Mars Curiosity: The Martians are coming — well, not quite

Several news outlets, including National Public Radio (NPR), are saying that the Mars Curiosity vehicle being monitored by NASA on the Martian surface has made a big discovery in its analysis of Martian soil, but scientists are cautiously waiting for further verification of their measurements. The NPR report suggests that in early December the announcement will be made that they have discovered evidence that Mars once contained living things.

This announcement, if it comes, will create a huge media splash. Some will claim that UFOs are now arguably more credible. Others will say that such a discovery shows that life is not so rare in the cosmos as had been thought, and they will suggest that the discovery undercuts the biblical account of creation, including God’s primary role. Such a conclusion is not logical, but you should get ready to hear it.

Many Christians are already afraid of science, ignore science, or deny many of its claims without good reason for doing so. Just for the record, I fully accept the creation of the universe and human life by God using whatever means he alone chose. Neither the universe nor human life developed apart from God’s ruling hand. Having said that, I also accept scientific conclusions about the age of the earth (just over 4.5 billion years) and global warming accelerated by human activity. [Those Christians who think global warming is a political agenda created by American political liberals (e.g., Al Gore) should explain why every national academy of science on earth, including our own, affirms global warming and our part in it.]

If Mars once hosted living things — or even if it still does — that does not alter the fact that all life exits by the creative act of God. Such a finding changes nothing about Gods role in dictating the terms for creation of the universe. So, why will some very smart people use this upcoming news to bash Christians and undercut God?

They will do so partly because the unbelieving world always opposes God (John 1:9-10). Let me be clear: if they attack us over the cross of Christ, over our teaching about Jesus sacrificial death for our sins, so be it. Such attacks would show that we are doing exactly what Jesus put us here to do, proclaim the gospel.

But, they will also attack because many Christians have behaved in such a foolish way as to make our shared faith a target. First, they have constructed an alternate, fact-free reality. In this fact-free reality, America was always a Christian country, its founders were fully orthodox Christians, and God intended our nation to be a theocracy. Second, we have allowed certain people to claim to be leaders of evangelical faith, allowed those leaders to lead us into becoming a political agency rather than a gospel-teaching church, and followed those leaders into the expression of hatred and contempt for those who oppose us. This is not what Jesus put us here to do! Worse, it creates stronger enemies who oppose the gospel.

So, if NASA announces the discovery of ancient life on Mars, get an understanding of what has been discovered. Dont retreat into the anti-science bunker. Dont be intimidated by those who make exaggerated claims about how the discovery disproves Gods role in creation. Above all, keep proclaiming Christ, loving others and studying what God has revealed in his Word and in the cosmos.

Copyright 2012 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide.

Science: Global warming — amount of warming confirmed

Few issues have aroused the feelings of political conservatives and their evangelical allies as much as the claim that global warming is a fact. A newly published study has settled several key issues about this claim that had formerly made it seem questionable.

The New York Times has reported, “A team at the University of California Berkeley that set out to test the temperature data underlying the consensus on global warming has concluded that the mainstream estimate of the rise in the earth’s surface temperature since 1950 is indeed accurate.” The brief newspaper story may be found here. The study found that the earth’s land masses are 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than in the 1950s.

Three major groups had previously published claims supporting human-caused global warming based on a much smaller data set, but climate skeptics had raised several possible sources of error. Among those raising questions were some members of the Berkeley Earth study. The Berkeley study also shows that those possible error sources do not account for the temperature change previously found. The Berkeley study has particular weight in that it includes five times more temperature readings than the previous studies. All of the data and reports are available online.

Professor Richard A. Muller, Berkeley Earth’s founder and scientific director, stated:

Our biggest surprise was that the new results agreed so closely with the warming values published previously by other teams in the U.S. and U.K. This confirms that these studies were done carefully and that potential biases identified by climate change skeptics did not seriously affect their conclusions.[1]

The Berkeley Earth team includes physicists, climatologists and statisticians from California, Oregon and Georgia. One member of the group, Saul Perlmutter, was recently awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics (for his work in cosmology).

A surprising twist on the story is that the research leading to these findings was partially funded by the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation. Charles Koch is a billionaire who is most well-known for his support of libertarian causes as well as the Tea Party. Koch also has extensive holdings in fossil fuels.

