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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Patents on human genes may be ruled against the law

National Public Radio (and others) recently reported that a judge in a US federal court has ruled that patenting particular human DNA sequences is against the law. (See here and here for NPR reports.)

The company with the patents is Myriad, which holds the patents to the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene sequences. Both of these genes, in their normal state, lead to the production of a tumor suppressor, which prevents many potential breast cancers. Myriad does tests to determine the kind of BRCA genes that an individual has, then, depending on the results, a woman may choose to have a mastectomy.The tests cost over $3,000. Myriad is reported to have "made $222 million on tests that cost $32 million to run" in "a recent year."

The Judge, according to NPR, ruled that a gene sequence is a product of nature, and hence not patentable.

Many scientists, and others, have argued that human gene sequences should not be patentable. The ruling will most likely be appealed, and the case may go to the US Supreme Court. This Wikipedia article says that about 20% of yours and my genes are under patent, and that patents for about 3,000,000 genes, in all have been applied for. (Probably including non-human organisms.)

Thanks for reading.

Sunspots 254

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

Science:Wired has a photo gallery on how we are geoengineering the earth.

The gorillas of Central Africa may go extinct, according to CNN.
Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Is Avatar better than reality?

Fern fiddleheads
A photograph of real fern fiddleheads in Oconee County, South Carolina.

To even ask the question of the title seems absurd. But an article in The New Atlantis indicates that the question has been asked, and, for some people, the answer is "yes!"

Ridiculous. How far have some of us come from experiencing real life? How far have we come from God's good, although admittedly sin-flawed, creation? Quite a ways, it seems.

This passage from the article struck me:
While on planet Earth half of the 6,500 languages spoken by actual people are expected to die out before the end of the century — the last native speaker of Bo, once spoken by tribesmen of the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal, died just as Avatar was topping the all-time box-office charts — our popular culture triumphs in inventing an artificial language for a people who have never existed.

God's creation is beautiful. The ability to imagine unreal, or partly real, beauty, is part of the image of God in us.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Royal Destiny: Queen of the Orcs, book III, by Morgan Howell.

My most recent post on this series is here. The first one is here.

In this, the conclusion of the trilogy, Dar, who began as a slave to a terrible human king, comes into her own as queen of the orcs. (Howell's orcs are quite different than Tolkien's. They are a matriarchal society, and, with rare exceptions, incapable of dishonesty or deception. They are loyal and brave.)

Sure enough, this is sword and sorcery fantasy. There are swords, daggers, bows and arrows. There is also a wicked sorcerer, and there are spirits, and reincarnation, and habitation of living, intelligent beings by spirits. One of the spirits appears to be a devilish god, but is not well described.

Nonetheless, there are some surprises in this book, especially the ending, which is ambiguous enough that I'm not completely sure what was going on.

There's not much else I can say, without giving away large sections of the plot, which I'm not going to do. I would classify this trilogy as somewhat above hack work, but somewhat below the quality of ideas of Tolkien, Elizabeth Moon, Patricia McKillip, Lois McMaster Bujold, or Ursula K. LeGuin. For example, Howell uses muth as the orkish root word for mother. (There's an orkish glossary in the back, and enough orkish in the book to have made it useful.) Tolkien would have invented a word much different than the English word.

I'm not sorry that I read these books, but would give them a luke-warm recommendation to others.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

C. S. Lewis on death, and the end of the world

"Sir," said Caspian. "I've always wanted to have just one glimpse of their world. Is that wrong?"
"You cannot want wrong things any more now, that you have died, my son," said Aslan. C. S. Lewis, The Silver Chair, New York: Macmillan, 1953, p. 205.

. . . but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page.: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before. C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle, New York: Macmillan, 1956, pp. 173-4.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Sword and Sorcery fantasy: Not a bastion of democracy

I have previously posted on what is sometimes called Sword and Sorcery fantasy. That is, fantasy works set in pre-gunpowder societies, where bows and arrows and swords are the most common weapons, and where some sort of magic is used by some of the characters.

I am copying my list of favorite sword and sorcery fantasy works from the previous post:
"The Lord of the Rings"works by J. R. R. Tolkien
The Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon
The Chronicles of Prydain, by Lloyd Alexander
The Narnia books by C. S. Lewis
Works by Juliet Marillier
The Earthsea books by Ursula K. Le Guin
The Chalion novels, and the Sharing Knife tetralogy, by Lois McMaster Bujold
Most of the works of Patricia McKillip

These books, I believe, are all important, and have influenced other authors of fantasy works.

