Saturday, March 31, 2007

Tomb of Star Trek

One last Talpiot-Tomb related link before this whole thing rightfully subsides into academic oblivion:

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Introduction to Nanotheology, Part 3: Lenten Fasting

In the spirit of the season, I'd like to give a sketch of what exactly I mean by nanotheology. Most people, however Protestant they may be, give up something for Lent as a form of fasting. One year we gave up TV on half the days of the week. I know someone who gave up chocolate, or caffeine. Until the hairshirt comes back in style, these kind of things are the normal, evangelical-style Lent I've observed, and it's good. What I want to point out is that unless you're addicted to caffeine (and that's another subject entirely) none of these are physical deprivations, they're more habitual, emotional, spiritual, etc. But if you give up food itself for a considerable period, you end up with a change in your life that's so drastic that your body itself changes how it works, or more specifically, the fuel that it runs on.

Here's how the biochemistry works: when you eat something, that's literally wood for the fire. You "burn it" by combining carbon with oxygen, and you get carbon dioxide, water, and energy out the other end. The chemistry of the process is just like when you place a match to a piece of newspaper, but in a much more controlled fashion. First you've got to chop up the "logs" to make them small enough to burn (more on that later), but then you've got to get the chopped-up food to the brain and muscles, which are burning molecules like there's no tomorrow in their duty to keep your body running. To transport from the stomach or liver to the brain or muscle, you've got a nice network of roads that you know better as the circulatory system: the blood. The thing is, your blood is mostly water, a river that connects all your organs. So you need to make sure the "wood" you're sending to the brain will "float" in the water, or in chemistry terms, will mix with your watery blood so it stays in the river and off of the banks. The best molecule for this is a sugar molecule, glucose.

Glucose is a circle of 6 carbon atoms bristling with 6 oxygen atoms on the outside. Because water itself is made of oxygen (plus 2 little hydrogens, hence H2O), the oxygen atoms mix well with the water and keep the glucose "afloat." Then the brain can just pull in glucose from the blood and burn, baby, burn. So after you eat a big meal with lots of sugar, your blood glucose goes up and your brain has a field day (much like when I gave Red Bug and his brother, who I think I'll call "Green Dog," hot chocolate at 8pm the other night; not a good idea, by the way).

The thing is, what happens once the food is digested and there's no more sugar in the stomach? The liver can bring sugar out of storage, it can make a little more sugar on its own, and it can burn fat for its own energy, but for very interesting reasons I can't go into right now, it cannot make sugar from fat. Plants can do that, but we can't. So if the liver runs out of stored glucose, your blood glucose drops, and if it drops too far, you're in danger of the brain shutting down from lack of food, otherwise known as a diebetic coma.

Good thing there's a backup system. You see, one of the reasons we use glucose to feed the brain through the blood is that fat, although it's great at providing energy, doesn't "float" or mix well with water. It's like, well, oil and water. So when the glucose drops we can't send fat through the blood to feed the brain, but the body has a second-best option: tiny chopped-up fat molecules. If the fat is made smaller, and a few oxygens are stuck on it for good measure, it just barely floats and is able to mix with the blood long enough to make it to the brain. The energy-starved brain says "Not my favorite, but it will do" and feeds the chopped-up fat to its mitochondria, which burn it and turn it into energy (again, mitochondria are another topic for another day!).

This back-up system, these chopped-up mini-Me fat molecules, are somewhat quaintly called "ketone bodies," and if you remember any organic chemistry, you'll recall that ketones are a bit nasty. One of the "ketone bodies" is actually acetone, which you may know better as nail polish remover. So it's obviously not physically ideal to be running your brain off nail polish remover, but it's good enough for government work. Also, the ketone bodies aren't able to carry as much energy as glucose, so the pieces of wood are smaller and the resulting "fire" is not as big. If you've ever gone hungry, you find yourself not thinking quite as clearly -- I think some of that is because "This is your brain on ketone bodies." Oh, and lest I forget, these ketones are acidic. So not only are they not as good at their job, they also lower the pH of your blood, not quite to the level where you have a sudden urge to hiss and fight Sigorney Weaver, but it's still not a good thing. People with lots of ketones in their blood will be in a state of both "ketosis" and "acidosis." I like how "ketosis" is one letter removed from "kenosis," the Greek word for "emptying" that describes what Jesus did in his first Advent (see Philippians 2:5-8). Physical emptying and spritual emptying are two sides of the same coin, or two angles of viewing the same object.

