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Monday, October 31, 2005

The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life, pt. 7

I continue a series of excerpts from The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith. The book, which is public domain, is available on-line in its entirety here. This version is somewhat different from the paperback I have in my physical possession. (New York: Ballentine Books, 1986) For an article on Smith, in Christian History, go here.

This is some of what Smith had to say on "Difficulties Concerning Temptation"

It seems hardly worth while to say that temptation is not sin, and yet most of the distress about it arises from not understanding this fact. The very suggestion of wrong seems to bring pollution with it, and the evil agency not being recognized, the poor tempted soul begins to feel as if it must be very bad indeed, and very far off from God to have had such thoughts and suggestions. It is as though a burglar should break into a man's house to steal, and, when the master of the house began to resist him and to drive him out, should turn round and accuse the owner of being himself the thief. It is the enemy's grand ruse for entrapping us. He comes and whispers suggestions of evil to us, doubts, blasphemies, jealousies, envyings, and pride; and then turns round and says, "Oh, how wicked you must be to think of such things! It is very plain that you are not trusting the Lord; for if you were, it would have been impossible for these things to have entered your heart." This reasoning sounds so very plausible that the soul often accepts it as true, and at once comes under condemnation, and is filled with discouragement; then it is easy for it to be led on into actual sin. One of the most fatal things in the life of faith is discouragement. One of the most helpful is cheerfulness. A very wise man once said that in overcoming temptations, cheerfulness was the first thing, cheerfulness the second, and cheerfulness the third. We must expect to conquer. That is why the Lord said so often to Joshua, "Be strong and of a good courage"; "Be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed"; "Only be thou strong and very courageous." And it is also the reason He says to us, "Let not your heart he troubled neither let it be afraid." The power of temptation is in the fainting of our own hearts. The enemy knows this well, and always begins his assaults by discouraging us, if it can in any way be accomplished.
Sometimes this discouragement arises from what we think is a righteous grief and disgust at ourselves that such things could be any temptation to us; but which is really a mortification arising from the fact that we have been indulging in a secret self-congratulation that our tastes were too pure, or our separation from the world was too complete for such things to tempt us. We have expected something from ourselves, and have been sorely disappointed not to find that something there, and are discouraged in consequence. This mortification and discouragement are really a far worse condition than the temptation itself, though they present an appearance of true humility, for they are nothing but the results of wounded self-love. True humility can bear to see its own utter weakness and foolishness revealed, because it never expected anything from itself, and knows that its only hope and expectation must be in God. Therefore, instead of discouraging the soul from trusting, it drives it to a deeper and more utter trust. But the counterfeit humility which springs from self, plunges the soul into the depths of a faithless discouragement, and drives it into the very sin at which it is so distressed.

Temptation, therefore, cannot be sin; and the truth is, it is no more a sin to hear these whispers and suggestions of evil in our souls, than it is for us to hear the swearing or wicked talk of bad men as we pass along the street. The sin only comes in either case by our stopping and joining in with them. If, when the wicked suggestions come, we turn from them at once, as we would from wicked talk, and pay no more attention to them, we do not sin. But if we carry them on in our minds, and roll them under our tongues, and dwell on them with a half-consent of our will to them as true, then we sin. We may be enticed by evil a thousand times a day without sin, and we cannot help these enticings. But if the enemy can succeed in making us think that his enticings are our sin, he has accomplished half the battle, and can hardly fail to gain a complete victory.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Sunspots 28

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:

I continue to be amazed at the Botany Photo of the Day. (This has an RSS feed) The photos on the page linked are thumbnails, and, if you click, they blow up to large size, and are spectacular. My Bloglines subscription page gives me the large pictures without any such manipulation.

For a time . . . he indulged in pleasures he could now afford. Sanctuary provided them in rich variety. But his tastes did not run to every conceivable kind, and presently those he enjoyed took on a surprising sameness. "Could it be that the gods of vice, even the gods of luxury, have less imagination than the gods of virtue and wholesomeness?" he wondered. The thought appalled. Poul Anderson, "The Lady of the Winds," in David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer, eds, Year's Best Fantasy 2. New York: HarperCollins, 2002, pp. 378-416. Quote is from p. 379. Story originally appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, 2001. C. S. Lewis said somewhat the same thing, I believe, in The Screwtape Letters.

Article "In the Wake of Katrina: Has "Bioethics" Failed?" saying that bioethics mostly veers from controversy to controversy, without building a firm foundation.

Pastor Perry asks, and answers, "Did Jesus Smile?"

Here's a post on whether extraterrestrials are Christian. (Thanks to Catez Stevens of Blogwatch.)

Slate on why South Korea is leading the world in research on embryonic cells. The article discusses, among other things, the fact that Korea is a nation with a lot of evangelical Christians.

from Ken Schenck on interpreting Scripture:
So I find the way IWU professors and the evangelical milieu uses Scripture is in this pre-modern way. They are looking for absolute truth in the words--the "biblical" perspective on whatever issue. I am not saying that this is bad. What I'm pointing out that Paul did not originally understand himself to be writing for all times and all places. Originally, his words had specific meanings in the light of specific situations... When Christian communities use the words of the Bible as the source of their beliefs, most of the time they are working out modern theology and speaking far afield of what Paul originally had in mind.

Articles on the Dover School trial, which concerns the teaching of Intelligent Design as an alternative theory in public schools. Neither article is sympathetic to ID. This one says that Michael Behe admitted that astrology would meet his definition of a theory. This report, in Slate, is for Tuesday, Oct. 18, and has a link to Oct 17th. (I don't know why there aren't more in this series) I am sure there are reports on the trial sympathetic to ID, but I haven't seen them.

Laura Beth Atwood has posted about true repentance, versus false.

Rebecca confesses to something we've probably all done, namely that we focus on ourselves when tragedy strikes others.

Catez considers the question of what makes a blog successful. I commented on her post. So did others. Thanks, Bonnie, for pointing me there. (I subscribe to Catez's blog, and Bonnie's, and too many other people's, but I saw Bonnie's reference before I got to Catez's.)

I finally noticed, as they were together in Alabama a few days ago, that the cabinet persons responsible for dealing with other countries, from both the UK and the US, have names that come from the grass family. I also finally noticed that the links on my Google personal home page have alphabetized themselves.

Spiked article on stem cell research, wisely saying:

All this being said, ethical discussions are not simply an inconvenience that, in an ideal world, would simply not need to take place. The fact that members of a society disagree on such fundamental questions as 'When does life begin?' or 'What price scientific progress?' is part of what makes us human, and our societies democratic. In this sense, the debates that have accompanied the development of stem cell research are just as important as the scientific developments themselves. It is our capacity to debate questions of principle that makes us capable of making big decisions about life.

My wife and I have safely arrived at our destination in the Pacific Time Zone. Thanks for your prayers.

This week's Christian Carnival is here.

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Did/does Baal exist? More on Elijah at Mt. Carmel

A person, choosing to remain anonymous, commented on my recent post about Elijah and the encounter at Mt. Carmel as follows:

You stated that, "Probably being sacrificed, even to a non-existent god, defiled a bull for sacrifice to the God of Israel." My question is in regards to the "non-existent god." Do you think monotheism is a) the belief that only one God physically (or I suppose "spiritually" would be a better word) exists, and that all other "gods" are nothing more than imagined beings, or b) the belief that there is one God who alone is holy, righteous, and worthy of worship, who is greater than all other "gods" and is the creator of all other "gods" just as He is the creator of everything else?

