Monday, 27 December 2010

Monday quote

True prayer is the most exciting thing in the world; it is an awesome thing to dialogue with the living God.

Leanne Payne

Saturday, 25 December 2010

God will reward the least

I think it will be interesting to see who is honoured in heaven; many who are considered of small importance in this world, those who faithfully discharged the duties which God has given them. While some well-known men will be rewarded, remember to whom much has been given much is expected. So examples people like George Muller and John Wesley may be rewarded handsomely for their kingdom work, other famous Christians may barely get in, and some may just have the appearance of belief and so will be rejected by Christ.

But I like to think of watching God give his gifts to those that many have never heard of. How God in his justice and goodness will reward those with little ability yet discharged this faithfully.
  • The mother who devoted her life to raising a disabled child and caring for him throughout his life.
  • The slave who had no option of freedom yet worked as for the Lord.
  • The mistreated person who never received justice in this life yet refused bitterness and trusted in God.
And there are many, many more. Those who are never recognised in this world. And Jesus will welcome them into heaven offering them the best places at the feast for all the universe to witness.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Monday quote

You seem to have made the elementary mistake of thinking that shouting “crap” can falsify a valid argument.

Matthew Flannagan

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Inerrancy and belief structures

J.P. Moreland addresses inerrancy in his article The Rationality of Belief in Inerrancy in the Trinity Journal 7.1 (Spring 1986): 75-86. He has some interesting thoughts on why occasion difficulties with the text should not lead one to abandon inerrancy. Rather a less plausible inerrant reconstruction of a difficult text may be rationally preferred over a more plausible errant reconstruction if one otherwise has good reason to believe in inerrancy
An interpretation of a problem passage that harmonizes it with another text, and thus preserves inerrancy, may not be as rational as an interpretation that admits an error in the text, if one only considers this particular problem in isolation from other epistemically relevant considerations. But if one considers the depth of ingression of inerrancy as well, then the rationality of preserving belief in inerrancy in one’s noetic structure (as opposed to denying it and having to readjust a large part of one’s structure) can justify suspending judgment or believing a harmonization.
That a person does not change his entire belief structure every time he gains new information is not irrational
The defender of inerrancy is not being irrational in calling for suspension of judgment, etc. because of the depth of ingression of belief in inerrancy. At the very least, critics of the rationality of inerrancy should consider this before they criticize as irrational the various attempts to harmonize passages and the like.
The article as more useful for its arguments about the nature of belief as it is for its defence of inerrancy.

Such refusal to modify one's belief with minor unexplainable facts does not mean that one's belief can never change. We know that our knowledge is limited. Contrary evidence may appear contrary on the surface, yet we may lack even further information which in fact harmonises a rogue fact with our belief system. But enough contrary evidence can eventually modify our belief structure. This seems similar to Thomas Kuhn's argument about paradigm shifts in science. Moreland draws some parallels with scientific thinking.

So how much contrary evidence is required to overturn a belief structure. Well it depends on how central such a belief is, not so much in terms of conviction, but how many other beliefs are affected. Moreland addresses this earlier in the article, but also the problem that the criteria for rejection of held beliefs is not well defined by individuals.
It could be objected that nowhere have I stated any criteria for knowing when there would be enough problems with inerrancy to justify giving it up. Thus, I cannot rationally claim to know that inerrancy is true.

...As an example, consider a puzzle from the ancient Greeks, known as the sorites problem. Given a small heap of wheat, can I get a large heap by adding one grain? It seems not, for how could one go from a small to a large heap by merely adding one grain. But then it seems that one could add grains of wheat to a small heap and never reach a large heap.

Consider another puzzle. If one gradually changes the shade of a color from red to orange, can one tell when the color changes from red to orange? Probably not. But in the absence of such a criterion, how can I know when I see red or orange?

The problem with both puzzles is this: they assume that in the absence of clear criteria for borderline cases, one cannot have knowledge of clear cases. Without being able to judge when the heap becomes large, I can never know that it is large. Without being able to judge when the color changes to orange, I can never know that it is orange. But the fact is, I can know a large heap or an orange color even if I have no criteria.

I am not dismissing criteria altogether. Indeed, they are important in an overall theory of rationality. But I do not need criteria in all cases to know something.
I would add it depends on whether the new belief system which explains the rogue data also explains data in the old system. Which system if held to be true makes the most sense of all the data and has the least anomalies.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

English school diary omits Christmas

The European commission has produced several hundred thousand diaries for British children and; while including several religious holidays from Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Jewish and Chinese traditions; it has neglected to mention Christmas day. Somewhat ironic given that the diary was supposedly a Christmas present. The question is whether this was intentional. On the face of it, it would seem likely. What would bolster this claim is if Easter was also left off which, while not entirely clear, seems to be the case. Johanna Touzel said,
Christmas and Easter are important feasts for hundreds of millions of Christians and Europeans. It is a strange omission. I hope it was not intentional.
I do not find this overly surprising. But the episode is useful in highlighting the anti-Christian agenda of many secularists and governments. It is not that multi-culturalists want a pluralist society so much as they are prefer anything so long that it is not Christian. Including Christmas in the next edition would seem the appropriate corrective. Christmas is, after all, a statutory holiday in the UK. But consider their solution
A commission spokesman described the diary as a "blunder" and said that in the interests of political correctness there would no references to any religious festivals in future editions.

"We're sorry about it, and we'll correct that in next edition. Religious holidays may not be mentioned at all to avoid any controversy," he said.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Glory is not a zero sum game

Calvinists make the same error with God's glory, that Marxists do with economics. They both assume it is a zero sum game. Economics can be zero sum if we just transfer wealth, negative sum if we destroy it, or positive sum if we create it.

While I dispute that accepting the gift of salvation is boast-worthy or gives any glory to man, I do not see why any process of glorifying men necessarily diminishes the glory of God. Surely if God redeems man and in the process transforms us from glory to glory, then his own glory is increased. Glory is not a zero sum game. Our increasing glory does not subtract from God's glory, it adds to it.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Faculty of Resentment Studies

Interesting perspective on resentment by Theodore Dalrymple
One way and another, I have spent a lot of my life in the study of resentment, my own and that of others. I doubt whether there is any human being who has passed his life totally without feeling it; I know of many who, on the contrary, have spent their whole lives nourishing it.
And he concludes it is detrimental, potentially infinite, needs to be consciously rejected, and is "fundamentally egotistical".

Though what I found amusing was his connection to education
But another cause of resentment, I feel sure (though I cannot prove, again because of the deficiencies of character bequeathed me by my parents) is the spread of tertiary education, especially in such subjects as sociology, psychology, and anything to which the word ‘studies’ may be attached. Indeed, it seems to me that they might all usefully be joined in one great faculty, to be called the Faculty of Resentment Studies. It would undoubtedly be the largest faculty in any self-respecting university, and would easily pay for itself. Professors of Resentment could teach such subdivisions of their subject as the art of rationalisation, rhetorical exaggeration, preservation of a lack of perspective, suppression of a sense of irony or humour, and so on and so forth. Of course, entry requirements would be minimal. All you would have to do to gain entry is to denigrate your parents at a public examination, and there could hardly be found a child nowadays not able to do that.

Over the entrance to the faculty will be written not the motto of the Academy, ‘Know thyself,’ but rather ‘Talk about thyself,’ ‘Reveal nothing,’ ‘Remember that there is always someone better off than you’ and, above all, ‘Distinguish not between unfairness and injustice.’

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Does God need to send men to hell for his glory?

I do not see why this should be so. I see no diminution of God's glory if all men are ultimately saved (though this will not be the case). For surely God's glory is all the greater if men who were hell-bound now belong to the kingdom of heaven. Is God's glory not demonstrated more in his salvation of sinners than his condemnation of them?

You may argue that God needs to send men to hell to manifest the glory of his justice. That justice is an attribute that is glorified by its execution. But surely laying our sins on Jesus manifests God's justice more than any human cast into the lake of fire. And if this is so, there is no need for any man to be condemned for the sake of God's glorious justice.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Monday quote

The whole truth is generally the ally of virtue; a half-truth is always the ally of some vice.

GK Chesterton

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Praying for our enemies

Jesus tells us to pray for our enemies. While we can pray for protection, and that God will execute justice when we are being mistreated, the implication of Jesus' words is that we are praying for goodness in the lives of our enemies.
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44)
Leanne Payne gives some suggestions on how we can pray for our enemies. She says that our prayer for ourselves in such situations is: for endurance in persecution, for the ability to love from God, and that we will not act in a sinful way that brings our enemy harm.

