Friday, May 29, 2009

The Written Evidence

I don't plan to delve deeply into the record of President Obama's nominee to the Supreme Court on this blog. There are plenty of articles on the web arguing about what her judicial record indicates concerning what kind of Justice she will make. But I will say this. Most commentators, Conservative and Liberal, declare that she will be confirmed, that no opposition can derail her confirmation by the Senate. Not so fast. The fact that she is one of the most over-turned judges on the Appellate Court, her opinions drawing the ire of Conservative and Liberal judges alike, indicates that somewhere in the record of her written opinions, there might be some material that might prove to be such an embarrassment that not even Democrats could publicly support her. Make no mistake, Obama will get someone whose ideology matches his on the Supreme Court. However, that person may not be Sonia Sotomayor.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Place For Personal Conscience In The Practice of Medicine

A Louisianna nurse demoted for refusing to administer the "Morning After Pill" lost an appeal in her suit against the hospital despite the fact that she could show that her personal refusal based on religious conviction would not hamper the hospital from administering the drug to patients. Here is an article from Chuck Colson on the cultural left's attempt to silence the ethical objections to its social agenda. Who knows what will come of the FDA's new policy of allowing drug companies to experiment with humans in countries that do not adhere to U.S. law regarding medical research on people. Will conscientious scientists be forced to choose between keeping their jobs or protesting unethical medical practices illegal in the U.S.? Here is a balanced article on the rights of parents to determine the medical treatment of their children. And what about a parent's right to educate their children concerning sex according to their own standards instead of the states? In Germany, a girl's parents were convicted of removing her from sex education activities that are strongly anti-Christian in philosophy. Can it happen here? It will if our President gets his way since he would rather the U.S. be more like Europe.

In other news, scientists have successfully created a treatment for cancer from Adult Stem Cells. The treatment seeks out and destroys cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone. Scientists have successfully treated various forms of cancer in mice with this treatment and in a few years trials on human cancer victims will take place.

Teaching robots right from wrong? A philosopher explains.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

When Does Human Life Begin? A Question Not Above Anyone's Paygrade

The proponents of embryonic stem cell research and abortion would have us believe that the question of when human life begins is an unanswerable question. They maintain that any certainty on the subject reveals a bias not based on science. One of President Obama's most infamous statements occurred when Rick Warren asked him when life begins at last years Saddleback Forum. Obama's reply: "That's above my pay grade." Last October, The Westchester Institute For Ethics & The Human Person issued a White Paper entitled "When Does Human Life Begin? A Scientific Perspective." Its author is Dr. Maureen L. Condic, one of the Institutes Senior Fellows. While some of the science contained in this publication is above some minds such as my own, it is understandable to the average non-scientist. (A glossary of scientific terms is provided.) And its conclusions can be accepted by anyone no matter what values guide their views, provided they are honest seekers of the truth.

Dr. Condic is Associate Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy at the University of Utah School of Medicine. She is also Adjunct Professor in that University's Department of Pediatrics. An acquaintance of mine, knowing I was reading this publication, asserted to me that her views stem from the fact that she is employed by a state school in Mormon country. Well, Dr. Condic does not state her religious affiliation. In fact, her conclusions are drawn from scientific data, not a particular religious world view. Her field of study is the development and regeneration of the nervous system, for which she has received awards for her work. She also participates in graduate and medical training. She directs the University's School of Medicine's course in Human Embryology. So no matter what her value system, her expertise that she brings to the question of when human life begins demands unbiased consideration. (Background Information for this paragraph can be viewed at the above link to Dr. Condic's Westchester Institute profile or on p. 13 of the White paper.)

As Dr. Condic explains, Modern Science is in agreement that life occurs after the fertilization of an ovum, or egg, by a sperm cell. Yet fertilization is difficult to arbitrarily define. It varies in closely related species and among many individuals among the same species. Fertilization is part of a continuum; new life is being produced by living cells. However, due to the ethical questions surrounding embryonic stem cell research (and abortion), it is necessary that an arbitrary time be determined as to when human life begins.

Dr. Condic states that the process that determines this arbitrary time be rooted in science and not in religion or ideology. She lists two criteria in determining when a new life has been formed. The first: is the composition of the cell different from the cells that produced it? Second: does the behavioral pattern of the created cell differ significantly from the cells that produced it?

In humans, fertilization of an ovum by a sperm cell immediately produces a human zygote. The zygote immediately initiates a complex sequence of events that establish the molecular conditions for further embryonic development. Once an egg has been fertilized in this process, it ceases to be an egg. So, immediately sperm/egg fusion produces a human zygote, a new cell distinct from both sperm and egg in composition and developmental pathway (pattern of behavior). In fact, immediately after the creation of the zygote, the zygote works to prevent further binding of sperm and egg. The components of the zygote interact to generate a coordinated pattern of development even in a one celled stage.

Some scientists prefer to determine the origin of life later, such as when the process of syngamy begins 20-25 hours after zygote formation. Syngamy occurs when the pronuclei move together and their nuclear membranes break down. The chromosomes align and mitosis (the formation of two new nuclei each possessing the same number of chromosomes as the parent nuclei) begins. Dr. Condic points out that even at this stage, the zygote's composition and function are not changed.

