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Thursday, June 30, 2005

Travel Hiatus, perhaps

We are traveling to Michigan, to see most of my parents' family, and, after that, to Ontario, for some vacation with our own family, until mid-July, more or less. I may not be able to post for much of this time, or may not choose to.

Comfort for declining years:

Isaiah 46:3 Hearken unto me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, that have been borne [by me] from their birth, that have been carried from the womb; Isa 46:4 and even to old age I am he, and even to hoar hairs will I carry [you]; I have made, and I will bear; yea, I will carry, and will deliver. (ASV)

Thanks for checking!

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Christian Carnival, June 29 05

The latest Christian Carnival is here. It looks good, although I'm posting this without having read any of the items.

The hostess says one of the posts "is part of a series explaining the phenomenal growth of Christianity in the first four centuries of the common era by looking at the role of women in the early church."

There's a post on what Free Will really means, and another on being slaves of coffee. There's another on the appropriateness of words like "darn," and "jeez." There's one on Biblical perspectives on our attitudes and response to poverty. There's a post on learning about God from nature, and one on why Paul said so little about baptism, and one that is described as being about how "religion shapes science."

Like I said, these (and others) look good, and I think I've talked myself into reading at least those described here.

Thanks for reading, if anyone did.

Sunspots 15

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

William Law's A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (published in 1729) viewable by chapter.

* * * * *

I've noticed that Bloglines doesn't seem to be as effective in searching as it used to be (As far as I can tell, it seems to notify me of new posts as well as ever, but it isn't returning keyword searches as well as it used to, it seems). This report, from Search Engine Watch, indicates that there are 2 million or more "articles" per day posted to blogs. It also indicates that there will be progress in searching this summer. I hope so.

* * * * *

Ambrose Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary, 1906, which consists of witty, if cynical, definitions.

BOTANY, n. The science of vegetables -- those that are not good to eat, as well as those that are. It deals largely with their flowers, which are commonly badly designed, inartistic in color, and ill-smelling.

GRAVITATION, n. The tendency of all bodies to approach one another with a strength proportion [sic] to the quantity of matter they contain -- the quantity of matter they contain being ascertained by the strength of their tendency to approach one another. This is a lovely and edifying illustration of how science, having made A the proof of B, makes B the proof of A.

* * * * *

An article on the discovery of photosynthetic organisms around hydrothermal vents on the ocean's bottom. The vents emit some light, apparently.

* * * * *

Interview with the scientist who first grew human embryonic stem cells experimentally. He is not happy with Bush's policies on these, but is not as optimistic as some are about therapeutic uses. He believes that the greatest importance of such cells will be their contributions to understanding basic human biology. He also says that the U. S. never really dealt with the moral issues of in vitro fertilization, and those are the issues that are most important in embryonic stem cell research.

* * * * *

Carl Zimmer's response to a commenter who is understandably exasperated at (apparently) everything being evidence for evolution.

* * * * *

A Flickr project to post pictures of all of the birds of the world. You probably need a Flickr membership (free, and no ad e-mail) to see this.

* * * * *

Article challenging the very foundations of science. Sample:

Scientists don't know that the universe is comprehensible. This metaphysical assumption – which must be made if science is to proceed at all – is a pure article of faith. This challenges the whole orthodox conception of science, which prides itself on making no assumptions independently of evidence and being, in this respect, quite different from religion or politics. The problematic, necessary article of faith is thus repressed.

* * * * *

Fusing embryonic stem cells to adult cells may turn the adult stem cells into the equivalent of embryonic stem cells.

* * * * *

I expect to post a link to this week's Christian Carnival at this point, later today.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Mimosa flower

This is a picture of a group of mimosa flowers. Mimosas are common in upstate South Carolina at this time of year. They are large shrubs, growing no more than about 3 meters (10 feet) tall, roughly, in my experience. They may have been brought here from the old world in the 1700s.

The plants are members of the pea family, or Fabaceae, and the genus name is Mimosa. There are several species. Another of them is also common in this area, although I haven't seen any yet this year. Although the leaves and flower of this second plant are quite similar, the plant is much smaller, and it is usually called the sensitive plant, from its habit of rapidly collapsing its leaflets when they are touched. You can see a Quicktime movie of this collapse here.

Members of the pea family are as important as any other group of plants, because they work, in conjunction with bacteria in lumps, or nodules, on their roots, to make Nitrogen available to themselves, to animals that eat them, and to the soil when they die. (See here for another post on a member of this family, with some reference links)

If you want a higher-resolution picture, you can get it by clicking on the picture, then finding the different sizes link, at the right, in the source page. (Free Flickr membership may be required.)

Monday, June 27, 2005

Authors that try to integrate science & faith

I responded to a tag from Bonnie, indicating books that had meant a lot to me. One such category was books that try to integrate science and faith. John C. Polkinghorne has written several of these. Stephen M. Barr's Modern Physics and Ancient Faith is another good one. So is Ian Barbour's When Science Meets Religion: Enemies, Strangers, or Partners? Bonnie e-mailed me, saying that she had some interest in this type of book. I decided to publish my response to her, more or less, saying more about these books.

Barr is the deepest of the three, for the non-scientist, I think. This is from his first page:

The fact of the matter is that there is a bitter intellectual battle going on, and it is about real issues. However, the conflict is not between religion and science, it is between religion and materialism. Materialism is a philosophical opinion that is closely connected with science. It grew up alongside of science, and many people have a hard time distinguishing it from science. But it is not science. It is merely a philosophical opinion. And not all scientists share it by any means. In fact, there seem to be more scientists who are religious than who are materialists. Nevertheless, there are many, including very many scientists, who think that materialism is the scientific philosophy. The basic tenet of “scientific materialism” is that nothing exists except matter, and that everything in the world must therefore be the result of the strict mathematical laws of physics and blind chance. (p. 1) Stephen M. Barr, Modern Physics and Ancient Faith. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003.

A lot of it gets more scientific after that, but it's all relevant to integrating science and faith. Barr is a scientist by training, I believe.

Here's a sample of Polkinghorne, who has written quite a few books, generally not very long ones. Most any would do for an introduction to his thoughts on integrating science and faith:

Scientists, and theologians of a realist cast of mind, have one important commitment in common: they both believe that there is a truth to be found or, more realistically, to be approximated to. This belief does not entail a naive objectivity, either in subatomic physics or even less in theology. What we know of entities must conform to their nature and there is a necessarily veiled character to our encounter both with the quantum world and with God. Yet that encounter is a real meeting with something other than human thought, an exploration of what is and not just of what we choose to say. . . . The concepts we are considering cannot do the work that is needed to be done unless they have that ontological reference. A God who is just an internalized symbol of our commitment to the highest values may provide a focus for living but such a God is not the ground of hope in the face of death and beyond death. Unless there really is a God who really was "in Christ reconciling the world to himself" (2 Cor. 5:19), then the cross is no answer to the bitter problem of suffering in the world. John C. Polkinghorne, Belief in God in an Age of Science. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998. p. 45.

Polkinghorne's books are accessible to the intelligent reader.

Polkinghorne was trained as a scientist. My first introduction to him was when I was reading up on physics, after not having taught it for several years. I had no idea that I was reading anything other than an introduction to quantum mechanics, when, on the last couple of pages, I was astounded to discover that Polkinghorne was a believer. He eventually stopped practicing physics, and took theological training.

