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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Sunspots 192

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

The Vatican is honoring Galileo as a pioneer of integrating faith and reason, according to the Associated Press.

From He Lives: "As an honest science evolution is no threat to Christianity. A study of creation is always honoring rather than disparaging of the creator."

From Christianity Today: A fine article on humility.

Henry Neufeld on interpreting scripture. (It's generally not easy!)

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

More on torture

I don't like to think about torture, and I don't want anyone torturing me, but I believe that I have a responsibility, as a Christian citizen, to be concerned about the use of torture.

Some people believe that fighting terrorism justifies the use of torture, and that torture is an effective means of obtaining information.

A report from the Senate Armed Services Committee, dated December 12 of this year, disagrees with both of those assertions.

It begins by quoting General Petraeus: “What sets us apart from our enemies in this fight… is how we behave. In everything we do, we must observe the standards and values that dictate that we treat noncombatants and detainees with dignity and respect. While we are warriors, we are also all human beings”

The report includes this statement, too:
Conclusion 3: The use of techniques similar to those used in SERE resistance training – such as stripping students of their clothing, placing them in stress positions, putting hoods over their heads, and treating them like animals – was at odds with the commitment to humane treatment of detainees in U.S. custody. Using those techniques for interrogating detainees was also inconsistent with the goal of collecting accurate intelligence information, as the purpose of SERE resistance training is to increase the ability of U.S. personnel to resist abusive interrogations and the techniques used were based, in part, on Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean War to elicit false confessions. (emphasis added. SERE is an acronym for Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape training.)

According to this unanimous bipartisan* report, the US did use torture on prisoners, and this was encouraged by then Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and other high government officials. Some techniques used were not done so legally, although there were attempts to justify their use. (And also to deny such use.)
*According to news reports, such as one in the Salt Lake Tribune, Dec. 22, 2008, the report was bipartisan and unanimous.

Some of the techniques used by the US military, then, led to:
1) diminution of the moral status of the US in the eyes of the world
2) implicit approval of the use of torture of captured US personnel by other countries
3) no more reliable information than we would have gotten without such use

Unfortunate, and regrettable.

Monday, December 29, 2008

J. K. Rowling's Tales of Beedle the Bard

The Tales of Beedle the Bard is a collection of five short fables, supposedly part of the children's literature of the wizards created by J. K. Rowling. These fables have lessons. The lessons are: don't be greedy; don't think of yourself as superior, even to people who don't have your abilities; magic cannot undo death.

Each tale is followed by a commentary by Albus Dumbledore, one-time Headmaster of Hogwarts. These commentaries are roughly as long as the tales themselves, and as interesting.

I suppose that this brief book would be a good introduction to Rowling's sub-creation, but doubt if many who haven't already read the Harry Potter books will read it.

The book was published in 2008. It was published partly as a way to raise money for some charities that are important to Rowling.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Hosea on Ephraim

Hosea was one of the so-called minor prophets, known for being directed (by God) to marry a prostitute, and then redeem her from slavery, or some other terrible relationship, when she left him. Hosea said that this was God's extremely graphic way of illustrating how the children of Israel had pursued other gods, and he had bought them back. I guess it can also be taken as New Testament prophecy -- I, too, have sought other gods, and God Himself has redeemed me, with His own blood.

Ephraim was one of Joseph's sons, and Jacob's grandsons. (See Genesis 41 -- all scripture references and quotations from the ESV.) He was the younger son, but Jacob gave him a more important blessing than he gave Ephraim's older brother, Manasseh. Levi, the tribe which included the priests, was not considered to be one of the twelve tribes of Israel, when, for example, the soldiers were counted. Ephraim and Manasseh were each considered to be a tribe, along with the descendants of ten sons of Jacob.

Samuel, the judge who reluctantly began the kingship rule of the Israelites, was apparently from the tribe of Ephraim. When Solomon's son, Rehoboam, continued leading the kingdom in the wrong direction that Solomon had pursued in his later years, Jeroboam, a member of the tribe of Ephraim, led the rebellion which caused a split into two kingdoms.

In Isaiah 7, the prophet seems to be using the term, Ephraim, to represent the entire Northern Kingdom. That seems also to be true in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 37. This is continued in the prophecy of Hosea.