All this is to say, when your stomach and liver run out of glucose, and your brain is being fueled by fat, it is feeding off a sub-standard low-octane fuel ... and that is a physical difference that may cause the brain itself to run differently, physically. You experience this as a different feeling when you're fasting, and maybe even you think different thoughts. I suspect these differences are actually conducive to "spiritual things" ("pneumatikon" in Greek, see 1 Cor 12:1) in a direct cause-and-effect manner. The fact that they have a physical cause does not exclude a spiritual effect -- the two are linked, just as our brains are intimately linked to our spirits, even in the same cause-and-effect kind of relationship.

So, when thinking about fasting, consider the ketones, how cutting out one thing from your diet is one kind of good, but cutting out everything from your diet for some hours, or for a day, may add a new dimension of mental space for God to work in. Since that's the point of fasting, consider making it more "real" by physically going without the food you need (diabetics need not apply!).

Giving up food as a fasting discipline. I wonder why I haven't heard of this before? Oh, right, that's because Jesus said not to talk about it too much. Therefore ...

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Past and Future of Red Hair

A recent issue of Science magazine included the article "Why I Have Red Hair, Need to Avoid the Sun, and Shouldn't Commit a Crime" by Ingrid Wickelgren. We have now pinpointed the gene that causes red hair. It's called MC1R, which is for a receptor on the surface of skin cells. If a mutation messes up the receptor enough that it doesn't work anymore, you have a defective MC1R gene. If you get defective MC1Rs from both your father and your mother, there's a ~90% chance that you will have red hair, pale skin, and the propensity to broil rather than bake in the sun.

So, I have a child who would have no problem being admitted to Arthur Conan Doyle's red-headed league (let's call him Red Bug). He's even got an Irish name, in the spirit of this mid-March season. His skin is pale white, so different from his older brother's that in the bath they look like two different races. So Red Bug's hair and Red Bug's skin both tell me he's probably got two bad MC1Rs, one from me and one from my wife. Sorry, kid. Still, I wouldn't trade that red mop for anything.

Furthermore, a bad MC1R also means you're at more than a three-fold higher risk for melanoma, even if you carry only one defective gene and have dark hair. Like, say, probably, me! Also, my wife (who has blond hair). What's a little uncanny about all this is that ever since I spent too long in the sun swimming in a Florida lagoon in 10th grade, I've had "redhead freckles" on my shoulders, and I also found a strange spot/mole on my arm a few years later that I never really think about except at times like this.

(The Florida lagoon story involves my adolescent brain not processing the importance of sunscreen, and the fact that That Girl Lindey was floating on a raft in the lagoon and it seemed like a good idea to make conversation for an hour or so out there. Never mind that our summer program was over a week later and I never heard from her again! I have a distinct memory of wearing a very baggy white shirt every day for the remainder of the program.)

Good thing I moved to Seattle, right? Except that the lack of sunlight in these northern latitudes could be a contributing factor to multiple sclerosis. I have a nutrition colleague who disdains all supplements except vitamin D. The reason is, we may not get enough sunlight in Seattle to convert starting materials into vitamin D, and vitamin D deficiency may be implicated in MS, and there's a surprising prevalence of MS cases around Seattle. There's enough vitamin D in milk and butter to prevent rickets, but it may not be enough to completely prevent MS.

As far as I'm concerned, this is reason enough the next time the sun comes out to take a long walking break down by the canal.

So whatever happens, we can't worry too much about increased risk, but we can all be a little more liberal with the sunscreen, especially with our little Red Bug.

