Monday, 29 December 2008

Summer holiday

For those of you in the Northern Hemisphere, spare a thought for us in the antipodes. While you have the retail bustle of Christmas before the short holiday, it is limited to that. Whereas we have the combination of end of school year, end of year celebrations, Christmas celebrations, New Year holiday and summer holidays all rolled into one season. Friends and colleagues of mine who hail from northern continents cannot believe how manic this time of year is; combining a significant holiday with end of year deadlines, kids out of school, and making plans for the major holiday period. Not to mention it is wedding season. So while we can potentially enjoy a Christmas barbeque, it comes at a cost.

This is predictable and thus one can attempt to opt out to an extent, but there are some limitations. One does not need to attend every end of year event, but it can be a little rude to attend none. One can limit gift buying, but some items should be purchased.

Anyway, I am away with my family for a couple of weeks. I have a few scheduled posts planned, though any replies to comments may be delayed.

Happy New Year.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

A theory that explains everything explains nothing

I have been a little ticked at the number of times global warming is mentioned in connection with particular events when there is no association even reasoned. I guess, instead, I should be amused at the foolishness of men, except their political aspirations are too great and intentioned policies too invasive.

The associations of events with (non-existent) global warming remind me of the evolutionists just-so stories, people passing off their fantasies as fact. The concept that completely-fictional-stories-that-people-imagine-could-have-possibly-happened is even remotely representative of proper scientific investigation is ridiculous.

The claim that global warming is causing any current crisis is also ridiculous. The concern is future warming (albeit the near future). There has been no significant warming effect that one can currently blame CO2 for, and it looks like there may have been some cooling over the last few years.

John Brignell has compiled a list of all the things attributed to global warming, from acne to yellow fever. His list includes contradictory examples such as more and less hurricanes, more and less coral growth, warming and cooling, more and less maple syrup. (Some of the links are not effects, rather actions that people have advocated to halt global warming).

Now a cause can have more than one effect and even opposite effects depending on the conditions, but when a cause is claimed to result in every possible event it cannot true—based on the Law of Non Contradiction. A theory that explains everything really explains nothing. It is not predictive and it is not falsifiable. If global warming is claimed to cause everything how can it possibly be disproved?

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Christmas thought

As we have a high old time this Christmas, may we who know Christ hear the cry of the damned as they hurtle headlong into the Christless night without ever a chance.

Nate Saint

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Was Jesus born in a house or a stable?

Kenneth Bailey wrote an article in 1979 titled, "The Manger and the Inn". Near the beginning of the article he writes,
For centuries, large sections of the Church have assumed that the manger was in an animal stable. Three overlapping questions arise here, which of necessity must be discussed together: 1. Was the birthplace a cave? 2. Was it a stable or a private home? 3. Was it inside or outside the village? I will try to demonstrate that the place was likely a private home in the village, and may have been a cave.
I was somewhat doubtful of the claim that Jesus was born in a house, after all, the passage says:
And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2)
But the article was most interesting and convinced me otherwise. First, Bailey shows that mangers were present in houses in Palestine,
What then of the manger? The text tells us, “She gave birth to her first son, wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger.” The traditional understanding of this verse in the Western world moves along the following path. Jesus was laid in a manger. Mangers are naturally found in animal stables. Ergo, Jesus was born in a stable. However, in the one-room peasant homes of Palestine and Lebanon, the manger is built into the floor of the house. The standard one-room village home consists of a living area for the family (Arabic mastaba), mangers built into the floor for feeding the animals (mostly at night), and a small area approximately four feet lower than the living area into which the family cow or donkey is brought at night (Arabic ka’al-bayt)
But what is most interesting is that he goes on to mention that the word translated "inn" (kataluma) can also be translated as "guest room". In fact, it is translated "guest room" elsewhere in the New Testament,
And he sent two of his disciples and said to them, "Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, 'The Teacher says, Where is my guest room (kataluma), where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?' And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us." (Mark 14) He said to them, "Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters and tell the master of the house, 'The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room (kataluma), where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?' And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there." (Luke 22)
And the mention of the word "inn" in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10) is a different word.
He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn (pandocheion) and took care of him. (Luke 10)
This is not saying that kataluma does not ever mean inn, though some have argued thus. However note that it is the same author who relates the both the parable of the Good Samaritan and the lack of lodging at the nativity, suggesting that had Luke meant "inn" in the nativity story it is more likely he would have used the word "pandocheion".  The suggestion then is that the house in Bethlehem had a guest room which was otherwise full and so Joseph and Mary stayed in the main room. Bailey writes,
This translation gives new understanding to the story of Jesus’ birth. Joseph and Mary arrive in Bethlehem. They find shelter with a family whose separate guest room is full, and are accommodated among the family in acceptable village style. The birth takes place there on the raised terrace of the family home, and the baby is laid in a manger.
The article covers more including Palestine geography, objections to the theory, and cultural reasons why Joseph and Mary would not have stayed at an inn. I think he has demonstrated that Jesus was born in a house. That the Magi visited Mary and Jesus in a house probably does not have any bearing on the argument as that episode was some time later—if Jesus was born in a stable, Joseph and Mary would not have stayed there particularly long.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Sex slavery

This is an article written by Justin Holcomb of the University of Virginia. It comprises a chapter in Mark Driscoll's Porn Again Christian.

A warning, this is extremely disturbing reading. Consider carefully whether you wish to know this information before you read the article.

Driscoll has further chapters on this issue titled,
This verse seems apt,
" 'Woe! Woe, O great city,
O Babylon, city of power!
In one hour your doom has come!'
"The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes any more—cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble; cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and bodies and souls of men." (Revelation 18 NIV)

Sex Slavery

Over the past three decades the world has witnessed four distinct waves of trafficking for sexual exploitation1. The first wave of trafficked women came from Southeast Asia in the 1970s and was composed mostly of Thai and Filipino women. The second wave arrived in the early 1980s and was made up of women from Africa, mainly Ghana and Nigeria. The third wave, from Latin America, followed right behind and was comprised of women mostly from Colombia, Brazil, and the Dominican Republic. The newest wave is from Eastern and Central Europe. Just a decade ago these women did not even register in the sex trafficking radar screen. Today they represent more than 25 percent of the trade.

There is a wall of complacency, complicity, and corruption that has allowed this trade to explode recently. Sex trafficking runs by the laws of supply and demand. Demand is generated by thousands of men. Economic, social, cultural, and gender factors make women and girls vulnerable to being exploited as an endless supply2.

The international political economy of sex not only includes the supply side—the women of the third world, the poor states, or exotic Asian women—but it cannot maintain itself without the demand from the organizers of the trade—the men from industrialized and developing countries. The patriarchal world system hungers for and sustains the international subculture of docile women from underdeveloped countries. These women are forced or lured into the trade of providing international sexual services. Men accept this world order as well, regardless of their background. The world that is so satisfying to too many men is the same world that is utterly devastating to too many women and girls.
How Are Women Procured?
The Trafficking in Person Report is an annual report that serves as the primary diplomatic tool through which the U.S. Government encourages partnership and increased determination in the fight against forced labor, sexual exploitation, and modern-day slavery. In the 2008 report, these true stories were documented:
Lila, a 19-year-old Romanian girl who had already endured physical and sexual abuse from her alcoholic father, was introduced by an “acquaintance” to a man who offered her a job as a housekeeper/ salesperson in the U.K. When she arrived in the U.K., the man sold her to a pimp and Lila was forced into prostitution. She was threatened that she would be sent home in pieces if she did not follow every order. After an attempted escape, her papers were confiscated and the beatings became more frequent and brutal. Months later, after being re-trafficked several times, Lila was freed in a police raid. She was eventually repatriated back to Romania where, after two months, she fled from a shelter where she had been staying. Her whereabouts are unknown.

