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Sabbath School for a New Generation

Among Seventh Day Adventists, Sabbath School is a time for discussion and learning. It is the belief of this site that Sabbath School should be an exciting venue for the discussion of new ideas, instead of rehashing old arguments. So welcome to a virtual Sabbath School, a Sabbath School for a new generation.

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I am an Electrical Engineer, working at Intel in the Portland area. I received my undergraduate degree from Walla Walla College and graduate degrees from the University of Southern California. The views expressed on this website are my own and do not reflect the viewpoints of anybody else. I reserve the right to change my mind at any point in time.

Friday, March 31, 2006

ID as Bad Theology

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I thought ID was bad theology. My point was that ID is setting up "a god of the gaps" which could be harmful to faith as those gaps become better understood by science. Henry Neufeld has a slightly different take. First he talks about the differences between science and theology and he shows that ID is fundamentally theology. However as a theology it performs poorly

This takes me to the current mini-flap about an article Rumors of Angels: Using ID to Detect Malevolent Spiritual Agents. Scientists quite properly laugh this out of scientific court. But why would ID advocates avoid it? The intelligent designer is not specified. ID is not supposed to be a religious concept. So what difference does it make if the designer is an alien, and unknown intelligence from the stars, an angel, a demon, or God Almighty?

But that article has underlined the problem, because we clearly see that ID cannot distinguish between these various possibilities of a designer, because it is trying to demonstrate design in those little places where some external intelligence (rodents of unusual size, perhaps?) might tinker with life in an experimental lab. It’s precisely because they are not looking for design in the traditional sense that most Christians accept theologically, that this kind of thing cannot be excluded. Evangelical theologians would not be proposing angels and demons as agents of creation. But ID doesn’t really have a defense against it.

Of course this observation is not new. In fact a whole pseudo-religion has been constructed to satirize ID. The church of the flying spaghetti monster has proposed that all these evidences of design proove the existence of their god. So ID cannot choose between an earth created by God, an earth created by the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or an earth created by evil demons. There logical arguments say that all three options are equally valid. I am surprised that Christians want this taught in public school.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Wow its just like a blog carnival

I found this article on the Spectrum Magazine website. So Spectrum is starting to monitor and link to Adventist blogs. So in addition to one of my recent posts, they mention other blog entries, including "just nod if you can hear me ...", "Kevan and Life", and others.

But it also reminded me that I have strayed from my original purpose. I haven't put up any Sabbath School materials lately, so I guess I need to be better at posting those outlines. I am in charge of Sabbath School this weekend, so hopefully I can be a little more organized about it than usual.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Witnessing in a pluralistic setting

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am reading a book by John Cobb, "Transforming Christianity and the World." So I have finished reading the first three chapters. In the second chapter he talks about dialog between religions. He proposes that we stay open to truth even if it comes outside of Christianity. In the process of dialog, we are changed, but so are the people we are talking to (if they are also open to truth.) To me this is the core of witnessing. In my experience, I have found a truth that is helpful in living on this earth. For example, I find Sabbath rest to be a very helpful truth that I can share with others. But I shouldn't be so arrogant to assume that I have all truth and the people I am talking to have none.

Of course Cobb takes this further, but then again he is not really talking about witnessing but dialog between religious groups. He gives an example of a dialog between Christianity and Buddhism, something he has a great deal of experience in. He proposes that in the process of dialog the two religions will become closer. Christianity will be become Buddhized and Buddhism will become Christianized.

I must admit that at first this struck me as a little out there until I thought about it further. Religions are not isolated, eternal constructs. They change as culture changes and as they come in contact with other religions. Did you know that Judaism (and by extension Christianity) learned about Satan from the Zoroastrians? In fact as you read about the Zoroastrians, you learn that we also obtained our ideas about the end of time and heaven from them as well. So during the exile and post exile the Judaism changed. Christianity for the most part was changed by its contact with Neo Platonism (immortality of the soul.) This is something that we as Adventists have rejected. But I don't think you will ever find an Adventist willing to give up our end-time beliefs and the Great Controversy, which were acquired through Zoroastrianism.