Hosea uses Ephraim over 30 times. He is very graphic and descriptive. Ephraim, the Northern Kingdom, has been worshiping idols -- committing adultery with foreign gods (for example in 5:3). Hosea's first use of the word is poignant:
4:17 Ephraim is joined to idols;
leave him alone.

God describes His despair at Ephraim (and with the Southern Kingdom, too):
6:4 What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?
What shall I do with you, O Judah?
Your love is like a morning cloud,
like the dew that goes early away.

And then God describes how He will punish Ephraim. He will be like a moth, eating at the clothes, and a lion, in chapter 5.

In Chapter 7, Ephraim is a silly dove, flying here and there without sense; a neglected cake, not turned over when it should have been; a wandering wild donkey.

Then, although they are sprinkled with admonitions, in the last chapters of his book, Hosea says that God is finally going to rescue Ephraim. That doesn't seem to have happened yet. It didn't happen in Hosea's time. I am grateful that God didn't give up on me!

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Lloyd Alexander interviewed

Q: Why do you write fantasy?
A: Because, paradoxically, fantasy is a good way to show the world as it is. Fantasy can show us the truth about human relationships and moral dilemmas because it works on our emotions on a deeper, symbolic level than realistic fiction. - Lloyd Alexander, author of the Prydain books, and many other works of fantastic fiction, mainly for young people, being interviewed by Leonard S. Marcus, in Marcus's The Wand in the Wind: Conversations with Writers of Fantasy. (Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 2006) Interview is on pages 5-17. Quote is from page 13. Alexander died in 2007. He won the Newbery award, and the National Book Award.

I also learned, from this interview, that Alexander, born in Philadelphia, saw Wales during duty in World War II, and that this influenced his work on the Prydain books. Additionally, he told Marcus that he deliberately tried to write something different from these five books, rather than something like them.

Thanks for reading. Read Alexander.

P. S. Happy Birthday, Lewis Carroll!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Announcing a great new device for next Christmas

In case you haven't heard, there's a device that might be useful for gardeners. You can stick it in the ground for 24 hours, then plug it into your computer's USB port. You get readings on various soil parameters.

OK. Here's my announcement. I'm establishing priority on patents, licensing, etc., for a USB DNA sequencer. Useful for crime scenes, of course, but why stop there? Just stick it into some sort of biological mess (such as at restaurants or opened cans) that you want to analyze, and plug it into your USB port, and you get a read-out on how much rat is in the soup. You can also rub people's skin, and, then, after plugging in, have an analysis as to how closely they are related to you. Surely you can think of other uses.

That's the concept. I'm not giving away any technical details in this public forum, of course.

Any venture capitalists out there who want to get in on the ground floor of a great investment, please comment on this blog, giving contact information.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Biblical references to light

Genesis 1:3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.(All quotations from the English Standard Version of the Bible.)

Exodus 13:21 And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. 22 The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.

Job 24:13 “There are those who rebel against the light,
who are not acquainted with its ways,and do not stay in its paths.
14 The murderer rises before it is light,
that he may kill the poor and needy,
and in the night he is like a thief.
15 The eye of the adulterer also waits for the twilight,
saying, ‘No eye will see me’;
and he veils his face.
16 In the dark they dig through houses;
by day they shut themselves up;
they do not know the light.

Psalm 27:1 The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?

Psalm 104:1
Bless the Lord, O my soul!
O Lord my God, you are very great!
You are clothed with splendor and majesty,
2 covering yourself with light as with a garment,
stretching out the heavens like a tent.

Psalm 119:105 Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path.

Isaiah 5:20 Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter!

Isaiah 30:26 Moreover, the light of the moon will be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun will be sevenfold, as the light of seven days, in the day when the Lord binds up the brokenness of his people, and heals the wounds inflicted by his blow.

Isaiah 45:5 I am the Lord, and there is no other,
besides me there is no God;
I equip you, though you do not know me,
6 that people may know, from the rising of the sun
and from the west, that there is none besides me;
I am the Lord, and there is no other.
7 I form light and create darkness,
I make well-being and create calamity,
I am the Lord, who does all these things.

Isaiah 60:19 The sun shall be no more
your light by day,
nor for brightness shall the moon
give you light;
but the Lord will be your everlasting light,
and your God will be your glory.
20 Your sun shall no more go down,
nor your moon withdraw itself;
for the Lord will be your everlasting light,
and your days of mourning shall be ended.

