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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Sunspots 502

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:
Christianity (and Astronomy): Reviews of a book about "Blood Moons" by John Hagee, claiming that eclipses are a sign that something important is going to happen to Israel, and it's about to happen. The reviews demolish the book's thesis thoroughly.
Walking is good for you. It's a lot easier in some places. You can determine the "Walk Score" of any address here.

Science: A reporter for National Public Radio had her gut bacteria, and those of her husband, mother, and dog, analyzed.
NPR reports on dwarf galaxies, some quite near (in astronomical terms) to us.

The University of Aberdeen has posted a video of creatures living in the Mariana Trench, which is as much as 10,000 meters (nearly 7 miles) below sea level.

NPR reports that there may be a connection between what we hear and how we taste food.

 Image source (public domain)

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Excerpts from Orthodoxy, by Gilbert K. Chesterton, 2

I add one purely pedantic note which comes, as a note naturally should, at the beginning of the book. These essays are concerned only to discuss the actual fact that the central Christian theology (sufficiently summarized in the Apostles’ Creed) is the best root of energy and sound ethics. They are not intended to discuss the very fascinating but quite different question of what is the present seat of authority for the proclamation of that creed. When the word “orthodoxy” is used here it means the Apostles’ Creed, as understood by everybody calling himself Christian until a very short time ago and the general historic conduct of those who held such a creed.

See here for more on the Apostles' Creed.

Orthodoxy, first published in 1908, by G. K. Chesterton, is in the public domain, and available from Project Gutenberg. The previous post in this series is here.
  Thanks for reading! Read Chesterton.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Sunspots 501

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

The Arts: Christopher Tolkien, son of J. R. R. Tolkien, is not happy with the movies made by Peter Jackson.

Christianity: Speculative Faith sticks up for Santa, partly due to Father Christmas in The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe.

Computing: FiveThirtyEight, a news web site that majors on statistics, especially in sports, but also in other subjects, like politics. For example, there's an article that says that the conventional wisdom on oil prices has almost always been wrong. You have to see it to understand it.
Humor: (Sort of) Wired reports that NASA tells us that we can see the added illumination caused by Christmas lights from space.
Science:  National Public Radio reports on why Arctic ice is melting so rapidly. Wired also reports on this subject.
Wired shows us what must be the most bizarre-looking spider in the world, and describes it.

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Christmas picture: Isaiah 9:6

Isaiah 9:6 - going on hiatus

The above photo (with background deleted) is of three children, portraying Joseph, Mary and Jesus. It was taken in their church. "Joseph" is our second grandson.

Isaiah 9:For to us a child is born. To us a son is given; and the government will be on his shoulders. His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (World English Bible, public domain)

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Sunspots 500

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:
Christianity: A video rendering of John Michael Talbot's "Holy is His Name," which is a modernization of the Magnificat, from Luke 1, sung by a young lady. The lyrics are here.

Relevant names seven prominent Christians who have struggled with doubt. You probably have, too.
Computing: Gizmo's Freeware points us to an on-line Color Scheme Generator. It looks like a fine tool.
Wired points out that "many devices are all but impossible to recycle efficiently." The article points out why this is true, and notes some manufacturers that are making recycling easier.
Science: (And photography) A collection of amazing close-ups of insects and their relatives, collected (but not photographed) by me. To see the individual photos, which, sometimes, have a description of what you are seeing, right-click on the photo and open it in a new tab.
Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Conditions for redemption

If the earth is six thousand years old, people can be redeemed from sin.
If the earth is six billion years old, people can be redeemed from sin.

If the rapture will occur in the middle of a seven year tribulation, people can be redeemed from sin.
If the Bible doesn't really teach that there is a rapture, but, instead, that there is a triumphant procession welcoming Christ back to earth, people can be redeemed from sin.

If women can be divinely called to be ministers, people can be redeemed from sin.
If women can't be divinely called to be ministers, people can be redeemed from sin.

If . . . 
If . . .
Should I go on? Some things are peripheral.

But if Christ didn't come to earth as a human embryo, live a sinless life as the God-man, die a sacrificial death on the cross, and rise again, people can't be redeemed from sin.

Some things are essential. (See 1 Corinthians 15:13-21)

(This post was modified, by adding the reference to 1 Corinthians, and the graphic, on December 24, 2014.)

Monday, December 15, 2014

Mapping the Origins Debate, by Gerald Rau

Gerald Rau has written Mapping the Origins Debate: Six Models of the Origin of Everything, which is a guide to various views of origins. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2012). One feature of the book is that it does not take sides. Some other commenters have attempted to discover what Rau, himself, believes, but have been unable to, from the book. I didn't, either.

(For reviews of the book, see here, and also here and here (a two-part review).

What Rau attempts, and does well, is to discuss six different models for origins. The six are Naturalistic Evolution, Non-Teleological Evolution, Planned Evolution, Directed Evolution, Old-Earth Creationism, and Young-Earth Creationism. (Abbreviated, NE, NTE, PE, DE, OEC and YEC. The Free Dictionary has this as part of its definition of teleological: "Belief in or the perception of purposeful development toward an end, as in nature or history.") In order, these mean approximately this:
NE: origins took place without any supernatural intervention or previous planning.
NTE: God set the universe into development, with some built-in laws and properties, such as the properties of sub-atomic particles, but did not intervene to direct the results.
PE: God set the universe into development, having planned the built-in laws and properties so that the organisms of today could emerge.
DE: God set the universe into development, and directed things, including natural selection, in an intimate way, so that the organisms of today could emerge.
OEC: God created the earth some billions of years ago, but created various types of organisms in specific creative acts, after which they may have evolved into diverse types.
YEC: God created the earth some thousands of years ago, and created various types of organisms, which have evolved somewhat, perhaps even to the point of speciation, but not much, if any, beyond that, since the creation of the earth.

