Monday, June 30, 2008

Unnatural Selection: Chapter 17

Only one more chapter after this! Today's chapter is about various scientists, in particular a Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza and a Georgia Dunston and their separate work with the genetics of small people groups.

Cavalli-Sforza:
  • Researched genetic characteristics of Pygmies.
  • Why? Answer: in most of the Human Genome Project, "almost every single human whose genes were under intense study was a white person of European origins, like most of the geneticists themselves." Solution: several human genome diversity projects.
  • Quote: "The idea of race in the human species serves no purpose. Every classification is equally arbitrary." Spot-on.
  • Critics of the Human Genome Project cried "discrimination." Critics of the opposite, Cavalli-Sforza's, work cried "colonialism." There's no pleasing some people.
Dunston:
  • Investigated "genetic differences between 'blacks' and whites'."
  • "Without a collection of genetic markers drawn from their own population, Dunston says, blacks will never benefit fully from the genetic revolution." Example: Since many of the tissue-typing markers for organ compatibility are from white people, black people have a harder time getting precise matches. The consequences: immune rejection, lower success rate, and death.
  • "...[I]t is not at all racist...to learn how blacks differ genetically from other American ethnic groups. In fact, it might be racist not to inquire into the difference, because the result would be a continuing difference between Caucasians and African-Americans in the mortality rates for organ transplants and hereditary diseases."
  • Dunston limited her project to a manageable level "by defining the populations for study based on their distinct origins in Africa." How did she trace those origins? Answer: We may be able to thank slavery (at least the careful and extensive record-keeping part) for something after all.

Issues Etc...(drum roll)

Check out EC's latest post!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Pentecost 7

Readings: Jeremiah 28:5-9, Romans 7:1-13 (sermon text), and Matthew 10:34-42.
Is walking with Jesus simple? Yes and no. Epistle: Paul raises questions about the law - when there's a line in the sand, we want to cross it. Paul speaks to the Roman church (mostly of converted Jews) as to law-knowers.

Example from marriage: would a marriage to a corpse be sensible and/or legal? What about the converse, adultery? Verse 4: the connection - spiritually speaking, we are married to either the Law (do, do, don't do - demands perfection, which is impossible) or Christ (with whom the law changes roles because Jesus laid down His life for us! His yoke is easy vs. Law's taskmasterism). In Romans 6, Paul reminds us that we have died to the law through Baptism; we are now legally married to Christ and serve Him in thankfulness.

Temporal husbands, imitate Christ's self-sacrifice. The Church's marriage is intimate: we receive His very body and blood! After all, we die to the law only "through the body of Christ." What do we do now? We bear fruit for God, for only in Christ do our good works count before God. Before, during our marriage to the law (v. 5), we bore fruit for death.

Two ways to serve God: (1) the law (must do, do, do) or (2) the Spirit (it's joy, not a burden, to serve God with His life in us). Good works apart from Christ send us to hell.

Verse 7: surprise! The Law isn't bad! Instead, the sinner in us is at fault. The Law shows us our sin (mirror, 2nd use). Sin must be confessed - only then comes Absolution. We are to go and sin no more. Paul: the law indirectly creates sin, oddly. When a command is given, the sinner in us becomes eager to transgress that command. Verse 10 - that sin is deadly, producing death through the good and holy law.
What a conundrum. But then again, Christianity may be said to be populated by paradoxes. And what wonderful paradoxes they are!

Selected Psalms: 91

Prelude bullets:
  • Continue Psalm 136 through Christian history...up to yourself!
  • Read Scripture aloud - reading was nearly always oral in the ancient world.
Psalm 91 bullets:
  • Are vv. 1-2 our decision? Or faith's response? Daily we drown the old Adam and affirm our faith. "I will say" coincides in tense (Hebrew) with dwelling in God's shelter, i.e. "As I abide under the Almighty's shadow, I am saying..."
  • vv. 3-4 have bird imagery. God rescues us from bird-catchers and covers us with His pinions!
  • v. 5 is to be read while imagining a place with no lights at night.
  • v. 7 exemplifies God's unfathomable protection of us.
  • Satan misquotes 11a and 12 in Matthew 4 and Luke 4. What about 11b?
  • God speaks about the author in vv. 14-16.
The next Bible study will probably be in two weeks. I have yet to receive the notes from the note-taking individuals who attended Higher Things.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Gorillas

Tony Woodlief, about one of whose articles I wrote some time ago, has a very dry sense of humor.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Unnatural Selection: Chapter 16

Is there a link between genes and criminal tendencies? This chapter attempts to resolve that question and ultimately concedes defeat, telling you, the Dear Reader, that you are supposed to figure that out, however that is possible.

Besides discussion of heritability of criminal tendencies (e.g. aggression, tenuously linked to a defective MAO gene), there's a box about homosexuality, citing Dean Hamer's 1993 sibling study and Simon LeVay's 1991 autopsy study. Is it nature (genes in one's DNA), or is it nurture (environmental factors)? Again, the question remains at least partly unanswered.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Unnatural Selection: Chapter 15

HMOs and PPOs and much genetic testing (if you're in the mood for this sort of thing, or this if you're Lutheran). Or, to put it in the words of one much wiser than I: The love of (saving) money is the root of all evil. This chapter centers around the efforts of genetics-related professionals to solve the health care problems: costs up, coverage down. A great push is made for universal, non-fee-for-service care.

Yes, I know it's a major campaign issue. And yes, millions of Americans are without coverage because of a variety of things. But I think we're looking at the wrong side of the issue, or even the wrong issue entirely. Broaden your focus, please, to look at the possible root cause of societal ills like a health-care crisis, gun and other weapon crime, child abuse, drug and substance abuse, poor health of many who necessitate more health care, etc.

