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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Sunspots 33

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

A page of "Science Quotes," from a number of famous scientists (at least a couple of whom were professed atheists) all pointing toward a designer. Unfortunately, documentation isn't as complete as it might have been for one or two of these. Thanks to a colleague for a tip on this.

Slate article that says that String Theory (at least in its present forms) is untestable, hence not really science. (Many believe that Intelligent Design is also untestable.)

A number of sources (here's one) say that Korea's leading "cloning" researcher has resigned, because of ethical violations in obtaining human eggs, by his research team (probably not by the leader himself.) The post quotes Hwang Woo-Suk as using the word "repentance." (Presumably a translation, but, if correct, he seems to see himself as guilty and owing something to others. There's a post at that argues that what Hwang Woo-suk did was not quite so bad -- he probably really didn't know that two of his lab workers had donated eggs until after the fact, for example. Also argues that compensation for egg donation might not be ethically questionable. (Lab workers donating still is, says the author.)

Article in Wired, of all places, saying that our technology is speeding up our ruin, or causing it.

Julana, who has a child with Down syndrome, writes movingly about her life, for Thanksgiving season.

Article on people who want to have a limb amputated.

Article in First Things on randomness, the Catholic Church, and evolution. Basically, Stephen Barr, the author, says that the Catholic Church has no problem with organisms, including humans, having evolved from non-life, or from non-human organisms, but does assert that the spiritual part of humans is of Divine origin.

Edge article by Daniel Gilbert, who is not a believer, and is attempting to debunk Paley's design argument by psychological experiments. However, he has some sympathy for religious faith, even though he doesn't have it himself, as the following two paragraphs indicate:
Is God is [sic] nothing more than an attempt to explain order and good fortune by those who do not understand the mathematics of chance, the principles of self-organizing systems, or the psychology of the human mind? When the study I just described was accepted for publication, I recall asking one of my collaborators, who is a deeply religious man, how he felt about having demonstrated that people can misattribute the products of their own minds to powerful external agents. He said, "I feel fine. After all, God doesn't want us to confuse our miracles with his."

That's fair enough. Science rules out the most cartoonish versions of God by debunking specific claims about ancient civilizations in North America or the creatio ex nihilo of human life. But it cannot tell us whether there is a force or entity or idea beyond our ken that deserves to be known as God. What we can say is that the universe is a complex place, that events within it often seem to turn out for the best, and that neither of these facts requires an explanation beyond our own skins.

Article in British Medical Journal on why dogs should be banned as pets (for health reasons).

Stan Berenstain, co-author, with his wife, of the Berenstain Bears books, has died.

You can see ACC basketball in Southern California, at least sometimes, and it's 3 hours earlier! I watched most of the Illinois-North Carolina men's game, which Illinois won by a little.

This week's Christian Carnival is at this blog. (For information on locating these Carnivals, see here)

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Seven Sevens

Bonnie has mentioned my name as a person she'd like to have post on seven sevens. She didn't tag me. I'm responding, more or less, anyway.

Seven things to do before I die:
1. know that my relatives all are believers
2. see my children and their husbands happy with their work, etc.
3. believe that my local church is in a position to grow, not spectacularly necessarily, but healthily, spiritually, financially, and numerically
4. see alligators and moose again, a cougar (from a car) for the first time, and a mountain goat/sheep, all in the wild
5. attend a performance of most of Elijah or Messiah
6. learn how to edit videos taken with our video camera
7. believe that the government (all branches) is willing to honestly and seriously address (not necessarily solve) the problems of health care, poverty, ignorance, peace, the environment, justice, immigration and racism as a priority higher than getting re-elected

Seven things I cannot do:
1. Play in the NBA
2. cook like my wife or sons-in-law or daughters
3. understand most of what our 13-month-old grandson is saying
4. love other people as I should
5. get evangelicals to understand that the Bible does not make a rock-solid case that the world is only thousands of years old, and that claiming too strongly that it is makes Christianity look foolish in the eyes of some, to say nothing of denying some of what God reveals to us in nature
6. really sing well
7. organize my time as well as I should

Seven good things about my wife:
1. She is deeply compassionate
2. She tries hard to understand things that she doesn't
3. She loves me, our grandson, her daughters and sons-in-laws, our brothers, their wives and their kids and . . . you get the idea
4. She is a strong believer
5. She is willing to put up with, and occasionally enjoy, classical music
6. She helped me lose about 30 pounds, and keep it off
7. She is a wonderful companion on trips

Books or series important to me:
1. The Bible
2. Watership Down
3. Mere Christianity
4. Tolkien's Ring trilogy plus the Silmarillion
5. Le Guin's Earthsea books and short stories
6. If I ever teach again, the text for the course
7. Other works by George Macdonald, C. S. Lewis, Patricia McKillip, A. A. Milne, and many others.

Movies I like:
1. Hoosiers
2. To Kill a Mockingbird
3. The Mission
4. the recent Pride and Prejudice
5. Fried Green Tomatoes
6. Ever After
7. Anything that makes my wife happy to watch

Things I say most often:
1. "It's OK."
2. "Don't worry about it."
3. In response to how I am: "Better than I deserve."
4. "He/she/it/they can't help it."
5. "I/we can do it."
6, and 7. No doubt there are aggravating things I say that others would fill in here for me.

Seven people I'd like to join in on this, but I'm not going to ask them:
1. Drew
2. Jason
3. Laura
4. Brandy
5. Anyone else from my family, my church, or SWU
6. Katherine Fodor
7. some of my Flickr contacts

Thanks for reading!

