Another pioneer dies – leaving an honourable, global and on-going legacy

On the day of John Glenn’s funeral, another pioneer died.

John Glenn, the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth, restored American prestige in 1962 when it seemed that the Soviet Union was moving ahead in the space race.

A lesser known pioneer died today, aged 96 years old. However, his name is known to every medical doctor in the world, and by most health service personnel. He is US doctor Henry J.Heimlich, who popularised the manoeuvre used to help victims of choking. Countless numbers of people have been saved from unnecessary death by his pioneering technique, co-developed with Dr. Edward A.Patrick, whose name is not as celebrated.

Rather than describing the technique, you may be able to see it in action in this extraordinary video recorded on a US motor cop’s dashcam (a camera mounted on the dashboard of a car) – if restore the link! The picture shows the traffic policeman doing the manoeuvre on the choking woman, which dislodged the food from her throat.


Heimlich used the technique himself this year in his retirement home.

Henry Heimlich: wikipedia entry

The Starting Handle era

Older people will remember the days when the car would not start and one had to use a starting handle to start the engine (until people learned about ‘bump-starting’ the car with a push).
The handle was inserted in the front of the car and one cranked the engine into life. Sometimes the handle ‘kicked back’ and it was possible to fracture the scaphoid bone at the base of the thumb in the wrist. The starting handle was a common cause of scaphoid fracture and it was a particularly nasty fracture because if it occurred in a certain part of the scaphoid bone, there was no blood supply to the tiny displaced fragment, which would slowly necrose (die) and produce arthritis in due course in the wrist joint of one’s working hand.
Nowadays, we simply turn the ignition key and the engine begins. Most young people know nothing about the starting handle era. This is true of many things in life. People switch on their computer, and know nothing about clearing out crashed files which is now done automatically. Similarly, people expect the smooth operation of their broadband, and younger users know nothing of the frustrations of slow dial-up modems.
Today’s frustrations are smoothed out so that future generations know nothing about them. This is progress, and computers are making it easier and easier as processes are automated and improved. People are used to automatic upgrades of computer programmes, and the regularity of these shows how many problems need continuous fixing.
The most wonderful upgrading is seen in the human body, as it repairs the damage we inflict upon it. All this is programmed, and it points to the wonder of the infinite mind of God our Creator. “I will praise thee; for I am awesomely and wonderfully made. Thy works are marvellous, and my soul knows this very well” Ps 139:14.

The night of the tumble

I had a bad tumble last night – the same day as Elizabeth took delivery of our new tumble drier at Ebenezer!  At least I was not hung out to dry.  During my next Street Pastor shift in Hilton, just as the night was finishing, we returned to base through a play area to engage with some noisy teenagers.

The entrance had a series of steps made out of concrete slabs.  My eye was on the youngsters as I strode up the steps.  The street light behind me cast my shadow on to the steps so that I did not see that there was a large piece missing from the edge of the concrete slab.  So my foot slipped through the hole and, losing my balance, I took a tumble.  I tried to turn to the side to land on the grass, but my right rear iliac crest (the big bone of the pelvis) caught the edge of a concrete slab and took the force of the fall.  I lay for a few seconds to determine if I had broken anything, fearing that I had hit my right kidney, but as the initial pain settled, I realised it was o.k.

By this time the teenagers had joined my four Street Pastor companions and were shouting supportive words of encouragement: “Get up, mister, you’re o.k.”  The wish was the father of the thought.  Thankfully, I was o.k. but badly bashed.  It is a strong bone which took the impact, for which I was thankful to God.

Then I became more concerned about the evident trauma and bruising developing on my right ring finger – one of my typing fingers – horror! no typing?  It will take six weeks for the hip bruising to settle completely – this is the time it takes for most things to completely repair.  This is one of the wonders of God’s creation that our bodies self-repair – and thankfully I can still type this with my ten fingers.  Most of the healing will be accomplished in three or four weeks so that it will be more or less back to normal by then, but it will still be sore to pressure for a few more weeks.  I hope it will not interfere with my putting election posters with Scripture texts on lampposts. The local council election campaigns are in full swing.

A few months ago I tripped on a kerb in the  darkness while putting out the wheelie bin, and I landed heavily on my left chest – it was the same story of 4-6 weeks of localised tenderness.