I know that option "a" is the traditional answer (or at least that it has been traditional for most of church history) but do you think there is reason enough in the Bible to consider option "b" as being valid? A couple of points off the top of my head - the commandment "have no other gods before me." Sort of an easy one to stick to if no other gods exist, right? The name "most high God" (Daniel 5.18). If there is a "most high" God, doesn't that seem to imply that there are also "less high" gods? Throughout Scripture the term "god" or "gods" is used as though such "lesser gods" do physically/spiritually exist (Psalm 97.7-9). Perhaps we typically call them angels or demons (2 Cor 4.4 - Satan = "the god of this world") and its just a matter of semantics? What do you think?

An interesting book on this subject is God at War by Gregory A. Boyd.

Thanks for your comment. Actually, I thought, as I posted the phrase "non-existent god," that perhaps I ought to have been more careful and precise, but wasn't. Sorry.

Obviously, what I think on this particular question is of limited interest--I am not an authority in this area. However, what the Bible says about it should be of broad interest. As the commenter points out, the Bible seems to indicate that there really are spiritual beings who have power. Although the Bible also seems to teach that physical idols were totally impotent (for example, Dagon, "god" of the Philistines) that doesn't mean that spirits who might have responded to idol worship might not have existed, and have had some limited power. The New Testament indicates, in Ephesians 6:12, that there are spiritual beings with powers.

In other words, I'm not sure that Baal is or was non-existent. Perhaps some evil spirit, called Baal, inspired Baal-worship, and, for all I know, performed miracles in the name of Baal. If some evil spirit was Baal, then it certainly was impotent in the face of the One God of the Hebrews, and should never have been, or be, worshipped. In other words, if I had to vote, I would vote b.

The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life, pt. 6

I continue a series of excerpts from The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith. The book, which is public domain, is, available on-line in its entirety here. This version is somewhat different from the paperback I have in my physical possession. (New York: Ballentine Books, 1986)

These excerpts are from Smith's chapter, "Difficulties Concerning Doubts:"

It seems strange that people, whose very name of Believers implies that their one chiefest characteristic is that they believe, should have to confess to such experiences. And yet it is such a universal habit that I feel if the majority of the Church were to be named over again, the only fitting and descriptive name that could be given them would be that of Doubters. In fact, most Christians have settled down under their doubts, as to a sort of inevitable malady, from which they suffer acutely, but to which they must try to be resigned as a part of the necessary discipline of this earthly life. And they lament over their doubts as a man might lament over his rheumatism, making themselves out as an "interesting case" of especial and peculiar trial, which requires the tenderest sympathy and the utmost consideration.
And this is too often true of believers, who are earnestly longing to enter upon the life and walk of faith, and who have made perhaps many steps towards it. They have got rid, it may be, of the old doubts that once tormented them, as to whether their sins are really forgiven, and whether they shall, after all, get safe to Heaven; but they have not got rid of doubting. They have simply shifted the habit to a higher platform.

I am convinced that to many people doubting is a real luxury, and to deny themselves from indulging in it would be to exercise the hardest piece of self-denial they have ever known.

And this brings me to the practical part of the whole subject, as to how to get deliverance from this fatal habit. My answer would be that the deliverance from this can be by no other means than the deliverance from any other sin. It is to be found in the Lord and in Him only. You must hand your doubting over to Him, as you have learned to hand your other temptations. You must do just what you do with your temper, or your pride. You must give it up to the Lord. I believe myself the only effectual remedy is to take a pledge against it as you would urge a drunkard to do against drink, trusting in the Lord alone to keep you steadfast.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Musings on Elijah at Mt. Carmel

At our church's mid-week service on the 19th, our associate pastor read us I Kings 17-18. Here are some thoughts that came to me during our discussion of the passage.

He told us that the main theme of I Kings 17-18 is obedience. I don't disagree. He, and others in our bible study group, said that Elijah obeyed, and Ahab didn't. True. However, some non-human entities obeyed, too. The weather obeyed God, and so did the ravens, who brought Elijah food, meat and bread, twice a day. Did they have a choice? I doubt it. God is sovereign, and directed the winds and the birds. The people did have a choice. For a time, the Mt. Carmel experience influenced them to obey God.

Where did the ravens get their food? Surely God must have provided it (and the ravens). Behavior like this must be foreign to ravens, or any birds. Perhaps C. S. Lewis had this story in mind when he wrote the part about Aslan's table in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

The NIV study bible says that the widow of Zarephath lived in the geographic center of Baal worship, outside of Israel, and indicates that probably Elijah went there during the drought to signify God's supremacy over Baal.

Why did Elijah lie on top of the widow's dead son? Was he revived because of Elijah's faith, as he prayed, or because of Elijah's actions, in lying on top of him, and, perhaps warming him up, or performing rescusitation? The associate pastor said, both. We need to pray, and we need to do what we can.

When the sacrifices were made at Mt. Carmel, each religion had a bull. They could possibly have used the same bull twice, as Elijah knew that Baal wouldn't, and couldn't, send fire for the first one. Probably being sacrificed, even to a non-existent god, defiled a bull for sacrifice to the God of Israel. Elijah asked for two bulls, one for him, and one for the false prophets.

Where did the water come from that was poured over Elijah's sacrifice? One person suggested that this, too, was a sign of obedience. They used what little water was available, as Elijah directed, knowing that, in this drought, water was precious, and valuable for other purposes. It is also possible that the water was carried up from the sea to the top of Mt. Carmel.

Mendelssohn did a great job with the oratorio Elijah. My state university performed this music twice while I was there, and it was my privilege to be part of the chorus both times. You can hear much of the oratorio here, done with electronic instruments--I missed the chorus and orchestra! (I found these audio files with this search engine)

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Ethical ways (?) to produce embryonic stem cells, 2 has a post condemning Nature for its publication of two articles on alternative methods for producing embryonic stem cells. The author says that the science isn't important enough to meet Nature's standards. (Nature is perhaps the most important scientific periodical in the world. For example, the original Watson and Crick paper was published it its pages. It is not freely available on the Internet.)

The author goes on to say that these methods, should they be tested in humans, and prove effective, will still probably meet with religious/ethical objections, and indicates the reasons for such objections.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Travel Hiatus & prayer request

I referred to our daughter's military status earlier.

She has now been deployed, not to Iraq, but to a base about six hours away. Her husband has been caring for our now one-year-old grandson, but his job requires him to travel, so my wife and I are planning to travel West for an indeterminate period, beginning in a couple of days. (She may be deployed to Iraq sometime. There are, of course, other military families in much worse separation situations.)

Pray, please, that every detail of our preparation, journey, and living elsewhere will be what He wants it.

I don't expect to post as regularly, probably for the next couple of months. Will probably do so occasionally.

Thanks for reading.

Addendum: October 28, 2006

Thanks to anyone who prayed. It was a great experience for us, and, we hope, for our grandson and his parents.

Sunspots 27

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:

Katy McKenna Raymond, Christian writer, has gorgeous graphics on her blog.

The Anchoress decides that we can't be sure if the Kashmiri earthquake, Rita, Katrina, Tammy, etc., are signs of the end, but that we need to be sure of our relationship to Christ. Parableman writes on the same topic, more or less. He says that the end times "began with Jesus' incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension."

Bonnie refers to one of my posts in her discussion of "When does a human life begin?" I still owe her a response.

Penitens preaches on origins. His points are that God's creative ability is mentioned in scripture, and can be recognized with anyone with good sense, and that it is dangerous to read scriptural warnings as if they were for others, or about things that we especially don't like. He is right -- we have all sinned.

Weekend Fisher writes carefully and lovingly about redemption and other religions.

Nature News has articles about harnessing energy from ocean waves, here and here.

Residents of the U. S. will be amazed at Katherine's description of a trip to the doctor in France. Here's more from her on the same subject.

