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Cool Hand Luke: He Beat You with Nothing! The Atheist Search for the Origin of Life, Part 2: There Oughta be a Law

(For best results, start with Part 1):

‘There oughta be a law!’ is what you say when something doesn’t go your way but you think it should. It’s a complaint. You often say it in jest or in a tongue in cheek manner.

It is what Robert Hazen says (though not in jest) about the two laws of thermodynamics. There ought to be another one. Therefore, there is--it just hasn’t been discovered yet. Why does he say it ought to be out there somewhere? Because otherwise his quest to find life’s origin (or origins) is going nowhere. Why doesn’t he consider that maybe God created all things, as religious people have almost universally believed? Because he’s not a theologian. He doesn’t go there.

[Note: I have nothing against Hazen in particular. I have simply selected him as representative of a certain approach. If it wasn’t him, it would be someone else. Kudos to him for being the point man of his field. It is not as though Great Courses has ever tapped me to lecture on anything.]

The first law of thermodynamics states that energy may change form, but the net total stays constant. The second states that it doesn’t change form in just any direction, but always toward disorder. “Another way of stating the second law is that all natural systems tend to spontaneously to become disordered, or messier, if you will” he says in Lecture 1 of his Origins of Life series. “It turns out that any collection of atoms, including your shiny new automobile, a pair of new shoes, or even your body, gradually deteriorates.”

This observation will strike most people as a big Duh, but scientists have attached a name to this deterioration: entropy, a “measure of disorder.” Thus, as disorder increases, so does entropy. “There’s a lot of entropy in this room,” I used to tell my son, hoping to instill in him a love of science, before demanding he clean it up so as to placate my wife--ignoring his non-sequitur plea of, “Well, what about your room?”

“A lot of people find the second law of thermodynamics more than a little depressing,” Hazen says. Another Duh—especially when applied, as he does apply it, to “even your body.” It is why I prefer the term Golden Rule to Human Rights. The latter may contain a measure of good stuff, but even our own bodies do not respect our human rights, crapping out on us just when we need them most, ultimately shutting down altogether. The Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," preserves all that is noble while discarding all that is pretentious about Human Rights.

 But for Hazen, the greatest reason that second law is “more than a little depressing” is because it louses up his theory on life originating spontaneously. There oughta be a law to countermand that second one. Therefore, he assumes there is. For the rest of the course, he continues to speak of the concept of “emergence,” which he hopes will someday be recognized as a law.

As evidence for his proposed theory, he urges people to “look around you. You see houses, you see holly trees, hummingbirds, all of them remarkably ordered systems. And so, in spite of the second law's pronouncement that entropy inexorably increases, it's obvious that disorder is not the only endpoint in the universe.”

Any child knows why, when you “look around you,” you see houses. The Bible, which favors the child-like ones over the “wise and intellectual,” opens the topic with a self-evident “of course:”

Of course, every house is constructed by someone, but the one who constructed all things is God.” (Hebrews 3:4)

 The other “ordered systems” mentioned, holly trees and hummingbirds, and later, “a single living cell or an ant colony or your amazing conscious brain,” are among the “houses” constructed by God, per the reasoning of Hebrews 3:4. Why doesn’t Hazen consider this possibility? Because he is not a theologian, he explains in his opening lecture. With that pronouncement, the reasoning of most of the human race is dismissed.

He expounds on his concept of emergence in Lecture 8. Are there things clearly not alive that counter the second law of thermodynamics, that is, things that build up rather than tear down? There are! and he goes on to consider how water can sculpt sand.

Then follows a discussion of four factors at work in the shifting sand—and also in more “complex systems” such as the cell, the ant hill, or the human brain. There’s the “concentration of interacting particles, the degree of those particles interconnectivity, the energy flow through the system, and the time variation of that energy flow, and perhaps other variables as well.” Yes, maybe, he postulates, the same factors that formed the sand ripples and dunes also formed the emergence of life!

However, as he and everyone else instantly realizes, the brain, and other components of life, is more complicated than a sand sculpture. How much more? Alas, “we don't know how to assign numbers to different degrees of complexity. What is the complexity of an ant hill or the human brain? And what are the units? Every scientific measurement needs to have units, like kilograms or meters per second. We need to be able to say that [comparing] this system with that system has a complexity of so-and-so many hundreds of thousands of some complexity unit, and nobody knows how to do that.”

With no measurable units, who can say just how much more complex is the living cell from the sand dune? It will have to be in the eye of the beholder. The Hebrews 3:4 people will say ‘infinite.’ Hazen and his crew will say ‘a gazillion,’ though he concedes it could be near-infinite. “Oh, about 5 or 6,” say the philosopher-atheist-scientism-cheerleaders plaguing the social media community, who are quick to call anyone “stupid” who disagrees.

