Thursday, 28 February 2008

death of a great pioneer

Larry Norman, pioneer christian musician, died early this week at age 61.

I was a Larry Norman fan. In the 1960s, when rock music was in one of its most innovative phases, with great artists like the Beatles, Dylan, Van Morrison, Yes, Jethro Tull, the Beach Boys, Eric Clapton, Jefferson Airplane, etc, christian music was back in the 1950s, with some wimpish gospel country sort of stuff. (I guess there was some good black gospel, but I never heard it.)

Enter Larry Norman, with some good, though not great music, but with superbly crafted words and attitude. He blazed the way for others to follow (though I'm pretty sure he would have hated the too nice, predictable, middle-of-the-road and big money thing christian music has become). He became a leader in the post-hippie Jesus movement and christian counter-culture. But in the end, his attitude probably brought him undone, as he was difficult to get on with (they say) and he alienated the christian establishment. In the past two decades, he was often badly unwell and he didn't produce much music of note.

Here's a sample of his lyrics, illustrating his blend of faith and politics (it's from "The Great American Novel" on the 1972 album "Only Visiting This Planet", but it some of it sounds eerily current):

you kill a black man at midnight just for talking to your daughter
then you make his wife your mistress and you leave her without water
and the sheet you wear upon your face is the sheet your children sleep on
at every meal you say a prayer that you don't believe but still you keep on

and your money says "in God we trust", but its against the law to pray in school
you say we beat the russians to the moon, and i say you starved your children to do it

you are far across the ocean in a war that's not your own
and while you're winning theirs you're gonna lose the one at home
do you really think the only way to bring about the peace
is to sacrifice your children and kill all your enemies

you say all men are equal, all men are brothers
then why are the rich more equal than others
don't ask me for the answers i've only got one
that a man leaves his darkness when he follows the son

Farewell Larry, I'll see you "in another land".

Read an obituary here and the notice on his website.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

super-size me - and my ambulance

Obesity is increasing! One not so little indication of this is that the state of New South Wales is doubling (from 3 to 6) its fleet of "mega-lift ambulances", which are designed to carry people weighing more than 180 kgs and too large to fit in a normal ambulance.

It is estimated that the economic cost of obesity to the Australian health system is about $873 million per year.

Read the Sydney Morning Herald report here.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

a well documented miracle?

In August last year (miracles happen?) I reported several cases of apparent healing miracles. I have done a little more checking up of one of these, and found some independent news reports.

The case concerned a Florida USA heart specialist and a man who failed to respond to emergency treatment after a massive heart attack, and was pronounced dead. But after a "voice" in his head told him to pray for the man, the heart specialist did so and the man revived.

The apparent miracle was first recorded by the International Press Association and on several christian websites, including the World Christian Doctors Network (which gave no details), and ASSIST. But when I found that some people won't accept a miracle account from a christian source, I checked out some secular accounts - the American College of Radiology, Fox News WSVN7, Florida, Fox News and Palm Beach Daily News archive.

These accounts give some extra information (although the reporting is not always clear) and include an interview with the healed man. I am trying to find further info to provide further verification.

Please let us know you've visited, and tell us what you think, by leaving a comment using the link below.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008


I have blogged before (don't drink the water) about the poor treatment received by Australia's indigenous peoples at the hands of the European settlers (or should we call them "invaders"?) over two centuries. One of the grossest injustices was the forced removal of children from parents over the first three quarters of the 20th century.

It has been recognised for some time that reconciliation is needed, and one of the things most sought by the indigenous people was an apology from the Government - the simple word "sorry".

The Government has baulked at this for some time, but last November a new Government was elected, and today, to the joy of most indigenous and non-indigenous Australians, the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, apologised and said "sorry". And he did it so well, sincerely, humanely and without qualification.

There are many who believe and hope that aboriginal Australians can now enter a new era as a result. It has been a good day for Australia.

Read a news report about the Prime Minister's apology.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

hate, hate, hate?

Are we getting angrier and more hateful? Or have we always been the same? See what you think about these three examples .....

hate 1

Christians are supposed to be following a religion of love and forgiveness, but sometimes they seem to forget this. One example of this is the homophobic behaviour of some American Christians. It seems that some US Christians' hatred of gays over-rides Jesus' teaching on loving even your enemies.

Some years ago, I saw (I think on a Michael Moore TV show) a funeral of a gay man who had died of AIDS. Standing across the road was a pack of Christians with signs saying hateful (and I believe inaccurate) things like "God hates faggots" and "AIDS cures homosexuality". It made me feel angry and disgusted at the insensitivity and the distortion of Jesus' teachings.

