Too wonderful for me, #7

Wow! It has been almost four years since I have added to this little personal blog series! Well, today I will break that drought.

As Passover season approaches, I am reminded that one of the things I enjoy most about being a pastor is counseling others for baptism. Given the continual growth of God’s Work, it has been a fairly constant presence in the work i get to do over the last several years, and I enjoy it for obvious reasons, of course. Who doesn’t enjoy seeing someone being brought into a relationship with Jesus Christ that will last eternity? (Raise your hands, please. None? OK, good.) But another aspect of such counseling is that it keeps fresh in my mind some of the beautiful truths that are really the cornerstone of that relationship and of our faith. One such truth is expressed by David at the beginning of his prayer of repentance concerning his sin in the matter of Uriah and Bathsheba:

Have mercy upon me, O God,
According to Your lovingkindness;
According to the multitude of Your tender mercies,
Blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
And cleanse me from my sin.

Psalm 51:1-2

It might seem like an odd choice, and–even given my thinking here–I could see other choices taking the place of this one, but I always come back here when these thoughts enter my mind.

What the passage reminds me of is a beautiful truth: That the source of the forgiveness available to me is not my own attempts at goodness, my own strength, my own righteousness, my own character. Rather, the forgiveness extended to me is grounded in God’s lovingkindness. It is grounded in the multitude of His tender mercies.

David’s wisdom here is the realization there is nothing in Him on which forgiveness could really be founded. Surely reflecting on the previous 9-months-or-so emphasized that to him. How many times, perhaps, during that time did he go to God and ask for forgiveness because he would do better in the future, or because he had done so much better in the past before this “slip up”? We can’t know (until we can ask him directly, of course). but here he makes it clear: His basis for being forgiven is not his own potential to be good, but is founded on God’s own goodness and mercy–a foundation with depth and strength and solidity that goes beyond comprehension. David recognizes that he can’t truly make up for his sins. He can’t “reverse” his adultery. He can’t bring Uriah back into the world of the living. He can’t clean the stains his actions have smeared on his heart and on his character. There is nothing that he has done that he can truly undo.

I’ve felt that way. If you’re a Christian, you surely have, too. There are those times when it is hard to ask for forgiveness again. Times when I want to take the edge off of the sting of my guilt by imagining that my repentance and desire to change is somehow a worthwhile “trade” for God’s forgiveness. Repentance is necessary, to be sure. To imagine that a request for forgiveness is sincere when there is no desire to actually change or do differently is to indulge in self-destructive delusion. Paul makes that pretty clear in 2 Corinthians 7:8-11.

But to think that our necessary repentance and obedience somehow “earns” our forgiveness would be a delusion of another sort. And it is that realization that gets me at times. The idea when I am asking for forgiveness that I have nothing of enough value to somehow trade to gain that forgiveness. And yet I need that forgiveness. I need to be made right with my Creator.

And, thus, Psalm 51. However confused he may have been up to that point, he knew: The only basis for forgiveness available to him was God’s own goodness and mercy. He sought forgiveness not in any way “earned” because he planned to “do better next time”–a desire he surely had–but, rather, it was available because that the the amazing sort of God he had. His Creator was one of astonishing lovingkindness. One whose tender mercies were beyond counting.

What a comfort that has been to me–a comfort too wonderful at times for me, and one I understand that I can’t fully grasp. It has been a comfort to know that when I ask for forgiveness, I am asking one who loves me beyond measure. I am asking to drink from a well of mercy, the depths of which no man has ever imagined and which no measuring line could ever fully plumb. It is something that comforts and reassures in a way I cannot fully describe, but for which I am thankful.

Signing our hymn based on Psalm 51, “In Thy Loving Kindness Lord,” after the Passover service every year, as we do in our area, seems such a fitting thing to do. That lovingkindness, that multitude of tender mercies extended to ones such as you and me, found corporeal expression in the life and death of Jesus  Christ– a life He lived for us and a death He died for us. And it continues to be expressed in the life He lives now — a lovingkindness and a tender mercy that doesn’t stop at seeing that I am forgiven for the things I have done, but that continues on further, seeking to rescue me fully and utterly from those things. A lovingkindness and a tender mercy that seeks not only to free me from the grip of my sins but to take me far from them, far beyond their reach, where they will never be able to touch me again, forever.

Knowing that the ground of my forgiveness is not rooted, truly, in my own goodness but is rooted in His is something too wonderful for me. And I hope it is a part of all of our meditations as Passover approaches.

Again, it’s been a long time since I have visited this little thread! Here are pass posts for those with a little time on their hands:

NASA pic

Thank you, Lee Smolin: The Multiverse as an exit sign for real science and an “explanatory failure”

NASA pic
Let’s play “Count Universes”–Yay! OK, here we go: ONE… Uh… Well, all I see is one. Um… Do you have any evidence of any others? No? OK… Well, maybe we should just stick with one. Sound good? Yes? OK, good here, too.

Quick hit, today. Life is pretty occupied with other things!

I’ve wanted to write about this for a while, but will have to settle for just referring to it. If you’ve read the Tomorrow’s World article “Do We Live in a Multiverse?” then you are already aware that I’m not a fan of the theory. There is no good scientific reason to believe that multiple universes exist (let alone some of the weirder versions of multiverse theory, which the article did not have enough space to include in detail), and it seems that when you dig one of the main reasons the concept is latched onto is because it is seen as a means of avoiding a Creator. As one quote in the article from New Scientist says, the fine tuning of the universe’s parameters “has two possible explanations. Either the Universe was designed specifically for us by a creator or there is a multitude of universes—a ‘multiverse’.” And as the scientist quoted in the article said very plainly, “If you don’t want God, you’d better have a multiverse.” And, let’s face it: Many people don’t want God.

(It should be noted before continuing, by the way, that even if it did exist the multiverse does not actually do away with the need for God’s existence. True for many reasons, one of which I hit here: “Invasion of the Boltzmann Brains!”)

And, as I have ranted about in a rantiforous, ranty rant here on my personal blog, some of the ideas of a multiverse–especially the extreme versions–are science destroyers. It becomes the ultimate “God of the Gaps”–really, a “Multiverse of the Gaps” that explains everything. The rant is here: “The Multiverse Kills Science”–it’s a long post (definitely longer than it needed to be), so don’t try to read it without a venti salted caramel mocha in your hand and, as my Beautiful Wife might suggest, a fork to stab yourself in the leg with to keep yourself awake. (Funny Spokesman Club story associated with that reference I will have to post sometime.) But I can summarize it with the words “Jello-filled 747s raining from the sky.” OK, maybe that doesn’t summarize it very well. How about this: “In a quantum mechanical multiverse where all things happen somewhere, even those things with an unimaginably low probability of being true, science becomes impossible and cause and effect is useless as a means of understanding anything. All is explained, meaning that nothing is explained.” Maybe that’s better. If you want to slog through my terrible writing of that day and let me know how you would summarize it, feel free.

However, you could also just read this one article by physicist Lee Smolin and learn the same thing.

His article is “You think there’s a multiverse? Get real” and it has officially become my favorite New Scientist article ever. It’s in the 17 January 2015 issue. While New Scientist‘s consistent cheerleading for multiverse ideas is normally a great irritant for me–though I can hardly blame them too much, given how popular an idea it is–they deserve kudos for featuring this essay as a counterbalance, however small, to the mass of nonsense they have helped to peddle.

The statement right under the title summarizes Smolin’s point well: “Positing that alternative universes exist is just disguising our lack of knowledge of the cosmos. It’s time to move on.” Pretty plain, that.

But the rest is worth a read for anyone who is interested in the topic. For instance, he summarizes the better points of my rant-ish post I mentioned earlier very succinctly: “Thus the multiverse theory has difficulty making any firm predictions and threatens to take us out of the realm of science.” Later: “As attractive as the idea [of a multiverse] may seem, it is basically a sleight of hand, which converts an explanatory failure into an apparent explanatory success. The success is empty because anything that might be observed about our universe could be explained as something that must, by chance, happen somewhere in the multiverse.” That’s a science killer. And later, still: “And thus with an infinite ensemble of unobservable entities we leave the domain of science behind. In some sense, the multiverse embodies the unreal ensemble of all possible solutions to the laws of physics, imagined as elements of an invented ensemble of bubble universes. But this just trades one imaginary, unreal ensemble for another.”

