Monday 30 April 2007

European medieval warm period

Slide 4 introduces this discussion
Little Ice Age and Mediaeval Warm Period
  • In the 14th C Europe plunged into the Little Ice Age
Followed by 2 graphs. A graph of the temperature from 1000 to 2000 in Europe taken from the documentary (though an IPCC graph) and a graph of global reconstructed temperatures from 0 to 2000. The Europe graph shows the medieval warm period as warmer than now. The reconstructed global graph has the temperature from several models but showing current temperatures as warmer than the medieval period. By plotting several models with no smoothing it is harder to see the trends except for the last few years which shows the hockey stick graph in black.

My concern here is that Merchant dismisses documented evidence (records from Europe (not necessarily thermometer readings) for the last several hundred years) in favour of a reconstruction of a global temperature. Now I don't expect there to be records from Africa. But documented data is usually better than data constructed from theory. That Merchant doesn't give this to them is very interesting as this is strong evidence against the modern theory. But then perhaps that is why he doesn't.

The previous slide (3) said
Climate has always changed
  • Proposition: climate has changed naturally (a true statement)
  • Inferences we are meant to draw:
    • Recent climate change is natural (because previous changes have been)
    • Climate change is not a problem (because it is natural)
  • The correct inferences:
    • Recent climate change might have (a) natural origin(s)
He is right that natural doesn't equal good, and that natural then doesn't equal natural now. But the point of the medieval warm period data is not that humans can't have any effect in the world, it is just that variation is not a new phenomenon. Therefore if you are going to blame humans for variation in weather when variation has been going on a very long time, you need very good evidence that this is the case. And given that scientists in the 20th century told us that there is global cooling, then warming, then cooling and then warming—I'm starting to get very suspicious.

This is an example of making the program imply more than it does. And even if this segment of the Great Global Warming Swindle is saying that humans cannot have an effect; his refutation solely says that they can, not that they have.

Sunday 29 April 2007

Who is doing the swindling?

I viewed "The Great Global Warming Swindle" recently. There is a critique of the video by Chris Merchant titled "Scam of the Great Global Warming Swindle." The slide show is available from his home page.

So I plan to offer a critique of the critique. Firstly, while there may be issues with the Swindle documentary it is the first I have seen to oppose the prevailing view. I think its existence is a good thing. It reminds people that the comment about universal consensus is a lie. I don't excuse its errors, I am not of the opinion that something untruthful is useful if it wins persons over to my point of view. Lying for the truth is an oxymoron.

I find it interesting that some of what Merchant complains about is not so much the untruth of what they are saying intrinsically (though he does cover this), rather that their interpretation of things differs from his so they must not quite be telling the truth. But this is the issue, the opponents do disagree with the interpretation. Merchant appears to so believe in global warming he seems to misunderstand what his opponents are trying to say at times and at other times disproves a slight misrepresentation of their position.

His second slide summarises the themes.
Themes from GGWS
  • Climate has always changed
  • Human emissions of CO2 are tiny
  • CO2 doesn't drive climate anyway
  • Climate change is caused by the sun
  • You can 'prove" what you want to prove with models
  • The motives of the CC fraternity are suspect
In terms of where I stand I would agree with 5 of them with caveats. With regard to the 3rd I would say I have yet to be convinced that changes in CO2 are significant enough to drive climate change and they are more likely to be a result of temperature increases than a cause.

I plan to post several responses to his slide show in the near future.

Saturday 28 April 2007

The essence of hypocrisy

Websters (1828) states the meaning of hypocrisy.
  1. Simulation; a feigning to be what one is not; or dissimulation, a concealment of one's real character or motives. More generally, hypocrisy is simulation, or the assuming of a false appearance of virtue or religion; a deceitful show of a good character, in morals or religion; a counterfeiting of religion.

  2. Simulation; deceitful appearance; false pretence.
Oftentimes a philosophy can be ridiculed by pointing to the hypocrisy of its followers. While the truth of a philosophy stands on its own merits, and the ridicules may just be a easy way to dismiss something that one doesn't like, people's responses to a belief system are frequently coloured by the behaviour of its practitioners.

My concern is that anyone who does something that they otherwise condemn is labelled a hypocrite. This is understandable and there may be some hypocrisy involved but it is not the essence of hypocrisy. It is possible the person is anything but a hypocrite. Because we are fallen we struggle with sin. So we all battle not to do what we think is wrong. We have a concept of morality and many attempt to live by their consciences. Failing to do so is sin. Dennis Prager wrote about this at the time of the Haggard scandal.

