Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Global warming predictions

Here is a good summary of some global warming predictions and their failure. Covered is
  • The rise in land based air temperatures;
  • The rise in ocean temperatures;
  • The tropical atmospheric "hotspot"; and
  • Outgoing earth radiation.
The conclusion is that the models have been disproven.

I am not certain I completely agree with the sceptical position proposed in the paper; perhaps one may consider me even more sceptical? Nevertheless, the author aligns the global warming predictions with recent temperature data and shows that they do not line up.
On the left is the data collected by millions of weather balloons. On the right is what the climate models say was happening. The theory is incompatible with the observations.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Monday quote

What is the ground the Morlocks have chosen to defend? In metaphysics they defend radical materialism; in ontology, nominalism; in politics, collectivism and grievance-mongering race-identity; in economics, socialism, Fabianism, Keynesianism; in ethics, aborticide, suicide, euthanasia, including that form of mass-suicide called multiculturalism; in aesthetics, subjectivism and hatred of the beautiful; and in all things, nihilism, nihilism, nihilism.

John C Wright

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Developing a biblical concept of physical life

In response to my article on the nature of death Jc_Freak asks
First, I have always understood nephesh to mean 'soul', yet you define it here as 'life'. How would you distinguish therefore between the concept of nephesh and the concept of chay?

Second, you mention that this might have implications on how we view euthanasia, abortion, ect... I don't really see how since we already define death in those terms. Within general culture the cessation of the heart is still the prinicple symbol of the moment of death. Thus, I am not sure how challenging this is. Could you elaborate on how you feel this would alter people's perceptions?
Starting with the second question: What I was trying to do here is laying out some ground work for developing a fully fledged biblical concept of physical life. It may not seem that challenging if such a position happens to coincide with secular definitions—for which we should be grateful—but it is important for us to have the right reasons. A libertarian and drunkard may both decry Prohibition, but they do so from different positions. It may be that the secular arguments around death derive, in part, from our Western Christian heritage, though definitions of life are being challenged by medical ethicists in the literature and abortionettes in the culture war.

I have considered this matter for some time, not all my thoughts included in the post; it seems to me that blood is closely tied to life which is what I was establishing in the post.  But because this connection is foundational it is important to maximise certainty before deriving corollaries.

There are arguments around abortion and euthanasia relating to personhood, though personhood may not completely equate to living—animals have the latter, not the former. If the commandments of God (eg. Do not kill) are based on human life—even if the reason for the commandments is the imago Dei—then we need to consider how being alive affects permissible behaviour.

Regarding the first question I am afraid I cannot answer this to any degree of satisfaction. I included the Hebrew words to show which word occurs where, and to emphasise the repetition of the word "blood". I do not read Hebrew so my thoughts are somewhat restricted. I understand about unwarranted expansion of semantic ranges, but I am also cautious about undue restriction based on word use: biblical narrative, and even more so poetry, uses frequent parallelism which relies on the use of synonyms; we should caution against making non-existent distinctions between synonyms.

That said, I understand nephesh to roughly parallel the English "life", or perhaps "soul"? It applies to humans and higher animals, and is related to the concept of breathing. Plants and some creatures classified Animalia are not living in the nephesh sense. So perhaps "soul" is a better translation? We will then need to grant that a cow may have a soul, but in a Hebrew biblical sense, and not necessarily in an English sense? I am uncertain how this relates to chay, though chay as life seems to also contain the meaning (or be metaphorical for) "newness" or "freshness".

Monday, 20 February 2012

Monday quote

If we acquiesnce uncritically in the world's own self-understanding, we may find ourselves the servants rather of fashion than of God

John Stott, Between Two Worlds.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Well the Scots did invent whiskey

...recent sales data showing that the amount of alcohol sold in Scotland is equivalent to every adult exceeding sensible drinking limits every week of the year. [Source]
Or perhaps it was the Irish.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Monday quote

There are some desires that are not desirable.

GK Chesterton

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Defining death biblically

Modern medicine defines death in several ways. There can be cessation of heart beating, cessation of breathing, or cessation of brain activity. The latter is intended to be defined quite clearly so as to not include people in comas that may potentially wake up.