Nineteen-year-old So-Young stands at less than five feet tall after being chronically malnourished in North Korea. A refugee, she crossed illegally into China with hopes of a better life, but found instead a nightmare of sexual exploitation. An “employer” offered her approximately $1.40 per day in exchange for work—money that So-Young planned on sending back to her family. Deceived by this empty promise, So-Young spent the next several months being passed between handlers. Just days before she was to be purchased by a forty-year-old Chinese man, So-Young managed to escape with the help of a local pastor. Three years later, she was forcibly repatriated to North Korea where she was imprisoned for six months before escaping once more to China. Traffickers kidnapped her once again, repeatedly raping her prior to her sale. Her new “husband” also raped her multiple times before she was able to escape. So-Young remains in hiding today: “There are many people coming out of North Korea, but they don’t have anywhere to go and no other choice but to go that route [into China].”

Samya lived with her mother, step-father and three brothers in a small Cairo apartment. When her step-father raped her, she ran away from home and started living on the streets at the age of 14. She met a group of street kids who, like her, had fled abuse at home. After two months on the streets begging for food and avoiding harassment from police, she met Shouq, an older lady who allowed some of the street girls to stay with her. The first night Samya stayed at Shouq’s apartment, Shouq told her she would have to earn her keep by having sex with male clients for the equivalent of $16. Samya, afraid to live on the streets and fearful of returning home, had sex with several men a day for nearly one year; Shouq kept all of the money.

Kunthy and Chanda were trafficked into prostitution at ages 13 and 14. Held captive in a dilapidated structure in Phnom Penh that locals called the “Anarchy Building,” the girls were raped nightly and routinely beaten, drugged, and threatened by the brothel-keeper and pimps. The girls were released thanks to police intervention and placed in safe aftercare homes. The brothel owner and pimp were prosecuted, tried, and sentenced to 15 and 10 years in prison, respectively, for trafficking and pimping children. Today, Chanda lives in a local aftercare home where she receives excellent care; she wants to become an English translator. Kunthy’s dream is to own an Internet café and design Web sites for businesses. Right now, she works at a local NGO, attends a computer training school, and lives in a transitional housing facility that allows her both freedom and security.

Mary, a young Kenyan woman, met a German tourist in his late sixties at a beach resort and he impressed her with presents and pampering. After departing Kenya, he convinced her to visit him in Germany, but immediately upon her arrival he confiscated her passport and forced her into prostitution. “He raped me, as did the men I was forced to pick at the bar.” Lucy’s health then deteriorated. “I knew it was time to escape—or risk death trying.” Fortunately, Lucy was able to gain access to a telephone and seek help from German police who then rescued her from her trafficker.
Women do not sign up for sexual slavery. Most of girls were recruited or coerced into prostitution. Others were "traditional wives" without job skills who escaped from or were abandoned by abusive fathers or husbands and went into prostitution to support themselves and their children3. There are numerous ways that women are procured for the sex trade. Below are the most prevalent:4
  1. Bogus recruiters offer prospective job seekers a “complete package” for positions abroad. These offers don’t require prior work experience, and they almost always seek young, preferably single, women. These arrangements often include training, travel documents, and airfare, at no cost to the applicant. In 95 percent of these cases, the promised job does not exist.
  2. Ads are placed in seemingly legitimate employment agencies. Some set up “career day” booths at universities and offer “contracts.” These firms are nothing more than hunting grounds for criminal networks involved in the sex industry.
  3. Relatives, neighbors, or acquaintances can gain trust and approach a young woman or her family with an offer to help her land a job abroad. These culprits include teachers, orphanage workers, police officers and their wives, etc.
  4. Other trafficked women lure in new women. Sometimes this is the only way for the old ones to escape. Sometimes pimps give them the option of going home if they can reel in a certain number of other women.
  5. Sometimes family members (parents, siblings, spouses, etc.) sell women or girls into sex slavery.
  6. New boyfriends also lure women by promising a night out and then force them into waiting vehicles to sell them to pimps or traffickers.
  7. Outright abduction is one of the most terrifying. Women and girls are simply taken while walking home from school or work.
  8. The most horrible is the targeting of orphans. Many girls are at risk when they must leave the orphanage when they graduate at sixteen or seventeen. Most have no resources or funds for living expenses or any education or training to get a job. Traffickers often know when these girls are going to be turned out of the institution and are waiting for them with job offers. Sometimes girls are even purchased from orphanage workers.
  9. Drugs also play a role in procuring and keeping women. Some women are involved in sexual exploitation because they need money for their addiction. But many are forced drugs to make them compliant and to incapacitate them.
It is important to note that not every woman is an innocent dupe. In fact, police and government officials often go to great lengths to stress that some of these women willingly enter the trade. In their eyes, this so-called willingness justifies their apathy and indifference. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even the “willing” women have no idea of what really awaits. It’s true that many women know full well when they accept a job offer that they’ll be working in some aspect of the sex industry—massage parlors, strip clubs, peep shows, and escort agencies. The vast number of women are not aware of the nature or conditions of the work that awaits them. Women are told they will earn $5,000 a month, live in luxury, have three days off, and be able to pick their clients. Also, the “contracts” they sign are for three months, after which time, they are told they are free to leave.

Most women are put into debt bondage, unable to pay off the high interest rate their pimp charges them. They are sold in markets, raped, forced to service ten to thirty men a day, can’t refuse any paying customer, are given no sick days and no days off for their periods, get pregnant, acquire HIV and other STDs or medical and psychological problems, and experience constant abuse and frequent gang rapes.

Customers of these women are sex tourists, U.N. peacekeeper and international humanitarian aid workers, U.S. military men, and local men in the area. The presence of these “mongers” has provided a valuable, readymade market for local brothel keepers trading in trafficked women.
“Breaking” the Women
In secret training centers, thugs snap the spirit and will of their terrified hostages. Women are quickly raped, often a few times. Their travel documents are taken and their activities are tightly controlled and restricted. They are locked in their rooms where they “work” and are under constant guard. They are warned that if they attempt escape they will be severely punished. And they are told that if they do escape their families are targeted. Often, they are videotaped or photographed in embarrassing sexual encounters, and warned that if they escape, the pictures will be sent to their families and hometowns. One woman forced into sex slavery shares her story:
There were many women in this one apartment. Some were crying. Others looked terrified. We were told not to speak to each other. Not to tell each other our names or where we were from. All the time, very mean and ugly men came in and dragged girls into the rooms. Sometimes they would rape girls in front of us. They yelled at them, ordering them to move certain ways . . . to pretend excitement . . . to moan. . . . It was sickening. Those who resisted were beaten. If they did not cooperate, they were locked in dark cellars with rats with no food or water for three days. One girl refused to submit to anal sex, and that night the owner brought in five men. They held her on the floor and every one of them had anal sex on her in front of us all. She screamed and screamed, and we all cried. That girl killed herself the next day.5
After women are beaten and threatened, they are sold to brothel and bar owners that service the huge numbers of foreigners who make up sex tourists, international peacekeeping forces, and U.S. military men. The level of physical violence and psychological intimidation used to control these women is deliberate and extreme. It’s meant to instill fear—to crush them, destroy their will, and force them to comply. Some women have been mutilated and murdered as punishment for refusing to engage in the sex trade. Some are killed as examples to other women. In short, women are forced to do whatever it takes with whoever pays, and they are forced to do it with a smile on their face, a sparkle in their eye, and a moan on their lips. But all this is done because they will be killed and discarded if they do not.

1 Victor Malarek, The Natashas: Inside the New Global Sex Trade (New York: Arcade Publishing, 2003), pp. 1–7.
2 For a thorough explanation of these factors, see Kathryn Farr, Sex Trafficking: The Global Market in Women and Children (New York: Worth Publishers), pp. 132–162 (Chapter 5—“From Here to There: Sex Trafficking Flows and the Economic Conditions That Drive Them”).
3 Denise Gamache and Evelina Giobbe, Prostitution: Oppression Disguised as Liberation, National Coalition against Domestic Violence, 1990.
4 Victor Malarek, The Natashas: Inside the New Global Sex Trade (New York: Arcade Publishing, 2003), pp. 9–29 (Chapter 1—“Smuggler’s Prey”).
5 Victor Malarek, The Natashas: Inside the New Global Sex Trade (New York: Arcade Publishing, 2003), p. 33.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Should Christmas be in June?

