Entries from blogs tagged with “Faith”

Sedum and Ice

Of course my wife is nothing like I portrayed her in my last post, and she got me a macro lens for Christmas so I can take even more pictures of critters only a biologist could love. After Church today I taken with this sedum in my garden peeking through the snow. sedumandiceBy the way, I am addicted to flickr and clicking on the image will take you into my public photo stream.


The Abominable Snowman in Lawrence? morning I received a call from my wife asking me if I had seen the footprints in the yard. She had noticed them when she was leaving for her job in Topeka."Definitely human footprints only the person was barefoot and my boss said that there could be a homeless person living in the woods.""Kay, that sounds really unlikely to me but this is Lawrence, and we've had other strange things happen such as the escaped cows in our I will go look."So out I went and I did find some prints, but they were not very deep..."Hey Kay nope not human, I think rabbit""But they look like bare feet you can see the toes and everything.""Nope rabbit""Well how do you know? Were you there? After all you can't test anything that happened in the past""Kay, I have seen rabbit footprints before and these are rabbit.""Just because you are trained as a biologist doesn't mean I am are just plain dogmatic. They looked human to me. You are being dogmatic.""This is just based on experience...Kay look at this picture. I wasn't about to freeze my toes off here but notice how much deeper my shoe print is than the the ones like you found.""I still think they are human. Why do you always have to explain everything away as something ordinary? Just a rabbit...huh maybe they are that hobbit man or a gnome. A baby Sasquatch. There all kinds of strange sightings even in Kansas.""Kay I am a scientist and we look for the simplest explanations first.""That is silly, all you scientists think alike. It is some sort of liberal group think. You need to think outside the box. Maybe you should go work for the government.""What does that have to do with anything?""Well everyone knows those government scientists fake data..if you are told to think rabbit then you're going to think rabbit.""Besides that rabbit idea is just a theory and scientists deal with empirical facts-not interpretations."Sigh...fortunately at that point my cell phone died.Note: Any relationship to current public discussions about evolution or global warming is purely coincidental.


A desire for amputation?

While traveling to Disney World the other week, I picked up a copy of Scientific American Mind to keep myself from being too bored on the flight. One by Sabine Miller called "Amputee Envy" concerns what she terms "Body Identity Disorder" (BID). People with this extremely rare disorder desire to have one or more of their appendages removed, and some actually have such discomfort that they request that the appendage be removed. A summary of the article is here.I had heard about this sort of thing and chalked it up to being a sexual fetish. The reality appears to be much more complex. Some appear to be seeking attention rather than any sort of sexual gratification. But most interesting to me is that at about two thirds of the disorder report that amputation will enable them to express their "true" identity. Thus, there may be a parallel between this disorder and Gender Identity Disorder (GID), which is of personal interest to me. Indeed there are some interesting parallels-both disorders arise early in life, and sometimes the discomfort (which can be extreme) is only resolved through surgery.One might think that these sorts of identity statements are merely part of our modern cultures preoccupation with identity or authenticity, but some cases of BID appear to arise from irregularities in how the body is mapped out in the cerebral cortex. Indeed, sometimes temporary cases of body image problems result from brain tumor, injury or disease. When the disease or injury is fixed, the body image problem goes away.The article also address the issue of surgery for BID cases. Some ethicists argue that, as in the case of certain types of GID, if the person is fully informed of the risks and is not psychotic then surgery ethical. Other ethicists consider this wrong headed and that the Doctor must protect the patient from his or her "irrational desires."Again this sort of debate parallels that about Gender Identity Disorder. Since Gender Identity Disorder is much more common, there is actually standard of care called the Benjamin Standard of Care to provide a way to select those most likely to benefit from sexual reassignment surgery. So lots of interesting things in this article to chew on. What makes our identity? Is it merely socially constructed as some would have us believe? How much is changeable about our identity? What are the boundaries of ethically acceptable medical intervention?There are lots of other interesting articles in this you might look for it at your newsstand or for purchase online at Sabine Miller(Dec 2007/Jan 2008) Amputee Envy Scientific American Mind 18(6) pp 60-65Other links:BIID-Info.orgWorld Professional Association for Transgender Health


