Thursday, 31 December 2009

Importing Haloscan comments to Wordpress

As I previously mentioned, I have imported my Haloscan comments to a WordPress blog. I have no intention of switching from Blogger to WordPress at this stage, but this is the best I can do currently to retain online access to my old comments.

As I have been asked how this was done I will provide a brief outline here with the links to the pages I referenced. It is not particularly straightforward and I did this with the assistance of stratman.

Haloscan has been purchased by JS-Kit. They initially offered to transfer comments to an upgradeable free account. I understand that this commenting system is integrated into Blogger which suggests comments would have been transferred back to Blogger's commenting system. This was not available until one was notified of the transfer, by which stage it was Echo commenting which was a paid system. Not too unreasonable I guess, but given they can possibly insert the comments into Blogger that would have been a nice option.

My steps

I downloaded comments from Haloscan. You should do this first, and probably do it anyway in case of future need. Comments download as an xml file which you can view in Notepad. Blogger does not recognise the comments in this particular xml format, though the comments are indexed by the blogpost code determined by Blogger.

I needed to set up WordPress blogging software. WordPress develop free blog software which is very versatile. The software needs to be uploaded to a webhoster which I don't have. They also have their software on their own webhoster conveniently (or confusingly) called This is less versatile and is insufficient for the import.

Not having a webhoster I needed to host the software on my computer by having it act as a server. I downloaded WampServer which is open source software located at SourceForge.

I installed WampServer following this guide. Although I did not create virtual hosts; the default is a single localhost. And be careful about creating a password. You probably do not need one. If you create a password the file you need to modify ( is not in the www\phpmyadmin\ directory that it must have been in the 2005 version of WampServer. It is currently located in the apps\phpmyadmin3.2.0.1\ directory.

WordPress downloads as a zip file. After unpacking, the files can be copied into the www/ directory. Alternatively you can follow these directions.

WordPress blogs can be viewed and modified from within a browser. It is reasonably straightforward but more details here. I went to Tools/Import and imported posts (and old, pre-Haloscan comments) directly from Blogger. You need to give WampServer/ Wordpress permission from Blogger to do this. Even with permission I got an error. Work around was to open the php.ini file and find the line
The semicolon (;) indicates this is a comment. Decomment by removing the semicolon and save the file. Reboot WampServer and WordPress can import directly from Blogger. Alternatively you can export the file from Blogger then import to WordPress.

Next I installed a WordPress plugin to import Haloscan comments. Essentially Blogger uses unique numeric codes for blog authors and blog posts. Haloscan uses the same blogpost codes for comments. Blogger codes are lost on the import to WordPress. The plugins identify the blogpost codes and attach the Haloscan comments to the correct post. Here are the pluggins and instructions for importing the Haloscan comments. They worked fine other than adding > to the beginning of post titles and the first paragraph of the post body. Because of timeouts I set the thread identification pluggin to only grab 10 posts per time.

There is some development code to import WordPress to Blogger. It involves installing Python, and apparently does not keep the comment dates intact, so I have not used that. Thus I do not have my old comments in Blogger. I have a WordPress blog which I uploaded the posts and comments to, which will have to suffice. It is unlikely people other than me will use it. But perhaps this post may be helpful to those who use WordPress rather than Blogger.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

The post-exilic chronology. Part 2: A revised timeline

In part 1 of this series I gave a brief outline of the common reconstruction of the post exilic period. Others have suggested an alternative, essentially chronological reconstruction (which I will call the sequential reconstruction). Taking Ezra as it is presented, the narrative reads as if the reigns of the kings are per the order they are given. We have a simple order in Ezra-Nehemiah: Cyrus, Ahasuerus, Artaxerxes, Darius, then Artaxerxes. The list is not necessarily exhaustive.

Cyrus Ezra 1:1–4:3
Ahasuerus Ezra 4:6
Artaxerxes Ezra 4:7–24
Darius Ezra 4:24–6:22
Artaxerxes Ezra 7:1–Nehemiah 13:9

The outline of the sequential reconstruction is as follows. Note the distinction between the temple and the city.

Cyrus gives permission to return to Jerusalem and build the temple.
Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. (Ezra 1)
Some exiled Jews return. The altar is built in the seventh month and sacrifices are offered,
But the foundation of the temple of the Lord was not yet laid. (Ezra 3)
So they pay builders and buy wood. Then they start building in the 2nd month of the 2nd year. There was a large celebration when the foundation was finished.
And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. (Ezra 3)
Foreign adversaries ask to help build the temple, but are refused. Then they (or others) opposed their building of the temple and frustrated their plans.
Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia. (Ezra 4)
Here we have a summary statement. The opposition started during the time of Cyrus and continued until the time of Darius. Then we have a description of a significant way in which the Jews were opposed. Such was the level of opposition they were completely prevented from building. We hear of a letter to Ahasuerus (Ezra 4:6), then we are shown a copy of what is written to Artaxerxes (Ezra 4:9–16). The brevity of the comment about Ahasuerus raises the possibility that Ahasuerus is (this) Artaxerxes, though such an identification is not necessary for the sequential reconstruction. In the letter to Artaxerxes, Rehum complains that,
[The Jews] are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city. They are finishing the walls and repairing the foundations. (Ezra 4)
King Artaxerxes replies,
Therefore make a decree that these men be made to cease, and that this city be not rebuilt, until a decree is made by me. (Ezra 4)
So the Jews stop building the city at this time. Work also stops on the temple.
Then the work on the house of God that is in Jerusalem stopped, and it ceased until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia. (Ezra 4)
The comment about the work stopping until the 2nd year of Darius is a lead in to the narrative of how the work on the temple restarted at this time (the 2nd year). The prophets Haggai and Zechariah tell the Jews to rebuild the temple (Ezra 5:1). Haggai rebukes them for building their own luxurious houses when the temple is not yet complete
In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the LORD came by the hand of Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest: "Thus says the LORD of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the LORD." Then the word of the LORD came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, "Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now, therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways. You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes." Thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the LORD." (Haggai 1)
So Jews start work on the temple again. This may not strictly defy the earlier decree from Artaxerxes. Even though the city is not to be rebuilt the question remains what can be done. We learn from Haggai that the people were building panelled, that is luxurious, houses. It is possible that the decree of Artaxerxes preventing the building of the city was allowed by God in order to focus the Jews on the proper task which was to build the temple as per Cyrus' decree. But after the decree of Artaxerxes they stopped work on the temple as well as the city. However they built themselves nice houses. So God chastises them by frustrating their agricultural labour. It may have been reasonable for the Jewish men to build basic shelters initially, but more extensive renovations should have been delayed until after the temple was completed. This interpretation makes sense of what we learn from the books of Ezra and Haggai.

So the Jews return to working on the temple after the encouragement of Haggai and Zechariah. This time a letter is sent from Governor Tattenai to Darius about the work on the temple, not the work on the city. Though the accusation from Tattenai to the Jews is phrased negatively,
Who gave you a decree to build this house and to finish this structure?
They also asked them this: “What are the names of the men who are building this building?
God did not let Tattenai prevent the Jews from building until Darius sent orders. It is interesting to see that the phrasing of the letter was more in line with seeking to confirm the Jewish response to Tattenai and it does not appear as strong an appeal for the Jews to stop compared with the opposition during the earlier time of Artaxerxes. Tattenai begins his letter,
Be it known to the king that we went to the province of Judah, to the house of the great God. It is being built with huge stones, and timber is laid in the walls. This work goes on diligently and prospers in their hands. (Ezra 5)
Tattenai then tells Darius what the Jews have said to him, then he ends his letter thus,
Therefore, if it seems good to the king, let search be made in the royal archives there in Babylon, to see whether a decree was issued by Cyrus the king for the rebuilding of this house of God in Jerusalem. And let the king send us his pleasure in this matter. (Ezra 5)
Darius confirms the decree originally from Cyrus, warns Tattenai not to interfere, provides resources for the building, and requests the Jews pray to God for the royal family. Thus the temple is completed during Darius' 6th year.
Then, according to the word sent by Darius the king, Tattenai, the governor of the province Beyond the River, Shethar-bozenai, and their associates did with all diligence what Darius the king had ordered. And the elders of the Jews built and prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. They finished their building by decree of the God of Israel and by decree of Cyrus and Darius and Artaxerxes king of Persia; and this house was finished on the third day of the month of Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king. (Ezra 6)
What is intriguing in this passage is that the completion is ascribed to God first; and also to the kings: Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes. But the decree from Artaxerxes in Ezra 4 is not to build, but to stop building; and this decree referred to the city. Martin Anstey suggests that verse 14 should be translated,
They builded and finished it according to the commandment of Cyrus and Darius (even Artaxerxes), King of Persia.
I would phrase it,
They finished their building by decree of the God of Israel; and by decree of Cyrus and Darius, that is Artaxerxes, king of Persia.
This translation implies that the completion was due to the decrees of only 2 kings, Cyrus and Darius; and those decrees essentially a single decree reiterated. I will return to a defence of this translation in a later post.