My favorite part of the article is the last little throw-away bit: "Spelling out a person's MC1R genes could also help crime-scene investigators, Rees suggests. If the analysis of biological tissue left at the scene reveals two aberrant versions of MC1R alleles, there is a 90% chance that its owner has red hair."

So, little Red Bug, word to the wise: if you ever get in trouble and are tempted to deny it, just know that Daddy has access to a DNA sequencer at work and can tell if that's your tissue or not. I'm not sure if the evidence would be legally admissible, but it certainly would be sufficient for being-sent-to-your-room-until-you're-18 in the most local of courts (the one in my house).

But my little angel would never do anything like that! I do have to be careful. He does have a devious streak, especially when it comes to anything electronic with buttons. Or with wheels. Or animals.*


So, in that DNA sequencer, I have access to a powerful instrument that can scry into the past and the future, almost like something out of Harry Potter. I can see the past in the sense of where did this gene come from?, and the future in the sense of am I at a higher risk of cancer because of it?

There are certain teaching lab experiments I've had to disregard, not because of danger or cost, but because in a classroom setting there are some things you just don't want your students to find out. I mean, what would it mean to test for a genetic disorder in class? For Alzheimer's? Or paternity? Theoretically, I could do it, although with a healthy uncertainty. Ethically, I could not. Legally ... ?

The line between the "cool experiment" and the "wrong experiment" is getting very thin.

* Anyone who knows me personally and would like access to the Other Blog where I take time to chronicle everything mildly amusing these kids say, email me for an invite. But be warned -- it's like the Family Circus, only not as edgy.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Introduction to Nanotheology, Part 2

"He who made kittens put snakes in the grass" -- Jethro Tull.

One of the responses to my original "Introduction to Nanotheology" post consisted of just that quote. It made me think, and not just, "Hey, Jethro was in the Bible, wasn't he?" Actually, it made me think about why I love to teach biochemistry. It's not just the intricacies of the energetics of digestion or whatever, or the questions about matter and mind, or the artistic profusion of protein structures colored any way the author of the paper likes. I like to teach biochemistry because it's real stuff, "stuff" in the sense of matter but also in the sense of the euphemism for something cruder. When we talk about amino metabolism, we talk about the mountains of bird guano near the Falklands, how that's basically a mound of nitrogen, and why. Why buying a sack of cow manure could get you on a Fed watch list. We're made of the stuff of earth, and I can't talk about life-science without talking about death-science.

I will assign a book to my biochemists next quarter called The Ghost Map that's about a cholera epidemic in London, but also about cities, people, science, God, and death. I suppose just because I spent time on the fact that life is intricate and wonderful, I may have neglected to mention that it's also absurdly weird, and wrenchingly sad. How a tiny rearrangement of atoms can punch a hole in the life of an entire family. How there's a young woman at my college whose joints are slowly fusing into bone because of a single amino acid change in her DNA. How she's the daughter of a theology professor. They know about snakes in the grass. In this case, all I know is atoms, and that's cold comfort in the face of evil.

If you're going to talk about the wonders of cell growth you're going to talk about cell growth gone wrong, which is cancer. (By the way, this should also be part of the debate about stem cells, but it's curiously absent because of our own ignorance. Think about it -- stem cells grow, and so does cancer. Could some cancer be caused by errant stem cells?)

If you're going to talk about getting energy from rearranging molecules, you're going to talk about the way a two-atom poison (cyanide) can screw everything up. Even oxygen, the very lynchpin of respiration, is destructive if it gets out of place, hence anti-"oxidants". If you don't get enough oxygen, you die, but that very oxygen will mutilate your DNA if it can.

If you're going to provide someone the tools to take apart a virus and disable it, you'll also implicitly provide the tools to make your own virus. Teach a man to fish and he'll never go hungry, right? Well, teach a man to immunize and he'll also know how to terrorize.

