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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Sword and Sorcery: Why?

Some fantasy literature, including some of the most important, is sometimes referred to as "sword and sorcery" fantasy. The phrase is often disparaging. No doubt the disparagement is sometimes well-deserved. I make no claim to have read all of the books in this category, by a long shot, but, based on what I see in bookstores, some of them are probably hack work, written mainly to sell, rather than from an artistic impulse. Nonetheless, some of these books have, or will, stand the test of time. Here's a more or less random list of books that I have read, all set in pre-gunpowder societies:
"The Lord of the Rings"works by J. R. R. Tolkien
The Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon
The Chronicles of Prydain, by Lloyd Alexander
The Narnia books by C. S. Lewis
Works by Juliet Marillier
The Earthsea books by Ursula K. Le Guin
The Chalion novels, and the Sharing Knife tetralogy, by Lois McMaster Bujold
Most of the works of Patricia McKillip

Some of the works above take place on Earth, in a previous time. Some take place on unspecified planets. The Narnia books take place in both 20th century Earth, and also in another planet, or maybe even in another universe. But the world of Narnia is a sword and sorcery world.

You can add your own to these lists, probably. Why swords? Why sorcery?

Let's deal with the sorcery first.

Tolkien coined the word, eucatastrophe. More or less, it means some amazing turn of events, leading to a good outcome. We all want our mothers to eat an apple from another world, and get well. We would hope that the elves come out of the woods to our aid, driving off evil enemies. In other words, even though many 21st century English-speakers don't believe in miracles, they wish that they could, and are thrilled when miracles happen. We may also thrill when great evil is encountered by fictional characters -- when Ged has to go into the realm of the dead, across the wall of stones, to heal a kingdom, or when Eowyn faces an evil spirit-wizard, who is mounted on a dreadful flying creature.

Sorcery, or magic, also enables unlikely, or common folk to become important. An Assistant Pig-Keeper, or a long-legged Ranger, becomes a king. A sheepfarmer's daughter becomes a great hero. A boy from an obscure village becomes a great Archmage.

Another appealing feature of many works containing sorcery is that good is good, and evil is evil. Most of us like clear friends and enemies, I guess. Granted, there are sometimes turncoats -- Susan stops believing, or Saruman seeks only his own ends, not the good he was supposed to. But usually we can tell the good from the bad. There are no good orcs.

Some of these things can happen in real life, too, but they don't happen to us, and it's nice to read about them, and put ourselves in these situations.

How about the swords?

Swords, for one thing, speak of the past. When you and I and others read sword and sorcery fantasy, we are, perhaps, seeking a past golden age. If there are combustion engines, airplanes, and assault rifles, we know that we are near our own present, with its problems.

Swords don't require much technology. In fact, swords were apparently invented and used in the Bronze Age. So swords are, in part, a symbol of the rejection of technology. Tolkien, for one, disliked the technology of his twentieth century, and most or all of the "advances" in technology in his books are for evil purposes.

Swords are personal weapons, and, although most authors and readers of sword and sorcery fiction have never used them, we know this. You can't kill or injure someone with a sword without seeing them, without a personal encounter.

Swords require skill to use. I suppose that guns do, too, but pointing and pulling a trigger don't seem to require much training or practice, whereas using a sword effectively does require training and practice. (Moon's Deed of Paksenarrion spends a fair amount of text on this.)

So, in some ways, swords are more humane weapons than guns.

Swords are also spiritual symbols. (See Hebrews 4:12)

It is no great surprise, then, that swords play key roles in some of these books, and, no doubt, in others. In The Deed of Paksenarrion, and in The Lord of the Rings, particular swords, forged by elves, play a role.

I'm sure that a great deal more has, should, and will be said about this topic. Comment if you will.

Thanks for reading.

* * * * *

On July 18, 2009, I added a tag, and added books by Lois McMaster Bujold, and also added authors Juliet Marillier and Patricia McKillip to the list of works. I modified the title from "Sword, Sorcery," to the present title.

On December 14th, 2009, I added a link to Bujold's Sharing Knife books.

* * * * *
October 28, 2013

I have discovered two relatively short articles entitled "Examining the four main foci for traditionalist impulses in fantasy and science fiction," which consider the main themes of "trationalist," i. e., sword and sorcery, fantasy, and discuss the continuing popularity of such fiction. They are found here and here

Sunspots 110


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





Politics:
Jeremy Pierce on why James Dobson's absolutism on the politicis of abortion isn't serving his cause, and doesn't make sense.

Computing:
Slate photoessay on the importance of the Helvetica font. (You are probably not seeing this blog in Helvetica.)

Christianity:
A post (which links to others) on the Apostle Junia. Read about her.



This week's Christian Carnival is here. For information on these Carnivals, go here .


Thanks for reading! Keep clicking away.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Deed of Paksenarrion, by Elizabeth Moon

I previously posted on The Speed of Dark, by Elizabeth Moon (The immediately previous link is to the Wikipedia article on Moon. Her home page is here.) which won the 2003 Nebula award (for best science fiction novel), The award was well deserved.

Since I had enjoyed one book by Moon, and it was well written, with good characterization, and dealt with a serious issue (autism), I decided to try another of her books. The library that I am currently using had a paperback, Divided Allegiance (Riverdale, NY: Baen, 1988) available, so I tried it. Two things struck me about this book. First, it is the second part of a trilogy. The first is Sheepfarmer's Daughter -- which Baen has made available in its entirety on-line, published in the same year, and the third is Oath of Gold, published in 1989.

The second thing that struck me is that this book is not science fiction -- it doesn't extrapolate into the future, or examine the past or the present as changed in a way that relates to science. No, the book is fantasy -- sword and sorcery fantasy. It is unusual for a writer to succeed in both genres, even though most bookstores do not distinguish between them. Ursula K. Le Guin is one author who has so succeeded. I guess there are more, but I can't think of any, except Moon. Moon hasn't succeeded as well as Le Guin, but that's not a negative criticism of Moon. Who has?

