OK, now it's a depression

The Dust Bowl has returned to my native Oklahoma.  A huge  dust storm hit Blackwell, Oklahoma, causing a 30-car pileup on I-35.  Blackwell is where my daughter, son-in-law, and three grand-daughters live!

Dust storm causes thirty car pile-up with injuries near Blackwell Oklahoma

 

 

 

Dust storm in Oklahoma causes highway to close and thirty car pile up – Oklahoma City Everyday People | Examiner.com.

The faith of infants

A key Lutheran teaching is that infants can have faith.  This is why Lutherans see no contradiction between infant baptism and justification by faith.  Lutherans see faith not just in terms of intellectual knowledge or conscious volition, but as trust, dependence, and relationship with a Person.  Infants can trust, depend on, and have a relationship with their parents and also with their Heavenly Father.  The faith that begins with baptism then grows and matures, fed by the “milk” of God’s Word, as the child grows into adulthood, and continuing thereafter.  (That faith can also die if it is not nourished, which is why someone can have been baptized as an infant but then reject the faith and become an unbeliever in need of conversion.)

Anyway, a new book explores, from the vantage point of scientific research, the way infants and extremely young children seemed to be wired for religious belief.

Wheaton provost Stanton L. Jones reviews Born Believers: The Science of Children’s Religious Belief by psychologist Justin L. Barrett:

He summarizes creative, sophisticated research establishing that in infancy, babies understand distinctions between mere objects and agents (human and non-human, visible and invisible) which initiate actions that are not predictable and yet are goal-directed or purposeful. Only agents act to bring order out of disorder.

Children over three begin to discern and attribute purpose to much of what happens around them, which they in turn are inclined to attribute to human and superhuman agents. When children are old enough to actually discuss their intuitive concepts of god(s), they seem normatively disposed to believe in a (or many) divine agent(s) possessing “superknowledge, superperception, creative power, and immortality,” as well as to believe in a purposeful design to creation, in some sort of basic universal morality, and in the persistence of human identity after death.

Roughly the first 40 percent of Born Believers summarizes this research, while the remaining portion fleshes out its implications. Barrett’s view of religious development is that “children are naturally drawn to some basic religious ideas and related practices (natural religion), and then the meat of a religious and theological tradition as taught by parents grows on this skeleton.” He discusses trends in the research that might foster effective religious education.

via Born Believers, Part 1 | Books and Culture.

Bringing woolly mammoths back from extinction

As you may know, frozen woolly mammoths have been discovered in ice formations, more or less intact, since the 18th century.  So why not clone some, bringing them back from extinction?

A Russian university says scientists have discovered frozen woolly mammoth fragments that may contain living cells deep in Siberia, bringing closer the possibility of cloning the extinct animal.

The North-Eastern Federal University said in a statement on Tuesday that an international team had discovered mammoth hair, soft tissues and bone marrow at a depth of 328ft (100m) during a summer expedition.

Expedition chief Semyon Grigoryev said a group of Korean scientists with the team had set a goal of finding living cells in the hope of cloning a mammoth. Scientists have previously found bodies and fragments, but not living cells.

Grigoryev told online newspaper Vzglyad it would take months of lab research to determine whether they have indeed found the cells.

Woolly mammoths are thought to have died out 10,000 years ago.

via Woolly mammoth remains may contain living cells | Science | The Guardian.

Bringing back the mammoths.  Would that not be cool?

What “junk DNA” does

A major discovery:

It turns out that “junk DNA”, once thought to comprise most of the genetic material packed into our cells, isn’t junk. Instead, it plays a complicated — and still shadowy — role in regulating our genes.

That’s the essential insight of a five-year project to study the 98 percent of the human genome that is not, strictly speaking, genes. It now appears that more than three-quarters of our DNA is active at some point in our lives.

“This concept of ‘junk DNA’ is really not accurate. It is an outdated metaphor to explain our genome,” said Richard Myers, one of the leaders of the 400-scientist Encyclopedia of DNA Elements Project, nicknamed Encode.

“The genome is just alive with stuff. We just really didn’t realize that before,” said Ewan Birney of the European Bioinformatics Institute in England.

The new insights are contained in six papers published Wednesday in the journal Nature. More than 20 related papers from Encode are appearing elsewhere.

The human genome consists of about 3 billion DNA “letters” strung one to another in 46 chains called chromosomes. Specific stretches of those letters (whose formal name is “nucleotides”) carry the instructions for making specific proteins. Those proteins, in turn, build the cells and tissues of living organisms.

The Human Genome Project, which identified the correct linear sequence of those letters, revealed that human cells contain only about 21,000 genes — far fewer than most biologists predicted. Furthermore, those genes took up only 2 percent of the cell’s DNA. The new research helps explain how so few genes can create an organism as complex as a human being.

The answer is that regulating genes — turning them on and off, adjusting their output, manipulating their timing, coordinating their activity with other genes — is where most of the action is.

The importance and subtlety of gene regulation is not a new idea. Nor is the idea that parts of the genome once thought to be “junk” may have some use. What the Encode findings reveal is the magnitude of the regulation.

It now appears that at least 4 million sections of the genome are involved in manipulating the activity of genes. Those sections act like switches in a wiring diagram, creating an almost infinite number of circuits.

“There is a modest number of genes and an immense number of elements that choreograph how those genes are used,” said Eric D. Green, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, the federal agency that paid for the research.

via ‘Junk DNA’ concept debunked by new analysis of human genome – The Washington Post.

So every cell of every living organism contains not just genetic information but a whole system for activating, directing, timing, and animating that information.

We sure are lucky that millions of years of random mutations and natural selection evolved into something so infinitely complex.

Oh, wait.  All of that had to be in place in order to make reproduction possible; that is, before natural selection could happen.

Being on Mars

To get a sense of what it would be like to be on Mars, turning around and taking in the view, check out this 360 degree click-and-drag zoomable panorama from the Mars lander Curiosity.  (For full effect, go to the fullscreen view.)  Click on this link:  MARS Curiosity Rover first Color 360 Panorama – Round the world with panoramas.dk.

Republicans postpone convention

Good thing we don’t believe in omens.  (Or do we?):  The Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, was supposed to start today.  It’s been postponed until Tuesday, for fear that Tropical Storm Isaac might turn into Hurricane Isaac, which may very well wreak havoc in the Sunshine state and with Republican convention plans.

Republican National Convention reworking schedule because of Tropical Storm Isaac – The Washington Post.


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