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Sunday, February 26, 2006

Goodbye (headed back)

Good-bye!

Psalm 20:1 May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble! May the name of the God of Jacob protect you! 2 May he send you help from the sanctuary and give you support from Zion! 3 May he remember all your offerings and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices! Selah

4 May he grant you your heart's desire and fulfill all your plans! (ESV)

This is our prayer (one of them, anyway) for our grandson. It has been our privilege to assume part of his care for four months, while his mother was on duty six hours away, and his father took several extended trips with his work. His mother has been transferred back to a location near their home, and we feel that it is time to go back to South Carolina.

We will miss our daughter and son-in-law, their church, the Southern California weather, the plants, their church, and, especially, our grandson.

God help them, and help us, as we travel, and re-adjust to life back in upstate South Carolina, including, of course, our church.

I don't expect to post anything for a couple of weeks or so, except for one Sunspots, on Wednesday, March 1, God (and web connections) willing. I probably won't have time to read your blogs, either. Keep up the good work.

God bless you.

George MacDonald's Diary of an Old Soul, F21-26

21. 'Tis--shall thy will be done for me?--or mine,
And I be made a thing not after thine--
My own, and dear in paltriest details?
Shall I be born of God, or of mere man?
Be made like Christ, or on some other plan?--
I let all run:--set thou and trim my sails;
Home then my course, let blow whatever gales.

22. With thee on board, each sailor is a king
Nor I mere captain of my vessel then,
But heir of earth and heaven, eternal child;
Daring all truth, nor fearing anything;
Mighty in love, the servant of all men;
Resenting nothing, taking rage and blare
Into the Godlike silence of a loving care.

23. I cannot see, my God, a reason why
From morn to night I go not gladsome free;
For, if thou art what my soul thinketh thee,
There is no burden but should lightly lie,
No duty but a joy at heart must be:
Love's perfect will can be nor sore nor small,
For God is light--in him no darkness is at all.

24. 'Tis something thus to think, and half to trust--
But, ah! my very heart, God-born, should lie
Spread to the light, clean, clear of mire and rust,
And like a sponge drink the divine sunbeams.
What resolution then, strong, swift, and high!
What pure devotion, or to live or die!
And in my sleep, what true, what perfect dreams!

25. There is a misty twilight of the soul,
A sickly eclipse, low brooding o'er a man,
When the poor brain is as an empty bowl,
And the thought-spirit, weariful and wan,
Turning from that which yet it loves the best,
Sinks moveless, with life-poverty opprest:--
Watch then, O Lord, thy feebly glimmering coal.

26. I cannot think; in me is but a void;
I have felt much, and want to feel no more;
My soul is hungry for some poorer fare--
Some earthly nectar, gold not unalloyed:--
The little child that's happy to the core,
Will leave his mother's lap, run down the stair,
Play with the servants--is his mother annoyed?

The above is excerpted from George MacDonald's A Book of Strife in the Form of The Diary of an Old Soul (Public Domain, 1880). For further information see this post. The excerpt above is the readings for February 21 through 26.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

C. S. Lewis and biology, scooped

Back in November, I posted some criticisms of the biology in the Narnia books, by C. S. Lewis. To put it concisely, where did Tumnus shop?

I recently read Alan Jacobs' The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C. S. Lewis, an illuminating treatment of Lewis's life and work. (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005) Ruth Pitter, a good friend of Lewis, recorded a conversation between the two of them on this subject (Warren Lewis, the brother of C. S., was also present). According to this account, she pointed out that Narnia was in perpetual winter, with no foreign trade allowed by the Witch, and asked Lewis: "Then how could the Beavers have put on the splendid lunch?" Lewis attempted to explain, but Pitter pressed on. Warren said "Nonsense, Jack; you're stumped and you know it." (pp. 268-9) Jacobs cites Walter Hooper's C. S. Lewis: Companion and Guide by Walter Hooper (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996, p. 721, as his source.

So obviously I'm not the first to think of this. Hardly a shock.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Why animal predators, parasites, and death?

The question of animal suffering and death may not seem important, but it is. If God's creation was good, then how do we explain predatory animals, or animal suffering? If God designed the world, how do we explain malaria (which lives in human blood cells) and the mosquitoes that transmit it? Did He design them to make people sick?

The only serious article on these topics that I am aware of was published in the June, 2004 issue of Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith. The article is "Why Were Dangerous Animals Created?" by David Snoke, who has scientific credentials (although he is not a zoologist) and is also licensed to preach. The article has numerous references to scripture, and any educated person (such as you) should be able to understand it. In .PDF form, it is 9 pages long.

The answers to the questions posed by the title of this post have implications for one's view of origins (or the reverse), for God's goodness and sovereignty, and one's view of existence in general. I don't expect all who may read Snoke's article to agree with him, but he concludes with a high view of God, and His creative ability.

If you want to read more on parasites, here's Carl Zimmer's discussion of a wasp that turns its cockroach host into a zombie. Really!

Thanks for reading this post.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Race and Basketball

Slate recently posted a good article on replacing Larry Bird as the great white basketball player. Rather, it's about the seeming need to do so, and the racial subtext of looking for a replacement for him. In other words, needing another great white player. (What's the matter with Dirk Nowitzki?)