Benazir Bhutto

The stark news ricocheted around the world today - Benazir Bhutto assassinated. Newspaper headlines will try to summarize the tragedy in tomorrow's editions and many columns will be written about her life and the impact of her death on the world's political scene. How can we ever hope to capture the life and courage of the first woman to become head of Government in an Islamic State? In the US, and even Ireland and the United Kingdom, we take it for granted that woman have the right to hold the highest offices in the land. Such rights are not automatic for women in Islamic countries. The achievements of Benezir Bhutto took the kind of courage that goes beyond words, and only those closest to her will know what it cost.She knew the risks she was taking as she tried to return to Goverment. She was willing to pay the price that sadly ended in her death today. Her husband has lost his wife, her children a mother - and women all over the world have lost a living symbol of the strength and courage of the feminine spirit.


About this global warming stuff…

My wife and I returned from Florida last Friday just in time for last week's snow. And as I write, it is snowing again. But the discussion section in the Lawrence Journal World is hot today because of a column by Cal Thomas in which he accuses Al Gore and other believers in global warming as being fundamentalists. He cites a global warming skeptic "Paleoclimate scientist" Bob Carter as writing""In one of the more expensive ironies of history, the expenditure of more than $50 billion (U.S.) on research into global warming since 1990 has failed to demonstrate any human-caused climate trend, let alone a dangerous one..."This is an interesting comment which flies in the face of the general scientific consensus. So who is the average person to believe? This is important because if Gore and the vast bulk of climate scientists are right then we have an environmental problem that can't wait another 50 years to fix. We are going to have to make both personal and policy decisions either directly or indirectly about this issue.The first thing we need to do is cut partisanship out of the loop. Second of all we need to look at the information that is out there and try to evaluate it as best we can. Fortunately there are several good sources of information. The U.S. government's EPA site ( is much improved in terms of its coverage and I strongly recommend exploring its links. Another site is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Global Warming FAQ which gives a quick synopsis the current consensus on global warming. There is plenty of room to discuss what sorts of solutions - free market, government incentives and mandates, individual action but denying what we are doing to the environment is not productive.As for non governmental sources, Science Daily keeps tabs on climate change at and this is perhaps the site for the latest developments in our understanding of climate change.If you are a regular blog reader, a good unbiased site is Real Climate ( This blog's contributors are climate scientists-not geologists and not ideologues. Of course look at some of the advocacy sites on the left and the right-what ever your ideological fancy, but do yourself and civilization a favor and check the claims that are made on those sites against each other and come to an honest judgment for yourself about where the truth most likely is. Don't just believe some numskull on the left or the right because you agree with their ideology, unless the numskull happens to be me of course.In the interest of full disclosure I am pretty much in agreement with the scientific consensus but some of my conclusions about where we stand probably go beyond the scientific consensus:1. Global warming is real and not just an artifact of changes in data collection.2. Much but probably not all of recent global warming is due to human activity including burning of fossil fuels but also deforestation and increased agricultural production.3. Global warming may be to the point that we can do little to affect it quickly.4. Climate change happening more rapidly than we thought possible even five years ago and may be happening more rapidly than many populations can adapt to.5. There is no magic bullet to solving global warming and we probably will need to make some uncomfortable choices concerning energy sources and (dare I say it?) some sacrifice of living standards.6. Poorer countries will be more severely affected than developed countries.7. We have exceeded the ability of the planet to sustain our current population, and global warming is interacting with other human disturbances to bring about an irreversible biodiversity crisis.8. There is still hope for our species but our environment is going to become biologically impoverished in ways we might not like.Of course all comments are welcome; just play nicely.


