Monday, 26 December 2011

Monday quote

Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.

C.S. Lewis

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Joy to the world

What grace the Father has extended to man by sending his Son to dwell among us.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:13-14)
Isaac Watts has captured the great goodness of God in this famous hymn. The whole earth groans under the curse of death; pain and sorrow rule; and one man's life restored and is restoring all things!

May all men everywhere give allegiance to the King of kings.

Joy to the world
Isaac Watts, 1674–1748

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Pagan Christmas?

Here is an interesting article by William J. Tighe on how we got December 25 as the date we celebrate our Lord's birth. It challenges the concept that Christmas is a Christianised pagan holiday.
Many Christians think that Christians celebrate Christ’s birth on December 25th because the church fathers appropriated the date of a pagan festival. Almost no one minds, except for a few groups on the fringes of American Evangelicalism, who seem to think that this makes Christmas itself a pagan festival. But it is perhaps interesting to know that the choice of December 25th is the result of attempts among the earliest Christians to figure out the date of Jesus’ birth based on calendrical calculations that had nothing to do with pagan festivals.

Rather, the pagan festival of the “Birth of the Unconquered Son” instituted by the Roman Emperor Aurelian on 25 December 274, was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Roman Christians. Thus the “pagan origins of Christmas” is a myth without historical substance.
The date of birth was connected to the date of death in this reasoning.
Greek Christians seem to have wanted to find a date equivalent to 14 Nisan in their own solar calendar, and since Nisan was the month in which the spring equinox occurred, they chose the 14th day of Artemision, the month in which the spring equinox invariably fell in their own calendar. Around A.D. 300, the Greek calendar was superseded by the Roman calendar, and since the dates of the beginnings and endings of the months in these two systems did not coincide, 14 Artemision became April 6th.

In contrast, second-century Latin Christians in Rome and North Africa appear to have desired to establish the historical date on which the Lord Jesus died. By the time of Tertullian they had concluded that he died on Friday, 25 March 29. (As an aside, I will note that this is impossible: 25 March 29 was not a Friday, and Passover Eve in A.D. 29 did not fall on a Friday and was not on March 25th, or in March at all.)

So in the East we have April 6th, in the West, March 25th. At this point, we have to introduce a belief that seems to have been widespread in Judaism at the time of Christ, but which, as it is nowhere taught in the Bible, has completely fallen from the awareness of Christians. The idea is that of the “integral age” of the great Jewish prophets: the idea that the prophets of Israel died on the same dates as their birth or conception.
With these dates assigned to Jesus' death and conception we get a birthday of December 25 in the West. I think this reasoning is fallacious in several areas, though Chrysostom deriving this date based on John the Baptist's conception is more reasonable. I think Jesus' birth was more likely to have occurred about September. Nevertheless, the article challenges the idea that this date was borrowed from a pagan holiday.

Interestingly there is some evidence that the Magi visited Jesus about December 25.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Monday quote

Logic and truth, as a matter of fact, have very little to do with each other. Logic is concerned merely with the fidelity and accuracy with which a certain process is performed, a process which can be performed with any materials, with any assumption. You can be as logical about griffins and basilisks as about sheep and pigs.... Logic, then, is not necessarily an instrument for finding truth; on the contrary, truth is necessarily an instrument for using logic—for using it, that is, for the discovery of further truth and for the profit of humanity. Briefly, you can only find truth with logic if you have already found truth without it.

G.K. Chesterton, (1874–1936)

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Classification of knowledge

Mortimer Adler
Mortimer Adler classified knowledge in the 1960s in this manner.
  1. Investigative|Synthetic|General = Operational science
  2. Investigative|Synthetic|Particular = Historical science
  3. Non-investigative|Synthetic|General = Philosophy 1st order
  4. Non-investigative|Analytic|General = Mathematics
  • Investigative (empirical) means that the tests are done on the world.
  • Non-investigative means that ideas are cognitive and common to man.
  • Synthetic means that these ideas are potentially falsifiable based on experience.
  • Analytic means that it is not falsifiable based on experience.
  • General means that the discovery is a global truth.
  • Particular means that a specific event is being described.
Why are there 4 rather than 8 categories? 3 concepts with 2 options, 23 = 8.
  1. Investigative|Synthetic|General
  2. Investigative|Synthetic|Particular
  3. Investigative|Analytic|General
  4. Investigative|Analytic|Particular
  5. Non-investigative|Synthetic|General
  6. Non-investigative|Synthetic|Particular
  7. Non-investigative|Analytic|General
  8. Non-investigative|Analytic|Particular
However, Investigative cannot be Analytic. If something is Investigative it should be falsifiable. If it is not falsifiable then investigative work is pointless, and thus it is Non-investigative. This excludes #3 and #4.

