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Sunday, December 31, 2006

Diary of an Old Soul, Dec 31 - Jan 6

December 31. Go, my beloved children, live your life.
Wounded, faint, bleeding, never yield the strife.
Stunned, fallen-awake, arise, and fight again.
Before you victory stands, with shining train
Of hopes not credible until they are.
Beyond morass and mountain swells the star
Of perfect love--the home of longing heart and brain

JANUARY. 1. LORD, what I once had done with youthful might,
Had I been from the first true to the truth,
Grant me, now old, to do--with better sight,
And humbler heart, if not the brain of youth;
So wilt thou, in thy gentleness and ruth*,
Lead back thy old soul, by the path of pain,
Round to his best--young eyes and heart and brain.

2. A dim aurora rises in my east,
Beyond the line of jagged questions hoar,
As if the head of our intombed High Priest
Began to glow behind the unopened door:
Sure the gold wings will soon rise from the gray!--
They rise not. Up I rise, press on the more,
To meet the slow coming of the Master's day.

3. Sometimes I wake, and, lo! I have forgot,
And drifted out upon an ebbing sea!
My soul that was at rest now resteth not,
For I am with myself and not with thee;
Truth seems a blind moon in a glaring morn,
Where nothing is but sick-heart vanity:
Oh, thou who knowest! save thy child forlorn.

4. Death, like high faith, levelling, lifteth all.
When I awake, my daughter and my son,
Grown sister and brother, in my arms shall fall,
Tenfold my girl and boy. Sure every one
Of all the brood to the old wings will run.
Whole-hearted is my worship of the man
From whom my earthly history began.

5. Thy fishes breathe but where thy waters roll;
Thy birds fly but within thy airy sea;
My soul breathes only in thy infinite soul;
I breathe, I think, I love, I live but thee.
Oh breathe, oh think,--O Love, live into me;
Unworthy is my life till all divine,
Till thou see in me only what is thine.

6. Then shall I breathe in sweetest sharing, then
Think in harmonious consort with my kin;
Then shall I love well all my father's men,
Feel one with theirs the life my heart within.
Oh brothers! sisters holy! hearts divine!
Then I shall be all yours, and nothing mine--
To every human heart a mother-twin.

*"ruth" means pity or compassion. (We use ruthless for lack thereof.)

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 December 31 through January 6th. My apologies for splitting the year like this, but I didn't start until February.

On November 26, 2012, I closed comments on this post, because it was generating too much spam. If you are a real person, and want to comment, please comment on another post, and, if appropriate, refer to this one. Sorry, and thanks.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Should I be Person of the Year?

Time has named "you*," the computer user, as the person of the year. The subhead of the cover story says "In 2006, the World Wide Web became a tool for bringing together the small contributions of millions of people and making them matter." That would be me, I guess, and probably you, too.

*This link to this specific story may not last long.

OK. Besides this blog, we have an active Flickr account. I have a web page, or pages. I have contributed a little content to the Wikipedia, and reviewed a book or two for Amazon. I have sold items on eBay. I have an account with Project Gutenberg, and am set up to begin to join the many proofreaders. I guess that qualifies me, even though I haven't uploaded any videos to YouTube, and I don't have a MySpace account (and don't plan to do either anytime soon). You probably do all these things, and more, making your "small contributions," too.

But Person of the Year? Well, that's Time's judgment, not mine. Somehow, what I do seems pretty ordinary. How about the framers of the Constitution of the US, who put in free speech? How about those who made it possible to use glass, harnessed electricity, found out about semiconductors, discovered quantum physics, and wrote computer languages? Aren't they the ones who really deserve this?

Have my "small contributions" really done anybody, even me, any good? They keep me occupied, my wife says. Perhaps I have uplifted someone, or informed them, or even reflected Christ in some small contribution way. I hope so.

I read much of the Time article and sidebars on-line. Later, I saw the magazine, next to the checkout line of our local grocery. It has a mirror on the cover. I picked up the periodical, and looked into the mirror. It was a cheap mirror. I suppose that was me reflected, but not very well. As Paul said, "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known." (1 Corinthians 13:12, ESV) Fuzzy as I am, and ordinary as I am, I don't deserve to be person of the year. Sorry, neither do you. Only one Person does -- Jesus Christ, the eternal Lord and Savior of the world, the one who reflects God perfectly.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Intelligent Design's "vise strategy": ID is religious

William Dembski, by all accounts one of the leaders of the Intelligent Design movement, proposed a "vise strategy." By this, he meant that he wanted "Darwinists" to be cross-examined in court, so that flaws in their science could be exposed.

If there are scientific flaws in evolutionary theories of origins, they should, indeed, be exposed, in court, in the classroom, in the laboratory, and in scientific journals. There is a huge flaw in naturalistic theories of origins, namely that it is not possible to rule out supernatural activity scientifically -- scientists cannot rule out God. There have been mistakes made in science, lots of them. There are, no doubt, mistakes in textbooks, and in the thinking of individual scientists, and of mainstream scientific thinking. They should be exposed, and, if such exposure must be in court, so be it.

Unfortunately for Dembski, court cross-examination (and simple examination of the record, including public statements by Dembski and other leaders of the Intelligent Design movement) has shown something else, namely that Intelligent Design, which claims to be a scientific theory, and, supposedly, does not even specify a particular Being as Creator, is, at its heart, a Christian theory. This has been documented thoroughly by Barbara Forrest.

I am guessing that Forrest is an atheist. I certainly disagree with her on that, if it's true. I strongly disagree with anyone who says that scientific study has ruled out Divine action in origins. (As far as I know, Forrest has not done this.) But I agree that the idea of intelligent design is not a scientific theory, but fundamentally a religious idea. There has been some controversy in my home state of South Carolina, over the teaching of ID in the public schools. There is no question that some of the proponents of this idea were pushing it for religious reasons. It is also true that some of the people who want ID taught in the public schools are really wanting young-earth creationism taught, which is strange, because the two are definitely not the same.

I also agree with Forrest that, whatever the merits and demerits of ID, it does not justify lying on the part of some of its proponents. Christians, or supposed Christians, may have done this, in South Carolina, and other places. The most common deceit is to claim that ID is not religious, when it is. I would guess that most of the supporters of ID are ignorant on this score, or haven't thought about the matter seriously. They just want the creative activity of God acknowledged in the public schools, or they want their favorite interpretation of the origins portion of Genesis acknowledged in the public schools.

* * * * * *

I mistakenly published this, instead of saving it as a draft, on December 22nd, 2006. During the 3 hours that it was temporarily available, elbogz commented. I didn't realize that Blogger would keep his comment, so posted it below, as part of my post, when I first put this on-line for real. That was not necessary, it turns out.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Reflections on Christmas

Holy family olive wood nativity Christmas

The photo above is of one of our nativity sets. This one is of olive wood, and, although Jesus is chipped (you can see it if you look at the very front) we still use it. This photo is posted on Flickr. If you want to see a larger size, or see more of our photos, click on it. No password is needed.

