Monday, 30 May 2011

Monday quote

[True love] means expecting the best of those you love and giving them every reasonable benefit of the doubt.

Steve Saint

Sunday, 29 May 2011

God can revoke his forever-promise

In Samuel we read an account of God rebuking Eli.
And there came a man of God to Eli and said to him, "Thus the LORD has said, 'Did I indeed reveal myself to the house of your father when they were in Egypt subject to the house of Pharaoh? Did I choose him out of all the tribes of Israel to be my priest, to go up to my altar, to burn incense, to wear an ephod before me? I gave to the house of your father all my offerings by fire from the people of Israel. Why then do you scorn my sacrifices and my offerings that I commanded, and honor your sons above me by fattening yourselves on the choicest parts of every offering of my people Israel?' Therefore the LORD, the God of Israel, declares: 'I promised that your house and the house of your father should go in and out before me forever,' but now the LORD declares: 'Far be it from me, for those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed. Behold, the days are coming when I will cut off your strength and the strength of your father’s house, so that there will not be an old man in your house. Then in distress you will look with envious eye on all the prosperity that shall be bestowed on Israel, and there shall not be an old man in your house forever. The only one of you whom I shall not cut off from my altar shall be spared to weep his eyes out to grieve his heart, and all the descendants of your house shall die by the sword of men. And this that shall come upon your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, shall be the sign to you: both of them shall die on the same day. And I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind. And I will build him a sure house, and he shall go in and out before my anointed forever. And everyone who is left in your house shall come to implore him for a piece of silver or a loaf of bread and shall say, "Please put me in one of the priests’ places, that I may eat a morsel of bread."'" (1 Samuel 2:27–36)
It is interesting to note that God says to Eli that he choose Eli's ancestors, and further that God,
promised that your house and the house of your father should go in and out before me forever.
God gives a promise that is forever. Eli's family would serve the Lord forever. Nevertheless, when Eli failed to ensure his sons honour God, or at least fail to discipline them for blaspheming God, God removed the promise. God says he will raise up another priest, a faithful one.

It seems to me that Eli was unable to bring about God's promise that he and his family would serve the Lord. God chose Eli and his ancestors to go in and out before God. This position and honour was all God's doing, and not from Eli. Those outside of Eli's family were unable to take part in this honour without God enacting it. Importantly however, Eli was able to forsake God's choosing. By dishonouring God, Eli was rejected; God's promise that was forever was revoked. This point is important for our instruction.

We cannot enter God's kingdom thru our effort. We must be chosen by God. Fortunately God has given us a forever-promise in his son Jesus. Be grateful that God has offered us redemption when we could not earn it. But be also fearful. If we reject Christ then God can revoke his forever-promise. Our salvation is not our doing, it is all in God's offering it to us. But like the house of Eli we can still reject it. God's eternal promises do not give us security to continue in our sinful ways. God's grace is wonderful, beyond comprehension; but it is not to be abused. If we blaspheme God he can certainly cut us off from himself.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Monday quote

The entire Bible records both successes and failures of the heroes. I have always been impressed by this. It never paints the glorious picture that you would expect from legendary material, but shows them in all their worst moments. The Israelites whined, David murdered, Peter denied, the apostles abandoned Christ in fear, Moses became angry, Jacob deceived, Noah got drunk, Adam and Eve disobeyed, Paul persecuted, Solomon worshiped idols, Abraham was a bigamist, Lot committed incest, John the Baptist doubted, Abraham doubted, Sarah doubted, Nicodemus doubted, Thomas doubted, Jonah ran, Samson self-served, and John, at the very end of the story, when he should have had it all figured out, worshiped an angel.

C. Michael Patton

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Ezekiel plates

Apparently stone plates containing the complete text of the book of Ezekiel were found about 100 years ago. There are 66 plates about 30 cm square containing the entire book of Ezekiel in paleo-Hebrew script. Though known to the archaeological world they are less prominent than other artifacts. I had not heard of them previously.

