Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Inside the cell

This video is an animation of cellular activity. The animators tried to make the cells and cellular structures true to life. Colour is added, and there is more space in the animation: cells are packed full and structures would be difficult to discern with an accurate spatial rendering, though shape and scale are probably accurate.


What struck me first on seeing this, other than the cell being sublimely impressive, was that God must have had such a fun time designing life. It must have brought him so much pleasure.

More on the making of this animation here.

A longer 8 minute video with commentary available here. Well worth the time.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Monday quote

One of the most foolish, and most dangerous, things one can do is to take love for granted, instead of nurturing it and safeguarding it as the prize jewel of one’s life.

Thomas Sowell.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Patents and price setting

A conversation with my pastor got me thinking about how we treat patents. He is more socialist minded than I. In defence of his position he used a patented medical product as an example of what he considered excessive markup within the market. The problem as he saw it was that people would mortgage their homes to purchase medications if it would potentially cure them, or stave off death for some time.

Now one could argue for the market based on the fact that the company has invented a cure that was not previously available; without the company the cure would not exist. So perhaps they should be allowed to charge what they will. And people are willing to pay large sums of money for medical promises that are known to provide no benefit. Health is a difficult area. One could argue for some federal involvement or oversight because health is an area that people are forced into (sickness is not usually a choice), and they often make decisions in a vulnerable state. Perhaps an issue for another time.

Nevertheless, the discussion got me thinking. Arguing for the free market using patented products has one on the back foot. Competition and productivity allow for low prices for consumers and wealth creation. Patents interfere with this mechanism.

Patents apply to intellectual property, which is not property at all. A better argument for patents (and copyright) is that the government allows a temporary monopoly to sell in acknowledgement that the person created the concept. Such reasoning for patents has some merit. If we accept this however, we are appealing to the government to enforce our monopoly. This raises the question as to whether the government can also have a say on the conditions of monopoly.

I think an argument can be made that allows the government to set minimum sales figures and maximum prices. The first is to prevent artificial scarcity, driving demand by intentionally limiting supply, a supply that cannot be made up by competitors. The second to limit profiteering, especially of a product that is excessively desirable such as a cure for cancer.

Now one could argue (as above) that these products would not exist if it were not for their inventors, and people are no worse off if such an item does not come to the market than they were prior to the invention. This is not necessarily the case however. People are creative. It is likely that several people would occasionally invent similar things to solve a problem. Here are a couple of situations.

The first is software. There seem endless patents in software for ideas that many programmers would solve given a problem. It seems that many patents are little more than a race to state (code) the obvious. There is true innovation, but not all of it is. If several programmers come up with a solution independent of each other and are hit with patent infringement, perhaps it wasn't that innovative.

The second is biomimetics. Many ideas arise from imitating an idea derived from the living world. Think velcro, though there are many others. Copying design from the living world has led to a plethora of new creations. Of course such activity still requires much research and subsequent experimentation. But again this is a race to copy more than be innovative. If several researchers copy the same part of an organism to create a similar machine or product, the first there gets all the benefit.

Some ideas arise from a single person and may be unlikely to arise in the near future otherwise. Our situation is not really different after such a product becomes available but prohibitive to acquire than what it was before that person invented it. However consider when similar ideas arise frequently. Our situation may improve as useful products become available and competition lowers price. But if the right to production limited to the first person to register it then the consumer fails to gain these benefits because other creators who are prepared to make and sell the product are prohibited from doing so. The monopolist may price the product significantly above production cost and outside the price range of many people, yet others who arrived at the idea independently and who are prepared to sell marginally above cost are prevented from doing so by law.

If we are to have a state enforced private monopoly for creativity via patent and copyright law then perhaps the state can dictate the conditions of the monopoly. Such a position would mean that creators could either patent or not patent a concept. If they choose not to patent they can sell the quantity they wish and charge what they will with the benefit of being the first to the market and the ability to maintain secrecy. Competitors would need to reverse engineer a product then copy it as best they can. If the creators choose instead to patent their concept then they gain a temporary monopoly enforced by the state but must sell a minimum number of products at a fixed price (or markup), both set by the state.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Monday quote

Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.

Albert Szent-Gyorgi (1893–1986).

Friday, 19 October 2012

Romans and salvation

Reading thru several chapters of Romans recently I noted a few aspects that speak to the Arminian/ Calvinist debate. I don't claim uniqueness here, others have undoubtedly put more time into this, nevertheless I document them for my own sake. They may be of some interest.

Paul's argument in chapter 5 compares Adam to Christ. The form of the argument suggests that all people are referred to here. While Paul says "many," he uses this for both Adam and Jesus.
But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:15-19)
We know that Adam's sin affected all men. "Many" is talking about everyone in this passage; for both Adam and Jesus. Thus Jesus' death can justify all men, which disputes limited atonement. Lest any think that this justifies universalism, Scripture makes clear that some reject Christ. The passage is talking about what Adam resulted for men, and what Jesus accomplished for men; not what sins men would choose to do, nor whether men accept Christ's work. The gift is universal for those who want it. "Come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price." (Isaiah 55:1).

