April 11, 2009

Death and Creation

Last week, a friend from Washington sent me a link to a debate between Peter Singer and Dinesh D’Souza. My friend asked me for my opinion on the debate. Oddly enough (or perhaps not), I’d already been considering related issues in pondering the Bible’s view of creation and death in contrast with the creation myth in JRR Tolkien’s Silmarillion. Tolkien gave me an idea (which is almost certainly not new) that I wanted to share.

Peter Singer almost unquestionably won the debate. He did so pretty much with his first statement, as he argued that the real purpose of their meeting was to argue the existence of God. Considering that the title of their debate (as mentioned in the wiki article on Dinesh D’Souza) was “Can there be morality without God?”, Mr. Singer appears to have changed the subject of the debate, but he did so successfully.

His main argument against the existence of the Christian God was a facet of the classical problem of suffering. He argued that the suffering of innocent animals, who are not fallen, morally responsible beings like man, particularly the evidence that this suffering has been going on as long since before the coming of man, proves that if there is a God, he/she/it cannot be a “good” being worthy of worship.

I have two ideas on how to resolve that problem. The first, which is what I was taught when I was young, is that the original creation, before the fall, had no death at all. Animals did not prey on one another, and none suffered. From Genesis, you can make a reasonable case that animals all ate plants originally:

And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Genesis 1:29–31, ESV, emphasis mine

After the Flood, this changed:

And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.

Genesis 8:21–9:3, ESV, emphasis mine

If this reading of the Bible is correct, animals have not always suffered. Their suffering began after man sinned, and especially after the Flood.

However, the chief thing wrong with this reading is that it doesn’t seem to match the ancient world we dig up and explore. It appears that the death and suffering and decay we see in creation has been going on for as long as life has existed. The iron hand of decay, the fact that all things wear away, the inevitable advance of entropy: all these seem to have been part of the universe since its beginning. I am an old-earth creationist: I have no problem with the universe being circa 14 billion years old. Or at least, this is the most significant problem I have with that view. What’s more, creation seems designed to function this way. If nothing ever died, we would be deluged under rats and rabbits and skin cells, etc. The world appears to be designed for death. Granted, the world could have been radically redesigned and altered by God when man sinned, but we have evidence that animals suffered and died millions of years ago (and no-one I know argues that mankind is millions of years old): and what are fossils but evidence that animals died?

Into my musings on this issue intruded Tolkien. In his universe, mankind is different and separate from all dwarves and elves by the fact that he is mortal. Elves are immortal apart from catastrophe, and both elves and dwarves reincarnate (or so there are hints). But man’s mortality is spoken of as a gift. Men alone are not bound to the world and go beyond it, to the great fear and awe of the other races. But it is men’s fear of their deaths that makes it their doom. Númenor was destroyed because men coveted the immortality of the Elves, fearing their deaths, disdaining the gift of the One.

I personally found this a very powerful idea. And a beautiful one. But I had/have a problem: I’m not sure I can square the idea with the Bible. The Bible says explicitly:

For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

1 Corinthians 15:20–26, ESV, emphasis mine

And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.

Revelation 20:13–14, ESV, emphasis mine

Death is clearly spoken of as an enemy.

As I pondered these things, I turned to creation story in The Silmarillion: “The Music of the Ainur”:

There was Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Ilúvatar ; and he made first the Ainur, the Holy Ones, that were the offspring of his thought, and they were with him before aught else was made. And he spoke to them, propounding to them themes of music ; and they sang before him, and he was glad. But for a long while they sang only each alone, or but few together, while the rest hearkened ; for each comprehended only that part of the mind of Ilúvatar from which he came, and in the understanding of their brethren they grew but slowly. Yet ever as they listened they came to deeper understanding, and increased in unison and harmony.

And it came to pass that Ilúvatar called together all the Ainur and declared to them a mighty theme, unfolding to them things greater and more wonderful than he had yet revealed ; and the glory of its beginning and the splendour of its end amazed the Ainur, so that they bowed before Ilúvatar and were silent.

Then Ilúvatar said to them : ‘Of the theme that I have declared to you, I will now that ye make in harmony together a Great Music. And since I have kindled you with the Flame Imperishable, ye shall show form your powers in adorning this theme, each with his own thoughts and devices if he will. But I will sit and hearken, and be glad that through you great beauty has been wakened into song.’