You may have seen similar categories put forth elsewhere. (Here's an extensive classification, by me.) Rau, however, separates what has often been known as "Theistic Evolution" into three separate categories, NTE, PE and DE. Very few people would call themselves believers in Non-Teleogical Evolution, as opposed to believers in Theistic Evolution, but the introduction of more categories is a good thing. The more specifically a model is described, the better.

Note that Rau, in his title, uses "origins," not "evolution." There is, and has been, an origins debate, and it includes debates on evolution, but, for Rau's subject matter, "origins" is the better term. Evolution has many meanings, and, unfortunately, is usually used without specifying which meaning is understood by the author. Evolution can mean change, as in the various races of humans having evolved from a single population. It can also mean speciation, the origin of new species from pre-existing ones. These two meanings are sometimes called microevolution, as opposed to macroevolution. I have not read a serious thinker on the subject of origins who does not believe that change, such as the development of more than one race from a single population, has occurred. This includes YEC thinkers, who are unanimous in believing that natural selection has and does occur. Not everyone believes in the development of new species since creation, but even some YEC do believe this. What most Christians really mean when they say that they don't believe in evolution is that they are not naturalists -- they don't believe that things came about solely by chance. (They may also mean that they don't believe that humans arose from non-humans by an evolutionary process.)

Some people call the origin of the universe, and the origin of life, aspects of evolution, and may mean one of these when they use the term. However, natural selection, as proposed by Darwin, has nothing to say about the origin of the universe. Natural selection explains the origin of new types of living things by requiring the ability to reproduce, in some original type, variation among the offspring of that type, and competition between the resulting variants. The origin of life, by definition, is about some entity which is not alive, or which is supernatural, but brings about life. Therefore, models of the origin of life can't involve natural selection until the living organisms arose, however they arose.

Rau does not include Intelligent Design in his list of models. That is because the Intelligent Design movement claims to be a big tent, including all of the models except NE. There are important figures in the movement who are on record as believing that the earth is very old, as well as some who do not. All of the models except NE include some planning, and perhaps direct intervention, by an intelligent creator, so, in that more broad sense, they include intelligent design.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Excerpts from Orthodoxy, by Gilbert K. Chesteron

To show that a faith or a philosophy is true from every standpoint would be too big an undertaking even for a much bigger book than this; it is necessary to follow one path of argument; and this is the path that I here propose to follow. I wish to set forth my faith as particularly answering this double spiritual need, the need for that mixture of the familiar and the unfamiliar which Christendom has rightly named romance. For the very word "romance" has in it the mystery and ancient meaning of Rome. Any one setting out to dispute anything ought always to begin by saying what he does not dispute. Beyond stating what he proposes to prove he should always state what he does not propose to prove. The thing I do not propose to prove, the thing I propose to take as common ground between myself and any average reader, is this desirability of an active and imaginative life, picturesque and full of a poetical curiosity, a life such as western man at any rate always seems to have desired. If a man says that extinction is better than existence or blank existence better than variety and adventure, then he is not one of the ordinary people to whom I am talking. If a man prefers nothing I can give him nothing. But nearly all people I have ever met in this western society in which I live would agree to the general proposition that we need this life of practical romance; the combination of something that is strange with something that is secure. We need so to view the world as to combine an idea of wonder and an idea of welcome. We need to be happy in this wonderland without once being merely comfortable. It is THIS achievement of my creed that I shall chiefly pursue in these pages.

Orthodoxy, first published in 1908, by G. K. Chesterton, is in the public domain, and available from Project Gutenberg.
Thanks for reading! Read Chesterton.

Friday, December 12, 2014

God's sense of smell, and yours

A post on BioLogos discusses how smell should be important in worship, and points out that the Bible talks as if God has a sense of smell, and likes some of the things he smells, and doesn't like others. I'd never thought much about these subjects. Due to a medical procedure, I have very little sense of smell, or so I'm told, but you probably have a normal ability to distinguish smells, and haven't thought much, or any, about how that sense may affect worship.

Thanks for reading. Smell good.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Global Warming Petition Project

Whether or not there is global warming, what effects it might have, if there is such, and what is causing it are a matter of some controversy.

This pamphlet, by Calvin Beisner and others, is part of the evidence that there is, indeed, controversy. The pamphlet, authored by four confessed Christians, is concerned with the fundamental questions above, and with effects on the poor, which is commendable. The authors doubt that there will be serious effects, and believe that the evidence for global warming is weak, at best.

Part of their argument (it's not all of it, by any means -- read the pamphlet for the whole picture) is that many scientists, over 30,000 in the US, to date, have signed a petition, (sometimes known as the Oregon Petition) which states that there is not credible evidence that global climate change will cause serious effects, and that increasing the Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere may even be beneficial. Interesting!

I have examined the list of signers of the petition. I didn't look at all of them, but I did decide to look at some possible signers (There are currently 369 listed) from my own state, South Carolina. Here's what I found.

Of the first six Ph.Ds listed, one is deceased, and I could not locate information on three others. The remaining two are a chemist, specializing in Lithium, and a nuclear engineer, specializing in medical use of isotopes. Neither of these specialties have much to do with climate.

The only University in the state with a climate-related department is the University of South Carolina. Here's the list, as of December 9, 2014, of 21 persons listed as having some expertise in climate. Some of those are not climate scientists (one is a psychologist). Of those who, judging from the information on the web page, have some expertise in climate, not one is found among the signers of the petition. The State of South Carolina has a State Climatology Office. There are four persons on the staff. None of them have signed the petition.

