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Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Only Argument we Need -- The Only One that has any Merit

The following poetry was assembled by me, based on three hymns, or gospel songs, which are in the public domain:


Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For sinners such as I?

Chorus: I need no other argument,
I need no other plea,
It is enough that Jesus died,
And that He died for me.

Was it for crimes that I had done
He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!

My faith has found a resting place,
Not in device or creed;
I trust the ever living One,
His wounds for me shall plead.

My heart is leaning on the Word,
The living Word of God,
Salvation by my Savior's Name,
Salvation through His blood.

My tears of grief can not repay
The debt of love I owe:
Here, Lord, I give my self away
'Tis all that I can do.

May I be willing, Lord, to bear
My cross for You each day;
Oh, live your life in me, O Lord,
For this, O Christ, I pray.

It can be sung to any hymn tune which is in 8.6.8.6 meter. The three songs it is based on are "My Faith Has Found a Resting Place," generally sung to the tune Landas; "Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed," sung to the tune Liberty Hall; and "Lead Me to Calvary," sung to the tune Duncannon. (The links will play these tunes for you.)

Not only do we need no other argument or plea to thwart the punishment that we deserve for our sin, but Christ's sacrifice, validated by His resurrection, is the only one that has any merit -- the only way to pay sin's penalty.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Return of the Guardian King, by Karen Hancock

Return of the Guardian King is the fourth, and last, in a series of novels. The first three all won a Christy Award. This one didn't, and my own take on why it didn't is that it was too Christian. I'll try to explain what I mean by that, and I am going to give away parts of the plot in doing so.

See here for my post on the second and third novels in the series, and here for my assessment of whether they are, indeed, Christian novels.

God the Father is represented in these books by Eidon. Tersius, who died and was resurrected, and, in doing so, paid for sin, is God the Son. There isn't a God the Holy Spirit. The bible is represented by the Words.

In the first three books, Abramm, son of the late King of Kiriath, escapes a murder attempt. He becomes a slave, and, during this time, also becomes a formidable swordsman, which is a radical change from his earlier life as an apprentice priest. He comes to see that the priesthood is mostly apostate, and has been trying to take over the kingdom. He becomes a Terstan. He returns to take the kingdom from an evil younger brother. He also falls in love with Madeleine. Abramm is overthrown, and condemned to death. Some friends arrange to have the death faked, and Abramm leaves the country. His wife and two young sons also do, separately. They don't even know for sure that Abramm is alive. Abramm hears the voice of Eidon, telling him that he will regain the kingship, and his wife.

In the fourth book, that prophecy comes true. Now comes the "too Christian" part. Abramm hears the voice of Eidon quite a few times. He also has a lot of other miracles in his behalf. A lot. There were too many of these miraculous events to suit me. I don't really think you can be too Christian. But I think that you can invoke miraculous assistance too often. My disbelief had trouble being suspended.

As I indicated earlier, I thought Hancock invented new bad animals as needed. She wasn't done -- there's another one, or two, depending on how you count, in this book. Also, I had thought that the Eshurites and Black Moon were the villains. It turns out that they are co-villains. Another arch-villain is revealed in this fourth book. 

On the positive side, the novel can be taken as a long illustration of keeping faithful, no matter what, on the part of Abramm, Madeleine, and even their two small sons.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Are Karen Hancock's Guardian-King novels Christian novels?

A long time ago, in a fit of self-importance, I proposed to assess whether a novel was Christian or not. I proposed six criteria for that assessment. These are:

1) A Christ-figure.
2) Belief in important Christian doctrine.
3) Praying to a monotheistic divine being.
4) Expressing a relationship with God.
5) Consciousness of supernatural guidance.
6) Explicit rejection of personified evil.

I now apply this flawed instrument to the first three novels in Karen Hancock's series "Legends of the Guardian-King." See here and here for my posts on them, and for more details about these novels. It would be surprising if they didn't pass the test, as all three of them won the Christy award.