Her principles for praying for our enemies are to ask that:
  1. The eyes of all who surround these people will be opened to see the situation as it really is.
  2. Their associates will be given ways to speak truth and light into the situation.
  3. Any demonic power within these people or situations manifest itself—that it may be clearly discerned and seen by all.
  4. What can be salvaged (in the situation and the lives of your enemies) be saved, humbled, and blessed by the Spirit of God.
She recommends prayer for those engaging such people, and suggests that much damage is done to evil when truth is revealed.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Monday quote

If we do not love God, we shall forever be at the edge of Truth, and to crown our folly, we shall the edge of Truth as the center.

Glenn R Martin

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Conduct disorder leads to road trauma

From the files of the completely bleeding obvious we are informed that boys behaving badly are more likely to be involved in motor vehicle accidents, 37% more likely according to an Ontario study
Teenage male drivers contribute to a large number of serious road crashes despite low rates of driving and excellent physical health. We examined the amount of road trauma involving teenage male youth that might be explained by prior disruptive behavior disorders (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder).

We conducted a population-based case-control study of consecutive male youth between age 16 and 19 years hospitalized for road trauma (cases) or appendicitis (controls) in Ontario, Canada over 7 years (April 1, 2002 through March 31, 2009). Using universal health care databases, we identified prior psychiatric diagnoses for each individual during the decade before admission. Overall, a total of 3,421 patients were admitted for road trauma (cases) and 3,812 for appendicitis (controls). A history of disruptive behavior disorders was significantly more frequent among trauma patients than controls (767 of 3,421 versus 664 of 3,812), equal to a one-third increase in the relative risk of road trauma (odds ratio = 1.37, 95% confidence interval 1.22–1.54, p<0.001).
I am amused when I read terms like oppositional defiant disorder and that it is considered a psychiatric diagnosis.

Apparently naughty girls are not exempt
We... replicated our methods in girls rather than boys,... the results yielded... about the same estimated risk (odds ratio 1.31).
The editors add
The results of this study suggest that disruptive behavior disorders explain a significant amount of road traffic crashes experienced in male teenagers. Overall, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorder, and oppositional defiant disorder are associated with about a one-third increase in the risk of a road traffic crash.
Who would have thought?

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Computer software deciphers Ugaritic

Programmers have used statistical techniques to correlate Ugaritic and Hebrew alphabets as well as forms of words which they assume are somewhat parallel in related languages in order to decipher Ugaritic.
To duplicate the “intuition” that Robinson believed would elude computers, the researchers’ software makes several assumptions. The first is that the language being deciphered is closely related to some other language: In the case of Ugaritic, the researchers chose Hebrew. The next is that there’s a systematic way to map the alphabet of one language on to the alphabet of the other, and that correlated symbols will occur with similar frequencies in the two languages.

The system makes a similar assumption at the level of the word: The languages should have at least some cognates, or words with shared roots, like main and mano in French and Spanish, or homme and hombre. And finally, the system assumes a similar mapping for parts of words. A word like “overloading,” for instance, has both a prefix — “over” — and a suffix — “ing.” The system would anticipate that other words in the language will feature the prefix “over” or the suffix “ing” or both, and that a cognate of “overloading” in another language — say, “surchargeant” in French — would have a similar three-part structure.

The system plays these different levels of correspondence off of each other. It might begin, for instance, with a few competing hypotheses for alphabetical mappings, based entirely on symbol frequency — mapping symbols that occur frequently in one language onto those that occur frequently in the other. Using a type of probabilistic modeling common in artificial-intelligence research, it would then determine which of those mappings seems to have identified a set of consistent suffixes and prefixes. On that basis, it could look for correspondences at the level of the word, and those, in turn, could help it refine its alphabetical mapping. “We iterate through the data hundreds of times, thousands of times,” says Snyder, “and each time, our guesses have higher probability, because we’re actually coming closer to a solution where we get more consistency.” Finally, the system arrives at a point where altering its mappings no longer improves consistency.
Ugaritic was treated as unknown and the resultant translation turned out to be reasonably accurate.

This is beneficial for languages that are related, that is both are derived from a common source. It does not seem to be of use if we discovered a language unrelated to any known ones (unlikely). But it could help with increasing deciphering speed in poorly characterised languages.
“Each language has its own challenges,” Barzilay agrees. “Most likely, a successful decipherment would require one to adjust the method for the peculiarities of a language.” But, she points out, the decipherment of Ugaritic took years and relied on some happy coincidences — such as the discovery of an axe that had the word “axe” written on it in Ugaritic. “The output of our system would have made the process orders of magnitude shorter,” she says.

Indeed, Snyder and Barzilay don’t suppose that a system like the one they designed with Knight would ever replace human decipherers. “But it is a powerful tool that can aid the human decipherment process,” Barzilay says. Moreover, a variation of it could also help expand the versatility of translation software. 

Monday, 22 November 2010

Monday quote

If the true meaning of Scripture is covered over in obscurity, if its understanding requires the sophistry of the elite, then the understanding of Scripture becomes impossible. The one plain reading of Genesis became a dozen competing sophistries.

Donald Crowe. Creation without Compromise

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Avian nutrition police

The health police have their eyes on what you feed wildlife. Despite grandma's example, one must be careful about feeding bread to birds,
“We had about five slices of bread and we all threw bits of it towards them. The ducks fought a little over it but they seemed to enjoy it.

“Then a man in a fluorescent waistcoat who was holding a litter pick-up stick came over to me and said ‘I know you mean well but giving them white bread is not good for them’.”
A visit to the local organic market ought to solve the problem.
Lisa Taplin, 34, was told to bring granary or wholemeal bread next time.

The fluorescent vest-clad official said giving ducks white bread was like Mrs Taplin feeding her two sons chips with every meal.
The Manifesto Club's response was amusing
It is amazing that health fascism extends to the digestive system of ducks.
Personally I would be tempted to return with bags of lard, sugar and salt for the birds.

Come to think of it, our botanical gardens asks us not to feed bread to the ducks, though I believe that is to help keep the seagulls away, and they do supply free duck food.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Coaxial helicopter rotors

I noticed a toy helicopter recently with 2 sets of blades. It was a remote controlled vehicle and I presumed that the blades rotated in opposite directions to solve the torque problem. I thought this a clever solution.

A friend informed me that this is a solution that has been used in real helicopters. I was familiar with fore and aft rotors but unaware that a coaxial system existed!

Monday, 15 November 2010

Monday quote

He sees the world far too much in materialist terms. Achieving economic prosperity is far more important to him than fundamental constitutional issues.

John Tertullian and Contra Celsum

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Fish numbers increase in Gulf of Mexico

Isn't this interesting? For all the concern the oil spill would have on the environment, it seems the associated shutdown of fishing was significantly more beneficial for marine life than oil was harmful.
...ongoing research suggests the federal closure of the richest portion of the Gulf to all fishing through the spring and summer months resulted in dramatic increases in the abundance of numerous marine creatures, from shrimp to sharks.

...Data collected this year shows a marked departure from previous years.

Valentine’s research, which consists of trawl surveys in Mobile Bay, Mississippi Sound and around the barrier islands shows a roughly threefold increase in what the nets captured after the spill compared to before, in terms of both the weight of the catch and the number of animals caught. Valentine said it was possible seasonal factors played a role in the changes in the data, though he believed the lack of fishing was the key.
It may be difficult to untangle the variables and estimate the true contribution of altered fishing patterns. No mention was made of bacteria breaking down the oil and whether the oil acted as a food source for these organisms which had upstream beneficial effects; I don't even know if such a theory is viable.

What is interesting in the article is the incredulity of many interviewees. It seems the biosphere is more resilient than many give it credit, and appropriate stewardship of our resources—in this case fishing quotas—is what is required. This is not to say that the region was being over fished, we need data informing us what the maximal sustainable catch is.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Monday quote

Sometimes the very measures we put in place in place to safeguard our liberty become threats to liberty itself.

Callister, Secretary of Defence, Eagle Eye

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Genesis and the toledoth theory

The Hebrew phrase ’elle toledot occurs 10 times in the book of Genesis. It is traditionally translated, "These are the generations of". Other translations include
  • This is the account of (NIV, NET)
  • These are the records of the generations of (NASB)
  • This is the history of (NLT)
  • These are the descendants of (NRSV)
  • This is the genealogy of (NKJV)
  • These are the historical developments arising out of (Wolters)
A question has arisen as to whether this phrase is introductory or concluding; is it a title or a colophon. Other ancient Near-Eastern texts (or tablets) have concluding data. Several people have concluded that Genesis was constructed from similar tablets and these toledoth phrases were included from the tablets' colophons. Percy Wiseman advocated this theory. A argument for toledoth being a colophon not an introduction can be found here.

