NEW BOOK IN APOLOGETICS!

New Book in Apologetics!

THE YOUNG CHRISTIAN’S SURVIVAL GUIDE: COMMON QUESTIONS YOUNG CHRISTIANS ARE ASKED ABOUT GOD, THE BIBLE, AND THE CHRISTIAN FAITH ANSWERED, by Donald T. Williams, Phd.  Cambridge, OH: Christian Publishing House, 2019

What are some of the questions covered?

  1. You claim the Bible is inspired because it says it is, right (2 Tim. 3:16)? Isn’t that circular reasoning?
  2. You claim the Bible was inspired, but there was no inspired list of which books that is true of. So how can we know which ones to trust?
  3. With so many different copies that have so many differences, how can we even know what the Bible says?
  4. Why can’t the people who wrote the four Gospels get their story straight?
  5. Didn’t the Council of Nicaea just arbitrarily pick the books for the Bible that they agreed with and suppress all the rest with political power?
  6. People used to believe in miracles because they didn’t understand science. Don’t we know better than that now?
  7. That a man rose from the dead takes a lot of believing. How could you ever have enough evidence for a belief like that?
  8. Science has proved that human beings evolved over millions of years rather than being created in six days. Why are you still clinging to ancient myths?
  9. Just because the Bible is true for you, why does that make it true for me?
  10. How can you base your modern life on a book that was written for a primitive culture?
  11. Doesn’t the Bible support genocide?
  12. Doesn’t the Bible support racism?
  13. Doesn’t the Bible support slavery?
  14. Doesn’t the Bible support homophobia?
  15. Doesn’t the Bible support the oppression and abuse of women?
  16. There are so many religions, all sincerely seeking the same goal. What makes you Christians so arrogant that you think yours is the only way?
  17. What about those who have never heard the Gospel?
  18. If God is a God of love, why did he let my loved one die?
  19. How can it be just for God to impose an infinite punishment (Hell forever) for finite sins?

Order from Amazon or click here for an introductory discount from the publisher:

https://www.christianpublishers.org/apps/webstore/products/show/7860181

Donald T. Williams, PhD, is R. A. Forrest Scholar at Toccoa Falls College.  A well-known Inklings scholar, he is past president of the International Society of Christian Apologetics and the author of eleven other books, including Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis (Baltimore: Square Halo Books, 2016) and An Encouraging Thought: The Christian Worldview in the Writings of J. R. R. Tolkien (Cambridge, OH: Christian Publishing House, 2018).

The Adventure of Reading

A poster one sees in Kenya proclaims, “Literacy for Improved Food Production!”  I don’t doubt that improved food production is a worthy goal and literacy can help attain it, I told the students of St. Philip’s Secondary School in Kitale. But there is so much more to reading than that!  Reading makes available three things that are hard to access without it: the Word of God, the world of ideas, and the world of imagination.

The Word of God
The Word of God

The Word of God contains the personal revelation of the Creator of the Universe, including His wisdom, His commandments, His love, and His plan for the salvation and eternal fulfillment of His creatures.  The world of ideas gives us the cumulative experience and thinking of the human race as it follows or rebels against the Word of God in its history, its science, its philosophy.  The world of imagination shows us the stirrings of the human spirit, stimulating our own spirits to make creative applications of what we learn from Scripture, history, and science.

The World of Ideas
The World of Ideas

Any of the three worlds to which reading gives us access—Scripture, Ideas, Imagination—can expand the mind in such a way as to facilitate things yet undreamt of (including better food production).  When we combine them together, their capacity to do so is increased exponentially.  So pursue the adventure of reading with all your might, both in school and out of it!  It was Newman’s Idea of a University recycled impromptu for an African context: not a bad exhortation for Americans, either.

William Shakespeare: A Citizen of the World of the Imagination
William Shakespeare: A Citizen of the World of the Imagination

Remember: for more commentary like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds, Inklings of Reality, and/or Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical poems and essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.  And look for Williams’ very latest book, Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis, due out Sept. 30, 2016, from Square Halo Books!

Donald T. Williams, PhD

Book-CSLTheology-Cover

Suspended Animation: The Last-Ditch Deep-Freeze

Hello all! I found this article on one of my daily romps around the internet and it reminded me of an element commonly seen in many science fiction stories- suspended animation. This typical plot device can take the form of chemical treatments that ‘freeze’ the person in a perpetual sleep, a device that actually freezes someone with the intent of thawing them years or eons later, or sometimes just some sort of inexplicable tube-thing that makes the inhabitant stop moving for a really long time.

Sometimes it’s done to keep a person alive until a future where their disease or ailment is treatable, and sometimes its used as a quick-and-dirty method of ‘time travel’ into the distant future. Regardless of its usage in fiction, this science is quickly becoming reality.

Mad Science or Miracle of Science?

walt dysney
Believe it or not, there's an urban legend that Walt Disney had his body frozen upon his death so he could be revived in the future- according to Snopes.com, this is false, but hey- fun story.