Ian Barbour is not an evangelical, as I read him, but I believe that he has something important to say. He argues (When Science Meets Religion: Enemies, Strangers, or Partners?) that Christianity and science should not be in conflict, or independent of each other, or merely in dialogue, but should be integrated. I believe that he is right, and that the Bible teaches that. The book is relatively short, and readable. It has chapters on different branches of science, which can be read independently of each other.

Here's a quote from Barbour:

. . . both scientific materialists and biblical literalists have failed to recognize significant distinctions between scientific and religious assertions. The scientific materialists have promoted a particular philosophical commitment as if it were a scientific conclusion, and the biblical literalists have promoted a prescientific cosmology as if it were an essential part of religious faith. Ian G. Barbour, When Science Meets Religion: Enemies, Strangers, or Partners? San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 2002, p. 36.

* * * * *

On February 19, 2009, I added links to the authors above, or to their books. I also changed the title, because I am adding a fourth author, one that I should have included in post in 2005, when I first posted this.

That author is Holmes Rolston, III. Rolston has written several books, especially Science and Religion: A Critical Survey. (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1987) Rolston's book was re-published in 2006. A firm believer in the efficacy of science, but not in all the side effects found in a scientific society, Rolston describes evolution in terms of suffering, but borne up by God in Christ, as the supporting redeemer. He argues for a Divine plan:
Life is not an accident, whatever place dice-throwing pays in its appearance and maturation. It is something arranged for in the nature of things. The dice are loaded. (p. 113.)

Rolston clearly writes as a believer, and he covers all of the major issues at the interface between science and religion.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Women in ministry: Transcultural?

I am referring to a previous post, and to a comment on that post.

The commenter referred to an article from Apologetics Press. As the commenter says, it's a fairly long article. This quote contains the central claim, referring to 1 Corinthians 11 and 14: ". . . both passages demonstrate the clear application of the transcultural principle (female subordination in worship) to a specific cultural circumstance. The underlying submission principle remains intact as an inbuilt constituent element of the created order." In other words, the author states that subordination of women in worship is not a cultural matter, but is built into creation, like, say, gravity.

That can, of course, be argued, and has been, by those who claim that female subordination in worship is not transcultural, but that the passages which seem to teach it were related to specific cultural situations, not necessarily applicable to, say, 21st Century North America. Such arguments generally appeal to such scriptures as Acts 2:16-21, and to the fact that there were prophetesses in the Old Testament (Exodus 15:20, Micah 6:4, Judges 4, 2 Kings 22:14-23:3), and the New (Acts 21:9), and that even 1 Corinthians 11 does not say that women are not to pray or prophesy, but that their head is to be covered when they do. (The article cited concedes that head covering, at least, was cultural.)

Here's Acts 2:
17-18 (ASV, emphasis added): 17 And it shall be in the last days, saith God, I will pour forth of my Spirit upon all flesh: And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, And your young men shall see visions, And your old men shall dream dreams:18 Yea and on my servants and on my handmaidens in those days Will I pour forth of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.

My impression is that everybody, including me, has a tendency to think that scriptural admonitions that we agree with are transcultural, and those that we don't like very much aren't. Clearly, that's a danger.

My wife has been asking me about Acts 15. I don't have many answers, but here are some of her questions, and the matter is related to the idea of transcultural.

Acts 15:28 For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: 29 that ye abstain from things sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication; from which if ye keep yourselves, it shall be well with you. Fare ye well. (ASV)

The Jerusalem Council had four commands for Gentile Christians. It is interesting that few churches these days have anything at all to say about the first three of them. "Abstaining from things sacrificed to idols" isn't mentioned now because, in the literal sense, no such things now exist. However, Paul said, in 1 Corinthians 8, that the main reason for not eating food offered to idols was not because it had been offered to idols, but because doing so might bother someone with a weak conscience. In 1 Corinthians 10:27, he told the Corinthian church that, if they were invited to eat with an idol-worshiper, they shouldn't ask whether the food had been sacrificed to idols. If they were told that it was, then they should abstain. Thus, even in New Testament times, one of the four prohibitions was weakened somewhat by Paul. Most Christians, I suppose, would say that eating blood, or meat from an animal which did not had the blood drained out of id, is not a sin, which, if true, means that these prohibitions were cultural, not transcultural. (The culture it applied to was one which mostly kept the Jewish dietary laws.) Abstaining from fornication is still taken as transcultural, and there is reason for that, as God's sexual ideal for humans, throughout scripture, is that it should only take place between a male and female who are married to each other.

My point is that it seems hard to tell which of the commandments given to the early church should be taken as transcultural, and which applied to a particular situation or culture. As indicated previously, I believe, along with some who know better than I (check references in that post), that prohibitions against women in spiritual leadership were cultural, and, in the US, at least, they still are. I believe that weakens the church. I certainly respect the views of those who think such prohibitions are transcultural. They could be right. They could also be wrong.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Butterfly Weed Orange

Butterfly weed full bloom

This flower is a member of the milkweed family. The scientific name is Asclepias tuberosa. (See here for more scientific information)

The linked page says that the root is tough, and was used as a cure for pleurisy by Native Americans. I can attest to the toughness. This beautiful orange perennial grows wild here, and is a common sight along roadways. Several years ago, my wife sent me off on an expedition to dig a few up and transplant them to her flower garden. I dug up 5 or 6, from several locations within a few miles. I don't think I ever got the entire root. That didn't stop the plants from surviving, and I'm guessing that the parts of the roots I left behind also grew and prospered.

A local name is chiggerbush, based on the notion that you can get chiggers from getting near this plant. Maybe. They certainly provide a splash of fairly long-lasting orange color.

If you want a higher-resolution picture, you can get it by clicking on the picture, then finding the different sizes link, at the right, in the source page. (Free Flickr membership may be required.)

Friday, June 24, 2005

Basketball: The Miracle of St. Anthony

A relative gave me The Miracle of St. Anthony, by Adrian Wojnarowski. The book covers the 2003-4 basketball season of coach Bob Hurley, in an inner-city Catholic high school in New Jersey. (I occasionally blog about basketball, and this year's season is over, except for the WNBA.)

Hurley is an amazing man, who should be commended for his work. (This newspaper article says he has turned down several million dollars in offers to coach college.) Both his sons played under him. One, Bobby, was an NCAA star, and played successfully in the NBA, but was injured badly in a car wreck. Both are now involved in high school coaching.

A few impressions:
Some high school basketball programs are big business. (Most certainly aren't) They are designed to prepare young men for college and NBA stardom. In a sense, that's true of Hurley's. His basketball success keeps his school alive.
Some young men are taught, from high school and before, that they are stars. Hurley thinks that that doesn't teach them really solid basketball. It also can do awful things to their egos.
Hurley is tough. I don't think that much of the language he is reported to use is necessary. I don't live in inner-city New Jersey, though.
The book was very frank. The only white kid on the team had a very pushy mother, who was not portrayed favorably. I checked, and there was such a kid on his team. I'm surprised the mother didn't sue. Maybe she did.
Not only Hurley, but several other people, including Mrs. Hurley, made great sacrifices for the school and the team.
Inner-city New Jersey is a terrible place to live, and the best thing most young people from there can do for themselves is to leave such an atmosphere. Most, even some who are offered basketball scholarships, are not willing to.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

I hope this doesn't hurt US-Canadian relations

I had what I thought was a simple question for my ISP. It didn't turn out that way:

First, I tried e-mail.