Monday, November 28, 2005

In the Forests of Serre by Patricia McKillip

Patricia A. McKillip is one of my favorite fantasy authors. I have written elsewhere about one reason that I like her work, namely that much of it involves a main character deciding not to seek revenge. (I suppose that makes her novels, with this aspect important, Christian, in a sense.)

Here's what another blogger wrote about her use of words:

Words seem ironically inadequate to describe the skill with which McKillip spins the English language into magic. Lyrical is one word that is often used in reviews, but it's so much more. Most of McKillip's work deals with magic, and if there is any true magic in the world, I would suspect it would be found in her use of language. I could luxuriate in work written by McKillip regardless of the story, simply to enjoyher use of words.

I agree. It is also true that McKillip can be obscure, and leave quite a bit unexplained. Nonetheless, she has won more Mythopoeic Awards than any other author.

In the Forests of Serre (New York: Ace, 2003) is a book that I have read three times since I got it from one of our daughters for Christmas. I was trying to get a handle on the book. I believe that I finally did, and it's not McKillip's fault that it took me so long. It's about the heart. The word, referring to the seat of the emotions, is used over and over again, and two of the main characters give up their hearts for something else, and regret this.

I don't see how I can summarize the plot, or even describe the characters (there are nine that I would consider main characters) in anything like a post length that's reasonable, even for me. So I'll just summarize the book this way:

McKillip has again written a book with excellent use of language, describing a marvelous forest, wizardry, and a cold castle. The Princess Sidonie decides that she doesn't want to marry Prince Ronan unless he re-claims his heart. He gave it away because his first wife and child died. After numerous trips, by several characters, into and through the forest, all is well. Everyone who should have a heart does, and the two really can fall in love and be married.

* * * * *

This post has been somewhat re-done, here.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life, pt. 11

I continue a series of excerpts from The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith. The book, which is public domain, is available on-line in its entirety here. This version is somewhat different from the paperback I have in my physical possession. (New York: Ballentine Books, 1986) For an article on Smith, in Christian History, go here. This Chapter is entitled "Is God in Everything?" The material below is quoted exactly, from the text at the first link in this post. However, where there are blank lines between paragraphs, I have omitted material.

The question here confronts us at once, "But is God in everything, and have we any warrant from the Scripture for receiving everything from His hands, without regarding the second causes which may have been instrumental in bringing it about?" I answer to this, unhesitatingly, Yes. To the children of God everything comes directly from their Father's hand, no matter who or what may have been the apparent agents. There are no "second causes" for them.
The whole teaching of the Bible asserts and implies this. "Not a sparrow falls to the ground without our Father." The very hairs of our head are all numbered. We are not to be careful about anything, because our Father cares for us. We are not to avenge ourselves, because our Father has charged Himself with our defence. We are not to fear, for the Lord is on our side. No one can be against us, because He is for us. We shall not want, for He is our Shepherd. When we pass through the rivers they shall not overflow us, and when we walk through the fire we shall not be burned, because He will be with us. He shuts the mouths of lions, that they cannot hurt us.

Nothing else but this seeing God in everything will make us loving and patient with those who annoy and trouble us. They will be to us then only the instruments for accomplishing His tender and wise purposes towards us, and we shall even find ourselves at last inwardly thanking them for the blessings they bring us.
Nothing else will completely put an end to all murmuring or rebelling thoughts. Christians often feel a liberty to murmur against man, when they would not dare to murmur against God. But this way of receiving things would make it impossible ever to murmur. If our Father permits a trial to come, it must be because that trial is the sweetest and best thing that could happen to us, and we must accept it with thanks from His dear hand. The trial itself may be hard to flesh and blood, and I do not mean that we can like or enjoy the suffering of it. But we can and must love the will of God in the trial, for His will is always sweet, whether it be in joy or in sorrow.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Mad-Eye Moody

Anyone looking for Thanksgiving material, please see my previous post, which should be right under this one.

* * * * *

I recently saw Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Here are some musings on this movie:
The movie was well-done. My wife, who has not read the books, except the first, enjoyed it.

It's long, two and a half hours. I wonder how whoever does it is going to manage the next two books as single movies.

I don't have my copy of the book with me, but was surprised to not see the Dursleys at all. Perhaps they aren't in the book.

I have the same problem with the movie that I did with the book it is based on. That problem is this. I have a hard time swallowing that Mad-Eye Moody was impersonated for an entire school year, and by a person who presumably didn't have his knowledge or maturity. Looking like him, OK, but basically being him, and teaching his class, I can't see, especially when surrounded by Dumbledore and others who would have known the real Moody. I know, it's all magic, but even so, my disbelief just wouldn't suspend quite that far.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, November 24, 2005


Psalm 100:1 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!

2 Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!

3 Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!

5 For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. (ESV)

Doxology, by Thomas Ken, 1674

Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Sunspots 32

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

Christianity Today editorial, praising the Harry Potter books for their Christian themes, and Christianity Today review of the fourth HP movie.

And, while we're on Christianity Today, this is superfluous, because you all read it already, right? Just in case you don't, there's an article on possible lapses in ethics, maybe even deaths of egg donors, by the Korean embryo transfer team, and another on the meaning of the "submit" passage in Ephesians. Of the four items I have cited, I would say that the last one is most important.

Wired reports on efforts to develop plants to grow on Mars. New Scientist reports that a lichen was able to survive exposure to space for two weeks.

Rebecca reminds us of what the Westminster Larger Catechism says in answer to "What is the Word of God?" The answer is, basically, all scripture, and, like the Apostles' Creed, should be read and/or said every now and then.

The Kaiser Family Foundation has released their biannual report on Sex on TV.

I have discovered that, although I am relying on it more and more, Google Desktop isn't perfect. I recalled a file, using my own gray matter, that Google Desktop couldn't find. Windows Search did.