Larry Bird, in case you don't know, grew up in the small town of French Lick, Indiana, and went to Indiana State University, hardly a college basketball power. His team, however, went on to the national finals in his senior year, losing to a Michigan State team starring Magic Johnson. Bird (and Johnson) went on to have great careers in the National Basketball Association, leading, respectively, the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers, both great teams during their tenures with them. (By all accounts, they became good friends. Johnson, like most NBA players for the last few decades, is African-American).

I was going to see Glory Road, but never got around to it. No doubt the DVD will be out soon. This movie is, as they say, based on a real event -- an all-black team from a small college in Texas won the national championship, beating Kentucky, an all-white team (Pat Riley was a player on that team). George F. Will's column of Jan 22 (archived Jan 23) suggests that Glory Road is much too simple -- there were black players on several teams already, and the team with all blacks was highly ranked. San Francisco had won the national championship with four blacks some years earlier, for example, including Bill Russell. He's probably right. But there's still a point. There is, at least for some of us, a racial subtext to basketball. We tend to root for, or identify with, people who, more or less, look like us, and that we think are like us. Dirk Nowitzki wasn't born in the USA.

I try not to do this. Sometimes, when I succeed, I congratulate myself, and that's as bad, or worse. God help me to be truly race-blind, whether it's in basketball or the grocery store. I think that's the way it ought to be.

By the way, even in the NBA, the best teams are almost always coached by whites. (There have been, and are, some excellent African-American CEOs of NBA basketball teams.) Is that because whites are better coaches? I don't think so. At least part of it is to put a white face on a mostly black sport, I'm sure, which is not to say that, say, Rick Carlisle isn't a really good coach. But so are some blacks.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Sunspots 45


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


The Great Separation says that there are victims of pornography, and links to two of them. (I found this post through the last week's Christian Carnival.)

Wired on a study of how easy it is to misinterpret e-mail.

In The New Atlantis, an article on kitchen appliances. The author describes our love-hate relationship with them, and points out the extreme specialization and expense that some of us go to to find a device that will do some job. The general impression given is that a lot of stuff that goes in the kitchen is vanity, vanity.

The birth of her first child, a son, to Sara. My guess is that she won't be blogging very much for a while, but she did post a photo, with vital statistics.

Brandy posted some quotes from Greg Laurie.

Kath posted some good advice for guys for Valentine's Day.

Suggestion, in New Scientist, that the primary function of color vision is to detect emotional signals, like blushing, from others.

A wedding invitation, with a wedding web page URL enclosed.

Julana pointed to a fine post on how Christian bloggers (and blog readers) should act.

This week's Christian Carnival is here. (For information on locating these Carnivals, see here)

When I don't tell where I found an item above, I either found it directly, or was probably pointed to it by the Librarians Internet Index, SciTech Daily, or Arts and Letters Daily. All of them are great.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Cadfael, medieval detective

A Morbid Taste for Bones is the first novel about Brother Cadfael, a 12th century monk who solves murders. The series, or at least part of it, was made into episodes of Mystery for PBS, a number of years ago, and I probably saw one or two episodes. I had never read one of the books, which are by Ellis Peters (who is a woman) until recently, when Julana recommended the series to me.

I enjoyed the book. It is fairly short, less than 200 pages. Somewhat to my surprise, it included a couple of romances. (Cadfael wasn't involved in either of them, although he has a history outside the monastery that includes some romances. He came to his vocation rather late in life.) Cadfael's thought doesn't seem particularly different from 20th, or 21st century thoughts. I would have supposed that there would be a difference. I was especially interested in Cadfael's view of spiritual matters. He believes in God's power, but has, shall we say, a somewhat cynical view of some of the monastery's hierarchy:

There was no knowing, Prior Robert being the man he was, at what stage his awareness of the use to be made of this marvel thrust his genuine faith and wonder and emotion into the back of his mind, and set him manipulating events to get the utmost glory out of them. There was no inconsistency in such behaviour. He was quite certain that Brother Columbanus had been taken up living out of this world, just as he had wished. But that being so, it was not only his opportunity, but his duty, to make the utmost use of the exemplary favour to glorify the abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul of Shrewsbury, and not only his duty, but his pleasure, to make use of the same to shed a halo round the head of Prior Robert, who had originated this quest. And so he did. Ellis Peters, A Morbid Taste for Bones. New York: William Morrow, 1978. p. 181.

I shan't give away the plot, but let us say that some miracles occur at the end. Here's Cadfael's take on miracles:
I do believe I begin to grasp the nature of miracles! For would it be a miracle, if there was any reason for it? Miracles have nothing to do with reason. Miracles contradict reason, overturn reason, make game of reason, they strike clean across mere human deserts, and deliver and save where they will. If they made sense, they would not be miracles. Ellis Peters, A Morbid Taste for Bones. New York: William Morrow, 1978. pp. 185-6.

* * * * *

Too Many Corpses is the second book in the series. Cadfael continues to be probably the only Welsh monk at Shrewsbury, and continues to be in charge of the herb garden. As in the first book, he has lost his garden help by the end of the book. (I suspect that this is going to be a recurring feature -- we are introduced to some novice, or lay person, who is supposed to help Cadfael, and, by the end, they have fallen in love, or murdered someone, or something like that. I'll see.)