If I condemn what I do I am not a hypocrite I am a sinner. If I condemn it in you but conceal that I do it I am a hypocrite. But the essence of hypocrisy, and why it is especially odorous, is when someone claims that his behaviour is acceptable but another's is not when the first person is doing exactly the same thing. I justify my own sin by appealing to special reasoning but condemn you for yours. No wonder Jesus had little time for it and spoke harshly against its practitioners.

This is not to say that there are no circumstances where something is allowed for one group and not another. And situations may be truly different (parents and children). But be careful you are not inventing reasons so as to justify your own sin. And if you do think that there are legitimate reasons for your behaviour when it is usually not allowed, be very sure of your reasons and be very slow to condemn others when they do the same.

Sunday 22 April 2007

Draconian policies

I would say that one of the most obscene, morally repugnant things a person can do is force persons to act against their moral will. It originates from the pits of Hades. A government state that forces a man to behave contrary to his beliefs is draconian.

Our morality is what we consider right and wrong. Wrong behaviour is what we consider should not be done. For a believer in God this often means that we think God disapproves of it. In behaving in a way we think is immoral we believe we are offending God.

Understanding this helps in reading some of Paul's writings. This concept of not forcing people to behave in a way contrary to their beliefs stretches even so far as to us curbing legitimate behaviour (in some circumstances) in case we offend others (Rom 14).

It is interesting that 3 times Paul speaks about his lowliness because of his prior behaviour.
For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. (1 Corinthians 15:9 ESV)
Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given,... (Ephesians 3:7-8 ESV)
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:15-16 ESV)
All people prior to conversion were sinners. In what way is Paul the most wicked. He may be saying this because he actively persecuted the church, but there is something in the way he did this which may have added to the assessment. Paul in his testimony to Agrippa said:
"I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities." (Acts 26:9-11 ESV)
What is particularly abhorrent in this is Paul trying to force Christians to blaspheme. He is trying to get Christians to speak or act in a way that will offend God. Even when compared to being to the mistreatment of being followed to other cities, being persecuted, being imprisoned or even execution it still comes out bad. I think it is the worst of what Paul mentions he has done.

There may be consequences to our beliefs and I am not suggesting that tolerating my beliefs should impinge on yours. If a Muslim thinks that driving with a dog is offensive to God then it is fine to refuse him employment with "Taxis for the Blind." (Though using minor occurrences as a reason to discriminate may be taking it too far—a generic taxi driver picking up blind passengers with guide dogs at a rate of once a year would seem a little too infrequent to impose this policy.)

Further, not all things I disagree with and are forced to do are blasphemous. I think that excessive taxation by government can be sinful. But in being forced to pay these taxes does not cause me to sin against God. And if people choose to sin in response to my right choices I am not responsible for this.

All this is not to say we are not to try and convince others that their underlying beliefs are incorrect. This is an acceptable practice. We are all encouraged to convince others of the truth of Christianity and the emptiness of worldly practices. (If we are to teach specifics however we should exercise more caution as James (Jam 3:1) and Paul (1Ti 1:7) warn. Best we only teach those things we know.) But until someone's belief has changed we should not be forcing them to behave in that way. I think Jehovah's witnesses are incorrect about blood transfusions. But to force them to receive a blood transfusion, while they think that doing so is a sin, is a wicked practice.

It is not surprising that world being under the influence of Satan reverses these actions. Proselytising (challenging others to change their mind about their belief system) is called wrong and even evil. Yet they seem to have no qualms about expecting or even forcing us to behave in the ways that the powers currently define as right or moral.

To disallow persons to challenge opinion but force them to behave in ways that are contrary to what they currently believe are draconian policies!
...and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. (Revelation 20:10 ESV)

Sunday 15 April 2007

Reclaiming the Political Jesus

I was asked to review A Prophet of God's Justice: Reclaiming the Political Jesus by Chris Marshall

The article was published in Stimulus in 2006. I found it somewhat verbose. It is frustrating to have to read excessive words where the information content does not justify it.

I found him vague on specifics at times and when he did discuss specific passages I thought his exegesis was inadequate. He tried to give an overview of the gospels but he was somewhat selective and he tended to read his own left leaning politics into scripture. I also think his underlying belief that everything Jesus said spoke into the culture of the day is faulty. He is suggesting that one has misread the bible unless he understands the culture it was spoken into. This thinking is saying that the bible is a high context document (that there are certain assumptions by the readers according to their customs and language). While this is generally true, the context is not so high that readers of scripture don't gain insight by what is written, and it is not so high that only historians understand what was meant. Further, what historians believe can be selective or coloured by their own theology.