They are in the news as they are undergoing dating to establish when they were made. The current range is from 300 to 2000 years old.
The tiles’ authenticity is also open to question because the time and location of the find, as well as its chain of custody, are not as well documented as scholars now demand for wider acceptance. A number of forgeries have infiltrated the field of biblical archeology in recent decades, and thus the standards of proof are being forced upward.

In this case, the tiles were supposedly found over 100 years ago when visitors to the traditional tomb of Ezekiel in the small Iraqi town of Kfar al-Kafil, located about 50 miles south of Baghdad, noticed a stone tile had fallen off the inside of the burial chamber. Oddly, its back side contained an ancient lettering which had been deliberately hidden, facing the wall. Other tiles were removed and similar inscriptions were found on their back sides as well.

The entire set of Ezekiel plates were then taken to Lebanon, where decades later a Christian Arab widow, on the advice of her priest, wanted to place them in Jewish hands before she moved to France. She sold them for a mere two pounds sterling to businessman David Hacohen in 1947.

He smuggled the plates into Israel in 1953, and they were eventually acquired by Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, Israel’s second president and a noted historian, who considered them a valuable national treasure.

After Ben-Zvi’s death, the Ezekiel plates became the property of the Institute in Jerusalem set up in his honor, which had them in storage until Zwebner convinced his wife’s parents, Max and Lombi Landau, to sponsor their public display.
I think this is most interesting, both from the perspective of more ancient Old Testament texts and for reviewing the (minor) divergence in the plate text from the Masoretic text. Though the first task is to establish the age. They may be of less linguistic value if they are only a few hundred years old.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

One less god

Cross posted at MandM

I have read a few posts on the one less god proposition. Stephen F Roberts originally put it,
I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.
elsewhere he says,
We are all atheists, some of us just believe in fewer gods than others.
I have read a few responses against this illogical claim.

One retort is to state that Christians do believe in several gods, it is just that the lesser gods are demons and Christians claim allegiance to the true God. Yahweh is not just a local deity (1Ki 20:23) but the true God, creator heaven and earth
And Hezekiah prayed before the LORD and said: "O LORD, the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. (2 Kings 19:15)
the most high God,
Abram said to the king of Sodom, "I have lifted my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth,..." (Genesis 14:22)
Though there is truth to this, depending a little on how one defines God, I do not think this rebutal gets to the crux of the problem.

Another response is to state that polytheists believe in gods for different reasons than monotheists believe in God. Polytheists believe X and monotheists believe Y, thus the monotheist's refutation of X does not refute Y, which the atheist is claiming. In other words, the reason Christians reject other gods is not the same as the reason they accept the Christian God. This is logically true, and hints at the atheist error, but does not get to the heart of it. It is inadequate though because it is not immediately obvious that polytheists and monotheists have significantly different reasons for theism. Romans 1 suggests that there are some basic reasons why all people are theists, but our fallen nature means this may be distorted such that theism becomes polytheism or, as per Romans, animism and pantheism.

A related response is to state that Christians see polytheism is a distortion of monotheism. As such, removal of the distortion does not remove the argument. The dismissal of the wrong elements of theism is not an argument against theism. This gets closer to the problem.

The primary problem with the atheist position is that it makes a category error. The following analogy demonstrates this central issue. As such the analogy is useful, but for several reasons I think it is inadequate and could be improved upon. Nevertheless, if it illustrates the problem it is helpful.
Let's say that people are debating the best colour for stop signs. One person may prefer red for stop signs. Another green. Still others think that any colour can be used and no standardisation is necessary, and others promote the use of all colours on every sign.

The atheist response is like saying you can’t agree on what colour to use because there are in fact no colours. Colours do not exist.
Debating colour preference is not the same as debating the existence of colours. Dropping from one god to no gods is not a continuation of the number-of-gods argument, it is a completely different argument.