The three volumes have been combined into The Deed of Paksenarrion (Baen, 1992) which is currently in print. This is a hefty volume, friends. It has 1024 pages, and the type is not especially large. I would like to comment on this book in general. I hope to post about its relationship to Tolkien, its relationship to King Arthur, outline the plot, and consider whether or not this is Christian fiction, in subsequent posts. I will not try to hide plot details in any of these posts, as I usually do.

Paksenarrion is a female warrior. (She is often referred to as Paks in the book.) Most of the time in the book, which covers a few years of her life, is about her life in the military. Moon, herself, has been a U. S. Marine, so that shouldn't be surprising. There are details of military life, and military campaigns, a-plenty. They include training in swords and other weapons, troop movements, and disposal of booty. Moon writes about details. When the troops camp, latrine placement is important. Food and supplies don't appear magically. Horses and mules must be cared for.

Paksenarrion does not fall in love, or have sexual relations, with anyone, throughout the entire book, except for an attempted rape early in her military career, and a completed rape (more on that in a later post) near the end of the book. She had chances -- on p. 191, she thinks about how Saben, now dead, had wanted to be her lover.

The Deed of this female warrior is to find and establish a king in Lyonya. This is not just a military operation, but a spiritual one. All of Paksenarrion's training is needed to accomplish her deed.

The book generally presents clear divisions or choices between good and evil, and Paksenarrion is always on the side of good.

One way in which the book could have been made better is by the inclusion of maps. There is a map for the first part, but it doesn't have Lyonya on it, nor several other important places found in the second and third parts.

There are two other related books, at least one a prequel, but I haven't read them, and the trilogy works as a unit.

I found the book to be a compelling read, and I am glad I read it. Thanks for reading.

* * * * *

Addendum, December 22, 2008. The author, Elizabeth Moon, has recently posted a short essay on the different kinds of magic in the Paksenarrion books.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Mercy's Song

Then said Mercy-

Let the Most Blessed be my guide,
If't be His blessed will;
Unto His gate, into His fold,
Up to His holy hill.

And let Him never suffer me
To swerve or turn aside
From His free grace, and holy ways,
Whate'er shall me betide.

And let Him gather them of mine,
That I have left behind;
Lord, make them pray they may be Thine,
With all their heart and mind.

This is an extract from the second part of Pilgrim's Progress, by John Bunyan (1684, public domain). Mercy accompanied Christiana, Christian's wife, on the way to the Celestial city.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Dan Simmons: The Hyperion novels

Over a year ago, I set forth some goals for future posts, or at least indicated where I might be going. I think I have followed through pretty well, for a lazy retired person, with two exceptions.

One of these is that I have yet to post on the best work of fiction by C. S. Lewis, namely Till We Have Faces. The other is that I have yet to post on some of the works of Dan Simmons. I'm going to try to begin to remedy the latter lack with this post.

The Hyperion novels are four books, each rather large, set in the future, and having something to do with the planet Hyperion. There is a Wikipedia article on the novels, which are Hyperion, The Fall of Hyperion, Endymion, and The Rise of Endymion. Hyperion won the Nebula Award in 1990. The article has links to each novel, and, if you are interested, you can find out about the plots from these links. I will try to give away as little as possible of the plots in this post, but concentrate on other matters. Here's an article on these books, published by scifi.com.

There are three interesting features of these works, that, as an amateur (or know-nothing) I wish to comment on.

The first is that Simmons has tied his books to the English poet, John Keats, to a considerable extent. The titles of the books, and the names of some of the characters, come from Keats. One of the characters, Martin Silenus, is a poet, and Hyperion had a city of poets on it. In a sense, which I shall not give away, Keats, himself, is a character in the novels. Simmons clearly knows a lot about Keats, and admires his life, and his work.

Keats is perhaps best-known for "Ode on a Grecian Urn," a poem of five verses, ten lines each. It closes with this:
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,”—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

Although it isn't poetry, much of the first book is stories, as told by some of the main characters to each other.

The second aspect of these works that particularly interests me is the use of characters which exist mainly, or solely, in cyberspace. Although not unique to Simmons, I believe Simmons has carried this as far as any prominent writer of fantastic literature. Some of the most important characters in the book are of this type. In fact, Simmons has created a whole population of them, divided ideologically into groups, depending mostly on what sort of relationship they believe they should have with humans.

As with the computer on which I am currently composing this post, the computers of the Hyperion novels are critical to human existence, tied together in a vast network, and also parasites on humans. There is some resolution of the relationship between humans and cyberbeings in the novels. I wouldn't go so far as to say that Simmons was being prophetic when he wrote this, but who knows?

The third aspect I want to mention is the use of religion by Simmons. There are a number of religions mentioned, including both Shiite and Sunni Moslems, Jews, Catholics, which exist now, and new ones made up by the author, including Zen Gnostics, the Templars, and the Shrike Cult. (See, among other places, pages 199-200 of Hyperion.) Most of these play important roles in the books, and the books would have been radically different if Simmons hadn't presented the religions as serious in the lives of the people of the 2700s.

There are particular uses of crucifixion, holy communion, and resurrection -- all non-standard, but clearly recognizable -- in these books, and, again, they wouldn't have been the same books if these ideas hadn't been major features.

Here's a quote from a minor character, who was a Catholic father, and an Archaeologist:
Was it so dark a sin to interpret such ambiguous data in a way which could have meant the resurgence of Christianity in our lifetime?
Yes, it was. But not, I think, because of the sin of tampering with the data, but the deeper sin of thinking that Christianity could be saved. The Church is dying, Edouard. And not merely our beloved branch of the Holy Tree, but all of its offshoots, vestiges and cankers. The entire body of Christ is dying as surely as this poorly used body of mine, Edouard. (p. 37 of Hyperion.)

One of the characters, Sol Weintraub, is an expert on the story of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac. Here's an interchange between Sol and his daughter:
"Dad," said Rachel, "I'm going to ask you a question I've asked about a million times since I was two. Do you believe in God?"
Sol had not smiled. He had no choice but to give her the answer he had given her a million times. "I'm waiting to," he said. (p. 252 of Hyperion.)

