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Monday, February 28, 2005

Colors: Brown

Brown doesn't appear in the rainbow. Nevertheless, we can see brown. What's going on here?

Here's the Wikipedia entry on brown. The article says that brown is a mixture of two colors (more than one such pair exists, according to this reference.) If that is true, then brown can't be in the rainbow, because the colors mixed are not adjacent to each other.

Here's another reference on the same question, which comes to the same conclusion.

The King James Bible has just four references to brown, all of them in Genesis 30, and all referring to the color of a domestic animal. I confess that I've always had trouble with this passage. The Bible describes Jacob gaining livestock property from his father-in-law by, Genesis says, exposing animals, in the act of mating, to certain visual stimuli. From this I conclude (as if I needed this passage to prove it) there are things I don't understand about the Bible. (I think I understand as much as I need to.) My take on what happened is that Jacob thought doing this would work. God knew it wouldn't, but intervened on Jacob's behalf, anyway.

It seems strange that there are no references to brown earth, brown rocks, brown wood, or brown bread in the Bible. I suppose that, like us, people living back then took these things for granted, and didn't describe them much.

There is a National Football Team, the Cleveland Browns. (To me, their color is orange, not brown!)

One of Tolkien's wizards was Radagast the Brown. Tolkien didn't write a lot about him.

I suppose any article on brown should refer to Charlie Brown, the main character of Peanuts.

There are star-like objects, called brown dwarfs. The Wikipedia article on them says that they are probably the most common objects at or near the size of stars in our galaxy.

I hesitate to say this, having mentioned the appropriate bodily function in a recent post, but excrement is usually brown. The reason is that bile, one of the important products of the liver, by way of the gall bladder, is brown. As this page from the MadSci network says, it could be worse.

Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka was a landmark Supreme Court decision.

Brown, like Green, is a relatively common last name in North America, going back to England and Germany, (as Braun) and perhaps other countries. Brownian motion, named for an English scientist, Robert Brown, who discovered it in the 19th century, is a jiggly motion of microscopic particles, caused by random collisions with even smaller particles. Einstein published a paper explaining this phenomenon. His paper changed the views of scientists--molecules were finally understood as being real objects. Most of them hadn't accepted this before. Robert Brown also described and named the nucleus of the living cell, although he didn't discover it.

I sometimes think of myself as brown, dull, common. Common, nothing special about me. That's true. It also isn't true. I'm not special, but God knows me as unique and of infinite worth.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Honoring two people

I am trying not to embarrass my family, at least not directly, with my blogging. So I won't give her name, her age, or her picture, but my wife's birthday is today.

Two days ago, February 25, 2005, my father, William Franklin LaBar, who can no longer be embarrassed, would have been 100 years old.

Abishag: Beauty contestant and bedwarmer

King David was old, and cold. So his servants looked for a woman to lie in the bed as a human bed warmer. Abishag was chosen for this task. I Kings 1:1 - 2:25 tells us all we are going to know about Abishag.
The servants did not look for the warmest young virgin. (They didn't look for a warm dog, or a warm male, either.) Instead of looking for a girl with a perpetual fever, or just hot skin, they looked for the most beautiful. Why? We don't know. The most likely explanation is that they were hoping that her beauty would arouse the King sexually, which, presumably, would have warmed him physically. If that was their motive, it didn't work. The Bible specifically says that David "had no intimate relations with her." (1:4) The second beauty contest in the Bible is described in Esther 2:1-18. A previous post is on a subject related to the winner of that contest.

Servanthood: sometimes humiliating
It is hard to imagine a more humiliating job. Lie in the bed with an old man, and warm him up. I doubt seriously that that was the life that Abishag imagined for herself, growing up in Shunem. David probably drooled, at least when asleep. He may have been incontinent. Maybe he snored. Perhaps he was hard of hearing. He probably didn't know much about the subjects that a young woman would have liked to discuss. Perhaps he droned on and on, to anyone who would listen, about killing Goliath, and told other stories from his days of glory, over and over. He was not the Old Testament version of the knight in shining armor that young women supposedly long for. The Bible doesn't say so, but it is possible that Abishag was required to remove some or all of her clothing, so as to be a more effective bedwarmer. However, the Bible says nothing about Abishag's reaction to all this, except that "she took care of the king and waited on him," (1:4) and "attended him" (1:15). It's hard to imagine a more striking example of servanthood.

Let's don't forget Jesus, the even more striking example. Whereas Abishag got promoted to the palace, He was temporarily demoted from creator and sustainer of the universe (Colossians 1:16-17) to a servant's role (Philippians 2:6-11). While God does not call us to do something that is not for our ultimate good, He has not promised that we won't be called to humble, perhaps even humiliating, duties. When accepted in good grace, as coming from Him, they can be the most rewarding ones.

Someone else's tool
David's son Adonijah was a proud man, who coveted the kingship. He had himself put forward as king in David's place, while David was still alive. (David had, with God's blessing, already selected Solomon as his successor.) So David was persuaded to have Solomon crowned before his death, and Adonijah's rebellion fell apart. The persuasion took place in David's bedroom, with Abishag standing by, taking care of David. Adonijah was not killed at the time.

After David passed away, Adonijah asked Bathsheba, Solomon's mother, to do him a favor. That was to ask her son, King Solomon, to give him Abishag as his wife. Had they fallen in love? Probably not. It's hard to believe that Adonijah spent much time in David's bedroom, or that Abishag had had much time for courtship. Adonijah had probably heard of Abishag's reputation, and perhaps seen her. (Was she at the funeral? Would a servant have been allowed there?) No doubt, becoming the wife of a son of David would have been a major step up for a servant who had served as a human bedwarmer, whether or not love was involved. At any rate, Solomon saw this as an attempt, on Adonijah's part, to assert himself, and had him killed. (Taking a deposed king's wives was a sign that you were taking the former king's place. See II Samuel 16:21)

So Abishag, a servant girl, was a witness to palace politics, and even part of palace politics, while she was just doing her job. Sometimes that, too, could happen to us. We don't like it when it happens. We like to be in control. Jesus wasn't always in control, either. He was obedient to his parents (Luke 2:51). Before that, it seems, He was absolutely dependent on them, like any other baby. We, too, can be pawns in someone else's game, not in control, but eventually triumph, so long as our own motives are to be Christ's humble servant.

We don't know what else may have happened to Abishag. Perhaps she married someone in Solomon's court. Perhaps she became one of Solomon's many wives. Perhaps she went back home to Shunem. I like to think that she is beautiful still, but has gone to where there are no beauty contests, to serve a Higher King. If so, my prayer is that I join her, and the host of others.

* * * * *

November 24, 2008. I corrected one grammatical mistake, added links to the scripture used, added some tags, and added the line below to this post on this date.

Thanks for reading!

* * * * *

On June 8, 2011, a kind friend referred me to an article, partly humorous, on Abishag in the Biblical Archaeology Review.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

The Fall and the immune system

Mike Russell, of the Eternal Perspectives blog, does some serious writing. His recent post, "Where'd that come from?" asks about the source of the human immune system. I'd like to comment on his question here. (A previous comment by me corrected his use of "auto-immune system." He meant to say "immune system." I wrote the comment more sharply than I should have, and I apologize. Sorry. As another commenter indicated, either way, it's a good question.)

Russell assumes that the first humans wouldn't have needed an immune system until after the Fall. His question is whether it was original equipment, unused until after the Fall, or added after the Fall. The obvious answer, of course, is that we don't know.

Some believers think that Adam and Eve somehow evolved from previous human-like beings, under God's direction. If so, they would have already had an immune system. Russell doesn't believe this. I'm going to respond to his question, assuming that Adam, and then Eve, were specially created in an uncorrupted state. I don't have a definite answer.

