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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Review of Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design

I read a review of Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design, which book is by Stephen C. Meyer, a Fellow of the Discovery Institute, the driving force behind the Intelligent Design (ID) movement.

The reviewer, like me, claims to be a Christian, and, like me, has problems with the Intelligent Design movement, as many other Christians do. The problem that the review, Darrel Falk, emphasizes in his review is the claim by the ID movement that ID is scientific, and is not religious. The review points out a number of serious problems with Meyer's science. In fact, there is little or no experimental evidence that points toward an intelligent designer, which, of course, is not the same thing as saying that science has disproved that there is a God -- it can't, and it hasn't.

Thanks for reading this blog during this and the four previous years, even if you have only glanced at it once.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Sunspots 241

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

From Audubon magazine: what happens when a whale's body falls to the ocean floor.

(or something) CNN says that there will be a blue moon on New Year's Eve.

Todd Wood argues, pretty convincingly, that God wants His will and purposes to be known.

"God does not leave an empirical bread crumb trail in order to demonstrate His existence." (from here.)

Kerry I Am posted a New Year's Prayer a few days early.

Image source (public domain)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Was the serpent of Genesis 3 a snake, or not?

To answer my own question, I'm not sure.

There are reasons for thinking either of these.

Although you wouldn't know it from the title, this blog post considers that question, and, like me, is not sure of the answer.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

My Heart is Full of Christ, by John Wesley

My heart is full of Christ, and longs
Its glorious matter to declare!
Of Him I make my loftier song,
I cannot from His praise forbear;
My ready tongue makes haste to sing
The glories of my heavenly King.

Fairer than all the earth-born race,
Perfect in comeliness Thou art;
Replenished are Thy lips with grace,
And full of love Thy tender heart:
God ever blest! we bow the knee,
And own all fullness dwells in Thee.

Gird on Thy thigh the Spirit’s sword,
And take to Thee Thy power divine;
Stir up Thy strength, almighty Lord,
All power and majesty are Thine:
Assert Thy worship and renown;
O all redeeming God, come down!

Come, and maintain Thy righteous cause,
And let Thy glorious toil succeed;
Dispread the victory of Thy cross,
Ride on, and prosper in Thy deed;
Through earth triumphantly ride on,
And reign in every heart alone.

Praise to Christ is certainly important at this, and all times. This hymn by Charles Wesley, which I have never heard sung, is one of over 250 on his page at This is the page for this hymn.

Thanks for reading. A blessed season to you!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Comments to "Christ didn't come as a baby."

On December 17, 2007, I re-posted, with minor revisions, "Christ didn't come as a baby." (My point was that He actually came as an embryo. I first posted with this post title four years ago today.) I mused a bit about some possible implications, including that He may have given up awareness for part or all of the nine months.

There were several comments, not all by me, and these may be of some interest. The comments were made over several days. My guess is that some of the links to the commenters no longer work. Here are the comments:


Steve Martin said...
Hi Martin, Now that is an interesting question! And when did Christ gain (re-gain?) awareness of his divinity?

Martin LaBar said...
I don't know, of course, nor am I certain that He ever lost it. But He had such awareness as a boy, when He talked to the scribes. Thanks.

Annette said...
the bible tells us that Christ was fully God and fully human. As such there doesn't seem to leave much room for argument saying that he gave up some of his awareness. Even in the womb he was fully God and fully man, it's not like suddenly he became God. That makes no sense. Being tempted isn't a wrong's the following up on the temptation that is wrong. So being tempted doesn't mean that He wasn't God, just means that he didn't sin when he was tempted.

Martin LaBar said...
Thanks, Annette. As I said above "I'm not sure he ever lost it." However, the fully God and fully human part, it seems to me, may have only applied when He was an adult. You are right about temptation not being sin, of course. My point was that it seems to me that it's possible that young children, maybe even babies or fetuses, are tempted in ways that are peculiar to their ages, just as there are temptations that seem to mostly occur with adolescence, or with maturity. So possibly it was necessary for Christ to also be immature, in some ways, to be tempted like we are.

Annette said...
Okay, just wanting to clarify.... do you think temptation is a result of immaturity as people? So that therefore Christ as a child wasn't really a child? and if he was that therefore he wasn't fully God?

Martin LaBar said...
I don't think that temptation is the result of immaturity. I do think that immature people can be tempted, at least some of them can, and that some of those temptations (to take the biggest cookie, or try to get a parent's attention when you don't really need it, for example) come in different forms to people at different stages of life. Presumably a 3-year-old can't be tempted to adultery, for example. It is orthodox church doctrine, as I understand it, that Christ was fully human and fully God, and I subscribe to that. I don't think anyone can really understand all of that, although, no doubt, some understand it much better than I do. All I'm saying is that to be "fully human" involves going through developmental stages, and if Christ were fully human, then perhaps He went through these, too. Thanks.

Rileysowner said...
Interesting thoughts. I think the problem is that we simply do not know. What does it mean the while an embryo Christ was fully God and fully human? I don't think we can answer it for at least two reasons. First, we simply don't know enough, and probably never will. Even as a single celled embryo everything that makes a person up (at least genetically) is already their. Yes, it has to grow and develop, but it is there. How that works its way out when joining the second person of the trinity to humanity is something that is beyond our understanding. Frankly, in my opinion, it is just as difficult to understand how this could be the case once that embryo has developed and been born and grown. While I know that the Son of God joined himself to a real human nature, I can't really comprehend how that could be. Second, this is beyond our giving an answer because the written word of God simply does not tell us about this, much like it doesn't tell us much about Jesus childhood. What we do know, is that whatever that childhood was like, it was perfectly obedient to God and without sin or he could not have been the unblemished, sinless sacrifice for the sins of all who believe. I think it may be helpful to realize that there would be a difference between what development from conception on would be like before the fall into sin and after. We cannot, at least from what we are told in the Bible, know what it would be like if Adam had never sinned, but I do believe it would be safe to say that because of that act, everything changed including how human beings develop because after that event, all human beings, even while still being in the image and likeness of God, have that corrupted and defaced so that at this point we really cannot say what it would be like without that sin we are all conceived with. I would, however, have concerns saying that Jesus took on the divine nature at some point other than at conception, because he was to be like us in every way, but without sin. That would mean being the God/man from conception on. As I said, I can't comprehend it, or what is would mean for the Son of God to be joined to a single cell, but is that not some of the wonder and glory of God doing what is so incomprehensible to us. Remember he is God.

Martin LaBar said...
Thanks, rileysowner! As you say "we simply do not know" and "he is god." That's about where we are on this, and a lot of other questions.