We were glad to have our daughters, our son-in-law, and our grandson here for several days.

A colleague of mine once remarked that when Jesus was born, the night sky was lighted by angels and a star, and when he died, the noon sky was darkened. He could have also said that we suppose there will be special effects in the lighting when He returns.

God's best at this and all seasons. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Sunspots 88


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

Humor: (also politics) Apparently Mad magazine has a parody of Scientific American, entitled Scientific Republican.

Science: An article on the Kitzmiller (Intelligent Design in the Dover, PA, school district) case by an expert witness, who was called because she could demonstrate that (surprise!) leaders of the ID movement see it as religious. More on the genetics of parthenogenetic ("virgin birth") Komodo dragons (large lizards).

Computing: Wired, on why you don't need Vista, the new version of Windows, at least not yet. (surprise!)

Proof that I'm out of it. Not only did this blog not make Time magazine's list of 50 coolest websites, but I hadn't visited 48 of them when I saw the list. (Even though it includes six time wasters.) I've seen more of them now.

OpenOffice 2.1 (free Microsoft Office alternative) has been released.

Christianity: From Every Square Inch: "Racism is first and foremost an affront to God, who as Creator, made each person in his own image."

He Lives spouts off about a video game based on the "Left Behind" series. (Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to be making this up.)

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)

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas, and blogger milestone

This post is the first one I posted which is still available, two years ago today, on December 24, 2004. (I removed a few of the earlier posts, and re-posted them.)

The previous post of today was my 600th existing blog post.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and God's best to you, whoever you are!

Thanks for reading.

Diary of an Old Soul, Dec 24 - 30

24. A God must have a God for company.
And lo! thou hast the Son-God to thy friend.
Thou honour'st his obedience, he thy law.
Into thy secret life-will he doth see;
Thou fold'st him round in live love perfectly--
One two, without beginning, without end;
In love, life, strength, and truth, perfect without a flaw.

25. Thou hast not made, or taught me, Lord, to care
For times and seasons--but this one glad day
Is the blue sapphire clasping all the lights
That flash in the girdle of the year so fair--
When thou wast born a man, because alway
Thou wast and art a man, through all the flights
Of thought, and time, and thousandfold creation's play.

26. We all are lonely, Maker--each a soul
Shut in by itself, a sundered atom of thee.
No two yet loved themselves into a whole;
Even when we weep together we are two.
Of two to make one, which yet two shall be,
Is thy creation's problem, deep, and true,
To which thou only hold'st the happy, hurting clue.

27. No less than thou, O Father, do we need
A God to friend each lonely one of us.
As touch not in the sack two grains of seed,
Touch no two hearts in great worlds populous.
Outside the making God we cannot meet
Him he has made our brother: homeward, thus,
To find our kin we first must turn our wandering feet.

28. It must be possible that the soul made
Should absolutely meet the soul that makes;
Then, in that bearing soul, meet every other
There also born, each sister and each brother.
Lord, till I meet thee thus, life is delayed;
I am not I until that morning breaks,
Not I until my consciousness eternal wakes.

29. Again I shall behold thee, daughter true;
The hour will come when I shall hold thee fast
In God's name, loving thee all through and through.
Somewhere in his grand thought this waits for us.
Then shall I see a smile not like thy last--
For that great thing which came when all was past,
Was not a smile, but God's peace glorious.

30. Twilight of the transfiguration-joy,
Gleam-faced, pure-eyed, strong-willed, high-hearted boy!
Hardly thy life clear forth of heaven was sent,
Ere it broke out into a smile, and went.
So swift thy growth, so true thy goalward bent,
Thou, child and sage inextricably blent,
Wilt one day teach thy father in some heavenly tent

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 December 24 through December 30.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Young Earth Creationism vs. Intelligent Design: addition to post

I consider "Young-Earth Creationism vs. Intelligent Design" to be one of my most important posts, because it documents what some important voices from both camps have said, pointing out that they don't agree on some important matters.

I realized that I had overlooked an obvious source for an additional statement on the subject, namely the Discovery Institute, an important supporter of Intelligent Design, and have added a quotation from that body to the post. I have also added a definitive statement from the founder of the Institute for Creation Research, an important organization that teaches young-earth creationism.

These statements I have added strengthen the thesis of the post. I have also given a reference to an opinion piece in the publication of the Creation Research Society, which sees ID as an ally, not an adversary.

Back to hiatus. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Sunspots 87


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


Science:
Sitting up straight may not be as good for you as many people have told you it was.

Scientific discoverers are dispensible in a way that artists are not. Gravity, America, and natural selection would all have been discovered by somebody else if Newton, Columbus, and Darwin had not gotten there first, whereas nobody would have written Hamlet, painted the Mona Lisa or composed the Ninth Symphony if Shakespeare, Leonardo, and Beethoven had not done so. Yet is is precisely because scientists have to be first that their achievement is even more remarkable. Shakespeare did not have to beat Marlowe to the the first draft of Hamlet. Matt Ridley, Francis Crick: Discoverer of the Genetic Code. New York: HarperCollins, 2006. p. 76. (Newton, of course, did not discover gravity. Adam and Eve did. Newton, however, was the first to realize that it was an attractive force.)

In the same book, that a female lab technician, Leslie Barnett, filled in the last gap in the RNA genetic code's "dictionary."

A female komodo dragon (large lizard) is about to have offspring that have no father.

Literature:
Ursula K. Le Guin defends the value of fantasy literature for children (and adults).

Christianity:
Bonnie has some sobering reflections for all Christians, based on the recent problems with prominent Christian leaders. There are fundamental problems with how we disciple others, she says.

This week's Christian Carnival is at this blog (I don't have the URL, but you can scroll down to find the Carnival category on the right.) (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)

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Diary of an Old Soul, Dec 17 - 23

17. But when I turn and grasp the making hand,
And will the making will, with confidence
I ride the crest of the creation-wave,
Helpless no more, no more existence' slave;
In the heart of love's creating fire I stand,
And, love-possessed in heart and soul and sense,
Take up the making share the making Master gave.

18. That man alone who does the Father's works
Can be the Father's son; yea, only he
Who sonlike can create, can ever be;
Who with God wills not, is no son, not free.
O Father, send the demon-doubt that lurks
Behind the hope, out into the abyss;
Who trusts in knowledge all its good shall miss.

19. Thy beasts are sinless, and do live before thee;
Thy child is sinful, and must run to thee.
Thy angels sin not and in peace adore thee;
But I must will, or never more be free.
I from thy heart came, how can I ignore thee?--
Back to my home I hurry, haste, and flee;
There I shall dwell, love-praising evermore thee.

20. My holy self, thy pure ideal, lies
Calm in thy bosom, which it cannot leave;
My self unholy, no ideal, hies
Hither and thither, gathering store to grieve--
Not now, O Father! now it mounts, it flies,
To join the true self in thy heart that waits,
And, one with it, be one with all the heavenly mates.

