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Friday, March 31, 2006

The Science of Middle-Earth

Henry Gee has written The Science of Middle-Earth. (Cold Spring Harbor, New York: Cold Spring Press, 2004) A one-sentence summary of the book would be that Gee attempts to give natural, scientific explanations of Tolkien's fantastic phenomena. He seems quite familiar with Tolkien, including his less popular works, and with science. (He should be. This source says he is a senior editor of Nature, arguably the most important science periodical in English.)

Here's a sample:

. . . Elves have a genetic constitution that is not only resistant to infectious disease, but also those diseases of aging, such as cancer, that seem to be related to a diminution of the body's resistance to oxidative stress. Elvish versions of DNA-repair enzymes, as well as catalase or superoxide dismutase those enzymes whose task it is to combat reactive oxygen species -- must be potent indeed. Elvish lives are also prolonged by caloric restriction alongside slow metabolism. . . . Elves . . . while they enjoy the occasional banquet, largely seem to exist on a diet of water, lembas, and thin air . . . and can go for long periods without visible means of sustenance or even sleep. This suggests a highly efficient metabolism in which the production of reactive oxygen species is kept to a minimum. Because of this, Elves always manage to look young and beautiful, signs of age being revealed only in their eyes. (p.169)

Four criticisms leap to mind. First, surely Tolkien didn't know about most of this, and, most likely, wouldn't have cared if he did know. Second, if Gee is correct, why don't the DNA-repair enzymes work in and around the eyes, too? Third, there's a comma missing. Fourth, and most importantly, all these explanations spoil the mythical qualities of Tolkien's work, at least if you think about them much, and the mythical qualities are the whole point of his writing.

Gee is not afraid to speculate. He supposes that dragons synthesize diethyl ether, which ignites when passing down their throats. He considers the question of a vertebrate with six limbs (in the case of dragons, four legs and two wings). He speculates about homeotic mutations, which can cause extra appendages in insects, and thinks that having four limbs became fixed in vertebrates by chance -- it could have been six. He speculates about other matters, such as the physical nature of mithril, (he thinks it's a compound), about how palantíri and Silmarils might have been constructed, about how spiders could be so large (animals with exoskeletons and respiratory structures like insects and spiders don't seem able to grow much larger than we know them, in spite of the way they are portrayed in some horror movies), and about elvish technology. (They don't understand what the hobbits mean when they ask the Elves about magic. They may have had, at least in the time of Fëanor, sophisticated technology.) He admits failure in explaining how the One Ring "works," which I find comforting, after all the other magic he has explained away, or tried to.

In fairness to Gee, he is concerned not only with scientific phenomena, but with other things, such as the theological implications of Orcs, which implications depend, in large part, on their origin. (Human, elvish, animal, or something else? Tolkien isn't clear on this.)

There is an introduction by David Brin, who is not fully in favor of Gee's enterprise. Brin, like many others, is convinced that Tolkien was nostalgic, and not a friend of the "progress" produced by applying scientific knowledge. Brin, a notable author of science fiction (Kiln People, Startide Rising, and others), has written an article on this subject, which is thought-provoking and well worth reading.

See here for my own web pages on Middle-Earth.

Gee's book was interesting, but non-essential. I'm glad I read it.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

What is the "image of God?"

I wish to muse about the question of what being in the image of God means.

This post is in response to a comment to a previous post, wherein I indicated that I thought some animals might possess, in some measure, part of the image of God. I thank Jeremy Pierce, also known as Parableman, for the comment. He said (I edited a bit, without changing his meaning):

I've come to the conclusion that the image of God is not some aspect of us but something God declared true of us and then made us to fit it. What he declared true of humanity is that humans will be his representatives in the created world. It's our responsibility to make sure it's taken care of. It's our responsibility to act in a godly way in caring for what is ultimately God's. This is why Adam was given the responsibility and privilege of the authoritative task of naming the animals.
Ultimately the image of God, then, is God's declaration of who would do this, of who would image and represent him to all creation. He made us in a way fitting to such a responsibility, though that's partially corrupted due to the fall, but the primary thing is something God simply declared of us. If I'm right, then I don't think it's right to say that animals have part of the image of God.

Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (ESV)

Genesis 9:5 And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man.

6 “Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image. (ESV)

1 Corinthians 11:7 For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. (ESV)

Colossians 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (ESV)

I did a word search of the ESV Bible, on the two words, image God, and the four passages above were the only relevant ones returned. (There are a number of passages about the idea of worshiping an image as a god. They're against it.)

Is Parableman correct? Do any animals have any part of God's image? Do angels? What does being in the image of God mean?

Let me begin to answer by setting forth my understanding of what some great theologians believed about the concept of the image of God.

If I understand an article about how Thomas Aquinas understood the image of God, for him it had two aspects. One of these was similitude, and the other was intellect.

Wesley held that the image of God in humans had three parts, moral, natural and political. The first of these was completely destroyed in the Fall. According to my source, Wesley was in agreement with Calvin on this matter. I have checked Calvin's commentaries on the passages above (Here is his commentary on Genesis 1. You can get to the rest of his commentaries from this link.) and he did not explain his concept of the image of God in them. Another source puts Wesley's concept thus, explaining, at least for me, the natural image:

The natural image was "a picture of His own immortality; a spiritual being, endued with understanding, freedom of the will, and various affections." The political image was man as governor of this world. Most important was the moral image; in Paul's words "righteousness and true holiness" (Eph. 4:24 . . .).

I hope to produce a second post, continuing my musings on this matter.

Thanks for reading.

* * * * *
Added on April 5:

I have checked John Calvin's commentary again, and I did not give him proper credit. I have now posted more fully on his views, and also those of John Wesley and Matthew Henry (these are three separate posts). I hope to add posts on current thinkers soon.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Sunspots 50

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

Bonnie has a great essay on why she takes pictures.

The Poetry Archive is an archive of poetry readings, some by the poets themselves. There are notices of upcoming live readings.

Journey to Wellness is an on-line health magazine aimed at African-Americans.

CNET has an article about the latest security threat, namely botnets. These are used, among other things, as fake on-line stores. (This is not phishing, it's something else.) It's a scary read.

Dory has a good post on how to deal with criticizing and complaining.

There is evidence that whale songs have a sort of grammar. There is, so far, no evidence that they refer to abstract concepts.

Joe Carter recycles a good post on what conservatives really do to governing. His claim (overly simplified by me) is that political conservatives don't know much about governing, but they do know when some things aren't right.

