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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Prayer requires our whole selves

In one word, the entire man without reservation must love God. So it takes the same entire man to do the praying which God requires of men. All the powers of man must be engaged in it. God cannot tolerate a divided heart in the love He requires of men, neither can He bear with a divided man in praying.
In the one hundred and nineteenth Psalm the Psalmist teaches this very truth in these
words:
“Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart.”
It takes whole-hearted men to keep God’s commandments and it demands the same sort of men to seek God. These are they who are counted “blessed.” Upon these wholehearted ones God’s approval rests.

Bringing the case closer home to himself the Psalmist makes this declaration as to his practice: “With my whole heart have I sought thee; O let me not wander from thy commandments.”

And further on, giving us his prayer for a wise and understanding heart, he tells us his
purposes concerning the keeping of God’s law:
“Give me understanding and I shall keep thy law; Yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart.”

Just as it requires a whole heart given to God to gladly and fully obey God’s commandments,
so it takes a whole heart to do effectual praying.

This post is one of a series, taken from The Essentials of Prayer, by E. M. Bounds. Found through the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, here. Public Domain. The previous post in the series is here.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Do different roads lead to the same end?

People often say that there are different ways to God.

Anne has posted some simple, but important arguments against that view, here. (I know Anne only from her blog -- I don't even know her last name.)

Thanks for reading this. Read Anne.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Sunspots 350

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

Science: Perhaps more than you want to know about dodder, a parasitic plant that wraps (usually yellow) stems around other plants, from the Botany Photo of the Day. 

Wired reports on tuberculosis germs that are resistant to all antibiotics currently in use.


Politics: (Sort of) National Public Radio discusses the health benefits of adding a 1 cent tax to soft drinks/sodas/pop/whatever you call them sale prices. There are some such benefits.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A good, but short, look at the brain: Edge question

Every year, Edge publishes responses to what it calls a "World Question." This year's question is "2012 : WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE DEEP, ELEGANT, OR BEAUTIFUL EXPLANATION?"

I confess that I haven't read all of the many responses, from various prominent people, but I did read the one from David Eagleman, a neuroscientist.

Here's part of his excellent brief essay: "The . . . brain . . . possesses multiple, overlapping ways of dealing with the world. It is a machine built of conflicting parts. It is a representative democracy that functions by competition among parties who all believe they know the right way to solve the problem."

Thanks for reading. Read Eagleman.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle

I recently re-read The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle. According to the Wikipedia article on the book, it has been translated into twenty or more languages, and sold over five million copies.

What's the attraction? I don't want to give away too much of the plot, but the good guys (and girls and unicorns) win. And that some of the good guys are flawed characters. Hardly a surprise. Here's a pretty good description: "During the meal Schmendrick told stories of his life as an errant enchanter, filling it with kings and dragons and noble ladies. He was not lying, merely arranging events more sensibly . . ." Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn. (New York: Penguin, 1991, p. 47)

"Whatever can die is beautiful -- more beautiful than a unicorn, who lives forever, and is the most beautiful creature in the world . . ." ( p.108.)

The title comes from the situation of the unicorns. They are immortal, or nearly so. All of them have disappeared, into the sea, out past the castle of King Haggard. Haggard's magical red bull, an enormous beast, has chased them there, and keeps them.

Schmendrick is one of the good guys, and the main character. He is a mediocre wizard, at best, except for two occasions, central to the plot, when he tells his magic to go ahead and do whatever it needs to, without direction. The results are not what anyone was expecting, in either case. Molly Grue is another important character. She has been partner to a man who is in charge of some forest knaves, who rob, and act as pale imitations of the mythical Robin Hood. They know that they are imitations.

The book has some beautiful scenes, some amazing symbols (including mythical beings), magic, a unicorn, and a plot which surprised me more than once. If you haven't read The Last Unicorn, and fantastic literature (with no vampires) holds an attraction for you, you should read it. Thanks for reading this.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Prayer requires concentration

It is man’s business to pray; and it takes manly men to do it. It is godly business to pray and it takes godly men to do it. And it is godly men who give over themselves entirely to prayer. Prayer is far-reaching in its influence and in its gracious effects. It is intense and profound business which deals with God and His plans and purposes, and it takes wholehearted men to do it. No half-hearted, half-brained, half-spirited effort will do for this serious, all-important, heavenly business. The whole heart, the whole brain, the whole spirit, must be in the matter of praying, which is so mightily to affect the characters and destinies of men.