Some theology dwells on the question of human or institutional, powers-and-principalities-type of evil. Rather, these posts of mine, as I project them, will deal with natural evil, the evil of the tsunami or the hurricane, not the evil of those who exploit or ineptly respond. This is not to diminish the latter evil but just to acknowledge my own limitations in responding. Both natural and institutional evil are evil nonetheless, companions of death.

Yet (and here's 1 Corinthians again), contrary to our instincts and our origins, death does not have the last say. It will be swept away and the world made right. For today I'll work at restoring life and staving off death with the tools given for the day, praying for the snake-bitten and pointing at the strange, absurd bronze serpent hoisted above, and resting when I've done my piece.

Or, speaking of rest, I should say, for tomorrow, or whenever I get past this introduction stage. Soon ...

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Science and the Tomb of Jesus

Apology from the start: I don't mean to sound like a typical Christian talking head in covering this issue, but there's so many things wrong with this Tomb of Jesus story that I have to lay out what I've seen. I do talk about this from the perspective of a Christian scientist ... well, no, not a Christian Scientist, but you know ... I'll just write what I think and move on!

Well, the days are getting longer, the weather's shifting from snow and cold rain to just cold rain, we've entered the Lenten season and there's a new unfounded Gnostic speculation on the rise. Welcome to March, everybody.

It seems there's nothing more reliable than the annual news cycles. Last year it was Luigi Cascioli and his theory that Jesus was really based on John of Gamela, a revolutionary from the Jewish War period of the late first century. What made him different is he sued an old priest friend of his in Italian courts to make his point and was summarily dismissed. And our cup flowed over last year -- because that's when the National Geographic Channel unveiled the previously unknown Gospel of Judas. That was cool if you're into second-century angelology and the Gnostic tendency to invert Biblical characters, like that guy who wrote "Wicked." But if you're interested in something to actually help your needy spirit ... keep looking. Judas isn't much good.

This year it's another recycled news story based more on a bestseller published in 2003 than on the ancient texts themselves. I don't have too much time to read the first-century history that I want to, but even I could tell at first blush that this was more "Al Capone's vault" than a genuine paradigm shift. The "Last Tomb of Jesus" in question was unearthed in 1980, publicized by the BBC (during Easter!) in 1996, and I first found about it through NT Wright, who used it as an illustration to open an article on the resurrection titled "Grave Matters," which I passed out to my Sunday School class at the time. The theologians I've been able to introduce this story to so far said, "That tomb again? I thought we were past that." But, since gnostic tendencies have been around for 1900 years, and we aren't past those yet, I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

If you haven't heard much about this story, do a Google search on "tomb of jesus review." The piece of information relevant to my previous post is that moviemaker James Cameron signed on as executive producer for the Discovery Channel documentary, to show tonight (and, ironically, James Cameron is a common enough name to have several James Camerons in the world). However, all the information has been out since 1980, and even the infamous "600:1" "conservative" statistical analysis details were (finally) published today, so there are no more stones to be overturned, rolled away, or DNA-analyzed. And yet, nobody is convinced.

What I have, in proper time-honored blog form, is analysis and reaction to the situation as a whole. As for critique of the science and statistics here, I personally like Mark Goodacre's NT Gateway blog for a fair but still properly critical response:

So I see the problems with this as being problems with the science. (The problems with the gnostic religion that science is being used to promote are inherent to that religion and can't be helped, so I won't harp on those, though, by the way, I think gnosticism is a bad parody of what Jesus was all about, so don't expect much sympathy from me on that account either.)

1.) Peer review
Keeping "the greatest archaeological finding" under wraps and revealing it through a press conference one week before the airing of a television special is not scientific. I have a paper out for review right now and I'm looking forward to hearing from the three anonymous expert critical reviewers on how I can make it better. If I just thought my findings were so huge I could just skip that stage I would not be a scientist anymore. The code word for that kind of process is "cold fusion" (Google "Pons and Fleischmann" for more info on that debacle).

