Monday 28 February 2011

Monday quote

Sexual sin is not the worst of sins, but in some respects we may consider it the most complicated of sins. All dirt should be washed off our hands, but pine sap is harder to get off.

Douglas Wilson. Fidelity.

Saturday 26 February 2011

Nutcase on the level of Charles Manson

I don't get my theology from Bono, and I think some of his economic ideas are a little off the mark. Nevertheless I thought this comment well phrased. It was in response to the idea that Jesus may have been a great thinker, teacher, philosopher; but Son of God seems farfetched. Very Lewisian.

No, it's not farfetched to me. Look, the secular response to the Christ story always goes like this: he was a great prophet, obviously a very interesting guy, had a lot to say along the lines of other great prophets, be they Elijah, Muhammad, Buddha, or Confucius. But actually Christ doesn't allow you that. He doesn't let you off that hook. Christ says: No. I'm not saying I'm a teacher, don't call me teacher. I'm not saying I'm a prophet. I'm saying: "I'm the Messiah." I'm saying: "I am God incarnate." And people say: No, no, please, just be a prophet. A prophet, we can take. You're a bit eccentric. We've had John the Baptist eating locusts and wild honey, we can handle that. But don't mention the "M" word! Because, you know, we're gonna have to crucify you. And he goes: No, no. I know you're expecting me to come back with an army, and set you free from these creeps, but actually I am the Messiah. At this point, everyone starts staring at their shoes, and says: Oh, my God, he's gonna keep saying this. So what you're left with is: either Christ was who He said He was the Messiah or a complete nutcase. I mean, we're talking nutcase on the level of Charles Manson. This man was like some of the people we've been talking about earlier. This man was strapping himself to a bomb, and had "King of the Jews" on his head, and, as they were putting him up on the Cross, was going: OK, martyrdom, here we go. Bring on the pain! I can take it. I'm not joking here. The idea that the entire course of civilization for over half of the globe could have its fate changed and turned upside-down by a nutcase, for me, that's farfetched
Hat tip: Kevin Jackson

Friday 25 February 2011

The Fall: The Snake

The true identity of the snake is beyond the animal world. While I think that a literal snake was involved in the deception, the narrative reads like another being is speaking thru the reptile. This is made clear in the fact that a snake is speaking. Language is not the domain of animals and utterances of animals must come from cognitional beings. This other identity is also seen in the curse which mentions enmity between the snake and the woman. The implication in Genesis is made explicit by John in Revelation where he identifies the snake as Satan.
And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. (Revelation 12)
And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, (Revelation 20)
The snake was a tool in the hand of Satan; it was Satan who was deceiving the woman to entice her into sin.

Now when confronting the man about his sin, God gives him an opportunity to answer, as God does for the woman. But the snake gets no opportunity to speak further. It seems that judgment had already been decided in the angelic realm. Jesus informs us that hell was created for the devil and his angels, it was not initially intended for man.
Then [the King] will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. (Matthew 25)
God then pronounces curses in the order of the events: the snake, the woman, the man. God says to the snake
“Because you have done this,
cursed are you above all livestock
and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”
The first part of this curse seems to be directed at the animal itself. A comparison is made to livestock and beasts of the field, the latter being the group that snakes belonged to. And a description is given of the mode of locomotion for snakes. God possibly cursed the animal directly to stand as a memorial to the events in Eden. Though the question arises as to whether there is a dual meaning to this part of the curse. If this is the case then as the snake is cursed above all animals so Satan receives a curse greater than any man or angel. As the snake is humiliated—by moving on its belly and dwelling amongst the dust—so Satan will be humiliated beyond all others.

The second half of the curse more clearly targets the possessor of the snake. These words are well recognised as the defeat of Satan by a descendant of the woman, it is labelled the protoevangelium: the first pronouncement of the gospel.

The enmity is between the snake and the woman as well as between the seed (offspring) of the woman and the seed of the snake. Seed is singular here. Linguistically it could be a collective singular, though note Galatians 3:16. However the conflict is also shown to be between the snake and the woman's seed. The next line contrasts the earlier one by mentioning the seed bruising the snake directly, ie. not his seed.

Head is a metaphor for leader. The offspring of the woman shall defeat the snake's rulership. The metaphor of the heel suggesting complete defeat, the heel is above the head, the lowest part of the seed is above the highest part of the snake; the offspring will ultimately and completely rule (compare Psa 110:1). The bruising of the offspring's heel reveals that this conquest will come at some cost.