In our compensation culture, some people would sue the Council for damages.  It is true that there is evident culpability somewhere – who chipped away the step like that? why has it not been fixed before now? etc.  Street Pastors will put in a report to the Council for it to be repaired. Instead, we spent the time discussing the Lord’s providence which allowed such a thing to happen.  Bad providences are one of the modern reasons for agnosticism and atheism.  I noted that “pride comes before a fall” Pro 16:18.  We had a discussion on self-examination and how to interpret the Lord’s providence.  Almost back at base, I stepped off the kerb to let a man with his dog pass, and I almost twisted my ankle slipping off the kerb.  I am not as fit as I used to be, but I think the lesson is that we take too much for granted.  It is a while since I directly contacted my Prayer Partners about our Street Pastor work and so I will email them a link to this blog.

However it was a good night.  I met at least three atheists.  The first one was a middle-age woman who pretended that she was a physicist interested in astrophysics.  I pointed out that there are no scientists who speak more like theologians than astrophysicists – who speak of infinity, eternity, creation out of nothing (matter and antimatter), time and space.  When I pointed out that the superinflation of the Big Bang theory involved the invention or creation of super-natural laws of physics, it became apparent that she knew nothing of any worth about the subject – it was all bluff.  So I asked her why she had concluded that “physics explained everything for her”.  She couldn’t explain her own beliefs.  We parted on good terms, and she is evidently rebelling against the dogmatism of her Roman Catholic upbringing.  She had read about all the major religions but no longer believed in heaven – however, if there was a heaven she thought that one got there by “being good”.  This begs the question what is “being good”?  Her view was earning your way to heaven – no-one had explained grace to her.

The next two atheists were much younger – in fact they were young teenagers.  Rather like Yuri Gagarin who exclaimed when he went into space that he could not see God, these youngsters had not learned that an atheistic position can only be reached by examining all the evidence.  The older lad’s opening shot was that he could not believe anyone who listened to a bush that talked.  Knowing that he was referring to the burning bush, I agreed with him (it was not the bush which talked) and I asked him where he got this idea.  He was forced to admit that he had never read the story in the Bible (“I don’t have to”) and he was, of course, quoting other people.  So he went on the offensive: “Why did God create bad people?”  Answer: He didn’t.  He created man upright Ecc 7:29, but they have made themselves bad.  “Why do good people die?” chipped in the younger atheist.  “Because God is taking them somewhere better,” I responded.  After some more barter, with body language saying it all, our older atheist rallied with: “What I don’t understand is ….So why…?” I suggested that the reason he does not understand is because he will not read the Bible Lk 16:31.

There was a good crowd of youngsters listening to the exchange, and when I asked who wanted to read about the Gospel I was relieved of a few Gospels and a booklet about the existence of God – as well as a few lollipops, which seems to have become our trademark in the housing estates, just as flip-flops assume the same role in the town centre.

Let us pray that these young minds will open up to the reception of the Gospel of good news of salvation through Jesus Christ.


18 Apr 2017: Atheists believe in God – they just don’t believe in the devil

Degrees of freedom

In statistics, they speak of degrees of freedom.

Our body illustrates degrees of freedom.  Our feet need to be stable for our foundation and so the joints of our feet are stable and fixed with little movement.   The ankle has a little more movement.  Our knees have more movement in one plane, and less movement than the ankle in other planes.

Our hips have a greater degree of freedom than our knees, and our shoulders have even more than our hips.  The higher we go, the more freedom.  Our head moves on our spine with a remarkable degree of freedom being able to move in all planes.

Our brain, housed in our head, has even more freedom of action.  Our soul united to our bodies, presumably through our brain, has even more freedom.

“God has endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that is neither forced, nor by any absolute necessity of nature determined, to good or evil”

Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter IX, Of Free Will, Section 1.

Section 2 is about the freedom of man’s will in innocency.

Section 3 is about the bondage of man’s will by the Fall of Adam, celebrated in Martin Luther’s book on the Bondage of the Will.

Section 4 is about the change when a sinner is converted by God’s grace.

Section 5 is about the Will of man in the state of glory.

Jonathan Edwards wrote a significant work on the Freedom of the Will.

