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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Sunspots 84


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


Computing:
Thanks (I think) to Katherine for pointing me to WeBoggle, an on-line boggle game. Some people are really good at it. Not me.

Science:
Henry has some good thoughts on the relationship between science and theology.

Myriorama is one of my Flickr contacts. She generally posts one photo a day, mostly amazing close-up shots of insects or fungi. You don't need any password, or other red tape, to see her photos. They are well worth a visit.

Christianity:
The Evangelical Outpost says that we need to abolish slavery. Really!

Matthew Henry, on Matthew 27:52, which says that some graves were opened at the time of Christ's resurrection, but doesn't say who came out, for how long they did, or who they interacted with:
. . . This matter is not related so fully as our curiosity would wish; for the scripture was not intended to gratify that . . .

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 Librarian's Internet Index, SciTech Daily, or Arts and Letters Daily. All of these sources are great.

Thanks for reading! Keep clicking away.

Image source (public domain)

". . . being dead, yet speaketh." Literature

My wife saw a quote from a previous post of mine, which said this:

"I am constantly struck by the strangeness of reading works that seem addressed, personally and intimately, to me, and yet were written by people who crumbled to dust long ago." (source)

She told me that she wanted to know some of the statements that seem addressed to me. In other words, who speaks to me, though dead? (Hebrews 11:4, KJV, says "By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.")

In the first installment of this series, I quoted 10 brief sections from the Bible which particularly speak to me. This is the second installment. In the third installment, I quote from important scientists, including Darwin, Einstein, and Newton.

In this installment, I'm going to quote from some literature by persons now dead, that speaks to me. I am using only three authors. There are many more good ones. I'm using only a few quotations, out of the many important passages written by these three. The authors are C. S. Lewis, George MacDonald, and J. R. R. Tolkien. As you may know, they are related, in that MacDonald was one of Lewis's favorite authors, and that Lewis and Tolkien were friends for many years. Tolkien and MacDonald were important influences in the conversion of Lewis to Christianity. It is also true that all three of them wrote some pretty good fantastic literature.

"Don't you mind him," said Puddleglum. "There are no accidents. Our guide is Aslan; and he was there when the giant king caused the letters to be cut, and he knew already all things that would come of them; including this." C. S. Lewis, The Silver Chair, New York: Macmillan, 1953, p. 131.

And there, on the golden gravel of the bed of the stream, lay King Caspian, dead, with the water flowing over him like liquid glass. His long white beard swayed in it like water-weed. And all three stood and wept. Even the Lion wept: great Lion-tears, each tear more precious than the Earth would be if it was a single solid diamond. . . .
"Son of Adam," said Aslan, "go into that thicket and pluck the thorn that you will find there, and bring it to me."
Eustace obeyed. The thorn was a foot long and sharp as a rapier.
"Drive it into my paw, son of Adam," said Aslan. . . .
"Must I?" said Eustace.
"Yes," said Aslan.
Then Eustace set his teeth and drove the the thorn into the Lion's paw. And there came out a great drop of blood, redder than all the redness that you have ever seen or imagined. And it splashed into the stream over the dead body of the King. . . . And the dead King began to be changed. His white beard turned to grey, and from grey to yellow, and got shorter and vanished altogether; and his sunken cheeks grew round and fresh, and the wrinkles were smoothed, and his eyes opened, and his eyes and lips both laughed, and suddenly he leaped up and stood before them--a very young man, or a boy. . . . And he rushed to Aslan and flung his arms as far as they would go round the huge neck; and he gave Aslan the strong kisses of a King, and Aslan gave him the wild kisses of a Lion. C. S. Lewis, The Silver Chair, New York: Macmillan, 1953, pp. 203-4.

To trust Him means, of course, trying to do all that He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way. Not doing these things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already. Not hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of Heaven is already inside you. Unless we really try, whatever we say there will always be at the back of our minds the idea that if we try harder next time we shall succeed in being completely good. Thus, in one sense, the road back to God is a road of moral effort, of trying harder and harder. But in another sense it is not trying that is ever going to bring us home. All this trying leads up to the vital moment at which you turn to God and say, "You must do this, I can't." C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity: What One Must Believe to Be a Christian. New York: Macmillan, 1952. pp. 129.

For, make no mistake: if you are really going to try to meet all the demands made on the natural self, it will not have enough left over to live on. The more you obey your conscience, the more your conscience will demand of you. And your natural self, which is thus being starved and hampered and worried at every turn, will get angrier and angrier. In the end, you will either give up trying to be good, or else become one of those people who, as they say, "live for others" but always in a discontented, grumbling way--always wondering why the others do not notice it more and always making a martyr of yourself. And once you have become that you will be a far greater pest to anyone who has to live with you than you would have been if you had remained frankly selfish.
The Christian way is different: harder, and easier. Christ says "Give me All. I don't want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don't want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. I don't want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked--the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours." C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity: What One Must Believe to Be a Christian. New York: Macmillan, 1952. p. 167.

I hope you do not think I am suggesting that God made the spiral nebulae solely or chiefly in order to give me the experience of awe and bewilderment. I have not the faintest idea why He made them; on the whole, I think it would be rather surprising if I had. As far as I understand the matter, Christianity is not wedded to an anthropocentric view of the universe as a whole. The first chapters of Genesis, no doubt, give the story of creation in the form of a folk-tale--a fact recognized as early as the time of St Jerome--and if you take them alone you might get that impression. But it is not confirmed by the Bible as a whole. There are few places in the literature where we are more sternly warned against making man the measure of all things than in the Book of Job: 'Canst thou draw out leviathan with a hook? Will he make a covenant with thee? wilt thou take him for a servant? Shall not one be cast down even at the sight of him?' [Lewis has a footnote to Job 41:4, 9] In St Paul, the powers of the skies seem usually to be hostile to man. It is, of course, the essence of Christianity that God loves man and for his sake became man and died. But that does not prove that man is the sole end of nature. In the parable, it was the one lost sheep that the shepherd went in search of: it was not the only sheep in the flock, and we are not told that it was the most valuable--save in so far as the most desperately in need has, while the need lasts, a peculiar value in the eyes of Love. The doctrine of the Incarnation would conflict with what we know of this vast universe only if we knew also that there were other rational species in it who had, like us, fallen, and who needed redemption in the same mode, and that they had not been vouchsafed it. But we know none of these things. It may be full of life that needs no redemption. It may be full of life that has been redeemed. It may be full of things quite other than life which satisfy the Divine Wisdom in fashions one cannot conceive. C. S. Lewis, "Dogma and the Universe," in C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, edited by Walter Hooper. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970, pp. 38-47. Quote is from pp. 42-43.

The laws of physics, I understand, decree that when one billiards ball (A) sets another billiards ball (B) in motion, the momentum lost by A exactly equals the momentum gained by B. This is a Law. That is, this is the pattern to which the movement of the two billiard balls must conform. Provided, of course, that something sets ball A in motion. And there comes the snag. The law won't set it in motion. It is usually a man with a cue who does that. But a man with a cue would send us back to free-will, so let us assume that it was lying on a table in a liner and that what set it in motion was a lurch of the ship. In that case it was not the law which produced the movement; it was a wave. And that wave, though it certainly moved according to the laws of physics, was not moved by them. It was shoved by other waves, and by winds, ans so forth. And however far you traced the story back you would never find the laws of Nature causing anything.
The dazzlingly obvious conclusion new arose in my mind: in the whole history of the universe the laws of Nature have never produced a single event. They are the pattern to which every event must conform, provided only that it can be induced to happen. But how do you get it to do that? How do you get a move on? The laws of Nature can give you no help there. All events obey them, just as all operations with money obey the laws of arithmetic. . . . Up till now I had had a vague idea that the laws of Nature could make things happen. I now saw that this was exactly like thinking that you could increase your income by doing sums about it. The laws are the pattern to which events conform: the source of events must be sought elsewhere. C. S. Lewis, "The Laws of Nature," in C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, edited by Walter Hooper. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970, pp. 76-79. Quote is from pp.77-78.