We can't be sure when mosquitoes and germs were created. Genesis 1:20 says that God created water organisms and winged birds on the fifth day, and living creatures on land on the sixth. Are mosquitoes and bacteria water or land creatures? There is nothing that clearly indicates when either was created in Genesis 1. Most insects are land organisms, but mosquitoes spend part of their lives in the water, part on land. (Moses would not have been expected to write about bacteria, because his readers wouldn't have known what he was talking about, nor would he. God knew.) If they were created, along with other creatures, during the period described by Genesis 1, were mosquitoes biting pests before the Fall? Did bacteria cause disease before the Fall? It is possible that both were created after the Fall, although the Bible says nothing about this.

After the list of entities appearing on each day is given, Genesis 1 adds the phrase, ". . . and God saw that it was good." (KJV)

Did humans need bacteria and insects before the Fall? We can't be sure. Very possibly, bees, which pollinate flowers, would have been needed. If non-fallen humans defecated, dung beetles, maggots, and bacterial decomposers would have been useful even before the Fall. Beneficial bacteria now live in our large intestine. Perhaps they did then. Leaves may have fallen, and fruit fallen off of trees, before the Fall. Decomposers, bacteria and fungi, would have been a good thing, in that case. Alcohol production requires yeast organisms. If unfallen humans drunk alcoholic beverages, yeast organisms would have been good to have.

If pest insects, bacteria, and viruses were created before the Fall, they must have been "good." We don't usually consider them good now. Romans 8:21 says that creation will be liberated from decay, or corruption. Most of us probably consider disease germs, pest insects, and weeds to be part of the corruption of the present fallen world. If the creation was free of corruption at its creation, which is implied by Genesis 1's use of "it was good," then it must have changed. The most likely time for it to have changed is the Fall. I am not aware of any explicit Biblical evidence for this, but will assume it. If new germs and insects, preying on people, were created as a result of the Fall, or if pre-existing organisms were modified at that time so as to do so, and humans didn't have an immune system yet, humans must have been modified to cope with some of the new pests at the same time.

It is possible that humans needed an immune system from the beginning, to ward off accidental invasions of decomposing bacteria. Would accidents, of any kind, especially this kind, have been possible in an unfallen world?

It is possible that humans first appeared with the ability to fight off disease germs, at a time when they didn't need it. I believe that God created some entities with properties that are of benefit to us, or to the rest of His creation, and it took us a long time to find it out, so that the benefits weren't used for a long time. For example, quinine and rubber producing plants were presumably present from before the time when humans appeared. It is doubtful if their uses in fighting malaria, or in making tires, were known to many people until within the past 500 years or less. Their uses probably weren't known to anybody in the Old World until 1400 or so. God may have deliberately pre-configured them to be helpful, and we discovered this much later. The same sort of speculation could be made about some of the chemical elements, and about other things. If that is true, why couldn't God have pre-configured humans with an immune system, before they needed it?

A little on how the immune system operates. It has the built-in capability to develop a response to almost any foreign invader. It doesn't have such responses, but the capability to develop them. That's why flu shots are given, so that recipients will develop a response from the exposure to a non-virulent invader, so that when the real thing comes along, they will already be immune to it. (They are given every year because there are new types of flu every year.) I am suggesting that, just as we have the capacity to develop immunity to invaders we haven't experienced yet, built in from our personal beginnings, it seems possible that Adam and Eve were created with an immune system, which didn't become useful or necessary until after the Fall.

Allergies to certain substances that we'd be better off not reacting to are due to the immune system. The immune system makes some pregnant women develop antibodies against their own babies. The immune system makes auto-immunity possible. Some diseases, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, are developed because a person's immune system reacts against her own body, not against a foreign invader. The immune system, which is so important in fighting off invaders, and in policing the body for cancer cells, acts, in the cases mentioned, as if it may have fallen. It's doing things that harm us.

It seems to me that either an immune system existing before it was needed, or one created right after the Fall, are possible. I haven't answered Russell's question. However, I hope that these speculations help him, or someone else.

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Friday, February 25, 2005

Colors: Violet

Violet is an uncommon word. It isn't found very often in English, and it isn't found in the Bible at all. So why, if it's part of the rainbow, isn't it used in the Bible, or, much, by us? Probably because there are other Bible words which may refer to violet. I plan to do a post on these later.

So what is violet? Let's put it this way. It's the color furthest from red in the rainbow--bluer than blue.

Voltaire wrote as follows:
Sir Isaac Newton has demonstrated to the eye, by the bare assistance of the prism, that light is a composition of coloured rays, which, being united, form white colour. A single ray is by him divided into seven, which all fall upon a piece of linen, or a sheet of white paper, in their order, one above the other, and at unequal distances. The first is red, the second orange, the third yellow, the fourth green, the fifth blue, the sixth indigo, the seventh a violet-purple. Each of these rays, transmitted afterwards by a hundred other prisms, will never change the colour it bears; in like manner, as gold, when completely purged from its dross, will never change afterwards in the crucible. - Voltaire, Letters on the English, Letter XVI.

So violet, like indigo, has a distinguished history as a color name. Newton used it. (I'm not suggesting that he invented these names, just that he used them, thus dignifying them as part of his study of optics. He pioneered that field, as well as the study of motion.)

There is a plant, or several plants, named violets. See here for the American Violet Society homepage, and here for The Violet Society's. A minor character in the comic strip Peanuts was named Violet.

Here's the Wikipedia article on violet. As of February 24, 2005, it is very short.

One good product of writing this series has been that it has made me think. One thing that hadn't occurred to me before is to ask why, if the color spectrum is part of a linear series, it can be thought of as a wheel? Violet is next to red on color wheels. That seems to be as if, in singing a scale, you went from middle C to high C , and, instead of on to high D, immediately back to the D above middle C. Why can colors be arranged in a circle? Here's an answer:

The sensation of violet caused by short-wavelength light appears somewhat purple, as if it contained long (red) wavelengths. The cause for this is that the long-wavelength ("red") receptors in the human retina are sensitive to the wavelengths in the violet region as well as the longer wavelengths in the red region of the spectrum. Violet is therefore perceived as a stimulus to both red and blue cones. -

Colors are part of a linear series, the electromagnetic spectrum. The next category, a little shorter in wavelength, a little higher in frequency, and with a little more energy than violet light, is ultraviolet. The Wikipedia article (previous link) on the subject says that some reptiles, birds, and insects can see ultraviolet. This means that their eye pigments aren't exactly the same as ours. Some objects in nature, including at least some birds and flowers, are partly colored ultraviolet. Our eyes just can't see them--some animals can. There are things that believers can see, figuratively speaking, that non-believers can't. There are things God can see that I can't. My eyes aren't made right.

Pigments absorb light. DNA absorbs ultraviolet, which means that DNA is absorbing energy. That means that DNA may be changed, or mutated, by exposure to ultraviolet light. Thus we can get skin cancers. Ultraviolet exposure also damages collagen, a protein found in skin (and elsewhere). Use sunblock.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Comment on "Will animals go to heaven?"

Ish asked a good question, as a comment to this previous post on this blog.

Ish asked if you could get a good hamburger in heaven, pointing out that, if you did, it would be hard on some (presumably heavenly) cow. My short answer is that I don't know.

However, if I had to guess, I'd say "no." Noah and his sons were allowed to eat meat after the flood (Genesis 9:2-3) so Adam and Eve, perfect humans before the Fall, must not have done so, suggesting that we might not eat meat in Heaven, where we'll be perfect again. Also, Revelation 22:2 says that there will be fruit to eat in Heaven. So does Rev. 2:7. This isn't strong evidence on the question, of course.

Social and writing skills of scientists; more

A widespread misconception is that great scientists tend to be loners. Actually, outstanding success in most areas of science requires outstanding social skills, as illustrated by Mayr's relationships with a wide variety of people. He achieved such good understanding with New Guinea and Solomon tribespeople in the 1920s that they not only led him in and out of areas where other Europeans feared being killed, but they also taught him their local names for birds and brought him hundreds of specimens of bird species missed by other European collectors. He once explained to me that a secret of living happily past age 90, after most friends of the same generation have died, is the continued willingness to forge friendships with younger people.