Marshall also neglects large volumes of scripture. He favours words that are spoken by Jesus the man. Jesus as God is author of the entire bible. To use Jesus words to prove something, when he may or may not have been addressing the issue, to override other scripture that directly discusses the issue at hand is a poor interpretative technique. All scripture is given by God; Jesus words as a man should be given high (highest) priority, but if one's interpretation of themes of Jesus contradicts direct comments elsewhere about an issue it is a good clue that the interpretation may not have been the correct one. I also wonder if he has read Revelation? He will have, but he doesn't touch on Jesus words there, nor Jesus' words to the disciples in Acts.

Below I will discuss 3 passages from his essay.
... Jesus’ saying “my kingdom is not of this world” cannot be taken as an affirmation that God’s kingdom is a
purely spiritual reality unrelated to worldly realities. After all it was out of love for this world that God sent Christ into the world in the first place, in order that “through him the world might be saved” (John 3:16-17). The term “kingdom” here, as always in biblical tradition, has the active force of “rule” or “kingship” or “power” more than place or territory or realm, so that what Jesus is really saying is that his style of exercising kingly authority is unlike that of other kings. His kingship conforms, not to brutal coercive rule of Herod or Caesar or Caiaphas, but to the compassionate, healing rule of God. It does not rest on violent coercion but on loving persuasion. That is why in the second part of the verse, which is hardly ever quoted by conservative apologists, Jesus explains that “if my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews”. The thing that most differentiates Jesus’ kingship from worldly forms of kingship is its non-violence. (p. 11)
I find this interpretation questionable, it alone may be enough for me to disregard the article. I do not think that "kingdom" means style of kingship. Now Jesus does have a style of kingship that is different, but the word "kingdom" does not mean this. Daniel discusses the dream of Nebuchadnezzar, and the rock that destroys the previous kingdoms is likely the kingdom of God. And while God's subjects in this new kingdom live a different lifestyle and the kingdom is of a different nature (that is people called out of this world's system to live for Christ), to say there is no violence is incorrect. What about the parable when the nobleman goes away to get his coronation and returns to destroy his enemies who did not wish to see him made king? (Luk 19). We do not coerce men into the kingdom of God but it is a stretch to go from here to pacifism. What about Jesus comments about destroying the wicked that he makes in the book of Revelation? (Rev 2).

Jesus is not saying his followers are non-violent (they are, but that is not the issue here), he is merely comparing what followers of a leader would normally do with his situation. That they are not doing so now is not because they are part of a pacifist movement, rather that Jesus' kingdom is not an earthly kingdom in the same way that other kingdoms are.
How very different is the prevailing political landscape of global capitalist society today, which makes an idol of market forces, promotes consumerism as a means of political survival, and, while mouthing platitudes to the contrary, exacerbates the plight of the poor and dispossessed in pursuit of an ever-greater concentration of wealth and power. (p. 16)
It is interesting that he says this. I have become more capitalistic (and even more libertarian) as I have got older. Now there can be problems within capitalism, but one needs to ask whether this is as a result of the philosophy. Or is it that one sees these things in a society that is capitalist (or viewed as capitalist) and condemns them as fruits of capitalism society. Capitalism allows private property ownership, the rule of law, freedom of trade: it allows persons to provide goods or services in free exchange for whatever price the parties agree on. The early capitalists believed in thrift and hard work, both of which are very admirable. Money was reinvested hence "capital" rather than wasted on profligate living. Capitalist thinking came out of a Christian mindset; specifically: ownership, just courts, freedom and liberty. A capitalist system in a Christian society is materially beneficial for all. In a non-Christian society, it may have its downfalls, though I am uncertain if the downfalls are worse than other systems.

Does a capitalist society promote consumerism? Perhaps it does, and he is right that Christians should oppose that. However there are laws one could put in place that don't refute capitalism but limit the damage caused by the greedy. Examples would be restricting an individual's ability to indebt himself, limiting interest, limiting the power and exploitation from loan sharks, making bankruptcy more difficult.

"Exacerbates the plight of the poor." Well this is patently false. Compare the poor in capitalist societies versus any non-capitalist society. The poor are hugely better off materially. Their rights are upheld more, they are better able to escape being part of the poor, they have more liberty. I am not certain what current system Marshall thinks does better. Capitalism is definitely better than the nobility/ serfdom system it replaced. Certainly capitalist states could do better, but they are doing hugely better than oppressive regimes elsewhere. Why do we hear about the problems in the West? Because our freedom of expression allows us to dissent without fear of government oppression. Worse problems happen elsewhere but voices are silenced. And why are people immigrating to the West in numbers that far exceed the other way around?

"An ever greater concentration of wealth and power." That may be true on a national level, but that is because of the general wealth of the nation. In terms of within a country, the poor are not being sidelined in general. The problem with Marshall's approach is it suggests that everyone should have the same, regardless of how little that is. But that is just a problem with envy. I am happy to live in a country that allows everyone to own a house and fed their children, even if that means there are some in the country who are filthy rich.