Heart death is when the heart stops pumping and electrical activity ceases (asystole, flat-lining). A heart may stop beating but the electrical activity continues. This may occur because the heart cannot pump (pulseless electrical activity) such as when there is no blood (bleeding), or nowhere for the blood to go (clot in the lungs), or no space for the heart to contract (blood around the heart). It may also occur when abnormal electrical activity does not cause heart contraction (ventricular fibrillation). Both these situations very rapidly become asystole if not treated, and frequently even if treated, especially when death is expected.

Cessation of breathing, eg. blocked airway or drowning, leads to a rise in carbon dioxide in the blood and decreasing oxygen. Increased carbon dioxide quickly leads to unconscious and acidification of the blood. The heart stops after a few minutes (unless there is severe hypothermia) for various reasons.

Brain death is defined as no electrical activity of the brain, no brain reflexes, no response to a stimulus. The person cannot breathe independently, and sometimes cannot maintain a heart beat; thus such a definition exist because of advances in medicine allowing prolonged mechanical ventilation.

These definitions of death are somewhat reasonable. Nevertheless we need to consider what Scripture may say to the issue and whether that modifies our thinking around physical death.

The Bible has several references to various organs of the body. Kidneys, intestines, eyes, liver, skin, blood, bone, heart. Several of the occurrences are literal when describing sacrifice: what to do with the kidneys or liver when offering sacrifices to God. Several are metaphorical, though different to the metaphors we use in English. Thus translators may use English metaphors, though some have become English metaphors from the Hebrew via the English Bible.

"Kidney" (kilyah) may represent emotion. Consider Jeremiah 17:10a
“I the LORD search the heart (leb)
and test the mind (kilyah), (ESV)

I, the Lord, probe into people’s minds (leb).
I examine people’s hearts (kilyah). (NET)
"Kidney" appears on the second line, translated "mind" in the ESV and "heart" in the NET. "Heart" (leb, lebab) in the Hebrew apears in the first line. The ESV retains heart whereas in the NET it is translated as "mind". The NET's translation of "heart" as "mind" is not without justification as "heart" often carries the connotation of "will" in Hebrew, whereas it tends to reflect "emotion" in English.

me`ah means intestines or other internal organs such as stomach or uterus (also beten). Literally Psalm 22:14 reads:
I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are separated;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my intestines (insides);
The relevance of this to our discussion relates to the word "blood". Blood represents life in Hebrew. The question is whether this is primarily metaphorical, or symbolic, or whether blood is perceived as the source of life. "Blood" (dam) occurs over 300 times in the Old Testament. It is clearly used at times when "life" (nephesh) is meant. As such it has a figurative use. Though I am inclined to think that this is because the association with life is meant to be a literal one. After the Flood God instructs Noah concerning food and death:
But you shall not eat flesh with its life (nephesh), that is, its blood (dam). And for your lifeblood (dam nephesh) I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life (nephesh) of man.
“Whoever sheds the blood (dam) of man,
by man shall his blood (dam) be shed,
for God made man in his own image. (Genesis 9:4-6)
God tells Noah that meat has to be drained of blood because the blood is life. In verse 4 blood is identified with life in a definitional manner:
  • Life is blood.
"Life" and "blood" are also juxtaposed in verse 5 which is translated by the English word "lifeblood", or alternatively "blood of your life".

Another consideration in understanding death is the word breath. Breath (neshama) and breathe (naphach) are used in the creation account.
then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed (naphach) into his nostrils the breath (neshama) of life (chay), and the man became a living (chay) creature (nephesh). (Genesis 2:7)
Though there is a connection between breath and life here, it does not seem to be as strong. The breath (spirit) of God is required and it is the breath of life, ie the breath that causes life, but it is not definitional. The breath itself is not identified as the life itself (even though it is the source or cause). An argument can be made for an association between breath and life, though I think it less convincing than blood.

The association of blood with life in Scripture provides us with material to deduce a biblical definition of death. If we accept that blood represents life, or is life, then the complete loss of blood or the cessation of blood flow is a coherent biblical definition of death. How does this correspond to current medical views? We know that cessation of blood flow is due the heart ceasing its function as a pump. Therefore a medical definition of cardiac death as asystole is equivalent the biblical definition of death. The Bible would also allow the loss of significant blood from bleeding, pulseless electrical activity, and ventricular fibrillation as definitions of death, though without medical intervention these situations very rapidly become asystole.