- Jared Diamond, "Obituary: Ernst Mayr (1904-2005)" Nature 433:700-701, February 17, 2005. Quote is from p. 701. Mayr was born July 5, 1904, and died February 3, 2005, and was one of the two or three most important philosophers of biology at the time of his death. He is considered to be the chief architect of the current concept of species. Mayr's last book, What Makes Biology Unique? was published in 2004.

"Watson himself regards his writing, which could not have been done by anyone else, as an even greater achievement than his work on DNA that led to a Nobel prize." Lewis Wolpert, "Watson's way with words," review of The Writing Life of James D. Watson, by Errol C. Friedberg, Nature, 433:686-687, Feb 17, 2005. Quote is from p. 687. Watson wrote The Double Helix, a popular account of the Watson-Crick discovery, which made the best-seller lists, and was made into a movie. He also has written influential textbooks, which is probably what is being referred to in the quote above. He is still alive, and, I believe, active. Crick passed away last year.

The sources for the items above are not freely available on the Internet.

Nature News reports that a galaxy with no visible stars in it has been discovered. The claim is that this is a "dark matter" galaxy.

Nature News also reports that termites use sound to select their next meal:

"It seems that these insects choose what to eat according to the way each piece of wood vibrates in response to their gnashing jaws."

The article goes on to point out that humans also use sound in food selection. Not as much, I'm sure.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Colors: Indigo

Why a post on indigo? I am attempting a post on each of the colors of the rainbow, and that's where I am today. See my previous post, which cites a source which claims that Isaac Newton, himself, reported the colors separated by his prism to be red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. So, if it was good enough for Newton, it's good enough for me.

Indigo, the color, says the Wikipedia, is named for the dye-producing plant, indigo. I am a South Carolinian. Indigo (the plant) was, at one time, a very important crop in my state. Its growth required lots of manual labor, and, unfortunately, encouraged the planters to use slaves. A young woman, not yet twenty years old, is said to have been the person who started indigo growing in South Carolina.

I am sure that you are not surprised to know that the word, indigo, does not appear in the King James Bible. It doesn't appear in a lot of other places, either. I checked all of the color words that I am using with WordCount, which says that someone has figured out the ranking of all commonly used English words (and some uncommon ones). Of those I have used as the subject of a post, and those I plan to use (violet, brown, purple, gold, silver, gray, black and white, God willing) indigo has the lowest rank. It is the 24,266th most common word. Here's part of the list, from the 24,263rd to 24,267th most common: Tactile, Whitelaw, Jonadab, Indigo, Reticent. Jonadab!? Whitelaw!? I know--Jonadab is a Bible name, but am surprised to find it on the list at all, and I confess that I don't even know (yet) what whitelaw means. My point is that indigo isn't a very common word. If WordCount counted use in blogs, this post would probably move the rank of indigo up a little bit.

A web page from the American Psychological Association comments in depth on a report in the December, 2004, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. The researchers studied two groups of children, in two separate cultures, and concluded that the naming of colors was due to the language learned by the children, rather than reflecting the way humans see color. The researchers say that English has 11 basic color terms, which are black, white, gray, red, green, blue, yellow, pink, orange, purple and brown. Note the indigo and violet are not included. Six colors that are not part of the rainbow are basic color terms, namely black, white, gray, pink, purple and brown.

Indigo occurs in a recent science news article. (I wasn't looking for it. C. S. Lewis, in The Silver Chair, wrote that there are no accidents.) A February 15th article in Nature News describes lobsters as indigo in color. That's until they are cooked, when they become red. There's a chemical/physical explanation for the change of color, if you really want to know about this.

Like indigo, my name isn't near the top of some lists. There's no reason that it should be. So what? What would the rainbow be without indigo? Seriously flawed. Perhaps you and I have some importance in God's master plan, even if we are far down on some list.

* * * * *
Addendum, Feb 26, 2005.

Some writers do not use ROYGBIV for the colors of the rainbow, but ROYGBV, widening blue and violet and dropping the use of indigo.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Will animals go to heaven?

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

I am considering it because yesterday was the day to deal with animal experimentation in a class, and because of Ptolemy Tompkins' article in the February, 2005 Guideposts. He is dealing specifically with pets.

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

1) The covenant established with Noah states that

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Referring to his evidence:

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

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

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

4) The Blue Letter Bible gives access to Hebrew. Checking this shows that Tompkins is correct--the same Hebrew words are used. However, it seems clear that we don't really understand what a soul is. Even though the same words are used for life, or soul, for animals and humans, the Bible does seem to teach that humans are unique. The same first chapter of Genesis says that humans are to have dominion over the other creatures. (1:26, 1:28) Thus, even though there are properties shared between humans and other animals, they aren't all shared.

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

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

God could have, of course, prepared these animals specially, as He prepared the fish that swallowed Jonah, the vine that shaded Jonah, and the worm that killed the vine. This doesn't have to mean that there is a heavenly stable, but it doesn't rule it out, either. I hope I find out!

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

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

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

A different student said that he had heard that a father responded to his young daughter, who had asked him about whether pets go to heaven, by saying that if having a pet in heaven was necessary to her eternal happiness, the pet would be there. I think that's a good place to leave this subject.

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

Monday, February 21, 2005

Colors: Blue

Using (of course!) the Blueletter Bible, I find that the word, blue, occurs 50 times in the King James Version of the Bible. All of these refer to fabric of some sort. Most of them are in Exodus and Numbers, and refer to various fabrics associated with Divine Worship. There is no reference to the blue of the sky, or the blue of water.

So why is the sky blue? Basically, because molecules in the air bend blue light more than other colors, so the blue is spread around.

Why is water blue? Here's one explanation. Here's another. Basically, both of them explain the blueness of water in almost the same way as that of the sky. Blue light is spread more, and reddish light is absorbed.

The Wikipedia says that blue gets its name from a word meaning "shining."

Moving to another type of sense modality, there is a variety of music known as the blues. George Gershwin wrote a ground-breaking piece entitled "Rhapsody in Blue." People refer to themselves as being blue, when they are sad or depressed, and I believe that the blues is music about bad times.

There's a hockey team called the St. Louis Blues (as of this writing, the NHL isn't playing). Duke and North Carolina are Atlantic Coast Conference basketball rivals. (Both, now and historically, have been very good teams--Michael Jordan played for one of them.) Both have blue uniforms, but the colors are different.

Blue blood refers to being aristocratic. (Blood in the veins, seen through fair skin, does look blue.)

Why doesn't the Bible mention either sky or water as being blue? I don't know. I speculate that it was because they were taken for granted. Things that we take for granted are seldom discussed. There is next to no discussion of ordinary meals, or of clothing, in the New Testament, for example. I suppose that people then, as they do now, took the color of the sky, and of the water, for granted.

I try to remind myself of things that I take for granted, and to be thankful for them. Water and air, whatever their colors, should not be taken for granted. How long has it been since I was thankful for them?

I hope you aren't blue.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Colors: Green

Green is the color of growth. We wouldn't be here without green plants. They make food for us, and for the animals that many of us eat.

The process that uses light energy to make food is photosynthesis. (There's a common belief that we need the oxygen from green plants. It's false. We need oxygen, but, if photosynthesis stopped, we could get along fine on what's in the atmosphere for a few thousand years. We'd die in a hurry without the food.)

What makes plants green? Green pigments. What's a pigment? A chemical that absorbs some colors, and reflects others, or just lets them go through. The green pigments of plants are chlorophylls. Since leaves look green, they aren't absorbing that color--it is reflected off them. That means that it is non-green colors of light that give photosynthesis the energy that is turned into food. Green light has little or no importance in photosynthesis.

The Wikipedia article on green says that some languages don't distinguish between green and blue, or between green and yellow.

