In this blog, I’ll be exploring subjects of general interest/concern to me and wider society:
In this blog, I’ll be exploring subjects of general interest/concern to me and wider society:
On that day I raised My hand in an oath to them, to bring them out of the land of Egypt into a land that I had searched out for them, ‘flowing with milk and honey,’ the glory of all lands.
Any unbiased reading of the Bible will soon reveal that the Creator of the Universe has had a long and enduring relationship with the Jews. This people group were the first humans to forge a relationship with God, where He made Himself known to them and guided their founding of a nation in a relatively tiny strip of land on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. The Biblical narrative accurately portrays much of the history of the ancient Jewish nation and modern archaeological research is unveiling more and more details that affirm the historicity of their story, despite militant opposition from secular academics who have been proven wrong time and time again.
Because of their unfaithfulness to their God, the former glory of the kingdom established by David and his son, Solomon, was gradually but inexorably wrenched from them because of their reluctance to follow the laws and statutes laid down for them in the Law of Moses, as well as their eagerness to follow after the false gods of the surrounding nations and the inter-marriage of their nobles with the nobility of foreign cultures(and against God’s wishes). As a result, ancient Israel and Judah suffered many waves of conquests by foreign imperial powers including Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, Byzantium and the various waves of Islamic invasions over the centuries and millennia. Israel ceased to be a free nation about 2,600 years ago being occupied by foreign powers throughout much of this time.
Throughout this time, the Jewish people have suffered terrible persecutions under various powers, culminating with the attempt of the evil Nazi regime to exterminate them from the face of the Earth. Still, despite these perils, they have bucked all the odds to maintain their culture and religion; indeed they are the only truy ancient people that exist through modern times. After World War II, the United Nations created a homeland for the remaining Jews, which culminated in the declaration of independence of the modern state of Israel on May 14 1948. The declaration was immediately condemned by all the nations surrounding it. Thus Israel had to work hard from the outset to establish its borders, rapidly developing an excellent military machine that staved off aggressive behaviour by its surrounding enemies, and which remains so to this day.
In the 70 years since its founding days, the story of Israel has been one of astonishing prosperity, so much so that many Bible believing Christians accept it as a clear and unambiguous miracle in our times. Furthermore, it is clear that while the majority of contemporary Jews do not accept Jesus as their Messiah, the Lord would not make a complete end of them, but established them again for the sake of a minority who have(or will) come to accept Christ as their Lord and Saviour. Furthermore, the Bible foretells that Israel will play an important role in converting many unbelievers to the true God during the Great Tribulation period.
Most denominational Christians however, have been taught the false doctrine of replacement theology, where the modern Church has taken the place of Israel, and as a result, know very little about how Israel will play a central role in God’s ultimate plan for the salvation of many people. This was essentially my thinking for most of my life, as I continued in my walk with the Catholic Church, being largely ignorant of Biblical knowledge. But it is equally true of many Protestant denominations, which teach nothing concerning the true role of Israel in God’s redemptive plan for humankind. Only when I began to read the Bible for myself, as a non-denominational Christian, that I rejected the Catholic position of replacement theology. With the Lord, there is the Church and then there’s Israel; they are not one and the same. With Israel, it’s personal.
Consider the particular interest our Lord has expressed in the land of Israel;
For the land you are going in to possess is not like the land of Egypt from which you came. There you planted your seed and watered it by foot, like a vegetable garden. But the land you are crossing over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, drinking from the rain of the heavens it drinks in water. It is a land that Adonai your God cares for—the eyes of Adonai your God are always on it, from the beginning of the year up to the end of the year.
The prophet Ezekiel writes:
Therefore say to the house of Israel: Thus says the Lord God: Not for your sake do I act, house of Israel, but for the sake of my holy name, which you desecrated among the nations to which you came.
So what’s it all about then? In a phrase, the execution of Absolute power!
The prophet Jeremiah writes:
Thus says the Lord, “If My covenant for day and night stand not, and the fixed patterns of heaven and earth I have not established, then I would reject the descendants of Jacob and David My servant, not taking from his descendants rulers over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But I will restore their fortunes and will have mercy on them.’”
Jeremiah 33: 25-26
In other words, the Lord would sooner abolish the laws of nature than renege on his promises to Israel.
So let’s take a closer look at the remarkable rise of Israel in the modern psyche. As a nation state, Israel is tiny, with a land area of just 21,000 square kilometres, smaller than Wales and ranking about 150th out of the 200 or so nations on Earth. It’s population is currently 9 million, of which 75 per cent identify as Jew. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Israel reflects a different picture however; $360 billion, ranking it as the 54th richest nation in the world. Its per capita annual income is even more impressive though, at $42,000 per annum, making its citizens the 25th richest nation in the world; almost as rich as the average UK dweller. The life expectancy of the average Israeli is 82 years, where it poles as the 8th longest among the other nations of the world. Israel’s age demographic though is astonishing and contrary to every other developed nation currently in existence. 25 per cent of the population are under the age of 14 and 40 per cent are aged 25 years and younger. Only 11 per cent of the Israeli population is aged 65 years and older!
This very youthful population is also highly educated; 45 per cent of Israeli’s hold a Bachelor’s degree or its equivalent; higher per capita than any other nation on Earth. Their official language is Hebrew, for centuries considered an all but dead language, but thanks to the efforts of Jewish linguists, is now widely spoken and thriving. Curiously, though Israel is one of the most technologically advanced nations currently in existence, her citizens are taught little or nothing about Darwinian evolution in public schools, which dovetails with the ideology’s current rapid decline as a proper scientific theory of origins. And yet, Israel is a shining light in the emerging biotechnological and agricultural industries, both of which require an excellent knowledge of the life sciences.
Because of more or less incessant terrorist threats from foreign regimes, Israel has one of the best trained professional armies in the world. The so-called Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) has about 150,000 full-time members and over 400,000 reserves. All Israeli citizens over the age of 18 are obliged to undergo two years and eight months of military service for men and two years for women, although many seek exemptions on religious, pyschological and physical grounds.This rise in military power also comports with the Biblical narrative, which describes the desolate land of Israel being revived from a “valley of dry bones”(see Ezekiel 37):
So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they came to life and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.
Despite more than half of the land being desert and only 20 per cent being arable, Israel is a world leader in irrigation technology. The north of the country receives a plentiful supply of rain but the south is much more arid, with the result that water transport and use is carefully regulated. The statistics are impressive; agriculture’s share of total water use fell from more than 70% in 1980 to 57% by 2005, and is projected to drop to just 52% by 2025, according to a recent report. Many nations around the world have benefitted greatly from Israel’s lead in this regard. Indeed this small nation has become the fruit basket of Europe and the Middle East, growing and exporting over 40 different types of fruit. Indeed, 95 per cent of all Israel’s food is homegrown, supplemented by imports of meat, grains, coffee, cocoa and sugar. Israel also produces most of the flowers sold in Europe(especially during the winter months), with an industry estimated to be worth $60 million. These flowers are almost exclusively grown on 214 hectares of land.
Just as the Bible informs us, Israel has truly become “a land of milk and honey.” Specially bred, disease-resistant cows produce the highest amounts of milk per animal in the world, with an average of 10,208 kilograms of dairy in 2009, according to data published in 2011 by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, outperforming cows in the US (9,331 kg per cow), Japan (7,497), the European Union (6,139) and Australia (5,601). Honey production in Israel is prodigious, with more than 100,000 apiaries scattered across the country and exported to many other nations around the world. And despite the alarming decline in bee numbers in almost every other country, Israel’s bee populations have not endured such decimation, thanks to the implementation of a number of ingenious management strategies. Indeed, the Israeli department of agriculture estimate that the value of their bees as vehicles of pollination is worth more than 30 times the value of the honey they produce! In 1948, only about 400,000 acres of land in Israel could be tilled. Today it stands at over a million acres, with productivity increasing by a factor of 16 per unit of water used. And instead of growing strains of wheat that are waist high, as is the case in most other nations, Israeli farmers cultivate new varieties that only grow to knee height and so require far less water to bring them to maturity.
In the spheres of technology, Israel ranks as the 8th most powerful nation in the world. Outside of Silicon Valley, California, Silcon Wadi on the coastal plains just outside Tel Aviv has the highest number(over 3,000 as of 2019) of IT start-up companies in the world. The first anti-virus software was formulated here, as was the first voicemail technology, and all manner of memory sticks that we use in our everyday lives. Motorola, Microsoft, Celebrite and Intel all have major investments here. The oil industry is booming at an unprecedented rate in Israel with valuable oil and natural gas reserves found in the Negev, the Golan Heights and most recently off shore in the Leviathan and Tamar fields. Analysts suggest that the energy reserves in these newly discovered sites could power the nation for another 300 years! What’s more, it is expected that Israel will become the major supplier of petrochemicals to the European nations by building under-sea pipelines across the Mediterranean.