Personal responsibility and a sense of absolute morality. Fewer people cannot swallow that than certain readers may think. How does my proposition impact the above areas?
  • Weapon crime: Citizens own weapons. A man's home is his castle. (Hooray for SCOTUS!)
  • Child abuse: When human life is cheapened by abortion (for which reasons include [1] a moral code that serves self and [2] unwillingness to have responsibility for a helpless human being for at least eight months), born children are affected too.
  • Substance abuse: Your body is not yours to do absolutely anything to.
  • Poor health: Many preventable diseases and conditions stem from an unhealthy lifestyle, e.g. couch potato.
Your take? Other points?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Brothers of John the Steadfast

Hooray! The site is up!

Unnatural Selection: Chapter 14

Today you will learn everything you ever wanted to know about genetic counselors, plus a little about writing centers (I have a year of experience in tutoring in writing and reading at the center of my previous college). What could a genetic counselor and a writing tutor have in common? The answer: a tendency towards being nondirective, sometimes with perilous consequences. Seven examples and/or reasons not to be directive:
  1. "Imagine going to your doctor...[y]our blood pressure is 200/110, and your doctor says, '...You have about a year to live with blood pressure like that. But you do what you want. It's information. Deal with it.' No one talks that way."
  2. "What to do, for instance, for the couple who openly avow that they want to know the gender of a fetus so they can terminate it if it is the 'wrong' sex?"
  3. A genetic test is generally NOT a diagnosis.
  4. The counselor's perception versus the family's perception (related to #3): ".It is not the level of risk that determines decisions, so much as what is risked.' Yet counselors are trained to focus on the former, while they may be more or less unprepared to convey the latter."
  5. Nondirective counseling has been compared "to a travel agent providing pictures of foreign destinations but no guidebooks or descriptions."
  6. "For a counselor to tell a client she would support whatever decision she makes is actually paternalistic and highly directive, [psychologist Seymour Kessler] maintained, because the counselor is co-opting the high moral ground and not allowing the client to engage in dialogue or disagree with her - thereby actually robbing the client of autonomy."
  7. Does counseling offer tangible benefit? "Wertz and Fletcher's report, however, showed some interesting outcomes: the 44 percent of clients who said they had been influenced by genetic counseling left the sessions with reproductive plans similar to those of the 56 percent who said they had not. More than half who said they were influenced did not change their plans as a result of counseling."
In brief, it's a very bad idea to try to be value-neutral. To connect: a quote from "A Critique of Pure Tutoring" (Linda Shamoon and Deborah Burns, The St. Martin's Sourcebook for Writing Tutors, 3rd Ed., eds. Christina Murphy and Steve Sherwood; Boston/NY: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2008), p. 177:
When Deborah Burns was completing a thesis for her M.A. in English Literature, she was tutored by her major professor...For many years Burns puzzled over the direct intervention made by her director while she composed her Master's thesis. The intervention had been extremely helpful, yet it went against everything she had learned in composition studies. Her director was directive, he substituted his own words for hers, and he stated with disciplinary appropriateness the ideas with which she had been working. Furthermore, Burns observed that other graduate students had the same experience with this director: he took their papers and rewrote them while they watched. They left feeling better able to complete their papers, and they tackled other papers with greater ease and success.
During training before my first year of tutoring, I learned the predominant Socratic method and barely used modeling. This director's deeds may have been inappropriate for the writing center, but there are still lessons for me therein, and for teaching in general.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Unnatural Selection: Chapter 13

We're on the home stretch of this book, thankfully. Only about a third to go. Today's chapter talks about ELSI, "the gentle watchdog" for gene investigation. The best thing about that watchdog is that "[i]t was deliberative and proactive, rather than reactive" (emphasis in original). Since I've hammered the ethical issues of gene therapy to death in past posts, here is a quote to entertain you (all emphasis in original)...
Some bureaucrats at the NIH were skeptical, to say the least. ELSI's first director, Eric Juengst, relates a conversation between one senior NIH official and [James] Watson that same year, just after ELSI had been created. "I still don't understand why you want to spend all this money subsidizing the vacuous pronunciamentos of self-styled ethicists!" the unnamed bureaucrat said. Watson responded that, like it or not, the cat was out of the bag about ethical problems arising from the genome project. "But why inflate the cat?" the official shot back. "Why put the cat on TV?"
Tomorrow it'll be about genetic counseling.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Selected Psalms: 37, 65

Side note: Our fun-loving pastor, in the course of discussion on the moderately imprecatory Psalm 37, mentioned the smashing of Babylonian infantile craniums no fewer than eight times.

Psalm 37 - another acrostic (skill with words), imprecatory (vengeance is God's alone).
  • How to deal with trouble: look out, look up, be constructive.
  • vv. 1-3: the above approach applied; extended in 4-6, 8, etc. The whole process is an elaboration on how and why to turn the other cheek.
  • v. 3 - "dwell in the land" (being constructive!) usually signifies life by faith (our ultimate promised land, heaven, is still in the future). The older we get, the more that only forgiveness of sins matters.
  • Doubting God's control over the situation = doubting His deity. Don't.
  • v. 4 - Psalm 46:10. The hard part! How long to wait?
  • v. 16 - Proverbs 17:1. v. 39 - struggle necessitates faith. Take refuge in GOD ALONE.
Psalm 65 moves from the temple to individuals' acts of righteousness in Creation - a psalm of thanksgiving. Contrast Psalm 19.
  • v. 1 - Christ is the new great Sacrifice. v. 3 - the Atonement!
  • v. 2 - a reference to the Last Day.
  • v. 4 - salvation is not of ourselves! Christ is God's goodness.
  • v. 5 - anything God does is righteous.
  • v. 8 - all are in awe of God's signs, of which the Cross is the most exalted. Poetry follows.
  • v. 11 - God's (metaphorical) wagon of blessings spills some into our laps every time it hits a bump. What lovely imagery!
  • vv. 12-13 - the earth is literally coated with God-given abundance.