21. Trusting thee, Christ, I kneel, and clasp thy knee;
Cast myself down, and kiss thy brother-feet--
One self thou and the Father's thought of thee!
Ideal son, thou hast left the perfect home,
Ideal brother, to seek thy brothers come!
Thou know'st our angels all, God's children sweet,
And of each two wilt make one holy child complete.

22. To a slow end I draw these daily words,
Nor think such words often to write again--
Rather, as light the power to me affords,
Christ's new and old would to my friends unbind;
Through words he spoke help to his thought behind;
Unveil the heart with which he drew his men;
Set forth his rule o'er devils, animals, corn, and wind.

23. I do remember how one time I thought,
"God must be lonely--oh, so lonely lone!
I will be very good to him--ah, nought
Can reach the heart of his great loneliness!
My whole heart I will bring him, with a moan
That I may not come nearer; I will lie prone
Before the awful loveliness in loneliness' excess."

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 December 17 through December 23.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Christmas hiatus

We are pleased to have family arriving today, and I don't expect to post very much, or read your excellent blog, if you have one, for a couple of weeks or so. I may post Sunspots, or continue the readings from George MacDonald, but probably won't do any more posts.

Enjoy celebrating Christ's birth!

Sunspots 86


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


Humor:
(Also politics) The Library of Congress has posted an exhibit of cartoons and other illustrations.

Science:
Originally from the BBC, now on YouTube, a video of a fungus that destroys ants. Among other things, it grows in their heads, causing their behavior to become erratic.

Slate thinks that a NASA moon base is a really bad idea.

From NPR: you can listen to earthquakes, and the earth's other regular activity.

Literature:
The Oxford Book of American Essays, 1914, includes Benjamin Franklin on paying too much for a whistle, Ralph Waldo Emerson "On the Uses of Great Men," and about 30 other essays by prominent people. From Edward Sandford Martin's "The Tyranny of Things:"
"To associate with very rich people involves sacrifices. You cannot even be rich yourself without expense, and you may just as well give over trying. Count it, then, among the costs of a considerable income that in enlarging the range of your sports it inevitably contracts the circle of those who will find it profitable to share them."

The web site for Eragon, which movie comes out in two days. I have posted on the series that this movie is based on.

Christianity:
Katherine discovers that Haggai has good advice for taking a driver's test. (She passed.)

Pastor Perry Noble on why Jesus wouldn't have been a good fit as pastor in many churches.

Henry Neufeld on why he isn't an evangelical. (He gives one person's detailed definition of what an evangelical is, with a critique.)

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, December 12, 2006

The Nativity Story

We went to see The Nativity Story yesterday. It basically tells the story of the events leading up to, and around, the birth of Jesus Christ. I wouldn't say that it's a great movie, but we were both moved by it. I was struck again and anew with the oppression of the Romans, the wickedness of Herod, the dedicated adoration of the wise men, the amazing character of Joseph, and, especially, the loving condescension of a God who would become an embryo, a fetus, a baby, for my sake.

People more qualified to review movies have pointed out some of its flaws and eccentricities. (See here for the Christianity Today review, which is both positive and negative.) A fellow blogger was, she says, disappointed. As the Internet Move Database points out, there was a field of New World corn shown, supposedly growing in the Old World. I was surprised that, in the movie, after Zecharias, Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds had each received messages from God, the Wise Men didn't, on one occasion when the Bible says they did. In the movie, they just decided not to go back to Herod. I was also surprised that there wasn't more than one angel appearing to the shepherds in the movie. And, especially, I was disappointed that the wise men and the shepherds were shown as arriving at the stable minutes apart, which isn't really the way it was. Still, much better a movie about Christ, told with considerable reverence, even if it doesn't dot all the i's and cross all the t's, than the usual Hollywood fare.

We have probably been messing up the details of the real nativity story since it happened, and always will. That doesn't change the fact that it really happened, and that it did change the world, and can change me and you.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, December 11, 2006

What does a college biology professor say to a high school science class?

I was honored by a request, from a former student, now a high school teacher, that I speak to a high school science class this morning. She said "You can talk about science, your classroom experiences, academics, what professors expect from college students . . . that sort of thing. Sound interesting?"

In a word, yes. It's always interesting to distill experiences, in this case, 41 years of college teaching experiences. So here goes.

Science
A. Let's start by defining terms. This is what the Free Dictionary says about science (1st meaning only):
1. a. The observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena.
b. Such activities restricted to a class of natural phenomena.
c. Such activities applied to an object of inquiry or study.

I will restrict myself to meaning 1a, actually. How does science differ from three other honorable enterprises, namely the study of history, performing music, or working as a clerk in a grocery store?
The study of history usually can't involve experimental investigation. You can't see what would have happened if George Washington hadn't crossed the Delaware, for example. You can guess, and your guess may be right, but you can't know. But you can experiment in science. You can find out what happens if someone takes their medicine every other day, rather than every day.
Music performance doesn't involve much identification (in that you are classifying something, such as rock types or species of grasses) and description, nor theoretical explanation. It may involve experimentation, though.
Grocery store clerks don't do much identification, either. They may experiment, however, for example by smiling at some customers and not at others, but the amount of experimentation is limited. If they start only charging for every other container of milk to compare it with customer satisfaction, or giving more change that the customer is supposed to get, they'll get fired.

B. The controlled, replicable experiment, then, is one of the cornerstones of much science. Granted, even scientists can't experiment on everything. Historical geologists can't manipulate history any more than history professors can. Astronomers can't manipulate stars or galaxies. Where direct experiment isn't possible, most scientists may compare experiments, as it were, that nature has already provided. For example, how does the light from different stars, in different regions of the universe, compare?

A controlled experiment is one wherein, ideally, one property, and only one, is varied between groups, and everything else is the same. For example, you might test inbred fruit flies, all in the same environment, giving one a vitamin supplement, and one no such supplement, and compare their fertility. (It is usually impossible to make the environment absolutely identical for every organism, or for different attempts at the same experiment. Even inbred strains may have a little genetic variation.)

Replicable means that someone else can test what you have done, by trying the same experiment.

I understand that there is debate about how science really works, but I'm going to ignore it. See the Wikipedia article on "Science" for an introduction to this.

C. Science is clearly important. Think of global warming, energy use, and stem cell research. The products of science, often called technology, are also important. For example, according to the latest mail from my congressman, he is proud that he was a principle [sic] sponsor of legislation to use high-technology means to detect illegal immigrants along the Mexican border.

The previous sentence mentioned four important topics. I must say that none of them is a strictly scientific topic. All of them have legal, political, ethical, economic and even religious implications. If a scientist, for example, says that she is opposed to allowing illegal immigrants to get driver's licenses, or that human embryos can ethically be destroyed in the process of stem cell research, what she says on one of those subjects should carry no more weight than what a grocery clerk says, unless she is a legislator, in addition to being a scientist.