1) There is a Christ-figure, in fact two, one major, one not so major. Tersius, a supernatural being, son of Eidon, who stands in for God the Father, is explicitly said to have died to pay the penalty of sin, and, since he occasionally appears in the books, was also resurrected. The less important Christ-figure gave her life knowingly to protect Abramm from harm, in the first book. She was not resurrected, nor did her death pay a penalty for sin, but in a sense, she also was a Christ-figure. This woman is the woman that Abramm had a sexual encounter with, as mentioned in my post on the first book.
2) I have already indicated belief in an important Christian doctrine, namely that sin must be paid for, and that a perfect sacrifice is needed to pay for it. There are others, less explicit. The Writings don't occur much, but they have parallels with at least parts of the Bible.
3) Characters do pray to Eidon.
4) Abramm, the main character, realizes, when he puts on the object that signifies that he has become a Terstan, that there is a real, good, God. He feels this.
5) There are a number of occasions when Abramm asks for, and receives, supernatural guidance, or simply puts things in Eidon's hands. Other characters also do this.
6) There is rejection of personified evil. The evil beings are supernatural, and there is also an apostate religion, controlled by these beings.

As I say, it is not a surprise that these novels meet my test -- they are Christian. But it's my blog, and I wanted to go through the exercise. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Shadow Within and Shadow Over Kiriath, by Karen Hancock

I have previously discussed Karen Hancock's Light of Eidon in this blog.

I have now read the second and third books in her quartet of novels. Both of them also won Christy awards. They are The Shadow Within (Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House, 2004) and Shadow over Kiriath (same publisher, 2005) and

In these two books, Hancock stays on some well-beaten paths, in both fantasy literature and faith fiction. But she also departs from well-beaten paths.

First, the beaten paths. Abramm comes into the kingship in this pair of books. He also falls in love, and the object of his affections reciprocates. But there are difficulties. There is a religion, which is important to the characters, and the plot. None of that is a surprise. The same sort of aspects, including the religion, may be found even in fantasy literature which is not Christian. For example, see here.

Hancock departs from the beaten path in a few ways. One of them is that the Terstan faith, which is clearly meant to be a fictional Christianity, has what amounts to church services. Sometimes, Abramm receives prophetic guidance in the teaching, or sermon. Another, as I indicated in the first post on the series, is that those who are Terstans, as well as those who oppose that faith, wear, or have attached, tokens of their faith -- small stone-like objects. These are not merely passive. They can work magic. Another non-standard religious matter is that there is an apostate religion, which claims to honor Eidon, the name for God in the series. But this apostate religion emphasizes form rather than belief and heart attitude, and, it turns out, is captive to evil supernatural beings. Some of the followers of that apostate religion wear a different kind of token, which can also work magic.

The last non-standard item I wish to discuss is that, in the third book, the opening section, the close, and small parts of the in-between, are about an evil supernatural being, who wishes Abramm, and his kingdom, nothing but harm. This is something like The Screwtape Letters, but without any humor. The evil being can interact with other such, and even commands some of them. It also inhabits a member of Abramm's staff.

I think that Hancock may have overdone her menagerie of evil creatures. There are several kinds of beings which appear to be part animal, and part evil spirit, and she almost seemed to conjure a new type up whenever she needed them for a plot device.

Nonetheless, this is a good series. As I said in the previous post, I believe that it could have stood up as a fantasy series published by a publisher not overtly Christian, and I wish it had received the larger audience that that should have meant.

Thanks for reading. I'm glad that I read these books, and I look forward to reading the fourth. I'd like to know what's going to happen to Abramm.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sunspots 276

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


Politics:(or Christianity) A genuinely Christian response to the proposed mosque location in Manhattan.

CNN reports that Southern Sudan (which is not yet an independent country) hopes to build cities in the shapes of animals.

Computing:
There's a chapter by chapter summary of the Bible being produced, using a tweet for each chapter.

For kids, including pre-schoolers: Kidopo.com has games, coloring, and other goodies.





Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Consider the lilies, part 2

Anthers and stigma of red lily flower

The photo above is of a lily flower. I thought that it was only right that I include such a picture, since I didn't include it in my post on "Consider the Lilies." The six elongated objects are stamens, coated with pollen. The three-lobed object near the right edge is the stigma, which functions to catch pollen. This photo was not adjusted for color -- that's the way the camera took it, and the way my eye saw it. It is doubtful that people of  the time of Christ would have ever seen such a plant -- I'm pretty sure that it's the result of careful selection and breeding.

The photo is a link to my Flickr photo, where you can see larger sizes, if you wish.

