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Voice Crying Out in the Wilderness

Tonight, I received the following email (name and school withheld for security reasons):

Hi Dr. Wilson,
  I am about a year from graduating with a PhD in virology.  Over the past year I have been questioning whether I want to stay in academic sciences post-graduation.  One major deterrent is being around so many people with strong anti-Christian world views.  After getting in contact with Dr. Patricia Fanning from she directed me to your blog.  I can't tell you how encouraged I was by your blog posts.   I just wanted to say thank you for your encouraging words.

While this email definitely encouraged me, I was also disappointed for this graduate student. I would be truly surprised if there was not at least one Christian faculty member somewhere on his campus. Yet in the years of his graduate program, it appears that he hasn’t met them.

Atheistic Sectarianism and Problems with Religion Developing Evolutionarily

Several weeks ago, I wrote a blog about the TED talk by Alain de Botton on Atheism 2.0. I have an update that almost sounds like it’s ripped from the front page of The Onion, but is a serious article from the LA Times. In “Atheist writers clash over how to not worship a nonexistent God,” de Botton and Dawkins criticize each other on how to practice their atheism.

De Botton is raising $1.5 million to build a temple to atheism, where folks can contemplate 300 million years of life’s existence on Earth and think good thoughts. Dawkins argues it is rubbish and the money should go to funding nicely atheistic schools.

At first glance, it is crazy, and one is likely to side with Dawkins on this one.

The Digital Age

Last week, the Chronicle of Higher Education posted a blog called, “The Challenges of Digital Scholarship,” that discussed the changing reality of online scholarship and even “pre-peer review” online before submission to a journal or publication of a book. The idea is to enhance collaboration and refine work before it gets into the literature rather than waiting until after.

Although the post doesn’t mention this, it may be a way to combat the rising rate of retractions in the literature because more eyes see it before ‘official’ publication. One source in the article even quipped that “blind peer review is dead. It just doesn’t know it yet.”

Seven In [Two] Blows

This paraphrase from the Disney’s “Brave Little Tailor” (which of course comes from an older tale) is indicative of two articles this week that support at least seven of the twenty-five issues I raised two days ago in “An Educational Version of IJM” in brainstorming as many as I could think up on my own.

Wealth and Education

Yesterday, I gave a laundry list of issues affecting the justice of our education system as a whole. Some of them surprisingly are paradoxical. But the first one I gave was probably the most controversial, especially these days. I suggested that “money is the key resource that enables action in this world system. It is the most logical thing that more money should have the best opportunity for the best education, at least partly because the wealthy have the freedom of time and other resources to search out the best education for themselves or their children.”

Our culture has taken the Christian idea of charity and in many ways, perverted it. What is Biblically meant to be a duty of love toward God in voluntarily sharing one’s abundance with others has been twisted and yanked away from the giver. Now the recipient demands it on their terms and has partnered with the power of the State to enforce charity without accountability, even to the point of attempting to make those with means feel guilt for the fruits of their hard work and/or blessings.

An Educational Version of IJM

Over the holidays, Andy Crouch of Christianity Today posted an op-ed honoring the International Justice Mission (IJM) for its faithful and amazingly successful work in combating various kinds of slavery around the world. He progressed to suggesting the need for a Christian organization to form around reforming the American education system, which he cited as being broken as much, if not more than those of other nations. I waited several weeks to discuss it here so that school would be back in session and perhaps more folks would be able to join in the conversation.

I have a mixed reaction to him comparing our educational system, even obliquely, to the social justice systems of nations that allow for sex slavery and other abominations to occur under their noses.

Does our education system contain injustices? Yes. We also need to address them. I am confident that Andy (whom I’ve met and like personally) was trying to highlight the dynamic creativity, multilateral expertise and profound effectiveness of IJM, and wanting to build that kind of a team to address domestic education. In that, I heartily agree. As an educator, and a Christian one at that, it did rankle a bit to have my profession/industry even incidentally be compared to Third World pimps. I know that wasn’t what he was trying to say, so I’ll move on to what he was trying to address.