Then the voices of the Ainur, like unto harps and lutes, and pipes and trumpets, and viols and organs, and like unto countless choirs singing with words, began to fashion the theme of Ilúvatar into a great harmony that passed beyond hearing into the depths and into the heights, and the places of the dwelling of Ilúvatar were willed to overflowing, and the music nd the echo of the music went out into the Void, and it was not void. Never since have the Ainur made any much like to this music, though it has been said that a greater still shall be made before Ilúvatar by the choirs of the Ainur and the Children of Ilúvatar after the end of days. Then the themes of Ilúvatar shall be played aright, and take Being in the moment of their utterance, for all shall then understand fully his intent in their part, and each shall know the comprehension of each, and Ilúvatar shall give to their thoughts the secret fire, being well pleased.

But now Ilúvatar sat and hearkened, and for a great while it seemed good to him, for in the music there were no flaws. but as the theme progressed, it came into the heart of Melkor to interweave matters of his own imagining that were not in accord with the theme of Ilúvatar ; for he sought therein to increase the power and glory of the part assigned to himself. To Melkor among the Ainur had been given the greatest gifts of power and knowledge, and he had a share in all the gifts of his brethren. He had gone often alone into the void places seeking the Imperishable Flame ; for desire grew hot within him to bring into Being things of his own, and it seemed to him that Ilúvatar took no thought for the Void, and he was impatient of its emptiness. yet he found not the Fire, for it is with Ilúvatar. but being alone he had begun to conceive thoughts of his own unlike those of his brethren.

Some of these thoughts he now wove into his music, and straightway discord arose about him, and many that sang nigh him grew despondent, and their thought was disturbed and their music faltered ; but some began to attune their music to his rather than to the thought which they had at first. Then the discord of Melkor spread ever wider, and the melodies which had been heard before foundered in a sea of turbulent sound. But Ilúvatar sat and hearkened until it seemed that about his throne there was a raging storm, as of dark waters that made ware one upon another in an endless wrath that would not be assuaged.

Then Ilúvatar arose, and the Ainur perceived that he smiled ; and he lifted up his left hand, and a new theme began amid the storm, like and yet unlike to the former theme, and it gathered power and had new beauty. But the discord of Melkor rose in uproar and contended with it, and again there was a war of sound more violent than before, until many of the Ainur were dismayed and sang no longer, and Melkor had the mastery. Then again Ilúvatar arose, and the Ainur perceived that his countenance was stern ; and he lifted up his right hand and behold ! a third theme grew amid the confusion, and it was unlike the others. For it seemed at first soft and sweet, a mere rippling of gentle sounds in delicate melodies ; but it could not be quenched, and it took to itself power and profundity. And it seemed at last that there were two musics progressing at one time before the seat of Ilúvatar, and they were utterly at variance. The one was deep and wide and beautiful, but slow and blended with immeasurable sorrow, from which its beauty chiefly came. The other had now achieved a unity of its own ; but it was loud, and vain, and endlessly repeated ; and it had little harmony, but rather a clamorous unison as of many trumpets braying upon a few notes. And it essayed to drown the other music by the violence of its voice, but it seemed that its most triumphant notes were taken by the other and woven into its own solemn patter. In the midst of this strife, whereat the halls of Ilúvatar shook and a tremor ran out into the silences yet unmoved, Ilúvatar arose a third time, and his face was terrible to behold. Then he raised up both his hands, and in one chord, deeper than the Abyss, higher than the Firmament, piercing as the light of the eye of Ilúvatar, the Music ceased.

Then Ilúvatar spoke, and he said : ‘Mighty are the Ainur, and mightiest among them is Melkor ; but that he may know, and all the Ainur, that I am Ilúvatar, those things that ye have sung, I will show them forth,that ye may see what ye have done. And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined.


Now to water had that Ainu whom the Elves call Ulmo turned his thought, and of all most deeply was he instructed by Ilúvatar in music.


