Monday, 26 December 2011

Monday quote

Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.

C.S. Lewis

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Joy to the world

What grace the Father has extended to man by sending his Son to dwell among us.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:13-14)
Isaac Watts has captured the great goodness of God in this famous hymn. The whole earth groans under the curse of death; pain and sorrow rule; and one man's life restored and is restoring all things!

May all men everywhere give allegiance to the King of kings.

Joy to the world
Isaac Watts, 1674–1748

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Pagan Christmas?

Here is an interesting article by William J. Tighe on how we got December 25 as the date we celebrate our Lord's birth. It challenges the concept that Christmas is a Christianised pagan holiday.
Many Christians think that Christians celebrate Christ’s birth on December 25th because the church fathers appropriated the date of a pagan festival. Almost no one minds, except for a few groups on the fringes of American Evangelicalism, who seem to think that this makes Christmas itself a pagan festival. But it is perhaps interesting to know that the choice of December 25th is the result of attempts among the earliest Christians to figure out the date of Jesus’ birth based on calendrical calculations that had nothing to do with pagan festivals.

Rather, the pagan festival of the “Birth of the Unconquered Son” instituted by the Roman Emperor Aurelian on 25 December 274, was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Roman Christians. Thus the “pagan origins of Christmas” is a myth without historical substance.
The date of birth was connected to the date of death in this reasoning.
Greek Christians seem to have wanted to find a date equivalent to 14 Nisan in their own solar calendar, and since Nisan was the month in which the spring equinox occurred, they chose the 14th day of Artemision, the month in which the spring equinox invariably fell in their own calendar. Around A.D. 300, the Greek calendar was superseded by the Roman calendar, and since the dates of the beginnings and endings of the months in these two systems did not coincide, 14 Artemision became April 6th.

In contrast, second-century Latin Christians in Rome and North Africa appear to have desired to establish the historical date on which the Lord Jesus died. By the time of Tertullian they had concluded that he died on Friday, 25 March 29. (As an aside, I will note that this is impossible: 25 March 29 was not a Friday, and Passover Eve in A.D. 29 did not fall on a Friday and was not on March 25th, or in March at all.)

So in the East we have April 6th, in the West, March 25th. At this point, we have to introduce a belief that seems to have been widespread in Judaism at the time of Christ, but which, as it is nowhere taught in the Bible, has completely fallen from the awareness of Christians. The idea is that of the “integral age” of the great Jewish prophets: the idea that the prophets of Israel died on the same dates as their birth or conception.
With these dates assigned to Jesus' death and conception we get a birthday of December 25 in the West. I think this reasoning is fallacious in several areas, though Chrysostom deriving this date based on John the Baptist's conception is more reasonable. I think Jesus' birth was more likely to have occurred about September. Nevertheless, the article challenges the idea that this date was borrowed from a pagan holiday.

Interestingly there is some evidence that the Magi visited Jesus about December 25.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Monday quote

Logic and truth, as a matter of fact, have very little to do with each other. Logic is concerned merely with the fidelity and accuracy with which a certain process is performed, a process which can be performed with any materials, with any assumption. You can be as logical about griffins and basilisks as about sheep and pigs.... Logic, then, is not necessarily an instrument for finding truth; on the contrary, truth is necessarily an instrument for using logic—for using it, that is, for the discovery of further truth and for the profit of humanity. Briefly, you can only find truth with logic if you have already found truth without it.

G.K. Chesterton, (1874–1936)

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Classification of knowledge

Mortimer Adler
Mortimer Adler classified knowledge in the 1960s in this manner.
  1. Investigative|Synthetic|General = Operational science
  2. Investigative|Synthetic|Particular = Historical science
  3. Non-investigative|Synthetic|General = Philosophy 1st order
  4. Non-investigative|Analytic|General = Mathematics
  • Investigative (empirical) means that the tests are done on the world.
  • Non-investigative means that ideas are cognitive and common to man.
  • Synthetic means that these ideas are potentially falsifiable based on experience.
  • Analytic means that it is not falsifiable based on experience.
  • General means that the discovery is a global truth.
  • Particular means that a specific event is being described.
Why are there 4 rather than 8 categories? 3 concepts with 2 options, 23 = 8.
  1. Investigative|Synthetic|General
  2. Investigative|Synthetic|Particular
  3. Investigative|Analytic|General
  4. Investigative|Analytic|Particular
  5. Non-investigative|Synthetic|General
  6. Non-investigative|Synthetic|Particular
  7. Non-investigative|Analytic|General
  8. Non-investigative|Analytic|Particular
However, Investigative cannot be Analytic. If something is Investigative it should be falsifiable. If it is not falsifiable then investigative work is pointless, and thus it is Non-investigative. This excludes #3 and #4.

And, Non-investigative knowledge cannot be particular. If it is knowledge common to all men, then it is knowledge that is generalisable. This excludes #6 and #8.

We are left with the original 4 categories.

The interesting thing about these categories is that philosophers rate Non-investigative knowledge as more foundational than Investigative knowledge. And if one thinks about this, it makes sense. Investigative knowledge relies on the truth of Non-investigative knowledge. Scientists can see that scientific theory is subservient to mathematics. You cannot say that the theory of gravity is true unless you also hold that the mathematics which is used to describe the theory is also true.

Note that analytic knowledge is not falsifiable. This is because it is derived formally (deductively). One starts with several axioms and, assuming they are true, the rest follows. Mathematical theorems are not accepted true unless every step can be confirmed to be true. Several theories remain unresolved because a mathematician has not solved it. And once it is solved (and confirmed there are no errors) then it cannot subsequently be disproved. 2 + 3 = 5 remains true forever. No new discovery could disprove this.

Note the distinction between operational and historical science (I have previously discussed this). Operational science identifies global truths such as the conservation of energy. This has been well documented, but could potentially be disproved. Historical science will make statements about specific previous events such as when the Polynesians migrated into the Pacific. Further investigation could challenge the accepted norm (or confirm it).

So what of 1st order philosophy? Why should Non-investigative synthetic knowledge take priority?

This is because it is foundational to both science and mathematics. There are several things that man holds true that can only be described as self-evident. They seem true, and most people hold them to be true, but how does one prove them to be true?

Examples include self-identity, and the law of non-contradiction. How does one prove that
  • A = A; or
  • A ≠ ¬A
We also hold other things to be self-evidently true such as the reliability of reason, or the universality of physical laws: the idea that repeating an experiment will lead to the same result (all other things being equal and within the margin of error).

So Non-investigative knowledge is the most foundational. 1st order philosophy primarily from whence we get our axioms, and mathematics secondarily as it is deductively certain.

Investigative knowledges are less foundational. Both rely on the Non-investigative knowledges.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Monday quote

These impious Galileans feed not only their own poor, but ours as well.

Flavius Claudius Julianus (c. 330--360)

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Moon in high resolution

Arizona State and NASA have completed a high resolution topography map of the moon.
This new topographic map, from Arizona State University in Tempe, shows the surface shape and features over nearly the entire moon with a pixel scale close to 100 meters (328 feet). A single measure of elevation (one pixel) is about the size of two football fields placed side-by-side.
Improved versions are planned.

Farside of the moon

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Free ebook: The Holiness of God

Amazon currently have the Kindle Edition of The Holiness of God by R. C. Sproul for free. Okay, so I haven't read it previously, but worth adding to the electronic library for future reference.

Hat tip: Reformed Arminian Blog

Monday, 5 December 2011

Monday quote

Your child needs your love the most when they deserve it the least.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Truth versus sincerity

Often times it is claimed that error in the name of a greater good is acceptable. A variant on the end justifies the means I suppose. This is argued in many of the larger paradigms that compete for our allegiance: evolution, climate change, socialism.

