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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Sunspots 97

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

A memorial for Dolly, the cloned sheep, who appeared on Feb 22, 1997.

A beautiful close-up of an unidentified moss, with description. Some mosses have some water transport mechanisms, it seems. Amazing!

A web page (I am not making this up!) on ladybugs/ladybeetles/ladybirds of Ireland.

Female chimpanzees make and use spears in hunting prey. (They don't seem to be very good at killing with them.)

I am happy to note that Arevanye is back to posting daily quotes from, or relevant to, C. S. Lewis.

A web page speculating about the last Harry Potter book, and also attempting to serve as a Harry Potter FAQ.

Bonnie, who has a long-standing interest in these things, and writes about them occasionally, has a two (so far, at least) part post on sex before marriage. First part ; second.

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, February 27, 2007

Genesis 4-6: What we DO know

There's a lot we don't know about what Genesis says. Apparently God didn't think we need to know some things. After we discussed it, my wife wanted me to post about something that we do know from this passage.

Here's a link to Genesis 4 through 6 in the English Standard Version (ESV).

Where did Cain and Seth get their wives? The Bible doesn't say. Probably from their sisters, but who knows for sure? Genesis 4:17 says that Cain founded a city, named after his son, Enoch. What sort of city? How large? Was this in a cave, in homes made from brick or mud huts, or wood, or tents? We don't know. Genesis 4:20 says that Jabal, apparently Cain's great-grandson was the "father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock." Does that mean that no one else had used tents before him? It doesn't seem possible that it means that no one had livestock before Jabal, because Abel brought a sacrifice from his flocks. (4:4 says "firstborn of his flock.") Abel was apparently killed many years before Jabal came along. What does this mean? How to explain this apparent inconsistency? I don't know.

Many more questions could be raised. But one thing stands out. Genesis 6 says that Noah stood out. In 6:8, the Bible says that he "found favor in the eyes of the Lord." In 6:9, he is described as "a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God." The same chapter makes clear that the rest of mankind around Noah was quite different -- evil, godless, sinful. So, one thing that Genesis 4-6 does say is that it is possible to live for God, even though surrounded by evil people. I'm not in such circumstances, but I hope I live for God. I hope you do, too.

Thanks for reading. Happy birthday to my wife.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Best book on Tolkien

I have recently been privileged to read the best book about J. R. R. Tolkien and his writing. That book is The Power of the Ring: The Spiritual Vision Behind the Lord of the Rings (New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 2005) by Stratford Caldecott.

Why do I say this? Caldecott knows Tolkien's writing. He presents some intriguing insights into Tolkien. He considers Tolkien's Catholicism. The book is short (about 200 pages) and very readable, without sacrificing the scholarly apparatus that some readers might want.

So what does Caldecott make of Tolkien? Quite a bit. Here's some of it:

Tolkien saw natural things freighted with the depth of meaning that all things possess, being rooted in the mind of God. God does not create things simply to fill up space. He creates for a reason, and the ultimate reason for his creation is love. Each thing, and especially each living thing, is a word, a symbol, a revelation. Each is a note, or a theme, in some great music. At any rate, it is more than itself: that is, more than the thing most people see when they look at it. (p. 24)

Tolkien's relationship with his father, or lack thereof, was very important to him, and one reason why father-son relationships are important in his work. (His father died when Tolkien was four years old.)

Caldecott considers Mary-figures in Tolkien's work. These include Galadriel, and, he says, Tolkien's changing views on Galadriel over the years were to make her more like Mary -- purer than in his original conception.

Beren and Lúthien, says he, were important archetypes for Tolkien, standing for male and female qualities, in humans and elves, respectively. This explains the lack of important roles for females in his writing, according to Caldecott. The story of these two, he writes, is re-told, not only in the story of Aragorn and Arwen, but in the story of Sam Gamgee and Rosie Cotton.

On a similar note, Caldecott says that ". . . the center of The Lord of the Rings is not in Gondor, it is in the Shire, firmly rooted in the domestic. It is there that we must look for the final integration of Elvishness into human nature, within the romance as a whole. (p. 96) As he points out, the last sentence of the trilogy is domestic, and in the Shire.