Sometimes scientists think that they are making scientific statements, but they aren't. They are merely scientists making statements, not making statements that are backed up by controlled, replicated, experiments. Watson and Crick, for example, thought that they had discovered the secret of life when they proposed the double helix. They had made an important contribution, but they hadn't discovered the secret of life. They hadn't explained how DNA came to be so central to living things in the first place. They hadn't given an explanation for how the information in DNA comes to be expressed (we now know a lot more about that, partly because of the work of Crick, himself.) Both of them, apparently, thought that they had ruled out any supernatural explanation for living things. But they hadn't. God could have created life with DNA as its main information carrier. I don't believe any experiment can rule that out (or prove it.)

D. Before leaving the subject of science, I don't want to leave the impression that science gets a better and better picture of how nature works only by doing experiments. As Thomas S. Kuhn pointed out, scientists get such a changed picture by new ways of looking at the world -- adopting a new paradigm. What experiments scientists do is determined by how they view the natural world. Galileo wouldn't have done any experiments on radio, because he didn't know there was such a thing. Newton didn't discover gravity. But he did (perhaps after watching an apple fall) realize that gravity could be explained as an attractive force. This wasn't because of any experiment that he did. The experiments came later.

Classroom Experiences
The best experiences I had in the classroom all involved (duh!) students. As a biologist, these were often on field trips, where we saw things that the textbooks (or I) could only describe. Sometimes they were in the lab, when something actually worked as they were supposed to(!). Once, an African-American student with sickle-cell anemia saw her own red blood cells sickle under the microscope (I got to see this, too) for the first, and, I suppose, the only time. (Red blood cells are normally circular. The cells of someone with sickle cell anemia assume an elongated shape when they become deprived of Oxygen.) I am sorry to say that this young lady didn't live long after this experience. She died from the complications of this terrible disease.

Often the most memorable experiences are one-time things, and happen when something goes wrong, or, at least not according to plan. I will relate two of mine. Once, a few students and I were injecting a rabbit. The rabbit died, for some reason. One of the students suggested that we dissect the rabbit, so we did. We had never seen the insides of a just-dead rabbit before, and seeing this was amazing. A rabbit's intestines include an (for a rabbit) enormous caecum, quite different from human anatomy.

Another such experience was when a student came in late for a bioethics class. I knew what had happened, because she had called and told me -- the class and I had been praying. Her father had just gotten a liver transplant. I had her sit on the table in front of the class and talk about it, and the rest of us asked her questions. Organ transplantation, of course, has some important ethical implications.

I have also had experiences where a student asked me a question that changed my way of thinking. One of my students asked me about human cloning, back in the middle 1970's. I hadn't thought much about it before, but decided that I should. Partly because of his question, the U. S. taxpayer supported my attendance at a six week conference on bioethics in 1979 at Indiana University. I was the only person in the group of a dozen or so who was trained as a biologist, and the only one from an evangelical Christian college/university. All of this resulted in a change in direction. I developed a new class at my school, and published a paper (the article is not available on-line, so far as I know -- the link is to a listing) on the subject.

Sometimes a student made a comment that changed my thinking. One once said "the Bible is inerrant, but our interpretation of it isn't."

I am glad to say that, sometimes, I could see students learn. Sometimes I could see that they had, when I graded their tests, quizzes, and papers.

Some of the greatest experiences came outside of class, when students came to talk to me about something unrelated to their class work, or I got to interact with, or observe them, in other settings.

I confess -- I married a student. (She came to college after being in the workplace for three years, so I didn't rob the cradle.)

Academics, and what professors expect from their students
Every professor is different. Different classes under the same professor may be different, and different universities, or different departments at the same university, may have different expectations.

Nonetheless, a few hints. They're just commonsense, mostly.
Go to class. That's pretty elementary, but it's good advice. Some classes aren't worth going to, or some sessions of a class may be a waste of time, but you should make it your goal to go to all your classes. Most universities don't monitor class attendance as rigidly as most high schools, nor do they usually contact your parents if you don't go, and the temptation to skip classes will be there. Don't do it. I have known some cases where students who could have had a promising academic career have messed it up, just by not going.
Be prompt, if at all possible, and if you can't be, let the professor know why, even if she doesn't seem to care (or even know who you are).
Sit where you won't be distracted, preferably in the front.
Stay awake.

Get enough sleep. You and I can do many things with little or no sleep, such as many types of work, or carrying on a social life, but serious learning often becomes a casualty when you don't get enough sleep.
There is a school of student thought that believes that the best way to study for a big test is to stay up all night before it is scheduled. Wrong! Sleeping on what we have learned helps us to remember it longer. "Cramming" for a test is probably better than no study at all, but it isn't very efficient, and it may mean that we don't function very well in actually taking a test, or in the other things we need to do on the day after a night with little sleep. We tend to forget material learned in a cram session rapidly. Often, we'll need to retain that material for a long time. In college classes, there are often two or three tests during a semester, then a comprehensive final, covering the entire course material. Or, in preparing for some professions, there may be a comprehensive qualifying exam, covering much of everything you are supposed to have learned in college. You will need to retain facts and principles for a long time.

Study. The best way to study for a big test is to study as you go along. Read your book. Review what went on in the previous class session before the next one. Ideally, you should know what the class will be about before you go, and be prepared with questions or comments. Study with someone else sometimes. Study should be about what's important. That is, what the professor may ask you, but also, what is important about this chapter, this diagram, this term, this lab experiment. Getting another perspective on this often helps. Even if another student knows a lot less than you, it will often help you to explain the material to someone else.

Look over terms and diagrams, chapter summaries, and questions at the end of a section or chapter, in your textbook. (Some texts won't have some, maybe any, of these things, especially in upper-level courses.)

P. S. Obtain your textbooks. Textbooks are expensive, and, let's face it, in a few classes, you don't really need them. But, in most classes, not having a text is a serious handicap. It's silly to spend good money for tuition, travel, lodging, and whatever other expenses you may have going to college, and not get textbooks. (You may be able to buy used copies, or borrow a text from someone who had the course in a previous semester.)

Most people learn through more than one sense. (Some learn mostly by hearing, some by seeing, some from other senses. In some classes, handling things may be important.) Hear your subject (In class, by recording the class, if that helps, or if you can't be present -- most professors will allow you to tape a class, or have someone else tape it for you -- they'll be thrilled that you care!) and read about it, so you've got two ways of getting it into your brain.

Turn your assignments in on time. Maybe even early. Give your professor cardiac arrest!
This means planning ahead. Start those papers, book reports, lab reports, and projects before the night before they are due.

Get noticed, for good reasons. Sit near the front, ask good questions, stay awake, occasionally talk to the professor after class, or in her office, or in other settings. Don't be a pest, but act like an adult who is interested in the subject matter.

Be interested in the subject matter.
Sometimes that's difficult. Try, anyway. Never ask "What good is this going to do us?" about a class as a whole. Your professor may not have a good answer (she should) but generally you are stuck with the class, anyway. The university, or your chosen profession, require it. Make the best of it. Sometimes you may get noticed in a good way by asking about the relevance of a particular topic, or by suggesting a relevant topic that the class doesn't seem to be going to cover.
Often, you will be helped by finding material other than the text that deals with the subject matter. The Wikipedia, although not totally inerrant, is a good source on almost any academic subject.