I am not making this up. Researchers from Europe claim that they have been able to genetically modify rat nerve cells so that it is possible to communicate with them by way of a computer chip.

A web page discusses C. S. Lewis's Out of the Silent Planet. It says, among other things, that the races of Malacandrans that Lewis invented have been used (after Lewis) by other writers of fantastic fiction, one of them Larry Niven.

Newborn babies are attracted by human speech. Researchers have some evidence that this attraction is innate, not because the newborns were exposed to human speech while in the womb.

There was an eclipse of the sun visible in some parts of the earth today, but not here. (I chose this Flickr photo because the photographer posted more than one shot of the eclipse. He has some other nice photos, too.)

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

When I don't tell where I found an item above, I either found it directly, or was probably pointed to it by the Librarian's Internet Index, SciTech Daily, or Arts and Letters Daily. All of them are great.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Colors of the rainbow, and others

My longest series so far was one on the colors of the rainbow and other colors*. I mused about many things, including how the words for these colors were used in the bible, the scientific basis of color, the use of colors in fantastic literature, and color as a symbol in athletics.

These posts were from February 14 and March 25, 2005. (There were other matters considered between the posts on color.)

I have now produced a web page which corrects a few errors, deletes some dead links, and combines all of these posts into one large, indigestible (but colorful) mass. It may be found here.

I hope to do the same to my series on temptations in the Narnia books.

*I posted on red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet, plus scarlet, crimson and purple, gold, silver, brown, gray (or grey), white and black. I am aware that some of these, at least in some ways, aren't really colors.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Alphabet of Thorn and Ombria in Shadow by Patricia A. McKillip

Patricia A. McKillip is one of the finest writers of fantasy currently writing. I have enjoyed all of her books, some more than others.

Reading a book by McKillip is to enter a dream. There are things going on that you can feel, but not understand, and when you wake up, you aren't certain where you have been, or for how long. My response, recently, upon reading one of her books, was to start over, looking to find out. Here's a sentence from a recent review of another of McKillip's books:
As always, McKillip writes sparely, with elegance and precision, and this time disguises her usual insufficiency of plot behind an annoying and disconcerting succession of first-person narrators.

That is a pretty good one-sentence summary of McKillip, although harsh. Some of her books have a more discernable plot than others, however, and Alphabet of Thorn, has one. I don't want to give it away, except to say that there is an alphabet, and at there is least one book written in it, and the letters of that alphabet are thorns. There is a Wikipedia article on the McKillip's book, which does summarize the plot.

One thing I will give away is a sample of McKillip's writing:
. . . She went into it.
It was not the school that the students saw. That school was an eccentric, drafty puzzle-box of stone that changed shape according to their needs. Sometimes the stone walls would shift to let in the wood, sometimes the sky; any kind of weather was apt to appear. Stairs and corridors were rarely predictable, except for finding meals and beds. Monsters might roam the halls; doors might open to reveal riches, or strange beasts, or nothing at all as far as the eye could see. Through the centuries different mages had worked their spells into the rooms as tests and teaching devices; not even Felan knew anymore what waited behind every door, or how many magically charmed rooms lay unopened, forgotten until chanced upon by some hapless student. The school itself became a student's first test: the inflexible mind that balked at its erratic behavior never stayed long.
The school that opened itself to Vevay was a comfortable, cluttered place, with thick carpets and musty tapestries and many fat candles. Owls queried her passing; in the windows, ravens and kingfishers muttered sleepily. A milk-white snake in a dark corner uncoiled its head and opened a sapphire eye at her. Books lined the walls, lay open on stands; some of them whispered constantly, reading themselves aloud. The hallway she walked opened into a room with an elaborately patterned floor of wood and ivory, and walls of oak and stained glass. In it, she found Felan, who would have been expecting her the moment she set foot in the wood.
- Alphabet of Thorn
(New York: Berkley, 2004) pp.109-110.

Vevay is the chief mage of the kingdom. Felan runs the school for mages for her. The school is, more or less, in a magical wood. It often floats above the wood, and there is a reflection of it in the sky near it.

I won't post separately on Ombria in Shadow (New York: Ace, 2002) but will append a reaction here.

This is a dark work. There isn't much vengeance in it, although the evil Domina Pearl is finally defeated in the end. There's a lot of murky stuff, unresolved. Even a second reading left me unsure what had gone on, although sure that McKillip had created a world that somehow drew me in. Ombria is a large old city. Is there really a shadow city? If so, can you only get to it by some sort of magic, or is it just old and forgotten? Are Domina Pearl's guards alive, and, if so, are they human? What is Domina Pearl? What is on her black ships? These are some of the questions I can't answer.
It is often true, in McKillip's books, that parentage is obscure, or that parents have died untimely deaths. That's especially so in Ombria. Mag is told that she is a creature of wax, but she isn't. Whose child is she? Kyel Greve, the child prince, has lost both mother and father. Ducon Greve's mother is dead, and his father is unknown. Lydea's mother has died. These four are more or less normal, and they are the characters who, with help from Faey, the sorceress Mag works for, finally destroy Domina Pearl.
One theme throughout the book is art. Ducon Greve and Kyel communicate through sketches. Ducon sketches a lot of things, in fact, this is his main occupation, seemingly.
Something that's usually found in McKillip's writing, but not in this book, is trees and forests. Not only in In the Forests of Serre, but in most of her other works, there are trees and forests. Not so in Ombria. There are weeds growing on the dock, and a patch of sunflowers near the palace gate, but that's about it. I missed the trees and forests.

*  *  *  *  *

On June 25, 2011, I revised the first few paragraphs.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Diary of an Old Soul, Mar 26 - Apr 1

26. Lord of essential life, help me to die.
To will to die is one with highest life,
The mightiest act that to Will's hand doth lie--
Born of God's essence, and of man's hard strife:
God, give me strength my evil self to kill,
And die into the heaven of thy pure will.--
Then shall this body's death be very tolerable.

27. As to our mothers came help in our birth--
Not lost in lifing us, but saved and blest--
Self bearing self, although right sorely prest,
Shall nothing lose, but die and be at rest
In life eternal, beyond all care and dearth.
God-born then truly, a man does no more ill,
Perfectly loves, and has whate'er he will.

28. As our dear animals do suffer less
Because their pain spreads neither right nor left,
Lost in oblivion and foresightlessness--
Our suffering sore by faith shall be bereft
Of all dismay, and every weak excess.
His presence shall be better in our pain,
Than even self-absence to the weaker brain.