I liked this book a lot. I'm not sure that I agree with all of Caldecott's conclusions, but they are worth a hearing, at least.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Diary of an Old Soul, Feb 25 - Mar 4

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

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

27. I would not have it so. Weary and worn,
Why not to thee run straight, and be at rest?
Motherward, with toy new, or garment torn,
The child that late forsook her changeless breast,
Runs to home's heart, the heaven that's heavenliest:
In joy or sorrow, feebleness or might,
Peace or commotion, be thou, Father, my delight.

28. The thing I would say, still comes forth with doubt
And difference:--is it that thou shap'st my ends?
Or is it only the necessity
Of stubborn words, that shift sluggish about,
Warping my thought as it the sentence bends?--
Have thou a part in it, O Lord, and I
Shall say a truth, if not the thing I try.

29. Gather my broken fragments to a whole,
As these four quarters make a shining day.
Into thy basket, for my golden bowl,
Take up the things that I have cast away
In vice or indolence or unwise play.
Let mine be a merry, all-receiving heart,
But make it a whole, with light in every part.

MARCH. 1. The song birds that come to me night and morn,
Fly oft away and vanish if I sleep,
Nor to my fowling-net will one return:
Is the thing ever ours we cannot keep?--
But their souls go not out into the deep.
What matter if with changed song they come back?
Old strength nor yet fresh beauty shall they lack.

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.

3. And in the perfect time, O perfect God,
When we are in our home, our natal home,
When joy shall carry every sacred load,
And from its life and peace no heart shall roam,
What if thou make us able to make like thee--
To light with moons, to clothe with greenery,
To hang gold sunsets o'er a rose and purple sea!

4. Then to his neighbour one may call out, "Come!
Brother, come hither--I would show you a thing;"
And lo, a vision of his imagining,
Informed of thought which else had rested dumb,
Before the neighbour's truth-delighted eyes,
In the great æther of existence* rise,
And two hearts each to each the closer cling!

*19th-century physicists supposed that light was carried from the sun by an invisible medium called the ether, or aether, which filled the empty parts of the universe.

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 February 25th through March 4th.

With this post, I have completed the entire cycle of a year from this book, posted in this form. It has been a blessing to me. Thank you, God, for George MacDonald!

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication

Someone invented the ACTS mnemonic to represent the four types of prayer. I freely confess (and this is not a prayer, just a confession) that most of my praying is of the latter type. I have posted previously about the New Testament pattern of supplication, which is so different from what most public praying I hear is about, which is praying for people who are sick, or for families that have suffered loss. These things are surely important, but praying for strength for other people in their Christian life is much more important.

Adoration is telling God how wonderful He is. Confession is telling Him that we aren't so wonderful. Thanksgiving is thanking Him for specific things He has done. Supplication is asking Him to do things.

My friend Bob Black once pointed out that The Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) does not include thanksgiving. It does include adoration, confession, and supplication.

These four aspects, or types, of prayer aren't the whole story. They are one side of the story. Prayer must be listening to God, as well as telling Him stuff.

Rebecca had a post on how a local church should pray. Several readers added to it. See here.

*   *   *   *   *

ACTS  praying

On January 2, 2011, I added this graphic to the post. You can see a larger version by using the graphic as a link.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Happy Birthday, Handel!

George Frederic Handel was born on this date, in 1685. He is probably best known for his "Messiah," which used the text of the King James Bible, and that extensive composition is probably best known for the "Hallelujah Chorus," although there is a lot of other great music in "Messiah." (The link at the beginning of the paragraph has links to some of Handel's music.)

On a more current, but less important note, we have arrived in Southern California, for an extended stay. Our oldest daughter is located several hours from her home, on military deployment. Our son-in-law's work assignments take him away from home overnight, sometimes for several days, so we will have sole human responsibility for our grandson some of the time.

My mother, who is 96, was hospitalized a few days ago, and is recovering, but our sister-in-law felt that it was necessary to place her in a nursing home when she leaves the hospital, as she is not able to take care of herself, at least not yet. Apparently she has accepted this. She went to nursing homes as a volunteer for a few decades, playing the piano and otherwise encouraging the residents, and, of course, lately was older than most of them. She may recover enough to go back home. We'll see.

Thanks for reading. I plan to post occasionally.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Sunspots 96

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


The Panda's Thumb presents evidence against Michael Behe (Darwin's Black Box) claims of irreducible complexity.