In this book, there is strife over the monarchy. One side comes to Shrewsbury, and puts a lot of the other side to death, but someone puts another corpse, killed in another way, into the ditch with the other bodies. Cadfael eventually solves the crime. Again, some young people fall in love, and will be married soon after the book ends. In this book, Cadfael's concern for the souls of the departed is evident.

I believe that there are 18 more books in this series. I intend to read some more of it,provided the Pickens County, SC, library has some, as the San Diego County library did (We'll be leaving here soon, God willing). The books are relatively short, Cadfael is an appealing, and interesting, main character, and the good guys seemingly win.


Thanks, Julana!

Monday, February 20, 2006

Manna: a few thoughts

Exodus 16 is the biblical passage that introduces manna, the food that sustained the million or so Israelites in the desert for nearly forty years.

What was this? We don't know. The Wikipedia article on the subject lists a few of the candidates that have been suggested, including locusts, sap from plants, and psychedelic mushrooms (!). Maybe it was one of these. I doubt it.

Whatever it was, God invested it with several miraculous qualities. It spoiled overnight, except on the Sabbath (and the sample in the Ark of the Covenant didn't spoil), and the Bible mentions that it grew worms. I don't know of any normal way to have worms grow in food overnight. There was enough, but not too much, for those who gathered it. There was enough to feed the Israelites for almost 40 years -- this was not seasonal, nor depended on special conditions, which suggests to me that it wasn't a natural food product, animal or plant. It was there every day. It must have moved with them -- they didn't stay in the same place.

Leviticus 9:17, and associated passages, tell us that the Israelites had enough grain that they could use it as part of their offerings, which indicates that they may have been able to eat some grain while in the desert. They also had their animals with them, because they made offerings from them, too, and the tribes of Gad, Reuben, and part of Manasseh wanted to stay East of the Jordan, in part so that they could take care of their flocks. This tells us that they must have found pasture, and water, all those years, which seems miraculous in itself. So manna wasn't the only thing the Children of Israel ate in the desert, but it was a reliable source of food under scarce conditions.

This is one of an occasional series, based on my daily reading from the ESV Bible. The most recent post is here. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

George MacDonald's Diary of an Old Soul, F17-20

17. Lord, I have fallen again--a human clod!
Selfish I was, and heedless to offend;
Stood on my rights. Thy own child would not send
Away his shreds of nothing for the whole God!
Wretched, to thee who savest, low I bend:
Give me the power to let my rag-rights go
In the great wind that from thy gulf doth blow.

18. Keep me from wrath, let it seem ever so right:
My wrath will never work thy righteousness.
Up, up the hill, to the whiter than snow-shine,
Help me to climb, and dwell in pardon's light.
I must be pure as thou, or ever less
Than thy design of me--therefore incline
My heart to take men's wrongs as thou tak'st mine.

19. Lord, in thy spirit's hurricane, I pray,
Strip my soul naked--dress it then thy way.
Change for me all my rags to cloth of gold.
Who would not poverty for riches yield?
A hovel sell to buy a treasure-field?
Who would a mess of porridge careful hold
Against the universe's birthright old?

20. Help me to yield my will, in labour even,
Nor toil on toil, greedy of doing, heap--
Fretting I cannot more than me is given;
That with the finest clay my wheel runs slow,
Nor lets the lovely thing the shapely grow;
That memory what thought gives it cannot keep,
And nightly rimes ere morn like cistus-petals go.

George MacDonald, A Book of Strife in the Form of The Diary of an Old Soul, 1880. (Public Domain)

George MacDonald (see first post on him) was an amazing author, writing in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He influenced C. S. Lewis, among many others.

One of his books is a book of daily devotional readings, in poetry form. The readings for February 17 through 20 are given above.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Neglected occupation

Most of the characters on TV programs have jobs only because these jobs put them in humorous or romantic situations. They never really do anything that someone with that type of job might do. (Exception: health professions or law enforcement, including lawyers and criminals. Perhaps running the White House is another exception. In these cases, the programs are often about the details of the job.) No one ever just mops the floors, or fixes a meal, prepares a presentation, grades papers, or washes the car, on TV. Granted, if they did, it wouldn't be very exciting, and watching TV fiction is a means of escape, not a reminder of what awaits us if we stop watching.

The same is true of most of the fiction I can recall reading, with some exceptions. Two of those exceptions stand out in my mind. J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter books do spend quite a bit of time on the homework, and classwork, at Hogwarts. Patricia A. McKillip's The Book of Atrix Wolfe spends much of its narrative with Saro in the kitchen, scrubbing pots and staying out of the way of others. In both cases, I have felt that I had some idea what the characters really did with lots of their time. A little further thinking brought up C. S. Lewis's Till We Have Faces, wherein the protagonist spends a lot of time doing ordinary things that a member of a royal family in a small kingdom might have done. In Lewis's The Silver Chair, there's a little detail about Jill, Eustace and Puddleglum trekking to the North, such as this:
Jill thought that when, in books, people live on what they shoot, it never tells you what a long, smelly, messy job it is plucking and cleaning dead birds, and how cold it makes your fingers. (New York: Scholastic, 1987, pp. 71-2)
Lewis, himself, apparently did a lot of housework on the same days he was doing some of his writing. Maybe that's why he put things like that in. But surely other authors have, too, and they usually don't.