And, Non-investigative knowledge cannot be particular. If it is knowledge common to all men, then it is knowledge that is generalisable. This excludes #6 and #8.

We are left with the original 4 categories.

The interesting thing about these categories is that philosophers rate Non-investigative knowledge as more foundational than Investigative knowledge. And if one thinks about this, it makes sense. Investigative knowledge relies on the truth of Non-investigative knowledge. Scientists can see that scientific theory is subservient to mathematics. You cannot say that the theory of gravity is true unless you also hold that the mathematics which is used to describe the theory is also true.

Note that analytic knowledge is not falsifiable. This is because it is derived formally (deductively). One starts with several axioms and, assuming they are true, the rest follows. Mathematical theorems are not accepted true unless every step can be confirmed to be true. Several theories remain unresolved because a mathematician has not solved it. And once it is solved (and confirmed there are no errors) then it cannot subsequently be disproved. 2 + 3 = 5 remains true forever. No new discovery could disprove this.

Note the distinction between operational and historical science (I have previously discussed this). Operational science identifies global truths such as the conservation of energy. This has been well documented, but could potentially be disproved. Historical science will make statements about specific previous events such as when the Polynesians migrated into the Pacific. Further investigation could challenge the accepted norm (or confirm it).

So what of 1st order philosophy? Why should Non-investigative synthetic knowledge take priority?

This is because it is foundational to both science and mathematics. There are several things that man holds true that can only be described as self-evident. They seem true, and most people hold them to be true, but how does one prove them to be true?

Examples include self-identity, and the law of non-contradiction. How does one prove that
  • A = A; or
  • A ≠ ¬A
We also hold other things to be self-evidently true such as the reliability of reason, or the universality of physical laws: the idea that repeating an experiment will lead to the same result (all other things being equal and within the margin of error).

So Non-investigative knowledge is the most foundational. 1st order philosophy primarily from whence we get our axioms, and mathematics secondarily as it is deductively certain.

Investigative knowledges are less foundational. Both rely on the Non-investigative knowledges.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Monday quote

These impious Galileans feed not only their own poor, but ours as well.

Flavius Claudius Julianus (c. 330--360)

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Moon in high resolution

Arizona State and NASA have completed a high resolution topography map of the moon.
This new topographic map, from Arizona State University in Tempe, shows the surface shape and features over nearly the entire moon with a pixel scale close to 100 meters (328 feet). A single measure of elevation (one pixel) is about the size of two football fields placed side-by-side.
Improved versions are planned.

Farside of the moon

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Free ebook: The Holiness of God

Amazon currently have the Kindle Edition of The Holiness of God by R. C. Sproul for free. Okay, so I haven't read it previously, but worth adding to the electronic library for future reference.

Hat tip: Reformed Arminian Blog

Monday, 5 December 2011

Monday quote

Your child needs your love the most when they deserve it the least.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Truth versus sincerity

Often times it is claimed that error in the name of a greater good is acceptable. A variant on the end justifies the means I suppose. This is argued in many of the larger paradigms that compete for our allegiance: evolution, climate change, socialism.

Biologist Coturnix argues deceit is acceptable in the battle over evolution,
You have to bring them over to your side, gain their trust, and then hold their hands and help them step by step. And on that slow journey, which will be painful for many of them, it is OK to use some inaccuracies temporarily if they help you reach the students. If a student, like Natalie Wright who I quoted above, goes on to study biology, then he or she will unlearn the inaccuracies in time. If most of the students do not, but those cutesy examples help them accept evolution, then it is OK if they keep some of those little inaccuracies for the rest of their lives.
A more subtle comment by climate researcher David Viner about factual inaccuracies in a movie,
The film got a lot of the detail wrong, and the direction of change as well - cooling of this sort is very unlikely with global warming. But the fact that The Day After Tomorrow raises awareness about climate change must be a good thing.
And Tony Juniper said about the same movie,
Although the depiction of the science is exaggerated and at times misleading, the scale of the threat and the underlying politics are all too true.
In defence of this, people argue the issue is so important—and the issue is manifestly true—that deceit is justifiable. Some may even raise the lying-to-save-life dilemma; though forced information is a different category.

Such beliefs may also be held by Christians. Scriptural defence of the same is appealed to in Paul
Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. (Philippians 1)
However this verse does not speak of the truth or falsity of the message, it speaks of the "truth" of motivation.

The claim that is suspect is
  • Lies are acceptable if we are sincere about our beliefs
Paul in Philippians is saying
  • Truth is acceptable, even if the proclaimer is insincere about his beliefs.
It is not sincerity that matters, it is truth. And Proverbs directly contradicts the claim that sincerity is more important than truth, in fact without truth it is potentially dangerous,
It is not good to have zeal without knowledge,/
nor to be hasty and miss the way. (Proverbs 19:2 NIV)

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