I ended my first book with the words no answer. I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice? C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980, p. 308.

Excerpts from George MacDonald's A Book of Strife in the Form of a Diary of an Old Soul (Public Domain, 1880):

February 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.

March 2. Gloriously wasteful, O my Lord, art thou!
Sunset faints after sunset into the night,
Splendorously dying from thy window-sill--
For ever. Sad our poverty doth bow
Before the riches of thy making might:
Sweep from thy space thy systems at thy will--
In thee the sun sets every sunset still.

Why are all reflections lovelier than what we call the reality?--not so grand or so strong, it may be, but always lovelier? Fair as is the gliding sloop on the shining sea, the wavering, trembling, unresting sail below is fairer still. Yea, the reflecting ocean itself, reflected in the mirror, has a wondrousness about its waters that somewhat vanishes when I turn towards itself. All mirrors are magic mirrors. . . . In whatever way it may be accounted for, of one thing we may be sure, that this feeling is no cheat; for there is no cheating in nature and the simple unsought feelings of the soul. There must be a truth involved in it, though we may but in part lay hold of the meaning. Even the memories of past pain are beautiful; and past delights, though beheld only through clefts in the grey clouds of sorrow, are lovely as Fairy Land. George MacDonald, Phantastes, 1905. Chapter X.

Fantasy can, of course, be carried to excess. It can be ill done. It can be put to evil uses. It may even delude the minds out of which it came. But of what human thing in this fallen world is that not true? Men have conceived not only of elves, but they have imagined gods, and worshipped them, even worshipped those most deformed by their authors' own evil. . . . Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker. J. R. R. Tolkien, "On Fairy-stories," in Tree and Leaf. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1965, pp. 3 - 73. Quote is from p.55.

'You are wise and fearless and fair, Lady Galadriel,' said Frodo. I will give you the One Ring, if you ask for it. It is too great a matter for me.'
Galadriel laughed with a sudden clear laugh. 'Wise the Lady Galadriel may be,' she said, 'yet here she has met her match in courtesy. Gently are you revenged for my testing of your heart at our first meeting. You begin to see with a keen eye. I do not deny that my heart has greatly desired to ask what you offer. For many long years I had pondered what I might do, should the Great Ring come into my hands, and behold! it was brought within my grasp. The evil that was devised long ago works on in many ways, whether Sauron himself stands or falls. Would not that have been a noble deed to set to the credit of his Ring, if I had taken it by force or fear from my guest?
'And now at last it comes. You will give me the Ring freely! In place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love me and despair!'
She lifted up her hand and from the ring that she wore there issued a great light that illumined her alone and left all else dark. She stood before Frodo seeming now tall beyond measurement, and beautiful beyond enduring, terrible and worshipful. Then she let her hand fall, and the light faded, and suddenly she laughed again, and lo! she was shrunken: a simple elf-woman, clad in simple white, whose gentle voice was soft and sad.
'I pass the test,' she said. 'I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.' J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring: Being the First Part of The Lord of the Rings. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1963, p. 381.

Thanks for reading. Lewis was born on this date, in 1898.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

I'm thankful for fantastic literature

I'm thankful for fantastic literature. I enjoy it. It speaks to me. It speaks to other people, too:

Best of all, fantasy novels are almost always about great heroes, which I see as illustrative of our Lord, the greatest hero of all. Courage, confidence, humility, self-sacrifice, virtue, perseverance, love—the qualities of a hero reflect our Lord’s character. They are also the qualities to which we ourselves should all aspire since we have been designed by God to be heroes just like Him in the unseen battle in which we fight. Especially significant to me is the fact that being a hero always exacts a price. Karen Hancock, "Why I Read Fantasy," Speculative Faith Blog, November 1, 2006.

As is my custom, I searched the Bible for an answer and found that Jesus taught using stories—but not just any old stories. Some clearly contained elements of fantasy. I read about a camel passing through the eye of a needle, an impossible event without God's miraculous intervention. Much of the story of the rich man and Lazarus couldn't possibly happen in the world Jesus' hearers knew, for they had never seen the afterlife dimension that Jesus described. These stories fall squarely into the realm of fantasy—stories that can't happen in our world without some kind of supernatural cause, in these cases, God's power.

And Jesus made fantasy stories come true. He made a coin appear in the mouth of a fish. A fig tree withered at His command. He calmed a storm with a spoken word. He walked on water. Without His power, none of these events could ever occur. They are fantasy stories brought to life. And each one taught us a lesson we will never forget. Why? Because fantasy brands images on our minds that cannot be erased. As we recall the images, we remember the lessons behind the amazing pictures. Fantasy creates indelible portraits of God's wondrous truths.

Jesus knew how our minds work, so he taught using fantasy elements in His stories. With such a powerful, authoritative fantasy trail-blazer leading the way, it seemed clear that I should simply follow. Bryan Davis, "Why Fantasy, Part 1" Speculative Faith Blog, Aug 23, 2006

Fantastic literature caught my imagination early. I fell down the rabbit hole with Alice. I wandered Barsoom, which we call Mars, with John Carter. I found authors who have stuck with me, and I with them. I discovered The Fellowship of the Ring in the stacks of the library of what is now the University of Wisconsin, Superior, while I was a student, working in that library. The Narnia books, by C. S. Lewis, discovered me, while I was a graduate student, wandering around the library of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, looking for something to read. (One of those books told me that there aren't any accidents.)

I was entertained, certainly. I escaped, for sure. But I have also learned about heroism, and endurance, and battling evil, and the perils of tinkering with what you shouldn't. I learned that there is another reality, more real than what appears to our eyes. I learned something of the power of the imagination. I learned, from some of my favorite authors, about human limits, too. Even Tolkien and Lewis seemed to leave some gaps in their imagined worlds. Only One author can create a consistent universe that really works.

I am thankful for fantastic literature, and for being made in the image of a God who imagines all possible things, so that I, too, can use my imagination, and profit from the imaginations of others.

Here is the last post of four, about my three favorite works of fantastic literature.

I am thankful
for Rebecca, who suggested that November be a month of blogger gratitude emphasis. I previously posted musings about my gratitude for Carbon atoms, and for the electromagnetic spectrum, and for cell division, and, subsequently, about carbohydrates.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, November 27, 2006

I'm thankful for Cell Division

Cell Division doesn't get a lot of time on CNN. Perhaps it should. It's one of the many things that make life possible. We take it too much for granted. Without cell division, we wouldn't be here. How so? (I recently posted on the question of why we have cells in the first place.) We are made of many cells, all coming from one single one, the fertilized egg. We have become this closely linked community of cells by cell division.

Living things can be grouped into two groups, based on their cell type. Prokaryotes have no nucleus or chromosomes; eukaryotes have both. We are eukaryotes. Prokaryotes have mechanisms of cell division, but I'll stick with eukaryotes in this post.

During their science education, students are taught about mitosis and meiosis. These two related processes are ways of controlling the duplication and division of chromosomes. Chromosomes carry almost all of our genes, our heredity.

First, mitosis. Mitosis copies each chromosome as a cell divides. Therefore, when this happens, each of the two daughter cells get the same genetic material as the parent cell. (There are occasional mistakes in the copying process, but they are extremely rare.) That means that, for example, I have the same genes for eye color in each eye, and the same genes for skin color all over my body. (There are, of course, much more important genes than these, but we can see what these do directly.) I have, in fact, the same genes in almost every cell that were in the fertilized egg that gave rise to me, over six decades ago.