I'm probably missing a lot, but how about it? Are there books (or TV programs, for that matter) that actually pay some attention to what people really do?

I'm currently an assistant babysitter for a one-year-old. One thing that occurs to me is that I don't remember ever reading about childcare, in any detail, in fiction. It can be wondrously rewarding, but it's also slow and repetitive. I guess that's why it's not there. Or, again, maybe I haven't read the right books. Am I right, and this repetitious, slow, but so important job gets neglected?

One of my favorite Bible passages is Romans 2:6-7:
6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; (ESV).

This patience in well-doing includes lots of ordinary work, I think. I don't remember reading much about childcare in the Bible, either. (Very little of the details of any occupations are there -- I don't know how Paul made tents, or David took care of sheep, just that they did.)

Thanks for reading.

Friday, February 17, 2006

George MacDonald, fantastic author, and more

I just discovered that Michael Phillips, who authored the latest Christian fiction book my wife has read, also edited a number of the works of George MacDonald (see also here) for re-publishing. MacDonald was a literary influence on C. S. Lewis, and wrote a number of novels. I've never read any except the fantastic ones, namely Lilith, Phantastes, The Light Princess, The Golden Key, At the Back of the North Wind, The Carasoyn, the Curdie books, and maybe one or two others. MacDonald's works are available for free downloading from Project Gutenberg, and/or from The Golden Key, a site dedicated to MacDonald. (The Carasoyn is not available from Project Gutenberg. It is available here and here.) If I had to recommend only one story of his, I guess it would be The Golden Key or The Carasoyn, but it would be a hard choice. I'd hate to leave out Lilith, or any of them.

Lilith was published in 1895. The title comes from ancient notion that Eve, Adam's wife, had a rival, Lilith. The protagonist (the book is written in the first person) travels back and forth through various openings in his house to where Adam, Eve, and Lilith still live, and back. Here's a passage from near the ending:
Fluttering butterflies, darting dragon-flies hovered or shot hither and thither about our heads, a cloud of colours and flashes, now descending upon us like a snow-storm of rainbow flakes, now rising into the humid air like a rolling vapour of embodied odours. It was a summer-day more like itself, that is, more ideal, than ever man that had not died found summer-day in any world. I walked on the new earth, under the new heaven, and found them the same as the old, save that now they opened their minds to me, and I saw into them. Now, the soul of everything I met came out to greet me and make friends with me, telling me we came from the same, and meant the same. I was going to him, they said, with whom they always were, and whom they always meant; they were, they said, lightnings that took shape as they flashed from him to his.

I won't give away the plot, except to say that most things come out right, really right, in the end.

The Light Princess can be a children's book. Here's the beginning of the second chapter:
The king tried to have patience, but he succeeded very badly. It was more than he deserved, therefore, when, at last, the queen gave him a daughter--as lovely a little princess as ever cried.

The day drew near when the infant must be christened. The king wrote all the invitations with his own hand. Of course somebody was forgotten.

Between these two come Phantastes, which is not designed for children, and the other books I have listed above, which should be appealing to at least some children, as well as to many adults.

Whatever its peculiarities, Phantastes was for Lewis a great balm to the soul, not only in his youth but throughout his lifetime. In his preface to the MacDonald anthology which he edited two decades later, Lewis wrote that he "crossed a great frontier" when he first read Phantastes, that the book had about it "a sort of cool, morning innocence, and also, quite unmistakeably, a certain quality of Death, good death. What it actually did to me was to convert, even to baptise (that is where the Death came in) my imagination." The Most Reluctant Convert: C. S. Lewis's Journey to Faith, David C. Downing. Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 2002, p. 66. I expect to post on Phantastes later.

Just looking at a few sentences from these books reminds me why C. S. Lewis found them a gateway to Joy.

I also intend to post some excerpts from Diary of an Old Soul, which is a daily devotional book written by MacDonald, in the future. I am starting to read it.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Almond flowers in the Bible: Do you know what they look like?


petals forward
Originally uploaded by curiouskiwi.

Exodus 37:17 He also made the lampstand of pure gold. He made the lampstand of hammered work. Its base, its stem, its cups, its calyxes, and its flowers were of one piece with it. 18 And there were six branches going out of its sides, three branches of the lampstand out of one side of it and three branches of the lampstand out of the other side of it; 19 three cups made like almond blossoms, each with calyx and flower, on one branch, and three cups made like almond blossoms, each with calyx and flower, on the other branch—so for the six branches going out of the lampstand. 20 And on the lampstand itself were four cups made like almond blossoms, with their calyxes and flowers, 21 and a calyx of one piece with it under each pair of the six branches going out of it. 22 Their calyxes and their branches were of one piece with it. The whole of it was a single piece of hammered work of pure gold. (ESV)

I was reading this recently, and realized that I didn't have a clue as to what almond flowers looked like. So I searched Flickr for photos. I found a lot of them. One was by curiouskiwi (who, as the name suggests, lives in New Zealand). I had had corresponded with her before, and seen her contributions in the help forum, so I asked her permission to use the photo above, which she graciously gave. (For some reason, her title doesn't show up. It is "petals forward.") You should be able to see as many of her photos as you want through the link given.