No one disputes that the zygote is produced immediately upon sperm/egg fusion. But is the human zygote just a human cell, or is it a human organism? How does one distinguish between the two? In a human organism, all its different parts interact in the context of a created whole. What does Dr. Condic mean by a created whole? "...for developing humans, the behavior and structure associated with adult stages of life are not fully manifest (embryos neither look like nor act like mature human beings.) However, developing human beings are composed of characteristic human parts and exhibit a human pattern of developmental behavior. The key feature of a human pattern of development is its organization towards the production of a mature human body." (p. 6. Part of this passage was italicized for emphasis, but Blogger will not allow me to italicize unless the surrounding passage is italicized as well.) Human cells are alive but do not act toward the establishment of higher level organization beyond that behavior that cells engage in in isolation. The zygote is not merely a cell, but a cell containing all the properties of a complete but not yet mature human organism. To quote from the white paper, the zygote is " 'an individual constituted to carry on the activities of life by means of organs separate in function but mutually dependent: a living being.' " (p. 7)

Does cloning change the scientific answer to the question of when life begins? Not according to Dr. Condic. In cloning, a new organism is produced from fusion. Cloning reveals that there is just one more way to produce a zygote. And it is the zygote that carries on the production of a living being, not some force external to it.

From a scientific perspective then, we can conclude, as Dr. Condic does, that an embryo is not just a cell, or a collection of cells, but the product of the zygote's power to generate and organize human cells into a human being. And this process begins immediately upon fusion, in a seconds time. This answers in the affirmative the question "Does human life begin at conception?" It is an answer above no one's pay grade.

Star Trek

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In this review of the new Star Trek movie, I take issue more with the standards of the era in which it was made rather than the film itself. The film itself is very well done and entertaining.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Monday Morning Devotions

I Jn. 4:9- "In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him." (NKJV)

The world tells asks us that if a loving God exists, then why does He allow pain and suffering to plague His world? One of the ways the Church responds is to remind the world that God sent His Son into the world to suffer and die for our sins. God showed His love toward us by sacrificing for us the One whom He loved the most, His Son Jesus. Not only did Jesus die for our sins, but He rose again, and because of His resurrection, we may have eternal life.

But let us look closer at the latter part of this verse. "...God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him." Scripture is telling us that eternal life with Jesus in Heaven is not the only kind of life we can be grateful to God for. Jesus died and rose again so He and the Father can send the Holy Spirit to dwell in every believer; Jesus dwells in us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. By cooperating with the work of the Spirit in our lives, we allow Jesus to live out the Christian life through us. The Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, gives us the power to live the Christian life. It is in this way that we live through Him.

What does this have to do with human suffering? No one, believers or non believers, are exempt from suffering in this life. But if Christ lives in us, we can suffer as Jesus did. Jesus suffered, but He did not suffer in despair. He suffered, but as he obeyed God, He received the comfort He needed from the Father that there would be a consolation given Him. "For the comfort set before Him, He endured death, even death on a cross." The presence of Jesus in us as we suffer transforms our worldly suffering.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Dr. Oswalt's Commencement Address At Wesley Biblical Seminary

Dr. John Oswalt has been Professor of Old Testament Studies at Wesley Biblical Seminary for the past ten years. This past year was his last as God has given him a new assignment at another institution. I had him for only one class during my time at WBS because Dr. Oswalt was on sabbatical twice and for a time served as President while the current President completed his doctoral dissertation. However, I did get to hear him teach on a number of occasions and he did serve as my academic advisor. I will miss seeing him around whenever I return to WBS yet I wish him well in his next endeavor. Happily I can still hear him teach through the Francis Asbury Society which is linked to on the right side of this blog's page.

This year's graduating class at WBS had the honor of hearing Dr. Oswalt give the Commencement Address at this month's graduation ceremony. Here is a link to that address. It is only twenty-six minutes long yet it is as full of insight. The beginning appears to have been edited as Dr. Oswalt became emotional concerning his departure from WBS.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Latest from Afghanistan, Pakistan

The fighting between the Taliban and the Pakistani forces have heated up recently. There is real fear that the government of Pakistan could fall to Taliban forces. The fighting is concentrated around the area of the Swat Valley. Pakistan had allowed the Taliban to take over this region in the hope that it would not try to expand into further territory. However, the Taliban is seeking to gain control over the whole country; its power base in the Swat Valley is dangerously close to Pakistan's capital. Here are links to some news stories that could serve to cause us to pray more intelligently concerning the situation:

And from the conflict in Afghanistan, where more of our troops are heading:

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Monday Morning Devotions

Prov. 29:25. "The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe." (NKJV)

Those of us who name Jesus as Lord can remember a time when what determined our happiness was the good opinion of others. We obsessed over our appearance and sought to join groups that we felt granted us social acceptance. We acted according to group standards, seeking group approval. Often we mistreated others, or gossiped about them behind their back, to be considered one of the group. In my case , engaging in gossip increased my own importance in my own eyes. We could have cared less about the consequences to others; we only thought about our own standing in the eyes of others. Also, we spent too much money entertaining our friends so that we would not be discarded by those who valued us for what we could do for them. And in the end, all our efforts to remain in good standing made us unhappy.