First e-mail:
* Name: Martin LaBar
* Issue: General Info on [ISP] Services
* Detailed Issue: Other
* Message Body: I have activated 800 number access on our account.
What 800 number do I dial when in Stratford, Ontario? Thanks.

Relevant portion of response:
Dear Martin LaBar,

Thank you for contacting us.

We understand that you are inquiring about the 800 number to dial from Stanford and Ontario.

Please be informed that, you can use the following 800 number to access internet from anywhere in US

. . .

Once the service is activated, you may start using the 800 access numbers at any time.

800 service is billed at a rate of $6.00 per hour ($0.10 per minute) surcharge is added to your regular dial-up account charges for all calls using the Service in the United States. Calls are billed in 1 minute increments, with a 30 second minimum.

If you need any further assistance, please let us know.

Sonny N 3713
[ISP] Electronic Customer Support
[ISP], Inc.

So I tried again:
For your information, STRATFORD (not Stanford--see my original query . . .) ONTARIO is in CANADA, not the United States (it's North of most of the US).
What number, if any, can I use to access dial-up from there? I don't need, nor do I expect to get, DSL from there.


Reply 2:
Dear Martin Labar,

Thank you for your reply.

We sincerely apologize for the miscommunication.

We understand that you are inquiring about the access numbers for Stratford and Ontario, to use the dial up services there.

We are sorry to inform you that, we are unable to find the access numbers for the cities, Stratford and Ontario.

However, in order for us to assist you in finding the nearest access number, please provide the following details:

1. Your phone number including area code.
2. The city where you live.
3. Surrounding cities.
4. The current access number you dial to connect to [ISP].

So I e-mailed again:
Let's try this one more time. I live in South Carolina, which is a State in the United States. I am planning on taking a trip to Stratford, a town in the Province of Ontario, which is in Canada. Canada is a country separate from the U. S. What phone number can I use to access [ISP] with my laptop from Stratford, Ontario, Canada?

Thank you.

Dear Martin Labar,

Thank you for contacting us.

We sincerely apologize for the confusion.

We understand that you are inquiring for access number for Stratford, which is located in the Canadian State of Ontario.

We are sorry to inform you that, we are unable to find access number for the City of Stratford.

However, you can find the access number of its near by cities and use that number to have dial up internet access at Stratford.

You can also locate an [ISP] access number of the near by cities for your area(i.e., Stratford), by visiting the following link:

So I gave up, and tried chatting:

'Anthony M' says: Thank you for contacting [ISP name] LiveChat, how may I help you today?
[me]: We will be travelling to Stratford, Ontario, Canada, and taking our laptop. Is there an 800 number I can access from that city? If so, what is it, please? Thanks.
Anthony M: I understand that you wish to know about the 800 number for few cities.
[me]: I want to know if there are any 800 numbers for Canada, a country adjacent to the US.
Anthony M: I am sorry to inform you that there are no 800 numbers for canada.
[me]: OK. Thanks.
Anthony M: You are most welcome.
Anthony M: I appreciate your understanding.
Anthony M: Is there anything else I may assist you with today?

[me]: No. Thanks.
Anthony M: You're welcome and thank you for using [ISP name] LiveChat. Should you need further assistance, please feel free to contact us again.
Anthony M: Bye.

Except for eliminating some boilerplate, and hiding the ISP's name, and our own e-mail address, this is a verbatim transcript of interchanges on June 18, 2005.

I am reasonably sure that "Sonny M." and "Anthony M." are pseudonyms for tech support workers from Asia, who, apparently, are even more ignorant of geography than most U. S. residents. (I hope!) I don't care if my ISP gets its tech workers from Mars, as long as they are reasonably competent. Being competent in geography is probably too much to ask. I see that I didn't continue to ask "Sonny M." about 800 service, which I should have. I'm not at all sure that I got a correct answer from "Anthony M."

I hope this doesn't hurt US-Asian relations, or Asian-Canadian relations.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Sunspots 14

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

The birth announcement of John Christopher Knox, who is not related to me. His mother has a page of helpful links for parents of little ones--click on the link at the left of John's page.

* * * * *

Pastor Perry Noble (not my pastor, but he went to my church when he was a kid) asks "Should Church Be Entertaining?" You may be surprised at his answer.

* * * * *

The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Legal Guide for Bloggers.

* * * * *

The Native Plant Information Network has a glossary, a database with information about 5,200 native plants, and an image gallery with 17,000 images.

* * * * *

Orac responds thoughtfully to the idea that evolution is just a theory.

* * * * *

Botany Photo of the Day, from the University of British Columbia, has RSS feeds with some marvellous pictures.

* * * * *

Article on Terri Schiavo, by a lawyer, in First Things, which claims that the courts followed the laws of Florida, but that "Those laws, like the laws of most states, expressly provide that a guardian may starve to death a ward in a persistent vegetative state . . .," and are therefore unjust laws.

* * * * *

Hannah answers the question, "Is the Intellectual Life of Conservative Christians Simple?" with a thoughtful "No, it shouldn't be." This post was the winner of the Intellectuelle contest, restricted to female Christians. For all winners, go here.

* * * * *

This week's Christian Carnival is here. It's just been posted, and I haven't read any entries, save mine.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Playing Tag (sort of)

On June 8th, Bonnie tagged me. As I indicated previously, I consider it an honor. She's a serious blogger.

I put up a post, asking if anyone out there who reads this blog, and has a blog, wanted to be tagged. Either no one read it, or no one wanted to be tagged, so I won't tag anyone, but I do have some blogs I'd like to mention. Disclaimer: I have known the first three authors personally. I don't know them well.

My criteria are:
1) Blog is not mostly personal. (Such blogs are great! I subscribe to about a dozen, but they probably are not usually of general interest.)
2) Blogs are posted at least a couple of times a week.
3) Blog is not widely known, judging by the number of Bloglines subscribers and commenters.
4) I subscribe to the blog, and am glad I have.

So here they are, in no particular order:

Schenck Thoughts is from a Professor of New Testament. He posts some serious, but readable, theological stuff.

Candice posts at A Beautiful Mess. She covers a lot of ground. There's personal stuff, devotional stuff, photos, and stuff about contemporary music (which I am, and probably shall ever be, ignorant of.) Brief, readable posts.

Candice's pastor is at the eponymous Perry His posts are short lessons, probably quite a bit like what Jesus did. One negative about his blog is that you can't post a comment, but he's a busy man.

Respectful Insolence is on science, usually debunking various things. Orac is usually right on target, skewering somebody's sacred cow.

A Window in the Garden Wall posts a C. S. Lewis quotation every day, sometimes with calendar information on Lewis, or a relevant link. Posts letters, poetry, fiction, literature, all of Lewis' work, I guess.

I hope one or two of you go to one or two of these, and find something you like.

There are some questions I'm supposed to answer, as part of being tagged.

Total books owned: Like Bonnie, a lot. Less, now that my wife and I are cleaning out a lot of them.

Last book I bought: A paperback copy of Catherine Asaro's The Last Hawk, on a whim, at a used bookstore. It was enjoyable, but not deep, science fiction. I use the local public library a lot for my reading material, plus some of the books my wife brought home from school.

Last book I read: A Gathering of Days, by Joan W. Blos, which is a Newbery award winner, and one of the books my wife brought home. It's the fictional journal of a girl coming of age in New Hampshire in the 1800's. It deserved the award.