South Carolina is not particularly friendly to Democrats, or to accepting global warming as a danger. A former Republican US Congressman, Bob Inglis, lost to a Republican challenger, after eight terms in the House, apparently because of his stated belief that global climate change was real, and we needed to deal with it. We have no state-wide office filled by a Democrat. The State Government has joined in a lawsuit against President Obama's recent immigration executive orders, and refused to accept federal funds to help with the expenses of healthcare for the poor. Former Vice President and Democratic Presidential Candidate Al Gore has probably been the most prominent communicator about the dangers of global warming. Republicans, by and large, have often publicly disbelieved in these dangers. See here for a speech stating her disbelief, by former Republican Presidential Candidate Michele Bachmann, who displayed an appalling lack of understanding of science. She claimed that Carbon Dioxide, being a natural substance, can't be dangerous. Try breathing it, if you believe that! You might suppose that there would be some encouragement, or at least no discouragement, for professionals in my state to sign this petition, because we are a Red state. But the ones I checked haven't signed it. 

The petition web site lists signers, with, in most cases, terminal degrees after their names. Many of them are Ph.Ds, but the petition's web page indicates that less than one-third of those signing have that degree. There is no easy way to tell how many of them have an earned doctorate in some area of climate science. Some of the signers are listed as MDs. No MD that I know of, including one of my close relatives, has anything approaching expertise in climate science. Neither do I, in spite of my Ph.D. (Which was in genetics and zoology.) There is a Wikipedia article assessing the credibility of the signers. The petition, with its many signers, is not solid evidence for the position of Beisner and others.

Is the petition the whole story on global warming? No. Perhaps the concerns of Beiser, and others, are valid. But perhaps they aren't. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Sunspots 499

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:
Christianity: Ben Watson, professional football player, and black man, has written a thoughtful piece on the events in Ferguson, Missouri.

Computing: (or something) National Public Radio on the Supreme Court hearing a case about a man who threatened to kill his wife on Facebook, and continued to do so, in spite of a restraining order and a visit from an FBI agent. He claims that this is free speech.
Humor: Relevant examines some Christmas songs carefully, and wonders why we listen to them.
Politics: Surprise! NPR reports on a study that says that making campaign contributions to candidates leads to lower taxes for companies that do so.
Science: (or something) Wired reports that ants efficiently clean food off the streets of New York City. (about one-fourth of the trash in that city is food.)
Wired also reports on treehoppers, some really strangely shaped, and sounding, insects.

Sports: A Clemson University football player, Artavis Scott, did an amazing ballet for the last few yards of a touchdown run, running sideways, and staying in bounds.

 Image source (public domain)

Saturday, December 06, 2014

I'm thankful for Glucose! You should be, too.

Thankful for glucose

I'm thankful for glucose. Why? It's the most important product of photosynthesis. In other words, all food comes from glucose, somehow. If you are hospitalized, and need to be given nutrition intravenously, you'll get glucose. That makes sense, because glucose is the main source of energy in our cells. It's absolutely important.

The figure above shows a molecule of glucose in one configuration, a chain of six Carbon atoms. There is another configuration, namely hexagonal. In this picture, you can see a chain of these hexagons, each made of 5 Carbon molecules and 1 Oxygen molecule, with other atoms, including 1 Carbon, attached to the central hexagon. That picture is of a molecular model of cellulose, which is a critical component of the structure of plants. That's another reason why glucose is important, besides its use as an energy source.

Common table sugar is made of a molecule of glucose and a molecule of fructose, which is quite similar to glucose, but not identical to it.

Sugar substitutes, or artificial sweeteners, contain a hexagon much like that in glucose. Presumably, the sweetness receptors in our tongues are stimulated by molecules closely resembling glucose in shape, that fit into the sweetness receptors.

Plants store chemical energy (food) as starch, which is made up of many glucose molecules. When we eat starchy foods, we break up the starch, into glucose. One enzyme that does that is amylase, which is secreted in our saliva. If you keep a starchy food, such as a soda cracker or a piece of raw potato, in your mouth, and keep chewing it, you will experience a sweet taste. That taste comes from glucose. Animals store glucose as glycogen.

The Wikipedia says: "It is unclear why glucose, as opposed to other hexose sugars, is so widely used in living organism." So far, anyway. It's not unclear to the Creator, who planned for a carbohydrate, made from Carbon, Hydrogen and Oxygen, with the formula C6H1206, and the shape of a hexagon, to be so important to us. I can't prove that, but no one can disprove it, either.

This is the last in a series, expressing gratitude for a few molecules or elements that are crucial for life on earth. This one is posted between Thanksgiving and Christmas, which is an appropriate time for posting about sugar.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Are Christians over-emphasizing Christmas?

Importance of the resurrection

I have been reading N. T. Wright's Luke for Everyone. In discussing Luke 1 and 2, which describe the events of the birth of Jesus, and some of what came before, he wrote: "In all of Paul's writings, he never mentions that there had been anything unusual about Jesus' conception or birth. Jesus' death and resurrection remain, for him, far more significant." I had never thought of that, but Rev. Wright is, well, right. I checked the other New Testament writers, and Mark, Peter, James, nor Jude mention Jesus birth in any way at all. Luke does not mention it in Acts. John refers to the birth only obliquely. The author of Hebrews refers to the birth of Christ once. Paul not only doesn't mention that there was anything unusual about it, but scarcely mentions it at all.

Outside of the first two chapters of Matthew and Luke, and the list of the ancestors of Christ, in Luke 3:23-38, these are the only mentions of the birth of Christ in the New Testament, so far as I can determine:

John 7:40 Many of the multitude therefore, when they heard these words, said, “This is truly the prophet.” 41 Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “What, does the Christ come out of Galilee? 42 Hasn’t the Scripture said that the Christ comes of the offspring of David, and from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” 43 So there arose a division in the multitude because of him.

Galatians 4:4 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent out his Son, born to a woman, born under the law, 5 that he might redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of children.

Hebrews 1:
When he again brings in the firstborn into the world he says, “Let all the angels of God worship him.” (Quotations from the World English Bible, public domain.)

The resurrection of Christ is mentioned in most of the books of the New Testament, sometimes many times in one book. (I did not find explicit references to it in Titus, Philemon, James, 2 Peter, 1, 2, and 3 John, or Jude, but did find such statements in the other 19 books of the New Testament.)