The next chapter rebukes the idea that men can sin in order that God's grace may be manifest, as Paul has also previously condemned in chapter 3. He implores us not to sin,
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.(Romans 6:12)
Sinning is obedience to sin which is slavery to sin. And continuing in this path will pay the wages of death, but slavery to God will result in the gift of eternal life. Paul is talking to believers here, they are baptised with Christ in his death. Such unity in his death will certainly mean unity in his resurrection—if indeed you continue in the faith (Colossians 1:23). Paul refers to their status as slaves of sin before salvation (verse 20), but the warning against sin and encouragement in their ability to choose righteousness now they are in Christ implies that choice to sin is possible, and slavery to sin and hence the wages of sin is possible. This disputes perseverance/ preservation (as Calvinism defines it).

Chapter 9 is favoured as teaching unconditional election. I grasp this reading, though it fits more with Pharaoh as an individual, Esau and Jacob should probably be read collectively as this and the following chapters are talking about the nation of Israel (Jacob). It is not my intention to dwell on this chapter here, though I note that Peter (2 Peter 3:15-16) states that Paul can be hard to understand. If this is the case then it may be that passages like Romans 9 are difficult, and need to be understood in light of other passages. If we say the Calvinist reading of Romans 9 is clear this means significant amounts of Paul elsewhere is hard to understand, as well as several other authors of the Bible.

Nevertheless, in chapter 11 it is clear that what keeps us in the tree (kingdom of God) is faith. We are grafted in because of faith, and removed because of unbelief.
They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. (Romans 11:20-23).
Both Arminians and Calvinists can agree here that salvation is connected to faith. I think this agreement should be remembered in discussions, and this fact receive significant emphasis. The disagreement is over the source of the faith: Is it God who provides the faith, or the person who responds to God in faith. Chapters 9 thru 11 are somewhat difficult in places; yet it seems to me that the association between disobedience and not understanding in chapter 10, and the exhortation to continue in God's kindness in chapter 11, would make most sense when faith is understood as a response to God.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

The richest men of the last 1000 years

Celebrity Networth have calculated the wealthiest people of the last 1000 years adjusted for inflation. Presumably these are people whose wealth is known from history. While gold can be compared by weight, I am not certain how accurate property assessments are. I guess that various monarchs held substantial land holdings that may reach this level of wealth.

Figures are in 2012 $US.
  1. Mansa Musa I – Net Worth $400 Billion
  2. The Rothschild Family – $350 Billion
  3. John D. Rockefeller – Net Worth $340 Billion
  4. Andrew Carnegie – Net Worth $310 Billion
  5. Nikolai Alexandrovich Romanov – Net Worth $300 Billion
  6. Mir Osman Ali Khan – Net Worth $230 billion
  7. William The Conqueror – Net Worth $229.5 Billion
  8. Muammar Gaddafi – Net Worth $200 Billion
  9. Henry Ford – Net Worth $199 Billion
  10. Cornelius Vanderbilt – Net Worth $185 Billion
  11. Alan Rufus – Net Worth $178.65 billion
  12. Bill Gates – Net Worth $136 Billion
  13. William de Warenne – Net Worth $147.13 Billion
  14. John Jacob Astor – Net Worth $121 Billion
  15. Richard Fitzalan 10th Earl of Arundel – Net Worth $118.6 Billion
  16. John of Gaunt – Net Worth $110 Billion
  17. Stephen Girard – Net Worth $105 Billion
  18. A.T. Stewart – Net Worth $90 Billion
  19. Henry Duke of Lancaster – Net Worth $85.1 Billion
  20. Friedrich Weyerhauser – Net Worth $80 Billion
  21. Jay Gould – Net Worth $71 Billion
  22. Carlos Slim Helu – Net Worth $68 Billion
  23. Stephen Van Rensselaer – Net Worth $68 Billion
  24. Marshall Field – Net Worth $66 Billion
  25. Sam Walton – Net Worth $65 Billion
  26. Warren Buffett – Net Worth $64 Billion
It is interesting to compare the wealth of Solomon. One cannot directly assess his wealth, but some calculations are possible. 1 Kings 10:14-15 states,
Now the weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year was 666 talents of gold, besides that which came from the explorers and from the business of the merchants, and from all the kings of the west and from the governors of the land.
It is uncertain if 1 year represents his best year, i.e. a specific year, or every year. Taking 1 talent as roughly 75 pounds (~34 kilograms), 16 ounces per pound, this is an income of 799200 ounces. At $US1750 per ounce this is an annual income of $14 billion dollars in 1 year. Solomon ruled for 40 years though he may not had had that income every year, especially in the earlier years. This is besides all the income from explorers, merchants, kings and governors.