Five books that mean a lot to me: (I'm going to cheat here!)
1) A succession of bibles, with, currently, an NIV study bible, the Blueletter Bible (on-line search and other tools, and several versions), and the ESV daily bible readings as most important.
2) Many science books. Amram Scheinfeld's The New You and Heredity turned me on to genetics when I was in high school. George Gamow's A Biography of Physics was great in college, and I read some of it again during the last academic year. There have been many more, and I hope there will be new ones just as important to me.
3) Many books that try to integrate science and faith. John Polkinghorne has written several of these. Stephen M. Barr's Modern Physics and Ancient Faith is another good one. So is Ian Barbour's When Science Meets Religion: Enemies, Strangers, or Partners?
4) Most anything by C. S. Lewis. I found the Narnia books while a graduate student in science at the University of Wisconsin, and they were great. They still are. So are Till We Have Faces, Mere Christianity, and other works by him.
5) I have posted about my three favorite works of fantastic literature. These are by J. R. R. Tolkien, Richard Adams, and Ursula K. Le Guin. I also hate to leave out works by Patricia A. McKillip, Connie Willis, Gene Wolfe, and Jack Vance. I'll stop there.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, June 20, 2005

Michael Frayn's Copenhagen

My wife was good enough to go to see a production of Michael Frayn's Copenhagen with me on Father's Day, at Centre Stage South Carolina. She assigned me to report to our daughters on our attendance. (She also pointed out a grammatical mistake. Thanks!) I decided to do this as a blog post.

This play won the Tony award (best Broadway play) for 2000. It was an amazing choice. There are only three characters, all playing dead people, on a bare stage. The plot is that the dead people, Werner Heisenberg, Neils Bohr, and Bohr's wife, Margrethe, are trying to understand a visit Heisenberg made to Bohr, in Copenhagen, in 1941, by discussing it, over and over. There's enough physics in the play that I once assigned the script for a physics class to read.

Based on this description, the play doesn't sound like much, but it is. There are many interesting aspects of our lives explored during Copenhagen. Can we really ever understand ourselves? Is memory accurate? Why do we do things? What is the responsibility of a scientist for the application of that scientist's work? Do humans perceive reality, or determine it?

Bohr and Heisenberg were two of the greatest physicists of the past century. Heisenberg, like many others, studied under Bohr, in Copenhagen, Denmark, where Bohr lived. During, or before, World War II, many of the physicists of Europe, ethnic Jews, left. Heisenberg did not. He was in charge of Germany's nuclear physics program. He did go to see Bohr. Frayn's play dramatizes real uncertainty about why he went, and what they said to each other. The play works in Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, which tells us that we cannot accurately measure both the momentum and position of sub-atomic particles, and Bohr's Complementarity, which says that a sub-atomic particle can present itself as either a wave or a particle, depending on how it is measured. Although neither of these ideas was supposed to be about ordinary human knowledge, both of them have influenced our thinking about how we know, and what reality is. (So has Einstein's Theory of Relativity, which, again, was not supposed to be about moral absolutes, but about measuring movement of one physical system from a second one, but has influenced our thinking about moral absolutes*.)

Historians are not clear about what happened during Heisenberg's meeting with Bohr, except that these people, who had been great friends until that time, had a falling out during this meeting. Frayn dramatizes this lack of clarity, having the actors suggest that Heisenberg was trying to use Bohr to find out about Allied work on nuclear fission (the atomic bomb), or to get Bohr's advice on the production of an atomic bomb, or that Heisenberg was trying to tell Bohr that he, Heisenberg, would try to deliberately hold back the German nuclear program, or that Heisenberg wanted Bohr's blessing for working on a project which might protect Heisenberg's country from destruction by the Allies, even though Bohr was in Denmark, occupied by the Germans.

Both men survived the war. Both were invited to give Gifford lectures, a noted and long-running series of prestigious lectureships on natural theology. According to the play, Heisenberg was generally shunned by physicists after the war, even though, as Frayn put it, Heisenberg had not built a fission bomb which destroyed two cities--the scientists working for the Allies had.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was founded by some of the scientists who helped produce fission bombs, questioning, after the fact, the impact of their scientific offspring. It is still discussing the implications of nuclear weapons, almost sixty years after their testing and use. One of its features is the Doomsday Clock, which represents how close we are to nuclear war. Currently, it is set at seven minutes to midnight.

There was a discussion after the play, and perhaps a third of the audience stayed for it. The leaders tried to center it on the moral responsibility of scientists for the application of their work, but it ranged further. My belief is that scientists are partly responsible for the forseeable consequences of the application of their work, and might be morally obligated, under some circumstances, to stop working in certain areas. The only time that I know of when that happened was at the Asilomar Conference on recombinant DNA in 1975, and even in that case, most of the research which was questioned then is now being done, and perhaps all of it will be, including germ cell DNA engineering (changing the DNA of a sperm or egg, or cells which produce them).

My only contribution to the discussion was when a lady said that there were no absolute moral standards, in response to one of the leaders, who said that there are, and that they come from a supernatural God. I remarked that her statement was itself an absolute. The leader got her to agree that there was at least one thing (raping a two-year-old) that was absolutely wrong. The discussion pointed out that one argument for actually using the fission bomb was that the deaths caused would be far less than if the Japanese had been defeated more conventionally.

I thought about asking three questions. First, is a scientist responsible for how the public sees reality as a result of her work (see remarks on relativity, the uncertainty principle, and complementarity above)? Second, could, or should, such a play be written about the invention of gunpowder (my wife says guns--she's probably right) rather than the fission bomb? Third, the play brought out that Heisenberg was an accomplished musician. It didn't bring out, but it is true, that Bohr was a student of philosophy (as was Einstein, and most of the European physicists of the first half of the previous century). I don't believe that most scientists in the U. S., nor, probably, the rest of the world, are as versed in the humanities as those of Bohr's times. If this is true, is that dangerous? Shouldn't scientists know more than science?

My wife and I certainly were gripped by the play, and were glad we went. It wasn't merely entertainment.

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*Rebecca Goldstein has recently written on how the work of Einstein, and of Kurt Gödel, a great mathematician, both of them fierce believers in an objective reality, was used to argue that there is no such thing.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Four Fathers

J. T

My late father-in-law, probably about 11 years ago

Since my name is on this blog, I named my father, but, as his name isn't, I won't name my father-in-law.

My father was a quiet man, usually. He was a city boy, but spent his honeymoon in northern Wisconsin, far enough from towns of any size that, when I was born, my mother didn't go to a hospital, but to a midwife. My parents never returned from their honeymoon. As they said, they couldn't afford to go back. So they stayed, and raised us. They worked hard. My father built a log cabin for us to live in. He went off to work in the shipyard at Superior, and on the Alcan highway, during World War II, as his service. I suppose he was too old, and had too many sons, to be drafted. We boys, and mother, stayed behind.

He learned to farm. I suppose he was never great at it, but the land we tried to work wouldn't have let anyone be. He was good (with my mother) at being a dedicated churchman, at imparting a love for music, and a love for books.

My parents gave land for a church, and my father helped move an old schoolhouse to the location. It's still there, about 50 years later, and still used as a church. He taught Sunday School, and sung, and gave, and worked, and prayed. He wasn't showy at any of this--he just did it.