Israel is now also active in the exploration of space, successfully launching the cheapest ever lunar probe named Beresheet(Hebrew for “In the beginning”) which attempted a soft landing on the dusty plains of Mare Serenitatis on April 11 2019 but which proved unsuccessful in the end. Despite the setback, much new science was still achieved and they will certainly try again in the near future.
By most anyone’s standards, the story of the re-birth of Israel is a remarkable phenomenon. Look how much they have achieved in only one human generation! But all of this was foretold in the prophecies of Ezekiel, most likely dated to 7th century BC:
Thus says the Lord God, “On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places will be rebuilt. The desolate land will be cultivated instead of being a desolation in the sight of everyone who passes by. They will say, ‘This desolate land has become like the garden of Eden; and the waste, desolate and ruined cities are fortified and inhabited.’ Then the nations that are left round about you will know that I, the Lord, have rebuilt the ruined places and planted that which was desolate; I, the Lord, have spoken and will do it.”
And yet, the Biblical narrative also suggests that this new-found prosperity will attract the eyes of power-hungry nations surrounding it, like a proverbial moth to a brightly lit lamp:
After many days you will be summoned; in the latter years you will come into the land that is restored from the sword, whose inhabitants have been gathered from many nations to the mountains of Israel which had been a continual waste; but its people were brought out from the nations, and they are living securely, all of them. You will go up, you will come like a storm; you will be like a cloud covering the land, you and all your troops, and many peoples with you.”
‘Thus says the Lord God, “It will come about on that day, that thoughts will come into your mind and you will devise an evil plan, and you will say, ‘I will go up against the land of unwalled villages. I will go against those who are at rest, that live securely, all of them living without walls and having no bars or gates, to capture spoil and to seize plunder, to turn your hand against the waste places which are now inhabited, and against the people who are gathered from the nations, who have acquired cattle and goods, who live at the center of the world.’ Sheba and Dedan and the merchants of Tarshish with all its villages will say to you, ‘Have you come to capture spoil? Have you assembled your company to seize plunder, to carry away silver and gold, to take away cattle and goods, to capture great spoil?’”’
The Bible also asserts that Israel is the centre of the world as God sees things:
Thus says the Lord God, ‘This is Jerusalem; I have set her at the center of the nations, with lands around her.
And when we look at Israel’s geographic location, it indeed lies at the hub of three continents; Africa, Europe and Asia.
The Bible also confifdently predicts that Israel will always attract trouble makers and that eventually all the nations will be gathered against it under the leadership of the Anti-Christ:
It will come about in that day that I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples; all who lift it will be severely injured. And all the nations of the earth will be gathered against it.
Already, we can see this gradual build-up (a Biblical “hook in the jaw”) with the hatred expressed by the politicians of many countries toward Israel as well as pervasive anti-semitism(a global phenomenon). Sadly, one of Israel’s greatest enemies is the United Nations(UN). For example, Syria bombs its civilians with chlorine gas, China tortures dissidents, Venezuela restricts access to food, and Burma is engaged in the ethnic cleansing of its Muslim minority. Yet despite these attrocities, the UN Human Rights Council trains the bulk of its outrage on, you’ve guessed it, Israel!
At the time of writing, 31 UN members don’t recognise the state of Israel. Additionally, the nations of Bolivia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Qatar and Venezuela have suspended ties to Israel. Most of these nations do not want the state of Israel to exist. There are also several countries, most notably Egypt, that recognise the state but almost always vote against it. That is how far-reaching the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become!
The UN has chosen to oppose Israel at nearly every turn because of the influence and encouragement of all of these member states. On the UN security council, Israel has the support of the U.S’s power of veto and is therefore safe from most harmful resolutions, but in the general assembly the anti-Israel countries almost always win out. The most recent example of this was the decision to condemn the United States for recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital even though they have every right to claim it as their own. That resolution overwhelmingly passed. But if the UN were nicer to Israel, every Muslim majority country in the world (except Albania and a few others) would withdraw from the organisation and thus would lose all of its influence over the Muslim world. There would be no more peacekeepers in Syria and Iraq, no nuclear weapons inspectors in Iran, etc. To my mind, the UN has strategically chosen to alienate Israel, over dozens of others. As a result, most Israelis are suspcious of the UN to the extent that it is a miracle that they haven’t yet severed all ties with the organisation.
Yet it is important to remember that both the UN and the state of Israel were both founded on very similar principles: the exercise of democracy, liberty, national self-determination, as well as freedom from persecution and the respect for basic human rights. But the simple truth is that the vast majority of countries that oppose Israel respect none of these principles, as their actions so clearly demonstrate. Moreover, most of them don’t even care for an independent Palestine either. They just view Israel as a convenient scapegoat. It is tragically ironic that the UN, an organisation that has done so much good for the world, is siding with tyrannical regimes rather than a nation that clearly shares its own values!
Still, Israel is here to stay no matter what evil intentions the nations plot against her. Jesus Christ ascended into heaven from the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem and the Bible tells us that He will once again set foot on it at his second coming, where He will fight against those nations wishing to destroy Israel:
Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations, as when He fights on a day of battle. In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives will be split in its middle from east to west by a very large valley, so that half of the mountain will move toward the north and the other half toward the south.
So, we’re living in exciting times, times that most unbelievers are completely oblivious to; but that too was foretold.
All we can do is take the advice Christ Himself left us;
Therefore, be on the alert—for you do not know when the master of the house is coming, whether in the evening, at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— in case he should come suddenly and find you asleep. What I say to you I say to all, ‘Be on the alert!’”
Neil English is the author of a large historical work; Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy.
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.
Philippians 4:8 (NLT)
Take a good look at the world around you.
Lawlessness is on the increase in every nation. Our TV and cinema screens are cesspits of filth, lewdness, blasphemy and the glorification of violence. Britain is now the stab capital of Europe. Anti-semitism is escalating across the globe, tearing whole communities and political parties apart. The cold-blooded murder of the unborn is legalised in most developed countries and soon the right to life will be denied to the newborn(it’s already happened in fact). Traditional family values have all but disappeared. Our churches are nearly empty, their elders, priests and pastors, feverishly busy spreading false doctrines. Depraved acts such as homosexuality(they have the audacity to call it ‘sex’) are being promoted as ‘good’ and ‘natural.’ Our children are being taught that they are ‘highly evolved animals'(based on Darwinian pseudoscience); gender is ‘fluid’ even though our chromosomal karyotype plainly says otherwise, boys can be girls or vice versa, and morals are ‘relative.’ Wars and rumours of wars are never far from the headlines. The Middle East is a tinder box ready to explode. Civil war threatens many nations. Whole economies are collapsing. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Steeped in debt, young people can’t afford to get on the housing ladder. Homelessness is at an all-time high. Our once clean cities are slowly becoming slums. Food banks are now common across the western world and their queues are getting ever larger. The biosphere is dying before our very eyes; insects, animal and plant populations are being decimated by pollution, unsustainable and aggressive agricultural policies, and climate change.The bountiful seas are becoming water deserts. And there’s no where to go.
Don’t you think something is terribly wrong with the world? Are you not concerned for the next generation( if the Lord tarries) who will see these trends continuing to escalate?
You’re either a fool or completely deluded to think otherwise!
This is just the tip of the iceberg, of course, and I could go on and on.
What source of knowledge brings all of these evils into sharp focus?
Only the Bible provides the answers we so desperately seek. Moreover, it makes it pretty clear that it can’t and won’t be sustained.
The Bible warns us not to turn to idols(which includes atheism) for solutions. In the days of old, these took the form of carved images of wood and stone, animals and even persons( e.g. the Emperor Cult of the Caesars). And though the old gods are long gone, new ones have stepped in to fill the power vacuum; unaware AI, non-existent alien intelligences, sports personalities, rampant consumerism and greed (which the Bible teaches is yet another form of idolatory), ‘mind and body’ gurus, tree huggers and charlatans that promise the earth, steal your money, and leave you high and dry. The secular world believes man is benevolent by nature and can find the answers to all his problems, but let’s be honest; that humanist philosophy has failed miserably. Where exactly is that utopia you dreamt up in your vain maschinations?
It doesn’t exist and cannot exist.
In contrast, the Bible says precisely the opposite; left to his own devices, man is fundamentally not good. Humans become more depraved, more wicked and more desperate without guidance from their Creator. Without God in their lives, things always go from bad to worse. And the inspired Biblical writers foresaw all of it!
We need the Bible more so now than at any other time in human history.
How do I know this? I read the Bible every day. I see it all on the pages of Scripture, as if it’s today’s news. The secular world will accuse you of ‘bigotry’ and ‘small mindedness’ of course, for the simple reason that the same people are woefully ignorant of what the Bible actually says; not the watered down sermons you hear in a typical church on Sunday morning, delivered by a clergy that are increasingly afraid to offend anyone, but by taking heir of one’s self, and actually reading the Biblical text through and applying its principles in every day life. Seen in this light, the accusations of the secularists against true Christians are just more of the same: arguments from ignorance.