I have no qualms that Moses wrote Genesis based on previous written records, be that clay, skin, or scrolls. I think, however, the internal evidence of Genesis points to these being introductory phrases. Here is the list of the phrases as they appear in Genesis.
  1. These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created. (Genesis 2:4)
  2. This is the book of the generations of Adam. (Genesis 5:1)
  3. These are the generations of Noah. (Genesis 6:9)
  4. These are the generations of the sons of Noah: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Genesis 10:1)
  5. These are the generations of Shem. (Genesis 11:10)
  6. These are the generations of Terah. (Genesis 11:27)
  7. These are the generations of Ishmael. (Genesis 25:12)
  8. These are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son. (Genesis 25:19)
  9. These are the generations of Esau (that is, Edom). (Genesis 36:1)
  10. These are the generations of Esau the father of the Edomites in the hill country of Seir. (Genesis 36:9)
  11. These are the generations of Jacob. (Genesis 37:2)
There are several arguments against these being colophons.

There is no phrase at the end of Genesis for one.

Genesis follows a family line from Adam to Israel. Because of this, a phrase like, "These are the generations of Noah" could theoretically be read as the conclusion of the history up to Noah, or as the introduction to Noah and his family. Given the Semitic reasoning that a man's honour is somewhat thru his posterity, I think an introductory interpretation is preferable, though I concede the posterity argument is not definitive.

But the main reason is that all of the phrases can be read as introductions based on the subsequent material, but not all of them can be read as endings. Some of the passages can only be read as introductory because they discuss genealogies that are not in the line to Israel. If these specific uses are introductory it seems reasonable that all uses in Genesis are introductory.

Consider Ishmael. The phrase, "These are the generations of Ishmael" in Genesis 25:12 precedes a discussion of Ishmael's descendants. Now one could possibly argue that this phrase comes at the end of Abraham's life which leads into Ishmael's story (though unlikely given the focus on Isaac earlier in Genesis). But if we accept verse 12 as a colophon then we have the problem that Genesis 25:19 is a colophon, yet the phrase, "These are the generations of Isaac, Abraham's son" is hardly a fitting conclusion to a discussion of Ishmael's descendants.

Note also that although item 10 may be a variant on 9, that is a repeat phrase rather than a different document; the repetition of Esau's descendants may well represent different documents, and would only fit with an introductory interpretation of toledoth.

Against this it is argued that the final use in Genesis talks about Joseph not Jacob. I find this unconvincing for 2 reasons. I have already mentioned that fame is somewhat related to posterity, so a discussion solely focused on Joseph would be consistent with this. Especially given that toledot (generation) is derived from yalad (beget)*. But note also the narrative from Genesis 37 to 50 is about Jacob and his family. It is just that the beginning of the narrative starts with Joseph in the field. This is of no significance.

At least 2 conclusions follow from this:
  1. The proposal that Genesis was composed by Moses from earlier written material seems more likely than than oral transmission or revelation. Note also the use of the word book in the second occurrence in verse 5:1.
  2. Genesis 2:4 is introducing the narrative in Genesis 2, not concluding the creation account in Genesis 1.
If we suppose the repeated use of this formula is likely to be used consistently before or after a unit of narrative, then the internal evidence in Genesis is that toledoth is used cataphorically.

*This is not the genetic fallacy as the words are related in meaning in the same era.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Monday quote

I believe in political equality. But there are two opposite reasons for being a democrat. You may think all men so good that they deserve a share in the government of the commonwealth, and so wise that the commonwealth needs their advice. That is, in my opinion, the false, romantic doctrine of democracy. On the other hand, you may believe fallen men to be so wicked that not one of them can be trusted with any irresponsible power over his fellows.

CS Lewis (1898–1963), "Membership", The Weight of Glory.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Freewill or libertarian freewill

Arminians use the term freewill to describe their view of men's decisions. I note that some Calvinists also claim that man has freewill. Their view they call compatibilism which I admit struggling to grasp. It seems to me that compatibilism is determinism with the claim that the person is also choosing this path.

Arminians think that people can make free choices that are contrary to God's desires. That is men have the power of contrary choice. God can say that a man should do A and that he desires A, and that his purposes would best be fulfilled by doing A, and yet a person can still choose not to do A.*

To distinguish such freedom oftentimes the term libertarian freewill is used. I take this to mean that a person can make a choice of their own accord. While a man may have several influences on his decision, such a choice is ultimately at the level of the person—his will, his decision making centre. The libertarian adjective is to identify that the decision is sourced in man, as opposed to a compatibilist claim that the man's decision is sourced in God. It does not mean that a man can make any decision whatsoever! Clearly it does not mean that a person can choose to fly. But nor does it necessarily mean that he make any choice that another person is potentially capable of. He cannot make decisions based on knowledge he does not have. If unredeemed man is unable to make decisions to follow God, he still can make a variety of decisions in rejecting him. And he can refrain from making some bad decisions.

This falls under item #4 of my top 10 Calvinist annoyances. The extremes are that freewill is either essentially God's decision (compatibilist) or man has the full capacity to make all and any good or bad decision.

The middle position is that man has the power of contrary choice, though his decisions will be limited in capacity by various things.

*Note that this does not mean that God is unable to force the person to do A. But in doing so God has removed their freewill.

I am not intending to misconstrue compatibilism. It is a Calvinist term and I am happy that they define it. Feel free to correct me.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Monday quote

The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.

Winston Churchill

Thursday, 21 October 2010

"Politarches" and the Vardar Gate inscription

Luke is considered by many a pre-eminent historian. His books The Gospel according to Luke and The Acts of the Apostles are written in excellent Greek, and his research and documentation are careful. Anti-biblical bias by some people has led to many claims over the years of several Lukan error. Frequently this unjustified in that many accusations are related to lack of corroborating evidence—as if the sparse extant contemporary records are evidence against what Luke records. An author should not be considered errant solely on the evidence that no other author records the same event. Error is shown by internal and external contradiction, and external contradiction still requires weighting one author more heavily than another.

In Acts Luke mentions Jason being hauled before the city officials
But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, "These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus." And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go. (Acts 17:5-9)
The word translated city authorities is politarches (πολιτάρχη). It occurs here twice but nowhere else in extant Greek literature (though apparently a similar term poli(t)archos may be known from classical Greek?). This led earlier critics to claim Luke was in error.

The word is a compound word constructed from polis (city) and arche (ruler). Even if this was a Lukan neologism it is hardly an error. Even so, an archaeological discovery in the 19th century revealed that politarches was an official title: a stone inscription on the Vardar Gate/ Arch in Thessolonica. This arch was near the Vardar River and spanned the famed Egnatian Way. It reads

The first word poleitarchountōn is a variant of politarches showing that this is not a Lukan neologism and that Luke was using an official term, much as he does elsewhere in his books. Other inscriptions containing this word have subsequently been found.

I have minimal concern about authors using neologisms and do not consider them errant. Nevertheless it is important to note that critics of Luke made something of this and they were shown to be incorrect while Luke was vindicated. Though this example may not currently be used against Luke, the fact that historical critics of Luke were proven wrong needs to be remembered when dealing with modern critics of Luke.

Further reading here, here, and here.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Monday quote

The sin which most consistently is said to bring down God's wrath on the heads of his people or on entire nations is idolatry—the de-godding of God.

Don Carson

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Salvation: Bounded set versus centred set

Orthodoxy is defined by means of a bounded set. Orthodoxy is the substance of right belief. A list of true statements. This is the nature of the creeds, and denominational confessions, and appropriately so given their intent. I do not think this type of definition carries over well to salvation. Sure God defines orthodoxy, and some of his thoughts can be rendered in propositional format, and believers in Jesus should align their minds with God's mind; but the nature of salvation is not propositional. Salvation is based on repentance and forgiveness. It is relational, we follow Christ. We leave the kingdom of the world and join the kingdom of God thru repentance. We stop following the world and we start following Jesus.