Consider the deity set. It is either empty: atheism; or not empty: theism. The argument over the number of members in a non-empty theism set is unrelated to argument about whether or not the set is in fact empty.

Douglas Wilson put it well in his response to Sam Harris,
You say, "Understand that the way you view Islam is precisely the way devote Muslims view Christianity. And it is the way I view all religions." Well, no, not exactly. And well, actually, no, not at all.

Suppose we are considering a phenomenon that is, by most accounts, inexplicable by an unsupervised occurrence—three of us attend a sophisticated party uptown, and halfway through the evening at the party we find a trout in the punch bowl. At this point, the three of us divide into three schools of thought. I think that Smith, a practical joker, put it there; our friend Murphy thinks that Jones, the avant-garde performance artist, put it there; and you think that it has simply shown up as the result of natural forces. My central point is not to interact with the truth or falsity of your naturalistic position—except perhaps through the use of this absurd example of the punchbowl—but rather to show that you are arguing for something completely different from what Murphy and I are arguing. We all have an explanation but your explanation is of a different kind altogether.

The differences between two of us (between Murphy and me) concern who put the trout in the punchbowl. The difference between the both of us together and you is whether someone put a trout in the punchbowl. And who and whether represent different questions entirely. Quite apart from who is right and who is wrong about this, it is important to note that we are not disagreeing in the same way or over the same kind of issue at all. Murphy and I are disagreeing over the relative behaviours of Smith and Jones, but not over whether the trout calls for an explanation. Maybe I am more hostile to Smith than I ought to be, and maybe Murphy is deeply prejudiced against Jones. Maybe we are both wrong about who put it there. But thinking someone's explanation is inadequate (when we agree the phenomenon must be explained) is quite different from arguing with someone who says it calls for no outside explanation whatever. (Letter from a Christian Citizen)

Monday, 16 May 2011

Monday quote

“Is it so incredible that God would raise the dead?” Paul asks. This is actually no more incredible than that we should all be alive the first time—and yet here we all are.

Douglas Wilson

Sunday, 15 May 2011

The location of the Tower of Babel

This article is intriguing. It is on the location of the Tower of Babel. Anne Habermehl is making an argument for a location north of the traditional site at Babylon in southern Iraq.

She has several reasons for a northern location:
  1. The location of the land of Shinar;
  2. The location of the cities associated with Babel mentioned in Genesis 10: Erech, Accad, and Calneh;
  3. The coastline of the region following the Noachian Deluge and before further sedimentation from the Euphrates and Tigris rivers.
She associates Erech with Tell Aqab, Accad with Tell Brak, and Calneh with Washshukanni located at Tell Fakhariya.

It is an interesting read. The arguments are variably convincing, some better than others. It is gratifying that Habermehl gives due consideration to the biblical data.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

A very clumsy servant

I found Watchman Nee's analogy of the clumsy servant a useful analogy to understand Romans 7. Nee states that Romans 6 is about the freedom from sin and Romans 7 about freedom from the Law. He also discusses the analogies Paul uses concerning these things: Master and slave with regard to sin, and husband and wife with regard to the Law. I have read the chapter, but not the book (yet). Nevertheless, I found the analogy helpful.

Hat tip: Alan Haughton.

From Chapter 9: The Meaning and Value of Romans Seven. The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee (Nee Tao Shu).

What The Law Teaches

Many Christians are suddenly launched into the experience of Romans 7 and they do not know why. They fancy Romans 6 is quite enough. Having grasped that, they think there can be no more question of failure, and then to their utmost surprise they suddenly find themselves in Romans 7. What is the explanation?

Monday, 9 May 2011

Monday quote

Our high calling is to be in the world, not of the world. It is not our being in the world that ruins us, but our suffering the world to be in us: just as ships sink, not by being in the water, but by the water getting into them.

Andrew Robert Fausset (1821–1910). Critical and Expository Commentary on the Book of Judges (1885).

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Is salt good for your health?

