Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The science of thankfulness

“It is good to give thanks to the Lord” (Psalm 92:1)

Journal of Clinical Psychology
A study published August 2013 in the Journal of Clinical Psychology confirms what many previous research studies have concluded: Gratitude is good. Dr. Robert Emmons, UC Davis, and Robin Stern have found that clinical trials demonstrate the practice of gratitude can have dramatic and long lasting positive effects in a person’s life, including improved immune function, lower blood pressure, as well as reduced risk for depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders. Gratitude is defined as a “cognitive-affective state that is typically associated with the perception that one has received a personal benefit that was not intentionally sought after, deserved, or earned but rather because of the good intentions of another”. [1]

Robert Emmons and Robin Stern introduce the intriguing notion of incorporating gratitude as a psychotherapeutic intervention. They note that many rigorous, controlled experimental trials have examined the benefits of gratitude, which is linked more strongly to mental health and life satisfaction than any personality trait. These include such positive traits as hope, optimism, and compassion. Employing gratitude as a discipline offers protection against destructive impulses of envy, resentment, greed, and bitterness. People who are thankful can more effectively cope with stress, recover more quickly from illness, and enjoy better physical health.

Thankfulness and coping ability
One of the most salient features of people who are grateful is effective coping, as revealed by a wide array of research studies, according to Psychology Professor Philip C. Watkins, Eastern Washington University. Thankful people positively reappraise negative events, leading to increased ability to cope. And, grateful processing of bad events helps to bring closure, decreasing the intrusiveness and negative affect of troubling memories. [2] In the Bible, when Saul killed 85 priests and was seeking David’s life (1 Samuel 22), David reappraised the negative events and said to God: “I will give you thanks forever” (Psalm 52:9).

Gratitude and thankfulness research project
In research conducted over eight years by Robert Emmons, it was discovered that those persons who kept a gratitude journal on a weekly basis or engaged in daily gratitude exercises reported the following:
• fewer physical complaints
• more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals, such as academic achievement, compared to subjects in other experimental conditions
• higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination and energy
• more likely to help another person with a problem [3]

The Apostle Paul had more reasons than most of us to not be thankful: beaten with rods, stoned, left for dead, shipwrecked, stranded in the ocean, imprisoned, naked, cold, hungry, and no smart phone (2 Cor. 11:25). Nonetheless, Paul mentioned thankfulness or thanks at least 48 times in his New Testament writings. Often in spite of circumstances, he willfully chose to thank God:
“in everything give thanks” (1 Cor. 5:18)
“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift” (2 Cor. 9:15)
“thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57)

[1] Robert A. Emmons and Robert Stern, “Gratitude as a Psychotherapeutic Intervention”, Journal of Clinical Psychology, Volume 69, Issue 8, pages 846–855, August 2013
[2] Philip C. Watkins, Gratitude and the Good Life, (Springer, 2013) pp. 159-174
[3] Robert C. Emmons, Thanks! How The New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007).

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Scientific evidence for crossing of the Red Sea?

Can modern science show that natural underwater formations and wind patterns could have opened a pathway for the ancient Hebrews, led by Moses, to cross the sea on dry land? The Bible states:
“Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord swept the sea back by a strong east wind all night and turned the sea into dry land, so the waters were divided. The sons of Israel went through the midst of the sea on the dry land, and the waters were like a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.” (Exodus 14:21-22)

ABC News
Earlier this year, ABC News reported that Naum Volzinger, a senior researcher at St. Petersburg's Institute of Oceanography, and Alexei Androsov, Hamburg, Germany had examined the conditions in the Red Sea near the head of the Gulf of Aqaba. Their research seems to indicate a reef existed that would have been about seven kilometers in length from one shore to the other side. Around 3,500 years ago, the reef would have been shallower, allowing it to be exposed by a strong wind of about 67 mph blowing overnight. [1]

National Center for Atmospheric Research
A computer modeling study was conducted by researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU) shows how wind could have parted the Red Sea as described in the book of Exodus. The study showed that an easterly wind blowing at a rate of 28 m/s (about 63 mph) could reveal an existing land bridge. In attempting to determine the location, researchers used data from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) to examine the eastern Nile delta configured for the Late Bronze Age. The geography shows shallow lagoons in the area of modern day Lake Manzala toward the Pelusiac branch of the Nile.

The researchers examined an area near the Kedua Gap (30.9812° N, 32.4553° E) from West to East, about 3–4 km long and 5 km wide. In the first set of experiments, their model results showed that, after about 12 hours, the reef became fully exposed and passable with realistic bathymetry. The second experimental set studied a wind setdown in the area of eastern end of the Lake of Tanis, from Damietta to Pelusium during the Egyptian New Kingdom Period (approximately 1250 BC). In the location where the Pelusiac branch of the Nile flowed into the Lake of Tanis, a Regional Ocean Modeling System (ROMS) hydrodynamic model was utilized and showed that a gap opened in the waters, resulting in a land bridge extending about 3-4 kilometers eastward. A passage five kilometers wide remained open for four hours leading toward an archaeological site later known as Tell Kedua. [2] One could reasonable conclude that stronger winds could have opened up a passage in a shorter time period. And, when the winds receded, the deluge of waves rushing back to fill the space would have been significant.