Biblically, death is the loss of blood flow, that is the non-perfusion of (all) organs with blood, this is usually due to the cessation of cardiac function.

If we were to argue that breath also relates to life, a secondary biblical definition of death is cessation of breathing, which incidentally leads quickly to cessation of blood flow, our primary definition.

Brain death is not primarily a biblical definition of death of itself, other than that it involves lack of ability to breath spontaneously.

This leads to some interesting conclusions. It should influence how we think about sentience and life. It may have implications concerning euthanasia, abortion, organ donation, mechanical ventilation and other supportive therapies.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Masculine Christianity

John Piper says this about masculinity within the church,
When I say masculine Christianity or masculine ministry or Christianity with a masculine feel, here's what I mean: Theology and church and mission are marked by an overarching godly male leadership in the spirit of Christ with an ethos of tender-hearted strength, contrite courage, risk-taking decisiveness, and readiness to sacrifice for the sake of leading and protecting and providing for the community. All of which is possible only through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Here Piper recommends that to have godly leadership that protects and provides for the church the men need to have
  1. tender-hearted strength
  2. contrite courage
  3. risk-taking decisiveness
  4. readiness to sacrifice
Food for thought. Not certain these are strong characteristics in me. Reassuringly Piper affirms such things are only obtainable thru God's grace.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Monday quote

As far as Paul is concerned, grieving the Holy Spirit is related to lifestyle choices, while quenching is related to teaching and prophecy.

Daniel B. Wallace

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Defining creationism

Creationism has a variety of definitions depending on who is using the term. Frequently it is used as a shorthand to Young Earth Creationism, sometimes to the consternation of those who hold to what they consider creationism but don't think the earth is young. Their complaint has some validity, but the cumbersome term Young Earth Creationism invites itself to be shortened. Biblical Creationism has been suggested as an alternative to Young Earth Creationism, especially considering that 6000 years is not really that young. I am not in favour of this. Though I think the Young Earth Creation position is biblical, it not as if other creationists all think their positions are unbiblical. Even if Old Earth Creationism turns out to be unbiblical it is premature to anticipate the outcome of the debate. Literal Creationism would be an alternative to Young Earth Creationism if it were not for the problem that literalism is frequently misunderstood to mean hyperliteralism.

I am not a great fan of eponyms though that is often the outcome. Descriptive labels are good. Perhaps the best labels are those invented by one's opponents so long the term is acceptable to its adherents.

Old Earth Creationism may include ideas such as Progressive Creationism and Gap Theory. I think it preferable to group the major positions logically, then discuss the variants within a general position.

Here are several positions. I have tried to describe the position as viewed by adherents, feel free to correct me if you think I have misconstrued your position.

Young Earth Creationism
Age of Earth
This is the position that God created the world ~6000 years ago, though some may hold to 10000 or 20000 years. The age is that of the earth, the age of the universe is variable, but it was made at the same time at the earth and the universe's age is the same as the earth's age when measured by earth clocks. It denies the big bang occurred.

Species Change
Young Earth Creationism rejects the grand theory of evolution, the idea that all of life came from a single ancestor through a variety of creatures over millions of years. While some claim that it holds to the fixity of the species, this is a less helpful definition due to consensus on how species are defined. Fixity of the genera would be more accurate. It claims that God created various kinds or types of animals so there is no common ancestor of all creatures.

Noachic Deluge
Young Earth Creationism holds that the Flood of Noah was global and is the cause of sedimentary rocks and much fossilisation of plants and animals.

Old Earth Creationism
Age of Earth
This position thinks that the age of earth is 4 billion years and the universe several billion years older. It subscribes to an ancient cosmology including the big bang theory and stellar evolution.

Species Change
Old Earth Creationism also rejects the grand theory of evolution, though they think that various flora and fauna appeared on earth at various times over the last several million years. This are often ascribed to ongoing creative acts. Species may go extinct and fossils are dated according to evolutionary geological scales. Radio-dating is accepted as reliable.

Noachic Deluge
Old Earth Creationism states that the Flood of Noah was local, that the geological strata antedate the Flood by millions of years, and most fossilisation was not a result of the Flood.