The same blog (which is indispensable on the subject of Intelligent Design -- they don't like it) refers to an article by Robert John Russell, who believes in God's creative activity, but says that ID is not scientifically supportable.
The ID movement sometimes claims (at least to non-Christians) that it does not know who the Designer is/was. As Russell says, if living things were designed, it was either by God or by a natural agent, which, if the latter, must have not been designed, but appeared due to chance processes.

or maybe Religion: Article in USA Today about the religion of President George Washington. According to the article, he at least believed in Divine Providence.



A good blog post on "The Sacramental Theology of Gene Wolfe."

A blogger has re-written the end of Tolkien's The Return of the King, as if, she says, Ursula K. Le Guin had written it.



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, February 18, 2007

Diary of an Old Soul, Feb 18 - 24

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 February 18th through 24th.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Sunspots 95

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

There is an interdisciplinary Center for Spirituality and the Mind at the University of Pennsylvania. A recent news report said that they had studied brain changes in Pentecostals during episodes of "speaking in tongues."

Wired reports on the status of organ (as in live person's kidney) sales in India.

David Heddle (who doesn't often agree with the Intelligent Design movement, although he believes in a designer) comes down on the side of William Dembski, for once.

Enceladus, one of the many moons of Saturn, is producing particles that land on other moons of the same planet.

A report on research into producing workable connections between the nervous system and a computer. (Why would anyone do this? For example, so that a quadriplegic could manipulate devices by thinking about doing so.) Some progress has been made. However, it might not be necessary, says the report.

Slate says that stem-cell research won't make states that have invested in it rich.

At half-time of the February 10th North Carolina men's basketball game, the 1981-2 and 1956-7 teams were honored. Both of them won national championships, 25 and 50 years ago.

Eliot writes about prominent writers of speculative fiction, recognized widely, who were also Christian. It's an impressive list.

Jan muses on Lisa Nowak, the now-notorious astronaut.

David Heddle uses scripture to refute arguments that baptism must involve total immersion.

In First Things: "Evangelicals and the Mother of God," an appeal to find a Biblical perspective on Mary.

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, February 11, 2007

Diary of an Old Soul, Feb 11 - 17

11. I will not shift my ground like Moab's king*,
But from this spot whereon I stand, I pray--
From this same barren rock to thee I say,
"Lord, in my commonness, in this very thing
That haunts my soul with folly--through the clay
Of this my pitcher, see the lamp's dim flake;
And hear the blow that would the pitcher break.**"

12. Be thou the well by which I lie and rest;
Be thou my tree of life, my garden ground;
Be thou my home, my fire, my chamber blest,
My book of wisdom, loved of all the best;
Oh, be my friend, each day still newer found,
As the eternal days and nights go round!
Nay, nay--thou art my God, in whom all loves are bound!

13. Two things at once, thou know'st I cannot think.
When busy with the work thou givest me,
I cannot consciously think then of thee.
Then why, when next thou lookest o'er the brink
Of my horizon, should my spirit shrink,
Reproached and fearful, nor to greet thee run?
Can I be two when I am only one.

14. My soul must unawares have sunk awry.
Some care, poor eagerness, ambition of work,
Some old offence that unforgiving did lurk,
Or some self-gratulation, soft and sly--
Something not thy sweet will, not the good part,
While the home-guard looked out, stirred up the old murk,
And so I gloomed away from thee, my Heart.

15. Therefore I make provision, ere I begin
To do the thing thou givest me to do,
Praying,--Lord, wake me oftener, lest I sin.
Amidst my work, open thine eyes on me,
That I may wake and laugh, and know and see
Then with healed heart afresh catch up the clue,
And singing drop into my work anew.

16. If I should slow diverge, and listless stray
Into some thought, feeling, or dream unright,
O Watcher, my backsliding soul affray;
Let me not perish of the ghastly blight.
Be thou, O Life eternal, in me light;
Then merest approach of selfish or impure
Shall start me up alive, awake, secure.

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.

*Balak (Numbers 22-23) looked at the Israelites from more than one location.

**MacDonald is apparently referring to Gideon here. (see Judges 7)

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 February 11th through 17th.

Thursday, February 08, 2007


We are planning an extended trip, and I don't expect to post very much for a couple of weeks or so. I will also not be able to read, or comment, on other blogs much, if any.

I will probably continue my excerpts from the writing of George MacDonald, on Sundays, and may post a Sunspots or two.

Thanks for reading. We would ask for your prayers.