Over time our minds should become aligned with God. What we think is true will become what God knows is true. However the penitent joins the kingdom with insufficient orthodoxy. What the man will believe differs markedly from what he currently believes. Catechismal classes attempt to address this, but the follower of Christ does not remain outside the set of saved men until he gains the appropriate measure of orthodoxy, nor is the orthodox man inside the salvation set if he refuses to follow our Lord.

Orthodoxy is a bounded set, its definition depends on certain criteria, all of which need to be fulfilled. Salvation is a centred set, its definition depends on characteristics that describe the centre, and members are those which emulate this centre. To be clear, sets contain members that are inside them and outside them. A centred set may seem blurry though it is not intended to be. It is not that the definitions of centred sets are intrinsically unclear, they are different to bounded sets. The edges will seem blurry to those who who see salvation as bounded by orthodox belief, but that is because a bounded definition excludes and includes some men it should not.

The salvation set itself excludes the unsaved. One is in the kingdom of God or he is not. But if we seek to establish who is in the kingdom by determining orthodoxy, we are asking a related but nevertheless incorrect question. Whereas if we ask who is following (the true) Jesus we will find the set contains people with various degrees of orthodoxy, and some may be less orthodox than those in the kingdom of Unbelief. This is to be expected, they are starting farther from the destination, who is Christ. But if we take our Lord's remarks seriously then he defines the orthodoxy the saved are heading toward, he is the pathway by which they reach their destination, and he empowers them to do the same (John 14:6).

Monday, 11 October 2010

Monday quote

Love means loving the unlovable - or it is no virtue at all.

GK Chesterton (1874–1936), Heretics

Sunday, 10 October 2010

If Scripture really is the oracles of God

A high view of Scripture in modern times has been equated with idolatry. Inerrantists may be described as Bible worshippers; accused of bibliolatry.

I know of no one that has an shrine for their Bible or burns incense to the Scriptures. I am not aware of Christians who insist that the Bible is stored above other objects in the room in the way that Muslims may keep their Koran on the top shelf.

Some may prefer their particular Bibles, though that is more sentiment than worship. One may regret a family Bible gets lost in a fire, but for the sentimental person who values Scripture highly: he buys another Bible.

What I am aware of is many Christians treating the words of the Bible as the words of God. But given that the authors of the Bible did the same, as did Jesus; combined with the Bible equating the phrases "Scripture says"and "God says": it would seem that treating the Bible as the very words of God is not idolatry. True, one can claim to love the Bible and not really love Jesus. I find it difficult to believe that one may love Jesus yet not love the Bible. If Scripture really is the oracles of God then minimising this truth, laying accusations of bibliolatry, and mocking of the same, would better fall in to the category of idolatry—veneration of moderation—than having a high view of Scripture.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Monday quote

Evolutionary biology, in contrast with physics and chemistry, is a historical science—the evolutionist attempts to explain events and processes that have already taken place. Laws and experiments are inappropriate techniques for the explication of such events and processes. Instead one constructs a historical narrative, consisting of a tentative reconstruction of the particular scenario that led to the events one is trying to explain.

Ernst Mayr (1904–2005), evolutionary biologist

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Math examiners fail logic

Mathcounts is a US national mathematics competition for grade/ year 6 to 8. ChristianNewsWire reports on a bizarre decision.
Math Counts, a national math competition for teams and individual students in grades 6-8, will not allow homeschoolers to form teams and compete in the 2010-2011 school year.  The Math Counts board unanimously decided to exclude homeschoolers in response to a few situations in which "super teams" were formed by pulling certain gifted students from public schools and labeling them as homeschool teams.
So a group of public schooled students lie by claiming to be homeschooled. Presumably this is to get bright kids from different schools on the same team rather than under the banner of their school? And the decision is not to punish the dishonest public schooled children but the honest homeschooled children.

Clearly the idea of banning every school which has a student claiming to be homeschooled required exceptional intellect and was not considered.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Economic future

I was asked my thoughts on this article by Neville Bennett which is his thoughts an the near economic future.
Governments will wrestle with mounting debt-servicing costs and be forced to make severe budget cuts, especially in welfare and education. High structural unemployment will endure in the West and will fall heavily on youth, the unskilled and even mature workers.

High unemployment, higher taxes, foreclosures, and very tight credit will encourage a new frugality to consumers.

The share of consumption in GDP will decline. Savings should increase but savers will find yields low, especially in the deflation prone Japan and the USA.
Bennett goes on to describe the recovery as "L" shaped, which is not a description of the shape of the graph, but shorthand for long. I agree with his assessment, though it is not clear whether he thinks we still on a downward trajectory, or are near the bottom but will be a long time rising? I suspect the former and I concur, we still have a long way to fall.

Interestingly he describes shocking behaviour of consumers, partly due to excessive credit,
More accurately, personal liabilities in 2008 [in the US] exceeded 130% of personal income.

New Zealand was worse: Household debt increased six times in dollar terms between 1990 and 2008 to a massive 160% of disposable income.

Debt servicing took 15% of disposable income. The magnitude of debt provoked few concerns until about 2008.

Banks were anxious to provide 100% mortgages, and consumers often enjoyed the “wealth effect” of rising home values and stock investments.

Consumers used their homes like an ATM: taking loans for home improvements, cars, furnishings and even holidays.

Personal savings virtually disappeared. They were about 10% of income in the 1970’s but by 2008, Kiwis spent $1.13 for every dollar earned. Americans behaved similarly.
Overall I think the article reasonable. It appears to specify what he thinks will happen, not what he thinks should. Comments on actions governments and individuals should take would improve the article.

He is likely correct about unemployment rising, and being worse for the unskilled who are frequently the youth, this will be exacerbated by the high minimum wage.

There are some areas where I disagree, or at least would clarify his comments.

I am not certain his reasoning for the rapid rise out of recession in the 1980s is correct.
The US could roar out of some recessions, like that of 1981-2, because the baby-boomers were young (many in their 20’s) and high earners with heavy spending on homes, furnishing and cars.

Consumer spending rose 7.2% in 1982. The demographics are different now with many people scrimping in retirement. Personal debt is US$124,000 per household and that takes a lot of paying off, especially as house values have plunged and stock markets been volatile.
There may be some truth to this, but one has to wonder how accurate the data is over the last 30 years. Not to mention the theory that the bursting stock market bubble was offset by the technology bubble, which was offset by the property bubble, which is the last reasonable bubble. Thus the current doesn't lack solutions, rather the compounding of the recessions of the last few decades. There may have been no true recovery, debt funded spending just hid the true situation.

Bennett mentions tax increases leading to frugality,
High unemployment, higher taxes, foreclosures, and very tight credit will encourage a new frugality to consumers.
It is not clear whether he predicts this or advocates this. I am not too certain that these things will effect a change in behaviour, profligacy being a moral problem. But higher taxes should be avoided; they will do little to address the spendthrift problem but will prolong recovery and exacerbate unemployment. Tax cuts with even greater reduction in government spending would be far better long term for employment the economy.

A minor quibble, he talks about bi-inflation
Bi-inflation. Rising prices for commodities and gold, deflation in much of the economy.
So he is using the term inflation to describe prices, whereas it strictly means monetary supply. Will the monetary supply increase (inflation) or decrease (deflation). Price changes are reflective of the amount of money in circulation all other things being equal (which they may not be). It appears that Bennett thinks there will be deflation of the monetary supply with the prices of most things decreasing but some exceptions. I think the government will try and inflate, the question is will they be able to? I hope there is deflation. Prices will go generally go down as will incomes, but not debts! Some prices may rise because of decreased or unchanged supply combined with increased demand.

Worth a read, food for thought.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Monday quote

Unless you can create the whole universe in 5 days, perhaps giving "advice" to God isn't such a good idea.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Will the UK end fractional reserve banking?

This law would go a long way towards preventing the problem of economic bubbles appearing and bursting.
“Mr Douglas Carswell (Clacton) (Con): I beg to move,

“That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prohibit banks and building societies lending on the basis of demand deposits without the permission of the account holder; and for connected purposes.
I don't hold out much hope it will pass in the United Kingdom, nor do I think the politicians of New Zealand likely to pass such a wise law. Nevertheless, the end of fractional reserve banking would stop the non-productive class extracting wealth from the productive class while they simultaneously retard economic growth.

Clayton makes an eminently sensible observation in his speech
Since the credit crunch hit us, an endless succession of economists, most of whom did not see it coming, have popped up on our TV screens to explain its causes with great authority. Most have tended to see the lack of credit as the problem, rather than as a symptom. Perhaps we should instead begin to listen to those economists who saw the credit glut that preceded the crash as the problem. The Cobden Centre, the Ludwig von Mises Institute and Huerta de Soto all grasped that the overproduction of bogus candy-floss credit before the crunch gave rise to it. It is time to take seriously their ideas on honest money and sound banking.