I am sure that God has been more active in the world than we give him credit for. He has been active in leading Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddists, Zoroastrians, and others to the truth. It is something we should be open to as we talk about our faith with others.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

How evil am I?

Okay, I enjoy reading most of the blogs on the Science Blogs website. Found on Afarensis, who in real life is an anthropologist, is a blog quiz.

You Are 24% Evil

A bit of evil lurks in your heart, but you hide it well.

In some ways, you are the most dangerous kind of evil.

Draw your own theological conclusions.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Cool brain fact

Have you ever heard that we only use 10% of our brains? It turns out that it is a myth. However, I ran into a little factoid from Carl Zimmer. He researched a claim that he found in a press release about a bioengineer at Stanford.

According to Boahen, the brain is capable of performing 10 quadrillion (that's 10 to the 16th) "calculations," or synaptic events, per second using only 10 watts of power. At this rate, he says, a computer as powerful as the human brain would require 1 gigawatt of power.

My laptop runs at about 60 Watts and isn't nearly as powerful as the human brain. The speech recognition software on my computer can barely keep up with my speech. But it is only translating the speech signal into text. The computer has no understanding of what all those words mean. Yet my brain can recognize what somebody is saying and understand the meaning while regulating my breathing, making sure I keep my balance, identify interesting objects in the room, contemplate what I am going to cook for dinner, etc...

Carl Zimmer researched the 10 watt claim and it turns out that while this is a low figure, it is within the ballpark. According to the Neuroscientist that he talked to the figure is closer to 15 watts. Still less than a lightbulb. Now of course the other claim has to do with the number of calculations, which was addressed in the comments by Harlan.
Also, it's really a mistake to equate synaptic events with calculations in a computer. Synaptic events are much, much simpler. When computer scientists talk about a "calculation", they usually mean an amount of computation that takes one clock cycle, which might be to add two long numbers, or decide if one number is bigger or smaller than 0. To the extent we understand what computations synapses compute, they're probably, at least mostly, small portions of an addition. The simplest model of a neuron basically computes "if the sum of the average firing rate of my input neurons is more than X, fire". Any single synaptic event affecting that neuron is likely to be one of probably thousands of such events that is involved in that computation...

But that doesn't take away from the fact that our brains are truely amazing organs. A modern desktop can perform several billion operations per second (10 to the 9). And if it takes a thousand synaptic events to equal one floating point operation, then our brain is still over a 1000 times more powerful than the top of the line desktop.


Somewhat related to some of the talk about Ellen White as a prophet, is how does inspiration work. There was a discussion going around several blogs about slavery in the Bible. If slavery is bad and the Bible is the word of a Good God, why does the Bible allow for it and in some cases encourage it? It started on Ed Brayton's blog, Dispatches from the Culture Wars, where he discussed one of the reasons why he can't accept the Bible as God's Word. The conversation has been summed up quite well by Henry Neufeld

First, the starting point argument could be summarized as follows:

1. Slavery is immoral
2. The Bible condones slavery
3. God or God's word cannot condone something immoral
4. The Bible therefore cannot be God'’s word.

He agrees with points 1 and 2. His response to the dilemma is to agree that the Bible is not equivalent to God's word, although he maintains that the Bible is inspired.
My own response which deals with the relationship of the Bible to the concept of God'’s word. There's an unstated assumption almost everywhere in this discussion that the Bible and God'’s word are either equal or unrelated. My argument comes in here and is simply this: The Bible is a human-divine cooperation, and therefore shares imperfections of the human element. There will be things in the Bible that we do not want to implement today.

I think as Adventists, our struggles with Ellen White have prepared us well to engage in dialog about what to do with the difficult parts of the Bible. We have seen how inspiration worked in the recent past. We can vividly see how the Human and Divine interact. If we assume God is unchanging and he works in the present approximately the same as he did in the past then maybe the Bible was put together in a similar fashion. Alden Thompson articulates many of these ideas very well and in fact Henry's post is influenced by Alden Thompson and he references Alden's book, "Who's Afraid of the Old Testement God."