Two Firefox extensions I am trying are Nuke Anything Enhanced, which can be used to eliminate parts of web pages you don't want to see or print. It's one of the Web Annoyances extensions. Once Nuke Anything Enhanced is installed, you can right-click on items on a web page, and one of the options is "Remove This Item." ReminderFox is supposed to serve as a calendar. It is under Entertainment extensions, or here, where you will also find the FAQ.

William Saletan says that "lefties" have trouble with the beginning of life -- recognizing the significance of zygotes and early embryos, and the right has trouble with the end -- placing too much significance on someone who is dying, or near to it.

The principal of a Catholic high school has cancelled the school's prom, not, he says, because of the fornication, or the intemperate or illegal alcohol consumption (although there has been plenty of both of those, and he wasn't happy with either, apparently) but because of the lavish spending.

My RSS subscription service, Bloglines, has some new features which are helpful, especially the one that lets you see how many new items there are from a feed, versus the ones you checked to keep available from the past. (I am planning to do without the new horoscope and lottery number feeds also available . . .)

I have received no information on this week's Christian Carnival

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Ethical ways (?) to produce embryonic stem cells

I have already posted for the day, but this was too hot to pass up, and, besides, the main link may expire. That link is to an article in NewScientist, on two ways that might by-pass objections to embryonic stem cell research, but still use embryonic stem cells. Both original research articles were published in Nature, which is not freely available. Nature has published a commentary on this research, which is available.

The first method is simply to take one of the cells of an eight-celled embryo and use it, but let the remaining, now seven-celled, embryo be implanted and develop. The article says that, when tried in mice, the birth rate of pups from seven-celled embryos was the same as for eight-celled ones. If the same is true of humans, this means that a cell from an early embryo could be harvested, then used to produce embryonic stem cells, but that that early embryo could still be implanted and develop. See the first link above for a brief discussion of research in humans.

The second method is one I have previously reported on, known as ANT. At least some conservative Roman Catholics are not troubled by this possibility (see previous post and comments to it).

Probably the most interesting part of the article in NewScientist is this quote from Arthur Caplan: ". . . this terminology undermines the moral stance of scientists pursuing the other techniques,” says Arthur Caplan of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania. “If you hint that it might solve the moral dispute, you’re providing ammunition for opponents, so it’s essential to back the original stance . . ." In other words, Caplan, perhaps the most prominent U. S. bioethicist, seems more concerned with "sticking to his guns" than with a possible way to satisfy ethical concerns.

This post will make up for a coming travel hiatus.

The Case for a Creator, by Lee Strobel, part 3

I continue commenting on Lee Strobel's book, The Case for a Creator, mostly commenting on ideas in the order Strobel has presented them. In summary, the book is a defense of the idea of Intelligent Design (ID). Strobel is not a young-earth creationist. He interprets most scientific evidence in the way most scientists do, with the origin of the variety of living things being a stand-0ut exception.

Much of the book is based on interviews with believers in Intelligent Design. (Strobel's background is journalism, not science)

His second interview is with philosopher Stephen C. Meyer. Meyer, and Strobel, are strongly opposed to the notion that science has ruled out Divine action, and is the only source of truth. According to Strobel, Meyer told him that

. . . to say that science is the only begetter of truth is self-contradicting, because that statement in itself cannot be tested by the scientific method. It's a self-defeating philosophical assumption. Lee Strobel, The Case for a Creator: A Journalist Investigates Scientific Evidence That Points Toward God. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004. p. 88.

I agree with this statement whole-heartedly. I suspect that many scientists simply accept that "science is the only begetter of truth" as if it were the truth, without having really thought about it. However, even if science isn't the only begetter of truth, that doesn't mean that Meyer (or I) are correct in our views.

Meyer discusses the late Stephen Jay Gould's Rocks of Ages, in which Gould, a paleontologist who was a great teacher and prolific writer on science and its history, writing for intelligent laypersons, not scientists, introduced the idea of non-overlapping magisteria, or NOMA, in which Gould allowed that religious belief had its place, but that it didn't overlap with science at all. Meyer says that what Gould was really doing was to marginalize religion. Ian G. Barbour, in his When Science Meets Religion: Enemies, Strangers, or Partners? says that there are four possibilities for the interaction between science and religion, namely conflict, independence, dialogue and interaction. Gould was a believer in independence. I am a believer in integration -- according to Romans 1:20 and Psalm 19, God is revealed in nature. Hence science can tell us part of the truth about the way things are. So can the Bible. The revelation of God, through both scripture and science, would not conflict if we understood them both properly.

Meyer claims that naturalism, pantheism, or dualism are not satisfactory explanations for the way things are.

In general, I agree with Meyer, as presented by Strobel. However, Meyer himself, according to Strobel, says that "You can't absolutely prove -- or disprove -- the existence of God." (p. 100) Again, I agree, based on Hebrews 11:3. If Meyer is correct, Strobel isn't going to be able to prove his Case for a Creator. He can make a case, and that is what he has tried to do in this book.

Meyer has his critics. Jacobsen is one. As he says, quoting Strobel, Meyer says, "I don't think it's right to invoke a self-serving rule that says only naturalistic explanations can be considered in science. Let's have a new period in the history of science where we have methodological rules that actually foster the unfettered seeking of truth."

Jacobsen then says:
I hear this type of argument raised by laypeople quite often. I concede that at first blush, it sounds reasonable. Shouldn't all possibilities be considered when seeking the truth? Yet there is a very simple and legitimate reason why the miraculous or supernatural, even if it exists, cannot be part of scientific investigation: The only tools a scientist has to work with are naturalistic. We have no tool to measure or quantify the miraculous. The bedrock of science is to be able to make testable predictions that can be verified by independent observers. Supernatural explanations rarely provide testable hypotheses. This is not merely a naturalistic bias as Strobel and Meyer would argue; it is simply a statement of fact. - "Another Case not Made: Lee Strobel's Case for a Creator" Paul Jacobsen.

I agree with Jacobsen on that, and, as indicated above, believe that I have scriptural evidence to back this up.

So, by his own arguments, Meyer has shown that Strobel's case can not absolutely be made. In spite of this, Strobel, apparently not accepting this, plans to go on.

On p. 108, Strobel puts forth his plan for going on. He asks "Would the case for a creator hold up when it was scrutinized more carefully and when I could cross-examine experts with all of the questions that plagued me?" This is after interviewing Wells and Meyer. He resolved, he says, to "put experts in cosmology, physics, astronomy, microbiology, biological information, and consciousness to the test and see whether the case is as strong as Meyer claimed." (p. 109) As Jacobsen put it, Strobel's experts are only going to be IDers. There are many scientists who have vigorously attacked ID. Strobel seldom so much as mentions them, let alone questions them about their arguments, or gives them a chance to present them. Also, his experts are not complete. He might well have planned to interview an expert in hominid fossils, but did not.

Monday, October 17, 2005

The Panda's Thumb

Anyone who wants to seriously consider the claims of the Intelligent Design movement with anything resembling an open mind, must, in my opinion, familiarize herself with The Panda's Thumb. This blog is dedicated to attacking the claims of ID. There are several contributors. Most of them make no attempt at being unbiased--they are attempting to refute ID, and discredit leading ID thinkers. Sometimes the posts are silly, sometimes strident, sometimes overkill. Sometimes, however, they seem to be dead on. Recent posts have included an analysis of the change in an ID-pushed textbook from "Creationism" to "Intelligent Design," implying that there was a deliberate strategy to downplay Creationism, because it would be perceived as religious in nature, while ID might not. There are occasional posts using scientific literature to challenge some of the most important claims of, for example, Michael Behe.