The temple is completed in Darius' 6th year. The book of Ezra continues,
Now after this, in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Ezra... went up from Babylonia. And there went up also to Jerusalem, in the seventh year of Artaxerxes the king, some of the people of Israel, and some of the priests and Levites, the singers and gatekeepers, and the temple servants. And Ezra came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king. For on the first day of the first month he began to go up from Babylonia, and on the first day of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, for the good hand of his God was on him. (Ezra 7)
If we are correct about Artaxerxes being Darius then the time between chapters 6 and 7 is a few months, not the half century proposed by the common reconstruction.

Ezra leaves Babylon in the 1st month of Darius' 7th year and arrives in Jerusalem in the 5th month. The rest of the book discusses issues that Ezra deals with on his return to Jerusalem.

Nehemiah hears about the broken walls of the city in Artaxerxes' 20th year and returns that same year, some 13 years after Ezra returned. Nehemiah completes the repair of the wall (Nehemiah 6) then hangs the gates. There was further opposition to the Jews rebuilding over this period, on this occasion the opposition was to the walls being repaired. The opposition was led by Tobiah.

Nehemiah stayed in Jerusalem 12 years as governor until the 32nd year of Artaxerxes then returned from Jerusalem to Babylon (Nehemiah 5).

Note that Ezra taught the Jews during the time Nehemiah was governor of Jerusalem.
And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people,... (Nehemiah 8)

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Back to Blogger commenting

Haloscan are stopping their free commenting system. I switched previously from blogger to haloscan to allow more control over commenting. I wished to allow easy commenting without anti-spam codes, but therefore need to be able to delete comments. But back to blogger commenting for now. Will see how easy it is to work with their system. Blogger allows commenters to delete their own comments. As administrator I can delete any comment.

I wanted to import my haloscan comments but this is proving quite difficult. For now the comments are on a wordpress blog which mirrors this blog for the last 3 years. I may write about the process at some stage. I suggest that others using haloscan at least export their comments so they have a copy on their own hard drive, perhaps future software will be able to make use of it. Exporting now is important as the information may not be obtainable in the future.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Santa comes to our house

Yesterday we had 3 families opening Christmas presents. One parcel under the tree had no gift tag so the intended recipient was unknown. No one there claimed giver status. Of course this did not prevent us opening it. But even when the contents of the gift were revealed, British confectionery and a gift voucher, no person remembered buying the gift, let alone who it was intended for.

Despite his absence from our house since we had children, one suspects the jolly, hoary elf finally decided to pay us a visit.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Herod's slaughter of the innocents

National Geographic did an article on King Herod last year. I didn't find the writing style particularly riveting though it was variably informative. The article started with this comment about Herod.
An astute and generous ruler, a brilliant general, and one of the most imaginative and energetic builders of the ancient world, Herod guided his kingdom to new prosperity and power. Yet today he is best known as the sly and murderous monarch of Matthew's Gospel, who slaughtered every male infant in Bethlehem in an unsuccessful attempt to kill the newborn Jesus, the prophesied King of the Jews. During the Middle Ages he became an image of the Antichrist: Illuminated manuscripts and Gothic gargoyles show him tearing his beard in mad fury and brandishing his sword at the luckless infants, with Satan whispering in his ear. Herod is almost certainly innocent of this crime, of which there is no report apart from Matthew's account. But children he certainly slew, including three of his own sons, along with his wife, his mother-in-law, and numerous other members of his court. Throughout his life, he blended creativity and cruelty, harmony and chaos, in ways that challenge the modern imagination.
The claim that Herod is innocent of this crime because there is not further documentary evidence of the event betrays an unjustified anti-biblical bias.

That Herod was capable of commanding the murder of infants is mentioned in the paragraph above: 3 sons, a wife, etc.

Herod had these people killed,
  • Mattathias Antigonus
  • Several leaders of Antigonus’ group
  • John Hyrcanus
  • Aristobulus (brother-in-law)
  • Kostobar (brother-in-law)
  • Alexandra (the mother of Herod's wife Mariamme)
  • Miriamme (wife)
  • Alexander (son)
  • Aristobulus (son)
  • 300 military leaders
  • Several Pharisees
  • Antipater (son)
Many of these were killed to prevent a perceived challenge to his kingdom.

And if these examples do not suffice to document Herod's paranoia and blood-thirst, Josephus records a well known story how Herod had many men imprisoned in Jericho shortly before his death with instructions they be executed when he died. The reason? So there would be mourning at the time of his death. This was not carried out.

So it is apparent that Herod was capable of ordering the death of children if he perceived a threat to his throne.

However the bigger issue here is the illegitimate implication that documentary evidence from the Bible has second class status. Or even errant status. Not only is any other contemporary (or not so contemporary) document held up as the primary standard that the Bible is judged by, the Bible is often assumed to be in error when it touches on aspects of history that no other historian has mentioned.

Matthew was roughly contemporary with these events. He wrote of Herod earlier than Josephus did.

There is documentary evidence of Herod slaughtering the children. It is recorded in Matthew 2. There is no evidence that Herod did not do such an action. There is no good reason to exempt him of this crime.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

The post-exilic chronology. Part 1: A common timeline

Sorting out the post-exilic Israelite chronology has its difficulties. Modern biblical scholarship relies heavily on Persian material. The ESV Study Bible is probably typical in its outline. See table below (abridged).

EventYear (BC)
Cyrus king of Persia captures Babylon539
First year of King Cyrus; issues proclamation freeing Jewish exiles to return538–537
Jewish exiles, led by Sheshbazzar, return from Babylon to Jerusalem537?
Altar rebuilt.537
Temple rebuilding begins536
Adversaries oppose the rebuilding536–530
Temple rebuilding ceases530–520
Temple rebuilding resumes (2nd year of Darius)520
Temple construction completed (6th year of Darius)516
Ezra departs from Babylon to Jerusalem (arrives in 7th year of Artaxerxes I)458
Hanani brings Nehemiah a report from Jerusalem (20th year of Artaxerxes I)445–444
Nehemiah before King Artaxerxes445
Nehemiah repairs Jerusalem walls445
Nehemiah returns to Jerusalem (32nd year of Artaxerxes I)433–432

The problem I have with this reconstruction (which I will refer to as the common reconstruction) is that it tries to meld the biblical data with the secular perspective of the Persian data. Reading Ezra-Nehemiah using this scheme makes less sense and constant reference to a study Bible is needed to understand when events are happening.

This is the list of Persian kings as they appear in the Bible.