Ezekiel 32:1 In the twelfth year, in the twelfth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, raise a lamentation over Pharaoh king of Egypt and say to him:
When I blot you out, I will cover the heavens
and make their stars dark;
I will cover the sun with a cloud,
and the moon shall not give its light.
8 All the bright lights of heaven
will I make dark over you,
and put darkness on your land,
declares the Lord God.

Matthew 5:14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

John 8:12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Acts 12:7 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands.

Acts 13:46 And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. 47 For so the Lord has commanded us, saying,
“‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

Acts 22:6 “As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. 7 And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ 8 And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’ 9 Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me. 10 And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’ 11 And since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus.

1 Corinthians 4:2 Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. 3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.

2 Corinthians 4:2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 11:12 And what I do I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. 13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.

Ephesians 5:6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not become partners with them; 8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14a for anything that becomes visible is light.

1 Timothy 6:13 I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, 14 to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

1 John 1:5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Revelation 21:22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life.
There are a few hundred uses of the word, "light" in the Bible. There are a few of them above.
Be enlightened!
* * * *
December 24, 2008: I'm a bit embarrassed to discover that I'd already done a post much like this, but, having nothing better planned to post tomorrow, I'll let them both stand. I found this out because a Google alert pointed me to an editorial in a Canadian on-line newspaper, the Orangeville Citizen, which used my previous post extensively (and gave credit!). To God's Son be all the glory. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Science and the Bible

Some Christians reject science, in general, as anti-God. Although the charge is not without some foundation, it is an oversimplification, at best, and short-sighted and unbiblical.
Why an oversimplification? Because many important scientists, from, say, Copernicus through Francis Collins, head of the US human genome project, have been believers.

Why short-sighted? Because rejecting scientific findings unnecessarily alienates potential followers of Christ. "If they are so wrong about the science, why should they be right about salvation?"

Why unbiblical? Because God reveals Himself in more than one way, according to the Bible itself. Psalm 19:1-4 tells us that God is revealed through nature, which means that scientific findings can tell us something of God's nature and power. Romans 1 says: "20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse." (ESV, which version allows quotation for uses such as this, if properly cited.) Does that mean that scientists are always right? Of course not. There was a time, in the previous century, when the scientific consensus was that genes were made of protein, not DNA. That was wrong. Scientists have made other mistakes, and will continue to make some. But that doesn't mean that consensus science should be rejected out of hand. It's usually right, and its findings are part of God's revelation to us. Mistakes have been made, and will be made, in the interpretation of the Bible, too. That doesn't mean that we should ignore it. The Bible is always right, and our understanding of it usually is.

If both are properly understood, there should be no conflict between the Bible and scientific findings. (I realize that our understanding of both is imperfect, at best.)

This is the fourth anniversary of this blog. Thanks for reading!

*  *  *  *  *

Note added, January 26, 2012: Acts 14 also indicates that God has revealed Himself through nature:
14 But when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of it, they tore their clothes, and sprang into the multitude, crying out, 15 “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to the living God, who made the sky and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them; 16 who in the generations gone by allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. 17 Yet he didn’t leave himself without witness, in that he did good and gave you rains from the sky and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.”(World English Bible, public domain)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Sunspots 191

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

(also Art ) An amazing 15-second video of melting colored ice cubes.

Wired reports that waves in the Pacific Northwest are getting bigger. No one seems to know why.

The Americal Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has received a lot of flak from many Christians. However, here's a post by a person from the organization, defending the organization's record on defending Christianity. The comments are interesting, and are all over the map.

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Some of my Bible study posts: Four years of blogging

This week, God willing, is my fourth blogiversary. In this post, I am linking to some of my most important Bible study posts from that period. These are typically more Bible than anything else, often giving a number of Bible verses on a particular topic.

I believe that Prayer in the New Testament is the most important of these.