The Daily Mail had an article last week claiming that Jesus was born on June 17.
Scientists claim the Christmas star was most likely a magnificent conjunction of the planets Venus and Jupiter, which were so close together they would have shone unusually brightly as a single 'beacon of light' which appeared suddenly.

Mr Reneke says the wise men probably interpreted it as the sign they had been waiting for, and they followed the 'star' to Christ's birthplace in a stable in Bethlehem, as described in the Bible.

Generally accepted research has placed the nativity to somewhere between 3BC and 1AD.

Using the St Matthew's Gospel as a reference point, Mr Reneke pinpointed the planetary conjunction, which appeared in the constellation of Leo, to the exact date of June 17 in the year 2BC.
Although it somewhat simplifies the matter, the article may be correct. It has long been debated when Jesus was born, and they are right in that it probably wasn't December 25. There is much that can be gained from a close reading of the nativity accounts in Matthew and Luke. Readers that have joined me this year may be interested in a post I wrote last Christmas titled "Getting the facts of Christmas sorted." The only thing I would change would be my comment about the stable.

The Mail article is incorrect about generally accepted research and the date of Jesus' birth though. While I agree with the timeframe suggested; many, and possibly most, date Herod's death in 4 BC and Jesus' birth, which antedates this, circa 5 or 6 BC. I think Jesus' birth was in 2 or 3 BC and that 1 BC is a more likely date for Herod's death.

The astronomical data (eclipses and catastrophic events aside) is very firm. We can be sure about the dates of various conjunctions. What is more difficult is knowing which astronomical events correspond to which terrestrial events. I think a reasonable argument can be made for Jesus' conception occurring 3 BC September 11, his birth 2 BC June 17 (281 days, 15 days longer than usual), and the visit by the Magi 2 BC December 25.

Here is a presentation of the conjunctions during 2 and 3 BC. The June 17 conjunction is the last one shown; that of Venus with Jupiter near the star Regulus.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Bethke on manuscript history

Bruce Bethke writes an interesting post titled Relevance. Expanding how a simple question can have so many underlying assumptions.
Some days you can ask what seems like a simple question, and find that instead of plucking off a loose thread, you've started unraveling the entire sweater. For example, this morning I asked my wife one simple question, and before I knew it, we were deeply into a wide-ranging discussion of Old Testament history, subtext, context, and translation issues.

...To begin comprehending her answer, then, we should first examine the embedded subtext of the question I didn't even know I'd asked: does a book written 2,000 years ago really have any relevance to our lives today?

...It was the Septuagint that was widely read and circulated in the early Christian Era and used as the basis for the Latin translation (the Vulgate) written by St. Jerome in the 4th century CE,... The King James version in turn became the basis for almost all subsequent English-language Protestant Bibles except the Lutheran version, which is based on Luther's German translation, and a careful reader will note many subtle differences between the English-language Catholic, Lutheran, and other Protestant versions of the Bible. (For example, even today the Catholic version of the Ten Commandments omits the prohibition against worshiping graven images, while the Episcopalian version has been shortened to the Nine Suggestions.)
It is worth reading for his conclusion, a modern application of an ancient biblical passage.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Atheist debater stuck for words

Apologist Joe Boot was asked about his favourite stories from his experiences. He describes one of the experiences saying, at a debate organised by
the humanist society and Campus for Christ at a Canadian University, I felt the grace of God helping and strengthening me. My closing remarks were met with pin-drop silence. The atheist was bewildered and concluded with an incoherent moral rant against the Bible! One atheist student filled in his reaction card suggesting the debate had been ‘fixed’ by Christians bringing in an atheist with no arguments! (emphasis added)

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

A biblical defence of standards

My recent posts on the need for standards and the government enforcement of such came from my thinking about weights and measures. This is a frequent biblical theme and I wish to mention several verses in defence of how important God sees honesty in trading.

The Lord commanded the Israelites that their measures were to be honest.
"You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measures of length or weight or quantity. You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. And you shall observe all my statutes and all my rules, and do them: I am the LORD." (Leviticus 19)

"You shall not have in your bag two kinds of weights, a large and a small. You shall not have in your house two kinds of measures, a large and a small. A full and fair weight you shall have, a full and fair measure you shall have, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. For all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are an abomination to the LORD your God." (Deuteronomy 25)
An ephah is a volume measure for solids and a hin is a volume measure for liquids. In Leviticus God points to length, weight, and volume as measures that should be standardised. Examples of relevant measures for the Israelites would have included
  • Length: land
  • Weight: precious metals
  • Dry volume: grain
  • Liquid volume: oil
Note that the Israelites had to ensure both the scales were accurate as well as the weights used on the scales. God commands them to do so:
  • based on the fact that he indeed is God;
  • that they may dwell in the land for a long time, either live to an old age or that as a people they may occupy Canaan for many generations; and
  • because to not do so is dishonest and thus an abomination to God.
There are also several proverbs that mention the importance of honest weights and measures.
Unequal weights and unequal measures/
are both alike an abomination to the LORD. (Proverbs 20)

Unequal weights are an abomination to the LORD,/
and false scales are not good. (Proverbs 20)
God reminded Judah not only to have just standards but what the standards were,
"You shall have just balances, a just ephah, and a just bath. The ephah and the bath shall be of the same measure, the bath containing 1/10 of a homer, and the ephah 1/10 of a homer; the homer shall be the standard measure. The shekel shall be 20 gerahs; 20 shekels plus 25 shekels plus 15 shekels shall be your mina." (Ezekiel 25)
Hosea (Hos 12:7), Micah (Mic 6:10-11), and Amos spoke against dishonesty in trading. Amos makes some interesting comments on the actions of the people,
Hear this, you who trample on the needy/
and bring the poor of the land to an end,/
saying, "When will the new moon be over,/
that we may sell grain?/
And the Sabbath,/
that we may offer wheat for sale,/
that we may make the ephah small and the shekel great/
and deal deceitfully with false balances,/
that we may buy the poor for silver/
and the needy for a pair of sandals/
and sell the chaff of the wheat?" (Amos 8)
There are several behaviours he condemns besides that which concerns us currently. They are:
  • Oppression of the poor or oppressed
  • Concern for business over things spiritual
  • Disregard for God's law
  • Possibly forcing the poor to become bondslaves
    • They do so just to get enough food to eat
    • They do so because they are cheated out of the money
    • The oppressors encourage this because they want their labour without cost
    • And the price of bondslavery is unjustly low
Specific transaction sins of the merchant identified here are:
  • Labelling merchandise as containing more than it really does
  • Charging more than the agreed amount (via deceit)
  • Including material/ refuse not desired by the purchaser
All these 3 actions the Lord considers abominations. We can conclude that merchants are to trade justly, and this includes:
  1. Accurate labelling
  2. Clear agreed price
  3. Not passing off refuse for merchandise

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Anyone for reindeer salami?

Retailer Ikea has been taken to task for selling reindeer meat, more specifically their treatment of the animals. The animals are not farmed, rather they are caught wild and trekked up to 1000 km to the slaughter houses. Viva! have stated,
We are calling on the company to withdraw sales of the meat, due to the cruel exploitation these wild animals suffer at the hands of hunters.
The reason this does not pass the smell test is that Viva! are an animal rights group: Vegetarians' International Voice for Animals. It does not matter how humanely the animals are treated, the fact that they are killed and eaten will likely be viewed as abuse. They even oppose dairy:
Cow’s milk is neither a natural or healthy drink for humans who are the only mammals to consume milk after weaning, not only that but the milk of another species!
And yet we still produce lactase to digest milk into adulthood. Seems like we are designed to consume milk.

While I am no fan of "animal rights," I do not support the abuse of animals. It is both unkind to the animals and detrimental to the human perpetrator. Many farmers who raise livestock oppose the mistreatment of animals. What I found amusing, was this complaint by Viva! about the practice,
More than 70 per cent of reindeer slaughtered for meat are calves that have grazed during the summer, which means they never even get to see snow.
No snow for the little reindeer children.