29. "Father, let this cup pass." He prayed--was heard.
What cup was it that passed away from him?
Sure not the death-cup, now filled to the brim!
There was no quailing in the awful word;
He still was king of kings, of lords the lord:--
He feared lest, in the suffering waste and grim,
His faith might grow too faint and sickly dim.

30. Thy mind, my master, I will dare explore;
What we are told, that we are meant to know.
Into thy soul I search yet more and more,
Led by the lamp of my desire and woe.
If thee, my Lord, I may not understand,
I am a wanderer in a houseless land,
A weeping thirst by hot winds ever fanned.

31. Therefore I look again--and think I see
That, when at last he did cry out, "My God,
Why hast thou me forsaken?" straight man's rod
Was turned aside; for, that same moment, he
Cried "Father!" and gave up will and breath and spirit
Into his hands whose all he did inherit--
Delivered, glorified eternally.

APRIL 1. LORD, I do choose the higher than my will.
I would be handled by thy nursing arms
After thy will, not my infant alarms.
Hurt me thou wilt--but then more loving still,
If more can be and less, in love's perfect zone!
My fancy shrinks from least of all thy harms,
But do thy will with me--I am thine own.

The above is excerpted from George MacDonald's A Book of Strife in the Form of The Diary of an Old Soul (Public Domain, 1880). For further information see this post.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Origins 101: nonsense, hogwash, etc.

I posted yesterday on "Origins 101: How things started." You probably don't care why I did it, but I'll tell you. I had written the post some time earlier, and was thinking about posting it. During my devotions, I consulted my journal for March, 2005, and read that, on March 23, 2005, the local daily newspaper, the Greenville News, published a letter by a Chuck Hartman, who is "pastor of Fellowship Bible Church and teaches middle school science and high school chemistry." The title of the letter was "Evolution, Christianity share dysfunctional relationship." The first sentence was "If evolution is true, then Christianity is false." (The letter is no longer available on-line. This is the South Carolina Greenville.)

According to my journal, I discussed this with one of my biology classes that day. A student told the class that, at the international youth convention of my denomination, The Wesleyan Church, a seminar speaker had said the same thing, and, further, had claimed that there is no natural selection.

I thought it was time to post, yet again, on this topic. So I did.

Adam commented on the yesterday's post, for which I am most grateful, and linked to an article in a March (the date of the article's on-line version is March 23) issue of the Arkansas Times, which describes how teachers in some Arkansas public schools are ordered not to teach about evolution, or even use the word in a science class, and not to suggest that the earth might be more than a few thousand years old.

Now, Pastor Hartman is probably a good man, with good intentions, and the seminar speaker probably is, too. At least some of the people setting science teaching policy in Arkansas probably are good people, with good intentions. I hope so, in all cases. But these people are at least partly wrong, and they are harming science instruction, and turning some people away from belief in the Bible, because of what they are doing.

Why do I say this?

There are a couple of things going on. Both are unfortunate. First, evolution is a word with many meanings, that isn't usually carefully defined, or defined at all. Second, matters susceptible to scientific analysis, and matters known by faith, are being confused with one another.

Notice the title of these posts. I have avoided the use of "evolution," deliberately. Why? For two reasons. First, as I said, it has many meanings, and should be carefully defined. Second, I personally prefer that evolution, at least in scientific contexts, should be used only to describe biological phenomena, real or hypothetical.

Natural selection is a process wherein a living organism produces more than one offspring, the offspring vary, and there are environmental pressures of some sort that put variants of one type at an advantage over the other offspring. The result is that the population in question changes its properties with time, so as to be better adapted to resist the environmental pressure. Does this process occur? Absolutely. I have never read a biologist (including young-earth creationist biologists) who doubt that this process occurs. Is this process responsible for change in living organisms? Yes. The differences in human populations or races can be explained in this way, for one outstanding example. Is natural selection responsible for the origin of, say, reptiles from amphibians? Maybe so, maybe not.

Why bring this up? For two reasons. Natural selection is one of the meanings of evolution. It's the main one in biological contexts. That being the case, Hartman's statement is at least partly wrong. Some evolution has occurred. The second reason is to point out that natural selection, the engine of biological evolution, cannot be responsible for the origin of the elements, the heavenly bodies, or the universe itself. These were either supernatural events, physical processes, or supernaturally guided physical processes. They weren't change over time driven by environmental pressure. (As of the date of this post, the article that this paragraph links to, from the Wikipedia, does not say that natural selection is responsible for the origin of new groups of organisms. It merely describes what natural selection is, and how it works. Except for some of the technical details, there should be no quarrel with the concept, or its reality.)

Now the nonsense, hogwash, etc. It is wrong to say that there is no such thing as evolution, at least unless you define what you mean by the word properly. To say that evolution has never happened, or that its existence negates Christianity, is nonsense, hogwash, or worse. (By worse, I mean deliberate deception, for political, financial, or other reasons.)

Although I wish he hadn't started his letter as he did, I do wish to give Rev. Hartman credit. His second sentence was "Two views concerning the origin of the universe and of life, having begun with diametrically opposed premises, cannot be made to agree or harmonize." He is right about that. Either things originated naturally, with no purpose, or they originated supernaturally, because of a purpose. Hartman goes on to say that the idea that determining which of these is true is not a question for science. It is a question for faith. To say that science has proved that there is no God, or god, is also hogwash, nonsense, or worse. Science can't do this. Some scientists are convinced that there isn't a God, but that doesn't make atheism scientific, any more than the fact that some scientists are Republicans make Republicanism scientific.

Denying that there was any supernatural influence in origins should, perhaps, be called naturalism, not evolution. If so, naturalism is what Christians should be opposing, not evolution.

Genesis doesn't tell us how, or when, or why things began. It does say Who started them. Hebrews 11:3 tells us that this is understood by faith. To believe that there was a Who is the most important aspect of a view of origins.

Go here for the first in this series.

Thanks for reading.

Origins 101: How things started

So how did things start?

One possibility is that things have always been as they are now. The universe, living things, etc., have always existed. We can pretty much rule that one out. In the "short" term, fossil evidence indicates that living things have changed quite a bit. In the longer term, the universe appears to be expanding, which indicates that it has changed. The first and second laws of thermodynamics, two of the most widely accepted scientific laws, seem to tell us that there was a definite beginning to the universe. I'm not aware of any scientist who believes that things have always been the way they are now.

So, things got started somehow. How? There seem to be two possibilities. One, they started by themselves, or at least without any plan or guiding force. Two, they started because of some plan, and some guiding force, i. e., a God.