It’s all good stuff. And Dr. Smolin’s essay puts the lie to such completely inane statements as physicist David Deutsch’s ridiculous comment that “Multi-universe physics has the same kind of experimental basis as the theory that there were once dinosaurs.” (Just seeing that sentence again gives me the willlies and makes me feel embarrassed for the man. What rot. Hopefully the article’s author was experiencing a medication mix-up and the quote from Deutsch is actually the result of a chemically-induced hallucination.)

It should be noted that Smolin gained a great deal of attention back in 2006 for his broadside attack on string theory in his book The Trouble with Physics. It stirred a large amount of controversy (much needed controversy, IMHO), and in it he makes many of the same points he makes in this multiverse article. And it is great to see that he is still at it. While I don’t agree with his implied assessment of intelligent design theories as inherently untestable hypotheses, I like the fact that he points out the hypocrisy of scientists getting on the multiverse bandwagon while rejecting intelligent design as somehow “not science.”

As for the three principles Smolin and his colleague Roberto Mangabeira Unger recommend in the article to solve the problems in science that result in things like assuming multiverses everywhere, I’m good with #1 and #3, although for #2 I’m very happy with “time is real” but unsure about what he states is the consequence of that conclusion. Still, I’m open, and I hope their ideas get enough traction to be seriously considered. (Also of note: Unger is a philosopher, and, personal evaluations of Unger’s ideas aside, kudos to Smolin for seeing the benefit of philosophy in the work of science where its place and position used to be, and should be, a given.)

The multiverse really is an example of how many scientists who wish to bash believers in God cling to gods of their own, and often do so for reasons flimsier than those they attribute to those same believers. How nice it would be if the sentiment expressed by Dr. Smolin was an indication of sanity returning to science.

OK, I said this would be a “quick hit” and, as usual, took longer than I thought. We now return you to your regularly scheduled surfing…

Supreme Court (cropped)

Roe v. Wade turns 42 — what other “moral decline” milestones come to mind?

Supreme Court (cropped)
January 22, 1973. Not the U.S. Supreme Court’s finest day…

Today is he 42nd anniversary of the horrific 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision which created a constitutionally-protected “right” to murder human life in the womb.

I was listening to Mr. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, talk about it today in his podcast (worth considering) and his comment than many mainstream Christians of the day — including, in his opinion, the Southern Baptist Convention — sort of shrugged about the matter at the time, with even some arguing that it might be a “lesser of two evils” in some circumstances. Few saw it as the issue it really was: A question of whether the choice to murder innocents, fashioned in the image of God, would be enshrined as a constitutional right. It is now understood to be one of the great turning points in the moral degradation of our country — a point where human life came to be seen as no more meaningful than that of the animals and certainly not something sacred.

I am happy to see that Mr. Armstrong spoke about it years earlier in the March 1969 issue of the Plain Truth, where he noted (with comments where I can’t resist myself):

“Right now pressures arc being more and more exerted in the Western world
to make abortions legal. Under certain conditions, of course. [Note: How sad the “of course” is now no longer an “of course” in our world. — WGS]  Such as requiring the assent of two or three doctors. [Wow. Compared to today? I mean — wow. — WGS]

“The pressures are primarily one-sided. I haven’t heard many indignant, emotionally aroused well-organized protests to prevent it.

“This is in line with the toboggan-slide in morals. Fornication and adultery are fast gaining public acceptance. For several years outright profanity has been accepted on the stage. And now the question of whether legal abortion amounts to legal permission to commit murder does not seem to raise many eyebrows, let alone ignite flames of spontaneous protest.”

Also, the year of Roe v. Wade, 1973, the Plain Truth carried an article titled, “Abortion Now Legal…But Is Abortion Murder?” by Mr. Armstrong. He updated many of the same comments he had written four years before, and he answers the question posed in the title unequivocally: Yes, it is. Just as those of us begotten of God’s Spirit are now His children though not yet born into the fulness of life He intends for us in His Family, the child in the womb is just that: the child of his mother and father. As he puts it in his article, at the moment of conception, mother and father have given that new human being all the “life” they can and, from now it, it is not a matter of “more” human life being added; rather it is simply a matter of that new human life growing and maturing.

As Mr. Armstrong said in that May 1973 article:

“It didn’t get the BIG headlines. It was overshadowed in the news by the ending of the Vietnam war (so far as direct U. S. participation is concerned) and by the death of a former President. Yet the U. S. Supreme Court ruling handed down January 22 may have even a more important and lasting effect on the future of America and the world.”

I believe time has validated that speculation.

Where are we today? Well, according to National Right to Life, 52 million babies have been aborted in the U.S. since Roe v. Wade, and every single day an additional 3,300 lives are destroyed — more human beings than were killed in the September 11 attacks. That’s like 9/11 happening every single day. Sadly, the Tomorrow’s World from 2005 “Abortion: A Modern Holocaust?” is still as relevant today as it was a decade ago. And I take a special sort of pride, hopefully not a carnal pride (let me know–I can repent!), that my very first telecast was banned by WGN because of the manner in which I described abortion.

(Side note: That TW article made a difference, which I note in a later “Letter to the Editor” from someone named E. G. Oromiya in Ethiopia (emphasis mine): “I was sure I would gain a lot when I requested your free literature from the Internet. And it really happened when I received a booklet and the magazine with the cover article ‘Abortion: A Modern Holocaust?’ [March-April 2005]. It didn’t take me more than a day to read the magazine and write you this letter. I am a medical student in Ethiopia, where abortion is not yet legalized. I had been having the view that abortion should be legalized. But now I have changed my mind after reading your magazine. The biblical evidence and the figures for the ‘reasons’ for abortion have changed me much. Thank you very much, and God bless you!” Thank God for the opportunity we have to preach His truth!)

It seems to me that while that wasn’t the event that created the abortion problem in the U.S., it was very much a watershed moment or, to mix my metaphors, a significant milestone in our common cultural decent into moral morass.

That brings me to a question. If we were to create a timeline of such milestones concerning society’s modern decent into moral depravity, it seems to me that January 22, 1973 and the Roe v. Wade decision would be a milestone on that list. But what other milestones would we place there? Concerning homosexual “marriage,” for instance, would there be one, significant milestone? Such as President Obama’s public endorsement of such “marriages” on May 6, 2012? Perhaps another, more significant day? Certainly, if the Supreme Court “discovers” a constitutional “right” to such “marriages” (that’s a lot of “scare quotes” in one sentence!), that would surely qualify as a milestone.

So, what milestone events and dates do you think should be listed on such a timeline of societal moral decline? And while I’m U.S.-centric in my considerations, I would like to consider society on a broader scale, so if there are some outside America, feel free to suggest those, as well.

I’d love to know what you think — just let me know in the comments below.

Computer Brain (square)

Some frontiers of Artificial Intelligence (and Artificial Life)

(Been a while since I have posted! Lots I could talk about–such as the amazing Charlotte 

Both Artificial Intelligence and Artificial Life (AI and AL for the rest of this post) fascinate me. I have been interested in AI since I was a wee lad and the idea that we could create something that seemed every bit as intelligent and interactive as a human being intrigued me. Back when I got one of my first books on programming in BASIC (indeed, I am that old), it had a program representing a scaled-down version of ELIZA that interested me in the possibility that one day a created machine might be able to have a plain-language conversation with a human being.

And we are making amazing advances in the field of AI, to be sure. In part, many of those advances are because some researchers have stopped trying to mimic the functioning of human intelligence, which remains to some extent inscrutable. As a result, more and more programs are becoming what would be called, by many measures, “intelligent” but with an “intelligence” that is increasingly inscrutable to their programmers. That is, the “thought” processes aren’t always open to being deconstructed in ways we would completely understand, yet the results do generally show some chain of successful reasoning — at least, that’s what I have read on the topic. It seems that as we are increasingly creating programs and machines that can “learn” more than we program them with, we are losing the ability to describe how they actually come to the “conclusions” they do.

This might be related to some of the weird answers Watson came up with on Jeopardy!, which I mentioned in my post here: “My Dear Watson Isn’t So Elementary” (which also refers to ELIZA).