You'd never know that Good Friday and Easter are more important than Christmas from Walmart, where Christmas trappings start going on sale in September. Nor would you know it from the lives of most Christians, including my own. My own church, part of The Wesleyan Church, has a special service where we explain how various symbols and events in the common celebration of Christmas have significance for Christians. (Candles, trees, wreaths, and the like.) We light candles to represent Christmas, and Christ's birth, on four consecutive Sundays. We often sing, or listen to, Christmas-related music for three or four weeks in December. We may put on a Christmas concert, or play, or pageant, or participate in a Christmas parade. Small groups may have a meal together, or a gift exchange. We usually engage in some special charitable activity in December, giving to needy people in some way. Some churches have special events right after December 25th. All of these things emphasize Christmas. None of these things are bad. We need fellowship, we should do charity, and cultural symbols are important.

But Easter? Not so much. Some churches do emphasize Lent, for 40 days before Easter, and some churches do observe Good Friday in a special way, but ours doesn't, and it's not the only church that doesn't. Easter Sunday is about all the emphasis non-liturgical churches give to Christ's death and Resurrection. From all of this, a Martian observing the behavior of Wesleyan, Southern Baptist, and other churches would conclude that Christ's birth was far more important than His death and resurrection.

Am I trying to kill Christmas? No. If Christ had never been born, we wouldn't have salvation. But I'm trying to re-think the importance of Good Friday and Easter, and, consequently, of Christmas.

Whatever the commercial world does, to the Christian, the death and resurrection of Christ are more important than His birth, based on how the New Testament treats these subjects. It may be impossible to overemphasize the importance of the Resurrection, but it's easy to under-emphasize it. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

I'm thankful for Carbon Dioxide. You should be, too.

Thankful for Carbon Dioxide

I'm thankful for carbon dioxide. You should be, too.

The most important reason is that carbon dioxide is one of the raw materials used in photosynthesis. This process, in green plants, makes all our food, directly or indirectly. (Food is something that humans or animals can get energy from. In other words, it has calories. Water, and some other substances we consume, are not food.) Some of our food comes from animals, but the food that these animals use to grow comes from plant sources. When living things get energy out of food, they give off carbon dioxide and water. We breathe out, and get rid of carbon dioxide.

Carbon dioxide is odorless, tasteless, and transparent to light. It is partly responsible for the Greenhouse Effect. Energy, as light, can come through the atmosphere. When it strikes something, some of that energy is converted to heat. Carbon dioxide, and other greenhouse gases, are not as transparent to heat as they are to light. The result is that heat builds up on the earth. We usually think of that effect as harmful, and it is becoming that way, but without greenhouse gases, the Wikipedia says that the earth's temperature would be well below freezing, in other words, not conducive to life.

There are many industrial, agricultural and household uses for carbon dioxide. Yeast uses sugars for energy, and gives off carbon dioxide as one of the byproducts. Since carbon dioxide is a gas at normal temperatures, that carbon dioxide makes bread rise. The holes in bread are due to carbon dioxide. (It's an odorless, tasteless, transparent gas, so you won't be able to detect it, except by what it does.)

Carbon dioxide dissolves readily in water. When it does, it combines with water to form carbonic acid, a weak acid. Carbonic acid helps water to eat away at certain kinds of rocks, forming various geological formation. Carbonic acid has other important effects. Carbonated drinks have a lot of carbon dioxide dissolved in them, under pressure.

It is possible to lower the temperature of carbon dioxide so that it becomes a solid, so-called dry ice. Dry ice has many uses. Two of these are in storing food, so that it won't spoil, and in creating special effects in theaters and the like -- the ice turns into a gas readily, producing what looks like fog.

Carbon dioxide is used as a refrigerant, and as a fire extinguisher. It has many other uses. See the Wikipedia article on the compound.

I believe, but cannot prove, that carbon dioxide does so many things, some essential to our lives, because God designed it to have the properties that it does. This cannot be disproved, either.

Thanks for reading. Breathe out. You will release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Sunspots 498

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:
Christianity: Relevant on redefining gratitude. (On being grateful for things we usually aren't grateful for.)
Computing: National Public Radio reports that major retailers have done little or nothing to prevent massive data misuse, as in the Target and Home Depot incidents. Why not? Because the credit card companies are picking up the tab. (So, of course, are consumers.)
NPR also reports on the potential (and actual) power of tech giants to control the news that we see and hear.

Health: National Public Radio tells us that our adult siblings may be quite important to our health.
Politics: (and Science) Fox News reports that some Google engineers claim that so-called green energy sources, by themselves, won't stop climate change. The article also mentions that Google is heavily invested in alternative energy sources.
Science: Capital OTC reports that a fossil ancestor of rhinos, hippos and horses has been found in India. Geologists believe that most of India was once a separate island.
Sports: You've probably seen it five times, but, just in case, here's the three-finger catch of a football, for a touchdown, by one Odell Beckham, of the New York Giants.

 Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Fundamentalism and evolution: history

A relatively brief, but authoritative, article on the history of the attitude of fundamentalists toward evolution and related topics has been published. The article is by Edward B. (Ted) Davis, an expert in the history of conservative Christianity in the US.

If you are really interested, you should read the article, but I'll summarize it this way: the attitude of fundamentalist Christians has, well, evolved since the rise of fundamentalism. As Davis puts it:

"Ironically, many of the most influential and outspoken antievolutionists of the last century—people such as [William Jennings] Bryan, [William Bell] Riley, [C. I.] Scofield, [Harry] Rimmer, and [R. A.] Torrey—would not be allowed to teach at . . ." institutions such as Liberty University, Bob Jones University, or Cedarville University, because they were not dogmatic enough about the age of the earth. He went on to say that "Fundamentalist views about science have evolved since the 1920s."

