Sunday, January 31, 2010

Opinion Cools on Global Warming

Looks like Science Daily is trying to muscle in on my AGW puns...
"Public concern about global warming has dropped sharply since the fall of 2008"
Well, duh. Anyone who has seen "The Day after Tomorrow" knows that electing Republicans causing global warming. After electing Obama, the problem is solved. Time to move on to other important stuff.
"Finally, Americans who believe that most scientists think global warming is happening decreased 13 points, to 34 percent, while 40 percent of the public now believes there is a lot of disagreement among scientists over whether global warming is happening or not."
To which the AGW camp replies:
"The scientific evidence is clear that climate change is real, human-caused and a serious threat to communities across America. The erosion in both public concern and public trust about global warming should be a clarion call for people and organizations trying to educate the public about this important issue."
Well, repeating a mantra is not education. Ads saying we need to do our part about it is not education.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Transplant Tourism

It was over two years ago when I compared embryonic stem cell research to harvesting organs from prison inmates.

Now, an article from Science Daily, with evidence that it is happening...
"The study authors estimate that more than 400 patients received transplants abroad with 75% of those taking place between 2004 and 2006.Of those transplant tourists, 40% reside in New York and California, and the majority these patients traveled to the PRC, where organs from executed prisoners have been used in transplantations."

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Shack

I haven't read "The Shack", so I can't say too much. However, Albert Mohler has read it, and he has lots to say.
"the Christian church has explicitly identified these teachings as just that — heresy"
Mohler identifies several serious problems, including:
  1. Portrayal of the Trinity
  2. Universalism
I have seen some people say, "It's just fiction". True, it is fiction - but everything is shaped by theology, and can shape one's theology.

That this book has been shaped by bad theology, no one denies. The group surrounding the author support this theology. This is not an honest mistake, a misinterpretation of a creative vision. This is faithful to what the author believes.

And this could cause a weaker brother to stumble. It is a mature Christian's responsibility to not promote this sort of thing.

This is the reason I often prefer secular (even atheist) fiction and entertainment - compared to bad Evangelical stuff. At least I know the theology is going to be a train wreck going in, and am on constant defense. With Evangelical stuff, I have to run everything through a doctrine checker before I can enjoy it.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


France is just weird. What is up with them?

Going around half-naked? No problem. But if you want to cover up, expect the police to come after you!

Well, not quite:
"Such a resolution, if passed, would not make the wearing of a full veil or burqa illegal, but it would give public officials support when asking people to remove it."
Some choice quotes:
"Sarkozy said the issue is one of a woman's freedom and dignity, and did not have to do with religion."
That one's hilarious. How do you even define freedom and dignity without theology?
The women say it best:
"She said she believes a law against full veils would take away fundamental rights of Muslim women."
Where is the freedom to wear what you please? Where is the right to not be ogled by every passing male?
"That's despite government estimates that less than 2,000 women in the country actually wear the full Islamic veil."

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

ASC and Vision

Interesting news from Science Daily, adult stem cells ("progenitor cells") used in mice to restore vision.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Dark Matter

It's hard to keep from piling on dark matter... from Ars Technica:
"he reminded us that less than five percent of the matter and energy in the Universe is understood"
Always a good start to scientific investigation, "we have no idea what's going on, but let's use our current assumptions to infer a lot of stuff".
"Along the way, he provided a taste of the evidence for why we believe the things that we do. We know dark matter exists because galaxies don't fly apart, because we find gravity where there is no matter, and, most tellingly, our universe would be smooth and featureless in the absence of dark matter."
  1. Galaxies are far away, and light is slow. These galaxies might be flying apart, we wouldn't know for a long time.
  2. We "find gravity" by inference of where things should be (based on inferences of cosmic evolution). If these inferences are wrong, there might not be gravity where we think it is...
  3. We assume the universe would be smooth and featureless based on theories of cosmic evolution.
If we pile inference on inference and get nonsense, shouldn't we reject these inferences? Not make up even more crazy stuff?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Jesus: Word of God

I read the Gospel of John twenty times about this time last year. I either lost my notes, or failed to write them in a timely fashion. I had to go back through the book to collect my thoughts...

John's Gospel is very different from the other three. The language is much more abstract, and John doesn't spend much time on events (In 21 chapters, John advances to nearly the last week by chapter 11, possibly earlier). The arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection are compressed into the last four chapters.