Scientific literature contains a written record from British Army Major-General Alexander Tulloch one day in early 1882 of a wind setdown that occurred in the eastern Nile delta between Port Said and Kantarah:
“… a gale of wind from the eastward set in and became so strong that I had to cease work. Next morning on going out I found that Lake Menzaleh, which is situated on the west side of the [Suez] Canal, had totally disappeared, the effect of the high wind on the shallow water having actually driven it away beyond the horizon, and the natives were walking about on the mud where the day before the fishing-boat...” [3]

Does this prove the Biblical account?
Simple answer – no. What this shows is that it is reasonable to believe the event was possible, given the depth of the bodies of water in this area in eastern Egypt and given the physics of the power of wind to move water. Does God need a perfect confluence of factors – high land shelf under low depth of water with the proper wind speed and direction – to accomplish His purposes? Of course not. If there really is a God who created the universe, He could have caused the Israelites to walk across the Pacific Ocean on dry land if He chose. What these studies demonstrate is that God could have directed Moses to an area where He knew there was a land bridge ready to be used for the salvation of His people.

Maybe the timing was coincidental?
Perhaps this event actually occurred and the Israelites were lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, making for a terrific story that actually had nothing to do with a deity. If that is true, the coincidences are fantastical. Here are a few:
• The timing was perfect for the Israelites who were trapped with Pharoah’s army quickly approaching (Exodus 14:10)
• The wind began to blow at the exact time Moses raised his staff (v. 21)
• The waters returned at the time Moses, from the other side, stretched out his hand toward the sea (v. 27)
• The entire Egyptian army was caught in the sea as the waters collapsed back on them (v. 28)
Anyone who believes these events happened by chance has more faith in coincidence than Jews and Christians have in God.

[1] Amanda Onion, “Scientists explain Red Sea parting and other miracles”, ABC News, published 12 Feb 2013, accessed 22 Nov 2013.
[2] Carl Drews and Weiqing Han, “Parting the waters: Computer modeling applies physics to Red Sea escape route” National Center for Atmospheric Research/University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, Sept. 21, 2010.
[3] Tulloch AB (1896) Passage of the Red Sea by the Israelites. Journal of the Transactions of the Victoria Institute (now Faith and Thought) 28: 267–280.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Not free to be Christian

If you are able to live your Christian faith through public worship, Bible reading, and speaking your beliefs, be thankful. Others have not been so fortunate.

Former NFL Offensive Player of the Year Craig James said, “I’d love to do it” when offered a one-hour show on Fox Sports. A “very flattering, complimentary” press release was issued listing Craig’s credentials stating he would be an asset to their coverage. He did the show on Saturday night and received a telephone call on Sunday evening stating his services would no longer be needed. Was this because his on-air performance was sub-standard? No, it was because Fox Sports became aware that Craig had previously made a comment while running for Senate that he believes a marriage should be between a man and a woman. [1] Did Craig slander homosexuals or advocate violence or discrimination? No, he simply stated his viewpoint, based on his Christian beliefs, which is apparently not permitted in America any longer.

Today, as I write this, the Associated Press reported the cancelation of the weeklong festival of Mar Girgis, which had been held annually for more than a century, attracting up to two million Coptic Christians from across Egypt. The government canceled the event fearing it would be a target for Islamic militants. Christians in Egypt make up about 10% of the population and recently Islamist “Mobs torched, looted or destroyed at least 40 churches.” [2] Egyptian Christians simply want to be free to follow their beliefs, but face repression from radicals in the Muslim majority.

A third example, reported on Nov. 12, 2013, involved public executions in North Korea, some of which were for offenses such as owning a Bible. Other offenses included watching South Korean movies. South Korean newspaper JoongAng Ilbo reported that as many as 80 so-called criminals, in seven different cities, were executed. In the city of Wonsan, victims’ heads were covered with bags, tied to stakes and shot to death. Authorities gathered a crowd of as many as 10,000 in Shinpoong Stadium, some of whom were children, to watch. [3]

Censorship of Christians began in the 1st century when Peter and John were commanded by the Jewish rulers, elders and scribes to not speak or teach in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:18). Two millennia later believers are still being told to sit down and shut up. Censorship may take the form of violence or, more likely in the West, financial and legal repercussions. Will we have the courage to say, as did Peter and John, ““Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20)

[1] Marvin Olasky, “Christians need not apply?” World Magazine, November 16, 2013.
[2] “Egypt’s Christians Find Little to Celebrate”, Associated Press, reported in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, Nov. 17, 2013.
[3] “North Korea publicly executes 80, some for videos or Bibles, report says”,, reported Nov. 12, 2013.