There have been some posts related to plants. These include:
Trees in the Bible

Pomegranates in the Bible

Figs in the Bible

Other posts:
Christ as the light

What the Bible says about light

The sea as a symbol of evil

Baskets in the Bible

The word, "hymn" in the Bible

People, especially Lazarus, who were raised to life

Cases where people married, or at least had children by, their relatives

Salt as used in the Old Testament offerings

Play in the Bible

Grace in the Bible

On false witness and lying

Abishag, a woman in the Old Testament

What the Bible says about tattoos

Some thoughts on music in worship

Thanks for reading any or all of these posts, and this one!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

We don't have time for eternity

. . .the mismatch between our modern lives and ancient brains is most evident in the problems of working memory and attention, but another culprit may be at work. We are easily distracted also because we vastly overvalue what happens to us right now compared with what comes in the future and because novelty is intrinsically rewarding. So whatever we are supposed to be focusing on has to compete with every new email, new task, new blog post and new conversation that wanders into our information sphere. These biases may have served us well in our species' evolutionary past, when the future was uncertain and the new could well be a threat that deserved immediate attention. But nowadays the new is more often trivial than essential, and sacrificing immediate rewards can yield greater ones in the future. From a review, in the Dec 14, 2008, Wall Street Journal, of The Overflowing Brain, by Torkel Klingberg. The review was written by Christopher F. Chabris. (Emphasis in original.)

In other words, we don't have time for eternity.

Whether you are comfortable with the reviewer's view of human prehistory doesn't really matter here -- we are, indeed, too concerned with the Now and the New.

Thanks for reading. Consider the past and the future a little more today.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Sunspots 190

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

The Hubble Space Telescope has been able to detect Carbon Dioxide on a distant planet, according to a report in Wired.

Wired has also selected the ten best animal videos.

John Stackhouse says that conservative means a lot of things , and it's a serious error to confuse them.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Happy Birthday, Beethoven

It's too late to send Beethoven a card, I guess, but his God-given talent produced works that remain worthy of honor over 175 years since his death.

One tune, taken from the Ninth Symphony, is commonly used in hymnals (although hymnals, themselves, seem to be going out of style, more's the pity) for "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee." Here's a Wikimedia Commons sound file (.0gg format) of his popular Für Elise.

Someone else is more widely known for a "Hallelujah Chorus," but Beethoven wrote one, too. Here's one of many YouTube versions. The most common phrase, in English, anyway, is "Praise the Lord!" Amen.

Thanks for reading. Listen to Beethoven.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

John, on supporting missionaries

3 John 1:5 Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, 6 who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. 7 For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. 8 Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth. (ESV, emphasis added.)

Thanks for reading. Support a missionary!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Bonnie, of Intellectuelle, on sin and the conscience

Bonnie, at Intellectuelle, should be required reading. (She's not the only poster on that blog, and, perhaps, the others are just as good, but she's the only one I read.) Bonnie's posts are short, to the point, and so well-written that I wonder how she does it. Like most of us bloggers, she occasionally throws out something that isn't exactly destined for eternity, but a lot of hers is so destined.

I recommend this post, on sin and the conscience, by her. It's not much longer than the post you are now reading, but there's meat there.

Thanks for reading. Read Bonnie.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Dwarves of The Last Battle and unbelief in The Princess and the Goblin

In The Last Battle, by C. S. Lewis, some dwarves have an interesting role. They refuse to believe in a false Aslan, and also refuse to believe in a real one. When the Calormenes throw them into a dark stable, they refuse to see anything but what you would expect to find in such a building, even though other characters in the book can see that the stable, in reality, is not dark, and has no walls -- just a door.

Lucy Pevensie, who has a soft heart, tries to get the Lion, Aslan, to make things better for the dwarves, Aslan produces a banquet for them. They eat, but they think they are eating old cattle food, or drinking from a trough for animals. When a dwarf is picked up and carried toward the outside, he experiences being slammed into the wall, even though there is no wall. Aslan says that they have chosen not to believe, and there is nothing he can do for them.

I have found, not surprisingly, since Lewis is known to have been influenced a great deal by the writing of George MacDonald, that there are similar ideas in MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin. That book was originally published in 1872, hence is public domain (available from Project Gutenberg):

But you would have found me sooner if you hadn't come to think I was a dream. I will give you one reason though why you couldn't find me. I didn't want you to find me.'

'Why, please?'

'Because I did not want Lootie to know I was here.'

'But you told me to tell Lootie.'

'Yes. But I knew Lootie would not believe you. If she were to see me sitting spinning here, she wouldn't believe me, either.'


'Because she couldn't. She would rub her eyes, and go away and say she felt queer, and forget half of it and more, and then say it had been all a dream.'

'Just like me,' said Irene, feeling very much ashamed of herself.

'Yes, a good deal like you, but not just like you; for you've come again; and Lootie wouldn't have come again. She would have said, No, no - she had had enough of such nonsense.'

'Is it naughty of Lootie, then?'

'It would be naughty of you. I've never done anything for Lootie.'