Another question is "how did the diversity of living things come about?"

There seem to be three possible answers.

Living things have become as diverse as they now are entirely through chance, purposeless processes. Or, living things were created, essentially with the diversity they have now. Or, finally, a guiding force, or plan, has allowed living things to change over time.

There are, then, these possible categories of belief:
Things are as they are entirely by chance.
Things are as they are because of plan and purpose.
Things are as they are because of a plan and purpose, which includes chance, or apparently chance, processes. (I say "apparently chance" because I don't think it's possible to rule out a guiding force working through processes that we can't fully explain, but which are indistinguishable from chance.)

I continued this later. See here for second installment, wherein I partially explain the selection of the first word in the title.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Paganism and Christianity in Juliet Marillier's fiction, pt. 2

The first part of this is here. In that post, I commented on Wolfskin, by Juliet Marillier, and referred to an interview with Marillier, in which she said that she is a pagan.

Foxmask is a sequel to Wolfskin, and, as in the previous book, Christianity is presented in a positive manner. In fact, a character comes to belief in God in the book.

"What changed your mind?" Thorvald whispered.
And Niall said simply, "Love."
After a little, Thorvald took his father's hand in his, swallowing, and asked him, "You said that was half the reason. What was the other half?"
"I discovered that God has a sense of humor. All those years I played the part of a priest: I stood by my brethren and mouthed the words they spoke in true faith; I copied the scriptures not because I believed a single word of them, but simply so I would not lose the skills I had at reading, scribing and translation. I argued philosophy with Breccan: there was genuine pleasure in that. I tried not to let my cynicism confuse the boy. I found a certain calm in the pattern of their days; the order and discipline of their life suited me. But I was no Christian. My mind was full of doubt and disbelief. I have seen enough of the dark acts men can perform. I have felt such shadows in my own being that I could hardly be swayed to believe in a god of goodness and light, however eloquently Breccan pleaded his case. Until now."
"What do you mean?"
"God's joke: he saved it until the last, testing my resistance to him all those years. It was simple, Thorvald, simple and shattering. You came, and Creidhe told me I had a son, and I saw you, the one fine thing I had made. I had known nothing of your existence before then. Something changed within me; something opened, a tiny crack, a little chink. It is all God needs. I ceased to resist him, and I hear his voice. He laughs now, I imagine. He has won this battle, and I am truly his." pp. 507-8

As I indicated in the previous post, Marillier is a good writer. She portrays memorable characters, and puts them in emotionally gripping situations.

I expect to re-read her trilogy, published earlier, and look for her treatment of Christianity, with a view to posting, eventually.

Thanks for reading.

* * * * *

On April 2, 2009, E Stephen Burnett wrote an essay, asking questions about how far a Christian author could go in writing fiction which has a God who is significantly different from the Christian God, and whether a Christian could legitimately create a fictional character who is in defiance of God. I posted tentative answers to these questions, which are related to the subject of the post above, on April 13, 2009.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Sunspots 49

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

(I usually put in a photo of sunspots here, but Blogger is acting up, or something)

Bonnie has asked some very difficult, but important, questions. Among the comments, you will see my attempt at an answer. Catez has also tried.

Brady has written some nature poetry.

A dinosaur skeleton has been found, with an eight-meter neck. (This link has been changed. Thanks to Bonnie--see above--for alerting me to a link that was withdrawn.)

Michael Behe, of Darwin's Black Box fame, has written an article in First Things, wherein he claims (correctly, in my view) that the intellectual climate of science assumes materialism, so it is no wonder that science is often taught that way.

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

When I don't tell where I found an item above, I either found it directly, or was probably pointed to it by the Librarians Internet Index, SciTech Daily, or Arts and Letters Daily. All of them are great.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Happy Birthday, Bach; ogg files

March 21 is the birthday of J. S. Bach, who is right up there in most lists of "most important composers." Bach was born in Eisenach, Germany, in 1685. In checking the Wikipedia article on him, I discovered that there are several sound files of his music that are part of the article. (Bach's compositions, of course, are now public domain. Individual performances may not be. The clips in the article are freely usable.)

Bach was a Lutheran. Most of his music was written to be performed in church. There are a number of web pages dealing with his religious beliefs, and how they affected his art, or listening to it. Here's a one-paragraph statement on this matter. Mark Galli, of Christianity Today, went so far as to call him the Fifth Evangelist.

The Wikipedia uses, for this article, a sound file format I had not seen before, with the .ogg extension. In checking, I discovered that this format has an open source player (Which is why the Wikipedia, an open source encyclopedia, uses it). Other articles in the Wikipedia, including at least the ones on Mozart and Vivaldi, also use this file format. I have no ability, nor wish, to tweak a media player, and you probably don't, either, but the player, for Windows, Unix, and Macintosh operating systems, is available here. (Well, sort of. There is a link from that page to this one, which has a downloadable filter for Windows Media Player. I downloaded that. Then, when I opened an .ogg file from the Wikipedia article on Bach, I had to open it with the Other option, so as to change the program I wanted to open the file with. I browsed to the Windows Media Player, which was in the folder of the same name, in the C: \Program Files folder. Got all that? After that, my computer was "smart" enough to open an .ogg file with WMP without prompting.)

Warning: Like other music files, some of the .ogg files linked to the Wikipedia article on Bach are a few megabytes in size.

There are other sources, besides the Wikipedia, that provide .ogg files. Here's a link to some of them. I haven't explored any of these, and probably won't, as most of them seem to be current popular music, which (sorry) I have little interest in.

* * * * *
Added later: The Wikipedia article on Beethoven includes the entire 5th Symphony, the "Moonlight Sonata," and the 1st movement of his 4th piano concerto, a real treasure! The Handel article includes "And the glory of the Lord," "For unto us a child is born" and "Hallelujah" from Messiah. There are, no doubt, other treasures available.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Four-footed insects?

Leviticus 11:20 “All winged insects that go on all fours are detestable to you. 21 Yet among the winged insects that go on all fours you may eat those that have jointed legs above their feet, with which to hop on the ground. 22 Of them you may eat: the locust of any kind, the bald locust of any kind, the cricket of any kind, and the grasshopper of any kind. 23 But all other winged insects that have four feet are detestable to you. (ESV)

This is yet again an indication that the numbers of the Old Testament are not necessarily meant to be taken literally. Why? For the simple reason that insects have six legs, not four. God knew this, of course (and still does). I think that in this case he allowed the writer of Leviticus (presumably Moses) to accomodate the writing to common usage, rather than require strict literalness. Some of us call spiders, which have eight legs, "bugs," and some include centipedes and millipedes, which have more than eight, in "bugs," too. If the Bible were being written now, in a way that people of our day could understand it, it might use "bugs" for all of these, even though, to a scientist, they aren't members of the same group, and there is a group of insects which is called true bugs.