"It's clear we don't know everything," he understates in his first lecture. "In spite of the labor of countless thousands of scientists over the centuries we don't understand one of nature 's most transforming phenomena, the emergence of complexity." That’s a pretty big thing not to know, methinks, seeing that his entire vision depends upon it, seeing that he has to presuppose a new law to propose it.

Toward the end of their first contentious presidential debate in 2016, Trump and Hillary were challenged to say nice things about each other. Both rose to the occasion. Hillary complemented Trump’s family. Trump said of Hillary that she is tenacious—she doesn’t give up.

Let us say that of the Origins community, too, as represented by Hazen. They are tenacious. They don’t give up as they search for the law that oughta be. Probably, they have nice families, too.

To be continued: here

******  The bookstore

 

 

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

“He Beat You With Nothin!” Cool Hand Luke and the Atheist Search for Life’s Origin: Part 1

God’s goose is cooked if atheist scientists can show that life came into existence all by itself, without any intelligence required. For that reason, atheist scientists are working around the clock to show just that. I figured I’d better take a look and see how they’re doing.

The Great Courses company landed Robert M. Hazen in 2005 to give a lecture series entitled ‘Origins of Life.’ He’ll do. Great Courses doesn’t hire losers. The company says at the outset of every course that it seeks out academic professors stellar in their respective fields and stellar in teaching ability. Hazen has written a few books on the topic. He’ll represent the field well.

Nonetheless, I soon found myself thinking of the movie Cool Hand Luke. “Nothin'! A handful of nothin'. You stupid mullet head, he beat you with nothin!'—the derisive words of the senior jailbird.

Luke didn’t exactly have nothing. He held the 4 of clubs, the jack of hearts, 9 of diamonds, 10 of clubs, and the deuce of clubs. Call that nothing? Never mind that they didn’t add up to anything. He still bluffed his way to the top with ‘nothin.’

“Yeah, well sometimes nothing is a real cool hand,” he drawled, and was thereafter called Cool Hand Luke.

Is it too dismissive, even unkind, to say that the origins of life people have ‘nothing?’ They work very hard and become very enthused. They give every appearance of having something. To the scientism/philosopher/cheerleader/atheists promoting their cause, seeking to ram atheism down everyone’s throat as the be-all and end-all, as though it, too, were good news, they are always two centimeters away from clinching the deal. So how can anyone conclude they have ‘nothin?’

One can start by hearing out Hazen’s opening lecture. “In this lecture series I make a basic assumption, that life emerged by some kind of natural process.” It’s an assumption! Not something he will look into to see whether it is true or not He assumes it is true. “I propose that life arose by a sequence of events that was completely consistent with the natural laws of chemistry and physics. and in this assumption, I'm like other scientists.” They all assume it! All those in his orbit do. Isn’t science supposed to be a process of discovery?

But wait! Is there not a competing model that holds God created the heavens and the earth and all life on it? How does he come to grips with that? “Let me say now for the record: I'm a scientist. I'm not a theologian nor am I a philosopher. This course focuses exclusively on the scientific approach to the question of life's origins.”

Of course! That’s how he deals with competing models—he ignores them! My legal career would have truly taken off if I could have just persuaded the judge to ignore the other side! It just may be that Hazen and those he represents should incorporate those other two disciplines into their work, since the urge to both worship and philosophize is near universal.

No wonder he is not disheartened by his subsequent words—he admits to no other possibility for life’s origin. In that first lecture, he goes on to say: “I have to confess the nitty gritty details of that transformation remains a deep mystery. . . I have to be honest: Even with the scientific approach there is a possibility that we'll never know, in fact that we can't ever know how life emerged. That's because it's always possible that life emerged by an almost infinitely improbable sequence of difficult chemical reactions.. . . it's even possible that earth is the only living planet in the entire universe. and if that's true that any scientific attempt to understand life's origins is doomed to failure.”

Doesn’t that sound pretty close to nothin? Does that bother him unduly? Not at all. He admits to no other channel for life’s emergence! In his view, he may never prove his answer, but it is the answer, nonetheless.

Thus we hear of many things that “must have” happened. Such as: “At some point a collection of molecules must have begun to make copies of itself. Then, those self-replicating cycles of molecules must have experienced competition, which quickly drove the evolution to even more complex assemblages.” Did those things in fact happen? They must have, he concludes, otherwise his pie in the sky research falls flat on its face!

And they say religion is where the dogmatists hang out!

It gets worse. Hazen tells of attending conferences in which half the name badges incorporate the phrase ‘Origin of Life’ and the other half ‘Origins of Life’—plural. What’s with that? Well, it used to be just ‘Origin of Life.’ But, in time, due to a "fascinating shift in attitudes . . . many researchers began to argue that life has arisen frequently in the universe.” Why would they reason that way? Is there good (or any) evidence to that effect? Hazen’s answer: “Without such an assumption [another assumption!] the scientific study of life's origin is probably a waste of time.” Fascinating, indeed, to realize that. Nobody wants to waste their time. Cool Hand Luke didn’t want to, either. So he bluffed that the nothin he had was really somethin and he outfoxed all the other jailbirds!