Cyrus Ezra 1:1–4:3
Ahasuerus Ezra 4:6
Artaxerxes Ezra 4:7–24
Darius Ezra 4:24–6:22
Artaxerxes Ezra 7:1–Nehemiah 13:9

The common reconstruction places Cyrus ~530 BC. The opposition described in Ezra 4:1–6 is during the time of Cyrus to Darius ~530–490 BC, so Ezra 4:7 onwards is proposed to be describing a similar situation, i.e. opposition, even though it is several years later. There is a single verse about the time of Ahasuerus ~480 BC then several verses dedicated to Artaxerxes who is placed later ~460 BC. This aside supposedly stops at Ezra 4:23 with the next sentence returning to the opposition under Darius. Effectively the text is interpreted thus,
Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia. [Aside on Ahasuerus and Artaxerxes.] Then the work on the house of God that is in Jerusalem stopped, and it ceased until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.
After the discussion about rebuilding the temple under Darius ~520 BC the text moves to the return of Ezra under Artaxerxes ~460 BC (some 50–60 years later).

Then Nehemiah returns some 13 years after Ezra, also during the reign of Artaxerxes.

Having laid out the common reconstruction I would like to point out what I see are the deficiencies.

Probably the most obvious issue is the distortion of the narrative around the opposition to building. We read of opposition in Ezra 4:4–5 and instead of any explanation we get a diversion some 50 years into the future. When the story returns to the previous era there are no details about the opposition previously mentioned. Ezra does go on to talk about letters sent in the days of Darius but this does not appear to be so much external opposition as enquiry. The governor Tattenai does ask about the authority under whom the Jews were acting in rebuilding the temple, but he does not stop them, and then he asks Darius if the Jewish claim can be confirmed from the archives.

There is also a possible issue with the common reconstruction in that Artaxerxes opposes the building of the city, which includes the walls (Ezra 4:12), yet he sends Nehemiah back to repair the walls in the 20th year of his reign (Nehemiah 2:8). It is possible that Artaxerxes did change his mind, but this does give one pause.

Further, the context of Ezra 4:24 fits the preceding verse 23 better than the earlier verse 5. We have a letter of opposition from the surrounding people leading to a decree by Artaxerxes to stop building the city,...
Then, when the copy of King Artaxerxes' letter was read before Rehum and Shimshai the scribe and their associates, they went in haste to the Jews at Jerusalem and by force and power made them cease. Then the work on the house of God that is in Jerusalem stopped, and it ceased until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia. (Ezra 4:23–24)
If we read these verses together it says that the Jews were rebuilding the city and were compelled to stop, therefore the work on the temple also ceased. And there was no further building until the time of Darius.

Lastly, if one were not attempting to fit his prior ideas about the reigns of the Persian kings, would the common reconstruction come out of the book of Ezra?

In part 2 I will discuss a revision of this scheme.

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Potential advent astronomical events

Below is a table of astronomical events that occurred near and up to 1 BC as seen from Jerusalem.

Dates are according to the Julian calendar.

Time is Jerusalem time. For universal time (UTC) subtract 2 hours. For Babylon time add 1 hour. Time is specified as such
  • Conjunction: time of closest approach.
  • Eclipse: time of central shadow.
Jerusalem is longitude 35°14' East

5 BC
Mar 23


Total lunar eclipse
Sep 15


Total lunar eclipse
4 BC
Mar 13


Partial lunar eclipse
3 BC
Feb 15

Partial solar eclipse

May 20†

Mercury Saturn

Conjunction: 40'
Jun 12

Venus Saturn

Conjunction: 7.2'

Aug 12

Venus Jupiter

Leo/ Cancer
Conjunction: 4.2'
Aug 31

Mercury Venus


Sep 8–10


Sun and Moon in Virgo
Sep 11


Sun in Virgo. New Moon at feet of Virgo

Sep 14

Triple conjunction (1): 20'
Dec 1


Jupiter stationary

2 BC
Feb 17

Triple conjunction (2): 51'
Mar 29


Jupiter stationary

May 8

Triple conjunction (3): 43'

Jun 17

Venus Jupiter

Conjunction: 6". Close to Regulus. Full Moon
Jul 17


Partial lunar eclipse. Not visible from Jerusalem

Aug 26

Mars Jupiter

Conjunction. Venus and Mercury also massing with Mars and Jupiter
Dec 25–30



Jupiter stationary. December 25 is solstice

1 BC
Jan 10†


Total lunar eclipse

Dec 29


Partial lunar eclipse. Only end of eclipse visible

*Const. = constellation.
†Date given based on time in Jerusalem. Times are usually given in UTC which for these events would be 1 day prior.

These dates were obtained from The Star that Astonished the World by Ernest Martin and NASA's lunar eclipse site.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

The moon and the age of the earth

In my defence of a young earth I wanted to address the philosophical issues which I think are foundational to the argument. Discussions that fail to identify these issues end up with proponents of an old earth indirectly defending their presuppositions as if they are conclusions.

Consider 2 dating systems that give contradictory results. Which do we take as preferable? They both cannot be true. One or neither is true. Frequently the position is taken that dating system A gives the correct result and dating system B in in error because of incorrect assumptions X, Y, and Z. But it may be just as reasonable to take B as the correct result and explain why A is in error. Unfortunately proponents of A fail to see the philosophical validity of this. And even if they do, their subsequent arguments still frequently assume A.

I am not saying that all systems are equally convincing in their arguments. Rather that if B can be questioned then so can A.

I anticipated giving further specific arguments in favour of a young earth, or at least against a 4 billion year old earth. One argument is the maximum age of the moon.

The moon is known to be receding from earth. The rate is currently about 4 cm per year, though it is decreasing; the moon receded more quickly in the past. The recession is due to a transfer of angular momentum from the earth to the moon. The loss of angular momentum on earth is due to ocean tidal friction.

If we calculate how long it would take the moon to get to its current position if the moon was initially at the surface of the earth we get a figure of ~1 billion years. This is the maximum possible age for the earth-moon system. It can be much younger than this.

This maximum age is slightly, but negligibly, shorter if we consider the Roche limit. The earth's gravity exerts a force on the moon dependant on the distance of the moon from the earth. At a certain distance the force exerted from the earth on the near-side of the moon compared to the lesser force on the far-side of the moon is greater than the gravitational force holding the moon together. This is called the Roche limit. This ignores added force from any internal tensile strength that holds the moon together.

The Roche limit for the moon is ~18,000 km from the centre of the earth. The moon is currently ~384,000 km from the (centre of the) earth. The earth's radius is ~6,300 km.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Hostile witnesses on Climategate

Much of the internet was abuzz about the released emails and documents from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, now referred to as Climategate (or the CRUtape letters). Notable for their silence were more mainstream newspapers and internet news sites. And when Climategate was covered the issue was minimised as having no real significance, a normal spat between fallible people who happened to be scientists, and having no bearing on the truth of anthropogenic global warming.

I think it does have bearing because if the scientists involved are shown to be otherwise dishonest, there is reason to suspect this character flaw would extend to fraudulent reporting and publishing in the scientific arena.

The desire and willingness for fellow global warming affirmers to defend these people is slightly concerning. Appropriate responses are to withhold judgment until further information is available, or to decry such behaviour as damaging to the issue. Dubious defence for one's cause should be shunned, it causes damage in the long run.

Several who are convinced of the reality of global warming have realised the serious nature of these emails and stated as such. Below are several links to comments by people who otherwise think global warming is real and man-made. I do not agree with this hypothesis, nor everything they have written in these articles. I include them to emphasise to those who subscribe to global warming that the emails and documents are of a serious nature and suggest dodgy behaviour by several people in the forefront of the pro-global warming debate.

George Monbiot
There appears to be evidence here of attempts to prevent scientific data from being released, and even to destroy material that was subject to a freedom of information request.Worse still, some of the emails suggest efforts to prevent the publication of work by climate sceptics, or to keep it out of a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. I believe that the head of the unit, Phil Jones, should now resign. Some of the data discussed in the emails should be re-analysed.

Chip Knappenberger
As it now stands, a bias can exist in the current system. That it does exist is evident in the Climategate emails. By all appearances, it seems that some scientists are interested in keeping certain research (and particular researchers) out of the peer-review literature (and national and international assessments derived there from). While undoubtedly these scientists feel that they are acting in the best interest of science by trying to prevent too much backsliding and thereby keeping things moving forward efficiently, the way that they are apparently going about it is far from acceptable.