I haven't the time or energy to analyze and comment on each and every post (there is usually more than one a day), and I can't imagine anyone else who does, either, but sampling a few will give a reader a sense of the flavor of the blog, and will probably also present some serious substantive argument.

I expect to return to commenting on Lee Strobel's The Case for a Creator, which is an important pro-ID book, in the near future.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life, pt. 5

I continue a series of excerpts from The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith. The book, which is public domain, is, available on-line in its entirety here. This version is somewhat different from the paperback I have in my physical possession. (New York: Ballentine Books, 1986)

Here is part of Smith's chapter on "Difficulties Concerning Guidance:"

if there is any reserve of will upon any point, it becomes almost impossible to find out the mind of God in reference to that point; and therefore the first thing is to be sure that you really do purpose to obey the Lord in every respect. If however this is the case, and your soul only needs to know the will of God in order to consent to it, then you surely cannot doubt His willingness to make His will known, and to guide you in the right paths. There are many very clear promises in reference to this. Take, for instance, John 10:3, 4: "He calleth His own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when He putteth forth His own sheep He goeth before them, and the sheep follow Him, for they know His voice." Or, John 14:26: "But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you." Or, James 1:5, 6: "If any of you lack wisdom, let Him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him." With such passages as these, and many more like them, we must believe that Divine guidance is promised to us, and our faith must confidently look for and expect it. This is essential; for in James 1:6, 7, we are told, "Let him ask in faith nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea, driven with the wind and tossed. For let not such a man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord."

Our first test, therefore, of the Divine authority of any voice which may seem to speak to us, must be its harmony in moral character with the mind and will of God, as revealed to us in the Gospel of Christ. Whatever is contrary to this, cannot be Divine, because God cannot contradict Himself.

But it is essential in this connection to remember that the Bible is a book of principles, and not a book of disjointed aphorisms. Isolated texts may often be made to sanction things, to which the principles of Scripture are totally opposed.

The second test, therefore, to which our impressions must be brought, is that of our own higher judgment, or common-sense.

As far as I can see, the Scriptures everywhere make it an essential thing for the children of God to use all the faculties which have been given them, in their journey through this world.

The third and last test to which our impressions must be brought is that of providential circumstances. If a "leading" is of God, way will always open for it.

The fourth point I would make is this: that, just as our impressions must be tested, as I have shown, by the other three voices, so must these other voices be tested by our inward impressions; and if we feel a "stop in our minds" about anything, we must wait until that is removed before acting.

These four voices, then, will always be found to agree in any truly Divine leading, i.e., the voice of our impressions, the voice of Scripture, the voice of our own sanctified judgment, and the voice of providential circumstances; and where these four do not all agree at first, we must wait until they do.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

How much global warming is due to human activity?

In a recent comment, I was asked how much global warming was due to human activity, as opposed to natural climate fluctuations, errors in measurement, and other phenomena beyond our control. (This Wikipedia article explains global warming well, with many links. It allows that there is, indeed, uncertainty over its cause.) My short answer, of course, is that I don't know, and I don't think anyone else knows for sure, either. However, it seems to me that if there is a case to be made for human acceleration of global warming, we don't need to know exactly how much we are doing, if what we are doing has bad effects. We don't know for sure if a particular smoker will die of lung cancer, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't try to stop smoking. We do know that some smokers do die of lung cancer.

Is there any such thing as global warming at all? There is, indeed, some controversy over this, but, like some other controversies, my impression is that there shouldn't be--some people are misinformed, or are deliberately producing misinformation, and encouraging others to disbelieve global warming. For whatever reason, those who disbelieve global warming tend to be conservative Christians or Republicans. (The two are not necessarily the same!) As an example, I saw Jerry Falwell on the CBS Early Show, on October 14th, 2005. He used the phrase ". . . the myth of global warming." (Harry Smith, the moderator, was doing a segment "Is God Mad at Us?" and Falwell was one of the guests. He said that God was not mad at us. Bill Nye, the Science Guy, another guest, said that he expected more hurricanes because of global warming.)

Back to the question. Is there really global warming? I believe so. (See the New Scientist report, updated occasionally, on Climate Change. See the Wikipedia article for data going back to 1860.)

And, again, to the question that started all this. Assuming there is global warming, how much of it is due to human activity? All I can say is that some of it is, and that, if we can do so, we should take action to cut back on such human activity, by, for example, cutting down on the emission of greenhouse gases in burning, by making transportation more efficient, and the like. I don't think we want to be responsible for the melting of the polar icecaps. This would change the environment radically, to say nothing of putting many of earth's large cities, which are located at or near sea level, in jeopardy. Apparently it would lead to more hurricanes.

Would there be effects on the economy? Yes, of course. A change, such as, say, giving up gasoline-powered automobiles entirely, would cause some change, and it is understandable that it would be resisted by people who would expect to be negatively affected by such changes. Radical changes in how we do things are never easy, and care should be taken to minimize the effects on people as much as possible. However, changes are not necessarily all bad. It is almost certain that new industries, and new jobs, would arise related to any changes in how we transport ourselves, heat our homes, etc.

Friday, October 14, 2005

The Case for a Creator, by Lee Strobel, part 2

I am continuing a series on Lee Strobel's The Case for a Creator. My comments, for the first few posts, anyway, will take the same order as Strobel's book. Much of that book is interviews with various persons who believe in Intelligent Design (ID).

Strobel's first interview is with Jonathan Wells (beginning p. 38). He consistently lists not just the interviewee, but his degrees (they are all male), which indicates that Strobel is on the defensive here. He is trying to establish the credibility of his witnesses by their credentials. Jonathan Wells is the author of Icons of Evolution, in which he claims that there are images, or icons, which have been shown to the public, including students, for a long time. Wells says they have been mis-represented, or oversold, as proofs of evolution. The four considered in Strobel's interview are:
1) The Miller-Urey experiment, in which a mixture of simple gases was electrified, resulting in some simple organic compounds, including amino acids, and sugars. Wells, and Strobel, argue that the mixture of gases used was not representative of conditions on the early earth, and that, even if such experiments could be made realistic, they would not show how self-replicating molecules (DNA) could have arisen.
2) Darwin's tree of life. Wells and Strobel argue that there was a Cambrian explosion, wherein many new types of organisms arose in a (geologically) short time, which argues against the tree of life idea.
3) Haeckel's embryos. Haeckel purported to show great similarity between the embryos of fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals, in sketches that have often been used in biology books, thus providing evidence for common descent. Wells and Strobel argue that the pictures that have been presented to the public were made so as to exaggerate the similarity.
4) Archaeopteryx, the missing link. Archaeopteryx was a fossil with characteristics of both birds and reptiles, including both teeth and feathers. Wells and Strobel argue that it was not a link between these two classes of vertebrates.

Wells has more to say in his own book, but my post is about Strobel's.

There are a number of reviewers who take pot-shots at Wells, or his book. To read some, just do a Google search on "Jonathan Wells Icons of Evolution." Most of the returns will be attacks (which doesn't, by itself, mean, of course, that Wells is wrong!). Paul Jacobsen, in "Another Case not Made," criticizes Strobel's entire book in considerable detail. A lot of his criticisms are about Wells, or Strobel's presentation of Wells.

Jacobsen concentrates on Archaeopteryx. He points out that, even though the public has often been told that Archaeopteryx was a missing link, it really wasn't, and sound paleontology doesn't claim that it was. I'm not a paleontologist, but I think that there is considerable justice in what Jacobsen says about this matter. Probably Wells has done a service, if he dispelled that notion, although I doubt Jacobsen would credit him for that.