Good grief, they are deer!

It is either acceptable or unacceptable to eat animals. If it is acceptable then killing them before or after they have seen snow makes no difference. And if it is not acceptable to eat animals, then their slaughter is the issue, and killing snow exposed reindeer is just as problematic as killing snow unexposed ones.

Whatever the ethical status of carnivory, the whether or not they have seen snow is irrelevant. Further, as animals they negotiate their environment, snowy or not. They do not have subliminal moments as they gaze upon winter forests, crystal plains, and hoary mountain peaks.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Random quote

God will judge justly those who have mistreated me. If they have made some deal with God which means they are not punished, that is fine with me. I'll give up revenge for what God has offered me.

joel bethyada

Friday, 5 December 2008

Blog subscription recommendations

I was looking at Google Reader today. I am not really certain how it works, I presume it aggregates websites one is interested in and locates them on a personalised page.

It offers recommendations based on one's "web history", whatever that means. I don't generally use google as my search engine so presumably it is based on my blogger account, i.e. my posts. Interestingly I had previously heard of all bar one of these blogs or their authors and had visited the links. These are the suggestions for me. The number is the current number of subscriptions to the feed. My blog has 7 subscribers.
The one I had not heard of? Examining Calvinism, though I will pay it a visit.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Standards versus consumer affairs

Given the importance of standards it is reasonable to argue there should be a portfolio and minister assigned to this. New Zealand has a Ministry of Consumer Affairs which covers much of this. Unfortunately the structural organisation is such that different issues are at risk of being conflated. The hierarchy is
  1. Ministry of Economic Development
  2. The Ministry of Consumer Affairs
  3. Measurement and Product Safety Service
  4. Trade Measurement
Standards are not an issue of economic development, they are an issue of honesty. That it may lead to economic growth is a side issue. Consumer Affairs covers a variety of related and unrelated issues. Measurement and Product Safety is an umbrella group for both measurement (i.e definitional standards), and safety issues and minimum standards (possibly important but a separate issue). I would favour expanding trade measurement to cover all relevant measures and making it a separate portfolio.

Confusion in this area of ensuring standards is seen in the Briefing to Incoming Ministers.
The practical implications of this structure is that Consumer Affairs has a special identity as the Ministry with a focus on creating an environment in which consumers can transact with confidence, and also works within a broader sustainable economic development framework.
One can attempt to encourage confident transactions without being involved in economic development. One can ensure market transactions are honest without trying to manipulate the market.
One outcome was that the focus of consumer policy should be on creating the conditions in which consumers can "transact with confidence". In practice this means that consumers should get what they reasonably expect from a purchase and, if not, have access to redress.

Transacting with confidence is not just important for the individual, it is also essential to a thriving, innovative and sustainable economy. When consumers demand higher quality products and services, make effective choices among the offerings of competing suppliers and seek satisfaction when their purchasing expectations are not met, they can stimulate greater economic efficiency and innovation.
The first paragraph is reasonable, so long expectation is in line with what was offered. But we desire this not because it leads to a thriving economy, rather because the alternative is fraudulent transactions. The error is apparent in the further comment.
For example, information barriers are a significant reason why consumers do not get what they expect when making a purchase and this has led to an emphasis on information disclosure as a principal regulatory tool. However, consumers do not always respond as expected when better information is available to them. Behavioural economics may offer new insights into consumer behaviour.
Information is exactly what is needed. But there is not necessarily any state expectation concerning consumers. The government shouldn't care if the demand is for higher or lower quality, the quality margin may not exceed the monetary margin. I don't want the government telling me what I should and should not buy. And not recognising that there are different issues here may lead the ministry to focus on economic manipulation and growth rather than honesty. If fraudulent behaviour leads to economic growth, why forbid it?

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Ministry of standards

Governments involve themselves in much of public life. It is reasonable to think that at least some involvement is excessive. Many would argue that most involvement is excessive. Of all the portfolios that governments have, there is one that I think should exist of its own accord.

We should have a Ministry of Standards.

Now we do have laws related to these issues, but I think the issue is important enough to warrant its own department with various divisions.

By standards I mean
  • defining various standards;
  • ensuring they are appropriate;
  • enforcing their use; and
  • prescribing punishments for breaches
Given that I prefer minimal government this may appear intrusive, but I see it as an issue of justice, and justice is an important role of government.

Defining standards

It is important to understand that I mean standards which are defined not prescribed. I do not think the government should enforce what manufactures should do, rather describe accurately what they in fact do. Granted there may be safety issues that mean minimum standards must be met in some areas, but by and large I think people should be able to exchange what they wish to do so. People should be able to buy products of varying quality.

Quality often relates to price. For any given object, desired price and quality vary among consumers. Some want high quality, others want low price. Most want high quality and low cost, but decisions are made at the margins. Government does not have a role in specifying a minimum standard (usually). Such a policy limits people, especially the poor who may not be able to afford such high quality items.

I do however think the government can have a role in ensuring that such items are of the claimed quality, and further, the government can have a role in specifying what must be shown on items for sale.

Examples include weights and volumes for foodstuffs, measurement dials in vehicles, breaking force and insulation property of glass, and electricity meters. Much of which is already covered by law.

Ensuring appropriateness

Consumers have the benefit of taking their custom where they will. Manufactures have the benefit in knowing exactly the quality of their product. Few consumers have the knowledge or ability to assess quality to this degree. Manufacturers may advertise various benefits of their product which is fine, but this should not be used to remove focus from more important quality issues that may not be mentioned.

Consider digital cameras. The quality of a photo is determined by several things including resolution. For people who print photos 6 megapixels is probably adequate. Now manufacturers can produce cameras of higher density such as 9 megapixels and they should be free to do so. This is good for larger photos, for cropping photos, and for digital zoom. The problem is that people may assume that the number of pixels reflects the quality of the photo because of the way cameras are marketed; but other factors are important such as the depth per pixel, speed of shot, stability of image capture, and software manipulation. So one may spend the extra money gaining extra pixels with no gain in printed product, and possibly worse if the pictures are blurred. He would be better spending the extra money on a camera that shoots more stable pictures at a lower resolution.

Defining standards of measures that affect photo quality that must be displayed on the product makes people aware of the issues, it lets them choose what they think best, and makes it harder for manufacturers to make cheap improvements and market the product as significantly superior.

Enforcing use

This is legislation that makes certain labelling compulsory and allows for the government to fund random testing to ensure compliance. Not compliance to some artificial mandate, rather accuracy of labelling. I am not concerned whether a product contains 1% or 20% sugar, just that one can trust the label.

Dealing with non-compliance

I think there is a role for this ministry to define the level of fines for breaches. The relationship between consumer and manufacturer is asymmetrical. Fortunately manufacturers are quite responsive to consumers for the sake of their brand name. However they may not be, especially in areas that may not have significant repeat service such as car and house sales. When organisations are blatantly and knowingly passing off a false product it is unduly onerous to expect a duped consumer to take up this cause. It costs them time, time that may be intentionally delayed by a company; money they may not have; and even if they were to win in court they may still be out of pocket and time and the company may be inadequately fined nor forced to significantly change their practice. Government enforcement is probably preferable.

I do not see this as applying to legitimate disputes, nor should it remove the ability for a consumer to act if they deem it necessary.

Nor am I anti-industry. I think some people make frivolous claims. Frivolity should be dealt with by claim dismissal and fining if necessary (paying the appropriate costs of all sides at minimum). Further, many companies care about both their employees and their customer base; they are what keep them in business.