There are over 40 uses of green in the Bible. Most of them are in the sense of "green plant." There are some nuances. In Judges 16:7-8, green sticks are green in the sense of "not dry." Esther 1:6 has the first use of green other than for a plant. It is used as a color of fabric in that verse. Job 8:16 uses the word to refer to a favored person. Job 15:32 does, too. There are a few similar uses. One of the most familiar uses is in Psalm 23, where David says that he has lain in green pastures.

Green is the only one of the seven rainbow colors that is a common last name. There are some Reds, and an occasional Blue, but I've never known a Mrs. Orange, Ms. Yellow, Mr. Indigo, or Miss Violet. (One of the founders of my denomination, The Wesleyan Church, was named Orange Scott. Violet is fairly common as a first name.) My wife has some relatives named Green.

Green shows up fairly often in fantasy, often in a bad light, if you'll excuse the expression. Besides the classic "little green men," there are green dragons. In The Silver Chair, by C. S. Lewis, the witch was a green-clad woman, who metamorphosed into a green serpent. Edgar Rice Burroughs peopled Barsoom (Mars) with black, yellow, red and white humans. The red race was so much like us that John Carter, from Virginia, had offspring by a red princess. But Tars Tarkas and the other green "men" were different. They were much taller, and had four arms, not two.

Green is considered a color representing envy.

Even though Kermit the frog sings that "It's Not Easy Being Green," I'm glad that plants don't seem to find it difficult. Thank God for growth, and food.

* * * * * * *
Addendum, Feb 21, 2005.

I have failed to mention a lot of things. Sorry about that.

One of them is that many cities in the U. S. are named Greenville, or Greeneville, either named after someone named Green, or just because someone thought that the color was a good one. Two of my own state's largest are Greenville and Greenwood, South Carolina. Some states have more than one Greenville.

Another is that one of the earliest works of English literature is Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, probably over six centuries old now. Go here for a web site on this work (there are others). Tolkien, who was an expert on ancient literature, wrote a book about this and other works.

Addendum, June 16, 2007. The church I currently attend has a note in its bulletin, saying that Green symbolizes Ordinary Time (as opposed to Lent, Advent, and other special times), and Christian growth.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Quotes: cloning, cosmology, art and physics

When it comes to embryo research, we confront the tension between familial love and neighborly love, between our hunger to save those we know best and our obligation to protect those we can barely see. When it comes to the new reproductive technologies, we confront the tension between the love that makes parents hunger for “better children” and the love that welcomes children as they are, however “imperfect.” Not surprisingly, we do not always speak of love by name in the public square. We talk about rights and equality and compassion. But it is love, in the deepest sense, that we are really debating.
And real love requires confronting hard truths, which many biotech enthusiasts seem unwilling to do. - "Rival Immortalities," by Eric Cohen, review of Human Dignity in the Biotech Century: A Christian Vision for Public Policy, edited by Charles Colson and Nigel M. de S. Cameron. First Things, January 2005, pp. 38-41. Not that it matters, but Cohen states that he is not a Christian.

If all these factors could be controlled adequately in a cloning experiment and the clones still had distinct personalities, then it would be even more reasonable to suspect that a non-physical mind exists. Mike LaBossiere, "Cloning and immaterial minds," The Philosopher's Magazine

Some cosmologists are convinced that the total volume of the universe must be finite, others that it must be infinite--in both cases without a shred of physical evidence. Usually these beliefs stem from a feeling that the structure of the universe should be describable in a neat compact form.
Once again I can only say, "How depressing." Albert Einstein said, "The Lord God is subtle but He is not malicious." I like to turn this around by saying, "The Lord God is not malicious, but He is subtle." Bruce DeWitt, "God's Rays," Physics Today, Jan 2005, pp. 32-34. Quote is from p. 33.

The eminent English physicist Sir Arthur Eddington once remarked that the difference between art and physics is that art makes the commonplace unusual whereas physics makes the unusual commonplace. Morton Tavel, Contemporary Physics and the Limits of Knowledge. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2002. p. 1.

When artists view the world, they magnify and even glorify the subjective aspects of their point of view. That is the sense in which they make the commonplace unusual. Physicists, on the other hand, try to eliminate the subjective as much as possible. Physical description depends on things that we all agree upon and attempts to eliminate (or carefully control) individual perspectives intruding on our descriptions of nature. Morton Tavel, Contemporary Physics and the Limits of Knowledge. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2002. p. 6.

C. S. Lewis had some important thoughts on how technology controls other humans, in The Abolition of Man. Bonnie, in Off the top, is doing a series on the book.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Colors: Some scientific background

This is not an on-line seminar on the physics of light, or on the philosophy or psychology of perception. Other authorities have done work in those areas, and they are beyond my competence. However . . .

Visible light is a small part of the electromagnetic spectrum, with wavelengths between about 400 and 700 nanometers. The Wikipedia article on color says that red colored light has wavelengths between 740 and 625 nm; orange, 625 and 590; yellow, 590 and 565; green, 565 and 500; cyan (not blue) 500 and 485; blue, 485 and 440; and violet light has wavelengths between 440 and 380 nanometers. The McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Physics, 3rd edition (New York: McGraw, 2003) says that the parameters are 770 to 622 nanometers for red, 622 to 597 for orange, 597 to 577 for yellow, 577 to 492 for green, 492 to 455 for blue, and 455 to 390 for violet. (There is no indigo in this scheme.) This reference says, correctly, that these are an "approximate range" for each color. The Wikipedia article says:
The color table should not be interpreted as a definite list—the pure spectral colors form a continuous spectrum, and how it is divided into distinct colors is a matter of taste and culture; for example, Newton identified the seven colors red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet . . .

The bottom line is that there is not complete agreement on the definitions of the various colors, or even on their names. Hence, as I remarked in my post on orange, it is no wonder that there is no occurrence of that word in scripture.

Normal humans have three types of cone cells, which are our color receptors, in their retinas. They are most sensitive, respectively, to light with wavelengths of 564, 534 and 420 nanometers. (These light waves can be called yellowish-green, green, and bluish-violet.) Note that the color receptors are not spread evenly over the spectrum. Why? What are the implications? I'm not sure.

What color is perceived is due to more than just the wavelength. Other factors, such as what other colors we are seeing, whether we are seeing reflected or emitted light, and intensity, have an influence.

Do I know that I see green, or even light with a wavelength of 540 nanometers, the same way as you do? No, I don't.

Enjoy looking!

* * * * * * * *

References added, Feb 18, 2005:
efg's Color Reference library, a page of links on color, categorized.

What is color? from Pantone. Discussion of perception of color, and how color is produced in printing, and on monitors.

"The Importance of Context in Color Perception." Excerpt from Neuroscience, 2nd edition, published by Sinauer.

Page from the American Psychological Association, summarizing research which indicates that ". . . color terms are learned relative to language and culture" (as opposed to being dependent on the properties of human color vision)

Another undersea community discovered

Communities of living things near the mid-ocean rifts have been discovered, and are reasonably well known (see here for my review of a documentary about them). Another undersea community has been discovered. This is the community of organisms that depend on whale carcasses.

Amanda Haag wrote "Whale Fall," in the February 10, 2005, 433:566-7, issue of Nature. Haag is a science writer, and has not done the work herself, but she reports it well. She writes that "Scientists now estimate that a whale-fall community can survive for up to a century by sucking fats and sulphides from these bones." (p. 566) (See here for another article about whale fall communities.)

Scientists believe that as many as 39 species are suited to profit from whale carcasses that fall to the bottom of the sea. Haag describes a newly discovered worm, Osedax, the most fully. This creature "has a clever metabolic strategy. With no mouth, stomach or eyes, Osedax has evolved a root system to excavate the fat out of whale bones. The worms tunnel into the bones with their green, fleshy roots and turn them into 'Swiss cheese'. . ." (p. 567)

Since whale populations have been seriously depleted by human exploitation, there would be expected to be considerably fewer whale fall communities now than, say, a century ago. Because of this scarcity, there aren't many such communities to study. Scientists are sinking dead beached whales, so as to increase the number of communities that can be studied. Haag writes that it may take up to 3000 kilograms of scrap metal to sink a whale carcass.

