Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Matter of Days

Book: A Matter of Days by Hugh Ross

DescriptionAn old-earth view takes on the challenges of young-earth proponents through a study of history, Scripture, and nature-and a testable creation model. (from Amazon.com)

This was a really good book. I found it thought-provoking and well-reasoned. It's about reasons, both Biblical and scientific, to believe in long creation days. By long creation days Ross meant "days" representing epochs rather than literal 24-hour days. Also focused on fostering reconciliation between people who believe in long vs. short (24-hour) creation days.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone curious about creationism, of any kind. It was much better and more accessible than Fingerprint of God, another Hugh Ross book--there was much, much less math, and all the science he uses as evidence is much better explained. There was also nothing theologically objectionable about this book--Hugh used just as much Biblical evidence to support his claims as scientific, if not more. He assumes that the Bible is absolutely true--every single word. It's an amazing point to start from. (There are some cool Bible verses that support current science!)

As is probably obvious by now, I do not believe in creation taking place in 6 24-hour days. I believe that evolution has happened in the past, and to some extent is happening in the present day. Why? Firstly, evolution is something that is happening, according to science, and it's something that scientists have figured out to a decent amount. Life does not stay the same. Why would God create a world that seemed to be billions of years old, where evolution appeared to be happening and have been happening for billions of years, if that wasn't true? That would be lying, and God doesn't lie. Obviously not all of science is right, but evolution is something that has stood up to tests for over a hundred years and been tested by literally millions of scientists. I think it's reasonable to accept that it has happened and is happening, at least to some extent.

Please don't get me wrong--I absolutely believe in God, specifically the God of Christianity who sent His son to die for our sins. I just also believe that evolution is perfectly compatible with Christianity and the God of the Bible. There are a lot of holes in the theory of evolution as it's argued by the scientific community in general. It continues to argue that evolution is a purely random process, when mathematics show that the chances of that, and of life evolving in only 3 billion years, are so unbelievable miniscule. It continues to argue that evolution is a purely random process, when all of life seems to have been preparing earth for humans to live there: the fact that water is exactly perfect to support life (for instance being lighter frozen, allowing warmer water to stay protected from the colder temperatures and therefore allowing life to live in it); the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs, allowing humans to evolve from the mammals of the time; cyanobacteria evolving photosynthesis, which creates oxygen as a byproduct and eventually led to the evolution of creatures that need oxygen to breathe (like us); the fact that life has always shows a tendency to become larger and larger. There's also so much that evolution can't explain about life itself; all of the important evolutionary 'innovations' (the origin of life, having multiple cells working together, moving from the ocean to land, flight) are things where scientists can clearly see the stages, but are completely incapable of figuring out why or how the first stage led to the second one. To me, that points to God.

The other aspect of evolution that, to me, points to God is how evolution happens. There's a lot of talk about natural selection in many discussions of evolution, but the truth is that, at least in the scientific community, most scientists today believe that random chance is the single largest driving factor of most evolution. The reason most populations that are separated from each other become so different as to become separate species is not because of natural selection leading to different adaptations; it's because of randomness in their environment (like a flood that wipes out half of the population) or their genes (a mutation, or purely in which genes get passed on and which don't) that is the reason that most populations become different enough to be seen as different species. Except, of course, that as a Christian I believe that nothing is random. God has His hand in everything, and everything happens for a reason. All of those 'random' occurrences in evolution are really God, shaping life to become how He wants it.

Monday, October 15, 2012

J. R. R. Tolkien Quote

In my best moments, when I'm most connected to God, this is why I read:
The Evangelium has not abrogated legends; it has hallowed them, especially the "happy ending." The Christian has still to work, with mind as well as body, to suffer, hope, and die; but he may now perceive that all his bents and faculties have a purpose, which can be redeemed. So great is the bounty with which he has been treated that he may now, perhaps, fairly dare to guess that in Fantasy he may actually assist in the effoliation and multiple enrichment of creation. All tales may come true; and yet, at the last, redeemed, they may be as like and unlike the forms that we give them as Man, finally redeemed, will be like and unlike the fallen that we know.~ J. R. R. Tolkien

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Once and Future King

Book: The Once and Future King by T. H. White

Published: 1958

Description: T.H. White's masterful retelling of the saga of King Arthur is a fantasy classic as legendary as Excalibur and Camelot, and a poignant story of adventure, romance, and magic that has enchanted readers for generations. (from Amazon.com)

I had heard great things about this book, from many people, but I was very disappointed when I read it.