The evolution in position has led some current fundamentalists to reject the idea that the revelation of God through nature, as detailed in scientific findings, is significant, when compared to revelation through the Bible. It has also led them to adopt a particular interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis, which, many Christian scholars believe, is not necessarily the interpretation meant by the original author, or by God. The founders of fundamentalism mostly believed that God does speak to us through scientific findings, and these, and scripture, if interpreted properly, do not conflict. Most of them were open to the possibility that the earth was more than a few thousand years old, and to the possibility that some evolution occurred in the past.

It is true that God reveals Himself in many ways, and that some are more important than others, but rejecting His revelation through nature, or downplaying it unduly, is not wise.

The current position of fundamentalists on origins means that some people have, and will, reject the claims of Christ. That position is that the Bible definitely teaches, and Christians must believe, that the earth is only a few thousand years old. There are Bible-believing, God-fearing Christians, who believe that that is not the case. But the fundamentalist position, if it's the only one heard, may lead non-believers who are considering the claims of the gospel to think like this: "If the Bible really teaches that the earth is only a few thousand years old, and the geologic evidence contradicts that, why should I believe what the Bible says about sin and Christ?"

Thanks for reading. You may want to also see "Thoughts on Creation."

Monday, December 01, 2014

I'm thankful for Oxygen

Thankful for Oxygen

I'm thankful for Oxygen. You should be, too.

Oxygen is found in most of the important molecules in our bodies. Water, proteins, DNA, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, hormones, and others. That, alone, would be cause for gratitude. But there's more.

Oxygen, well, oxidizes. So? Oxidation means that Oxygen has the power to combine with other atoms and give off energy in the process. Some such reactions are slow -- rusting of iron, for instance. But some are rapid. Fire is an oxidation reaction. (The sun is not on fire, in this sense. There's very little oxygen in it, and the energy from the sun comes from another source.)

Most of us burn gasoline in our cars. Gasoline is mostly a mixture of hydrocarbons, a molecule, for instance, such as octane, with eight Carbons and eighteen Hydrogens. When a mixture of octane and Oxygen is ignited, the resulting products are carbon dioxide and water. The production of water in this way releases energy, which is used to cause gas to expand, thus moving the pistons, which motion, with the proper apparatus, causes the wheels of the automobile to turn.

In living things, a somewhat similar process takes place, not in the cylinders, but in tiny energy converters called mitochondria. The process is called cellular respiration, and the reason we require Oxygen, and breathe air to get it, is because Oxygen is needed in our mitochondria, so that energy may be released. Red blood cells use hemoglobin to carry Oxygen from our lungs to all the cells in our bodies. Each cell uses that Oxygen to release energy.

Fuel, in this case food, is oxidized rapidly, and the energy given off is used to produce adenosine triphosphate. Most of the energy given off comes from the oxidation of Hydrogen, which produces water, one of the byproducts of the processes taking place in the mitochondria. The other byproduct is carbon dioxide. To summarize, food is oxidized, releasing energy and giving off carbon dioxide and water. There are a few living things that use different methods to get energy. Yeasts, for example, use a different process. But even green plants, which make their own food by photosynthesis, need to carry on cellular respiration when it is dark, in order to provide themselves with energy, which means that they need Oxygen.

Fire is important to humans. It has many uses -- in manufacturing, in providing light and heat. Fire requires Oxygen. The atmosphere is about 21% Oxygen. It has been suggested that that is enough so that Oxygen is readily available for breathing, and to keep fires burning, but that if the amount of Oxygen was much higher, fires would become harder to put out.

Here's a statement about the significance of fire as part of the worship of the Israelites:
Leviticus 6:12 The fire on the altar shall be kept burning on it, it shall not go out; and the priest shall burn wood on it every morning: and he shall lay the burnt offering in order upon it, and shall burn on it the fat of the peace offerings. 13 Fire shall be kept burning on the altar continually; it shall not go out. (World English Bible, public domain)

God appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush, and to the Israelites as a column of fire. Were these fires caused by oxidation, or was this some supernatural appearance of fire? We don't know.

We need Oxygen, for many of the molecules that allow us to live, for fire, and to provide our own bodies with usable energy. I believe, but cannot prove, that God designed Oxygen so that this would be possible. It can't be disproved, either. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Lectures on Revivals of Religion, by Charles Grandison Finney, 11

Finally.—I have a proposal to make to you who are here present. I have not commenced this course of Lectures on Revivals to get up a curious theory of my own on the subject. I would not spend my time and strength merely to give you instructions, to gratify your curiosity, and furnish you something to talk about. I have no idea of preaching about revivals. It is not my design to preach so as to have you able to say at the close, “We understand all about revivals now,” while you do nothing. But I wish to ask you a question. What do you hear lectures on revivals for? Do you mean that whenever you are convinced what your duty is in promoting a revival, you will go to work and practise it

Will you follow the instructions I shall give you from the word of God, and put them in practise in your own lives? Will you bring them to bear upon your families, your acquaintance, neighbors, and through the city? Or will you spend the winter in learning about revivals, and do nothing for them? I want you, as fast as you learn any thing on the subject of revivals, to put it in practice, and go to work and see if you cannot promote a revival among sinners here. If you will not do this, I wish you to let me know at the beginning, so that I need not waste my strength. You ought to decide now whether you will do this or not. You know that we call sinners to decide on the spot whether they will obey the Gospel. And we have no more authority to let you take time to deliberate whether you will obey God, than we have to let sinners do so. We call on you to unite now in a solemn pledge to God, that you will do your duty as fast as you learn what it is, and to pray that He will pour out his Spirit upon this church and upon all the city this winter. 

The previous post in this series is here. Charles Grandison Finneyʼs Lectures on Revivals of Religion is in the public domain, as I understand it. It is available here. This is the last post in this series. Next Sunday, God willing, there will be an excerpt from another Christian classic. Thanks for reading. Seek revival.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

I'm thankful for Hydrogen

Thankful for Hydrogen

Hydrogen is the most common element in the universe. About 75% of the mass of the universe is Hydrogen. That is even more remarkable, since Hydrogen is also the least massive of the kinds of atoms. It takes about 12 Hydrogens to have the same mass as Carbon, and over 200 Hydrogens to have the same mass as some of the heavier elements.