The Keynesian-monetarist economists might recoil in horror at the idea, because their orthodoxy holds that without these legal privileges for banks, there would be insufficient credit. They say that the oil that keeps the engine of capitalism working would dry up and the machine would grind to a halt, but that is not so. Under my Bill, credit would still exist but it would be credit backed by savings. In other words, it would be credit that could fuel an expansion in economic capacity that was commensurate with savings or deferred consumption. It would be, to use the cliché of our day, sustainable.
The politicians continue to listen to economists who did not see this coming, yet suggest a solution that costs obscene amounts of money, and the failure of the solution is already being seen. It would seem wiser to pay attention to those who predicted the collapse, especially when they are all singing a similar tune.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Monday quote

The Church is intolerant in principle because she believes; she is tolerant in practice because she loves.

The enemies of the Church are tolerant in principle because they do not believe; they are intolerant in practice because they do not love.

Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange (1877–1964)

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Tutankhamen disregards US traffic authorities

Is dismissal warranted on grounds of utter cluelessness?
King Tut's chariot has arrived in New York City and has finally been unveiled. Prior to being shown this morning, the chariot was almost not allowed off its own chartered plane. The transit authorities required the chariot to get its own VIN [vehicle inspection] number. The reason for this delay was that this ancient chariot was classified as a vehicle.
Tutankhamen's mummy will not be included in the exhibit, he wasn't allowed in because he didn't have a passport.

Another source confirming this idiocy.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Monday quote

Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring.

Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.

Simone Weil

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Prevenient grace and freedom

An interesting conversation was carried out in the comments of a recent post which I followed with some interest. It was my most commented post thus far.

Starwind asked Robert a couple of questions (which he asked in several ways thru-out the comments)
  1. If prevenient grace has enabled salvific "importances" (e.g. trust, obedience, humility, etc.) in the spirit as necessary to enable a faith response, but not sufficiently to prevent resistance and regardless the spirit resists and chooses disbelief based on non-salvific "importances", then what are those non-salvific "importances" upon which resistance was decided and why don't believers likewise sucumb to their insufficiencies and resist faith?
  2. If necessary prevenient grace is regardless not sufficient, from whence comes the sufficiency that chooses faith?
Here are some initial thoughts, though I think answering by analogy is more helpful to comprehension than answering thru logical syllogisms. The questions are difficult for me to give a straightforward answer to because I think they contain assumptions that the Arminian may deny.

My understanding of prevenient grace (though I have not studied it, so perhaps my perspective on prevenient grace!) is that because of our fallen nature humans would not choose God even though they have some freedom of choice. But God is turning the hearts (will and desires) of men back to himself. While this may entail an enabling on God's behalf, I see it more as a wooing. And this is not limited to some men, God woos all men while they are alive (mostly).

Thus the focus is not on how we are able to follow God, rather will we choose to follow God. So perhaps God's prevenient grace is (logically) sufficient to be able to make God following choices it is not (logically) sufficient to become saved. Similarly working legs in a live adult are sufficient to be able to run, but a not sufficient to choose to go for a run.

Because we are talking about resisting God, I do not think the term "sufficient" helpful.

When a man chooses to follow God he is responding to God, but the salvation event comes from God, not from the man, nor does the man contribute to his salvation in any meaningful manner.

So the statement "prevenient grace has enabled salvific "importances" necessary to enable a faith response, but not sufficiently to prevent resistance" mixes 2 different concepts. It implies that God's grace is measured. It suggests that more prevenient grace would mean that man is unable to resist. I claim that grace is always able to be resisted. The nature of love, and wooing is that no amount of them can prevent resistance.

To the second part of the question, the non-salvific importances. I take this to mean things that man takes into consideration for salvation but do not indeed save him. In choosing God I think many things affect man's choice. How strongly God woos him, the examples of godly people in his life, the temptation to sin.

Our desires compete between long term pleasure and short term pleasure. Sin and righteousness. Yielding to temptation depends on degree of perceived pleasure, previous yielding, our resistance, our requests to God to help us, tiredness, knowledge of consequences, past experiences. All these feed into our decision to follow God, or not. But because men love wickedness, many choose to reject God.

So what is it specifically within our spirit that means 2 men with similar inputs choose opposite paths?

I see nothing deeper than our will. Our choice to obey righteousness or wickedness. Nothing compels us. This is part of the imago Dei in us. In the same kind of way that God can make free, non-necessary choices, so can we. God can create, or not create. And he could have created a variety of worlds, all of which are good. This freedom that exists within God he imparts to us.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Monday quote

If the Pacific Ocean were red ink, we are currently in a bathysphere in the Mariana Trench somewhere. And it was our smart guys what decided to do that, you know?

Douglas Wilson

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Feelings are like horses

I found this blog post of some interest. Lizzie has 5 children, 4 of which are girls. She writes
But girls are different, and sometimes that difference can leave a person completely bewildered. When it comes to little girls and their emotions, “A”  does not necessarily cause “B.” But, when “B” is what needs to be disciplined, it can feel frustrating to have no clues as to what member of the alphabet actually caused it.

...Say it is someone else’s birthday. Say your child wants a present too. Say they start fussing about it. Imagine then that then you say, “Don’t do that. That is bad. Don’t be a fusser. Deal with it.” How did that help anyone? The child is taught that if the feeling comes over them, they have already failed. That is bad! But what am I supposed to do with it? It doesn’t just go away by itself. Little girls need help sorting out their emotions – not so that they can wallow in them, but so they can learn to control them.
Her post reminded me of similar sentiments from Dennis Prager on a source of unhappiness for women: the lack of teaching on how to control emotions. His take on the current situation
Societies and parents also always knew that it was imperative to teach girls to control their natures – in particular their predilection to be ruled by their emotions. Women who allowed their emotions to rule them not only became destructive (to members of their families first and foremost), they became unhappy women.

However, with the advent of contemporary feminism and other social trends that coincided with the rise of feminism – among them the elevation of compassion over standards, the great emphasis placed on feelings, the rejection of patriarchy and the devaluation of traditional masculine virtues (like subdued emotional expression) – female nature came to be seen as far less in need of discipline than male nature.
I am even more inclined to view Prager's thesis with merit. But the main problem in not that girls have these feelings, nor for that matter that boys are more likely to struggle with aggressive feelings; the problem comes when we deny that girls have to subdue their emotions to their wills, or if we admit this but fail to teach it. We need to acknowledge the emotion, though we can identify it as sin when it is, then encourage them to bring such feelings under the dominion of their will. They are to make sure they choose the right path regardless of what they feel like doing.

Lizzie's solution is to tell the girls that their emotions are like horses,
We tell our girls that their feelings are like horses—beautiful, spirited horses. But they are the riders. We tell them that God gave them this horse when they were born, and they will ride it their whole life. God also set us on a path on the top of a mountain together and told us to follow it. We can see for a long way—there are beautiful flowers, lakes, trees, and rainbows. (We are little girls after all!) This is how we “walk in the light as He is in the light, and have fellowship with one another.”

When our emotions act up, it is like the horse trying to jump the fence and run down into a yucky place full of spiders to get lost in the dark. A good rider knows what to do when the horse tries to bolt – you pull on the reigns! Turn the horse’s head! Get back on the path! We also tell them that God told us that if we see one of our little girls with her horse down in the mud puddle spitting at people who walk by, it is our job to haul them up, willing or unwilling, back to the path.
I think this is a useful analogy to use for girls. But whatever analogy we use, we need to realise that behaviour responding to emotion is detrimental to both the person and to others. Though allowing our will to be modelled by our emotions is the easier path in the short term, it makes life more difficult in the long term. And realise that submitting our emotions to our will can eventually modify our emotions. A broken-in horse is less likely to want to jump the fences. As Elizabeth Goudge wrote
Feeling can be compelled by action not quite as easily as action by feeling, but far more lastingly.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Does brain dysfunction cause spiritual experiences?