Pentecost 6

Readings: Psalm 91; Jeremiah 20:7-13; Romans 6:12-23 (sermon text); and Matthew 10:5a, 21-33.
We change in Christ, but not for the worse. Now (v. 19), we present our bodies "as slaves to righteousness." But not because we decide to do X and Y for the Lord! No; instead, righteous acts flow from our imputed grace, faith, and righteousness. Therefore, since we (our old selves) have been slain by Baptism and we (our new selves) have life in Christ Jesus, we may act as bondservants of God.

Verse 23 - wages vs. gift. We earn death by sin, but receive (entirely passively on our part) God's gift of life. We hate the things of death and Satan, but we love the things of life and God - drown yourself in His Word, find joy in service to God and our neighbor, enjoy being His child and bondservant. Become Christ to each other, Jesus with skin on. It may be self-sacrificial, but it is part of our service to God. Count it all joy (not "happiness" - selfward and subjective - but "joy" - Godward and objective).

We together are the body of Christ. Together we serve, rejoicing in our gift from the God of life.
Next week I hope to post whatever notes the members and chaperones of my church's youth group have taken at the Higher Things conference.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

GOTR is happily busy

Girl on the Right, a fantastic Canadian bloggeress, has been industriously amassing news on Islam even faster than The Midnight Sun is at the moment. Browse these...

Justice has been served, at least linguistically.

Ironic headlines, not for the squeamish.

A depressing piece of news that should instead be rousing people.

An apt cartoon.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Unnatural Selection: chapter 12

Craig Venter (about whom I blogged here and here) is central in this chapter. Below are facts and links.
  • His pet project: The Institute for Genetic Research (TIGR, pronounced 'tiger').
  • His method for sequencing the entire human genome as fast as possible: men and machines.
  • His goal: have the sequence data as public as possible.
  • A use of those sequences: back-translate into proteins to make new medicines.
  • Genetic tests, as usual, come up, with risks.
  • TIGR is technically nonprofit, but others love to make money.
Now go look at those databases, O readers of this aspiring biologist's blog.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Unnatural Selection: Chapter 11

Lots of interesting insets and boxes today. Here are a few.

1. A rough history of genetics (paraphrased)
  • 1860s - Mendel.
  • 1870s - Darwin. Books: Origin of Species and Descent of Man.
  • 1910s - eugenics.
  • 1920s - Thomas Hunt Morgan, heredity and fruit flies.
  • 1930s - hemophilia and color-blindness figured out as sex-linked conditions.
  • 1950s - Watson and Crick! Genetic linkage as well.
  • 1960s - hybrid cells made (mixed-source DNA).
  • 1970s - sequenced: viral protein coat gene. Endonuclease roles elaborated.
  • 1980s - Human Genome Project begun. In Paris: gene-fragment library founded.
  • 1990s - genome mapping!
2. Mendel's principles (verbatim), now discovered to have many exceptions:
  • Traits are inherited as units, as if they are particles. They are inherited in pairs.
  • Some traits are dominant, or overpowering, while others recede, are recessive [sic].
  • If each parent has one dominant and one recessive particle, three-fourths of the offspring will show the dominant trait and one-fourth will show the recessive trait.
  • Many traits are inherited independently of each other. Thus, plants may be of similar height, but the color of their blossoms may vary. Some traits are unvarying within a certain hereditary line, but other traits vary independently.
3. So-called junk DNA and a discussion of its supposed roles in macro- and micro-evolution.
  • After years of fiddling, we still don't know what much of this non-gene (perhaps 95% of the total genome) sequence is or does.
  • It does have functions like specifying proteins' 3-D shapes and helping us identify mammal cells.
  • "It seems that most genes may have several corresponding pseudogenes - misguided ancestors, perhaps, who have lost their way in the genome and can't get back home." If macroevolution is fact, why the need to use so many qualifying words? Perhaps? Maybe? Could? Conceivably?
4. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR).
  • The enzyme: DNA polymerase, a.k.a. the copying enzyme.
  • The method: Use a DNA polymerase from a heat-loving bacterium; the heat separates the freshly made copies of a DNA fragment so the enzyme can copy it again.
  • "It's sometimes also possible to extract DNA from a fingerprint." Now that would help Scotland Yard, wouldn't it.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Unnatural Selection: Chapter 10

This chapter seemed a little bland and anti-America more so than a few others. While its main focus was on American efforts (after dropping A-bombs, of course) to study radiation's effects on humans, the introductory quote compared the science of genetics itself to a bomb, bursting on us from seemingly nowhere. Perhaps more insights will come later.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Roundup: Prophecy fulfilled, immoral marriage, taxes, and compromise

The prophecy in question I mentioned a day or two ago. As Aurora and the WSJ predicted, the Lisbon Treaty is being forced through.

Same-sex marriage: Is it popular and persecuted, beyond perverse, or both?

Taxes go down, incomes go up. How many times must economists say it before liberals stop making fun?

Compromise on democratic values is a bad thing. It took someone long enough to say it about Europe and Islam.

Unnatural Selection: Chapter 9

The quote opening this chapter, by Robert Wright, author of The Moral Animal, captures the theme particularly well; before I reminded myself that this was in a book about biomedical ethics, the phrase "original sin" leaped instantly to mind:
The first step to being moral is to realize how thoroughly we aren't.
Wingerson subtly reminds us of our own shortcomings (read SIN) from this quote onward; I saw several allusions to the plank-in-your-own-eye teaching. To wit:
...[A]nswers [to the questions of what exact moral rules the Nazi doctors broke] do exist, but many people, especially specialists in genetics, don't like to look too closely at them. The answers tend to lead to a mirror.
The Nuremberg principles themselves resemble the Ten Commandments, only reformulated specifically for biomedical ethics. They include informed consent without any coercion, an exhortation to use animals or some other means besides humans unless absolutely necessary, minimization of suffering, having risks be at most equal to benefits, and the ability of both researchers and subjects to end the experiment for a broad range of reasons.