One real test of these new findings may be whether evangelical Christians accept them as valid. Some Christians have demonstrated a clear disdain for any scientific finding that does not fit their own ideas. This global warming issue is not like the alleged biological evolution of human beings, a far more complicated theory with many unresolved questions. The Berkeley study involves measuring temperatures and assessing whether they are higher or lower on a global basis. If science cannot carry out this task, then we have to wonder whether iPods fell from heaven rather than being designed by engineers.

No conclusion was reached by the Berkeley Earth team about a second inflammatory idea  — human causation of the observed global warming. That awaits further study of ocean temperatures.

As a final treat, watch the video showing the warming of the earth from 1800 to the present at this link. Actually, it is a bit depressing. It starts with a real cold spell in the period 1800–1820 and ends with consistent warming over the last three decades.

Climate change has already made an appearance in the competing Republican campaigns for president. All the candidates firmly doubt there is any problem and several openly allege data manipulation by scientists.  No change in their views should be anticipated based on the Berkeley Earth study because they know what their primary voters believe.

Try to keep in mind that propaganda and data are two different things. This study contains data. God has made all of us stewards of the earth and all that is in it (Gen. 1:27–28), and we will be held responsible for what humans do on this planet. God isn’t running for office.

 

[1] “Cooling the Warming Debate,” by Elizabeth Muller, Founder and Executive Director of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature study, 20 October 2011, page 1.

 

Politics 2012 — Michele Bachmann on wifely submission and homosexuality

Denny Burk, a Baptist college professor in biblical studies, has posted a handy compilation of Michele Bachmann’s responses to sharp questions from the press about her Christian faith. She was quizzed on her views of God’s guidance, submission of a wife to her husband, homosexuality, so-called same-sex marriage, and the potential appointment of atheists or homosexuals in any Bachmann administration.

By making such a direct appeal to evangelical voters, both Bachmann and Rick Perry will get these questions for certain. Burk correctly pans Bachmann’s claim that a wife’s “submission” to her husband means “respect” in texts like Ephesians 5:22. In most other cases he gives her a passing grade on her responses, except that he wonders if being even more direct might work better politically. By trying to hit some happy medium, a candidate can fail to hold supporters from either side of the argument.

While I think government without compromises is a ticket to national ruin, those compromises cannot be made by contradicting what the Bible plainly says. Homosexuality is sin without a doubt, and a Christian candidate for president should never say otherwise. But the United States is not a theocracy and presidential appointments should focus on competency rather than theological purity. Bachmann said that neither atheism nor homosexuality would rule out a person for appointment.

It would be wise to remember Judas Iscariot, who had charge of the money held by Jesus and the twelve disciples (John 13:29). Since we must all live in the world, it would serve us well to remember the words of Jesus: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16). Christian candidates for president should think carefully about what Jesus said.

Copyright © 2011 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

Politics 2012: Will Rick Perry run for (Christian) President?

Yes.

There has not been any real doubt about this question for months. Consider Perry’s book, cleverly titled Fed Up: Our Fight To Save America from Washington (released November 15, 2010). Ever since Barack Obama wrote The Audacity of Hope (July, 2008) and Dreams from My Father (January, 2007) before the 2008 election, it has become fashionable for presidential candidates to write a book to spell out their vision for America before running for the highest office in America. That’s also why we have Sarah Palin’s books Going Rogue (November, 2009) and America by Heart (November, 2010).

Perry has known for a long time that he planned to run for the presidency. That’s why he moved from Tarrytown United Methodist Church in Austin — which he and his wife, like George and Laura Bush, had attended since the 1990s —  to Lake Hills Church in Austin. The Dallas Morning News ( 8/7/2011, page 2A) describes Lake Hills Church as “an evangelical megachurch.” Any political advisor who knows evangelicals can tell you that you do not reach evangelicals from Tarrytown Methodist Church. You do reach them from Lake Hills Church in affluent west Austin.

After courting pro-life voters, Perry’s next step in religious terms was the prayer rally which involved 30,000 Christians in his plans. He initiated a prayer gathering called “The Response” at Houston’s Reliant Stadium on Saturday (8/6/2011). That event was an important step for Perry, who has not formally announced his candidacy, because religious conservatives have a major influence on the Republican primary races in Iowa and South Carolina. Some Christians ate it up and immediately took Perry as their candidate!