Jacobsen also says that Wells misunderstands or misrepresents the significance of the Cambrian explosion. Jacobsen wrote that "many readers probably got the idea that the life forms that lived during the Cambrian Explosion were roughly the same as today--but nothing could be further from the truth." More seriously for Wells' position, Jacobsen says that "Wells argues against the idea that transitional life forms ever existed at all. This makes his bringing up the Cambrian Explosion all the more ironic. If the Cambrian Explosion was anything at all, it was a period of transitional life forms! Wells argues that there are no transitional life forms. Yet the Cambrian Explosion was nothing but transitional life forms!" (Emphasis in original) Jacobsen's view, as I understand the situation, is correct.

For more on the Miller-Urey experiment, see here. The web page referenced, which is from a biology professor at the University of Southern Mississippi, seems to be part of a class of that University. It agrees with Wells that the relevance of the Miller-Urey experiment, as originally performed, has declined, because, as Wells says, the Miller-Urey gas mixture probably wasn't the same as that of the early earth. However, The web page goes on to point out that the Miller-Urey experiment has been fruitful, in that it has led to further exploration of the possibility of synthesis of molecules needed for life from simple gases.

As to Haeckel's embryo sketches, they were, indeed, misleading, and, as an important naturalist (for more on this term, see here) critic of Wells admits, Wells is basically correct about the story (the link also shows drawings). This critic goes on to point out that exaggerations by Haeckel, or others, of the similarities between various types of embryos, doesn't prove that there are no such similarities, or that the various classes of vertebrates couldn't be related by descent.

My own comment on Haeckel's drawings is that I haven't seen them in introductory biology books for many years. (They may still be found in some such books -- I haven't seen them all.) That being the case, Wells' criticism is less important than Strobel and Wells seem to think.

My judgment is that, even though some of his claims seem overblown, Wells performed a useful service in pointing out that there have been exaggerations of various kinds in attempting to show that all organisms are related by descent. Unfortunately, those trying to push naturalistic theories of origins are not the only persons who have not been careful with the truth. It's too easy to rely on soundbites, and whether the subject is politics or science, they seldom give more than a caricature of the true picture.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Does a fetus feel pain?

My answer is, simply, "I don't know." I don't think anyone else does, either.

A recent article in the Journal of the American Medican Association (abstract here -- entire article not freely available) concludes the following:

Evidence regarding the capacity for fetal pain is limited but indicates that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester. Little or no evidence addresses the effectiveness of direct fetal anesthetic or analgesic techniques. Similarly, limited or no data exist on the safety of such techniques for pregnant women in the context of abortion. Anesthetic techniques currently used during fetal surgery are not directly applicable to abortion procedures.

The above is hardly a firm denial of fetal capacity to feel pain (nor, of course, does it show that fetuses do feel pain). However, the climate being what it is, considerable controversy has ensued. It seems that some of the investigators may have a vested interest in abortions. See Christianity Today for a report on the matter.

Pain, itself, is notoriously difficult to define. It is also difficult or impossible to understand how we personally experience anything, let alone how another being, human or animal, (see here for interesting article on thought in dogs) does. However, however pain is defined, I can't believe that zygotes or very early embryos can experience it, inasmuch as they presumably lack the ability to experience anything. Likewise, it certainly seems as if newborns can experience pain. Somewhere between fertilization and birth, I would guess that most fetuses develop the capacity to experience pain. At what point, I don't know.

The best on-line reference I have found, attempting to present several points of view, is here. It doesn't seem to be a response to the JAMA article. The question goes back before the 21st century!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Sunspots 26

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:

Wired has a blog on autos. (There is subscription information at the bottom of the page)

If you subscribe to RSS feeds, using Bloglines or a similar service, you might want to subscribe to the Blogger status report. This is especially true if you use Blogger to produce your blog.

The 2005 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded for olefin metathesis.

Best Fall Foliage and Autumn Color Web Cameras for 2005, from Some of the most interesting are Bushkill Falls, in PA, the Elk Cam in Winslow Hill, PA (both of which you can control, if someone else isn't), Old Forge, New York, Canyon's Restaurant in Blowing Rock, NC, Brasstown Bald South, GA, and Brasstown Bald North, also in Georgia. (For those who don't know, a Bald is, in this sense, a place without trees. Brasstown Bald is the highest point in Georgia.)

We saw the trailer for the new Narnia movie. Based on it, there will be lots of emphasis on the battle near the end of the book (Which C. S. Lewis didn't spend a lot of prose on). The poster in the theater had the White Witch's sleigh drawn by three white bears, not by reindeer.

Google Moon doesn't go all the way around that body, but it is impressive, showing quite a bit of the terrain, craters, and all, using NASA imagery. I have already referred to Google Earth, which I like a lot, in a previous Sunspots. Our house doesn't show up well at all, but my church does. I can't wait for Google Mars.

This is NOT an advertisement for Google. Check our bank account, if you don't believe me. However, I have been using the Google desktop for several days. I was hoping that it would replace Windows search, which I use to find files created every day or so, so as to copy them to a second computer, but it doesn't seem to easily find all the files in My Documents created today. I decided not to install the sidebar--I've got enough stuff on my desktop. What Google desktop does is to search for files on my computer containing whatever words I wish. This searching includes e-mail, including at least messages in the folders of Microsoft Outlook and Mozilla Thunderbird. Perhaps most importantly, your search finds files in both Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox caches, so I can easily find web pages that I vaguely remember seeing, but can't remember where, or when, so long as they are still in the cache, and I can remember a word or two of them. It even shows thumbnails of these web pages!

For example, I just now used Google desktop to recover a post by Arevanye, quoting C. S. Lewis, who speculated about why Potiphar had Joseph thrown in prison, rather than having him executed.

RElliott is probably one of many who has posted some photos of hurricane damage and recovery.

Arthur Caplan has accused the Bush administration of trying to get the Supreme Court to "legislate from the bench," as related to the Oregon Assisted-Suicide law. Here's the closing paragraph:

The administration constantly bemoans the fact that Roe v. Wade [sic-should have italicized this] imposed a policy on the American people about abortion that was never legislated. Oregon has a policy on assisted suicide that was legislated — twice. Bush and his administration should be ashamed for trying to use the Supreme Court to do what they claim they do not want any federal judge or court to do. The ethical hypocrisy involved is beyond description.

About's Christianity: General editor has posted a list of the top 10 Christian magazines.

Benjamin Carson, African-American neurosurgeon, tells about the influence of his hard-working, God-fearing mother. Available in text form, or you can hear Carson, here. Part of National Public Radio's excellent "This I Believe" series.

The 1918 flu virus has been reconstructed, or resurrected, or something. Avian flu may become a killer. The 1918 virus killed more people than the Black Death. Some experts say that the recreated virus is almost certain to escape.

This week's Christian Carnival is here.

Anyone who prays, don't forget the vote on the Iraqi constitution on Saturday, October 15th. Do I know how it should go? No.

Thanks for reading.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Case for a Creator, by Lee Strobel, part 1

A student gave me a copy of Lee Strobel's The Case for a Creator (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004) upon her graduation from University. I was, and am, most grateful. I promised that I would read it, and I have. I am attempting to write a series of posts on the book, and related matters. (I am also attempting to keep a promise made to my readers, if any, here.)

The book is important. It is about an important subject. Amazon ranked the hardback book about 6,000 in sales, as of October 8, 2005. The hardback ranked about 8,000. Although, as you will see if you read, I've got some problems with the book, and with Intelligent Design, the book is, in my opinion, well worth reading. It covers more than just biological origins, and presents a lot of ideas.