Barbara Hagerty investigates the conjecture that spiritual experiences originate from within the brain. She interviews someone who claims to induce spiritual experiences thru magnetic fields.
The helmet is supposed to stimulate my right temporal lobe with weak magnetic fields, and create the illusion of God in my head. Well, not God exactly, but a sensed presence, a feeling that another being is in the room.
There are several problems with religion-is-a-by-product-of-brain-disorders perspective. Not the least that Christianity is based on historical fact. The philosophical arguments for God and the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus are proof of the veracity of Christianity. But here I wish to address an error in the brain causation theory.

Interference with the brain may cause thoughts and hallucinations, through magnetic fields or direct electrical stimulation during brain surgery. This fact has absolutely no bearing on the reality of what we think and sense. This should be patently obvious and is alluded to in the article.
Does the fact that we can track spiritual feelings in our temporal lobe mean that there's nothing spiritual going on? ...Think about a man and woman who are in love,
True enough. But forget love as an analogy. Love is abstract. Choose something more concrete. (I am not saying love is not real, but its abstract quality allows people to argue that the feeling of love is real even if love itself does not exist).

Consider a tree blooming, or a dog barking, or a water slide. If we can manipulate parts of the brain so a man visually hallucinates a blossom, or hears a dog, or feels the sensation of wetness and speed; does this mean that flowers and rottweilers and theme parks do not in fact exist? Eyes, and ears, and pressure sensors in the skin produce a combination of  impulses which are transmitted along nerves and modified until they reach the cortex of the brain where we become conscious of them. So, we can bypass the sensing event but stimulate the cortex to mimic random events. How is this remotely relevant to the existence of things we otherwise perceive?

Counterfeit neither disproves the original exists, nor explains the source of the original. It shows we know how to make a copy.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Monday quote

It is terrible to contemplate how few politicians are hanged.

GK Chesterton

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Breaking the yoke

God speaks thru Jeremiah about the evil of men of Jerusalem; their injustice, their love of lies, their idolatry, and their refusal to repent. In this accusation he says,
But they all alike had broken the yoke;/
they had burst the bonds./

Therefore a lion from the forest shall strike them down;/
a wolf from the desert shall devastate them./
A leopard is watching their cities;/
everyone who goes out of them shall be torn in pieces,/
because their transgressions are many,/
their apostasies are great. (Jeremiah 5:5-6)
The men are likened to oxen working for their master. Rather than submit to farmer's yoke they have broken it off so they can do their own thing. But refusal to come under the care of the farmer means death by carnivorous beasts.

There is no complete freedom for man. He can do his duty to his master, or he can be destroyed by their enemy. When men demand freedom from the requirements of God, they are pursuing death unawares. This is not to say God's yoke is burdensome or uncomfortable (Mat 11:30). But we only have 2 choices: willing submission to the Father, or death at the hand of our enemy. There are no other options.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Douglas Wilson on: Why the KJV?

Douglas Wilson favours the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. In this video he gives his 3 reasons. They are
  1. Textual basis
  2. Translation philosophy
  3. Church ownership of the version, both translation and copyright.
The KJV uses the the received text. I favour an eclectic text such as used by NIV and ESV. The translation philosophy of the KJV is one of formal translation. ESV and NASB use this philosophy, NIV is more dynamic. I am with Wilson here.

His last point, which is his most important, is that The KJV is product of the church and is owned by the church, or rather in the public domain. Modern versions are products of academia and corporations, and the corporations may be secular using the profits for themselves. I don't see this as a complaint against corporations or profits, rather secular groups profiting from God's word. He would rather church groups feeding any profit back into church work.

Wilson would happily use a more modern version that met these requirements, and he suggests that he would prefer it.

I think there are options that would solve reason 3, but not necessarily all 3 reasons.

Firstly I am not certain that KJV gets around issue 3. Much of KJV came from Tyndale, but the translators were probably the academics of the day. I fail to see how many of the KJV translators differ from modern academics who produce Bible versions. Many of the modern academics are Christians who are committed to the church. And translation committees often use a variety of translators to minimise potential sectarian bias. The chosen translation philosophy of a particular version is likely to lead to greater differences than the fact that translators are tied to academia. As to ownership, I understand that the initial publishers had copyright in perpetuity after the KJV was produced, though this is irrelevant outside the United Kingdom now and probably of little consequence within. The KJV mainly gets around the ownership issue now by virtue of being in the public domain. I am not certain how the KJV profits were used prior to this, but modern versions do use money to offset Bible costs in the developing world.

The biggest problem facing Wilson is finding a modern version prioritising the received text. Most that do will probably be variants of the KJV. Modern versions of the KJV include: KJV 20th Twentieth Century, New KJV, Modern KJV, American KJV, KJV 2000, Updated KJV, New Cambridge Paragraph Bible, Authorized Version Update. Many of these are copyrighted and produced by a single editor.

So it would seem that Wilson's only real option is to arrange for the production of a modern version of the KJV either copyrighted by the church, or released into tho public domain.

I do wonder if the World English Bible (WEB) is a consideration? It is public domain. It follows formal equivalence. The WEB is a modified American Standard Version (ASV) which uses an eclectic text; but the WEB is also based on the majority text which has significant similarities to the received text of the KJV.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Monday quote

When the people find they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.

Benjamin Franklin

Friday, 20 August 2010

Does opinion on abortion discriminate libertarians

Abortion is a topic that polarises people. And while there is significant variation I suspect that there is an association between conservatives and opposition to abortion on one hand and liberalism and permissibility of abortion on the other.

The state needs to make a decision about whether abortion should be addressed in law. It can make it an issue and actively oppose it, or it can decline to rule on it and thus abortion becomes theoretically permissible to a pregnant woman with access to a consenting abortionist. Refusal to legislate does not intrinsically imply that abortion is considered morally neutral; it may be considered by legislators as either amoral, or immoral but legally inconsequential.

The state could take an active position for abortion by funding it, increasing access, or by coercing and forcing pregnant women to abort against their will. I am not going to discuss these latter possibilities here other than mention that most people on any side of the debate should consider positions statist.

So the question is: since forbidding abortion requires the hand of the state to actively ban it, and/ or police it; and permitting abortion is possible with no action from the state; is opposition to allowing abortion statist? And is allowing each woman to choose her preferred pregnancy option libertarian?


One could argue that those who favour women choosing are less libertarian as it coincides with their underlying preference (as per my recent post). But that is not the main problem with this issue.

The problem with this argument is that it is framed this way by people who think abortion is acceptable—morally neutral behaviour. However opposition to abortion (regardless of whether the position is correct) is based not on the desire to control what other people do with their own person and property, nor the desire to for the government to have that control. Opposition is based on the view that there is another person involved; a person that the mother does not have the right of life over. The libertarian position allows people to do what the wish with their own property (and varyingly their own person) so long that such activity does not directly negatively affect another. It is a principle of negative rights.

If the fetus is not a person, then the pro-abortion position is consistent with libertarianism. But even it that is the case, the anti-abortion position is hardly statist if the anti-abortionists do not know this. This is because their stance is not based on controlling individuals but protecting them, and protecting them from the ultimate infringement of rights—unjustifiable death. Their position is not at odds with libertarianism it is consistent with it. And if the anti-abortionists are correct about the personhood of the fetus then their libertarian fight against abortion may be one of the most important.

Until the status of the fetus is agreed to by both sides of the debate, opposition to abortion cannot be considered anti-libertarian.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Libertarian lefties?

The right-left political divide has been extended to other axes. Some place right and left views into moral and economic categories and plot them orthogonally. Others compare economic views versus degree of state oversight. Some have several axes for several positions. What has surprised me is how frequently I see traditionally left wing groups plotted as relatively libertarian and traditionally right wing groups plotted as quite statist on two-dimensional political scales (see here for an example). Surprising because conservatives (right wing) tend to argue more for limited government than liberals; and socialism seems intimately wedded to the state.

It appears that the problem relates to who is authoring and interpreting the questions as applied to various positions. Left leaning authors give greater credence to left views of liberty, and vice versa, presumably?

The reason for this seems to be that groups give themselves libertarian credence for positions that they intrinsically favour. If you think something is acceptable behaviour you view legal opposition to this behaviour as statist; but if you think something is unacceptable behaviour then you view legal opposition to such to be reasonable.

Of course this does not address the focus of libertarianism which seeks small government in general and allows for behaviours you disapprove of so long as they do not directly affect you.

Consider drug use. The libertarian position is quite liberal in allowing people to use intoxicating drugs and opposes legal prohibition. Some on the (far) left think such drug use is morally acceptable behaviour (as do some on the right no doubt). But to argue against illicit drug laws when you favour drug use is hardly libertarian. But to argue against illicit drug laws even though you think drug use is morally wrong is very libertarian.