It is my assessment that evangelicals are not going to flock to Mitch Romney, a Mormon, when the purported evangelical Rick Perry is running. Michele Bachmann also claims the evangelical mantle, so Perry is trying to gain support at her expense. Of course, spiritual theater is not the only thing evangelical voters think about — consider that my prayer — and a deeper look will have to play out over time. I hope evangelicals see Perry’s maneuvers with a clear vision.

Rick Perry’s performance in Texas will come under careful scrutiny. He is already claiming credit for the relative economic resilience Texas has shown, though his decisions have had little to do with what has happened. For historical reasons, the governorship is not a powerful position in relation to the Texas legislature, but it makes a nice pulpit. (The lieutenant governor actually has more power within the Texas state machinery.)

In my opinion, Perry is not primarily concerned about the cause of Christ; he is mostly concerned about his own prospects. Rick Perry’s election would result in further reaction against Christian faith in America. George W. Bush brought credibility problems — consider the easy access to power by certain Christian leaders in a distinctly Christian White House — and Perry would further harm the way non-Christians look on Christian faith. Non-Christians want a theocratic government about as much as they want rule under Islamic law.

Perry argued passionately that Texas had to cut its spending to avoid the moral taint of putting a debt on our children. He also signed into law cuts of four billion dollars from education funding aimed at preparing those same children for the future. In net terms, Perry took from the children to help the children! That is a mean-spirited and contradictory policy. I see plenty of Tea Party politics in that policy, but no sign of the concern for the poor and the weak that is strongly asserted in the teachings of Christ. Yet these types of decisions are never discussed in relation to the candidate’s asserted Christian faith. It is as if policy decisions are totally isolated from their alleged Christian faith.

Careful readers of this blog already know that I consider the marriage of evangelical faith with the Republican Party to be a grave error by the Christian community. For now, I will cite only two reasons: (1) our primary loyalty must be to Jesus Christ, not to a secular political cause; and (2) the Republican Party cares nothing for major social values expressed clearly by Christ in the New Testament.

Being against abortion and homosexual rights is only half of a loaf. While the Republican Party has a vision for the national debt, it has none for the poor or the elderly. The Bible is clearly immigrant friendly, but the Republican Party wants all undocumented aliens deported as criminals.

To be clear, the Democratic Party is also unworthy of Christian loyalty, but at this writing there is little sign within evangelical circles of that specific misplaced loyalty.

As Christians, we should weigh all issues in making political decisions. To carry out our role as life-managers for Christ, it makes more sense to be political independents than it does to support extremist political parties. They often want to use us to get elected.

It would be far better to spare the cause of Christ in America another detour into vicious, heartless politics.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

Politics 2012: Article on Michele Bachmann

Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker magazine has just published an article about Tea Party candidate Michele Bachmann, who is running for President. The author does not like her very much and clearly has qualms about some of the influences — including Christian influences of varying quality — that made her the person she is today.

Since some readers of this blog may be considering support for Bachmann, the article has a lot of factual information that may enter into an assessment of her fitness for office. That information includes her conversion experience and some clues about how her faith influences her political actions.

Not my candidate, but everyone will have to reach their own conclusion as the relentless campaign cycle picks up speed.

Copyright © 2011 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

Solid Article on Patriotism and Nationalism (Roger E. Olson)

I recommend you take time to read the remarks of Roger E. Olson on the interplay of patriotism and nationalism. A lot of Christians are really confused about which kingdom should have their primary allegiance. These folks are willing to cast aside their biblical values if those values conflict with a certain political philosophy.

In particular, I find it appalling that some Christians pour out on President Obama what I can only describe as hatred and venom. I’m not talking about disagreements about policies. (There has never been a president or party whose policies met with my complete approval.) In fact, it’s not hard to guess the kind of vile attacks being criticized here.

When Christians speak about political issues, they should first determine whether their policy positions square with the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament. The teachings of Jesus and the New Testament are infused with love and grace, but a lot of policies are loveless and grace-free. If the policy position of a Christian cannot include the expressed values of Christ, their cherished policy position needs to be thrown over the side! As far as I can see, no political party represents the cause of Christ, so there is no warrant for Christians to behave like pagans in the political arena.

Copyright © 2011 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.