Although there is not an exhaustive explanation of the gospel here, there are clues in the text that the enticer of the Fall was to be defeated by a descendant of the woman.

Tuesday 22 February 2011

Peer review or popular review?

Popular review could be useful. I have not commented on peer review before but I have a modereately negative view of it. If it solely checked for logical or mathematical errors in an article then fine, but it is often abused. And it does not prevent fraud. I think publish everything and let people point out the errors after the fact. Better public exposure of poor work than the imprisonment of profound knowledge by self-important and ignorant gatekeepers.

Nature discusses recent internet criticism of a Science article that led to Science expressing concern about the article. In "Trial by Twitter", Apoora Mandavilli discuss several solutions.
To bring some order to this chaos, it looks as though a new set of cultural norms will be needed, along with an online infrastructure to support them. The idea of open, online peer review is hardly new. Since Internet usage began to swell in the 1990s, enthusiasts have been arguing that online commenting could and should replace the traditional process of pre-publication peer review that journals carry out to decide whether a paper is worth publishing.

"It makes much more sense in fact to publish everything and filter after the fact," says Cameron Neylon, a senior scientist at the Science & Technology Facilities Council, a UK funding body.
Former journal editor Richard Smith comments on the Nature paper and agrees that there are problems with the current process
We know too that postpublication review is the real peer review in that most papers disappear into obscurity and just a few emerge as important—and often not papers published in major journals. Our present system of trying to sort information by having the best papers in the best journals not only doesn’t work but it deceives us, giving too much attention to the sexy but often wrong.
The problem with peer review is not shonky science, it is related to the psychology of the referees. And if you need convincing of its flaws, read Smith's paper.

Monday 21 February 2011

Monday quote

The more corrupt the Republic, the more laws.

Tacitus. (55–120)

Sunday 20 February 2011

Electronic book software

I downloaded the Kindle Reading App for my computer and phone. I may read a few books on it. But I was interested in what is available for reading books in other formats. It seems that epub is the default and open standard for publishing electronic books.

Here is a nice review of various electronic readers.

I have installed Calibre which, amongst other features, allows you to convert a pdf to epub. It is not really designed as a reader but does fine. I have also installed the EPUBReader plugin for Firefox, but have yet to try it.

Friday 18 February 2011

The Fall: Introduction

It is difficult to understand the Christian worldview without an adequate understanding of the Fall of man. Christianity claims to be the true explanation of the universe. It is therefore difficult for anyone to understand the world without an a right knowledge of the Fall.

General revelation reveals we live in a broken world. Physical decay and destruction are illustrative of this. Deterioration of human life and then death itself points to it. Our sense of morality shows us that we are aware their is a right way to live, even if we misunderstand the exact specifics of such morality. Our behaviour and our conscience show us that we are failing to live this morality correctly. While very instructive, this knowledge is extremely limited. We perceive the effects but cannot appreciate why the world is how we perceive it. For this we need special (ie. specific) revelation. We need an observer of the events that led to our current situation. Scripture gives us this revelation. Clues are found thru-out the Bible with a thorough account of the history in the early chapters of Genesis.

Summarising early Genesis: God created the universe and everything in it. Mankind was given dominion over the earth. Everything that existed was good and no sin had entered the world. God created an pleasant environment for people to live in, set up the cultural structure of the family and commanded the man and woman to be obedient to him. Sin entered the angelic domain. An evil creature tempted the woman to disobey God. She disobeyed God as did the man. In response to these actions God announced several curses to the snake and the people which affected the personal world, the physical world, and the spiritual world.

We are told that the man and woman are made in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27). Man directly (Gen 1:27) and woman indirectly (Gen 1:26-27, 2:21-23; 1Co 11:3-12). The imago Dei includes at least language: the ability to communicate and the ability to reason. The imago Dei also includes a sense of morality. God gave the man the command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, warning it would result in death. Adam heard what God was saying to him, understood the nature of the prohibition, and knew the action was morally wrong. By implication from God's prohibition we surmise Adam had an intellectual understanding of death even though he had no experiential understanding of death.

Concerning the actual Fall Genesis 3 states,
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.

He said to the woman, "Did God actually say, 'You shall not eat of any tree in the garden'?" And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'" But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband [who was] with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.
There are several things in this passage worth noting though I will not comment on further.
  1. The snake tempts the woman not the man.
  2. The snake asks about any tree, not the specific tree.
  3. The woman replies not only were they not to eat it (Gen 3:3), they were not even to touch it.
  4. The temptation includes a lie, "You shall not surely die," and a truth, "You will be like God knowing good and evil." Compare verse 22
  5. Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil."
  6. It is unclear whether the man was with her during this conversation, though possibly not.
Of interest is the temptation is 3 fold
  • the woman saw that the tree was good for food,
  • and that it was a delight to the eyes,
  • and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise,...
Some have suggested that all temptations common to man fall into these categories and have suggested that the temptations of Jesus were in the same 3 areas.

