A blogging hero?

I don’t like to blow my own horn.  I don’t even like to call attention to  when someone else is blowing it.  Still, since you readers and commenters are a big part of what makes this blog work, I can’t resist passing this along.

Tim Challies has a BIG blog, with like a million-reads-per-month.  Whenever he links to something I post, my readership statistics shoot up into the stratosphere.  So it’s gratifying that he listed me as one of his seven “blogging heroes” for 2011.   I appreciate what he says about this blog, since he describes exactly what I’ve been trying to do (among other things):

Cranach – Gene Veith has been blogging for quite some time, but it was really 2011 that showed me how valuable his site is. He has a knack for finding interesting material and highlighting it. He often finds material that the rest of us are overlooking. He does it well and I hope he just keeps doing it!

via My 2011 Blogging Heroes | Challies Dot Com.

While we are in this self-congratulatory mode, let’s reflect.  This blog is remarkable for the diversity of its readership and the range of opinions they bring.  Yes, mostly Lutheran–though even with that agreement there are lots of different views on issues–but also other kinds of conservative Christians, along with atheists, liberal theologians, and the occasional Muslim.  Politically we have the whole gamut:  conservatives of many different strains, but also liberals and libertarians and my quasi-socialist brother.  And on nearly every subject that comes up, from law to quantum physics, it seems that we have an expert in the audience.

What’s remarkable to me is that we have this range of views in this harshly polarized cultural climate and yet our discussions generally stay at a very high level.  (Sometimes they get too heated and personal, usually around comment #100, but even this is tamer than what you will find on most blogs.)

So let me ask:  Why do you read this blog?  What do you get out of it?

Newt wasn’t married after all!

Newt Gingrich is on his third marriage, but the Roman Catholic church, which does not believe in divorce, has granted him  at least one and maybe two annulments!  According to canon law,  annulled marriages were never marriages at all.  So if there was no marriage, there was no adultery, no divorces, and Newt is a once-married paragon of family values.

From the New York Times:

In 1980, Mr. Gingrich left his wife of nearly 20 years, the former Jackie Battley, for Marianne Ginther, with whom he was having an affair. In 1981, Mr. Gingrich married Ms. Ginther, but he later left her for Callista Bisek, with whom he had been having an affair for several years. They married in 2000.

The third Ms. Gingrich is a Catholic, and in 2002, Mr. Gingrich asked the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta to annul his second marriage on the ground that the former Ms. Ginther had been previously married. “We were married 19 years, and now he wants to say it didn’t exist,” she told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

In 2009, Mr. Gingrich converted to Catholicism. It is not clear if he ever tried to have annulled his first marriage, which, if between two baptized Christians, would be considered valid by the Catholic Church. Mr. Gingrich’s spokesman, R. C. Hammond, could not be reached by telephone and did not reply to e-mails.

OK, so we don’t know if Newt got an annulment for the first marriage, but apparently he is a communicant member of the church, which must be satisfied with his status.  Here is a Catholic take on the question:

To the fact that Gingrich has re-married twice, as part of his coming into the church he went through the annulment process and as a result of those findings is validly married in the eyes of the church. This may not impress those who do not like or understand the church’s annulment process, but it does give Catholics who wish to forgive Gingrich his previous infidelities some evidence that he has attempted to make right. Catholics, as often as they encounter scandal and disappointment in their elected leaders, want to hope that forgiveness and conversion is possible, too.

via The Catholic Case For Gingrich, For Now.

How a valid, legal, consummated marriage that lasted nearly two decades–with children, who thus must be considered illegitimate–can be annulled by the church staggers the mind and the moral imagination.  Surely that practice is worse than divorce, bad as that is, since divorce at least faces up to what the breaking of a marriage is and does not cover it up with a pious facade.  (In effect, annulments are divorces granted by the church, even as it (commendably) teaches against divorce!  Protestant churches may be too tolerant of divorces, but at least they don’t grant them!)

This is not a matter of simply undoing church actions.  The Gingriches were not Catholic at the time of their marriage.  I have heard that annulment simply recognizes that a marriage was not valid.  In this case because the previous Mrs. Gingrich had been married before.  But other reasons for annulment include such things as immaturity at the time of the marriage or the two not knowing what they were getting into so as to prevent proper consent.   So what I want to know is how any of us can know if we are really married.   I could go on and on citing other problems with this, but I’ll stop.  This just seems like ecclesiastical over-reaching of the sort that necessitated the Reformation.

Maybe I’m missing something.  I’d be glad to hear from a Catholic who could justify this practice.

The Hobbit trailer

To be released this time next year!

HT:  Paul McCain

Eating for death vs. eating for life

Our church was not one of the 10% of American churches that cancelled Sunday services on Christmas day, I’m happy to say.  We had a wonderful service.  Pastor Douthwaite’s sermon was on the “great reversal” of the Fall of Adam and Eve that God worked through the gift of His Son.  Especially striking was something that I had never thought about:  Our fall took place when mankind ate the fruit of the forbidden Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil.  So the reversal of this curse also involves eating.  We eat the fruit of the Tree of Life; namely, the body and blood of Christ crucified.