Just about …. and more

A few years ago, I took my husband to the Tate Art Gallery in St. Ives, Cornwall. The building is pretty impressive. It overlooks the sea, and catches the light of the sun as it travels around the Bay.We arrived early and found various piles of dust and dirt as we moved up the stairs."Wouldn't you think they would have cleared that up before the place opened," I remarked.We arrived on the first floor and along the side of the wall in one of the galleries was another enormous pile of dust and dirt."What's all that dirt doing lying around here?" I asked the attendant."That's not dirt," she said with a sniff. "That's part of the exhibition."She directed me to the details of the artist near the pile of .... art.It didn't quite end there. In another room our eyes were assaulted by piles of rotten carrots placed strategically on the black tiles of what looked like a large checkers' board; the white tiles were untarnished by the putrid vegetables. The "work" was titled something like "Desperation."I haven't quite looked at carrots in the same way again.The "mother" Gallery, the Tate (Modern) in London, has now found a creative way to get rid of the dirt piles and carrots. A large crack, with a title, has appeared in one of the gallery floors. You would be forgiven for thinking it might be called "Cracked," or "Art is not all it's cracked up to be," but it isn't. It's titled "Shibboleth," and it's supposed to symbolize racial and class divisions. Apparently it's getting great reviews. I know I'm probably missing the point somewhere along the line, so maybe I need to be enligtened. When do cracks and piles of dirt turn into pieces of art? I've noticed several cracks in my garage floor today as well as piles of dirty salty grime (leftovers from last week's ice,) and I'm now looking for a suitable title for a possible masterpiece. I know I might have to do some rearranging to get the full artistic effect but I'll give it a try. How will I know if it's art? I wonder if I need to get a licence from the City in order to charge a fee? Any ideas about what I should call it, and what it might represent?


A Mother’s Prayer

It's 7:45 in the evening, and I sit in the dark rocking and nursing my one-year-old to sleep. When I can stop my mind from racing about the events of today and tomorrow, I turn my full attention to the warm, vulnerable little boy in my arms. I'm moved to say a prayer, though I don't really know where I stand with God. I say a heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving for Max and an equally heartfelt prayer that God will help us keep him healthy and safe. I'm still overcome by love and awe for Max, and my prayer becomes "Let us be worthy." Right away, I realize my husband and I can never be worthy. How can anyone be worthy of the extraordinary privilege and oh-so-difficult job of raising a child? So I whisper, "Let us be enough."



First blog here...don't be nice to me--I'm savvy and smart and am a winner of intellectual arguments.Read the following this morning:Tuchman: Hitting the road (literally) with some faithfulStory HighlightsSome see connection between the Bible and Interstate 35Believers pray by the side of the highway, which runs through six statesI-35 runs from southern Texas to northern MinnesotaBy Gary TuchmanCNNEditor's note: In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents share their experiences in covering news and analyze the stories behind the events. Here, Gary Tuchman talks about covering people praying on what they call America's "holy highway."DALLAS, Texas (CNN) -- If you turn to the Bible -- Isaiah Chapter 35, Verse 8 -- you will see a passage that in part says, "A highway shall be there, and a road, and it shall be called the Highway of Holiness."Now, is it possible that this "highway" mentioned in Chapter 35 is actually Interstate 35 that runs through six U.S. states, from southern Texas to northern Minnesota? Some Christians have faith that is indeed the case.It was with that interesting belief in mind that we decided to head to Texas, the southernmost state in the I-35 corridor, to do a story about a prayer campaign called "Light the Highway."Churchgoers in all six states recently finished 35 days of praying alongside Interstate 35, but the prayers are still continuing.Some of the faithful believe that in order to fulfill the prophecy of I-35 being the "holy" highway, it needs some intensive prayer first. So we watched as about 25 fervent and enthusiastic Christians prayed on the the interstate's shoulder in Dallas.They chanted loudly and vibrantly, making many people in the neighborhood wonder what was going on. They prayed that adult businesses along the corridor would "see the light" and perhaps close down.They prayed for safety and freedom from crime for people who lived along the interstate. They prayed that all Americans would accept Jesus into their lives. Watch believers offer prayers »The woman who came up with the concept of "Light the Highway" is a Texas minister named Cindy Jacobs.She says she can't be sure Interstate 35 really is what is mentioned in the Bible but says she received a revelation to start this campaign after "once again reading Isaiah, Chapter 35."Jacobs also points out that perhaps there is a link between the area near this highway and tragedies that have happened in history, such as the bridge collapse on I-35 in Minneapolis last August and the assassination of JFK 44 years ago near I-35 in Dallas. That's why prayer certainly can't hurt, she adds.Now, it's only fair to say most people, the religious and the non-religious alike, don't buy any of this, but none more than the owners of some of the adult businesses along I-35.At an adult go-go club, the owner tells us he resents people trying to impose their will on others. And he says his club holds fundraisers, food drives and toy drives to help the community.But on the side of the road, the prayerful aren't going to change their minds. Holy highways and nude clubs, they believe, are not a combination God has in mind._______All I can say, in the most incredulous fashion I can muster, is, "SERIOUSLY?"Are people in general just retarded, or is this purely an affliction of the saved? Normally, I'd vote for the former, but in this case, I have to wonder...