Biologist Coturnix argues deceit is acceptable in the battle over evolution,
You have to bring them over to your side, gain their trust, and then hold their hands and help them step by step. And on that slow journey, which will be painful for many of them, it is OK to use some inaccuracies temporarily if they help you reach the students. If a student, like Natalie Wright who I quoted above, goes on to study biology, then he or she will unlearn the inaccuracies in time. If most of the students do not, but those cutesy examples help them accept evolution, then it is OK if they keep some of those little inaccuracies for the rest of their lives.
A more subtle comment by climate researcher David Viner about factual inaccuracies in a movie,
The film got a lot of the detail wrong, and the direction of change as well - cooling of this sort is very unlikely with global warming. But the fact that The Day After Tomorrow raises awareness about climate change must be a good thing.
And Tony Juniper said about the same movie,
Although the depiction of the science is exaggerated and at times misleading, the scale of the threat and the underlying politics are all too true.
In defence of this, people argue the issue is so important—and the issue is manifestly true—that deceit is justifiable. Some may even raise the lying-to-save-life dilemma; though forced information is a different category.

Such beliefs may also be held by Christians. Scriptural defence of the same is appealed to in Paul
Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. (Philippians 1)
However this verse does not speak of the truth or falsity of the message, it speaks of the "truth" of motivation.

The claim that is suspect is
  • Lies are acceptable if we are sincere about our beliefs
Paul in Philippians is saying
  • Truth is acceptable, even if the proclaimer is insincere about his beliefs.
It is not sincerity that matters, it is truth. And Proverbs directly contradicts the claim that sincerity is more important than truth, in fact without truth it is potentially dangerous,
It is not good to have zeal without knowledge,/
nor to be hasty and miss the way. (Proverbs 19:2 NIV)

Monday, 28 November 2011

Monday quote

If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.

George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950).

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Myths of privatisation

I am a fan of privatisation for several reasons, not the least being that I think that private companies tend to be less wasteful, more productive, and if they fail the taxpayer isn't called to bail them out, let alone continue to fund them indefinitely. I also do not think it is the government's mandate to run most companies.

Roger Kerr has a good article discussing what he considers are false beliefs held by many opposed to privatisation of public companies. These are the 8 myths he discusses:
  1. Privately owned businesses consistently outperform publicly owned businesses.
  2. Privatisation is ideological.
  3. Privatisation is needed to reduce debt.
  4. The government should own SOEs [State Owned Enterprises] because it has a lower cost of (debt) capital.
  5. SOEs were sold too cheaply.
  6. Privatisation leads to more foreign control over New Zealand.
  7. The government loses financially from privatisation because it forgoes dividends.
  8. Air New Zealand is a good model for the government’s partial privatisation approach.
Myth 2 is interesting as even proponents of privatisation may think this. Kerr argues it is in fact pragmatic.
Myth #2 Privatisation is ideological. To the contrary, it is pragmatic: it (generally) works. When the Thatcher government embarked on privatisation in the 1980s, some regarded it as a leap of faith. It was not a popular policy to advance but was supported when the benefits became clear.

As a British minister said, “facts overtook the debate.”

The genuinely ideological argument is the reverse: the Marxist attachment to “public ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange.”
Of course it could be both. An ideal system can be the best system if the underlying ideology is basically correct.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Monday quote

They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790).

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Liberty and community

Libertarians are sometimes criticised that their position favours individualism. For those that promote individualism this is not seen as a downfall; but the complaint, if true, is a reasonable one to make to a Christian libertarian. Christianity teaches the importance of community. The early Christians shared their property, and Christendom views itself communally, as a city on a hill, we talk of the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God. We are bondslaves to our master Jesus. Individuals are metaphorically stones in a temple. The goal of man is to serve God, not himself.

I agree that community is important to Christianity, how could it be other if our greatest commands are to love? One can speak to the nature of community which is important and interacts with the political component. Christian community is a community made up of very unique and distinct individuals. Community does not mean we are less ourselves, rather we are more ourselves. Like a family where each individual contributes something different. But I do not wish to address this issue in detail. Rather the question of whether libertarianism promotes individualism, and is it a negative philosophy for those who promote community?

Pragmatically it is not obvious that libertarianism is detrimental. Looking at our increasingly socialised political structures in the West, we are also becoming increasingly individualistic. That is, our politics are more socialist over the decades and our citizens are more individualistic. Certainly there appears to be some correlation, even if the reasons are a little more complex. I note with some irony the complaints about lack of community coming from socialists who argue the solution is more socialism.

It is possible that individualists can continue to thrive in a libertarian environment? Certainly a Christian should be cautious about promoting laws that are detrimental to community—community as defined by God, not by the secularists—but that is the issue, is it not? Are we not to form our own communities? And the law should be such that it does not interfere with this?

Communities are formed by individuals, by common location or common cause. They are not formed by governments. Attempts by governments to do so fail because laws fail to create community. Legal constructs cannot facilitate friendship. Further, laws frequently inhibit the desires and intents of community by placing unnecessary restrictions on them. Whereas laws that are restricted to dealing with disputes over person and property—that is they prevent and punish actions that are anti-communal: theft, murder, rape—help prevent the fracturing of society.

Laws that punish people who damage other people, damage property, or fail to keep promises that they have agreed to with others, are good in that they address issues of justice, but coincidentally punish those who are engaging in anti-community activities. When government otherwise leaves people alone then citizens can form their own community structures, or not, as they see fit. This is a libertarian position. Certainly libertarian government does not create community, but no government action can. People form communities, and I maintain a libertarian position is more favourable to forming and maintaining functional communities.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Monday quote

Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.

George Washington (1732–1799)

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Bible reading level

Below are listed several Bible versions and their reading age level.

The King James VersionKJV19
Young's Literal TranslationYLT18
The American Standard VersionASV17
Douay Rheims DR17
The New American Standard Bible, 1977NASB16
The Amplified BibleAmp16
The Revised Standard VersionRSV16
The New American Standard Bible, 1995 UpdateNASB95, NASU15
The New Revised Standard Version NRSV15
The English Standard VersionESV15
The Weymouth New Testament15
The Philips New Testament14
The New English Bible NEB13
The New Jerusalem BibleNJB13
The New King James VersionNKJV13
The New International VersionNIV13
Today's New International VersionTNIV13
The Holman Christian Standard BibleHCSB13
The Living BibleLB13
The Jewish New Testament13
The World English Bible WEB12
The New American BibleNAB12
The Common English Bible CEB12
Today's English VersionTEV12
The New English Translation NET12
The New Living TranslationNLT11
The Revised English BibleREB11
The Message10
God's WordGW10
The Contemporary English Version CEV10
The New Century VersionNCV9
The New International Reader's VersionNIrV8
International Children's BibleICB8
The Bible in Basic EnglishBBE?

This list was compiled from a range of sites: here, here, here, here, and here. I also ran Genesis 1 in a few versions thru a Flesch-Kincaid reading calculator (which assesses words and syllables per sentence but not complexity of syntax). I have given the reading age level rather than the grade/ year level as the latter differ thru-out English speaking countries. Age level is for English as first language, and I am aware that established reading levels may underestimate true average ability when children are taught well.

Because this list was compiled from several sources, and estimated reading level is somewhat subjective, various Bibles may be rated mildly incorrectly compared to others. For example the ICB became the NCV and I am not certain how much they differ (if at all) and whether they warrant different age levels.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Monday quote

‎I will put down all apparent inconsistencies in the Bible to my own ignorance.

John Newton (1725–1807).

Monday, 31 October 2011

Monday quote

The truly wise man is he who always believes the Bible against the opinion of any man.