[Note: I have nothing against Hazen, as will be explained subsequently. I have simply selected him as representative of a certain approach. If it wasn’t him, it would be someone else. Kudos to him for being the point man of his field. It is not as though Great Courses has ever tapped me to lecture on anything.]

To be continued:  here

 

******  The bookstore

 

 

 

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

Johnny Cash and Job: Free From the Chain Gang: Commentary on Job 7

On the one hand, Johnny Cash was freed from the chain gang of prison because he died:

I got rid of the shackles that bound me / And the guards that were always around me / There were tears on the mail mother sent me in jail / But I'm free from the chain gang now.

On the other hand, isn’t ‘chain gang’ his metaphor for a too-hard life? So it is that one can compare Job and the Cash song. Compare Job’s metaphor for a too-hard life:

“Is not the life of mortal man on earth like compulsory labor . . . Like a slave, he longs for the shadow , , , I have been assigned months of futility And nights of misery have been counted out for me.” (Job 7:1-3)

The second stanza of Cash’s version, actually a cover for an earlier artist, is:

Back home I was known and respected / Then one day I was wrongly suspected / So they put me in chains in a cold freezing rain / But I'm free from the chain gang now.

That fits Job as well. He was ‘known and respected’ one day, ‘wrongly suspected’ the next:

Satan answered Jehovah: “Is it for nothing that Job has feared God? Have you not put up a protective hedge around him and his house and everything he has? . . .  But, for a change, stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your very face.” (Job 1:9-11)

Job passed that test, only to be ‘wrongly suspected’ once again:

“Skin for skin. A man will give everything that he has for his life. But, for a change, stretch out your hand and strike his bone and flesh, and he will surely curse you to your very face.” (Job 2:4-5)

And so, “they put [Job] in chains in a cold freezing rain,” and finally made him long for an end to his chain gang life:

“Remember that my life is wind, That my eye will never again see happiness. . . . I loathe my life; I do not want to go on living. (Job 7:7,17)

Job did go on living. Cash didn’t. There may be common ground but the two were not the same. Cash’s outrageous conduct nearly ended his career. But after a lull, toward the end of his life, he teamed up with a new producer and released records markedly different from anything prior, hauntingly beautiful, purely acoustic, and nearly all themed the death that soon awaited him and all of humankind—with many fixated on repentance, salvation, and God. And well might he have repented from a life marred with womanizing and substance abuse.

Only then does Cash remake his earlier cover of the same Chain Gang song that does appear to be only a song of prison. Only then does it seem to occur to him that it can also serve as a metaphor for life. He doesn’t change any lines, but he doubles down on some and drops others.

When my friend who had years ago lost his wife to cancer heard Cash’s rendering of ‘On the Evening Train’—on the same album—he instantly broke into tears and shut off the CD player. This particular song features no repentance, nor marked need for it, but only the crushing loneliness of suddenly losing one’s closest companion, coupled with a plea for courage until future resurrection. 

IMG_1127The song is  from the Cash album, American V: A Hundred Highways—same as where Free From the Chain Gang is. It is among my favorite albums. All of Cash’s later works are.

Job wasn’t a womanizer or substance abuser, like Cash had been (though also not a musician). He doesn’t have serious sins to repent of. He knew it well, though under relentless accusation from his three ‘guards,’—Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, he said to those guards (and to God, as though He were another):

Will you not look away from me And leave me alone long enough to swallow my saliva? If I have sinned, how could I harm you, the Observer of mankind? Why have you made me your target? (7:19-20)

Job did not know the test he was running, let alone its purpose or the outcome it would supply to benefit all future generations. His course under the most intense suffering answered those taunts of Satan.  He would display that man can keep integrity under the most adverse of circumstances. Answer, supplied, Jehovah chewed out the three  ‘guards,’ sent them packing, then went about restoring God’s life.

For both Cash and Job, it was a rugged trial:

All the years I was known by a number / How I kept my mind is a wonder.

And (prison version only, but it works): And the bare prison cell that was one step from Hell / But I'm free from the chain gang now.

Though it is realized differently with the two men—one womanizer and substance abuser, one blameless and upright, Johnny Cash’s final verse applies to them both: Johnny dies and is subject to future earthly resurrection. Job goes on to have family, wealth and health restored; then he dies and becomes subject to future earthly resurrection; both to commence after the doomed experiment in human self-rule has come to its end:

Like a bird in a tree I got my liberty / And I'm free from the chain gang now.

(I recommend going back to click the links—listen to the two songs.)