The idea of freezing one’s body to preserve it has been around for a while, the hope being that in some distant future the technology will have developed to the point of being able to treat any condition (including death). Some wealthy individuals have even done just that, or at least have been rumored to have (Such as Walt Disney, as some of you might have heard), which has popularized the idea as a purely scientific fantasy. However, reality has once again come around to imitate fiction, and there have been some real advances toward making suspended animation viable.

Dr. Peter Rhee is a  surgeon who’s done everything from treat American soldiers in Afghanistan to helping to save US Representative Gabrielle Gifford who was shot in a town hall meeting. After all his experience in the field, he has turned his research to finding a way to stretch those precious few minutes after a victim is mortally injured in order to allow doctors enough time to perform life-saving procedures. In most cases where a victim is bleeding heavily, it becomes impossible to perform delicate micro-surguries while fighting simply to keep the patient alive. Using Rhee’s proposed treatment, those few minutes could turn into hours or even days, giving doctors all the time they need.

dr. peter rhee
Dr. Peter Rhee

Rhee’s research discovered that while reducing the body temperature of an animal only a few degrees below its natural state (About 97 degrees F for humans) would send it into organ and nervous system failure (killing it by hyperthermia), reducing the body temperature to well below that (Almost 50 degrees F in humans!) causes the subject’s body to slow to a crawl. The heart rate drastically slows or even stops, the organs cease metabolizing, brain function  dims to a minute hum, and most importantly, blood stops flowing. All of these effects have been completely reversed in subjects, restoring the normal body temperature in pigs without any detectable damage.

The FDA has approved the testing on humans, and now it’s essentially just down to funding now. Rhee hopes to secure his suspended animation treatment as an effective ‘last resort’ procedure that could help save many lives.

Suspended Animation in Fiction:

So, it’s a cool idea that’s actually happening- does that affect how we write about it? Well, by Dr. Rhee’s research and others’, we know some things don’t work like science fiction thought it would:

  • No frozen cavemen:  I’m sure you’ve seen some story or another where a man or creature is found having been frozen in arctic ice for some thousands of years, only to make a full recovery. The thing is, when the cells in an animal’s body freeze, the water inside them expands into ice crystals, bursting the thin membrane that surrounds each one. No scientist or doctor, no matter how advanced, could repair that kind of microscopically massive damage. It would be the equivalent of taking several billion water balloons, popping them, and then reassembling the balloons with the water back inside.
  • No sleeping for thousands of years: At least with the sort of system that Dr. Rhee has devised (there are other ideas), it would not be possible to keep a person alive at such a low body temperature for an extended amount of time. If another technology was used to place the body in a suspended state without resorting to cold temperatures, long term applications might work as long as the body isn’t allowed to deteriorate beyond what the body could survive.
Obviously, you could use suspended animation in your story like Dr. Rhee plans to use in real life, and that would be a cool way to have characters recover from normally mortal wounds, and many other useful tricks- just be careful not to go overboard or else you’ll find yourself have to explain why anyone actually bothers to die in the world you’ve created. Make sure there are limitations and drawbacks or else there shouldn’t be any reason why people don’t just essentially live forever by going into hibernation while the doctors rebuild them.

 

Well, that’s all I’ve got for this week. Check back in next Wednesday for a big ‘ol Science Fiction Problems, this time on Cloaking and Stealth in science fiction.

Cleverbot: Why the Robot Apocalypse May Be a While Away

Hello all! I was surfing my favorite sci-fi haunts when I came across this shining example of robot superiority:

This is Cleverbot, Cornell University’s Chatbot, an artificial intelligence designed to imitate human speech (although it’s important to point out that the video is actual a text-to-speech program reading off a log). Universities and various groups build these programs in an attempt to pass the Turing Test, an experiment to see if a computer can fool a human into thinking he is talking to another human. There are various reasons for this that get into programming philosophy (as well as some good ‘ol philosophy in its own right), but that’ll be a discussion for another post. It all boils down to the idea that conversation is a demonstration of thought, and that if a computer could imitate this basic human interaction well enough to fool us, it is well on the way to modeling the human mind. If you’re curious, Cornell has a very in-depth page about the Turing Test, its origins, its considerations, and its applications for their projects.

Cleverbot is their latest A.I. of many, built around an enormous database of conversations it has had with humans from all across the internet, which it references as it attempts to learn how to be a better conversationalist. As you can see, it meets with varying degrees of success. This process accounts for the attitude in the video- Cleverbot is using responses already on file, related to the words and construction of the sentence given- that also accounts for the absurd and jarring topic shifts, due to misfires in the search, either because it is incapable of determining appropriate choices, or it just doesn’t have enough responses related to the topic. So, not unlike us when conversation strays to something we know nothing about, it changes the subject.