Instead of improving the process, it has nearly destroyed it.

If the practitioners of peer-review begin to act like members of an exclusive club controlling who and what gets published, the risk is run that the true course of science gets sidetracked. Even folks with the best intentions can be wrong.
Richard Tol
The emails reveal a systematic effort to deny legitimate freedom-of-information requests.

They contain evidence that the rules of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change were deliberately broken to include a paper that supports a particular point of view.

The emails show an intolerance of views and facts that do not support the received wisdom of the people involved.

One of the stolen documents reveals that a key result, the instrumental record of the global mean temperature since 1850, cannot be reproduced.

This is serious stuff.
John Tierney
As the scientists denigrate their critics in the e-mail messages, they seem oblivious to one of the greatest dangers in the climate-change debate: smug groupthink. These researchers, some of the most prominent climate experts in Britain and America, seem so focused on winning the public-relations war that they exaggerate their certitude — and ultimately undermine their own cause.

...Contempt for critics is evident over and over again in the hacked e-mail messages, as if the scientists were a priesthood protecting the temple from barbarians. Yes, some of the skeptics have political agendas, but so do some of the scientists. Sure, the skeptics can be cranks and pests, but they have identified genuine problems in the historical reconstructions of climate, as in the debate they inspired about the “hockey stick” graph of temperatures over the past millennium.

It is not unreasonable to give outsiders a look at the historical readings and the adjustments made by experts like Harry. How exactly were the readings converted into what the English scientists describe as “quality controlled and homogenised” data?

Trying to prevent skeptics from seeing the raw data was always a questionable strategy, scientifically. Now it looks like dubious public relations, too.
Judith Curry
In my opinion, there are two broader issues raised by these emails that are impeding the public credibility of climate research: lack of transparency in climate data, and “tribalism” in some segments of the climate research community that is impeding peer review and the assessment process.
And further comment by Curry here
What has been noticeably absent so far in the ClimateGate discussion is a public reaffirmation by climate researchers of our basic research values: the rigors of the scientific method (including reproducibility), research integrity and ethics, open minds, and critical thinking. Under no circumstances should we ever sacrifice any of these values; the CRU emails, however, appear to violate them.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Adjusting multi-site and single site temperature data

NIWA offer as their explanation for the temperature adjustments the paper
  • Rhoades, D.A. and Salinger, M.J., 1993: Adjustment of temperature and rainfall measurements for site changes. International Journal of Climatology 13, 899–913.
Though they do not link to it nor give a digital object identifier (doi:10.1002/joc.3370130807).

The abstract states
Methods are presented for estimating the effect of known site changes on temperature and rainfall measurements. Parallel cumulative sums of seasonally adjusted series from neighbouring stations are a useful exploratory tool for recognizing site-change effects at a station that has a number of near neighbours. For temperature data, a site-change effect can be estimated by a difference between the target station and weighted mean of neighbouring stations, comparing equal periods before and after the site change. For rainfall the method is similar, except for a logarithmic transformation. Examples are given. In the case of isolated stations, the estimation is necessarily more subjective, but a variety of graphical and analytical techniques are useful aids for deciding how to adjust for a site change. (Emphasis added)
I did not fully follow all the maths in the paper. It was not particularly complex but I would need to spend some time doing examples to completely grasp it.

In the introduction they define "site change",
We use the term site change to mean any sudden change of non-meteorological origin. Gradual changes can seldom be assigned with any certainty to non-meteorological causes. Where long-term homogeneous series are required, for example, for studies of climate change, it is best to choose stations that are unlikely to have been affected by gradual changes in shading or urbanization. This is no easy task. Karl et al. (1988) have concluded that urban effects on temperature are detectable even for small towns with a population under 10000.

...This paper is concerned with the estimation of site-change effects when the times of changes are known a priori, such as when the station was moved or the instrument replaced.
The paper predominantly discusses adjustments to data when there are site changes and there are surrounding overlapping data sets (nearby thermometers) that can be used to assess whether there needs to be adjustment.

Later in the paper when discussing sites that have no overlapping data the authors state,
Such an adjustment involves much greater uncertainty than the adjustment of a station with many neighbours. A greater degree of subjectivity is inevitable. In the absence of corroborating data there is no way of knowing whether an apparent shift that coincides with a site change is due to the site change or not. However, several statistical procedures can be used alongside information on station histories to assist in the estimation of the effect of a site change. These include graphical examination of the data, simple statistical tests for detecting shifts applied to intervals of different length before and after the site change, and identification of the most prominent change points in the series independently of known site changes. Finally, a subjective judgement must be made whether to adjust the data or not, taking into account the consistency of all the graphical and analytical evidence supporting the need for an adjustment and any other relevant information.
Moreover when they apply this adjustment to a station in Christchurch to demonstrate their method comparing with the more accurate method used earlier in the paper they significantly over estimate the difference,
The 1975 site change at Christchurch Airport is somewhat overestimated, when compared with the neighbouring stations analysis. The contrast between the estimates based on 2 years data before and after this site change is particularly marked. For the neighbouring stations analysis the estimate is 0.45°C (Table TI); for the isolated station analysis the estimate is 1.58°C (Table V). This is to be expected when a site change coincides with an actual shift in temperature, as occurred in this case. The isolated station analysis then estimates the sum of the site change effect and the actual shift.
In their conclusion they note,
Adjustments for site changes can probably never be done once and for all. For stations with several neighbours, the decision to adjust for a site change usually can be taken with some confidence. The same cannot be said for isolated stations. However, large shifts can be recognized and corrected, albeit with some uncertainty. Ideally, for isolated stations, tests for site change effects would be incorporated into the estimation of long-term trends and periodicities as suggested by Ansley and Kohn (1989). This is not practicable at present on a routine basis, but may be in the future.
Whatever adjustment procedures are used, the presence of site changes causes an accumulating uncertainty when comparing observation that are more distant in time. The cumulative uncertainties associated with site change effects, whether adjustments are made or not, are often large compared with effects appearing in studies of long-term climate change. For this reason it is a good idea to publish the standard errors of site change effects along with homogenized records, whether adjustments are made or not. This would help ensure that, in subsequent analyses, not too much reliance is placed on the record of any one station. (Emphasis added)
Ironically, the methods suggested in this paper do not include the method used by NIWA in defending their Wellington data.

Monday, 7 December 2009

What it means to explain adjustments

After the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition released it's paper, "Are we feeling warmer yet?" there was much discussion around the necessity of adjusting data. Focus was on the Wellington data though, as I pointed out, there is no overlap between Thorndon and other sites given. So adjusting to a nearby site of the same elevation, while possibly reasonable, can be questioned: busy international airport, large amounts of asphalt (especially when considering the multi-decadal time difference), urbanisation effects. Even disregarding that Anthony Watts gives Kelburn a rating of CRN=4.

This is an issue of the legitimacy of specific adjustments. The paper above acknowledges the figures are adjusted, they question why,
At a minimum, the adjustments made to the official NZ temperature record must be made public.
Treadgold had also said,
The real issue is that adjustments were made by NIWA and not acknowledged publicly on their website....
NIWA responded initially to the paper with this article and referencing the same Wellington data. They also stated concerning the temperature adjustments (corrections) (as I mentioned in my earlier post),
NIWA climate scientists have previously explained to members of the Coalition why such corrections must be made.
NIWA have also expanded their explanation displaying the Wellington graphs previously shown by Gareth Renowden (as per my earlier post).

NIWA have also released their own graph from raw data. They used sites that have not been shifted since 1930.

I am not certain why they used a trend line without also including a smoothed line like they had for their earlier graph.