Other posts on Job: click here and here.

 

******  The bookstore

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

Question: Why Are Job’s Three Comforters “Afraid?”

Question: Why are the three comforters who pay Job a visit “afraid?”

As in: “For this is how you have become to me; You have seen the terror of my calamity, and you are afraid.” (Job 6:21)

Of course, we don’t know for sure that they were. It is what Job says of them after they traipse in from afar, put on a fantastic dust-throwing show, then watch him like vultures for 7 days before opening their mouths:

“Three companions of Job heard about all the calamities that had come upon him, and each came from his own place—Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. So they agreed to meet together to go and sympathize with Job and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. They began to weep loudly and to rip their garments apart, and they threw dust into the air and onto their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great.” (2:11-13)

But my money’s on Job—even though Eliphaz also makes the cut for words quoted in the New Testament. It is his “He catches the wise in their own cunning” (5:13) that is repeated verbatim at 1 Corinthians 3:19) So he can’t be a rotter through and through to have lines taken up by Paul. More on this later. Meantime, why is my money on Job and his assessment that these ones who look on his calamity are “afraid.” How is it they are afraid?

Isn’t it because they know, deep down, that what happened to Job could just as easily happen to them? Job, who reaches the point of cursing the day he was born, Job who says: “For what I have dreaded has come upon me . . . I have had no peace, no quiet, no rest” (3:25-26) —they know it could just as easily happen to them. They dread it, too.

That’s why they have to carry on with more and more assertion that God is punishing Job for past sins, even though nobody can point to any. It’s all a facade, though they don’t know it themselves. They have to maintain the facade, for they cannot bear the alternative—that they might be living fine and easy as you please one moment, doing nothing wrong, and then one day Job-like calamity falls upon them. They cannot bear to think it. So they must maintain Job is being punished for something or other. 

When Job protests that he has not done anything wrong, at least not egregiously so, they double down, all of them do, building upon one another’s remarks, ultimately becoming truly vicious. Sometimes counselors do that—they double down. You hope they won’t; you hope when their words are resisted, they will at least consider that they may have missed the mark. Alas, there is a certain type of counselor that doesn’t like to be contradicted. That type doubles down. 

So it is with these blunderbuss counselors of Job. They’re not bad guys, probably. Never mind my last post when I said they were—what was I smoking? No, they seem to have meant well—initially. They didn’t have to come visit Job at all, and yet they did. But Job’s calamity strikes unexpected terror into their own hearts, so they pursue a path that safeguards them, regardless of the effect it has on poor Job.

 

Other posts on Job here and here.

 

******  The bookstore

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

They. Really. Don’t. Like. Organized. Religion.—Just Who is a Cult?

The definition of cult has changed dramatically over the years. Some groups that were once on one side of the C-word are now on the other. Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t really care which side of the word they are on so long as the Bible is on the same side. And they believe it is.

If they are a cult, it is because the Bible is a cult manual. If it is, they are. if it is not, they aren’t. Seen in this light, modern-day ‘cult’ accusations are just the latest manifestations of what has always been the case with Christians. Paul blows into town and asks, ‘has anyone been talking trash against me?’ His answer? “We have not received letters about you from Judea, nor have any of the brothers who came from there reported or spoken anything bad about you. But we think it proper to hear from you what your thoughts are, for truly as regards this sect, we know that it is spoken against everywhere.” (Acts 28:21-22)

The criteria for cult classification used to be: if you fell under the spell of a charismatic leader, withdrew from society, and began doing strange things, you just might be a member of a cult. By this definition, JWs are not a cult. Their leaders are anything but charismatic—some are an acquired taste to listen to. They don’t withdraw from life, but continue in work, school, and the greater community. Do they do ‘strange things?’ It’s in the eye of the beholder, I suppose, but there was a time when speaking about one’s faith was not considered overly strange. They are not a cult by the old standard.

By the new one, the BITE one that revolves around various forms of ‘undue influence,’ they are; but so is the Bible, since those forms of ‘influence’ are no more than attempts to carry out what was clearly written as policy for the first-century congregation.

The real question is, ‘Is it such a horrid thing to be in such a ‘cult’ if that is exactly what the Bible advises? Or is it more horrid to insist upon ‘freedom of mind’ to the nth degree, as is typical today in the West? Look at the world such ‘freedom of mind’ has collectively produced—I believe it can be argued that such ‘freedom’ does not serve humanity well.

Witnesses will say that we need some ‘authority’ that is more than collective popular opinion, and so they put themselves where such authority exists. What we need is authority that reflects godly thinking and not just evolving human wisdom. Plainly, there will be some flaws in such authority, since everything humans touch is flawed. ‘We have this treasure [of the ministry] in earthen vessels [us—with all our imperfections] the NT writer advises. But when Christians cast off such authority in favor of  the ‘Me and Jesus’ model, they presently become almost indistinguishable from the evolving and declining standards of the greater world.