The point remains that the numbers in the Old Testament were not all necessarily meant to be taken literally.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Diary of an Old Soul: Mar 13 - 19

13. I love thee, Lord, for very greed of love--
Not of the precious streams that towards me move,
But of the indwelling, outgoing, fountain store.
Than mine, oh, many an ignorant heart loves more!
Therefore the more, with Mary at thy feet,
I must sit worshipping--that, in my core,
Thy words may fan to a flame the low primeval heat.

14. Oh my beloved, gone to heaven from me!
I would be rich in love to heap you with love;
I long to love you, sweet ones, perfectly--
Like God, who sees no spanning vault above,
No earth below, and feels no circling air--
Infinitely, no boundary anywhere.
I am a beast until I love as God doth love.

15. Ah, say not, 'tis but perfect self I want
But if it were, that self is fit to live
Whose perfectness is still itself to scant,
Which never longs to have, but still to give.
A self I must have, or not be at all:
Love, give me a self self-giving--or let me fall
To endless darkness back, and free me from life's thrall.

16. "Back," said I! Whither back? How to the dark?
From no dark came I, but the depths of light;
From the sun-heart I came, of love a spark:
What should I do but love with all my might?
To die of love severe and pure and stark,
Were scarcely loss; to lord a loveless height--
That were a living death, damnation's positive night.

17. But love is life. To die of love is then
The only pass to higher life than this.
All love is death to loving, living men;
All deaths are leaps across clefts to the abyss.
Our life is the broken current, Lord, of thine,
Flashing from morn to morn with conscious shine--
Then first by willing death self-made, then life divine.

18. I love you, my sweet children, who are gone
Into another mansion; but I know
I love you not as I shall love you yet.
I love you, sweet dead children; there are none
In the land to which ye vanished to go,
Whose hearts more truly on your hearts are set--
Yet should I die of grief to love you only so.

19. "I am but as a beast before thee, Lord."--
Great poet-king, I thank thee for the word.--
Leave not thy son half-made in beastly guise--
Less than a man, with more than human cries--
An unshaped thing in which thyself cries out!
Finish me, Father; now I am but a doubt;
Oh! make thy moaning thing for joy to leap and shout.

The above is excerpted from George MacDonald's A Book of Strife in the Form of The Diary of an Old Soul (Public Domain, 1880). For further information see this post. The excerpt above is the readings for March 13 through March 19.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Numbers in Genesis

As Carol Hill points out, some of the numbers in Genesis cause some questions. Among these are the reported ages of the patriarchs. Hill, writing in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, presents considerable evidence from scripture, archaeology, and elsewhere, that suggests strongly that these numbers, and others, had more symbolic than literal significance. The article is well written, seems to be authoritative, and does not require any special knowledge to understand, but it is not the sort of thing you are going to be able to read and digest in five minutes.

Here's perhaps the most important passage:

All age-numbers (30 in all) from Adam to Noah are a combination of the sacred numbers 60 (years and months) and 7. No numbers end in 1, 3, 4, 6, or 8—a chance probability of one in a billion. Thirteen numbers end in 0 (some multiple or combination of 60), 8 numbers end in 5 (5 years = 60 months), 3 numbers end in 7, 5 numbers end in 2 (5yrs + 7 yrs = 12), and 1 number ends in 9 (5yrs + 7yrs + 7yrs = 19). All of this cannot be coincidental. The Mesopotamians were using sacred numbers, not real numbers. Therefore, these numbers were not meant to be (and should not be) interpreted as real numbers.

There have been some responses to Hill's article, which can be found here. One of them is a letter from me, which points out that the Bible indicates the number of people that went to Egypt with Jacob during the famine. Only two of those listed and included in the total are female, which is inconsistent with common sense, and also inconsistent with the scripture's own statement that Jacob's son's wives went along. I take this as further evidence that not all the numbers in the Bible were meant to be taken literally.

Here's a link to the ESV Bible, Genesis 46:8-27, which is the passage I was referring to.

Thanks for reading.

January 17, 2006: I have posted more on the subject of the women in Jacob's family.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Is evolution "unguided?"

A post on Panda's Thumb (an anti-Intelligent Design blog), claims, with evidence, that the word "unguided" was put into the Kansas science standards by ID advocates, over the objections of "mainstream" scientists. The key phrase is "Biological evolution postulates an unguided natural process that has no discernable direction or goal."

One of these mainstream (anti-ID) scientists is quoted as as saying:

The majority of the writing committee (of which I am a member) believe that evolutionary theory, or science in general, can only study the physical world in a limited way, and that judging whether there is or isn’t divine guidance (as the word is meant to imply in the standards) is outside the scope of science.

I agree with this person on this! He went on to write that:

. . . if a teacher were to actually explicitly teach the position stated in the line added by the ID Minority (that evolution was a unguided process from a theological view, and that therefore students were accidents with no intrinsic purpose because there is no God), the ACLU would be first in line to support a suit against them, and Kansas Citizens for Science would support them.

I hope that's true.

The reasons that Intelligent Design has so much support include (they are not limited to) a perception that public school biology texts and classes teach that there is no purpose to the universe, or, in other words, no God. I'm sure that that is done sometimes, although I've not seen a text, or heard a teacher, that does it. (On reflection, I take that back -- I had a genetics professor who said that there was no God in genetics class. So it was done, and I did hear it.) If either is done, that would be teaching religion, or teaching against it, and the ACLU should oppose it, and they shouldn't be alone.

Romans 1:20 and Psalm 19 tell us that God is revealed to us in nature. Part of that revelation seems to be that there are aspects of evolutionary theory that seem beyond dispute. To state the obvious, there have been changes in humans -- we now have more than one racial group, but came from a single family. (See here for other evidence of changes in humans.) Selection does work. Most organisms do have a struggle for existence -- far more are born/hatched/produced than survive. Some species, such as cows and bison, or horses, donkeys and zebras, appear to be related. It is unfortunate, on the one hand, that some people reject all this. It is even more unfortunate that others extrapolate from such facts to draw the conclusion that there is no God. These facts don't support that conclusion. To draw it is a faith statement (Hebrews 11:3). To believe that there is a Creator is also a faith statement. If one of these doesn't belong in the public schools, then the other doesn't, either.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Sunspots 48

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

From a recent Christian Carnival, I found musings on alien plants.