NIWA give more justification that New Zealand temperature is rising here. They mention several confirmatory records that show the temperature rise over the decades. And they refute several claims by the NZ Climate Science Coalition, specifically NIWA claims that the Coalition have had access to:
  1. the raw data
  2. the adjusted data (anomalies)
  3. information needed to identify the adjustments made by Dr Salinger
  4. information needed to develop their own adjustments.
The Coalition confirm that the raw data is available and they stated that in the original paper. The other 3 claims are not so clear. An email sent to the Coalition said that the adjusted (corrected) data was held by Salinger,
Dr Jim Salinger maintains the "corrected" dataset and is the best person to talk to you about it.
But the Coalition deny receiving all the corrected data despite requests for it. Further, the 7 sites labelled on the data they received differed from the 7 sites that were specified in other correspondence from NIWA. And even if they had the information to identify the adjustments (item 3 above), they do not have the reasoning as to why this was done. This also makes it difficult to do item 4. When the Coalition analyses the Hokitika data they see no good reason as to why it is adjusted as it has been. Wellington is the example that is repeatedly mentioned. What of Hokitika and the other 5 stations?

Which raises the issue of the post title. What the Coalition want, and what NIWA should have had available on their site before any requests were made, is both the raw data and the adjusted data, and the explanation of the adjustment. NIWA offer as their explanation this paper (doi:10.1002/joc.3370130807).

I will return to this paper tomorrow but the response from NIWA misses the point. It is not a methodology or technique of temperature adjustment the Coalition is asking for. It is why the adjustments were made for every adjustment.
  • Adjustment A was made in this data set because of a site change. And the reason for this amount of change is because we took sites 1, 2 and 3 into account.
  • Adjustment B was made because of a change in thermometer.
  • Adjustment C was made to take into account the urban heat island effect.
One can mention the methodology as well if helpful,
  • Adjustment... following the method of Smith for isolated stations.
It is then one can reproduce the adjusted data and discuss the merits of each adjustment.
  • What about sites 4 and 5, they would attenuate the data by 0.1 °C.
  • You haven't allowed for wind effects which are relevant before 1965 because...
  • Smith was developed for continents and has not been validated for temperate islands, the method of Jones is more appropriate.
The when and why is needed so that this discussion can be had.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Papyrus of Turin to be modified

In c. 1820–1822 Italian Bernardino Drovetti discovered a papyrus in the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes which contained a list of Egyptian kings on the reverse side. It lists them thru to about the 17th of 20th dynasty of Egypt which suggests that it may date from this period. It is unknown who the author was nor the source for the data recorded on the papyrus. The Turin Papyrus is written in hieratic, a script related to hieroglyphic.

Unfortunately it was transported to a Museum of Egyptology at Turin, Italy with inadequate care so it was unpacked in tiny pieces, many of which were lost. Reconstruction was attempted by Jean-Fran├žois Champollion then Gustavus Seyffarth. Although this reconstruction was incomplete and possibly inaccurate in places.

Earlier this year visitors from the British Museum, Richard Parkinson and Bridget Leach, asked about the missing fragments. (Original source.)
After hours of discussion was Elvira D'Amicone, Egyptology from the ministry, who had the right intuition: if the papyrus fragments had come to the museum, the missing parts should not be too far away. Maybe we should look for them in the basement, in that mysterious warehouse that holds enough artifacts to set up another museum, the day that there will be money to deal with seriously. And indeed they were there, forgotten for over half a century in a closet: a compassionate hand had even included some of the two plates of glass, because it preserved without damage.
They found the lost fragments in the basement. And now the papyrus has been shifted to the British museum (as far as I can tell from the translation) for reconstruction.

This could lead to some interesting modifications to the received Egyptian chronology. I do not accept the current secular proposals for the various Egyptian pharaohs. And I think too much weight is given to Manetho. The Turin Papyrus may challenge both Manetho and modern reconstructions.

The Turin Papyrus does not appear to be written for a specific king, thus may be less likely to modify the data to be favourable to any ruler. It also includes material on the Hyksos who were not well liked by the Egyptians. Therefore there is some reason to consider it somewhat reliable. Nevertheless the author is reliant on the accuracy of his source material, and there is the general tendency for ancient writers to suggest greater antiquity of their nations over others.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Random quote

It looked not so much as if Christianity was bad enough to include any vices, but rather as if any stick was good enough to beat Christianity with.

G.K. Chesterton

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Getting the foundations of our character right

I came across Charisma earlier this year. Though the name Lee Grady seemed familiar, I had not read any of his material. He is editor of Charisma magazine and writes a blog Fire In My Bones. In his post Are You Ready for a Holy Ghost Building Inspection? he addresses Paul's admonishment to build with materials that will not be destroyed when tested by God. As part of that Grady emphasises character. While I think Paul is probably implying that what one does and teaches should be in line with God, the call to godliness is an important one. Specifically Grady points to 4 areas of character that he perceives are important in the current climate. They are sexual purity, financial integrity, Christlike humility, and theological soundness. I will quote from his post quite extensively (although out of order).
Sexual purity. It should go without saying that church leaders must live in moral and marital faithfulness. Yet when we look around today we find that ministries are tolerant of flippant divorce, hidden adultery and even unspeakable perversion. Some ministers admit to serious moral failures yet they never step out of ministry even for a week to get counseling. God has issued His clear warning. Ministries that tolerate sexual sin are already crumbling. It does not matter how big your auditorium is, how massive your television outreach, how many people shout during Sunday sermons or how enduring your spiritual legacy may seem. You can preach about God's grace all you want, but you are trampling on that grace if you continue to practice immorality.
Paul argued that such people should be rejected from the church till such time that they repent. Further, restoration is to fellowship, not necessarily ministry.
Financial integrity. Jesus drove the greedy moneychangers out of His temple with a whip. He requires faithfulness of His stewards. Ministries that have committed spiritual extortion will have a day of reckoning—not necessarily with the IRS but certainly with the heavenly Auditor. Those who sell prophecies or charge $1,000 to gullible people to make them "spiritual sons" will soon lose their platforms. Those who misuse God's money to buy Bentleys, vacation homes and expensive clothes and shoes will soon experience the Great Repo.
Peddling the gospel is a great evil. I have no intrinsic problems with people being wealthy. I don't even have problems with ministers who happen to be wealthy. I have no problems with people who do God's work being supported by others. But receiving the honour of others is very different from asking for money, selling the gospel, or manipulating people with promises of blessing. If you happen to think God blesses (financially) those who give of their financial resources (a questionable claim), then best you encourage people to give to ministries other than your own.
Theological soundness. We can walk in humility, integrity and purity and still fail if we mix error with truth. We must preach Christ and Him crucified. We must contend for the faith that was delivered to the saints. We must guard the flock from deception and avoid the subtle lies and compromises that creep in from our culture and from occult influences. In segments of our movement today, charismatic theology has been diluted with New Age spirituality, universalism, pop psychology, Gnosticism, false prophecy and just plain weirdness. We need to reactivate the neglected gift of discernment and get rid of the theological hay and stubble that has caused our movement to lose its credibility.
It is encouraging to hear the call from charismatics for sound theology. While their emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit is helpful and needed, this does not need to come at the expense of sloppy, or worse, incorrect, theology.
Christlike humility. We cannot build God's house with pride and carnality. In the early days of our movement God winked at our immaturity—but we have no excuse today. Mature leaders should act like servants, not rock stars or mafia bosses. We must trade in our entourages and high-minded demands and return to the way of the Master—which includes the manger (humble beginnings), the donkey (a humble ministry style) and the towel (serving those we are called to lead). God resists the proud, and any church that embraces the bless-me gospel of egotistical charlatans will not enjoy His manifest presence.
Self awareness is not necessarily pride. But we need to think of others more than ourselves. Paul called himself the least of the apostles.

It seems that when it comes to ministry, the call of God is what many people focus on, possibly more so in Pentecostal circles (though I wonder about this tendency in liberalism). While this should not be minimised, we are not to dismiss what God is doing. And the belief of ministers that God is using them should not remove them from self scrutiny. In fact, they should probably be even more self-examining than others.

I think we are called to show respect to those over us, but this does not allow them to be immune from criticism. And criticism against a minister is not refuted by referring to God's anointing on his life. It may be that the complaint is unwarranted, and such person is answerable to God for speaking thus, but the response is to leave the issue to God or to refute the specifics. Claiming anointing status that makes one untouchable is the defence of scoundrels.