Pray a lot.
Pray for your professor, any teaching assistants she has, your classmates, and, of course, yourself. Ask for God's help in studying, in understanding the material, in getting to class, in staying awake, in taking a test. And, of course, do your part -- you can pray yourself into a failure, if you don't do what you are supposed to.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Diary of an Old Soul, Dec 10 - 16

10. What makes thy being a bliss shall then make mind
For I shall love as thou, and love in thee;
Then shall I have whatever I desire,
My every faintest wish being all divine;
Power thou wilt give me to work mightily,
Even as my Lord, leading thy low men nigher,
With dance and song to cast their best upon thy fire.

11. Then shall I live such an essential life
That a mere flower will then to me unfold
More bliss than now grandest orchestral strife--
By love made and obedience humble-bold,
I shall straight through its window God behold.
God, I shall feed on thee, thy creature blest
With very being--work at one with sweetest rest.

12. Give me a world, to part for praise and sunder.
The brooks be bells; the winds, in caverns dumb,
Wake fife and flute and flageolet and voice;
The fire-shook earth itself be the great drum;
And let the air the region's bass out thunder;
The firs be violins; the reeds hautboys;
Rivers, seas, icebergs fill the great score up and under!

13. But rather dost thou hear the blundered words
Of breathing creatures; the music-lowing herds
Of thy great cattle; thy soft-bleating sheep;
O'erhovered by the trebles of thy birds,
Whose Christ-praised carelessness song-fills the deep;
Still rather a child's talk who apart doth hide him,
And make a tent for God to come and sit beside him.

14. This is not life; this being is not enough.
But thou art life, and thou hast life for me.
Thou mad'st the worm--to cast the wormy slough,
And fly abroad--a glory flit and flee.
Thou hast me, statue-like, hewn in the rough,
Meaning at last to shape me perfectly.
Lord, thou hast called me fourth, I turn and call on thee.

15. 'Tis thine to make, mine to rejoice in thine.
As, hungering for his mother's face and eyes,
The child throws wide the door, back to the wall,
I run to thee, the refuge from poor lies:
Lean dogs behind me whimper, yelp, and whine;
Life lieth ever sick, Death's writhing thrall,
In slavery endless, hopeless, and supine.

16. The life that hath not willed itself to be,
Must clasp the life that willed, and be at peace;
Or, like a leaf wind-blown, through chaos flee;
A life-husk into which the demons go,
And work their will, and drive it to and fro;
A thing that neither is, nor yet can cease,
Which uncreation can alone release.

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 December 10 through December 16.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

". . . being dead, yet speaketh." Science

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. In the second installment, I posted quotations from three of my favorite dead authors of fantastic literature, all of them Christians, namely George MacDonald, J. R. R. Tolkien, and C. S. Lewis.

Quotations from science are more difficult. Science typically depends on periodical articles, many of them so specialized that even scientists reading outside their own area find them difficult to understand. Most scientists of the twenty-first century have never read Galileo, Newton, Darwin or Einstein, whereas, in literature and theology, as I understand it, it is important to read the classics. Nonetheless, below are some important quotations from the literature of science. (The quotations are in black. Various reference and explanatory material is in this color.)

Galileo accepted the inerrancy of Scripture; but he was also mindful of Cardinal Baronius's quip that the bible "is intended to teach us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go." "The Galileo Affair," by Catholic.net.

And so, after postulating movements, which, farther on in the book, I ascribe to the Earth, I have found by many and long observations that if the movements of the other planets are assumed for the circular motion of the Earth and are substituted for the revolution of each star, not only do their phenomena follow logically therefrom, but the relative positions and magnitudes both of the stars and all their orbits, and of the heavens themselves, become so closely related that in none of its parts can anything be changed without causing confusion in the other parts and in the whole universe. Therefore, in the course of the work I have followed this plan: I describe in the first book all the positions of the orbits together with the movements which I ascribe to the Earth, in order that this book might contain, as it were, the general scheme of the universe. Thereafter in the remaining books, I set forth the motions of the other stars and of all their orbits together with the movement of the Earth, in order that one may see from this to what extent the movements and appearances of the other stars and their orbits can be saved, if they are transferred to the movement of the Earth. Nor do I doubt that ingenious and learned mathematicians will sustain me, if they are willing to recognize and weigh, not superficially, but with that thoroughness which Philosophy demands above all things, those matters which have been adduced by me in this work to demonstrate these theories. In order, however, that both the learned and the unlearned equally may see that I do not avoid anyone's judgment, I have preferred to dedicate these lucubrations of mine to Your Holiness rather than to any other, because, even in this remote corner of the world where I live, you are considered to be the most eminent man in dignity of rank and in love of all learning and even of mathematics, so that by your authority and judgment you can easily suppress the bites of slanderers, albeit the proverb hath it that there is no remedy for the bite of a sycophant. If perchance there shall be idle talkers, who, though they are ignorant of all mathematical sciences, nevertheless assume the right to pass judgment on these things, and if they should dare to criticise and attack this theory of mine because of some passage of scripture which they have falsely distorted for their own purpose, I care not at all; I will even despise their judgment as foolish. Nicolas Copernicus, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, public domain, 1543, from the dedication to Pope Paul III. The Wikipedia article on the history of science says that this book, claiming that the earth was not the center of the universe, began the scientific revolution.

Our design not respecting arts, but philosophy, and our subject not manual but natural powers, we consider chiefly those things which relate to gravity, levity, elastic force, the resistance of fluids, and the like forces, whether attractive or impulsive; and therefore we offer this work as the mathematical principles of philosophy; for all the difficulty of philosophy seems to consist in this – from the phenomena of motions to investigate the forces of nature, and then from these forces to demonstrate the other phenomena; and to this end the general propositions in the first and second book are directed. In the third book we give an example of this in the explication of the System of the World; for by the propositions mathematically demonstrated in the former books, we in the third derive from the celestial phenomena the forces of gravity with which bodies tend to the sun and the several planets. Then from these forces, by other propositions which are also mathematical, we deduce the motions of the planets, the comets, the moon, and the sea. I wish we could derive the rest of the phenomena of nature by the same kind of reasoning from mechanical principles; for I am induced by many reasons to suspect that they may all depend upon certain forces by which the particles of bodies, by some causes hitherto unknown, are either mutually impelled towards each other, and cohere in regular figures, or are repelled and recede from each other; which forces being unknown, philosophers have hitherto attempted the search of nature in vain; but I hope the principles here laid down will afford some light either to this or some truer method of philosophy. Isaac Newton, Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, public domain, 1687. This passage is from the Preface to the first edition. Newton was a philosopher, in his own eyes, and scientific journals weren't as important in his day, hence the introduction of Newton's ideas in this book, rather than in a journal article. This book, more than any other, founded classical physics. The Wikipedia article on the history of science says that this book completed the scientific revolution.

It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved. Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life, public domain, 1859. This is the last paragraph of that book. Note that Darwin said "originally breathed into a few forms or into one," thus allowing for Divine creation.