And that’s true bigotry!
There is a simple principle I apply in my dealings with the secular world: if it is approved of in the Bible, I’m for it; but if the Bible disapproves of it, I’m not for it!
It’s simple, straight-forward, and unambiguous.
In the 21st century there is an explosion of Bible versions written in the English language to suit the needs of a diverse group of people. The following diagram gives you an idea of the types of Bibles you can choose from:
The green zone represents very literal ‘word for word’ translations from the original Hebrew and Koine Greek. The orange zone represents an entirely different translation philosophy; the so called ‘thought for thought’ translations. Finally, the red zone represents the most loosely rendered interpretations of the Biblical text; the paraphrases.
As you can see from the diagram above, the New Living Translation(NLT) of the Bible is in the orange zone, so bordering between the ‘thought for thought’ and the ‘paraphrased’ renditions. But unlike true paraphrased versions like the Message or The Living Bible, the NLT is actually a true translation of Holy Scripture, but it places a great emphasis on rendering the essential ideas in simple, modern English. The NLT was formulated by a broad church of Christian denominations under a solid translation committee. This is evidenced by the lack of errors in the text(yes, I’ve found typos in other versions formulated by smaller committees) and the attention to detail they have displayed in bringing to life the timeless stories and moral teachings of the Bible for a modern readership. The NLT is available in the 66 books that comprise the Protestant Bible, but they have also produced a Catholic version (with its 72 books). The comments made here refer to the former.
The first edition of the NLT was published in 1996 and its aim was to turn the paraphrased Living Bible (composed by the late Kenneth Taylor in 1971) into a proper translation. It has since undergone several revisions (2004, 2007, 2013 and 2016), which aims to make the text as accessible and inclusive as possible. Like the NIV, the language is quite gender neutral, but the committee has clearly not gone as far as their NIV counterparts, which some feel has taken the issue a wee bit too far. Weights, measures and the timing of religious festivals are expressed in modern terms, which adds to the intelligibility of the text. The introduction pages to this Bible clearly explains why these strategies were adopted.
While it is acknowledged that any thought-for-thought translation is in danger of going too far, and that, ultimately, you are probably safer going with a good literal translation like the ESV, NKJV or NASB, I find there is much that is meritorious about this fresh, dynamic and often idiomatic edition of the Bible. I found it is excellent for speed reading( I obtained my copy in October 2018, but had sampled an earlier edition before giving it away to a friend), having completely finished it in just a few months. Although some renderings of the text were mildly alarming(see Luke 5:30 for an example), on the whole I thought the translation was very enjoyable and worth the effort to read through. At no point did I ever feel that the translators were watering down Scripture (e.g. the deity of Christ or the nature of the triune God), as some commentators have suggested. Indeed, in some cases, I felt it was easier to understand certain passages about the Atonement than in more literal word-for-word translations.
Many of the Psalms will come across as unfamiliar to those who cherish traditional translations, like my beloved NKJV, because the wording is different, but I found the differences enriching more than they were distracting. Consider Psalm 23, for example:
The Lord is my shepherd;
I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
he leads me beside peaceful streams.
He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
bringing honor to his name.
Even when I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid,
for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me
in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord
As you can see, it is worded rather differently to more celebrated versions of the Bible such as the grand old King James Version (which my family and I have committed to memory) but if I’m being honest, it conveys exactly the same comforting ideas as older renditions of this time-honoured Davidic psalm.
I would highly recommend this translation to everyone, but especially those who are making their first steps in the faith. I completely reject the idea that it is an inferior version compared with the more technically accurate renditions of the Bible, for I equate this kind of thinking to yet another example of legalism, which is just plain wrong and anathema to the true message of the Gospel. Afterall, God never intended for His inspired word to be misunderstood or that it be made accessible to only an elite few. Have we not learned anything from the days when the Latin Vulgate was the only version in existence, delivered and understood only by priests?
As our Lord and Saviour once declared:
O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding these things from those who think themselves wise and clever, and for revealing them to the childlike.
That we have so many versions is a blessing and not a curse. Personally, I see it as part of the Divine plan to bring as many people to Christ before the Lord wraps it all up. I for one cherish the NLT as a fine addition to my Bible collection and one which I will continue to use and enjoy until the day I see Him face to face.
Ultimately, the message of the Bible is joyful and optimistic to those who have the wisdom to accept its teachings. So believers have absolutely nothing to fear! Indeed, Scripture anticipated that these radical changes in human society would occur near the closing of the age. It’s as if prophecy is unravelling before our very eyes, and that gives me goose bumps! In the meantime, we just have to keep on trying to make the world a better place and to speak up for issues that we believe are immoral. Moreover, the Bible has always encouraged us to be vigilant in the times we are given to live in. So take heart! Nothing should surprise you!
A few Words on the NLT Premium SlimLine Large Print Reference Edition ( ISBN- 978-1-4143-0711-4)
Now, I would like to say a few words about the particular NLT Bible I have sourced.
As I explained in a previous blog about my NKJV Bible, I like to have a hard copy of any Bible I purchase. The NLT is, of course, available for study online, but like any other Bible I use, I prefer to have a copy I can bring anywhere with me, without the hassle of relying on using electronic devices to retrieve the text. Afterall, we cannot be certain that we will have the internet forever, can we?
This NLT measures 6.5″ x 9″ and is about an inch thick. It has a paste-down liner and a strong, Smyth-sewn binding. The cover is Leatherex; making it very flexible and durable. It is very attractive to the touch and is easy to grip. It is not ostentatious and will not make you stand out in a crowd. It lies flat when hand-held or when opened on a table. The words are printed in 9.84 font, so very easy to read, even without my glasses. The quality of the paper is not the best but not the worst either, and is perfectly adequate for reading. It has two colour-matched ribbons page markers to keep track of whatever text from the Old and New Testament I’m studying from.
The edges of the pages have a very nice gold gilding. The text is fairly well line matched with only a little bit of bleed-through visible from page to page. This is a red letter version. The colour of red is slightly paler than I would have liked but it does the job fine.I don’t really like footnotes, so I was delighted to see that they are minimal in this version of the NLT and are placed at the bottom of the page, where they provide little in the way of a distraction and are also printed in a smaller font size to the main text.
At the back of the Bible, there is a fairly comprehensive 53-page concordance, followed by a single page presenting ” Great Chapters from the Bible.” This is immediately followed by a 3-page presentation of what the committee consider to be the “greatest verses from the Bible.” The last few pages present a useful 365-day reading plan to get the user through the entire Biblical text in a single year. Finally, like most Bibles, it presents a few useful full-colour maps of the Holy Land, including a detailed look at the places Jesus visited during his three and a half year earthly mission, as well as maps of the Greek, Babylonian and Assyrian Empires,and which also includes the route of the Exodus and the missionary journeys of Saint Paul.
For a modest cost of £26.99. I consider it a good value in today’s market.
I hope readers will receive the NLT with enthusiasm and that it will enrich your knowledge of the Bible in these somewhat alarming but ultimately exciting(for Christians and Messianic Jews) times in which we now live!
With Every Blessing,
Dr. Neil English recounts the stories of many Christian astronomers from centuries past in his latest historical work, Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy.
In a fallen world, where mankind’s rebellion against his Creator is now rapidly reaching pre-flood levels of wickedness, it is good to know that the planet Earth is still a pretty neat place to live. Protected by a just-right atmosphere of mainly nitrogen and oxygen, the Lord of Heaven’s armies has packed this planet full of living things and amazing geological features that bring joy to the human heart.
Our atmosphere is neither too dense or too rarefied, allowing us to peer deeply into the Cosmos, where we have caught a glimpse of eternity. And all around us, our Creator has left clear evidence of His handiwork so that we are without excuse on the day of judgement.
The human eye can only see so much though, but our Creator chose to give us a mind that enables us to improve our lot, to see things in new and different ways. That’s how I see my binoculars; simple tools that bring heaven and Earth closer, providing a perspective that transcends the limitations of my corporeal form. I am especially fortunate to live in a beautiful part of the world, away from the cities where atheism flourishes. Out in the sticks, I can enjoy the beauty of God’s creation more fully, in quietness, surrounded as I am by hills and valleys, green fields and lovely streams of cool, fresh rainwater that sustain the lives of all living things.
My wide-angle 8 x 42 binocular, in particular, is the perfect tool for combining the beauty of the night sky with that of the comeliness of the earthly creation. And in this blog, I would like to share with you some of the kinds of activities I get up to to bring these worlds together. This binocular provides a power of just 8 diameters but has an angular field of view wide enough to fit over 16 full Moons in the same wonderful portal. And with its decent light grasp, especially in fading or low light, it is powerful enough to allow me to simultaneously appreciate sights in the heavens and on earth.