Rebecca writes about why those who use only the King James Bible of 1611 are wrong.

Bonnie writes about time management. Take time to read her post.

Several sources comment on recent research that shows that some human genes have changed recently. Here's one such source.

A good post by Joe Carter on God and gaps in our knowledge.

Thanks to Parableman, a solid comment on the Dover Intelligent Design decision from Alvin Plantinga, philosopher. Plantinga concludes that Judge Jones's opinion, namely that ID is not science, was based on errors in the Judge's philosophy.

Tip for Firefox users: The search box in the upper right includes a drop-down list of search engines, and you can add alternatives, such as weather and a couple of dictionaries. Warning: You'll have to go back and drop Google down again after using, say, the weather.

I'm not making this up! Here's a map of the Americas, made out of DNA, no less.

Brady has photos of newly hatched praying mantises here. He also says that there's a better plural than mantises . . .

Tip for Flickr users, or those wanting photos about a particular topic: You can subscribe to an RSS feed of all Flickr images with a certain tag, such as daisy. Do a photo search (bottom of any page), then enter a single tag in the Search Tags box, on the left, and subscribe from the resulting page. (One weakness of this is that Flickr users can be idiosyncratic about tags, either not using them at all, or using them for various weird purposes, but it works, with that limitation. Another weakness is that you can't subscribe to the results of a search for a combination of tags.) You can also subscribe to a Flickr group (if you want just the photos, go to the page for the group, then click on the Photos link) or to any other Flickr page with the RSS 2.0 in blue at the bottom.

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

When I don't tell where I found an item above, I either found it directly, or was probably pointed to it by the Librarians Internet Index, SciTech Daily, or Arts and Letters Daily. All of them are great.

Image source (public domain)

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Greg Keyes: The Charnel Prince

This book is the second in a planned series of four books, in the sword and sorcery fantasy genre. I posted on the first one here. As I mentioned in that post, I got the second book from the library so I could find out what happened to the characters. When I did, I checked the author's web page, and discovered that there are two more books to be published, so it will be a while before I find out what happens in the end.

All of the characters I mentioned in the previous post are around at the end of the second book, although the empress, Muriele, has been arrested by her late husband's brother, Robert, and all of them have gone through considerable difficulties. I should have included Princess Anne's best friend and servant, Austra, in this list of characters who have something admirable about them. She was an important character in both books. Another character I didn't like much, Cazio, the swordsman, shows considerable bravery, loyalty, and determination in the second book. In the first, he seemed mostly a braggart.

A new character, the composer, Leovigild Ackenzal, appears in this book. He is a good man, in many ways. The empress commissions him to write a piece of music to give all of the people, whatever station they have, some hope, as terrible things are happening. He does so. There is a fair amount of conversation on the role of music in people's lives in the book.

The Charnel Prince is Robert, who murdered his brother, the emperor, in the first book. The emperor killed him as his final act. However, Robert is brought back to life, inadvertently, by sorcery. This relates to one of the themes of both books, namely the law of death: Dead things should stay dead.

The church of this subcreated world is presented as evil indeed. The central rite of the religion, as perverted by the current church hierarchy, involves human sacrifice, and invocation of evil spirits.

I'd like to know what happens next. Perhaps I will read the next book (not published yet) and find out.

Bibliographic information: Greg Keyes, The Charnel Prince. New York: Random House, 2004.

(Normally, I post a Sunspots on Wednesday, mentioning the week's Christian Carnival. It's time for me to go to bed, and no Christian Carnival yet, so I'm posting this instead.)

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Water on another world? Implications

Water may have been discovered on Saturn's moon Enceladus, encouraging speculation about the possibility that there may be life there. Slate's Explainer has a good column on how water is related to life. The column has links to sources about the discoveries on Enceladus.

Water has a number of unusual properties. It is the only common substance that exists in gas, water, and solid at common temperatures, and that's important. It is the only common substance with a solid less dense than the liquid -- ice floats. Without water vapor, there would not be rain. Without layers of ice on top of bodies of water, they would freeze solid, but ice insulates. Fish and other organisms in water in cold parts of the earth are able to survive because of this.

Water is transparent. If it were not, we couldn't see -- light comes through the liquid in our eyes, which is mostly water, to the retina at the back of our eyes. If water wasn't transparent, plants couldn't carry on photosynthesis under it, and fish and crustaceans couldn't see. While we're on photosynthesis, water is one of the raw materials plants use to manufacture the food we need by this process. (Using food for energy is mostly the reverse -- re-creating water in our mitochondria.)

Water will dissolve many things. Thus, it is useful in carrying food and other substances in the bodies of organisms.

There are other important and unusual properties of water. Many people suspect that water was specially designed by God. I am one of these. However, this can't be proved.

What are the theological implications of life on other worlds, should such exist? I don't see any particular significance to such a discovery, as such, unless this life is sentient, intelligent, and able to communicate with us. Nowhere in scripture does it say that this is impossible, so far as I know. (Nor does the Bible say unequivocally that life elsewhere exists.) Some science fiction writers (C. S. Lewis, in Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra, and James Blish, in A Case of Conscience, and probably others) have written about intelligent non-human organisms that have not experienced the Fall. Now that would have some interesting theological implications. So would evangelizing extraterrestrials.

An omniscient creator doesn't need to be bound to have created life on only one world, or on many. Nor is He bound to have created only one kind of life, the Carbon-based life that we know of, requiring water.

The SETI institute is dedicated to finding life elsewhere.

In his Out of the Silent Planet, Lewis criticized the view that humans have a right, or destiny, to spread ourselves to other worlds.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, March 13, 2006

The Spies and Rahab: Joshua 2

Joshua 2 tells us that Joshua sent two spies across the Jordan River to spy out the land, especially Jericho. I'd like to pass on a few musings about this story.

Joshua had been told, in Joshua 1:5, that "No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you." (ESV) Why, then, did he need to send out spies? He had just been told, by God Himself, that he would not be defeated. One reason is that what God really meant was that Joshua would not be defeated, but he, and his army, would still have to do the work needed. Joshua had already prepared the people, in Joshua 1. God may call, and enable, but we need to work, and do our part.