R. A. Torrey (1856–1928)

Monday, 24 October 2011

Monday quote

Through all of this of course, underlying it is his grace. None of us ever earn his goodwill by the fact we live by his word. But although that is true, none of us can live in his grace unless we live by his word.

Trevor Geddes

Monday, 17 October 2011

Monday quote

The bigger the government, the less the citizens do for one another. If the state will take care of me and my neighbors, why should I?

Dennis Prager

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Proof-texting in cyberspace

Allen and Swain write on the historical use of proof-texting. While proof-texting is maligned by some, the Bible uses proof-texts, and in ways that some would fault non-biblical writers for doing the same. Good reasons exist for the way biblical authors quoted:
if we are to appreciate the way Scripture uses Scripture to prove a doctrinal point, then we must appreciate the larger hermeneutical frameworks within which citations are employed, the original (historical and literary) contexts within which proof-texts are found, and we must also possess a certain canonical sensitivity to how biblical motifs and themes unfold in the history of redemption, and, perhaps most importantly, how Christ is understood to be the climax of that unfolding historical development.
They distinguish between the citation techniques and the hermeneutical considerations at play: the quote may not be the (full) explanation. In other writings, reference to Scripture may be shorthand to not only the scriptural context, but commentaries written by the author and even others on the passage cited. Consider Aquinas,
The quotation of a biblical passage in the Summa [Theologiae] is meant to point the reader to a commentary written by Thomas or to an exegetical tradition of which he and the intelligent reader would be aware.

The Summa covers a wider terrain than any one biblical commentary—in fact, it could be characterized as a whole-Bible commentary with its very structure being shaped by what we now call “biblical theology.” The particular biblical commentaries contain more detailed expositions of pertinent passages that are merely referenced offhand or quoted briefly in the Summa. For example, he discusses the equality of power of the Father and of the Son in two types of texts (ST 1a.42.6 and in his Commentary on John 5:19). In the article in the ST, Thomas mentions a number of other texts in John’s Gospel (5:20; 5:30; 14:31), and he makes reference to no patristic sources. When you trace those references or quotations to his commentary, however, you see extended analysis of a deep patristic tradition.
A proof-text is, in modern parlance, a hypertext.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Monday quote

In the end, the money has run out—there are just not enough taxes [and] revenues to feed government's rapacious appetite to spend money satiating voters' indulgence, envy and greed.

John Tertullian and Contra Celsum

Sunday, 9 October 2011

If your right hand causes you to sin

I was teaching the pre-teens on Bible genre. Explaining how the Bible is composed of various writing styles and how this has an effect on interpretation. An example that came up was the talion in the Torah compared with Jesus telling us to cut off our own hands in the gospels. In the former situation a legal text is meant to be understood by the nature of legal genre to be literal—the possibility of fines notwithstanding.
Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. (Deuteronomy 19:21 ESV)
Jesus' words are thought by many to be hyperbolic.
And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. (Matthew 5:30 ESV)
That it is hyperbolic can be noted by the fact that one does not sin because of his hand, we sin from our mind. And even if we did remove our right hand for stealing, what is to stop us stealing with our left?

The children understood all this, but what is particularly interesting is Jesus' contrast here. Why did he speak like this?

Jesus is teaching about the Mosaic Law. And the Law stipulates and limits punishments that were given for criminal offences. What Jesus does is turn the focus from what we demand occurs to others who have wronged us to what we must do to stop wronging others and God. Paraphrasing:
You know that if another (deliberately) maims someone's hand he is to have his hand maimed; well if you are sinning with your hand cut your own hand off. You remove a man's eye for causing blindness; remove your own eye when you sin with it.
Jesus is using what they do know about the Law to make them realise their own shortcomings. They know about cutting off the hands and plucking out the eyes of criminals, Jesus forces them to focus on how they were using their own hands and eyes.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Monday quote

There are a dozen views about everything until you know the answer. Then there is never more than one.

C. S. Lewis

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Douglas Wilson on mercy

This sermon shows why I enjoy reading Douglas Wilson's writing. A good mix of sound theology, humour, and wordsmithing.

Consider the contrasts used in the introduction
David seeks to get away from Saul, but he cannot get away from his anointing. He can evade Saul, but he cannot evade the fact that a new Israel is going to start to form around him. David goes into the wilderness and finds a throne. Saul goes to his throne and finds a wilderness.
And his summary of the text,
And so David came to be afraid of Achish (v. 12), and so pretended to be insane (v. 13). And Achish was fooled (v. 14), and delivers one of the great lines of Scripture (v. 15).
Incidentally the verse is
Do I lack madmen, that you have brought this fellow to behave as a madman in my presence? Shall this fellow come into my house?

Here he deals with the dilemma of lying,
If you were standing at a crossroads, and a screaming woman ran by, and then about five minutes later, a lunatic with furious eyes and an axe ran up, demanding to know “which way she went,” I trust that all of you here would lie like a Christian. 
And here, childhood discipline,
Kids, if your mom asks if you made your bed, and you reply that you did (even though you did not), you cannot fix it by appealing to the Hebrew midwives, or to the faithful deception that Rahab used. You should get swats a couple times—once for the lie, and the other time for the faulty hermeneutic.
Finishing with a fine explanation of mercy triumping over justice,
The second is the authority of mercy. Mercy does not negate authority; mercy has authority.

Do not confuse this. Mercy is not what happens when your standards fall apart. Laziness in discipline is not mercy. Mercy is what happens when your standards are outranked. Mercy stands taller than justice.
All in all an enjoyable and educational read.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Monday quote

The error of the necessitarians on this subject is, they put the effect for the cause, and the cause for the effect. They make the foreknowledge the cause of the event, whereas the event is the cause of the foreknowledge.

Thomas Ralston

Monday, 19 September 2011

Monday quote

Christian values praise voluntary self-sacrifice for the benefit of other people, because even if we die in the process, the duration and quality of our eternal reward greatly exceeds the "light and momentary afflictions" of this present life. Pagan ethics praise coerced sacrifice from [other] people.

Tom Pittman

Sunday, 18 September 2011

A rich man in Hades

There is some dispute concerning the story of Lazarus and the rich man. Does it represent a real event, or is it a parable.

After healing a man on the Sabbath day Jesus tells two parables. They are:
  • The Parable of the Wedding Feast; and
  • The Parable of the Great Banquet.
Following this Jesus talks about counting the cost of discipleship illustrating it with an example of kings planning for battle then noting that salt must keep its savour. Then he tells 4 further parables:
  • The Parable of the Lost Sheep;
  • The Parable of the Lost Coin;
  • The Parable of the Prodigal Son;
  • The Parable of the Dishonest Manager.
The Pharisees heard these parables and ridiculed Jesus. Why? Luke states that the Pharisees loved money, and the parables emphasised God's love of people more than money. The parable of the lost son was especially costly for the the father yet he welcomes back the son. And at the end of the parable of the dishonest manager Jesus tells people to use unrighteous wealth to gain friends. Jesus also says that faithfulness in little things like money is rewarded with trust in more important things. Then he adds that one cannot serve God and money.

Jesus then rebukes the Pharisees saying that it is the opinion of God that matters, not the opinion of man, and he tells them that God knows their hearts! He says that the Law and prophets were until the time of John, after which the good news is to be preached; which is what Jesus himself is doing. Yet the Law of the God is not void.

The Pharisees ridicule Jesus for his parables and this is Jesus' response; followed by a discussion about divorce and the story of Lazarus and Dives. As such, these passages may well relate to Jesus' rebuke. The first part suggests that some of the Pharisees were treating divorce lightly when their actions were adulterous—heaven and earth will disappear before God's Law is void. The next story could also be a rebuke.
There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’ (Luke 16:19-31 ESV)
If this is a parable, it is the only one where a person is given a name. If it is a true story, it is possible the rich man and Lazarus were known to the hearers. If it was meant as an allegory or fable then the characters are representative.