Here's another relevant quote:
"Jesus Christ was said to be fully human," she said. "And also fully divine. Humanity and Godhead at intersection."
I was amazed at her reference to that old religion. (p. 58 of The Fall of Hyperion.)

As you might gather from the above material, it would be a serious stretch to call these Christian novels, but they do consider the claims of Christianity in fictional form. You will probably also gather that I think the series went downhill from Hyperion. However, there was a long way to go -- Hyperion is a great book. (Not perfect, of course -- I haven't quite figured out the Shrike, in spite of more than one reading of these books.)

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

I'm honored

Susan Palwick, no less, has honored this blog with a Thinking Blogger award.

By policy, I don't participate in memes. It's tempting, though.

Thank you so much!

St. Augustine, Exegesis, and Origins

The June, 2005 issue of Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith is now available freely on the Internet. I found one of the articles to be of especial interest. (You may have different interests -- look at the Table of Contents) That was "The Relevance of Augustine's View of Creation Re-evaluated," by Andrew J. Brown. Although the article is indicated as being for students and scientists in the early part of their careers, it is not an instant read, because it is 12 .PDF pages long, and because the issues are complex. Brown writes well, and understands the relevant literature. Any intelligent person who reads English, and has some idea of what "exegesis" means, should be able to comprehend what Brown has to say.

As Brown says, "Augustine is perhaps the most important thinker amongst church fathers on creation in Genesis." (p. 135) (See here for Wikipedia article on St. Augustine.)

One reason Brown has written this article is that Augustine gets misquoted, or quoted out of context. Another reason is that the very important issue of when the earth, and its inhabitants, were created, remains just that, an important issue.

It is not possible to summarize all that Brown says about Augustine in the space usually allotted to a blog post, and without plagiarizing Brown. Let me put it this way -- Augustine does not fall readily into any of the categories of beliefs on origins that come readily to mind in the present day (such as young-earth creationism, day-age belief, and the like) and he believed that Genesis 1 could be interpreted in more than one way.

People concerned about exegesis, about Augustine, and about origins owe it to themselves to read Brown's article.

Thanks for reading this post.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Sunspots 109


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

Science: Many new species have been found in the ocean off Antarctica.

Battery electricity is a lot more expensive than house current.

Exhibit A on why blanket rejection of mainstream science gives Christianity a black eye -- a post against the idea that the earth revolves around the sun, in the name of Christianity. Make that two black eyes, and a bloody nose.

A National Public Radio report on why it is so hard to lose weight and keep it off, and on why people try diets again and again, even though they don't usually work.

This week's Christian Carnival is here. For information on these Carnivals, go here .

Thanks for reading! Keep clicking away.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Christ as light

Here are a few Bible passages, from the ESV, that present Christ as the light:

Luke 2:29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation
31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.” [Spoken by Simeon, on seeing the infant Christ.]

John 1:6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.

John 8:12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

John 12:46 I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. 47 If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. 48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.

1 Timothy 6:13 I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before [4] Pontius Pilate made the good confession, 14 to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

Revelation 21:23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.

Thanks for reading.

On the roles of science and theology, by John F. Haught

I have read John F. Haught's Is Nature Enough: Meaning and Truth in the Age of Science. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006) I highly recommend the book. It is well written, by a knowledgeable scholar who is unquestionably a believer in a transcendent and omnipotent God, understandable, and only 215 pages long. Here's a key quote:

Theological explanation can coexist quite comfortably and noncompetitively with scientific explanation. How so? To begin with, theology does not emulate the kind of explanation that science gives with respect to natural causes. Although theology must be conversant with the methods and fruits of scientific discovery, it cannot imitate the scientific way of explaining things without losing its own identity. Discourse about divine action, moreover, must begin with metaphor or analogy,or else it is likely to appear as though the notion of divine creativity is competing with scientific accounts of natural causes. A major reason why "Intelligent Design Theory" draws so much justified animosity from both scientists and theologians today is that it attempts to situate divine action, barely disguised as "Intelligent Design," in an explanatory slot that is customarily reserved for science. Theology has a legitimate explanatory role in an extended hierarchy of explanations, but it is not an alternative to scientific understanding. (p. 60)

Thanks for reading. Read Haught! (Here's a later post on the same book, covering more issues.)

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Christian's Conduct at the Hour of Death

{392} Christian's conflict at the hour of death

Then said the other, Be of good cheer, my brother, I feel the bottom, and it is good. Then said Christian, Ah! my friend, the sorrows of death hath compassed me about; I shall not see the land that flows with milk and honey; and with that a great darkness and horror fell upon Christian, so that he could not see before him. Also here he in great measure lost his senses, so that he could neither remember nor orderly talk of any of those sweet refreshments that he had met with in the way of his pilgrimage. But all the words that he spake still tended to discover that he had horror of mind, and heart fears that he should die in that river, and never obtain entrance in at the gate. Here also, as they that stood by perceived, he was much in the troublesome thoughts of the sins that he had committed, both since and before he began to be a pilgrim. It was also observed that he was troubled with apparitions of hobgoblins and evil spirits, for ever and anon he would intimate so much by words. Hopeful, therefore, here had much ado to keep his brother's head above water; yea, sometimes he would be quite gone down, and then, ere a while, he would rise up again half dead. Hopeful also would endeavour to comfort him, saying, Brother, I see the gate, and men standing by to receive us: but Christian would answer, It is you, it is you they wait for; you have been Hopeful ever since I knew you. And so have you, said he to Christian. Ah! brother! said he, surely if I was right he would now arise to help me; but for my sins he hath brought me into the snare, and hath left me. Then said Hopeful, My brother, you have quite forgot the text, where it is said of the wicked, "There are no bands in their death, but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men, neither are they plagued like other men. [Ps. 73:4,5] These troubles and distresses that you go through in these waters are no sign that God hath forsaken you; but are sent to try you, whether you will call to mind that which heretofore you have received of his goodness, and live upon him in your distresses.