If you want to know who Jesus is, and read just one book of the Bible, the Gospel of John is the book for you.

This book clearly spells out that Jesus is one with the Father, eternal, and the only way to salvation. Near the end, Thomas makes a clear proclamation that Jesus is God, and worthy of worship.

God is only as good as His Word, His promise. When it came time for Him to swear an oath, He swore on Himself. Jesus is that Word, and we can know the Father by knowing Jesus.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Cannot Reproduce

(Sort of like xkcd)

Something is happening to science today (not the web site "Science Today"). Postmodernism is undermining the meaning of truth - some scientists are now saying truth is whatever the consensus is. Similarly, the principle of "reproducibility" is under attack.

An interesting article at Ars Technica.

Their concern is largely on the software tools (encouraging the adoption of open source), which is a good point.

There is a second concern (which I heard expressed on comp.arch). If you need a one-of-a-kind machine to generate results (a supercomputer, particle accelerator, whatever), then you have immediately sacrificed reproducibility.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

ESC and ASC Efficiency

An interesting article from Science Daily:
"Fundamental research in embryonic stem cells is extremely important for us to harness the full potentials of these cells, and this study provides valuable and crucial insights into the mechanism of reprogramming."
I'd be curious to see if these a human embryonic cells, or animal cells they are using...
"we were very surprised with the discovery that Nr5a2 could replace Oct4"
Oct4 is generated in ESC, Nr5a2 was found to help in the production of ASC.
"they presented evidence that this and another nuclear receptor can significantly increase the efficiency of reprogramming."

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Haiti Quake

I wish Pat Robertson would stop talking to the press. Inevitably, his statements make Christians look foolish (and not in "the Gospel is foolishness to those perishing" sense)...
"According to some fundamentalist Christians, including Pat Roberston, revolt leaders made a pact with Satan in 1791 to gain independence from France. Haiti won its freedom in 1804.

Robertson said last week that deal brought on the quake.

'You know, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free,' Robertson was quoted as saying. 'But ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other.'"
Of course, "mainstream" (aka liberal) Protestants can't do any better:
"'Why do we always have to go here?' said David Burns, pastor at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Atlanta. 'Can't there be another explanation rather than, "God did this?" Why not, "God does not micromanage the world. God's heart breaks with us and instantaneously moves to comfort, catalyze imagination and compassion, and instill hope."'"
Robertson is actually closer to the mark...

We should be clear - God does micromanage the world. God is in control of everything that happens (or, you could say that He could prevent anything from happening). Anything less means that we cannot rely on God to help us (He is too weak or not paying attention) - that robs us of hope.

But Robertson goes too far. You cannot say "X is because of Y", unless you can show it clearly in the Bible ("death is because of sin"). Are Haitians rebels ("in a pact with Satan")? Sure, we all are. Do bad things happen to sinners? Sure. Are Haitians cursed? Sure, we all are.

Is this earthquake because of any particular sin - we don't know.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Is Suffering Good?

One of the problems of the old earth is that of suffering.

An old earther must believe that animals lived and died (often horrible deaths, eaten alive) for hundreds of millions of years before man and sin.

Yet, the Bible tells us on day five (before man and sin) everything was good.

The Catholic church accepts the old earth, there is also an odd view of suffering which comes out in this interview with the current Pope (then Cardinal).
"Anyone who really wanted to get rid of suffering would have to get rid of love before anything else, because there can be no love without suffering, because it always demands an element of self-sacrifice"
That looks really bad on the face of it, but I think I understand the deeper context (love in the context of the current, fallen world). There is an "element" of self-sacrifice, but love is an eternal attribute of God. There was love expressed in the Trinity before creation, and there will be love in eternity future. I assume Catholics believe we will be free of suffering in eternity future...
"Seewald: What would actually have happened if Christ had not appeared and if he had not died on the tree of the Cross? Would the world long since have come to ruin without him?

Cardinal Ratzinger: That we cannot say. Yet we can say that man would have no access to God. He would then only be able to relate to God in occasional fragmentary attempts. And, in the end, he would not know who or what God actually is.

Something of the light of God shines through in the great religions of the world, of course, and yet they remain a matter of fragments and questions. But if the question about God finds no answer, if the road to him is blocked, if there is no forgiveness, which can only come with the authority of God himself, then human life is nothing but a meaningless experiment."
I actually like most of Ratzinger's answer here. The answer to any "what if" should be "we cannot say". We can only say what is - if we know, or what was - if it has been revealed to us.