Since most of an organism's genes are important, and since some of them are expressed in every cell of that organism, mitosis is a critical process. We depend on it absolutely.

So what is meiosis? Meiosis is a process that does two critical things. It can be thought of as a variation on mitosis. What are these two things? One of them is to cut the number of chromosomes in half. The second is to introduce variety. Unlike mitosis, the daughter cells resulting from meiosis are not identical.

Why is cutting the chromosome number in half so important? Because two cells, a sperm and an egg, fuse to make a zygote, a fertilized egg. If they had the same chromosome number as the organisms that produced them, the chromosome number would double every generation, and reproduction would be impossible.

What about the variety? I received 23 chromosomes from my father, and 23 from my mother, in the sperm and the egg that went to form me, back when I was a fertilized egg, 23 pairs in all. (Human chromosomes are of 22 types, plus another pair that determine the the sex of the new organism.) As a male, I have had a group of cells, in my testes, where meiosis is happening all the time. I'm constantly producing new sperm. Each of these, because of the variety produced by meiosis, may be unique. Let's imagine that we have one of the little creatures by the tail, and can check on its chromosomes. Let's see. Chromosome 1 came from my dad. Chromosome 2 did, too. But chromosomes 3, 4, and 5 came from my mother, and 6 from my father. Over eight million possible combinations (2 to the 23rd power) are possible. And, it's more that that, much more than that. If I could really look at the chromosomes in a sperm, chromosome 2 might be seen to be mostly from my father, but with a little group of genes which came to me from my mother's chromosome 2. It seems possible that I never have, and never will, produce two sperm which are exactly alike. Meiosis also occurs in the production of the egg. The details are different, but the result is the same -- variety. I would expect that, of the hundreds of eggs my wife had or produced during her time of fertility, no two were alike. So, we have two daughters, alike in some ways, but certainly not identical. All because of meiosis. See "Why is there sex?"

This variety is not just good because it produces organisms, including humans, with various abilities and talents. It is good because it makes it possible for natural selection to work. The variety that means that, under some circumstances, some organisms are more fit than others, hence will have more offspring, is generated by accidents to the genetic material during these two processes of cell division, and by the reshuffling of the chromosomes that occurs during meiosis.

I believe, but cannot prove, that God planned these two processes, and made them happen in living things. I'm glad He did.

By the way, I'm also thankful for the Wikipedia, and for Rebecca, who suggesting that November be a month of blogger gratitude emphasis. I previously posted musings about my gratitude for Carbon atoms, and for the electromagnetic spectrum. I also thank you, my readers.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Diary of an Old Soul, Nov 26 - Dec 2

November 26. But when the Will hath learned obedience royal,
He straight will set the child upon the throne;
To whom the seen things all, grown instant loyal,
Will gather to his feet, in homage prone--
The child their master they have ever known;
Then shall the visible fabric plainly lean
On a Reality that never can be seen.

27. Thy ways are wonderful, maker of men!
Thou gavest me a child, and I have fed
And clothed and loved her, many a growing year;
Lo! now a friend of months draws gently near,
And claims her future--all beyond his ken--
There he hath never loved her nor hath led:
She weeps and moans, but turns, and leaves her home so dear.

28. She leaves, but not forsakes. Oft in the night,
Oft at mid-day when all is still around,
Sudden will rise, in dim pathetic light,
Some childish memory of household bliss,
Or sorrow by love's service robed and crowned;
Rich in his love, she yet will sometimes miss
The mother's folding arms, the mother's sealing kiss.

29. Then first, I think, our eldest-born, although
Loving, devoted, tender, watchful, dear,
The innermost of home-bred love shall know!
Yea, when at last the janitor draws near,
A still, pale joy will through the darkness go,
At thought of lying in those arms again,
Which once were heaven enough for any pain.

30. By love doth love grow mighty in its love:
Once thou shalt love us, child, as we love thee.
Father of loves, is it not thy decree
That, by our long, far-wandering remove
From thee, our life, our home, our being blest,
We learn at last to love thee true and best,
And rush with all our loves back to thy infinite rest?

DECEMBER. 1. I am a little weary of my life--
Not thy life, blessed Father! Or the blood
Too slowly laves the coral shores of thought,
Or I am weary of weariness and strife.
Open my soul-gates to thy living flood;
I ask not larger heart-throbs, vigour-fraught,
I pray thy presence, with strong patience rife.

2. I will what thou will'st--only keep me sure
That thou art willing; call to me now and then.
So, ceasing to enjoy, I shall endure
With perfect patience--willing beyond my ken
Beyond my love, beyond my thinking scope;
Willing to be because thy will is pure;
Willing thy will beyond all bounds of hope.

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. These are the entries for/from November 26 through December 2.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Why do living things have cells?

Why do living things have cells? Good question. I begin with three introductory remarks.

1) A cell is a building block of living things, surrounded by a membrane, which serves as a boundary. Cells were first named such by Robert Hooke, who saw a resemblance between cork tissue he looked at in a microscope (see here for picture), and the cells in a monastery. The cell theory is the idea that all living things are made of cells, and that these cells came from other cells, which existed before them. The cell theory dates to the 18oos.

2) Strictly speaking, not all living things do have cells. Most bacteria, and some other organisms, are made of only one cell, not cells.

3) What is meant by "Why"? Good question. There are several meanings, and several possible answers. One of the meanings is "What is the cause?" One answer is that I have cells because my parents did. Another meaning, and answer, would be that "Organisms have cells because God designed living organisms in this way, or because pre-organisms which had cell-like structures were selected over pre-organisms that didn't." There are theories about the origin of cells from non-living things by evolutionary processes. As would be expected, even if this is the way things came about, there is little or no hard evidence for this. It is possible that God used evolutionary processes to bring about His design for living things.

Another meaning is "What is the function of cells?" As interesting as are the other meanings of "Why?", this is the meaning I am using in this musing. Another way to put it is "What good does the possession of cells do living things?"

I have dealt previously with another basic biological question, namely "Why is there sex?"

OK, why? The answer seems to be that cells allow for specialization. Cells, tiny units, more or less self-sufficient, can have many different functions in the same organism. Most likely, the cell arrangement, wherein discrete units exist, somewhat disconnected from the other units, makes the extreme specialization necessary for our existence possible in a way that having one part of a seamlessly connected whole perform a specialized function could not.

And cells are specialized. For example, some skin cells seem to mostly be there just to act as a barrier between the organism and what's outside of it. Antibody-producing cells seem to manufacture only one particular antibody, helping to fight off only one type of invader each. Neurons (nerve cells) don't produce eye pigment, or secrete digestive enzymes, or carry Oxygen. They transmit messages, sometimes over long distances.

Each of these cells is part of one single organism. Each of these cells (except the antibody-producing cells, where there is some variation) has the same genetic information. But different parts of the genetic information are expressed in each different type of cell.

I'm made up of trillions of cells, and trillions more of my cells have died since my conception. I'm glad for all of them. Here's a web page, from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, answering the same question that I have.

Thanks for reading. I hope to post on being thankful for cell division in a day or two. To see another post on scientifically oriented gratitude, go here.