By the way, I highly recommend Henry's blog. He has some very useful articles on God as Creator, Inspiration, and the Bible.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Ellen White: Who needs her?

I saw a post awhile back on Adventist Pulpit about the disappearance of Ellen White. It is something that I have noticed as well. And it has taking awhile before I finally decided how I would respond. He starts out

One Sabbath school teacher stated that: “We use Ellen G. White too much almost deifying her!” One might also hear: Or “Adventists must overcome their legalism!” I think it interesting that we accept these assumptions without critically looking at them. Such sentiments are often never challenged.

I think this statement may have been true at some point. But now, the pendulum has swung and in most churches she is rarely mentioned.

What if our basic assumptions are wrong? What if lawlessness is at least as big a problem as legalism in the church today? What if it is not that we use Ellen White too much, but hardly at all? What if instead of “worshipping her” as we are charged with we ignore her?

I doubt you will go to many churches tomorrow and hear Ellen White quoted more than the Bible. In fact you might hear Billy Graham or Martin Luther quoted more than Ellen White. I think it interesting that some think that Ellen White is deified in the church while at the same time we hear her less. Is the prophet disappearing or have I just attended the few churches that seem to downplay her?

What do you think?

Now here is what I think. First of all, as Christians, I think we have funny ideas about prophets and prophecy. Somehow we got this idea that prophecy is about the future. However if you look through the prophets in the Old Testement most of them are talking about the present. And even when they are talking about the future it is firmly related to the present and issues of the day. They are calling Isreal to a higher standard. If you look through Ellen White's writings she is calling the church to wake up and realize the importance of its mission. She is calling us to a higher standard. It makes us uncomfortable and we don't like it. Of course neither did Isreal. The prophets weren't the most popular bunch around.

Our second funny idea is that prophets never make mistakes. Of course this is based on Biblical texts that were written to guard us against following false prophets. Usually the Biblical example of a mistake that I use is the story of David and the prophet Nathan, who had to backtrack after telling David to build the temple (2 Samuel 7). Ellen White used external sources without properly acknowledging them. To put it bluntly, she plagiarized. She wasn't an academic and she only completed a few years of formal education, so I don't hold it against her. She made mistakes.

Our third funny idea is that prophets are respected members of the community. Check out Ezekial 4. Laying on one side for over three hundred days, the other side for fourty and during this time eating bread baked on human excrement. Not exactly sane behavior. This sort of behavior is like the environmentalists that tie themselves to trees to prevent logging of forests. It is generally frowned upon by comfortable church members. In many ways, Ellen White was a radical as well. She believed in functional dress that looked quite strange and was very unfashionable (A skirt with loose pants underneath). Many of her ideas about health were also on the cutting edge at her time.

We as a church almost deified her (which she wouldn't have appreciated) and now we ignore her. I have noticed that in my Collegiate Sabbath School, many of my kids know very little about Ellen White. It is sad, if for no other reason, she was the most influential founder of our church. So by ignoring Ellen White, we are ignoring our history. Without our history, the beliefs of our church make little sense. It is like the Luthurans deciding they should never talk about Martin Luther or the Methodists sweeping aside the Wesleys. So who needs Ellen White? Seventh Day Adventists everywhere do.

Alden Thompson has written a couple of books about Ellen White, Inspiration, which I have read and Escape from the Flames, which I have not had a chance to read. These books treat her in a very positive light. I also found Ronald Numbers book, Prophetess of Heath, to be quite informative. It comes from a more neutral perspective, although later editions include a more negative slant on her life in an afterword.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006


One of my earliest memory as a child was going to the public library with my mother. I couldn't even read, but I enjoyed those trips. Ever since then, I have always loved libraries. Every town that I have lived in, I got a library card and visited the library frequently. I even worked at the Walla Walla College Library for a couple years while I was a student there. Now that I am coming to the end of my graduate studies, I have realized that I will really miss the library here at USC. They have at least five seperate libraries that are all bigger than the one at WWC and then several smaller libraries spread out through campus.