There are a few reputable or semi-reputable scholars involved. Unfortunately, most of them, like the DNA analyst or the guy who read the names off the ossuaries, just did their bit well and repudiated the way their findings were used in the overall scheme. Two scholars who in my opinion should know better actually support this work: James Tabor, whose "Dynasty of Jesus" research walks the thin line between scholarship and sensationalism (but whose blog is very evenhanded and worth reading), and James H. Charlesworth, who seems supportive on the Discovery Channel site but hasn't put his side of the story forth yet. Pretty much everyone else talking about the evidence doesn't buy it.

There's a sense in which the "Christian talking heads" are out in force against this but are being ignored. Don't be too upset by that -- some of those talking heads have politicized themselves so much they've lost credibility on these matters with the general public. So be it -- the rank and file New Testament scholars will provide more than enough rebuttal for this all by themselves. The louder the "official church" complains the more the rebuttals seem like a DaVinci-Code-style cover-up, so I think the standard talking heads should lay low, renounce their rights in this case, and let the scholars fight it out. Science is on your side here.

Another comment on peer review: The conventional wisdom on the original 1980 findings, that the names are so common it's ridiculous to suggest the cluster of names is meaningful -- have already been peer reviewed in a sense. NT scholars who study these centuries and know the names backwards and forwards knew about this for 25 years and nobody outside of the press gave it a second thought. In every scholar's head there were subconcious statistics going on right there, in a big community, for everyone to see, and it just got a shrug. Now that enthusiasm (the docu-director) and money (Cameron) have found it, they don't have that database of first-century common names in their heads and they set about cherry picking their data. This is a recipe for cold fusion, or the Gospel of Judas, all over again.

2.) Do your science right in the first place.

I can evaluate the evidence myself, so I can act as a peer reviewer. My own view agrees with the community-at-large's. A letter from that era is written by a "Jesus," to a second "Jesus," as witnessed by a third "Jesus." Josephus talked about several "Jesus"es, including one who tried to act as a Messiah before the fall of the Temple! There is even a second Jesus son of Joseph box (why isn't anyone chasing that down yet? Wait till next Easter to find out!).

Also, the other names are common. So, out of 10 cards, you drew two Marys (25% chance of any card being a Mary), one Josh son of Joe, one Judas son of Josh, a Joe, and a Matt. To truly calculate the probability of this we have to include all Biblically connected names, including Elizabeth, John the Baptist, John the Apostle, Peter, etc. in the first circle and Peter, Mark, Cleopas, etc. in the "connected to the family" circle that Matthew and Magdalen (not blood relations) would fall into. The statistics were done on cherry-picked names that treated negative evidence as neutral.

The "Odds are 600 to 1 that this is Jesus' family tomb" is reminiscent of Josh McDowell's Evidence that Demands a Verdict odds, although I'd argue that at least McDowell had the temerity to make his odds of prophecies coming true utterly astronomical. Again, we've had scholarly brains running unconscious odds on these names for 25 years now and nobody has cared, until the money came along.

What's scary is the number of blogs that misapply these statistics in calculating the odds of a connection. One blog takes the frequency for Joseph and multiplies it by the frequency for Mary and concludes that a Joseph-Mary combination is less frequent, so the filmmakers may have a point. These are amateur statistics that are not thought through, and do not include all the possibilities, only the specific set that occured, when other arrangements would have also been thought "significant." What if we found a Luke and a Simon? If they were buried next to each other would that prove a relationship?

Also, note the name "Miriamne": a rare, diminutive form of Mary. This "smoking gun" is connected to Mary Magdalen through a fourth-century text "Acts of Phillip" and a third-century comment. Before that we have several references to a "Miriamme" instead, which also appears to be derivative from the "Miriam" of the gospel accounts or their sources. If this is the real ossuary I'd expect the second-century form, not the fourth-century form. It just makes more sense that the m-to-n change is a spelling mistake accumulated hundreds of years later than that the "truth was concealed" for hundreds of years ... with "m" instead of "n"!