Choosing Lecture Humour Carefully

In my introductory lecture to all of my labs every semester, I try to put one-liners and other bits of humor in to keep the students engaged. One of the quips I used to do with some regularity when talking about selecting lab partners was something along the lines of, “Any partnerships lasting longer than the semester just go to show the lasting and central power of chemistry in our lives.”

Over the years, I’ve gotten several emails from students (usually female) to inform me that they remembered my joking about that and were now marrying their lab partner from my course.

Things like these are the hidden gems of teaching.


A Simple Reminder to Banish Fear

"If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. Yet distance makes no difference. He is in the next room praying for me." - Anthony Coniaris


Feelin' Groovy

In 1966, Simon & Garfunkel released an album entitled “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme.” One of the most famous songs on the album was “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy).”

The first line of the song is “Slow down, you move too fast.” Amen.

It is distressing watching how fast our lives have become, expecting emails to be answered immediately, pushing forward in our haste to stay ahead of the cascading dominoes of deadlines and expectations, each one pushing us to push everyone around us either faster or out of our way, leading to trampled toes and sometimes trampled lives. How often do we wish, “stop the world, I want to get off!?”

Into the maelstrom of our busyness soothes the Saviour,

Media Franca

The term “lingua franca” effectively means the tongue of trade. In Jesus’ day, it was a form of Greek. Today it is English—the official language for international communications. It is reasonable then to consider the ‘media franca’ the mode for communicating in an era.

For much of human history, the media franca was oral tradition. With the evolution of the printing press, it became books, though the oral tradition continued strongly through theatre. In the 20th century, it became a four-horse race between books, radio, film and TV. Now it is all of the above through the true media franca of the Internet.

Atheism 2.0

There seems to be a new kid on the atheism block. First we had the Enlightenment atheists, then the Darwinian atheists, and the Communist atheists. Most recently, we saw the rise of the aptly named “New Atheists.” Until now.

Alain de Botton has presented “Atheism 2.0,” which now rightfully claims the title of the “Newest Atheists.” It seems, at least in terms of this list, that he has misnamed his programme, which should be “Atheism 5.0.” But that is the advantage of his naming scheme—he can version the previous incarnations any way he chooses, so the Communist atheists might be more properly dubbed “Atheism 1.9.17, build Oktobre” or somesuch.

This also reveals the embarrassing scenario Dawkins is facing when his New Atheism becomes the “Old Atheism,” or the “Newly Chronologically-Disadvantaged Atheism.” I’m sure Mr. Hitchens, were he still present, would have a sagely satirical witticism over his newfound obsolescence.

Response to Secular Theocracy, Pt 2

{Format update: My apologies for disappearing for the weekend. More than usual is going on for semester prep this term. Also, I will be moving to a weekday publishing schedule from seven days a week.}

Back in December, David J. Theroux, of The Independent Institute asked me to read and offer comment on his essay, “Secular Theocracy, Part 1.” To summarize, Theroux made the argument with supporting extended quotes from C. S. Lewis, Rodney Stark, Alexis de Tocqueville and William Cavanuagh that the rise of secularism in the West has reached a point that service and loyalty to the secular nation-state has reached the point of religious devotion, and even is demanded as a form of coerced worship, effectively creating what he calls a “secular theocracy.”

Last week, Theroux published the second half of this essay, and again at his invitation, I offer my thoughts. (Both parts of his essay, with footnotes, can be found as a single webpage.)

One of the primary characteristics of the civic religion, according to Theroux, is the replacing of ‘religious violence’ with ‘secular violence’, which the State views as necessary to counteract and put down the religious violence. After that ‘corrupting influence’ is put down, the secularist argues, there should be no need for any violence, as humanity will thrive in the utopia of common devotion to the state. Reading quotes from several secularists and an analysis by Cavanuagh, it brings to eerie recall books assigned in high school English classes, “1984” and “Brave New World.”