Surrounded by mature trees, sometimes many times older than myself, I have grown terribly fond of framing famliar celestial sights, such as the Pleiades and the Hyades in the foreground of their impressive branches. Sometimes, I would wait for the stars in these clusters to fall in altitude after they culminate in the south, so that they are seen to ‘hover’ over the conifer trees beyond my back garden. And if, by chance, the presence of a gentle breeze in the binocular image is witnessed (and it can happen a lot!), then you’ve got a home run; an epiphany of sorts! At other times, I will plan a vigil where the soft light from the stars fills the background whilst the foreground is occupied with denuded winter branches of the deciduous trees near my home. A little light pollution can actually be advantageous in such circumstances as it can help illuminate the tree branches making them stand out more boldly against the stellar backdrop.
Living inside a long valley with verdant hills that soar to about 1000 feet on either side, my binocular is good at framing the rising Moon as its silvery light clears their summit in the east, or as it sinks behind the hills in the west. There are many times where I can plan to observe the Moon and the hilltops in the same field, creating visual scenes that leave a deep impression on me. I give thanks to my God for allowing me to witness such scenes, safe and secure at the bottom of a great sea of fresh, clean air.
Ever since childhood, I have been attracted to storms, often venturing out to feel the energy they generate in the atmosphere. Sometimes these storms occur on moonlit nights and I would think it nothing to grab my binocular and carry myself off to some favourite haunts, woody glades and the like, where moonbeams create wonderful atmospheric scenes, complemented by the sound of wind whistling through their branches.
My binocular has renewed my interest in observing the full Moon, not in and of itself, but when it is surrounded by low lying and fast-moving rain clouds, as often happens here in the British Isles. I watch as these clouds enter the outer field, inching their way toward the bright satellite, and all the while lighting up with beautiful colours caused by refraction of moonlight through raindrops. The colours often start off deep and moody, like dried-in blood, when far from the Moon, but as they move ever closer, the colours they generate; gorgeous shades of pink, yellows and even rose tints; saturate the cones on my retina and, upwelling feelings of great happiness.
The structure of clouds backlit by moonlight reveals wonderful, highly complex structures, as well as colours – knots, filaments and pleated sheets. Often the scene reminds me of the play of light on the matter which is expelled into the shells of planetary nebulae as imaged by a great telescope, with a white dwarf star being replaced by our very own Moon at its epicentre lol. Such natural shows of light and form rank as some of the most lovely and most surreal binocular images one is likely to capture. Sometimes, great gaping holes in the heavens open up around the clouds, allowing the light of the distant stars to be seen near the full Moon.
Dawn and dusk are good times to see some spectacular sights, such as the bright planet Venus sinking low into the sky, often silhouetted by interesting terrestrial structures, such as a distant hill, an old barnhouse or silo, church or windmill. By getting to know your horizons, sublime scenes can be captured with your binocular, bringing heaven and Earth together, just like it will be in the New Creation.
Cityscapes can also be used to enhance the binocular view. Framing bright star clusters like the Pleiades or a crescent Moon in the background to an old church spire, domed cathedral, or grand municipal building, can make for a very fetching sight. Photographers imagine likewise,of course, but the impromptu binocular experience is an even greater liberal art!
Another worthwhile project is to image the bright Moon over a large expanse of water, especially during calm conditions, when its reflection is quite mirror-like. Under the light of a town or city, smaller binoculars do just fine, like my little Pentax DCF 9 x 28 pocket instrument. You can even wander through your neighbourhood finding interesting foreground subjects to frame your celestial scenes in advance of an event.
It’s good to plan.
Well, I hope you get some ideas from this short article. In doing so, you can enjoy the best of the heavenly and terrestrial creations, and which can turn an otherwise mundane evening or morning into a very memorable one!
Neil English is the author of several books in amateur and professional astronomy.
Today you are on the verge of battle with your enemies. Do not let your heart faint, do not be afraid, and do not tremble or be terrified because of them; for the Lord your God is He who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.’
As you may well be aware of, I don’t spend a lot of time on internet forums. When looking for specific information, I generally consult known and trusted authorities from books rather than the ramblings of folk whose only apparent purpose in life is to post stuff online. You don’t have to search for long to see that some folk spend nearly their entire waking moments on these forums(clocking up tens of thousands of posts in the process), wasting their employers time (read stealing) and that makes for very one-dimensional personalities, who ostensibly crave power or attention, or both. That is their world pure and simple; take that world away and they’d probably fall to pieces. What’s more, some of these characters resent individuals who hold different opinions to their own and go to great lengths to de-rail them, especially if it threatens their world view.
If I go online, I generally do so for a very specific purpose; to raise awareness of some issue that is important or to alert people to new concepts. I see this as part of apologetics per se, as there is usually a moral dimension to my ‘campaigns’, such as folk getting ripped off by unscrupulous telescope salesmen and their fanboys and to alert or inform the general public about ideologies that are patently false. One subject that is close to my heart pertains to the staggering complexity of living things in general, and human beings in particular, and the unprecedented accumulation of new scientific evidences that we are not on this planet as a result of some quirk of nature.
Evolutionary ideology has robbed many people of their self-worth. Putting their faith in a ‘monkey religion’ first promulgated by a second-rate Victorian barnacle collector by the name of Charles Darwin, who turned his back on his Creator just because he couldn’t come to terms with the loss of his daughter, they believe that we are the progeny of pond scum and that we slowly evolved through innumerable transitional forms to become the ‘naked apes’ we are today. What is more, for decades they have been fed a staple diet of ‘junk science’ that anticipates that the Universe is teeming with life and that anyone who expresses scepticism is to be viewed with suspicion or even derision. Invariably, these individuals are unwilling to do their own research and continue to propagate extremely dubious ideas to an unsuspecting audience. I felt it was high time to challenge this claim head on, to show that the evidence in support of these ideas was in fact extremely tenuous.
Know thine Enemy
Before commencing upon any campaign of this nature it pays to know your enemy; the mindset of those who are likely to challenge the claims you bring to the table and their motivations for resisting such claims. Very often it is just good old fashioned hatred. They can’t stand being told that their evolutionary bubble is about to be burst. Others resent for entirely personal reasons; consumed with murderous thoughts and green with jealousy. They are easy to spot as they always return to the scene, or lurk like cowards in the background endorsing their men with ‘likes’. Expect ad hominem attacks from trolls; that comes with the territory and be prepared for insults being hurled at you. These are the God haters, the mob who believe and act as if humans were animals, so invariably, their responses reflect their bestial nature. Be aware also that many folk are naturally drawn to conflict; they are just there to be entertained.
Responding to insults and getting embroiled in heated arguments online is to be avoided. It drains you of energy and causes you to lose focus. Doubtless it can be very difficult, but it serves no good to lower yourself to the level of the heckler. One must always remember that despite their belligerent unbelief, they are also made in the image of God, though they have long fallen away. Just make your points and leave it at that. Understandably, some folk seek genuine dialogue; but this can be done behind the scenes, via email or some other private medium. If they are really interested in learning, they’ll stick with you. If not, they will soon vanish in the aether.
Before launching a campaign; prepare yourself. You need to do your research, bringing all relevant information to the fore. You need to check references, academic credentials etc. Where possible, one should aim to present the views of distinguished scientists, with solid track records. Holding a PhD in a relevant science would be an absolute minimum standard for me. Those who don’t have such credentials are very unlikely to be nuanced enough in the field to bring anything concrete to the table. Unfortunately, there are frauds in every avenue of human enquiry (I’ve uncovered a few with googly eyes) and some continue to fall for their trappings. Be selective, presenting information that firmly establishes the points you wish to make. Avoid hyperbole. If at all possible, collate more information than is generally needed (auxilia) to re-inforce a point and ideally from a number of different sources. You never know, such data might come in handy if the thread takes a tricky turn. No one individual has an absolute monopoly on a truth claim. The truth is best displayed when several sources arrive at the same conclusion.
Don’t be Afraid!
Don’t be initimated by your adversaries. Sometimes the hatred sensed becomes so overbearing that it induces nausea; so I do what I do quickly.
If you’re prepared, there is little they can do to retort.
Seek the Lord always; ask for His advice.
Commit your actions to the LORD, and your plans will succeed.
Case Study: How Many Earths in Our Galaxy?
Intended Audience to be Reached: Atheists, evolutionists with a religious bent or churches which have been indoctrinated with evolutionary ideology; Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians. Also, the editorial teams of astronomy and popular science periodicals.
Typical response: Trillions upon trillions.
Scientific basis for believing in the Plurality of Habitable worlds: Life exists on Earth, a typical planet, so life must be common in the Universe.
Actual Evidence for Extraterrestrial Life: None.