I have long been suspicious of the claim that salt is bad for human health. I suspect that the more salt you eat, the more thirsty you become and the more water you drink. The kidneys handle this all very well.

The debate has been going on a few decades. Some studies suggest that blood pressure is lower with lower intakes, others find no difference, and a few indicate low salt is bad for your health.

This week JAMA published one of the latter. The way it is written makes me wonder if the authors are apologising for the result. The study shows more deaths from heart attacks and strokes in those who consume less salt. They also claim that increasing salt over time increases blood pressure, but by a tiny amount. More about this below.

Kaplan-Meier Survival. From JAMA.

Reuters have reported on this finding, as has the New York Times. The salt police have reacted negatively to this article. It is clearly full of holes. Salt is evil and nothing should stop our crusade to ban this dangerous chemical.

The Times article talks to Peter Briss from the Centers for Disease Control who is convinced that salt is bad for your health and to Michael Alderman who is not. Briss complains that
that the study was small; that its subjects were relatively young, with an average age of 40 at the start; and that with few cardiovascular events, it was hard to draw conclusions.
Which would be true if the event rate were statistically insignificant. But as the study did find a difference this complaint is void. You can't argue that type 2 errors (false negative) are possible after a statistically significant result is found. The concern then is, have you made a type 1 error?
And the study, Dr. Briss and others say, flies in the face of a body of evidence indicating that higher sodium consumption can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. 
Except that the evidence is conflicting. There is much data that points to salt not being a health concern.
But among the study’s other problems, Dr. Briss said, its subjects who seemed to consume the smallest amount of sodium also provided less urine than those consuming more, an indication that they might not have collected all of their urine in an 24-hour period.
Well they did exclude implausible urine volumes. But this comment doesn't make sense. People who eat less salt are likely to produce less urine on average. The high salt consumers raise the salt levels in their blood slightly which drives thirst. Increased fluid intake will associated with increased urine output. People can drink more than thirst dictates. But the average urine volume will likely be higher in the group who eat more salt. Finding the same urine volumes across the groups would be the real concern.
Lowering salt consumption, Dr. Alderman said, has consequences beyond blood pressure. It also, for example, increases insulin resistance, which can increase the risk of heart disease.

“Diet is a complicated business,” he said. “There are going to be unintended consequences.”

One problem with the salt debates, Dr. Alderman said, is that all the studies are inadequate. Either they are short-term intervention studies in which people are given huge amounts of salt and then deprived of salt to see effects on blood pressure or they are studies, like this one, that observe populations and ask if those who happen to consume less salt are healthier.
Exactly. Even if it does affect blood pressure, which is not certain, blood pressure is a proxy for other outcomes, mainly heart attacks and strokes. Blood pressure is clearly implicated in these diseases, but if less salt increases your blood pressure slightly and at the same time causes other changes that are detrimental for your heart then, on balance, it might be a bad thing.

We may not even be able to easily decrease our salt intake. Some research suggests that we closely monitor our salt intake thru specialised cells in the brain. If we are exposed to more salt we decrease our intake, and if we lack salt we actively seek it, such that the amount consumed over time remains a constant 4 grams per day.
Dr. Briss adds that it would not be prudent to defer public health actions while researchers wait for results of a clinical trial that might not even be feasible. 
So we should make recommendations and alter society in case salt turns out to be unhealthy when all the data is in, even though there is a possibility that such action may turn out to be hazardous?
Dr. Alderman disagrees.

“The low-salt advocates suggest that all 300 million Americans be subjected to a low-salt diet. But if they can’t get people on a low-salt diet for a clinical trial, what are they talking about?”

He added: “It will cost money, but that’s why we do science. It will also cost money to change the composition of food.” 
Much more sensible. Do nothing in public policy currently. Continue to do a variety of studies and gain an understanding of how salt works. Even then, such answers are physiological, they do not tell us public policy, they can at most inform us.

I am off to have some chips, for the good of my heart of course.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Monday quote

Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see.

Arthur Schopenhauer


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