The result is that talking to Cleverbot is a little bit like talking to a hyperactive idiot with a short attention span. Regardless, Cleverbot is a good step toward beating the Turing Test (rated 44% human at the Machine Inteligence Competition last December, taking 1st prize), and demonstrates an effective method of imitating human speech using A.I. The fun thing about this project is that you can actually talk to Cleverbot yourself- just head over to this link***, and you’ll not only be helping Cornell build a better conversation database, but it’s actually a very amusing way to kill time.  I’m embarrassed to say that I managed to accidentally spend over an hour chatting up the ‘bot, our conversation ranging everywhere from the weather to whether or not Vampires are delicious when added to baked goods.

I’ve already said a good deal about Artificial Intelligence in my post about the Technological Singularity and how you will need to deal with the development of A.I. in your story if it is set in the future, but I’ll probably take some time in later posts to address A.I. in more depth. Until then, get over to Cleverbot.com and give the poor ‘bot someone to talk to who knows something about punctuation and grammar- the poor thing’s riddled with garbage responses. I once had it recite the entire lyrics to “We’re Off to See the Wizard” from The Wizard of Oz to me, for no discernible reason. Have fun! If you get any interesting responses, post them in the comments below (just keep it clean, people)!

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*** Heed the warning message when interacting with Cleverbot- anyone can say whatever they want to him, so don’t be too surprised if he gets a little surly or spouts of some bad words. I haven’t personally come across anything offensive, but it’s a very real possibility. You have been warned!

Sources: Singularity Blog, Cleverbot.com, Cornell.edu

Myth and the Superhero: The Divine vs. Science

I my last two posts I have looked at the nature of the heroes and how they help us understand our culture.  I understand that each comic universe and set of heroes have a different agenda or aspect of the human condition that they wish to explore, so most of my comments are going to be generalizations or based on a particular comic that I am analyzing.

I wonder if our post-modern minds can actually understand the significance of myth or are we too inundated with notion that man is the measure of things that we cannot grasp the wonderment of supernatural divine nature of myth.  I think that the comic-book world is the closest this modern world has to myth. But do we understand what that means?  Most of the comic-book heroes are an augmentation from science but what about the heroes that aren’t?

I recently watched the movie Thor, which got me thinking about this.  Superheroes like Spiderman, or X-Men are creatures of science.  What makes them special is a scientific augmentation or mutation. Batman uses gadgets and science to defeat villains who are predominately created because of scientific environmental mutations.  Science is the catalyst, the creator, the power behind these stories.  These superheroes were created in the Age of Science and Enlightenment.  Science is in a sense the religion or the divine source of power and authority.

But what about a superhero like Thor?  Thor is not an invention of the modern, scientific mind.  He is much older, dating back to a time of mystery, myth, gods, and heroes. How then is Thor to be measured among the scientists?

  • I’ll be honest I haven’t read the comic books, so this judgement is based on the movie and Norse Mythology, which I do have some familiarity.

I watched the movie looking for how they handled the concept of the divine natures of the Asgard and its interaction with a modern world.  But the superhero Thor is not a god.  His people are described as aliens. There is no divine power to them or in them.  “Magic is just science we don’t understand.”  Thor says he comes from a place where magic and science are the same. It is the human nature that demands the scientific reasoning and not the Asgard.   But the scientific is how we understand the world now.  Nietzsche argued that man could not comprehend the world so in mankind’s primitive state he created the gods.  This is definitely the mindset that the marvel universe has adapted.  Thor’s people were perceived by the primitive Norse culture as gods and their great feats were done by magic.  But now in this “enlightened” age we can begin to understand the the magic was just science we did not understand.

I don’t mind the scientific explanations.  There is much to be said for taking a concept that is wreathed in mystery and putting it into a concrete form that we can understand.  It is part of the purpose of myth to do just that: take the abstract and give it concrete understanding.   Nevertheless, there is something “magical” and unexplained in the resurrection of Thor and dreamlike-all-knowing sleep that Odin is in for most of the movie.  Science cannot explain those events and, fortunately, they don’t try.  It is here that the Nietzschean philosophy breaks down.  There are still things in this world and even in the world of superheroes that cannot be explained by science.  Try as we might, science does not give all the answers.

I cannot help but wonder if something has been lost in the scientific exploration.   There is no room for mystery.  Jane Foster is not going to rest until she can figure out how to open the portal again.  Her science is going to be her driving force, but there is something that the science will not explain…her faith in the promise that Thor gave her.  He said he’d return.  There is no scientific proof for that, no rational reason for her to believe and yet Jane will.  Faith is part of the myth and mystery not science.  Faith is the real power. Science would tell her that the portal is gone and there is nothing that can be done to fix it. Science would tell her that since she cannot recreate the experiment that she needs to come up with a different hypothesis and start over. Faith is an aspect of the divine. And though there is a trend to mask the myths of old with science (the Norse myths lend themselves well for this treatment), there is still an aspect of the divine nature of the myth that cannot be completely explained away – faith and the power over death.

I appreciate the retellings and the stories of the superheroes, however, I still prefer the myths because they don’t try to explain away the unexplainable or simplify the truth even if it seems impossible to the scientific mind.