The Scientific Evidence Against the Case
Nota bene: This was not presented on the discussed thread but in a related thread on the same forum.
Christians have been at the forefront of the debate about whether life can arise naturalistically here on Earth and elsewhere. The organisation, Reasons to Believe, employs scientists trained to PhD level and beyond, who have thoroughly researched the issue. Many of the basic ideas were laid out in their book: Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off (2014); which summarizes many of the problems in a clear and concise way.
The audience is asked to look at the reviews of the book and not to dismiss the book because of their Christian positioning.
The scoffers enter the scene and state their opinions.Some posters are gracious but others persist in scoffing(especially those who are singularly unqualified to offer a technical opinion on the matter) I asked the responders a simple question:
“Have you read the book yet?”
Furthermore, I suggest that abiogenesis(the notion that living systems can arise naturally) is scientifically impossible.
I re-entered the debate several years later in late 2018, as more science came to the fore:
Leading German biochemist(Dr. Clemens Richert) admits that cheating (human intervention) occurs in much prebiotic chemical research in a premier scientific journal.
World leading chemist, Dr. James Tour ( Rice University, USA) speaks out about the same issue as the German biochemist. Tour makes it clear that life cannot arise without an intelligent agency.
Dr. Tour also speaks out about the failure of Darwinian mechanisms to account for the complexity of life. Indeed, behind the scenes, Tour states that Darwinian evolution has now been debunked by the biologists.
I present a detailed talk on the fossil record (2018) by Dr. Gunter Bechly, a leading German paleontologist, who has studied the phenomenon for many years. Bechly presents clear and unambiguous evidence that the fossil record, with its serious discontinuities, does not support a Darwinian scenario. Furthermore, he concludes that life must have been designed.
I point out that Bechly was an avowed evolutionist until he was forced to reassess his scientific positioning as more fossil evidence emerged that could not be reconciled with a Darwinian evolutionary process. His change of mind was driven by the scientific evidence and not by any religious conviction (although he is now a Roman Catholic). The trolls re-emerge in the background supporting their man with “likes”. One of the trolls is a carpenter by trade (yep I did my research) from Upstate New York, another is a prominent ‘know it all,” a retired mechanical engineer from San Diego, who spends his entire waking life on these forums, following me around like a bad smell. Such individuals have expressed a singular hatred of this author in past encounters. However, both individuals are ultimately unqualified to offer any scientific criticism of the work presented; their dissent has no teeth.
Their man attacks the scientists at the Discovery Institute, who are sceptical of the evolutionary paradigm, calling them “frauds.”. I refrain from addressing this potentially serious accusation, as it’s an unnecessary diversion from the truth.
I then present more scientific evidence relevant to the question of whether life exists elsewhere in the Universe;
A team of Cornell University scientists(December 2018) identify potential fake biosignatures in simulations of exoplanetary atmospheres.
Astrobiologists, in their unbridled belief that biosignatures can be identified spectroscopically could pontentially identify fake life signatures and thus mislead the public.
A team of astronomers at Cardiff University, UK (April 2018) present a potentially serious problem of phosphorus synthesis in supernovae.
If phosphorus is only produced in localised pockets of the Universe then it raises a serious question about whether life can really be ubiquitous.
No responses are made by my adversaries on the two issues raised above.
One gracious individual asks for dialogue between myself and my adversaries but I suggest that he contact Dr. Tour directly and provide his contact details (and illustrious credentials). At this stage I deduced that no meaningful dialogue was really possible as the responses from my principal adversary strongly suggested that he did not look at the counter evidence ( a very common problem unfortunately) as presented in the thread.
I present a paper which discusses the concept of Specified Complexity, which offers a much better fit of the proposed relationships between organisms, and which is not predicated upon the assumption of common descent.
My adversaries fail to see the relevance of the work and accuse me of ” not knowing what I’m talking about.”
I ignore these ad hominem attacks on me and proceed to the conclusions of my “campaign.”
I present evidence(October 2018) that M Dwarfs, which comprise some 80 per cent of all stellar real estate in the Universe are very unlikely to support planets capable of harbouring life owing to their frequent flaring events, not to mention tidal locking of planets within their putative habitable zones:
At this stage I inform readers that the scientist who first brought the “Hand of God phenomenon” (the very phrase used by Dr. Richert in his December 12 2018 Nature Communications paper) in prebiotic chemical synthesis to the attention of the wider scientific community was Dr. Fazale Rana, staff biochemist with Reasons to Believe (www.reasons.org). Dr. Rana actually anticipated the admissions of both Dr. Tour and Dr. Richert in his 2011 book; Creating Life In the Lab.
More on this here: https://www.youtube….ZgO-sEw&t=1098s
I respond to one post (# 103) of this thread, where the poster presented work by Dr. Jack Szostak(Harvard University).
“It must be noted that some of Szostak’s claims of RNA self replication were retracted owing to the inability of his colleagues to reproduce the work.
In an interview Szostak said, “we were totally blinded by our belief [in our findings]…we were not as careful or rigorous as we should have been…”
Another 2009 paper by Szostak et al was similarly retracted.
I point out that in light of the gross negligence in accountability of origin of life research protocols and the “Hand of God phenomenon(read cheating)” that occurs in prebiotic research that Dr. Tour calls for a moratorium on such research.
One responder asks what the relevance of all my posts is.
I did not respond, as I deemed the string of posts as being logically consistent with the matter in hand. It was just another attempt at provocation but I did say this:
“I would suggest you speak with Dr. Tour on these matters. He is better qualified than I to elaborate on this and I’m not here to discuss details. But what I will say is the popular science/astronomy magazine articles and their editorial teams should stop flogging lies to the general public, who have swallowed this claptrap hook line and sinker, based on their pagan ideologies.”
Finally I presented a summary of what science actually tells us about life on Earth and elsewhere in the Universe by Dr Tour himself:
“Life should not exist. This much we know from chemistry. In contrast to the ubiquity of life on earth, the lifelessness of other planets makes far better chemical sense……….We synthetic chemists should state the obvious. The appearance of life on earth is a mystery. We are nowhere near solving this problem. The proposals offered thus far to explain life’s origin make no scientific sense.
Beyond our planet, all the others that have been probed are lifeless, a result in accord with our chemical expectations. The laws of physics and chemistry’s Periodic Table are universal, suggesting that life based upon amino acids, nucleotides, saccharides and lipids is an anomaly. Life should not exist anywhere in our universe. Life should not even exist on the surface of the earth.”
At this point, the forum moderator, clearly incensed by these comments, blocks my further participation in the thread. The author acknowledges this as a flagrant violation of free speech but does not protest.
I would submit to the reader that what is presented above is actually the most accurate and up-to-date scientific assessment of the phenomon of life and whether it can emerge on other planets. It is at direct odds with the prevailing notion among science journalists and the general public, who, by and large, lack any scientific training on this matter. Doubtless the pagan media will continue to peddle lies to a naive readership. So be on your guard!
This is the position I hold to as of late January 2019
I mentioned that this campaign was a source of “great non-personal success.” This is evidenced by the large increases (up to ten fold) of the number of “likes” received from the viewing public to the youtube clips presented in the short time since they were posted. Hitting the “like” button helps to increase the profile of these presentations, allowing more people to find and share them with their friends.
Lies need to be exposed; as St. Paul declares:
Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them.
Dr. Neil English maintains a keen interest in origin of life research and is deeply sceptical of the evolutionary paradigm.
If you like this work and wish to support the author, please consider buying a copy of his latest book, Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy, which touches on such issues here and there, newly published by Springer Nature.
Anno Domini MMXVIII
We’ve reached the end of yet another year; and boy do they come round fast and furious! It seems like yesterday when the freezing Beast from the East was upon us, and that gave way to a unusually warm summer. Our family ventured across the waters to visit my brethern remaining in the south of Ireland and to catch up with old friends and acquaintances. But it was also a year where I made considerable progress establishing how good the British Isles are for doing all kinds of astronomy, having completed a survey of a dozen or so different sites across the British Isles. Despite the prognostications of casual observers, Britain and Ireland possess many prime locations to conduct visual astronomy, and in particular, high-resolution double star astronomy using small and medium-sized Newtonian reflectors.
In August, I conducted a month-long observational program to establish to what extent the Jet Stream affected my ability to resolve a variety of double stars ranging from between 1 and 2″ angular separation, finding no real evidence in support of its alleged effects and that it need not deter a determined observer to enjoy visual astronomy. It was, to my knowledge, the first such survey to be conducted on the subject.
My scepticism concerning the virtues of small, expensive refractors grew ever stronger throughout 2018, when I finally rid myself of the last remaining apochromatic refractor in my stable. As I have exhaustively shown, a much simpler and less expensive 130mm f/5 Newtonian proved superior to a 90mm ED glass on all sky targets. The former instrument has become my grab ‘n’ go telescope of choice, based solely on optical performance.