So why, other than that it is common, is Hydrogen important? For a number of reasons. The graphic says that Hydrogen makes up part of water, and water is a unique, and very important substance. The graphic also says that Hydrogen is important in photosynthesis. Photosynthesis uses light energy to split Hydrogen from water, and to attach that Hydrogen to Carbon. As a result of the process, glucose, C6H12O6, is produced. Glucose is the basic food molecule of the biosphere, and it has 12 Hydrogen atoms. The graphic says that Hydrogen is found in DNA. It is. It's also found in fats, sugars, proteins, vitamins, hormones, and more, all of them essential to living things, including us.

The graphic also says that Hydrogen can be said to be the ultimate source of the sun's energy. That is true. Four Hydrogen nuclei fuse, to make a Helium nucleus, and, in the process, a little of the mass of the four Hydrogens is changed to energy, according Einstein's E=mc2 equation. Since the mass is multiplied by the velocity of light, squared, that energy adds up. The sun is not burning, in the usual sense. It is changing its Hydrogen to Helium, nuclear fusion, and is releasing energy in the process. The sun is changing about 4.289x1012 g of mass to energy every second. (source) That's about 5 million tons. But don't worry. Even at that rate, the sun isn't going to run out of Hydrogen for a very long time. There's a LOT of Hydrogen in the sun.

They aren't on the graphic, but I'll mention two other important things that Hydrogen is and does.

Hydrogen makes acids to be what they are. An acid is a substance that can release a charged Hydrogen atom. Some of us have too much acid in our digestive system, and take various antacids, or proton release inhibitors. (A proton makes up the nucleus of a Hydrogen atom.) But acids are very important. Stomach acid does a good job in digesting food, for one thing.

Hydrogen is an excellent fuel, in the sense that you can get a lot of energy from it when you  burn it. Rockets blasting off into space use Hydrogen as their fuel. The chemical equation is very simple: 2 Hydrogens + 1 Oxygen = 1 water + energy. Recall that photosynthesis uses light energy to break up water. Burning Hydrogen does the opposite. It puts Hydrogen and Oxygen together, and gives up energy in the process. There is Hydrogen in most of the molecules in gasoline, and in kerosene, and in natural gas, coal and wood. When any of these burn, water is produced. (Check your exhaust pipe on a cold day.)

Hydrogen fuel, in various ways, may become more useful to us in the future. Hydrogen fuel cells for automobiles are being tested. Since Hydrogen is available in water, and there is plenty of water, we aren't going to run out of Hydrogen. However, like photosynthesis, to get Hydrogen out of water takes energy, which means that Hydrogen fuel cells will probably take more energy to produce than they make available. But they may still be used, because of convenience, and cutting down on the pollution from burning gasoline, if various developmental details can be worked out.

Thanks for reading! I believe, but cannot prove, that God planned for Hydrogen, the smallest nucleus, to have these important roles in our lives, and in the way the universe is. It can't be disproved, either.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

I'm thankful for Adenosine

Thankful for adenosine

I'm thankful for adenosine. You should be, too. Adenosine plays some critical roles in our lives. The graphic above shows a molecular model, found in the Wikipedia article on adenosine. (Such use of the graphic is allowed.) The black spheres represent Carbon atoms, the red, Oxygen, the black, Nitrogen, the white, Hydrogen, and the yellow-orange sphere represents Phosphorus. The rods represent covalent bonds. The dotted lines indicate some movement of some of the electrons. Adenosine is also known as adenine monophosphate (AMP). The Phosphorus on the right, with its attached four Oxygens, is a phosphate. The hexagon and pentagon, on the left, are Adenine, a Nitrogen base. The middle part is deoxyribose, a 5-Carbon sugar.

It is pretty well known that DNA uses Nitrogen bases A, C, G and T to make up our hereditary code. The A stands for Adenine. However, A is connected to a 5-Carbon sugar, Deoxyribose, and to a phosphate, in actual DNA. (C, G and T are also so connected.) The actual genetic code is the sequence of AT, TA, CG and GC pairs, in the double helix, but there wouldn't be a double helix without the deoxyribose and the phosphate.

I used a photo of three girls to represent heredity. I'm not sure how they are related, but I think that two of them are identical twins. In any case, even if one of them is a cousin, rather than a sibling, they clearly share some external characteristics. These characteristics are largely determined by the common DNA that they got from their parents. You may not have thought of it, but the heredity-determining ability of DNA is important, even if you don't have any children. The left half of your body gets the same DNA as the right, the top as the bottom, etc. That's important to make us what we are. Besides, all of us have parents, living or dead.

Adenosine has another important function. It is the raw material for ATP, adenosine triphosphate. ATP has two more phosphates attached to it, in addition to the one in adenosine (AMP).

In most automobiles, the energy stored in gasoline is released, a little at a time, in the cylinders. That's a much better way of using the chemical energy of gasoline than causing an explosion in the gas tank would be! In a similar way, energy from food, say a sugar molecule, is captured, temporarily, in several ATP molecules, which can be transported within the cell. (One part of such capturing is glycolysis.) When energy is needed, for example to make a hormone, ATP is turned back into Adenosine/AMP, as the high-energy bonds that held the two additional phosphates are broken. It sounds complicated, and it is, but is works, and it's a good thing it does! So the energy from food is divided into ATPs, and these are used, a little of the energy at a time.

Because adenosine, and other important molecules, have Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, Nitrogen and Phosphorus in them, living things all need such elements. They need other elements, too, especially Sulfur, which is found in proteins.

I'm convinced that God knew about adenosine, and how it would work, and planned for this. I can't prove it, and it can't be disproved, either. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Sunspots 497

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:
Christianity: A good blog post on why congregations aren't singing, only listening, in some churches.