Conception is not fertilisation

When does human life begin? by Dr John R Ling, June 2011, The Christian Institute.  45 pp booklet.

The blurb states: “When does human life begin? It is a fundamental and decisive question because your answer reveals your understanding of the nature and status of the human embryo. It also shapes your stance on the big bioethical issues of the day such as abortion, cloning and embryonic stem cell research. There are many voices sowing confusion, but the Bible is unmistakably clear that human life begins at conception. In this booklet, John Ling provides a wide-ranging explanation of biblical truth, the historical Christian perspective and evidence from modern science to support this position.”

The aim of the booklet is to highlight the biblical teaching that the child in the womb is a human person with potential and not simply a potential human person pp. 14, 26. It serves a useful purpose to show that abortion is unbiblical, however its answer to the question in its title is unsatisfactory.

Unsatisfactory confusion

Whereas there are many useful points made in this book, the book does not clear up confusion at the point where clarity is most needed. Indeed it only adds confusion. On p.5 Ling asks: “When does human life begin? It is certainly a big question. It therefore demands a careful answer. Yet people are often dreadfully confused about the beginning of human life – how strange it is that we can be so unsure about when and how we began.” On p. 6 it says: “human life begins at the earliest time point, namely, conception. Conception and fertilisation are synonyms for what happens on day one.” It goes on: “This is when a man’s sperm fertilises a woman’s ovum. As a result of this irreversible event, a new, genetically unique, single-celled entity, technically known as a zygote, is created. This is the beginning of human life.” It continues: “But how can we be sure, beyond any doubt, that conception is the correct answer? Although there is much supporting evidence from the biological and medical sciences and from other sources, such as philosophy and history, the Christian will, above all, be interested in what the Bible has to say. The primary purpose of this booklet is to explain just that.” So we await with interest Dr Ling’s biblical analysis. On p. 7 he promises: “what follows is not an attempt at simplistic ‘proof-texting’ but rather the exegesis, albeit briefly, of several key passages.” Sadly, this claim is too high. This booklet simply addresses the subject dogmatically and emotionally, but not exegetically.

No exegesis where it matters

Although Dr Ling shows that the Bible teaches the personality of the child in the womb, at no point does the book even try to exegete the Scriptural teaching on conception.  I did this exhaustively in the 1980s and I came to the conclusion that the teaching of both the Old and New Testaments is that the biblical meaning and use of the word “conception” refers to implantation in the womb. The Evangelical Times published my conclusion at that time, and I have read no exegesis in the intervening decades to contradict this conclusion.

Dr Ling blames the British Council of Churches for “an entirely novel way of thinking about the early days of human life to say that pregnancy did not begin until implantation”, however it is not a novel way of thinking and it did not begin with the British Council of Churches.

Dr Ling relies on definitions from dictionaries rather than exegesis of the Bible for his definition of conception pp. 31-32.   He is selective in his choice of dictionaries. Current medical dictionaries disagree with Dr Ling and they do not make fertilisation and conception the same thing. Rather the current medical definition of conception is implantation, which agrees with biblical exegesis. However Dr Ling asserts: “‘Conception’ and ‘fertilisation’ are the same – let no-one drive a wedge between them.” p. 32.

Dr Ling argues against conception being implantation and he downplays it: “implantation is essential to the continuing growth and development of the embryo, but it marks neither the beginning nor the end of anything.”  Exegetical study of Scripture would have yielded a different opinion.

Unorthodox relationship between soul and body

This book is unsatisfactory in dealing with the soul.  “Human life is a continuum from fertilisation until natural death. Neither the Bible nor biology knows of any stage or event that is so definitive that it can be said, “Before this, I was not, now I am”. In other words, there is a demonstrable continuity throughout each human life.”  p. 13.  This is palpably wrong. The most important discontinuous event is ensoulment – when God breathes the human soul into the body.  Dr Ling gets round this as he appears to believe that the human soul is present from fertilisation p. 40, although it is puzzling why he does not plainly say so in so many words. It may be because of his doctrine of the soul. The whole thesis of the booklet is based upon this thought that soul and body are present from fertilisation, but there is no biblical nor indeed any proof of it. It is simply dogmatically asserted.