The practical concerns of this–using “intelligences” that draw conclusions in ways that we don’t exactly understand–are real. For instance, such AI systems have been used, in at least one case that I know of, to solve a real world crime. In such a case, if the AI system’s “reasoning” cannot be reconstructed, then the humans have to be able to construct valid reasoning on their own. If they cannot, would the AI system’s conclusion be sufficient as evidence? What if lives are at stake? It’s like the mathematician’s dilemma concerning computer-aided proofs of theorems, but with, you know, jail time.

Still, such conundrums aside, I find that a little disappointing — “that” being the idea that in order to make strides in Artificial Intelligence we are abandoning to some extent an attempt to model our own intelligence. Call it sentience-bias, but the intelligence I would most like to see simulated is one that is very much like our own. At the same time, in some cases it seems a matter of abandoning the method in order to embrace the same outcome. Since our own intelligences grow over time through learning and experience, part of the hope of some is to cease trying to recreate intelligence from scratch and to simply create the mechanisms by which intelligence is able to grow. In some cases, the resulting intelligence may be very foreign to what we would think of as human intelligence, while in others it may be very similar.

There are two AI efforts I have read about in the last few months that really intrigue me. One is being driven by the creators of Apple’s Siri in their new company, Viv Labs. I remember the first Siri app, which I had before Apple bought the company behind it (and which stopped working the moment Apple bought the company). And while Siri is a disappointment to many, it actually is pretty impressive in a number of ways. Now, we have others seeking to outshine it, like Microsoft’s Cortana, named after the clothing-challenged AI interface in the popular Microsoft HALO game series. (I think Google has a voice-based assistant, as well, but I do not know if it has a name. Googlette?) All of these, though, pale in comparison to what we really want in an AI assistant, which is, essentially, Tony Stark’s “Jarvis.” We want “someone” who can understand us in real, natural, human language. So far, Siri, Cortana, and their comrades fall short of that and don’t seem like real “AI” as much as simple voice-based interfaces.

But what Viv is working on should change that in an amazing way. Wired had a good article on the operating system that Viv Labs is creating (called “Viv,” itself) if you are interested: “Siri’s Inventors Are Building a Radical New AI That Does Anything You Ask.” If you just want a quick hit instead of reading the whole article (though the whole article is interesting, IMO), the diagram at the bottom showing Viv dissect the statement “On my way to my brother’s house, I need to pick up some cheap wine that goes well with lasagna” and producing (in 0.05 seconds) a helpful list of possibilities is fascinating by itself. Closest thing to a Jarvis that I’ve seen, and light years beyond Siri.

The second research effort that has grabbed my attention is Baby X, being built by New Zealand’s Auckland Bioengineering Institute Laboratory for Animate Technologies. This article on “The Creators Project” blog covers Baby X pretty nicely: “Baby X, The Intelligent Toddler Simulation, Is Getting Smarter Every Day” (the videos below are also featured in that article and may not seem as impressive unless you read the article).

While the creators of Baby X are smart to choose a child’s face, I think, because the features that make it seem child-like also help us to overcome the “uncanny valley” effect (that is, the somewhat ironic revulsion we feel towards things that seem near-human, such as digitally animated faces that seem somehow creepily “off,” as opposed to things that seem more obviously less so, such as C3PO’s face; the nearer to actual human appearance, the more our revulsion until the “valley” is crossed to full human appearance where we become accepting instead of revulsed–clearly too much for parentheses, so read this if you are curious). Child-like features (big eyes, etc.) make us instinctively want to like the image, which may help overcome the counter-instinct that feels revulsion at something nearly-but-subtly-not-fully human.

Regardless, from what I get from the article and from the Institute’s website, Baby X’s programming is based on a model of actual biological activity (the release of dopamine in rewarding circumstances, etc.) in the hopes that it will learn and respond in a more human way if the manner of learning is related to how we learn and respond.

Here are a couple of videos if you are interested:

Clearly, an actual baby’s brain is not being fully modeled in detail, as those interactions are still beyond our ability to accomplish. The vast network of neuronal connections in an adult brain’s connectome is even beyond the Internet’s complexity (as discussed in someone’s Tomorrow’s World article: “The Enigmatic Human Brain”). Baby X looks as though it is based on more simple models that attempt to reproduce brain activity without modeling every detail that produces that activity.

C. elegans in action. (From Wikipedia)

Another area of research that has grabbed my attention, however, does model brain activity at every level of detail, and represents, to me, more of an attempt at Artificial Life than Artificial Intelligence. The key factor making it possible is that the brain involved is remarkably simple: That of the tiny worm Caenorhabditis elegans (or C. elegans, for short) — a small (about 1 mm long), non-parasitic round worm. It is the only living creature to date which has had its entire connectome (the entirety of its neuronal connections) completely mapped out. It helps that the worm’s brain consists of only 302 neurons.

As a result, one can virtually create a digital creature that behaves just like C. elegans, even though the digital creation is not, in the same sense, alive. Once all the neurons are in place and the connections established, activity within the network begins acting just like it does in the real worm.

In fact, some have gone further. Using LEGO Mindstorms kits — simple robot-building kits using LEGO bricks — people have created robot versions of C. elegans. Certain things have to be modified, to be sure — for instance, where the real creature responds to signals indicating the presence of food, the robot’s sensors might detect the presence of sound, or motor neurons (or their worm equivalent) might be made to activate wheel instead of a muscle.

However, what is fascinating is that the only real “programming” of the robot worm is that the neurons and their connections are simulated. That is, there is no line of human code saying, “If you run into a wall, turn around and go a different direction.” Rather, the neurons are put into place, they are all connected to each other in the same was as in the worm, and then the worm is turned on. The result? The robot does, indeed, behave just like the worm. No additional programming necessary: Just neurons responding to each other and activity moving around the connections from one neuron to another. In order to “program” the worm, it wasn’t necessary to tell it what to do: Just create the neurons, order them in the same way as the real worm’s, and the robot worm comes to “life” behaving just as its real-life inspiration does.

Here’s a video of someone’s LEGO C. elegans in action:

The video does a nice job of showing the “neurons” in action. And, again, though the robot’s behavior may not seem all that impressive, it should be noted that no one gave the robot a bit of human-generated computer code that said, “When you hit a wall, turn around.” Rather, the worm’s neurons and their connections were modeled “as is” and the behavior just occurs. By reproducing the worm’s neuron arrangement in the robot, the worm’s behavior has also been reproduced in the robot. In a sense, this is “Artificial Intelligence” (a worm’s intelligence, to be sure), but it seems to me to be more fully like “Artificial Life” and, in some ways, I find AL more fascinating as AI.

Actually, there is so much more I would like to say, but I have spent more time on this post than I planned — a nice break from the other things I am working on today. So I will leave the questions all of this might generate to you in the comments. (OK, here’s one: Should it ever be possible to completely map a human being’s connectome–his or her neurons and all of their connections–would we expect the human being to be perfectly reproduced, as well? What role would the presence of the human spirit have in that? Would it be a hobbled reproduction lacking in the real “spark” that truly makes us “us”? What would it be? Where are the boundaries? At what point between C. elegans and H. sapiens would such modeling break down? — All right, that’s more than one…)

Fascinating stuff! At least it is for me. 🙂 If you have any thoughts, feel free to share them below.

Some thoughts on the Sony hack and canceling “The Interview”

It’s been a while since I posted! Even this one I will keep brief. (Ha! Believe it or not, I do mean that when I say it. “Brief” is just hard for me. Even harder when I’m pressed for time. Ask Blaise Pascal about that.)