Strobel wrote the book, he says, because his own background told him that belief in evolution was not compatible with belief in God as creator:

I've lost count of the number of spiritual skeptics who have told me that their seeds of doubt were planted in high school or college when they studied Darwinism. When I read in 2002 about an Eagle Scout being booted from his troop for refusing to pledge reverence to God, I wasn't surprised to find out he "had been an atheist since studying evolution in the ninth grade." Lee Strobel, The Case for a Creator: A Journalist Investigates Scientific Evidence That Points Toward God. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004. p. 24.

Personally, however, I couldn't understand how the Darwinism I was taught left any meaningful role for God. I was told that the evolutionary process was by definition undirected -- and to me, that automatically ruled out a supernatural deity who was pulling the strings behind the scene. p. 25.

I have previously indicated, in a series of posts, that one reason for problems in this area is that both conservative Christians and advocates of naturalism do not define their terms carefully. I'm not supposing that my posts, or anybody else's, are going to change anything about this, which is too bad. Natural selection works, and there are similarities between living organisms. These facts about living things relate to evolution. Neither of them really have any bearing on whether or not there is a Creator. To read lots of stuff from "both sides," you'd think they did.

Much of Strobel's book is what you might expect from a journalist, which is his background. That is, he went out and interviewed several thinkers about origins, and reports on what he found.

Three introductory remarks on Strobel's book.
First, it is the Case for a Creator. He is arguing one side of an argument. Don't read this book expecting to get an independent, unbiased view. (Don't expect many books to do that. One that tries is Del Ratzsch's The Battle of beginnings : why neither side is winning the creation-evolution debate (Downers Grove, IL : InterVarsity Press, 1996))
Second, Strobel, nor any of the experts he has spoken to, and written about, are young-earth creationists. I found no statement in the entire book suggesting that these persons believe the earth is younger than several million, or billion, years. Strobel, and his experts, also seem to agree that there was a Big Bang.
Third, these persons, including Strobel, all believe in Intelligent Design (ID). So do I, depending on what you mean. To quote from my post of September 26, 2005: "Lest there be any doubt, I believe that there is an omnipotent God, and that He was directly involved in the origin of the universe, of living things, and of humans, and that at least some attributes of the way things are were designed by God. If that makes me an IDer, then I am one." I expect to make some remarks about how I think I may differ from mainstream IDers, and some of the weaknesses of the ID movement, before finishing this series, however long it may be.

The book is well indexed, and has lots of notes. Supernaturalists are often criticized for not using primary sources, or for quoting out of context. There's some of that from Strobel--he often has not used primary scientific literature very much--but I think the sheer volume of sources is a plus.

Strobel's book has been criticized at considerable length, usually negatively, by Paul Jacobsen, in his "Another Case Not Made." One of his criticisms that rings true is that Strobel presents his book as if he were a skeptic on these matters, listening carefully to more than one position, then drawing a conclusion. Jacobsen is correct--that's not what happened. Strobel didn't interview any young-earth creationists, or naturalists. He interviewed only IDers. He had already drawn his conclusion when he started writing the book.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Happy Birthday, grandson!

All gone! 2

Today is our grandson's birthday. We weren't there for his birthday party, yesterday, at which the above picture was taken, but his mother was able to be, which is an answer to prayer. We thank God for our grandson's existence, and that we have gotten to see him as much as we have. He, like our children, has brought great joy, as well as a renewed sense of responsibility, to our lives.

Yahoo! advertisements is amazing, and hilarious. There was an ad for eating disorders for girls on the Flickr page for this picture as soon as I got there.

Our ISP is also amazing. We received an e-mail today, thanking us for using it for a year. It has mostly been a good year, except for a few problems with tech support. Like electricity, we need an ISP.

Thanks for reading, and "Happy Birthday!" grandson.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life, pt. 4

I continue a series on The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life, by Hannah Whitall Smith. The previous post, October 2nd, is here. The first post in the series has links to sources.

Smith's chapter, "Difficulties Concerning the Will," includes this:

Now the truth is that this life is not to be lived in the emotions at all, but in the will, and therefore the varying states of emotion do not in the least disturb or affect the reality of the life, if only the will is kept steadfastly abiding in its centre, God's will.
To make this plain, I must enlarge a little. Fenelon says somewhere, that "pure religion resides in the will alone." By this he means that as the will is the governing power in the man's nature, if the will is set straight, all the rest of the nature must come into harmony. By the will I do not mean the wish of the man, nor even his purpose, but the choice, the deciding power, the king, to which all that is in the man must yield obedience. It is the man, in short, the "Ego," that which we feel to be ourselves.
It is sometimes thought that the emotions are the governing power in our nature. But, as a matter of practical experience, I think we all of us know that there is something within us, behind our emotions, and behind our wishes, -- an independent self, -- that after all decides everything and controls everything. Our emotions belong to us, and are suffered and enjoyed by us, but they are not ourselves; and if God is to take possession of us, it must be into this central will or personality that He shall enter. If, then, He is reigning there by the power of His Spirit, all the rest of our nature must come under His sway; and as the will is, so is the man.
The practical bearing of this truth upon the difficulty I am considering is very great. For the decisions of our will are often so directly opposed to the decisions of our emotions, that, if we are in the habit of considering our emotions as the test, we shall be very apt to feel like hypocrites in declaring those things to be real which our will alone has decided. But the moment we see that the will is king, we shall utterly disregard anything that clamors against it, and shall claim as real its decisions, let the emotions rebel as they may.

I am convinced that, throughout the Bible, the expressions concerning the "heart" do not mean the emotions, that which we now understand by the word "heart"; but they mean the will, the personality of the man, the man's own central self; and that the object of God's dealings with man is, that this "I" may be yielded up to Him, and this central life abandoned to His entire control. It is not the feelings of the man God wants, but the man himself.
But do not let us make a mistake here. I say we must "give up" our wills, but I do not mean we are to be left will-less. We are not so to give up our wills as to be left like limp nerveless creatures, without any will at all. We are simply to substitute for our foolish, misdirected wills of ignorance and immaturity the higher, divine, mature will of God. If we lay the emphasis on the word "our," we shall understand it better. The will we are to give up is our will, as it is misdirected, and so parted off from God's will; for when our will is in harmony with His will, when it has the stamp of oneness with Him, it would be wrong for us to give it up.

Saturday, October 08, 2005


By e-mail, I was asked what I think of biodiesel as a fuel source. I appreciated the comment, as I had never really thought of, perhaps never even heard of, biodiesel. Here's the Wikipedia article on the subject. (Biodiesel also has a trade association.) The article says that biodiesel is, unlike petroleum or coal, a renewable fuel. It also says that it is less combustible than petroleum diesel, therefore being safer in accidents, and that it puts less pollutants into the atmosphere. Biodiesel, it says, is derived from animal fats or vegetable oils. There are downsides. Growing enough plants (sunflowers? peanuts?) to produce a serious amount of biodiesel would probably require a significant increase in agriculture, which itself, especially in its modern highly mechanized form, is not very environmentally friendly. Currently, biodiesel is more expensive to obtain than petroleum diesel, but, if used a lot, the price would probably come down.

My previous post that triggered the e-mail that triggered this post was on Hydrogen fuel cells. Wired reports that stocks of companies working in that area have been declining in value recently, and that we are a long way from the Hydrogen economy.

This site says that you can make your own biodiesel in your kitchen. My mention here is NOT an endorsement of these procedures, and I have no plans to do this myself.

Willie Nelson (yes, the Willie Nelson) is pushing, and, apparently, selling biodiesel fuel.

The military is using biodiesel.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Eddy Curry's DNA

DNA and basketball. What a combination!