Some caveats

  • As mentioned above, I don't see the governments role as setting what standards a product should have, just what standards it should measured by and making those easily accessible, preferably displayed on the product. Of course the company can include any other benefits it wishes to, so long those claims are accurate.
  • If the government wishes to set minimum standards, e.g. seatbelt positioning and engagement, then this is the role of a different department. It is very important the roles are not confused and that excessive red tape is not created.
  • I do not think the compliance costs should be high. It is reasonable to measure the macro- and micro-constituents of foodstuffs as this is a one-off cost. Incorporating the data into a label is not that costly either. But requiring a car company to carry out extensive crash testing would be an excessive cost. Car companies remain free to do this of their own volition and many large car companies do this anyway. And the government is free to carry out this testing (though at whose cost?).
  • I am not certain whether the government should enforce standards that are measured by a group not of the manufacturer's choosing. It is their product, they should have some say. Though if it is a sensible and well defined standard then the result should be the same whoever tests.
  • Protecting vulnerable people from predators and the public from scams are important issues, but may come under a slightly different aegis. Possibly a division within the "standards" umbrella, probably within a policing portfolio.
  • I think monetary policy and inflation comes under the definition of standards, but the issue of monetary standards is large enough to have a separate division within a Ministry of Standards.

Current law

I am aware that much of this is already in legislation. I do not mean to imply that this is not done. I just think it important enough for citizens that it is reasonable for the state to involve itself. It is after all an issue of justice, and justice is one of the few mandates of the state.

More to follow.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Walk the (grace) line

I intermittently watched the movie Walk the Line recently. It is about Johnny Cash (1932–2003). I did not know that much about him other than he was a Christian and I have heard a few of his songs.

I am cautious about how much one can rely on a movie for biography; at times "artistic licence" seems to be a euphemism for "flagrantly disingenuous." Nevertheless, it told of his his addiction to (prescription) drugs and possibly alcohol; and his marriage break-up due to this and possibly his infidelity.

He subsequently recovered from his addictions and also married singer June Carter. He remained married to her until her death 35 years later.

The story reminded me of a prayer by a fellow parishioner. His own marriage had dissolved many years ago following his indiscretions. He subsequently remarried. He apparently prayed a few years ago during an open prayer meeting something along the lines of, "Lord, thank you that you are a God of second chances."

These are excellent examples of God's grace in people's lives. The God we serve is a God of redemption, of the returning prodigal, of mercy and goodness toward a race of sinners; a God of second chances.
As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live;... (Ezekiel 33)

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Ancient Hebrew text found

If you haven't seen this, archaeologists found a potsherd with a text in ancient Hebrew characters.
The glyphs have been described as proto-Canaanite, though the era is claimed to be that of King David c. 1000 BC. Paleo-Hebrew was thought to have formed into square Hebrew near the time of Ezra/ Nehemiah at the end of the exile. Below is the first 3 paleo-Hebrew glyphs (alef, bet, gimel; a, b, g).

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Unclean food: Do God's commands change at his whim?

Most Christians have no concerns about eating pork. Many Jews do. God clearly forbade the eating of pig meat at Sinai, yet Christians don't consider it forbidden. Several questions that I can think of or that I have seen asked include:
  • Is eating pork acceptable?
  • Why was it banned at Sinai but acceptable millennia later?
  • Can God give contradictory commandments?
  • Which command takes precedence?
  • What basis in Scripture is there for accepting the later commandment rather than the previous commandment?
  • Why is it wrong for the Hebrews but not for the Gentiles?
  • Is morality or God arbitrary?
The issue here is understanding the reasons for which God sets laws.

Some laws reflect God's righteousness. Examples of sins directly against God would be murder, adultery, worshipping anything other than the true creator. These laws exist because of the nature of God. These laws are directly determined by the nature of God and his morality. Honouring anyone above the creator dishonours the creator. Unlawfully destroying the image of God in a man steps outside man's domain and assumes God's domain; not to mention the source of murder is in hatred which God despises.

The Hebrews had many laws and not all of them were in the above category. The offence against God in breaking these other laws was disobedience. Now disobedience is a major sin which implies that obedience is very important; but this does not mean that the forbidden action in and of itself offends God's righteousness. Whereas breaking laws like murder are acting in disobedience as God has commanded not to, but they are sinful both in their disobedience and in their intrinsic action.

Parenthood holds an analogy. I forbid my children to do many things. Some verboten actions are always wrong, but others are somewhat arbitrary or temporary based on the child's age. All broken rules are disobedience but several are also morally wrong.

One could label these 2 types of laws,
  • Moral laws: Breaking these contravene God's nature.
  • Legal laws: Breaking these contravene God's commands.
Legal rules can potentially be for a season. They could be for all time on earth but cease in heaven. They could be forever to test our obedience to God.

God forbidding Adam to eat from the tree of the knowledge-of-good-and-evil was probably an obedience rule. Other examples would be eating vegetables pre-Fall versus eating meat post-Flood; not eating pig, rabbit, and camel for the nation of ancient Israel but eating these foods okay for Gentiles and Christians.

So why did God command the Hebrews not to eat pork?

Eating pork was not banned for the same reason as murder. It was in some respects arbitrary. This is seen in the temporary nature of the command.
And [Jesus] said to them, "Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?" ( Thus he declared all foods clean.) (Mark 7)
The sin of eating pork is therefore not intrinsic to the pig meat itself, it is the disobedience of Jews to God concerning this specific commandment.

It is helpful to seek the underlying reason for the ban. This will give us the reason for the temporary nature and give us understanding into God's character and his reasoning in this example.

I think the commandment was to teach the Hebrews about holiness. They had to think about what food was acceptable and what was not. This is similar to other laws such a the the ban on ploughing with unclean and clean animals yoked together or making cloth with 2 different types of thread.

God made categories of clean and unclean so the Hebrews could learn to distinguish between them. Clean and unclean symbolise holy and unholy. God belongs to the category of holy and he wants the Jews to be holy also.

Of course there was never a ban on Gentile consumption of pork, nor a ban for Hebrews/ Israelites pre-Sinai. However Christians trace their spiritual heritage thru Israel; Christianity was not so much a new religion, more a greater revelation of God, namely thru Jesus his son. Now that now we have a fuller revelation in Jesus these old rules have changed. We have a new and better covenant.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

The only test of any analysis is its truth

I am currently reading America's Great Depression by Murray N. Rothbard. He makes an interesting comment concerning critiques of Austrian economic theory. If it was included in the first edition, this comment was made in 1963:
Hayek believes that Mises's theory is somehow deficient because it is exogenous—because it holds that the generation of business cycles stems from interventionary acts rather than from acts of the market itself. This argument is difficult to fathom. Processes are either analyzed correctly or incorrectly; the only test of any analysis is its truth, not whether it is exogenous or endogenous. If the process is really exogenous, then the analysis should reveal this fact; the same holds true for endogenous processes. No particular virtue attaches to a theory because it is one or the other.
I found this reminiscent of the intelligent design debate. My substitutions bolded.
Evolutionists believe that intelligent design theory is somehow deficient because it is non-naturalistic—because it holds that the generation of genetic information stems from interventionary acts rather than from acts of the organism itself. This argument is difficult to fathom. Processes are either analyzed correctly or incorrectly; the only test of any analysis is its truth, not whether it is naturalistic or non-naturalistic. If the process is really non-naturalistic, then the analysis should reveal this fact; the same holds true for naturalistic processes. No particular virtue attaches to a theory because it is one or the other.

Friday, 7 November 2008

It doesn't matter so much who you vote for so long you vote

What is it about getting people to vote? It may seem reasonable to inform people about electoral process, but the intense drive to get people enrolled and to the polling booth seems at least partially misguided.

About a month ago nearly 100,000 New Zealanders under the age of 25 were not enrolled to vote in an election that happens tomorrow. And I say so what? One of the most foolish comments I hear is that taking part in elections is more important than who one votes for. This from Nigel Roberts, a political scientist no less,
Once you've got people to participate, they are more likely to participate the next time. The difficulty is snaring them in the first place.
There are so many things wrong with this concept it is difficult to know where to start.