He also had $11 million worth of chariots of his own besides what he made thru exporting them. He had wealth in ivory, fauna, and spices. Silver was so abundant its value was not worth calculating, "Silver was not considered as anything in the days of Solomon." (1 Kings 10:21).

He also owned much land. His palace in Jerusalem, his palace in Lebanon. He was able to give cities to King Hiram and his wife was given a city by Pharaoh on Solomon's marriage to his daughter. The land holdings probably add significantly to his valuation. It is likely he would get into the top 25 above.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Monday quote

It is better to be opposed by an enemy than to be adrift in meaninglessness, for the simulacrum of an enemy lends purpose to actions whose nihilism would otherwise be self-evident.

Theodore Dalrymple.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

The Binumariens come to faith in Jesus

I found the account of how the Binumarien tribe of Papua New Guinea came to belief in Christ intriguing. I am always encouraged when I hear of people joining the kingdom of God. And it is it interesting as I have heard similar things previously about how genealogy helps ground belief.

From Hidden People: How a remote New Guinea culture was brought back from the brink of extinction by Lynette Oates.

Hat tip: Creation Ministries International

Monday, 8 October 2012

Monday quote

Does the whole vast structure of modern naturalism depend not on positive evidence but simply on an a priori metaphysical prejudice? Was it devised not to get in facts but to keep out God?

CS Lewis. They Asked for a Paper.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

What we do not deserve

It is always good to be reminded of the basics.

During communion today part of the prayer mentioned that we do not deserve for Jesus to have even died for us. So often we remember that we do not deserve God's grace, we do not deserve to have him take us into his kingdom. Yet beyond not deserving him to forgive us, we do not even deserve for him to have been incarnated in order to die for us.

No matter how much we desire to join God's kingdom—and that desire itself arises in response to God drawing us to himself—we could not be in his kingdom unless he choose to die for this unworthy race.

Oh the kindness and the goodness of God.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Species and speciation

Evolution claims common descent, that is all life forms are related to each other via a common ancestor. Every living thing shares a granddad—if we go back far enough, or put more scientifically, universal common ancestry.

The alternative is known as fixity of the species, species don't change. Of course species do change, every offspring is different to its parents. On a population level gene frequencies change and mutations arise. So fixity of the species cannot mean change does not occur, rather that it is limited. So how does one define species?

Unfortunately the number of definitions is somewhat large, and much depends on what you want your definition to do. If you favour evolution, then definitions more in line with the theory may be favoured. A creationist could do the same.

From a creationist perspective I would favour the definition of species to be that of the fundamental types of plants and animals God created to breed with each other. A tree with fruit producing seed after its kind (Genesis 1:12). Beasts after their kind (Genesis 1:25). This is the basis of baraminology.

How do we work this out in practice? Some of the animals extant are different in some ways from their likely forebears, though many bear striking resemblance!

Linnaeus was onto something. Unfortunately it seems his species and even genus categories were not broad enough. We do not have fixity of the species if we use the Linnaean taxonomy.

If we start with created kinds that can breed, changes over time may limit reproduction. For example changes in body size, or timing of fertility, or cellular incompatibility may preclude breeding. These changes may come about by genetic changes such as allelic loss, mutation, targeted adaptability, chromosomal rearrangement. So while I dispute a species definition based on isolated reproductive populations, such populations may in fact be unable to breed when reintroduced to each other.

It seems likely that the various feline species descended from a pair (or group) of cats with great capacity for variation. The same with cattle, dogs, bears, and so on. Such variation can be seen in the size difference between a lion and a domestic cat, and the coat differences between tigers and leopards.

The best working definition for "species" (or type, or kind, or baramin) would consider hybridisation. Organisms that can produce offspring whether sterile, fertile (partially or fully) would be included within the same species group. A corollary of this is organisms that share hybridisation partners (however distant) would be grouped together.

This would greatly reduce the number of species, and each species would show significant variation, but the species would be isolated from each other. Tigers, leopards, lions, jaguars, lynxes will all be grouped together, but they would remain completely distinct from bears or parrots.

This is similar to fixity of the species. It allows for greater variety than is usually envisioned, though not an alien idea if we ponder domestic dog varieties. It allows for speciation in that subsequent populations may lose breeding capacity with each other, though at the cost of decreased genetic diversity, and no capacity to generate fundamentally new organisms. Some may dispute this definition of fixity of the species by reason that such groupings are frequently at the level of family or even order, or that non-interbreeding populations may arise. Fine, I am committed to the concept, not the name. "Inviolable organism boundaries with capacity for significant adaptation" is adequately descriptive though not so eloquent.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Monday quote

Physical expressions of approval between parent and child, such as hugging, kissing, cuddling, and caressing do not imply sexual behaviour.... Similarly, physical expressions of disapproval, such as spanking, should not be construed as criminal assault.

Stella Kargiannakis

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