Sit and Wait

Sometimes you sit and waitThere is nothing you can doWhen everything seems to be going wellthe other shoe dropsLeaves you wonderingIs it really worth it?You feel failure and despairDon't know where to turn or what to doYou feel the will leave through your fingertipsThe tears flow down your faceIs it really worth fail?Everyone dies after allthere is no where to reach toNo one to pull you upIf you have used all your strength Do you just let go? Fall like a petal from a wilted flower...hit the ground and get swept away......join the petals that have left before you...reunite in the eternal garden......


Like a Broken Vase

All it took was the thought of something that will never beRemembering that love rarely comes alongAnd when it does it usually doesn't lastThat one moment, one ache in my heartTo take me back to JulyBack to the moment I answered the phoneHeard the hesitation in his voice"Hey Claire, have you talked to mom yet?"I hadn't he would soon realizeHe had to be the one to tell me"Pete shot himself last night, he's dead"Not a day goes by that I don't feel the emptinessThere is something that is missing in my lifeThere is a void that no one can fillNothing will ever heal that painThose that leave me behind, don't leave a voidBecause the void was already thereI am broken, unable to move onI am vase that cannot be filledFor it is crackedA dream that goes unfulfilledBecause I never wakeI am the rose that never blooms Because of the late spring frostI am the wounded horse That must be laid downI will never be whole againThe pain continues to comeIn waves it flows through my bodyLike my body has been hit by a volt of lighteningI fall limp after tears have run til' they run no moreMy body is exhaustedI fear lossI fear Saturday calls from himI miss the laughterThe jokes about "Lak MiSing"This American Life will never be the sameThe life I live will never be the same


A Move’s a foot…

There is a movement underway to goad the presidential candidates into a debate on science policy. Given that so many of our issues today involve science, it is only fair that the voters get to hear candidate's views on science and science priorities. Visit the Science debate 2008 web site for more information and about how you can get


A Big Day in Boston!

If you are a Boston single, as of today you have a new option to find a mate. A company called has a new wrinkle in the match making game-matchmaking based on DNA analysis. The idea is to find a mate based on the compatibility of the genes related to characteristics of the immune system. The company's website claims:

"When you share chemistry with someone:

  • 1. You love their natural body odor. They smell "sexier" than other people.
  • 2. You have a more satisfying sex life.
  • 3. If you're a woman, you have more orgasms.
  • 4. There's significantly less cheating in your relationships than if your DNA isn't matched properly.
  • 5. As a couple, you're more fertile.
  • 6. Your children have a better chance of being healthy."
And there is peer reviewed science to back up at least some of these claims individually, much of which is cited on the company web site. In fact, I talk about some of this literature in my classes. But it is quite a leap from the basic scientific literature to the claim that DNA analysis can make for better matchmaking. Testing that hypothesis would seem would seem to require a whole other layer of analysis which doesn't appear to have been done. Also the site is a bit vague about how the genetic testing is done and what genes are examined.I must remain very skeptical for now. By the way, a one year membership costs $1,995.95. So if this system is an improvement over the old fashioned way of finding a mate-is that improvement great enough to make the cost worth it? This is especially true since the company makes the case that odor is an important part of compatibility. Maybe the company's owner ought to consider making little scratch and sniff tabs with arm pit odor that clients can give to each other. But perhaps that is not as sexy as DNA analysis.The web site suggests that the company is planning on expanding to other cities, so have a look and let me know what you think.

Now this is really cool.

Today, Gyroduck commenting on a Journal World article, Drawing on God posted a link ( from You Tube explaining a really puzzling aspect of quantum mechanics. Hop on over to view the video. Also read Gyroduck's comment linking the observations discussed in the video to prayer. Is Gyroduck right to make this connection?