I like to write. It’s a fine hobby. I’ve written a few books and since I am a Witness such books revolve around congregation life as a Witness, anecdotes, as well as responding to criticisms directed toward them. A recent one is entitled: ‘In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction.’ If I write another, I may expand upon the C-word‘s revised definition. I might bring in how students of the 60s taunted police by calling them PIGS, doubling down when they saw it got under their skin. In time, one innovative officer responded with: PIGS—Pride, Integrity, Guts, Service.

I see no reason not to do the same with CULT when applied to Jehovah’s Witnesses. CULT—Courage, Unity, Love, Truth. Let persons insist upon their ‘freedom of mind.’ They end up missing the greatest freedom of all: freedom from sin and its resulting death and they obsess over the comparatively petty freedoms to be found in the present life.

The latest manifestation of that ‘freedom of mind’ obsession? An article about the decreasing popularity of religion (any religion, not just JW) among the young. “They. Really. Don’t. Like. Organized. Religion.” it states.

That sentence (if it is one) says it all. I know the following in symbolic, but as symbolism goes, it doesn’t get any better. Todays ‘freedom of mind’ people are so fiercely independent they can’t even stand for words to be organized properly, lest one unduly influence another.

You organize to get things done. If you don’t care about getting things done, you don’t organize. To spread the news of God’s Kingdom worldwide in a way that does not quickly devolve into a quagmire of individual opinion seems to Jehovah’s Witnesses a project worth organizing for. So they do. And they put up with how in any organization, ‘you can’t always get what you want’ even as they at the same time reap the benefits of organization.

 

******  The bookstore

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

This Will be on the Test

The worldview of a modern person should be formed based on scientific knowledge and respect for positive rational traditions.” Anything wrong with that statement?

Isn’t it overrated, at least unattainable, or at least a goal ones have been striving for since the Enlightenment, but are no closer to attaining than at outset, so you begin to wonder just how “enlightened” it can be. Better to go for the people with heart who renounce violence

For every fine development of the Enlightenment there is a horrendous one. For every American Revolution that produces ‘government of the people, by the people, and for the people,’ there is a French Revolution that produces murder and mayhem, within months devouring even its early leaders, and finally suffers Napoleon rising from the ashes. And then gradually the American experience dissolves into mush as people begin to typify the iron and clay toes imagery of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream idol. And France, after nurturing Karl Marx, gives rise to FECRIS, the anticult watchdog that affixes the C-word to anyone deviating from script of mainline humanist thinking.

That grandiose first paragraph sounds nice. Who cannot be attracted to it? But is it not pushing people beyond their limits? If there is one thing the early 2020s has demonstrated—the early COVID-19 years—it is that people can’t even agree on what “scientific knowledge is.” The science that is “settled” is often settled by decree. The science that is “proven” has often been proven by ignoring evidence to the contrary. The worshippers of science and reason never seem to notice when money and power trumps their science and reason. Is it Nathan R. Jessup extended into general life? “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!” You can make a case for his words.

Let that airy first paragraph into our own arena of religious belief and presently we have breakaway guys who acknowledge Jehovah’s Witnesses are right on the most fundamental issues, then get all worked up over peripheral items, to the point where they separate into their own splinter groups. In time, one of them makes the ridiculous “tail wagging the dog statement” that its too bad his group and the Watchtower group he bolted from cannot agree, for “they’d have more people that way,” but hey—it’s their problem, not his. As he fulfills to the letter what Paul found most shameful, that sects and divisions should characterize the people of God. (1 Corinthians 10:18-19)

Believe me, I take caution from it. In part, it’s why I call myself a “seed-picker” and not a “scholar.” As soon as you declare yourself a scholar you find some item that the dumbbells have got wrong and you get all pretentious over it, masking that pretentiousness as a quest for pure conscience.

It’s enough to get the core points right. What! You think men who are “unlearned and ordinary” as the twelve were are ever going to ascend to breathtaking heights of scholarship? The learned people are forever saying to the unlearned and ordinary, “Okay, you’ve done well—amazingly well, really, considering you’re lack of education. But the smart people are here now. Step aside.”

But the “unlearned and ordinary” don’t step aside. They know God would have chosen the smart people in the first place had those ones been his special favorites. They know that the smart people will cave when the going gets rough. They will get overly worried of what they have to lose, chief among that being prestige in the eyes of other smart people. That’s why you always get some people in congregations who are clumsy, boorish, and it’s challenging to work with them as they are so, yet they are always out there. Nobody has more sticktoitiveness than they. One of them read point blank from the tract the other day—and it is hardly his weakness; he’s just doing what has been suggested—“Do you think it’s possible to live forever? Yes? No? Or maybe?” I’ve seen it work with a short preceding icebreaker. But point blank, not so much. The householder squirmed, caught off-guard by the awkwardness of the sudden spot he was in, and I caught his eye. “This will be on the test,” I said good-naturedly, as though to a high school student. I didn’t know what else to say. I suppose I could have said nothing.