Enigman said...
Martin, what is full humanity? Is it not just, well, humanity? Maybe one could imagine removing bits from someone, and then ask oneself if what remains is human; one might eliminate all the body in that way, even the final cell, if there was a human soul. Since human souls are made in the image of God (somehow), a fully human and fully divine person seems logically possible...(?)...Merry Christmas

Martin LaBar said...
Good question, enigman, and, of course, in death all the cells are eventually, er, eliminated, but a human soul remains. There are, however, limitations to humans, because of their bodies, especially to embryonic ones. Thanks.

SFMatheson said...
Very nice point, Martin. But then I'm biased...embryos are cooler than babies, hands down. :-) Steve

Martin LaBar said...
Thanks, sfmatheson. Perhaps you are right.

Thanks to all the commenters, and thank you for reading.

*  *  *  *  *

As of October 30, 2012, I am closing comments on this post. There's been nothing but spam. A lot of it. If you want to comment, and aren't a spammer, please comment on another post. Thanks.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sunspots 240

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

Wired reports that the Giant Panda genome has been sequenced. These animals, so beloved of zoo visitors, lack genes for molecules that would enable them to taste meat, and also lack genes for molecules that would enable them to digest bamboo -- apparently, like termites, they rely on microorganisms in their guts to do most of the digestion.

Wired also reports on the warming effect of black carbon soot, which may be worse, in some places, than the effect of Carbon Dioxide.

From the National Science Foundation, a tour of the cell

From the C. S. Lewis blog (about, not by, the late Lewis) some thoughts on how Lewis felt about Christmas celebrations and observances.

Image source (public domain)

Monday, December 21, 2009

A War of Gifts, by Orson Scott Card

I  have previously posted about Orson Scott Card, an important author of fantastic literature, and, in particular, about his Ender books. Since that time, I have read another book set in that sub-creation, which is A War of Gifts.

I'll say little about the plot, which is well summarized in the immediately previous link.

I will say that Card has dealt with religion quite directly in this book. The main character is not Ender, but Zeck Morgan, a boy whose father is the preacher of Zeck's own church, which seems to be so fundamentalist as to be a cult. Card has created a fanatic religion, and also has created Zeck in such a way that we do not doubt that he believes in the religion that his father preaches, however strange it is.

Card has also considered the influence of religion in the Battle School, the off-world location where Ender, Zeck, and others are being trained to lead in the fight against the alien Buggers. Since children from all over the world have been recruited for Battle School, no religious practice is allowed, lest it be disruptive. However, some Dutch boys start going through the rituals that they would go through at home, related to Sinterklaas. Other boys start giving simple gifts to each other (hence the book's name). The book makes clear that such rituals are not really Christian. But Zeck persuades the Muslim children that Christians are practicing their religion, and to try to practice theirs. The Muslims do their best to engage in daily prayers toward Mecca. The authorities put a stop to this, and the non-Muslim children then stop any gift exchanges.

The book is about another matter, the integration of Zeck Morgan into the society of Battle School, and his concurrent realization that his father was needlessly cruel to him. Ender, himself a pre-teen, accomplishes this by talking to Zeck. (Card's characters do a lot of talking about motivation and feelings.) Although religion cannot be practiced, Zeck is made into a boy closer to a whole person.

Card, as always, is a good writer, concerned more about the character of his characters than about the mechanics of their surroundings.

It's a solid book, but sort of an appendage on the main Ender works, which are Ender's GameSpeaker for the Dead, and Xenocide.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Mostly Forgotten Christmas Hymn, by Charles Wesley

Where is the holy Heav’n-born Child,
Heir of the everlasting throne,
Who Heav’n and earth hath reconciled,
And God and man rejoined in one?

Shall we of earthly kings inquire,
To courts or palaces repair?
The nation’s Hope, the world’s Desire,
Alas! we cannot find Him there.

Shall learning show the sinner’s Friend,
Or scribes a sight of Christ afford?
Us to His natal place they send,
But never go to see their Lord.

We search the outward Church in vain,
They cannot Him we seek declare,
They have not found the Son of Man,
Or known the sacred Name they bear.

Then let us turn no more aside,
But use the light Himself imparts,
His Spirit is our surest Guide,
His Spirit glimmering in our hearts.

Drawn by His grace we come from far,
And fix on Heav’n our wistful eyes,
That ray divine, that orient star
Directs us where the Infant lies.

See there! the newborn Savior see,
By faith discern the great I AM;
’Tis He! the eternal God! ’tis He
That bears the mild Immanuel’s Name.

The Prince of Peace on earth is found,
The Child is born, the Son is giv’n;
Tell it to all the nations round,
Jehovah is come down from Heav’n!

Jehovah is come down to raise
His dying creatures from their fall,
And all may now receive the grace
Which brings eternal life to all.

Lord, we receive the grace and Thee,
With joy unspeakable receive,
And rise Thine open face to see,
And one with God for ever live.

This hymn, which I have never heard sung, is one of over 250 on the Charles Wesley page of You can hear music which has accompanied the text at the hymn's own page.

Thanks for reading. A blessed Christmas!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Beethoven's Birthday

This is the birthday of Beethoven, who was born in 1770. I commemorate this event by linking to a YouTube video of Leonard Bernstein conducting a multinational group of musicians, including both East and West Germans, performing Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, as part of a celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall, on December 25, 1989. This part of the Ninth Symphony is often used in church hymnals, as "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee."

Beethoven was (and is) noted for the beauty and power of his music, and also for being almost totally deaf, but continuing to compose -- including the Ninth Symphony -- during the last years of his life.

I have previously posted on Beethoven's "Hallelujah Chorus," which also has a link to a YouTube video.

Thanks for reading, and, perhaps, for listening.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sunspots 239

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

Note: I almost always post "Sunspots" on Wednesdays, but have other plans for tomorrow's post, this time.


(or something) Someone alerted the Strange Maps blogger (that's what his blog is about) to a field in Nebraska that's exactly the shape of, well, Nebraska.

(or something) Wired reports that an inventor is connecting earth tremors to musical instruments, to create earth-born (!) music.

Wired reports that a (so far) anonymous Wikipedia editor is being sued for claiming that an actor is homosexual, when the actor denies this. This case raises the issue of web anonymity, of course, and also the issue of whether calling someone homosexual when they aren't is a prosecutable offense. (Would the reverse claim also be?)

(Art, actually) Wired reports on an artist that creates art objects out of old hard drives.

The Beautiful Feet blogger believes he may have found a Christmas prediction in the book of Job, of all places.

More on Jan, who, as I reported previously, finally got around to paying her tithe.

Image source (public domain)

Monday, December 14, 2009

War and the environment

I recently read War and Nature: The Environmental Consequences of War in a Globalized World, by Jurgen Brauer. The book, which is not for the faint of heart, as it bristles with notes and bibliography, is nonetheless important, because it is an authoritative volume on an important subject.