The above quote is one in a projected series, using The Essentials of Prayer, by E. M. Bounds. Found through the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, here. The work is public domain. The previous post in the series is here. Thanks for reading.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Race, science and medical ethics - Henrietta Lacks and HeLa cells

I was recently privileged to read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot. (See here for a New York Times book review of the book, here for the Wikipedia article on the book, as well as here for a Wikipedia article on the late Mrs. Lacks.)

HeLa cells, the human cells now used most widely in culture, were taken from a sample tissue from a cancer in Mrs. Lacks. She didn't know that this was done. Some medical supply companies made billions off of her cells.

Every person who deals with medical patients in an office or a hospital should read this book. I won't re-tell it, but here are some of the lessons I got from the book:
1) Every person, regardless of race, sex, or knowledge, is entitled to respect as a patient, and, as far as possible, to informed consent -- they should be told the consequences of procedures they are about to undergo, so that they can understand they consequences.*

Henrietta Lacks, the descendant of slaves, was not usually told the consequences of the treatments she got, let alone told the risks, in any way, let alone in ways she could understand.

Her children did not know what a cell was, or, really what cancer is. They couldn't help their ignorance. Skloot, in the course of writing the book, saw to it that, finally, they did understand the basics of what happened to their mother.

2) Scientists can be pretty stupid. HeLa cells are hardy, and spread easily. They infected literally millions of dollars worth of other cell cultures that weren't supposed to be HeLa, but really were. Even when this was pointed out to them, most of the cell culture scientists didn't believe it, or take proper precautions to avoid more contamination.

3) According to Skloot, US law still does not give patients control over cells derived from them. They are deemed discarded by the patient, and the doctor or hospital is free to use them as they see fit. Maybe that's OK, maybe not, but something seems unfair about this matter.

Besides the above, the book is absorbing, scientifically, ethically, historically, and personally. Ms. Skloot has done the Lacks family, and all of us, an enormous service, and worked very hard, under adverse conditions, for years, to accomplish the writing.

Skloot is a science writer by profession. She claims no religious belief, and was amazed, and, I think, impacted, by the religious expression and belief of the Lacks family.

The author used some of the proceeds from her book to fund the Henrietta Lacks foundation, which attempts to help people who have made unwitting contributions to medical science, like Lacks.

Thanks for reading. Read Skloot.

*  *  *  *  *
*A decade or so ago, I took a relative of mine, who was unable to read, to a hospital, for some routine matter. He was given a consent form, small print on both sides of normal-sized paper, and asked to sign it and return it, with the expectation that he do so immediately. The signature supposedly absolved the hospital from liability, should anything go wrong. He signed it, and I didn't object. I had been to the same hospital, and seen the same form, presented in the same way, a year or so before. I can read fairly rapidly, but it would have taken me at least 20 minutes to read and (maybe) understand the form. I did read enough to see that the form said that, in signing the document, you were certifying that you had read and understood it. This lawyer-inspired farce was mostly harmless, but it definitely wasn't informed consent! I would assume that the signature really wouldn't have exempted that hospital from claims for damage, in the event of negligence or malpractice.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Christians react to an order to remove a Christian banner from a public high school

There have been legal demands that a Christian student remove a Christian banner from a public high school in Rhode Island. Henry Neufeld describes the case. I hadn't heard of it before.

He also has a few things to say about Christian claims of being persecuted in North America -- it's seldom really persecution.

Thanks for reading. Read Neufeld.

A related matter took place in North Carolina recently. See here for the story of "equal treatment."

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Sunspots 349

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

Science: Wired reports on a black hole that was observed to fire off two giant gaseous bursts.

Wired also reports on how the brain spots faces.

National Public Radio on what vertebrates are smallest.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

James F. Crow, rest in peace

James F. Crow was a good man and a scientist. He passed away a few days ago. (Here is the obituary.) It was my privilege to have taken a class from him, and to serve as an instructor of what were called "quiz sections" under him, while a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin, where Crow spent the great majority of his career. He was the leader of the Drosophila melanogaster (fruit fly) work group while I was at Wisconsin. However, he and his students made important contributions to human medical genetics, too.

Crow was known principally as a teacher, and he was a good one, bringing out the best in his graduate students, and in those he lectured to. He was multi-talented, though. He testified before at least one congressional committee. He wrote books and articles. He played the viola, and did it well. He was an able administrator. He worked with colleagues and graduate students from many nationalities.

Although he was an important person, he was humble, easily reachable, and sometimes serving as the butt of practical jokes. For example, some of his students etherized some fruit flies and put them in his viola, and, during a concert by the Madison symphony orchestra, the flies revived, and flew out of the instrument.