Lazarus is poor and unwell.

The rich man is unnamed. He is wealthy. He dresses well; purple clothing may represent royalty/ rulership. He eats well. He has 5 brothers. And there may also be a subtle hint that his brothers deny the resurrection of the body, a position held by Sadducees.

Lazarus may just be a convenient name, though there is another Lazarus, a brother of Mary and Martha, who subsequent to this story dies and is resurrected. We learn that Mary poured perfume on Jesus' feet (John 12:3). This story is also told in Matthew 26 and Mark 14. It is probably the same event but the woman's name is not given. They are in the house of Simon the Leper. So Lazarus may have known Simon, or Simon may be Lazarus' name.

The rich man may well be Caiaphas. Caiaphas was the son-in-law of Annas. Annas was the high priest some years earlier circa 5 AD. He was removed from office by the Romans. It is thought that he retained some power. Luke calls Annas the high priest (Luk 3:2; Act 4:6).

Josephus tells us that Annas had 5 sons who served as high priests.
Ananus proved a most fortunate man; for he had five sons who had all performed the office of a high priest to God, and who had himself enjoyed that dignity a long time formerly, which had never happened to any other of our high priests. (Antiquities of the Jews, 20.9.1).
Their names were:
  • Eleazar
  • Jonathan
  • Theophilus
  • Ananus
  • Matthias
Caiaphas had married Annas' daughter and served as high priest between Eleazar and Jonathan, during the time of this parable and Jesus' crucifixion. Josephus also states that Ananus (the younger) belonged to the Sadducee sect (Antiquities of the Jews, 20.9.1).

Caiaphas fits the position of the rich man in this story: he is wealthy, he has 5 brothers-in-law, he is part of the ruling class (dressed in purple), and at least one of his brothers-in-law probably denies the resurrection.

Jesus told parables against the Pharisees elsewhere (Luk 18:10), and the Pharisees were even aware of this (Mat 21:45).

Interestingly, when Jesus had resurrected Lazarus the chief priests and the Pharisees plot to kill Jesus (John 11:47-53) and Lazarus (John 12:10). They did not take to heart Jesus' earlier story. I think the subsequent resurrection of Lazarus adds credence to the idea that the rich man is Caiaphas. It is a warning to him—one he had not taken by that time.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Monday quote

If we become exclusively preoccupied with answering the questions people are asking, we may overlook the fact that they often ask the wrong questions and need to be helped to ask the right ones.

John Stott (1921–2011), Between Two Worlds.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Drawn by the Father

John 6:44 is viewed by many to teach that God elects specific men to salvation. It is favoured by Calvinists as supporting their theology. While a Calvinist interpretation can be maintained, this interpretation does not seem to fit with several other passages where we are commanded to choose service to God. Further the entire pericope offers other challenges in interpretation which may indicate that further considerations need to be given to understanding this passage.

John 6:43–44 in the ESV states
Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
There is discussion on what the word "draws" means. I do not intend to comment on this in depth. From what I currently understand, the view that "drawing" is something that originates in the subject. This seems reasonable for inanimate objects, especially given that they are unable to actively resist such drawing. It may not be that the same meaning is intrinsic to objects of will. In English a magnetic draws iron filings irresistibly, but a person draws another person resistibly. The same word is understood to be deterministic or non-deterministic depending on the ability of the object to resist. Whether ηελκυο can be understood the same way I cannot answer.

But I wish to suggest an alternative possibility in interpretation here.

Starting with the larger context before focusing on the smaller; what is striking in John is how often Jesus refers to God the Father. Much of the book involves Jesus explaining his identity in the Father. The word "father" occurs over 100 times in John, most of which refers to God. At the beginning of John we see Jesus' intimate relationship with the Father (John 1:14,18). Jesus is upset with how his Father's house is treated (John 2:16). Later we learn that the Father has given all things to the Son,
For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:34-36)
Then Jesus informs the Samaritan woman that it is not important where one's fathers worshipped, rather that one worships the Father (John 4:21-24).

Jesus is opposed by the Jewish leaders for calling God his Father thus identifying himself with God (John 5:17-18). Jesus explains that he only does what the Father does, that the Father loves the Son, that the Father reveals to the Son what he himself is doing.

There is a strong emphasis on both the fatherhood of God and the relationship of the Father with the Son. Later the Jews try to stone Jesus associating himself with God the Father (John 10).

After feeding the crowds bread Jesus says that he is the true bread (John 6). Then Jesus gives a long speech about who he is. Jesus says the following. Red represents Jesus, blue the Father.
  • Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.
  • This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent." 
  • Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.
  • I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 
  • All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 
  • For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.
  • For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.
  • Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
  • It is written in the Prophets, 'And they will all be taught by God.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me
  • not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.
  • I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.
  • Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.
  • Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.
  • This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever."
  • Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.
  • But there are some of you who do not believe. This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.
Jesus draws parallels between manna and himself. The Father gave manna to sustain the Israelites in the desert, ie. to give them life; but the Father gives eternal life thru Jesus who is the true bread.

Jesus is saying that if you can see the Father in his provision of the bread, you should recognise Jesus because he is the greater bread.

In this context we see that those who recognise who Jesus is do so because they already know the Father. If they do not recognise Jesus, they do not really know the Father. They may know the story about the manna in the desert, but this story points to Jesus; if they really know the Father who sent manna they will see the true manna.

If we grasp this is the focus of Jesus' discourse here, we can see that when Jesus says that the Father draws men to Jesus, the Father is drawing those who already know him (God who provided the manna) to Jesus. It is not so much that the Father is drawing people who don't know God to Jesus; he is drawing those who know him to meet his Son.

People are not outside being drawn irresistibly inside, they are inside and gaining the Son.

This makes sense of the last line (v. 64). They do not believe and therefore God does not draw them to the Son.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Monday quote

The Christian world-view, or, to use the technical term, the truth, does not dispute that empirical facts are empirical facts any more than it disputes that the outside skin of a red apple is red.

What it disputes is that there is no meat and no core to the apple, and no seeds that bring forth more life: Christianity disputes that the shallow surface appearance is all the reality that there is.

John C. Wright

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Seeing our own limitations

Previously I have written that I do not think that we can have a too high a view of Scripture. Emulating Jesus' view of Scripture should be our goal. This does not mean that we worship the Bible—we worship God; yet we should consider that what the Bible says is what God says. For those who do hold the Bible in high regard, the temptation to inappropriate veneration of the Bible is probably not the greatest concern, and it may not even be that common. What is more likely to trouble scriptural infallibilists and inerrantists is their lack of clarity on their own limitations. Limitations in interpreting what the Bible does actually mean; lack of awareness of their cultural biases; failure to grasp context, especially hidden context; and difficulty in applying Scripture to life circumstances.

Related to this last point, we may not just lack insight into general application, but to the specifics of other people's situations. Dale Ralph Davis makes an astute observation,
Those who hold a high view of the Bible's authority sometimes hold a high view of their own ability to assess people's circumstances and to prescribe solutions. (The Word Became Fresh: How to Preach from Old Testament Narrative Texts, p. 108)
We can have a high view of Scripture without having a high view of our ability to interpret it, or our ability to find correct application of Scripture. Further, we may not know enough about the situations of others to assess rightly. Davis makes his comments in the context of Elisha not having prophetic knowledge of the Shunummite woman's situation (2 Kings 4). Likewise, Davis suggests, we must be aware of our own limitations,
Like Elisha, where is the shame in admitting the Lord has not given us light on a matter and that we are reduced to begging him in prayer?
This is not to say that everyone can claim to have extenuating circumstances which rendors them immune to scriptural admonition; rather this is addressed to those who would give advice—that they may choose humility.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Monday quote

Paul mentions that we are the Temple of the Holy Spirit. That phrase, lifted out of context, has been used to urge Christians to refrain from refined sugar, sedentary lifestyles, and, of course, big stinky cigars. But Paul says specifically he is only talking about sexual sin here. Other sins are outside the body, but fornication is not. This would include chopping a finger off with an axe. Poor stewardship, bad idea, and all that, but it is not a defilement of the Temple. That is accomplished through fornication.