Over and over, Brauer points out that we don't really know very much about his subject. The main reason is that wars are not even close to ideal situations for ecological study. Even after a war, things are often chaotic and dangerous. Beside that, the entities involved in fighting wars seldom put a high priority on environmental studies. Also, wars often take place in countries that are poor, and that haven't done much study on the environmental situation before a war was fought, so it is impossible to really know how much damage a war might have done.

There have been some studies, in spite of the situations described in the previous paragraph. There was a study on the environmental effects of the First Gulf War, and there was a study on the environmental effects of the Viet Nam war. There have been a few other studies.

So what does Brauer conclude? Several things.
1) It is likely that wars can be extremely detrimental to the environment, in spite of the lack of studies that support that assumption, so far. Wars are terrible, and we should try to avoid having them.
2) Perhaps the most important cause of damage from war is displaced human populations, who often degrade the environment around where they end up, sometimes because they aren't used to living in the new area, and try to re-create the agriculture of their old place, which may not be appropriate. Not only that, but war refugees are usually, and understandably, desperate for food and fuel, and do considerable damage to their new surroundings to obtain these.
3) Sometimes wars have positive environmental effects. The Korean War left that peninsula with a Demilitarized Zone, which, having little human influence, has become a haven for wildlife.
4) War may be beneficial, in that it interrupts environmentally damaging activity by humans, such as mining and deforestation.
5) It appears that some areas have recovered quite well from the environmental effects of war.

We don't do a very good job, as a species, in taking care of the environment, even in peace time.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Father, God, We Glorify by Charles Wesley

Father, God, we glorify
Thy love to Adam’s seed;
Love that gave Thy Son to die,
And raised Him from the dead:
Him, for our offenses slain,
That we all might pardon find,
Thou hast brought to life again,
The Savior of mankind.

By Thy own right hand of power
Thou hast exalted Him,
Sent the mighty Conqueror
Thy people to redeem:
King of Saints, and Prince of Peace,
Him Thou hast for sinners giv’n,
Sinners from their sins to bless,
And lift them up to Heav’n.

Father, God, to us impart
The gift unspeakable;
Now in every waiting heart
Thy glorious Son reveal:
Quickened with our living Lord,
Let us in Thy Spirit rise,
Rise to all Thy life restored,
And bless Thee in the skies.

In its way, this is a Christmas hymn, in that it talks about sending Christ to us. This is one of over 250 hymns on the Charles Wesley page of I have never heard it sung, but you can hear music that has been used to accompany the text on the hymn's own page, here.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Todd's Blog

I have recently begun subscribing to Todd's Blog, the blog of Todd Wood, a confirmed, and unabashed, Young-Earth Creationist who currently works as a science professor at Bryan College.

Unlike so many Young-Earth Creationists (and those who hold all kinds of other views on origins) Todd Wood clearly understands that there has been far too much propaganda and general screaming at those who don't agree with whoever is speaking. He makes an appeal for sanity and careful presentation of confirmed facts and truth in his latest post. He also has posted a cutting review of Benjamin Wiker's The Darwin Myth, which, Mr. Wood says, is mostly a myth, in spite of rave reviews from various Christians. (I haven't read the book.)

I don't agree with Wood on some important issues, but he is doing a real service, and I appreciate it.

Unfortunately, his blog doesn't allow comments.

Read "Todd's Blog."

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Sunspots 238

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

A list of 96 examples, it is said, of bad design, with discussion of each. This web page was written to show that Intelligent Design isn't very, well, intelligent.

Reuters (and others) report that the Obama administration has approved 13 new human stem cell lines for research. There have been ethical safeguards. Some people, of course, think that no research on human embryo cells should be allowed at all.

I found a link to a new blog, Todd's Blog, which deals with origins from a young-earth creationism viewpoint. Unlike all too many such authors, Todd Wood, apparently a Ph.D. in biology, teaching at Bryan College, does not claim that scientific findings rule out views of origins other than young-earth creationism, because he knows that they don't. He sets forth his reason for being a young-earth creationist, which reason is his understanding of scripture. I disagree with him, as many other Christians do, because we believe that scientific data are also part of God's revelation to man, and that they cannot be ignored, and we believe that the Bible can be interpreted differently, without doing violence to the meaning that God intended. But it is refreshing to read an author with his honesty and his qualifications. Unfortunately, his blog does not allow comments.

A study on graduation success rates of football players at schools involved in end-of-year bowl games. There are 14 colleges out of the 38 shown, where white football players have a graduation rate 20% or more higher than the African-American players from the same school. There are some schools where there is little difference, including a few where the whites don't graduate quite as often as the blacks, but that doesn't excuse the shameful overall trend. Texas, which will be playing for the national championship, has a black football player graduation rate of 37%, but the white rate is 69%.

Wired tells us how to test our Internet connection speed.

Jan has some holiday survival tips for singles.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Global Warming: Karl Zimmer deflates national columnist George Will

I don't know, absolutely, whether there is global warming or not. I don't know, absolutely, whether human activity has had, and is going to continue to have, an effect on climate. But I also don't know, of my own knowledge, whether, say, Ephesians or Nahum are translated correctly, or even should be considered to be inspired. I have to take the word of experts in the fields of the history of the Bible, and of Bible translation. Similarly, I have to take the word of experts in climate research, who, almost without exception, tell us that, for sure, there is global warming. They tell us that the eleven hottest years ever recorded occurred since 1990. They tell us that the polar ice caps are measurably smaller than they used to be.

I recently posted on an unfortunate episode, wherein some global warming scientists apparently tried to conspire to keep what might have been contrary evidence from being published. (See here for my take, with two links to important related items.)

I read George Will's recent syndicated column on this subject, published in the Washington Post, as our local newspaper presented it. Will is a famous global warming skeptic. Today, Karl Zimmer, probably the most important science writer of our time, has analyzed Will's facts, and found them to be seriously wanting, based on misinterpretation and, in some cases, seriously in error, both of which Zimmer documents.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Fire at McDonald Hall, Southern Wesleyan University (Used to be Central Wesleyan College) in 1962, 47 years ago today

My wife and I attended the annual employees' Christmas dinner at Southern Wesleyan University recently. (See also Wikipedia article on the institution, here.) I no longer teach there, being retired, but retired employees and their spouses are invited to this event.