I'm sure that the observation is not being made for the first time, but I'll say it. The worlds used in these books do not have lands with democratic governments. There are rulers, almost always hereditary rulers, in these books.

In Tolkien's trilogy, Aragorn re-establishes a long line of hereditary kings of Gondor. Rohan also has hereditary rulers. In addition to the kings, or equivalents, in these human domains, there are also hereditary rulers among the elves and the dwarves. True, the hobbits seem to have a sort of society of equal opportunity, probably even electing some officials. But the appendices of the trilogy, and the other books, published after them, but about earlier times, have little to say about hobbits, but lots to say about elves and men.

Paksenarrion's deed is to place a king, a king with royal blood, on the throne.

In the Prydain books, an assistant pig-keeper becomes king. But the assistant pig-keeper has royal ancestry.

There is a line of hereditary rulers in the Narnia books.

There are clan chiefs in Marillier's works, and they seem to be hereditary.

There are kings in the Earthsea books. Arren, who has royal blood, takes the main throne, in Havnor, at the end of The Farthest Shore.

The Chalion books have hereditary kingships. The Sharing Knife works do not. There are leaders among the Lakewalkers, but they seem to get their positions on merit. The Farmers don't have kings.

McKillip's books have kings, or hereditary leaders with other titles.

Why kings? Why so little evidence of democracy? One answer is that Sword and Sorcery books are closely related to the human past, and most human societies of the past had hereditary rulers. Another is that fantasy of this type has had some influential English authors, and, of course, England, even today, has hereditary rulers. Is that a valid reason? I'm not sure. Moon, Alexander, Le Guin, Bujold and McKillip have mostly lived in the U. S. (Mariller is from New Zealand and Australia, and Lewis and Tolkien were English.)

I don't have a really good explanation, but it is interesting to muse about the relationship between Sword and Sorcery fantasy and the lack of democracy.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, March 26, 2010

What makes art Christian (or not)?

From a recent post by Jan:
Unfortunately, as Christians we’ve so bought into the idea that all creativity has to have a purpose, and that purpose is to lead people to Christ, that we can’t accept as “christian” that which hasn’t been completely neutered by a fish, dove or Bible verse.

Jan is commenting on an art gallery, which refused to include a photograph, illustrating part of the procession of Christ to the cross, because the photo, which was by a 10-year-old boy, was considered too violent. Jan provides a link to the photo. Her entire post, which is not much longer than this one, should be required reading.

Jan has followed up on this post here and here. I have written about what makes something Christian fiction here.

Read Jan's posts.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Conservatism: What it's about

The Free Dictionary gives these first two meanings of conservatism:

1. The inclination, especially in politics, to maintain the existing or traditional order.
2. A political philosophy or attitude emphasizing respect for traditional institutions, distrust of government activism, and opposition to sudden change in the established order.
In discussing politics, or conservatism, if you want to have a hope of making sense, you have to define what you mean. That is not always done, unfortunately.
E. J. Dionne, Jr., in a recent syndicated column, wrote recently about conservatism. He seems to agree with the definitions above, and says, I believe correctly, that so-called conservatism, i. e., the Republicans, weren't usually at their finest during the recent debates about healthcare legislation. (The Democrats weren't, either, but that's another story.) Not all Republicans are conservative, and some Democrats are conservative.

Dionne, who is not a conservative himself, says that there have been three good and important characteristics of conservatives in the US. These are:
1) They are suspicious of grand plans to remake things, believing that such plans seldom, if ever, work to achieve the goals they were developed for, and that such plans have unfortunate serious unplanned consequences.
2) They respect traditional ways of doing things. As Dionne points out, this has been one of their largest weaknesses or faults, as in respecting slavery and racism, but it can also be a great strength.
3) A suspicion of human nature -- human nature is inherently prone to evil.

Dionne believes that, when Republicans, or pseudo-conservatives, questioned the effectiveness of plans to revise health care, they were at their conservative best. When they were screaming about "death panels," shouting racial epithets at Democratic legislators, claiming that passing health care legislation was the end of democracy as we know it, trumpeting that this was a government takeover while ignoring that medicare is a government healthcare plan that seems to work, or even threatening Democratic legislators with violence, they were at their non-conservative worst.

