Monday, 31 January 2011

Monday quote

Here is one point even Christians seem to overlook. God is infinite. That means no created being, not the angels, not the archangels, can ever understand Him. He will always be cloaked in mystery. And when, in the eternity of heaven, we created beings come to know Him better, there will always be an additional ocean of mystery beyond, more glories and more mysteries and more we don’t know. That is what infinite means.

John C. Wright

Friday, 28 January 2011

The age of the universe

I was having a science and science history discussion with a relative recently. He is aware that I do not subscribe to the theory of evolution. While talking about atomic theory and cosmology he asked whether I subscribed to a billion year old earth. I informed him that the earth is only 6000 years old to his mild amusement (though we have covered this topic before). He responded by asking if I though the universe was billions of years old. This is a slightly different question.

My response, "According to which reference frame?"

He acknowledged this was a reasonable reply, though the conversation turned elsewhere before I fleshed this out.

If we accept the theory of general relativity is a moderately accurate description of the universe—one I am willing to accept currently, though have little concern about dropping it in favour of alternative theories—then measures of time, and hence age, are relative to the reference frame used.

It is assumed by many that there is no preferred reference frame (cosmological principle), but even if there exists a preferred reference frame, time measurements may be different in other (non-preferred) reference frames. Young earth creationists have made use of this in describing various cosmologies, the only biblical limitation being that the age of the universe is about 6000 years as measured from the earth's reference frame.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Preservation and perseverance

Some argue that there are passages in Scripture that teach eternal security for the believer and the inability to apostatise. It seems to me that the security that God provides is not on par with that of men's faithfulness. Let's run with this.

Consider a prime employment opportunity. A kind-hearted boss offers you a job; an excellent job! There is always training for the employee. Remuneration is sufficient and the retirement plan is out of this world. The contract precludes dismissal. No matter how badly a job is done you can't get fired, though one is expected to eventually master the various tasks.

The point is obvious. Even if the boss has said he will never fire you—the contract does not allow for you to be fired—clearly the employee can quit.

One can take both the security passages and the apostasy passages at face value. God will never leave us, he helps us in our weaknesses, and he gives us strength to persevere. None of this prevents us from rejecting him. We can deny the faith and it says nothing of God's faithfulness
If we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself. (2 Timothy 2)

Monday, 24 January 2011

Monday quote

The highest proof of virtue is to possess boundless power without abusing it.

Lord Macaulay

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Queensland flood

A large La Nina has increased precipitation and thought to have contributed massive flooding in Australia, though lower peaks in Brisbane than some previous years. Building in areas at flood risk did not help the situation, nor did the release of massive quantities of dam water (and here). The biggest concern is loss of lives, though I note the large difference in injury in countries with significant infrastructure compared with those without. Compare the death toll in Australian floods with that in Pakistan recently: 20 versus > 1000. Or the death-toll in Christchurch compared to Haiti after similar magnitude quakes: 0 versus 250,000. (The Chile earthquake was larger with a death toll ~500.)

Here some clever before and after photos that demonstrate the damage. Mouseover to see change.

Friday, 21 January 2011

The meaning of "expanse" in Genesis 1

There has been some debate over the meaning of the word "expanse" in Genesis1. This is of some duration being discussed several hundred years ago. It is claimed by some that a large solid dome or inverted bowl is in view. Recently I discussed this issue with regard to the intrinsic meaning of the word translated expanse.

There are several issues to deal with.
  • Does the meaning of "expanse" include the concept of solidity?
  • Regardless, did the Hebrews and the author of Genesis view the expanse as a solid dome?
The issue is complicated by the use of "firmament" in English translations. This come via the Latin translation of the Bible. English "firmament" is a transliteration of the Latin firmamentum which carries the meaning of "firm" or "solid". Likewise the Septuagint translates Genesis using the term "stereoma" which means firm, though stability, strength, or immobility seems more in view here than hardness.

Compare the Hebrew raqiya` which means expanse, it is derived from raqa` which means to spread out. A question is raised whether the word, while meaning expanse, also implies solid. Ocean means a large body of water. Oceans are blue and wet and large. The word "ocean" carries the meaning "large" though this is not what it primarily means. "Ocean" does not carry the meaning "blue" even though they are normally that colour.