Thanks for looking! I'm returning to more routine, or normal (for me, anyway) matters soon. I've been traveling.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Light of Eidon, by Karen Hancock

I occasionally post about fantastic literature that I have read. I recently decided to try a book that won a Christy Award, namely The Light of Eidon by Karen Hancock. (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2003) The book is a first novel, and also the first in a series of four. The first three of the books won Christy Awards, but the category names were not the same each year.

I have nothing against so-called faith fiction. But I prefer to read mainstream fiction -- fiction that is likely to be read more widely. I have been inspired, in various ways, by some well written fantastic fiction. I have mused in this blog about Christianity in books that were not aimed at a conservative Christian audience. See here for one such post. Light of Eidon, and other books that have won the Christy Awards, are written for and marketed to a primarily conservative Christian audience, most of it women.

So what is Christian about Light of Eidon? Well, Christianity, in slightly disguised form, is there, all right. Eidon is God. God has a son, Tersius:

"Why do you think Tersius had to die?"
"To make the Flames, of course."
"The Flames are a lie, created by the very darkness they claim to ward. But you're right about Eidon's being perfect and that He can't ignore our failings. There is a price to be paid. It's just that Tersius is the only one who could pay it." (p. 305. The first speaker is Trap Meridon, a follower of Tersius, or a Terstan. The second is Abramm, prince of Trap's country.)

So, there are clearly Christian elements in the book, including sacred writings. But this isn't surprising. Other works of fantastic fiction, especially sword and sorcery fiction, not apparently Christian, often have lots of religious aspects, such as the theology of Lois McMaster Bujold's Chalion novels, for an example. But the Christian elements in Light have a twist. That twist is that Terstans have an object, shield-like in shape, embedded in their chests, just below the neck. This shield, in addition to being a symbol, also imparts certain powers. One is that the wearer can produce another such object for another person. The shield has healing powers, and is able to repel magic from evil enemies. (No one can receive such a shield unless they want it, and unless they have faith in Eidon. Receiving such a shield is not a guarantee that the person will remain a true worshiper of Eidon. Someone who receives such a shield, and later becomes evil, gets sick. The main symptom of this is a crust, or curd, produced by the eyes.)

Evil is personified. There are evil people, who explicitly and purposefully serve an evil god. There are also several types of malevolent evil animals (or perhaps spirits -- I'm not clear on that).

I wish to say a little about the plot of the book. Abramm is a younger son of a king. He begins life wishing to do nothing but serve Eidon as a priest. So he enters priestly orders. But these priests, who use the Flames as part of their worship, are, as indicated in the quotation above, evil in nature. Eidon is good. The priestly order is evil, actually serving an evil god. Abramm's main instructor has not only been preparing him for service to an evil supernatural being, but he has been expecting to use him for political reasons. Abramm's brother, the king, is a lapsed Terstan. Abramm, and Trap, who is a master swordsman, flee from the capital, but are captured and enslaved. As slaves, they are trained to swordfight. They become gladiators, in other words. Eventually, they escape, and encounter a nation that has a majority, or nearly so, of Terstans.

In the meantime, Carissa, Abramm's sister, keeps looking for him. She finally finds him, just after Abramm, who has resisted Trap's continued invitation to become a Terstan, accepts it. Abramm resisted because he had such a bad experience with what was supposed to be representatives of Eidon. But Abramm finally agrees, and sees, immediately, that his spiritual quest is at end. Carissa, who is not a Terstan, and whose brother, the king, is the example of one that she knows best, is horrified. Abramm, as the book ends, fights the leading representative of the the evil god, which representative is also the king and general of a country which is trying to destroy Abramm's family, and subjugate his country. With the help of his newly acquired powers, he defeats the evil being both with his sword, and by repelling the magic that is used against him. He feels that he should go home. Carissa separates from him.

One aspect of the plot that I had better mention, for the sake of anyone who decided to read the book on my recommendation (an unlikely eventuality!) is that there is a sex scene in the book, between Abramm and a young woman who loves him. Both of them are slaves at the time, so marriage wasn't an option.

I've certainly read worse fantastic fiction, in terms of plot, characterization, and general writing. Hancock deserved the Christy Award, I believe. (Although I haven't read any of the non-winning nominees.) I would suspect that Light would have held its own if published by a mainstream publisher.