*   *   *   *   *

August 5, 2013. Upon looking at this post after a few years, I decided to add something: There's another way in which having cells helps organisms. It is related to something called the surface to volume ratio. What is that? Suppose you compare three pieces of jello -- each one containing the same amount of jello, in other words, the same volume. Further, for simplicity, suppose that the jello forms a cube, 4 units of length on a side. Inches, centimeters, pick your unit. OK. What's the surface area of such a piece of jello? It has six sides, and each side is 4 x 4 units squared in area. So, the total surface is 6 x 4 x 4 = 96 units squared. Now, lets take the second piece of jello. This time, we'll imagine that it is sliced across, such that there's a top half, and a bottom half. Then, we slice it again, twice, down from the top, at right angles, so that the piece of jello is now made of eight smaller cubes, each 2 x 2 x 2 units, four on top, four on the bottom. The volume remains the same. What's happened to the surface? The total surface is now the total of the surface of 8 cubes, each with 6 sides, each side 2 x 2, so that the total surface is 8 x 6 x 2 x 2, and the total surface is now 192 units squared.

Then, imagine that the third piece of jello is cut so that there are four layers of 16 small cubes, 1 unit on the side. The total surface will be 4 x 16 x 6 x 1 x 1 = 384 square units. The surface to volume ratio increases, as the object is divided into smaller subunits.

What's the point? The point is that, as a volume is divided into smaller and smaller subunits, the volume acquires more and more surface area. This is true whether the subunits are cubes, spheres, or of some other shape. If the volume is a living organism, that organism would have more surface, to absorb external material (such as Oxygen or water) and, also more surface area to expel unwanted wastes, if divided into cells. Although these two advantages are not strictly as I have suggested, if the cells are so close to each other that the effective surface isn't increases so much, there are potential advantages.

As aside - I once saw a nestful of baby killdeers fall off a two-story building. Their parents had raised them from eggs on the roof. After a brief period of recovery, they ran off, unfazed. If I had fallen off, I wouldn't have been unfazed. An elephant would have likely have been more seriously injured. Why? At least partly because a small bird has more surface per volume than I do, hence, more air resistance. An elephant, or a whale, has even less external surface per volume.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, November 24, 2006

What the Bible says about light

I recently posted about my gratitude for the electromagnetic spectrum. "Light" is the most common word used for that type of energy. The electromagnetic spectrum includes other types, however, but I'm sticking with light in this post. Actually, maybe I'm not. It is possible that some of the occurrences of "light" in the Bible refer to the entire spectrum, or to energy in general. I don't know for sure.

What does the Bible say about light? Below, I have given some of what I believe to be the most important uses of this word in scripture.

The first specific creative act of God, in Genesis 1 (all scriptural links are to the ESV), is the creation of light. Since the exact interpretation of Genesis 1 is in some doubt, I cannot say that the first creative act was God's creation of light. That is, it is possible that Genesis 1:1-2 is a summary statement, with specifics given in what follows, and that, thus, God's first creative act was the creation of light. It is also possible that the earth was already present when God created light, because Genesis 1:1-2 describe the creation of the earth first. We don't know. In either case, the creation of light was very significant. No wonder that James 1:17 describes God as the "Father of lights."

After the flood, God promised never to destroy the earth again by a flood, and He chose a rainbow, a phenomenon caused by light passing through water, to signify this.

During the Exodus, God showed Himself to the Israelites (at night, at least) as a light-giving pillar of fire, light enough to travel by.

In Exodus 25, and elsewhere, the Israelites were commanded to prepare light in the Tabernacle, as part of their worship of God.

In 2 Samuel 22, David said: "For you are my lamp, O Lord,
and my God lightens my darkness." (verse 29) Perhaps this is the first time that God's presence and communication with humans is compared to light. In Psalm 27:1, first part, David wrote that
"The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?"

Job refers to the day when he was born, and wishes that it had never happened (chapter 3) saying that he wishes it had been condemned to darkness. Darkness and evil, and light and good, are often linked, in the Bible.

Psalm 119:105 says "Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path," comparing God's word to light. 1 John 1 is one of the places in the New Testament where God's revelation to humans is compared to light.

In Isaiah 9, Isaiah, apparently speaking of the coming of the Messiah, compares this event to the appearance of a great light. (This passage is quoted in Matthew 4:12-16.)

Jesus, in Matthew 5:14-16, compares the God-honoring life of his followers to light.

In John 1:1-13, the revelation of God in Christ Jesus is compared to light. John 3:16-21 says that that revelation of light has brought judgment. In John 8:12, Jesus describes Himself as the light of the world.

1 Timothy 6:11-16 says that Jesus "dwells in unapproachable light. . ."

As the first chapter in the Bible refers to light, so does the last, Revelation 22:1-5, which says that the only light necessary in heaven is God, Himself.

I submit to you that God has been well aware of the importance of light, and has used it as a symbol of Himself, throughout the time of His interaction with humans.

Thanks for reading.

* * * *

February 6, 2009. A commenter kindly pointed out that I had mistakenly omitted "by a flood" from the fourth paragraph above, and I have fixed that.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

I'm thankful for the electromagnetic spectrum

I'm thankful for the electromagnetic spectrum. The what? you say. The electromagnetic spectrum. You read correctly.

So what is this? The electromagnetic spectrum is one of the types of energy. Instances of this type of energy can be thought of as little energy vibrations. They all belong to a family, as the different notes on a piano keyboard belong to one family. When sounded, each piano note is different, but they are all very much alike, sounds, vibrations of a certain type. (Sounds are a different sort of vibration from the vibrations of the electromagnetic spectrum). Sounds differ from one another in their frequency and wave length. High pitched sounds have a high frequency and a small wave length. Low pitched sounds have a low frequency and a large wave length. But all sounds are very similar, part of the same family. The members of the electromagnetic spectrum are like that. They are very similar, differing in their wave lengths and frequencies. (They, and sounds, also differ within the two families in the amount of energy they have.) The energy of the electromagnetic spectrum travels at the velocity of light, c in Einstein's famous e = m times c squared equation.

So why should I be thankful for the vibrations of the electromagnetic spectrum? Because I wouldn't be here without them, and neither would you. How so? Well, let me list some of the members of this large family. It includes, at the very small wave length, high frequency, and high energy end, gamma rays. Then, as wave length increases, and the frequency and energy decrease, X rays, ultraviolet rays, light, infrared/heat, and all of the radio waves. The range is enormous. Gamma rays have wave lengths on the order of a trillionth of a meter, and the radio waves can have lengths as long as 10 million meters. (We don't use those for ordinary communications.) As the Wikipedia article on this subject puts it: "In our universe the short wavelength limit is likely to be the Planck length, and the long wavelength limit is the size of the universe itself (see physical cosmology), though in principle the spectrum is infinite."

Okay, so there is a tremendous family of energy. So why is this important? There are many reasons, dear reader, but I will mention one as of most importance. Our earth gets most of its available energy from the sun, carried here by light, which is part of the electromagnetic spectrum. This light keeps the earth from being a frozen ball of rock and ice. It fuels photosynthesis, the process by which plants turn water and Carbon Dioxide into food. It powers the water cycle. It makes it possible for those of us blessed with eyesight to see the world around us. If there were no electromagnetic spectrum, we wouldn't be here. Because there is an electromagnetic spectrum, we are.

In case you are wondering how we can be heated by light, the energy in light is absorbed by matter. This absorption of energy heats things up. Objects so heated can, then, give off heat in other ways.

Besides the critical energy we get from the sun, I'd like to mention two other aspects of the electromagnetic spectrum. One is color (See also here). God didn't have to create light at all, I guess, and when He did, it didn't have to be colored. But it is. Without that part of the electromagnetic spectrum, light, we wouldn't see color in flowers, in babies, in great art, in the sky, the grass, and sidewalks. (I know -- some of us can't see color, and some can't see at all. But most of us can do both, and take it entirely too much for granted.) The second aspect is just that we (and many animals) can see at all. I take this too much for granted. There are many other reasons that the electromagnetic spectrum is important, in industry, in medicine, in communications, and elsewhere, but that will do.