It is supposed that there are not as many species of whale fall-dependent organisms as there were in the past, because of the depletion of their habitat.

As in the rift communities, one question that hasn't been completely answered is that of how the whale fall organisms disperse to new locations.

Unlike the rift communities, whale fall communities depend on photosynthesis. Most or all of the whale's body has come from consuming plants, or animals that eat plants.

What else don't we know, even here on earth?

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Colors: Yellow

Yellow is the color of gold. Sulphur is yellow. It is the color of butter and the spreads which replace it. It is the color of the sun. (The color of stars indicates something about their physical states.) Even though the sun is yellow, sunlight can be separated into all the colors of the rainbow.

I found only four uses of yellow in the Bible. Three of them are from Leviticus 13:30-36, which describes how to diagnose a person with a serious skin disease. (Look for yellow hair) The other reference compares the worshipper to the gold-colored feathers of a dove.

Here's the Wikipedia article on yellow.

Many flowers are yellow. Not only are flowers yellow, but most or all pollen is yellow. Yellow is, thus, associated with spring. The daffodils/jonquils/whatever you call them are in bloom here as I write. (Common names for living things are fine, but not everybody uses the same one for the same thing. That's why scientific names are important.)

Yellow tends to disappear, at least against a white background. Here's the color I decided to use for this post: yellow. Even that isn't very clear on the white background I am typing on. This color: yellow (Which, to me, is a true yellow. Whoops! I know, there isn't any such thing.) is almost invisible. There's a lesson in there, I guess. Generally, I shouldn't try to stand out, but to blend in.

Yellow has some negative connotations. It's the color of caution lights. It's the color of cowardice. But, as in daffodils, the sun, and butter, it has positive connotations, too. Let's not forget the school bus. Is that negative or positive? Positive, I hope.

Go out and look at the sun. Carefully. Don't look directly at it.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Colors: Orange

Most people can distinguish many colors. Interior decorators, lipstick and car manufacturers, and many other merchandisers, want us to recognize many colors, with many names. Here is the Wikipedia article on colors, which includes bistre (!) as a color. As they say, it's a partial list. (See here for the Crayola company's pages on our 50 favorite colors. They don't say how many aren't our favorite colors.)

In spite of our ability to see, and name, many colors, I'm posting a simpler series. Its on the seven colors of the rainbow, as I was taught them in grade school. I'll probably add black, white, and maybe brown. I hope to post in the order they are found in the rainbow: ROYGBIV. Here's the R post.

The word, orange, is said to come from the fruit, not the other way around. Unlike red, orange isn't used in the Bible. There must be reasons for that, but I don't know them. I speculate that the Hebrew and Greek languages had no words for orange, and didn't recognize it as a color. If so, their red and yellow must have been broader than ours.

Orange is the color of oranges, at least some oranges. Orange is a color often used by athletic teams. Clemson University and Tennessee come to mind, because of my present geographical location. There's a quirky comic strip, Rhymes with Orange, which, I believe, is so named because no words do that. (Check it out!)

Orange, the color that is not used in the Bible, and the word that has no rhymes, is a symbol of our uniqueness. We are, indeed, unique before God. No one can exactly replace me. That means that I've got special functions, special things that I should do, if God's plan is to be fulfilled in this world. I hope that writing this blog is one of those!

It is, of course, possible to over-emphasize our uniqueness. We may be unique, but we are no better than anyone else, no more special.

Eat an orange.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Some interesting posts/blogs/threads

Eternal Perspectives has a great post entitled "The Vast Godblog Wasteland." (You may also want to see my own previous post, "on Evangelical blogging.") Eternal Perspectives also has a serious post on how an Evangelical should be defined, and two more on how we should think of Israel. (here and here)

A discussion, considering the question of what C. S. Lewis thought about evolution, has been going on in Google groups for a few days. One person, asking why anyone should care, posted this (and some more), "if he accepted or didn't accept that (for example) the earth moved around the sun, that would make his theology neither more nor less valid, nor his fiction more nor less entertaining."

K's Cafe: The 30 Second Blog has some interesting stuff. The author has posted an original poem on "Aspen Trees in Winter." (I've done a post on leaflessness, and Bonnie has some good photos of trees in winter.) The blogger has posted compilations of verbs, adjectives, and nouns used to refer to God in the Psalms. There's a diversity of what seems to be other good stuff, too, including photos and poetry.

The Window in the Garden Wall: A C. S. Lewis blog, is predictable. Predictably good, if you like longish C. S. Lewis quotations, apparently from all his works, not just a few. They come with an interesting graphic, often one appropriate to the quotation. There's also sometimes a "What C. S. Lewis was doing on this date" feature, or a special link relating to CSL.

Carl Zimmer, science writer, discusses evidence that there is a mental state, minimally conscious, that has not been widely recognized, in which the person has brain activity, but is "locked in." He discusses some of the implications for end-of-life decisions, and suggests that we have not done enough for people in such a state.

*  *  *  *  *

As of October 11, 2012, this post is generating more spam comments than I want to deal with, so I am disabling the comment feature on it. Sorry.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Colors: Red

I know that there are people who can't see at all, and people who can't see all the colors. I'm not grateful enough for the ability to see, and to see color.

Red is a popular color. The Wikipedia has a good article on it. There are positive and negative associations with the color. U. S. stop signs are red. A person who is angry is sometimes described as "seeing red." Teachers often grade papers with red markers. We eat (or don't) red meat.

The national flags of Canada, China, Indonesia, Japan, and the United States all use red, as do those of other countries. That of China, the world's most populous country, is almost all red.

Blood is often described as red. However, only oxygenated blood is red. I've given blood, or had blood drawn, many times, and such blood is dark red, or reddish brown, because it comes from veins, where it has less oxygen. The red cells of blood are very important, although they have basically only one function. That function is to furnish oxygen to the other cells of the body. Hemoglobin is the molecule in red cells that carries oxygen. When oxygen combines with the iron in hemoglobin, the hemoglobin has a red color.

Some of the largest stars are called red giants. They are cooler than most other stars.

Many flowers are red. Red roses, of course, are associated with Valentine's Day.

Bees aren't able to see the color red. (They can see ultraviolet, which we can't see.)

Red in the Bible
The Bible uses red in a number of ways, or to stand for a number of things, as we do today. Here are some of those.

The Israelites crossed the Red sea. The Wikipedia article on that body of water indicates that the name may be a mistranslation of Reed sea, or may be because of seasonal algal blooms of a red color, or may be because of red-colored mountains near it. Over half of the occurrences of "red" in scripture refer to that crossing.

Red was significant in Jewish ceremonial law. God directed that some of the covering of the tabernacle be skins dyed red. (There are five statements about this, from Exodus 25:5 to 39:34.) God specified that a red heifer be used to prepare the water for cleansing those who had been ceremonially unclean (Numbers 19).

Zachariah 1:8 and 6:2, and Revelation 6:4 prophesy about a man riding a red horse, as symbolic of war. The man in Revelation (perhaps also in Zechariah) is one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Isaiah said that though sins were red like crimson, they could be as white as wool. That's interesting, because, in both the Old and New Testaments, blood was used in atonement for sin. So, symbolically speaking, red sin can be washed with red blood, and becomes white!

Red or reddish-brown, Christ's blood was the most precious substance in earth's history.

The visible colors are only a small part (less than an octave) of the electromagnetic spectrum. Infrared light is a little redder than red, so to speak. Better put, its waves are of a slightly lower frequency, and a slightly longer wavelength, than red light. Infrared is also called radiant heat.