The English Standard Version of the Bible allows quotation in blog use, if referenced as I have done, in case anyone wonders.

Many of you will recognize the resemblance between the almond flower above, and apple, cherry, blackberry, and other members of the Rose Family of flowers. Members of this family have petals in fives, or multiples thereof, and the petals are separate from each other.

The calyx of a flower is the sepals, taken collectively. Sepals are usually green, and are usually outside the petals. There are five of them in almond flowers, and they are shorter than mature petals. If you look closely, you can see one or two of them between the petals of the flower above. (Clicking on the photo above should lead you to a larger version of the photo, if you are interested.)

There are a few other references to almonds in the Bible. The most notable is Numbers 17, which tells the story of Aaron's rod, which miraculously budded and bore fruit, signifying God's choice of Moses and Aaron for leadership.

This is one of an occasional series, based on my daily reading from the ESV Bible. The most recent post is here.

Thanks for reading, and thanks again to curiouskiwi and the ESV, also to an anonymous reader for a correction. Any blame or liability accruing to this post is mine, not theirs.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Sunspots 44


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


Joe Carter doesn't think global warming is as serious as some of us, and writes about why not. A solid post.

There have been accusations that a Bush appointee tried to censor NASA scientists' reports on the Big Bang and global warming. The appointee has resigned. His academic credentials were false, apparently. See also here.

Listen (what else?) to a report on headphone use and hearing loss.

Brandy points out that Google has a music search now.

If it works right, Zillow is the place where you go to find out how much houses are worth. It's gotten a lot of traffic, so there have been some problems.

Kevin Wright disputes some arguments against pacifism.

Katherine posts a list of invalid reasons for serving God, with examples.

Brandy and Laura have short good posts on God's love.

Bonnie has yet more sensible things to say about End of the Spear.

This week's Christian Carnival is here. (For information on locating these Carnivals, see here)

When I don't tell where I found an item above, I either found it directly, or was probably pointed to it by the Librarians Internet Index, SciTech Daily, or Arts and Letters Daily. All of them are great.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Altruism and happy marriage

A recent report finds that altruistic marriages tend to be happier. (Or, possibly, happy marriages lead to altruism.)

This paragraph was added a few hours after the original post: A commenter reminds me that not everyone knows what altruism is. More or less: doing something for others unselfishly. There have been many debates as to whether anyone is ever truly unselfish, but let's stipulate that it's possible. Jesus, at least, was altruistic and unselfish.

Either way, this certainly shouldn't come as a shock to anyone who has read 1 Corinthians 13, which, in part, says:

4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (ESV)

This post is dedicated to my wife, an altruistic woman indeed.

By the way, the same study found that people who pray do more altruistic acts than those who don't.

One year ago today, I began (partly in recognition of what day this is) a series of posts on the colors of the rainbow (and some others) with this one on red. It closed, as I recall, with a post on black on Good Friday.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, February 13, 2006

The Case for a Creator, by Lee Strobel, part 4

It's been a while since I posted on The Case for a Creator by Lee Strobel. (Lee Strobel, The Case for a Creator: A Journalist Investigates Scientific Evidence That Points Toward God. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004.) Strobel is really presenting a case for Intelligent Design (ID). The most thorough criticism of the book (almost entirely negative) is here.

I agree with some of the criticism. Strobel is making a case, not examining the evidence in an unbiased manner. The most glaring evidence of that is that he interviews a number of experts (he's a journalist by training) all of them ID advocates. Surprise! They think ID is the explanation for how the universe began, and how life began.

This is my position on ID, quoted 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." Most IDers, including, I am confident, Strobel, would go further, and say two things I am not so sure of. The first is that ID is subject to scientific proof. The second is that it should be taught in public school science classes.

(I also refer you to a series of posts, entitled "I believe in evolution. So do you!." The first is here, the second here, and the third here. In this series, I ask that "evolution" be defined carefully. I indicate that some meanings of what is called evolution should be uncontroversial, and that some meanings are not scientific at all, and should be considered as philosophical or theological, and that the most important content of Genesis 1:1 is Who created, not when, how, or why.)

The middle part of the book consists of interviews on cosmology, physics and astronomy. Here, if anything, the case for design is stronger than it is for the existence of life. One of the experts that Strobel calls for an interview is Robin Collins. Among other things, Strobel quotes Collins as mentioning Martin Rees, interviewed about his book Why is There Life, in Discover Magazine (hardly a bastion of ID doctrine) who said that "The universe is unlikely. Very unlikely. Deeply, shockingly unlikely." (emphasis in original) Rees, an astronomer, says that there are six fundamental constants with values that allow for life to exist as we know it. If their values were just a little different, we wouldn't be here to write and read this.

But, of course, that's the rub. I think the universe was designed. Strobel certainly does. But, to me, the seeming unlikelihood of us being here, or, to put it another way, does not prove design. For one thing, you could postulate that, if the constants Rees mentions were somewhat different, there would be different kinds of beings considering such cosmic questions. Perhaps beings not based on Carbon, for example. Perhaps beings tolerant of much more heat than we can take, or of extreme cold, or high or low gravity. They, too, might see the properties of their universe as pointing toward design.