Lest there be any doubt, I'm thankful to God for the electromagnetic spectrum. Although I can't prove it, I believe that God designed the universe to include it, and I'm glad He did.

Here's a post on Biblical references to light.

By the way, I'm also thankful for the Wikipedia, and for Rebecca, who suggesting that November be a month of blogger gratitude emphasis. I also thank you, my readers. I am posting this on November 23, 2006, Thanksgiving Day in the United States. For what it's worth, Rebecca is a Canadian. Here is another post expressing my gratitude for a number of things, here's one, expressing my gratitude for cell division, and here is one expressing my gratitude for Carbon atoms.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Sunspots 83


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


Computing:

Stand to Reason on Blogging Winsomely. (Could have put this one in Christianity category.) Common sense, but important.


From Wired: different aspects of technology that have been referred to as the Mark of the Beast .

Science:
On how the vertebrate eye is poorly designed. The article says that claims that the "reverse wiring" of the retina are actually advantageous, because they allow for better cooling, are false.

Some of the genetic code of Neanderthals has been sequenced. Really.

Literature:
What is Elf? is a rather long, but interesting and important post on Tolkien, and fantasy in general, dealing with the spiritual status of elves.

Stephen E. Burnett continues his series, Nine Marks of Widescreen Stories. In part 4 , he writes about the contrast between, say, a Pixar movie, and The Silver Chair, by C. S. Lewis:
Isn’t that great? The themes are so embedded, so deep and epic, that one cannot in good conscience say It’s A Story About Following Your Dream. The same is true of just about every timelessness-proved work of literature: you can’t pin down its Take-Away Value.

"God Fearing," an essay in the New York Times Book Review (free, and spam-free registration with the Times may be required) by John Wilson, editor of Books & Culture (A subsidiary of Christianity Today), who argues that fears of a Christian takeover of the U. S. are wildly exaggerated.

A fine post on "Nobility in Narnia ."


Christianity:
Kevin Wright on how John Calvin and John Wesley viewed the image of God in humans, and their resulting view of evil.

The Evangelical Ecologist on the importance of prayer, and repentance, as related to Christian stewardship.

Pastor Perry gives dating advice , mostly to guys.

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 Librarian's Internet Index, SciTech Daily, or Arts and Letters Daily. All of these sources are great.

Thanks for reading! Keep clicking away.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

False Witness, Lying, Deceit, etc. - it's usually wrong

In previous posts, I considered the Ninth Commandment (against false witness), first by quoting from some old commentaries on the subject, and suggesting that perhaps this Commandment means what it says, rather than that it's a blanket condemnation of deceit, then (in a single post) considering the definition of a lie, and also nine cases in the Bible where it appears that God may have approved, or at least allowed, some act of deceit by a character who was commended by God.

If deceit is sometimes all right, it usually is not. The Ninth Commandment, itself (Exodus 20:16) is one evidence for that. There is other evidence. I thank my pastor for a sermon where he presented some of these additional verses. (There are others, which I have not cited)
In Joshua 7:11, when Achan took loot against God's command, his disobedience, his taking, and his lying are apparently all sinful.

Leviticus 6:1-7 says that lying and deceit which result in loss of property to another are sins, and restitution must be made.

Leviticus 19:11 says, in part, "you shall not lie to one another." (all quotations and links to the ESV)

Psalm 5:6 says that God destroys liars and abhors deceitful people.

Here's Psalm 101:7:
No one who practices deceit
shall dwell in my house;
no one who utters lies
shall continue before my eyes.

Proverbs 12:22 says that God abhors lying lips.

Proverbs 19:9 condemns false witnesses and liars.

Proverbs 21:6 says that getting property by deceit leads to death.

in Jeremiah 27:12-16, Jeremiah condemns false prophets for their lies.

These, of course, are all Old Testament scriptures. The New Testament also has harsh words for deceit.

In John 8:44, Jesus says that the Devil is the father of lies.

In Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira died because they lied to the Holy Spirit.

In Colossians 3:9, Paul tells Christians not to lie to each other.

1 Timothy 1:8-11 includes both liars and perjurers in a list of types of sinners.

1 Timothy 4:1-5 says that the time will come when some believers will "depart from the faith" due to the influence of demons, deceitful spirits, and liars.

Revelation 21:8 places "all liars" into the lake of fire, with murderers and other sinners.

This is not a pretty picture. It is possible that deceit is sometimes allowed by God, generally to protect someone else from evil, but generally, it is not. There is no scriptural evidence that it is ever all right to selfishly advance your own interests by lying, or that it is ever all right to harm an innocent party by lying.

I may return to this subject.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, November 20, 2006

I'm thankful for Carbon

In previous posts (see here for a link to them) I have mentioned various things that I am grateful for. I listed some chemical elements, including Carbon, but I want to devote a whole post to this subject.

Carbon is one of the approximately 100 types of matter -- the elements -- that make up the material world.

Why emphasize Carbon specially? Well, that's a good question. Life as we know of would not be possible without many, maybe even most, of all the elements, not just Carbon. But Carbon is special to life.

Suppose you had to invent life from scratch. You would need building blocks that would be readily available to living things, or life would have been too difficult. You would need building blocks that can be assembled into many complex structures, or the complexity of information that is necessary for life would not have been possible. Consider language and the alphabet -- to have the complexity of language information that we have, we must have the capacity to make complex structures, like words, sentences, and paragraphs, from assemblies of simple structures -- letters. Carbon is the basis of the complex molecules that make life possible. I know, they are also made of other things, such as Hydrogen, Oxygen, Nitrogen, Sulfur, and other chemical elements, but Carbon is the key. Why is that? It is because Carbon has two properties. One of these is that Carbon is readily available to living things. Carbon's atoms are light, compared to, say, those of Iron. Carbon Dioxide, therefore, is a light substance, which is gaseous under common conditions, thus readily available to the green plants that turn it into food in photosynthesis. If Carbon were heavier, this could not happen.

The other property is that Carbon, with its six electrons, will readily form covalent bonds with four other atoms, including other atoms of Carbon, all at the same time. Huh? What does that mean? Consider our hands. Most of us have two. We could hold hands with two other people at the same time (or with one person, holding both hands). This makes it theoretically possible to make straight chains of people holding hands. Such chains could be very long, but they wouldn't be especially complex. They would be one-dimensional. Now, suppose we had four hands. We could make two-dimensional structures (or three-dimensional, if some of us would stand on ladders or get down in holes) much more complicated than straight chains of people. We could make complicated structures, indeed, in this way. If molecules could only be long, straight, chains, the complexity of the molecules we depend on, such as proteins and DNA, would be impossible. Both proteins and DNA have many Carbon atoms which are attached to three or four other atoms, making molecules with complex three-dimensional structures possible. The basic building blocks of proteins are amino acids. The heart of each amino acid is a Carbon atom, which is attached to four different groups of atoms at the same time.

I have inherited characteristics from my ancestors. I have had the privilege of passing on some of these characteristics to my daughters and my grandson. The information that makes this possible is carried in DNA molecules. The complexity of DNA makes this possible. DNA, too, has many Carbon atoms that are attached to four different groups of atoms at the same time.

It isn't just DNA and proteins. All the basic foods -- the substances we take in to give us energy -- are based on Carbon. Their smells and tastes are largely because of the Carbon-based molecules in their substance. So is their color. There are also human-made molecules that we have come to depend on, such as plastics, and man made fibers. Fuels are possible because of Carbon-based molecules. So are wood, paper, and many other things. We are, truly, Carbon-based life forms.

So, in this Thanksgiving season, I'm thankful to God for Carbon. Without it, I wouldn't be here, and you wouldn't be, either. I also thank Rebecca for suggesting that November be a month of blogger gratitude emphasis. I have also used this emphasis as an excuse to be thankful for the electromagnetic spectrum, and for cell division.