Eddy Curry was drafted out of high school by the Chicago Bulls of the National Basketball Association. He didn't do very much until last year. Then, when he was finally making a difference, he had to stay out of the last few games, including the playoffs, because of an irregular heartbeat. (Reggie Lewis, who was at the time the star player for the Boston Celtics, died of a similar, or identical ailment, several years ago. Some might say that the Celtics haven't recovered yet.)

The Bulls have traded him to the New York Knicks, but the Knicks, understandably, are concerned about his health problems, and want to administer a DNA test. Curry, as I understand it, isn't letting them do it, on the grounds that his DNA is his, and this would be an invasion of privacy. He is also apparently concerned that a DNA test might discover other potential problems, which might either prevent the Knicks from hiring him, or make it difficult or impossible to obtain health insurance.

This is a big question. Should an employer have a right to test someone for a possible future health problem before hiring? Should insurance companies have the right to test persons, and then refuse them coverage for ailments they discover in such tests? Should insurance companies have access to DNA tests conducted for other purposes? In case you didn't know it, you read it here first: health insurance companies don't want to cover anyone who is going to get sick, in spite of the fact that that's why people get health insurance--to help them if they do get sick. HR 1227 attempts to deal with this problem by protecting individuals from prying insurance companies. Previous bills of this nature have not passed, in spite of supposedly wide support (this one has 126 co-sponsors). I'm guessing that insurance interests have lobbied heavily against this bill.

In the remote chance that anyone cares about my other posts on basketball, you can find them here. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Ursula K. Le Guin: Language of the Night

Susan Wood did a great service to literature by editing a compilation of miscellaneous writing by Ursula K. Le Guin. Her compilation is The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1979). It includes roughly two dozen speeches, introductions to books, and essays. The book doesn't appear to be in print, but used copies are available from standard sources, at reasonable prices. See here, here and here for some previous posts on Le Guin.

This is not the place to describe the importance of Ms. Le Guin in depth. I'll let this source summarize: "Ursula K. Le Guin has won many Nebula and Hugo Awards, as well as a National Book Award, a Pushcart Prize, the Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Newbery Honor and the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement."

The lady can write. She is a master of prose, using words, and punctuation, and point of view, and the other tools available, carefully and well, without letting them get in the way of what she is trying to say.

These are some of the highlights of The Language of the Night:
1) She ably defends the legitimacy of good fantastic literature as literature, not trash. (She also skewers trashy fantastic literature effectively)
2) She mentions authors of fantastic fiction who have influenced her. These include Cordwainer Smith, Philip K. Dick, and Tolkien. (Smith and Tolkien I have read. I have, probably to my shame, never really read Dick.)
3) She writes about why we read:

We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel--or have done and thought and felt; or might do and think and feel--is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become. A person who had never known another human being could not be introspective any more than a terrier can, or a horse; he might (improbably) keep himself alive, but he could not know anything about himself, no matter how long he lived with himself. And a person who had never listened to nor read a tale or myth or parable or story, would remain ignorant of his own emotional and
spiritual heights and depths, would not know quite fully what it is to be human.

For the story--from Rumpelstiltskin to War and Peace--is one of the basic tools invented by the mind of man, for the purpose of gaining understanding. There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, butthere have been no societies that did not tell stories. p. 31. (published first in "Prophets and Mirrors: Science Fiction as a Way of Seeing," in The Living Light, Fall 1970)

4) She writes about how and why she has written as she has.
5) She deals with the problem of evil. (Le Guin is a Taoist, and apparently believes that everyone is a mixture of good and evil. She is certainly sympathetic to Christians, including Tolkien and Cordwainer Smith.)
6) She comments on an important essay by Virginia Woolf, on character in fiction, and concludes that, if fantastic fiction isn't about character, it isn't worth much.
7) She argues that science fiction is not really predictive:

This book is not extrapolative. If you like you can read it, and a lot of other science fiction, as a thought-experiment. . . . In a story so conceived, the moral complexity proper to the modern novel need not be sacrificed, nor is there any built-in dead end; thought and intuition can move freely within bounds set only by the terms of the experiment, which may be very large indeed.

The purpose of a thought-experiment, as the term was used by Schrödinger and other physicists, is not to predict the future--indeed Schrödinger's most famous thought-experiment goes to show that the "future," on the quantum level, cannot be predicted--but to describe reality, the present world.

Science fiction is not predictive; it is descriptive. p. 156. Originally published in the 1976 edition of The Left Hand of Darkness.

(More on Schrödinger. For more on his perhaps the most famous -- and misinterpreted -- thought-experiment ever, see here. I'm not sure Le Guin interpreted it correctly, either!)
8) She describes first seeing the 3 volumes of The Lord of the Rings in a university library, and seeing them again and again, and, finally, checking the first one out, and reading the entire trilogy in three days! She says that she has re-read them many times.
9) She writes about writer's workshops.

This lady has been a writer's (and reader's) writer, and even the introductions to her books are gems.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Sunspots 25

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:

Article in Orion arguing that exposing children to computers hurts their education. It may be hurting mine, too . . . Thought-provoking, to say the least. Sample (there's a lot more):

Substituting the excitement of virtual connections for the deep fulfillment of firsthand engagement is like mistaking a map of a country for the land itself, or as biological philosopher Gregory Bateson put it, "eat[ing] the menu instead of your meal." No one prays over a menu. And I've never witnessed a child developing a reverence for nature while using a computer.

National Public Radio has reported on biological exploration of the Arctic, here and here. The first report is in both text and audio form, and includes photos. There are photos of some of the scientists, and of a few of the remarkable creatures found by the expedition, some of which were previously unknown. The second report, in audio format only, describes some of these animals.

Hyperion is perhaps the oddest-looking moon in the Solar System. Here's an image, from the Jet Propulsion lab, from its Cassini satellite fly-by. Here's some information on Hyperion, from the same organization. Four versions of a movie of the fly-by are available here.

Frederica Mathewes-Green believes that earlier marriage might reduce the divorce rate. She's got some other interesting opinions in her editorial in First Things.

Speaking of First Things, the periodical is now offering an RSS feed, not of its magazine articles, which are available as regular HTML files, a month after publication, or earlier, but of tidbits and opinions which aren't going to make the periodical. The first three offerings look interesting.

"Donor Gametes for Assisted Reproduction in Contemporary Jewish Law and Ethics" considers assisted reproduction from a perspective that isn't often heard. The authors touch on Roman Catholic, and even Orthodox beliefs in their discussion.

William Saletan, of Slate, has previously defended Intelligent Design. He now concludes that it is not scientific.

Ken Schenck has wrapped up a series on homosexuality and Christianity. One recurring theme is that, although homosexual practice is sinful, it is not a sin worse than, say, deceit. Schenck sheds considerable light on the culture of Bible times. His posts, as always, are thorough and have obviously required considerable thought.

Joe Carter has re-done the Church Directory, a list of Christian blogs. He also furnishes code for adding a random sample of these to your blogroll.

Gina Burkart has a web page at the CBN site, entitled "Christian Lessons from the Half-Blood Prince." I found it both comprehensive (there were some I had missed) and brief.

Gorillas use tools in the wild (Chimpanzees have been known to do this for many years).

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been awarded to two Australians, for their discovery that a bacterium, Helicobacter pylori, lives in the harshly acidic environment of the stomach and causes ulcers. One of them proved this dramatically! The Physics Prize has also been awarded, but the work is a little harder to explain.

An introduction to Intelligent Design can be found here. It explains and covers the topic pretty well, although it is clear that the author(s) aren't fans of the movement. Thanks to Brandy!

Joan Wallace, missionary to Zambia, had about $780 in missions funds stolen from her house, and feels obligated to replace it herself.