The Word who became flesh is flesh still and comes to you, for you, in that same body and blood today on this altar. And that final, dreadful part of the sentence once spoken to Adam has been reversed – and now the fruit of the Tree of Life is ours again! And so while Adam ate and died, for you and me it has been proclaimed: the day you eat of this, you shall surely live! This is My Body, this is My Blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sin. And we feast upon the Lamb of God. The flesh and blood of our Lord is truly the first – and best – Christmas gift.

And so the darkness of our sin is enlightened by His glory. The glory of the Creator dying for his creatures. The glory of the strong become weak. The glory of God in the manger. The glory of Jesus. The glory of the Word made flesh. The glory of God who gives Himself to us. Is this not a marvel?

But perhaps there’s even one more marvel for us this happy morning . . . that your Saviour didn’t just redeem you from your sin that you may serve God as a slave, or be an indentured servant, or to be on parole to see if you’ll live up to it – the Son of God came to make you a son of God. A full son! With all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto! For that’s what His forgiveness does. It doesn’t just restore part of the way, but all of the way. . . .

Today, marvel at that. Rejoice with the angels. Kneel with the shepherds. And take the body and blood of Jesus not in your arms, like Mary, but in your mouth, and depart in peace. Your sins are forgiven, dear child of God; your exodus complete.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Christmas Day Sermon.

Why I can’t vote for Gingrich or Perry

Because they weren’t organized enough to get the petitions signed to get on the Virginia primary ballot!

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has failed to qualify for Virginia’s March 6 Republican primary, a development that complicates his bid to win the GOP presidential nomination.

“After verification, RPV has determined that Newt Gingrich did not submit required 10K signatures and has not qualified for the VA primary,” the Republican Party of Virginia announced early Saturday on its Twitter website.

Perry also fell short of the 10,000 signatures of registered voters required for a candidate’s name to be on the primary ballot, but former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Rep. Ron Paul will be on the ballot.

State GOP spokesman Garren Shipley said volunteers spent Friday validating petitions that the four candidates submitted by the Thursday 5 p.m. deadline to the State Board of Elections. Shipley was not available early Saturday to discuss the announcement posted on the website.

Failing to get on the ballot will be a major setback for Gingrich, who has tried to use his recent upsurge in popularity to make up for a late organizing start. Ironically, Gingrich had a slight lead over Romney, with others farther back, in a Quinnipiac poll of Virginia Republicans released earlier in the week.

The load of catching up on organizing work and a lack of advertising money to counter an onslaught of negative ads from his rivals have been major disadvantages.

Gingrich had to leave New Hampshire on Wednesday and race to Virginia, where he needed 10,000 valid voters’ signatures to secure a spot on the ballot.

He said Wednesday he had enough ballot signatures, but he wanted to come to Virginia to deliver them personally. Taking no chances, his volunteers asked everyone to sign petitions before entering Gingrich’s rally Wednesday night in Arlington, just across the Potomac River from Washington.

Gingrich’s early-December rise in several polls gave him renewed hopes of carrying his campaign deep into the primary season. Failure to compete in Virginia, which is among the “Super Tuesday” primaries, would deal a huge blow to any contender who had not locked up the nomination by then.

The state party’s Shipley said the party was validating petitions the candidates submitted by the Thursday 5 p.m. deadline to the state elections board. It began validating signatures Friday morning.

The 10,000 registered voters must also include 400 signatures from each of Virginia’s 11 congressional districts.

It was unclear if Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum or former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman submitted petitions to the state board.

Meanwhile, Virginia’s Democrats said President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign gathered enough signatures to get him on the state’s primary ballot though he was the only candidate who qualified.

via Gingrich, Perry fail to make Va. ballot – CBS News.

Why you need an organization–and to be organized–to run for president!

UPDATE:  Bachman, Santorum, and Huntsman also failed to turn in enough petition signatures.   So my only choice will be between Mitt Romney and Ron Paul!

Gingrich, who is a resident of Virginia, is complaining that the state’s requirements are too onerous.  But in the last presidential primary in 2008 all six of the major Republican candidates made the ballot.  This just reinforces the impression that we have a competence problem in the current slate of candidates.

Gingrich is calling for a write-in campaign.  Too bad they are illegal in primary elections in Virginia.  Something else he should have known.  The state has 50 delegates, making it a big Super Tuesday prize, which will now go to either Romney or Paul.

I wonder if similar surprises await in other primary states.

Which of those two would you vote for?