Thank you for reading.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Diary of an Old Soul, Nov 19 - 25

19. There is no word to tell how I must know thee;
No wind clasped ever a low meadow-flower
So close that as to nearness it could show thee;
No rainbow so makes one the sun and shower.
A something with thee, I am a nothing fro' thee.
Because I am not save as I am in thee,
My soul is ever setting out to win thee.

20. I know not how--for that I first must know thee.
I know I know thee not as I would know thee,
For my heart burns like theirs that did not know him,
Till he broke bread, and therein they must know him.
I know thee, knowing that I do not know thee,
Nor ever shall till one with me I know thee--
Even as thy son, the eternal man, doth know thee.

21. Creation under me, in, and above,
Slopes upward from the base, a pyramid,
On whose point I shall stand at last, and love.
From the first rush of vapour at thy will,
To the last poet-word that darkness chid*,
Thou hast been sending up creation's hill,
To lift thy souls aloft in faithful Godhead free.

22. I think my thought, and fancy I think thee.--
Lord, wake me up; rend swift my coffin-planks;
I pray thee, let me live--alive and free.
My soul will break forth in melodious thanks,
Aware at last what thou wouldst have it be,
When thy life shall be light in me, and when
My life to thine is answer and amen.

23. How oft I say the same things in these lines!
Even as a man, buried in during dark,
Turns ever where the edge of twilight shines,
Prays ever towards the vague eternal mark;
Or as the sleeper, having dreamed he drinks,
Back straightway into thirstful dreaming sinks,
So turns my will to thee, for thee still longs, still pines.

24. The mortal man, all careful, wise, and troubled,
The eternal child in the nursery doth keep.
To-morrow on to-day the man heaps doubled;
The child laughs, hopeful, even in his sleep.
The man rebukes the child for foolish trust;
The child replies, "Thy care is for poor dust;
Be still, and let me wake that thou mayst sleep."

25. Till I am one, with oneness manifold,
I must breed contradiction, strife, and doubt;
Things tread Thy court--look real--take proving hold--
My Christ is not yet grown to cast them out;
Alas! to me, false-judging 'twixt the twain,
The Unseen oft fancy seems, while, all about,
The Seen doth lord it with a mighty train.

*I believe "chid" is a variation of "chided."

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. These are the entries for/from November 19 through November 25.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

False Witness, Lying, Deceit, etc.

Once, I was asked to speak on cloning, I believe it was, to a group at our small church. I said, "What's the first thing you should know about any subject?" I expected what would have been my own response, namely "What does the Bible say about it?" I got an even better response, from a man who, though living, can no longer speak. He said "What is it?" I'm musing about lying. What is it? What does the Bible say about it?

What is a lie? The Wikipedia article on the subject, as of Nov 15, 2006, says:
"A lie is an untruthful statement made to someone else with the intention to deceive. To lie is to say something one believes to be false with the intention that it be taken for the truth by someone else." The article goes on to exclude actions not using language, such as pretending to be asleep, or wearing a false mustache, from lying.

The Free Dictionary says that a lie is:
"1. A false statement deliberately presented as being true; a falsehood.
2. Something meant to deceive or give a wrong impression."

This would be, then, a broader definition, in that pretending to be asleep and wearing a false mustache are included.

The Wikipedia article goes on to say that there have been important thinkers who have believed that lying is never permissible, including St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and Immanuel Kant, who, says the on-line encyclopedia, had these arguments against lying:
1) it is unnatural use of the power of speech
2) lying attacks the trust on which society is based on
3) in lying, you are demeaning the person(s) lied to, by making a decision for them, and not allowing them to decide something for themselves
4) lying is a way of using someone else as a means to an end.

There are, however, a few cases in the Bible where someone indicated as generally having God's approval, or God Himself, told something, or told someone else to tell something, that the speaker knew to be untrue. They are given below. I have marked cases where the evidence that God approved the lie in some way is strong:
Abraham, in Genesis 12:13 (all links to ESV), also 20:2, and 26:7, told someone that Sarah was his sister, not his wife. (This was partly true, as she was his half-sister, but the intent was to deceive -- she was his wife.)
*The Hebrew midwives, in Exodus 1:18-21, told the Egyptians that the Hebrew women gave birth to sons before they could kill these babies, which was false. Exodus says that God blessed them for protecting them.
*Rahab lied to the army of Jericho, telling them that the Israeli spies had left, when she had hidden them, in Joshua 2:1-21. Hebrews 11:31 lists Rahab as one of the heroines of faith. (Abraham, described above, is also listed as an example of faith in Hebrews 11.)
*in 1 Samuel 16:1-3, God told the prophet Samuel to go to Bethlehem and anoint a king as successor to Saul, who was still very much alive. Samuel responded that Saul would kill him. God then told Samuel to say that he had come to Bethlehem to offer a sacrifice (which he did) but that wasn't his main purpose.
In 1 Samuel 21:1-6, David lied to the high priest about the purpose of his journey, which was to escape from Saul, rather than to go on a special mission for him, which latter is what David said. The high priest was killed for giving David help, which he had done in innocence -- he apparently believed David.
*In 1 Kings 13:1-22, there are two prophets. God told one of them to deliver a message without eating and drinking at the destination. The second prophet, an old man, lied to the first, saying God had told him to come home to eat and drink with him, when the Bible says that God had not done so. Then the second one prophesied that the first prophet would die as a result of disobedience.
*In 1 Kings 22:1-39, God is described, by a prophet, Micaiah, who is speaking for God, as having put a lying spirit in the mouth of King Ahab's pagan prophets. (It is possible, I think, that Micaiah didn't understand where the lying spirit came from, or that he was just telling a story, because he knew that the pagan priests were liars.)
*In 2 Kings 6:8-23, Elisha struck an enemy army with temporary blindness, through God's power, then lied to them about where he was taking them. The blindness was removed, at which time they knew they had been lied to, and these men were unharmed.
Jehu, on a mission of meting out God's punishment, in 2 Kings 9:1-26, says that he has come in peace, when he has not.
In Jeremiah 38:24-28, the king asks Jeremiah about his fate. Jeremiah prophesies, telling him. The king commands Jeremiah to say that he has been speaking to the king about something else, namely Jeremiah's fate, and Jeremiah complies.
Some allege that, in John 7:1-10, Jesus lied to his disciples, saying that He was not going to a feast, when He did go in a day or so. This case seems to me (and others, including the writers of the Wikipedia article) to be, at best, ambiguous. I include it here for completeness, not because I believe that Jesus lied in this case.

I don't believe that any of the cases above show any evidence of deceit for selfish reasons. In several of the cases, the intent was to protect someone else from harm.

I am not aware of any certain example of anyone, who is clearly approved by God, lying in the New Testament.

Please don't take this post as license to lie. Besides the Ninth Commandment, there are other indications in the Bible that lying is usually, maybe even always, wrong. I intend to post on that later.

A previous post in this series, on the meaning of the Ninth Commandment, is here. A subsequent post, giving scriptural evidence that lying is, at least usually, sinful, is here.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, November 17, 2006

False Witness, Lying, Deceit, etc., commentaries

Is lying a sin according to the Ten Commandments? I'd like to muse about that. I have long suspected that two of the Commandments, namely the prohibitions against adultery and false witness, were meant to be specific. That is, although other sexual misconduct is sinful, and other types of deceit at least usually are, adultery, because it violates the marriage covenant, and false witness, because it undermines the system of justice, are especially bad, and therefore made the list of Ten. I decided that I'd better check to see what some experts had to say on this commandment.