I find all of this buzz about the hack of e-mails and assets from Sony Pictures, the threats to movie theaters that might show their movie, The Interview, and the subsequent cancellation of the movie’s premier to be a little fascinating. here are some thoughts, lazily listed in bulleted format…

(By the way: If you have no idea what I am talking about, the BBC summarizes the matter pretty well here: “The Interview: A guide to the cyber attack on Hollywood”)

  • I’ve seen more attention paid to this cyber attack than all the other attacks that are surely made against other targets, including non-Hollywood businesses and the U.S. government. I suspect the fact that the target is Hollywood makes a big difference.
  • Total cave on the part of Sony Pictures and various theaters. I wonder if this is because of the terrorist-style threats concerning showing the movie (surely part of it) or if it is because of the potential that more embarrassing information may be released from the information hack.
  • North Korea is strongly believed to be behind the attack (actually, the U.S. has recently declared that Pyongyang order the attack. Makes you wonder (if you haven’t wondered already) how easy it would be for the sorts of groups some (like perhaps the president) may want to call “JV league” to make a damaging impact on the nation through cyber warfare. If you don’t think we’re terribly vulnerable, you haven’t been paying attention.
  • So, a movie about Muhammed is too intimidating a possibility for any Hollywood studio to touch, knowing how violent elements in the world will react. A movie that paints Kim Jong-un in an unflattering light gets canned at cost in response to a digital attack with promise for more. Yet, movies that make Noah a psychotic weirdo and turn Moses into a fictional tool that serves only to satisfy a director’s personal vision get an easy pass. Not suggesting that anyone attack theaters over Noah or Exodus, mind you! Indeed: turn the other cheek (Matt. 5:39). Just pointing out the interesting difference.(In other, related news: I have written a commentary about the new Exodus: Gods and Kings movie and have submitted it to editorial. If it is usable, it will hopefully be published on the lcg.org and tomorrowsworld.org websites within a few days.)
  • Given the involvement of Seth Rogen and James Franco, The Interview is probably a vulgar piece of trash. Just saying.
  • Seeing how the media has responded and continues to respond to the leak of private info from Sony is interesting, too. IMHO, it begs to be compared and contrasted with other leaks and violations of privacy, such as WikiLeaks’ publication of confidential government information and the publication of the names and addresses of gun owners in an effort by activists to shame and stigmatize such individuals, whether or not it endangers them.
  • Related to the above, the availability to the media of salacious information about the very individuals the media tends to revere has produced some interesting soul-searching (and naval-gazing) on the part of journalists. Would that such introspection on the media’s part occur in other areas, as well.

And, that’s all for now. Not the deepest topic, I know, but nice for a blogging hit-and-run. 🙂

Football

Is football the worst sport ever?

Football Boy
So, it that a football old-timey boy has, or a watermelon? I think it’s a watermelon.

[Note: Due to the fact that I worked on this from a short draft I began back in November of 2014, the effective “date” of the post here on my blog is 11/28/2014, even though I wrote this on 6/3/2015. Rather than move it to the proper date, seeing how there are already comments and such, I’m just leaving it here it is. I think we’ll all survive, won’t we? — WGS]

So, is football the worst sport ever, and its industry the picture of sin-incarnate? Part of the world is wondering if it is, these days. But which part of the world you are talking about makes a difference.

If by “football” you mean “American football,” then, for all its vices–shared, paralleled, or “one upped” by many other sports–the answer seems to be “no.” The American public seems to be slowly moving past Deflategate and is waiting disinterestedly for the next scandal. But if by “football” you mean the same thing that virtually the entire rest of the world means by “football”–for us Americans, that would be “soccer”–then some are, indeed, wondering if the answer might be “yes.”

[Note for those non-Americans reading today’s post: My apologies for calling football “soccer” for the rest of this post. Since most of my visitors–folks in my congregations, et al.–are Americans, I’m going to go the route that makes the most sense for them. But, for what it’s worth, I do think that “football” is the better description of the sport!]

If you haven’t been keeping up with the scandals of FIFA these days (the international governing body for professional soccer), you’ve been missing out. I won’t try to summarize it all, but it is amazing how corrupt the sport is. The Wall Street Journal just published an interesting op-ed piece comparing FIFA to the Clinton family’s approach to politics. Here is my tweet of that (using the Twitter link below should solve any paywall problems, I think:

If you want to know more specifically about the FIFA scandal, just Google it.

But it brings to mind attacks I have seen on football as the sport somehow most deserving of attack as somehow inherently sinful and immoral that deserves special attention above all other sports. And I continually don’t get it, when there are so many other better targets, as this FIFA news helps to demonstrate. [And, please note: I don’t say this as a fan of football. I didn’t watch a single game last year — not even the Super Bowl. I say it as someone who is an anti-fan of poor logic and of abusing the Bible to try and convince others that one’s personal opinions and convictions are equivalent to God’s own judgment.]

I recognize that Mr. Herbert Armstrong had commented in the past on why he didn’t have football at Ambassador College, and his thoughts are still very instructive. They don’t unarguably lead one to conclude that football, let alone watching it on television, is inherently evil or sinful, though they do lay out important principles, whether one draws similar conclusions or not. And those few I have seen who try to use his words to say so not only abuse his statement but also tend to ignore all other evidence of his opinions on the matter to turn what he said into a much stronger, broader, and far-reaching statement than Mr. Armstrong intended, and one flatly contradicted by Mr. Armstrong’s repeated approval and endorsement of the Church’s energetic participation in the Rose Bowl Parade, which he didn’t see a problem with even in light of Romans 14:22. I’ve blogged about such abuses of Mr. Armstrong and others before (“Zombie ministers: How some abuse the dead”) and on this topic, specifically (actually, I think, in the “Will there be football in the Millennium?” blog post), so I don’t see a need to kick that dead horse any further. The point of whether or not watching football can be biblically established as inherently evil and sinful is unaffected by any of that–neither proven nor disproven. One is simply left to say that some individuals’ time would be better spent on using Scripture to examine themselves instead of trying to publicly canonize their own personal preferences.

The FIFA scandals seem, to me, to simply be a reminder that some perspective is needed. In the past I dug around (digged around? dig dug around?) trying to see if I should think of football as the preeminent example of sin in sports? Is it at some sort of pinnacle deserving of special condemnation above the others? After all, if it were simply the matters that Mr. Armstrong brought out, those are now represented in our day in a vast array of popular sports, and certainly not just professional football. If the focus on hate-ranting about football as a uniquely, inherently evil sport to play or watch were rooted in some sort of justifiable reality and not just some anti-football blogger’s weird personal obsession, then maybe there was something I was missing.

For instance, is football (remember, American football) the Most Sinful Sport Ever™ because of its attitude toward player concussions?

 

Frankly, that would be highly debatable. Actions and recent lawsuits have pressed the case so that actual studies are being done. There are some very good arguments that soccer needs similar studies as the anecdotal evidence keeps piling up that the sport may be just as a injurious in this regard. However, while football treats a possible concussion during the game as a big deal (game paused, doctors brought out, players evaluated and possibly removed), soccer is known for blowing it off, as displayed in hoopla during the last World Cup. As one article said, “[Q]uite frankly, soccer doesn’t really care about concussions.” (Though, hopefully, recent actions may mean that will finally change for soccer. Bring on the actuaries!)

Still, perhaps football might be the Most Sinful Sport Ever™ because of fatalities and injuries, overall.

Well, no, not there, either.

If we were to ban the most deadly sport in America for young people, that would be softball. Actually, we should ban boys’ gymnastics and water polo, as well, each of which have higher rates of mortality per participant among high school students than football does. But, really, softball is the killer—more than double the rates of mortality per player than even second-place water polo according to statistics gathered from 1982 through 2011.

And if we move from mortality to simply injuries, there are other competitors looking for the title, as well. The high school sport with the greatest rate of injury is cheerleading. And by the way, that’s not cheerleading in support of sports teams, such as football and basketball, but competitive cheerleading—that is, competitive cheerleading against other teams of cheerleaders.

Really, when you look at the stats, injuries are sort of all over the place. But at least in America, competitive cheerleading blows them all away. (Texas Aggies are smart enough not to have cheerleaders. We’d rather have our gals in the stands with us than on the field getting injured. Gig’em!)

Where there is a lot of money to be made, there is lack of regard for human health and safety. To claim that football has a lock on this vice would be weird.

So, maybe with all of the money in football, it qualifies as Most Sinful Sport Ever™ because of graft and corruption? After all, it would be foolish to think that Deflategate is the only shady thing that goes down in the NFL.

Still, as the FIFA scandals demonstrate (and have before today’s headlines), football is not only less than unique, it is probably far from the worst. If anyone thinls that football is the worst in this category, they don’t pay attention to news. And if people were to think football were somehow the worst, they aren’t good at  And they didn’t lose money to Pete Rose.

Perhaps attitude makes football stand out? I mean, you have to admit that there is a lot of carnal attitude on the faces of some of those guys after a tackle or a touchdown.

Yet, if that makes football inherently or uniquely evil or sinful, it would apply to—well—pretty much every major sport these days. Haven’t you seen the prideful, “I’m the king of the world and I’m going to bite your face off” look on the faces of other sports figures? Ever watch basketball? Soccer? Actually, ever watched tennis—or even golf?