{393} Then I saw in my dream, that Christian was as in a muse a while. To whom also Hopeful added this word, Be of good cheer, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole; and with that Christian brake out with a loud voice, Oh, I see him again! and he tells me, "When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee, and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee." [Isa. 43:2] Then they both took courage, and the enemy was after that as still as a stone, until they were gone over. Christian therefore presently found ground to stand upon, and so it followed that the rest of the river was but shallow. Thus they got over. Now, upon the bank of the river, on the other side, they saw the two shining men again, who there waited for them; wherefore, being come out of the river, they saluted them, saying, We are ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for those that shall be heirs of salvation. Thus they went along towards the gate.

This is an extract from Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan (1678, public domain. One version gives paragraph numbers.) Bunyan included the scriptural references in the book. Pilgrim's Progress, though little read now, was important enough to have been considered, for a century or two, the most important writing in English, except for the Bible.

HOPE. is Hopeful, Christian's companion, and CHR. is Christian, the main character of this book, on his way from the City of Destruction to the Heavenly City.

(I am publishing this out of sequence, since I went ahead to the second part of the book for last week's Mother's Day post.)

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Quantum physics requires that minds be non-physical

In a recent article in First Things, "Faith and Quantum Physics," Stephen M. Barr argues that quantum physics, one of the most non-common sense, and also one of the most successful, theories of modern science, requires that human minds be non-physical. As Barr points out, he is not the first to say this -- other prominent thinkers have done so. He also points out that some of the opposition to the seeming weirdness of quantum physics is because of exactly this conclusion.

Barr's argument goes like this:

Predictions of any kind, made as statements of probability, such as, for example, which party will win the U. S. Presidential election of 2004, are meaningless unless they predict a measurable actual outcome. There was an election, and the Republicans won, however that happened, and whatever has become of it. Quantum physics makes predictions about physical systems, in the form of mathematical equations. (There are no equations in Barr's article) But these are usually measured by laboratory devices, which are, themselves, physical systems, and the same mathematical equations apply to them, and are only predictions. Says Barr:
And this leads to the remarkable conclusion of this long train of logic: As long as only physical structures and mechanisms are involved, however complex, their behavior is described by equations that yield only probabilities-and once a mind is involved that can make a rational judgment of fact, and thus come to knowledge, there is certainty. Therefore, such a mind cannot be just a physical structure or mechanism completely describable by the equations of physics.

There is more in Barr's article, for sure. He also says that quantum physics is more congenial to Judeo-Christianity than it is to Buddhism, and that quantum physics presents strong arguments against determinism, or, in other words, for free choice. He finally examines the different philosophical views that are used to explain the findings of quantum physics, and comes down as in favor of the approach of Neils Bohr, although he understands that Bohr's thinking had some weak spots.

It is refreshing, but should not be surprising, that a physicist states that a great scientific theory provides evidence that a mind is not simply a material object, and that such minds make real choices. After all, God's revelation includes the natural world, as well as the Bible.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Sunspots 108


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





Science:
Astronomers have discovered a very hot planet. They have examined weather patterns on it.

Some enormous crystals have been found in a mine in Mexico. They are up to 50 feet long. The web page includes photos.

Politics:
Why $4 gas (per gallon) is good for the US.

Music:
The title says it: "Music at the Theological Roundtable: What it teaches us about God and the universe," a "classic" article from Christianity Today .


Literature:
There are probably a lot of these, but this is the first one I've seen, and it's pretty good -- a Christian's view of the Harry Potter series, in advance of the publication of the last book.

Mirtika, quoting someone who quoted Ray Bradbury on the dichotomy between science fiction and fantasy.

Great post on the notion that reading fantasy may harm a weaker Christian brother (or sister).

Susan Palwick, Christian, fantasy writer, hospital volunteer, etc., turns out to be a poet, too, and a very good one, writing about her experiences in the hospital. There are links from her post to previous poetry on the same subjects. (A review of Palwick's The Fate of Mice, a short story collection, in Sci Fi weekly, is here.)


Christianity:
In Christianity Today, what holiness really is.

Bonnie on sex, yet again. She considers the question of whether sexual activity should be fun or not, quite seriously.



This week's Christian Carnival is here. For information on these Carnivals, go here.


Thanks for reading! Keep clicking away.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A Biblical mandate for scientific study

This verse hit me this morning as I was reading my devotions:

Psalm 111:2 Great are the works of the Lord,
studied by all who delight in them. (ESV)

How true! God's works are great, and studying them, as many great and not-so-great scientists (such as Isaac Newton) have believed, is a way of learning about God Himself. It's also a delight. In other words, nature is one of God's revelations to us.

. . . Newton appeared to believe that divine attributes could be read in the book of nature. The fact that the light of the fixed stars is one with the light of the Sun pointed to the unity of the Godhead; the fact that star systems had been placed at such immense distances from each other, preventing what would otherwise be an uncomfortable implosion, was a mark of wisdom and foresight. John Brooke, "The God of Isaac Newton," pp. 168-183, in Let Newton be!, edited by John Fauvel, Raymond Flood, Michael Shortland, and Robin Wilson. New York: Oxford, 1988. Quote is from p. 171.

For Isaac Newton and other architects of the modern scientific worldview, the "laws of nature" were a direct expression of God's will -- God's control of all physical processes. Nancey Murphy, "Divine Action in the Natural Order: Buridan's Ass and Schrödinger's Cat," pp. 325 - 357 in Chaos and Complexity: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action, edited by Robert John Russell, Nancey Murphy and Arthur R. Peacocke. Vatican City State: Vatican Observatory Publications, 1997. Quote is from p. 325.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Christiana, mother, answers the call

Next morning, when she was up, had prayed to God, and talked with her children a while, one knocked hard at the door, to whom she spake out, saying, If thou comest in God's name, come in. So he said, Amen, and opened the door, and saluted her with "Peace be to this house." The which, when he had done, he said, Christiana, knowest thou wherefore I am come? Then she blushed and trembled, also her heart began to wax warm with desires to know whence he came, and what was his errand to her. So he said unto her, My name is Secret; I dwell with those that are high. It is talked of, where I dwell, as if thou hadst a desire to go thither; also, there is a report, that thou art aware of the evil thou hast formerly done to thy husband, in hardening of thy heart against his way, and in keeping of these thy babes in their ignorance. Christiana, the Merciful One has sent me to tell thee, that He is a God ready to forgive, and that He taketh delight to multiply to pardon offences. He also would have thee know, that He inviteth thee to come into His presence, to His table, and that He will feed thee with the fat of His house, and with the heritage of Jacob thy father.