Rebecca has been posting on thankfulness all month. I should have. She has included things that others are thankful for.

If you are interested in the Korean stem cell egg-obtainment controversy, you should read the parts of the current issue of The American Journal of Bioethics that are available without subscription (including an article by Kyu Won Jung and Insoo Hyun on consent procedures used, and a commentary on that article) and this post from the same source. There is also a post that states that the lead researcher, Woo-Suk Hwang, was deliberately not informed that some egg donors were paid.

Page entitled "What is the Difference Between a Sweet Potato and a Yam," and giving the differences.

From the History Channel, an exhibit on the history of toys and games. (Thanks to the Librarians' Internet Index for this and the previous entry)

This week's Christian Carnival is here.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Jubilee Economics

One of my daughters suggested, a few years ago, that I should read The Biblical Jubilee and the Struggle for Life, by Ross Kinsler and Gloria Kinsler (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1999). (Ross Kinsler is the author of an article proposing ideas similar to those in the book) While I was still an active university professor, I ordered the book for the university library, but had not read it yet. Now I have.

Christians often seem to take property rights and supposed laissez-faire economics as if they were as important as the gospel, or as if they were rooted in the gospel. This is not the place for a dissertation on economics, nor am I an economist, but Christians should at least consider other ideas. This book by the Kinslers is a good place to start. Their chapter 7 questions free-market economics explicitly. (Others, here and here -- see Mr. Friedman's comments, near the end) have also recently questioned it, for non-theological reasons.)

The authors start right out by questioning a common interpretation of a fundamental bible passage:
In our Western culture this [fourth] commandment took on a primarily religious significance. The assumption was that no work should be done on the Sabbath Day so that people could go to church, meditate on God, and engage in religious or spiritually uplifting exercises. On rereading the text, it becomes evident that this commandment is really concerned about rest and the de-absolutization of work--that is, with breaking the cycle of work on a regular, weekly basis so that people and animals, including slaves and aliens, might rest. This is therefore a concern for the health and well-being of the entire household, which might otherwise be exploited to the point of exhaustion. The theological foundation of this commandment is here stated as the creation, for even God rested the seventh day and therefore blessed the Sabbath Day and consecrated it. (pp. 10-11)

They emphasize the Jubilee, which was established by a God-given set of rules that tied property not to wealth, but to family ownership.

The authors oppose our culture, with its emphasis on accumulation:
Israel was to live in an economy of enough for all and reject the economy of excess accumulation for some and hunger for others. Israel was to remember that they were once slaves in Egypt, so as never to repeat that experience in their new life in the Promised Land. For Egypt and Canaan, then Assyria and Babylon (and later Rome) all practiced socioeconomic systems of wealth accumulation and centralized power and of resultant poverty and marginalization. Israel's later rulers fell into the same evil pattern again and again. To remember the Lord and the Lord's deliverance from Egypt was necessarily to practice justice, to care for the needy and vulnerable, to make sure that all God's people had enough. Israel's vocation was to create an alternative social possibility. (pp. 38-39)

The authors argue (pp. 93-5) that there are economic justice overtones in healing of the paralytic (Mark 2:1-12), and in plucking grain on the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-28). They claim that parable of the talents is about exposing the harshness of the rich master. (Matt 25:14-30, pp. 102-3) They also claim that the central theme of Christ's message, in his first sermon in Luke 4:16-30, is at least partly economic justice. (pp. 103-6)

Perhaps this quotation summarizes Kinsler and Kinsler best:
Jesus' identification with tax collectors and sinners/debtors, the transformation of Levi and Zacchaeus, and their subsequent actions were all subversive of the dominant customs and structures of oppression. They were manifestations of Sabbath economics, Jubilee spirituality, and liberty for all God's people. (p. 120)

It seems to me that the authors are on to something, and something that much of the Christian church doesn't want to hear. It makes me uncomfortable, too. On the other hand, they are clearly biased in one direction, and have left out some passages of Scripture, or some interpretations, that don't make their case. At least one example is in Acts 6, where the 12 Apostles clearly thought that the message of salvation had a higher priority for them, as leaders, than taking care of the needs of the poor. (The church did take care of those needs, but the Apostles don't seem to have.)

Monday, November 21, 2005

Response to comment on science in Tolkien and Lewis

On November 11th, I posted a comment on some of the science in the writing of J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. The post was meant to poke gently. As I have indicated, Tolkien and Lewis are two of the writers who have most influenced me, and I honor their achievement. No human writer has created a perfect work.

I did not, but should have, indicated that I was speaking of Lewis's Narnia books, not the space trilogy.

I received three comments, which is a landslide for this blog, and I much appreciate all three. The last commenter, Jeremy Pierce, said, in part:

"Tolkien's world is not flat. It's this world in the distant past."

Sorry, but I stand by my original statement, which idea was not original with me. Tolkien's world was meant to be flat, at least in the earliest times described in the Silmarillion. (Unfortunately, I am on an extended absence from home, and didn't bring that book with me, so I am operating without full documentation here.) As I recall it, the two lights of the ancient world lit the whole earth, which would not have been possible if it had been spherical. Kristine Larsen's long, but excellent, article on the Astronomy of Middle-Earth mentions the flatness toward the end. See also this document, part VB 2. Try a Google search on Middle-Earth flat, and you will find many other references to this.

Pierce also said:

"Many famous dwarves in the lists could have been women for all we know." True, but I believe I am correct that only one was mentioned as being female, and I doubt seriously that any such famous dwarves were meant to be female by Tolkien.