The "Something of the light of God shines through in the great religions of the world" sounds like something a politician would say. The light of God shines in creation (and in the proclamation of the Gospel), the false religions seek to obscure and distort that light - we should be clear on that.

I want to focus on "if there is no forgiveness, which can only come with the authority of God himself". This is an odd expression, something I would expect from a Muslim. Forgiveness comes from the substitutionary death of Jesus - the righteous in place of the unrighteous - our sin is attributed to Him, and His righteousness attributed to us. For God to simply forgive sin on "His authority" (as Muslims believe) would be unjust - there must be a payment for sin.

Perhaps that is implied, but I would expect it to be more explicit.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

HPV Vaccine

I've been able to resist the temptation to comment on the HPV vaccine controversy before, but this provocative piece from Science Daily is really too much.
"individuals who have cultural values that favor authority and individualism perceive the vaccine as risky, in part because they believe it will lead girls to engage in unsafe sex. But individuals with cultural values that favor gender equality and pro-community/government involvement in basic health care are more likely to see the vaccine as low risk and high benefit."
There is so much in there, I don't know where to start!
  1. Aren't "favor authority" and "individualism" (rebels) opposites? Although, this does sum up Republicans pretty well
  2. As I've discussed previously "Gender equality" is actually demeaning to women, note the positive connotations for liberals and Democrats ("pro-government")
"When views about HPV vaccines came from sources respondents believed shared their values, individuals tended to be more willing to accept the information. But when it came from an expert whom they perceived held values different from theirs, the information was not accepted. In the first instance, respondents perceived the experts to have cultural credibility and trustworthiness, but when respondent values differed from the experts, the experts were perceived to lack cultural credibility."
This reflects the fallacy of an "appeal to authority" (ironically). An expert should be believed because they are an expert.

It ignores theology entirely.

That is, if someone shares my values, it is likely due to shared theology (truth). If someone rejects my values and adopts opposite ones, again, that is revealing their theology (which is against truth).

If someone who does not know truth says something I know to be false, I'm not going to be impressed. If someone who claims to know the truth disagrees with me, I can at least consider it.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

ASC and Breast Cancer

From Science Daily, an interesting analysis of using adult stem cells during the treatment of breast cancer.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Guns, Germs, and Steel

Growing up, I learned and trusted in evolution. Before becoming a Christian, I read "Guns, Germs, and Steel" (GGS)(Jared Diamond).

Even in the evolutionary mindset, this had some big impacts on me:
  • It undermined my faith in science - Diamond revealed much of the underlying racism, pride, and arrogance in anthropology
  • It made me pause and consider determinism. I was a strong believer in "the future is what we make it" (the power of human will). The idea that all of world history could turn on the layout of land masses made me consider that perhaps God was in control.
Having adopting a young earth viewpoint, I still recommend GGS.

Not that Diamond is favorable to a young earth. He is an evolutionary ornithologist (studying the evolution of birds). But, everything he says makes a lot of sense from a young earth point of view.
  1. Until recently all human populations were the same (technology wise)
  2. Humans spread rapidly to all the parts of the globe they would reach
  3. There are only a handful of plant and animal species useful to man
Much of the book is exploring the first point, and it is the one that can have the biggest impact on the reader. I've never seen another book that covers pre-history so well.

My interest is in the third point.

Diamond believes that it was the layout of land masses that allowed people in the middle east to bring together the ingredients needed for civilization (east-to-west configuration provides for rapid transport from multiple, compatible biomes).

That is, perhaps, correct. But there is an alternative interpretation.

What if the plants and animals useful to man are those brought on the Ark?

They would start in the middle east, and would need to be transported elsewhere (perhaps being lost in transport, made difficult by the ice age).

In this case, the wild versions did not come first, with minor mutations for the human-ready versions. The wild versions came later...

A story from Science Daily to ponder.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Gay Marriage

It's been over a year since I last addressed the topic of gay marriage.

My opinion hasn't changed, but I had to address this article from CNN...

It starts with a commentary on the state of "normal" marriage, and I agree totally. Anyone who wants to defend marriage needs to go back and address no-fault divorce and related issues. Marriage is a joke in our society. I'm not really sure what homosexuals see in it...