Douglas Wilson. Fidelity.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

American civic liberties quiz

I took the [American] Civic Literacy Exam. 33 questions on a range of issues concerning history, politics and economics.

Most of the questions were reasonable, though a couple may have been disputed based on theory versus fact. Definitions are reasonable, as are historical facts; but observations in line with theory may be disputable. For example,
International trade and specialization most often lead to which of the following?
  • an increase in a nation’s productivity
  • a decrease in a nation’s economic growth in the long term
  • an increase in a nation’s import tariffs
  • a decrease in a nation’s standard of living
While I agree with the answer, and it could be argued that observations have confirmed this, economists of other schools may dispute it.

The average result was 49%, with US college educators (university lecturers) averaging 55%. I managed 88% (29/33) despite its heavy US focus. This seems a little concerning for US education.

My incorrect answers were:
  • What part of the [US] government has the power to declare war?
  • What was the main issue in the debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas in 1858?
  • Which of the following fiscal policy combinations has the federal government most often followed to stimulate economic activity when the economy is in a severe recession?
  • If taxes equal government spending, then:
I am not convinced that my answer to the taxes question was incorrect. The question is
If taxes equal government spending, then:
  1. government debt is zero
  2. printing money no longer causes inflation
  3. government is not helping anybody
  4. tax per person equals government spending per person on average
  5. tax loopholes and special-interest spending are absent
I answered 1, zero debt. I was assuming that the government had no debt prior to this. And #1 seems reasonable unless the government has a significant other incomes (such as mines). 2 is incorrect. 3 might happen to be true, but not because of the question. 4 is supposedly correct. 5 is incorrect.

Option 4 doesn't seem to be correct; again if the government has other incomes, but also taxes from companies means that government spending per person may differ from tax per person. I still think (assuming no debt prior) that answer 1 is better, though I am happy to be corrected.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Monday quote

If the anthropological data suggest something short of the ideal, that is not because nothing is universal, but because two universals are in conflict: universal moral knowledge and universal desire to evade it. The first one we owe to our creation. The second we owe to our fall.

J. Budziszewski

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Legitimate textual source questions

I came across a comment that suggested that source criticism is acceptable for Christians when dealing with the gospels but not the Pentateuch. Presumably that means discussing how Luke and Matthew are dependent on Mark is permitted but finding the Elohist and Priestly divisions of Exodus is not? I assumed that this remark was reflecting a cynicism on the limitations, and even hypocrisy, of biblical critique within Christendom (or perhaps evangelicalism).

I can see why such an idea may come from but I believe it is unjustified. Such comments imply that non-Christian criticism is less biased. This is not the case however.

The source question is somewhat apparent in the gospels. They are called the synoptic gospels. It is evident to readers that Matthew, Mark, and Luke are similar in many ways and, while distinct, together they are moderately different from John. Thus a source question arises naturally from the text. As it does with Jude and 2 Peter, or Chronicles and Kings. This type of source question is considered legitimate in both the Old and New Testaments.

The Pentateuch is not comparable to this situation. While there is overlap amongst the books, especially with Deuteronomy; the source debate is not about parallel texts in the Torah, it is about deconstructing the text.

It is not entirely true that source criticism is not "allowed" here. Some conservative scholars think that Moses compiled Genesis largely from extant texts that antedated him. They base this conclusion on the toledoth theory.

So one reason is that source differs between the 2 texts. One looks to the source of similarities between parallel texts, the other looks to the source of a text assumed to be disparate. Another significant reason is that many Christians reject the suppositions of persons who originated the theory. People that were antagonistic to both God and Scripture. This is especially warranted given that several of their assumptions were incorrect: such as the belief writing had not been invented by the time of Moses. Frankly, if their foundations are absent then their edifice is broken and will remain so despite attempts to repair it.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Monday quote

Unions are the evil, stupid, parasitic cousin of government. They possess most of the negative attributes with none of the positive ones.

Vox Day

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Bookstores on the decline

An Australian politician gets in trouble predicting the decline of bookshops.
I think in five years, other than a few specialist booksellers in capital cities we will not see a bookstore, they will cease to exist.
Mr Sherry may have lacked some prudence here? Though earlier this year an Australian bookstore collapsed and blamed online selling.
The owners of Angus & Robertson and Borders in Australia, REDgroup Retail, collapsed in February with A$118 million ($153 million) in debt, blaming online competition as one reason for the failure
And it it is not just the advent of online buying which affects other retail sectors, but electronic formats including both electronic books and online information sources.

Perhaps his advice could have been welcomed.
Senator Sherry made the comments at a launch of the Driving Business Online campaign, a private sector initiative designed to encourage small business owners to boost their online presence.
It is not like his comments will change the behaviour of Australian buyers. But people seem more attuned to perceived insults than facing reality.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

What some people do in their kitchen

A Swedish man who was arrested after trying to split atoms in his kitchen said he was only doing it as a hobby.

Richard Handl told The Associated Press that he had the radioactive elements radium, americium and uranium in his apartment in southern Sweden when police showed up and arrested him on charges of unauthorized possession of nuclear material.

The 31-year-old Handl said he had tried for months to set up a nuclear reactor at home and kept a blog about his experiments, describing how he created a small meltdown on his stove.

Amusing. Though I remember a story about an American performing fusion in his house.

So he has second thoughts and asks advice from Sweden's Radiation Authority. Couldn't an answer suffice, rather than calling the police?

Monday, 8 August 2011

Monday quote

The boom plants the seeds for its future destruction.

John Papola and Russ Roberts

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Christians ahead of the technology curve

I was aware the Bible played a significant role in the development of the book format—the change from scrolls to spine and pages. But apparently Christians were at the forefront of using the newly invented codex for several centuries.
The codex was invented in the late first century AD. Christians may not have invented it, but they were the first ones to popularize it. For the first five centuries AD, eighty percent of all Christian books were on a codex while only twenty percent of all non-Christian books were written on a codex. For the first time in Christian history, followers of Christ were ahead of the technological curve!
Christians were not just taking advantage of advancing technology for the sake of evangelism, but for their own sake.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Monday quote

Did you know they adjust the data? Sometimes 50 years after it was recorded. That's right, and the 1970s kept warming for the next 30 years.

Joanne Nova

Friday, 29 July 2011

The meaning of "expanse" in Genesis 1. Part 6

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5.

BioLogos have an article on the firmament of Genesis 1, "The Firmament of Genesis 1 is Solid but That’s Not the Point", by Peter Enns. He begins by twice asserting that biblical scholars agree that the expanse (raqiya`) is solid and appeals to observation of the horizon and the assumption ancients thought the world flat.
Ancient Israelites “saw” this barrier when they looked up. There were no telescopes, space exploration, or means of testing the atmosphere. They relied on what their senses told them. Even today, looking up at a clear sky in open country, the sky seems to “begin” at the horizons and reaches up far above. Ancient Israelites and others in that part of the world assumed the world was flat, and so it looked like the earth is covered by a dome, and the “blue sky” is the “water above” held back by the raqia
Really? Clouds clearly move across the sky, as does the sun and moon, and even stars. Does the sky really look solid, or is solidity invoked by some cultures to explain rain? Enns does not mention that a curved horizon could lead observers to think the earth spherical, especially combined with observing lunar eclipses.