This week's Christian Carnival is here.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

A couple of pictures

Hearts-a-busting is a small bush that grows in the woods in upstate South Carolina and elsewhere. The fruit, although it is small, is spectacular. Here's a picture:

Hearts a bustin

Way back on May 19th, I posted a picture of a small flower that's a member of the Aster or Composite family, to which daisies, thistles, goldenrod, and a great many more flowers belong. Two people, one from the UK, and one from somewhere near Lake Erie, were kind enough to comment, and state that the same flower, colts foot, grew there, too. Well, it grows in Washington state, too, I find, but this picture was taken here in upstate South Carolina, where some of the flowers are starting to mature. The basic function of almost all flowers, after all, is reproduction.

Colts foot flowers, old and new

Thanks for reading, and looking!

Monday, October 03, 2005


The Wiktionary says that "to interrupt" is "to disturb or halt an ongoing process or action by interfering suddenly."

Some people have a lot of interruptions in their daily lives. My wife used to, when she was a fifth grade teacher. I had less when I was a college teacher, but sometimes a student interrupted class, or at least got me away from what I had planned to do, onto something that really concerned them, sometimes about the subject matter, sometimes not. Parents, especially parents of young children, can count on interruptions. Interruptions are often really what our job is all about.

Our Sunday School lesson yesterday was about Philip being interrupted in the middle of an evangelistic campaign in Samaria. The Holy Spirit directed, maybe physically moved him, to go into the desert to talk to an Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8).

Jesus was probably often interrupted, at least in the human sense. Bartimaeus yelled at Him when he was on the road to Jericho. Little children were brought to Him when the twelve thought He had more important business. Nicodemus came to see Him at night, perhaps while He was sleeping, or eating. In all these cases, Jesus responded. He healed Bartimaeus, told the twelve to let little children come to Him, and had a theological discussion with Nicodemus, from which we get John 3, especially verses 16-17: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God sent not the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through him. (ASV)

When I am interrupted, what am I doing that's so important? Usually not much.

May I, like Philip and Christ, see interruptions as opportunities!

Sunday, October 02, 2005

The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life, pt. 3

In her chapter, "How to Enter In," Hannah W. Smith wrote:

Jesus saves me now. It is He.

Jesus saves me now. It is His work to save.

Jesus saves me now. I am the one to be saved.

Jesus saves me now. He is doing it every moment.

Let us sum this up. In order to enter into this blessed interior life of rest and triumph, you have two steps to take: first, entire abandonment, and second, absolute faith. No matter what the complications of your experience, no matter what your difficulties, or your surroundings, or your "peculiar temperament," these two steps will certainly bring you out into the green pastures and still waters of this life hid with Christ in God. You may be perfectly sure of this. And if you will let every other consideration go, and simply devote your attention to these two points, your progress will be rapid, and your soul will reach its desired haven far sooner than you can now think possible.

In "Difficulties Concerning Faith," she wrote:

Your idea of faith, I suppose, has been something like this. You have looked upon it as in some way a sort of thing, either a religious exercise of soul, or an inward gracious disposition of heart; something tangible, in fact, which, when you have secured it, you can look at and rejoice over, and use as a passport to God's favor, or a coin with which to purchase His gifts. And you have been praying for faith, expecting all the while to get something like this, and never having received any such thing, you are insisting upon it that you have no faith. Now faith, in fact, is not in the least this sort of thing. It is nothing at all tangible. It is simply believing God, and, like sight, it is nothing apart from its object. You might as well shut your eyes and look inside to see whether you have sight, as to look inside to discover whether you have faith. You see something, and thus know that you have sight; you believe something, and thus know that you have faith. For, as sight is only seeing, so faith is only believing. And as the only necessary thing about seeing is, that you see the thing as it is, so the only necessary thing about believing is, at you believe the thing as it is. The virtue does not lie in your believing, but in the thing you believe. If you believe the truth you are saved; if you believe a lie you are lost. The believing in both cases is the same; the things believed in are exactly opposite, and it is this which makes the mighty difference. Your salvation comes, not because your faith saves you, but because it links you to the Saviour who saves; and your believing is really nothing but the link.

. . .

You would not be able to live in this world and go through the customary routine of life a single day, if you could not trust your fellow-men. And it never enters into your head to say you cannot. But yet you do not hesitate to say, continually, that you cannot trust your God! And you excuse yourself by the plea that you are "a poor weak creature" and "have no faith."

This series, excerpting the classic book by Hannah Whitall Smith, began here, and continued here.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Natural law and oocytes

A commenter suggested that there might be objections to the use of human oocytes (unfertilized egg cells) for the production of embryonic stem cells, on the grounds that their natural purpose is human reproduction, not preparation of cell cultures which might make artificially-produced human embryonic stem cells. (See my recent post on Altered Nuclear Transfer-Oocyte Assisted Reprogramming (or ANT-OAR)) I believe that this sort of objection would be an example of moral reasoning based on natural law. Such reasoning has often been used by Roman Catholic theologians, going back to Thomas Aquinas. Natural Law theory can be complex and ambiguous.

As I understand it, natural law reasoning is used to support the official Catholic view that most or all kinds of contraception are wrong, because the purpose of sexual activity is to produce children, so that thwarting that purpose would be wrong. C. S. Lewis, who was not a Roman Catholic, also seemed to hold that view. (The web page the previous link refers to was written by me, but I have been unsuccesful in persuading the publishers to correct the spelling of my name. There are a few other errors, also minor. I am grateful that it is available, however! The section on birth control is near the end.)

So, would natural law reasoning prohibit the use of oocytes for purposes other than "normal" reproduction? It might, indeed, but I am not sure that it would, or should, for three reasons.

First, both my sources for the technique described are significantly influenced by Catholics. The editor of First Things is a Catholic priest. The other periodical, Ethics & Medics, is a publication of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, which says it "derives its message directly from the teachings of the Catholic Church." The articles in neither periodical raised this objection. (This is a link to the article there, in .PDF format)

Second, under one circumstance, I'm guessing that natural law would not prohibit use of oocytes for such a purpose. That circumstance is if the person who wished to be cured provided her own oocytes. It would seem to me that using your own oocytes in an attempt to save your life, or to significantly improve its quality, would be justifiable morally, even if it wasn't their normal purpose. I'm not aware that the use of self-grafts is opposed on moral grounds, even though, say, removing skin from the back, and placing in the nose, changes the natural purpose of such skin. (Not as radically as using oocytes for ANT-OAR, I admit.) Coronary bypass surgery also generally uses self-grafts, I believe.

Third, selfless giving for others is encouraged strongly by the teachings of Jesus, and, I suppose, could trump natural law. Should a competent ovulating woman volunteer to donate a few oocytes for the purpose of producing embryonic stem cells to significantly aid the life or well-being of another person, even for a person or persons unknown to her, it seems to me that her gift should not be refused. I would oppose any exploitation or coercion of women in order to obtain oocytes, and compensating them materially would be questionable, in my view.

Even if Catholics raised no objections to the use of oocytes in this way, others might, and such objections should be seriously considered. Here's an article on the use of donor gametes in relation to Jewish law. It doesn't consider oocyte donation for ANT-OAR.

I appreciate all comments, unless they are automated ones using my blog to try to sell something. The commenter, Bonnie, has posted extensively on moral issues, including those related to human reproduction, and is worth reading on any subject she tackles. She has some recent posts on autoerotism.

ScienceBlog has a post on "Gametes and embryos from mammalian stem cells: religious and ethics perspectives," which doesn't consider ANT-OAR, but does deal with the subject of its title. Warning: there are quite a few ads on this page.