Another quote, on examining what made the Nazi doctors do what they did (emphasis in original):
The discomfiting question "How could they have done it?" evokes an even more unpleasant one: "Could we do it?"
Further on, in a discussion criticizing "the skewed logic of popular eugenics," is a telling statement that could apply to, among other things, embryonic stem cell research (emphasis in original):
...But this argument [one of the logical flaws] implies that if your science is valid, it is impossible to be immoral - just as some defendants at Nuremberg argued that their only obligation was to carry out the experiments competently. It does not address the question of whether eugenic efforts backed by valid science ought to be considered worthwhile.
Finally, Wingerson talks briefly about the Tuskegee syphilis study, "a violation of the Nuremberg Code" (to understate) that took place between 1932 and 1972. Tacked on is a mention of another "of numerous examples" of violations: that "the U.S. Army [in the'50s and '60s] quietly released a chemical [zinc cadmium sulfide] into the air over cities and rural areas of the United States and Canada...in order to test the possible dispersion of biological weapons." Where is that in the history books?

On page 171, less related to the plank-eye motif, is a connection I can't resist, and with which I will leave you (emphasis mine):
[Psychiatrist Robert Jay] Lifton himself, however, did make an evaluation: that Nazi philosophy destroyed the boundaries between healing and killing, that it erased commonly accepted principles of medical ethics and replaced them (often forcibly, using law and police power) with a whole new philosophy of public health. The philosophy meshed perfectly with certain principles of science that had been gaining in popularity for many years, most notably natural selection and survival of the fittest. National Socialism, said Nazi party leader Rudolf Hess at a mass meeting in 1934, "is nothing but applied biology."

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Selected Psalms: 71 and 34

Psalm 71 may go with 70 and, if so, would be written by David; definitely written in later life.
  • Fortress imagery - common - we need God to be our refuge/deliverer. Hard in the U.S. to imagine the concept of invasion. Yet we don't know what will happen tomorrow. Take refuge therefore in the true God.
  • v. 2 - "In Your righteousness" - not only what He expects me to do (law), but also His grace to deliver me (gospel).
  • v. 3 - remind God about the promises He makes in His Word.
  • v. 9 - theme. Never desire to be without Christ.
  • v. 12 relates to 70:1. See Matins/Vespers liturgy.
  • v. 18 - our life's purpose is to proclaim God. The young should heed the old.
  • v. 20 points to the hope of resurrection. Religion ain't evolved! (Some liberal scholars claim that resurrection is a newfangled concept.)
Psalm 34 was written early in life. See 1 Samuel 21:10-15. Achish = Abimelech (one person can be referred to by several names. This is not a intra-Biblical contradiction.)
  • One of several acrostic poems (e.g. 119); this is much easier in Hebrew!
  • v. 1 - bless the LORD at all times. Prayer acronym: ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication). See Philippians 4:6. Why? God's goodness to us and our ancestors began with Jesus Christ.
  • vv. 4-6 - He saves us from all our fears! Cry to Him and be heard.
  • v. 7 - "the Angel of the LORD" usually refers to Christ Himself.
  • vv. 8-14 - liturgically heavy. v. 8 - cf. Hebrews 6:5. vv. 9-10 - cf. Psalm 23. vv. 13-14 are practical and grounded thoroughly in the Word.
  • vv. 15-18 - the whole of God participates in our deliverance.
  • v. 19 - see Matthew 10:16-22. Christians will be afflicted.
  • v. 20 - prophecy about Christ.

Pentecost 5

Readings: Psalm 67, Exodus 19:2-8, Romans 5:6-15, and Matthew 9:35-10:20 (sermon text).
"Thou camest to our hall of death" (LSB 834.3) - Christ broke into our sinful world, exemplified in the early months of Jesus' ministry (Gospel reading). Noteworthy: early in the Gospels are many miracles, decreasing in number as He approaches the main purpose: His sacrificial death and saving resurrection (Rom. 5:10). The Greek word for this action, "compassion," sounds like and literally means guts/innards (transliteration: splagchna).

Jesus came to be the Good Shepherd, to lay down His perfect life for an utterly sinful people who can never apart from Him live up to God's law's standards. Our sinfulness pained Him - He felt splagchna for us. God no longer holds our burden of imperfection and spiritual harassment above us. Instead, the good news comes precisely to those who are spiritually harassed.

"The laborers are few" - Jesus gives His Spirit to the apostles to preach the world's shortest sermon (10:7). In this world of anti-authoritarianism and informality, Christ named only a few (pastors) to be ministers of the kingdom.

The laborers are worthy of their hire - God promised to care for them. Congregations support pastors who have been sent to them. Messengers needed to take no gold or silver. Shaking dust from their sandals was the ultimate insult. Unbelieving towns' dust wasn't worthy to be even on the messengers' sandals!

The message guarantees persecution when properly preached (e.g. 2 Timothy 3:12). Remember this; Jesus is the only way into heaven, and pastors are to be wise as serpents, yet innocent as doves. Pray that pastors get this wisdom. The Spirit of our Father will give them what to say - no need for pastors' own wit. Do they preach God's word and that alone? Do they preach Christ crucified? If so, good.
In retrospect, this sermon is excellent for Fathers' Day, for a pastor is indeed a spiritual father for his congregation.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Roundup: EU, Islam, teaching, and blogging

First: four takes on the Lisbon Treaty, currently in process of ratification and opposed by many because its passage would foreseeably reduce democracy's power. Here's the straight news article, although perhaps sympathizing a bit with this next take. On the other side is The Midnight Sun and an op-ed.

