Jan 28, 2011

Cell death

Somehow, I haven't blogged recently; drowning in assignments and trying to read up on other things were significant contributing factors

Anyway, I found this, on the (main?) discoverer of apoptosis. Read it, if you want:


Jan 18, 2011

Fighting to Think

I came across a unique sport today, I think for the first time.

I used to play chess, probably being well-described as your bog-standard nerdy kid.

But I was never particularly good and I got self-conscious in realising how uncool it was, or something, so not much came of it.

Whatever my backstory, I would have had - and still would have - no hope at "Chess Boxing"

Jan 15, 2011


My assignment has gone so well in the past hour or three that I’ve been inspired to blog on the human condition; on evil, goodness and you. Yes, you. I’ll take the liberty of using a collective “we” to begin the post.

This is a picture of a Kafka book with the title "metamorphosis". It seemed suitably pretentious. Apparently, in it, a man gets turned in to an insect.

We tend to think of people as fundamentally good – a leftover verse from a hymn of the Enlightenment, perhaps it was, that created this common consensus. We snuck a look at it, lying on the trashpile and we framed it, ignoring any irony or conflict. This may be an apposite and quotable quote I have invented: “a consensus without strong fences is a fragile one”. In any case, of course, in holding such a belief in the goodness of those around us, we are faced by many glaring contradictions; occasionally we must at least glimpse the face of evil. But these tend to be distanced from us in actuality – experienced through television, WOW3 and other media, perhaps we do not consider them real or let them impact us substantially. Our family and classmates and workmates and flatmates and the mates that are too good to get a prefix are good, really. Like, they’re not bad, you know?!

This easy-going optimism – maybe it’s partly a kiwi thing – may be contrasted, at least implicitly, with a ‘religious’ view. On such a view, humankind is damned, is evil and the world sucks. Let it burn; somehow or other, a handful of moralists are righteous and the rest are goneburger. Such an ugly view; perhaps we suspect it to be disturbingly close to the truth (who after all wouldn’t want to be more moral, if it came easily?) but sure as hell, we’d rather not believe it.

A naturalist believing in no moral order (a consistent naturalist, I’d suggest), believes, or says he does, that human beings are fundamentally neither good nor evil. For, the terms are meaningless and what is required is a neutral view (it may be a moot point whether “required” could be an appropriate term.) I’ll let you assess whether this position is plausible; for now, I move on to what I consider a more promising alternative to each proposal outlined above.

The Christian view is, I would suggest, both similar and different to each of these. Firstly, the Christian view asserts that evil is real and present and ugly and real and yes I can say that twice and it’s inside every single one of us and it is something we need to face up to. But there is a but; in fact, there are two. God made mankind in his image; we are made to represent him in his creation and he intended us for good – indeed, he intended us for “very good”. The image has been trodden upon; in a bizarre self-referential loop, in trashing others and their cities, we’ve trashed ourselves and we’re stuck. Yet finally, the Christian view is hopeful. We can expect something better; we are justified in believing that justification before God is on offer to humanity, by his grace. Jesus Christ has risen from the dead; he has been vindicated and we can trust him and his atoning sacrifice, such that in doing so, we now have access to the full life that God intended for us. This is a story worth making your own.

The world is not neutral - it is subtly but crucially (yes, that ugly wooden 'cross' seems to pop up in our language even here, thanks to the derivation of our words; our so-carelessly used words!) different to that - it is two-faced, but one face is more significant than the other. It is a cliche, but it's a damn good one - the better face is the "face of love" and his name is Jesus. So many words have been written on Him and on the human condition in light of Him - and there are many more to come.

How do I come up with this.. awesomeness, you may wonder? Inspiration was drawn from working on an analysis, of this article for an English course (I may submit that here after handing it in), along with reading this blog-post: I’d also credit the Bible, particularly the early chapters of Romans, though any errors are my own rather than God’s. Recent discussions about salvation, creation and sin have also fed the conversation, so perhaps I can blame any falsehoods on my friends, the books I have read or my cultural conditioning.

Jan 13, 2011

Dilbert takes down science

couldn't get this to embed properly, but they don't seem to mind people sharing it:

Jan 12, 2011

A reply to a blog convo elsewhere

Hey Pbf,

The tone of any reply seems to me to be that my commentary is 'wrong', not for what I am saying, but for who I am.