. . .

' . . . Besides, again - I will tell you a secret - if that light were to go out you would fancy yourself lying in a bare garret, on a heap of old straw, and would not see one of the pleasant things round about you all the time.'

(from Chapter Eleven) Irene is an eight-year-old princess. The other speaker is her father's mother's father's mother, who lives in a nice suite of rooms on the top floor of the house where Irene lives, and has some marvelous powers. Irene is the only person who knows that she is there. Lootie is Irene's nurse.

How much that God sees is real do I not see, or do I see as trash, because I don't believe in Him?

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Update 3 on prayer request

I had a pain shot yesterday, and am grateful to report that I haven't taken any pain medicine for 24 hours, so far.

I will be going into slow-down mode for the next few weeks, due to getting ready for some travel.

God's best to all.

Sunspots 189

Elevation is an emotion, and the vagus nerve mediates it, according to Slate.

Wired has posted photos of 12 "living fossils." Some of them are really strange . . .

Speaking of photos of strange animals, I posted a photo of a land planarian, which was about the size and shape of a skinny pencil, except for the triangular head. It was oozing across our driveway.

I am pleased, by the way, to have been a Flickr member for four years today.

(Islam, in this case, but I'm not using a "religion" category.) Wisconsin Public Radio has a series, "Inside Islam." It looks like many of the posts/broadcasts are about the status of women in Muslim areas.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Ravi Zacharias on Past, Present and Future

Some time ago, I read Can Man Live Without God, by Ravi Zacharias. (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1994) Zacharias is a Christian apologist, who knows philosophy, and knows non-Christian religions, at least some of them. (He was born in India. This is the biography page from the ministry that he heads.) Here's what he said about time in this book:

According to Christ's teaching, history is not just one event after another. Not only the present moment, nor only the past, nor only the future,but all of time is important to God. That is why the genuine Christian does not take it upon himself or herself to avenge the past. That is why the genuine Christian does not make this earthly kingdom into God's kingdom by way of the sword. That is why the genuine Christian transcends present disaster or immediate success. For him or for her, history is the arena in which God unfolds His plan and the individual is the microcosm in whom God does His work. I suggest that if you contrast this with every other world-view, you will see the striking difference in Christianity. What reassurance this brings to every individual life -- yours and mine -- to know that God is involved with us personally! The ultimate coherence that God brings is not only in the history that we see within our three-score and ten years, but for life beyond the grave itself. (p. 166)

Thanks for reading.

Monday, December 08, 2008

George MacDonald on eucatastrophes in literature

Every tragedy of higher order, constructed in Christian times, will correspond more or less to the grand drama of the Bible; wherein the first act opens with a brilliant sunset vision of Paradise, in which childish sense and need are served with all the profusion of the indulgent nurse. But the glory fades off into grey and black, and night settles down upon the heart which, rightly uncontent with the childish, and not having yet learned the childlike, seeks knowledge and manhood as a thing denied by the Maker, and yet to be gained by the creature; so sets forth alone to climb the heavens, and instead of climbing, falls into the abyss. Then follows the long dismal night of feverish efforts and delirious visions, or, it may be, helpless despair; till at length a deeper stratum of the soul is heaved to the surface; and amid the first dawn of morning, the youth says within him, "I have sinned against my Maker—I will arise and go to my Father." More or less, I say, will Christian tragedy correspond to this—a fall and a rising again; not a rising only, but a victory; not a victory merely, but a triumph. Such, in its way and degree, is my story. I have shown, in one passing scene, the home paradise; now I have to show a scene of a far differing nature. George MacDonald, "The Broken Swords," from Adela Cathcart, Volume II, originally published in 1864, hence public domain, and previously published in The Monthly Christian Spectator, 1854. Recently republished in The Gifts of the Child Christ, Vol. II (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973)

Here MacDonald foreshadows Tolkien's concept of eucatastrophe -- a seeming catastrophe which turns out, in the end, for the better. Tolkien said that the Incarnation, and the resurrection, of Christ were the greatest eucatastrophes.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Who (or what) we must not trust in

In a recent daily Bible reading, I came on these two passages:

1 John 2:15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (Both scripture quotations from the ESV.)

Proverbs 28:26
Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool,
but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.