Here is another op-ed, about the Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy and its First Amendment issues.

Third, please read this op-ed, concerning teaching and the rationale(s) behind it. Although I don't plan to participate in Teach for America, it hits very close to the reason I want to teach biology: the money would be nice, but the experience and service are better.

Finally, here's a perspective on blogging from the more mature side of the fence: bloggers aged more in the baby-boomer-and-older range.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Unnatural Selection: Chapter 8

This chapter introduces us to Otmar von Verschuer, a participant in the Nazi eugenics/"racial hygiene" movement and provides a taste of the life of Josef Mengele, who will be discussed in the following chapter. After noting that, after the fall of Hitler, Verschuer had "come back west, prepared to begin again," Wingerson moves on to a detailed description of his work as the professor of a then-new Frankfurt Institute for Genetics and Racial Hygiene.

Central in the text is an analysis of Germany's 1934 Law for the Prevention of Genetically Ill Offspring. I noted four flaws of the law besides that of its gruesome purpose, sterilization:
  • The nine conditions requiring sterilization were "broadly defined." That widened the already-wide sluice gate of moral wrong.
  • These conditions "were thought to be hereditary" (emphasis mine). Bad science.
  • Similar to much of the preexisting "high-minded academic literature behind the eugenics program," the law "spoke as if these sterilizations would be voluntary" - this reeks of brainwashing, no?
  • Another assumption was that the general population understood thoroughly the concepts of "'heredity' and 'feeblemindedness'." When one doesn't define something, that something becomes open to wider and wider interpretation.
I also found it interesting that Frankfurt had, by 1935, the most comprehensive genetic registry in all Germany. The Midnight Sun has posted about Britain's attempts at beginning potentially such a registry.

Here is utilitarianism (the greatest good for the greatest number of people) at its worst: "People judged [via the registry] to be 'inferior' were thereafter excluded from public support and health care."

One of Verschuer's suggestions (which, thankfully, was never codified; emphasis mine):
...Verschuer had argued for a change in the sterilization laws. He had suggested that the conditions for sterilization be broadened to 'severe hereditary disturbances, severe hereditary illness, and severe hereditary physical abnormalities.' His main rationale was that his experience had shown him that 'the number of genetic illnesses is so huge and diverse that in the current diagnostic system everything cannot be ordered sensibly.' In other words, he wanted doctors to be free to order sterilizations ['abortions' may be easily substituted here, don't you think?] without being obliged to explain their decisions based on specific diagnoses.
To end on a lighter note before tomorrow, here is a tidbit, not morose but rather a ghastly pun: A man by the surname of Schade "wrote [Verschuer's] long and glowing eulogy." "Schade" means "damage" or "What a pity!"

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Unnatural Selection: Chapter 7

Eugenics! Darwinian theory/hypothesis! It comes together in this chapter, foreseeably to the chagrin of certain proponents of macroevolution. Quotes with my bold comments:
  • "The term eugenics was coined in 1883 by the English mathematician Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin. He defined it as the science of improving humanity by enhancing the chances that the 'fittest' would produce more offspring than the 'less fit.' The eugenicists felt a mandate to help human evolution along." Am I only seeing a phantom connection?
  • "To be against eugenics early in this century 'was to be perceived as being against modernity, progress, and science,' writes anthropologist Jonathan Marks. 'The ideas were inaccurate and insensitive - but they were modern science' at the time." If I may remind today's scientists, they still don't know everything. Science will change now too.
  • "[Frederick Osborn's] efforts [to reform eugenics] were doomed by events in Europe. By the late 1940s, after public revelations about Nazi atrocities, the eugenics movement and even the word eugenics had fallen out of favor." But the concept remains.
  • "Scientists stand on the shoulders of their forbears. What is worth marking is the deliberate amnesia as to some unsavory aspects of its history that has pervaded this particular field [of population genetics] until very recently." Never forget. This connects nicely with a quote I found in Remembering the Christian Past by Robert L. Wilken (Eerdmans, 1995, p. 14): "Without memory the language of scholarship is impoverished, barren, and lifeless, a tottering scaffold of secondary creations in which 'words refer only to words.'" [Czeslaw Milosz, The Witness of Poetry, Cambridge, 1983, p. 49].
Is this chapter a cautionary tale, then? What else is it?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Germophobia!

Today's The Informed Patient, written by latent germophobe Laura Landro, suggests how to avoid nasty things like
  • hantavirus from mouse nests (wash your hands!);
  • salmonella from tomatoes (a fairly odd source for the bacterium; avoid bruised fruits/vegetables);
  • crypto (warning: also concerns HIV/AIDS and related behaviors) via leaky swimming diapers (don't swim in open water after a rain);
  • West Nile and Lyme disease (wear long-sleeved clothing outside); and
  • petting-zoo bugs (WASH YOUR HANDS!).
And please don't overuse the antimicrobial gels - strange and scary things can happen, as referenced by this article (a critique of which is for another day).