Tolkien isn't the only one to have had mostly, or entirely, male dwarfs (or dwarves). As I pointed out, Lewis also does. So, for that matter, did Snow White. As I recall the tales of King Arthur, by Howard Pyle, there are quite a few dwarves there, too, and all of them were also male (but so were the knights).

Pierce also points out that Sauron had enslaved not only Mordor, but other lands, and that these were supposed to have supplied Mordor (or, as he says, perhaps the supplying was done by evil magic of Sauron). Pierce is correct. However, my point, which was not well made, was that it seemed to me that Tolkien had fictionally amassed such a large army, including some large beings that would have required lots of provender, and in such an isolated place, that provisioning from afar by horse and wagon train, or some such, doesn't really seem realistic.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life, pt. 10

I continue a series of excerpts from The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith. The book, which is public domain, is available on-line in its entirety here. This version is somewhat different from the paperback I have in my physical possession. (New York: Ballentine Books, 1986) For an article on Smith, in Christian History, go here. This Chapter is entitled "Bondage or Liberty." The paragraph below is quoted exactly, from the paperback version, p. 133.

Legal Christians do not deny Christ; they only seek to add something to Christ. Their idea is, Christ and -- something besides. Perhaps it is Christ and good works, or Christ and earnest feelings, or Christ and clear doctrines, or Christ and certain religious performances. All these are good in themselves, and good as the results of fruits of salvation; but to add anything to Christ, no matter how good it may be, as the procuring cause of salvation, is to deny His completeness, and to exalt self.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Why is there sex?

When I taught biology, I could count on an answer to that question, whenever I asked it: "reproduction!"

I then pointed out that many organisms reproduce just fine, thank you, without any sexual activity, and that an awful lot of sexual activity, especially in humans, has little or nothing to do with reproduction.

So why is there sex? Well, I'll give the common biology text answer. (The real one, of course, is "I don't know," or "That's the way God made things," or some such expression of ignorance.) That answer is that sexual processes are a means of combining the genes of two parent organisms, thus allowing better combinations of their genes to appear in their offspring, and be selected for.

Sex is not found in all species of organisms. Where it is found, it often has profound consequences -- consider the fate of the male praying mantis, for example. Regardless, I'm glad it exists, because without it, I wouldn't be here.

Another, related question, that we also can't answer is how Jesus Christ originated. Did he have any genetic material from Mary? Was a Divine sperm created within her womb, by the Holy Spirit, that united with one of her eggs? We don't know.

I have also posted on "Why do living things have cells?"

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Sunspots 31

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

Whether you're a Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Wesleyan, Pentecostal, or other evangelical Protestant, you should read an interview with Ben Witherington, to find out what's the matter with your theology.

On the Bible Forum, a post on What the Bible Says About Itself, with several comments.

There are hearing aids to enhance "normal" hearing.

Article on biodiesel in Wired.

National Public Radio has a web page giving the status of Intelligent Design teaching (or not) in the public schools of each state.

The President's Council on Bioethics has published Taking Care: Ethical Caregiving in an Aging Society. It is available in HTML and .PDF formats. (It is book-length) Thanks, daughter, for bringing this to my attention.

This week's Christian Carnival is here.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Did You Get It?

Bridal Veil Falls

My wife and I were privileged to spend a few hours in Yosemite National Park a few days ago. We took our cameras. Nearly everybody else we saw had one, too. Once I heard the question that our own family has sometimes posed: "Did you get it?" What does that mean? The question assumes that it is possible to capture, digitally or chemically, a scene from nature, or human interaction. Can we really do that? If we have gotten it, what have we gotten?

These thoughts are not original, but I don't know any particular source for them. This rather long article has some of the same thoughts, but I've thought them before. You probably have, too.

Bridal Veil falls is still falling. I'm not there to see it. The digital image I am posting is far from a perfect representation of the experience of being down below the waterfall. Even if I could post a motion picture, with audio, it still wouldn't fully capture the experience. There would be no smells, for example. And I can't capture Bridal Veil Falls. It's still there, even at night when no one is looking. So why do I try? Why do web services like Flickr exist? (I know -- nothing else is exactly like Flickr).

In part, I think, because I want to own the experience. I also want to prove to others that I do. I hope there's nothing wrong with that, but an experience with nature, or an experience with other persons, is something to be experienced, not owned. It can only be partly communicated, no matter how skilled the photographer is. I'll never own Bridal Veil Falls. God does.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Quotations on images and art

1 Corinthians 13:12 For now we see in a mirror, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know fully even as also I was fully known. (ASV)

Art, like sex, cannot be carried on indefinitely solo; after all they have the same mutual enemy, sterility. Ursula K. Le Guin, "A Citizen of Mondath," pp. 25-30 in Susan Wood, ed., The Language of the Night (New York: Putnam, 1979), p. 27

I have no photograph of her that's any good. I cannot even see her face distinctly in my imagination. Yet the odd face of some stranger seen in a crowd this morning may come before me in vivid perfection the moment I close my eyes tonight. No doubt, the explanation is simple enough. We have seen the faces of those we know best so variously, from so many angles, in so many lights, with so many expressions--waking, sleeping, laughing, crying, eating, talking, thinking--that all the impressions crowd into our memory together and cancel out into a mere blur. C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed. New York: Bantam Books, 1976. pp. 16-17.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life, pt. 9

I continue a series of excerpts from The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith. The book, which is public domain, is available on-line in its entirety here. This version is somewhat different from the paperback I have in my physical possession. (New York: Ballentine Books, 1986) For an article on Smith, in Christian History, go here. This Chapter is entitled "Is God in Everything?" The material below is quoted exactly, from the text at the first link in this post. However, where there are blank lines between paragraphs, I have omitted material.