We (or at least I) do trust in these things -- the US health care "system," my local library and grocery, the Post Office, my retirement accounts, my own care and good sense. They will not be enough if I get Alzheimer's, or if we go into a depression. They aren't enough now. They weren't enough even before the Paulson Plunge. They never have been, and never will be.

Thanks for reading.

* * * * *
December 8, 2008. Because of a comment, which I am grateful for, and my response to it, I have added "women's roles" to the tags for this post.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Breaking down doors: how to REALLY measure commitment

Leonard Pitts, syndicated columnist, and a good one, muses about the recent Black Friday stampedes. I'm linking, for the first time, to Moscow News, which has an article about the incident. (It really is a small world, isn't it?) This news article speaks of a Wal-Mart employee who died in a stampede as a "sacrificial victim to the pagan gods of consumerism."

Mr. Pitts uses the lining-up-early-and-pushing-against-the-door test to measure our priorities. He points out that he hasn't seen people lining up early and breaking the glass in libraries, schools, or churches, but we do this for bargains. Which, as he says, tells us something about ourselves. Something not so good, I guess.

As John put it: 1 John 2:15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (ESV)

I wasn't at any retail store, pushing on the door, on Black Friday. But I wasn't storming the gates of heaven, either.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Sword of the Rightful King: A Novel of King Arthur

You might think that there's nothing new to tell in the story of King Arthur. The story has been told so many times, by so many good authors. T. H. White's The Once and Future King is a splendid piece of literature. Part of it was the basis for the Disney movie, The Sword in the Stone. White's work is deeper (and longer) than most children's literature. Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote The Mists of Avalon, a work which was, like White's, well received, and considered important. I confess that I have never read it, although I have seen parts of the movie based on the book. Stephen Lawhead wrote the Pendragon Cycle, based on the story of King Arthur. The earliest books that I read about King Arthur were those of Howard Pyle (who also illustrated his work). Pyle's The Story of the Champions of the Round Table is available from Project Gutenberg. That Hideous Strength, by C. S. Lewis, used Merlin, Arthur's friend, mentor, and wizard, as a character in the twentieth century.

I recently read the book with the same title as this post, by Jane Yolen. (Orlando: Harcourt, 2003) Sword of the Rightful King is aimed at, and classified as, being for younger readers, teenagers, I guess. No matter. I liked it. As usual, I don't want to give away the plot, but I will say three things about the book. It is well written, and well deserving of the awards it has received. Even though I had read the book some years back, I had trouble putting it down. There is a character, Gawen, who plays a major role, although no character of that name appears in any of the other books about Arthur, so far as I know. (Lest there be any doubt, Gawen is not Gawaine. Gawaine is present and accounted for in Yolen's book.) More about Gawen becomes clear toward the end of the book. Thirdly, Yolen has the sword in the stone appear after Arthur has already become king, not, as in most other treatments, before he becomes king. In these other books, Arthur becomes king because he is the only man (or boy) who can pull the sword out of the stone. In Yolen's book, he is also the only man (or boy) who can do this, but he solidifies his kingship by doing so.

It shouldn't be difficult to find a library with a book by Yolen. She has written nearly 300 books!

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Update 2 on prayer request

I visited a neurosurgeon yesterday about the pain in a leg (sometimes in both), and was told that I have a pinched nerve, which can probably be successfully treated without surgery. I have begun a course of treatment which includes medication and physical therapy. I'm trying to learn to pick things up more carefully. My wife has been extremely supportive, for which I thank her.

Let's put it this way: There are too many miles on this vehicle -- in other words, I have some deterioration because of my age.

Thanks be to God!

Sunspots 188

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


Maybe salmon find their way to their home streams by detecting the earth's magnetic field, and, if that's true, maybe we can re-program them, reports Wired.




(or something) Wired reports that Apple is defending itself against a lawsuit by claiming that no reasonable person would believe its advertisements.

Slate on energy consumption by laptop computers -- more when using the battery, or more when plugged in? (The article says that laptops are more efficient, energy-wise, than desktops.)



What a one and a half ton steer knows about faith, from Slate.

Bonnie posts on style.

Jan has been questioning the emphasis on leadership in some corners of the church. A recent post is here.

Julana has spent all of last month, more or less, reminding us of ordinary things that she is thankful for. The last such post is here.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Trouble With Physics

Some time ago, I read Lee Smolin's The Trouble With Physics. (New York: Houghton, 2006)

The trouble, as Smolin sees it, is that physics has become too fixated on string theory. Smolin, a physicist who has contributed to string theory himself, is not sure that string theory is wrong, but he is sure that physics isn't telling us any more about how the universe is made than it did a few decades ago.