Further, having a true anointing of God does not make one immune to fault. God chooses who he wishes. He is able to use a donkey. Look at the examples of King Saul, Eli, and Balaam. Balaam is quite instructive as despite God using him to bless Israel, his love of money meant that he encouraged Moab in enticing Israel to sin in a way that would lead to their judgment. Thus Balaam's end was destruction.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Dvorak keyboard

I have been wanting to try a Dvorak keyboard. I did not see them available at computer stores. I had an old keyboard at home so I flicked off all the keys and repositioned them. In Windows Control Panel under Regional and Language Options one can add the Dvorak layout: click Options in the Languages tab. I don't usually have the language bar open but it is now displayed to allow switching back to Qwerty. I have my other keyboard on the desk but need to plug it in as both keyboards have PS/2 connectors, not USB. Though I suspect one could have 2 keyboards attached concurrently.

Initially Windows would switch back to Qwerty intermittently, for no clear reason to me, so I switched the default to Dvorak.

Why do this? Well it is apparently more ergonomic. Qwerty is designed to minimise stuck typebars. Which was relevant with typewriters in the 19th century but irrelevant now. Dvorak places commonly used letters in the middle letter row. Letter frequency depends slightly on writing style but is generally
e t a o i n s r h l d c u m f p g w y b v k x j q z
So the 10 letters in the Dvorak main row come from the 13 most commonly typed letters.

There is dispute whether Dvorak is actually faster. The typing speed record was set on a Dvorak keyboard, but even if speed is similar for both layouts for most people, it is possible that typing strain injuries are less on a better designed keyboard.

How have I found it? Slower, especially initially. I was back to looking at the keyboard while I typed. Looking at the keyboard is not much of an issue as I type from thought, not written text. I am still using the old layout at work which may hinder uptake, though I am not certain it is, and either way it doesn't concern me. I see no reason why someone cannot be competent with both and comfortably switch between layouts.

However I think it has changed what I type because I have to slow my thoughts to the speed I type. While one can think faster than he types, I could type at a reasonable speed with Qwerty, a speed that matched well enough finding the words I needed to express my ideas. I cannot do this yet with Dvorak. Is my writing better or worse for the slower typing? I don't know. Though improvement in my writing style is more likely to come with practice and better proofreading rather than typing speed.

Mistakes on this keyboard are probably more frequent, though I used backspace too frequently on Qwerty. Spelling errors, incorrect doubled letters, missed word spaces. Dropped letters (and I am unaware of it at the time) are more frequent now whereas they were nearly non-existent previously. And of course occasionally confusing key placement for Qwerty location. The letter "A" is the only letter that is in the same position in both layouts.

Punctuation is different and seems a little more difficult and less logical.

I will probably persist for a while.

Others have suggest Dvorak is too different from Qwerty for the masses to adopt and have recommended an improved but Qwerty-like layout, the Colemak. Though I think the "B" position (Qwerty) is the most difficult to consistently use the correct fingering, and should have been traded for "X" or "Z."

Friday, 27 November 2009

NIWA defends it adjustment of data

NIWA have released a statement that the data that shows a warming trend in New Zealand over 100 years was adjusted.
NIWA’s analysis of measured temperatures uses internationally accepted techniques, including making adjustments for changes such as movement of measurement sites.
Though the paper (and my post yesterday) suggest adjustment was the likely explanation. However the graph and the surrounding paragraph fail to mention the data is adjusted. I read significant numbers of scientific papers and they are always referencing the raw and the adjusted data labelling both. There are statistical issues with some of these papers but this is not one of them.

NIWA go on to say,
Such site differences are significant and must be accounted for when analysing long-term changes in temperature. The Climate Science Coalition has not done this.

NIWA climate scientists have previously explained to members of the Coalition why such corrections must be made. NIWA’s Chief Climate Scientist, Dr David Wratt, says he’s very disappointed that the Coalition continue to ignore such advice and therefore to present misleading analyses.
Unfortunately this comment fails to identify and thus address the issue which is: "why" is not the question the Coaliltion is asking; it is "what" and "how". What is the adjustment? and how have you done it? Treadgold (an author of the paper) writes,
We cannot account for adjustments, because we don’t know what they are. We ask only to know the adjustments that have been made, in detail, for all seven stations, and why.
Transparency demands that the specific reasons for data adjustment be given.
  • What stations have been adjusted?
  • When were they adjusted?
  • Is the adjustment stepwise or a trend?
  • Is there overlap of data when stations are shifted?
  • Does the overlapped data show good correlation?
  • Have adjustments been modified in subsequent years? Why?
  • What is the computer code that applies the adjustment?
This sort of information allows others to review the legitimacy of such decisions. And various groups can argue for and against these reasons and the weighing various reasons should be given.

Why the secrecy? The refusal to be open with data and theories is looked upon with suspicion, and rightly so.

Gareth Renowden writes a post explaining why adjustments are made to the data. The excessive rhetoric notwithstanding, the argument is plausible. But it still leaves questions unanswered. While the Wellington station may just be used an example, what of the other 6 stations? Wellington may show a rise after adjustment, but this will be diluted when averaged across all the station unless they all showed a rise. It they did what is the explanation for them.

Though I am not fully convinced with NIWA's explanation. The Airport and Kelburn temperatures seem well correlated, with Kelburn cooler being at a higher altitude. And Thorndon and Airport are both at the same elevation (sea level). But there is no correlation established between Thorndon and the other 2 locations.

Elevation is not the sole determiner of temperature. There may be other considerations that make Thorndon and the Airport different temperatures. If so, then the adjustment down of the Thorndon data may be excessive. It should be easy to set up further measurements at Thorndon currently and see how they correlate to Kelburn and the Airport. If they all correlate well then we can establish a more accurate correction factor for the pre-1930 Thorndon data.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

New Zealand not warming?

It seems to residents that the country has not being getting warmer over the last decade. Such that advocates of global warming prefer the term climate change so that any weather anomaly can be attributed to anthropomorphic global warming. And people are willing to parrot claims that some parts of the world will get colder (this may be a prediction of the theory but should encourage one to cautiously consider these claims).

The New Zealand National Institute of Atmosphere and Water Research (NIWA) do not show significant change since 2000 but they do show an increase over the last century as seen in this graph.

Graph. Mean annual temperature over New Zealand, from 1853 to 2008 inclusive, based on between 2 (from 1853) and 7 (from 1908) long-term station records. The blue and red bars show annual differences from the 1971 - 2000 average, the solid black line is a smoothed time series, and the dotted line is the linear trend over 1909 to 2008 (0.92°C/100 years).

Yesterday the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition released an article challenging this rise using NIWA's own data. They plotted the temperatures from the NIWA source data and got this graph.

Whereas the first shows a rise of ~1°C per century, the second shows no discernable rise. The difference between the 2 graphs? The second uses raw data, the first (probably) has adjusted the data.
About half the adjustments actually created a warming trend where none existed; the other half greatly exaggerated existing warming.
There are legitimate reasons why data can and should be adjusted. Cities grow and hence warm so later temperatures may be warmer, especially overnight. Different thermometers may be used that show a consistent measurable difference. But there are 2 comments to make about adjusting data. Firstly adjusted data should be labelled as such with the unadjusted data displayed alongside it and the factors the data was adjusted for.

Secondly, it makes a difference whether adjusting data removes or produces an association. Frequently differences in data are seen because they attributes of the data sets are different. If we compare test scores between highschools to create a league table it may be reasonable to correct for number of children in different grades as some schools may have more students at higher levels, or one school may only let its brightest children sit the test. But we should be more cautious about accepting an association that only appears after adjustment. It is not that there can be no difference, rather it is that enough statistical manipulation can show a difference and the reasons for the adjusted variables are then argued after the fact.

If you do find a difference after adjustment you need to check your adjustment factors are not associated with the variable that is under consideration, in this case you cannot adjust for time as time changes are what is being looked for; and you must validate your adjustment with an independent data set.