Tree was Sin Jesus tempted
good for food lust of the flesh turn stone into bread
a delight to the eyes lust of the eyes gain all the kingdoms of the world
desired to make one wisepride of lifethrow yourself down from the temple
Genesis 3 1 John 2 Luke 4

After eating the fruit their eyes were opened. It is uncertain what this fully means. They clearly knew about obedience prior to the Fall as they were commanded not to eat the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. There must have been a knowledge that to do so was wrong, thus there is an intellectual assent to morality. The knowledge of rightness and wrongness antedates the Fall.

What they gained from eating the fruit was firstly the experience of wrongness. What it felt like to be involved in sin. They were vulnerable in their physical nakedness. The awareness of nakedness is helpful in understanding the change that came about in their thinking at the Fall. Young children do not show an awareness of their nakedness until a certain age. Before such age they can know the difference between having clothes on and not having clothes on, but are unaware of any shameful significance associated with lack of clothing. Pre-Fall the man and woman had this childlike unawareness, though they did not otherwise have childlike intelligence. These facets of our minds are thus separable. The Fall brought a self-awareness that parallels a child's gain in self-awareness. However this self-awareness does not appear to be fully identical to moral knowledge. Adam and Eve both knew what obedience entailed, and children know right and wrong before they feel embarrassed being naked.

In response to their sin God speaks to Adam then pronounces a curse on the snake, the woman, and the man respectively. I would like to comment on this in future posts.

Monday 14 February 2011

Mathematical valentine

This curve was described by Taubin in 1993.

(x2 + (9/4)y2 + z2 – 1)3x2z3 – (9/80)y2z3 = 0

Though I prefer the 2 dimensional form

(x2 + y2 – 1)3x2y3 = 0


Hat tip: ropata

Saturday 12 February 2011

Russian team drilling to largest Antarctic lake

Lake Vostok
Russians are drilling 4 km down to a lake in Antarctica. They have pulled out for the winter but only have a few metres to go. Apparently there is enough geothermal activity below the lake to maintain liquid water at little below 0 °C. The ice above is somewhat insulating making the lake conditions seem positively tropical compared to the surface.
With the rapid onset of winter, scientists will be forced to leave on the last flight out for this season, on Feb 6.

"It's minus 40 (Celsius) outside," Turkeyev said. "But whatever, we're working. We're feeling good. There's only 5 meters left until we get to the lake so it'll all be very soon."
Antarctica: location of Lake Vostok
Though even –40 °C is to be preferred to –90 °C.

Lake Vostok is the largest known lake in Antarctica at 150 km × 50 km and estimated to be more than 900 m deep. Though pitch black it is thought to contain high quantities of oxygen, thus may host a variety of organisms. It is proposed to be a fresh water lake.

Tuesday 8 February 2011

Southern Sudan votes for independence


Previously I mentioned the referendum for independence from Sudan. Official results yesterday reveal that 99% of voters wanted their own country. The president of Sudan Omar Hassan al-Bashir stated he accepted the results of the vote. The leader of southern Sudan is Salva Kiir. No name for the new country has been agreed upon. It will come into existence in July this year. The European Union and the United States have both acknowledged the existence of the new state.

Monday 7 February 2011

Monday quote

My personal feeling is that understanding evolution led me to atheism.

Richard Dawkins

Friday 4 February 2011

The meaning of "expanse" in Genesis 1. Part 2

In my earlier post on the expanse I mention that it is not definitive that the Hebrew word translated "expanse" (raqiya`) has the semantic nuance of solidity. This word occurs 17 times in the Bible.
And God said, "Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters." And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day. (Genesis 1:6-8)

And God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth." And it was so. And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day. (Genesis 14-19)

And God said, "Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the expanse of the heavens." (Genesis 1:20)

The heavens declare the glory of God,/
and the expanse proclaims his handiwork. (Psalm 19:1)

Praise the LORD! Praise God in his sanctuary;/
praise him in his mighty expanse! (Psalm 150:1)

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the expanse; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. (Daniel 12:2-3)

Over the heads of the living creatures there was the likeness of an expanse, shining like awe-inspiring crystal, spread out above their heads. And under the expanse their wings were stretched out straight, one toward another. And each creature had two wings covering its body. And when they went, I heard the sound of their wings like the sound of many waters, like the sound of the Almighty, a sound of tumult like the sound of an army. When they stood still, they let down their wings. And there came a voice from above the expanse over their heads. When they stood still, they let down their wings.