What I find interesting in this resurgence of a secular utopianism is in trying to understand why it is resurging.

The Glow

Tonight as I drove home, I saw an extraordinarily bright orange-yellow glow right on the eastern horizon, over the town of Bastrop, Texas, which suffered from such severe wildfires this summer. It was, of course, an unusually large, bright moonrise through a veil of clouds that magnified and dispersed the haunting light.

Yet for several miles down the road, over and down hills, hidden by trees and the ever teasing cloud it was very hard to tell for sure whether the glow brought beauty or disaster.

Speaking about the Vibrant Dance Symposium

This Saturday morning (January 14, 2012), I will be the speaker at the monthly meeting of the Austin Chapter of Reasons to Believe. I will be giving an overview and answering questions about October’s Vibrant Dance Symposium on theological views of Creation. Please come and join us!

The details:

Date: Saturday morning January 14, 2012
Place: Hill Country Bible Church (near the UT Campus)
405 W. 22nd Street
Corner of San Antonio and W. 22nd

9:30 Fellowship and coffee
10:00 Announcements
10:20 Presentation

PARKING:  The parking lot one block over is a paid lot on Saturdays.  The toll is $1.50 for 3 hours or $2.00 for 4 hours at an unmanned kiosk.  However, a half block further west is a lot at 22nd and Nueces which is directly adjacent to Hill House Austin (Greg Grooms, Director).



We humans are remarkable creatures in many ways, not all of them good. In particular, we have an amazing capacity to rationalize our morality, seeing others' shortcomings and ignoring our own. It is difficult to “judge rightly,” as the Bible calls it. (John 7:24)

Well targeted was Christ’s command to pull the log out of our own eyes so that we can see clearly the speck in our brother’s. We even judge each other on judging. We quote, “Judge not, lest ye be judged,” but fail to remember the rest of the quote that says we will be judged by the standard we use to judge others.

A Better Word for Tragedy

When we hear of a natural disaster with hundreds or thousands dead, or a suicide, or other cause of ‘unnatural' death, destruction, or mayhem, we label it a tragedy. But what do we call it when it strikes closer to home, directly affecting us or someone we know personally and are watching go through the hell of unexpected grief, dealing with the aftermath, and trying to regain one’s bearings?

Honestly, I can’t think of any word to call it then. It is too raw and real to even put it to words.

We read about Job and all of the evils that befell him and call it a tragedy. But it wasn’t a tragedy to him. It was far, far worse.
Words for his situation were so insufficient, that when his friends joined him, they said nothing…for seven days. In fact, the first words at the end of that week were his intonations of a curse upon his own birth.

There are times in life that are beyond the reach of any words, and we do well to let silence have its eloquence.


Intellectual Crisis

Only someone returning from a Vanwinklian nap would not be aware of the incredible and brittle factiousness permeating our culture. Nearly everyone you talk to will shake their head with sorrow at the cracks throughout Western society, and then just as quick point to this or that group as the ones primarily responsible. In a NYTimes review of a new book, The Anointed, the divisive debates roiling in Christendom are brought to fore from the apparent perspective of someone from a more secular worldview to an audience largely outside of the Christian worldview.

The review describes much of the intellectual conflict in evangelicalism, particularly in the States. Old earth versus theistic evolution, whether the Founders were Christian or Deist (or pre-Darwinian humanists, as some now affirm, with credible arguments), the relative value of academic credentials versus a strictly common-sense/sola scriptura based faith are some of the issues, even asking the fundamental and completely academic question of whether or not the Enlightenment was a good thing.

Wisdom from Chesterton

I came across a list of quotations from G. K. Chesterton today, and these five stood out to me as a source of meditation and encouragement. I thought they might for you as well. Sometimes it is better to publicize the good words already spoken by another than to fill the world with more of one's own thoughts.