On top of the release of emails and computer code from the now infamous Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, UK; perhaps there might be some room for debate around the issues of climate change. Is it happening? Are humans responsible? Would it be detrimental? Should we pay attention to scientists who refuse to reveal their data and formulae?

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Corporate versus individual election

Brennon Hartshorn has posted his take on Romans 9 from an Arminian perspective. Marcus McElhaney, of a more Calvinist persuasion, has addressed Brennon's post pointwise. Both are an interesting read and there is some common agreement; they may be worth perusing prior to reading this post. I do not seek to reproduce or comment on the whole exchange. Rather one paragraph of Marcus' made me think that aspects of freewill needed clarification.

In Romans 9 Paul writes
And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, "The older will serve the younger." As it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated."

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
Brennon's comment on verses 14 and 15 (italics above),
What about this? Was God unrighteous when He chose Jacob over Esau? The Jews at this time would have thought so. Esau was the eldest and that meant that the birthright of Isaac was naturally his. But God chose Jacob to be the one to carry on the line of Israel. Paul asserts that of course God is not unrighteous in this decision.

In verse 15 Paul is citing Exodus 33:19. Let’s remember that Paul is a Jewish Rabbi. Jews memorized large portions of the Old Testament. He had an amazing command of knowledge of these ancient texts. Would he rip the text out of context in order to prove a point about individual unconditional election? No! The context here is not about who goes to heaven and who does not. In context, Moses has asked God to show him His glory. God says it is because of His mercy that He has decided to show Himself to Moses, not due to anything Moses did. So Paul’s point is God does not owe us mercy based on what we do (will or run). The basis of God’s choice to save people is not on the people’s conduct, but on His compassion. The “IT” in verse 16 is not individual salvation; the “IT” refers to God’s choice of what to predicate His salvation on: Corporate election. Individual unconditional election has not appeared in this section. (Emphasis original.)
Marcus responds thus,
I'm not sure why we would assume that if God could do this with nations that he does not do it with individuals? In order for God to do it on a corporate scale means turning and directing the will of many teaching that God does not do anything against human free will goes out the window. I agree that the verses are definitely saying that election is based on God's will and desire and nothing to do with the properties of those being elected. I mean you can't elect yourself to something and still call it "election". "Fair" is whatever God says it is as far as I am concerned. I think that Paul is really pointing out that this is how God is and deals with his creation. It's His reality. We just live in it...on His terms.
While I disagree with aspects of this paragraph, I also think Marcus misunderstands aspects of freewill.

The context of Romans 9 seems to be corporate. Paul starts by mentioning fellow (ethnic) Israelites. He then goes on to discuss individuals such as Isaac, Jacob, Esau and Pharaoh. The need of the exegete is therefore to explain why the change to individual salvation or, as Brennon attempts to do, how the individuals mentioned represent the corporate or represent God's dealings with the corporate.

The importance of assessing individual versus corporate is that dealing with the corporate is fundamentally distinct from dealing with the individual. The issue with God dealing with the individual is that if God does so in an exhaustively deterministic way then man is essentially an automaton. He is therefore unable to to truly love, nor is he responsible for his actions—good or bad.

This does not mean that proponents of freewill deny that God is able to act deterministically, he is; it is that he does not do so exhaustively because he wants creatures to love him. God could set up a clockwork world and appreciate its beauty and precision. But God created this world with men who would love and enjoy him forever.

Freewill does not constrain God, he constrains himself. God could still prevent men from thinking or conceiving some things, and he may in fact do this at times. God is able to prevent the actions of evil men and does so. Freedom is not a power that God struggles to overcome, it is a gift, an attribute of God that he bestows on man.

Now this does not apply to corporate groups because a group does not have freewill, other than the freedom of the individuals within it. And God can act in ways that affect corporate outcome without overriding the freedom of individuals that comprise it. God can raise up a nation by providing optimal environmental conditions, and he can destroy a nation by sending disaster.

In doing so we note that God's plans for groups can be brought about according to God's purpose and for his glory. God tells Israel they are not a nation of note but that he will make them great. Individuals within various groups still retain the choice to side with or against God. If God punishes a nation, individuals of such nations can still appeal to God's mercy. We see this in Rahab and the Egyptians who left in the Exodus. If God blesses a nation, individuals can still reject God's purposes; consider Korah, Dathan and Abiram.

While a Calvinist may see God working on the corporate scale as an outworking of exhaustive determinism of individuals, this perspective is a result of the Calvinist system. God is actually able to act on the corporate scale without exhaustive determinism. The non-Calvinist perspective is that God works at the corporate level to assess the actions of individuals. God does not control the motives of our hearts, he tests them.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

The means that God shall give

George Muller, famous for orphanages in England, set up an institution for the spread of the gospel which he named, "The Scriptural Knowledge Institution For Home And Abroad." This institution had several principles and objects. What I find inspiring is the refusal to ask men for money. People were aware of this institution, and then subsequent orphanages, which they were welcome to give to. But Muller was at pains to take his requests only to God and not to man.

And while Muller commenced activities he thought the Lord would have him do before all the provision had arrived, he refused to enter into debt for the same.

Further he sort to not use people to raise the profile of the institution if they were not Christian, and he refused the help and the employment of non-Christians in the work.

Here are the principles of the institution (appendix D).
  1. We consider every believer bound, in one way or another, to help the cause of Christ, and we have scriptural warrant for expecting the Lord's blessing upon our word of faith and labour of love: and although, according to Matt. xiii.24-43, 2 Tim. iii. 1-13, and many other passages, the world will not be converted before the coming of our Lord Jesus, still, while He tarries, all scriptural means ought to be employed for the ingathering of the elect of God.
  2. The Lord helping us, we do not mean to seek the patronage of the world; i.e., we never intend to ask unconverted persons of rank or wealth to countenance the Institution, because this, we consider, would be dishonourable to the Lord. In the name of our God we set up our banners, Ps. xx.5; He alone shall be our Patron, and if He helps us we shall prosper, and if He is not on our side, we shall not succeed.
  3. We do not mean to ask unbelievers for money (2 Cor. vi.14-18); though we do not feel ourselves warranted to refuse their contributions, if they, of their own accord should offer them. (Acts xxviii. 2-10.)
  4. We reject altogether the help of unbelievers in managing or carrying on the affairs of the Institution. (2 Cor. vi.14-18.)
  5. We intend never to enlarge the field of labour by contracting debts (Rom. xiii.8), and afterwards appealing to the church of God for help, because this we consider to be opposed both to the letter and the spirit of the New Testament; but in secret prayer, God helping us, we shall carry the wants of the Institution to the Lord, and act according to the means that God shall give.
  6. We do not mean to reckon the success of the Institution by the amount of money given, or the number of Bibles distributed, etc., but by the Lord's blessing upon the work (Zech. iv.6); and we expect this, in the proportion in which He shall help us to wait upon Him in prayer.
  7. While we would avoid aiming after needless singularity, we desire to go on simply according to Scripture, without compromising the truth; at the same time thankfully receiving any instruction which experienced believers, after prayer, upon scriptural ground, may have to give us concerning the Institution.
While I am not completely against the requesting of funds for a need, Paul asked the Corinthian church to help the Jerusalem church, the idea of only asking God for one's needs has some appeal. In the natural it seems daunting, though our God has the resources of the universe at his disposal—how faltering our faith, but it has the advantage that only programs that God is involved in can prosper. Sure, God is involved in many organisations that appeal for money, but men can sustain efforts even when they abandon God's plans. But when God provides the funds, only his tasks get funded.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Dumb inventions

Life magazine ran an article on some of the dumbest inventions in the 20th century.

I found the caption to this one amusing.

Honegar, 1959

Inventor of a honey and vinegar mixture, called Honegar, Dr. DeForest C. Jarvis. Honegar was said to be a folk remedy for aches and pains, though it mainly sounds like a cure for lack of nausea.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Right to internet access?