I think Dionne is right about all this. Some other cases where the Republicans have neglected conservative principles come to mind, but I'll not explore them here.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Sunspots 253

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

Humor:(or something) According to CNN the new health care bill puts a 10% tax on use of tanning beds, immediately. Who knew? I guess this isn't funny to people who use tanning beds, or to the operators.

Science:Wired reports, and shows photos, of some very old trees. Some clonal groups of trees may be as much as 80,000 years old, or more.

The New York Times reviews a book that argues that genius is not nearly so much an accident of heredity as the result of dedicated work.

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Healing and Faith

"You do not have to be sick because God wants to heal you, and if you'll have faith, He will heal you!" (Tom Brown. There are other examples of the same sort of thing -- I hold no ill-will toward Tom Brown. His web page comes up early in a Google search.)

This man, probably from the best of motives, has some of the truth on this subject, but he doesn't have it all, and the truth he has presented can be dangerous. God does often want to heal us. Some people don't believe He can, and may sinfully lack faith. But being sick, or not being healed, isn't necessarily because we don't have enough faith. Equating not being healed with lack of faith is the dangerous aspect of this. Why do I say so? Here are five reasons:

1. 1 Kings 14 tells the story of Ahijah the prophet, and Abijah, the young son of one of the kings of Israel named Jeroboam. Abijah was sick, and the king sent his mother to Ahijah to ask about the future of this boy. Ahijah told his mother that the child would die of the sickness, but he also said this: "14:13 And all Israel shall mourn for him and bury him, for he only of Jeroboam shall come to the grave, because in him there is found something pleasing to the Lord, the God of Israel, in the house of Jeroboam." (ESV) This boy was said to have pleased the Lord, but he died of a sickness.

2. Then there's the story of Job. God allowed Satan to afflict Job physically, not because he was a sinner, but because He wanted Job to be an example of faith in spite of suffering endured. (Eventually, Job was healed.)

3. Paul advised Timothy, one of God's ministers, to drink wine, rather than water, because he was frequently sick (1 Timothy 5:23).

4. Paul, himself, certainly a man of faith, and one who had been God's instrument for miracles of healing, was afflicted, apparently physically, with something that God did not remove, even though Paul prayed that He would, presumably praying in faith. (2 Corinthians 12) Also, Paul left Trophimus behind, because Trophimus was sick (2 Timothy 4:20).

5. Although most of the early apostles, probably including Paul, died martyrs' deaths, apparently John didn't. We don't know how he died, but he most likely got sick and died (counting the deterioration of old age as a sickness). So have many wonderful, faithful, Christians throughout the years, including some who have prayed effectively for healing in others, and in themselves.

Christ healed everyone who came to Him for healing during His earthly ministry. Christians are told to pray for the sick. (James 5:14) God often allows healing now, through a miracle, through medical treatment, or the body's own restorative powers, but, based on the Bible, we shouldn't always expect it, or assume lack of faith when it doesn't happen.

Healing, if it comes, is not principally so we feel better, but so God can be glorified. Suffering, too, can show God's glory. It's wrong to preach that God always heals those who have faith. Tom Brown, and I, will probably die from some illness associated with aging, and I hope that both of us die as believers in God's redemption, and His occasional healing.

Thanks for reading.

On January 28, 2012, I added the last sentence of point 4, and some labels/tags. I thank Ken Schenck, who recently wrote a good, short article on this subject.

On January 14, 2014, I am adding a link to a post, quoting my late father, who argued, in a letter to my mother, that going to see doctors was not usually wrong for a believer.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sunspots 252

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

He Lives explains what the Anthropic Principle does, and doesn't, do.

Politics:(or finance, or something) NPR buys into a toxic asset. (Remember the TARP funds?)

A woman has been selected as a high school football head coach.

Christianity:Weekend Fisher discusses the "how much more" phrases of the Bible. (That post is the first of a series. Click on the Heart, Mind, Soul and Strength title to see her entire blog, and scroll down until you find other "much more" posts.)

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Richard Dawkins and 400 years of the King James Bible

I thank Julana for bringing these matters to my attention.