Another possible reason is that God wanted to rescue Rahab, who was, by her own testimony, in Joshua 2, a believer, not only in the power of God, but in the possibility of deliverance. Hebrews 11:31 says that "by faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish" (ESV, emphasis added). God cared for individuals, and not just individuals from the chosen people. Rahab became one of the ancestors of King David, and, therefore, at least legally, of Christ Himself. (Matthew 1:5)

When Jericho fell, it fell, not because of the work of spies, but because of a miracle. The Israelites walked around it, for several days, as prescribed by God, then shouted, and it fell. It would seem that no spies were needed for that conquest, which strengthens my guess that the main reason the spies went into Jericho was to make a way of rescuing Rahab, who had become convinced that God was powerful, and wanted to be on His side. I don't know this, of course.

I also note Rahab's occupation. (I know that some have said that the translation is not correct, and that she was an innkeeper, but most Bible scholars seem to hold with the translation as quoted in the previous paragraph.) I do not condone prostitution, and, much more importantly, God doesn't, either, but sexual sin does not prevent God's redeeming grace from working.

I had the responsibility and privilege of teaching my Sunday School class yesterday, and Joshua 2 was the assigned material.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Diary of an Old Soul, Mar 6 - Mar 12

6. This day be with me, Lord, when I go forth,
Be nearer to me than I am able to ask.
In merriment, in converse, or in task,
Walking the street, listening to men of worth,
Or greeting such as only talk and bask,
Be thy thought still my waiting soul around,
And if He come, I shall be watching found.

7. What if, writing, I always seem to leave
Some better thing, or better way, behind,
Why should I therefore fret at all, or grieve!
The worse I drop, that I the better find;
The best is only in thy perfect mind.
Fallen threads I will not search for--I will weave.
Who makes the mill-wheel backward strike to grind!

8. Be with me, Lord. Keep me beyond all prayers:
For more than all my prayers my need of thee,
And thou beyond all need, all unknown cares;
What the heart's dear imagination dares,
Thou dost transcend in measureless majesty
All prayers in one--my God, be unto me
Thy own eternal self, absolutely.

9. Where should the unknown treasures of the truth
Lie, but there whence the truth comes out the most--
In the Son of man, folded in love and ruth*?
Fair shore we see, fair ocean; but behind
Lie infinite reaches bathing many a coast--
The human thought of the eternal mind,
Pulsed by a living tide, blown by a living wind.

10. Thou, healthful Father, art the Ancient of Days,
And Jesus is the eternal youth of thee.
Our old age is the scorching of the bush
By life's indwelling, incorruptible blaze.
O Life, burn at this feeble shell of me,
Till I the sore singed garment off shall push,
Flap out my Psyche wings, and to thee rush.

11. But shall I then rush to thee like a dart?
Or lie long hours æonian** yet betwixt
This hunger in me, and the Father's heart?--
It shall be good, how ever, and not ill;
Of things and thoughts even now thou art my next;
Sole neighbour, and no space between, thou art--
And yet art drawing nearer, nearer still.

12. Therefore, my brothers, therefore, sisters dear,
However I, troubled or selfish, fail
In tenderness, or grace, or service clear,
I every moment draw to you more near;
God in us from our hearts veil after veil
Keeps lifting, till we see with his own sight,
And all together run in unity's delight.

*According to this source, ruth can mean "1. Compassion or pity for another. . ."

**According to this source, aeonian is an adjective meaning "lasting for an immeasurably or indefinitely long period of time."

The above is excerpted from George MacDonald's A Book of Strife in the Form of The Diary of an Old Soul (Public Domain, 1880). For further information see this post. The excerpt above is the readings for March 6 through March 12.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Cisterns: musings

Be thy heart a well of love, my child,
Flowing, and free, and sure;
For a cistern of love, though undefiled,
Keeps not the spirit pure.

From Phantastes, by George MacDonald. (1905)

Proverbs 5:15 Drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well. 16 Should your springs be scattered abroad, streams of water in the streets? 17 Let them be for yourself alone, and not for strangers with you. 18 Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, (ESV)

A cistern, as I understand it, is a reservoir, usually dug into the ground, for holding water.

This post is, in part, one of an occasional series, based on my daily reading from the ESV Bible.

Friday, March 10, 2006

The Turing Test and Computer Intelligence

A recent article in The New Atlantis discusses the Turing Test and related issues dealing with intelligence in computers.

Allan Turing was one of the pioneers of computer theory, perhaps the greatest. In 1950, he wrote an article which begins with this sentence: "I PROPOSE to consider the question, 'Can machines think?'" Hardly a modest beginning.

Turing stated that he did not believe in an all-powerful God, or special properties of human immortal souls. Nevertheless, he attempted to consider his question theologically, in particular this objection: "Thinking is a function of man's immortal soul. God has given an immortal soul to every man and woman, but not to any other animal or to machines. Hence no animal or machine can think." He concluded that "In attempting to construct such machines we should not be irreverently usurping His power of creating souls, any more than we are in the procreation of children: rather we are, in either case, instruments of His will providing mansions for the souls that He creates."

As to the objection stated by Turing, I'm not sure it's completely true. I don't find any scriptural evidence that rules out some thinking by animals (or machines, for that matter). Although humans are in the image of God, perhaps other entities (even rocks) have at least a little of God's image in them, too, whatever the image of God is, just as an artist or composer leaves something of herself in all of her creations. And, whatever it is, I don't think that the ability to think is all there is of God's image in humans. I suspect that it includes creativity, the ability to form relationships, the ability to make moral choices, and emotions.

Turing went on to attempt to dispose of eight additional arguments against the possibility of machines being able to think. Perhaps the most important argument, historically, was originally made by Lady Ada Lovelace, also one of the great pioneers of computing, in notes to an article which she translated, and which was published in 1842:

The Analytical Engine has no pretensions whatever to originate anything. It can do whatever we know how to order it to perform. It can follow analysis; but it has no power of anticipating any analytical relations or truths. Its province is to assist us in making available what we are already acquainted with. (from note G) [emphasis is Lovelace's]

Turing said that new types of machine were now available, which hadn't been available in Lovelace's time, which was true, of course.

Toward the end of his article, Turing wrote: "We may hope that machines will eventually compete with men in all purely intellectual fields."

The Turing Test, proposed by Turing, is to communicate with an unknown entity -- carry on a conversation, such as by instant messaging, (which was not available in Turing's day -- back then some sort of typing would have been used) and see if you can tell if the unknown is a human or a computer. Turing said that, if we cannot be sure, then the computer has achieved intelligence.

