Saturday, October 22, 2011

When stem cell use is ethical

Dr Peter Saunders quotes here from a New Scientist article - the whole article is here - about the ethical use of stem cells  - that is, use that doesn't require killing anybody, born or unborn.

DID you know that you have accessible stem cells up your nose? Or that human fetuses shed stem cells into the fluid around them? Both of these seemingly random facts could spawn novel, personalised stem-cell treatments that, if not simple per se, are simpler than what has gone before.

What marks these treatments out is that they are eminently practical and ethically unquestionable. This is in stark contrast to much previous work, which has focused on human embryonic stem cells, or hESCs.

From the outset, the use of hESCs has been fraught with controversy. Only last week, after years of trying, and the notorious fraud involving Korean researcher Woo Suk Hwang, hESCs were finally created through a variant of the cloning technique that gave us Dolly the sheep. This fused skin and egg cells, leaving the nucleus of the latter intact. Unfortunately, human eggs are still required, embryos still perish in the process and in this case the embryos and resulting hESCs had three sets of chromosomes instead of two, ruling out medical uses.

A promising alternative to hESCs emerged in 2006 when researchers produced so-called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) from ordinary tissue such as skin. But to convert adult cells into embryonic-like cells means genetic reprogramming, for example with a virus, and the reprogrammed cells do not yet match embryonic stem cells.

Now there are different avenues of research that are simpler in many ways. In ‘Diabetic rats cured with their own stem cells’, we report how researchers cured diabetic rats by turning brain stem cells extracted through the nose into insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. They did this without any genetic trickery.

And in ‘Baby repair kit found inside the womb’, we report how congenital defects such as holes in the diaphragm could be patched up using a baby's own stem cells extracted from the surrounding amniotic fluid.

What's worrying is that he concludes by saying 'You won't read about this in any British newspaper'.  Can any of you prove him wrong?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Cranmer on Gaddaffi

Archibishop Cranmer - who knows a thing or two about the death penalty - reflects on the death of Gaddaffi.  Here's a flavour:

To those who object to Gaddafi's execution or the manner of it, His Grace urges you to save us your sanctimony. There are those who say there should be no rejoicing in the death of any man. Well, put yourselves in the shoes of those who have lived under the brutal dictatorships of the modern era - Mao, Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Ceausescu, Saddam - and ask by what moral standard you judge the oppressed and persecuted? As you read your newspapers over coffee and lounge in the comfort of your cosy armchairs, reflect on the undeniable fact that some people are just evil. And when the sum total of the suffering they inflict reaches beyond endurance, those who have suffered will feel wholly justified in taking up the sword. Of course, they might themselves then die by the sword, but that is their choice. When the state ceases to bear the sword and justice is no longer seen to be done, judgement will fall somehow from the anarchic baseness of human nature.
What an awful shock death must be for the Muslim.  But in fairness to Muslim friends, I'm not at all sure many of them would want to count Gaddaffi as a faithful one...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Modestly announcing... P R I C E C R A S H ! ! !

Today I received the first copies of my new evangelistic booklet 'Gift', published by Day One.  The blurb says

Few things equal the excitement of a child receiving gifts.  What do those brightly-coloured parcels contain?  Are the presents something we really want, or merely things we will feel the need to be polite about?  Even in adulthood, the excitement persists—the excitement of not knowing and of discovery.
Such gifts, though, often end in disappointment.  They prove to be without any practical use, or to be fragile and unable to last.  Or, often, just to be something we never really wanted at all. 
The greatest gift ever given was given by God, the gift of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  Perfectly tailored by God to meet the greatest need we all have, yet God’s great gift is still largely ignored or misunderstood by mankind.  In this little booklet, Gary Benfold sets out to show why we should take God’s gift of Jesus seriously.  What is so special about this gift—and why is it still important, two thousand years later?  He answers these questions by looking at the three questions we all have in mind when we open a new present: who is it from?  What does it do?  How much did it cost?  These important questions are opened up from the Bible itself, and lead to a compelling argument for taking Jesus seriously.

Day One and are each offering good deals on multiple buys, and the author (me!) says
Friends  may be interested in my latest evangelistic effort - called 'Gift', Jonathan Carswell at is doing a good deal on them, especially for multiple buys.  Small enough (A5) to be enclosed with Christmas cards, and cheap enough too, can I encourage you to get hold of multiple copies and give them away?  They're beautifully produced, in full colour and ideal (says he modestly) for churches to give away at their Christmas services.

In it, I try to answer the questions about the gift of God's Son that we tend to ask ourselves when we get any gift: who's it from, what does it do, how much did it cost?  I hope it's attractively written, avoids jargon and explains the gospel clearly; and I will put an extract up here very soon.  But at only a few pence for an individual copy, you can hardly lose?
The Day One website says these magnificent booklets are £1 each - they're not!  They are only 50p - and even less if you buy them in quantity...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Never, ever...

The 12-word sermon?

On October 29th 1941 Winston Churchill returned to Harrow, his old school which had assured his parents that he would never amount to anything.  It was speech day; it was the midst of war.  Knowing undoubtedly more than he could tell the boys about the danger the nation was in and the fragility of our armed forces and carrying more of a burden then he could ever hope to share, the popular version of his speech has it amounting to just 12 words: ‘Never give in.  Never, ever give in.  Never, ever, ever give in.’  The truth is, though it contained words very like that it was, in fact, a little longer – and in the midst of the battle, with ‘the miracle of Dunkirk’ a little over a year ago and D-Day still almost three years away and all the burdens of the free world upon him, he said: we have only to persevere, to conquer.

And so it is with us, though for very different reasons.  Christ reigns on high; his Spirit moves in the world, in the church, and dwells within believers.  The battle rages: but Christ died.  Christ is risen; Christ will come again.  We have only to persevere, to conquer.

Monday, October 10, 2011


Barrage are a Canada-based group of musicians.  I include them here partly because the guy clearly visible at 12 seconds is Stefan Defilet, who's since gone on to much greater things.  That is, he teaches me...

Thursday, October 06, 2011

They went out from us...

...we cannot be satisfied with a faith that lives most vibrantly in abstract theological concepts and the ease of Sunday-morning services.  We cannot be satisfied with a Christianity that features episodic moments of ministry but otherwise is shaped by the values of the world.  We cannot be satisfied with a Christianity that simply fills another slot in an all-too-busy schedule.  We cannot be satisfied with a Christianity that allows us to live at the centre of our world.  We cannot be satisfied with a Christianity that does not live the biblical hymns we sing and does not apply the biblical exhortations we have heard.
Self-righteous, self-satisfied, and externalistic spirituality is dangerous and must be resisted.  It is not a by-product of true conversion, but flows from the man-centredness of secular thinking.

(Paul David Tripp, in 'Broken-Down House')