My late father probably produced billions of sperm during his lifetime. All of them were probably different genetically. I am here because one particular sperm fertilized an egg from my mother. There were the many kinds of eggs my mother could have produced, and the small chance of my parents, who were from different states, meeting and falling in love. If someone could have sensibly asked the question, say in 1920, before my parents met: "what is the probability that a person with the genetic qualities of Martin LaBar will exist?" the answer would have been extremely small. Yet here I am. I'm trying to say that we must be very careful of arguments from probability. Belief in God as creator comes by faith (Hebrews 11:3).

Even is we can't scientifically prove God's activity, we who believe should rejoice in God's ability and choice to design the universe as he did.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

California Condor

Captive California condor at Wild Animal Park, San Diego Zoo

This is not a good photo, but the subject is important. This is as close as I am likely to get to a California condor. The photo was taken at the San Diego zoo's Wild Animal Park. California condors are on the brink of extinction. Heroic efforts are being taken so that they don't become extinct. Adult condors have wingspans of up to 3 yards/meters. Like many other birds that feed on dead animals, condors have almost naked heads.

Genesis 1:26
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (ESV)

Part of God's charge to humans was to take care of other creatures, which is often referred to as stewardship. Although we must have other priorities, part of our job is to try to keep other types of living things alive. This photo was first posted to our Flickr photostream. As a viewer there commented, we haven't done a great job of keeping other species alive.

Thanks for reading, and looking.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

What do you want to do before you die?

Genesis 45:25 So they went up out of Egypt and came to the land of Canaan to their father Jacob. 26 And they told him, “Joseph is still alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt.” And his heart became numb, for he did not believe them. 27 But when they told him all the words of Joseph, which he had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. 28 And Israel said, “It is enough; Joseph my son is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.” (ESV)

One of my son-in-laws has a book about places you should see before you die. It's a good book, and I'm being influenced by it. But there are larger questions than where we want to go on a trip.

We don't know what Jacob wanted to do before his death prior to receiving this news. But we know what it was after the news. He wanted to see his long-missing son, whom he thought dead, even if it meant going on a long trip and leaving what he had known behind him. And he went. Going, of course, was part of God's plan for Jacob and his descendants.

So, what do you want to do before you die? What do I? Do I have desires for my descendants? Things I want to do for God's glory?

I'm going to think about it. It may not be too long, in my case, or yours.

Thanks for reading. This is one of an occasional series, based on my daily reading from the ESV Bible. The last one of these is here.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Some noise about bark

Bark, showing fissures

I recently discovered that there is not much on the Internet about tree bark. I think there should be more. See the Wikipedia article, which is roughly a page in length. There is a Flickr photo group, Bark Life, which has over 400 photos in it, but bark doesn't get the attention of leaves. The Flickr Leaf group has over 1700 photos. There are, of course, several groups on flowers, or even on particular kinds of flowers. Flowers, and, to a lesser extent, leaves, are showier than bark. But, let's not forget, they are transitory. Bark remains.

Why is bark interesting, or important? There are several reasons.

First, it is essential to the growth of woody plants. Bark protects the tree from disease. Bark contains phloem tissue, which brings the food produced in the leaves down to the rest of the plant. Where I grew up, rabbits sometimes girdled a tree in winter. That is, they ate all the bark in a ring around it, as high as they could reach. A girdled tree will die, because the phloem no longer brings food energy down to the roots.

Two very important medical products, quinine and aspirin, were originally derived from the bark of cinchona and willow trees, respectively. Quinine was the first effective treatment for malaria.

Bark is present when leaves and flowers aren't, hence is useful for identifying trees. One feature of bark is that it grows throughout the life of the tree. It has to, as the rest of the tree, mostly wood, is growing inside the bark. The fissures in many types of bark are because it is, as it were, stretching to accommodate this growth of the wood within. Some trees, like eucalyptus, don't fissure much, but slough off. Many types of tree bark does both.

Is bark, then, like the skin of humans? Well, yes, in some ways. We do use our skin to identify ourselves. Our skin does protect us. But there are differences. We use displays of skin, sometimes with the appearance altered by pigments, as a signal. There's no signaling of that kind between trees. The food-bearing functions of bark have no equivalent in humans.

Historically, bark played a significant role in science. Robert Hooke was looking at cells of cork, which is part of the bark of a tree, when he named them. He didn't have a full grasp of their significance, of course -- that is still coming to us -- but he started modern cell-based biology.

Cinnamon is derived from bark. Oak bark was the source of tannins used to process leather, in ancient times. Some mulch is made from bark, as is the surface of some playgrounds and walkways. Native Americans made quite a few items from birch tree bark. (see here for photo of some bark of an ornamental birch tree)

Bark is rather ordinary. But, ordinary things can be good. I like to think that Paul, in Romans 2:7, described ordinary things, and ordinary deeds:

to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; (ESV)

I don't suppose Paul was thinking of bark when he wrote "patience in well-doing," but perhaps God was. I hope my life is bark-like, in that I protect, and nourish, and am where I am whenever I'm supposed to be, without being showy.