"
I did not think; I investigated." Wilhelm Roentgen, on his thoughts when he first discovered X-rays, from an interview with McClure's Magazine, May 1, 1896. Ideally, scientists don't have preconceived ideas about what they will find, but just let the facts take them where they will. In practice, of course, that isn't always true.

Sometimes, as Max Planck observed, and Thomas S. Kuhn quoted (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, (Wikipedia article on that book, accessed 12/07/2006) p. 151):
"a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it."
Thomas S. Kuhn was a historian of science. The quotation encapsulates the idea of his book, namely that science doesn't "progress" (he didn't use that word) by adding experiment to experiment, but by sudden leaps, or scientific revolutions, when some scientist has a revolutionary insight, such as Newton's (possibly legendary) sudden revelation, when seeing an apple fall from a tree, that gravity is an attractive force. The following quote is from a man who is not known for the experiments he did, except those he did in his own head:

The basal principle, which was the pivot of all our previous considerations, was the special principle of relativity, i.e. the principle of the physical relativity of all uniform motion. Let as once more analyse its meaning carefully.

It was at all times clear that, from the point of view of the idea it conveys to us, every motion must be considered only as a relative motion. Returning to the illustration we have frequently used of the embankment and the railway carriage, we can express the fact of the motion here taking place in the following two forms, both of which are equally justifiable :
(a) The carriage is in motion relative to the embankment,
(b) The embankment is in motion relative to the carriage.

In (a) the embankment, in (b) the carriage, serves as the body of reference in our statement of the motion taking place. If it is simply a question of detecting or of describing the motion involved, it is in principle immaterial to what reference-body we refer the motion. As already mentioned, this is self-evident, but it must not be confused with the much more comprehensive statement called "the principle of relativity," which we have taken as the basis of our investigations.
The principle we have made use of not only maintains that we may equally well choose the carriage or the embankment as our reference-body for the description of any event (for this, too, is self-evident). Our principle rather asserts what follows : If we formulate the general laws of nature as they are obtained from experience, by making use of
(a) the embankment as reference-body,
(b) the railway carriage as reference-body,

then these general laws of nature (e.g. the laws of mechanics or the law of the propagation of light in vacuo) have exactly the same form in both cases. Albert Einstein, Relativity: the Special and General Theory, public domain, from the chapter entitled "Special and General Theory of Relativity." The theory of special relativity was actually introduced in an article, one of those published in Einstein's breakout year, 1905, not in this book.

Margrethe
So what was this mysterious thing you said?

Heisenberg There's no mystery about it. There never was any mystery. I remember it absolutely clearly, because my life was at stake, and I chose my words very carefully. I simply asked you if as a physicist one had the moral right to work on the practical exploitation of atomic energy. . . . (p. 36) Michael Frayn, Copenhagen. New York: Anchor Books, 2000. (Copyright by Michael Frayn, 1998) This excerpt was written about two scientists, not by them. For more on this play, see here. Scientists have occasionally been very concerned about the social impact of their work. They haven't always been concerned enough.

We wish to suggest a structure for the salt of deoxyribose nucleic acid (D. N. A.). This structure has novel features which are of considerable biological interest. . . . It has not escaped our notice that the specific pairing we have postulated immediately suggests a possible copying mechanism for the genetic material. J. D. Watson and F. H. C. Crick, "Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids: A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid" Nature 171:737-738, 1953. The first sentence is the opening sentence of this paper. The second sentence I have quoted comes near the end of this two-page article, and it indicates that Watson and Crick knew that this was a highly significant result. Crick is now dead. Watson isn't (yet).

Watson and Crick might not have published this paper without the work of Rosalind Franklin. I am sorry to say that none of the quotes above are from a woman, except the fictional one from Margrethe Bohr, who was not a scientist. There have been, unfortunately, until my own lifetime, few women who achieved prominence in science. I have previously posted about a female scientist who didn't achieve prominence, but did some very significant work.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Ezekiel vs. Isaiah on dangerous animals

God's plan for the earth is a peaceable kingdom, with lions and lambs lying down together. (See Isaiah 11:1-9 and 65:17-25) Right? Well, maybe. I was amazed to notice, after years of reading the Bible, the following passage:

Ezekiel 34:25 “I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild beasts from the land, so that they may dwell securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods. 26 And I will make them and the places all around my hill a blessing, and I will send down the showers in their season; they shall be showers of blessing. 27 And the trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield its increase, and they shall be secure in their land. And they shall know that I am the Lord, when I break the bars of their yoke, and deliver them from the hand of those who enslaved them. 28 They shall no more be a prey to the nations, nor shall the beasts of the land devour them. They shall dwell securely, and none shall make them afraid. (ESV, emphasis added.)

I'm not sure what to make of this apparent difference between Isaiah's prophetic vision, and that of Ezekiel. I checked two commentaries, and they made no mention of the difference. Any ideas?

The best discussion of the subject of dangerous animals, from a Biblical standpoint, is David Snoke's "Why Were Dangerous Animals Created?" Snoke's general conclusion is ". . . that violent and dangerous creatures are affirmed as good creations of God in the Bible . . ." He doesn't mention the passage I am using here.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Sunspots 85


Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:
Humor: From Joyful BC (who got it from someone else) Christmas Carols for (or by) disturbed people.
Politics: An interesting article on "evolutionism" and (political) conservatism. The description of U. S. vs. European conservatism is worth a read by itself.
Computing: Wired on those spam e-mails, urging you to buy cheap stocks of companies you never heard of.
Science:
From PBS's Nova: 18 ways to make a baby.
From St. Andrews University, Scotland, a mathematics page: the famous curves index, showing, among other things, the curves, and the equations which generate them.
From a professor at Cal Tech, a snowflakes and snow crystals web site.
How to use water in your household in an environmentally friendly way.
Literature:
A discussion of magic in fantastic literature, from a Christian standpoint.
The University of Colorado at Boulder has a sheet music site, with hundreds of public domain songs available.

An article in the Journal of Religion and Popular Culture on Gandalf as Christ-figure. The author gives evidence that the Peter Jackson films added symbolism to that already found in Tolkien's books, which makes this identification even more apparent.
Christianity: 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)

Will animals go to heaven? (repost from early 2005)

The bottom line is that I don't know the answer to this question.

I wrote this post back when I was still teaching, or trying to, and my bioethics class dealt with animal experimentation. I also had recently become aware of Ptolemy Tompkins' article on the subject, in the February, 2005 Guideposts. He is dealing specifically with pets. (The article is still available on-line.)

Tompkins answers the question with a yes. What is his Biblical basis?

1) The covenant established with Noah states that

Gen 9:9 And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you;
10 And with every living creature that [is] with you, of the fowl, of the cattle, and of every beast of the earth with you; from all that go out of the ark, to every beast of the earth.
11 And I will establish my covenant with you; neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth.
12 And God said, This [is] the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that [is] with you, for perpetual generations: (KJV, this and all Bible quotes, as the KJV is public domain.)