I first came to the campus on Labor Day weekend in 1964, under contract to teach science at what was then Central Wesleyan College. At that time, the largest, and newest, building on the campus was Stuart-Bennett hall, a girls' dormitory. The main reason that I applied to CWC was that I was a Wesleyan Methodist (Now The Wesleyan Church), and this institution, like three others in the US, was a college operated by my denomination, and I wanted to serve my Lord through my church. One thing that brought CWC to my mind when I was finishing my graduate work, and looking for the next phase of my life, was that, on the night of December 7, 1962, this small institution had made national headlines. McDonald Hall, the girl's dormitory, burned to the ground that night, and two girls died. I heard about this on the radio in Madison, Wisconsin. Hearing about this event made an impression on me, and that was one of the reasons I applied for a job there.

While my wife and I were on the way to the evening event, I began to think a little about the history of this Christmas meal. The annual Christmas Dinner began, I was told soon after I began to work at CWC, after the fire. The reason for it was that the college wanted to thank the community for their support. Before the fire, CWC wasn't well known, even in the small town of Central, South Carolina. The College pretty much kept to itself. The fire awakened the community, and there were many gestures of support. The College community reciprocated, as they had not before. Since that time, the Christmas Dinner has evolved into a meal to thank the employees, partly, of course, because the fire was so long ago, and also because there are now so many employees that it is impossible to feed them and community representatives at the same time. SWU has other ways of thanking the community, such as a Donors' Banquet.

I also thought about those who worked at CWC during the fire. There are three people who were employees at that time who are still alive -- all of them, like me, retired. I spoke to all three of them in the course of the Dinner. I spoke to two of them about the fire. One of them told me that she was so traumatized by this tragedy that she didn't snap out of it until a few days later, when she and her family attended the annual performance of Messiah at Furman University, which is in the next county. (Christmas traditions change at other institutions, too. Furman no longer holds this performance.) She said that she went to sleep during the performance, and, when she awoke, she was much better.

The other employee, who was Dean of Students during the fire, told me a couple of more dramatic and remarkable things. He had actually gone into the building, with at least one other employee, to try to get anyone out that he could. While he was in there, he said, he was pretty sure that two girls were dead -- they were -- and was complaining to God about how He could let such a thing happen. He said that he had seldom heard God speak to him, but, on this occasion, he did. God told him, he said, to "Shut up. I'll take care of this." And, as we agreed, He had.

The other thing that he told me was one example of how the community helped. He said that, at that time, there was an important apparel manufacturer with a plant near the town, but he hadn't even realized this fact. After the fire, the plant manager sent over a truck full of women's clothes. Of course, the girls in the dormitory had lost all of their clothing except what they had on at the time. This was one example -- there were many others, many lost even to memory by now -- of how the community rallied behind CWC.

God's care was evident materially. Although two girls were lost, the College was able to rally, and seek community and government assistance as they never had before. By the time I came, less than two years later, there was a new dormitory, named for the two young women who died in the fire. (A few years later, that three-story building had two more stories added. It is still a dormitory.) There was a new fine arts building, named for the parents of a wealthy resident of Central, who had donated a significant portion of the funds needed, in their honor. The college was beginning to think about getting accredited, and building some more buildings. Enrollment was increasing. It was about 200 when I came, and is well over ten times that many, including students at other campuses in South Carolina.

The two of us, talking together, agreed that, if the fire hadn't happened, it is very possible that CWC would have soon gone out of existence, and there would be no Southern Wesleyan University today. God used this terrible tragedy for good.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

A Hymn to the Trinity, by Charles Wesley

Hail, co-essential Three,
In mystic Unity!
Father, Son, and Spirit, hail!
God by Heaven and earth adored,
God incomprehensible;
One supreme, almighty Lord,
One supreme, almighty Lord.

Thou sittest on the throne,
Plurality in One;
Saints behold Thine open face,
Bright, insufferably bright;
Angels tremble as they gaze,
Sink into a sea of light,
Sink into a sea of light.

Ah! when shall we increase
Their heavenly ecstasies?
Chant, like them, the Lord Most High,
Fall like them who dare not move;
“Holy, holy, holy,” cry,
Breathe the praise of silent love?
Breathe the praise of silent love?

Come, Father, in the Son
And in the Spirit down;
Glorious Triune Majesty,
God through endless ages blest,
Make us meet Thy face to see,
Then receive us to Thy breast;
Then receive us to Thy breast.

This hymn, which I have never heard sung, is one of over 250 on the Charles Wesley page of The hymn has its own page, here.

Thanks for reading. Praise to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!

Friday, December 04, 2009

National Cookie Day!

I hear that today is National Cookie Day! Great!

In case you didn't know it, those food items that North Americans call cookies are called biscuits in the United Kingdom. For more on this use of words, see here. I'm including Canadians in "North Americans," lest there be any doubt. In the part of Canada that I am most familiar with, near Stratford, Ontario, there seems to be a Tim Hortons every kilometer or so -- they like sweet pastries there.

Thanks for reading. Don't eat too much.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Sunspots 237

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

(sort of) Wired shows us photos of some really big mechanical devices (using device loosely -- the first one is a cargo plane).

NPR reports on experiments showing that ants are able to keep track of the number of steps they have taken away from their anthill.

Jan paid her tithe, and tells us what happened.

Philip Yancey has written his last column, for a while, anyway, for Christianity Today . He takes a thoughtful look at the way evangelical Christians do things, and is not altogether pleased.

Image source (public domain)

For Christ's pleasure?

Revelation 4:11, in the KJV, reads thus:
Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.

At least one worship song is based on that verse, and uses the phrase "for Thy pleasure" in the same way.

I checked the Blueletter Bible. I'm not a Greek scholar, but do report that, of the 12 different English translations given for that verse, only 3, one being the KJV, use this phrase. The rest of them say that things were created by or at Christ's will.

I also checked the Greek lexicon provided by the Blueletter Bible, and found that the KJV almost always translates the word, θέλημα (thelēma), translated as "pleasure," in Revelation 4:11, as "will." In fact, out of over sixty occurrences of the word in the New Testament, Revelation 4:11 and Ephesians 2:3, which refers to a human attitude, not God's, are the only verses where it is not translated as "will."

Perhaps it is correct to say that the universe, and the things in it, were created for Christ's pleasure, but the case is not strong. I don't think we know why we were created. We're probably not capable of understanding the reason or reasons.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Comfort in hell?

One of the strangest Bible passages I have read recently is this one:

Ezekiel 32:30 “The princes of the north are there, all of them, and all the Sidonians, who have gone down in shame with the slain, for all the terror that they caused by their might; they lie uncircumcised with those who are slain by the sword, and bear their shame with those who go down to the pit.
31 “When Pharaoh sees them, he will be comforted for all his multitude, Pharaoh and all his army, slain by the sword, declares the Lord God. 32 For I spread terror in the land of the living; and he shall be laid to rest among the uncircumcised, with those who are slain by the sword, Pharaoh and all his multitude, declares the Lord God.” (ESV. This is a page that gives copyright information for the ESV.)