Numbering the stars, 2

In a recent post, I mused about how many stars there are (we don't know, but a lot) and pointed out that the Bible teaches that God knows how many there are, and is in control of all of them.

A commenter to the post said this: "It would be pretty impressive if the number of descendants was actually the number of stars! I suppose we would have to hope that life could be sustained on other planets... even if they were of the dwarf variety."

That would, indeed, be a lot of descendants. The comment triggered three more quick thoughts.

1) The previous post was more about the stars than about the number of descendants. The Bible says that Abraham had other children, besides Isaac, the ancestor of the Jews, including Ishmael (who was also promised a large posterity) and some other sons. It also says that gentile (non-Jew) Christians are the offspring of Abraham, by faith. (See here and here -- all the links in this paragraph are to portions of the ESV version of the Bible.)

2) One way that a very large number of descendants of Abraham would be possible would be if the earth, and humans, last for a very long time. Most Bible scholars seem to think that that won't happen. However, they have believed that for nearly two thousand years, and the second coming still hasn't come about.

3) C. S. Lewis, for one, didn't believe that it would be a good idea for humans to populate other planets. He felt that we had messed this one up enough, I guess. There are environmental ethics issues with the possibility of transferring life to other planets, especially if there is any Carbon-based life on them. Even a few bacteria, transferred to another planet, might greatly alter such a planet.

4) On the contrary, I suppose that it could be argued that exploring other heavenly bodies, like, say, exploring Antarctica, is part of the legitimate "dominion" of humans, and that learning about them is part of our stewardship responsibility. It's a complex subject.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Sunspots 94

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

Two very short movies, less than 30 seconds total. First, a baby suddenly erupts, here. Second, how to word process (You won't get the full implications of this if you have never used an actual typewriter. There are a few of us left who remember using one).

Leonard Pitts, jr., a syndicated columnist, has a web page, "What works," about, he says, some ideas that are making a positive difference in the lives of African-American children in poverty.

Christianity Today says that the two Super Bowl coaches are both Christians.

Microsoft has produced a Windows Vista Advisor tool, which will check your system for compatibility issues, and check your hardware for readiness for an upgrade. One of our computers is ready, but our laptop doesn't have enough RAM. I'm not surprised.

E Stephen Burnett has posted two installments (first and second) of a series on the Harry Potter books. Burnett writes from a Christian perspective, and is an author of fantastic literature. Let's put it this way. He doesn't think the books should be burned, but he's not sure that children should be reading them, until they can tell the difference between right and wrong at a fairly sophisticated level.

C. S. Lewis did write The Dark Tower . (There have been allegations that he didn't)

Ken Schenck has some good thoughts on the question of absolute truth. Schenck is usually one for simple answers, and he doesn't have any here, but he understands the issues, and explains them well.

Ken Schenck (Bible teacher at a Christian university) again, has some thoughts on homosexuality and Romans 1.

Henry, on the argument that the KJV is the best version of the Bible is best because 17th-century Greek scholars were better than those of today. (He argues against it.)

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)

Monday, February 05, 2007

Is Jack Vance Anti-Christian?

Jack Vance has been an important writer of fantastic fiction for about sixty years. Two of his books, The Dragon Masters and The Last Castle, won Hugo Awards. (He also wrote some other fiction, including some mystery novels.) The most important characteristics of his works are his careful use of an amazing variety of words, his ability to invent and describe new societies (often a dozen or more such in a single book), and the sardonic dialog that his characters engage in. A group of Vance enthusiasts has produced the Vance Integral Edition, a volunteer work, which is a unified printing of all of his writings (so far -- he is still alive), carefully edited.

Here's a sample of Vance, from his The Green Pearl:
“Hmm! It seems an exaggerated response. A sip or two of mead, a taste of honey-cake: where is the harm in this?”
“None whatever!” declared the ex-priest. “I must admit that the issues possibly went a trifle deeper, and I may even found a new brotherhood, devoid of those stringencies which too often make religion a bore. I am restrained only because I do not wish to be branded a heretic. Are you yourself a Christian?”
The young man made a negative sign. “The concepts of religion baffle me.”
“This inscrutability is perhaps not unintentional,” said the ex-priest. “It gives endless employment to dialecticians who otherwise might become public charges or, at very worst, swindlers and tricksters. May I ask whom I have the pleasure of addressing?”
The Green Pearl is the second of a trilogy, set in an imaginary group of islands, near Europe, in the Middle Ages. The sample, in addition to mentioning Christianity, and religion in general, gives a small sample of Vance's use of dialog. He uses it a lot, and his characters are almost all sardonic, and given to using rare words. I have posted previously on Vance, and, in that post, give another short sample of his writing, in this case, without dialog.