Tompkins says that this suggests that the covenant is not only with humans, but with animals, and is eternal.

2) Luke 3:6 says "And all flesh shall see the salvation of God."

3) Mark 16:15 says "And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature."

4) The same Hebrew words are used for living things in Genesis 1:21 and 24, as in Genesis 2:7.

1:21 And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that [it was] good.

1:24 And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.

2:7 And the LORD God formed man [of] the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

5) Isaiah 11:6 says "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them."

Tompkins does not say that the evidence is compelling. I don't think it is.

Referring to his evidence:

1) The covenant is a promise that God would not destroy the earth with a flood. It doesn't speak directly of Heaven at all, even for humans.

2) Luke 3:6 may be a figure of speech.

3) There is no scriptural evidence that the New Testament church made any attempt to preach to non-humans. (Supposedly, St. Francis did.)

4) The Blue Letter Bible gives access to the Bible in Hebrew. Checking this shows that Tompkins is correct--the same Hebrew words are used. Even though the same words are used for life, or soul, for animals and humans, the Bible teaches that humans are unique. English has more than one meaning for the same word, and, apparently, so does Hebrew, in this case. The same first chapter of Genesis says that humans are to have dominion over the other creatures. (1:26, 1:28) Thus, even though there are properties shared between humans and other animals, they aren't all shared.

5) Tompkins believes that Isaiah 11:6 is about heaven. It is certainly not about the earth as it now is, where leopards aren't companions, and there is all too little peace. But the literal reading is more like an earthly, than heavenly, paradise.

I mentioned this subject to a student. She suggested that there were horses of fire, pulling the chariot of fire that drew Elijah to heaven. (2 Kings 2:11) She also mentioned that there were horses in Revelation. There are, indeed, four horsemen in Revelation, and Christ Himself appears on a white horse in 19:11-21.

God could have, of course, prepared these animals specially, as He prepared the fish that swallowed Jonah, the vine that shaded Jonah, and the worm that killed the vine. This doesn't have to mean that there is a heavenly stable, but it doesn't rule it out, either. I hope I find out! It is also possible (I think likely) that these aren't real horses at all, but angels appearing like horses, or some specially created supernatural being.

The same student genius suggested that I read Ecclesiastes 3:18-22:

18 I said in mine heart concerning the estate of the sons of men, that God might manifest them, and that they might see that they themselves are beasts.
19 For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all [is] vanity.
20 All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.
21 Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?

On the one hand, this passage says that humans and animals die alike. On the other, it says that our spirit goes upward, and the spirit of animals goes downward. That sounds like you could argue it both ways from this passage.

A different student said that he had heard that a father responded to his young daughter, who had asked him about whether pets go to heaven, by saying that if having a pet in heaven was necessary to her eternal happiness, the pet would be there. I think that's a good place to leave this subject. That's my belief, and I believe that it is compatible with scripture, and the teaching of the historic church.

Thanks to all my students. Without them, I wouldn't have had a job.

Taken from a post of February 22, 2005.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Is Scientific Knowledge Reliable? (modified)

Is scientific knowledge reliable?

The simple answer is "usually." The hard part, of course, is to know when it is and when it isn't. Unfortunately, we humans lack the omniscience that would let us know which of the findings of science are reliable, and which aren't.

God has revealed Himself to us in several ways. Some of these are:
the Bible
human reason
our consciences
the wisdom of godly people
the guidance of the Holy Spirit
the evidence of nature, and especially
Himself, Jesus Christ, the God/man

The bible is clear that God does reveal Himself through the evidence of nature. In other words, through the observations of science. Here are two passages that say that:
Psalm 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.

and

Romans 1:20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

Both of these are from the ESV, which allows such use, if proper attribution is given. I thank them.

There are two very good reasons for thinking that scientific knowledge is, at least partly, reliable. First, it works. Second, it is one of the ways God is revealed to us.

So scientific knowledge is, at least often, reliable. Again, how do we know how reliable it is, and which knowledge is reliable, and which isn't? We don't know which, or how reliable. One thing history teaches us is that science is pretty good at making predictions. As scientists begin to observe various types of phenomena, they almost always get better and better at being able to tell us what is going to happen in the future, related to that particular phenomenon. This was true of astronomy, which is nearly perfect in the predictions it makes. Weather prediction has improved greatly within my lifetime. So has medical prognosis.

Another thing history teaches us is that, although the predictions may be very good, the underlying explanations often change, sometimes radically. If you are interested in explanations that have been mostly or entirely discarded, see phlogiston, or aether. Consider also the progression in our concept of gravity: 1) heavy things fall 2) Newton said that gravity was an attractive force and 3) Einstein said that gravity was due to the warping of space-time. Good predictions were made before Newton was ever born. But the explanation of gravity has changed markedly.

A third thing history teaches us is that some statements that seem to be scientific are not. Carl Sagan famously said that "The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be." Carl Sagan, Cosmos, p. 4. New York, Random House, 1980. (The book was based on the TV series of the same name.) This was a statement of faith, not of science. Sagan had no experimental evidence ruling out extra-cosmic entities. (I don't have any experimental evidence showing that there is a God, outside the cosmos, either.) But he was a famous scientist, hence his statement seemed to be scientific. He may have thought of it that way himself. But he was wrong.

Science, with its experiments, and its replication, is a pretty good system. It tells us a great deal about God's creation. But it isn't perfect.

Amplified from a post of Jan 19, 2005.

Thanks for reading

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Diary of an Old Soul, Dec 3 - 9

3. This weariness of mine, may it not come
From something that doth need no setting right?
Shall fruit be blamed if it hang wearily
A day before it perfected drop plumb
To the sad earth from off its nursing tree?
Ripeness must always come with loss of might.
The weary evening fall before the resting night.

4. Hither if I have come through earth and air,
Through fire and water--I am not of them;
Born in the darkness, what fair-flashing gem
Would to the earth go back and nestle there?
Not of this world, this world my life doth hem*;
What if I weary, then, and look to the door,
Because my unknown life is swelling at the core?

5. All winged things came from the waters first;
Airward still many a one from the water springs
In dens and caves wind-loving things are nursed:--
I lie like unhatched bird, upfolded, dumb,
While all the air is trembling with the hum
Of songs and beating hearts and whirring wings,
That call my slumbering life to wake to happy things.

6. I lay last night and knew not why I was sad.
"'Tis well with God," I said, "and he is the truth;
Let that content me."--'Tis not strength, nor youth,
Nor buoyant health, nor a heart merry-mad,
That makes the fact of things wherein men live:
He is the life, and doth my life outgive;
In him there is no gloom, but all is solemn-glad,

7. I said to myself, "Lo, I lie in a dream
Of separation, where there comes no sign;
My waking life is hid with Christ in God,
Where all is true and potent--fact divine."
I will not heed the thing that doth but seem;
I will be quiet as lark upon the sod;
God's will, the seed, shall rest in me the pod.