And Ilúvatar spoke to Ulmo, and said : ‘Seest thou not how here in this little realm in the deeps of Time Melkor hath made war upon thy province? He hat bethought him of bitter cold immoderate, and yet hath not destroyed the beauty of thy fountains, nor of they clear pools. Behold the snow, and the cunning work of frost ! Melkor hath devised heats and fire without restraint, and hat not dried up thy desire nor utterly quelled the music of the sea. Behold rather the height and glory of the clouds, and the everchanging mists ; and listen to the fall of rain upon the Earth ! And in these clouds thou art drawn nearest to Manwë, thy friend, whom thou lovest.’

Then Ulmo answered : ‘truly, Water is become now fairer than my heart imagined, neither had my secret thought conceived the snowflake, nor in all my music was contained the falling of the rain.

The Silmarillion, by JRR Tolkien, pp. 15–17, 19. Emphasis mine. Sorry for such a long quote, but it’s really marvelous stuff and germane to my point.

The thought occurred to me: what if death in this world is an insertion of the enemy, in the way that Melkor wove things into the song of the Ainur that were not part of the original plan? The Bible doesn’t make any mention of the sort of “participatory” creation that Tolkien has for his own world, but it doesn’t seem beyond possibility. And what do you think the Enemy might have been doing for all those years before the coming of man? But in the same way that Melkor’s insertions could not defeat the music of God, neither does the existence of death and predators and suffering defeat the purpose of God. I, together with God, would still call creation “good”, even if wolves always ate deer. Because life goes on. The design of the universe is not defeated by death. It is not utterly unraveled: indeed, there are some poignancies that the impermanence of our lives make possible. Indeed, in a fallen world, death is a gift.

Another interesting thing that occurred to me today was the fact that the Bible seems to have two creation stories at the beginning of Genesis. The first is the creation of the world, and the second could be called the creation of man or the creation of the garden of Eden. Could it be that one reason God created the garden of Eden was that outside the Garden was suffering and death? That here, in the Garden, where God placed Adam and Even, things were as God had originally intended them? A place where no-one died? Where animals conversed with him (Eve doesn’t seem totally shocked that the serpent spoke to her). That, if our human parents had not sinned, part of their work might have been restoring the world outside the Garden? I dunno.

Thoughts, as always, are welcome.

The most serious objection I can see is that Genesis explicitly says after each day of creation that “God saw that it was good.” And at the end, when God creates human beings, He says that it is very good. As I’ve indicated before, I still find creation good, even with death and suffering. But it’s a point.

And we’re never told that any other than God had a voice in fashioning the world.

Though Paul does say:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.

Romans 8:18-24, ESV, emphasis mine

I’m not 100% sure who “him” refers to in this verse: “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it.” But it’s clear from this passage that the Bible agrees with the observation that creation has been subjected to futility, that it is in pain and does suffer. However, this will not go on forever. Creation itself will be freed from the futility to which it is now subjected.

Posted by Leatherwood at 03:41 PM
This post has been classified as "Musings"

April 02, 2009

Recipe for Making Swords

I believe it was toward the latter half of my second year of college, spring 2003, that I first was introduced to the concept of a “boffer”, or foam sword. I’ve never come up with my own word, and the ones on their wiki entry make sense. I usually call it a play sword, or something like it. My roommate (Daniel Wise) was taking a karate class and they had a few sessions of weapons training. He and some of his friends used a version of a boffer for weapons training.

I sensed their potential immediately. This was the sword of my dreams, what I wished I’d had all my years as a kid. I’ve always been fascinated with swords and dueling: I recall asking my grandmother for a “real sword and shield” for Christmas when I was seven or eight. However, every sword I owned, particuarly the imitation swords one gives to children, disappointed me. They broke far too easily. The cool-looking plastic sword was worthless: one decent swing and it would bend in half. Let alone a full length duel, like the ones my heroes engaged in (think Star Wars and Princess Bride). I later turned to sticks and wood. I had better results: they had more heft and could withstand longer duels, but fighting with them almost inevitably broke them and wound up with me dripping blood from my knuckles. I wish someone had shown me how to make a boffer.