He goes on to discuss word meanings.
The translation “firmament” (i.e., firm) gets across this idea of a solid structure.
The comment on "firmament" is unhelpful because, although it does carry the idea of firmness, he implies by using the word "translation" in the above sentence that raqiya` means firm when the etymology of "firmament "is actually via Latin.
Biblical scholars agree on this understanding of raqia. For some Christians, however, this is troubling. How can the Bible, which is the inspired, revealed word of God, contain such an inaccurate piece of ancient nonsense? Hence, some invest a lot of time and energy to show that the raqia is not solid but more like the atmosphere. Often, the word “expanse” is the preferred translation because it does not necessarily imply something solid.
We will note here that Young's Literal Translation published in 1898 uses the word "expanse". And "expanse" is considered more accurate given that raqiya` is more likely related to "spread out" than it is to "solidity".
The second problem is a much larger theological issue, but is actually more foundational. Regardless of what one thinks of the raqia, why would anyone assume that the ancient cosmology in Genesis could be expected to be in harmony with modern science in the first place?
Well it may not be in harmony with modern science, by why can it not be in harmony with the truth? If the atmosphere is how it is, why can Scripture and science not both be in harmony with this? Is it somehow better to have Scripture not concordant with the way things are? Modern science understands pregnancy in greater detail than understood by the ancients. Following Enns here it would seem that an inaccurate understanding of the virgin birth by the ancients be more likely to be recorded than an accurate one. But the ancients knew that virgin conceptions were impossible, even if they did not understand activation. Why cannot the ancients appreciate a non-solid expanse even if they did not understand partial pressures of gases, absolute temperatures, and triple points? Every observable can be considered a fact of science. Should every observation in Scripture be expected to be at odds with reality because it can also be described by modern science?

As a matter of clarification, I don't think that Genesis is in harmony with several scientific cosmologies.
Genesis and modern science are neither enemies nor friends, but two different ways of describing the world according to the means available to the people living at these different times. To insist that the description of the sky in Genesis 1 must conform to contemporary scientific is a big theological problem. It is important to remember that God always speaks in ways that people can actually understand. In the ancient world, people held certain views about the world around them.
There is some truth to this latter comment, God may talk in ways that men understand (though not always). An important distinction here is that simplification is not the same as falsity. As Sarfati has often said
A mother might tell her four-year-old ‘you grew inside my tummy’—this is not false, but language simplified to the child’s level (‘tummy’ as a broad term for the abdominal region, but not as specific as ‘uterus’). Conversely, ‘the stork brought you’ is an outright error.
The greater problem here, however, is separating knowledge into scientific and biblical. Yes they are distinct, but by nature of the way they arrive at knowledge. They are epistemologically distinct. But that does not mean they speak to different topics. They may make competing claims on the nature of reality and real events of history. To have an account in the Bible that corresponds generally to the way things actually are, even if that coincides with contemporary science, is hardly a theological problem.

Enns then lays out 7 reasons for solidity of the expanse:
  1. The other cosmologies from the ancient world depict some solid structure in the sky. The most natural explanation of the raqia is that it also reflects this understanding. There is no indication that Genesis is a novel description of the sky;
  2. Virtually every description of raqia from antiquity to the Renaissance depicts it as solid. The non-solid interpretation of raqia is a novelty;
  3. According to the flood story in Gen 7:11 and 8:2, the waters above were held back only to be released through the “floodgates of the heavens” (literally, “lattice windows”);
  4. Other Old Testament passages are consistent with the raqia being solid (Ezekiel 1:22; Job 37:18; Psalm 148:4);
  5. According to Gen 1:20, the birds fly in front of the raqia (in the air), not in the raqia;
  6. The noun raqia is derived form the verb that means to beat out or stamp out, as in hammering metal into thin plates (Exodus 39:3). This suggests that the noun form is likewise related to something solid;
  7. Speaking of the sky as being stretched out like a canopy/tent (Isaiah 40:22) or that it will roll up like a scroll (34:4) are clearly similes and do not support the view that raqia in Genesis 1 is non-solid.
Many of these I have addressed previously but briefly
  1. Item #1 may be true, but then perhaps the Israelites didn't borrow as much as we think, especially when we consider that Genesis 1 is much older than other cosmologies often referenced.
  2. I have not identified every occurrence nor researched their content so cannot answer item #2.
  3. Genesis 7:11 and 8:2 reference the "windows of heaven" and the "fountains of the great deep". These are likely idioms. Nor does either passage actually suggest that the "windows of heaven" let thru the "waters above".
  4. I have addressed Ezekiel 1 and Psalm 148 here. Job 37 (as currently translated) is suggestive of Enns' thesis, and requires a discussion of its own
  5. In item #5 he mentions that birds fly on the face or surface of the expanse to which I concur. But this means that the surface at least is non-solid, and other passages mention birds within the expanse/ heavens. Using Enns' own reasoning here the expanse must be non-solid.
  6. Item #6 is a difficult issue. I have addressed it here. The problem is that while etymology is helpful, it is not definitive. And it is likely that the idea transferred to the noun is "spread out", not the metal which happens to be beaten.
  7. Item #7 is errant. These are clearly similes as I discuss here, but the association between the tent and heavens is that they are stretched out, not the material they are made from. The sky is stretched out like the way that a tent is stretched out. Consider the phrase, "The boy ran like lightening." This is a simile, but no one would interpret the simile implies the boy is made of electricity.
I don't have much to address in the latter part of the essay. I do not give a lot of credence to the phenomenological argument he tries to refute, other than saying that idioms do not necessarily mean what they literally say. But Genesis 1 is not using an idiom here. The moon comment is irrelevant. Objects can be lights directly or indirectly. The moon is a light whether it intrinsically produces electromagnetic radiation, or just reflects it.

We get to the end of the article. Enns finishes by saying
It is important to be clear on what we have a right to expect from Genesis. This is central to making progress in the conversation between science and faith.
And while I agree with this statement, Enns fails to mention what we can expect from Genesis. I suspect what he and I think is reasonable to exegete from Genesis differs considerably. A repeating theme is that ancient Israelites did not have modern knowledge (or equipment to gain them scientific knowledge). This assumes that what they wrote was based on their (false) beliefs about cosmology, which is usually assumed to be borrowed from other contemporary cultures. It is important to note here that Christians understand Scripture to be supernaturally revealed. Of course the Bible is historical. It touches events in history that were witnessed by Hebrews within and Gentiles without. We have documentary and archaeological evidence on biblical happenings. However while authors used historical sources and observation, insights into the meaning of events was often given by God. And even some historical events require supernatural revelation; how else would we be privy to dialogue between Yahweh and Satan concerning Job?

It would seem that Genesis 1 as history would need to be exclusively revealed as no humans witnessed it. If God created the universe, and if he could reveal the events of the 6 days of creation, and if Genesis 1 can easily be interpreted in line with what we actually observe about the earth and the atmosphere, then why the the desire to force errancy?

Monday, 25 July 2011

Monday quote

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised "for the good of its victims" may be the most oppressive.

C. S. Lewis (1898–1963).

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Public health and unwarranted conclusions

I read a fair number of articles. This is a paraphrase of one but I have seen similar several times over.
In conclusion our results show that exposure X is associated with significantly increased chance of outcome Y. Public health recommendations/ government agencies should reduce/ ban exposure X.
(This is assuming outcome Y is bad, a converse argument could be made if exposure X is thought to be good.)

This is frustrating for several reasons.