In Genesis the expanse separates, thus a solid object may be in view. Compare divider which is usually an object that separates several items. However a road can have a divider that is solid (barrier wall) or non-solid (a large space between the opposite lanes). Rivers divide up tracts of land. So even though most dividers are solid, it is difficult to claim that solidity is part of the meaning of the word "divider". The Hebrew raqiya` does not need to correspond to English "divider" or "expanse". But the existence of a solid raqiya` does not intrinsically imply that part of the meaning of raqiya` is solid. It may be consistent with it, but does not prove it. There are biblical reasons to suspect that raqiya` was not thought of as solid and I will come back to this.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Candy Irony

Candy Dynamics sell the Toxic Waste brand of candy bars which they import from Pakistan. Their Nuclear Sludge variety has tested high for lead prompting a recall.
A recent test performed by the California Department of Public Health has indicated that a lot (#8288A) of the cherry flavor of the above-listed product contains elevated levels of lead (0.24 parts per million; the U.S. FDA tolerance is 0.1 ppm) that potentially could cause health problems, particularly for infants, small children, and pregnant women.

Out of an abundance of caution, the company has determined to recall all lots and all flavors of the product distributed from the product's inception in 2007 through January 2011.

The products are identified as: Toxic Waste® Nuclear Sludge® Cherry Chew Bar (UPC 0 89894 81430 6), Toxic Waste® Nuclear Sludge® Sour Apple Chew Bar (UPC 0 10684 81410 7), and Toxic Waste® Nuclear Sludge® Blue Raspberry Chew Bar (UPC 0 89894 81420 7). Each chew bar has a net wt. of 0.7 oz (20 g).

No other "Toxic Waste®" brand product is affected by this recall.

No illnesses have been reported to date in connection with this problem.
This is unlikely to be of significance, maximum allowances are likely to be well below any level that causes harm. Still, somewhat amusing.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Bergman and Lucas ring model of the atom. Part 2

Hydrogen atom.
Large rings are electrons, small rings are protons.
Previously I mentioned the Bergman/ Lucas model of the atom and the reasons for proposing a new model. The features of the model are
  • Subatomic particles are rings
  • Charge encircles the stationary ring
  • 4 fundamental (mass) particles
One reason for creating a new model is philosophical. The advocates of the model have a philosophical bias against quantum mechanic physics defying causality. The Law of Cause and Effect has good empirical and philosophical support. Quantum mechanics also suggests other irrational behaviour such as the non-existence of matter until it is measured.

Philosophically we have strong reason to think causality is true. It seems as fundamental as the Law of Non-contradiction. It is difficult to know how one may understand the world at all if causality is false. Science itself would be unable to proceed if causality were untrue. The whole idea of experimentation relies on this. It would be a little ironic if an area of science subsequently denies causality—chopping off the branch you are sitting on and all that.

A second reason was parsimony. Earlier I mentioned that macroscopic laws were declared to be inapplicable at the microscopic level. This may be true, but to declare it by fiat because one's model requires it seems a little arbitrary. An alternative model that does not require exceptions, but otherwise explains the observations is more parsimonious and should be preferred.

Further, 2 new forces were invented to explain the stability of the atom. The strong and weak nuclear forces. The strong force is what holds the nucleus together, protons and neutrons in close proximity despite the coulomb force pushing protons apart. The weak nuclear force prevents the neutron from decaying into a proton and electron. This decay occurs in unstable isotopes and in free neutrons.

In the Bergman/ Lucas model the laws of classical physics hold at the atomic level, they are in fact the laws invoked in the model. As a consequence, neither a weak nor a strong nuclear force are required in the model. A model of the atom that does not require special pleading, nor the invention of further fundamental forces is more parsimonious. And conceptually a more beautiful model.

Two other related reasons for favouring a new model are the inadequacies of the current model and the explanatory power of the new model. Already mentioned is the artificial fiat that macroscopic behaviour is not obeyed at the microscopic level. An example of this is electrons orbiting the nucleus. Such charged particles should radiate energy thus loss energy themselves and spiral into the nucleus. To claim otherwise for electrons because they must remain in their shells and therefore cannot loss energy is arbitrary. A further example is the lack of explanation of certain phenomena. Spin is analogous the angular momentum in classical mechanics. To acknowledge the elementary particles have spin but not explain what it is or how it occurs is a deficiency.