Thanks for reading. I hope to post on the additional books in the series soon. I also expect to post on the religious aspects of the book.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Plant growth: consider the lilies

"Consider the lilies how they grow: . . ." (Luke 12:27a, KJV)

Jesus apparently was teaching a lesson on trusting God for what we need. (See entire chapter.) So I am wresting scripture, or at least using it as it probably wasn't meant, but I have an excuse, namely that I'm not expounding on that Bible passage, but musing about a natural phenomenon. OK, sorry. Two more Bible references: Psalm 19 and Romans 1:20, where the Bible tells us that we can learn about God by observing nature.

First, what is a plant? Well, that's a good question. The Wikipedia says that, in the strict sense, plants are green organisms that carry out photosynthesis, and are multicellular. Unlike animal cells, which are generally flexible, plant cells have cell walls. As a result, the total plant is relatively inflexible, and cannot catch their food. They must make it, because they can't go after it. Plants have cellulose in their cell walls. There are some exceptions. A few plants can't carry on photosynthesis. This one can't:


Pine sap, not Indian pipe, showing flowers

(You can learn more about this plant by clicking on the photo as a link.) This plant is a close relative of plants that can carry out photosynthesis. It is multicellular. It even has flowers. But it has no chlorophyll, and doesn't carry on photosynthesis.

Fungi, and non-green algae, and bacteria, are not plants, to biologists of the 21st century. They used to be classified as such, but things have changed.

What is growth? Let's say that it means getting larger, and/or becoming more mature.

When animals grow, they basically add more cells. The cells do get larger, of course. If they didn't, every generation of cells would be half as large as the previous one, and soon the cells would be too small to function. But I grew by adding more cells, more or less all over my body, until I reached adult size. Plants do the same thing. They add more cells. But many plants do so in a somewhat different way. There are specialized tissues, called meristematic tissues, or meristem, where new plant cells are made, by cell division. For example, there is a cylinder of meristematic cells, between the bark and the wood of most trees, which is responsible for production of a new layer of wood each year. It is also responsible for production of a new layer of bark. That cylinder is called the vascular cambium. It divides, leaving new wood cells just inside the cylinder, and new bark cells just outside it. The vascular cambium makes its own new cells, too, and the cylinder expands, staying just outside the wood.

Buds have meristematic tissue in them. Some buds develop into flowers, some into leaves and twigs. Both types do so as their meristematic tissue produces more cells, which, after they have been split off, differentiate to take up their adult functions.

Animals have stem cells, of which plant meristematic cells are one type, but, generally, animals are more complex than plants, and animal cells, which lack a rigid cell wall, are more able to move and stretch out than plant cells, so it is more difficult to recognize animal stem cells.

We need to grow, too, as individuals and personalities. We don't do so in tiny compartments -- cells. We do so as a whole.

Oliver Wendell Holmes put it this way:
Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!

- from "The Chambered Nautilus," Chapter four of The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table (public domain).

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Sunspots 275

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




 

Humor:
(Except that this is a sad note) Cathy, the cartoon strip written and drawn by Cathy Guisewite, is ending after 34 years of gentle humor.

Science:
The Panda's Thumb reports on experimental results indicating that seemingly directed growth in chick embryos is actually the result of random cell movement.

Computing:
Wired reports on the history of well-known symbols, such as that for the On button on this computer.

Christianity:N. T. Wright reflects on C. S. Lewis.





Image source (public domain)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Give glory or not?

1 Samuel 5:4 And they said, “What is the guilt offering that we shall return to him?” They answered, “Five golden tumors and five golden mice, according to the number of the lords of the Philistines, for the same plague was on all of you and on your lords. 5 So you must make images of your tumors and images of your mice that ravage the land, and give glory to the God of Israel. Perhaps he will lighten his hand from off you and your gods and your land.
 
This was when the Israelites had taken the Ark of the Covenant into battle, and lost the battle, and the ark. All wasn't well for the Philistines, however. God sent them various troubles. The theology of the Philistines may not have been correct, but they knew that God was powerful (he had, among other things, removed the head of one of their idols without human help) and that they needed to do something to stop the plague and cancers (?) that he had sent to them. So they did their best to give Him glory.