Properly constructed (meaning those constructed by me :)), a boffer has the following virtues:

  1. It usually won’t hurt anyone. See caveats below.
  2. It will almost never break under ordinary conditions. Yes, they are more brittle in cold weather; yes, an adult swinging at full power can crack them; but they’re tougher than they look and can take a very decent amount of beating. If you’re swinging hard enough to break them, you’re swinging way too hard.
  3. They are enormous amounts of fun. They will not teach you true swordfighting, but they will give you a chance to have fun and live out a bit of those dreams derived from Star Wars and Princess Bride. And I believe there’s something precious in those dreams, even if they bear little to no resemblance to real sword fights.

As with all things, they come with caveats:

  1. You can be hurt. Direct hard blows to head can hurt a lot, particularly on the ears. Stabs to the eyes can be bad, too. In general, the worst injuries I’ve seen these inflict come when you’re wearing something hard against your skin. I have a scar from being hit hard across my forehead, driving the frame of my glasses into my skull. I’ve had a child draw blood when fighting me when he struck my wristwatch and drove the buttons into my wrist. The worst single injury I’ve ever seen was when a friend used a really awesome model of an old-fashioned helmet with a metal noseguard. A direct hit on the face drove the noseguard through his upper lip, requiring a number of stitches to close.
  2. Your sword hand will likely take a beating. If you don’t wear gloves, you will inevitably be hit hard enough on the knuckles that you’ll get a nasty bruise. This bruise can take a couple of weeks to heal. Do not swordfight until it’s healed: you’ll make it worse. Wearing gloves (I prefer simple leather work gloves) significantly ameliorates this.
  3. I would advise against making these swords heavier and less flexible by reinforcing with wooden or metal cores. Bruised fingers are bad enough: cracked bones in your fingers (and elsewhere) are much, much worse. Keep it fun. Or adopt more rules and greater protection.

This is what you’ll need to make one, using my methods. All of this, except the athletic tape, can be readily acquired at Lowes or Home Depot. Most grocery stores or Walmart-type stores will stock athletic tape (as well as, duh, atheletic stores).

1. 600 psi PVC pipe. (1/2 inch or 3/4 inch in diameter)
For a one-handed sword (32 inches in my standard length for such a weapon), I’d advise the 1/2 inch. It’s my favorite diameter. For a longer sword, you can use either. I’d lean toward a 3/4 inch diameter for a two-handed sword: 1/2 inch just bends too much. It’s commonly sold in 8 or 10 foot lengths.
2. Foam pipe insulation.
The practical use of this is to insulate hot and cold water pipes. I’ve seen two versions of this: a cheaper gray variety that works fairly well, and a much more expensive and heavier black variety. I prefer the black variety: it is self-sealing to a large degree and heals from punishment a lot better than the other. I was forced to rebuild the “blades” of a number of the gray foam swords: I have never yet had to completely replace the “blade” of one with black foam. Important note: buy the next size up from the diameter of the PVC pipe. So if you’re using 1/2 inch PVC, use 3/4 inch foam pipe insulation. and for 3/4, use 1 inch. You don’t want a really tight fit, which is what you’ll have if you buy the same size.
3. Good quality duct tape.
A good part of the fun comes in deciding what color to make your sword, now that they offer duct tape in so many hues. I have not yet tried Gorilla Tape, but it looks like it’d be fine.
4. A roll of athletic tape.
This is used in making the grip. You want something your hands can hold onto easily. I used masking tape originally, but athletic tape has never worn out in my experience (though I’m sure steady use, day in day out, for months on end, would wear it out).
5. An end cap for each sword you want to make
This will go on the handle of the sword: it covers one end. That way, if you drop the sword onto hard concrete and it lands right on the end, this cracks and is easily replaced, instead of having the core PVC pipe crack. Plus, it looks cool. I favor the 45° end: but you may choose what you wish. Make sure it fits the size of pipe you’re using.
6. A bit of good glue.
Used for securing the end cap. Any good glue will do: personally, I favor Shoe Goo: that stuff’s awesome.

And here are the directions for making one.

  1. The first thing to do is decide exactly how long your sword should be. I’ve heard that a really good sword is made proportional to the height of the wielder. I don’t know any formula for decided how long to make a sword based on your height, but I’m sure Google does. If you care, I mayself am about 5 feet 9 inches tall.