But I'll start at the beginning. This book was written as a retelling of the Arthur myth, based mostly on Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur. It's divided into four books: Sword in the Stone, The Question of Air and Darkness, The Ill-Made Knight, and The Candle in the Wind. These books are normally combined, but they were also written separately, and each could stand alone. 

Sword in the Stone was great. It was absolutely my favorite. It had a very dry humor (my favorite!), and it was very satirical but in a rather kind way. Wart was alright--not the brightest, perhaps, but brave and honest. He had good adventures, and him turning into animals was nice (some animals were better than others). Merlyn absolutely made the book--he was a great character! He was extraordinarily quirky, and he lived backwards in time rather than forwards, so he was always saying things about the future (which, of course, was the past to him). Most of the other characters were fun and entertaining as well, like King Pellinore, Robin Wood, and the Questing Beast. White also went into a lot of detail about medieval life, which benefitted the book a lot.

The other three books were not so good. Most of The Question of Air and Darkness dealt with the witch Morgeuse and her children (Gawaine, Agravaine, Gaheris, and Gareth). They were a very twisted family, and I did not enjoy seeing their perspective one bit. The Ill-Made Knight was all about Lancelot and Guinever, and the search for the Grail. Arthur came across fairly well in this book, as a wise, merciful king devoted to doing what was right for his kingdom, but no one else really did. The Candle in the Wind was depressing, and not in a good way. I know there is evil and death in the world, and it is awful, but this book seemed to be mostly about despair and how nothing good will ever last, and that is not the Christian message.

My main problem with this book was that it tried to tell a very Christian story, but take God out of it. The result was a book where the message seemed to be that we should try to do good, but we probably won't succeed, and if we do then it won't last. I suppose that's what the world turns into when you don't believe in God. There were also numerous references to evolution, especially in Sword in the Stone when Wart was turning into animals; although that doesn't bother me, it could bother some. Perhaps as a nod to the Christianity of the British Isles at the time, some characters referred to their Christianity and taught others about it, but it was a Christianity without God and an understanding of Him.

The reason that I included this book in my Journey Through Time series/challenge was because this was a book very much influenced by its time--that is, a world still recovering from World War II and in the midst of the Cold War. (This was also the time when biologists were refining their ideas on evolution to be the more refined ones of today, so perhaps that's why there are so many evolution references) White's ideas of war were very much shaped around those events, and around teaching children the wrongs of war. White wasn't against war, but he was against ever starting a war. Merlyn (who had lived through World War II) taught Arthur never to start war, and to try to redirect the might of the knights into something good and pure (chivalry and the Round Table). He referenced World War II, condemned going to war to convince others you're right and building up weapons to stay at the same level as your enemy, and turned Wart into an ant so he could see what it was like to live in a society with no free will or thought. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

A Concise History of China

Book: A Concise History of China by J. A. G. Roberts

Country: China

Description: The centuries-long complexity of China's political experience, the richness of its culture, and the drama of its economic unfolding are the hallmarks of this short but sweeping history. China's own history is entwined with its response to the West in a rich tapestry depicting its peoples, rulers, and society. More than a nuanced history of a vast continent, this study is sensitive to the multifaceted and changing interpretations of China that have been offered over the years.

In this overarching book, J. A. G. Roberts refers to recent archeological finds--the caches of bronze vessels found at Sanxingdui--and to new documentary reevaluations--the reassessment of Manchu documentation. The first half of the book provides an up-to-date interpretation of China's early and imperial history, while the second half concentrates on the modern period and provides an interpretive account of major developments--the impact of Western imperialism, the rise of Chinese Communism, and the record of the People's Republic of China since 1949. (from amazon.com)

This book was certainly very concise--4,000 years of Chinese history in 300 pages! For all that, however, it was very informative, and I do feel as if I now have a good overview of Chinese history, especially politics. I do wish Roberts had focused more on social changes as well as politics, simply because I find that more interesting but I also know that those parts of history are less clear-cut and less documented.

The other problem with this being such a short history was that it almost raised more questions than it answered. So many interesting people appeared quickly and then were gone, like the Empress Wu, the only empress in Chinese history, or Ding Ling, a writer in early communism. It also, at least for me, raised bigger questions about my view of Chinese culture and history, as a Westerner and as a Christian. In that sense, it was a book that led to a lot of reflection during and after I was reading.