Jesus had another take on the topic of glory, two in fact, in this passage:
John 5:41 I do not receive glory from people. 42 But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. 43 I have come in my Father's name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. 44 How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?

This should not be taken as an admonition not to glorify God. Jesus was speaking to bad people. He didn't want their glory. He wants ours. Romans 15:7 says "Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God." 1 Corinthians 10:31 has this admonition from Paul: "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." There are several other verses in the New Testament indicating that, whether Christ receives glory from us or not, we should give it, and, in a sense are, ourselves, part of that glory. (2 Corinthians 8:23 As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit. And as for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ.)
I am reading the Bible through in a year, and was struck by the first two passages above, from the May 9th and May 8th readings (This post got stuck in my drafts for quite a while!). All quotations are from the ESV. (emphasis added)


Thanks for reading!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

I'm a little hesitant to classify Princess Academy (New York: Bloomsbury, 2005), by Shannon Hale as Sword and Sorcery fantasy. The reason is that there is almost no magic in the book. However, it is set in a pre-gunpowder society, and there is at least one phenomenon inexplicable by our own technology. The book was a Newbery Honor winner, and the honor was deserved.

The title is appropriate. An official comes to the obscure mountain village of Mount Eskel to tell the villagers that the crown prince will be choosing his bride from among their eligible daughters. Twenty such young ladies, unable to so much as read, are sent off to an abandoned building several hours away, which, like the village, is on Mount Eskel, to be tutored. One of the young women is a "lowlander," not from the village, but has come there to live.

The protagonist is Miri, daughter of a widowed linder miner, and one of the girls sent to the academy. Everybody in the village is a linder miner. Linder is a stone, perhaps something like marble, that occurs only in Mount Eskel. When a deposit is mined out, the village moves to another location. Linder is beautiful. It can be polished, and holds its polish for centuries. It can also be carved. The villagers use it to trade for food and other goods -- they have little agriculture, partly because Mount Eskel is covered in snow for several months of the year.

The magic is that linder miners have to communicate over the noise of the mining, about details of how to access and remove linder from the mountain. Miri discovers, with help from her best friend, Peder, that this special communication can be silent, and can even take place over long distances, as long as the communicants are both in physical contact with linder. Until she found this out, the miners didn't know that much about their special communication, they just used it. What is communicated is shared experiences, not words, but choosing the right experience enables the sender to give suggestions on how to act. Miri is able to put her knowledge to good use to help the villagers.

There is a lot of discussion of the interplay between the 20 girls, and between them and their tutor. The girls also put their training in diplomacy, commerce, and other branches of knowledge, in ways that they, nor their tutor, expected. The character of the girls, and also of the tutor, and some of the miners, is well developed.

The village, and the country, have some religion, but it is not described, except that there are priests, and chapels.

I won't give away answer to the question suggested by the title -- who is going to become queen. I didn't see Hale's answer coming.

A good read.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Light of the Oracle by Victoria Hanley

I recently read another book by Victoria Hanley, and so decided to try The Light of the Oracle (New York: Random House, 2005). It's a good sword and sorcery book for young adults. ("Young adult" seems to mean something to the people who categorize library books than it means to everyone else.)

The book covered by this post seems to take place in the same kingdom/continent/something as the first one I read, but the two are quite independent. I'll give away a bit of the setting and the plot, but not a lot. The location for most of the action is a religious center, where a priest presides over priestesses and priests and priestesses in training, as well as soldiers and other servants. The religion is a pantheon of gods, at least some of which are both spirits and extra-terrestrial astronomical bodies (there is a brief glossary which helps a bit in understanding all this.) One of those gods is evil, and enables devotees to cast curses.

The book opens with the Master Priest coming to an obscure village, and selecting Bryn, a young adolescent, as a priestess in training. The Priest has been guided to do this supernaturally. On the way back to the Temple, however, Bryn, the girl, sees another young woman beside a desert road. Everyone else ignores her, but Bryn throws her a water bottle. Later, Bryn comes to know the outcast as Selid, and to know that Selid has ability to predict the future. (So does Bryn.) Bryn also comes to know that the Master Priest is using the predictive ability that he, and the other priests and priestesses, adult or in training, have, to do some political maneuvering. Finally, Bryn and her best friends, all of low-class stock, rebel, and are able to overthrow and kill the Master Priest. In the process, Selid sees that she, herself, will be killed, but is willing to suffer this, so that good may prevail over evil, which it does in the end.