My father played the violin. I don't know if he did it well, but we thought so. He didn't have much time to play, with parenting and farming. We often fell asleep hearing him play, and Mom accompanying on the piano, with the sound coming up the stairs. He and my mother played for church, my mother often, he occasionally. One of my brothers has been a professional musician. The other two, and I, have been involved in church music in various ways, and one of us has been involved in quite a bit of music in other ways, too. Some of the grandchildren could have been professional musicians, but, so far, none has. None of us has really taken to the violin, but to music, yes.

He also listened to the radio, sometimes to classical music, I believe, while we were milking the cows.

Another thing he did while milking was to read pulp fantastic magazines. He'd place the magazine carefully on one leg, sitting holding the milk bucket between both legs, and milk. I suppose it wasn't too efficient, because he had to stop every few minutes to turn the page and fold the old page under, but some of his offspring still read fantastic literature, and none of us milk. (He did other kinds of reading, too.)

He encouraged us to be what we wanted to be, whether it was high school athletics or career. He and mother came to visit us, in one case even in Venezuala, after we left home.

We loved him, and he loved us. Thank you, God, for a good father.

I didn't know my father-in-law for as long as I knew my father, and I wasn't around him during my formative years. I did get to know him well. He, like my father, loved his children, and his grandchildren. He would have loved each of the three great-grandsons he has now.

My father-in-law had hard times when he was growing up. His family did some share-cropping. He probably wasn't able to spend a lot of time in school, because of work. He may have had a head injury which interfered with some of his ability. He never really learned to read, but he had a love of learning. He would browse the newspaper, and usually had a fairly good idea of what was in it, from the pictures, and the occasional word he knew. His own father died when he was about seven. His mother wasn't well for much of her life. The family moved from the farms of north Georgia to the mill villages of upstate South Carolina, and he worked in textile mills for many years. He and my mother-in-law took care of their three children, and also of her parents in their last years, without much money or room to do it. I doubt if they complained.

My father-in-law was good to me. He was a friend. He was funny--often on purpose, but sometimes not. Probably because he felt self-conscious about not having much formal education, he compensated by acting as if he knew everything. It didn't matter what anyone asked him, he would come out with an answer. Many of them were correct, of course, but some were ludicrous. He could also say some things that were exaggerations, sometimes big ones. I honestly think that, most of the time, at least, he thought he was telling the truth, even if we knew that he wasn't.

He was very reluctant to commit himself. My wife says that, if she or her siblings asked him anything, they expected a "No." I heard one of my brothers-in-law, his son, ask him if he would be best man at his wedding. His response was, "well, if I don't have anything scheduled." We all knew that he had retired, and had only one thing scheduled in his life at the time, namely his death, and there wasn't any sign that that was imminent. We all also knew good and well that he wouldn't have missed this opportunity unless roped, tied, and hospitalized. But he wouldn't commit himself. He did it, of course.

He could figure out how to fix stuff, and how to make stuff. My wife still misses his abilities in fixing and making. I don't have them.

If it troubled him that I had a Ph. D., it didn't show, and I don't think it did. It didn't trouble me that he couldn't read. We got along well.

The most important thing he did for me, I guess, was to show how to die. He, let's face it, was sometimes cranky. He'd fuss over the way food was cooked, or over various things that didn't seem important to some of the rest of us. When he was diagnosed with cancer, we all worried that we were in for a difficult time. We really weren't. Oh, it was hard enough, and none of us would want to go through it again, but it wasn't because of my father-in-law's attitude. He was living evidence of God's grace. He was patient, and kind, and grateful, more than he had been before. He was really no trouble. God was good to him, and to us, in his decline and passing. I hope any survivors I have can say the same of me.

I have two son-in-laws, but only one of them is a father, at least so far. He's a good one. He is good to our daughter, and to our grandson. Beginning today, he will be taking care of his son, not yet nine months old, and teething, by himself (except for some daycare) for a week, while our daughter fulfills a military obligation. He works hard, and loves our daughter and his son, and is good to us and the rest of the family. He gives of himself for others, in time, in effort, and in money. He has thrown himself into the life of the churches they have attended. He is good at his work. Like my father-in-law, he is good at figuring things out.

I thank God for my Heavenly Father, and for these three good fathers (and others, too, including my brothers and brothers-in-law, and more). There are some terrible fathers out there. I haven't really known such a one in my life, and I hope I haven't been one. Being a father is the most important thing I've done. My wife, and my daughters, have made it easy. I've made some mistakes, of course, but God can cover up for those, and has.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Potato beetle larvae eating

Potato beetle larvae on weed

The plant is a member of the potato family, Solanaceae, probably Physalis. The insect larvae on the leaf at the lower left are potato beetles. I well remember them from childhood, when we grew potatoes.

If you want a higher-resolution picture, you can get it by clicking on the picture, then finding the different sizes link, at the right, in the source page. (Free Flickr membership may be required.)

Friday, June 17, 2005

Poison Ivy leaves, with growth

Poison ivy with blisters

This is poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans (L.) Kuntze ssp. radicans-the Wikipedia says it should be poison-ivy, with a hyphen). The plant is quite common here. Many people, including me, break out if they come in contact with it. When the leaves change color in the fall, this is one of our most beautiful plants.

I don't know what the reddish blisters (?) on some of the leaves are. I would guess a fungus, or the result of an insect infestation.

If you want a higher-resolution picture, you can get it by clicking on the picture, then finding the different sizes link, at the right, in the source page. (Free Flickr membership may be required.)

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Queen Anne's Lace flower

Queen Anne's lace, young flower

My wife took this picture. The plant is Queen Anne's Lace, also known as wild carrot. If you pull one up by the roots, later in the year, you can see (and even smell) why. This is definitely a carrot relative. My wife chose to take this picture, of what was then a flower early in its life, because, as she said, it's got more character than a later one, which would be a solid disk of white. At this time of year, some fields are full of these flowers, and they are very common along roadways. The link has further information, including that the plant is an import from Europe.

William Carlos Williams, physician and poet, wrote "Queen-Anne's Lace," a poem. He mentions a purple spot in the otherwise white floral disk. I have seen this. Here are some comments on his poem.

If you want a higher-resolution picture, you can get it by clicking on the picture, then finding the different sizes link, at the right, in the source page. (Free Flickr membership may be required.)

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Sunspots 13

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

Somehow, I've missed the Flickr blog, until now. Mostly, or entirely, photos.

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Adrian Warnock posts on ". . . Why Blog?"

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Project Gutenberg has posted The Wonder Book of Bible Stories, compiled by Logan Marshall, an old book with lots of pictures, which is public domain.

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Slate claims that news stories reporting that some pharmacists want to refuse to dispense morning-after pills are mostly made up, as scare tactics, by pro-choicers, with some evidence for that claim.

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Fish schools achieve directional consensus by mathematical rules, according to this news article.

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Patterns of movie attendance also can be predicted mathematically, according to this news article. (There's a link to the original paper, including the math, if you want to see it.)

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Joan Didion has written a thoughtful "The Case of Theresa Schiavo," in The New York Review of Books.

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This week's Christian Carnival is here.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Pine cones, male

Pine male cones fallen

A few days ago, I posted a picture of pecan male flowers. They looked similar to what you see above, which is a picture of male pine cones. As with the pecan flowers, the function of these cones is to produce pollen, which, occasionally, fertilizes an egg, thus leading to a plant embryo. These cones have released their pollen, and have fallen off their tree.

If you want a higher-resolution picture, you can get it by clicking on the picture, then finding the different sizes link, at the right, in the source page. (Free Flickr membership may be required. Flickr is an excellent way to share pictures.)