There is a 2011 Trust: Celebrating 400 years of the King James Bible, which has an on-line presence, even early in 2010. I am not sure of all that this organization is about, but they do have video of various persons reading from the KJV. As Julana pointed out, one participant is Richard Dawkins, who is reads from The Song of Songs.

I do not agree with Richard Dawkins on all points. He is a militant atheist. But I appreciate the fact that he took part in this project. I also have problems with those who claim that the King James Version is the only legitimate English Bible. The main problem is that English, itself, has changed. In fact, it has changed enough that the King James Version that we have in our house, that we access on-line, that the 2011 Trust celebrates, and that the Gideons distribute, is the version of 1769, not 1611. But I appreciate the KJV.

That version has had a great deal of positive influence on my life, and the lives of many others. It is worth celebrating.

Thanks for reading. Thanks for the links, Julana.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Why isn't there a Jewish Narnia or Middle-Earth?

I confess that I had never pondered that question, until reading an essay on that subject in what appears to be the first issue of something called The Jewish Review of Books, by Michael Weingrad.

Weingrad, clearly a Jew himself, is very familiar with C. S. Lewis, Tolkien, and has at least a nodding acquaintance with George MacDonald. The essay would have been worth reading if it had been only a consideration of those authors. But Weingrad attempts to answer the question, and his answer is multiple.

Historically, he says, Jews do not view the middle ages, which have so influenced Sword and Sorcery fantasy, because they were often persecuted, even put to the sword, during that period.

Weingrad says that the Jewish religion is less open to paganism than Christianity. (For a little more on that matter, see here.) Most fantasy literature has some pagan elements. (Bacchus appears in Narnia, for example.)

The author also says that Jews have "invested in modernity," and that, Weinberg points out, may explain the abundance of Jewish science-fiction authors, including Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg, to name two of the most prominent. (I would classify much of Silverberg's writing as fantasy, rather than science-fiction.) See here for more on Silverberg and religion.

This is a fine essay, and I'm glad that I found it, and read it.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

C. S. Lewis on Intelligent Design (in Narnia)

All this time the Lion's song, and his stately prowl, to and fro, backwards and forwards, was going on. . . . Polly was finding the song more and more interesting because she thought she was beginning to see the connection between the music and the things that were happening. When a line of dark firs sprang up on a ridge about a hundred yards away she felt that they were connected with a series of deep, prolonged notes which the Lion had sung a second before. And when he burst into a rapid series of lighter notes she was not surprised to see primroses suddenly appearing in every direction. Thus, with an unspeakable thrill, she felt quite certain that all the things were coming (as she said) "out of the Lion's head." When you listened to his song you heard the things he was making up; when you looked around you, you saw them.  - C. S. Lewis, The Magician's Nephew, New York: Macmillan, 1955, pp. 94-95.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Bible and "Social Justice"

Quadrilateral Thoughts, a fine blog, has a post listing a number of Biblical references to Social Justice. A good, and timely, reminder.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

"Soon" in Revelation 1:1, from He Lives

In a recent post, He Lives points out that there is a "soon" (or equivalent word, depending on the translation) in Revelation 1:1, and discusses the implications of that.

Thanks, He Lives!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Sunspots 251

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

NPR reports that mosquitos fatten up for the winter. Who knew?

The Sporting News reports that a substitute really did come in and play like a superstar, as Louisville beat Syracuse, with Kyle Kuric scoring 22 points in the second half against the number 1 team in men's college basketball.

The Toronto Globe and Mail reports that Sarah Palin's family used to use the Canadian healthcare system.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Ken Schenck on the separate existence of the soul

Most Christians accept, uncritically, that we have a soul that is separate from the body. Some Christians believe that there are three entities that are parts of us, namely the body, the soul, and the spirit. Have Christians always believed these things? Is it necessary to believe them now?

Ken Schenck, a theologian at Indiana Wesleyan University, has posted on the view of the relationship between the body and the soul throughout history, among Christians, and their Jewish predecessors. In his part 1, he claims that the idea of a soul, disembodied and separate from the body, is a Greek introduction, not a Christian one. In part 2, he continues, and says that Daniel 12:2-3 is the only passage in the Old Testament that indicates a belief in an afterlife. In his part 3, he concludes, indicating that there is evidence of belief in an afterlife, and perhaps in a soul separate from the body, in the New Testament. But he is not sure that the New Testament writers believe in such an entity. He says this: "Because the Bible gives us varied pictures of human psychology and of the afterlife, we probably should not consider any of these pictures absolute."