An exciting book, well worth my time to read. I hope to read more Hanley.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Seer and the Sword, by Victoria Hanley

A beautiful young princess, with a stone that enables her to (sometimes) see the future. A prince without a kingdom, wandering anonymously in the world, trying to combat evil without killing anyone. A good king. A bad, really bad, guy. It must be a fairy story! Well, it is. The only thing lacking is an evil witch, or wizard. I found The Seer and the Sword (New York: Holiday House, 2000), by Victoria Hanley, on the Young Adult shelf of my local library. The book is substantial enough to be read comfortably by an adult. In fact, if you like fantastic fiction, you should read this one.

It's been a while since I posted on any type of fantastic literature. Here's one to make up for that lack.

I won't give away the plot, except for what I've already given away.

I will muse about two aspects of the book, which, I believe, are related.

First, the characters seem to believe in God. On several occasions, all when in dire straits, they pray, in supplication or thanks. Here's the first example I noticed:
She prayed to God for help, asking for a sign that her daughter lived. (p. 152) There are a few other examples.

Second, there is a measure of forgiveness in the book, and, I must say, forgiveness for some serious wrong-doings:
"I should thank him," Torina mused.
"King Dahmis?"
"No. Yes -- but I meant Vesputo. Without him, I'd still be the headstrong, spoiled girl I used to be. . . ." (p. 336. Torina is the princess. Vesputo is the bad guy, really bad.)

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Sunspots 274

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



Science:Wired reports that orangutans are very energy-efficient, much more so than we are.

The New York Times reports that Titan, satellite of Saturn, has a large body of liquid that is shrinking in size.

Computing:Gizmo's Freeware has what looks like a comprehensive list of free on-line applications and services, with lots of categories.

Christianity:Kerry i am posts a brief test that lets us know if we are hypocrites.




Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Three Pigs and Tuesday by David Wiesner

I don't usually report on books intended for young children, but I am making an exception for The Three Pigs by David Wiesner. The book won the Caldecott medal for 2002. It deserved it. The book is simple to read. The book shows, using the children's story of the three little pigs, an artistic conception of multiple universes, or at least multiple possible existences. I haven't tried reading it to my five-year-old grandson, and I don't know what he would think of it, but I liked it, and his mother and aunt, and grandmother, did, too.

A splendid book. Read it, if you have a chance -- your local library should have it. Look carefully at the pictures.

Wiesner has also written, or, rather, made the illustrations, for Tuesday. (The only text in the book is an occasional mention of the time -- it's about what happens on a Tuesday night.) Tuesday won the Caldecott medal in 1992, and, again, deserved it. The illustrations combine whimsy with great detail. Let's just say that the book is about flying frogs, and urge you to look at a copy.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

"Day" not always a 24-hour period in Genesis?

The King James version of the Bible renders five verses of Genesis 2 thus:
4 These [are] the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, 5 And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and [there was] not a man to till the ground. 6 But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground. 7 And the LORD God formed man [of] the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. 8 And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.

The Blueletter Bible is very helpful. It posts 16 translations, 12 in English (the others are in Spanish, Latin, Greek and Hebrew). Here they are for Genesis 2:4, and here for Genesis 2:5, here for Genesis 2:6, here for Genesis 2:7, and here for Genesis 2:8. (To show these multiple translations for any verse in the Bible, locate it in the Blueletter Bible web pages, and then click on the V to the left of the verse.)

Some points to make.

Ten of the English versions use "day" here, much as the KJV has. Thus, even in the earliest parts of Genesis, "day" does not seem to always mean a 24-hour period, or the period between sunrise and sunset. Here, it seems to stand for the entire length of the time of creative activity.

The Blueletter Bible is also helpful, in that it has a Hebrew/Greek lexicon. If you click on the C to the left of Genesis 2:4, you will see the best guess we have at the original language. The KJV's "in the day" in that verse comes from the Hebrew word yowm. Clicking on the Strong's number, in this case H3117, shows us that that word has about the same sort of meanings that "day" does in English. That is, it can mean day, rather than night. It can mean a 24-hour period. It can mean a general time, or period.