Unnatural Selection: Chapter 6

Mainly about genetic testing (not to be confused with screening, also mentioned), this chapter takes a wide sweep. Here's a sampling:
  • Fragile X syndrome, a form of mental retardation second in frequency only to Down syndrome. Since females have two copies of the X chromosome (whereas males have one copy of X and one copy of Y), they can be carriers of this disease, in which a part of the end of one of the 'arms' of an X chromosome is weaker and may break off. At its most severe, the syndrome resembles autism or hyperactivity; at its least severe, affected children appear perfectly normal. A poignant question implied by the text: should we find a cure for a given disease before we test? Apply this to various medical scenarios.
  • In the midst of an inset on how Science News tried to frame the genetic-testing/screening debate in 1994 comes this gem (emphasis mine): "A geneticist and a genetic counselor favored giving the dwarf couple [who wanted a dwarf child] the test; two well-known ethicists said the test should not be provided. They argued that using genetic testing to help abort a healthy fetus runs counter to its purpose." Now what was it people are saying about legalized abortion leading to "every child a wanted child"?
  • Another inset is titled "Mutations, Variations, and 'normality'." The main question: How do we tell whether a given gene is "normal" or not? Is the "normal" allele (form) the most common one? What if that proportion decreases as a result of population-genetics factors?
  • Helpful is another inset: "What to Consider Before You're Tested." For example: "If something seems to 'run in the family,' are you sure that each relative actually had the condition you suspect?" Other suggestions include sensible ones like being as informed as possible, taking notes, keeping records, finding out costs beforehand, and collecting unbiased details about success rates of various tests, not to mention "the nature and variability of the disease...and nongenetic [sic] factors that may contribute to its development."

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Unnatural Selection: Chapter 5

This chapter was about experimentation on early embryos ("pre-embryos" as termed by some scientists) and the tangle of ethical issues surrounding that experimentation. Several times the quandary of a researcher being a physician at the same time was brought up. Interestingly, the authors mentioned both of the current cloning methods.

The first, somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), was the method used to make Dolly the sheep; it is essentially removing the nucleus from a somatic (non-reproductive) cell and replacing it with the nucleus from an egg cell, then tweaking the DNA so the hybrid was fooled into behaving like an ordinary embryo. The trouble with that method is that, chromosomally, the cell is already fairly old, so the year-old resultant clone is genetically several years older.

The second, embryo twinning (octupling?), essentially makes twins by hand instead of in utero. The scientist splits an eight-cell embryo (at which point its cells are still identical and capable of differentiating) into eight one-cell embryos. For research purposes, those new embryos are not allowed to mature enough to become future infants.

Now for a sampling of the ethical morass, resulting from inability of ethics to keep up with science, or from science overstepping its bounds. An inset on pages 94 and 95 explains "the bare bones of contention," which are (bold comments mine):
  1. Information. "Some of the loudest critics of embryo research...think the entity is the formed fetus, not an undifferentiated mass the size of the dot on the letter i. Other people may have less obvious misconceptions..." Yes. Does that make much of an ethical difference? I defer to the words of a sage on this topic. I may be oversimplifying too, but perhaps we need a little more of that.
  2. Premises. "Some disputants disagree about the value of that mass of [eight] cells, about how to define human life, and about when it starts." Is an otter not an otter when it's only two cells large? What about an eagle or another endangered species?
  3. Values. What is most important? Is it "progress in science," or "the needs of infertile couples," or is it the prevention of a slippery slope?
  4. Consequences. Perceived threats include "the continued lack of regulation of the private fertility industry," disappearance "of human dignity," and the uncertain future of IVF.
(At which point I think: Didn't I just spend an entire semester on these issues? Why did I have to choose this particular book now? It's a learning experience anyway.)

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Selected Psalms: 46 and 27

Notes on Psalm 46, the basis for "A Mighty Fortress is our God."
  • "Of Sabaoth Lord" (stanza 2) is appropriately rendered "Lord of hosts" in the ESV.
  • v. 1 - "our" is better rendered "for us" - on our side! See Romans 8:31 for a parallel.
  • What kind of troubles? Massive earthquakes, hurricanes, etc. See Matthew 21:21 for an odd take - can bad be good?
  • v. 4a - a better water. Viewing through a Christ-centered perspective, relate this to Jesus (John 7:37ff). The streams of Baptism make us glad. (No one stole your Baptism today, did they?)
  • v. 4b - God lives in us by faith. Contrast Ezekiel 10, wherein the Glory leaves the Temple.
  • v. 5b - most battles began at dawn. God wins. Period.
  • v. 6 - see also Psalm 29:3-4 and 2 Peter 3:10. The earth will be melted.
  • v. 7 - refrain, repeated in v. 11. "Sabaoth." Also note "God of Jacob" and see Exodus 15:3-4, Isaiah 7:14, and Matthew 1:23.
  • v. 10 - "Be still, my soul" and 1 Kings 19. Be still sometimes!
Notes on Psalm 27, so wonderful that it almost needs no comment.
  • v. 1 - soaked with Christ: "the Lord," "light," and "salvation" (after all, "Jesus" means "savior").
  • v. 3 - see 2 Kings 6, 7, and 19 for examples of God's deliverance.
  • v. 4 - see Psalms 23, 122, and Luke 2. v. 5 - Ps. 91. v. 6 - Ps. 3, 23. v. 8 - seeking God: Isaiah 55:6; Ps. 77:2, 105:3. v. 9 - Ps. 69:17, 102:2. v. 10 - Gal. 4:4-6 (God's adoption). v. 11 - Ps. 25:4-5, much in Ps. 119. v. 13 - hope of eternal life. v. 14 - waiting for God in trouble: Ps. 31:24, 37:9, 34, and Is. 40:31.

Pentecost 4

Today's readings were Psalm 119, Hosea 5:15-6:6, Romans 4:13-25, and Matthew 9:9-13, which was the sermon text.
Are we crazy to follow Jesus, as Matthew did? No. Even though Matthew left his well-paying job of tax collector to follow Him? Still no. Perhaps he had been absorbing the Messiah's words (antithetical to prevailing culture) for some time. Still he wasn't crazy, although his friends suggested otherwise. Tax collectors were lumped with sinners, and Matthew certainly didn't appear to be star material. Yet he wasn't crazy. But why not?