Fans of football can be truly atrocious in their behavior, true. Maybe the sport uniquely inspires such sinful attitudes in those who follow it?

Well, no, it doesn’t. In America, we have no idea how carnal fans can get relative to some other sports. There is a reason they call them “soccer hooligans” [OK: (Non-American) football hooligans].

Then there are the cheerleaders. No doubt about it: professional football cheerleaders are undeniably inappropriately clad.

But if you think they’re the worst in football, you haven’t seen the cheerleaders they use, for instance, in professional basketball. [No, I’m not linking to pictures…]

The objection some seem to have about football that, perhaps, makes them feel deep down that it truly is the worst of the worst may be that it seems such a violent sport to them.

But is it, really? The hits are sometimes, maybe even often, rougher than they should be, to be sure. We already covered that, and inappropriate aggression is present in a lot of sports. I’ve blogged about illegal, shameful schemes to purposefully hurt other players, and they are just that: illegal and shameful. And, also, not unique to football. (Think Tonya Harding. Or pitchers taking out batters and the subsequent brawls.) But does it seem more “violent” because there is grappling, pushing, and tackling? Do the presence of those items make it somehow inherently, violently evil and sinful? Like wrestling?

(Did you follow the link? I know—that was mean. But fun. If you want to claim that grappling, pushing, and tackling is inherently, violently evil and sinful, take it up with Jacob and Jesus Christ in the resurrection.)

Really, do we have to ban all roughhousing in sport or play? As a father of four boys (and, as rumor has it, I, myself, am a male, as well), I can say that physical play—wrestling each other, etc.—even intensely physical play is rightly natural to being male. And I say “natural” in terms of God’s design, not “natural” as a euphemism for carnal. The fact that a sport includes physical contact simply can’t, in and of itself, make it inherently sinful.

Bad attitudes on display in that contact? Yes! That would be sinful! But then, it would be sinful in any sport, right? In fact, it would be sinful even if there were no physical contact, right? So, where does that leave us? Right! With football still not being inherently sinful and certainly not uniquely “more evil” than other sports.

The idea that rough-and-tumble play among friends will not be allowed in the Kingdom has no basis in Scripture. To quote verses about “violence” to say otherwise is to assume what one desires to prove and is a logical error of the novice. You would first have to prove that all such play is violence. Have fun with that. And, even if you were to succeed against all odds and rationality, far more sports and play would be condemned than football—once again not making it unique in some way as the sinniest sinful sport in civilization.

Actually, someone who is truly offended by real violence in sports has so many other targets to choose from, and worse offenders, indeed. Consider ice hockey. Who hasn’t heard this joke: “I went to a fight once, and a hockey game broke out”? There’s a reason for that joke. In fact, even if it is a matter of just picking on America, in North America the rules concerning actual, literal player-on-player violence in hockey are looser than just about everywhere else in the world. Fights are actually expected, and are part of what the fans want.

Really, it’s hard to justify picking on football as the pinnacle of “sports evil” in the area of violence. (And, again, simply quoting verses about “violence” assumes what one wants to prove.)

Finally, perhaps football qualifies as Most Sinful Sport Ever™, at least as a public symbol, because it is so popular. Consider the TV ratings for the Super Bowl–they are huge. Maybe that should make football a special “punching bag” above all other sports.

Well, that just doesn’t cut it, either.

It took until 2010 for the number of Super Bowl viewers in America to get past 100M, climbing to a record 112.2 million in 2014. In 2015, that record was bested, bringing in 114.4 million.

Being a truly international sport, it is hard to aggregate the viewing figures for soccer’s World Cup, but even conservative measures of World Cup viewing put the totals for the final game at more than double that of the Super Bowl, such as the estimated 260,000,000 in 2006. And that doesn’t even count the number of people without access to television who obsessively follow the World Cup’s games through other means (print, public announcement, etc.). In fact, over the course of the entire World Cup tournament, total viewership of some of the action is estimated in the billions.

Actually, all of these things said… considering the often prideful and combative attitudes of its players, the corruption of the governing bodies, the lack of compassion for its players’ head injuries (including among children), the “hooliganism” and violent and riotous criminal activity associated with its fans, the vast, vast viewing audience—with some fans virtually addicted to the sport and its “heroes”—and its central role in the culture of Israelitish nations, I would say that someone sincere about tackling sin in sports would pick soccer over football any day. (Of course, I mean real football over American football.) And that’s even true if one is seeking to focus on the vices of Israelite nations, for which soccer is far more popular when one remembers that America is only one star in that constellation.

So, we don’t really watch much football at all around our house, but it isn’t because we see it as some sort of “super-sinfullestly sinful” sport. We see it as most other professional and college sports—something that isn’t inherently sinful, but which money, fame, and attitude corrupt, like they do with most things. Even international chess. I’m glad that my boys play flag football at camp, which is certainly less likely to cause injury than tackle football. (Though still with its risks, which is not a bad thing, especially when bringing up boys.) But if they ever play a game of tackle on a future Thanksgiving afternoon, or watch a game on TV that day? I don’t see any good, biblical argument that tells me I would have to condemn them as engaging in an inherently sinful activity by doing so. (Actually, since 75% of the Smith boys are fencers, I think a friendly post-Thanksgiving duel is more likely in the future, but that’s beside the point.)

As for me and my house? We’re going to begin a relentless public crusade against thumb wrestling. Well, at least I am. I’m tired of my wife always winning. It’s not my fault I have short thumbs.

[I said I would provide links, but I’m feeling lazy. Still, I will instead offer a search of the blog on the word “football”–it should have them in there, somewhere. 🙂 ]

[EU Flag with Question Mark]

STRATFOR: Europe Is Driving History

[EU Flag with Question Mark]Thoughtful analysis, below, from George Friedman, founder and chairman of the global intelligence organization STRATFOR, as Friedman explains why he believes that Europe — not China, Russia, etc. — is the real driver of history, today.

In the brief interview, he focuses on the reemergence of nationalism amongst the EU countries (“when Europe gets nationalistic, the world gets nervous”), the economic woes that have become social woes and, now, political woes, the current failures of the EU, and how the approach of central EU policy makers and Germany, itself, is going to determine the course going forward.

He also discusses the increasing irrelevance of the oft-touted BRICS and the fact that the U.S. is currently the one improving nation in all of this. His words, not mine: “For better or worse, the only country that is showing signs of improvement is the United States. And that is, I think, the most important thing to take away from this conversation. As dumb and stupid and weird as the United States is, it’s the one that is growing the fastest. It’s the one that has–developing–the lowest unemployment.”

The times, they are a’changin’! As the nations of the world continue to limp along, the dynamic in Europe is really changing. It’s hard to imagine the EU experiment completely coming undone, and, of course, we know from prophecy that it is destined to be a much (MUCH) stronger union, yet a union troubled by internal turmoil, as the post yesterday on the Pope’s visit mentioned. It remains to be seen how these nationalistic passions may play out as the coming “super state” develops, how they might transmogrify and the form in which they may feed into the attitude of the state when the prophesied mechanism for unification, a resurgence of strong religious sentiment, is in place to bear its destined load. As Friedman mentions in the video, with the rise of these nationalistic attitudes come a rise in racism, anti-modernism, and other sentiments that the political left and the elites of Europe have never really quenched.

Enough from me! Video is below.

Pope Francis I

The Pope visits the EU Parliament (plus, what does “antipope” mean?)

Sculpture, outside EU offices in Brussels, of Europa riding the bull -- reminiscent of a certain woman riding a beast (cf. Rev. 17:3)
Sculpture, outside EU offices in Brussels, of Europa riding the bull — reminiscent of a certain woman riding a beast (cf. Revelation 17:3).

There’s a lot of buzz about Pope Francis’ upcoming speech to the European Parliament this week, and understandably so. Some in Europe are bothered that a religious leader is being invited to speak before a “secular body” to begin with. But, as Martin Schulz, head of the European Parliament, said in an opinion piece in l’Osservatore Romano, “As president of the parliament I can only say that the church has played a leading role in limiting the material and immaterial damage from the economic crisis.”

Schulz further says that it is his hope that the Pope will “wake Europe from its lethargy.”