At the right of the display is a list of where the word is found in the Old Testament. It's used a lot, 139 times in Genesis, and 146 in Deuteronomy, plus other times in each of the 39 books of the Old Testament. I decided to remain in Genesis, but to get past the creation narrative, and the "begats." So I went to the middle of Genesis, to page 4 of the 6 web pages used for H3117 in that book. The first use on that web page is Genesis 26:8, which uses yowm for "time" in the phrase "he had been there a long time."

It seems clear that yowm, although it is often used, in the Bible, for a 24-hour period, does not have to be.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Sunspots 273

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

Humor:

(or cooking) Wired reports on making ice cream with bacon in it, at home.

Science:Wired reports on research indicating that global warming will have a profound effect on ocean life.

Sports:
(sort of) Wired reports that a web page version of Pac-Man has been created. I tried it, and it didn't work. You may have more success.

Computing:
(sort of) Gizmo's Freeware has a page of sources for free audio books, legal to use.



Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

ignose, godnose, and Alpha, Beta and Gamma

Scientists can have a sense of humor.

"Ignose" and "godnose" are words coined to express ignorance, which, of course, begins with the letters i and g. Sugars are commonly named with the -ose suffix, as in glucose, fructose, sucrose, galactose, and many, many others.

Back in the 1920s, Albert Szent-Györgyi, later a recipient of the Nobel Prize, was able to isolate a substance from citrus fruits, cabbages, and adrenal glands. When he sent his results in to an appropriate scientific journal, the editor required Szent-Györgyi to name the substance. Szent-Györgyi first tried to name it "ignose," indicating that he did not know the precise structure of the substance, but the editor rejected that. So Szent-Györgyi tried "godnose," meaning, of course, that only God knows. That, too, was rejected. The substance was finally named hexuronic acid. It is now known as Ascorbic Acid, or Vitamin C.

In 1948, Ralph Alpher, then a physics graduate student, proposed a theory of how the nuclei of Hydrogen atoms (protons) could have joined together early in the history of the universe, and, when that happened, would have produced heavier atomic nuclei -- Helium and more heavy nuclei -- in the proportions in which they actually exist, as shown by spectrographic studies of stars. Alpher's advisor, George Gamow, approved Alpher's paper, and, as was customary, Gamow's name was added as a second author. (No doubt Gamow had actually contributed to the work.) Gamow decided, noting that Alpher and Gamow were already involved, decided, without consulting Hans Bethe, to add Bethe's name as another author, which was very unusual, generally only persons who have contributed to research are listed as authors. The resulting paper was known, and still is, as the Alpha, Beta, Gamma paper. (Bethe's name is pronounced very much like the Greek letter Beta. Alpher's and Gamow's names are not quite that close to those of Alpha and Gamma, but close enough that Gamow's joke made humorous sense. Physicists use the names of Greek letters for many things, for example gamma radiation.)

Hans Bethe later won the Nobel Prize in Physics. Actually, after the publication of the Alpha, Beta, Gamma paper, he did some important work on nucleosynthesis, although he hadn't done so previously. Alpher went on to have a solid career in science. Gamow was already well known as a scientist, and also as the author of the Mr. Tompkins series of popular science books for a general audience, and of the Biography of Physics, which I used as an important source in my own college teaching work. I recall that the Biography included several humorous anecdotes about important physicists. Gamow also contributed, by way of a suggestion in an article in Scientific American, to the eventual understanding of how DNA is able to carry the information necessary for the genetic code.

Thanks for reading. Scientists, some of them, anyway, have a real sense of humor.

Some alternative ways to control global warming

Even Cal Thomas, who says he doesn't believe in global warming, says that we need to cut our dependence on petroleum. But there are some other suggestions, radical, but perhaps less expensive, and more doable, for combating global warming.

James Lovelock has suggested that we fertilize upper layers of some parts of the ocean, using vertical pipes to bring nutrients from lower parts. The resulting increase in photosynthesis would lower the Carbon Dioxide content of the atmosphere.

Another possibility, proposed by a Russian climatologist who has since died, is to add sulfate aerosols to the atmosphere, which would cut down on the amount of light reaching the earth's surface, which, in turn, would mean less heating from the sun.