So the questions addressing statism and libertarianism depend significantly on what you otherwise think is moral or appropriate behaviour. How much are you prepared to allow people you disagree with do without government involvement or intervention?

I think a good question to ask in teasing out the libertarian-statist axis is: How much money do you allow the citizens to keep? Do you permit people to use their own money foolishly? Even though you can think of many ways you would spend their money for their and others' benefit if it were up to you.

I am not commenting here on the wisdom of having or not having illicit drug laws, nor the centrality of drug laws to the libertarian position; I use the example illustratively.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Monday quote

Three things are necessary for the salvation of man: to know what he ought to believe; to know what he ought to desire; and to know what he ought to do.

Thomas Aquinas

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Fathers as priests

Derek Prince (1915–2003) considered fatherhood to comprise the roles of priest, prophet, and king. His take on these three roles is standard. A priest represents people before God; a prophet represents God to people; and a king governs people before God. Thus a father represents his children before God, represents God to his children, and governs his family on behalf of God.

Prince considers the priesthood duties of the father for his family to include thanksgiving, intercession, leading toward salvation, and exercising faith on behalf of his children.

What I found interesting is Prince suggests that the role of priest is foundational: men will struggle in their roles as prophet and king if they do not assume the role of priest. He claims that success as a priest generally leads to success as a prophet and king, and failure as a priest makes the other 2 roles difficult.

Though this somewhat surprised me, on reflection it does seem to make some sense. As fallen creatures we struggle to perform our roles. We represent God imperfectly to our children. We admonish, discipline, and encourage them inconsistently. To be a good prophet and king we need God's help, and to get it we go to God. We read his Word and we pray to him. And this approaching God for his help to be a better father is part of what it means to be a priest: pleading for our children and for our own selves, that God may transform our children and us into his likeness.

Though I have thought the roles of kingship and prophet important, and they are, I need to value the role of priest more highly.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Monday quote

Satan is the father of lies; thus we expect his kingdom (including modern secularism) to promote beliefs that are both false and dangerous.

John K. Reed

Friday, 6 August 2010

The meaning of sovereignty

In Tabletalk magazine, 1992 November edition, in an article titled "Before the Omnipotent's throne," Maurice Roberts defines sovereignty thus,
Sovereignty refers to that absolute predestination of God by which He has from eternity chosen some sinners to eternal life and passed by others.
Several dictionaries differ
  • Supremacy of authority or rule as exercised by a sovereign or sovereign state
  • Royal rank, authority, or power
  • Complete independence and self-government
  • Supreme and unrestricted power, as of a state
  • The position, dominion, or authority of a sovereign
  • Supreme power
  • The quality or state of being sovereign
  • The status, dominion, power, or authority of a sovereign; royalty
  • Supreme and independent power or authority in government as possessed or claimed by a state or community.
  • Rightful status, independence, or prerogative
  • Supreme power esp. over a body politic
  • Freedom from external control
The English word derives from the idea of authority and rule. KJV and ESV Bibles do not have the word "sovereignty". It occurs 7 times in the NET Bible (Psa 68:34; Isa 11:9; Jer 49:38; Dan 2:7; 7:14; Mic 4:8; Rev 17:18 NET) translating terms like mamlakah, malkuw, kicce', basileia. "Sovereign" appears 3 times  in the ESV (Act 4:24; 1Ti 6:15; Rev 6:10 ESV), each time meaning king. It does not appear in the KJV.

That the word "sovereignty" relates to kingship in English does not mean Roberts' position is scripturally incorrect, it does however mean that he has to demonstrate his position, and redefining words is not an argument.

Arminians agree that God is sovereign. He does rule over the earth as a king his subjects. Arminians do not need to be convinced that God is in fact sovereign (in the usual meaning of the word). But Arminians understand what it means for God to be sovereign in a different way. Yes, God can do whatever he wills, but does he do so in all things deterministically? Mike T explains this succinctly
The first error of Calvinism is that it defines divine sovereignty as a thing God does rather than something God possesses. God's sovereignty is a pre-existing fact. It is not possible for God's perfect will to be thwarted because there are none like him. We don't say that when a human king expresses a passing wish that a subject not do X that his sovereignty is violated when that subject does it anyway. Yet Calvinists argue precisely that would be the case if humans had the freedom to disobey God's will and act autonomously.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Inducing premature labour in cows

A press release from the Green Party of New Zealand condemns the practice of inducing calving so herds can calve together and to maximise milking times. TVNZ News reports
Dairy farmers deliberately birth thousands of calves prematurely each year in a practice known as "inducing". The vet gives the cows two injections, so their calves will be born 8-12 weeks premature. It's done to get all cows in a herd to calve at the same time, and produce milk earlier. It means many calves are born dead, but some are born still alive and have to be euthanised.

...The issue has become an ethical dilemma for New Zealand's $6 billion dairy industry, with approximately 200,000 cows induced in New Zealand each year. Farmers say it's a valuable management tool, but are divided on its use.
The Green Party calls for banning of the practice
Dairy farmers in New Zealand routinely inject cows in order that calves are born – dead or alive – months early. This practice is used so that milking can start earlier.

“This inhumane and cruel practice could put our international dairying reputation at risk,” said Ms Kedgley.

...“Under the Veterinary Code, vets have a specific duty to protect animals and alleviate their suffering.

“By dispensing drugs that allow induction to take place for economic rather than animal welfare reasons, vets are deliberately inflicting suffering on healthy animals.

“This surely is a breach of their code.”
Here is a description of the technique; why and how it is done. It is used maintain seasonal patterns for future calving.

Interestingly the Green Party supports induced abortion in pregnant women, and as part of their women's health policy promote increased access to abortion. Women's Policy point 6.26 states the Green Party will
Review abortion services to ensure equity of access for women throughout New Zealand.
Elsewhere on the website Kedgley speaks approvingly of the battle to legalise abortion.

I recognise that a large number of secularly minded people approve of abortion. But approving human abortion for the convenience of the mother while at the same time opposed aborting and euthanasing (newborn) calves for the convenience of the farmer is not just morally confused, it is morally corrupt. Of course opposition to such practice reveals Green ideology.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Monday quote

When the skies are sunny and the ocean is flat, everyone is a fair sailor. It is the storm that tests you.

Douglas Wilson

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Determinism and the existence of sin

Arminians frequently argue that (exhaustive) determinism implies that God is the author of sin. The argument being that if God causes every event including the actions of sinful men the God is behind such actions and is culpable. Although the reasoning that the instigator of an action is responsible for such action is sound, note David murdering Uriah the Hittite; that God is the author of sin is less immediately apparent.

Moral restrictions that apply to man do not automatically apply to God. God is allowed to remove the life of men at his discretion, for man to do so is considered murder. Therefore one could argue that causing other men to sin would be sinful for man, but not for God. In fact one could argue that it is impossible for God to sin because by definition God actions are not sinful.

I agree with the proposition that everything God does is good. Not that it is good because God does it, but because it is in the nature of God to be righteous and everything he does is consistent with this nature. But I wish to approach this problem from a different perspective.

Let us accepting that God cannot sin (for whatever reason). The issue with determinism is that it makes God the cause and source of every action including those actions we term sin. But determinism also makes the intermediate agents non-culpable. Man can hardly be responsible, let alone guilty for that which he does at the exhaustive, non-resistible control of another. A gun is hardly to blame for the actions of the soldier. I don't see how this is changes if the gun is given consciousness.

This leaves us with God being the author of all activity, man the author of none.

But the Bible states that there is such a thing as sin. It frequently warns us to reject sinful actions. That sin is real is not in doubt for those who agree with Scripture. But if God cannot sin, and determinism means that man is not culpable then we cannot resolve the dilemma.
  1. The Bible says that sin exists.
  2. God cannot sin
  3. Therefore men must sin
  4. The Bible teaches determinism
  5. But determinism implies that man is not culpable for sin
These cannot all be true. The question is which statement should we reject? Arminians would argue #4, as they do not think this is the case. Calvinists would argue #5 but this is logically and biblically untenable.

If we grant that God can and is permitted to do some things that man cannot and is not, this does not resolve the problem. Even accepting the Calvinist claim that God can cause evil and not sin still leaves the determinism problem unresolved.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Monday quote

Yet even if they desire mere equality they cannot reach it. Where men are forbidden to honour a king they honour millionaires, athletes, or film-stars instead: even famous prostitutes or gangsters. For spiritual nature, like bodily nature, will be served; deny it food and it will gobble poison.