1. The word significantly usually means statistically significant. That is the authors are confident that the association they have found is a real one, not a chance one. For various reasons I think many findings that are claimed to be real are actually chance, so I may not be convinced the statistics justify the conclusion. But assuming the statistics do justify it, the significance relates to the degree of confidence in the result, not the size of the result. The phrasing "significantly increased chance" sounds like the size of the association is strong. It may be minor. A risk ratio of 1.003 (1.002–1.004, p <0.001) is statistically very significant but not functionally significant. Even a risk ratio of 3 (i.e. you are 3 times more likely to develop outcome Y) may be irrelevant if the outcome is extremely rare. Does it really matter if you increase your risk from 1 in a million to 3 in a million?

2. Association is not causation. Yes it may be a real effect, and it may be a relevant one, but it still may just be an association. We need to establish causation. Addressing a problem if it is causative may not resolve it. Addressing an association that is not causative definitely will not resolve it. And it could potentially worsen it. We need studies that show definite causation. Then we need studies that show intervention to reduce exposure X actually reduces outcome Y.

3. Nothing in the research relates to public policy. The study does not show that the policy was enacted and was effective. Even convincing knowledge that reducing outcome Y by preventing public exposure to X does not imply anything should be done by the state about X. Should the state ban hang-gliding because it is associated with increased mortality? Should it make every vice illegal because of detrimental effects on self? And there are further question about enforcing a ban. What about the monetary cost considerations? What about liberty? Will the unintended consequences be worse than the problem? Perhaps all that is warranted is education. For example the government can mandate labelling without banning a substance.

I am not arguing against any public policy. It just seems that socialism is so embedded in some people's psyche that new information to them logically implies government intervention.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Travel and post scheduling

I am having some family time in warmer climes sans adequate internet access. I will attempt to use the scheduling feature on Blogger with which I have variable success. I am unlikely to respond to comments or remove any inadvertently hung in spam.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Monday quote

A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.

Douglas Adams (1952–2001), Mostly Harmless.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Epic photos

A selection of apparently epic photos. While I would not agree with all the selections/ suggestions, there are some interesting pictures. The first—pale blue dot—is overrated, the third is better. The second is a little disturbing.

I quite like this one which I have seen previously: jet breaks the sound barrier.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Monday quote

I've always argued that if we depart this world and see anything resembling the Bill of Rights at our next destination, we'll know we're in hell.

Walter E Williams.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Corporatism is not capitalism

In reading comments around the internet that denounce capitalism, examples of its supposed unfairness are frequently given using corporations. Now there are a variety of things about corporations that may be good or bad. But it is important to note that corporatism is not synonymous with capitalism.

In fact many capitalists and free-marketers think little of corporations.

Now I am not against corporations competing within the marketplace. They can use their capital to be productive and offer low priced goods to consumers. I am not against large companies. It is true that larger amounts of capital potentially allow more efficient production; but it does not ensure it. And I don't think that small companies are unable to compete. Price is an important but not sole consideration for consumers, and smaller companies may have other advantages. Small businesses account for significant proportions of Gross Domestic Product in many countries.

But there are some aspects about corporations as they do exist (not as they have to exist) that are unpalatable and frankly anti-free-market.

The idea of a limited liability company seems questionable from a Christian perspective. Individuals can lose all their money. To run a business that allows you to take a greater risk and thus a potential greater gain, but not a greater, or even a complete loss seems unfair. Although in a system that allows unreasonable settlements in litigation I see the limited liability as the lesser evil.

But what is really irksome is special government favours for corporations. Unequal taxes, subsidies, guaranteed monopolies, separate law. This is not in the spirit of capitalism and annoys true capitalists as much as it does socialists. Perhaps more so as some socialists may justify specific corporations they happen to approve of, whereas capitalists may be competing in the marketplace against such an unfair advantage.

Taking money from once group to benefit another is generally a feature of socialism whether the recipient is poor or wealthy.

So if you despise capitalism and identify questionable practices by corporations as your reason, note that it is unlikely it is capitalist practices that make the corporation unjust, rather its anti-capitalist behaviour.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Monday quote

A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.

Winston Churchill

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Thorium nuclear reactors

Nuclear reactors tend to use uranium as a fuel. This is beneficial for those who desire the plutonium byproduct of such reactors. While modern designs improve safety of nuclear power, we are left with the problem of radioisotopes to dispose of. This can be offset somewhat by using thorium as fuel. China is researching such reactors.
Imagine how the nuclear energy debate might differ if the fuel was abundant and distributed across the world; if there was no real possibility of creating weapons-grade material as part of the process; if the waste remained toxic for hundreds rather than thousands of years; and if the power stations were small and presented no risk of massive explosions.

What you're imagining could fairly soon be reality judging from a little-noticed development in China last month.
Though apparently molten-salt reactors can run not just on thorium, but nuclear waste.
While nearly all current nuclear reactors run on uranium, the radioactive element thorium is recognized as a safer, cleaner and more abundant alternative fuel. Thorium is particularly well-suited for use in molten-salt reactors, or MSRs. Nuclear reactions take place inside a fluid core rather than solid fuel rods, and there’s no risk of meltdown.

In addition to their safety, MSRs can consume various nuclear-fuel types, including existing stocks of nuclear waste. Their byproducts are unsuitable for making weapons of any type. They can also operate as breeders, producing more fuel than they consume.
A breeder reactor is one in which isotopes present in the fuel that do not undergo fission are converted by neutron capture to isotopes that do undergo fission. Thorium reactors are breeder reactors as fissile thorium isotopes are minor so non fissile thorium must be continuously converted to uranium.

Salt reactors are also more fail-safe.
If it begins to overheat, a little plug melts and the salts drain into a pan.
And thorium is extremely abundant:
The earth’s crust holds 80 years of uranium at expected usage rates, he said. Thorium is as common as lead. America has buried tons as a by-product of rare earth metals mining. Norway has so much that Oslo is planning a post-oil era where thorium might drive the country’s next great phase of wealth. Even Britain has seams in Wales and in the granite cliffs of Cornwall. Almost all the mineral is usable as fuel, compared to 0.7pc of uranium. There is enough to power civilization for thousands of years.
So perhaps cleaner cheaper nuclear energy is on the horizon? Personally I am keen to see hydrogen fusion.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Monday quote

Worrying does not take away tomorrow's troubles. It takes away today's peace.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Sovereignty and freedom

Arminians are convinced that God can be sovereign while his creatures have freewill; sovereignty being a state of rulership and not exhaustive control. The Calvinist struggles with this having a concept of sovereignty that means that nothing occurs outside the will of God, all things that occur are made to occur by God (even if indirectly) because they are aligned with one of the wills of God.

But if we concede that there are some things that God cannot do—things that are impossible for God to do—then why is sovereignty excluded from this consideration?

It is impossible for God to make 2 + 3 = 7. There are some things that God cannot do because they contradict logic. God cannot lie. There are some things God cannot do because they contradict his nature. If an attribute of love is such that it must be given freely and voluntarily, then God cannot make someone love him, nor can anyone else cause people to love them. Certainly God can influence people in a way that is conducive for people to love him. But if love must have a voluntary component (something I happen to think but have not proven) then it remains possible for some people to choose to reject God. It would be impossible for God to make them love him. If it is an intrinsic impossibility that God make people love him, then their refusal to do so does not limit God's sovereignty in the same way that God's inability to make 2 + 3 = 7 does not limit his mathematical prowess.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Monday quote

Atheism is not the result of objective assessment of evidence, but of stubborn disobedience; it does not arise from the careful application of reason but from willful rebellion. Atheism is the suppression of truth by wickedness, the cognitive consequence of immorality. In short, it is sin that is the mother of unbelief.