Theistic Evolution
Age of Earth
This position thinks that the age of the earth and universe is billions of years. It holds to big bang theory and stellar evolution.

Species Change
Theistic Evolution thinks that all species arrives on this earth according to Darwin's General Theory of Evolution. All living things are linked by common ancestry. They deny the fixity of species, genera, orders etc. as new species are always evolving. Some hold to chemical evolution of life, others argue that the first cell was divinely created.

Noachic Deluge
Theistic Evolution holds no specific view on Noah's Flood. It may be mythical. If it occurred it was local at not responsible for sedimentary rocks or fossils. It denies that all land animals except those on the ark were destroyed. It may deny that all humans, except Noah's family died.

Summary
Young Earth Creationism and Old Earth Creationism deny the Grand Theory of Evolution, that is universal common descent is not a correct description of the history of life. Their differences concerning the appearance of life on earth leads to significant differences in theology however.

Old Earth Creationism and Theistic Evolution deny the earth is only several thousand years old. Both think that the universe is billions of years old, stellar evolution is correct and radio-dating is reliable

Intelligent Design
Intelligent Design does not fully fit into this scheme. It has been accused of being clandestine creationism. I am not certain this is fair as creationism is often meant to mean young earth creationism, and many advocates of intelligent design deny a young earth.

Intelligent design only has a position on biological evolution. It has no position on the age of the earth or Noah's Flood.

Intelligent design argues that features in living things that have the appearance of design have been designed by an intelligent designer. That is, design is real, not apparent. Their arguments include information content in the genome, irreducible complexity of biochemical pathways, and statistical impossibility of evolutionary required genomic changes.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Geek test

My result for this test was Geekish Tendencies, the lowest geek score. Though I think the test was incorrectly weighted. (Points for anyone who gets the irony of that last sentence.)

I liked this question:
  • I know how to count to 31 on one hand.
Well I am not certain I had thought about this before, but I worked out how I could.

Clue after the jump

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Christ and Karma

Krister Sairsingh
Trinidadian Krister Sairsingh shares his testimony of coming to Christ from Hinduism. It is exciting and encouraging. Well worth the read. I found his discouragement with karma interesting:
The law of karma — that whatever wrong we do we will have to pay for in some other life — rules out the very idea of forgiveness. According to the law of karma, reincarnation is therefore necessary in order to pay for the sins of a previous life.  One's present life is determined by one's previous existence while one's future existence is shaped by one's present life. Each soul is held to be responsible for its own destiny. The law of karma offered a simple and attractive explanation of the mystery of suffering in the world. People suffer because of their own evil action. But reincarnation as a necessary working out of the law of karma was never good news to me — even though I knew it undergirded the whole fabric of my religious and moral world.
Reading Jesus' words in the gospels caused him more despair:
As I read the Gospels I became much more aware of my human failings, that I was a creature governed by unruly desires rather than the virtues of compassion and generosity. It dawned on me that I was often unkind to the numerous beggars who knocked at our gates. Whatever charity I showed was born not out of compassion and kindness but out of a desire to build up good karma, to secure a better birth in the cosmic wheel of existence. I began to see how hard I had tried to distance myself from the uncultured lower caste Hindus and how much I distrusted and despised Muslims. There was a feeling of desperation because I knew that I would have to suffer the consequences in some other life for all my evil actions. In some ways the teachings of Jesus even compounded the feeling of distress because he taught that we would be judged for our thoughts, attitudes and words, not just our deeds. I knew the depths of my prejudice and bigotry. Spiritual liberation — release from the cycle of birth and death — seemed humanly impossible. I could only conceive of a downward spiral. I felt there was no way out.
He seems aware of the darkness in the cellar of his soul. It is much darker than most people admit. Our good actions are often less good than we think, and our bad ones much worse than we realise. Karma made him aware of the necessity of judgment and the words of Jesus showed him how much worse the situation is. I laughed at the irony as I was reading this paragraph. It is as if he is told: "Karma is not good news because you are judged for your actions; it gets worse, you are judged for your thoughts and attitudes too."

I can smile because I know the solution, but how despairing it was Sairsingh. A good place to be in order to then grasp how good the Good News is. Who can deliver us from this body of death?
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14)

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