Health: (or not!) National Public Radio reports that the victims of a hospital medical mistake are seldom told about that mistake, and seldom receive any apology. Over 200,000 patients die each year because of a mistake in a hospital.

Literature: (or something) A rant, with instructions, on how to make last names into plurals.

Politics: National Public Radio reports on the lottery for office locations, won or lost by incoming US Congressional electees.

Science: (or something) The tweel may eventually replaced inflatable tires. Michelin now has a plant to produce them.

 Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

I'm thankful for cellulose. You should be, too.

Thankful for cellulose
Cellulose is a polymer. That is, it is made of a smaller molecule, repeated many times. The graphic above shows a molecular model of cellulose, but it's only part of a real molecule. Real cellulose molecules have those hexagonal subunits repeated as many as thousands of times. Such long molecules make up fibers. The graphic comes from the Wikipedia article on cellulose. The Wikipedia allows such use of this graphic. The background photo is of trees in North Carolina. Tree structure, including trunks, branches, twigs, roots, leaves, fruit and flowers, wouldn't be possible without cellulose.

Why is cellulose important? The main reason is that it makes up most of the structure of plant cell walls. Without plants, we would have no food. The animals who are our companions, or help to make our lives easier, and who furnish us with meat, milk, eggs, leather, and many other products, wouldn't have food, either. Without plants, we would be missing building materials, cotton textiles, fuel (including fossil fuel), many medicines, special food substances like coffee, sugar, tea and chocolate, ornamental and shade plants, and many other useful, even necessary items.

Plant cell walls provide plants with their structure. Plants have no bones, but each cell, as it were, has its own skeleton. (That type of structure means that plants can't move around, whereas animals can. Although we have rigid bones, we also have flexible muscles, which allow us to walk, fly or swim. Plants are rigid all over.) Cellulose is used to make paper and cotton. It furnishes much of the fiber, which is important for our diet, even though we can't really use it for fuel. (Cows and termites have special microorganisms in their guts that can break down cellulose, so that these animals can get food energy from it. We don't.)

So. Consider a world with no paper. And no cotton. And no chocolate. And no flowers. And no food. It wouldn't be much of a world.

Cellulose, depending on how it is treated, and what's combined with it, can be the basis of wooden bridges that can hold freight trains, or flexible garments made of cotton.

In a previous post, the importance of the bonding of Carbon atoms was discussed. Because Carbon atoms can form four covalent bonds, complex structures like cellulose are possible. I believe, but cannot prove, that God designed Carbon in this way. (It can't be disproved, either.)

I'm thankful for cellulose. I hope you are, too.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Lectures on Revivals of Religion, 10, by Charles Grandison Finney

3. You see the error of those who are beginning to think that religion can be better promoted in the world without revivals, and who are disposed to give up all efforts to produce religious awakenings. Because there are evils arising in some instances out of great excitements on the subject of religion, they are of opinion that it is best to dispense with them altogether. This cannot, and must not be. True, there is danger of abuses. In cases of great religious as well as all other excitements, more or less incidental evils may be expected of course. But this is no reason why they should be given up. The best things are always liable to abuses. Great and manifold evils have originated in the providential and moral governments of God. But these foreseen perversions and evils were not considered a sufficient reason for giving them up. For the establishment of these governments was on the whole the best that could be done for the production of the greatest amount of happiness. So in revivals of religion, it is found by experience, that in the present state of the world, religion cannot be promoted to any considerable extent without them. The evils which are sometimes complained of, when they are real, are incidental, and of small importance when compared with the amount of good produced by revivals. The sentiment should not be admitted by the church for a moment, that revivals may be given up. It is fraught with all that is dangerous to the interests of Zion, is death to the cause of missions, and brings in its train the damnation of the world.

The previous post in this series is here. Charles Grandison Finneyʼs Lectures on Revivals of Religion is in the public domain, as I understand it. It is available here. Thanks for reading. Seek revival.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

I'm thankful for Chlorophyll

Thankful for chlorophyll

The picture above is of a blueberry leaf, and of one version of a  model of a Chlorophyll molecule.

A recent post attempted to explain why we should be thankful for Carbon atoms, which are able to form complex structures. A Chlorophyll molecule isn't nearly as complex as DNA, or as a protein, but it's pretty complex. The Wikipedia article on Chlorophyll says that Chlorophyll a has this chemical structure: C55H72O5N4Mg. That's 137 atoms, of 5 different elements. Without the capacity of Carbon to form such structures, life would be impossible. (Chlorophyll a is the most common Chlorophyll molecule. Chlorophyll b, which is very similar, is also found in green plants. Other similar molecules are found in other types of organisms.)

Life requires energy sources. For most living things, certainly including us, Chlorophyll is essential in making such energy available. How does it do this? It is a pigment. Like all pigments, it absorbs certain types of light. Light is a form of energy. Before we get to the energy, let's consider the color of Chlorophyll. It's green. So what? That means that it is not absorbing green light. Green light is being reflected from the leaves that contain Chlorophyll, or it is passing through them. It's other colors of light that Chlorophyll absorbs. (That's true of all pigments -- a red pigment, for example, does not absorb red light. It reflects it.) Chlorophyll absorbs the energy of blue and red, or far red, light.

What does Chlorophyll do with this energy? It makes it available to photosynthesis, the process, as the name suggests, whereby light energy is used to make things. What is made is simple sugars, which are used for food, and also as raw materials for making other types of molecules needed by living things.

Photosynthesis requires two raw materials, water (H2O) and Carbon dioxide (CO2). The energy absorbed by Chlorophyll is used to break water molecules, so that Hydrogen is available. In the process, Oxygen is given off. See here for the summary chemical equation for photosynthesis. It is only a summary. The process is complex. That Hydrogen becomes attached to Carbon, from the Carbon Dioxide, and the result is glucose (C6H12O6).

The food we eat, where food is an energy source usable by our body's metabolism, all comes from green plants, directly or indirectly. It comes from plants like beans and spinach, or from animals that eat green plants, like cows, or, rarely, from animals that eat animals that eat green plants, such as some fish.