Finland is looking to make fast internet access a legal requirement and is couching the law in terms of "rights". From Laura Vilkkonen, the legislative counselor for the Ministry of Transport and Communications,
We think it's something you cannot live without in modern society. Like banking services or water or electricity, you need Internet connection,... Universal service is every citizen's subjective right.
There are so many things wrong here.

What does she mean by a "subjective right"? Since when are banking and electricity rights? And how something that has barely existed in the course of history can philosophically be considered a right is preposterous.

Making high speed internet access a right mocks the concept of rights.

And it significantly impinges on the freedom or internet service providers in doing business.

Who is going to pay? If it is the consumer surely he should be free to choose a slower speed/ cheaper option, especially if the higher speed/ dearer option precludes any internet connection (though now a "right" the state will come to the party).

Coming soon to a government near you,
It is a view shared by the United Nations, which is making a big push to deem Internet access a human right.

In June, France's highest court declared such access a human right. But Finland goes a step further by legally mandating speed.
That France legislates such measures is suggestive that such rights do not exist. The fact that the United Nations supports it is confirmation they do not.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Random quote

My parents told me there aren't any ghosts. They told me there aren't any goblins. They only told me those things once, though. They tell me there isn't a God every week. There must be a God.

Irina Ratushinskaya, age 9.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Moral perspectives on lying

There are a range of Christian theories on the moral acceptability of lying.

The issues around lying seem difficult to fully categorise in English. The problem is a lack of simple words to express subtle differences in meaning. To illustrate this note that the concept of lying can be considered analogous to killing. With killing we have sub-terms such as murder, manslaughter, and capital punishment. We also recognise killing in a variety of situations such as warfare and self-defence. The debate about the morality of types of killing is more transparent because we agree on meaning, even if we disagree or the moral acceptability of them.

Whereas "lying" merely means distorting the truth irrespective of the circumstances. There are terms such as deception, falsification, untruthfulness, but these are basically synonymous. There are situational terms though, such as perjury.

So is falsehood a single conceptual category? I have long thought it meaningful that the 9th commandment is not, "You shall not lie," but rather, "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour." I have previously distinguished between reality and what one perceives as reality stating that affirming a false belief is not lying. I have also made the distinction between voluntary and forced disclosure of information which I wish to expand on here.

The moral debate is that either:
  • lying (or specific types or lying) is objectively wrong, that is, various forms of absolutism; or
  • lying is not intrinsically wrong (for all people), (though it may be preferable to avoid in certain situations for other reasons), that is, forms of subjectivism.
Christianity claims that morality has its source in the moral law giver, thus it views the morality of truth telling as objective: the same rules for all people at all times. Here are particular forms of such absolutism.

1. Unqualified Absolutism

Lying is always wrong. People should never lie ever. No matter what the situation or consequences.

Doug Beaumont explains such unqualified absolutism.
Unqualified Absolutism is based on the idea that most moral actions are intrinsically right or wrong, and because sin is always avoidable there can be no actual moral conflict. Given a choice between telling the truth or lying to avoid a murder, for example, one must choose telling the truth for in that instance it is not the one speaking, but the murderer who is sinning. In that case it is better to permit sin than to commit it. This view states that moral "oughts" are viable regardless of their consequences, for any moral philosophy that has exceptions results in relativism. Moral law is based on God's unchanging nature, therefore moral law itself is unchanging. Logically, if an act is intrinsically evil, it cannot become good because of a changing situation. Finally, God can always provide a third alternative to sinful actions.
This is how many people view lying. It is a somewhat reasonable but it lacks depth. Exceptions to rules don't intrinsically mean relativism. True, exceptions can be special pleading or hypocrisy, but they may be legitimate (eg. age based rules). And as I note below, unqualified absolutism may conflate intrinsically different actions.

2. Conflicting absolutism

Lying is wrong, but it needs to be considered within the situation. If lying conflicts with another moral commandment then one must do obey the higher moral. But lying, while required, is still sinful.

Such a position acknowledges that we have moral conflict (at least in this age). I think this is an improvement as it notes that as bad as lying may be, it may not be the greatest evil (though lying is a bigger evil than many acknowledge). This position encourages people to do good and love their neighbour.

It fails in that it suggests at times all options a man may have involve sin. However if we wish to do right, Scripture suggests we are able to do so (thru God). Further, how much less are we to blame when others have placed us in a dilemma, rather than our own prior choices.

3. Graded absolutism

Lying is wrong unless it conflicts with a higher moral commandment. Obeying the higher moral by lying is not wrong or sinful.

This resolves the dilemma of not being able to make a right choice. It affirms moral conflict, but it claims that the choice to do the better is good. And not sinful if a greater good is being done. There may be some support from Jesus' words to the Pharisees. It discussing tithing garden herbs Jesus states
But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.
While one could claim that tithing herbs and doing justice are morally equal—Jesus does say not to neglect the former—the context would suggest that doing justice is a higher moral command. Apologists for unqualified absolutism could argue Jesus commands they do both, but there is no conflict between moral obligations set up here, so unqualified absolutism cannot be proven from the passage. I am merely illustrating that moral commands are graded.

It is important to note that this is not arguing that the end justifies the means. Yes, the end is considered, but for the sake of doing good, not for preferred result. Doing good may have unpleasant consequences.

4. Libertarian absolutism

Lying is wrong if one is voluntarily giving information. One need not tell the truth if one is being compelled to divulge information. I am responsible for my actions, not yours.

This has the advantage over graded absolutism in that it recognises that voluntary information and compelled information are categorically different. It is somewhat analogous to saying that predatory killing is sinful but self-defensive killing is not.

Interestingly Jesus' words may shed some light on our understanding here.
After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him. Now the Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand. So his brothers said to him, "Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world." For not even his brothers believed in him. Jesus said to them, "My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come." After saying this, he remained in Galilee.

But after his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly but in private. The Jews were looking for him at the feast, and saying, "Where is he?" And there was much muttering about him among the people. While some said, "He is a good man," others said, "No, he is leading the people astray." Yet for fear of the Jews no one spoke openly of him.

About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching. (John 7, emphasis added)
Jesus said he wasn't going but then he did. This implies that Jesus' answer was not true. In fact some manuscripts say, "I am not yet going up to this feast." Which would seem to make Jesus' answer more honest. Looking at the passage it is clear Jesus wished to go without others initially knowing he was there. He is asked if he is going, however Jesus does not wish to tell this person. Being evasive may be construed as a yes. Jesus says that he is not going to this feast. Within the libertarian absolutism view a request is made of Jesus to divulge information he does not wish to give and he is at liberty to answer in a way that does not divulge same information.

This position is distinct from graded absolutism in that one is not weighing up morality in conflict. The distinction is in will for informing.

Although one could think nothing one hears in conversation is reliable, the solution is listen to what people wish to tell you.

5. Authoritative absolutism

Non aggressive version
  • Lying is wrong in non-aggressive situations. Self-defence against an aggressor allows for lying. Authorities are owed the truth.
Libertarian version
  • One need not tell the truth if one is being compelled to divulge information unless being compelled by a legitimate authority.
Authoritative absolutism states the voluntary information must be true as per libertarian absolutism, or that all information must be true unless facing an aggressor. It states that, in general, compelled information does not need to be true though there can be variation on what is meant by compulsion.

But this position does allow an appropriate authority to force information (whereas strict libertarian absolutism would not). A person following libertarian absolutism would allow one to lie in court if he did not wish to divulge the truth. Non-aggressive absolutism would mean that it is eumoral (morally good) to tell the truth in legitimate courts and immoral to withhold it. Note the caveat: obeying a lesser authority is not required if that means disobeying a higher one. Obeying a policeman, a ruler, or a court is necessary even unjust ones, or in unpleasant circumstances; unless doing so compromises a higher earthly ruler or God.


People may argue for the legitimacy of any of these options within Christian theology. Unless one recognises that the concept of lying may include more than one category, graded absolutism is as far as one can advance and this seems to be the best approach. However the knowledge of a permissible sub-categorisation based on the distinction between voluntary and involuntary knowledge sharing allows for more nuanced views.


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