Some animals are able to perceive infrared light. They aren't able to do this with their eyes, but with other specialized organs. Humans can perceive infrared light with special instruments, which are used in hunting at night, night photography, and in warfare

Red and Valentine's Day
I'm not certain why the color red came to be associated with valentine's day. My guess is that the association is related to the heart, the blood-pumping organ, which is often thought of as the seat of the emotions. The heart isn't really the seat of the emotions, and it doesn't really look like a valentine. It doesn't have a sharp point at one end, and two equal curves at the other. I wonder where the valentine shape comes from. Here's a theory on that, involving a flower.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Riftia and Black Smokers: Review of Aliens of the Deep

We don't have to go to Mars, or Titan, to find amazing new life forms. What else is still undiscovered, under the sea, or in the tops of trees, or elsewhere?

Aliens of the Deep is an Imax movie. It lasts about 37 minutes, and is rated G. James Cameron, Director of Titanic, was deeply involved in making this movie. (Go here for the IMDB entry. All Movie Guide also has an entry on the film, but I can't link to it directly.)

I'm glad I saw this. Imax theaters aren't everywhere, and my wife and I were fortunate enough to be staying within 20 miles of one last weekend. Warning: We paid $8 each, at 11:30 in the morning, to see this, which was the senior rate.

The movie is about inhabitants of the ocean floor, and it features some spectacular views of the geology and biology of a small part of that. It also shows some wonderful animations of the four Galilean moons of Jupiter, and a (speculative) exploration of the ocean of Europa, one of those moons. Cameron used four diving vessels at once. He also used real scientists, apparently. One was an exobiologist, one a geologist of the ocean bottom, one was a marine biologist, and one a space scientist. No doubt they were carefully selected, but they seemed to be authentic. All of them, and some other crew, including Cameron, were shown during dives.

I was thrilled to see video of the black smokers found on the ocean floor about 30 years ago, and the living community that gets its energy from them. There were explanations of the geology and biology by the scientists. These communities do not get their energy from the sun, but from the heat of the water put out by the black smokers. Bacteria can use this heat as a source of energy, and other organisms consume the bacteria. The most exotic are the white and red tube worms, Riftia.

Some viewers will be upset with Cameron, who says that the black smoker community has been down there for a billion years. He also said that it will be there for another billion. (How could anyone possibly know that?) Some might be upset with the possibility that we might spend lots of money on a trip to Europa. However, the views of spectacular geology and biology should much more than make up for any upsets.

These undersea communities don't seem to have more than a handful of species in them. However, appearances may be deceiving. Bacteria live in the tubes of Riftia, and a report in Environmental Microbiology, in 2002 (not freely available) indicates that there are many such species, indicating many niches inside the tubes.

The black smokers are thought to be relatively short-lived. As a result, the organisms living around them must be able to disperse effectively. There has been a study of Riftia larval dispersal, in Nature in 2001 (not freely available) which indicates that larvae can travel up to about 100 km., depending on currents and other conditions.

I would like someone to try to find out how genetically homogenous each species in each community is. I'd also like to know how close the genes of populations of the same species, in different locations, are to each other. No doubt, eventually, someone will do research on these matters.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Hathach: Lessons from a Eunuch

"for such a time as this" was not spoken by Mordecai to Esther. Not really.

Here's the entire verse:
For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, [then] shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father's house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for [such] a time as this? Esther 4:14, KJV

Most people familiar with the Bible would know that the "thou" in this verse is Esther. I doubt seriously that many would answer correctly if asked "who said it to her?" They would probably answer "Mordecai." Mordecai was her guardian. Mordecai sent this message, but it was actually delivered by Hathach, a eunuch in Esther's service. Esther was in the harem in the palace, and Mordecai wouldn't have been allowed there. Esther, even though queen, was probably confined to the palace most of the time.

Hathach communicated someone else’s message, and he did it effectively. He didn't:
listen to something, or someone, else
put off telling her
leave out anything important
add to the message: make it his message, not Mordecai’s
say, “this is over and above my job”
think, “I have something more important to do”

He must have previously showed Esther that he was trustworthy.

Mordecai had a message, but he had to rely on someone else to deliver it. So does God. I need to be sure that I am an effective communicator, because God's message is important. Lives depend on it.

Easton's Bible Dictionary, available through the Blueletter Bible, says that eunuch meant ". . . literally bed-keeper or chamberlain, and not necessarily in all cases one who was mutilated, although the practice of employing such mutilated persons in Oriental courts was common. Moses excluded them from the congregation (Deu 23:1)."

A eunuch was someone who had given up sex, or, rather, been deprived of his sexual powers.

Jesus pointed out that there were different categories of eunuchs:
For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from [their] mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive [it], let him receive [it]. (Matthew 19:12)

Giving up sex is a serious matter. Our society isn't in tune with that idea. The U. S. is now subsidizing drugs to cure erectile dysfunction through Medicare. (There are, of course, other things that we should give up, at times, not just sex. But I could hardly leave that idea out when writing about a eunuch!)

Jesus never asks us to give up something that is, really, good for us. Giving up something for Christ does not go unrewarded.

Isaiah had this to say:
For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose [the things] that please me, and take hold of my covenant; Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off. (Isaiah 56:4-5)

Mark wrote:
And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel's, But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life. (Mark 10:29-30)

We may have to make serious commitments, in order to communicate the message effectively. If so, we will be rewarded.

There is a message that needs to be communicated effectively, passionately. It needs trusted, committed, messengers. I hope that I am one.

* * * *

The above was posted at 4:27 AM, EDT, Feb 11, more or less. My eldest daughter pointed out that I had not spelled Hathach's name consistently, so I am changing the title to correct this. Thanks to her. Thanks for reading.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Is Not This the Land of Beulah?

Here's the text of an old song that I like.

Is Not This the Land of Beulah
? (see note below)
William Hunter, before 1884 [Note, Sept. 25, 2004: The webmaster of Timeless Truths informs me that this song was written before 1884. He or she apparently doesn't know the exact year.]
Copyright: Public Domain
Scripture: Isaiah 62:4
Tune: Is Not This the Land of Beulah? John W. Dadman

On-line source

I am dwelling on the mountain,
Where the golden sunlight gleams
O’er a land whose wondrous beauty
Far exceeds my fondest dreams;
Where the air is pure, ethereal
Laden with the breath of flow’rs,
They are blooming by the fountain,
'Neath the amaranthine bow’rs. (see note below)

  • Refrain:
    Is not this the land of Beulah?
    Blessed, blessed land of light,
    Where the flowers bloom forever,
    And the sun is always bright!
  • I can see far down the mountain,
    Where I wandered weary years,
    Often hindered in my journey
    By the ghosts of doubts and fears;
    Broken vows and disappointments
    Thickly sprinkled all the way,
    But the Spirit led, unerring,
    To the land I hold today.

  • I am drinking at the fountain,
    Where I ever would abide;
    For I’ve tasted life’s pure river,
    And my soul is satisfied;
    There’s no thirsting for life’s pleasures,
    Nor adorning, rich and gay,
    For I’ve found a richer treasure,
    One that fadeth not away.

  • Tell me not of heavy crosses,
    Nor of burdens hard to bear,
    For I’ve found this great salvation
    Makes each burden light appear;
    And I love to follow Jesus,
    Gladly counting all but dross,
    Worldly honors all forsaking
    For the glory of the cross.

  • Oh, the cross has wondrous glory!
    Oft I’ve proved this to be true;
    When I’m in the way so narrow,
    I can see a pathway through;
    And how sweetly Jesus whispers:
    "Take the cross, thou need'st not fear,
    For I’ve tried the way before thee,
    And the glory lingers near."

    I have been so bold as to suggest some changes, attempting to make antiquated English more understandable, or replace it with something appropriate. The suggestions are in bold italic. If anyone has better suggestions, I'd appreciate them as a comment.

    Is Not This the Land of Beulah?
    I am living on the mountain,
    Where the golden sunlight gleams
    O’er a land whose wondrous beauty
    Far exceeds my fondest dreams;
    Where the air is pure and wholesome
    Washed by blessed heavenly showers
    And the land spreads out before me
    With its ever-blooming flowers.