So I have checked out many books on such subjects as Science, Religion, Philosophy and Politics. Currently, I am starting a book by John Cobb called "Transforming Christianity and the World: A Way beyond Absolutism and Relativism." I chose the book because of the subtitle. As a post-Modern I am uncomfortable with Absolutism, but as a Christian I am uncomfortable with Relativism. So I can't wait to hear what he has to say on this subject.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Wish I could have been there

As an alumnus of Walla Walla College, I like to check in to see what is going on. Well, I found an article about a discussion forum that took place over there. They were discussing relevance of the church and I wish I could have been there.

Bauer started out by mentioning two things she appreciates about Adventism. First, "someone will know someone you know" anywhere in the world. Even in her time in New Zealand, she met people who knew Karl Haffner. Second, the Adventist community is an intellectual one. As an intellectual person, Bauer appreciates questioners and explorers. But, she says, "One area I wish Adventism would become more relevant is in the area of spirituality." When Dybdahl guest-lectured in one of her classes, he mentioned that Adventists discuss doctrine, but teaching people to be spiritual is "a very different arena." Bauer wonders if Adventists really know how to fast, pray, or find a "rapturous relationship with God."

That sums up my thoughts on the church. Some of the other portions of the article talked about inter-generational interaction. I agree it is important to have, but I know from my Collegiate Sabbath School, that is important to have programs for just a certain age group.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Habakkuk 3

I just finished reading God: A Biography by Jack Miles. In this book, he takes the book order of the Tanakh (The books of the Old testament, but ordered differently) and analyzes the character development of God. The ordering of the Tanakh is roughly based on the order that the books were originally written. So Torah (the first five books) were written much earlier than Chronicles, which are the last two books in the Tanakh.

Interestingly, God has a very large presence in Genesis and Exodus, performing all sorts of miracles, like flooding the whole earth, the ten plagues, and splitting the Red Sea. However, by the time you get to Esther, God is not mentioned at all and it is the actions of the Jews, mainly Esther and Mordecai, that save them from annihilation. So what do we make of this transition. Did God stop performing miracles and wonders? Why? Did he lose interest? Did he decide that these large miracles and wonders don't work? Or maybe these stories became exaggerated over time and they never happened?

And this is where Habakkuk comes in. Habakkuk is roughly in the middle of the transition from activity to no activity. He has heard all the stories of how God intervened in the past and he sees the chaos of his own time.
O Lord, I have heard of your renown,
and I stand in awe, O Lord, of your work.
In our own time revive it;
In our own time make it known;
in wrath may you remember mercy
--Habakkuk 3:2 (NRSV)

He has read or heard all these stories about God and he is praying that God intervene in his time. He talks about the splitting of the Red Sea, the destruction of Egypt and Midian, and the Sun standing still. But even though God, for a reason unknown to him, is choosing not to intervene on behalf of Israel, he still says,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will exult in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
He makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
and makes me tread upon the heights.
--Habakkuk 3:18-19 (NRSV)

Like Habakkuk, I know God exists and He cares and I will continue to worship Him. Even though He chooses not to act as He did in the past, even if those stories may have been exaggerated, I will continue to worship him. This is not some irrational stance, because like Habakkuk, I know that God does give me strength.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Assisted suicide and abortion

I found a good article about Oregon's death with dignity law on the Spectrum Magazine website. Scott LeMert, an assistant to the Oregon Conference President, ends his article with this thought.

... In retrospect, Oregon’s Death with Dignity vote appears to have been more a cry for help than a threat of mass communal suicide. The Master once said, "When I was sick you visited me"; might he have really meant, "and when I was dying you bravely took time to journey with me."

Perhaps it was said best by the dying Morrie Schwartz when on that last Tuesday his shallow voice requested of Mitch one last petition: "hold [me]." And then he added, "[you] touched me, [pause]…here [pointing to his heart]…this is how we say goodbye."