Monday, June 13, 2005

Confessions of a FreeCell addict

I'm a FreeCell addict. If I'm in recovery, it doesn't show. I probably play 4-12 games a day. (For those who may not know, FreeCell comes with Windows. Except for computers where it was not installed, it is available as a game, from the Start menu.)

When thinking about posting about this subject, it suddenly occurred to me that I hadn't looked at the game as a scientist. For one thing, how many games are possible? I thought about it, and decided that I'd look it up, rather than trying to figure it out. So I did. "FreeCell, Frequently Asked Questions," tells even addicts more than they would want to know. One thing it told me was that the first version had 32,000 different deals. Way more than that are possible. Way, way more, like "roughly 1.75 x 10 to the 64th power."

The link above includes a link to a freeware game, FreeCell Pro, which has some interesting options. These include more than one undo, keeping track of all your moves, so they can be printed out or saved in digital form, adding more than four freecells, and other options.

So where are the confessions?
Well, I've got just one, and it's this. I spend more time playing FreeCell than I should. I like to think that it is covered by Philippians 4:8*, as something I can think about, but I think about it too much. Sorry. I'm also sorry for the title, or should be. The first word looked better as a plural than as a singular.

Three lessons1) As in life, nearly everything is solvable, if you are doing what you should. The aforementioned FAQ states that only one game, in the original set of 32,000, is unsolvable. That's number 11982. That can be solved with FreeCell Pro, by adding some freecells.

2) Plan ahead. Don't just blindly move. Think about the consequences.

3) The best way to win is to aim to build up from the Kings. That's my own observation. It's tempting to worry about the Aces, and often you have to, but the goal should be to get the Kings where they belong, namely at the bottom of a stack, and build from there. There's a moral there, of course. Put the King where He belongs, and you'll win.

*Philippians 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honorable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. (ASV)

P. S. (November 14, 2006) I'm now coming off several months of Sudoku, slowly, and easing back into FreeCell.

P. P. S. (August 4, 2013) I now have FreeCell on my Android tablet. Unfortunately, it's more appealing than the Windows version.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Women in ministry and 1 Timothy 2:12

I am not a Greek scholar. I am a Sunday School teacher, in a denomination that, at least in theory, encourages females to seek pastoral roles. Our lesson for today includes 1 Timothy 2:12, "But I permit not a woman to teach, nor to have dominion over a man, but to be in quietness." (ASV). (The lesson is about more than that!)

The author of the lesson commentary is a (male) Greek scholar. He states that the word authentein, translated above as "have dominion over," occurs only this once in the New Testament. He further states that this refers to a particular heretical teaching, from outside the church, but affecting it, found in Ephesus at the time, and says that a better translation would be "'I do not permit a woman to teach that she has absolute domination over a man,' or 'I do not permit a woman to claim that she is the author (originator) of man.'" (Lee M. Haines, "Maximizing our Service to God," Lesson for June 12, 2005, Wesley Adult Bible Series, p. 15. Noblesville, Indiana: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2005)

His claim about the occurrence of authentein is correct. As would be expected, there is disagreement over the interpretation. Katherine Kroeger expands on Haines' argument, and probably was at least part of the basis for it. D. L. agrees with Kroeger. Panning defends the interpretation of women as subordinate. (Available as a .PDF document linked here.) I am sure that there are other scholars on at least two sides of this debate. The debate has implications for other areas. Bilezikian, in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, claims that mistakenly arguing for subordination of women has led to a mistaken view of the position of Christ. (March, 1997, issue, Volume 40, pp. 57-68. The Journal is available here. You can navigate to the specific article from that point.)

Bilezikian writes, about some interpretations of I Corinthians 11:3:

They insist that this text teaches the existence of an order of hierarchy between God and Christ on one hand and between men and women on the other. Of course they have no satisfactory answer for the fact that Paul’s ordering of the three clauses rules out a hierarchical sequence (BCA instead of ABC) and for the fact that the meaning of “head” in this statement, as well as in other NT passages where it is similarly used, is better rendered as “one considered preeminent but acting as servant-provider, or source (of life and growth).”

I recognize that I do not have the last word on this topic, and that it is controversial. Nonetheless, I think it is safe to say that there are some interpretions of 1 Timothy 2:12 that do not exclude women from leadership positions. There are other passages that indicate that women had such roles in the New Testament. (See here for another denomination's scriptural rationale for having women in the ministry.)

I referred to this topic earlier, but in ignorance of even this much Greek, in the comments to this post.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Patricia A. McKillip: the Hed trilogy

Someone called Nessa, The Smite Faerie, writes brief, but critical, book reviews. Recently, he/she/they have posted reviews of Patricia A. McKillip's Hed trilogy (also known as the Riddle-Master trilogy). The reviews are here, here, and here.

I have stated that "McKillip certainly can't be accused of lacking imagination, or of making the rules of her fantastic worlds explicit. They just are, and the reader will grasp most of the rules by reading."

The Smite Faerie is less generous. The criticisms are, basically, first, that The Riddle-Master of Hed, and the trilogy as a whole, is confusing. Agreed. Second, that Heir of Sea and Fire presents a strong female character, but Harpist in the Wind portrays the same character, Raederle, as weak and dependent. The latter criticism is, in my mind, only partly true.

There is indeed, confusion. McKillip makes up rules, and invents entities, without always making them clear. Reading Nessa's criticisms, I asked myself, "why, then, have you read these books over and over?" (I'm not the only one who likes them. McKillip has won more Mythopoeic Awards than any other author.) Well, I'm not certain, but one reason is because of the plot. Let me just summarize it as rejection of vengeance. Wronged characters decide not to retaliate. (This is a motif of more than one of McKillip's books--see my web page on the matter.) Lest there be any doubt, the plot is more complex than that.

There's another theme: hiding. Several characters conceal themselves for long periods of time, in various ways, generally as a character of seemingly lesser importance, but one as a tree, and another as a vesta.

Another reason that the books appeal is that they have features that are attractive. In the Hed trilogy, McKillip created a new species of mammal, the vesta, roaming in great herds in the northern wastes. Some of her characters have the ability to turn themselves into animals, and even trees. She can describe the relationships between individuals in interesting, yet realistic ways. She can describe aspects of nature in interesting, yet realistic ways. Her prose is well-crafted.

I have decided that I can put up with ambiguity, in order to savor descriptions and plot that are of interest.

McKillip has written other books. She is number five on a recent list of "Great Ladies of Fantasy."

Friday, June 10, 2005

Recent Science News

Nature has a report that gelatinous filters produced by larvaceans, which filters may be up to a meter long, are occasionally discarded, and sink to the ocean bottom, where they are a significant source of food for communities on the bottom of the ocean. The larvaceans, or appendicularians, are members of the Chordata, the same phylum that humans are placed in, but are relatively simple animals. See here and here for previous posts on how undersea communities get energy.

Speaking of energy: the sun, and other stars, use nuclear fusion, a procedure wherein small atomic nuclei are fused into a larger one, to generate energy. In the process, mass is converted into energy. Over fifteen years ago "cold fusion," that is, fusion without the necessity for an extremely high temperature, which makes fusion possible in stars, was announced. Most scientists remain skeptical of these claims. A report in the Christian Science Monitor says that this time, by a different mechanism, cold fusion may really have been achieved.