Governing a country is no minor issue. If you are clueless as to the issues why do you have an opinion? And if you don't even really have an opinion, why cast a vote based on a trivial issue? Governments make decisions that significantly affect people for good and bad. Ruling people is a serious issue. You need to consider how policy will affect you and other people both in the short and long term. If you don't know as much as you think you need to, don't vote. The article gives several reasons why people don't vote but these are good reasons not to.
  • Most [young people] do not care, do not know enough about the process or just cannot be bothered.
  • An Electoral Commission study of young Kiwis last year found two general reactions to elections among all who were interviewed – "I'm in the dark" and "It's not on my wavelength".
  • Most said voting meant nothing to them, and some had a "fearful" relationship with politics.
  • Parties know that securing a first-time voter can result in a vote for life. Voting is habit-forming, and voting for the same party election after election is the norm rather than the exception.
If you don't care, are ignorant, it means nothing to you, or you are going to get into a habit rather than basing your decision on a valid reason, then I don't think you should vote, and encouraging other people to vote with this state of mind is plain wrong.

Some reasons given are understandable, but should not be a reason to avoid voting; they should be addressed.
  • Though they wanted to take part, they were overwhelmed by the decision-making process and intimidated by polling booths.
  • Most simply did not think their vote would make any difference, and many were disillusioned by politicians, distrusted those in power, did not believe the Government cared about them...
  • The least motivated almost held the entire system in disdain.
Voting shouldn't be made unpleasant for peripheral reasons like intimidation or inadequate access for the disabled. And it is understandable why many hold some politicians and the governmental system in low regard. Many in power are untrustworthy. These things are worth interacting with people about. Choosing not to vote because you object to all options, or even the concept of democracy is also a reasonable option.

Thinking your vote won't count is an understandable logical error.

2 other sentences are worth commenting on.
The challenge is to convince those people that voting is not only a right, but a responsibility.
It is a right in a democracy, though not an inalienable right. And it is your responsibility to vote well, not just vote. If you can't vote well one could argue it your responsibility to not vote.

I am not certain about these plans though.
And when the new school curriculum takes hold next year, New Zealand politics will be taught more frequently.
Firstly, politics is an important though peripheral subject. Literacy and numeracy remain primary, and I would rate logic as more foundational than politics. What is potentially concerning however is related to the current public schooling system having a socialist flavour. Attending a class in "politics" could very easily become indoctrination in socialist policy rather than teaching of political philosophy.

While some youth can make intelligent political decisions, I am not certain if this is the case for the majority. And there remains much immaturity and selfish motication. I mentioned above that one needs to consider how policy will affect you and other people both in the short and long term. Considering others and understanding the long term issues probably increases with age. The statistical nature of democracy means you need to consider how a demographic thinks and acts, irrespective of particular individuals in that demographic. Because of this my current thinking is that voting should be restricted by age to those older than 25, and preferably 30. This also applies to being a candidate for office.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Message and matter

It is important to understand the fundamental difference between these 2 concepts. Matter is all around us. Everything physical in the universe is matter or energy and Einstein showed us that they are essentially interchangeable, at least in essence if not always in practice. The stars, the earth, the moon. All the objects on the earth, both animate and inanimate. All are material. Composed of atoms and/ or photons.

As such they obey the laws of physics. Mass attracts, objects fall, momentum and energy are conserved, and entropy increases. They all obey the laws of chemistry which at a foundational level are laws of physics for elements. Why the chemistry laws should be as they are, ie. could the elements theoretically be different, is a different question.

None of this is too complex to understand, neither is it modern. While the ancients may not have understood the scientific laws in such detail, the concept of the material was well understood. And the material was often distinguished from the spiritual.

What I think it very important to comprehend is that information is utterly distinct from matter and not reliant on it. It exists independent of matter and there is no reason to think it could not exist even if matter itself did not. Though the existence of matter without information is unlikely to be possible.

Information or intelligence is difficult to quantify, though it can be done. Information is frequently stored in matter but it is in no way dependant on the matter in which it is stored. This post as you read it is stored magnetically on your hard-drive, having been copied from a server elsewhere. However it could be printed and stored in toner on paper. Or you could memorise it and it would be stored in your neurons. But the message is not derived nor is dependant on magnetism, paper, ink or anything else composed of matter.

This concept is fundamental. And it has significant implications.
  1. It means that the 2 (message and matter) are to be distinguished from each other, something that may not be done in defending various theories.
  2. They are not derived from each other. Information cannot make material and material cannot make information.
  3. We need a source for both matter and information.
  4. The laws that govern information are not those that govern matter. Information does not obey the law of gravity, it does not contain momentum, it cannot be transformed to energy.
Expanding on item 2: One might argue that a powerful source of information can create matter, but this is a being, not just an idea.

Information that appears to arise from matter is merely the level of information that already exists in the matter, it is not created by the matter. The limited information to describe a crystal structure is intrinsic to the information already contained within the physics and chemistry of the molecules.

Note that the crystal structure of salt is low information content and no more than can be known from our (potential) understanding of sodium, chloride, solutions and temperature. However deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) has information that is imposed on it which is not intrinsic to nucleic acids, sugar bases, or phosphate. One can transcribe the code onto a computer or paper and the code remains intact.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

God ordained cultural structures

I currently don't mind democracy, though I am not adverse to monarchy and possibly other governmental structures. Christians are called into a different kingdom and can live under any political or economic structure, although some are more pleasant than others. Nevertheless, it is good to understand the proper role of the state; and if one finds himself in a democracy then it is good to vote well (if one thinks he should vote).

How should we frame our ideas about the state? The state is a social structure where leaders oversee community. There are, however, several God ordained social structures in this world and we need to start with the central ones.

Prior to the Fall we have Adam relating to God which is the first and highest order relationship. I think that the individual relationship and the group relationship with God—Adam and Eve pre-Fall; God-worshippers, faithful Israel, righteous Gentiles, and the church post-Fall—are all part of what will become the Bride of Christ. This is the pre-eminent social/ spiritual relationship in the universe. All of this world is building toward that relationship.

Prior to the Fall we also have marriage and family:
So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man....

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2)
I have included family, however children, while very important and a blessing, are not as fundamental as marriage. They are temporary; given to us to train them to love God so they can depart to form a new unit—the son leaves his parents and joins with his wife.

These 2 relationships: God and man, and man and wife, are central to social order. Note that they both pre-date the Fall. Note also that the latter is a copy of the former:
"Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5)
And that marriage is temporary:
For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. (Matthew 22)
The other social structures are the community and the state, the state being the power that oversees the community as mentioned above. We are first introduced to the embryo of the state some 1600 years after creation. Earlier judgments are made directly by God; note the examples of Cain and the Deluge. Men take things into their own hands such as Lamech and the mighty men of old, but there is no evidence this is sanctioned by God. I am not certain if we can infer anything from the existence of antediluvian cities. After the Flood God gives specific commands to Noah and his sons:
But you* shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. And for your* lifeblood 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 of man.
"Whoever sheds the blood of man,/
by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image...." (Genesis 9)
God is the giver and owner of life, we are made in his image. Thus God gives commands concerning life: Men are to refrain from eating blood because of the life symbolism; and men are not to kill men.

The context suggests that it is murder that is forbidden here, as the murderer is to be subsequently put to death for his actions, capital punishment being commanded not condemned even though it removes life. These commands of God establish legality. Even if full government is not required, there needs be some community structure to deal with murderers; be that egalitarian, or community elders, or kingship, or some other structure.

So the state is enacted by God some centuries after the Fall and it is necessary because we are fallen creatures. If marriage is a temporary institution, how much more so then is the state! There is much the Bible teaches us about ideal government, what God intends leaders to do, what they should concern themselves with, how they should rule; but this is on the background of the above concepts. Our ideas about temporal government need to be tempered by thoughts on eternal relationship and our current fallen nature.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Nitrogen and warmth are good for plants, who would have guessed?

Researchers from the Forestry School at Michagan's Technological University have been investigating acid rain since 1987. They have found that increased nitrogen and increased temperatures have lengthened the growing season by 10–11 days. Andrew Burton
found that the trees grow faster at higher temperatures and store more carbon at greater concentrations of nitrogen, a chemical constituent of acid rain, providing there is sufficient moisture.
The article mentions climate change, though any long term change in temperature is climate change whatever the cause. The unqualified mention of climate change carries an implicit anthropomorphic qualifier but this is neither proven nor disproven by these findings. It does remind us that increased temperatures are generally beneficial.