*As far as 'who you are' goes, I believe you're a rational human person, made in the image of God, but fallen and marred through sin. Furthermore, the intended image is able to be restored as God has laid open the path to Himself, through the cross.

Then there are the general put-downs, calling any dissenters 'Fleas' and such. I guess if I came here to find out what Christians are like, if they're all not just exactly like the trolls that come on other blogs I follow, now I know.

*Sorry if you've been offended; not sure where some of that stuff has come from, but I haven't been following all of your conversations on the blog. I'd hope Christians could be civil, but I guess some aren't.

As for your historical evidence, well, they are just stories after all, aren't they?Washington had wooden teeth? The pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock? Columbus had eight bodies, each buried in a different city!?There's a few 'historical facts' right off the top of my head.

How about some Scriptural facts? The four Gospels were four untitled versions, given names well after they were written. The 'trusted historian' and apparently physician, Luke, seems to disagree with modern scholars about when Herod died and when any kind of a census was done and copied most of his story from Mark. Luke also gives us Jeus' ancestry, which is different from the one written by the author they named Matthew, both being different from the ancestral line-so-far in Chronicles.

*No reason why Luke shouldn’t use the earlier Mark as a source, particularly if it was influenced by Peter, as held in Church history and argued by e.g. Richard Bauckham “Jesus According to the Eyewitnesses” (a worthwhile read). How the gospels got their names and when/if names were attached to the early papyrus versions are subjects of debate - your assertion may sound impressive, but is hardly a fact. I have no idea about the death of Herod, it'd take too long to look it up now. The census is an interesting question, there are various options around who Quirinius was and what governor/administrator actually meant. The census would also take a while to be rolled out around the Empire, leaving more flexibility in the dates than may at first be assumed. The genealogies are both stylised and selective, intended to make their own points. If you want a harmony, differences between L&M might be explained by complex relations of marriage and adoption in a couple of places.

There is no archeological evidence for a city of Nazareth, a town of Nasareth or even a village of Nazareth at the time in question and no hill with a cliff in the area to match a story involving Jesus.

*Not really true. No reason to doubt it was a small town and wouldn’t be referred to in many places. It is known to have existed in ~132 AD as we have an inscription about priests settling in this town. There are archaeological remains from before that (particularly near-by tombs), but I’m no expert on what can be trusted and what can’t. Some sceptical sources on the topic need to be taken with a large grain of salt. E.g. http://www.jesusneverexisted.com/nazareth.html is not even internally consistent. It implies that Nazareth only existed after the move of priestly families in ~132AD (mentioned in an inscription from ~300AD found in 1962 in Caesarea Maritima) and that the author of the gospel heard of this shift by poor priests and chose the town as Jesus’ location. This is ridiculous as the gospel of Matthew was written before 132AD. Nazareth mentioned is in the other two synoptics, as the site goes on to note; but both of these were also written well before 132 AD – evidence for this includes them being referred to in writings known to be before this date.
There seem to be plenty of hills around. Maybe what counts as a “cliff” is moot.

A lot of the prophecies in the Bible are obviously anachronistic accounts where the author knows more detail about the supposed future than he does about his 'present'.

*This stuff is often the subject of vigorous debate. E.g. the time in which the book of Daniel was written. http://www.tektonics.org/af/danieldefense.html and here http://www.tektonics.org/guest/danielblast.html As liberal scholar J.A.T. Robinson apparently said, "prophecy ex eventu has to be demonstrated, and demonstrated by minute and strict criteria, rather than [being] simply assumed."

Others are just lines copied from the Old Testament and reprinted with, "He said, as was foretold he would say by Isaiah(for example)", and drivel like this.

*You don’t convince me you know what you’re talking about. That phrase or something of identical meaning is exceedingly rare or non-existent in the gospels. Jesus doesn’t go around saying stuff he was ‘meant’ to say – he does things he was meant to do. Some of these could be manipulated, some less so. You’re welcome to look up the details. E.g. comparing his death to Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53.

Christianity is such a 'huge tent' religion that it is amazing to me how you guys can still call it the same religion. (that there's a HUGE elephant in the room), and the whole anti-science stance that millions upon millions of people of 'roughly your version' who nevertheless feel that they are privy to guidance/'knowing' from the Spirit of the creator OF the universe ITSELF is nothing short of astonishing.

*Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Now philosophy is touted to be something it is not, some saying that it is meant to clarify, but in reality, philosophers turn out to be the trickiest word-magicians of all, perhaps outdoing politicians.