    • Refrain:
      Is not this the land of Beulah?
      Blessed, blessed land of light,
      Where the flowers bloom forever,
      And the sun is always bright!
  • I can see far down the mountain,
    Where I wandered weary years,
    Often hindered in my journey
    By the ghosts of doubts and fears;
    Broken vows and disappointments
    Thickly sprinkled all the way,
    But the Spirit led me onward
    To the land I hold today.

  • I am drinking at the fountain,
    Where I ever would abide;
    For I’ve tasted life’s pure river,
    And my soul is satisfied;
    There’s no thirsting for life’s pleasures,
    Nor adorning, rich and gay,
    For I’ve found a richer treasure,
    One that does not fade away.

  • Tell me not of heavy crosses,
    Nor of burdens hard to bear,
    For I’ve found this great salvation
    Makes each burden light appear;
    And I love to follow Jesus,
    Counting all I have as loss,
    Worldly honors all forsaking
    For the glory of the cross.

  • Oh, the cross has wondrous glory!
    Oft I’ve proved this to be true;
    When I’m in the way so narrow,
    I can see a pathway through;
    And how sweetly Jesus whispers:
    “Take the cross, you need not fear,
    for I've walked the way before you"
    And the glory lingers near.

    Beulah: Some modern popular gospel music uses this term to mean heaven. John Bunyan, in his great classic, The Pilgrim's Progress, did not use it so. He wrote: "Here they were within sight of the city they were going to, also here met them some of the inhabitants thereof; for in this land the Shining Ones commonly walked, because it was upon the borders of Heaven." I take it that he meant something like a state of Christian maturity, or the sanctified life, by the term. Merriam-Webster Online defines it as "an idyllic land near the end of life's journey in Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress."

    Amarinthine: An imaginary flower that never fades. (

  • Thursday, February 10, 2005

    Psalm 1

    Psalm 1 (KJV, to avoid copyright violation)
    1. Blessed [is] the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
    2. But his delight [is] in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.
    3. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
    4. The ungodly [are] not so: but [are] like the chaff which the wind driveth away.
    5. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
    6. For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.

    Thanks to the Blueletter Bible.

    I hope I'm a tree, not chaff. If so, it's not through my own virtue or merit.

    This closes, for now, my series on trees. I need to leave.

    Wednesday, February 09, 2005

    How do you understand a tree? (or under stand it)

    How do you understand a tree?

    In simplest terms, there are two methods.

    1) Holism (Here's the Wikipedia article on the subject)
    Stand under a tree. Feel its bark, smell the tree, listen to the wind through the leaves and twigs. Watch the bugs climbing it. Look at how the tree affects other plants.

    2) Reductionism (Here's the Wikipedia article on Scientific Reductionism)
    The other method is to analyze the tree by destroying it. Take the tree's square root. Count the twigs, branches and buds. Analyze its DNA. Measure its photosynthesis rate.

    Both of these methods have their strengths. Holistic tree observation could be taught in college as Tree Appreciation. It may lead to poetry and devotional thoughts. Scientifically, this method sees the tree in context. What is the value of the tree to surrounding organisms? What do the fungi connected to its roots do for the tree? What is the effect of climate and soil? Are the tree's neighbors like it? Are they its offspring, or parents, or siblings?

    Robert A. Laughlin, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, has recently written the following, which shows that he is not satisfied with reductionisn:
    What physical science thus has to tell us is that the whole being more than the sum of its parts is not merely a concept but a physical phenomenon. Nature is regulated not only by a microscopic rule base but by powerful and general principles of organization. Some of these principles are known, but the vast majority are not. New ones are being discovered all the time. At higher levels of sophistication the cause-and-effect relationships are harder to document, but there is no evidence that the hierarchical descent of law found in the primitive world is superseded by anything else. Thus if a simple physical phenomenon can become effectively independent of the more fundamental laws from which it descends, so can we. I am carbon, but I need not have been. I have a meaning transcending the atoms from which I am made.

    Reductionistic tree observation is seldom practiced. Trees are too big, and their generation time is way too slow. (Some such is being done. See also here.) Reductionistic observation is more likely practiced on microorganisms, like Escherichia coli. (There's an E. coli encyclopedia, and its genome has been sequenced.)

    What good is reductionistic observation? Well, it tells us something about ourselves. Western medicine is often reductionistic. Treat the disease as if it were in isolation, not the patient. This clearly has some problems, but it has also helped to cut way down on deaths from infection, treat nutritional disorders, help people with depression, and done a lot of other good things. Reductionistic observation of tree tissues, and tree genetics, may make paper manufacture more efficient, or lead to increased fruit production, or cure tree diseases.

    We need to see trees, and ourselves, in context, and as whole beings. It's also good if someone can see our blood sugar levels, and what we are producing in our urine. Reductionism and holism both have their place. Both trees, and the atoms from which they are made, have meanings.

    Tuesday, February 08, 2005

    How Trees Grow (Hint: not like us)

    Trees don't grow like us.

    Trees have many appealing features. One of them is that they seem to reach for the sky. Another is the texture of the bark. Both can be explained (at least on one level) in terms of the way trees grow.

    We, and "higher" animals generally, grow by expansion. We start out small, and end up larger, by expanding each part. Our feet get larger, our liver gets larger, etc. Not exactly all in synchrony, but basically all parts get larger. In other words, we grow more or less like a balloon.

    Not so trees. Trees add on to what is already there. If there's a forty-year old tree in our yard, the outside layer of the wood, the inside layer of the bark, and the tips of branches, are all new. The newest are 2004 vintage. (Assuming no growth yet this year.) Then, next to them, 2003's production, then 2002, etc.

    One consequence of this pattern is that the oldest bark is on the outside. Since the oldest bark isn't as large as newer bark, it gets stretched, as the wood, and newer bark, push it out. That causes the cracks in bark, and causes it to come flaking off. The cracks, and the flaking off, differ considerably from species to species, but all the ways that they do it are wonderful, and give different species their character.

    Meanwhile, back in the trunk, the oldest wood gets further and further from the outside, as new layers of wood and bark are built up outside it. In most trees, eventually it gets plugged up with various chemicals, naturally produced by the tree, and eventually is no longer useful for water transportation. This inner, older wood is usually darker than the outer, younger wood, and is called heartwood. It still is useful for support. Sometimes it's more useful for support than the outer wood. I remember some unhappy experiences trying to cut the heartwood of some types of trees with an axe. The outer wood, the sapwood, carries water and minerals up to the leaves, and also supports them, and the branches above.

    As the inner wood isn't absolutely essential, in some trees, it is eaten away by various processes, such as fire or disease, and you get a live tree which is partly hollow.

    Since trees don't grow by expansion, human markings on trees have an interesting history. Carving your initials into bark at, say, four feet off the ground, doesn't lead to the initials moving gradually up the tree as it grows. No, the initials will remain at the same height. But they won't stay as they were. The bark will expand, and eventually the initials, on the outermost bark, will fall off, leaving no trace of them, unless they are re-carved every few years.

    There are lots of photos of trees out there. Also, for many of you, there are trees you can see by looking out the window, or by taking a few steps. You know what trees look like. Nonetheless, I recommend Bonnie's recent photo gallery, featuring collections on "Winter," "Fall," and "Leafless Trees."

    I also recommend looking at real trees.

