Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Palimpsests

October 10, 2019

In the generally cool category, this article describes the discovery of some surprising things written on parchments, then erased so something else could be written on them instead.  And, we also get a new vocabulary word to describe these parchments – palimpsests!

The idea is that an isolated monastery in Egypt at one point was not able to easily procure fresh parchment, and turned to erasing some existing manuscripts to provide parchment for new copying.  A variety of previous texts have been discovered through the use of specialized cameras and lighting, and some of those texts were previously unknown or written in languages we have few extant examples of.

What a cool use of technology, proving that while we in the digital, Internet age know that nothing really disappears online, it might be true to a certain degree for people 1400 years ago as well.  Fortunately, it appears to all be textual and no compromising, hand-drawn selfies of monks.

Whew.

The article also provides a link to a site where photographs of the overlaid texts can be viewed, which is also very cool.  If my Greek was better, it might be tempting to try some translations of my own, but I’ll leave that to more competent folks!

Say What?

October 1, 2019

I know, I’m no scientist.  It’s been a long time since I sat through a biology class.  So this article caught my attention.  Three sexes?  What does that mean?

I read the article the one above was referencing and it provided no further elaboration of this.  It does, however, mention the discover of one species of nematode with three sexes more prominently/earlier in the press release than the article above.  I’m assuming what they’re referring to is this species has three chromosomal sexes – not just the XY of male or XX of female.  According to this site, there can be chromosomal variations on these two typical genetic sexes.  This site does a better job of a more in-depth explanation of what variations in chromosomal sex means.

What the original articles don’t clarify is whether or not all the studied samples of this one species of nematode have three sexes, or they happened to notice it in one of the samples.  Since some of the variations on XY or XX chromosomal sexes mentioned in the Quora article lead to diminished physical, intellectual, or reproductive capabilities, are these similar situations in other species?

Lots of questions without many good answers yet, which makes it all the more curious that the three-sexes issue takes top billing in the headlines.  At the very least, it says something about what catches people’s eyes these days.  I’m sure a headline heralding Eight New Nematode Species Discovered! wouldn’t garner much attention!

 

What’s Good For You

September 17, 2019

A lovely article about politics in the great state of California.

Reasons cited for parental reticence on vaccinations include complacency, the inconvenience of accessing vaccines and a lack of confidence in vaccines’ effectiveness.

I would be interested in knowing how the World Health Organization gets the statistic of 2-3 million lives saved via vaccines.  I’ll also point out how it’s a bit misleading to quote a global vaccination statistic rather than a national one, or even a state one.  I wonder if those are accessible, and if so, why they weren’t cited instead?  I’m assuming the numbers are lower (logically) and not as compelling.

I’m not anti-vaccinations per se, but I am deeply suspicious of global and national documentation regarding them.  I’m suspicious of a field that seems intent on criminalizing or delegitimizing any opposition or concern over vaccinations.  And I’m very opposed to the idea of the government forcing me or my children to have things injected into our bodies without being given the right of refusal or even the right to say which vaccinations we do or don’t want.  The State of California passed vaccination legislation a few years ago to make vaccinations mandatory, but provided  no opportunity or mechanism for public awareness or education about what vaccinations were being mandated.  A list was published at the time of the currently mandated vaccines, but it was  also clear that  list could  be amended by a committee at their discretion, and no mention was made about consulting constituents for their agreement.

That’s a recipe for potential disaster on a scale far exceeding a measles outbreak – which was the non-lethal illness that prompted the forcing through of  mandatory vaccination laws and now laws excluding religious  and philosophical objections and actively trying to cull or investigate doctors that might have some good reasons for providing medical exemptions.

I’m grateful for the benefits of health science, but vary wary of the government insisting I partake of the alleged benefits.  I’d prefer that to be listed as a reason as well, rather than lumping people with vaccination concerns together with the  woman throwing used feminine hygiene products at our lawmakers.  Questioning authority is not necessarily crazy.

Good Time Outs?

September 14, 2019

For those of you out there agonizing over whether or not you are – or have, or did – traumatize your child irreconcilably through the use of the dreaded time out method of punishment, you can breathe a sigh of relief.  Maybe.  The University of Michigan has released the results of a study that says, done properly, the time out method of discipline should not cause any lasting harm to children.  Maybe.

While this article doesn’t address or acknowledge whether long-term studies were done on the effects of spanking as a disciplinary methods, I find it curious that the list of criteria for making time out an effective form of discipline pretty much match corporal punishment’s ideal criteria as well:

  • calmness
  • consistency
  • positive environment
  • planning the process beforehand
  • making both parents and child understand it
  • avoid shouting

 

 

Life As We Know It

September 13, 2019

Another epic announcement this week about a potentially habitable planet discovered in a far off galaxy.  These come out every now and then and disappear pretty much just as quickly.  But I love this take on such announcements, which helps put them in perspective as to their usefulness.

Go ahead, click.  It’s fun.