3.) Science must include all the data

The Gospel accounts are data. The second-century writings are data. The location of the tombs in Jerusalem, not Nazareth, is data. The fact that a body most decompose for six months before being placed into the ossuary is data. None of these add up with the filmmaker's story, but they, like the collaborator's objections, are written off as conspiracy.

If you include Acts of Phillip, a fourth-century source, you must somehow include most of the others or you invoke a massive conspiracy theory where the truth was lost but the lies are all that remains. Conspiracy theories can be fun, but even in the X-Files they had to be plausible. The Da Vinci Code, quoted favorably by the filmmakers, implies that the Dead Sea Scrolls were about Jesus -- I just went to a museum exhibit at the Pacific Science Center that showed me the actual scrolls, and they're solidly Jewish. More Jewish than the Temple, the Essenes would say. Just because people bought the book doesn't mean it happened. But it does mean those people will probably watch your show and buy the stuff on the commercials.

Worst of all is the director's attempt at reconciliation, stating that if Jesus died and rose again once, maybe he did so a second time. He has a theory that the Exodus happened, with the Red Sea parting, and all, but the commonly accepted date is ~100 years off. He's trying the same thing here but there's a big difference: there are huge problems with understanding how the gospel and Pauline theology could have happened without a specific bodily resurrection. It's just too integral to each and every argument. Why would James not become a de facto leader, the new messiah, as would usually happen to the brother of a martyr? Why would Jesus be always referred to as Lord in Paul and inserted into the daily Jewish prayer (the Shema) a la Daniel 7 without resurrection? This is NT Wright's case, but I find it so compelling because it makes the development of the New Testatment make sense, all springing from this weird Easter-Morning-and-40-days-following experince, detailed twenty years later in 1 Cornithians 15. Trying to kick that out, to make the resurrection a spritual experience, and ascribe everything after the crucifixion (including the explosive growth of the church) to fantasy requires faith in several apostles' creativity and consistency across generations within a matter of decades that I just don't have. To posit that the "real church" was the gnostic heresy and that "The Truth" really shows up as an inverted, accommodationist faith 2-4 centuries later does not make sense to me.

Speaking as a scientist, it takes more than two Marys, a Josh, and a Joe to change my mind.

What this is really about is not science vs. faith, but a gospel of accommodation and gnosticism vs. one of resurrection. If Jesus had a son and decomposed, then he himself said some great stuff and was a heroic martyr (although for what purpose?) but he ultimately was only that -- a teacher who got mixed reviews and mixed results. What he was really about, then, was information, education. It's neutered theology relative to the alternative, that he really did get out of that tomb, eat fish and honeycomb, etc. and that the Creator and Father of all really did pass his judgment for Jesus, giving him the verdict of Not Guilty, and by the way, Lord of Creation. That's the question: did the creator restore that man or not? That's also why this discussion goes to the very heart of the faith, and why Jacobovici's dismissal is wrong.

The stakes are high, the matters are profound, and this debate is actually kind of fun, which is I spend so much time on it. The problem is the people who don't have the interest in Josephus and first century history. There are people out there who will just read the headline, or the superficial evidence uncritically. I heard a story today of children repeating this headline, from exactly that perspective. Recycling a story just because there's money behind it is a form a bribery all too common to the press; I know, I have a B.S. in P.R. Little ones are being offended here, and it reminds me of statements from some great teacher once about millstones and the sea. If that doesn't sound like the Titanic itself, I don't know what does.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Introduction to Nanotheology

There is a stained-glass window in the National Cathedral called Angel in the Garden of Eden that has an angel in the center of three windows, flanked by two side windows. It's the side windows I like the best: the one on the left has a sponge and a fish at the bottom, with several other animals above, including a brontosaurus, pteranodon, and archaeopterix; the one on the right has the pyramids at the bottom, then above it the Parthenon, what looks an awful lot like Mont-St. Michael above that, all the way up to an airplane at the top. What do you know, everything cool in one stained-glass window! And that's not even counting the famous Space window in the same cathedral that actually contains a moon rock embedded in the glass.