The twentieth century was a period when physics produced two important new ways of looking at the universe. These were relativity, which, among other things, led to the use of nuclear energy, and quantum mechanics, which, among other things, led to the development of lasers and semiconductors. Without lasers and semiconductors, computers, as we now use them, would be impossible.

But there have been problems. The main one is that there was no satisfactory way to combine the two theories. String theory is the most common attempt to do so, claiming that "strings" are the fundamental units of matter, and that there are really more than 4 dimensions (3 for space and one for time).

Smolin lists five "Great Problems in Theoretical Physics." (pp. 3-17, chapter 1) They are:
1) combine relativity and gravity into a theory of quantum gravity
2) "resolve the problems in the foundations of quantum mechanics" (p. 8)
3) find out if all the particles and all the forces are the manifestation of a single entity
4) "Explain how the values of the free constants in the standard model of particle physics are chosen in nature." (p. 13)
5) "Explain dark matter and dark energy." (p. 16)

He says that string theory, so far, has not made significant progress in solving these problems. Furthermore, string theory, so far, is not really falsifiable -- it hasn't proposed experiments which could show that it is wrong.

Smolin believes that one of the problems with modern physics is that it is not philosophical enough:

The standard model of particle physics was the triumph of a particular way of doing science that came to dominate physics in the 1940s. This style is pragmatic and hard-nosed and favors virtuosity in calculating over reflection on hard conceptual problems. This is profoundly different from the way that Albert Einstein, Neils Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrödinger, and the other early-twentieth-century revolutionaries did science. Their work arose from deep thought on the most basic questions surrounding space, time, and matter, and they saw what they did as part of a broader philosophical tradition, in which they were at home. In the approach to particle physics developed and taught by Richard Feynman, Freeman Dyson, and others, reflection on foundational problems had no place in research. Lee Smolin, The Trouble With Physics: The Rise of String Theory, The Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next. New York: Houghton, 2006. pp. xxii-xxiii.

Smolin says that this approach enabled great progress to be made, but goes on to say that:
. . . the problems we're up against today cannot be solved by this pragmatic way of doing science. To continue the progress of science, we have to again confront deep questions about space and time, quantum theory, and cosmology. We again need the kinds of people who can invent new solutions to long-standing fundamental problems. Lee Smolin, The Trouble With Physics: The Rise of String Theory, The Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next. New York: Houghton, 2006. p. xxiii.

Another problem, he says, is that the most important physics departments are biased in hiring. They tend to hire only people who are committed to the approaches they are using already, which cuts out new ideas. He also says that they are biased against women and minorities.

God made us stewards of His creation. Part of our stewardship is learning about it -- doing science. We have, we think, made great progress in going from, say, a belief that there were four kinds of substance to the current belief in many chemical elements. Will we ever really understand how things are put together, at their most basic level? I don't know. I think that some of us are supposed to try. See this post for musings about the topics of this paragraph.

Disclaimer: I am not a professional physicist.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Ursula K. Le Guin on fantastic literature

The old lady is still sharp! Ursula K. Le Guin, probably the best author of fantastic literature of the last four decades of the previous century, and, so far, in this one, occasionally writes on her craft. One such essay, "The critics, the monsters, and the fantasists. (critics' opinion of fantasy fiction)," was published in the Winter-Spring, 2007, issue of Wordsworth Circle, which article is not, at least currently, freely available on the Internet. (Le Guin is well aware that J. R. R. Tolkien wrote famously about his craft, using some of those same words in his title.) I present a few choice quotes from Le Guin's essay:
I venture a non-defining statement: realistic fiction is drawn towards anthropocentrism, fantasy away from it.

Tolkien's Middle Earth is not just pre-industrial. It is also pre-human and non-human.

In my school for magic on the Isle of Roke in The Earthsea Trilogy, we say that children's books must be included in serious discussion of literature, and one reason we give is that many of the great works of imaginative fiction can be understood and appreciated by a child as well as by an adult--and vice versa. The understanding and appreciation may be different in kind, but its quality is the same, and deserves critical consideration. To throw a book out of serious consideration either because it was written for children, or because it is read by children, is in fact a monstrous act of anti-intellectualism. But it happens daily in academia.

Thanks for reading!