I'm sorry, but I don't know what kind of tree the one in the picture is.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Daniel C. Dennett on studying religion scientifically

The New York Times interviewed Daniel C. Dennett, an important philosopher, and author of Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, who leaves no doubt that he does not believe there is a God, on Jan 22nd. The interviewer said that religion was not subject to scientific scrutiny. Dennett's reply was as follows:

That itself is a scientific claim, and I think it is false. Belief can be explained in much the way that cancer can. I think the time has come to shed our taboo that says, "Oh, let's just tiptoe by this, we don't have to study this." People think they know a lot about religion. But they don't know.

Dennett went on to proclaim that there is no such thing as a soul, that prayers are not answered, and that religious belief has done a great deal of harm, although it is responsible for some fine architecture and music, which makes up for the harm to some degree.

What about Dennett's claim? His view, as I understand it, is that religious impulse is merely biological. Somehow, it has been selected for, as, for example, the ability to see in color has been.

Well, possibly an impulse to believe in something supernatural has been selected for. If so, why? Couldn't God have used natural selection to place this desire for the supernatural other in us? Why not? And why should such belief be something that is selected for? From Darwinian theory, because it has some survival value. There is, even in Dennett's scheme, some value in having such.

Belief in a supernatural God may, or may not, have been selected for. Presumably such a possibility could be scientifically studied. But the real claims of real religious belief, as opposed to its existence, I don't think so. Dennett didn't offer to study forgiveness of sin through the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ. I believe that that is real, indeed. I don't expect it can be scientifically proven.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Sunspots 43


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


Sara muses about the fig tree story in the Bible.

National Public Radio has a page, with text, graphics, and sound, on the Real Uncle Tom's Cabin, in Maryland. The man who was the basis for Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel (according to this report) was inspiring. So is one of his relatives, who reads from the first man's autobiography.

Bonnie writes about The End of the Spear again, and, as usual, carefully and sanely. She asks if Bach's religious music must be played by Christians, as an analogy to the casting in the movie.

A scientist writes, for the BBC, about endangered species. He says that it is not possible to keep every species alive. On the other hand, a "Lost World," a remote location with many previously undiscovered species, has been discovered in Indonesia.

More than 80 evangelical church leaders have issued a warning about global warming. They include Rick Warren, and officials from World Vision and The Salvation Army, but many notable organizations and names are missing.

Slate's Explainer writes on Graven Images 101, relating to the current mess about anti-Muslim cartoons, and related matters, such as the Ten Commandments.

This week's Christian Carnival is here. (For information on locating these Carnivals, see here)

Image source (public domain)

Monday, February 06, 2006

Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer's books

Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer have written a couple of rather light-weight books together. The first, Sorcery and Cecilia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot, was better, as far as I'm concerned. It won an ALA Best Book for Young Adults award. I read it, and liked it, but didn't find The Grand Tour or The Purloined Coronation Regalia to be quite as good.

In the first book, Cecelia and Kate fall in love. In the second, still teenagers, but married, they leave England for Europe, with their new husbands. Both books are set in the 18th century. There are some historical figures in both, especially the second. However, the setting has changed from the real 18th century in one significant aspect. Sorcery is everywhere.

One interesting aspect of both books is that the authors collaborated, in the sense that one of them wrote from the perspective of one of the protagonists, then the next section was written, from the perspective of the other girl, by the other author, without, as I understand it, any consultation on where the book was going. Interesting, but I don't expect this type of writing to change the face of fiction.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Looking over a city

overlooking El Cajon

John 4:35 Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. (ESV)

My wife took this photo of me on Mt. Helix, in San Diego County, California. I confess that I was just looking over El Cajon, not concerned about the people there, or not very much. There are people there. Homeless, poor, sick, lonely, and many do not know of the God who loves them. I'm trying to pray for them. There is no city (or rural area) on earth without its needs.

This photo is part of our Flickr photos. To see a larger version, or to look at more of our photos, click on the photo. No membership is needed.

Thanks for reading, and looking.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

4 x 4 meme

Julana tagged me for this meme.

Here goes.

I'm supposed to list 4 jobs I've had.
I was a bean picker for my parents, at 3 cents a pound. This was while in late grade school and in high school. I could pick 200 pounds a day, and so could two of my brothers.
I was a pigeon and dove sexer (don't ask how this was done) for the Genetics Department of the University of Wisconsin. My research for a doctorate was on the genetics of blood antigens in such birds, and was pretty unimportant, except that I got a doctorate. We had to set up matings to do genetics, and we had to know the sex to do matings.
I was a professor at Southern Wesleyan University for 41 years. I taught biology, and some computer, math, physics, physical science, statistics and research, plus helped with a few inter-disciplinary seminars, and once each I taught health education and science fiction.
I'm currently an assistant babysitter for my grandson. (To my wife)

4 places I've lived:
Rural Sawyer County, Wisconsin. The high school I attended had only 15 members in my graduating class. My first school was a one-room country school. I believe I was the first male who finished that school to ever graduate from high school.
Madison, Wisconsin, while in graduate school. I spent six years there, which is more than most people take, but I wasn't in a hurry. I discovered C. S. Lewis in the children's section of the university library. I was involved in a newly planted church (which closed a few years after I left Madison.)
Dayton, Tennessee, while on a year's sabbatical at Bryan College.
San Diego County, California, while babysitting. (Our daughter has been deployed to a military base six hours away, and our son-in-law travels a lot.)
(I know, that's four, but . . .) We have lived in Pickens County, South Carolina, for most of our lives.