Perhaps the most radical, but seemingly feasible, idea is to fire millions of small mirrors into space, so that they come between the sun and the earth. This, again, would cut down on the amount of light reaching the earth.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Dying and religious belief

An on-line acquaintance sent me a link to an news report entitled "Strong Religious Faith Associated With Aggressive End-of-Life Care," for which I am grateful.

Although the link I received allowed me to see the report freely, it is possible -- I'm not sure -- that any reader of this blog who tries to access it may be required to obtain a free membership to Medscape Medical News. The on-line report gives this reference to the original study: JAMA. 2009;301:1140-1147. JAMA is the Journal of the American Medical Association, a prestigious and widely read refereed periodical.

The contents of the report match the title. People with strong religious faith, in this study, at least, received more intense end-of-life care. They had made significantly less preparation for dying, that is, were less likely to have made a living will, or have appointed a medical power of attorney.

There were 345 patients analyzed.

A number of questions come to mind. Was the more aggressive care because the patient wished it, or the family? Was there a difference between Protestants and Catholics? (I'm not sure if any Jews, Muslims, or members of another faith were included.) And, most importantly, why was more aggressive care requested?

I quote from the report: "positive religious coping was significantly associated with being black or Hispanic, and that those with a high level of positive religious coping tended to be younger, less educated, less likely to be insured, less likely to be married, and more likely to have been recruited from sites in Texas. . ." The report says that adjustments were made to remove possible statistical influences due to age and ethnicity. It does not say that being single, or less educated, less well-off financially, or being from Texas, was also removed.

In spite of the fairly small sample, and the possible effects of being single, or less educated, or growing up in Texas, let us say that the conclusion, as given by the title, should be taken at face value. What does that mean? It may mean that Bible-believing Christians aren't really as eager as we say we are to leave this life from the next.

Alternative interpretations are possible. Perhaps strongly religious people have more to live for, or are more loved by their families. I don't know.

I say that I believe that there is a life beyond this one. I say I believe that it will be an infinitely better life. Do I really believe this? I hope so.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Inter-national marriage in the Old Testament

See this post for related material.

Joshua 23:Therefore, be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor to the left, that you may not mix with these nations remaining among you or make mention of the names of their gods or swear by them or serve them or bow down to them, but you shall cling to the Lord your God just as you have done to this day. For the Lord has driven out before you great and strong nations. And as for you, no man has been able to stand before you to this day. 10 One man of you puts to flight a thousand, since it is the Lord your God who fights for you, just as he promised you. 11 Be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God. 12 For if you turn back and cling to the remnant of these nations remaining among you and make marriages with them, so that you associate with them and they with you, 13 know for certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you, but they shall be a snare and a trap for you, a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good ground that the Lord your God has given you. (ESV. More on use of the ESV here.)

Joshua's command may have been based on Exodus 34:11-16. A similar statement is made in 1 Kings 11:2, about Solomon's many wives and concubines, who did help to lead that king astray spiritually.

These admonitions to the Israelites seem to amount to a straightforward command to avoid marriages with other nations entirely. .However, things don't seem to be that simple. One of the nations that the Israelites were prohibited from marrying, in the Exodus passage, was the Hittites. Yet Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba, and one of David's most valued warriors, was a Hittite. (Although someone who should know tells me that the last part of his name is the same as that of, say, Elijah, and means that he was a follower of God.) Presumably Bathsheba was an Israelite, not a Hittite, but if she was a Hittite, then David, himself, married her. Ruth and Rahab were both foreigners, a Moabitess and an inhabitant of Jericho, respectively, but they were both part of the ancestry of the royal Israelite line, including being listed in Matthew's genealogy of Jesus. (See verse 5 of Matthew 1.)

I have previously posted about two known examples of Egyptian ancestry among the Israelites. The wife of Moses was not born an Israelite. Apparently, the wives of all of the sons of Jacob, including Joseph, who married an Egyptian, were non-Israelite, meaning that all of the grandsons of Jacob (also known as Israel) were half Israeli, and half something else.

So what does this command really mean? It seems to me that the crucial issue was not whether the person you married was not part of Israel, but whether such a person was willing to become a worshiper of God. Ruth and Rahab clearly were. Uriah most likely was. I suppose that the wives of Moses and Joseph also were. Solomon's wives, however, were not.

Thanks for reading.