I will not be updating my book on refractors, as my conscience will not countenance the continued cultivation of untruths about their supposed virtues in the field.
I’m a Newtonian convert!
In another project, I tested a variety of optical devices that enable observers to use Newtonian reflectors during daylight hours, finding that the 130mm f/5 Newtonian coupled to a Vixen erect image adapter to be a fine, cost-effective alternative to large, expensive ED spotting ‘scopes.
My continuing blog entitled: the War on Truth: the Triumph of Newtoniasm, I have collated the opinions of a large volume of observers and authorities in the field from around the world, both historical and contemporary, which clearly show that Newtonian reflectors in the 8- to 12-inch aperture class will outperform smaller refractors at a fraction of the price, in sharp contradistinction to two decades of nefarious promotion by so-called ‘experienced’ amateurs. One of the key reasons for this blurring of the truth pertains to my suspicion that many refractor enthusiasts either don’t know, or are unwilling, to accurately collimate these instruments and/or are too lazy to allow adequate thermal acclimation of the same.
That being said, I have been very encouraged by the response of the amateur community to this legitimate protest. It seems many more former refractor onlyists are willing to consider the Newtonian once more and that’s a good thing!
2018 has also been a year where I have re-discovered the considerable virtues of binoculars. As a series of recent blogs showed, I have found a range of optically excellent roof prism binoculars that suit the budgets of many more amateurs, enabling the hobby to grow and not stagnate. Although I have certainly not spent a small fortune buying every other model, as others have done, I quickly gravitated towards two instruments, both made by Barr & Stroud, a 10 x 50 unit for dedicated binocular astronomy using a monopod, and a most excellent 8 x 42 Savannah wide-angle instrument for casual stargazing and nature observation. The latter has become a constant companion on my long country walks. I sincerely wish that others will test these binoculars themselves and spread the love.
I intend to drastically cull my current crop of astronomy equipment in 2019 as it has weighed heavy on my mind of late. I have retired mighty Octavius, my 8 inch f/6 Newtonian reflector, as it has achieved everything I intended for it and much more besides. My intention is to eventually gift it to some keen amateur who will use it productively. My 5 inch f/12 refractor is similarly retired. The little Orion SpaceProbe 3 alt-azimuth reflector and my old 7 x 50s were bequeathed to Gavin, a very enthusiastic young man of 8, who showed unusual interest in astronomy, and uses them regularly to stargaze from his home just outside our village.
I plan to use just three instruments in the coming year:
A 12″ f/5 Newtonian(Duodecim)
A 130mm F/5 Newtonian(Plotina)
These three instruments will enable me to enagage with the full gamut of amateur astronomy. They are all I could possibly want!
I would like to produce more blogs on binocular astronomy in the coming year, Lord willing, as well as produce new reports with both the 130mm f/5 and 12″ f/5 instruments.
2018 marked the end of a long slog to get my new book into shape; Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy. It’s been five years in the making, but it was an enjoyable and worthwhile project, bringing together the selected works of many amateur and professional astronomers across four centuries of time, who used their telescopes, both great and small, to create the wonderful hobby we enjoy today. What I learned from their diligent adventures under the stars is incalulable and I have tried hard to capture the essence of their life and researches in this large, historical work. It is my fondest hope that it will be well received by my peers. Please check out the reviews as they appear.
Finally, I am in the process of writing a new book dedicated to the ShortTube 80 achromatic telescope which ought to be available at the end of 2019. I have amassed a large body of notes from several years of using this quirky little telescope in the field, which I hope will be of interest to the many amateurs, young and old alike, who use or have used the instrument in the past.
So, there it is!
God bless you all!
It is undoubtedly true that by far the most prevalent reason why so many amateurs have dissed Newtonian reflectors in the past boils down to poorly collimated ‘scopes which lead to less than inspiring images. The amateur who pays close attention to accurate collimation will however discover the solid virtues of these marvellous telescopes and will soon forget the bad experiences of the past.
I’ve noticed a trend over the last few decades, where more and more amateurs have become lazy and impatient. They want instant gratification. This is one of the main reasons why many have turned to hassle-free instruments such as small refractors and Maksutov Cassegrains. It’s an entirely understandable trend, but in other ways it is lamentable. One of the downsides of this trend is that amateurs have become less concerned with learning practical optics, deferring instead to higher tech ways of obtaining optimal results in the field. One such technology is the laser collimator; a very useful device that has made accurate collimation far less of a chore than it was just a few decades ago. But while many have defaulted to using such tools as labour-saving devices, they have, at best, become less familiar, or at worst, all but forgotten the traditional tools used in the alignment of telescope optics; tools such as the collimation cap and the Cheshire eyepiece, and in so doing have less and less understanding of how their telescopes actually work.
The desire for super-accurate collimation has undoutedly been fuelled by the advent of faster optical systems; often supporting sub-f/5 primaries. Once, the traditional Newtonian was almost invariably made with higher f ratios:- F/7 to f/10 and beyond, and requiring very little in the way of maintenance. This is abundantly evidenced by the scant attention astronomy authors of the past gave to such pursuits. In contrast, modern Newtonians are usually f/6 or faster, necessitating much greater attention to accurate optical collimation if excellent results are to be consistently attained during field use.
In my chosen passtime of double star observing, I have acknowledged the need for accurate collimation. Such work often requires very high magnifications; up to and in excess of 50x per inch of aperture, to prize apart close double stars, some of which are below 1 arc second in angular separation. At such high powers, sub-standard collimation results in distorted images of stellar Airy disks, and that’s something that I’m not willing to put up with. In this capacity, I have tested a number of collimaton techniques using a few different laser collimating devices but have also spent quite a lot of time comparing such methods to more traditional techniques involviing the tried and trusted collimation cap and Cheshire eyepiece.
To begin with, it is important to stress that the methods covered in this blog can be achieved easily with a little practice, and I will gladly defer to recognised authorities in the art of Newtonian collimation, such as the late Nils Olif Carlin and Gary Seronik, who have done much to dispel the potentially stressful aspects of telescope collimation. Nothing I will reveal here goes beyond or challenges anything they have already said. My goal is to reassure amateurs that one can happily live without lasers, especially if your Netwonians are of the f/5 or f/6 variety.
Many of the entry-level laser collimators often manifest some issues; partcularly if they are not collimated prior to use. Thankfully, the inexpensive SkyWatcher Next Generation that I have used for a few years did come reasonably well collimated, but others have not been so fortunate. One easy way to see if your laser collimator needs collimating is to place it in the focuser of the telescope and rotate it, examining the behaviour of the beam on the primary. If the beam does not stay in place, but traces out a large annulus, you will have issues and will need to properly collimate the laser. This is not particularly difficult to do and many resources are available on line to help you grapple with this problem. See here and here, for examples.
Of course, you can pay extra for better made laser collimators that are precisely collimated at the factory. Units that have received very good feedback from customers include systems manufactured by Hotech, AstroSystems and Howie Glatter. Some of these are quite expensive in relative terms but many amateurs are willing to shell out for them because they deliver consistently good results. My own journey took me in a different direction though. Instead of investing in a top-class laser collimator, I re-discovered the virtues of traditional techniques involving the collimation cap and Cheshire eyepiece.
My personal motivation to return to traditional, low-tech tools was stoked more from a desire to understand Newtonian telescopes more than anything else. Any ole eejit can use a laser collimator but it deprives you of attaining a deep understanding of how Newtonians operate. In addition, I have frequently found myself dismantling whole ‘scopes in order to get at the mirrors to give them a good clean and this meant I had to learn how to put them back together from scratch. The simpe collimation cap has been found to be an indispensable tool in this regard, allowing one to rapidly centre the secondary mirror in the shadow of the primary.
Using just this tool, I’ve been able to set up all my Newtonians rapidly to achieve good results from the get go, at both low amd medium powers more or less routinely.
For the highest power applications more accuracy is required and I have personally found that a quality Cheshire eyepiece to be more than sufficient to accurately align the optics in just a few minutes. Not all Cheshires are created equal though; some are less accurate than others. For my own use, I have settled on a beautifully machined product marketed by First Light Optics here in the UK ( be sure to check out the reviews while you’re at it). For the modest cost of £37, I have acquired a precision tool to take the hassle out of fine adjustment. The unit features a long sight tube with precisely fitted cross hairs that are accurately aligned with the peep hole. It needs no batteries and comes with no instructions but with a little practice, it works brilliantly!
Because all of my Newtonians are of the closed-tube variety, they are robust enough to only require very slight tweaks to the collimation. I would estimate that 80 per cent of the time, it is only the primary mirror that requires adjusting in field use. I have found this overview by AstroBaby to be very useful in regard to using the Cheshire and would recommend it to others.