There is the abode of the dead, and, in Pharaoh's case, the unrighteous dead. Comforted? Really? That was so strange a phrase that I checked it with the Blueletter Bible, which gives several versions of 32:31. They all agree, so this is not a mistranslation by the ESV.

Despite the title, it is not clear that Pharaoh, in this passage, is actually in hell. (See the Wikipedia article on Sheol.)

Like a lot of other things in the Bible, I can't explain this one. Perhaps you can. I will say that, even if there is some sort of comfort in hell, that doesn't make make hell any more desirable. It should be avoided at all costs!

Thanks for reading.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Some caution about global warming

I have taken the view, over the years, that there really is such a thing as global warming, and that human activity is at least partly responsible for that. I am not, by any means, an expert on climatology, but I believe that the scientific consensus is strongly in favor of this view, based on good data.

There is a considerable amount of anecdotal photographic evidence, including changes in the polar ice caps, which is the main reason that I continue to hold to that view. But, out of fairness, I point out that some recently released e-mail exchanges between climate scientists seem to indicate that there has been some fudging to strengthen the case for data supporting global warming. If true, this is a shame. Science should be objective. It probably never has been entirely so, but, for the most part, the system has worked.

National Public Radio has a report, both textual and audio, about these e-mails, and provides an analysis of their significance.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Glory to God, Whose Sovereign Grace

Glory to God, whose sovereign grace
Hath animated senseless stones;
Called us to stand before His face,
And raised us into Abraham’s sons!

The people that in darkness lay,
In sin and error’s deadly shade,
Have seen a glorious gospel day,
In Jesus’ lovely face displayed.

Thou only, Lord, the work hast done,
And bared Thine arm in all our sight;
Hast made the reprobates Thine own,
And claimed the outcasts as Thy right.

Thy single arm, almighty Lord,
To us the great salvation brought,
Thy Word, Thy all-creating Word,
That spake at first the world from naught.

For this the saints lift up their voice,
And ceaseless praise to Thee is giv’n;
For this the hosts above rejoice,
We raise the happiness of Heav’n.

For this, no longer sons of night,
To Thee our thankful hearts we give;
To Thee, who called us into light,
To Thee we die, to Thee we live.

Suffice that for the season past
Hell’s horrid language filled our tongues,
We all Thy words behind us cast,
And lewdly sang the drunkard’s songs.

But, O the power of grace divine!
In hymns we now our voices raise,
Loudly in strange hosannas join,
And blasphemies are turned to praise!

This is one of over 250 of Charles Wesley's hymns, found on his page at Nethymnal. I've never heard it, but it has some words appropriate for the season.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

An example of scripture where concordism doesn't fit

Psalm 119:89 Forever, O Lord, your word
is firmly fixed in the heavens.
90 Your faithfulness endures to all generations;
you have established the earth, and it stands fast. (ESV. See here for ESV copyright information. See here for the Blueletter Bible's display of how other versions treat verse 90.)

(See yesterday's post for a discussion of concordism.)

Few people would say that this passage means that the earth doesn't rotate on its axis, or revolve about the sun, or that the sun itself doesn't move as the galaxy rotates, in spite of the literal interpretation of verse 90, which seems to say all of those things. Presumably, the Psalmist wrote in accord with the science of the time, which didn't know as much about astronomy as we think we know now. The passage is poetic, not scientific, and it still speaks to us about God's sustaining power. God established the earth, and preserves it, wherever it may go through space.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Concordism, a barrier to Christian acceptance of science

Steve Martin writes an important blog, entitled "An Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution." A recent post, by guest writer Jordan Mallon, strikes me as particularly important.

In this post, Mallon considers the idea of what he calls concordism, namely that "God revealed to the authors of Scripture scientific facts about the universe that could not otherwise have been known to them at the time." Mallon does not believe this, although he says it is an unexamined presupposition of many conservative Christians. Instead, he believes that the writers of the Bible were limited to their own knowledge, the scientific knowledge of the time, when writing. Why does Mallon think this? His main evidence is the question of geocentrism, the idea that the earth is the center of the universe. This was the common belief for centuries, perhaps millenia, until the 16th century. One reason that it was believed, beside the fact that the earth does appear to be fixed, and other things, such as the sun and moon, revolving around it, is scripture. Mallon lists 11 passages, all from the Old Testament, that appear to have been written by persons who believed in geocentrism.

Perhaps the most frequently discussed of those passages is one from Joshua, wherein Joshua is said to have commanded the sun and moon to stand still. I don't know what happened then. Whatever it was, it was a miracle. As the link in the first sentence of this paragraph will show, no less than Answers in Genesis, an organization that is often accused of taking the Bible too literally, does not believe that this passage teaches geocentrism. (I have posted here on the unfortunate false rumor that NASA has proved the story in Joshua is true. The fact that NASA hasn't proved it doesn't mean that it didn't happen.) Mallon's point, of course, is that the ancient writers did not write as if they had been given special scientific knowledge. As he says, "we now appreciate that God sometimes accommodates His message to the limitations of human understanding." He calls this accomodation.

Mallon draws a conclusion, namely that the first part of Genesis may also be coming to us through the filter of the scientific knowledge of the writer, and the the knowledge available to the hearers or listeners that Genesis was first presented to, and, therefore, a belief in speciation by natural selection, and perhaps even the origin of larger groups of organisms by this mechanism, may not really conflict with scripture at all.

The post by Mallon covers two other topics, almost as important. I suggest that you read his post. Thanks for reading this one.

See my next post, for a concrete Biblical example.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Have you been thankful for your existence?

Here's a fundamental thing that perhaps you have never explicitly thanked God for -- your existence!

You exist, or you wouldn't be reading this. I exist, or at least I did on November 22nd, or it wouldn't have been written. Existence is such a fundamental fact that we seldom consider it enough to be grateful for it.

Thank you, God, that I had the chance to exist!

There's a Wikipedia article on Existence, and, trust me, it bristles with philosophical concepts.

I know that some people wish that they had never existed, and perhaps that's a legitimate wish for some people, but most of them aren't serious, or, if they are, they aren't sane. God help them. (See Job. God did help him.)

Thanks for reading! Thank God that you exist!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Sunspots 236

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

The Boston Globe has assembled a fabulous array of photos of Mars, close-up.

Microbial Art is a web site devoted to presenting art from microbial growth.

The Associated Press reports on a statistical study that indicates that major college men's basketball referees tend to act in ways that keep the scores close. And, yes, they do favor the home team.

A relatively short, but important, post, entitled "Clarifying Concepts in the Creation-Evolution Dialogue." I would say that this is must reading for Christians interested in science and in origins. God willing, I will post on this article later.