In the Beginning

September 11, 2019

My denominational polity held it’s triennial national convention this past summer.  I studiously avoid these sorts of affairs, preferring to allow others more inclined and perhaps of a better temperament to go and represent our local congregations.  We had a brief report at one of our monthly pastor meetings from the guy who went on our behalf, and there wasn’t much to report.  At least, I don’t recall him mentioning this – our denomination has once again (first in 1932) affirmed the Genesis account of creation in Chapters 1 & 2 to mean a literal six-day creation process utilizing six 24-hour days.  This was based on Scripture’s use of evening and morning to indicate a single day.

To begin with, I lament the difficulty of even finding the full text of  resolution 5-09A.  The LC-MS web site has a variety of links, but none I’ve been able to find states the full text of the resolution.  This page describes the intent of the resolution, which is helpful. This page gives a sense of everything that happens on a day of convention, which is overwhelming but not what I’d hoped for.    Maybe somebody better informed (or with more time on their hands) can find the specific wording for me?

 

***** Edit – thanks to Doug for providing this link.  The precise wording was broadcast on Twitter during the convention, and final documentation is still pending from our Synod. *****

There was, of course, debate.

Opponents criticized the resolution for being somewhat vague, centering on the use of the word natural as an adjective for days – six of them to be precise.  If the sun (and moon) wasn’t created until the fourth day, how can we speak of 24-hour days with any certainty or preciseness?  This critique has been voiced by others critical of the LC-MS position.

I find this hostility to the resolution and the theology behind it problematic.  Yes, the sun and moon were created on the fourth day.  Does that mean that God’s use of the word day throughout the six-day creation account is incorrect?  Did He misspeak?  Did He decide it was far too complicated for Moses in 1500 BC to understand anything differently so He just said days?  Would that mean God didn’t take into account our current scientific climate and assertions about the origins of everything that directly contradict Scripture on this particular point?  Was God incapable of maintaining a consistent 24-hour cycle without the sun and moon in place yet?

I find Mike  the Geologist’s certainty to be rather fascinating.  How is  it that you “know better”?  Are you that positive that a six-day creation is “nonsense”?  You presume that current understandings or theories of human origins  are superior/more accurate/more trustworthy than the Biblical account.  Would you then argue that the resurrection is not real because everybody knows better than that now?  Is it not possible that evolutionary explanations for the universe and our planet might be flawed –  unintentionally – and subject to correction down the line?  Is there a place for that sort of humility, or should we immediately jump to mocking those who prefer to take  God’s Word in this respect just as they take God’s Word for their forgiveness and hope of life eternally in Christ?

I understand this is complicated – and awkward – discussion.  And I agree, this is not necessarily the difference between heaven and hell in and of itself.  But if you suspect God wasn’t fully accurate or truthful with us in one regard, it’s not a big leap to think He wasn’t in other regards.  Or in no regards, because He isn’t really there.

 

Book Review: Marriage and the Public Good: Ten Principles

September 7, 2019

Marriage and the Public Good: Ten Principles

From the Witherspoon Institute

I’m positive I’ve read this before but I was too impatient to search out more carefully if I’ve blogged about it.  This is a pamphlet more than a book, only about 50 pages.  And it reads like something out of a time capsule, from the ancient past.  However in this case the ancient past is 2008, before the sweeping judicial decisions that rushed same-sex marriage into public law across our country.

This is a fantastic resource.  It reads very easily, and lays out the basic argument for the primacy of marriage in a democratic and free society, and specifically a traditional understanding of marriage as between one man and one woman for life.  This is not a religious argument, but an argument grounded in research and science.  Research pertaining to the health and welfare of children, and research related to the health and well-being of men and women, married and unmarried.

Against the clamor of  it will be just fine! if we radically redefine marriage stands this brief summary soberly warning that it will not be fine.  A good body of research over considerable periods of time bears witness to the fact that men, women, children, and therefore the society they are a part of are all better off when marriage is upheld, supported and encouraged both privately and in public policy.

I strongly encourage you to consider having this resource on hand.  It’s a reminder that traditional marriage definitions are not simply a religious preference but a time-tested means of ensuring the best for as many people as possible in our society.

 

 

 

Born This Way – Not So Much

August 31, 2019

A large study garnered attention this week.  This study attempted to identify genetic influences on same-sex experiences/behaviors (which I understand to be different than homosexual behavior in terms of frequency).

The study concluded that there is no “gay-gene”, a single genetic marker that determines sexual orientation.  Rather, it asserts that a variety of genes may influence sexual behavior and sexual preferences.  It also asserts what most studies for decades have shown – there are environmental factors that also determine – and likely more heavily determine – same-sex behavior or experiences.

In effect, this study reinforces most of what is already known – environmental factors (nurture as opposed to nature or  genetics) play a big role both in whether someone dabbles or experiments in same-sex encounters or whether they identify as exclusively non-heterosexual.  As such, there have been plenty of responses by LGBTQ people either associated with the study or reviewing  it, claiming that the study might be unnecessary and actually dangerous to LGBTQ causes since it doesn’t affirm a clear genetic determination for sexuality.  They fear  – reasonably – that people will interpret this to mean sexuality is a choice rather than something hard-wired.