*You’re suspicious of philosophy and history when they don’t support your beliefs. That’s interesting.

We're never sure if a philosopher is imagining that he has the upper hand from before engaging in a discussion simply because of the wordplay that, "Since God is defined AS existing, the sentence, 'God does not exist.', is ludicrous nonsense!", and such.

*I’ve never said that.

How do you know that God exists then Andre? Could it be something about time not going back for infinity? Could it be that there 'must be' a necessary first cause?

But that's not it really, is it? No. You think God exists and HE is the Christian God because you grew up in a Christian society, THAT's why.

*Back at you. Why are you a secularist (of whatever form) – could it POSSIBLY be related to having grown up in a secular society? I’ve analysed the evidence available to me and come to an adult decision. I acknowledge that Jesus Christ has changed my life, for the better. I have friends who’ve gone other ways; from various backgrounds. Some have become Christians, others have given it up. The same choice is available to you.

Madeleine is dead wrong that you guys want students to question their faith, because when questioned, you guys automaically think that the questioner is questioning YOUR faith. Isn't THAT right?

*I don’t get what you’re saying. If someone questions Christianity, yes they’re questioning my beliefs, as I am a Christian. This doesn’t mean I need to take it as a personal insult – perhaps it depends on how it’s done. I don’t go around calling atheists stupid and the mantras of naturalism and its devotees “drivel”, though a number patently are.

And, as I noted above, judging from the tone of the responses I get, you guys just can't handle it.

*Thanks for trying. I'm glad you see that truth matters - it does. And ultimately, it's personal, insofar as it's found in the person of Jesus.

Not feeling my happy self today, Andre, I'll look in and see if you can manage a civil response.

Best wishes for your future blog trawling and life more generally.

Jan 11, 2011


The mathematician, physicist and philosopher Pascal wrote, as from the perspective of the person who does not perform any action concerning finding the truth about God:

As I know not whence I come, so I know not whither I do. I only know that on leaving this world I fall for ever into nothingness or into the hands of a wrathful God, without knowing to which of these two states I shall be everlastingly consigned. Such is my condition, full of weakness and uncertainty. From all this I conclude that I ought to spend every day of my life without seeking to know my fate. I might perhaps be able to find a solution to my doubts, but I cannot be bothered to do so, I will not take one step toward its discovery.

quote thanks to this article at 'Be Thinking'

It seems to me that while these options mentioned are not the only logically possible ones, they are the two most significant 'live' options for those in a Western context in particular. For myself, in any case. Either there is no supernatural reality, or there is a God who will judge the world. If the possibility of the latter is at all significant, some time investigating the details is warranted.

*(cbs means "can't be stuffed")

Jan 6, 2011

My other Honda is a Jet Plane

I recently bought a Honda car, off that abode of awesomeness commonly known as 'trademe'.

Yesterday, I put tyre shine on the tyres and black plasticy bits, so it looks pretty nice for a cheap car if I say so myself.

But, not as nice as this Honda:

Yep, 'Honda Aircraft Company', a subsidiary of the one that makes cars, is making fancy little get-abouts that'll go about 780km/hr. That's pretty cool. I don't actually own one, but if I did, I would quite possibly use the title of this post as often as possible in conversation.

Info and picture thanks to MIT's "technology review" - check out the full article! I'm not even paid to say that - unless someone wants to pay me (that'd be awesome).

Gideon, God, the messenger and the fire stick

Here's an interesting story, from the biblical book of Judges. I've highlighted in blue the bit that attracted me to it - then I decided to give you the whole lot. Who knows; someone may even read it!