I have written extensively about this matter, in a three-part on-line document. See here if interested.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, March 08, 2010


I finally got around to seeing Avatar, the movie that uses computer technology to produce a film supposedly set on the large moon of a non-solar planet, and with many characters who are depicted as about ten feet tall, blue-skinned, with tails. This is the Wikipedia article on the film. This is the film's official web site. According to that site, it has been nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The film is said to have earned more money than any movie ever made. This is partly because of inflated prices. But let's put it this way. My wife and I saw the movie two months and one day after its release, and there was a pretty good crowd present for a weekday matinee. Most movies are no longer shown, and headed for DVD release, that length of time after their opening.

An Avatar is a physical being, biological, rather than robotic, which is controlled remotely by a human. The hero of the movie, Avatar, is a paraplegic who controls an alien body, or a body that is very much like that of the aliens. One thing that puzzled me about the movie -- perhaps I missed something -- is that the hero is unskilled as a scientist, and, presumably, too handicapped to have been much use as a military person. So why was he on board the ship that went to the alien moon in the first place? (His twin brother was also on the ship, and died in transit, so the hero is drafted to control the avatar that his brother would have controlled.) The concept is not new to Avatar. I remember reading, at least four decades ago, a story about an astronaut who controlled a body down on, or near, the surface of Jupiter, from a base some distance away from that surface. I can't recall the title of the story, nor the author's name.

There have been a number of reviews of the movie, most of which I have not read. Here's the one from Christianity Today movies. The reviewer is especially impressed by the technical excellence of the film. He does mention spiritual matters, and warns about pagan influences in the film, but is not turned off by them. (The Na'vi have a religion, and we see some of their worship.) The reviewer also mentions a key point, in my view, namely that the Na'vi can become physically and mentally linked to the animals they ride, be these land mammals (?) or dragon-like flying creatures. The New York Times reviewer is mostly positive, and lauds James Cameron, the director, producer, and writer, for showing us the beauty of an alien world. A Times op-ed columnist, however, is quite critical of what he sees as the pantheism in the movie, and in Cameron's world-view. Another reviewer is not very concerned about the pantheism in the movie, and praises it for the beauty it shows. I agree that the movie is spectacular. I also agree that it seems to present a non-Christian religion as if the Na'vi believe in it.

I'd like to raise two points about the biology of Cameron's imagined world.

First, there seem to be a lot of animals, more than you'd expect could be supported by the vegetation. In other words, the food pyramid seems to be larger on top than would be realistic. Granted, there are some very large trees, but trees generally aren't good for food, and, besides, most or all of the animals seem to be carnivorous.

Second, did Cameron actually imagine anything new in his biology? Could I, for that matter? Are our imaginations restricted to variations on what life already exists in our world? Has God created any radically different beings on other worlds? (For example, creatures that have more than two sexes, that live backwards in time, or that obtain their energy in ways that no earth organisms do.) There are some variations in Avatar, for sure, such as non-insectoid land animals with six legs, small jellyfish-like creatures that float in the air, and flying animals with four wings, plus the ability to make physical and neural connections with beings of other species.

Now, back to the pantheistic world-view. Part of this is not pantheism, or not just pantheism, but, apparently, an imagined biology. The entire biosphere seems to be connected neurally, as if it were one super-organism, a god, if you will. The trees are said to be in physical contact with each other. (There is more than one species of them.) The small jellyfish-like organisms seem to float around wherever they are needed, and serve to connect animals, and the Na'vi, to this central intelligence.

Four aspects of Cameron's imaginary neurobiology were of interest.

First, as mentioned above, the Na'vi are shown as being able to make temporary neurological connections to animals that they mount. They do this with what looks like a long pony-tail, but which, apparently -- it isn't spelled out -- is actually something like a flexible auxiliary spine coming out of the back of the head. It has small tentacles (?) at its end, and these are able to connect to the tentacles in a similar structure on the mount animals. So far as I know, there's nothing like this in earthly biology. If it really did exist, it would require some sort of conscious connection between two organisms, of different species. Is such a thing possible? I'm not sure.