 

******  The bookstore

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

Eliphaz to Job: (Chapter 4) How to Best Render His Words?

Here are Jehovah’s Witnesses covering Job for the next several weeks at their midweek meetings. Oh, yeah—that’s what I’m talking about!

A Book that comes to grips with God’s looking upon suffering:

What not to say during your next visit to the hospital:

 

Eliphaz to Job, upon hearing the latter cursing the day of his birth:

“If someone tries to speak to you, will you become impatient? For who can hold back from speaking? True, you have corrected many, And you used to strengthen the weak hands. Your words would raise up anyone stumbling, And you would strengthen those whose knees were buckling.” (Job 4:2-4)

Are these words said sarcastically, as in: ‘You say you have seen many through their calamity?’ It seems so in view of what follows:

“But now it has happened to you, and you are overwhelmed; It touches you, and you are dismayed.” (vs 5)

This is not what you say to someone who has lost all his children, his home, all his possessions, and his health  in quick succession. This is not what you call a fine bedside manner. It makes one doubt the sincerity of his previous words at 2-4

Eliphaz continues:

“Does your reverence for God not give you confidence? Does your way of integrity not give you hope? (vs 6) Remember, please: What innocent person has ever perished? When have the upright ever been destroyed? What I have seen is that those who plow what is harmful And those who sow trouble will reap the same.” (vs 7-8)

Does the NWT miss the nuance of verse 6? The verse is rendered as though Eliphaz is trying to strengthen Job, which is not consistent with what he says elsewhere—arguably before and certainly after, with his “What I have seen is that those who plow what is harmful and those who sow trouble will reap the same.” Translation: Job is reaping what he has sowed. Does he have problems? They’re his own fault.

It gets worse:

“By the breath of God they [miscreants like Job] perish, And through a blast of his anger they come to an end. The lion roars, and a young lion growls, But even the teeth of strong lions are broken. A lion perishes for lack of prey, And the cubs of a lion are scattered. (vs 9-11)

Translation: ‘You finally ran out of prey, didn’t you Job? And now, you toothless lion, you are called to account.’

So does the NWT-2013 say it best at verse 6? With every line, Eliphaz tears Job down. He builds him up at 6? No.

The King James Version’s rendering of verse 6 is more consistent: “Is not this thy fear, thy confidence, thy hope, and the uprightness of thy ways?”

To be sure, better punctuation (which is just a matter of translator privilege) would improve it: “Is not this thy fear: thy confidence, thy hope, and the uprightness of thy ways?” Italicize ‘this’ and replace the first comma with a colon. What thereby presents is a verse that sets the stage for what follows, as the NWT’s rendering does not. What thereby presents is a verse suggesting Job must surely fear that God has seen right through him and knows that his ‘uprightness’ is but a sham: “Is not that your real fear?” he knifes his down-on-his-luck ‘friend.’

Now, how do other translations render verse 6? Do any favorites emerge? Through Biblegateway.org and Studylight.org one can compare dozens of different translations;

Alas, they all line up the NWT way. Even the KJV does, since it doesn’t punctuate it the way I like. Ah, well—they’re probably right. Who am I to stand against every single rendering? ‘Oh, sure!’ my wife might say, ‘Tommy’s right and everybody else is wrong!’ Nope—I’m not going to step into that one. I withdraw my suggestion.

(I don’t really.) Because, my version of verse 6, combined with applying a sarcastic twist to verses 3 and 4,  fits the surrounding narrative, and the others do not—or at least, mine fits it better.

On the other hand, my version all but paints Eliphaz as a Terminator, determined to wreak havoc on the man from the get-go. He does turn out that way, but maybe he started with good intentions and is only undermined by his sanctimonious ‘theology’ which holds that if you suffer, it must be divine retribution.

 

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Psalm 34–a Commentary:

For all the help that the Research Guide gives, there are vast swaths of verse upon which they make nary a comment. Often these are the verses that intrigue me most, though perhaps it’s for that exact reason: nothing’s been said about them—thus they become the ‘forbidden fruit,’ the subject of curiosity that does not kill the cat.

I’m doing my own verse-by-verse project on Psalm 34,* the first line of which is ‘I will praise Jehovah at all times; his praise will be on my lips constantly.’ The circuit overseer explored, with help of that Psalm, the course of praising God, not just in good times, but also in bad. 

(*This in turn triggered an exploration of all the psalms, starting with the first, some of which have already been presented.)

What to make of verses 4-6?