6:11 The Lord’s angelic messenger came and sat down under the oak tree in Ophrah owned by Joash the Abiezrite. He arrived while Joash’s son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress so he could hide it from the Midianites. 6:12 The Lord’s messenger appeared and said to him, “The Lord is with you, courageous warrior!” 6:13 Gideon said to him, “Pardon me, but if the Lord is with us, why has such disaster overtaken us? Where are all his miraculous deeds our ancestors told us about? They said, ‘Did the Lord not bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and handed us over to Midian.” 6:14 Then the Lord himself turned to him and said, “You have the strength. Deliver Israel from the power of the Midianites! Have I not sent you?” 6:15 Gideon said to him, “But Lord, how can I deliver Israel? Just look! My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my family.” 6:16 The Lord said to him, “Ah, but I will be with you! You will strike down the whole Midianite army.” 6:17 Gideon said to him, “If you really are pleased with me, then give me a sign as proof that it is really you speaking with me. 6:18 Do not leave this place until I come back with a gift and present it to you.” The Lord said, “I will stay here until you come back.” 6:19 Gideon went and prepared a young goat, along with unleavened bread made from an ephah of flour. He put the meat
in a basket and the broth in a pot. He brought the food to him under the oak tree and presented it to him. 6:20 God’s messenger said to him, “Put the meat and unleavened bread on this rock, and pour out the broth.” Gideon did as instructed. 6:21 The Lord’s messenger touched the meat and the unleavened bread with the tip of his staff. Fire flared up from the rock and consumed the meat and unleavened bread. The Lord’s messenger then disappeared. 6:22 When Gideon realized that it was the Lord’s messenger, he said, “Oh no! Master, Lord! I have seen the Lord’s messenger face to face!” 6:23 The Lord said to him, “You are safe! Do not be afraid! You are not going to die!” 6:24 Gideon built an altar for the Lord there, and named it “The Lord is on friendly terms with me.” To this day it is still there in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

Jan 5, 2011

Where Christianity isn't Easy-anity

Here's a video from the Lausanne Conference on Evangelisation a little while ago; a testimony from a girl born in North Korea.

I found it hard to watch, but worth my slight discomfort. Many thousands have seen it; I hope some are challenged to take Jesus more seriously - he took us pretty seriously, after all.

Btw, to the left you'll see a North Korean soldier, courtesy of Wikipedia

H/T: http://pjsaunders.blogspot.com/

Jan 4, 2011

Belonging, Leaving, Believing

Former vampire novelist Anne Rice decided to leave the Catholic church and the name 'Christian' part way through 2010, after returning to Catholicism, the faith of her childhood, in 1998. But she still claims very definitely to follow Christ, to read the Scriptures daily and e.g. to read biblical scholarship. I note the last point as it's always nice to see people reading the work of some of these scholars.

Here's an interview with her, from Christianity Today.

I've been thinking about what it means to be a follower of Jesus, to belong to 'the Church' and to read Scripture and biblical scholarship - well, for the last five or so years. So this was an interesting interview. Like Anne Rice, (while unlike her, I've only read a smidgeon) I'd also recommend e.g. NT Wright and Craig Keener's works.

Jan 3, 2011

Defending the Faith

Political activists "soapboxing" in New York in 1908. Picture courtesy of Wikipedia.

Many different faiths and belief-systems have apologists of some kind or another - people who defend their beliefs, explaining why they're actually reasonable and why you should hold them, even though they may appear other than reasonable or desirable. Many of these people spend a large portion of their time engaged in this curious activity. I say 'curious' as I sometimes find it strange that upright bipeds should care so much about the ideas they have concerning the ultimate nature of reality. Going by my limited knowledge of other primates, I'd be inclined to think a few more bananas or other tropical fruit would satisfy us; though such a belief would be patently ridiculous.

I spend quite a bit of time reading what they write, these 'apologists'. The vast majority of the time I spend in this way is spent reading stuff that broadly falls into this category from Christians, atheists (and other secularists) and Muslims.

Sometimes what I read simply confuses me. Certain kinds of apologist are dishonest in the extreme. I say 'in the extreme' not because I'm accusing anyone at the moment of being a blatant lier but because it is subtle and frustrating, but clear to those who have some background in reasoning and e.g. reading the New Testament texts. When it comes to complex details around textual criticism (of either Christian or Muslim scriptures) and conflicting details, say, from the Hadith about the life of the prophet Muhammed, I can understand mistakes being made and errors through lack of careful scholarship. No one is perfect and the 'copy-paste' function is easily accessible. But in other cases, amazingly bold and easily falsifiable assertions are made; particularly in friendly forums.
I've now edited the rest, as I made a mistake. Oops.
Here's an interesting quote I just found on one Muslim site, run by a popular Islamic apologist, Bassam Zawadi. His apologetics is of a reasonably high quality. I didn't read the article properly initially, so misinterpreted what he said - so the quotes from Romans aren't directly relevant now. He said:
“Nowhere in the Bible do we see people believing in Jesus Christ's coming to die for our sins and therefore making them righteous and perfect before God.”
In response, I'd point to Hebrews 11. Maybe there are other places too - I can't think of passages that deal with those who came before Christ off the top of my head. It's pretty clear to me that those saved, from whatever time period, were saved by Christ's work, not their own works.
It was silly of me to pick up on what was a fairly incidental comment, albeit a bold one. That distracts from the main points being made at such sites. The apologist's main argument in the particular article under assessment was that other people in the OT are called "sinless" or similar things, so Jesus isn't special. The quotes tend to be from the poetic books. One of them is from Psalm 18 (vs 23), a psalm of David. We all know that David wasn't sinless, so basing the argument on passages like that isn't too convincing.
I'm curious whether the prophet Muhammed ever sinned. Perhaps he did not.
Maybe I'll have to think about all this a bit more, to work out and explain the relationship between the Old Testament, Jesus and Islam in a way that would make sense to Muslims.