In his works set on other worlds, and in the future, Vance is also known for throwing out lots of imaginary cultures. In some books, he seems to put a new one in every valley, radically different from the one in the previous valley. In addition to bizarre clothing, food, and other customs, they often practice bizarre religions, and the religions are never spoken of respectfully. But, it is true that the clothes, the food, and the other customs usually aren't, either. It is as if each culture observed by his protagonists were in some sort of cultural zoo, observed through the bars, with the observer thinking that all of them are strange.

I have a web page summarizing much (not all) of Vance's writing, and emphasizing the different forms of vengeance often taken by his characters.

This page has an index of writings, associated with the Vance Integral Edition project, addressing the religious aspects of Vance's work, in particular whether or not he has been anti-Christian. Perhaps the most important of these is a long article by Paul Rhoads, entitled, as this blog post, "Is Jack Vance Anti-Christian?" Rhoads has an encyclopedic grasp of Vance's writing, which begins on page 15 of a .pdf document. Rhoads concludes that Vance is a neopagan, not a virulent anti-Christian (although some have said so), and that that aspect of his belief has been mostly incidental to his work. He points out that many authors, some undeniably Christian, have used hypocrital, or otherwise deeply flawed characters who claimed (fictionally) to be Christian, just as Vance has. I believe that Rhoads is correct on these points.

A taste for Vance is an acquired taste, but the man had talent, and has acquired a following.

Thanks for reading.

*  *  *  *  *  *

On June 3, 2012, I modified the next-to-last paragraph. The most significant change was adding the title of the article by Paul Rhoads, which should have been included.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Diary of an Old Soul, Feb 4 - 10

4. My Lord, I find that nothing else will do,
But follow where thou goest, sit at thy feet,
And where I have thee not, still run to meet.
Roses are scentless, hopeless are the morns,
Rest is but weakness, laughter crackling thorns,
If thou, the Truth, do not make them the true:
Thou art my life, O Christ, and nothing else will do.

5. Thou art here--in heaven, I know, but not from here--
Although thy separate self do not appear;
If I could part the light from out the day,
There I should have thee! But thou art too near:
How find thee walking, when thou art the way?
Oh, present Christ! make my eyes keen as stings,
To see thee at their heart, the glory even of things.

6. That thou art nowhere to be found, agree
Wise men, whose eyes are but for surfaces;
Men with eyes opened by the second birth,
To whom the seen, husk of the unseen is,
Descry thee soul of everything on earth.
Who know thy ends, thy means and motions see:
Eyes made for glory soon discover thee.

7. Thou near then, I draw nearer--to thy feet,
And sitting in thy shadow, look out on the shine;
Ready at thy first word to leave my seat--
Not thee: thou goest too. From every clod
Into thy footprint flows the indwelling wine;
And in my daily bread, keen-eyed I greet
Its being's heart, the very body of God.

8. Thou wilt interpret life to me, and men,
Art, nature, yea, my own soul's mysteries--
Bringing, truth out, clear-joyous, to my ken,
Fair as the morn trampling the dull night. Then
The lone hill-side shall hear exultant cries;
The joyous see me joy, the weeping weep;
The watching smile, as Death breathes on me his cold sleep.

9. I search my heart--I search, and find no faith.
Hidden He may be in its many folds--
I see him not revealed in all the world
Duty's firm shape thins to a misty wraith.
No good seems likely. To and fro I am hurled.
I have no stay. Only obedience holds:--
I haste, I rise, I do the thing he saith.

10. Thou wouldst not have thy man crushed back to clay;
It must be, God, thou hast a strength to give
To him that fain would do what thou dost say;
Else how shall any soul repentant live,
Old griefs and new fears hurrying on dismay?
Let pain be what thou wilt, kind and degree,
Only in pain calm thou my heart with thee.

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 February 4th through 10th.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Numbering the stars

How many stars are there? Good question.