The three-dimensional structure of Chlorophyll makes it possible for it to trap light energy, and divert it into chemical energy -- food. I believe, but cannot prove, that God designed Carbon atoms, and also Hydrogen, Oxygen, Nitrogen and Magnesium atoms, so that they could be assembled into Chlorophyll molecules, thus making it possible for green plants to get food, and for us to get food from them. I also believe that He planned and designed the complex enzymes that construct Chlorophyll, and that assist in transferring captured light energy to chemical bonds. As I say, I can't prove any of this, but no one can disprove it, either.

Thanks for reading. Be grateful for photosynthesis.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

I'm thankful for water

Thankful for water

The graphic above is based on a photograph by Monteregina, on Flickr, and is used by permission. The model of the water molecule is from, which allows such usage. I thank both of these.

I'm thankful for water. You should be, too. We are mostly made of water, after all.

Why else should we be thankful for water?
Water provides a great deal of beauty -- water drops on leaves, clouds, rainbows, waterfalls, reflections in pools, and in other ways. Indirectly, it provides more beauty, because most of the living things that we think of as beautiful, such as roses, or bluebirds, depend on water to live and grow. See the graphic above, which shows the beauty of water in cloud formation and reflection.

Water is an important solvent. It carries food molecules, hormones, and waste products throughout our bodies, and those of other organisms. It carries the ions that we use to cause signals in our brains, and in other nerve cells.

Water is the basis of a transport system in the body. It helps carry food through the gut, for digestion, and carries red blood cells, with their load of Oxygen, white blood cells, which fight infection, and platelets, which repair tissue damage, around the body. It helps our sperms and eggs get together. It does these things for many other organisms, too.

Water is one of the two raw materials of photosynthesis, the process which makes, directly or indirectly, almost all of our food, and that of most other organisms. In other words, our food, carbohydrates, proteins and fats, is partly constructed from atoms taken from water molecules.

Water serves as a habitat for many organisms. Some of them live in water and never come out of it. Some of these, such as some humans, alligators, herons, and beavers, can live near water, and depend on it, but don't live in it full-time. Some, like dragonflies and toads, live in water in part of their lives, but out of it in the rest. Some organisms use frozen water -- snow or ice -- to live in or on.

Water is responsible for shaping the land around us.

Water has been necessary for much of human transportation and exploration. It still serves in that way.

Water serves to moderate climate -- temperature fluctuations are usually less, near bodies of water. Although we don't hear much about it, water vapor in the atmosphere is the most important greenhouse gas. (We hear more about carbon dioxide because there isn't nearly as much of it in the atmosphere, thus significantly adding to it is much more likely than adding to the amount of water vapor.) Without greenhouse gases, the earth's temperature would be well below freezing -- not conducive to life.

Water is necessary for many manufacturing processes. Other such processes may not absolutely require water, but use it, because there is often a lot of it available, and it is inexpensive. For example, it is used in cleaning and cooling. We use it in our homes, to wash our bodies, our food, our dishes and clothes, and to carry off body waste.

Water is able to do some of these things because it has some remarkable, even unique, properties.

It is the only common substance which exists normally in all three states -- gas, liquid and solid. That makes living in snow or on ice possible. It also makes the water cycle possible. It rains!

Water is the only common substance which has a solid form which is less dense than the liquid form. In other words, ice floats. This makes it possible for fish and other organisms to live in bodies of water in the winter -- they live in liquid while there is a solid roof over them. It also gives polar bears a place to live.

Water is the only common substance which is most dense between the temperatures where it changes state. It is most dense at 4 degrees Celsius, which is about the temperature of a refrigerator. It becomes less dense as it cools from 4 degrees down to 0 degrees, where it freezes, and also as it warms from 4 degrees up to 100 degrees, where it boils. So what? That property makes it less likely that a body of water will freeze solidly, and also allows nutrients, which have sunk to the bottom of a body of water, to be recirculated. Bodies of water often are at 4 degrees on their bottom. See here for more information.

Water has a high heat of fusion, and a high heat of vaporization. This means that water moderates temperature, not only in weather and climate, but in us -- we can expose ourselves to temperatures significantly higher or lower than our own, and suffer no ill effects.

Water is transparent. Other substances are, too, but not as many as you might think. This transparency means that we can see -- light goes through the water-based fluids in our eyes, to hit the retina. Plants can carry on photosynthesis because light goes through parts of their cells, to reach the chloroplasts. Underwater plants can carry on photosynthesis because light comes through water to them.

Water is polar. See the model of the water molecule in the graphic. The two white spheres represent Hydrogens, the red sphere an Oxygen atom. Because they are arranged asymmetrically, there is more positive charge near the Hydrogens, more negative near the Oxygen. This makes water molecules attractive to one another -- they tend to hang together, the positive part of one attracted to the negative part of another. This makes water drops possible. It also allows some insects, and even birds and lizards, to walk on top of water -- the water, as it were, would rather hold on to itself than let the animal fall into it. This polarity makes it possible for plants to bring water up to their tops, so those cells can live. Plants don't have any pumping mechanism, like our hearts. Other substances are also polar.

Life on earth is often, with good reason, called Carbon-based. But it is also water-based.

Genesis 1:2 says, at the beginning of the creation story, "The earth was formless and empty. Darkness was on the surface of the deep and God’s Spirit was hovering over the surface of the waters."  Revelation 22, the last chapter in the Bible, says "1 He showed me a river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb, 2a in the middle of its street. On this side of the river and on that was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruits, yielding its fruit every month." How to interpret Genesis 1, and Revelation, are matters of considerable controversy, but, however they are interpreted, water is mentioned as an integral part of creation, and of the Final Kingdom.

Clearly, water is important. I believe God planned it that way. I can't prove that He did, but it can't be disproved, either. I'm thankful for water, with all its characteristics. Thanks for reading.