“The act of defending any of the cardinal virtues has today all the exhilaration of a vice.” – A Defense of Humilities, The Defendant, 1901

“A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.” – The Everlasting Man, 1925

“An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered; an adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered.” – On Running After Ones Hat, All Things Considered, 1908  {Keep in mind that he wrote this one before the invention of computers!}

 “He is a [sane] man who can have tragedy in his heart and comedy in his head.” – Tremendous Trifles, 1909   {This is the most thought-provoking of them for me.}

“The person who is really in revolt is the optimist, who generally lives and dies in a desperate and suicidal effort to persuade other people how good they are.” – Introduction to The Defendant  {I never thought of optimism in this manner before. A challenge to live this way!}


Spirit of Fear

I read an article today that discussed, from a politically conservative viewpoint, how pastors are afraid to address political issues from the pulpit. His point was that secular authorities seek to minimize the effect of the Church (i.e. the Gospel) on society. One way is to penalize churches who get too politically vocal for someone’s taste.

Another way is to minimize the respectability of Christian scholarship. Whether this is done subtly through comments during lectures to undergrads, or through the tenure and promotion process, or other more direct and/or vocal methods, folks opposed to the Gospel are typically more evangelical in their opposition than Christians are about the Good News.

Two Brains

Part of the chemistry building is newly renovated, and I am in the process of setting up my teaching labs in the new space. Everything has been moved, so the area is in the chaotic stage of piles of boxes needing to be sorted and put away. Everywhere I look is a mess to be cleaned, with some parts interdependent on others until there is a tangle of priorities. I have been having a hard time picking a starting place.

One member of my staff is responsible for part of the space, and so I brought him in to help. Not knowing where he wanted things for his area contributed to my paralysis. He looked around, grinned as we got started, and said, “Sometimes it just takes two brains.”

A Wrinkle In Time

Science fiction is often an expression of the gadgets and abilities we wish we could have—time travel, warp drive, teleportation, invisibility/cloaking devices fill tomes of dashing adventures, and to my knowledge, all of them, except the first, have been achieved…in some fashion.

We have recently found ways of making things go faster than light (at the subatomic level). We have also teleported subatomic particles and information both. Now, scientists have managed several new techniques of invisibility, including making something happen without it being observable—basically making that moment of time invisible.

As the link describes, imagine being able to walk into a crowded museum with the highest security technology available, grabbing some priceless artifact and walk out, and no one, including the laser tripwires will be the wiser—the object will have just vanished.

The Foolishness of God

For the foolishness of God is wiser than men…”                               I Corinthians 1:25

The human appendix is generally considered to be a vestigial organ. In other words, we needed it “way back when” our diets and lifestyles were more primitive (caveman days, not great-grandma’s days), but now it is considered largely worthless, existing only to provide surgeons with an income stream.

Now, however, all that conventional wisdom appears to be doing another cartwheel. A researcher at Duke University School of Medicine wondered one day if perhaps the appendix serves as a reservoir of the ‘good gut bugs’ our intestines need to function optimally. And now, a few years later, there is some experimental evidence this may be true.

Here is yet another example where we have assumed something was non-functional when it is functional or had a different function than it really has. We understand so much, and also so little. As Christian scholars, the importance of maintaining humility regarding the scope, importance and validity of our scholarship is vital. Neither should we hinder the freeflow of random thought that sometimes leads us to ‘serendipitous’ ideas that revolutionize our fields.

Who knows what God will allow us to discover next?


1 + 1 = 1.75±15.2

There’s a famous maxim in construction, “Measure twice, cut once.”

The unstated assumption is that you will cut straight. Otherwise it doesn’t matter how many times you measure. This came home powerfully today while making a wood box for work. The top and bottom are supposed to be 18” x 18”. In reality, no side has the same measurement, and the top is different than the bottom. In short, there should be one dimension occurring eight times, but I have eight dimensions once each. There’s joy in consistency. Or so they say.

Someday, Somewhere

The greatest blessing of every new year is the implicit reminder of the new heavens and new earth, waiting over the next hill, round the next bend.

In this land we seek someday and somewhere, we will see all our resolutions in black, but stamped over in gold, “Complete, and Paid in Full.”