Image source (public domain)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Queen of the Orcs: King's Property by Morgan Howell

I recently read Queen of the Orcs: King's Property, the first book in a trilogy, by Morgan Howell. (Howell is a pseudonym.) Here's the Amazon page on the book.

Orc is a term used most prominently by J.R.R. Tolkien. As the Wikipedia article on the term indicates, the word pre-dates Tolkien.

There are significant differences between Tolkien's orcs and those of Howell. Tolkien's orcs seem to have been about human size, or smaller. Tolkien didn't have any female orc characters. Tolkien's orcs were treacherous, devious, and seemingly given over entirely to evil. Howell's orcs seem to be somewhat larger than humans. Although there are no female orc characters in this book of the trilogy, the orcs hold their females in great reverence, and live in a matriarchal society. The orcs in this book are all serving as soldiers for a human king, under what they think are orders from their queen. They serve in an army that includes both human and orc units. As to devious character traits, the orcs are honorable to a fault, and, if fighting by themselves against humans, can often be beaten, even if they seem to have a superior force, because they are not only honorable, but cannot imagine dishonorable behavior well enough to imagine possible treacherous, or even deceptive, behavior by humans.

The protagonist of the book is Dar, a human woman, probably in her twenties, whose father and stepmother give her to the king's army. Like the other women accompanying the army, she serves as a slave -- she is branded as the property of the king. She works as a cook and scullery maid. Most of the book is told from her perspective.

One of the duties of the women is to serve meals to the orcs. The orcs have a strong religious, or cultural, belief that all good things, including food, come from a Mother, and accept food only from a human woman, there being no orc women in the army. Dar is sent to serve them, because she is a newcomer. However, she gradually learns to respect the orcs, learn some of their language, and, most important, eventually convinces a special orc friend that she, as a female, should be taken seriously, even listened to.

Another thing that the women do is serve some of the soldiers sexually. Dar never does this, but a couple of the officers lust after her, and, when she refuses to cooperate, plan vengeance. Since orcs are protecting her, the vengeance involves letting the orcs be destroyed by an enemy army. The book closes with Dar escaping from the battle, and the army, as leader to five orc soldiers, including her special friend, Kovak-mah.

There are some religious aspects to the book. Both the orcs, and the humans, have pagan religious beliefs. There is magic, or the supernatural, in at least two ways. Dar discovers that she sometimes sees visions, which turn out to come true. The king has a sorcerer, who goes into a trance, using blood from a newly sacrificed human boy each time he enters one, and, upon coming out of the trance, has learned something about the future.

Tolkien was accused of writing his famous Lord of the Rings trilogy to flesh out his made-up languages, and there may have been some truth in the accusation. Howell hasn't gone nearly as far, but there is, at least, an appendix of about a dozen pages, giving some vocabulary and grammar from the orc's language.

There are certainly some bad guys in the book, but Dar, and Kovak-mah, are honorable, and try to help others unselfishly. Dar is a strong character, hard-working, with high ideals, and a good mind, in spite of the handicap of her background as a peasant woman rejected by her own family. I expect to read the other two books in this trilogy.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

O, My God, how Your Salvation

O, My God, how Your salvation
Fills my soul with peace and joy,
Patience gives, and consolation
Which the world cannot destroy!
Praise to God, the glorious Giver,
Christ, the Savior of the lost,
And the Comforter forever,
Father, Son and Holy Ghost!

For that love whose tender mercies
Purest joys do daily bring,
I will all my life confess You
With my mouth Your praises sing!
Praise to God, the glorious Giver,
Christ, the Savior of the lost,
And the Comforter forever,
Father, Son and Holy Ghost!

May be sung to "Hyfrydol," "All the Way My Savior Leads Me," or other tunes.

Author: John S. B. Monsell, 1811-1875 (for a time, he was chaplain to Queen Victoria), author. Found in a Hymnal of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Cincinnati: Hitchcock and Walden, 1878, which book has no musical scores, only the lyrics. Public Domain. Someone thought I should have it, as we were going through my late mother's house.

I changed some second person pronouns to "you" or "your."

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Did Adam have a belly button?

The answer, of course, is that we don't know.

I just read a photo (on Facebook) of what appears to be a pamphlet or magazine article, claiming that Adam and Eve didn't have navels, because they didn't go through embryonic development. (The navel, or belly button, of course, is where the umbilical cord is attached.) Perhaps they didn't. On the other hand, perhaps they did.

Even if Adam and Eve were created as mature adults, they might have had navels. Presumably, they began life as able to converse in whatever language they used. (NOT English, I think!) If they began life as mature adults, with language skills, they must have had all the neural connections necessary for these skills, even though they didn't experience the language learning through which the rest of us set up those connections, which enable us to speak and understand language. So, just as their brains were created as if they had gone through normal development, their abdomens might have also been created in that way, with navels. (Innies? outies?)

See here for Wikipedia article on neuroplasticity. The notion that neural connections are formed, or altered, by learning, is, as I understand it, firmly believed by almost all neuroscientists, but is not backed up by a tremendous amount of experimental evidence. Experimental work of this type is very difficult to do, as it would mean working, on a biochemical and/or microscopic level, in a living brain, and it wouldn't be ethical to do such research in humans at all. Here's a report on some actual experimental evidence for the idea. It is hard to imagine that learning would take place without altering the physical and chemical structure of the brain.

Thanks for reading. Check your navel.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Christ-figure in Watership Down, by Richard Adams?

I have previously posted a few times on Watership Down, by Richard Adams. (See here for the last of these posts.)

I have also considered the question of what makes a novel a Christian novel, and considered the question of whether or not several works of fantastic literature are, indeed, Christian. That post is here, and has links to posts which examine various pieces of literature. Although it is one of my favorite books, I have never done this sort of analysis on Watership Down.

If you are not familiar with the book, the plot is summarized in the Wikipedia article on the book.

I have recently re-read the book, and believe that, in some ways, El-ahriarah, the rabbit's mythical hero, is a Christ-figure. Why do I say that?

I say that because of the following passage:
"The Black Rabbit spoke with the voice of water that falls into pools in echoing places in the dark.
"'El-ahrairah, why have you come here?'
"'I have come for my people,' whispered El-ahrairah. - Richard Adams, Watership Down. New York: Avon Books, 1972. p. 283.
From the chapter, "El-ahrairah and the Black Rabbit of Inlé," which chapter is named for its content, which is a story that Dandelion, the rabbit story-teller, tells, on request from Bigwig. (Bigwig is, himself, about to enter into a dangerous mission, which could well cost him his life.) In the story, El-ahrairah has come for his people, who are oppressed by an enemy, King Darzin. They can scarcely leave their burrows. Rabbits go to the Black Rabbit when they are about to die. El-ahrairah tries to beat the Black Rabbit in various contests of skill and wit, but can't. He wagers his ears, his whiskers, and his tail, and loses all of these. He gets Rabscuttle, his constant companion, to get dock leaves to stick on his head in the place of ears. Finally, in desperation, he rushes into the pit of rabbit diseases, hoping to catch the white blindness, so as to infect the animals that are oppressing the rabbits. He knows that, if he gets this disease, he will die soon.