    Monday, February 07, 2005

    Some quotations about trees

    C. S. Lewis:
    I am sure that some are born to write as trees are born to bear leaves: for these, writing is a necessary mode of their own development. If the impulse to write survives the hope of success, then one is among these. If not, then the impulse was at best only pardonable vanity, and it will certainly disappear when the hope is withdrawn. - C.S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves, The Letters of C.S. Lewis, (28 August 1930) (my web source is here)

    William Dowie on J. R. R. Tolkien:
    The Lord of the Rings is basically a rural book, even something of an ecological tract. The companions travel through forests, over mountains, marshes, and down rivers pursuing their quest. They are in contact with the rhythms of nature and the significance of places and events in a way that is impossible for man in the era of mass production and urban construction. Things have meaning for Frodo and his companions, things that looked at from afar might be called natural hierophanies. The principal of these which Tolkien employs are special places, stones, rings, narrow passes, underground tunnels, moon and sun, night and day, trees and foliage, ship and sea, and the changing seasons. William Dowie, "The Gospel of Middle-Earth according to J. R. R. Tolkien" in J. R. R. Tolkien, Scholar and Storyteller: Essays in Memoriam, Mary Salu and Robert T. Farrell, editors. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1979, pp. 265-285. Quote is from page 268.

    A further symbol of the triumph of life is the cosmic tree, which is related of course to the whole renewal of nature that begins in spring and blossoms into summer. As Eliade points out, "for religious man, the appearance of life is the central mystery of the world," for "human life is not felt as a brief appearance in time, between one nothingness and another; it is preceded by a pre-existence and continued in a postexistence" (The Sacred and the Profane, p. 147). Because this mystery of the inexhaustible presence of life is bound up with the rhythmical regeneration of nature, the tree became a central symbol in religious traditions. So in The Lord of the Rings the figure of the tree carries something of this same mythic significance when the Eagle sings to the people of Gondor:
    And the Tree that was withered shall be renewed,
    and he shall plant it in the high places,
    and the City shall be blessed. [III, 241]
    William Dowie, "The Gospel of Middle-Earth according to J. R. R. Tolkien" in J. R. R. Tolkien, Scholar and Storyteller: Essays in Memoriam, Mary Salu and Robert T. Farrell, editors. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1979, pp. 265-285. Quote is from page 273.

    Ursula K. Le Guin, describing Ged:
    From that time forth he believed that the wise man is one who never sets himself apart from other living things, whether they have speech or not, and in later years he strove long to learn what can be learned, in silence, from the eyes of animals, the flight of birds, the great slow gestures of trees. Ursula K. Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea, New York: Ace, 1968, p. 98.

    Frances Schaeffer:
    If God treats the tree like a tree, the machine like a machine, the man like a man, shouldn't I, as a fellow-creature, do the same -- treating each thing in integrity in its own order? And for the highest reason: because I love God -- I love the One who has made it! Loving the Lover who has made it, I have respect for the thing He has made. (Francis A. Schaeffer, Pollution and the Death of Man, 1972, Ch. 4)

    John C. Polkinghorne:
    In the cross of Christ we see a lonely figure, nailed to the tree, exposed to the most tortured and lingering death that Roman political ingenuity could devise, deserted by his friends and taunted by his enemies, experiencing also the depths of alienation from the God who had been the centre of his life, the One he knew as his dear Father, so that he cries, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mk. 15:34; Mt. 27:46). Christians believe that in this bleak scene we see, not just a good man caught and destroyed by the system, but the one true God who, in the taut stretching of Christ's arms on the cross, embraces and accepts the bitterness of the world that is his divine creation. The Christian God is not a passionate spectator, looking down in sympathy on the sufferings of the world; the Christian God is truly the "fellow sufferer who understands," for in Christ God has known human suffering and death from the inside. The Christian God is the Crucified God. John C. Polkinghorne, Belief in God in an Age of Science. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998. p. 43.

    Sunday, February 06, 2005

    Trees as a major theme in fantastic literature

    No one could list all the times when trees were important in fiction. If they could, no one would read it. There are too many. I certainly can't do it comprehensively for fantastic literature, either. However, here's a list.

    I confess--this isn't going to be scholarly. I'm not going to go back and look up or read anything before I post this. Shame on me. Here are some important trees in works of fiction, from some of my favorite authors, as I remember them:

    J. R. R. Tolkien
    Tree and Leaf
    in the Silmarillion, two trees were the source of light for all the world.
    In The Lord of the Rings, there were:
    the party tree at Bilbo's good-bye party
    Old Man Willow, and the old forest
    the holly trees engraved on the gate of Moria.
    In the realm of Galadriel and Celeborn, the elves lived in harmony with the trees, and on them.
    Saruman cut down trees.
    the ents were sentient, intelligent trees, and they lived in a great forest, Fangorn.
    the white tree of Gondor was a symbol of the kingship
    Sam planted a seed from Galadriel to replace the party tree, as one of the symbols of the restoration of the Shire.

    C. S. Lewis, in the Narnia books
    The wardrobe was made from a tree.
    Digory got a fruit from a tree for his mother.
    Apparently both of the above had some connection to the Tree of Life

    Jack Vance
    Ramus Ymph becomes a tree as punishment in Maske: Thaery. Vance doesn't say much about trees throughout his writing.

    Urusula K. Le Guin
    the Immanent Grove on Roke is the center of Earthsea
    She wrote The Word for World is Forest

    Patricia McKillip
    In the Hed trilogy, the wizards can become trees.
    Morgon becomes one, also.
    In the Forests of Serre, The Book of Atrix Wolfe, and Winter Rose use forests as the setting for significant sections of the books.

    Elizabeth Haydon
    As I recall, she had a root of a giant tree going under the world, and also acting as a passage through time, in her trilogy.

    A. A. Milne
    Pooh, Piglet, and Owl (Wol) all lived in hollow trees, or in hollows in trees.

    Robert Silverberg
    Majipoor has many kinds of trees described, some quite bizarre. The Piurivars live in a dense forest.

    Sharon Shinn
    Forests provide the setting for some of her writing, for example in Summers at Castle Auburn. They don't in the Samaria books. The Shape-Changers Wife is a tree.

    Dan Simmons
    The Templars used giant trees as spaceships in the Hyperion series. I believe there were tree-planets, also.

    Connie Willis and Gene Wolfe
    I can't think of any particular tree use by either of them.

    See the end of this post for some of the reasons for the use of trees as symbols in literature. I wouldn't say that they are symbols in all of the above. In a lot of those stories, they are just trees.

    Please use your comments to add to (or subtract from) this list.

    Friday, February 04, 2005

    Trees as a major theme in the Bible

    Trees are a major theme in the Bible.

    Close to the beginning, there were the Tree of Life, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. At the end, there's the Tree of Life. The same Tree of Life? Maybe. Maybe not.

    In between, a lot of trees. Here are a few.

    Noah's ark was built from trees.

    Moses had a staff, perhaps made from a tree.

    Sacrifices were burned on wood.

    David and Solomon had the builders use wood in the Temple, and in the palace.

    Absalom was killed while hanging in a tree.

    Psalm 1 compares a righteous person to a tree.

    Zacchaeus climbed a tree.

    Christ presented the Sermon on the Mount from a boat, presumably made of wood.

    Boats played an important role in the New Testament. Jesus traveled on them, some of the apostles were fishermen, and Paul and co-workers made journeys in them.

    Christ hung on a cross made of wood.

    Why trees?
    Probably several reasons.

    There are a lot of them.

    They are symbols of permanence. Living permanence, unlike that of rocks.

    They are solid.

    They provide housing for other plants, for animals, and for humans. For humans, the housing provided is usually after the death of the tree--they make excellent building materials.

    They provide shade.

    They have character. There are patterns in branches, in individual leaves, in bark, and in the grain, when it's exposed. No two trees are exactly alike in appearance.

    They bear fruit.

    They have flowers.

    They can be climbed. We like to go higher. We like adventure. We like to see things we wouldn't otherwise see.

    Their roots are anchoring systems.

    They capture energy from the sun.

    No doubt there are other reasons why God used them as symbols, and why they are prominent in scripture.

    This posting doesn't follow some of what B. L. Ochman has to say, in her excellent article, "How to Write Killer Blog Posts . . ." Maybe it doesn't follow any of it.

    Please comment on the things I should have included.