Synthetic Life

One of the hottest areas of biology today is synthetic biology. Synthetic biologists are not content to take a gene from one species and insert it into the genetic material of another species.Instead, synthetic biologists are attempting to build a set of standard building blocks often by synthesizing DNA from scratch. The idea is to have a set of modules that can be plugged together to make the biological equivalent of electrical devices.So just as an electrical engineer designs new circuits by plugging together standard parts on a breadboard, the synthetic biologist attempts to create custom organisms by inserting these biological circuits into cells.The field has progressed to the point where there is an annual student competition at MIT dedicated to designing custom devices called iGEM which stands for InternationalGenetically Engineered Machine Competition. The winners of the 2007 competition have just been announced and they include teams that developed applications of synthetic biology to medicine, environmental sensing, energy and information processing.For example a team from Alberta Canada developed a synthetic set of genes involved in the production of butanol, an organic compound that could serve as a fuel alternative to ethanol.A team from University of Missouri at Rolla, the Missouri Miners developed a biological breathalyser and a biological timer.Synthetic biology is in its infancy and the power of this technology is rapidly increasing, much like the power of computers, so that soon synthetic biologists may be able to construct synthetic organisms entirely from scratch!Readers, how is this dangerous in a positive sense? How about the risks?LinksSyntheticbiology.orgSynthetic Life, Scientific American 2004

iGem2007Missouri Miners


The Faith of a Child

Took my almost-five-year-old to his first Advent service last night. Actually, it was Simon's first church service, period. I wanted him to understand at least a little of what he heard, so on the way, I told him the basics of the Christmas story. I started with the parts I thought would be most interesting to a child: How Jesus was born in a stable to parents Mary and Joseph, and how shepherds got a message from an angel that something special had happened, followed a bright star, and found the baby Jesus.My husband and I are not religious, at least not as the term is usually used, but I've given a little thought to how and when to explain mainstream religious beliefs and stories to our two young sons. A child who isn't familiar with, say, the Christmas story or the notion of heaven will be at a loss at times, to say the least. (Last night, it struck me how big this cultural disadvantage might be when Simon asked "Is Jesus a boy or a girl?")After the service, we talked more about the Christmas story--including the belief that Jesus is the son of God--and I found myself fielding questions like "How can Jesus be the son of God if his parents are Mary and Joseph?" and "How can God still be alive if Jesus was born such a long time ago?" and "Is God a man or a woman?" Now I was the one at a loss! More than once I answered, "That's a great question" and "Well, the story goes like this:" and "Many people believe that:." I've talked to Simon about God before, usually referring to the "Animal Maker" or the "Great Spirit." I want him to have some notion of a powerful, good, divine spirit who takes an interest in our universe. I also want him to understand that there are different and beautiful faith traditions around the world. I'm not comfortable presenting typical Sunday School stories as if they're facts. And I sensed last night that Simon would take what I said as fact. That means I have a lot of power, at this point in Simon's life, to shape his beliefs about religion and the divine. I want to use this power wisely, so I've got a lot more thinking to do.I'd like to hear from others who've struggled with this. If your family doesn't have obvious faith traditions and beliefs to pass down, what role do religion and spirituality play in your family life? How and when have you presented religion and spirituality to your children? Are there any faith groups in town you recommend?


Walking Petri Dishes?

Biology is messy. We can't put organisms into neat little boxes and as it turns out, while we think of ourselves as being individual organisms, the truth is a bit more complex. According to an online article from Scientific American, "Humans Carry More Bacterial Cells than Human Ones" , we are probably best thought of as walking petri dishes because of the number and diversity of bacteria that live inside of us. According to the article, scientists used to think that these bacteria were commensals, that is organisms living in or on a member of a different species with out harming or providing much benefit to the "host". But new research reveals that these bacteria interact with us in complex ways and and often significantly benefit us. For instance many of these bacteria appear to help us process our food and help regulate certain aspects of our immune system. So there is a real sense that you and I are really communities of organisms. Now I wonder if the dreaded toe fungus some of us have also benefits us in some way.


Say what?