It follows with an appeal for access to some "1100 rights". There is no reason these rights should be attached to marriage. Civil unions should be fine for everyone (get the government out of "marriage" entirely). Problem solved.

My main disagreement:
"And don't tell me that civil unions are exactly the same as marriage. If that's true, then let's let gays and lesbians pick first. If they pick marriage, and heterosexuals are relegated to civil unions, no problem, right, since they are exactly the same?"
I'm really curious, what is the difference? From the point of view of the State, not God.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

ASC and Bone Damage

Previously we saw adult stem cells used in human trials to treat complex bone damage.

Now, at Science Daily, we see further research in rats to treat large scale damage.

Note that later references "fetal stem cells" are short for "amniotic fluid fetal stem cells" which are "adult" cells (as opposed to embryonic).

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Key to Heaven

Returning to our evaluation of the claims of the Bishop of Rome:

"And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Matthew 16:19

What keys are being referred to here? The word key is not a common one in the New Testament:
  1. Here (Matt 16:19) - "kingdom of heaven"
  2. Luke 11:52 "knowledge"
  3. Rev 1:18 "Hell and death" (Hades)
  4. Rev 3:7 "David"
  5. Rev 9:1 "bottomless pit" (abyss)
  6. Rev 20:1 "bottomless pit" (abyss)
The references in Revelation 9 and 20 are "the key of the bottomless pit" (abyss), possibly part of Hell (the main areas being Hades and Gehenna). Satan and demons are bound in this pit, and later transferred to the lake of sulfur.

Revelation 3:7 is interesting "And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth"

My main focus is Luke 11:52:
"Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered."

It would seem this passage is different, but I believe it is exactly on target.

The question is, is this key one of power - deciding who is in and who is out (shutting what Christ has opened, and opening what Christ has closed - see Rev 3:7)?

Or is it one of knowledge? How it is that we are saved - the Gospel (soteriology).

Peter was given "the key" to salvation ("the kingdom of heaven") - the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A key which had been given to the Jews, and which had been bent out of shape by the Pharisees.

Now, historically, has the Bishop of Rome made good use of this key? Or has he (multiple individuals in this one seat) bent this key with a gospel of works? And hidden this key in Latin - hindering the translation of the Bible (and thus, understanding and evaluation of the gospel) into local languages? Reading the Bible in only Latin from 1570 to 1962?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Marriage Age

An interesting post at Internet Monk:
"the increase in marriage age over the last sixty years has serious implications for the church"

There is some nice data attached, the most important being the upward trend in age at first marriage.

This is a trend which is grounded in culture (the world).

In the past, few people would attend college - and those were mostly men. Older men (possibly just out of college) would marry younger women (possibly just out of high school).

Today, it is expected that everyone will attend college, and marriage tends to be between those of similar age. That alone will push the average up 4-8 years (coupled with the assumption that marriage is for those ready to start a family, and a family interferes with school).

Combine this with trends in a casual attitude towards sex, and increased exposure to sexual images - it is easy to see why young people in the church have problems abstaining from sex before marriage.

What to do?

There is no easy solution.

I don't think it is prudent to just ask young Christians to "Christian up" and refrain from sex for 30 years before getting married. Yes, this is right, and it is possible, but it is a huge burden.

Similarly, we cannot do what is wrong, and condone premarital sex.

This creates a huge conflict with culture - the best solution is to encourage early marriage.

I'm running long, so I'll just list the conflicts:
  1. This means marriage before college, possibly in early high school
  2. Marriage relations means children. Again, we should not ask our young people to bear this alone. That means greater (grand) parental involvement. Which is highly unusual in our "kick em out at 18" culture (not to mention young people desiring to "get out on their own".
  3. Our young women might be unable to attend college. This is high cost which cannot be ignored. Again, parental involvement is needed to make more options viable.
  4. Parents have their own problems (they are possibly dual income themselves). It will not be easy.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Planetary Models

Part of following both Science News and Science Daily is the huge overlap between them. Sometimes it produces odd differences:
From Science Daily: "How Earth Survived Its Birth"
From Science News: "Saving the Earth with dynamical simulations"

Both articles mention a "small problem"* with current planetary models.