Knowing that, eventually, a Pope will be instrumental in holding together the “iron and clay” that make up the European Beast power to come for the sake of its secular head, the sense of foreshadowing in such events and statements is impossible to miss. Given the recent elections, the “iron and clay” nature of Europe has been on display recently and the need for something compelling–beyond local interests, biases, prejudices, and nationalist tendencies–to bind them together and keep them together is increasingly clear to observers. Revelation 13 explains that it will be that “miraculous” and religious power of the False Prophet that accomplishes this.

One of the telecasts I just recorded (“Who Is the Prophesied ‘Man of Sin’?”) goes into that, mentioning the role that a future False Prophet will play and mentioning the long historical precedent of a dynamic where two individuals, one religious and one secular, who presumptuously see themselves in god-like terms, must share the same world stage — each using the other for his own purposes while not necessarily being fond of each other (hence, Rev. 17:16).

This interaction on Tuesday will certainly not involve a “Hey, everyone, let’s start requiring the mark of the beast!” speech. But, as far as I am concerned, it is, in a small way, a foreshadowing of larger interactions in the future. Europe is not currently acting on many of the Vatican’s priorities. And many European ministers don’t like the idea of a religious head addressing their body. Yet, here they are. Theirs will be a marriage of convenience in the future — perhaps this could be seen as the wary courtship that precedes it. Martin Schulz has voiced a truth: that the Vatican is in a position of power to achieve results in Europe that the politicians cannot. And the Vatican is engaging with Europe because it wants secular governments to pursue its agendas for the continent. Previews of the dance to come, methinks…

(And now for something completely different…)

Actually, this might be a good place to throw in something I saw recently. Poking around on the Internet while researching something, I came across the blog of a conservative Catholic who is one among several who are irritated at what they see as possible liberalism in Pope Francis, and he brought up the possibility that Francis is not a pope but an antipope — a word that many have probably never heard of. It reminded me of a discussion I had with someone about five years ago who had been saying that the Bible somehow said that the final pope would be an antipope, but he was not using the word properly. I pointed this out to him, but he was in a “self-justification” mode and what I had to say fell on deaf ears. (He has since left our fellowship, declared that he is a Prophet, and believes that he is one of the Two Witnesses who is supposedly discussed in certain demonic prophecies he has spent time “decoding,” so his ears apparently only grew more “deaf-ish” as time passed.)

Does the Bible say that the final pope will be an antipope? One can only say this by misusing the word “antipope.” For instance, the fellow I mentioned above claimed that he was using it as a term to signify a pope who was demon-possessed or who went against the traditional teachings of the Catholic Church — something which is simply not the definition of the word. It’s interesting: Even this conservative Catholic blogger I came across who is irritated at Pope Francis doesn’t use the word “antipope” improperly, but, instead, uses it exactly as it is defined: a “pope” who was not canonically elected and who is a rival to a pope who is canonically elected. That’s the actual definition of “antipope.” This irritated, conservative Catholic blogger I came across wasn’t claiming that the Pope might be an “antipope” because of Francis’ expressed views or doctrinal leanings (which he did not like) but because he (the blogger) was exploring conspiracy talk that might indicate that Francis wasn’t canonically elected. (Something, by the way, that I don’t see, myself, as very probable. At the same time, it’s a pretty political system over there in Rome, and things can be made to seem invalid in the future if it ever becomes politically necessary. No doubts there. And the presence of the still-living Benedict could add to the politics of that. But those are considerations that don’t impact the discussion I’m entering here, which is what the word “antipope” means and whether or not the Bible has anything to say about it in relation to the False Prophet.)

Lest there be any doubt about the meaning of antipope, let’s consult some authorities (and even some “authorities”) on the English language.

  • antipope — one elected or claiming to be pope in opposition to the one canonically elected. (Merriam-Webster)
  • antipope — a person who is elected or claims to be pope in opposition to another held to be canonically chosen. (Random House from Dictionary.com)
  • antipope — a rival pope elected in opposition to one who has been canonically chosen (Collins English Dictionary from Dictionary.com)
  • antipope — A person claiming to be or elected pope in opposition to the one chosen by church law, as during a schism. (American Heritage Dictionary from thefreedictionary.com)
  • antipope — someone who is elected pope in opposition to another person who is held to be canonically elected (WordNet 3.0 from thefreedictionary.com)
  • antipope — “in the Roman Catholic church, one who opposes the legitimately elected bishop of Rome, endeavours to secure the papal throne, and to some degree succeeds materially in the attempt.” (Encyclopedia Brittanica)
  • antipope — a person established as pope in opposition to one held by others to be canonically elected (Oxford English Dictionary, Concise)
  • antipope — A pope elected in opposition to one held to be canonically chosen; spec. applied to those who resided at Avignon during ‘the great schism of the West.’ (Oxford English Dictionary, Full)
  • antipope — a person who, in opposition to the one who is generally seen as the legitimately elected Pope, makes a significantly accepted competing claim to be the Pope, the Bishop of Rome and leader of the Roman Catholic Church (Wikipedia)

The idea that an “antipope” is simply one who differs with the established teachings of the Church he has been elected to head is not in anyway a standard meaning of the word. And, unless one felt compelled to unnaturally force biblical prophecies to “conform” to those thrown out by heathens, diviners, demon worshippers, and others who “whisper and mutter,” there is no foundation at all to say something like “Bible prophecies indicate the False Prophet will be an antipope.” Now, might someone ignoring Isaiah 8:19-20 say such things? Sure. And might someone who wants to bastardize the Bible’s prophecies and “enhance” them with the sayings of demons and demon worshippers (unwitting or not) say such things? Sure. God condemns mixing His faith and His Word with that of demons for just such reasons — the result is always corruption of the truth, and those who seek to do so are condemned as “unequally yoked” in trying use both Christ and Belial (2 Cor. 6:14-17). Looking at some Catholic prophecies and noting how they seem like distortions of God’s Word, as David Jon Hill did once many years ago, is one thing. Using such demonic prophecies to “enhance” the purity of God’s Word is quite another and is condemned by Him.

Biblically, there is nothing at all in prophecy requiring that the final Pope be one who is not canonically elected. And there is no reason to confusingly claim that the Bible does predict an “antipope” except to adulterate the text by attempting to bring it into harmony with the “prophecies” of the heathens. Stick with God’s Word, and should anyone ask you to look to the writings of those who whisper and mutter, remind them that Isaiah 8:19-20 is still in the Bible.

(And if they persist and claim that it’s a matter of “figuring out the devil’s plan” and torture verses like 2 Cor. 2:11 to justify their spiritual harlotry — as if sinning and compromising with the devil were necessary to do that — recognize that you likely won’t get very far, pray that they will find their way out of the devil’s trap, and move along to cleaner waters. Those caught up in such self-deception will always have excuses, and there are many excuses — something I talked about in detail back in my “Christians and Heathen Prophecy” post earlier this year.)

DNA (square)

So, have they really found a “gay gene”?

DNA (square)New Scientist this week published a report on the ongoing search for a “gay gene” focusing on what is seen as the most promising candidates for such a thing in men: gene markers in the Xq28 region of the X chromosome and in the 8q12 region of chromosome 8.

As is to be expected of such writing when so much completely unscientific concerns are riding on it, the reporting is full of self-contradiction. For instance, compare statements in the magazine:

“A genetic analysis of 409 pairs of gay brothers, including sets of twins, has provided the strongest evidence yet that gay people are born gay.”

Ah! So, they have found evidence that people are actually born homosexual! Or have they? Well, no, they haven’t. From the same article, further down:

“Whatever the results, [study leader Alan] Sanders stresses that complex traits such as sexual orientation depend on multiple factors, both environmental and genetic. Even if he has hit on individual genes, they will likely only have at most a small effect on their own, as has also been seen in studies of the genetic basis for intelligence, for example.”

So, the beginning says they have found “the strongest evidence yet” that homosexuals are born homosexuals, yet later on the lead scientist in the study stresses that even if the study’s findings stand it would still only mean that being a homosexual depends on “multiple factors, both environmental and genetic” and, in fact, that the genetics “will likely only have at most a small effect on their own.”

That is truly sloppy writing on the part of New Scientist magazine–and, unless he is simply suffering under poor editors, the article’s author.

The self-contradiction within the magazine is not limited to the article, itself. For instance, while the article stresses that “Even if he [Sanders] has hit on individual genes [that may be related to homosexuality], they will likely only have at most a small effect on their own.” Yet a different article elsewhere in the issue–an editorial titled “Gay gene discovery has good and bad implications” (or “Get over it” in the print version)–states, “But as we report this week, there is growing evidence that male homosexuality has a strong genetic contribution.”