Some of the large corporations that exist do so within capitalist societies, but are not consistent with it. They seek to obtain government favours and this should be opposed, but this is the antithesis of capitalism which seeks a level playing field and to remove special favours.

I do think there are very real problems with chasing wealth, and the bible warns that riches can remove our devotion to Christ. This is very important. And it is far better to be poor and fear God than to have plenty and ignore him. But a lot is related to the love of money, and that vice is not necessarily limited to the rich.

Anyway, the studies suggest that conservatives that he has so much trouble with are actually more generous! Is he suggesting that the government should be handing out money to the poor? I am not so certain of the wisdom of this.

And I am much more concerned with the power concentrated in the monster of the United Nations, and that can hardly be laid at the feet of the capitalists.
It is here that Jesus’ exorcisms carried an important political message. It was common in Jesus’ day for people to ascribe the abject suffering of God’s people under Roman rule to the activity of superhuman demonic forces standing behind their pagan oppressors and their indigenous quislings. One manifestation of this spiritual tyranny was the susceptibility of vulnerable individuals to demonic possession. When Jesus cast out demons, therefore, he was not only healing the victims of societal dysfunction; he was symbolically challenging and defeating the spiritual authorities standing behind foreign repression. (p. 19)
So does he believe there are demonic powers behind nation-states or not? Where does he get that demonic forces in individuals is related to being subject to a foreign power? Is he saying that the Israelites in Egypt had more demoniacs when they were worshipping Yahweh, than the time in Israel under Jeroboam II when they were free of foreign rulership but were worshipping foreign idols? I do not accept his proposition of increased demon possession under foreign domination without proof. And even if it were true, how is that at all related to Jesus casting out demons? This shows his power over the spirit world; a testimony to his divinity. This says nothing about whether or not he was opposed to Rome.

In conclusion, Jesus may have had thoughts about Rome, but I see his message more in alignment with Jesus saying something like:
The problem is yourself, it is sin. Join my kingdom and I will deliver you from sin's power.

Saturday 7 April 2007

Random quote

If we discover a desire within us that nothing in this world can satisfy, also we should begin to wonder if perhaps we were created for another world.

C. S. Lewis (1898-1963)

Friday 6 April 2007

How deep the Father's love for us

The reason for Christ's sacrifice on the mount of crucifixion. As we are reminded again this Good Friday. I was somewhat surprised to learn this hymn has only been around a decade.
How deep the Father's love for us
How vast beyond all measure,
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure.
How great the pain of searing loss—
The Father turns His face away,
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory.

Behold the man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders;
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished;
His dying breath has brought me life—
I know that it is finished.

I will not boast in anything,
No gifts, no power, no wisdom;
But I will boast in Jesus Christ,
His death and resurrection.
Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer;
But this I know with all my heart—
His wounds have paid my ransom.

Monday 2 April 2007

Evening and morning

Genesis 1 has the refrain: And there was evening and there was morning, the nth day.

Much has been written about the meaning of the word day (Hebrew yom). Clearly in Genesis 1:5 it means daylight.
God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. (ESV)
In Genesis 2:3 to it refers to period of time the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens. (ESV)
leading to translations like "when"
When the LORD God made the earth and the heavens (NIV)
The word "day" joined to a number implies the sense of a 24-hour day.
And there was evening and there was morning, the third day. (Gen 1:13 ESV)
Young earth creationists often use the qualifier "24-hour" so that their meaning is clear: "The world was made in 6 24-hour days." It is hard to misunderstand that. So me may complain that Genesis should be that clear if it intends to say this. I think it is and that it is extra-biblical ideas that challenge the straightforward interpretation. My question back is: "If God did indeed create in 6 days, how else could he have written Genesis 1?" Whereas if it really was over long periods of time there are plenty of other ways to show this.

But I think Genesis does say something along the lines of what young earth creationists say: that the world was made in 6 24-hour days; just it is written in a different way than we expect. The issue is that hours are a human construct. A reasonable one but there is no phenomenon that suggests the rotation of the earth should be divided into 24 periods. So the creation record we have in Genesis could not have been written "24-hour day." because the concept of hours was not yet in existence (the word "hour" appears twice in the Old Testament). So if God was to say the equivalent of "24-hour" to modify day he could use a division of the day to say this. At the creation there is a natural division: daytime and night-time. So the equivalent to "24-hour day" at the time of creation is a "2-time-period day," which is what we read:
And there was evening and there was morning, one day. (Gen 1:5)

And there was evening and there was morning, a second day. (Gen 1:8)

And there was evening and there was morning, a third day. (Gen 1:13)

And there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day. (Gen 1:19)

And there was evening and there was morning, a fifth day. (Gen 1:23)

And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (Gen 1:31)


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