As Gerard Manley Hopkins put it in "God's Grandeur":

THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. ...

Or his predecessor ~3000 years earlier:

When I consider Your heavens,
the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars,
which You have ordained,
What is man
that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him? (Psalm 8:3-4)

Both of these poems make you feel alternately small and big, small from the size and quantity of the surrounding created universe, and big, because you are part of that overflowing quantity.

My question is, if we get this sense from looking around with our eyes, and from looking around with our telescopes, what sense do we get from looking around with our microscopes?

So that's what I want to introduce as "nanotheology." I'm a bit surprised that this term hasn't come up too much in my Google searches, and the contexts in which it comes up are negative: no, we shouldn't make stem cells from embryos, no, we shouldn't pollute the environment, no, we shouldn't play with self-replicating nanobots that might start replicating and building little nanobot shrines to us. Well, sure, let's talk about those "no"s, but what about the "yes"es? In what way does the improved view given by chemistry, biochemistry, molecular biology, how does that strengthen our faith beyond giving us forbidden fruit dangling, tantalizingly, just out of reach? How does it give us a new way to "taste and see"? I want to think about positive nanotheology, not just what we shouldn't do. New creation as well as the ten commandments.

So my initial ideas are to think about the sacraments. Baptism and Eucharist are visceral, physical experiences involving earthy elements arranged just so. If we can think about digestion, and eating as a community together, perhaps we can find some meaning in the enzymes that cause that digestion. If we can think about the act of covering someone in water, perhaps we can think about what's special about the molecules of water we're covering her with. In piecemeal fashion, from time to time, I'll set out admittedly nascent ideas about these things, and let's see what emerges.

Ground rules to hedge against misunderstandings:
1.) Nanotheology is natural theology, and natural theology is always problematically more about nature than it is about theology. No amount of looking at Nature alone can discern the movement of the spirit. We've got to leave room for the Spirit, and for revelation of an emergent, relational sort. Nanotheology, as natural theology, is always looking at the house rather than listening to the architect -- but, if he's a master architect, the architect does indeed try to communicate through the house, doesn't he?

(From the house's mouth -- you heard it here first!)

2.) This is not about how God made the world, it's more about just the fact that God made the world. A strong faith in a Creator is more important than the amount of time and methodology that creator used to create. Let's face it, unless you're a specialist you will generally skip the Methodology section of a research article. Let's get to Results and Discussion, and Methodology if need be. But the sacraments, as present events that reach into the past and the future, are focused on the present -- so shall we be. I don't hold to Intelligent Design and neither does my nanotheology. Rather, I think it's about worshipful contemplation of what, for complex reasons involving the nature of faith, may be meaningful, but may be a universal happenstance. If so, what wonderous happenstance!

3.) As for me and my blog, we'll be biochemical about these things. I'm well aware that physicists gets to write and think about these things a lot. In fact, I'm mildly jealous of the "Brian Greene set" for their special privilege. But if biochemistry means something, if it means anything, we can talk about what it is that it means. Even the Christian biologist Kenneth Miller, when he gets around to positive natural theology in his book Finding Darwin's God, only talks about quantum uncertainty and the room for revelation in that. He's a biologist when talking about origins but he becomes a physicist when he talks about God! What could a biochemist have to say about God or the church that is distinctly biochemical? I don't quite know yet, but here's to trying to find out.

If people can find the face of St. Paul in their pot roast or the Virgin Mary in the iridescence of a highway sign, or if you can go cloudbusting in Central Park and see interesting shapes in the clouds, I think we can look at proteins and processes and come up with some possible insights about how we should live and consider nature, as well as God. Some of it will be silly missteps, some of it will be overreaching forced analogies, sure, but for those with hears to hear, I propose we should listen to creation with one ear, to Scripture and church history with another, and see what we hear in stereo. Who's with me?

Let's give Gerard the last word to finish his poem as we consider "deep down things":

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.