8. And when that will shall blossom--then, my God,
There will be jubilation in a world!
The glad lark, soaring heavenward from the sod,
Up the swift spiral of its own song whirled,
Never such jubilation wild out-poured
As from my soul will break at thy feet, Lord,
Like a great tide from sea-heart shoreward hurled.

9. For then thou wilt be able, then at last,
To glad me as thou hungerest to do;
Then shall thy life my heart all open find,
A thoroughfare to thy great spirit-wind;
Then shall I rest within thy holy vast,
One with the bliss of the eternal mind;
And all creation rise in me created new.

*I suppose that by "hem," MacDonald meant sewn up, constricted, bound.

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 December 3 through December 9.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Christopher Paolini, author of Eragon, is an agnostic

In a previous post, I considered the moral fabric of the young adult fantastic novel, Eragon, by Christopher Paolini. (I also provided a couple of links to documents about the concept of a world view, or worldview.) The movie version of this book comes out this month. In this post, I consider Paolini's moral fabric, or at least that of his characters, as shown in the sequel, Eldest: Inheritance, Book Two. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005) The bottom line is that Paolini appears to be an agnostic, and/or a naturalist. Here's a key passage:

"Master, it struck me last night that either you nor the hundreds of elven scrolls I've read have mentioned your religion. What do elves believe?"
A long sigh was Oromis's first answer. Then: "We believe that the world behaves according to certain inviolable rules and that, by persistent effort, we can discover those rules and use them to predict events when circumstances repeat."
Eragon blinked. That did not tell him what he wanted to know. "But who, or what, do you worship?"
"Nothing."
"You worship the concept of nothing?"
"No, Eragon. We do not worship at all."
The thought was so alien, it took Eragon several moments to grasp what Oromis meant. The villagers of Carvahall lacked a single overriding doctrine, but they did share a collection of superstitions and rituals, most of which concerned warding off bad luck. During the course of his training, it had dawned upon Eragon that many of the phenomena that the villagers attributed to supernatural sources were in fact natural processes, such as when he learned in his meditations that maggots hatched from fly eggs instead of spontaneously arising from the dirt, as he had thought before. (p. 540-541)

Oromis is Eragon's teacher, a wise elf. Eragon discovers that, not only do the elves not worship, but that his own people are apparently confused or misled about their own beliefs. (As indicated in the previous post, dwarves do have a religion, although outsiders can see problems with it.) I am not certain that Oromis is speaking for Paolini, but he seems to be.

Oromis continues ". . . I cannot prove that gods do not exist. Nor can I prove that the world and everything in it was not created by an entity or entities in the distant past. But I can tell you that in the millennia we elves have studied nature, we have never witnessed an instance where the rules that govern the world have been broken. That is, we have never seen a miracle. Many events have defied our ability to explain, but we are convinced that we failed [new page] because we are still woefully ignorant about the universe and not because a deity altered the workings of nature." (p. 542-3) This seems a classic agnostic statement.

Eragon's dragon tells him that dragons don't believe in any gods, either, and claims that believing in such makes you vulnerable, because it means you are deceived. (p. 544)

There is a definite sense of right and wrong in the books. Oromis says ". . . power without moral direction is the most dangerous force in the world. . . ." p. 273.

When Eragon suggests that the Urgals, another race of beings, don't deserve any moral consideration, Oromis tells him, in no uncertain terms, that they do. (p. 375)

Eragon, himself, is shocked when Oromis allows him to unwittingly kill ants, a baby mouse, and some small plants, in a demonstration of what happens when you carelessly take magical energy from other living things. Oromis tells Eragon that the demonstration was necessary, so that Eragon would not do anything like that again, except at great need. (p. 540)

Where does this sense of right and wrong come from? Where do the "rules that govern the world" come from? Paolini doesn't say. His world view, and/or that of his elves, doesn't seem to be well developed.

Does this apparent agnostic world view mean that Christians, or others who are not agnostic, should not see the movie, or read the books? I wouldn't say so. (For a link to a more extensive discussion of this sort of question, see this post.) There are probably redeeming features in the film. I certainly hope so. I expect to see loyalty, heroism, and unselfishness portrayed as good qualities. I hope that the artistry is good. I hope that it measures up reasonably well against Philippians 4:8: Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (ESV)

Thanks for reading.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Christopher Paolini's moral fabric: Eragon

Christopher Paolini recently turned 23 years of age. He is the author of Eragon and Eldest, two big, and pretty good, books of fantasy. Eragon: Inheritance, Book One (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003) will soon be released as a movie.

I wouldn't say that Paolini has written ground-breaking fantasy, but few people have -- it's well-crafted, and a good read. In a lot of ways, he reads like a cross between J. R. R. Tolkien and Ursula K. Le Guin -- the elves are human-like, but immortal, and mostly hidden from humans, and have their own language, an old, magical language; there are dwarves, living underground, and unfriendly to other races; magic has rules, and must be taught; great care must be exercised in performing magic. There are some original elements -- dragons can't speak aloud, for example, and there are at least two intelligent species that are unique to Paolini's books. Religion, and worship, are described. Tolkien didn't do that.

I don't have any idea how the plot of the movie corresponds with that of the book, and, even if I did, I wouldn't give away any details. I prefer to consider the moral fabric of Paolini's books.

Every author has a world view. Here's an apparently secular take on what a world view is. Here's a definitely Christian take on the same topic (using worldview, not world view). The two are similar. They both say that a world view answers such questions as where the universe came from, what (if anything) is the difference between right and wrong, and what happens to humans when they die. It is also true that many people don't have a consistent world view -- they haven't carefully worked out answers to these questions. I don't know what Paolini's world view is, but I have gotten some hints from reading his books. This post presents some of what I learned about Paolini from Eragon. It is also true, of course, that an author's characters may have a different world view than the author, herself. Eragon is fiction, after all.

There is a definite sense of right and wrong. The Empire is evil, and Eragon's step-father is good.

Some of the characters question how bad things can be allowed to happen and challenge whatever gods may exist, because they have happened. (p. 91, 131)

". . . This magic -- for it is magic -- has rules like the rest of the world. If you break the rules, the penalty is death, without exception. Your deeds are limited by your strength, the words you know, and your imagination." (p. 139) Brom, Eragon's first teacher, also makes clear, and Eragon experiences at various points, that magic is not practiced without a cost -- at least some temporary tiredness, at most, death. It takes one's strength to use magic.

There are evil spirits in the world, that can possess humans, using them for their own ends. (p. 144, 437)

". . . Keep in mind that many people have died for their beliefs; it's actually quite common. The real courage is in living and suffering for what you believe." (p. 197) Brom speaking.

At least some religions are evil. On p. 247-8, one such, requiring human sacrifice, and spending too many resources on trivial matters, is described.

In the chapter "A Clash of Wills" (pp. 347 - 353) Eragon is very upset at Murtagh, who decapitates a slaver during a battle, while he is lying on the ground, seriously injured. Eragon thinks that the man should have had a chance, even though slavery is monstrous.

Eldest is more explicit on what I take to be Paolini's world view. I posted on that book here.

Thanks for reading!