The article in The New Atlantis basically says that Lady Lovelace was right, at least so far. The Turing Test criterion, says the author, has not been met. Computers, so far, seem only able to do what they have been programmed to do. Mark Halpern, the author, concludes that ". . . we have not yet achieved artificial intelligence, and have no idea if we ever will." This in spite of Turing's affirmation that we will achieve this. Halpern discusses some attempts to apply the Turing Test, and related matters.

Note: The New Atlantis article is readable by any reasonably intelligent person. The article by Turing is also mostly readable, but considerably longer. The article translated by Lovelace, and most of her notes, are not for the faint-hearted.

Note: This post was revised somewhat on March 13th. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Sunspots 47

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

From a recent Christian Carnival, a link to a post on 101 ways to get opportunities to witness. This is written by a wife and mother, so some of the ways aren't practical for those of us who aren't in that category, but there are plenty that fit you and me.

An article, by Kathryn Lindskoog, on Till We Have Faces, by C. S. Lewis. This page has a link to other articles by Lindskoog, some also on Lewis.

Bonnie wonders why she is so fond of a goldfish.

Sara, new mother, ponders her ability to care versus God's.

"Human genes involved in metabolism, skin pigmentation, brain function and reproduction have evolved in response to recent environmental changes, according to a new study of natural selection in the human genome." (from an article in New Scientist)

Kevin is unhappy about a violent (he says) video game associated with the Left Behind book series.

Thanks to Antabaka, I've seen a photo of a new genus of crustacean (crabs, lobsters, etc.) that is white and "hairy." Weird looking, but clearly a crustacean.

Wired reports that it is possible to have your appearance altered more drastically than by "ordinary" plastic surgery, for example, by having ridges put in your forehead, like those of some of the Star Trek aliens. Lest there be any doubt, I'm just reporting this, not advocating it.

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

When I don't tell where I found an item above, I either found it directly, or was probably pointed to it by the Librarians Internet Index, SciTech Daily, or Arts and Letters Daily. All of them are great.

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Diary of an Old Soul, Feb 27 - Mar 5

27. I would not have it so. Weary and worn,
Why not to thee run straight, and be at rest?
Motherward, with toy new, or garment torn,
The child that late forsook her changeless breast,
Runs to home's heart, the heaven that's heavenliest:
In joy or sorrow, feebleness or might,
Peace or commotion, be thou, Father, my delight.

28. The thing I would say, still comes forth with doubt
And difference:--is it that thou shap'st my ends?
Or is it only the necessity
Of stubborn words, that shift sluggish about,
Warping my thought as it the sentence bends?--
Have thou a part in it, O Lord, and I
Shall say a truth, if not the thing I try.

29. Gather my broken fragments to a whole,
As these four quarters make a shining day.
Into thy basket, for my golden bowl,
Take up the things that I have cast away
In vice or indolence or unwise play.
Let mine be a merry, all-receiving heart,
But make it a whole, with light in every part.


1. THE song birds that come to me night and morn,
Fly oft away and vanish if I sleep,
Nor to my fowling-net will one return:
Is the thing ever ours we cannot keep?--
But their souls go not out into the deep.
What matter if with changed song they come back?
Old strength nor yet fresh beauty shall they lack.

2. Gloriously wasteful, O my Lord, art thou!
Sunset faints after sunset into the night,
Splendorously dying from thy window-sill--
For ever. Sad our poverty doth bow
Before the riches of thy making might:
Sweep from thy space thy systems at thy will--
In thee the sun sets every sunset still.

3. And in the perfect time, O perfect God,
When we are in our home, our natal home,
When joy shall carry every sacred load,
And from its life and peace no heart shall roam,
What if thou make us able to make like thee--
To light with moons, to clothe with greenery,
To hang gold sunsets o'er a rose and purple sea!

4. Then to his neighbour one may call out, "Come!
Brother, come hither--I would show you a thing;"
And lo, a vision of his imagining,
Informed of thought which else had rested dumb,
Before the neighbour's truth-delighted eyes,
In the great æther of existence rise,
And two hearts each to each the closer cling!

5. We make, but thou art the creating core.
Whatever thing I dream, invent, or feel,
Thou art the heart of it, the atmosphere.
Thou art inside all love man ever bore;
Yea, the love itself, whatever thing be dear.
Man calls his dog, he follows at his heel,
Because thou first art love, self-caused, essential, mere.

The above is excerpted from George MacDonald's A Book of Strife in the Form of The Diary of an Old Soul (Public Domain, 1880). For further information see this post. The excerpt above is the readings for February 27 through March 5.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Sunspots 46

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

Through last week's Christian Carnival, I found this post on a Christian radical (and/or eccentric, but weren't Christ and Paul?) named Ammon Hennacy. I also found a shorter post quoting Thomas Merton on peace.

Catez has a long post on being a Christian in the blogosphere, and associating with non-Christians there (and elsewhere).

Mufana, who has an interest in such things, suggested that I look up The Hunger Site, and mention it here. I've looked at the site, and it seems to be a legitimate way to help others get food, at least some times, at no cost to you, if I understand it correctly. If anyone knows anything else, please say so. Thanks. (I think Mufana overestimates my readership!)

I heard from one of my graduate school professors, the best one I had, and a good man overall, over 40 years after I finished. He is 90, still active, and said that he was surprised to learn now (which was my fault then) of my interest in Christian matters. He said that he was then, and is now, an atheist. My response is to pray for him. I suppose his response, should he see this, would be to say that is foolish. Maybe so, but I'll try, anyway. Perhaps some of you would, too.

In Wal-Mart's "Women of Achievement Timeline: Black History Month 2006," a photo of Bernadette Locke-Mattox, first African-American woman on the coaching staff of a major college basketball team. I remember her on the bench with Rick Pitino at Kentucky, but had forgotten, or never knew, her name. I think she was the first woman of any ethnic background so placed, perhaps the only one. This site indicates that she was in this position for four years. This one indicates that she is now the head women's coach at Kentucky.

Joe Carter on the beauty of being ugly.

Kevin Wright questions Pat Robertson's unquestioning support of Israel (Robertson isn't the only one.)

An article on Flickr Mashups (none of which I have tried yet, at least not for quite a while, except the Colr Pickr, which I couldn't resist) with links. One of them is Flickr Sudoku. Don't ask me what Sudoku is, but I do know that it's popular.

Earthlink Newsletter on what makes a computer fast (or not). In other words, a nice introduction to hardware.

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

When I don't tell where I found an item above, I either found it directly, or was probably pointed to it by the Librarians Internet Index, SciTech Daily, or Arts and Letters Daily. All of them are great.

Image source (public domain)