The Cheshire eyepiece is a joy to use when collimating my 130mm f/5. Because the tube is short, I can access both the primary and secondary Bob’s Knobs screws to whip the whole system into alignment faster than with my laser. With my longer instruments; partcularly my 8″ f/6 and 12″ f/5, collimation using the Cheshire is decidely more challenging as they both have longer tubes. That said, by familiarising one’s self with the directions of motion executed with the three knobs on the primary, one can very quickly achieve precise collimation. One useful tip is to number the knobs individually so that you can dispense with the guesswork of which knob to reach for to get the requisite adjustment. At dusk, with the telescopes sitting pretty in their lazy suzan cradles, and with the Chesire eyepiece in place in the focuser, I swing the instrument back and forth to alternately view the position of the primary in the eyepiece and the knob(s) I need to turn. Doing this, I get perfect results in just a few minutes; a little longer than can be achieved with a laser, admittedly, but not long enough to render the process exhausting or boring. It’s time well spent.
The proof the pudding, of course, is in the eating, and in this capacity, I have found the Cheshire to achieve very accurate results each time, every time. Indeed, it has made my laser collimator blush on more than a few occasions, where high power star tests and images of close double stars reveal that the laser was out a little, requiring a collimation tweak under the stars. Indeed, the Chesire is so accurate that it has become my reference method to assess the efficacy of all the laser collimators I’ve had the pleasure of testing.
While I fully acknowledge the utility of good laser collimators, I get much more of a kick out of seeing, with my own eyes, how all the optical components of the Newtonian fall into place using the Cheshire. Furthermore, the fact that it requires no batteries (and so no issues with the unit failing in the field for lack of power, as has happened to me on more than a few occasions), deeply appeals to my longing for low-tech simplicity in all things astronomical. The fact that the aforementioned amateurs also recommend the Cheshire as an accurate tool for collimating a Newtonian makes it all the more appealing.
Having said all this, the utility of a Cheshire eyepiece lessens as the f ratio of your telescope gets smaller, so much so that for f/4 ‘scopes ar faster, the laser technique will, almost certainly, yield more accurate results. But that’s OK. We are blessed in this day and age with many good tools that can make Newtonian optics shine!
Note added in proof: August 14 2018
If you do decide that you don’t like using a good Chesire eyepiece for precise collimation of your Newtonian reflectors, then I would highly recommend the Hotech SCA laser collimator. It’s an ingenious device (but costs significantly more than a regular laser collimator), but in this case you really do get what you pay for. I have tested the device on all three of my Newtonians and it gives accurate and reproducible results that agree perfectly with the Chesire. It yields perfect star tests at appropriately high powers (I’d recommend a magnification roughly equal to the diameter of your mirror in millimetres for such field tests) both in focus and defocused. I’d go for it if you can afford it. You will still need the collimation cap to centre the secondary before use however. See here and here for more details.
Neil English is author of Choosing and Using a Dobsonian Telescope.
Date: Wednesday March 28 2018
Seeing: III, bright gibbous Moon, small amounts of cloud cover in an otherwise clear sky.
It is often claimed that refractors give more aesthetically pleasing images of celestial objects than reflectors. But how true is this statement? Last night, I learned yet another instructive lesson that shatters this myth once and for all.
Earlier in the evening, I fielded my 8″ f/6 Newtonian against a very good 90mm f/5.5 ED apochromat. The target was Theta Aurigae, then sinking into the western sky and so past its best position for observing. Seeing was only average. Both telescopes had been fielded about 90 minutes earlier with the optics capped, so both were completely acclimated. I charged the apochromat with a 2.4mm Vixen HR eyepiece yielding 208x. The 8 inch Newtonian was charged with a 6mm Baader orthoscopic ocular delivering 200x.
Examining the system in the 8 inch reflector showed the primary star as a slightly swollen Airy disk but the faint companion was clearly visible. In contrast, the view through the 90mm refractor showed a less disturbed primary but the secondary(for the most part) couldn’t be seen!
Question: How can an image be deemed more aesthetically pleasing when a prime target (the secondary) in that said image can plainly be seen in one instrument and not in the other?
Date: Thursday March 29 2018
Time: 00:05 UT
Seeing; II/III, slight improvement from earlier, otherwise very similar.
Later the same night, I fielded my 130mm F/5 Newtonian along side the 90mm refractor and turned my attention to a spring favourite; Epsilon Bootis, now rising higher in the eastern sky.
This time, I charged the refractor with a 2.0mm Vixen HR eyepiece yielding 250x. The Newtonian was fitted with a Parks Gold 7.5mm eyepiece coupled to a Meade 3x Barlow lens giving a power of 260x. Examining the system, I was quite shocked by the difference between the images; the refractor did show a dull, greenish companion but it was entangled in the diffraction gunk from the orange primary. What’s more, the entire system was surrounded by chromatic fog owing to the imperfect colour correction of the refractor (an FPL 51 doublet). In contrast, the 130mm f/5 Newtonian image was far superior in every way; the Airy disks were smaller, tighter and more cleanly separated, and with zero chromatic fog to be seen. The Newtonian image remained just as stable as in the refractor image throughout the observation! The components also displayed their pure colours (as only a reflector can yield); the primary orange and the secondary, blue. In a phrase, the differences between the images was like night and day!
Conclusions: The 130mm Newtonian provided a much more aesthetically pleasing image than the refractor, which was compromised by its smaller aperture and less than perfect colour correction. As a small portable telescope, the Newtonian is far more powerful and is capable of delivering images that are simply in a different league to the refractor.
ED 90 Refractor: Proxime accessit.
130mm f/5 Newtonian(Plotina): Victrix/Pulcherrima!
Postscriptum: As always, I would encourage others to test these claims. Truth matters.
Neil English is author of Grab ‘n’ Go Astronomy.
Dedicated to Billy Graham (1918–2018).
Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
The everlasting God, the Lord,
The Creator of the ends of the earth,
Neither faints nor is weary.
His understanding is unsearchable.
In many ways, bibles are a lot like telescopes; both have the potential to transform your perspective. Some folk struggle to find even one. Others collect many different kinds. Some bibles are small and ultraportable, while others are large and unwieldy. Some copies of Holy Scripture are beautiful and ornate, lavished with fine art, and painstakingly assembled from the choicest natural materials. Still others are plain Jane, simple, with no frills; just the text, and maybe a concordance. Some folk parade their bible as if it were a measure of how well one walks with Christ. But many, not seeking to be ostentatious, quietly and modestly read their bibles in complete privacy. Some like to look at their bibles and never really look through them. Some learn a great deal from their bibles, others, little or nothing.
There has never been a better time to read the bible, for it is the only collection of books that makes sense of our earthly predicament and provides a coherent and just solution. The world is changing too fast and too much, and I fear that many have no real idea of where our kind is destined to end up. But by studying the biblical narrative, we can get a clear picture of where the world is headed for and what its fate will be. The bible shapes your worldview like no other body of literature, and keeps you moored in a view of morality that is absolute, and which cannot be changed by the fickle and ephemeral nature of human culture.
Today, many excellent translations in hundreds of languages are now available online or in traditional form. But are some translations better than others? Let’s look at the kinds of English bible translations that are now available.
‘Word for Word’ or ‘Thought for Thought’?
As any linguist will tell you, the process of translation is a task that cannot, by definition, satisfy all of the people all of the time. This is particularly true of the bible, where the original manuscripts were written in Hebrew, Aramaic and so called Koine (read common man’s) Greek. Thus, any translation involves a fair degree of discernment in choosing the right words to express, as precisely as possible, the original meaning conveyed in these texts. That has led modern biblical translation scholarship to adopt two basic philosophies; ‘word for word’ and ‘thought for thought.’ The former variety strive to exchange the words written in these ancient texts with modern words that, as far as possible, adhere to the original wording found in the most ancient texts. The latter adopt an entirely different, but no less important approach, taking the ancient texts and imparting a modern rendering that captures the essential thoughts conveyed by the original authors. Examples of good ‘word for word’ translations in the English language include the English Standard Version(ESV), the Modern English Version (MEV), the King James Version (KJV), the New King James Version (NKJV) and the New American Standard Bible(NASB). Examples of popular ‘thought for thought’ translations include the New International Version (NIV), the Christian Standard Bible (CSB), the New Living Translation (NLT) and the Good News Bible(GNB).
Still other translations seek to reach a particular subset of society. For example, so−called Messianic Bibles, such as the fairly new Tree of Life Version (TLV), was compiled by Messianic Jewish scholars with the express intention to impart a distinctive Jewish voice to the Scriptures, removing words like ‘Lord’ and ‘Jesus’ and replacing them with their Hebrew equivalents, ‘Adonai’ and ‘Yeshua,’ respectively. Not a bad idea! Finally, there are very loose paraphrases of the bible, where the author’s intent is to summarise whole paragraphs of biblical text with a wording that departs quite a bit from the originals, and for the purposes of conveying the key ideas therein. Examples of these include the Message Bible (by Eugene Peterson) and the older but still highly popular Living Bible (by the late Kenneth Taylor). I use the latter to read extended passages of the biblcal narrative to my sons; a duty I take very seriously.