El-ahrairah's attempted self-sacrifice doesn't work, because the white blindness is carried by fleas in rabbits ears, and he has no ears, and no fleas. But the Black Rabbit says that he, himself, will rescue El-ahrairah's people, and he does. When El-ahrairah returns, he discovers that a few years have passed since he left. No one remembers him. Lord Frith, the sun-god of the rabbits, appears to El-ahrairah, and gives him new ears, with starlight in them, and a new body to match.

At the end of the book, Hazel, the leader of the rabbits of Watership Down, dies, but as he does, El-ahrairah appears to him, indicating that El-ahrairah has become immortal.

El-ahrairah, then, attempts to give his own life for the lives of others, and is resurrected as an eternal hero-figure. That certainly parallels Christ.

I would not say that Watership Down is a Christian novel, in spite of having a figure in it that is like Christ in some ways. As I said above, there is a sun-god in it, for one thing. It's really, I guess, a pagan novel. (See here for a little of what C. S. Lewis had to say about the relationship between paganism and Christianity.)

Thanks for reading. Read Watership Down.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Another thought about politics from the Old Testament

I recently paid attention to Proverbs 24:21 My son, fear the Lord and the king,
and do not join with those who do otherwise, (ESV. See here for the ESV policy on on-line usage.).

Does this apply in our time? If we live in the US, should we fear the President? I think so, based on what the New Testament also says about this matter. Perhaps "honor" or "respect" are also involved in that fear.

I have posted previously on a similar topic.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sunspots 235

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

Olivia Judson tells us that happiness, and other good things, can be contagious -- there have been scientific studies on this.

Wired reports the appearance of a new species of Galapagos finches, one which has been reproductively isolated from similar birds for three generations. 

(Sort of) The government made 98 billion dollars worth of improper payments in 2009, it said, according to CNN. Let's hope that we get a handle on this.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Using light to control single brain cells (and thanks to a gene from algae)

Wired has posted an amazing report on how it is possible to control a single neuron in a mouse brain, by zapping it with light. The reason this works is because researchers have also inserted a gene for light sensitivity into the mouse, so the mouse is a mouse-algal hybrid. (Not really -- it's a mouse with one algal gene.) You've got to have a means of getting the light to trigger a single neuron, of course.

This is potentially of great importance, because drugs and electrical stimulation tend to be messy -- affect more than one neuron, or even lots of them. This is an invasive technique, but so are some others that we take for granted. It seems possible to do a great deal of good with this, perhaps curing, say, Parkinson's. In fact, the researchers are working on Parkinson-like mice. It's also possible, of course, that a great deal of harm might be done, but the same thing was, and is, true of techniques less high-tech, such as surgery.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Religion in Elizabeth Moon's Familias Regnant novels.

Elizabeth Moon has written a variety of fantastic literature. Her Nebula award-winning The Speed of Dark is set on earth, in a time not far into the future. Her Paksenarrion and Gird novels are set on some unknown planet, or perhaps an alternate earth, and are fantasy. Her Vatta's War and Familias Regnant novels are both set in the far future, when humans have expanded into many other solar systems. These two groups of books have been called, with some justice, space opera.

In this post, I wish to consider the religious aspects of the Familias Regnant novels. The books are not so much about religion as the Paksenarrion and Gird books, but religion is certainly mentioned.

The Familias Regnant worlds, a large collection of habitable planets, linked together by commerce, culture, and government, don't have a single religion:
"The Familias legal codes -- and those of the Regular Space Service -- allow freedom of belief, and freedom of religious practices which are not directly harmful to others. Because of the wide variety of beliefs, many held strongly, we do not generally discuss religion with those we do not know." (Elizabeth Moon, Change of Command. New York, New York: Baen Books, 1999, p. 151.) A minor character is explaining the way things are to a visitor from another culture. Note that the question of what religion is practiced is important to the visitor.

I found no Christ-figure in these books. Not only that, none of the main characters expressed any firm religious belief. Once in a while, when under stress, they wished that they had a religion, or attempted to pray, but religion wasn't important to any of them.

There were religions in some of the other cultures, and they seem to have been some version of Christianity, from the USA, extrapolated into the future. The results were usually (but not always) male-dominated, and based on deeds -- eternal rewards and temporal blessings were not gifts, but earned, by right behavior. Several peripheral characters were clearly dominated by their religious beliefs.

I have posted here and here about the religious aspects of the Paksenarrion novels, and here about the Gird novels. Moon does not ignore religion, even in the future, even if it doesn't play a dominant role for the main characters in these books.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Romans 1:20b poster: God's revelation through nature

Romans 1:20 poster

This is an attempt to illustrate Romans 1:20b (ESV), wherein God indicates that He reveals Himself to us through nature.

That's not the only way God is revealed. I would say that Christ, Himself, is the most important way, and that the Holy Spirit, the Bible, our conscience, and the church, are other ways that God is revealed.

The original photo is on our Flickr photostream. ESV copyright information is here.

I have previously blogged about this verse. One such attempt is here. In that post, I argue that, if God reveals Himself through nature, it is important that we keep nature as beautiful and diverse as possible, because, if we don't, we are making it more difficult for God to reveal Himself to us.

Thanks for reading, and looking.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Emergent processes

Jeremiah 1:4 Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying,
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (ESV. For information on copyright and usage policies of the ESV, see here.)

This passage is often taken as support for opposition to abortion, and that may be a legitimate use. I quote it here because it may be supporting another idea, that of emergent processes.

Young-earth creationists believe that the earth, and the universe, are no more than a few thousand years old. They believe that, although there may have been some changes in the appearance of living things, and even in humans, these are minor, because there hasn't been time for major changes. As a consequence, they believe that the creative processes described in Genesis 1 were instantaneous, or nearly so. I believe that those who believe in Young-earth creationism would say (if they thought about this specific example) that the lichens were created by the command, or commands (possibly one for each type of lichen) of God, on the third day, and that they would have been much like the lichens of today. This view may be correct.

But young-earth creationists, though they don't often say this, seem to go further in their thinking. They assume that only an instantaneous creative act shows the power of God.

