably seen or heard of it. Have you ever wondered what to make of it all?

"End Times" collageI used to be somewhat into the subject but was never “hard core”. Apocalyptic prophecies never pre-occupied my thoughts (that I can remember). I didn’t look at every war or world event as a “sign of the times” or try to identify the Antichrist. (Well, maybe just for “fun”. At the moment, Obama, Soros, & Putin would be at the top of my list of possibilities.) And I was always extremely skeptical of modern-day predictions for the date of Christ’s Second Coming and/or “the Rapture”. (Jesus said no one would know, after all.) But, I did do some reading up on the different views and found it all fascinating. Before going too far, though, I decided to stop pursuing it. I only had so much time & money to devote to such studies, and I decided to focus more on the “origins” issues instead.

Sadly, eschatology can be as divisive within the Church as debates on evolution, the age of the Earth, or the historicity and extent of Noah’s Flood. Maybe more so, for some. It can also be rather distracting and the cause of unhealthy obsession. As Kenneth Samples has put it,

“Being ‘watchful’ for the Lord’s coming (Matthew 24:42; 25:13) does not mean becoming consumed with the speculative prophetic details of apocryphal texts. Rather it means believers must guard themselves against being swept away by the powerful affairs and concerns of this life.”

So, I am glad I never got caught up in “end times mania”; and, while I may eventually renew my studies on the general subject, I pray that the Lord helps me stay grounded and focused on more important matters. In fact, that is a major point made in Samples’ latest book, Christian Endgame: Careful Thinking about the End Times (available from RTB at http://reasons.org). Part of what Samples talks about is the fact that, despite the various views about how everything will play (or is playing) out in the end times, there are five core, foundational points that are held as orthodoxy in all historic Christian theological traditions.

  1. Second Coming of Jesus Christ: We all look forward to the literal, visible, physical return of Jesus Christ to this realm (Matt 25:31ff.; Mark 8:38; Acts 1:10-11; Col 3:4; I Thess 4:15-17; II Tim 4:8; Titus 2:13; Heb 9:28; Rev 1:7). Over 300 verses in the New Testament reference this event, but no one knows or can predict exactly when it will happen (Matt 23:36). “That the Lord Jesus Christ is going to return is much more important than the when and the how.”
  2. Resurrection of the Dead: We may disagree on the order of events, but we agree that when Christ returns, the soul/spirit of every human that ever died will be reunited with his/her physical, resurrected — and, in some cases, reintegrated — body (Dan 12:2; John 5:28-29; Acts 24:15; Rom 8:23; I Cor 15:51-52). Each believer will be recognizable as the same person they were, but his/her resurrected, “glorified” body will have new, amazing properties. As with Christ’s resurrected body, it will reflect both continuity and discontinuity with the original.
  3. Final Judgement of Humankind: Timing aside, all eschatological schools agree that Christ will then judge all human beings — still alive and resurrected, believer and non-believer (Psalm 62:12; 96:13; Eccl 12:14; Matt 25:32-33; John 12:47-48; Acts 17:31; Rom 2:6-8; Heb 9:27; Rev 22:12). Nonbelievers will be judged for their rebellion against God. Followers of Jesus, having already surrendered to Him and accepted His gift of salvation, will be judged and rewarded for their works of obedience to Him.
  4. Eternal State: Following the judgement, non-believers and believers alike will enter their respective “states”. The former will be sentenced to an eternity of conscious, tormented existence in separation from God’s presence (Matt 5:29; 25:41,46; Mark 9:43; II Thess 1:8-9; Rev 14:11). The latter, “saved” from God’s wrath and made righteous by the blood of Jesus Christ’s sacrificial atonement (Rom 5:10; 8:1; I Peter 2:24), are assured of spending a blessed eternity with God (John 14:2-3; Rom 8:30).
  5. New Creation: Some hold that God will purify the cosmos with fire before rebuilding it; others think that God will totally destroy the cosmos, then replace it (Rom 8:19-22; II Peter 3:7,10,12; Rev 21:1). Either way, He will then create a “New Heaven” and a “New Earth” (Rev 21:1) with a “New Jerusalem” (Rev 21:2,10-27) where the “saints” will reside. There will be similarities to the old creation, but it will also be radically different. There will be no more sin, pain, sorrow, or death (Rev 21:4-8,27). Believers, in their resurrected bodies, will live forever on the New Earth (not in “Heaven”), where God will come “down” from the New Heaven to dwell with His people (Rev 21:3).

    “God’s redeemed people will love, worship, and serve Him in a righteous and just kingdom that will never end.”

Cover to "Christian Endgame"Borrowing from C.S. Lewis, this is what Samples refers to as “Mere Christian Eschatology”. This is our common ground. As long as we agree on the reality of these five things, that is sufficient. We can study the relevant biblical passages further, investigate the different theories, even extrapolate and speculate a bit (but not too much). But, if we are strongly convinced of a particular position, we must not become dogmatic about it, and there is no need to treat our Christian brothers & sisters who disagree badly for it. This is not a salvific issue, so a certain latitude must be granted, and grace, humility, and diplomacy are always called for.

Furthermore, Samples reminds us (and I agree) that we should not become obsessed with eschatological minutiae and fretting over every “sign”. A certain amount of concern and awareness is commanded in Scripture, but it should not be at the expense of sharing the rest of the Gospel message, working for the Kingdom, living and dying well as servants of Christ. The hints at things to come that God provides in the Bible should be seen as encouragement that what we do on this Earth is not in vain.

“The promise of Christ’s return should not result in excessive speculation about the future. Rather, its watchful anticipation should encourage believers to live lives of faithful gratitude to God.”

The bottom line is that, as Greg Koukl has said, “A lot of bad stuff is going to happen, but Jesus wins in the end.” By extension, genuine followers of Christ “win”, too. Amen?

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Change of Plans, Sorta…

Krusty the Clown, shruggingNo, no, I’m not the new U.S. ambassador to New Zealand. (Darn it!) This is something else.

Remember a few weeks ago, when I announced that I would be starting to post about sci-fi/fantasy and action/adventure stuff on this blog? (If not, just trust me. I said it.) I know several of my friends and readers are into a lot of the same stuff, so I would think they’d have some interest in such posts. Right? Well, the reaction was a bit, shall we say, lackluster.  :(

After some more thought, I decided that part of the problem was probably that this blog is not the best forum for those topics. Heck, it’s hard enough keeping a fair balance between Politics, Science, & Religion. Throwing in posts about Star Trek, superheroes, hobbits, and other pop-culture entertainment just didn’t make sense. (Those poor Google search-engine bots wouldn’t know what to think!) So,…

I have started a new, separate blog called simply “Heroes and Aliens”. (I wanted to call it “Out of My Mind” or “Pixels and Ink”, but those were both taken.) The About page and first post are both up, with a couple more posts scheduled for the next few days. Check it out and let me know what you think (here or there)!

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