How liberating it was to realize that the only one whose approval mattered was God's. All the pressure to gain worldly acceptance disappeared when we made Jesus Lord of our lives. We knew that when the world disapproved of us and mistreated us for Christ's sake, we knew we had our reward in Heaven.

But has the fear of man been fully cast out of us who name Jesus as Lord? Or are we now trying to gain the approval of a new set of friends, our brothers and sisters in Christ? We might not mind telling anyone how we were before we became Christians, yet how many of us now pretend to have reached a level of spirituality that we have not really attained? How many of us wear a smile that masks our true state. We hide our disobedience and our sorrows. We attempt ministry to others when we ourselves are empty. Occasionally our true state is revealed when we treat someone wrongly or retaliate when we are mistreated. We excuse ourselves by telling ourselves and others "I was just not myself when I did or said that." The the truth is, yes, we are always ourselves in such moments. We are who we are without the power of the Holy Spirit operating in our lives. David wore a mask before his subjects and before God until his sin with Bathsheba was discovered. His fear of being revealed as less than holy ensnared him as he tried to cover up his actions. However, when his sin was revealed, he did not excuse himself. He did not say "I was strong in the Lord when I suddenly fell into this temptation." No. He not only confessed his sin, but he commanded that his confession, what we know as Psalm 51, be read in the Temple for all to hear. He was declaring before all God's people that this portrait of himself was indeed his true self without God reigning in his life. Can not we be as transparent as David? This is a faith issue. We are afraid to confess our sins before our brothers and sisters for fear we will be judged. But do we not have enough faith in God that He will have transformed others in the Church through the power of the Holy Spirit? Instead of presenting a picture of false self- sufficiency in the Church, can't we acknowledge to one another that we cannot be the people of God without each other? Perhaps our personal problems would not reach crises stage if we were transparent before our brethren. It takes just as much effort to appear spiritual before the Church as it does to gain the approval of the world. The effort to appear spiritual is just as exhausting and leads to greater unhappiness in the end when we realize that we failed to live in the grace of God who has made it so abundantly available to us. We claim to trust Jesus. Then let us be transparent before our brothers and sisters, and see how God uses His Church to bring forgiveness, restoration and healing to us.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Monday Morning Devotions

(To my big surprise, it has been nearly a year since I have posted any devotional pieces. What a great neglect on my part. This one was written 1 and 1/2 years ago. I am not sure why it was never posted.)

Prov. 23: 17-18- "Do not let your heart envy sinners, But be zealous for the fear of the Lord all the day; For surely there is a hereafter, And your hope will not be cut off." (NKJV)

A famous Christian pastor recently claimed that the prospect of heaven is no longer an effective witnessing tool to get people to accept the Gospel. I can see why that is in America. In the past, death and illness was a constant presence in every household. Death's presence was a constant reminder to the living that they were mortal, and that one day soon they must face God. It was also a reminder that sin had to be put to death before that judgement day. In many cases, those that chose to spend eternity with God viewed those who chose otherwise with disbelief. How could these people chose personal advancement, the acquisition of wealth and pleasure over spending eternity with God? Didn't they understand that they would soon face judgement? Those that chose to live for God were not enticed by the culture to compromise their standards of behavior. Like Moses, they chose "to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin..." (NKJV).

In America, however, things have changed. Advances in medicine have increased our lifespan and have rendered harmless some maladies which were once fatal. Modern Medicine has done wonders in decreasing the pain of many ailments. Today, most people do not die at home but at hospitals, which causes many to become ignorant about how we humans actually die. Advances in technology have taken much stress and drudgery out of life. Added to this, our entertainment culture provides us with so many ways to continually amuse ourselves that thoughts of our own mortality never seem to surface. We live for our weekends of pleasure, and any chance of having fun on a workday will not be missed. I read a quote of a twenty-six year old teacher recently who wishes that when she turns forty, she still has the energy to party that she has now. Many men lament the decline of their ability to participate in sports. The thing we fear the most is aging. And we do not realize that we are all going to die. This mindset makes it harder to not resent those who have more money and toys than us. We hide from ourselves the certainty of God's judgement. Sadly, this is true even for those who claim that Jesus is the Lord of their lives.

Heaven, eternity with God, has been for the Church one of the great hopes it has been able to give to a perishing world. But here in America, we have created our own worldly heaven that we do not want to leave. How does the Church get people to desire Heaven in a world such as ours? Somehow God will get people to see their folly. How will He do it? Judgement? Missionary activity in this land by people from Africa, Latin America, Asia?

In the meantime, those of us who follow Jesus, have we weaned ourselves off of the culture? Do we live a lifestyle that dulls our senses and causes us to forget to seek God and prevents the Holy Spirit from doing a work in us? Are we trying to reach as many as we can, or do we content ourselves with silence. Perhaps if we live differently, we may attract those who know that they are empty inside to accept Jesus. And then together we can live a lifestyle that honors God and together live in glad expectation of the hereafter.