There is Christian thy husband (that was), with legions more, his companions, ever beholding that face that doth minister life to beholders; and they will all be glad when they shall hear the sound of thy feet step over thy Father's threshold.

Christiana at this was greatly abashed in herself, and bowing her head to the ground, this Visitor proceeded, and said, Christiana, here is also a letter for thee, which I have brought from thy husband's King. So she took it and opened it, but it smelt after the manner of the best perfume (Song. 1:3); also it was written in letters of gold. The contents of the letter was, That the King would have her do as did Christian her husband; for that was the way to come to His city, and to dwell in His presence with joy forever. At this the good woman was quite overcome; so she cried out to her visitor, Sir, will you carry me and my children with you, that we also may go and worship this King?

Then said the visitor, Christiana, the bitter is before the sweet. Thou must through troubles, as did he that went before thee, enter this Celestial City. Wherefore I advise thee to do as did Christian thy husband. Go to the wicket-gate yonder, over the plain, for that stands in the head of the way up which thou must go, and I wish thee all good speed. Also I advise that thou put this letter in thy bosom; that thou read therein to thyself, and to thy children, until you have got it by rote of heart, for it is one of the songs that thou must sing while thou art in this house of thy pilgrimage (Psa. 119:54); also this thou must deliver in at the further gate.

This is an extract from the second part of Pilgrim's Progress, by John Bunyan (1684, public domain). Thanks for reading!

Blessed Mother's Day, especially to my wife, mother, daughter, sisters-in-law, nieces and nieces-in-law who are mothers or are about to be. Also to my readers who are mothers, or are going to be. God bless you all.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Conservative: What is That?

In a recent post, I labeled a prominent Christian as a "conservative." A commenter gently disagreed, pointing out that, in the case of this individual, that was wrong, or at least too simple. I confess that I know little about the person I labeled. I do know that not defining terms, and assuming that others agree with you on definitions is a common mistake -- way too common. I've done it, and so have you. The "others," whoever they are, won't always agree with you, or me, on those definitions.

There are several ideas about being conservative floating around in our discourse in the US, most or all of them somewhat negative:
1) A Republican
2) A Christian, or at least a Christian who is associated with certain denominations or institutions (for example, a Southern Baptist) as opposed to other liberal Christians, who are associated with other denominations or institutions.
3) A person who believes that government spending, and the role of government, should be minimized
4) A person who wants to go back to the past, or who resists change
5) A person who is intolerant of other ideas, or of other types of people
6) A person who is careful, maybe stingy, with her personal finances
7) A person who dresses and acts carefully
8) A racist
9) A person who interprets the Bible, or constitutional law, in such a way as to honor what she believes to be the original meaning, and opposes new interpretations
10) A person who favors the interests of businesses, as opposed to consumers, taxpayers, or the general public
11) A person who supports the use of weapons, both by individuals, and by the U. S.
12) A person who believes that human embryos and fetuses should not be destroyed, even in medical experiments

Some of these are related, and probably there are some people who would be rated as conservative on all twelve of these. But, of course, there are people who don't fit into all of them. For example, some so-called conservatives 3) were quite unhappy with the spending habits of the Republican Congress and the President 1).

A similar list could be produced for Liberal, also with lots of negative connotations. For example, in opposition to 10) above, a liberal is often thought of as favoring labor unions, as opposed to businesses, taxpayers, or the general public.

The Free Dictionary says the following, about the adjective form of conservative:
1. Favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change.
2. Traditional or restrained in style: . . .
3. Moderate; cautious:

One area where "conservative" is often used is in relation to biblical interpretation. The Wikipedia, in its article on Higher Criticism, says that conservative Bible scholars oppose the "rationalistic and naturalistic presuppositions" of Higher Criticism, and, instead, operate within "supernaturalist and confessional frameworks." A Google search for the words conservative Bible scholar seems to generate a number of web pages where these words are found, but, except for the source mentioned in the first sentence of this paragraph, few, if any, definitions of what such a scholar believes.

I'm afraid that, as usual, someone using a word that can be controversial needs to define the meaning carefully. I didn't.

There are good aspects of conservatism, such as trying to preserve the good, or being careful, just as there are good aspects of liberalism, such as embracing new good ideas, and being generous.

The bible orders liberality, in one case, at least, and commends it in Proverbs 11:25. I don't believe that "conservative" occurs in the Bible, but there are commendations for being true to God's intent, for example.

A complex subject. Thanks for reading.

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Knight, by Gene Wolfe

I have read Gene Wolfe's The Knight. (New York: Tom Doherty, 2004).

Wolfe is one of the most important authors of fantastic fiction. If I had to place his work into a category of such fiction, I guess it would be "sword and sorcery" fantasy, but that's like saying that Michael Jordan played basketball. Wolfe's fiction is not run of the mill work. It is well written, imaginative, unique, and complex. He is good with imaginary settings -- you think you are in the world he has made while you are reading. Some people think he has put puzzles into his work for the reader to solve.

Wolfe's work is influenced by his Catholic faith. His best known works are the four novels of The Earth of the New Sun, which are The Shadow of the Torturer, The Claw of the Conciliator, The Sword of the Lictor, and The Citadel of the Autarch. I have had the privilege of reading these books more than once, and, God willing, will someday read them all again. The setting is an earth far in the future. There are aspects of this earth that seem medieval, such as the use of swords, but there are also aspects that imply that humans have spread to other worlds. Two of the hints of Wolfe's faith are the Conciliator (who does not appear in the books -- Christ is referred to as the mediator between God and man) and the consumption of the flesh of those recently dead as a way of communicating with them. (Which is not to equate cannibalism with worship!) Perhaps I should post further about these books at a later date.