Here's what Matthew Henry, the seventeenth and eighteenth century English clergyman, had to say about the ninth of the Ten Commandments, in his commentary on Exodus 20:
The ninth commandment concerns our own and our neighbour’s good name: Thou shalt not bear false witness, v. 16. This forbids, 1. Speaking falsely in any matter, lying, equivocating, and any way devising and designing to deceive our neighbour. 2. Speaking unjustly against our neighbour, to the prejudice of his reputation; and (which involves the guilty of both), 3. Bearing false witness against him, laying to his charge things that he knows not, either judicially, upon oath (by which the third commandment, and the sixth of eighth, as well as this, are broken), or extrajudicially, in common converse, slandering, backbiting, tale-bearing, aggravating what is done amiss and making it worse than it is, and any way endeavouring to raise our own reputation upon the ruin of our neighbour’s.

John Calvin wrote this in his commentary on the same commandment:
Although God seems only to prescribe that no one, for the purpose of injuring the innocent, should go into court, and publicly testify against him, yet it is plain that the faithful are prohibited from all false accusations, and not only such as are circulated in the streets, but those which are stirred in private houses and secret corners. For it would be absurd, when God has already shewn that men's fortunes are cared for by Him, that He should neglect their reputation, which is much more precious. In whatever way, therefore, we injure our neighbors by unjustly defaming them, we are accounted false witnesses before God. We must now pass on from the prohibitive to the affirmative precept: for it will not be enough for us to restrain our tongues from speaking evil, unless we are also kind and equitable towards our neighbors, and candid interpreters of their acts and words, and do not suffer them, as far as in us lies, to be burdened with false reproaches. Besides, God does not only forbid us to invent accusations against the innocent, but also to give currency to reproaches and sinister reports in malevolence or hatred. Such a person may perhaps deserve his ill-name, and we may truly lay such or such an accusation to his charge; but if the reproach be the ebullition of our anger, or the accusation proceed from ill-will, it will be vain for us to allege in excuse that we have advanced nothing but, what is true.

John Wesley's Commentary (available from this source) says almost exactly the same thing as Matthew Henry does, according to the above. I won't repeat it, therefore, as I am not sure of the reason for the duplication. I thank Tap for pointing out this error on my part. I re-published this post on the same day as first publication.

Adam Clarke's Commentary (available from this source) says:
Verse 16. Thou shalt not bear false witness, &c.] Not only false oaths, to deprive a man of his life or of his right, are here prohibited, but all whispering, tale-bearing, slander, and calumny; in a word, whatever is deposed as a truth, which is false in fact, and tends to injure another in his goods, person, or character, is against the spirit and letter of this law.
Suppressing the truth when known, by which a person may be defrauded of his property or his good name, or lie under injuries or disabilities which a discovery of the truth would have prevented, is also a crime against this law. He who bears a false testimony against or belies even the devil himself, comes under the curse of this law, because his testimony is false.
By the term neighbour any human being is intended, whether he rank among our enemies or friends.

These three do not completely agree, but they do agree on this -- speaking deceitfully in such a way as to damage a neighbor's reputation is the most serious violation of this commandment. Of the three, only Henry includes plain vanilla lying.

In two or more subsequent posts, I have examined some cases where Biblical characters (perhaps even God Himself) may have deceived others with God's approval. However, I also have reviewed the evidence that indicates that lying is at least usually, sinful, and examined what may or not be cases where deceit is acceptable.

Thanks for reading.

(I made some editorial changes to the paragraph beginning "In  two or more . . ." on February 4, 2014.)

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Top 50 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books

The Science Fiction book club has published a list of the "Top 50 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books." The list covers 1953 - 2002.

I have a few comments:

No such list can be without controversy.

I recall reading about half of these, some more clearly than others. I have read a few of them several times.

My own list would have included some different items, including The Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis; something by Jack Vance, I guess The Dying Earth, although The Dragon Masters or The Last Castle would also be good candidates; The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin, and Watership Down, by Richard Adams. C. S. Lewis isn't on the list, but I guess he shouldn't be, as most of his Narnia books were published before the period indicated, and, much as I like his space trilogy and Till We Have Faces, I can see that they haven't influenced others who write in the field, or the fantastic reading public, as much as, say, the books of Robert Heinlein or Arthur C. Clarke.

In my opinion, Tolkien and Le Guin are the most important authors of fantastic literature in English, the former early in the period covered, Le Guin for the last 35 years, to the present. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy is number 1 (His The Silmarillion is number 41) Le Guin's Wizard of Earthsea is number 5 on the list (There are other Earthsea books, and some short stories, in addition.).

Many of these books have strong ethical, religious or moral implications. Tolkien was a Christian. Willis (who didn't make the list) may be. There is a Catholic priest in her The Doomsday Book who is a very sympathetic character, and most of her books include references to going to church. Miller's Canticle for Leibowitz is about the morals of nuclear war. Cordwainer Smith and Gene Wolfe include Christian symbolism in their works. Le Guin is a Taoist, and there are Taoist implications in her works. Ender's Game (by a Latter-Day Saint, Orson Scott Card) and The Forever War deal, in part, with the morality of war. (There are, I'm sure, other Christian writers represented, as well as those of writers of other faiths, and atheists and agnostics. For more on the religious affiliations of 70 of the most important authors in fantastic literature, see here.)

A person who wants to read the most important fantastic literature in English could do a lot worse than read this list. Everyone should read Tolkien. For someone who wants to taste the rich world of fantastic literature, I'd say that these five are the best: Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game, Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea, Cordwainer Smith's Rediscovery of Man, and Larry Niven's Ringworld. Of these, Ringworld is the "hardest" science fiction, with science being critical to the plot and setting, and character less so (although not absent) and Rediscovery perhaps the most fantastic -- Smith is presenting visions in these short stories, not real possibilities. Once more, although I agree that the Earthsea books are great, in my opinion, Le Guin's Left Hand of Darkness, which should have been on the list, is the more profound book. It is written intelligently, in structure and theme. The characters, almost all of them humanoid aliens, are multi-dimensional. The book deals with the themes of communication and fellowship, and of sexual identity, in a way that has seldom been matched in literature of any genre. (It isn't pornographic, in case anyone wonders. It just questions the whole question of sexual identity, in a way that can only be done in fantastic literature.) It's also about a cold planet, and it's a nice book to read if you are reading in a warm place, if the weather is cold. (Here's the Wikipedia article on the book. Here's a helpful study guide, although it doesn't spell the name of Le Guin's planet correctly. Sci-Fi Weekly gave the book an A+ review, and describes it a "a good story well told." Here's a lengthy analysis and discussion of the book, and its sexual implications, including an interview with Le Guin. Some reviewers disagree about the book's excellence, of course.)

I posted a series, some time ago, on features of Watership Down, Le Guin's Earthsea books, which are represented on the list, and on Tolkien. Those posts are here, here, here and here. Under Some of the feeds I subscribe to, on the right, you will see two group blogs devoted to Christian fantastic fiction, namely Speculative Faith and The Lost Genre Guild, and a personal blog, Claw of the Conciliator, which occasionally deals with that topic. So do I.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Sunspots 82


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

Computing: Dave Taylor is "The Very Model of a Blogging Evangelical." He knows his Gilbert and Sullivan, too, at least part of it. Like G&S, his post is hilarious.

Sara posted a link to "How Many of Me?" which says it tells you how many other people in the US have the same name as you do. I'm unique, name-wise, this site says. I suspected as much.

Science: Foxtrot, the comic strip, on mathematics and football.

A giant storm, resembling a hurricane, has been found on Saturn.

Henry Neufeld's essay on "An Evolutionary Understanding of Kinds."