I am surprised that Cameron didn't have the Na'vi connecting to each other that way, for example during sexual activity, or between parent and offspring. Perhaps he did, and I missed it.

Second, again, as mentioned above, is the implication that a giant superorganism, made up of all of the organisms on the moon, is possible.

Third is the possibility of fine control of an avatar from a remote location. It is not clear how far the avatars are from the controllers, but it must have been at least a number of miles. Is wireless communication, with little or no lag time, from a distance, possible? Would it be possible to control a body not your own? How? What signals must be broadcast, and how would they have to be received?

Last is the notion that the superorganism is somehow able to transplant the personality, or, if you please, the soul, from the paraplegic body of the hero to his avatar, so that he not just controls the avatar, but becomes the avatar. (The superorganism tried this on an aging, and injured, scientist, but the transfer didn't work.)

Quite a bit of the topics in this post remind me of a longish essay that I wrote nearly ten years ago, entitled "Soul uploading: Computers and the mind-body problem." In that essay, I mused about the speculation that it would be possible to transfer a personality, a soul, from a brain to a computer. Cameron's Avatar supposes that an extremely complex supermind would be capable of transferring a personality, a soul, from one body to another.

I fear that much of Avatar is the imaginary equivalent of the Tower of Babel -- look what we humans are capable of doing! We don't need God! I'm not expecting to see any of this in reality, and I am not sure that a lot of what was in the film could ever be possible. But, after all, it's fiction.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Thoughts on Creation

Thoughts on God’s creation
Genesis 1:1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

“Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.” See here. (You can search for a particular Bible passage, using the search box on the page opened by the link in the previous sentence.)

#1 God planned it.
Genesis 1 does not tell us:
When God created.
How God created.

Why God created.

It does tell us Where, namely "the heavens and the earth."

Most important, it tells us "Who?" God!

Creation was planned.

The most important argument about origins is not over whether the six days of Genesis 1 were consecutive 24-hour days or not. It is not about whether the Flood was responsible for geology as we know it.

The most important argument about creation is about whether it was done on purpose --with a plan --or not.
If God spoke the stars into existence in an instant, complete with their location and their direction of movement, that would be evidence of God’s power and planning.

If God brought the universe into existence, with built-in physical laws that resulted, over billions of years, in the stars, with their location and direction of movement, that also would be evidence of God’s power and planning.

God is a Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Which of these do you think was most important in creation? According to the Bible, it is God the Son, Jesus Christ, who was.

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

John 1 also indicates the importance of the Son in creation.

How do we know that God planned creation?

Hebrews 11:3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

No experiment has, or will, disproved God’s activity
in creation. No experiment has, or will, prove it, either.

#2 God’s creation was good, and diverse.
Genesis 1:31a And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. 

Psalm 104:24 O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. 25 Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable, living things both small and great.

Below are some examples of the diversity of God's creation. You may click on the photo itself to see a larger version, or to read a description.

red sweetgum leaf on grass, in morning sunlight

Praying mantis eating cricket

Orange and black insects on butterflyweed

Sea anemones and orange fish

British soldiers lichen, Oconee County

#3 Humans are unique.
The description of the creation of humans in Genesis 1 uses different language, and is more detailed, than the description of the creation of anything else.

Humans were put in charge of God’s creation.

Christ came to earth as a human.

#4 Jesus Christ has not abandoned His creation.
To review a verse used previously:

Colossians 1:17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
and also:

Hebrews 1:2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3a He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.

#5 We need to try to take care of God’s creation
Genesis 1:26 Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."

Psalm 24:1 The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein,

There are a number of other scriptural reasons for believing that we need to try to take care of God’s creation. If anyone wants to read more on this, see here and here.

God reveals Himself to us in may ways, most importantly through His Son, God Himself.

#6 God’s creation is one of the ways God reveals Himself to us.
Psalm 19:1The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. 2 Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. . . . 4a Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.

Romans 1:20 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.

If both our interpretation of the Bible, and of the findings of science, are part of God’s revelation to us, then, ideally, they shouldn’t conflict. If they conflict, we must be interpreting one or both of them wrongly. If a conflict simply can’t be resolved, then the Bible is the higher authority. But trying to resolve supposed conflicts is worth the effort, because we are learning about God, and how He works.

In recent years, scientific findings have too often been denounced in the conservative Christian community. This is a mistake.