James S. Spiegel, The Making of an Atheist.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Age estimate for chromosome divergence

JS Allen mentioned a couple blog posts concerning the time the Y chromosome may have gone thru a bottleneck.
The second refers to the article A Revised Root for the Human Y Chromosomal Phylogenetic Tree: The Origin of Patrilineal Diversity in Africa.

Dienekes first post suggests that the divergence of the Y chromosome was 40,000 years ago, the second mentions recent data pushing the date back to 140,000 years. This material is something that Dienekes follows, whereas I am only moderately familiar with it. The journal article covers material on genetic anthropology and my reading on genetics is focused more on disease, but I wish to identify a few assumptions that mean I do not agree with the dates suggested.

My post was on the variation of autosomes, sex chromosomes and mitochondria based on a bottleneck of 3 brothers and their wives. The issue of dating a bottleneck, while related, is a different question. The later requires knowledge of
  1. the variation currently and the likely original sequences; and
  2. molecular clock rates.
Both have significant assumptions and I differ from the authors in several of them.

The article mentions that they attempted independence with regard to 1 then they discuss assumptions relating to using chimp Y chromosomes and human X chromosomes
We obtained a strict-consensus MP [maximum parsimony] tree, which was rooted with respect to either orthologous chimp MSY [male-specific region of the human Y chromosome] sequence... or paralogous human X chromosome sequence...
This hardly seems independent. I reject the use of other species sequences as having relevance, and I do not know whether my assumption of 8 X's to 1 Y at the bottleneck affects the second. So the resulting phylogeny is not necessarily correct.

The problem with molecular clocks is they are not independent either. Dienekes mentions a calibration of 70,000 years for a split but what is this based on? More to the point, in his 2010 post he raises the problem with molecular clocks.
Age estimates vary overall between 6,530 years and 535,755! It is obvious that fast/medium mutating markers provide unbelievably small age estimates (most of them are less than 20 thousand years). However, if we limit the analysis to slow mutating markers, most age estimates are in excess of 300,000 years!

In short, you can arrive at any age estimate you want, by choosing a particular mix of slow and fast mutating markers.
He says (correctly) that we mustn't average different clocks. He rejects throwing them in the trash and argues for identifying the correct clock.
But that is equivalent to having a number of different clocks, some of which tell you that 3 seconds have transpired, and some which tell you that it's been a whole minute. The rational thing to do is not to take an average, but to throw the clocks in the garbage, or figure out what's wrong with them.
I agree, but we are likely to differ on what we consider reliable. I suspect mutation is more rapid than accepted by evolutionists, if so then the clocks are going faster than anticipated. I would like to see some data obtained with fixed dates and generation numbers.

These are just 2 problems with the interpretation. There is also the interbreeding question, the targeted DNA changes versus random mutation, the incompleteness of the data (both complete Y DNA and adequate sampling of the populations). Further data will be interesting.

The greater issue is that (hidden) assumptions markedly affect interpretation. While  interpretations such as given in the paper will be seen as evidence for the evolutionary scheme, so much of the evolutionary paradigm is assumed that it becomes very circular. This is not intrinsically bad, but lack of awareness of assumptions can have the effect that you think your interpretation is stronger than it really is. This can be a potential issue for creationists also, though given their strong focus on identifying underlying assumptions, and that they are working within a paradigm they generally disagree with, I think they are often more attuned to this issue.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Postdiluvian genetic variation

This article from Robert Carter raises some interesting ideas concerning genetic variation.

People have 2 sets (diploid) of chromosomes. Many of our genes are identical, but several have variants. Consider the maximum variation at creation. Adam had 2 sets of autosomes, 1 X chromosome, and 1 Y chromosome. Eve was made from his side. God could have kept the autosomes, doubled the X chromosome, and removed the Y chromosome. But God could also have created Eve with her own set of chromosomes. Several genes may have been identical, but if we consider the maximum, then the original variation in Adam and Eve was (a maximum of) 4 alleles for each gene in all the autosomes, 2 from Adam and 2 from Eve; 3 alleles in the X chromosomes, 1 from Adam and 2 from Eve; 1 allele in the Y chromosome, from Adam; and 1 mitochondrial allele per gene from Eve. This assumes that all Eve's mitochondria had identical DNA. Sperm have mitochondria but these are not incorporated into the embryo so only the female's mitochondrial DNA is passed on.

Mutation and recombination would have increased the number of alleles in Adam's descendants to the time of the Flood. Carter discusses the genetic bottleneck at the time of the deluge and mentions the maximum number of variants this would entail.

On the Ark we have Noah, his wife, their 3 sons, and their sons' wives. The genetic material of the sons is determined by their parents, and the genetic material of the wives is potentially independent; depending on their relationship to Noah's bloodline. Thus we have 4 sets of autosomes from Noah and his wife, 3 X chromosomes, and 1 Y chromosome, 2 mitochondrial lineages. The sons could potentially inherit all 4 autosomes, both Xs from their mother (but not their father's X), 1 Y from their father, 1 mitochondrial from their mother. The sons' wives could have 6 autosomes, 6 Xs, no Ys, and 3 mitochondrial. Considering the offspring of Shem, Ham and Japheth and their wives there is a maximum of:
  • 10 autosomes;
  • 8 X chromosomes;
  • 1 Y chromosomes; and
  • 3 mitochondrial chromosomes.
The mitochondria of Noah's sons (from their mother) will not be passed on. The mitochondrial variation may be somewhat more as several mitochondria are passed on and they may not all be identical within a single person.

The descendants of Shem, Ham and Japheth encompasses the entire human race. Carter considers the variation we currently find.
[We] are potentially looking at a huge amount of genetic diversity within the X chromosomes of the world.

Does this fit the evidence? Absolutely! It turns out that Y chromosomes are similar worldwide. According to the evolutionists, no “ancient” (i.e., highly mutated or highly divergent) Y chromosomes have been found. This serves as a bit of a puzzle to the evolutionist, and they have had to resort to calling for a higher “reproductive variance” among men than women, high rates of “gene conversion” in the Y chromosome, or perhaps a “selective sweep” that wiped out the other male lines. For the biblical model, it is a beautiful correlation and we can take it as is.

The evidence from mitochondrial DNA fits our model just as neatly as the Y chromosome data. As it turns out, there are three main mitochondrial DNA lineages found across the world. The evolutionists have labeled these lines “M”, “N”, and “R”, so we’ll refer to them by the same names. They would not say these came off the Ark. They claim they were derived from older lines found in Africa, but this is based on a suite of assumptions (I discussed these in detail in a recent article in the Journal of Creation). It also turns out that M, N, and R differ by only a few mutations. This gives us some indication of the amount of mutation that occurred in the generations prior to the Flood.

Let’s assume ten female generations from Eve to the ladies on the Ark. M and N are separated by about 8 mutations (a small fraction of the 16,500 letters in the mitochondrial genome). R is only 1 mutation away from N. This is an indication of the mutational load that occurred before the Flood. Given the assumption that mutations occur at equal rates in all lines, about four mutations separate M and N each from Eve (maybe four mutations in each line in ten generations). But what about R? It is very similar to N. Were N and R sisters, or perhaps more closely related to each other than they were to M? We’ll never know, but it sure is fascinating to think about.

One more line of evidence crops up in the amount of genetic diversity that has been found within people worldwide. Essentially, much less has been found than most (i.e., evolutionists!) predicted. The general lack of diversity among people is the reason the Out of Africa model has humanity going through a disastrous, near-extinction bottleneck with only about 10,000 (and perhaps as few as 1,000) people surviving. However, the reason for this lack of diversity is twofold. First, the human race started out with only two people. Second, the human race is not that old and has not accumulated a lot of mutations, despite the high mutation rate. Third, there actually was a bottleneck event, Noah’s Flood!


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