Answer: Jesus "came to call not the righteous, but sinners," and this was God's will. He defined "sinner" more broadly than the Pharisees did, thus including all of us. After all, He came to save His people from their sins.

"Go and learn" the meaning of God's will (v. 13a) is the same Greek root used in the Great Commission. Learning the will of God is the life of a Christian, a life each of us Christians un-crazily lives unto eternity before the face of God-with-us. "Follow Me." These two words are our life. Why? Answer: We have a competent Commander who knows what He's doing. We don't have to know "where" - because Jesus is there.
What a comfort.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Unnatural Selection: Chapter 4

This chapter, titled "The Faulkner Conference," seemed to ramble quite a bit. However, it did have an above-average number of insets and explanatory boxes, many of which are very interesting. I will explore two, since a Goodsearch search turned up nothing relating to the conference on achondroplasia (a form of dwarfism) that had taken place at a Faulkner Hospital in Boston.

Human embryogenesis
  • Step 1: contact of the sperm and egg. This results in the binucleate (two nuclei) zygote.
  • Step 2: cleavage, or the first cell division.
  • Step 3: the blastomeres (identical results of step 2) split every 18 hours or so. At the eight-cell stage, it is apparently safe to remove one cell for chromosomal analysis.
  • Step 4: the cells, now numbering 16, start to specialize.
  • Step 5: the now-four-day-old cells differentiate. Some form a pre-placenta (here's an interesting tidbit about that) and the total embryo is called a blastocyst.
  • Step 6: the now-120-cell blastocyst implants itself, becoming properly attached. More specialization happens.
  • Step 7: the precursors of organs form in gastrulation. At this step, there is no more possibility of twins forming.
Theriogenology (i.e. "the study of reproduction in beasts) (not a box, but worth mention):
  • Animal husbandry scientists treat bovine embryos (for example) in ways still prohibited for humans, thankfully. One of these uses is cloning, often resulting in one or more abnormally large calves.
  • "A year after Dolly's [the famous sheep] birth, several more cloned farm animals were in existence, and Dolly herself was pregnant. But the yield of healthy cloned animals was still, on balance, minuscule." Perhaps that had something to do with this?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Good students

Please read this (25-page PDF). The first 10 pages or so are excellent for study hints; later, the author deteriorates somewhat.

Personal note - I will be taking organic chemistry in the fall, among other things. I found an old textbook at a book rescue a few months ago and am going through it. The author recommends the same thing!

Unnatural Selection: Chapter 3

Yesterday (Chapter 2) I hypothesized about the connection between the end-of-chapter quote and abortion. This chapter, titled "Choices," was heartening to read in that neither family featured even considered an abortion.

The disease: cystic fibrosis (CF), requiring daily chest/back pounding and enzymes with food to correct a bodily failure to thin the mucus in the lungs and digestive organs.

Family 1, devout Christians, conceived their first child who had CF, another recessive genetic disease. Since both parents were carriers, they had a 25% chance of conceiving any given child with both disease-causing alleles (forms of the gene). They wanted to have another child but ultimately decided against such embryo-controlling techniques as in vitro fertilization(IVF), artificial insemination, and the like. Trusting in God and deciding to take what came, the couple conceived again and had a normal child. (The woman was tested by chorionic villus sampling (CVS) as soon as was feasible.)

Family 2 took a different route for their second child: IVF. To ensure that the embryo had one or no copies of the CF allele, doctors took one cell from the early embryo and tested it. After being told that that early genetic test showed two normal copies, the woman refused further tests such as CVS, choosing instead to trust in the first test and not wanting to know any further.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Unnatural Selection: Chapter 2

Like chapter 1, this chapter explores the question of genetic testing for such diseases as Tay-Sachs. However, it extends it by describing a Polish-American woman with one Jewish grandmother and that woman's developing infant. This provides opportunity for the author to explore AFP testing versus amniocentesis versus ultrasound (the woman eventually chose the ultrasound and ended up bearing a healthy, normal baby anyway, reminiscent of this post by Right Girl).

Several ethical issues are also alluded to, including the meaning of "voluntary," whether genetic testing is worth all it's touted to be, coercion, the researcher-physician dichotomy, and the tendency of people being tested not to be given informed choices. I found this quote interesting, particularly when viewed in light of today's so-called abortion ["freedom to choose"] rights (emphasis in original):
"We need to reassess what 'choice' is for women," writes psychologist Robyn Rowland. "In gaining the choice to control the quality of our children, we may lose the choice not to control the quality; the choice of simply accepting them as they are."
Lo and behold, the title of the next chapter is "Choices."

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Unnatural Selection: Chapter 1

This chapter has the provocative title "Generation of the Upright." For those familiar with Tay-Sachs disease, American Ashkenazim, and recessive genetic diseases in general, this may ring a bell. The Jewish translation, Dor Yeshorim, signifies a genetic testing program implemented by a Rabbi Josef Ekstein; it has wiped out the incidence of Tay-Sachs disease in the communities in which it is followed. Since I have dealt somewhat with various ethical issues written about in the chapter, I will only describe the nature of genetic diseases and the program itself.

Each human has two copies of each gene or a form (allele) thereof, one from each parent. One form (allele) of a given gene may be dominant and, if it is, the other form may be recessive - i.e. it can "hide" or not express itself if a dominant allele of the same gene is present. When a disease is termed "genetic recessive," it only manifests itself if an individual has two copies of the recessive, disease-causing allele. If an individual has one copy of the recessive allele and one copy of the dominant allele, s/he is termed a "carrier" - the disease itself does not show up, but if his or her spouse also has one copy of the recessive allele, their children have a 25% chance of receiving two recessive copies, developing the disease. Tay-Sachs is genetic recessive and kills by age six.