Which of course, is what the study is saying.

A complex genetic interaction provides “significant” influence over sexual behavior, but it appears to be far from clear-cut exactly what this means, and by relegating the genetic influence to 8-25% (a pretty impressive spectrum!), my take-away  is non-genetic issues provide the greatest impact on how open a person is to same-sex experiences or – by extension – a same-sex lifestyle and identification.

Sexual behavior is complicated, the study essentially affirms.  And certainly, if there are no guidelines or rules along which to be guided, it would be strange if anything other than the mass confusion characterizing our cultural sexual landscape emerged.   Right now we seem as a culture interested only in normalizing that confusion at whatever cost.  History I think we see this as a curious and unfortunate time, whether in terms of science and how it is allowing itself to be co-opted by a particular sector of the population, or how the mental health and well-being of future generations was sacrificed to justify the decisions of a small segment of the generations before them.

Picture Perfect Extinction

February 20, 2019

This report on the extinction of the first species of mammal (at least sofar as we know) struck me as curious.  I’m wondering if this species is truly extinct, or only extinct in the wild?  Because, if scientists are so convinced of global warming and the inevitability of rising water levels, and if those rising water levels were being measured, and it seemed obvious that this habitat was at great risk, why didn’t they save some of these critters to keep in a zoo for breeding, etc.?

As is, it reads like a publicity stunt of sorts.  I lament the extinction of this animal (or any of God’s creatures), but I also wonder about why steps aren’t being taken to protect endangered species from rising water levels.  Surely there was room in a zoo somewhere – several zoos  no less – to ensure this species survived?

 

Parental Pressure to Pick Progeny

November 16, 2018

In our continuing insistence on perfecting ourselves vicariously through our children, parents in the United States may have a new set of decisions to weigh, once they’ve made the difficult initial decision to utilize in vitro fertilization (IVF) to conceive.

Tests are now available that can alert parents to potential future health risks in their children such as breast cancer and diabetes.  The tests also promise – based on genetic markers – to alert parents if it looks as though one of their fertilized embryos may be at risk for abnormally low intelligence levels.

Just so we’re clear here, these tests can be carried out on fertilized eggs, also known as embryos, also known as teeny tiny little human beings.  It has to be an embryo so that the complete, unique genetic/DNA material is available for analysis, something that is available once an egg is fertilized with a sperm.  It has to wait for fertilization because all the data isn’t there yet otherwise.  It only becomes a unique human being when an egg is fertilized by a sperm.

Which is  why I oppose abortion.  We’re killing human beings.  Distinct from the mother and the father.  Not fingernails or hair clippings or any of the other completely inane nonsense that is sometimes pushed to defend or justify murder.

For further clarity, IVF is expensive and difficult.  For this reason, multiple eggs are culled from the mother and fertilized externally.  Because the process is inherently unstable and risky to the teeny tiny human being, it is standard procedure to create multiple teeny tiny human beings, and then to select the one that seems most  likely to survive implantation back in the mother.

The others can be frozen, but many do not survive this process or face extermination either before  freezing or after thawing.

So we’re dealing with mass murder, but since it’s in order to gain a life in the process, it’s justified by the scientific/medical community.  (If you utilized IVF and these words are painful and convicting, I’m sorry, and I can offer you the assurance that in repentance this sin – as all others – is forgiven by the death of the Son of God, Jesus the  Christ.  I’m happy to talk further with you privately if this would be helpful, just leave me a note here.)

But now, in addition to all of these inherent risks and the lives routinely lost  in the process of conceiving via IVF, parents now are faced with determining which child to choose based on potential  health risks down the line or even based on the fact that their child may not be destined for a PhD at Harvard.

That’s a lot of pressure to put on a family.  It’s a lot of pressure for doctors to face as well.  It would be an easy thing to simply cull those less-desirable teeny tiny human beings without even mentioning it to the parents, or simply saying that they were damaged or non-viable.  There’s a lot of pressure to make some very serious decisions about who lives and dies.

Every parent wants a happy and healthy child.  They want a child full of potential who can enjoy life.  But how we define things like full, potential, enjoy, life can get really tricky.

Ultimately, I argue, this is not something designed to empower parents, but designed to empower folks who believe very firmly that the weak shouldn’t survive, that the future of our species – our next evolutionary step if you will – is only possible by eliminating less desirable people.  We can do this through myraid means already, such as voluntary or involuntary sterilization  and abortion.  Tests that have been around for years can alert parents to the risk of mental retardation or physical abnormalities in their unborn child, information that might prompt a frightened couple to opt for an abortion.  But the simpler step to bypass all that queasy moral and ethical stuff about human life is to have it all done behind the scenes.  To simply implement clinical  policies that certain genetic markers should be grounds for automatic destruction of the embryo.  Murder based on possible outcomes that I would argue are still far too fuzzy to be very confident of.

All done in neat, sterile, clinical environments with virtually no evidence or trace of the lives wiped out.

Dangerous stuff, folks.  Well-intentioned at some level, I trust.   But very, very dangerous.