Most scientists believe that most behaviors are present because they give the organism exhibiting such behavior a selective advantage over competitors who might not possess it. Slate reports a claim that human female orgasm is not present as a result of selection in females, but is a by-product of selection for orgasm in human males. (Female and male sex organs develop from the same embryonic tissue.)

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Pecan flowers

Pecan catkins

The picture above is of male pecan flowers. The ground is often covered with them, under a pecan tree, at this time of year. I've never seen the female flowers, but they are obviously there, or there wouldn't be any pecans.

If you want a higher-resolution picture, you can get it by clicking on the picture, then finding the different sizes link, at the right, in the source page. (Free Flickr membership may be required.)

These, and other male flowers, or flowers with both male and female parts, are a reason for some people's allergies to pollens of various kinds.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Sunspots 12

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

"Athens in Cyberland" (The Athenians always wanted to hear the latest) is a reminder that most of us flit, like butterflies, from blog to blog, shying away from older and longer stuff.

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A study of the statistics of a web news portal indicates that most visits take place within 36 hours. An article reporting on the study asks if it, the article, will "have typical time history, or might it get picked up by popular blogs and given a new lease of life?"

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A group working on embryonic stem cells claims to have created cells that would not be rejected by the immune response, by combining existing stem cells (from a Bush-approved line) with adult cells. If such cells really have stem cell properties, and really are immunologically compatible with the adult human used, this would eliminate much of the ethical objection to using embryonic stem cells.

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Rebecca Writes has a post (with the possibility of contributions from others, at least for a few days) on God's Sovereignty.

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Candice has a list of things she wants to do or be. A very good list.

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One side of an argument with Michael Behe (it has a link to the other side), claiming to have demolished one of Behe's prime examples of irreducible Complexity (IC).

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The BBC will be offering all nine of Beethoven's Symphonies for free download. Some are already available.

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The latest Christian Carnival is here.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Was Christ an embryo? Tom Delay and Beliefnet

According to the on-line Congressional Record, a House bill, HR 810, to authorise some embryonic stem cell research, was debated on May 24th. The bill explicitly includes three ethical requirements:
1) (quoted from the bill):

The stem cells were derived from human embryos that have been donated from in vitro fertilization clinics, were created for the purposes of fertility treatment, and were in excess
of the clinical need of the individuals seeking such treatment.

2) The "individuals seeking fertility treatment" had specified, before consideration of use of the embryos in stem cell research, that they were to be discarded if not used.

3) The same individuals had given written informed consent to such use, and did not receive any financial compensation.

The bill passed the House of Representatives, but without enough votes to override a veto. President Bush has promised to veto it.

Representative Tom DeLay spoke in opposition to the bill. He said, during debate, "That embryos are human beings is not a political dispute," which is certainly not so. Members of Congress are routinely given the privilege of revising and extending their remarks. DeLay did so. This is that statement, as found on his web site: "That embryos are human beings is not in biological dispute." The question of what a human being is is a matter of political, ethical, philosophical and religious dispute. That an embryo derived from a human egg fertilized by a human sperm is biologically human is not, so far as I know, in biological dispute. Perhaps that is what Mr. DeLay meant to say.

DeLay went on to state that "We were all at one time embryos ourselves; and so was Abraham, so was Mohammed, so was Jesus of Nazareth . . ." This statement was picked up by Beliefnet, which asked for statements on the question of whether or not Jesus was, at one time, a human embryo, from some of its frequent contributors. They said that He was an embryo, except that one writer seemed to be only allowing for that possibility. (My own take on this question, is that Jesus did, indeed, come as an embryo, not as a baby.) There are lots of comments on the Beliefnet page, some very interesting.

Beliefnet has a poll, on the same page, which is, at best, unfortunately worded. The reader is asked "Was Jesus an embryo?" There are four responses possible. The first is "Yes, because God can make anything happen." The second is "Yes, because Jesus was merely human." The third is a "No" response, and the last is "I don't know." There is more than one problem with this poll, but, assuming the appropriateness of such a poll, one response should have been "Yes, because Jesus was fully human and fully God."

Monday, June 06, 2005

Things I'm thankful for, 2

One thing I left out of the previous post on this topic is e-mail. I also took a lot for granted when I was thankful for Internet entities. I didn't mention electricity, insulators, conductors, semiconductors and chips, plastic, computers, phone lines, and the Internet itself. Nor did I list Copper, Silicon, Germanium, Gallium, and whatever other elements are used in making these things. Nor operating systems, device drivers, programming languages, HTML and its relatives, communication protocols, firewalls, modems and routers, browsers, FTP and other application programs, and the people who invented all of them, and who upgrade them. Nor anti-virus, anti-spam, and anti-spyware programs. My point was that we should be grateful for lots of things that most of us take for granted, and I illustrated my own point. I'll probably illustrate it again in this post.

How about some inventions and conveniences?
Paper, printing, photography, photocopying, binding, libraries, publishers, authors, illustrators, editors, printers, bookstores, and books
Translators and bible scholars
Ball point pens
Toilet paper, paper towels and napkins
Plates, bowls, cups and glasses, knives, forks and spoons, both permanent and disposable
Soap and detergents
Snail mail and package delivery, and the people who do it
Radio, especially NPR
Music, musical lnstruments, recording, lasers, speakers, CDs, records, tapes, and players
Windows--the kind you can see through
Cable TV systems, and telephones that usually work, plus repair persons
TV stations and networks, at least some of the time

For all these things, I am thankful. Who to?
Well, to the creator, who made the original materials and also gave people the skills to do things with them. I take it that creativity is part of the "image of God" in humans.
To the people who had the ideas for these things, and those who carried them to completion.
For those who implement the ideas.

I'll probably do this again.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

"Divine Grace" from the Wikipedia

The Wikipedia calls itself "the free-content encyclopedia that anyone can edit." It has achieved that, and is subject to the praise and blame that such a participatory encyclopedia would be expected to receive. (I have included the hyperlinks to other articles in quotations.)

The Wikipedia has a license, which allows copying, such as this, as I understand it. I had occasion to look for some ideas on the topic of Grace, and decided to try that source. I am not a theologian, but I was impressed with the article on Divine Grace, as I found it on June 3, 2005. (It may be different next time I look. You may decide to edit the article yourself. Get a login, learn a little about what to do, and start participating in writing an encyclopedia!) Here are some excerpts:

Divine grace is a Christian term for gifts granted to humanity by God, that God is under no need or obligation to grant. Most broadly, grace describes all of God's gifts to humankind, including our life, creation, and salvation, which God gives to us freely. More narrowly but more commonly, grace describes the means by which humans are saved from original sin and granted salvation. This latter concept of grace is of central importance in the theology of Christianity . . .

Most Christians of any of the major Western denominations agree that mankind is born in a state of sin. This is a consequence of original sin; a sinful nature is inherited; it is part of man's condition. Traditionally, original sin is explained as a result of the fall of man through the first sins of Adam and Eve in Eden. Some would now reject the story from Genesis as history. But even those who reject it still agree that men are born in sin. The original state of grace enjoyed by the once-good people God created has been lost, for them and for their descendants. We are born having forfeited any claim to salvation. (By contrast, Eastern Orthodoxy does not subscribe to this particular doctrine of original sin.)

God's grace responds to this otherwise hopeless situation. God, at His initiative, sent prophets and other teachers to reveal His existence to mankind. He gave the Torah, the Law of Moses, to the Jews, and made them his chosen people to provide a moral example to the rest of mankind.