Sometimes it is beneficial to be a carrier of a normally-disease-causing allele because it confers resistance to some other, normally fatal disease. Two examples are Tay-Sachs (of which one copy of the recessive allele protects against tuberculosis epidemics) and sickle-cell anemia (of which a carrier status decreases the individual's susceptibility to malaria).

And what is the program? Since Orthodox Judaism is one of several religions to prohibit abortion, it could not include prenatal testing. Instead, at the age of twelve, all participating Jewish youths are tested via a blood sample to see if they are carriers of the disease. To protect confidentiality, each person is identified at the storage center for blood samples by a six-digit number and the month/day of their birth. When, years later, a young man and woman are considering getting married, they submit their ID numbers and dates to the center; if both are carriers, they are counseled against marriage. If neither or only one is a carrier, they are approved.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Unnatural Selection: Introduction

The information page is here; unfortunately, there's no preview yet. As it's more than somewhat difficult to reproduce my annotations, I'll try it the old-fashioned way, i.e. quotes and comments.

  • "This is a tale about evolution." Micro or macro? Yes, I know that a very large number of evolutionists still hold to Darwin's guess that 'if an organism can change a little bit in a short amount of time, why shouldn't it be able to change a lot in a long time?' Judging from the fact that we're still human, I'm guessing it's micro.
  • "...something far more personally meaningful than...a rationale for museum dioramas." DNA is as close to us as our skin. It tells about our probable past, present, and future.
  • A question frequently raised is whether society can catch up in understanding the research. To which I add: Should society do so?
  • "...the chemical basis of yourself or someone else." Alluding to the second quote, this also prompts another question: Is that all it is? Or is it something more?
  • "We must never minimize the...portent of these new discoveries." At the same time, we should not overestimate it.
  • "[The Human Genome Project] is well ahead of its own schedule for mapping the genome by the year 2005." This book was written in 1998. The mapping was complete in 2003.
  • Speaking about a November 12, 1963 New York Times article about genetic research, Wingerson suggests two important conflicts: science-vs.-society and ethics-vs.-science.
  • People to learn about: "The head of the Human Genome Project, Francis Collins, M.D....James Watson...[and] Sandra Kretz, who was a vice-president at Quantum Health Resources." Collins expressed voluble concern about potential misuses of research results. One of these is denial of insurance coverage. See the Genetic Nondiscrimination Act.
  • I was somewhat dissatisfied with the lessened degree of specificity of details brought up in the introduction. Says Wingerson: "...I have simplified details...Above all I have tried to adhere to two basic tenets of my own profession of journalism: to be both accurate and fair." Fair enough.
Chapter 1 is tomorrow.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Pentecost 3

Readings: Deuteronomy 11:18-21, 26-28; Psalm 4; Romans 3:21-28 (primary sermon text); and Matthew 7:15-29.
We have God's Word to tell us what happened and why things are the way they are. We are guided by that same Word; see, for example, the Old Testament reading that describes how and when we are to meditate on His precepts that He passed down - both the blessing and the curse - in His holy Word. Those who are not built on it will fall (see Gospel reading). The only two ways are those of rock and sand, blessing and curse, Christ and Satan.

God writes off no sin. Each must be paid for. How? By Christ our propitiation. "For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from observing the law."

We await God's heavenly kingdom, the kingdom of a good and gracious God who is at the same time perfectly just. We have it only because Christ suffered and died on the cross for us and rose for us.
For a substitute sermon at very short notice, Pastor S did an even better job than he normally does (besides having been my confirmation pastor). Pastor R (other pastor) had back spasms today. Please pray for him.

Selected Psalms: 1 and 23

Although the pastor had invited all church members to propose Psalms to study this summer, all but one were delinquent, and that person wasn't me. Showing his thorough knowledge of Hebrew and Christology, Pastor prepared an admirable study.
  • Psalms as a whole - uses include liturgy and personal application. Made of 5 books; David wrote a plurality. Many types - imprecatory, lament, dedication [of the Temple], etc. Roman Catholics and the Greek text break up the Psalms slightly differently, still totaling 150.
  • Christological perspective - Christ is David's God.
  • Poetry - meter and parallelism, saying the corresponding negative, additive parallelism, plays on words. Like parents telling children to "Come here!"
Psalm 1 - scholars think it was added at the beginning to set a tone for the whole book.
  • v. 1 - "slippery slope" paradigm (walk - stand - sit, counsel - way - seat). Begins with the negative - "who does not..." Similar warnings in Proverbs 1:10, 4:14.
  • v. 2 - contrast with what the blessed man does. "Law" = Torah; it comes first in the Hebrew syntax. Perpetual Word-nutrition (cf. Deuteronomy 11).
  • v. 3 - "planted" = lit. "transplanted" (born again!) from bad soil into good.
  • v. 4 - a high contrast. A Hebrew play on words (inverting the first two consonants) contrasts "tree" and "chaff."
  • v. 5 - where the righteous do stand, only by Christ's power - in the judgment, in the congregation of the righteous.
  • v. 6 - the moral of the story. "Knows" is active and connotes God's guidance.
Psalm 23 - use it in daily life, not only in trouble.
  • Since Jesus is Lord (e.g. Psalm 110:1), He is the good Shepherd (John 10:11).
  • "He" drives the verbs, for sheep are stupid.
  • "for His name's sake" - we deserve nothing but death, but He chooses to apply His name to us and to do all these good things for us.
  • Change to "I" - a prayer in the valley of the shadow of death. The rod and staff, also used to discipline, are here comforting.
  • "goodness and mercy" - Genesis 1 "good" + chesed (steadfast love), inexpressible in English.
  • vv. 5-6 - a Trinitarian reference? [IMHO...table + oil + the LORD]