C. S. Lewis. "Equality." Present Concerns: A Compelling Collection of Timely, Journalistic Essays

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Justice relating to accidental death and property damage. Part 4

Part 1 here. Part 2 here. Part 3 here.

There are several lessons from these verses that pertain to personal property. Essentially if a man is responsible for property damage or loss then he is expected to restore or replace the property. Having responsibility demands making restitution and restitution should be to the level of loss. Criminal damage to property requires restitution above the level of loss; the owner of the property should be no worse off and a disincentive is mandatory for the criminal.

Noticeable in these examples is that intention is taken into account. Did the man know his ox gored? Did the thief sell the livestock? Did the person in possession of the livestock request it be in their care. Intent can alter whether you have to make excess restitution, full restitution, partial restitution, or no restitution.

What is important about this intention is that it is to be judged on the basis of men's actions. One is not required to look into the heart of a man and establish his motives—an assessment that is probably limited to God. Rather one establishes intention by the actions of a man. An owner of a goring ox is not identified by his animals looking menacing or having sharp horns, but having an ox with a history of goring. A thief using or selling stolen goods is identified by him having the goods in his possession, or having sold them.

This is distinct from hate crimes where underlying motive is presumed based on the activities of others, or the presumed intolerances within society. A man is judged based on the crimes of other men. The prejudice of a man is assumed without evidence of the man being prejudiced.

Related to this objective judgment of intent is a prospective approach in assessing criminal activity. An ox has a history of goring prior to the event. Not, the ox gored therefore what can we find in the history to support the likelihood of such an event. Something is bound to happen because it has happened before. Of course we know something went wrong after the event, the question is, Did we know this was likely before the event?

Justice would be well served if many of these principles identified in these passages were observed in law including establishing intention of the parties using objective measures of intent.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Monday quote

The secret of managing life is to keep the folks who can't stand you away from the folks who are undecided.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Justice relating to accidental death and property damage. Part 3

Part 1 here. Part 2 here.

The third passage concerns establishing responsibility and restitution of property when the persons concerned are not acting dishonestly.
If a man causes a field or vineyard to be grazed over, or lets his beast loose and it feeds in another man's field, he shall make restitution from the best in his own field and in his own vineyard.

If fire breaks out and catches in thorns so that the stacked grain or the standing grain or the field is consumed, he who started the fire shall make full restitution.

If a man gives to his neighbor money or goods to keep safe, and it is stolen from the man's house, then, if the thief is found, he shall pay double. If the thief is not found, the owner of the house shall come near to God to show whether or not he has put his hand to his neighbor's property. For every breach of trust, whether it is for an ox, for a donkey, for a sheep, for a cloak, or for any kind of lost thing, of which one says, ‘This is it,’ the case of both parties shall come before God. The one whom God condemns shall pay double to his neighbor.

If a man gives to his neighbor a donkey or an ox or a sheep or any beast to keep safe, and it dies or is injured or is driven away, without anyone seeing it, an oath by the LORD shall be between them both to see whether or not he has put his hand to his neighbor's property. The owner shall accept the oath, and he shall not make restitution. But if it is stolen from him, he shall make restitution to its owner. If it is torn by beasts, let him bring it as evidence. He shall not make restitution for what has been torn.

If a man borrows anything of his neighbor, and it is injured or dies, the owner not being with it, he shall make full restitution. If the owner was with it, he shall not make restitution; if it was hired, it came for its hiring fee. (Exodus 22:5-15 ESV)
Property damage due to a person's behaviour, accidental or negligent, must be restored completely. The person responsible is expected to restore at least the same level as prior to such damage. Though they may keep the damaged property as seen when an animal kills another. (Exodus 21:35-36)

When property is in the care of a person to whom it does not belong and there is property loss (or damage) responsibility, and therefore restitution, is divided up thus
  1. Owner gave goods. Theft of goods, criminal actions of a third party: possessor no obligation
  2. Owner gave goods. Theft of animals, criminal actions by third party: possessor obligation
  3. Owner gave goods. Death of animals, no criminal actions: possessor no obligation
  4. Possessor borrowed goods. Possessor obligation
  5. Possessor hired goods. Possessor obligation
The basic structure is that if you have goods in your possession at the request of the owner then you do not bear responsibility. If you have goods at your own request then you are responsible. If you hire them then you are responsible but accidental damage is covered by hiring fees.

The main exception is theft of animals. It is unclear why this should be different from other goods. Looking at the 2 sentences we have
If a man gives to his neighbor money or goods to keep safe (verse 7)

If a man gives to his neighbor a donkey or an ox or a sheep or any beast to keep safe (verse 10)
The word for "keep safe" is "shamar" which implies close guarding, not merely looking after. The NET Bible note for this passage reads
The point is that the man should have taken better care of the animal.
Thus a stolen animal implies careless supervision. If this interpretation is correct then a person is responsible because he accepted care but did not supervise in an adequate manner. The question could be asked, Why was the neighbour's animal stolen and not the carer's own livestock?

In general we have obligation for replacement of property when person requests use of another's goods but no obligation when requested to care for another's goods. With the caveats that one is expected to take good care of property, especially creatures, and that hiring fees take potential loss into consideration.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Monday quote

The main problem with pettyfogging bureaucracy is that it puts immense power in the hands of people who are constitutionally unfit for it. It is evident from early years in the school playground that some people are destined to be paper shufflers. But give them power and they become drunk with it, wielding it not only unwisely but unjustly.

Miranda Devine

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Justice relating to accidental death and property damage. Part 2

Part 1 here.

The next passage concerns restitution in cases of theft.
If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and kills it or sells it, he shall repay five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep.  If a thief is found breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no bloodguilt for him, but if the sun has risen on him, there shall be bloodguilt for him. He shall surely pay. If he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft. If the stolen beast is found alive in his possession, whether it is an ox or a donkey or a sheep, he shall pay double. (Exodus 22:1-4 ESV)
Compensation for stolen oxen is 5 fold and stolen sheep is 4 fold in the case of selling or destroying an animal, and 2 fold for keeping an animal. I make this to be
  • 1 animal for the stolen animal to restore the situation to the previous state (replace or return)
  • 1 animal as punishment for stealing
  • 2 further animals as punishment for trading in stolen livestock
  • 1 animal as punishment for loss of livelihood
A sheep provides for the farmer in terms of its meat, milk, and fleece. An ox provides in a similar way but is also a beast of burden. It is a farmer's tool, not just provision. The excess compensation reflects a greater offence been committed against the farmer. Not only does he lose provision, he loses the ability to produce.

A second animal as punishment is a deterrent. If a thief paid back solely what he stole then he benefits by gaining the items at times he is not caught. Leaving the thief worse off after stealing means that thievery leads to privation.

Further, to not force the thief to pay excess costs puts him in the same position as the man who inadvertently or negligently destroys the property of another.
If fire breaks out and catches in thorns so that the stacked grain or the standing grain or the field is consumed, he who started the fire shall make full restitution. (Exodus 22:6 ESV)
Clandestine removal of property is not to be equated with unintentional destruction of property.

An interesting situation arises here in that if a thief has sold or killed the animal he is punished more harshly. I am uncertain as to the exact reason here but will offer some speculation. Selling an animal suggests a higher level operation at play. The thief is not just stealing for himself due to laziness, his livelihood consists of trading stolen goods. He is becoming wealthy solely by the means of others' hard work, property, and in a way that leaves the owner with less wealth than he started with.

Concerning the increased punishment when stock are killed the interpretation may relate to whether such an action is meant to reflect hiding of evidence, destruction of property, or eating the animal. If the thief has eaten the animal I am uncertain why the payment is 4 fold. Eating the animal severely limits its use. A sheep provides ongoing milk and wool. A short term feast is short-sighted—the man will need to keep stealing to maintain food—and gluttonous—meat was not the mainstay of the diet, it was expensive and a luxury. In the case of the first 2 options, hiding evidence and destroying property, the man is making no use of the property, his thievery is to no end. I don't want your house but I will burn it down so that you do not have it.

What we establish from these verses is
  1. A thief cannot just return property, he must pay in excess of what he stole;
  2. It make a difference what people steal, stealing a man's method of income affects a man more than stealing his income, and needs to be punished more harshly; and
  3. It makes a difference why a thief steals, or rather what a thief does with stolen goods.
Criminal law can take all these aspects into consideration when punishing a thief.


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