The name "Dangerous Ideas" comes from a book titled "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" by the philosopher Daniel Dennett. Dennett's thesis is that the concept of natural selection is a sort of universal acid eating away at our traditional intellectual disciplines well beyond its traditional application as an evolutionary mechanism.Science in general is dangerous to traditional ways of viewing the universe. It transforms us. It breaks down boundaries between traditional areas of thought. It challenges our comfortable preconceptions about reality. And it forces us to think in rational and empirical ways that are foreign to emotional and often irrational way that we process information about the world.I use dangerous here in a positive sense. For me science is a liberating force. It doesn't do away with a sense of wonder, a sense of poetry or wonder. But science does not worship mystery but replaces it with a sense of awe at the quirky creativeness of the universe. This blog will focus on science. I will try to stay away from politics and religion...there are plenty of other blogs that do that including my companion blog at The Force that ThroughSometimes I will cross post entries with "The Force" But that blog tends to be much more explicitly poetic, political and philosophical than what I am planning for this space. Also since biology is my thing, expect a bias toward biology and related areas.


Into the sunset?

Women can retire at 60 in Europe and receive an "old age pension" as well as a free bus pass, free spectacles in addition to other special deals. A man has to wait until he is 65 for such perks. In America the AARP marked me as a Senior as soon as I hit my fifties and some stores give me a senior discount (wihtout checking ID I might add) but I have to wait until 62 to get a Marriot Senior discount and Social Security.Some people have cynically said that it's hard to tell when Europeans are retired because they take so much vaction anyway. The minimum vacation is 21 working days (which translates into four weeks including the week-ends) and then one has to add the Bank Holidays, which, if strategically placed with vacation can amount to six weeks. Of course, in many jobs, the amount of vacation can be anything from the minimum four weeks to a sensible fourteen weeks a year.Just as I was preparing to take advantage of the "old age pension" from UK and Social Security from the US, I met an 81 year old woman who moved to Lawrence when she was 64 to get a new job. She "retired" at 70, didn't like it, and worked in a Bank until she finally decided enough was enough at 80. She still does volunteer work and looks better than I do even on a good day. She's one of a growing number of seniors in the US who continue working simply because they love their jobs.Is there a way we can strike the balance between these two cultures? I know people who take only a week vacation and spend it cleaning out the garage, or "doing odd jobs around the house." This seems like a recipe for stress-related illness somewhere down the road. However, when I look at those octogenarians who have worked well past retirement age, they seem pretty healthy to me.I would love to hear from those of you who retired in your early sixties or before, and those of you who have worked, or continute to work into your eighties or even nineties.


The Milky Way Woman

I heard about the Milky Way Woman while attending Douglas County's first healing retreat for those people who had lost someone due to suicide.

I have been trying to put a spiritual perspective on my mother's suicide, when I was three, for most of my life. See my article:

While at the retreat, I met a native American Indian woman who had recently lost her sister to suicide. She told me about the belief that the Lakota Indians have. They believe that the Milky Way is the crossroads between heaven and earth and that an old woman, the Milky Way Woman, stands guard at this crossroads. The Milky Way Woman decides when someone dies whether they go to heaven or are sent back to earth depending on how well they lived their life.

After some research, I discovered that several other Indian tribes have a similar belief, and some tribes believe that the light coming from the Milky Way is the campfires of souls as they make their journey to heaven.

The Lakota Indians have an extremely high rate of suicide among their young people.

I dedicate the following poem to the Lakota people, all of those who have lost someone to suicide, and to my mother, Peggy Miller Wiggins.

The Milky Way Woman 11-14-07

When I was three

And you sent me

Out to play in the

Snow while you

Put a bullet through

Your heart

I did not cry

I curled into a ball

And sucked my thumb

When Daddy came

That night and said

Look up into the

Sky and see your

Mommy's face In the stars

I did not look

I did not want

To see your face

So far away

And so small

But now I'm

Grown and have

Children of my own

I want to stand

On the edge

Of the Milky Way

With you, hand in hand

And when the

Milky Way Woman

Gives the command

You and I

Will take that

Leap together

Wait for me

Where do you believe souls go after they leave the physical body?

How is the soul separate from the spirit?

How is the mind separate from the soul?


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