Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 383

On Fridays (Saturdays when I officiate a wedding on Friday — congrats Alex & Andrea!) I share articles/resources about broad cultural, societal and theological issues. Be sure to see the explanation and disclaimers at the bottom. I welcome your suggestions. If you read something fascinating please pass it my way.

Happy New Year! Most of my readers know this, but this bundle of links is an overflow from a ministry called Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship at Stanford University. Today is December 31st, which is the biggest giving day of the year. If you are inclined toward generosity on New Year’s Eve, consider making a year-end donation to support the ministry.

This is volume 383, which is both a prime number and a palindrome. Not too shabby, 383. Hold your head up high among the numbers.

Things Glen Found Interesting

  1. Reasons to believe, Christmas edition:
    • How Would You Prove That God Performed a Miracle? (Molly Worthen, New York Times): “Josh Brown directs the program in neuroscience at Indiana University Bloomington. He has published dozens of articles on topics like the neural basis of decision making in the brain. He has wire-rimmed glasses and a calm, methodical way of speaking. And after almost two decades of keeping relatively quiet, he is now speaking openly about his most surprising research finding: He believes that God miraculously healed him of a brain tumor.”
      • Highly recommended. The author is a historian at UNC.
    • When Mary Met the Angel (Rebecca McLaughlin, Wall Street Journal): “ ‘Science is the description of how God chooses to work most of the time,’ writes Russell Cowburn, a professor of physics at the University of Cambridge. ‘We know dead bodies don’t come back to life according to science. And yet Christianity is built on the observation that Jesus came back to life. I am very happy to say that at that special moment, God was acting differently.’ Like many other world-class scientists I’ve interviewed—including Francis Collins, former director of the National Institutes of Health—Prof. Cowburn came to faith in Jesus as an adult. He is not just trying to make scientific sense of a childhood faith that he cannot shed.”
      • Disclaimer: I know the author and am thrilled she was invited to write about faith for the WSJ.
    • A Christmas Conversation About Christ (Nicolas Kristof interviewing Russell Moore, New York Times): “The most important blind spot is perhaps missing why so many of us are drawn to faith in the first place. We really do believe the Gospel is Good News that answers the deepest longings of the human heart. I would just recommend that people read one of the Gospels with an open mind. Jesus loves New York Times readers, too.”
  2. A Darkness Revealed (Rod Dreher, The American Conservative): “…the great challenge here, as ever, is to strive to see our ancestors and our contemporaries with moral clarity, not whitewashing their sins and failings with poetic memory, while also recognizing their virtues — and in all cases, never, ever allowing their full humanity, the good and the bad alike, to be assimilated into the realm of ideas.”
    • I found this gripping. A man wrestles with the not-entirely-surprising revelation that his father was in the KKK.
  3. Urbana Missions Conference That Once Drew 20,000 Expected to Fall Far Short (Bob Smietana, Ministry Watch): “Jao said that lingering concerns over COVID-19 and the country’s economic woes are helping to drive projected attendance down for the conference, usually held every three years, but delayed until this year by the pandemic. Like many churches, he said, InterVarsity and other campus ministries are still rebuilding their attendance.”
  4. Our First Closeup Image of Mars Was a Paint-By-Numbers Pastel Drawing (Jason Kottke, personal blog): “On July 15, 1965, NASA’s Mariner 4 probe flew within 6,118 miles of the surface of Mars, capturing images as it passed over the planet. The image data was transmitted back to scientists on Earth, but they didn’t have a good way to quickly render a photograph from it. They determined that the fastest way to see what Mariner 4 had seen was to print out the imaging data as a series of numbers, paste them into a grid, buy a set of pastels from a nearby art store, and do a paint-by-numbers job with the pastels on the data grid.”
    • This is actually beautiful.
  5. Americans Have Found Their Happy Place (Tyler Cowen, Bloomberg): “Two economists, David G. Blanchflower of Dartmouth and Alex Bryson of University College London, have come up with a new and more intuitive way to measure well-being. The results are striking. If you consider US states as comparable to countries, 16 of the top 20 political units in the world for well-being are in the US — including the top seven.”
  6. The Media Very Rarely Lies (Scott Alexander, Astral Codex Ten): “The point is: the media rarely lies explicitly and directly. Reporters rarely say specific things they know to be false. When the media misinforms people, it does so by misinterpreting things, excluding context, or signal-boosting some events while ignoring others, not by participating in some bright-line category called ‘misinformation’.”
    • Follow-up: Sorry, I Still Think I Am Right About The Media Very Rarely Lying (Scott Alexander, Astral Codex Ten): “…I find it really interesting that so many commenters were so resistant to the idea that the worst and dumbest conspiracy theories of our time don’t involve outright lies. I think all of us — not just censors — want to maintain the comforting illusion that the bad people are doing something fundamentally different than the good people, something that marks them as Obviously Bad in bright neon paint.”
  7. Is the right winning the comedy wars? (Constance Grady, Vox): “It’s as though there’s some sort of fundamental disconnect between right and left on the issue of comedy. On a very basic level, the two sides seem to disagree on the question of what a joke should look like, what it’s okay to joke about, and what is so under threat that to joke about it would be unthinkable. No one seems sure how to talk about the difference, exactly. They just know that they want to be the funny ones.”

Less Serious Things Which Also Interested/Amused Glen

Things Glen Found Interesting A While Ago

Every week I’ll highlight an older link still worth your consideration. This week we have Fertility rate: ‘Jaw-dropping’ global crash in children being born (James Gallagher, BBC): “China, currently the most populous nation in the world, is expected to peak at 1.4 billion in four years’ time before nearly halving to 732 million by 2100. India will take its place.” From a long-term perspective, this is possibly the most significant news you will read this year. Some of you will still be alive when China’s population is half what it is now. And it’s not just China — many nations are on the same path (with only a few sizable ones headed in the opposite direction). From volume 259

Why Do You Send This Email?

In the time of King David, the tribe of Issachar produced shrewd warriors “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chron 12:32). In a similar way, we need to become wise people whose faith interacts with the world. I pray this email gives you greater insight, so that you may continue the tradition of Issachar.


Chi Alpha is not a partisan organization. To paraphrase another minister: we are not about the donkey’s agenda and we are not about the elephant’s agenda — we are about the Lamb’s agenda. Having said that, I read widely (in part because I believe we should aspire to pass the ideological Turing test and in part because I do not believe I can fairly say “I agree” or “I disagree” until I can say “I understand”) and may at times share articles that have a strong partisan bias simply because I find the article stimulating. The upshot: you should not assume I agree with everything an author says in an article I mention, much less things the author has said in other articles (although if I strongly disagree with something in the article I’ll usually mention it). And to the extent you can discern my opinions, please understand that they are my own and not necessarily those of Chi Alpha or any other organization I may be perceived to represent. Also, remember that I’m not reporting news — I’m giving you a selection of things I found interesting. There’s a lot happening in the world that’s not making an appearance here because I haven’t found stimulating articles written about it. If this was forwarded to you and you want to receive future emails, sign up here. You can also view the archives.

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