And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance. And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him. Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around.

Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking. (Ezekiel 1:22-28)

Then I looked, and behold, on the expanse that was over the heads of the cherubim there appeared above them something like a sapphire, in appearance like a throne. (Ezekiel 10:1)
Most of these occurrences are in the contested verses in Genesis, or passages that use the raqiya` in the same way as Genesis.

How do the other uses this affect our understanding of whether expanse is intrinsically solid, or fluid; or whether the word does not have a semantic connotation of firmness?

Some translations use a word for raqiya` in the Ezekiel passages that would be considered solid, such as "dome." If this is valid then raqiya` can be used of solid things. The expanse in Ezekiel was shining and is likened to a crystal. However these sentences do not parallel or contrast the firmness of the expanse with another word in the passage. When a term is contrasted or paralleled the meaning of the complementary phrase aids our understanding of the term. This lack in Ezekiel means we cannot state that raqiya` clearly has an intrinsic semantic component of firmness, just that it can (possibly) be used for firm objects, the same way that "large" can be used of water or ice.

Daniel is referring to the same expanse that is in Genesis. The brightness of the expanse could refer to the blueness of the sky during the day, or the shining stars at night, or perhaps the appearance of the Milky Way. The parallelism here may favour the brightness describing the stars or our galaxy rather than the blue sky, though this is not definitive.

The passages in the Psalms are useful to our question. Psalm 150 states God dwells in the expanse. This is paralleled to sanctuary. To dwell in suggests that at least part of the object is non-solid. We dwell in a house, or more broadly in a city. The psalm is poetical, it does not necessarily mean that God is located inside the earthly temple, or that his heavenly temple is a physical object, but the poetical use of "expanse" suggests it is not solid if God is said to dwell within it. It would seem unusual to speak of God dwelling within a rock, or a wall (from a biblical perspective). Psalm 19 parallels "expanse" with "heavens," an important point which we will come back to in a later post.

Genesis mentions the expanse frequently, though to use most of these passages to resolve the meaning seems to be begging the question. One verse is helpful though. God created the flying creatures that were to fly across the face or the surface of the expanse. While this is not definitive that the expanse is (at least partially) gaseous, it is consistent with a non-solid expanse beginning at the surface of the earth and extending into space.

Related to this point is that men know that the atmosphere is not solid from direct experience. The expanse God created separates water from water. It starts at the surface of the earth and extends out. So the only part of the expanse that the ancients had direct experience of, the part adjacent to the ground, is gaseous. This suggests that "expanse" can some times be thought of as non-solid because part of the expanse was indeed the immediate atmosphere.

This exhausts the biblical use of raqiya`. It does not seem that the term intrinsically describes solid things. In Ezekiel the expanse may be solid (though it could be interpreted as fluid or non-solid if this was deemed necessary). In Daniel it probably references interstellar regions with no indication or whether solidity is meant. The Psalms are suggestive of a non-solid interpretation. Genesis indicates that part of the expanse—or, at minimum, the surface—is non-solid.

Wednesday 2 February 2011

Electronic ESV

I quite like the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible. I first came across it accidentally, shortly after it was released. As a plugin for e-sword I think. I was unfamiliar with the background of the version at the time but was pleased to have a modern and formal version for free.

Crossway who produce the ESV are a not-for-profit organisation. Lane Dennis explains their mission and desire to make the Bible available for free in many electronic applications
All of this is to say, when any significant new technology becomes available, we want to be there with the ESV Bible – free from day one.

We live in a unique moment of history. We live at the beginning of a global communications revolution that will change the world forever, beyond anything we can begin to imagine. For people who are committed to the Gospel and the Truth of God’s Word, this communications revolution provides an unprecedented moment in the history of the world. The amazing thing is that the massive technological infrastructure to accomplish this already exists! Our calling is simply to make the content accessible to everyone, everywhere, at all times, by means of “all technologies.”
In addition to listing several appliciations they have produced they indicate their ongoing intentions
  1. the free distribution of millions of ESV evangelistic New Testaments;
  2. free sharing of the ESV Bible text and audio on any church or Christian ministry website;
  3. free availability of the ESV Bible via “cloud technology,” everywhere in the world on every major form of mobile technology; and
  4. free essential Bible teaching resources for churches and individuals everywhere.


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