What about The Knight? As usual, I will try not to give away the plot, but just concentrate on some features that interest me. One such is that the book is set in a world with seven levels: Elysion, Kleos, Skai, Mythgarten, Aelfrice, Muspel and Niflheim. I recognize some of these from Norse mythology. There are some other connections to those stories in the book. I would guess that some of the other names might be from other mythology. Aelf is a variant spelling of Elf, and Skai of Sky. There are connections between these worlds, and connections between our world, and this one. The world is complex, and Wolfe has provided an eight page listing of names from the book, with a few lines of information about each one. The book is rather long -- 527 pages.

The protagonist is Able, of the High Heart, as he is called in the world connecting to ours, and there is quite a bit of emphasis on the honorable, unselfish life of a knight. Able attaches himself (or the reverse) to a number of people in the book, mainly of good peasant stock, and it is interesting to see how a character or two that seem minor when introduced come back into prominence before the end.

Able buries a minor character, and places a cross on the grave (p. 77). Christian symbolism for sure. There is reference to the Most High God (p. 81). For most readers, this wouldn't make Wolfe's work Christian fiction, but it is surely influenced by Christian ideas and symbolism. He's a great writer, if you are able (sorry) to read fantastic literature.

I am looking forward to reading the sequel, The Wizard.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Kepler's prayer -- a prayer for scientists

In his God's Universe (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2006) Owen Gingerich, an astronomer and Kepler scholar, refers to Johannes Kepler, the great astronomer, more than once. He quotes Kepler thus:

If I have been enticed into brashness by the wonderful beauty of thy works, or if I have loved my own glory among men, while advancing in work destined for thy glory, gently and mercifully pardon me: and finally, deign graciously to cause that these demonstrations may lead to thy glory and to the salvation of souls, and nowhere be an obstacle to that. Amen. - The Harmony of the World, 1619, end of book 5, Chapter 9. Gingerich cites previous translators, which his own translation relied on.

All I can say is to repeat the last word of Kepler's prayer.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Sunspots 107


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




Science:
The apparent new appearance, due to mutations, of a protein that serves as a gated ion channel. Michael Behe, in Darwin's Black Box, according to the article (I don't have a copy available) said that gated ion channels were irreducibly complex, and thus evidence for Intelligent Design.

A Science and Engineering Encyclopedia. For biology, it's more of a dictionary, and the Wikipedia is far better, at least so far. Said to be good for engineering.

The Encyclopedia of Life is also in its infancy, but the hope is to have a good web page up for every species now alive.

He Lives gives some good arguments for accepting the findings of science as part of God's revelation, and says that some people should be called a "fundamentalist liberal" because they add "things and requirements that he is sure God intended but never got around to actually telling us" to scripture.

Wired on scandals involving poor people from India selling their kidneys. There are links to related stories.

There are reports of the brightest star explosion ever observed.

I discovered, to my amazement, that there are homosexual men who actively seek to become infected with HIV, known as "bugchasers."

Sports:
The National Basketball Association (NBA) playoffs are down to eight teams. Although most of the players on all teams are African-American, only one of these eight, the Cleveland Cavaliers, is coached by an African-American, Mike Brown.




This week's Christian Carnival is here. For information on these Carnivals, go here .


Thanks for reading! Keep clicking away.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Science and glory

I believe that the Bible teaches that one of the ways God has revealed Himself to us is through the natural world. (Psalm 19, Romans 1:20) I believe that we, fallen beings that we are, can and do make mistakes in our interpretation of this, and His other revelations, but that, nonetheless, they are all, including nature, legitimate.

The Bible says that "It is the glory of God to conceal a thing; But the glory of kings is to search out a matter. Proverbs 25:2 (ASV)" The ESV has very similar language, and so do all other versions of the Bible that I have seen.

Many people have seen God's glory in various displays of natural beauty and majesty, from the microscopic to the telescopic. If His glory is seen in nature, (Psalm 19:1) then studying nature should increase our appreciation of His glory.

Proverbs 25:2 seems to be telling us that not only is God's glory seen in nature, but that we can get glory (although we aren't kings) by seeking out the ways and secrets of the natural world, in other words, by being scientists. It isn't the only way, of course, but it's a legitimate way to get glory for ourselves, and, more importantly, to increase our appreciation of God's glory.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Are Christians required to be vegetarians? (With a note about Hindus)

From time to time, I read materials that advocate vegetarianism, or, even more strongly, claim that Christians are required to be vegetarians. I sympathize, to some degree, and would not quarrel with anyone who, by conscience, believed that she should be a vegetarian. There may be health benefits to vegetarianism, or health dangers from eating meat, and there are issues of cruelty to animals in some kinds of farming. However, to require or expect that all Christians be vegetarians is a different matter. The Bible doesn't support such a stand.

See the following scriptures:

Genesis 9:2-3 Noah and his descendants were given animals to eat after the flood.

Exodus 12:3-10, Luke 22:7-13 The Passover, in both Old and New Testaments, included the consumption of meat. (It does not describe consuming it in Luke, but does mention that the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed, and, presumably, Jesus and his disciples ate the lamb.)

Leviticus 11 forbids eating many animals, but it allows eating quite a few.

John 6 Jesus fed the multitude with bread and fish.

John 21:13 Jesus gave his disciples fish to eat after His resurrection.

According to Luke 24:36-43, Jesus ate some fish after He was resurrected:
36
As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them. (ESV)

Acts 10:13-15 uses a vision of animals that Peter is to eat. He is repulsed, not by the fact that they are animals, but by the fact that some of them are forbidden, for example in Leviticus 11.

Acts 15:20 The church conference allowed meat to be eaten under some circumstances.

I Cor. 8 It is not intrinsically wrong to eat meat offered to idols.

I Tim. 3:3-5 No food is intrinsically wrong to eat.