I was sorry to hear of his passing.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Prayer involves the mind

Necessarily the mind enters into the praying. First of all, it takes thought to pray. The intellect teaches us we ought to pray. By serious thinking beforehand the mind prepares itself for approaching a throne of grace.
Thought goes before entrance into the closet and prepares the way for true praying. It considers what will be asked for in the closet hour. True praying does not leave to the inspiration of the hour what will be the requests of that hour. As praying is asking for something definite of God, so, beforehand, the thought arises—“What shall I ask for at this hour?” All vain and evil and frivolous thoughts are eliminated, and the mind is given over entirely to God, thinking of Him, of what is needed, and what has been received in the past. By every token, prayer, in taking hold of the entire man, does not leave out the mind. The very first step in prayer is a mental one. The disciples took that first step when they said unto Jesus at one time, “Lord, teach us to pray.” We must be taught through the intellect, and just in so far as the intellect is given up to God in prayer, will we be able to learn well and readily the lesson of prayer.

This is one of a projected series on prayer, using The Essentials of Prayer, by E. M. Bounds. Found through the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, here. Public Domain. The previous post was here.

Friday, January 13, 2012

How do you understand a tree?

How to you understand a tree? There are many ways of doing so.

Row of Bradford pear trees in morning sun
The above photo, of Bradford pear trees in morning sunlight, is from my Flickr photostream. The photo is a link to the original, which is posted there.

Back when I was a college biology professor, I would occasionally say something like this:

One way to understand a tree is to stand under it. You can listen to the wind blowing through the branches. You can feel the bark, and you can look at the leaves. You can watch for insects and spiders climbing up and down it, and look for birds and squirrels nesting in it. You can try to imagine the life of the tree, through years of growth, in various conditions. You can thank the tree for making shade, which can make life more comfortable, and for giving off Oxygen, which we can breathe. For many trees, you can also thank the tree for its fruit. You can thank it for its beauty during the various seasons of the year.

cells in cork oak from Robert Hooke
The picture above is, in part, of cells. It is from a public domain drawing of a microscopic view of part of the bark of a cork oak tree, by Robert Hooke, who named cells because of what he saw -- a resemblance to prison cells.

There's another way to understand a tree. You can take a core sample, and count the rings of annual growth, and make guesses about why some years' growth was larger than others. You can examine sample cells under a microscope, study its biochemistry with various analytic devices, measure the light absorption of the leaves, and count the root branches -- and, if you like, you can take the square root of that number!

Which of the two ways is better? That depends on what you are trying to accomplish, or what you need. Both ways have validity, with a legitimate purpose behind them. The first way can be called holistic, or wholistic. (See Wikipedia on holism.) It may help us to appreciate a tree in ways that the second sort of methods does not. An artist or poet, or a landscape architect, an ecologist, or a property owner, should use the first method.

But the second method is also legitimate. That way can be called reductionistic. As the Wikipedia article referred to above says, "Reductionism in science says that a complex system can be explained by reduction to its fundamental parts. For example, the processes of biology are reducible to chemistry and the laws of chemistry are explained by physics." (See also the Wikipedia article on reductionism, which is a complex subject!)

A wholistic examination of a tree would never discover an explanation for certain processes, such as how water gets to the leaves from the roots, or how photosynthesis works. It would probably not discover that certain medicines could be derived from parts of a tree. Science mostly uses reductionistic methods, so much so that some biologists may be accused of not knowing what the organism they are studying looks like -- they only study cell cultures, or enzymes, or DNA sequences.

The Psalmist said, about a righteous person:
He will be like a tree planted by the streams of water,
that produces its fruit in its season,

whose leaf also does not wither.

Whatever he does shall prosper. (Psalm 1:3, World English Bible, public domain.)

Both methods of looking at trees, or tarantulas, or trout, have their value, and neither method should be ignored or despised at the expense of the other. God presumably looks at trees in both ways, better than we could possibly do so. He has given us the ability to look at trees in both ways. Some of us have talent as photographers, or poets, and some as molecular biologists or geochemists.
One of my daughters gave me a book for Christmas. Soon after starting it, I came across a passage entitled
"I CONSIDER A TREE," and found that the author had thought many of the same thoughts that I had, and more deeply. Martin Buber said this (and more):

I can perceive it as movement: flowing veins on clinging, pressing pith, suck of the roots, breathing of the leaves, ceaseless commerce with the earth and air -- and the obscure growth itself.
I can classify it as a species and study it as a type in its structure and mode of life.
I can subdue its actual presence and form so sternly that I recognise it only as an expression of law -- of the laws in accordance with which a constant opposition of forces is continually adjusted, or of those in accordance with which the component substances mingle and separate.
. . .
It can, however, also come about, if I have both will and grace, that in considering the tree I become bound up in relation to it I and Thou, translated by Ronald Gregor Smith. New York: Scribner Classics, 2000. pp. 22-23.