One of the greatest obstacles to living unwaveringly this life of entire surrender is the difficulty of seeing God in everything. People say, "I can easily submit to things which come from God; but I cannot submit to man, and most of my trials and crosses come through human instrumentality."

For nearly everything in life comes to us through human instrumentalities, and most of our trials are the result of somebody's failure, or ignorance, or carelessness, or sin. We know God cannot be the author of these things, and yet unless He is the agent in the matter, how can we say to Him about it, "Thy will be done"?

The question here confronts us at once, "But is God in everything, and have we any warrant from the Scripture for receiving everything from His hands, without regarding the second causes which may have been instrumental in bringing it about?" I answer to this, unhesitatingly, Yes. To the children of God everything comes directly from their Father's hand, no matter who or what may have been the apparent agents. There are no "second causes" for them.
The whole teaching of the Bible asserts and implies this. "Not a sparrow falls to the ground without our Father." The very hairs of our head are all numbered. We are not to be careful about anything, because our Father cares for us. We are not to avenge ourselves, because our Father has charged Himself with our defence. We are not to fear, for the Lord is on our side. No one can be against us, because He is for us. We shall not want, for He is our Shepherd. When we pass through the rivers they shall not overflow us, and when we walk through the fire we shall not be burned, because He will be with us. He shuts the mouths of lions, that they cannot hurt us.

I wish it were only possible to make every Christian see this truth as plainly as I see it; for I am convinced it is the only clue to a completely restful life. Nothing else will enable a soul to live only in the present moment, as we are commanded to do, and to take no thought for the morrow. Nothing else will take all the risks and "supposes" out of a Christian's heart, and enable him to say, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life."

Friday, November 11, 2005

C. S. Lewis (and Tolkien) and biology

Let me make one thing perfectly clear. I appreciate the writing of C. S. Lewis, and have been deeply influenced by it, I hope. As evidence, I cite my article on the bioethics of C. S. Lewis, which was published in hard copy, and has been posted, by the American Scientific Affiliation, which I appreciate. (They did so without mentioning my affiliation with SWU, because I was on sabbatical at Bryan College when I presented this to the annual meeting of the ASA. I am grateful to both institutions.) Unfortunately, there was an error in scanning the document. "o, n bod % *" should be "own body." As more evidence, I posted, earlier this year, a series on temptations in the Narnia books (see here for last post). I subscribe to, and read, Arevanye's C. S. Lewis blog.

Here's another thing to make clear: If you think reading any criticism of the details in Lewis' books would spoil your future reading of his works, don't read this post any further.

A third clarification: Please remember that this blog is subtitled "musings . . ." That's what this post is.

I found Lewis in the children's section of the University of Wisconsin library, around 1960. Perhaps I should have been studying for my courses, or working on my research, but I'm glad I found the Narnia books. I have read them many times. I look forward with mixed feelings to the forthcoming film based on the series.

Lewis has been criticized, I believe by Tolkien, for one, for not being careful with details. (If anyone out there can put a reference for this in a comment, I'd appreciate it! Thanks in advance.)

Here are some of the details that don't ring true to me.

1) No females. I know, there are females on Mars, in Out of the Silent Planet, and female characters have strong roles to play in Perelandra, That Hideous Strength, and the Narnia books. Till We Have Faces is narrated by the main character, a female. But there are strange gaps. There don't seem to be any female dwarves, or marshwiggles, or earthmen, in the Narnia books.

2) Populations too small. Aslan could, of course, maintain them, no matter how small. But, in Prince Caspian, there seem to be just a handful, or even less, of hags, bears, badgers, werewolves, and others. There are a number of real species of organisms on current real endangered lists, with more than a handful of members. Inbreeding, accidents, and the like take their toll. Species can't be expected to survive with numbers as small as Lewis implied.

3) Food and supplies. Authors often neglect this. I probably would, too. Most fiction works are not about agriculture or commerce. But, for example, how does the giant house, Harfang, heat itself? Lewis describes profligacy in heating it, from wood fuel, but Harfang is in the middle of a "desolate, rocky plain" (The Silver Chair, New York: Macmillan, 1953, p. 78) which is apparently treeless, and Jill, Eustace and Puddleglum spent all morning and part of the afternoon getting to it from where they first saw it, with no suggestion that they went through a forest. There is mention of hunting parties, but none of wood-seeking parties.

Where did Tumnus shop? There is no mention of any market, or even building, in the first part of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, save the castle of the witch.

How did Narnia survive the long winter caused by the witch? Such a winter would have cut off almost all agriculture, grazing, etc.

4) Paths under the ocean. The sea-people in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader are described as riding something like sea-horses, which swim. Presumably they do, too. Lucy sees paths at the bottom of the ocean, used by the sea-people. Why would they need paths, or how would they even make them?

Some parallels between Tolkien and Lewis's subcreations:

1) Both of them had some female characters, but both of them seemed to have whole populations with no females. (I'm not including the Ents.) Though Tolkien wrote that it was difficult or impossible for non-dwarves to differentiate the sexes, he mentions only one female dwarf, Dís, Thorin's sister, in the trilogy, The Hobbit, or The Silmarillion, and she was a very minor character. (Besides my memory, see the entry on her in The Encyclopedia of Arda.) I don't recall any evidence of female orcs at all.

2) Both of them created flat worlds.

3) Both of them had an interest in stars. In The Last Battle, Jill Pole is described as being very familiar with the stars as guides. Frodo and Sam saw a star while in Mordor, and this encouraged them. Stars are characters in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and Elrond's father became a star, or at least a beacon in the sky, in Tolkien's world.

4) Both of them created worlds that, in many ways, were medieval. Horses, armor, swords and spears and bows and arrows, castles, or at least castle-like buildings, all abound.