The contrast is stupefying. “[Genes] will likely only have at most a small effect on their own” versus “evidence that male homosexuality has a strong genetic contribution” — which is it, New Scientist?

Such irrational self-contradiction is what you get when such strong social bias infects science and science journalism. Science reporting becomes social advocacy, and results are replaces with desired, fanciful interpretations — something that New Scientist is, regrettably, very good at. (Very tempted to borrow one of the schticks of the WSJ’s James Taranto and declare New Scientist to be two magazines in one.)

There is much to say on this, so let me categorize things into a Q & A:

Have they found a “gay gene”?

Short answer: No. Long answer: Noooooooo. Longer answer: The only way to answer “Yes” is (1) to completely ignore what the words “gay gene” mean to most people and (2) to ignore the actual results of the study.

Concerning (1), when some claim to believe in a “gay gene” they are stating a belief that homosexuality is determined by your genetics — that there is no real choice, environmental, or psychological influence involved, but rather it is just how you are “coded” in your DNA. That is, they believe there is genetic coding that completely determines your sexual preference just as it might determine your hair color or eye color.

This is what most people think of concerning the words “gay gene,” and no such “gay gene” has been found in any way, shape, or form. No genetic instructions have been found that determine one’s sexual preference. Nothing in this study changes that fact.

[UPDATE, 11/21/2014 PM: I came across a webpage referencing an earlier Guardian article on the same work. That article, too, showed a similar confusing mix of statements and words that implied more than they should. But it also contained some straight out clarity in a few statements. For instance, it pointed out: “The genes were neither sufficient, nor necessary, to make any of the men gay.” A far cry from a “gay gene,” to be sure, if some homosexuals have them and some don’t and if some heterosexuals have them and some don’t. Clearly, not a gene determining sexual preference. Then, too, there was this fact, which many seem to like to forget: “The flawed thinking behind a genetic test for sexual orientation is clear from studies of twins, which show that the identical twin of a gay man, who carries an exact replica of his brother’s DNA, is more likely to be straight than gay. That means even a perfect genetic test that picked up every gene linked to sexual orientation would still be less effective than flipping a coin.” That is, studies on twins have proven beyond doubt that sexual preference is not genetically determined. There may be a variety of influences in a person’s life — biological, emotional, sociological, psychological — that create vulnerabilities to certain temptations, but no true “born that way” excuse to completely justify any sinful lifestyle or remove the possibility of repentance and change has ever been demonstrated, and these studies are no exception. There is no “gay gene” as the concept is popularly understood, and homosexuals are not born that way in the same manner that zebras are born with stripes and leopards with spots. — WGS]

So what has been found?

What the recent study has done is try to establish more solidly that on two particular genetic regions there seems to be a correlation between certain DNA markers and homosexuality in some men. Previous studies had suggested such a correlation, but later studies had made that correlation questionable. This study uses a larger group of men and establishes more robust conclusions than the studies before it, and it suggests that such a correlation may exist.

Yet, as I understand it, it does not show that all homosexual men have this DNA marker and it does not show that all men with this marker are homosexual. It does not establish that the DNA marker is actually in any way causing a tendency to homosexuality, though that is something that the scientists will now explore. The two regions where a noticeable correlation seemed to exist between the presence of markers and homosexuality: region Xq28 of the X chromosome and region 8q12 of chromosome 8, have many genes. As the article above says, “Both regions contain many genes, and the next step will be to home in on which ones might be contributing to sexual orientation.”

Notice the important word there: “might.” They don’t even know if the gene correlation implies any sort of causation — that is, that anything in these regions is actually causing any effect on sexual preference, at all. All they have found is strong suggestion of a correlation between certain genetic markers and the homosexual preferences of the men being studied.

Still, doesn’t a correlation imply that one causes the other?

That is a very common misconception, but, no, correlation does not imply causation. Actually, that error is humorously illustrated by a fun website I came across not too long ago (admittedly, “fun” is a matter of taste) that demonstrates real correlations between sets of data that are completely unrelated. The title of the website is plain enough, Spurious Correlations, and here are a few of its examples:

Correlation - Cheese consumption & Bedsheet entanglement deaths - tylervigen

Correlation - Maine divorce rate & Margarine consumption - tylervigen

Correlation - Swimming pool drownings & Nicolas Cage films - tylervigen

So, just because things correlate that does not mean that one causes the other. (Though they really should look into that Nicholas Cage thing, though.

Now, that said, correlation is a place to start, to be sure. While the presence of a correlation between two things does not imply that one causes the other, at the same time if one causes the other in some way then you would expect a correlation. The new study, if it continues to hold up to scrutiny, would demonstrate a possible correlation that should be followed up on. Without the follow up, the study really tells no tale of anything significant. As the article said, from here they should go on to look if any of the genes in those regions “might” (their word) have an influence.

And there are things that make the correlations more compelling as something worth investigating. For instance, the Xq28 region is an area of the X chromosome containing genes that help regulate the androgen receptor protein, connected to testosterone. (Not pretending to be an expert, here. Just a Wikipedia user.)

What if a genetic influence is found?

Well, what if it is? The analysis you get from those who are already “pro-homosexuality” will be pretty inconsistent. The New Scientist editorial I referred to above is a good example. There, the editor says,

“To socially liberal and tolerant people, this new knowledge will be entirely unchallenging. It is in circles where homosexuality is still considered problematic – of which there are many – that it could have implications.”

There are other evidences of irrational biases in the paragraph, but let’s look at just this statement. It is, of course, completely false.

The idea that sexual preference could be biologically determined would, indeed, have the potential to have a great impact on “socially liberal and [errantly described as] tolerant people.” For instance, I’ve read some homosexual activists who hate the idea of identifying a “gay gene” because they believe “sexual freedom and self-determination” is the goal, and they wouldn’t want to see any sort of biological determinism one way or the other. Also for young people surrounded by and soaking up such a “socially liberal and [so-called] tolerant” worldview as promoted by this editorial, any feelings they may experience that they might interpret as homosexual in nature would be seen through the lens of the “some are born this way” doctrine. Such a coloring of their perception and processing would lean some much more heavily toward accepting that they may be “one of those by nature,” while, in a worldview lacking in such biological determinism, they would be more inclined toward considering the experience to be something fleeting.

The author actually explores one of those possibilities, without recognizing the other side. He talks of genetic testing where a child in the womb who is found to have “that gene” is aborted or “cured” through genetics-based medicine. What he doesn’t talk about is the possibility that those who find their child has “that gene” might then alter the child’s environment and their approach to raising him in such a way that actively shapes him toward homosexuality, making it that much harder for him to choose otherwise than it would have been — mistaking such a finding as an imperative to raise a child in accordance with some fantasized genetic “destiny.”

And on the author’s second sentence, I have found the reverse to be true: As someone who definitely considers homosexuality to be “problematic” I don’t see any implications, at all, if a genetic connection is eventually discovered.

But, if there is a genetic connection (admittedly, not yet shown), shouldn’t that change whether or not homosexuality is morally acceptable as a lifestyle?

No, not at all. What is considered moral is not determined by genetics in any way, shape, or form. Really, that’s obvious, right?

I’ve made the point before as a model of logical thinking and identifying assumptions (check that out here: “Australia’s ‘You’re having a lesbian’ ad versus Logic”), but let me make the point again with another recent article.

Almost as recently as this New Scientist article, the Daily Mail Online published an article in October of this year titled, “Are criminals born with a murder gene? Scientists identify cause of violent behavior.” The beginning of the article summarizes the rest well:

“Researchers have claimed that some people may be born with genes that makes them inherently violent.

If true it would indicate some are simply born to be violent, rather than being criminalised by society.

The scientists identified two genes that may be associated with extremely violent behaviour.”

Actually, if you read the article (caveat navita stans: the Daily Mail tends to include a lot of trashy celebrity-oriented articles and pics in its margins), you’ll find that, concerning the study, it reads very similar to the article about the study of homosexuals. If anything, the differences in the study seem to make the conclusions of the “violence” article stronger.

So, if it ends up being true that scientists have, indeed, “identified two genes that may be associated with extremely violent behaviour” and make them “inherently violent” then we should embrace such behavior as morally acceptable?