4: I inquired of Jehovah, and he answered me, And out of all my frights he delivered me.

5 They looked to him and became radiant, And their very faces could not possibly be ashamed.

6 This afflicted one called, and Jehovah himself heard. And out of all his distresses He saved him.

Who is the ‘they’ of verse 5? The Guide suggests it is David’s men, F408F65E-754B-4E34-AB94-A7B3AB2B78F9whom he built up as though telling encouraging tales around the campfire. (This is the Psalm composed when David was playing crazy before Achish.) But that seems not too modest of David; should he be like the bragging blowhard carrying on about how enthralling his public talks are?

More likely to me, since vs 4 and 6 tell of David relating that he put trust in Jehovah, and that trust was rewarded, is that vs 5 is David himself meditating on others (‘they’) who had put trust in God, pondering how their faith and conduct turned out, and thus nudging himself to do the same.

You want to follow the ‘pattern of the healthful words.’ But once you’ve got the pattern down, you can expound in a way consistent with them. Lots of verses are wide open and some of the ones that are not don’t give the impression of being nailed down.

***“I will praise Jehovah at all times; His praise will be on my lips constantly.” Ps 34:1

The CO used this verse to open the theme, ‘Will you praise God in good times AND bad?’

Going through this Psalm of David verse by verse:

“I will boast in Jehovah; The meek will hear and rejoice.” (34:2)

He’s a king. He doesn’t boast of armies, alliances, acumen, might. He boasts of Jehovah. Word filters down to the “meek” & those ones love it. Others, maybe not so much.

Psalm 34:3 “Magnify Jehovah along with me; Let us exalt his name together.

It is an invitation from a king. (David) How many kings will extend such an invite? And if it is David as forerunner of Jesus, well—that works too.

***

The angel of Jehovah is camping all around those fearing him, And he rescues them.” Psalm 53:7

Camping. I think of all the times the family was camping, or just plain dwelling. And how it made a difference who my neighbors were. (A time or two in the hood I had some neighbors who were none to pleasant.)

Taste and see that Jehovah is good, O YOU people; Happy is the able-bodied man that takes refuge in him.” (Psalm 34:8)

The fact that it is ‘taste’ says it all. You don’t ‘prove’ it as though with science. You ‘taste’ it as though with experience. As with children & foods, some will not want to taste.

Fear Jehovah, all you his holy ones, For those who fear him lack nothing.” 34:9

Even strong young lions have been reduced to hunger, But those seeking Jehovah will lack nothing good.” (Psalm 34:10)

Okay. That’s reassuring, though not for the lions.

After many stand-alone couplets, we come across three that go together, the last line being quite familiar. And what of the opening question below. Does life in itself bring one pleasure?

Who among you takes pleasure in life , And would love to see many good days?

Then guard your tongue from what is bad, Your lips from speaking deception.

Turn away from what is bad and do what is good; Seek peace and pursue it.  (Palm 34:12-14)

First point of counsel: Not anything we DO but what we SAY. That tongue is likened to the spark that sets the whole forest ablaze. (James 3:5)

Come, my sons, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of Jehovah.” Psalm 34:11

It is a change of paste, setting the stage for new direction, prior verses having been ‘the testimonial,’ like:  “This lowly one called, and Jehovah heard. He saved him from all his distresses,” (6) building to: “Taste and see that Jehovah is good; Happy is the man who takes refuge in him.” (8) and, “Fear Jehovah, all you his holy ones,For those who fear him lack nothing.” *9)

Turn away from what is bad and do what is good; Seek peace and pursue it.” Psalm 34:14

I wonder if David’s nephew Joab thought his uncle was a chump? Wow-whee! what a hit man that guy was, uncontrollable even by his own boss.

The next two Ps34 verses go together & are reassuring to one focusing on the big picture:

The eyes of Jehovah are on the righteous, And his ears listen to their cry for help. But the face of Jehovah is against those doing what is bad, To erase all memory of them from the earth.

They cried out, and Jehovah heard; He rescued them from all their distresses. Jehovah is close to the brokenhearted; He saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:17-18

These verses are like a refrain and amplification of ones earlier in the Psalm—4, 6, 7. And speaks to the theme in verse 1 of praising God at all times. And is the ‘they’ of vs 17 the same as the ‘those’ of ve 5–others David thought about that emboldened him to do the same?

Many are the hardships of the righteous one, But Jehovah rescues him from them all.” Psalm 34:19. 

Okay, glad we’ve got that straight. Don’t go thinking all your problems are from the Devil. It doesn’t work that way. You can be ‘righteous’ and still have ‘many.’

Calamity will put the wicked one himself to death; And the very ones hating the righteous one will be held guilty. Jehovah is redeeming the soul of his servants; And none of those taking refuge in him will be held guilty.” (vs 21-22)

Such is how Psalm 34 concludes regarding the ‘wicked,’ the ‘righteous’ and the one taking refuge in God. 