5) I really wonder how Mordor, a desert waste, but with vast hordes of various kinds of beings in it, was provisioned.

Crumbolst has posted some insightful commentary on The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which sort of considers the same ideas as I am here.

I previously posted on my own article, but thought, as the time for the opening of the movie based on the first book in the Narnia series approaches, that it made sense to do so again. This post is not a duplicate of the former one.

Thanks for reading!

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Added Jan 22, 2008: A subsequent post, responding to a comment on this one, may be found here.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Perspectives: Christianity & Science, Mar 2003

Unfortunately, the American Scientific Affiliation is not an organization that is widely known. Too bad. This organization, of and for evangelical scientists, has existed for several decades, and publishes a quarterly journal, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith. The articles, book reviews, and letters in that publication are posted on-line for public access after a delay of several months.

The March, 2003 issue is available. There are several articles, including the following (articles are in .pdf format):
"Looking to the Birds: A Perspective on the Interpretation of Nature," by David Lahti is hard to classify, but it's a splendid meditation on God and nature. The birds described are African weaverbirds. Lahti quotes from, among others, C. S. Lewis, John Bunyan, Søren Kierkegaard and John Calvin, as well as citing or quoting several scientific sources.

"Miracles, Intelligent Design, and God-of-the-Gaps," by Jack Collins and "The Panda’s Thumb: Design and Optimality from Plato to Endo," by Richard Thornhill, are important contributions to the discussion of Intelligent Design. Thornhill argues that, in ancient times, design was not believed to always result in perfection, hence minimizing one of the arguments against ID.

Carol Hill and Art Hill (unrelated, so far as I know) have an exchange of letters on whether Noah's flood was world-wide or not.

There are other items which should also be of interest.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Sunspots 30

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

Rebekah has linked to an answer to a question that may be important to some of you: "Can you quote from the ESV Bible in your postings?" The answer is "yes," but, understandably, the ESV people would like to be acknowledged. It shouldn't be difficult to do so. I, personally, am saving this post by the ESV Bible Blog to my computer for future reference. For anyone who doesn't know, the English Standard Version is a modern translation, available on-line. I use one of their RSS feeds for my daily Bible reading. No translation is perfect, but this one is pretty good, and uses modern language. Thanks to Rebekah and the ESV people.

Mice not only squeak, they can sing. This is a report in Nature News, this is the original article.

Carl Zimmer writes about current speculations on the function of color change in leaves.

Physics Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg on previous Nobel laureate Albert Einstein's mistakes in physics. (This one's a little heavy on the physics, but non-physicists should be able to understand it.)

Post on The Panda's Thumb, on the discussion of Haeckel's photos of embryos by Jonathan Wells, author of Icons of Evolution, claiming that Wells has distorted the facts.

Katherine is in France, and things, especially the healthcare system, are different than that in the U. S.

Here's a post on white stags in literature, including literature by Rowling, Lewis, and others.

Christine Rosen in The New Atlantis on how the ubiquity of images, and our ability to produce and manipulate them, is now, and may, affect our culture. Sample:

Two things in particular are at stake in our contemporary confrontation with an image-based culture: First, technology has considerably undermined our ability to trust what we see, yet we have not adequately grappled with the effects of this on our notions of truth. Second, if we are indeed moving from the era of the printed word to an era dominated by the image, what impact will this have on culture, broadly speaking, and its institutions? What will art, literature, and music look like in the age of the image?

Warning: This is not a short posting, but a lengthy article. Rosen considers the effects of Photoshop and PowerPoint, and the "MTV effect," and historical precedents for current digital imaging and manipulation.

A proposal for a new vision or focus for the space program, which sounds suspiciously like that of the bad guys, which sounded so ridiculous when Ransom translated it in Out of the Silent Planet, by C. S. Lewis.

This week's Christian Carnival is here. (The link is to the blog, not the post. If you go to the link, you may not see the Christian Carnival, unless you click on the Archives.)

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Colored leaves in heaven?

I'm currently living in Southern California, where there isn't a lot of evidence of fall color change. (There's some--there are quite a few sweet gums grown here.)

A post by Bonnie, consisting of a photo of yellow maple leaves, lead to this musing. (I thought about writing "only yellow maple leaves," or "just yellow maple leaves," but decided that no leaf or leaves should be minimized in that way.) The musing is this -- will leaves change their colors in heaven?

I know of no scriptural evidence on that matter. However, C. S. Lewis put it like this, writing about heaven after Narnia:
"All of the old Narnia that mattered, all the dear creatures, have been drawn into the real Narnia through the Door." (The Last Battle, New York: Macmillan, 1956)

There is scriptural evidence for leaves in heaven.

What do you think?

Monday, November 07, 2005

Voldemort as sociopath: Evil in the Harry Potter books

Two days ago, I posted on this same subject, more or less (actually, it was about the evilness, or lack thereof, of Draco Malfoy) and received a comment by personal e-mail. I have asked, and obtained, permission to use it. The comment, slightly edited, follows:

Voldemort is definitely evil. if you want to find an evil character, you need look no further. I know that we all knew that Voldemort was evil from book one, but what has impressed me as a reader is the way that Rowling has developed his character. Having done some reading on sociopaths and serial killers, I can tell that Rowling has obviously done her homework. Even little things about Voldemort's character and the way he responds to his world as a young man growing up are classic sociopathic things...things that have been researched in real people. That impresses me. Even though Rowling is a writer of the fantastic, and Voldemort is the ultimate evil, the fact that she bases all of her characters, even Voldemort, on things that are characteristic of real people is what makes the stories so readable.

Thanks for the comment!