I think this relates to abortion. Christians are very good at judging and condemning women for getting an abortion. Christians are downright aweful when it comes to helping the mother and the child after the child was born. As Randi Rhodes puts it, "They love the fetus, but hate the child." The same people who are restricting access to abortions are the very same people who are trying to dismantle our social welfare system. When faced with a rhetorical question, "A building is on fire and you have the choice to save either a two year old child or a petry dish with a human embryo, which would you save?", a conservative radio host chose the embryo over the living child. Such attitudes appear in our church as well. At the one point where a woman needs the most help, we turn her away, because she's pregnant and single. We gossip and point and ostracize her. If the church is truely pro-life, we will do everything to help single mothers to raise their children. This is much more effective than trying to ban abortions, as many states are currently attempting.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Blog Carnivals

One of the interesting offshoots of this whole blogging phenomenom is the blog carnival. Now up to this point most of the Adventist blogging community has not really connected in any meaningful way. I had found a few blogs that I would check every once and awhile. But there were many more that I had never heard about. So in the interest of promoting more dialog and discussion, I think we should set up an SDA carnival, a Carnival of the Sabbath-Keepers. If there is enough interest, I am willing to organize it. I'm thinking that maybe a once-a-month carnival could be done.

Intel and Dialog

As I have mentioned before on this blog, I am finishing school. Starting in June, I will be working at Intel in Hillsboro, OR. This is actually old news, that I have never put on the blog.

So I was poking around on Yahoo! finance checking out how their stock was doing. I accidently looked at the message board without a flame retardent suit. You have two groups of people (three if you count the spammers hawking porn and other products.) One group believes that Intel makes horrible products and it will soon crash and burn in the dust of history. The other group believes that AMD (Intel's primary competitor) should just kneel and acknowledge the eternal supremacy of Intel. The "dialog" is about the same as you get from many Christian sites. On a message board discussing the attributes of a particular stock, it can be kind of funny (although the humor wears out quickly.) However as Christians we are called to witness and the best way to witness is through dialog about our faith with those around us. We become so convinced of the truth of our position that we start bashing people around us. And just like that message board, we have not convinced or reached out to anybody.

True dialog and true witnessing cannot occur when we believe we have the absolute truth. But what does it mean to witness? I find it easier to think about these things when taken out of the context of religion, because to often talk about religion is loaded with worries about heaven and hell. If I get it wrong, I will roast in hell. However I have had other experiences that are similar to witnessing. Presenting a paper at a conference, for example, is very similar to witnessing. I have come up with an idea that I am trying to share with others. Some of these people may be opposed to my idea. However, I have found that I learn more by being challenged and listening than if I had just stayed home and thought up even grander ideas. So witnessing is sharing our experiences of God with others and what we learned from it. But it also includes listening and considering other ideas. Not only will we learn something new, but we will have gained a friend.

Thursday, March 02, 2006


I hate witnessing and evangelism. Of course, I may have misunderstood what witnessing was all about. justpastors has a good post that helps bring witnessing into proper focus.

Committed Christians usually get the knowledge part fine. We know our Bibles and are avid readers. Many of us have non-Christian friends with whom we interact mostly in a casual way. Now, when it comes to “do evangelism,” we suddenly become hunters in search of targets. Like Alex, the lion of Madagascar, those who are our friends or neighbors, become meet, living targets. We get into the winning souls mode.

Witnessing has always seemed so fake to me. It seemed like I was being told that I needed to become "a slick used car salesperson for Jesus". On the other hand, "just being friends" always seemed like a copout.

As Tim Sanders says (and btw, he’s a Christian), share your knowledge with your network out of compassion, out of love for them. Don’t look at them as a target, a goal, a baptism. Get to know them. Love them and they will love you back. It is in that stage when talking about Jesus becomes natural for both parties.

To me it says don't sweat it. Witnessing is something that comes naturally when we are truely in love with Christ and truely love our friends.