Just last week, I saw something almost as bad - a young Christian girl responding to actor Heath Ledger's death by arguing he was in hell because he played a gay man in the film "Brokeback Mountain".

Regardless of whether we think homosexual behaviour is acceptable to God or not, it seems these people have missed the point, and their actions are promoting hatred rather than God's good news.

hate 2

Militant atheism has become more prominent in recent years, possibly partly in reaction to the Christian hatred reported above. But unfortunately it too has led to a rise of intolerance and even hatred.

Go to an atheist website or read the posts on an atheist forum, and you may find a lot that is unattractive and even nasty. Christians are "delusional" to hold the beliefs they do and they use no logic, so rude and confrontational behaviour is justified against them. Try to mount a logical argument against these views and you'll likely find your argument dismissed in derogatory terms, with very little logic and evidence. Their view appears to have become as much an item of blind faith as the religious views they are reacting against.

Some enthusiasts seem to be itching to go further. Here are a few quotes:

  • "I feel that derision is a more powerful rhetorical technique than simple confrontation."
  • "religion is an intellectual desease [sic] and we must find a cure"
  • "Treat their ideas with respect and they might mistake your actions for a belief that they have any merit whatsoever. I see no reason even to give them that much. These people need to be educated and cured of their delusions, not pandered to...... I have no time for this wishy-washy nonsense."
  • "I'm not a mental health professional. Though I might think theists of most stripes could do with seeing one."
  • "To call holders of such beliefs delusional is to be unnecessarily kind."
  • "Do you really not see how desperate your position is. You don't want to appear delusional by admitting you believe in talking snakes, but you know in your heart you are. I don't think you are capable of being honest with yourself"

hate 3

Ann Coulter is an American political commentator. I'd never heard of her before, but apparently she is famous, or perhaps notorious. She says she likes to "stir up the pot", but some of her reported comments seem nastier than that. For example:

  • she called the Democratic party "the spawns of Satan"
  • she said of Democrat candidate John Edwards: "you have to go into rehab if you use the word "faggot" so I'm - kind of at an impasse..."
  • and she said of four women whose husbands died in the World Trade Centre attacks: "I've never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much"

Of course, these days, getting noticed by being controversial is the strategy of some media people, but I don't believe that justifies such language.

So is it just me, or are we enjoying tearing apart people we disagree with these days? Is hate too strong a word? It seems that we are seeing things in black and white, them and us, the goodies and the baddies. It makes it easier to justify our position if we can demonise our opponents and make them out to be almost inhuman. And that approach has led to some terrible things in the past.

I think it is important to make a deliberate stand against all this.

Friday, 1 February 2008

science, open minds and wild guesses

I've just returned from holidays, when I did a bit of reading on the "finely tuned universe" (see my blog, was it all planned?).

In brief, science has discovered a number of areas where the laws or facts of cosmology seem to be exactly right to allow the universe to develop as it has, and only miniscule variations would have prevented the universeas we know it from existing, and certainly prevented the development of life on earth. It seems to be highly improbable that this could have happened by chance.

Some scientists simply ask the question why, some argue that these facts demonstrate the God exists, others argue that the facts can be explained without God.

One argument suggests that it is both wrong in theory and impossible in practice to draw any conclusions about the probability of a universe being "well designed" - see for example this paper.

Despite this, well qualified scientists have had a go:

  • Oxford mathematician and cosmologists Roger Penrose, who worked with Stephen Hawking in developing understanding of black holes, has estimated that the odds of all of these scientific facts being 'just right', as they are, are 1 in 10^10^123 - that's 10 raised to the power of 10 to the power of 123, a number so large it cannot be written out, so large that the odds are effectively zero. i.e. Penrose was saying that the universe could not possibly have happened by chance. (It is worth noting that Penrose is coy about the question of whether he believes in God, but it would appear that he is not part of any conventional religion.)
  • On the other hand, Victor Stenger, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Hawaii, and an atheist, has examined the question via a computer simulation and concluded (in a paper) that if four of the most important variables are allowed to take up a large range (plus or minus 10 orders of magnitude), it is more than 50% likely that a viable universe (one that would last for at least a billion years) could form.

It would be an understatement to say that these two views are very different! We might explain some of the difference by the fact that Stenger's model and criteria are very limited - e.g. he only considers 4 out of perhaps 15 constants, his ranges are small compared to the possible ranges, and that surviving a billion years without any reference to what form the universe takes is not a very useful criterion. We might suspect that atheist Stenger doesn't approach the question with an open mind, whereas Penrose may. We may also conclude that Penrose has the better scientific credentials.

But having said all that, what do we make of such an impossibly vast difference in the conclusions of two well qualified scientists applying their science to this question. At the very least, it's a challenge to scientific objectivity on this subject.