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life, pt. 8

I continue a series of excerpts from The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith. The book, which is public domain, is, available on-line in its entirety here. This version is somewhat different from the paperback I have in my physical possession. (New York: Ballentine Books, 1986) The material in this post is quoted from the link. Blank lines represent omitted material.

Here is some of what Smith had to say on "Difficulties Concerning Failures."

Of course, in speaking of sin here, I mean conscious, known sin. I do not touch on the subject of sins of ignorance, or what is called the inevitable sin of our nature, which are all covered by the atonement, and do not disturb our fellowship with God. I have no desire nor ability to treat of the doctrines concerning sin; these I will leave with the theologians to discuss and settle, while I speak only of the believer's experience in the matter. And I wish it to be fully understood that in all I shall say, I have reference simply to that which comes within the range of our consciousness.
Misunderstanding, then, on this point of known or conscious sin, opens the way for great dangers in the higher Christian life. When a believer, who has, as he trusts, entered upon the highway of holiness, finds himself surprised into sin, he is tempted either to be utterly discouraged, and to give everything up as lost; or else, in order to preserve the doctrine untouched, he feels it necessary to cover his sin up, calling it infirmity, and refusing to be honest and above-board about it. Either of these courses is equally fatal to any real growth and progress in the life of holiness. The only way is to face the sad fact at once, call the thing by its right name, and discover, if possible, the reason and the remedy. This life of union with God requires the utmost honesty with Him and with ourselves. The communion which the sin itself would only momentarily disturb, is sure to be lost by any dishonest dealing with it. A sudden failure is no reason for being discouraged and giving up all as lost. Neither is the integrity of our doctrine touched by it. We are not preaching a state, but a walk. The highway of holiness is not a place, but a way.

We can only walk in this path by looking continually unto Jesus, moment by moment; and if our eyes are taken off of Him to look upon our own sin and our own weakness, we shall leave the path at once. The believer, therefore, who has, as he trusts, entered upon this highway, if he finds himself overcome by sin, must flee with it instantly to the Lord. He must act on 1 John 1:9: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." He must not hide his sin and seek to salve it over with excuses, or to push it out of his memory by the lapse of time. But he must do as the children of Israel did, rise up "early in the morning," and "run" to the place where the evil thing is hidden, and take it out of its hiding-place, and lay it "out before the Lord." He must confess his sin. And then he must stone it with stones, and burn it with fire, and utterly put it away from him, and raise over it a great heap of stones, that it may be forever hidden from his sight. And he must believe, then and there, that God is, according to His word, faithful and just to forgive him his sin, and that He does do it; and further, that He also cleanses him from all unrighteousness. He must claim an immediate forgiveness and an immediate cleansing by faith, and must go on trusting harder and more absolutely than ever.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

More on Draco Malfoy

A couple of months ago, I posted my take on Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. In that post, I compared a choice made by Draco Malfoy to the choice made by Saruman, when Gandalf confronted him in his tower, after the fall of Sauron. (Which episode was, most unfortunately, left out of the Peter Jackson movie.)

This comparison hasn't sat well with one of my readers, who sees Malfoy as, at least in part, a victim of circumstances, and she has given me evidence, from J. K. Rowling's own mouth, that Draco isn't as totally despicable as I portrayed him. I guess I was looking for somebody totally and completely bad in the Potter series, and wasn't sure that Snape would fill that role, so fixed on Malfoy.

The evidence is in the second part of a long interview with Rowling, toward the bottom. Here's the most relevant part: "Harry is correct in believing that Draco would not have killed Dumbledore . . ."

Thanks, daughter!

Friday, November 04, 2005

Primary Inversion, by Catherine Asaro

I have now read my second novel by Catherine Asaro, Primary Inversion, also set in the Skolian Empire. (The title is because the means of faster-than-light travel is an inversion, whatever that is.) Primary Inversion precedes The Last Hawk, but there is no compelling reason that they have to be read in that order. Will I read more Asaro? Maybe. Her Quantum Rose got some good reviews, but I haven't seen it yet.

I previously said that I couldn't remember the hero of The Last Hawk. He is mentioned, but never appears, in Primary Inversion, and I have remembered him because of this--his name is Kelric. He has been missing for some time in Primary Inversion. I know where he went, because I read The Last Hawk first.

Sauscony, Kelric's sister, is a more memorable character than Kelric. They, and other siblings, are Rhon. Rhon are very rare, mostly in Sauscony's family. They have several special genes in homozygous condition, and having these gives them psionic powers. They can read minds, to some extent, and are empaths--they feel what others are feeling. I won't give away the plot anymore than that. At least the broad strokes of the plot are quite predictable.

Sauscony's character has to do with several others that she loves, including her parents, and others, and the conflicts that these loves cause.

The Skolian Empire is large--many stars, and is held together by the Skolnet. The Skolnet is a psionic and computer communications network. It depends on the mental activity of three persons for its existence. These are the emperor, Sauscony's brother, her father, and her aunt. One of the shortcomings of the book is that Sauscony's aunt's effect on the Skolnet is described, but the aunt never appears, and is not described, or even named. Another shortcoming, at least to me, is the whole concept of a psionic network. I'm not convinced that such a thing is possible. If it were, why would it depend on only three people, all of whom have other things to occupy their time, and who also have to sleep, for its existence? (One of them is so technically inexpert that he can't log on by himself!) What does it mean, if anything, to be able to visualize a psionic/computer network? (I know that William Gibson, in Neuromancer, and Dan Simmons, in some of his Hyperion novels, and, no doubt, others, have also supposed such a thing, but I have difficulty vizualizing their visualizations) Could it be jacked into, with a physical connection to the central nervous system?