I don’t see how you can argue that Christians, in general, should not eat meat without ignoring quite a bit of scripture.

Loma Linda University, a Seventh Day Adventist institution, has a vegetarian resources page. (Seventh Day Adventists, as I understand them, believe in vegetarianism for religious reasons.)

A book by D. N. Jha, The Myth of the Holy Cow, published in 2002, indicates that vegetarianism among Hindus is relatively new, and that, in former times, beef was frequently consumed by Hindus. An article in The Hindu gives information about the book. This is a controversial subject, and apparently some Hindus have gotten violent over Jha's ideas. To find reasons why most Hindus are vegetarian, search for the words Hindu vegetarian.

An article in Seattle Weekly explains how vegans have influenced companies like McDonald's to require better care, and more humane killing, of animals.

Here's the Wikipedia article on vegetarianism.

Thanks for reading. Eat healthily.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Sinless Sacrifice

{346} HOPE. Do! I could not tell what to do, until I brake my mind to Faithful, for he and I were well acquainted. And he told me, that unless I could obtain the righteousness of a man that never had sinned, neither mine own, nor all the righteousness of the world could save me.

CHR. And did you think he spake true?

HOPE. Had he told me so when I was pleased and satisfied with mine own amendment, I had called him fool for his pains; but now, since I see mine own infirmity, and the sin that cleaves to my best performance, I have been forced to be of his opinion.

{347} CHR. But did you think, when at first he suggested it to you, that there was such a man to be found, of whom it might justly be said that he never committed sin?

HOPE. I must confess the words at first sounded strangely, but after a little more talk and company with him, I had full conviction about it.

CHR. And did you ask him what man this was, and how you must be justified by him?

HOPE. Yes, and he told me it was the Lord Jesus, that dwelleth on the right hand of the Most High. And thus, said he, you must be justified by him, even by trusting to what he hath done by himself, in the days of his flesh, and suffered when he did hang on the tree. I asked him further, how that man's righteousness could be of that efficacy to justify another before God? And he told me he was the mighty God, and did what he did, and died the death also, not for himself, but for me; to whom his doings, and the worthiness of them, should be imputed, if I believed on him. [Heb. 10, Rom. 6, Col. 1, 1 Pet. 1]

{348} CHR. And what did you do then?

HOPE. I made my objections against my believing, for that I thought he was not willing to save me.

CHR. And what said Faithful to you then?

HOPE. He bid me go to him and see. Then I said it was presumption; but he said, No, for I was invited to come. [Matt. 11:28] Then he gave me a book of Jesus, his inditing, to encourage me the more freely to come; and he said, concerning that book, that every jot and tittle thereof stood firmer than heaven and earth. [Matt. 24:35] Then I asked him, What I must do when I came; and he told me, I must entreat upon my knees, with all my heart and soul, the Father to reveal him to me. [Ps. 95:6, Dan. 6:10, Jer. 29:12,13] Then I asked him further, how I must make my supplication to him? And he said, Go, and thou shalt find him upon a mercy-seat, where he sits all the year long, to give pardon and forgiveness to them that come. I told him that I knew not what to say when I came. And he bid me say to this effect: God be merciful to me a sinner, and make me to know and believe in Jesus Christ; for I see, that if his righteousness had not been, or I have not faith in that righteousness, I am utterly cast away. Lord, I have heard that thou art a merciful God, and hast ordained that thy Son Jesus Christ should be the Saviour of the world; and moreover, that thou art willing to bestow him upon such a poor sinner as I am, (and I am a sinner indeed); Lord, take therefore this opportunity and magnify thy grace in the salvation of my soul, through thy Son Jesus Christ. Amen. [Exo. 25:22, Lev. 16:2, Num. 7:89, Heb. 4:16]

{349} CHR. And did you do as you were bidden?

HOPE. Yes; over, and over, and over.

CHR. And did the Father reveal his Son to you?

HOPE. Not at the first, nor second, nor third, nor fourth, nor fifth; no, nor at the sixth time neither.

CHR. What did you do then?

HOPE. What! why I could not tell what to do.

CHR. Had you not thoughts of leaving off praying?

HOPE. Yes; an hundred times twice told.

CHR. And what was the reason you did not?

HOPE. I believed that that was true which had been told me, to wit, that without the righteousness of this Christ, all the world could not save me; and therefore, thought I with myself, if I leave off I die, and I can but die at the throne of grace. And withal, this came into my mind, "Though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry." [Heb. 2:3] So I continued praying until the Father showed me his Son.

{350} CHR. And how was he revealed unto you?

HOPE. I did not see him with my bodily eyes, but with the eyes of my understanding; [Eph. 1:18,19] and thus it was: One day I was very sad, I think sadder than at any one time in my life, and this sadness was through a fresh sight of the greatness and vileness of my sins. And as I was then looking for nothing but hell, and the everlasting damnation of my soul, suddenly, as I thought, I saw the Lord Jesus Christ look down from heaven upon me, and saying, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." [Acts 16:30,31]

{351} But I replied, Lord, I am a great, a very great sinner. And he answered, "My grace is sufficient for thee." [2 Cor.12:9] Then I said, But, Lord, what is believing? And then I saw from that saying, "He that cometh to me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on me shall never thirst", that believing and coming was all one; and that he that came, that is, ran out in his heart and affections after salvation by Christ, he indeed believed in Christ. [John 6:35] Then the water stood in mine eyes, and I asked further. But, Lord, may such a great sinner as I am be indeed accepted of thee, and be saved by thee? And I heard him say, "And him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out." [John 6:37] Then I said, But how, Lord, must I consider of thee in my coming to thee, that my faith may be placed aright upon thee? Then he said, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." [1 Tim. 1:15] "He is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth." [Rom. 10:4] "He died for our sins, and rose again for our justification." [Rom. 4:25] "He loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood." [Rev. 1:5] "He is mediator betwixt God and us." [1 Tim. 2:5] "He ever liveth to make intercession for us." [Heb. 7:24,25] From all which I gathered, that I must look for righteousness in his person, and for satisfaction for my sins by his blood; that what he did in obedience to his Father's law, and in submitting to the penalty thereof, was not for himself, but for him that will accept it for his salvation, and be thankful. And now was my heart full of joy, mine eyes full of tears, and mine affections running over with love to the name, people, and ways of Jesus Christ.