Of course not.

And such possible genetic linkages have been found with other problems, as well, such as alcoholism. Should we accept alcohol abuse as moral behavior if genetics plays some sort of role in one’s susceptibility? Again, of course not.

I realize that at this point some might take offense that I am lumping homosexuality in with the vices of extreme violence and alcohol abuse. To that I would say two things. (1) If that bothers you, then you prove my point. You are saying that there is a moral difference between the behaviors, yet you are judging that independently of genetics. If genetic tendencies played a role in determining what is morally acceptable, you would see no difference. And (2) consider something that is not negative, then. There have been findings that suggest some have a genetic predisposition toward greater intelligence. Do we then declare “intelligence” to be a moral virtue? Are those who are less intelligent somehow less moral, as well? (Let me say: Wow, I hope not!)

If that hasn’t yet made the point that genetics should not be used to determine what is moral or immoral, consider this paragraph from the New Scientist article:

“‘This study knocks another nail into the coffin of the “chosen lifestyle” theory of homosexuality,’ says Simon LeVay, the neuroscientist and writer who, in 1991, claimed to have found that a specific brain region, within the hypothalamus, is smaller in gay men. ‘Yes, we have a choice in life, to be ourselves or to conform to someone else’s idea of normality, but being straight, bisexual or gay, or none of these, is a central part of who we are, thanks in part to the DNA we were born with.'”

Now, reimagine that exact paragraph to be talking about extremely violent offenders:

“‘This study knocks another nail into the coffin of the “chosen lifestyle” theory of violent behavior,’ says Doctor von Doctor, the German biologist and neuroscientist who claimed to have found that a specific brain region, within the central lobe, is darker in violent offenders. ‘Yes, we have a choice in life, to be ourselves or to conform to someone else’s idea of normality, but being passive, aggressive or extremely violent, or none of these, is a central part of who we are, thanks in part to the DNA we were born with.'”

Who in the world would be OK with that second paragraph? By the way, that is a real German neuroscientist, Dr. Gerhard Roth, who discovered that, indeed, there is a “dark patch” in the central lobe area of the brain in many violent offenders — a discovery which “led him to believe that some criminals have a ‘genetic predisposition’ to violence,” according to the Daily Mail article referenced above. I removed his name from the quote above in the hope that no one would accidentally grab that terrible, fake quote and give it as something he actually said.

Because such a thing would be a terrible thing to say. Yet it is logically equivalent to the previous, very real paragraph in New Scientist quoting Simon LeVay.

We could do the same thing with the last paragraph of the New Scientist editorial:

“Ultimately, what causes homosexuality doesn’t matter as much as the fact that homosexual people exist, and have always existed, in every society on earth. In the words of the activists: some people are gay. Get over it.”

Redone:

“Ultimately, what causes extreme violence doesn’t matter as much as the fact that extremely violent people exist, and have always existed, in every society on earth. In the words of the activists: some people are extremely violent. Get over it.”

Logical? No. Scientific? No. Advocacy? Yes. (Fitting that the New Scientist editor is quoting activists at the end. His article shows that he is among them.)

So, no, if some genetic influence, whether strong or weak, related to homosexual temptations were ever discovered (and, again, one has not been discovered, yet), it would be irrelevant concerning whether or not homosexuality is morally right or wrong.

What is right or wrong is not in the hands of geneticists, and it certainly isn’t in the hands of the writers of New Scientist magazine. It’s in the hands of God. And, frankly, it’s a lot safer there.

Morals of the story: (1) Read science articles very carefully, especially if they touch on a social “hot topic.” (2) Even after reading a science article, keep in mind that the author may not be properly conveying the actual results of the study being discussed. (3) No “gay gene” has been discovered, and this recent work does not change that. Some interesting possibilities have shown themselves, but they need more research and, even if confirmed in the strongest sense, they still don’t look like they would demonstrate the magical “gay gene” some people hope so desperately to find. And (4) what is moral or immoral is not determined by genetics, and people only pretend it is when doing so supports something they have already pre-determined is morally OK.

LCG Twitter pic of COE meeting

Council of Elders, Telecasts, Webcasts, Orajel, Pit Bulls, Oh My!

Howdy! Back again from a very profitable trip to Charlotte. I like to post a bit after such trips on how things went, and I will now commence to doing so. Will try to keep it brief, as regular pastorin’ duties are a callin’, but this should be a nice break.

  • The Council of Elders meetings went very well. They went from Monday to Wednesday, and I enjoyed them very much. Dr. Meredith ran every meeting, and they all went very smoothly. I do note, however, that my growing addiction to unnecessarily expensive coffee (and unnecessarily sweet: salted caramel mocha) has invaded a little further into my life, as I found a way to begin two of the three meetings with a Starbucks in my hand, even as there was fresh coffee available right there in the room. I may need counseling.
  • Thursday, I taped a couple of Tomorrow’s World programs: “Who Is the Prophesied ‘Man of Sin’?” and “Three Hard Questions about Easter” — the latter of which is scheduled to air the week of Easter, itself. (Viewers normally drop around Easter since families are actually out doing Easter things, but those who stay home and tune in should be educated!) Both went very well and were, as always, a real pleasure. My thanks to our fantastic crew!
  • Friday I recorded a webcast for our new Tomorrow’s World News” webcast initiative. Very much look forward to doing more of those as production accelerates and they become more frequent. (You can keep track of the playlist as it grows here on YouTube. As I type this, only the first two–by Mr. Ciesielka and Mr. Wakefield–are available.)
  • Sabbath I gave a sermon in Charlotte. It had been a while since we stayed in Charlotte for the Sabbath, and it was a real pleasure — fun seeing old friends, and wonderful fellowship afterwards. Got food from Q’doba, which (being Chipotleans) we had not done in a long time and found it to be quite nice. Foresee trips to Q’doba in the future. (In fact, there’s one right down the road from where I currently sit typing this.) Thought it was cold there that night. But…
  • …came home to Cincinnati on Sunday. Rediscovered what “cold” is!

Anyway, not much, I know. But I do like to post a little something after these visits. Headquarters has announcements in this week’s bulletin about church growth, Festival attendance, and such, and I don’t like pre-empting such things, but suffice it to say that it was exciting to see that the Church is growing and expanding the effort to preach the gospel in every way we can. No one can accuse the Living Church of God of sitting on its laurels. 🙂

Oooo — I forgot something… One thing that added a constant “background” element the entire time I was there was pain in my lower left jaw / back-most molar. It showed up very quickly at the end of the week and grew over the weekend. We had stopped over at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Jason Fritts for the weekend on our way into Charlotte, where I spoke the Sabbath before, and Mrs. Fritts offered me some Orajel, which I declined. But by the end of the weekend, I quickly rescinded my previous refusal and she kindly let me take a tube for the rest of the trip. [By the way: Met Mrs. Fritts’ very nice dad in Charlotte. How did such a warm and wonderfully tiny person like Mrs. Fritts come from such a warm and wonderfully grizzly-bear-sized man like her dad? #mysteriesoftheuniverse 🙂 ]

I was able to seek out a dentist early Monday before the Council meetings began, who X-rayed (no, the X-rays did not give me superpowers; comic books lie) and found that my tooth is fine but I am apparently grinding my teeth in my sleep with the strength of 4,000 pit bulls. Hence, I am now sleeping with a generic, flexible mouth guard (actually, this one right here, I believe) at night. It has been a very strange experience. I have woken up at least twice very actively chewing the mouth guard like so much spaghetti. One more gentle time, I dreamed I was picking up peanuts to eat them one at a time but was having difficulty chewing one and woke up gently chomping up and down on the guard. My Beautiful Wife and I have the theory that the presence of the guard is foreign enough that my sleeping brain is trying to process its presence and to account for its interference in what has been, up to then, completely uninhibited, tooth-destroying, jaw-clenching, nighttime-grinding nirvana.

It does seem to be helping. My jaw still hurts over there, but it seems to be getting better day-by-day. Still, I will not complain if I am able to come to a point where I don’t need the thing anymore.

Anyone with experience with jaw clenching or tooth grinding–during sleep, especially, or otherwise–is welcome to leave a comment below about your experience. Did you eventually stop? What helped? Do you have any teeth left? Do I have hope for getting over it, or am I doomed? Feel free to let me know. 🙂