It was also through the Jews that God's grace sent his Son, Jesus Christ, who sought to make atonement for the sins of mankind through his crucifixion and subsequent resurrection. God's grace is freely given, on behalf of the men He has called to salvation. God was not obliged to save anyone; men cannot make themselves good enough to earn their way into Heaven on their own initiative, or give rise to a duty on God's part to save them. It is only through the redemption bought by Christ's sacrifice that anyone is saved, and the path of salvation for men lies in participating in that redemption. Indeed, some denominations of Christianity paraphrase grace as "God's Rewards At Christ's Expense" to represent this.

Grace, then, is God's initiative and choice to make a path of salvation available for men. On this, almost all Christians agree, though they may disagree on the meaning of some terms, or on which parts of the narrative of grace to emphasize.

That's just part of the article. There's quite a bit more. Read it for yourself.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Profile Change

I changed the wording around my picture, on the right, a little. It now reflects the fact that, although I am (I hope) on the payroll for a month or two yet, and covered under the health insurance plan for the rest of June, I have no official duties that I am aware of at my former place of employment.

I finished teaching a biology class for non-majors yesterday. It was a very small group. Started with four, ended with three students. Among other things, we took a field trip to the Greenville, SC, Zoo. It had been a decade or more since I had been, and I was impressed. Not with the quantity of animals--they don't have a lot. No bears, so far as I could tell, for instance. But I was impressed with the landscaping and the signs. The place looks good. One of my former students works there, and we happened upon her. She corrected me on one fundamental fact, and told us that elephants (her specialty) need a lot of foot care. Since she mentioned it, I guess they would have to. They put a lot of pressure on those feet. I enjoyed the class--the whole class, not just this field trip. I hope the students did.

God has been good to me. Most of my classes, most of my students, all of my colleagues, and most of my duties have been enjoyable.

So what's next? Well, for one thing, I guess I'll post on. Thanks for reading.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Grocery Cashiers & Prayer

Some people call them checkout clerks, but their official title, at our current grocery, is cashier. They perform a vital service, presiding over the exchange of currency for food and other household items. Both our daughters have done it. One of our daughter's has a mother-in-law who made a career of it.

Our style is to shop often. Some people shop for groceries much less frequently. I marvel at their organization. We don't even try for once a month (or once a week) shopping. We live close to a grocery, and I go several times a week.

Fifteen years or more ago, it occurred to me that grocery shopping can be a ministry. I was seeing a lot of some of these people. Sometimes, they were obviously tired. Sometimes, they had to do heavy lifting, getting a bag of dog food or a box of beverages up to where the barcode reader could sense it. Sometimes they took the brunt of someone's general despair and bad feeling. Sometimes they made mistakes, or someone thought they did, and customers, threatened by having to pay more than they expected, reacted bitterly. In our area, most cashiers are students, often behind on their homework. Most of them are courting, or wish they were.

Cashiers don't get paid much. In our area, they often are expected to work long hours consecutively, but the weekly total is kept low enough that the employer isn't required to include benefits. Some of those not getting such benefits need them badly.

It's hard to establish a long-term relationship with a cashier. They work at unpredictable times, and they often quit, frustrated, or seeking some greener pasture, after a short time. (Sometimes they work for years.) But I can still pray for the ones I see, and, occasionally, for the ones I remember.

Our cashiers are usually identified by a name tag, and by a name on the receipt. It's easy to learn their first names. Sometimes, it's easy to strike up a quick conversation, without interfering with what they are supposed to be doing. I started asking questions. "Are you in school?" If so, "what are you studying?" "Any tests coming up?" Sometimes I would tell them that I would pray for tests, or occasionally other things, when I learned about them, or could see them. Usually they would say thanks. Once in a while one would mention something for me to pray for.

One cashier, from about 8 years ago, lived in circumstances that were obviously not ideal--her family's apartment was on my regular way from work, and I sometimes saw her there. She had a neighbor, or friend, or both, who was a no-good, according to my wife, who tried to teach him. She was probably from a broken home. She worked carefully, and followed all the rules. She was stiff, and hard to talk to. I talked to her less than to some others. I knew little about her spiritual or academic condition. She did say that she had some ambitions, perhaps beyond her capacity. I prayed, for what needs I could see. A couple of months ago, we were eating after church in a small Chinese restaurant. A couple with small children came in. They were dressed, and the time was such, that they clearly had been to church. I looked again, and suddenly realized that I was seeing this cashier again, after several years. I asked her if she used to work in the former grocery store in our town. She said that she did, and that she remembered me coming in to get bananas frequently. She told me that she had a responsible job at the hospital. My prayers, and her hard work and ambition, had been answered. She did finish high school, marry a good man, have a good family, have a good job, and was going to church. God bless her, and others like her--some haven't turned out so well.

May I have sense enough to know how to act, what to say, and what to pray for, in these brief encounters, whether they be one-time, or for years. God bless cashiers, and other such workers.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Short post, maybe

One lesson from retirement, and also from cleaning up the place when my parents-in-law's house was put up for sale:

Don't keep anything you don't need! Or, to put it another way, some of us keep too much stuff. Or, yet another way: when in doubt, throw it out.

Several of us went through my parents-in-law's house, deciding what to try to sell, what to keep for someone, and what to throw away. A niece and I spent a few hours going through every paid bill in their married history. We found some gems, such as a receipt for wedding jewelry, and a contract on the house, but seven trash bags of receipts weren't of any value. Sooner or later, someone will lose or throw away even the items we kept. My wife and I have decided that, as far as possible, we will throw away the useless stuff in advance, so our kids don't have to. Then they can throw away what we thought was worth keeping.

We live in this world for a short time. We can't take anything with us till the next.

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On an entirely different note, a daughter commented on this post, about assembly lines: "[I] would argue that it is actually a type of management and in this particular case it is a type of management that leads to exploitation of the worker. . . . assembly lines lead to a deskilling of labor. they not only lead to the laborer being disconnected from his product . . . but they also lead to deskilled labor, which is a way for management to pay lower wages and get away with it."

(reposted, with some improvements in wording on the first part)

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Sunspots 11

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:
Orson Scott Card has written about the Jedi. He's not happy with them.
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Rebecca Writes considers bear's tails, at (sorry!) some length.
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Brandy has posted an amazing piece of artwork, by an artist who hates drawing, but is obviously great at it.
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Plant Cultures explores the botanical connections between Asia and Britain.
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The Micropolitan Museum is a site (see last week's Sunspots 10 for a link to another) with stunning pictures of microscopic organisms.
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The National Coalition on Healthcare, a bipartisan group, with three ex-presidents as honorary chairs, has released a report, arguing for universal coverage in the U. S., and claiming that it would improve our current "system" significantly, at less cost.
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Clint Hagen is posting summaries of the chapters of John Granger's book, Looking for God in Harry Potter.
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Violet has an interesting post on "blogging and discretion."
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Jill Carattini has posted a brief biography of G. K. Chesterton. I quote her quoting Chesterton:
You say grace before meals.
All right.
But I say grace before the play and the opera,
And grace before the concert and the pantomime,
And grace before I open a book,
And grace before sketching, painting,
swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing;
And grace before I dip the pen in the ink.
(For you youngsters, "the pantomime" was a form of entertainment--you may have heard of, or even seen, a mime. "Dip the pen in the ink" was before ballpoint pens.)
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The latest Christian Carnival, a page with links to many posts by many bloggers, is here.