{352} CHR. This was a revelation of Christ to your soul indeed; but tell me particularly what effect this had upon your spirit.

HOPE. It made me see that all the world, notwithstanding all the righteousness thereof, is in a state of condemnation. It made me see that God the Father, though he be just, can justly justify the coming sinner. It made me greatly ashamed of the vileness of my former life, and confounded me with the sense of mine own ignorance; for there never came thought into my heart before now that showed me so the beauty of Jesus Christ. It made me love a holy life, and long to do something for the honour and glory of the name of the Lord Jesus; yea, I thought that had I now a thousand gallons of blood in my body, I could spill it all for the sake of the Lord Jesus.

CHR. He told me once that he was resolved to go on pilgrimage, as we do now; but all of a sudden he grew acquainted with one Save-self, and then he became a stranger to me.


This is an extract from Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan (1678, public domain. One version gives paragraph numbers.) Bunyan included the scriptural references in the book. Pilgrim's Progress, though little read now, was important enough to have been considered, for a century or two, the most important writing in English, except for the Bible.

HOPE. is Hopeful, Christian's companion, and CHR. is Christian, the main character of this book, on his way from the City of Destruction to the Heavenly City.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Dialog on Science-Religion issues

My title does not mean to imply that science and Christianity are opposed. I don't believe that they should be. God is the author of truth, whether perceived through experiment, in the Bible, or as revealed to individuals by the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, we are fallen, and don't always perceive such truth as God meant it, through whatever means we are looking for it.

The American Scientific Affiliation is an organization of Christian, most of whom are also scientists. Some of them are quite prominent, like Francis Collins, head of the human genome project. Most aren't. The organization publishes a quarterly journal, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith. Articles are released to the Internet roughly two years after original publication. The Affiliation takes no position on issues of origins, other than that there is a God who is creator. Perspectives deals with other matters, such as stewardship of nature and medical ethics, as well as issues related to origins.

I recently received the March, 2007, issue of Perspectives. I found it excellent, mostly because of two dialogues. In both cases, the editor had persuaded authors with differing views to react to each other.

One such dialog concerned Intelligent Design (ID). Loren Haarsma ("Is Intelligent Design 'Scientific'?" Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 59:55-62, March 2007) pointed out, I believe correctly, that ID is partly scientific, partly philosophical, and partly theological, and that it is easy to concentrate on only one of these aspects, missing the others. (Unfortunately, in some court cases about teaching science in the public schools, ID advocates have seemed to claim that ID is only scientific.) Haarsma considers all three aspects in some detail, challenging ID to be good science, good philosophy, and good theology. He also says that ID's claims about origins should be restrained to something like "I believe that current knowledge does not fully explain how certain biological phenomena arose, and doubt if there will ever be a naturalistic explanation" rather than claiming that science has ruled out a naturalistic origin for them. On the other hand, he also says that anti-creation advocates should show similar restraint, as the evidence for anything else is scant, or non-existent, and should say something like "I believe that the evidence points to an evolutionary origin of certain biological phenomena, and that eventually, it will be possible to explain its origin naturalistically."

Michael J. Behe, perhaps the most important ID scientist (author of Darwin's Black Box) responded. He agreed with much of what Haarsma wrote. Here is a quote from Behe:
. . . the message "evolution or design, one or the other," is a flawed choice. To the extent that the public has gotten than impression, it is regrettable. There is nothing in the idea of intelligent design that precludes the design being unfolded over time, and I myself judge that scenario to be the most consistent with all of the data we currently have. What's more, I am mostly happy with [Haarsma's] statement, "suppose the laws of nature are fine-tuned not one for the self-assembly of molecules and stars and planets, but also for the self-assembly of biological life and biological complexity." Michael J. Behe, "The Positive Side of Intelligent Design: A Response to Loren Haarsma," Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 59:63, March 2007.

I deeply appreciate the thought of both Haarsma and Behe, and Perspectives for publishing both together.

Another dialog was between Hugh Ross, who is, in this dialog, anyway, labeled a Concordist, that is, one who believes that scientific findings, properly understood, should not contradict scripture, properly understood, and a critic, Paul Seely. Seely was quite critical of Ross, but Ross defended his views rather thoroughly. I don't claim enough expertise to judge between them. The issues are clearly spelled out in this dialog. See the Reasons to Believe website for more about Ross's beliefs. See here and here for some available publications, in previous issues of Perspectives, by Seely on these topics.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Sunspots 106


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

On May 6, it will be 02:03:04 on 05/06/07, or, if you don't like that, it will also be 12:03:04 on 05/06/07.

Science: The National Geographic says that the early English colonists caused some big changes to the ecology of the Eastern part of North America, by bringing in new species, including earthworms and honeybees, and by practices such as the intensive cultivation of tobacco (which is a New World plant).

A visual of all the known objects in the solar system that are more than 200 miles in diameter. (Two versions, one small and one large)

Semi-identical twins have been identified.

CNN reports that honeybee populations are declining, due to some unknown "Colony Collapse Disorder." This is a huge threat to the food supply.

Politics: (or something) Web presentation on the victims of gang violence in Oakland.

Sports: Slate on why basketball, especially NBA playoff basketball, is hard to watch on TV.

Computing: The NET Bible, when its new copyright policy is implemented, can be used in blogs. The ESV Bible has a copyright policy such that it can be quoted in blogs, without obtaining permission.

Someone saw fit to artificially enhance (digitally) Emma Watson, who plays Hermione in the Harry Potter movies. Shame.

Literature: E. Stephen Burnett on fantastic literature as escapist: "Instead, I contend, it is precisely because it is Escapist that we should read it."

Christianity: Arevanye has posted a poem by C. S. Lewis, on the seven deadly sins.

Thanks for reading! Keep clicking away.

Image source (public domain)