The multiple universe theory

An interesting article in Harper’s Magazine by MIT physicist Alan Lightman on how the “multiverse” theory–which cosmologists are embracing apparently as their only alternative to Intelligent Design–is throwing down the very foundations of the scientific enterprise:

The history of science can be viewed as the recasting of phenomena that were once thought to be accidents as phenomena that can be understood in terms of fundamental causes and principles. One can add to the list of the fully explained: the hue of the sky, the orbits of planets, the angle of the wake of a boat moving through a lake, the six-sided patterns of snowflakes, the weight of a flying bustard, the temperature of boiling water, the size of raindrops, the circular shape of the sun. All these phenomena and many more, once thought to have been fixed at the beginning of time or to be the result of random events thereafter, have been explained as necessary consequences of the fundamental laws of nature—laws discovered by human beings.

This long and appealing trend may be coming to an end. Dramatic developments in cosmological findings and thought have led some of the world’s premier physicists to propose that our universe is only one of an enormous number of universes with wildly varying properties, and that some of the most basic features of our particular universe are indeed mere accidents—a random throw of the cosmic dice. In which case, there is no hope of ever explaining our universe’s features in terms of fundamental causes and principles.

It is perhaps impossible to say how far apart the different universes may be, or whether they exist simultaneously in time. Some may have stars and galaxies like ours. Some may not. Some may be finite in size. Some may be infinite. Physicists call the totality of universes the “multiverse.” Alan Guth, a pioneer in cosmological thought, says that “the multiple-universe idea severely limits our hopes to understand the world from fundamental principles.” And the philosophical ethos of science is torn from its roots. As put to me recently by Nobel Prize–winning physicist Steven Weinberg, a man as careful in his words as in his mathematical calculations, “We now find ourselves at a historic fork in the road we travel to understand the laws of nature. If the multiverse idea is correct, the style of fundamental physics will be radically changed.” . . .

While challenging the Platonic dream of theoretical physicists, the multiverse idea does explain one aspect of our universe that has unsettled some scientists for years: according to various calculations, if the values of some of the fundamental parameters of our universe were a little larger or a little smaller, life could not have arisen. For example, if the nuclear force were a few percentage points stronger than it actually is, then all the hydrogen atoms in the infant universe would have fused with other hydrogen atoms to make helium, and there would be no hydrogen left. No hydrogen means no water. Although we are far from certain about what conditions are necessary for life, most biologists believe that water is necessary. On the other hand, if the nuclear force were substantially weaker than what it actually is, then the complex atoms needed for biology could not hold together. As another example, if the relationship between the strengths of the gravitational force and the electromagnetic force were not close to what it is, then the cosmos would not harbor any stars that explode and spew out life-supporting chemical elements into space or any other stars that form planets. Both kinds of stars are required for the emergence of life. The strengths of the basic forces and certain other fundamental parameters in our universe appear to be “fine-tuned” to allow the existence of life. The recognition of this fine­tuning led British physicist Brandon Carter to articulate what he called the anthropic principle, which states that the universe must have the parameters it does because we are here to observe it. Actually, the word anthropic, from the Greek for “man,” is a misnomer: if these fundamental parameters were much different from what they are, it is not only human beings who would not exist. No life of any kind would exist.

If such conclusions are correct, the great question, of course, is why these fundamental parameters happen to lie within the range needed for life. Does the universe care about life? Intelligent design is one answer. Indeed, a fair number of theologians, philosophers, and even some scientists have used fine-tuning and the anthropic principle as evidence of the existence of God. For example, at the 2011 Christian Scholars’ Conference at Pepperdine University, Francis Collins, a leading geneticist and director of the National Institutes of Health, said, “To get our universe, with all of its potential for complexities or any kind of potential for any kind of life-form, everything has to be precisely defined on this knife edge of improbability…. [Y]ou have to see the hands of a creator who set the parameters to be just so because the creator was interested in something a little more complicated than random particles.”

Intelligent design, however, is an answer to fine-tuning that does not appeal to most scientists. The multiverse offers another explanation. If there are countless different universes with different properties—for example, some with nuclear forces much stronger than in our universe and some with nuclear forces much weaker—then some of those universes will allow the emergence of life and some will not. Some of those universes will be dead, lifeless hulks of matter and energy, and others will permit the emergence of cells, plants and animals, minds. From the huge range of possible universes predicted by the theories, the fraction of universes with life is undoubtedly small. But that doesn’t matter. We live in one of the universes that permits life because otherwise we wouldn’t be here to ask the question.

via The accidental universe: Science’s crisis of faith—By Alan P. Lightman (Harper’s Magazine).

I don’t understand why the theory of multiple universes–an infinite number of UNIVERSES with every possible variation, universes that we can’t even observe–is more credible than belief in a Creator!  Actually, the term used here is “more appealing.”  Since when do scientists base their beliefs on what they like?  I’m also wondering, if the infinite universes contain all possibilities, might one of them have a creator?  And how do we know that this universe, the one with the anthropic principle, might be the one that is intelligently designed?  I know, I know, I don’t understand the science, as some of you will be explaining to me, but it seems to be that the theory of multiple universes is unscientific, since it is non-verifiable, non-falsifiable, and eludes all empirical evidence.

HT:  Joe Carter