I have posted on trees before, here. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Did animals eat meat before the flood?

Young-earth creationist Todd Wood thinks so, and he cites a paper in a young-earth creationism journal to back up his claim. I found the claim that animals did eat meat before the flood remarkable. Genesis 9, after the flood, states that humans were free to eat meat, but Genesis 1 seems to indicate that, at least prior to the fall, we were not to do so. (The article I have linked to below has more on what Genesis says about this issue.)

I am writing this in late 2011, and I can see this article here, in the January 2011 issue of this journal, although there are warnings that only members can see it before 2012. (This practice of restricting immediate access is fairly common, not unique to Creation Matters.)

Thanks for reading. I have a post, here, on the subject of whether Christians are required to be vegetarians.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Sunspots 348

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

Science: Fox News reports that hybrid sharks have been found near Australia, and briefly discusses the implications.

NPR reports that a parasitic fly may be responsible for much of the die-off in bees in recent years.

The Arts: Rebecca Luella Miller, of the Speculative Faith blog, concludes (I think) a series about J. R. R. Tolkien's Christianity.

Image source (public domain)

Monday, January 09, 2012

Christians, Women, and Leadership, by Ken Schenck

If you are one of the few people reading this, but have never read Ken Schenk's arguments in favor of allowing women in leadership in the church, you should read his latest post on the subject. (He writes about a lot of other things, mostly about the Bible, but, as he says, fires a salvo in this unfortunate war about once a year.) Schenck is dean of a seminary, and well qualified to speak on what scripture means.

Thanks for reading. Read Schenck.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

How to really accomplish something through prayer

The men of olden times who wrought well in prayer, who brought the largest things to pass, who moved God to do great things, were those who were entirely given over to God in their praying. God wants, and must have, all that there is in man in answering his prayers. He must have whole-hearted men through whom to work out His purposes and plans concerning men. God must have men in their entirety. No double-minded man need apply. No vacillating man can be used. No man with a divided allegiance to God, and the world and self, can do the praying that is needed. Source: The Essentials of Prayer, by E. M. Bounds. Found through the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, here. Public Domain.

God help me to live up to that.

I have attempted, for several years, to post something devotional on Sundays. For 2012, I plan to begin with posts copied (it's public domain, and I can't say it nearly as well as Bounds did) from the book indicated.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Intelligent Design and the Multiverse

Jack Scanlan, who is by no means a fan of Intelligent Design, discusses the matter of the multiverse. At least some Intelligent Design advocates claim that the idea of a multiverse has been proposed to get around the notion that the universe is finely tuned for life, hence, serves as an argument against Intelligent Design. Scanlan says that, if there is such a thing as a multiverse, it would by no means rule out Intelligent Design.

Hmmm. Interesting.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Will fiction last forever? A series by E. Stephen Burnett

I have subscribed to the "Speculative Faith" blog for several years. One of the reasons is the writing of frequent contributor E. Stephen Burnett (I don't know anything about him, except what I read in the blog.)

He has recently finished a series on the question of whether fiction will last forever. In other words, will there be made-up stories in heaven. You've probably never thought about that, but you probably should.

Here's a brief sample: "But could some genius author create a new genre that doesn’t require traditional villains or opposing causes, which is still just as entertaining and honoring to the God who had long since defeated all real-life villains?"

Thanks for reading. Read Burnett. Please.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Sunspots 347

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:
Science: Wired reports on ideas to keep Venice from sinking too much (which it has been doing).

Politics: An article in The Smithsonian Magazine on Roger Williams, a devout Christian, and founder of Rhode Island, who was instrumental in promoting the idea of separation of church and state. What do you get when you mix religion and politics? Politics.

Weekend Fisher has posted a Christian debaters code of ethics. Most or all of the Republican candidates for President, be they Christian or not, haven't measured up.

Image source (public domain)

Monday, January 02, 2012

A New (at least to me) definition of evangelism

Anne, alias Weekend Fisher, posts regularly, and well. Recently, she posted on the Name above all Names, which is Christ's. OK, fine. But she closed with an unusual, but excellent, definition of evangelism. See here to read her post.

Thanks for reading this.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Prayers in the Bible: Revelation 22

The last words in the Bible are a prayer:

Revelation 22:20 He who testifies these things says, “Yes, I come quickly.”
Amen! Yes, come, Lord Jesus.
21 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with all the saints. Amen. (World English Bible, public domain)

At least the last part of verse 20 is, and all of verse 21 is. This is the last in a year-long series (plus one day) of posts on prayers in the Bible. The previous post is here. Thanks for reading.