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Deciphering the Code of Life and the Human Immune System: Part 2

(See Part 1)

It is all very ingenious and , the way researchers have discovered the code of life. Of course, evolution is given all the credit for the code, something that is less ingenious. We Jehovah’s Witnesses have become used to those videos highlighting similar extraordinary marvels elsewhere in life, followed up with the question: ‘What do you think? Did the (fill in the blank) simply evolve? Or was it designed?” (the most recent being the red blood cell system for oxygen transport)

Die-hard evolutionists choke at this phrasing. ‘You just can’t ask people such a question point-blank,’ the grouse. ‘You have to lay a proper foundation so they know it didn’t happen that way!’ Do you? For most plain people, Hebrews 3:4 will resonate just fine: “Of course, every house is constructed by someone, but he that constructed all things is God.” Should you try to talk them out of it?

“Of course!” the verse begins. It accords with their entire experience, with their common sense, and even with laws of thermodynamics that says order tends towards disorder, not the reverse. They will regard it as a scam when supposedly learned ones assert that the most complex ‘house’ of all was not constructed by someone, but assembled itself. They might even suspect that those trying to foist such a scam on them fall into the ‘educated fools’ category.

The way these evolutionists carry on, you would think life owing its start to creation would leave Bible scriptures behind when it died instead of fossils. Most facts claimed to support evolution equally support an original designer. If you find a prototype that works, you incorporate it into many things. It is evidence for evolution no more than for original creation. The capability of living organisms to adapt over time through mutation and selection of the most robust also need not be regarded as exclusive to evolution. It could just as well be a designed system—and must be unless abiogenesis can be established.

The literalists that clobber me would surely not clobber Walter Isaacson, author of The Code Breakers, for they recognize he is on their side. Not that he is trying to pull a fast one on readers; he just buys into the same dogma that all the rest of them do. “The concept behind [certain derivatives of CRISPR] was a brilliant one, although in fairness I should note that bacteria had thought of it more than a billion years ago, he says. I would be promptly ‘corrected’ for such a statement; instructed that bacteria does not ‘think’—it evolves. He gets a free pass; it’s obvious he’s speaking figuratively. I don’t begrudge it of him, but isn’t he falling into the Hebrews 3:4 ‘trap’ of a designer who ‘thinks’ of things?

Another scientist explains: “The CRISPR treatments come from reprogramming a system that we humans found in nature.” (P 457) Yeah, they just ‘found’ it, like you might find a quarter on the sidewalk.

‘Oh, come on, Tommy. (aside to self) Don’t grumble so much. It is impressive—knocks your socks off what these scientists are doing. When Doudna speaks of a major innovation,an actual human-made invention [by fusing together two RNA strands], not merely a discovery of a natural phenomenon,” (pg 135) don’t compare it to the Batmobile—that just because it exists doesn’t mean it isn’t simply jazzing up existing cars. Why be such a grumbler? What’s next—posting signs to ‘Keep off my lawn!?’

The suspicion to justify all this grumbling is that—does it make a difference in the caution scientists exercise? We are speaking the code of life here. Make a change in the DNA and it gets inherited by all future generations to the end of time. Maybe, just maybe, the background supposition of evolution plants a reckless attitude. ‘How hard can it be to improve on a process that is just haphazard to begin with?’ is the thought. Nor is it reassuring to hear such words as, “If scientists don’t play God, who will?” (James Watson to Britain’s Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, May 16, 2000, pg 333) Have these researchers been reckless?

In fairness, it doesn’t seem they have been at this level. They play fully conscious of the potential to cause harm as well as good. They call conferences at which ‘ethicists’ weigh in. A consensus arises among them that non-inheritable DNA-tinkering should be okay—and even that is within cautious limits—to take down diseases as Huntington’s, for example, and maybe sickle cell anemia, but anything permanent (‘germ-line editing) is a line that must not be crossed [yet].

When one of their number does cross that line in 2018, the rest react in shock: “When He Jiankui produced the world’s first CRISPR babies, with the goal of making them and their descendants immune to an attack by a deadly virus, most responsible scientists expressed outrage. His actions were deemed top be at best premature and at worst abhorrent.” (pg 336) The Code Breakers tells how China initially lauded their scientist for beating out the West. But later, when it became clear that his feat was so universally condemned, they sent him to jail,. This later development of prison time is not in the Isaacson book; it may have occurred as it was going to print. As with many aspects of our times, things move so quickly as to make new writings promptly obsolete.

So the scientists appear to be responsible. One of their number going maverick cannot be held against them. Some of our people go maverick, too. At this level, that of the basic researcher, driven by curiosity, they are most responsible. But are there other levels at which they are not so responsible?

To be continued:

 

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Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'