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Last Hawk, by Catherine Asaro

Let's put it this way. I was sorry when I finished this book. (Catherine Asaro, The Last Hawk, New York: Tor, 1997) I wanted to know what would happen.

This is the first Asaro I have read. She writes what is sometimes called "hard" science fiction, that is, fiction relying on forseeable scientific developments for setting or plot. (Asaro has a doctorate in science.) It seemed more like space opera to me. A noble from the Skolian Empire (there are other books by her about that--the nobility are empaths, and augmented by internal computers and other technology) crash-lands on a planet which isn't in contact with that Empire, and fears such contact. He survives, and becomes a leading player in the politics and economy of the new planet. He is an empath, and is computer and otherwise augmented. He also becomes the husband of three different women (not at the same time, and, in one case against his will--two of them die while he is married to them) and, counting a previous girl who died on his home world, has three loves of his life. That's a lot. He sires two children.

The society is run by women. Men have some importance, but are subordinate. The most important cultural peculiarity of the society is quis, a game/ceremony/art form/something that everyone plays or does, with small objects of many shapes and colors, called dice. (They don't seem to be thrown, and there doesn't seem to be a random element in quis.) Some men are specialists at quis, and this is their greatest contribution to the culture. Asaro presents quis as a way of settling contests with others, and a way of influencing planet-wide culture, and also as a way of representing scientific concepts like atomic structure. It's a fascinating idea, but not fully fleshed out, in my opinion. I couldn't visualize the game, nor could I comprehend how manually placing objects, one at a time, could accomplish all that she said it did in anything like a reasonable amount of time. I also couldn't comprehend how male quis-players in one province influenced female leaders in another, when the males who specialize in quis are kept isolated.

There was little consideration of ethical issues, as, say, Ursula K. Le Guin does. More importantly, I find that the book doesn't exactly pass Le Guin's "Mrs. Brown" test:

A quite good simple test to detect the presence or absence of Mrs. Brown in a work of fiction is this: A month or so after reading the book, can you remember her name? It's silly, but it works pretty well. For instance, almost anybody who reads Pride and Prejudice will remember the names Elizabeth and Darcy, probably for very much longer than a month.
- Ursula K. Le Guin, "Science Fiction and Mrs. Brown," pp. 101-119 in Susan Wood, ed., The Language of the Night (New York: Putnam, 1979), p. 104.

By "Mrs. Brown," Le Guin, following Virginia Woolf, is speaking of character. Is there a real character in the book? I can't remember the name of the Skolian noble, and it's been less than a month. I do remember the name of the last woman he came to love, probably because it has an "x" in it. Ixpar is a memorable name. Our Skolian noble disappears at the end, probably going back to the empire, where, presumably, he is part of at least one more book.

Nonetheless, an entertaining book.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Sunspots 29

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

How Einstein dealt with e-mail. (OK, not exactly)

Scott Gilbreath, a Christian statistician, has a good post on Intelligent Design, "Random does not mean unguided."

Brandy pointed me to the Wired article on the Christian bloggers' convention.

Arevanye has posted a quote from C. S. Lewis on what he thought of scientific theories, and another one on what CSL thought about Christ's only destructive miracle, that of the fig tree.

This week's Christian Carnival is here.

I make no apology for the brevity of this week's Sunspots, but do explain that my wife and I are engaged in serious baby-sitting, and, next to raising our own daughters, helping to raise a grandson is the most important thing I've ever done. (His father's work currently has taken him three time zones away, and his mother's six hours away.) There's less blogging, and web-surfing, time available.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The Wave in the Mind by Ursula K. Le Guin

In this book, several short essays by Le Guin are presented, most of them for the first time in formal print.

She covers many topics. One of them is the process of writing. Le Guin, arguably the most important writer of fantastic fiction in North America in the last half of the twentieth century, and continuing into the twenty-first, knows a lot about writing, and has taught it in many writers' workshops. To summarize too briefly, her advice on writing is twofold. First, be true to your story, because story is important. Second, listen to the constructive criticism of others.

Some of the other topics include:
an attack on Edward O. Wilson, author of Sociobiology, principally for being too simplistic in his understanding of such fields as sociology and anthropology. (Le Guin's father was an important anthropologist.)
some of what her early life was like.
a few drawings--she's pretty good.
an attack on Tolstoy for the famous sentence that begins his Anna Karenina, something like (depending on the translation) "All happy families are alike, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."
rhythm in writing and reading, even of prose.
her appreciation of Peter Jackson's first Tolkien film, and her understanding of why the pace, etc., must be different from books, in film. (Le Guin has been publicly unhappy about a film version of some of her own work, for valid reasons. At least two of her works have been filmed.)
a brief analysis of the work of the late Cordwainer Smith, who happens to be one of my own favorite fantasy authors.

She argues for the importance of fantastic literature:

Fantasy is, after all, the oldest kind of narrative fiction, and the most universal. . . .
Fantasies are often set in ordinary life, but the material of fantasy is a more permanent, universal reality than the social customs realism deals with. The substance of fantasy is psychic stuff, human constants: situations and imageries we recognise without having to learn or know anything at all about New York now, or London in 1850, or China three thousand years ago. Ursula K. Le Guin, "Things not Actually Present: On The Book of Fantasy and J. L. Borges," in The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination. Boston: Shambhala, 2004. pp. 38-45. Quote is from pp. 43. Originally appeared as the introduction to The Book of Fantasy, Viking, 1988.

Le Guin quotes Virginia Woolf for the source of her title: "A sight, an emotion, creates this wave in the mind, long before it makes words to fit it . . . " (Le Guin, p. 280)

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Note added on November 2nd: I should have included this link to the Project Gutenberg Anna Karenina text.