The Bible makes a few references to counting the stars, or to their number. Some of these are Genesis 15:5 (there are similar passages) wherein God promises as many offspring to Abraham as the stars, Deuteronomy 28:62, in which Moses reminds the offspring of Abraham of this promise, and points out that it was achieved, in Egypt, but that the number has declined, because of disobedience. In Isaiah 40:25-6, God asks who created the stars, and says that He has them all numbered and named, and under His control.

So, how many stars are there? The short, and correct, answer, is that we don't know. However, there are estimates, based, as they must be, on various assumptions. Here's what the European Space Agency says about this question. Their estimate is on the order of 10 to the 22nd to 24th power. In other words, a 1 with from 22 to 24 zeros after it. The Cornell Astronomy Department has proposed a similar number. These numbers are obtained by estimating the number of stars in our galaxy, and multiplying that by the estimated number of galaxies. (Both numbers are estimated to be about 10 to the 11th power.) CNN reports a similar estimate, by a different method.

The Cornell Astronomy Department says that we can see (on a clear night, with no air pollution) a few thousand stars. Thinkquest gives a similar number. (Bear in mind that we can only see, at most, half of the sky from any single location -- there are stars visible from the Southern Hemisphere that I have never seen, and a person from, say, New Zealand, who has never traveled above the equator, must experience the same phenomenon in reverse.)

Did God mean to tell Abraham that he would have 10 to the 24th power offspring, or only a few thousand? I doubt if He meant either. My guess is that He was trying to say the sort of thing that we might say, and understand, namely the Abraham was going to have a lot of descendants. That has come true!

I'd like to muse a little about God having all the stars numbered and named. Wow!

We are so finite. We have only detected two hundred or so planets beyond our own solar system. One of the planets we thought we had has been downgraded to a "dwarf planet" in this century. In other words, we aren't even sure how many planets there are in our own solar system. We don't know for sure if any of them, or their moons, have living things on them, or used to. (Except, of course, for earth. I suppose that it is possible that there is some yet to be discovered life form on our own moon. Not probable, possible.) We surely don't know exactly how many stars are in our galaxy, or how many galaxies there are. We don't know how large the universe is. We don't know if it has a boundary or if it just goes on forever. Some scientists (I am not making this up!) speculate that there are a large, maybe infinite, number of universes that are parallel to ours, and that the entire group of such parallel universes makes up a multiverse. (See this Wikipedia article.) It may comfort your sanity to understand that these ideas are far from universally (sorry!) accepted. Philip Pullman, award-winning author, used these ideas in his books. (Pullman has been accused of attacking Christianity in his fiction, but that doesn't prove that the idea is wrong.)

How ever many planets, stars, locations where living things exist, galaxies, universes, and even multiverses, there may be, God has them all under control -- counted and named! As indicated above, he told Isaiah that. He also expresses this in Colossians 1:15-20, in which we are told that ". . . in him [Christ] all things hold together." (ESV)

Thanks for reading!

I have posted a follow-up to this, considering some of what the Bible says about Abraham's descendants.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Sunspots 93

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

(or maybe Christianity) A 57 second video of a girl eating a live praying mantis, apparently on some sort of bet so that two other people would go to church.

Jeremy Pierce, in a comment, pretty well wipes out the thesis of my post , which was a comment on an article by a prominent physicist, in which he claimed that a Muslim philosopher of several centuries ago had stopped scientific advancement among Muslims. Pierce also casts doubt on the idea that science needed Christianity for its development. Oh, well . . .

The Spectacular Animals group on Flickr has posted the nominees for Photo of the Year, and, trust me, they are, er, spectacular!

It's snowing here in Upstate South Carolina now, and the weather persons are predicting freezing rain, which probably means we'll be without power later. Last year, some people in this area were without power for a week or more. (We were in California, thank God!)

(or maybe Race) Jeremy describes a personal experience, having to do with the fact that his wife is African-American and he isn't. (Feb 3 -- I changed this item, in light of Jeremy's comment, below -- it was his experience, not mine.)

Slate give President Bush credit (a rare happening!) for proposing higher fuel efficiency for US autos. The article says that the standards haven't been raised since 1988.

Common misconceptions about Office 2007 (I have yet to use or even see that suite). This web page is from Windows Watch, which is not connected with Microsoft, and, in fact, is often critical of that company.

Google Earth, version 4, is available.

Pastor Perry Noble, quoting someone else, writes "Christianity is THE most exciting thing that has ever happened in the world…and it has taken the church 2,000 years to make it boring!!!"

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)