A couple of scientists, prominent enough that I have heard of one of them, are claiming that "life was the necessary consequence of available energy built up by geological processes on the early Earth. Life sprang from this environment, they say, in the same way that lightning relieves the accumulation of electrical charge in thunderclouds." I'm not convinced.

Christianity: Foxtrot, the comic strip, on theology, philosophy, and football.

The Evangelical Ecologist on creation care, and knowing the "gardener" of the earth.

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 Librarian's Internet Index, SciTech Daily, or Arts and Letters Daily. All of these sources are great.

Thanks for reading! Keep clicking away.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Announcement: Labels finished!

I am using Blogger Beta, which has several nice features. One of these is labels, which occur at the end of each post. (This one has Blogging as its only label.)

Labels are so that you (or I) can find previous posts on more or less the same subject. If you click on a label, you should see all, or at least the beginning of "all," if there are a lot of posts with the same label, of the posts with that label.

I am pleased to announce that I have finished labeling all of my posts. This one is the 567th post still available (I have deleted a few), so it took a while. I'm glad to have finished it. Thank God. Some of you, depending on how you access this blog, may have wondered why you have seen groups of old posts show up from time to time. Adding labels requires re-publishing the posts. This should be over, and you shouldn't see anything like the previous activity. I may add a label or two, or otherwise tweak previous posts, but not on the same scale, at least for a while.

Thanks for reading.

Random Designer

I just finished a book by Richard G. Colling, namely Random Designer: Created from Chaos to Connect with the Creator. (Bourbonnais, IL: Browning Press, 2004). Colling's thesis is that God uses the randomness in nature to accomplish His purposes.

Randomness, and seeming failure, writes Colling, doesn't bother the Creator:
But to the Random Designer, real failure simply does not exist! A string of separate events that appears devastating from our limited perspective is not even a setback for Him. (p. 69)

Colling is clearly a believer, and a scientist. He is not happy with all believers:
For some religious people, it is simply far too tempting to automatically attribute anything that is not easily understood to a supernatural cause and to inappropriately interpret scripture as a literal scientific textbook. (p.123)

The book is well written, and accessible to an intelligent non-scientist. I was especially interested in what Colling had to say about the immune system, which, as he says, generates the tremendous variety of possible antibodies by random shuffling of a relatively small number of genes. At least in this phenomenon, God seems to use randomness to achieve his purposes.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Beulah

I previously posted on the old song, "Is not this the Land of Beulah?"

I thought I would do some further research on the word, Beulah.

The Free Dictionary says:
Beu·lah n.1. The land of Israel in the Bible.2. The land of peace described in John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress.

The same source notes that the word occurs in Mosses from an Old Manse and other stories by Nathanael Hawthorne, where it refers to a pleasant land. A link from that source says that the word also occurs in Jane Eyre.

The word is Biblical, occurring in Isaiah 62:4, as a land, and meaning "married." (Some versions do not use the word, beulah.)

Isa 62:4 Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate: but thou shalt be called Hephzibah, and thy land Beulah: for the LORD delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married. (KJV)

The first reference I can find in literature is, as the Free Dictionary says, in John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. Here it is:
{382} Now I saw in my dream, that by this time the Pilgrims were got over the Enchanted Ground, and entering into the country of Beulah, whose air was very sweet and pleasant, the way lying directly through it, they solaced themselves there for a season. Yea, here they heard continually the singing of birds, and saw every day the flowers appear on the earth, and heard the voice of the turtle in the land. [Isa. 62:4, Song of Solomon 2:10-12] In this country the sun shineth night and day; wherefore this was beyond the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and also out of the reach of Giant Despair, neither could they from this place so much as see Doubting Castle. Here they were within sight of the city they were going to, also here met them some of the inhabitants thereof; for in this land the Shining Ones commonly walked, because it was upon the borders of heaven. In this land also, the contract between the bride and the bridegroom was renewed; yea, here, "As the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so did their God rejoice over them." [Isa. 62:5] Here they had no want of corn and wine; for in this place they met with abundance of what they had sought for in all their pilgrimage. [Isa. 62:8] Here they heard voices from out of the city, loud voices, saying, "'Say ye to the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy salvation cometh! Behold, his reward is with him!' Here all the inhabitants of the country called them, 'The holy people, The redeemed of the Lord, Sought out'", etc. [Isa. 62:11,12]

This passage is about Christian, the Pilgrim, and his companion. Bunyan also wrote about the separate pilgrimage of Christian's wife, Christiana. Here's what he had to say about Beulah:
After this, I beheld until they were come into the land of Beulah, where the sun shineth night
and day. Here, because they were weary, they betook themselves a while to rest. And because this country was common for pilgrims, and because the orchards and vineyards that were here belonged to the King of the Celestial country, therefore they were licensed to make bold with any of his things. But a little while soon refreshed them here; for the bells did so ring, and the trumpets continually sound so melodiously, that they could not sleep, and yet they received as much refreshing as if they had slept their sleep ever so soundly.

His idea was that there is a place where the Christian is close to Heaven, having passed through most of the trials of this life, and rejected most of its temptations, where we can be close to God. The word has also been used, more recently, to refer to Heaven itself, but that's not what Bunyan had in mind.

There was a radio show, and related TV program, named Beulah. This TV show was the first TV comedy to star an African American. Ethel Waters was the first TV Beulah. The show used some racial stereotypes, unfortunately.

There are some Christian songs that use the idea of Beulah, but not all of them use it in the original sense. Some of them use the word to mean "Heaven." The most widely used is probably "Beulah Land" by Squire Parsons, who meant Heaven.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Diary of an Old Soul, Nov 12 - 18

November 12. Why should I still hang back, like one in a dream,
Who vainly strives to clothe himself aright,
That in great presence he may seemly seem?
Why call up feeling?--dress me in the faint,
Worn, faded, cast-off nimbus of some saint?
Why of old mood bring back a ghostly gleam--
While there He waits, love's heart and loss's blight!

13. Son of the Father, elder brother mine,
See thy poor brother's plight; See how he stands
Defiled and feeble, hanging down his hands!
Make me clean, brother, with thy burning shine;
From thy rich treasures, householder divine,
Bring forth fair garments, old and new, I pray,
And like thy brother dress me, in the old home-bred way.

14. My prayer-bird was cold--would not away,
Although I set it on the edge of the nest.
Then I bethought me of the story old--
Love-fact or loving fable, thou know'st best--
How, when the children had made sparrows of clay,
Thou mad'st them birds, with wings to flutter and fold:
Take, Lord, my prayer in thy hand, and make it pray.

15. My poor clay-sparrow seems turned to a stone,
And from my heart will neither fly nor run.
I cannot feel as thou and I both would,
But, Father, I am willing--make me good.
What art thou father for, but to help thy son?
Look deep, yet deeper, in my heart, and there,
Beyond where I can feel, read thou the prayer.

16. Oh what it were to be right sure of thee!
Sure that thou art, and the same as thy son, Jesus!
Oh, faith is deeper, wider than the sea,
Yea, than the blue of heaven that ever flees us!
Yet simple as the cry of sore-hurt child,
Or as his shout, with sudden gladness wild,
When home from school he runs, till morn set free.

17. If I were sure thou, Father, verily art,
True father of the Nazarene as true,
Sure as I am of my wife's shielding heart,
Sure as of sunrise in the watching blue,
Sure as I am that I do eat and drink,
And have a heart to love and laugh and think,
Meseems in flame the joy might from my body start.

18. But I must know thee in a deeper way
Than any of these ways, or know thee not;
My heart at peace far loftier proof must lay
Than if the wind thou me the wave didst roll,
Than if I lay before thee a sunny spot,
Or knew thee as the body knows its soul,
Or even as the part doth know its perfect whole.

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. These are the entries for/from November 12 through November 18.