Example 1: climate change

Why is this idea so often denounced by conservative Christians? Because Al Gore is a Democrat? Because there have been close ties between the oil industry and Republicans? I’m not sure. I have yet to read any valid arguments to reject the idea that we are affecting climate, based on scripture, and climate scientists are almost unanimous in believing that we are. (See here for more on this topic.)

Example 2: Young earth geology

The earth may be only a few thousand years old, but qualified Christian scientists, including the most important Young-Earth Creationist science organizations, are almost unanimous in believing that the scientific evidence is
strongly in favor of an earth that has been here for a long time. See here.

There are Bible-believing, God-honoring Bible scholars, who are familiar with the original language of the Old Testament, who do not believe that the Bible teaches Young-Earth Creationism. (There are others who do believe it, of course!)

If we just tell a non-Christian who is familiar with the scientific evidence that the earth is really only about 6,000 years old, their reaction may be, "OK, if that’s what their Bible teaches about geology, why should I believe what it says about sin and salvation?"

We may be misinterpreting the evidence, or there may be evidence we haven’t found, but just ignoring the evidence is a mistake.

The battle should not be so much about the when or how of creation, but about the Who.

To summarize, what does the Bible tell us about creation?

1. God planned it.

2. God’s creation was good, and diverse.

3. Humans are unique.

4. Jesus Christ has not abandoned His creation.

5. We need to try to take care of God’s creation.

6. Creation is one of the ways God reveals Himself to us.

Thanks for reading!

Creative Commons License
Thoughts on Creation by Martin LaBar is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Friday, March 05, 2010

How bacteria control the behavior of animals, from Karl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer, perhaps the best science writer in English today, has posted a splendid, and deeply fascinating piece, about the bacteria in our bodies, and in the bodies of other animals. He reports on evidence suggesting that bacteria are able to influence the behavior of their hosts, at least in some ways.

Well worth reading!

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Sunspots 250

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

Wired reports that polar bears may not be in as much danger from climate change as some have supposed.

A study reported in Wired says that your Facebook persona (if you have one) closely matches your real personality.

Christianity:A serious essay on the question of whether a person who believes in old-earth creationism can find a home in an evangelical church.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Clan daughter: Queen of the orcs, book II, by Morgan Howell

I have already posted on the first book of Morgan Howell's Queen of the Orcs trilogy. The heroine, Dar, began that book as a slave. The subtitle indicates what the end will be, but I'm not there yet.

In the second book, there are some interesting developments. The King of the local humans has an evil magician, who has the current Orc queen under his control, because of the drugs he is giving her. Dar is able to defeat him, to the point that he is apparently dead, and and to rescue the queen. Dar has some visions from spirits. Near the end of the book, the queen dies, and appoints Dar as her successor, which is not appreciated by the mothers of some Orc clans who believed that they, or their daughters, had some claim to that office.

In the first book, I indicated that Howell's Orcs are quite different from those of Tolkien. They are a matriarchal society -- the females are in charge, although they don't go out to fight. They are ethical beings, and, apparently, unable to deceive, which makes them vulnerable to some battle strategies that they cannot anticipate, or makes them vulnerable in battle because they can't carry out plans that involve deceit. However, in this book, we learn that there are some Orcs that can lie. There aren't many of them, but there are some.

Also, Dar discovers that she is in love with an Orc. Their relationship is not consummated, but they do engage in some serious physical intimacy. This Orc's mother does not bless their relationship, because she thinks it cannot result in offspring.

As a negative criticism, I was surprised to find that the cover art on the version I read (New York: Del Ray, 2007) showed Dar with no facial ornamentation. In the book, she received an Orc tattoo. I suppose that the publisher thought her unadorned face would help sell the book.

It's a readable series, and the non-Tolkienish Orcs add interest. I plan to finish reading the trilogy.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Color vision established through genetic engineering

National Public Radio reports that scientists have enabled two monkeys, from a species that does not see in full color, to perceive colors they could not perceive at birth. The "cure" was not immediate, presumably because it took a few months for appropriate neural connections to be established.

If the same techniques worked in humans, perhaps, as the authors say, a variety of eye problems, and perhaps other problems, could be treated in this way.

Here's a link to a related page from the scientists involved. Here's another one.

Unfortunately, the actual research article is not freely available.

Be grateful that you can see. Thanks for reading.