An aside: Did you have your children Christened? If so, you made an oath that you would bring them up in the Christian faith. Do they know the Lord’s Prayer? How about John 3:16? Do they know anything of the Gospels? Can they recite something from the Psalms?
Finally, there are corruptions of the biblical text that should be avoided at all cost. Examples include the New World Translation (NWT), used by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which has monkeyed with the divinity of Christ, portraying Him not as God but merely a powerful angel, and the Book of Mormon, used by the Church of Latter Day Saints, which concocts an entirely fabricated narrative that mimics the bible (they’re bible wanabees). Another is the tongue−in−cheek Queen James Bible, which has removed all references to the abominable practice of homosexuality.
Choosing a bible can be a daunting task for a beginner, especially when one is confronted with the proliferation of translations. Having read and enjoyed many bible versions, I have found all of them to be useful and enriching. The ‘thought for thought’ versions are very easy to assimilate but at the cost of veering away from the technical precision of the ‘word for word’ varieties. In the end, I have found it helpful to enjoy a good example of both; the NKJV (for accuracy) and the NLT (for readability). We’re all different though, and get different things from different translations.. And that’s OK too.
Features to Look for in a Good Bible
All that having been said, there is another aspect of bible culture that is of some importance and this pertains to how well made the copies are. In short, a bible that is to be used regularly must ideally be well made and last many years if it is to be of maximal value. So, here I wish to offer some thoughts on my own experiences with a variety of bibles, and what features I tend to look for when shopping for a good, durable bible.
I have found hardback versions of the Holy Bible to be the least durable. They are generally quite poorly bound and tend to fall apart quickly with continued use. If you use a hardback version, chances are you’ll be taping it up before long. Much better are the soft covered bibles, which come as simple paperbacks, imitation leather (usually polyurethane or ‘trutone’) and bona fide leather bound incarnations. I avoid bibles that are heavily glued and not Smyth−sewn.
Soft covers also open out flat on a table or in your hand, largely avoiding the tendency for the pages to flip over accidentally or haphazardly. The font size can also be an issue. If the font is too small, it will be difficult to read, even with eyeglasses. If it is too large, the bible will have to be bigger and heavier than is desired. That said, there are many thinline versions now available in 8 point or larger font, and which can be carried around easily in a rucksack or handbag. The font should be clear and distinct, ideally with good line matching, so as to minimise the effects of text ghosting. Ideally, the bible will have a decent number of cross references, so that you can quickly find quotations taken from other parts of the bible that have a bearing on the part of Scripture being studied. A comprehensive concordance (normally placed at the back of the bible) and a few relevant maps of the biblical world is also a godsend. Some folk like to have wide margins, so as to make notes. Others simply want the text, pure and simple.
In this digital age in which we live there are many excellent online resources to help you study the bible. Bible Gateway and Bible Hub.com provide the entire text of the bible in many different versions, only a few of which I have mentioned in this blog. Perhaps the most comprehensive online resource is the NEW English Translation (NET) bible, which is a novel translation compiled by a team of biblical scholars accessing the best currently available Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew, together with over 58,000 translators’ notes. The NET bible is also available in conventional form. I should also mention Biblia.com which seems to offer a similar service to the NET bible. One can also buy Kindle versions of most any bible translation for use on your electronic devices.
My Personal Favourite Bible
While I certainly enjoy and cherish many English translations of the bible, I wanted to share with you some of the qualities I looked for in my own personal quest for a bible for study and use in my daily devotionals. I narrowed the translations down to two; the ESV or the NKJV. And while I can recommend both wholeheartedly, I gravitated toward the latter, owing to its literary ‘cadence’ and its devotion to the tradition of the original King James Version (though the author does not endorse so−called King James ‘onlyism’). I felt the ESV had developed too much of a ‘cult’ following and I’ve always been one to go my own way, championing the ‘underdog,’ as it were.
Having read the NKJV through a few times, I have never come across a typographical error in this version, unlike others I’ve encountered. For example, while reading the book of Jeremiah in the otherwise excellent Tree of Life Version(TLV) of the Bible, I encountered a clear error in this translation (see the TLV Jeremiah 34:14), which (for me) was slightly annoying. The same bible also has printing errors in the short book of Obadiah. Errors are more likely to occur when small teams of biblical scholars are involved and the TLV had a smaller scholarship base than many of the more established English translations. I hope the committee responsible for the TLV can sort out these errors in due course. The NKJV has been around since 1982 (Thomas Nelson publishers) and so any bugs in this version have long been sorted out. Indeed, I was just a boy when the NKJV first hit the shelves; and yet, in the rapidly changing world in which we live, the NKJV is now considered somewhat of a classic lol.
It is also noteworthy to mention that the older Thomas Nelson rendition of the NKJV also featured asterisks alongside passges from the Old and New Testaments, indicating where prophecies were either fulfilled or had yet to be fulfilled. But these are eisegenic interpretations (reading into the text) and I liked the way the new Holman publication removed them so that the reader could interpret them in his or her own way.
I wanted a Smyth−sewn binding for my bible as these are very strong and durable, but also because they open flat without much effort. I also considered buying a copy bound in high quality leather (like with my NIV 2011), but yet again I have found the modern polyurethane (trutone) covers to be just as good. What’s more, unlike leather, they don’t need to be nourished from time to time with conditioning agents in order to keep them in tip top condition. In addition, leather, being organic, is biodegradable, so will decay with time; something the synthetic polymers won’t do to the same degree(so long as you don’t sit it out in the hot sun, day in day out lol).
I wanted a bible with only the text, neither with introductions or other distractions from the text itself. And while I used to take copious notes during my earlier bible studies, these days I just enjoy the bare text without margins.
I wanted a fairly large font, so I could read it without using my glasses, even in fairly dim light.The quality of the paper had to be good too, but not so good that I would be afraid to soil it. The Holman has a single ribbon page marker, and while I would have preferred two, I can live with having only one. The text is printed in American English but that was never an issue for me. It had to be reasonably well line matched and I wanted the words of the Messiah in red lettering. All these requirements led me to a very useful version, published by Holman Bible Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee, USA. Unlike the cheap, bonded leather of the older Nelson version (the newer Nelson NKJV are better made though) of the NKJV, the Holman iteration has a beautiful but not overly showy trutone cover. Finally, I didn’t want to spend too much on yet another bible. The Holman was priced very economically and was well worth the modest price I paid for it. I hope to be able to use it well into my old age.
So, in summary, there are many beautiful bibles available today; something to suit everyone’s taste, and for all occasions. My hope is that this short article will inspire others to begin a new study of the bible and to keep the words of our Creator alive and well in our hearts.
Postscript: Thomas Nelson have now brought out a brand-new Deluxe Reader’s Bible which is beautifully made and very reasonably priced. You can see a review of it here.
I’ve noticed that one issue that seems to give folk concern about investing in a good Newtonian pertains to having to clean the optics every now and again. I’ve never really understood this mindset though. Having had my closed-tube 8-inch Newtonian for about 18 months now, and having clocked up a few hundred hours of observations with it, I felt it was time to give the mirrors a cleaning. Here’s how I do it:
The mirrors are removed from the tube.
First I make sure that all the loose dust and debris has been blown off using an air brush. Next, I run some cold tap water into a sink and add a drop or two of washing up liquid. The water we use here is very soft; indeed we are graced with some of the softest water in the British Isles, which also makes drinking tea especially pleasant! If your local water source is hard, I’d definitely recommend using de-ionised/distilled water.
Starting with the secondary mirror, I dip my fingers into the water and apply some of it onto the mirror surface with my finger tips, gently cleaning it using vertical strokes. Did you know that your finger tips are softer than any man-made cloth and are thus ideal for cleaning delicate surfaces like telescope mirrors?
Next, the mirror reflective surface is rinsed under some cold, running tap water.
The procedure is repeated for the primary mirror;
The mirrors are then supported on their sides to allow them to drain excess water, and then left to dry in a warm, kitchen environment. Stubborn water droplets nucleating on the mirrors are removed using some absorbent tissue.
Finally, the mirrors are placed back in the telescope tube, making sure not to over-tighten the screws which hold the primary in place inside its cell. All that remains then is to accurately align the optical train, as described previously.
There we are! Not so difficult after all; and all done in about 40 minutes! The soft water doesn’t show up any significant spots after cleaning unlike hard water sources and now the optics are as clean as the day they were produced.
With a busy season of optical testing and planetary observing ahead, I know that my 8-inch will be operating as well as it possibly can. And that’s surely good to know!
I feel a nice, hot cuppa is in order!