*aka huge problem

"For the last 20 years, the best models of planet formation -- or how planets grow from dust in a gas disk -- have contradicted the very existence of Earth" (Science Daily)

"When astronomers simulate the formation of the solar system, disaster strikes: no planets survive. Under most models’ assumptions, protoplanets would have collided with the parent star before they had a chance to fully form. 'This contradicts basic observational evidence: the fact that we are here,' said Mordecai-Mark Mac Low" (aka Captain Obvious) (Science News)

I find the Science Daily articles have much better detail and less emotional writing. I forget why I added the Science News feed...

In this case, Science News leaves out a vital fact:
"'We used a one-dimensional model for this project,' says co-author Wladimir Lyra, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Astrophysics at the Museum. 'Three dimensional models are so computationally expensive that we could only follow the evolution of disks for about 100 orbits -- about 1,000 years. We want to see what happens over the entire multimillion year lifetime of a disk.'"

A one-dimensional model is a very low detail model. It is likely there are still huge problems with such a model. Also, it does nothing to address the problem that a model does not (necessary) have any connection to reality. I can give you very complicated, detailed, and self-consistent models for magic users (using a system like GURPS).

Friday, January 8, 2010

Rocky and Apostle Creed

(apologies to Carl Weathers)

Peter (Petros, a chunk of rock) was originally named Simon (or Simeon, meaning "hearing"), a common Hebrew name. At some point Jesus changed his name.

In Matthew, Simon is referred to as Peter fairly early (starting from 4:18), although nowhere does Jesus specifically address him as Peter until 16:18 (right after Peter's proclamation). Five verses later, Jesus refers to Simon as "Satan" (v23).

Mark 3:16 is "And Simon he surnamed Peter", although this may be a comment (rather than an event in the timeline). Peter's proclamation is in 8:29. Interestingly, Jesus only refers to Peter as "Satan" (Mark 8:33) and "Simon" (Mark 14:37) (at least, when searching for Peter).

In Luke, Jesus does not address him as Peter until 22:34 (where Jesus predicts he will deny Him). The proclamation is in 9:20.

In John, Jesus addresses him as Simon (John 21:15).

That Jesus refers to building upon the proclamation, rather than the person, should be clear:
Matthew 16:18 "And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."

"Peter" is petros (chunk of rock, as above). "This rock" is petra, meaning "mass of rock" (there is a city built into a mountain referred to as Petra near Israel).

This interpretation is hinted at in Catechism 442: "From the beginning this acknowledgment of Christ's divine sonship will be the center of the apostolic faith, first professed by Peter as the Church's foundation."

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Oort Cloud, Again

Interesting article from Science News. I've previously commented about "faith" and the Oort cloud.

Now things get really interesting:
  1. There should be no comets, but there are
  2. Make up the Oort cloud
  3. Calculate the mass of the Oort cloud
  4. It's too big
  5. Make up some new models
  6. Declare success
Maybe there is an Oort cloud, I'm agnostic. But it would be really great if there isn't, I'd love to hear the new story.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Papacy

An excellent analysis (as always) from the He Lives blog.

It starts with a look at the importance of dealing with this issue:
"If anyone, therefore, shall say that the Blessed Peter the Apostle was not appointed the Prince of the Apostles and the visible head of the whole Church militant, or that the same directly and immediately received from the same our Lord Jesus Christ a primacy of honor only, and not of true and proper jurisdiction; let him be anathema." - First Vatican Council
The Catholic Church upped the ante. This cannot be a minor issue of disagreement.

This is followed by good analysis of the Matthew 16:13-20 passage.

I particularly like the reference to Luke 22:24 ("A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.")
"Instead of acknowledging Peter's privileged position, they are debating who, in fact, is the greatest among them. If Jesus had indeed elevated Peter, it seems that the other apostle's missed the point, Peter didn't invoke it, and Christ didn’t reiterate it--even though this was surely a teaching moment."
And, of course, 1 Peter 5:1-2.

The next section is excellent analysis from Paul's writings.

A nice point on the belief that Peter was Bishop of Rome from an early date:
"if he were, then he abandoned Paul in prison, because Paul wrote that at his first trial everyone abandoned him."
The final section (and the clincher for me), is an analysis of the first council (in Jerusalem).
"It was not Peter who lead the Jerusalem council, it was James, as is seen by the imperative mode of his speech. The letter that is written does not carry the imprimatur of Peter, but of all the apostles."