Are these findings overly surprising? It is definitely useful research. However we do need to remember that coal is metamorphic biomass. If we burn coal we are releasing the components of plants back into the biosphere. Coal is the stuff of trees. If coal is burnt well (to avoid the formation of new organic toxins) the sulphur, phosphorus, nitrogen, and trace elements are what plants use. The release of massive amounts of compounds in a focused area may have some unintended consequences, but that these compounds are good fertilisers is to be expected.

Any predictions for further research? The article mentions that the trees need sufficient moisture. Perhaps an increase in CO2 (related to temperature, not burning fuels) may allow more growth with less water as seen in other research.

Hat tip: Jay

Monday, 27 October 2008

New Zealand political party policies

This is a list of topics on which various political parties have policies on. I have included all the current parties and have also included The Family Party which is not in parliament but it is an example of one of the current Christian parties running for election. Obviously these do not say what the policy is, but it gives a range of issues that parties think they need policies on. Their policies are on their websites, there are also policy lists on VoteMe.

Accident Compensation| Agriculture| Climate Change| Constitutional Framework| Education| Employment| Families at Risk| Government Asset Ownership| Government Expenditure| Health| Housing| Immigration| Infrastructure| Law and Order| Local Government| National Security| Public Service| Red Tape and Regulation| Resource Management| Risk Insurance| Superannuation| Tariffs| Taxation| Welfare|

The Family Party
Abortion| Broadcasting Standards| Defence| Economic Policies| Environment| Education| Gangs and Prostitution| Health| Housing| Immigration| Justice| Law and Order| Maori| Senior Citizens| Welfare|

The Green Party
Accident Compensation| Agriculture and Rural Affairs| Animal Welfare| Arts, Culture and Heritage| Children| Climate Change| Community and Voluntary Sector| Conservation| Disability| Drug Law Reform| Economic Policy| Education| Energy| Environment| Food| Foreign Affairs| Forestry| Gambling| Green Taxation and Monetary Policy| Health| Housing| Human Rights| Immigration| Income Support| Industrial Relations| Information Technology| Justice| Maori Issues| Population| Research, Science and Technology| Sea and Ocean| Security Services| Sexual Orientation| Student Support| Sustainable Business| Tertiary Education| Treaty of Waitangi| Tourism| Toxics| Trade and Foreign Investment| Transport| Urban| Waste Free New Zealand| Water| Women| Work and Employment| Youth Affairs|

Accident Compensation| Agriculture| Arts| Biosecurity| Broadcasting| Building and Construction| Climate Change| Communications| Conservation| Defence| Disabilities| Economic Policy| Education| Emergency Management| Employment Relations| Energy| Environment| Ethnic Affairs| Fisheries| Foreign Affairs, Trade and Official Development Assistance| Health| Immigration| Housing| Law and Order| Maori| Pasifika| Rural Sector| Science and Innovation| Small Business| Social Development| Student Allowances| Tourism| Training and Apprenticeships| Transport| Veterans' Affairs|

The Maori Party
Education| Foreshore & Seabed| Health| Treaty of Waitangi| Whanau first|

Accident Compensation| Art and Culture| Auckland Issues| Broadcasting| Building & Construction| Commerce| Communications & Information Technology| Consumer Affairs| Defence and Security| Economic Development| Education| Energy| Environment| Ethnic Affairs| Finance and Taxation| Foreign Affairs| Health| Housing| Immigration| Infrastructure| Justice—Law & Order| Labour & Industrial Relations| Local Government| Maori Affairs—Culture & Development| Maori Affairs—Education & TPK| Pacific Island Affairs| Police| Primary Sector| Science & CRIs| Small Business| Social Services| State Services| Student Allowances| Tourism| Trade| Transport| Treaty Negotiations| Women's Affairs|

New Zealand First

Accident Compensation| Biosecurity| Broadcasting and Communications| Consumer Affairs| Defence And Veterans' Affairs| Direct Democracy| Disability| Economic Plan|
Education| Employment—Business Development| Employment—Regional Development| Employment—Industrial Relations| Employment—Industrial Training| Employment—Community Wage| Energy| Environment And Conservation| Family, Youth And Social| Fisheries| Foreign Affairs| Foreign Investment and State Assets| Health| Housing| Immigration| Justice| Law And Order| Local Government| Maori Affairs| Racing| Resource Management Act| Rural| Senior Citizens| Superannuation| Taxation| Tourism| Trade| Transport| Treaty of Waitangi|

Progressive Party
Accident Compensation| Alcohol & drugs| Art & Culture| Communications & Broadband internet| Conservation and the environment| Currency| Defence| Disability| Disarmament| Early intervention| Economic Policy| Education and training| Family| Forestry| Genetic engineering| Gun control| Health| Housing| Immigration| International affairs| Justice, law and order| Maori development and the treaty| Mental health| Pasifika| Refugees| Senior citizens| Social services| Sport and recreation| Transport| Women| Workplace|

United Future
Accident Compensation| Animal Welfare| Arts, Culture & Heritage| Broadcasting| Business| Children| Citizenship| Climate Change| Communications| Community & Voluntary Sector| Constitution| Disability| Drugs| Education| Emergency & Civil Defence Services| Energy| Environment| Ethnic Affairs| Family| Fishing| Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade| Forestry| Gender Affairs| Health| Housing| Immigration| Law and Order| Local Government| Outdoor Recreation and Conservation| Research, Science & Technology| Road Safety| Rural Life| Savings| Senior Citizens| Social Services & Employment| Tax| Tourism| Transport| Treaty of Waitangi|

Saturday, 25 October 2008

How to vote in an election

I had the opportunity to discuss politics with one of my pastors recently. He was interested in who I would vote for. Where to start? There are so many issues to discuss. I think people, including Christians, think too superficially about this issue. Even those who think in some depth often cover only a few and not all the issues. And frequently people fail to address the fundamentals.

Last election a different pastor discussed voting and suggested people think about the principles underlying policy. Many parties may have similar policies but vastly different principles leading to that policy. It is the principles that are more fundamental.

Political parties can have policies on a variety of issues. Even more foundational than what the principles are, is: in what areas do the principles really matter? How do we weigh the issues of say justice versus health or education? How do view a party that has the right principles guiding policy on minor issues or issues government should not be involved in, but the wrong principles guiding core government function?

I hope to discuss the nature of the state, what policies government should be involved in and the principles I think those policies should be shaped by.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Proof-texting unconditional election

In response to a recent post on sovereignty I received an anonymous comment suggesting my analysis contradicted the Bible. This is a bold claim, though I am prepared to defend my position. I will add that this post is an object lesson in why proof-texting can be a poor technique. While short texts of Scripture can refute error, they need to be understood and applied correctly. Anonymous did not expand on the texts or explain how they contradict my claims.

My claims and anon's quotes are in italics, my response is in roman type.

Anon: This is a sad commentary. You analysis says exactly opposite of that the Bible says.

However others thought it a good commentary. jc_freak and travelah agreed with it, and kangaroodort affirmed it and linked to it. While this particular post was short on Scripture, it was not intended to be exegesis of a particular passage. Other posts have defended my view. In this post I was trying to identify a logical error, that being:
  • I don't think sovereignty by necessity means God can force people to love him.
God can still be sovereign even if the whole whole rejects him. Our acceptance or rejection of God does not alter the fact that he is King and owns the cattle on a thousand hills.

bethyada: Calvinists have claimed that God chooses specific men for salvation because he is sovereign. Those are saved to maximise God's glory in his mercy, and others are damned to maximise God's glory in his wrath.

These ideas, I think, are incorrect. The issue of sovereignty is a logical question. And damnation, while giving God glory, does so less than salvation.

Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory. (Romans 9:21-23)
And yet I quote this very passage latter on. Rather than interact with my interpretation you just quote it with the assumption that your interpretation of it is the right one and that alone is enough to refute me. Re-read my response. You are reading "prepared" to mean "pre-prepared." While that is possible, especially given the following mention of "prepared beforehand" other verses suggest that men prior to redemption are objects of wrath and yet become objects of grace. See Ephesians 2:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
If we remain disobedient God prepares us for destruction, but he desires repentance.

bethyada: I don't think it possible for God to force anyone into heaven. Or rather force anyone to love him; heaven is the destination. So I think the Calvinists are incorrect about sovereignty over who is saved because it is not an question of sovereignty.

So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills (Romans 9:18)
And what does mercy have to do with forcing people to love him? God can have mercy on whoever he wishes, but he has said he will not do so unless we repent. And if he gives us mercy we can still choose not to love him.

bethyada: God can create, God can woo (prevenient grace), God can save, God can give eternal life, God can create freedom of the will.

None of which man can do.

However I think that if God creates us as beings that have the ability to choose or reject God then I think it logically impossible to force love from such a being.

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezekiel 36:26-27)
This is not about our acceptance or rejection of God, it is about God giving us the ability to do what we desire to do. Just because we choose God and reject evil does not mean we have the ability to walk according to our choice.
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate....

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7)
God in Ezekiel says this new heart will cause us to walk in his statutes, and while consistent with an unconditional election position, is also consistent with conditional election. God can give us ability if we desire it and he has promised it. If we desire it alone we cannot do it. God says here in Ezekiel that he will do this for his own glory, but this does not necessarily mean that he will do it to those who are evil and unrepentant. The question here is not about God's abilities to help us live by the Spirit, rather it is about whether God changes us despite our will, and whether determinism allows love.

bethyada: To have such a high view of sovereignty that claims that God can make us love him, seems, to me, as preposterous as a high view of God's omnipotence means he can make 2 + 2 = 5.

So I don't think that non-Calvinists have a low view of God's sovereignty, I think they have a more accurate one.

...declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,... (Isaiah 46:10)
My claim was specific. I am not saying that God is not sovereign. Non-Calvinists acknowledge the sovereignty of God. The comment as it stands already refutes your response. A high view of God's omnipotence does not automatically make God able to do the logically impossible. By analogy I claim that a high view of sovereignty doesn't mean that God can make free people love against their desire. A verse reinforcing God's sovereignty does nothing to prove me incorrect. If I am incorrect it is because my analogy is incorrect or inappropriate.

Further I think God can force activity and situation outcomes against the will of man; see Nebuchadnezzar's 7 years. But Nebuchadnezzar still had to choose to love or reject God.
At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,... (Daniel 4)
bethyada: Further I think God does desire every single person go to heaven. I don't think any have been created specifically for destruction...Calvinists are incorrect about this being the reason for creating beings for damnation.

This is the wicked man's portion from God, the heritage decreed for him by God. (Job 20:29)

The LORD has made all things for Himself: yes, even the wicked for the day of destruction. (Proverbs 16:4)

For certain people ... long ago were designated for this condemn... [truncated by haloscan but from Jude] condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (Jude 1:4)
And I can proof-text just as easily.
This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2)
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3)
I am not claiming that all men will be saved, just that God desires such. The verses from Job and Jude do not say that men were eternally elected to be evil and thus damned, they say that God will surely punish the wicked. The verses are compatible with a Calvinist interpretation, but they do not teach Calvinism. Jude could be read that the condemnation is determined before the wickedness, yet God's foreknowledge allows him to determine their condemnation prior to the event even though the condemnation is because of the event. That is, the cause is the wicked actions even if knowledge of the wickedness predates the actions. The Job passage seems an odd rebuttal as the speaker is Zophar and the conclusion is that God decrees thus because of the evil man's wickedness.

Proverbs 16 as it reads suggests that God has created men for the purpose of destruction. This is the ESV version (which I also use). But is the verse actually teaching this? The verse in the NET version is,
The Lord works everything for its own ends—/
Even the wicked for the day of disaster.
Which is compatible with God ensuring that outcomes will be just; that is, God will ensure our actions will ultimately have their appropriate consequences. Through other Scripture we know this takes into account God's mercy.

A footnote in the NET states that the word "work" means to "work out" or "accomplish." Another says that "for its own ends" means,
"for its answer." The term לַמַּעֲנֵהוּ (lammaanehu) has been taken to mean either "for his purpose" or "for its answer." The Hebrew word is מַעֲנֶה (ma’aneh, "answer") and not לְמַעַן (lema’an, "purpose"). So the suffix likely refers to "everything" (כֹּל, kol). God ensures that everyone's actions and the consequences of those actions correspond—certainly the wicked for the day of calamity. In God's order there is just retribution for every act.
Thus God makes the day of destruction for the wicked, not the wicked for the day of destruction. (See also Matthew 25:41.)

I have no problem with quoting Scripture to support truth. The problems with proof-texting come, as can be seen here, when it is done
  • poorly;
  • without regard to context;
  • with no relevance to the issue; or
  • with the assumptions of one's position which, while possibly consistent with the text, are not specifically found within the text.
It is better to interact with the Scripture and the points made by one's opponent. Documenting not just what the Bible says, but explaining what and why it means thus.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Jesus the famous

I find it interesting that many of the well known people of Jesus' day: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, government officials in Jerusalem and Judea; are now unknown or relatively unknown; and in as much as they are known, it is via the New Testament which Christians have kept.

Jesus was lesser known initially, though his fame spread quickly (Mark 1:28) and by the end of his ministry many of the people in Judea had heard of this Rabbi. Now after 2000 years most of the people of influence of that time can barely be named, and those who can are remembered for their relationship to Jesus. Moreover Jesus is called Lord by 1–2 billion people worldwide and his name is known or revered by few billion more.

Many of these previously famous men mocked Jesus or held him in derision. Ah, the irony! As well as a sense of justice God must surely have a sense of humour.
LORD, I have heard of your fame;/
I stand in awe of your deeds, (Habakkuk 3 NIV)

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

ESV Study Bible release

The English Standard Version (ESV) is my preferred translation. The ESV Study Bible is being released today. The concern with study Bibles is when people spend more time reading the notes than Scripture, but good helps and maps do improve understanding. This looks like it will contain some useful material.

The general editor is Wayne Grudem, a superb scholar. J.I. Packer is the theological editor.

It will likely have a Calvinist flavour and is unlikely to be conservative enough in some areas such as chronology, but unless I write my own study Bible... and then I wouldn't need it.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

The unreasoning atheist

Sam Harris of End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation fame is studying functional magnetic resonance imaging of brains with a focus on belief. I have my doubts this methodology has the ability to discover anything of worth. Part of Harris' process is to come up with questions that give a predictable response. Of interest was the question about the reliability of the Bible concerning ancient history.

I guess I don't find this surprising but it is somewhat irrational. About 90% of self proclaimed atheists agree with the proposition:
The Bible is a very unreliable record of ancient history.
It may be anticipated that atheists do not give the Bible much credibility concerning its theological teaching—else they might be theists. And it probably is not unexpected they disagree with the first few chapters of Genesis given that abiogenesis and macroevolution is the major competing worldview, and Darwin is the darling of atheists worldwide. But to insist that Bible history is generally unreliable, let alone very unreliable, reveals an irrational anti-biblical bias.

Other ancient texts with obvious internal errors are often treated as generally reliable. People read Herodotus, Plato, Thucydides, and Manetho; and refer to records of ancient nations; and consider the material reliable, or at least give it the benefit of doubt. These ancients write with their own agendas, with religious claims, and often times refuse to document the failings of favoured men. At minimum it seems reasonable to give the biblical historians a similar standing—especially given they frequently document the failings of their people and leaders!

Further, the archaeological confirmation of several biblical claims should increase the biblical authors' secular credibility.

I think this atheistic response originates not from the realms of reason for which they pride themselves, but is the emotional reaction of their intense antitheism.


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