    That said, I make swords in two lengths, depending on whether it’s intended to be used in one hand or two. My one-handed swords are 32 inches long, the handle 9 inches long (which leaves the “blade” 21 inches). It sounds short, but it works out well for most people I’ve known. My two-handed swords are 48 inches long, with a 15 inch handle (leaving a 33 inch “blade”). This may sound like I’m making the handle too long, but trust me. It works pretty well. I’m a little fuzzy on how I settled on those lengths: if I recall, they’re modeled off of classical lengths of Japanese swords such as the katana, but I’m not sure. I’ve experimented with different lengths a fair bit, and I like the ones I just gave you. I’d stick with those lengths, unless you know better than me or just want to try something different.

    So, one handed or two? For a one-handed sword, cut a length of PVC 32 inches long. For a two-handed sword, cut a length of PVC 48 inches long. It’s not a bad idea to get this done at Home Depot: they have some nice pipe-cutting tools that make a really smooth cut. But you can use an ordinary wood saw as well. It’ll be a little rougher, but it’ll work.

  2. Then choose which end will be the handle. Generally choose the smoother side: it’ll make putting on the end cap easier. Make a mark on the PVC at the length of the handle. For a one-handed sword, the handle should be 9 inches long. For a two-handed sword, 15 inches.

  3. Slide the foam insulation down the “blade” of the sword, right up the mark you made. Then, holding the end nearest the handle firmly, feel for where the end of the PVC pipe is. Wrap your fingers around the foam, just past the end. Then cut the foam, just above your fingers. You want a full finger-width or more past the end. This will give you half an inch or so of foam at the end, making stabs less dangerous. If you forget to leave some room at the end and stap someone, there won’t be any give to the sword. Not good.

  4. While you were cutting the foam, it may have shifted a bit. Bring the end back to the mark you made. If you bought the black foam, its open sides are covered in plastic. That’s because they’re very sticky. When the foam is where you want it, carefully peel back one side about an inch. Then peel back the other side about the same length. That way, you can hold both bits of plastic at the same time. Then pull smoothly, peeling off both side simultaneously. Bring the edges together so they stick nicely.

  5. Bring the foam back to the mark you made. Cut a length of duct tape sufficient to go two or more times around the padded blade. Put this tape on the padding nearest the handle. About a third of an inch or less should be touching the padding, the rest should be hanging over the edge a bit. Once you’ve wound the tape around a couple of times, then grab the edge jutting off and wrap it around the PVC core. This tape is meant to be a bridge between the PVC and the foam. It’ll keep the blade from sliding around.

  6. Using a length of duct tape sufficient to go around the sword twice, make two or three more bands around the blade. They should be about the same distance from another: it will keep the foam pressed firmly against the PVC.

  7. This is the long part: pry off a bit of duct tape (don’t cut a length: you’ll wind directly from the roll) and stick it to the foam near the handle. The tape should be at about a 45° angle to the PVC. Then, slowly and carefully, wind the tape around. It should overlap itself around a quarter of an inch. Spiral around the “blade” toward the tip, wrapping the padding in a layer of duct tape. (Why do this, you ask? If you didn’t, you’d be ripping chunks of padding off at every duel. The duct tape forms a tough skin around the padding.) Once you reach the tip, “turn” the duct tape around, and spiral back to the handle, still overlapping in the same way. When you’re done, the entire length of the “blade” should wrapped in two layers of duct tape.

  8. Cut a length of duct tape around five inches long. Pinch the padding at the end of the sword together and tape over it, so that tape covers the hole at the tip of the sword.

  9. Put a bit of glue on the inside surface of the pipe fitting that you’ll be using for the handle. This will keep it from coming off. Then put in on, tapping/banging firmly to make sure it gets solidly on.

  10. Using the atheletic tape, wrap the PVC that forms the handle. Wrap in a way similar to the way you wrapped the blade, but overlap more. If I recall, you don’t need to wrap both ways: one way is sufficient.

  11. Cut two pices of duct tape six inches long or so. Wrap them around either end of the handle, covering the ends of the athletic tape so no edges are exposed. The duct tape should wrap around the blade a few times. Of course, this overlap itself completely: you’re not spiraling, just wrapping in a circle to cover the ends of the athletic tape.

You’re done!

Posted by Leatherwood at 10:45 PM
This post has been classified as "Public Address"
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