4 vacations I've taken:
For our twenty-fifth anniversary, we drove from Michigan to near Toronto, where we caught a train to Nova Scotia, where we spent several days. That was a good vacation. On the way back to Michigan, we happened upon Stratford, Ontario, and fell in love with the flowers, etc., there. Since then, all of our immediate family have spent a few days there, sometimes seeing a play or two (there is a Shakespeare festival there, nearly year around) and sometimes not. That's two vacations.
For our retirement, our daughters and sons-in-law planned, and helped finance, a trip to Washington and Oregon, with side trips to near Victoria, BC, and to extreme NW California.
Since my family lived in the Midwest, we didn't take vacations of any length, except to see my parents and whoever was living near them for several years after we married. But the four of us did go to Florida once, and, among other things, visited the Everglades and saw a coral reef from a glass-bottomed boat.

4 vehicles I have owned.
See here for more information on this matter.
My first car was a 1964 GMC Handi-van, with no A/C, and manual transmission.
We have owned a couple of Taurus station wagons, and three Honda sedans, plus a few other cars, mostly Chrysler products.

If anyone wants to do this, because of reading this, please do so. If you would be so kind, comment that you have, giving the URL if possible. If you want to, tag four other persons to do the same.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Dick Fischer on taking Genesis literally

I occasionally comment on articles in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, the periodical of the American Scientific Affiliation. The journal is published quarterly, and articles are posted on-line, free for anyone, about 18 months later. (Warning -- the server is a little slow sometimes)

Dick Fischer has an article, "Young-Earth Creationism: A Literal Mistake," (in .PDF format) wherein he claims, with scriptural evidence, that it is not necessary to take the days of Genesis 1 as literal 24-hour periods. He also presents scriptural evidence that the earth is more than a few thousand years old. He argues, again from scripture, that the flood was not universal, and that there were some survivors besides Noah's family. In sum, he claims that Young-Earth Creationism, while claiming to take scripture literally, actually misinterprets it seriously. Furthermore, by arguing that the Bible teaches a cosmology that is radically at odds with the best scientific evidence, Young-Earth Creationism casts doubt on the validity of the most important claims of scripture, about sin and its cure.

I'll just mention one of Fischer's arguments, and, I suspect, not the best one. Numbers 13:33 apparently refers to descendants of the Nephilim of Genesis 6:4, as being in existence long after the flood. How is this possible, if the flood really destroyed all living things except those in the ark? Anyone interested in the rest of Fischer's claims should read the article.

Note added March 16, 2010. The above claim is weak enough that I should not have mentioned it. The NIV Reference Bible suggests that the spies sent out by Moses were deliberately exaggerating the size of the people that they saw, so that it is quite possible that these were not Nephilim at all, and that possibility must be considered. Fischer didn't, probably because he didn't think of it. There are other claims in the Fischer article that seem more substantial.

I'm not a Bible scholar, but it appears to me that Fischer presents some arguments that need to be examined by anyone who takes a serious interest in origins. I have not read some of these arguments before. The response to this article must have been interesting. (It's not on-line yet.)

The article is several pages long, with documentation, but is clear and understandable.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Sunspots 42


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


Sara reflects on the arrest of a professor at a Christian college (not the one I taught at) for child pornography. Julana reflects on how an apparently kind and good man could have murdered someone, then committed suicide.

Katherine writes about being with Christ in everyday tasks (she's a homemaker with children.)

Catez writes about postmodernism.

Julana has posted about torture (she's against it!), pointing to an editorial in Christianity Today, which takes a similar stance, and which says that the Bush administration has not been careful in this regard.

Arevanye has decided that posting a good quote each day, with accompanying graphics, and calendar materials, on C. S. Lewis, is just too much, at least for now. The archives are still there, though.

The New Scientist reports that 2005 was the warmest year on record.

Microsoft has an article on the top 10 web sites for students. MSN Encarta is listed first (surprise!) and the Wikipedia isn't mentioned, but there are some good sites, including a Canadian site (which should be useful for students elsewhere, too.)

The Parableman has an interesting post on Science and Philosophy, related to whether Intelligent Design is science or religion or philosophy.

A new version of the Firefox browser is available. I have found the SessionSaver extension to be priceless on occasions such as suddenly upgrading and rebooting Firefox. On the rare occasions when Firefox shuts down, or the computer does, SessionSaver gets back all instances, tabs, whatever, at the same web site.

Bonnie has received (and posted) a collection of humorous quotations on music, beginning with Richard Wagner's advice to conductors to not look at the trombones. She also alerted me to the controversy (The lead actor is homosexual - - should that matter? If you have any interest in this, check the Christianity Today article that she links to.) over End of the Spear, and, as Julana commented, also actually reviewed the movie.

This week's Christian Carnival is here. (For information on locating these Carnivals, see here)

Image source (public domain)