Recently, I've also been reading my way through the book of Romans - i.e. the letter the apostle Paul wrote to the Christian community in Rome just past the middle of the first century - and thinking about faith. Romans is a good letter on this topic. Christian belief, like most beliefs, has its complexities. Reading scripture as a whole, it's clear that mere intellectual assent does not constitute saving faith - but that genuine faith/belief in Jesus nevertheless saves, is the clear witness of the New Testament. There are probably numerous places in the bible which refute the above claim, but a few in Romans will do (I give some longer passages (from the NET Bible translation) for context; this leaves some things that I would explain if I were preaching rather than blogging - but in the interests of keeping it short, I highlight the bits that are particularly apposite for my point, leaving you to ponder the rest):

3:21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed – 3:22 namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 3:24 But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. 3:25 God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat accessible through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because God in his forbearance had passed over the sins previously committed.

3:28 For we consider that a person is declared righteous by faith apart from the works of the law.

4:4 Now to the one who works, his pay is not credited due to grace but due to obligation.
4:5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in the one who declares the ungodly righteous, his faith is credited as righteousness.

5:1 Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
5:2 through whom we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of God’s glory.

10:5 For Moses writes about the righteousness that is by the law: “The one who does these things will live by them.”
10:6 But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 10:7 or “Who will descend into the abyss?” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 10:8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we preach), 10:9 because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10:10 For with the heart one believes and thus has righteousness and with the mouth one confesses and thus has salvation. 10:11 For the scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.10:12 For there is no distinction between the Jew and the Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all, who richly blesses all who call on him. 10:13 For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
I have often made vague promises about future posts and not fulfilled them, as my attention has been caught by other topics and/or exams and the like. However; in a future post, I intend to give more verses which explain the relationship between Jesus' death, our faith and our standing before God. Soli Deo Gloria

Jan 2, 2011


Since I can't really be funny by myself, I'll try and point you to people who can.

This is the least inappropriate recent Cyanide & Happiness comic: http://www.explosm.net/comics/2275/ and I laughed, kinda, too.

This one was almost quite funny as well: http://www.explosm.net/comics/2270/

This is interesting, is from Nietzsche and is titled "for the New Year", so it must be appropriate:

Have a nice day/evening.

Jan 1, 2011

Oh, gravity - a rhyming conversation

The rise of the New Atheism
Cruelly halted by the gravity
Of th’ human situation
(Evil is real; now, how do we deal with it?)

“The world is amoral!”
("but science is good
And religion, surely, inexorably

Mere naïve nonsense;
A dying intellectual fad

“But, you don’t believe in gods like Thor(!)
You’re virtually an atheist;
Come on, just take off one more!”

No. I’m a trinitarian monotheist.
My world comes with ordered laws
(moral, logical, physical)
But hopeless and irrational - that’s yours

“‘Fine tuning’ is mere whimsicality
Many universes eliminate
Any improbability!”

The multiverse is science’s hearse
Yet won’t kill God or compensate
For the fact this world is no fluke show

We’ve grown out of religion, we’ve got too old!
Beliefs and metanarratives change and evolve
I see no reason to trust what you say
Your brain’s no better than that of a monkey!

Tu Quoque.

“I’m a rationalist, humanist, scientist;
A believer in our ability
to shape our destiny!”

So you believe in human rationality,
dignity, free will and an ordered universe..
And you’re an atheist?
God help you.

Well, .. maybe I’m a deist!
It’s possible naturalism has missed
A little bit here and there, but it’s nothing
like your crazy parochial faith

Is God personal?
Did God choose to come to earth and save people?
Is the true story of God found in the Bible?
These are good questions; you’re on the right path.