However, there are multitudes of fertilised human eggs which disappear every month in a woman’s menstrual flow. Do all these have souls?  Dr Ling simply responds: “very little evidence has been produced to support the claim that many embryos are lost before implantation.”  This does not address the question.  Further, he does not even consider the fact that the hormonal effect of breast-feeding is that the mother does not ovulate as readily, nor is the lining of the womb as conducive to receiving a fertilised human egg, which appears to be a divinely-created form of hormonal contraception to discourage implantation until the previous child is weaned Hosea 1:8.  As children were weaned after several years in biblical times, I disagree with Dr Ling’s lame conclusion: “Those who use this argument cannot be confident in what they claim.”

When a fertilised egg divides into identical twins or triplets, were there two or three souls in that one egg waiting to take their place in their respective embryos?  There is no biblical exegesis in this booklet about when the soul enters the body.   In response to the twinning issue, Dr Ling asks “if twinning does occur at a time subsequent to fertilisation, why does that matter?”  He quotes Dr Peter Saunders: ““There are clearly two embryos with two destinies in the embryo which twins.”  But what is Dr Saunders view of the body and soul?  Dr Saunders’ article which Dr Ling quotes says: “ It is true that some Christians have said that human beings can be divided into body and soul but this is based on the ancient Greek idea of body and soul being separate entities; a notion which finds no support in the Bible.  Biblical principles affirm therefore that the soul and the body begin life together – and given that the body begins with fertilisation it must follow logically that the soul does also.”  This is not biblical exegesis but assertion masquerading as reasoning.  It is based upon the gratuitous assumption that the soul is present from the moment of fertilisation, based upon an unorthodox understanding of the relationship between the body and the soul, with no biblical exegesis at all.

Conception is not fertilisation

The most obvious biblical refutation of Dr Ling’s assertion that conception and fertilisation are the same thing is to point out that the humanity of the Lord Jesus Christ was not created by fertilisation – however He was conceived.   Conception and fertilisation are not the same thing.

The next thing to notice is that the consistent biblical idea of ‘conceive/conception’ is that the mother conceives the child Gen 4:1,17; et passim.  Obvious – but completely overlooked by Dr Ling and in most discussions of the subject.  Conception is a comment about the mother’s state, not about the stage of embryo development.  Conception is to be with child, to be pregnant 2Samuel 11:5. To equate fertilisation with conception is to confuse two completely different issues.  Thus we can say that the Lord Jesus Christ was ‘conceived’ by His mother Mary, but no egg was fertilised.

Elizabeth conceived John the Baptist Lk 1:24,36 and Mary conceived Jesus Lk 1:31; 2:21.  The Greek word sullambano means “to take hold of, seize, capture, catch’.  Various Hebrew and Greek words are translated ‘conceive’ but exegesis and analysis shows that the general idea is that the womb ‘takes hold of’ the blastocyst (the technical term for development at the stage of implantation) so that the mother is “with child” or becomes pregnant.  Shortly after this she becomes aware that she is with child.  By this stage, God has breathed the human soul into the conceived child.  The obvious ‘discontinuous’ events which makes the difference are implantation sullambano and ensoulment Gen 2:7.

“Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb” Lk 1:31 – implantation takes place in the womb but fertilisation takes place in the fallopian tubes.

Biblical exegesis of ‘conception’ is the crying need of the hour and Dr Ling has not supplied it.

Historical review

In the 1980s Enoch Powell, M.P., brought forward a Bill to outlaw experimentation on the human embryo.  This important subject is not even mentioned on his Wikipedia page at the time of writing this blog post.  The debate in the 1980s was between the human embryo being “a potential human being” (the humanist polemic) and a human being with potential (the Christian polemic).   Powell’s Bill was introduced at a time when the mood in the House of Commons was in favour of protecting, and against experimentation on, human embryos.  The experimentation lobby managed to stall for time and to sideline Powell’s Bill, and the ensuing debate was lost because of this faulty traducian theology promoted by the pro-life camp.  This continues to be the focus of attack in the medical press: Can a cell have a soul? John Burn, BMJ2008;336:1132 doi:10.1136/bmj.39581.436875.94

It will not help the Christian cause to keep peddling this unbiblical, traducian, theology.  It lost us the debate in the 1980s and it will not win the debate in the 21st century.

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