Other Christians, believing that a proper interpretation of Genesis 1 does not demand that the earth is only a few thousand years old, probably haven't thought about this specific example very much either, but would suppose that the algae and the fungi found in lichens both evolved, over long periods of time, and that, also during long periods of time, the mutualistic association of fungi and algae that makes lichens also developed. Not only that, but not all the lichens necessarily originated at the same time. Some kinds of them are probably older than others. These other Christians would also say that God's preparation, His planning, and the various processes, including natural selection, that He put into play also show the power of God, just as much, if not more, than an instantaneous creative act would show it.

Jeremiah 1:4-5 refers to the process of formation in the womb, an emergent process. Newborn Jeremiah was not created instantly at the instant of his birth. He had gone through nine months of development. The fertilized egg that he came from contained complete instructions for, say, producing a circulatory system, over the course of these nine month. Jeremiah, and you and I, came about through emergent processes. These emergent processes, although unfortunately taken too much for granted, show the power of God as much, if not more so, than as if Jeremiah had been created instantly, from nothing, as a baby.

God's use of emergent processes doesn't seem to be limited to embryonic development. It seems that God's work, through Noah, Abraham, Moses, the prophets, and finally through Christ, was also an emergent process. Couldn't God also have used emergent processes to bring about the universe, the earth, and living things?

Every view of origins has problems. There is no argument for any of them so convincing as to demolish all opposing views.

See here and here for previous posts on the idea of emergent processes, or emergent creation.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Mistborn: The Final Empire, by Brandon Sanderson

I was looking for a new fantasy author to read, and decided to try a book by Brandon Sanderson. His official website is here, and the Wikipedia article on him is here. I read his Mistborn: The Final Empire (Tor, 2008), and I'm glad that I did. The link in the previous sentence is to the Wikipedia article on the book. This is the book's web page on the author's web site. Clearly, I'm not the only fan of this book, or the series of three books that it is part of. There is a Mistborn Wiki, with a number of articles on various aspects of the book(s).

I generally try to avoid giving away the plots of books that I read, and I will try to give away as little as possible in this post. I have three points to make.

First, there are interesting characters in the book. These characters have feelings, and flaws, and most of them are trying to do good. The good that they are trying to do is to overthrow the Lord Ruler, and the nobility, who hold most of the population, the skaa, of the unnamed planet (continent?) that is the setting in slavery. The leading character is a teenage girl, Vin. Most of the story is told from her standpoint. She has magical ability, and her mother was skaa. She decides to join Kelsier, an inspiring, if unpredictable leader, who also has magical ability, in his plot to overthrow the Lord Ruler.

Second, the nature of the magic in the book is intriguing, and, as far as I'm aware, unlike the magical powers of any other sub-creation. There are actually three kinds of magic in the book. The main kind is Allomancy, a hereditary gift that must be awakened, usually by a traumatic event. Most people aren't Allomancers at all. Some are Mistings -- they are able to somehow internally consume a particular metal or alloy, and, when they do, have temporary powers of one sort or another. There are several types of Mistings. There are also Mistborn, people like Vin and Kelsier, who can use several kinds of metals or alloys, and have all the powers. Such powers include heightened senses, increased strength, the ability to influence the emotions of others, or to hide from enemies using Allomancy, and the ability to move things rapidly against gravity, including the Allomancer herself. In other words, Mistborn are able to move rapidly like the characters in some recent Chinese Martial Arts movies, such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. There is another kind of magic, Ferruchemy, which a particular race, small in number, the Terris, can practice. There is a third kind of magic, practiced by a few powerful servants of the Lord Ruler. All three of these forms of magic utilize metals, by ingestion and burning (Oxidation?), or by physical contact.

The third aspect of the book that I wish to muse on is going to give away major portions of the plot.

Religion is mentioned several times. One of the characters, Sazed, is a Terris. He is able to access and retain information on many kinds of religions, using special memory storage provided through Ferruchemy. Occasionally, Sazed mentions some obscure, or at least extinct religion. He doesn't give much detail, but none of the religions he mentions seem to be closely related to any religion currently practiced in real life.

I was not clear on whether or not the skaa, or the other inhabitants of the land that the book is set in, have a religion. If they do, it seems to be worship of the Lord Ruler, who, himself, has powerful magical abilities, as he uses both Allomancy and Ferruchemy, and is, apparently, immortal. He says that he is, and even those who want to overthrow him believe that he is immortal.

Whether anyone else pays attention or not, one of the things I have tried to do, at least for my own satisfaction, in this blog is to consider questions of religion in fantastic literature. If you wish to know more about this, I recommend my "What Must Be Christian About a Christian Novel?" and "Paganism and Christianity in Juliet Marillier's Fiction." Both of these have links to related posts.

I was a little surprised to find, near the end of Mistborn, that there is a Christ-figure in the book. By this, I mean that there is a character who has some of the attributes of Jesus Christ, who suffered for the sins of others, died as a sacrifice for those sins, and rose again to prove His power. The character is Kelsier. Kelsier decides, when the rebellion looks like it won't actually succeed, to sabotage the only mine where the rarest of the metals used by Mistborn is found. The Lord Ruler, and the nobles, as well as other mistborn, like Kelsier and Vin, depend on this metal. His sabotage is successful. In retaliation, the Lord Ruler orders the execution of hundreds of skaa, who, of course, had nothing to do with the sabotage. Kelsier decides that he cannot allow this to happen. He begins freeing the prisoners, knowing that this will make the Lord Ruler, himself, act to try to stop Kelsier. The Lord Ruler does this. He kills Kelsier, in a public place, where many skaa, and many of the Lord Ruler's servants, as well as Vin, are witnesses. Kelsier's close associates, including Vin, discover that Kelsier planned to give himself up -- he knew that he would be killed.

A non-human creature, who has been successfully masquerading as a nobleman, apparently known to be an non-human only by himself and Kelsier, assumes Kelsier's bodily form, and appears, in this way, to some skaa, and this, as well as the revulsion caused by the death of Kelsier on their behalf, leads the skaa to overthrow the nobility. Eventually, they begin a religion, with Kelsier as its deity.

Thus, Kelsier sacrifices himself for others, and, in a sense, rises from the dead, which, as I see it, makes him a Christ-figure.

May I be clear -- this is not exactly a Christian book. It does reflect Christ, although fictionally and not completely.

Vin and Sazed are able to kill the Lord Ruler at the end. I expect to read the remaining books in this series, and will be interested to see where Sanderson takes Vin and the other characters. I'd also like to know why there are mists, why ash is continually falling from the sky, why Vin has difficulty imagining green-colored vegetation, and, as a biologist, how the people (and animals) get food, if there aren't any green-colored plants.

Thanks for reading.