So what of the explanatory power? The Bergman/ Lucas model apparently predicts the size of complete shells; the structure of the Periodic Table; and, impressively, various nuclide spins.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Monday quote

Our apologetic must be a comprehensive biblically based worldview presenting an antithetical challenge to the naturalistic worldview. The arbitrary and inconsistent character of naturalism must be contrasted with the consistent and objectively revealed worldview of the Bible.

Donald Crowe, Creation without Compromise

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Hardening Pharaoh's heart

In the determinism-freewill debate there is discussion about God hardening Pharaoh's heart. Determinists emphasise that it is God's prerogative to harden (and soften) whoever he pleases. And by implication that people who God shows mercy to inevitably come to him. Arminians, while agreeing that God can show mercy to whomever he chooses, emphasise that God was completing in Pharaoh something that Pharaoh had begun of his own volition. But are we understanding what the text means by harden?

These are the 18 mentions of hardening in Pharaoh in Exodus. The words used are chazaq, qashah, kabad, and kabed

Source of hardeningReferences
chazaq qashah kabad kabed
God will harden Pharaoh's heartExo 4:21; 14:4Exo 7:3

God hardened the heart of PharaohExo 9:12; 10:20; 10:27; 11:10; 14:8.
Exo 10:1
Pharaoh's heart was hard(ened)Exo 7:13; 7:22; 8:19; 9:35
Exo 9:7Exo 7:14
Pharaoh hardened his heart

Exo 8:15; 8:32; 9:34

2 other useful references are
When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the mind of Pharaoh and his servants was changed [haphak] toward the people, and they said, "What is this we have done, that we have let Israel go from serving us? (Exodus 14:5)
and
And I will harden [chazaq] the hearts of the Egyptians so that they shall go in after them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots, and his horsemen. (Exodus 14:17)
So what does it mean to harden? Metaphorically it views one as resolved, unwilling to change. It implies that Pharaoh was not only unwilling, but unable to change his mind. I concede this is possible. "Harden" is the English word translators have used for these Hebrew words. But these words may carry the idea of "strength" or "resolve".

The primary meanings are
  • chazaq: to strengthen, prevail, harden, be strong, become strong, be courageous, be firm, grow firm, be resolute, be sore.
  • qashah: to be hard, be severe, be fierce, be harsh
  • kabad: to be heavy, be weighty, be grievous, be hard, be rich, be honourable, be glorious, be burdensome, be honoured
  • kabed: heavy, great
Tense and context determines meaning, nevertheless the primary meanings suggest that the word used of God's action (predominantly chazaq) includes the concepts of strength and resolve. The NET Bible translates the first occurrence of God hardening Pharaoh's heart thus,
The Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the wonders I have put under your control. But I will harden his heart and he will not let the people go.” (Exodus 4:21)
And the footnote to the word "harden" states,
Heb “strengthen” (in the sense of making stubborn or obstinate). The text has the expression וַאֲנִי אֲחַזֵּק אֶת־לִבּוֹ (va’ani ’akhazzeq ’et-libbo), “I will make strong his will,” or “I will strengthen his resolve,” recognizing the “heart” as the location of decision making (see Prov 16:1, 9).
confirming this sense.

The reference to Pharaoh in Romans 9 reads,
For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
And the word harden here is skleruno which literally means "harden" but metaphorically "obstinate" or "stubborn".

If this is the case in Exodus it may modify our interpretation of the passage.

The case of Pharaoh is frequently seen by determinists as a man whom God has chosen to make resistant to God's purposes. Pharaoh has no option of repentance. God made Pharaoh for the sole purpose of showing his glory in passing judgment on Pharaoh.

In contrast to this it may be that God is strengthening Pharaoh's resolve to resist God. God is aware that Pharaoh will reject his ways, but the hardening is not so much making Pharaoh initially resistant, rather maintaining resistance when it is not really feasible to do so.

An analogy I think is helpful is that of a bully threatening a young boy. The bully holds the boy in contempt and intends on hurting him. But if the boy calls on a stronger person to help, the bully is no longer in a position to inflict harm, even if the bully still holds the boy in contempt. Hardening of the bully's heart means that he would continue to threaten and try to attack when there is no possibility of harming the boy; the bully attempts to attack even as the boy calls for his brothers, and fathers, and uncles, variously armed with knives and guns.

Facing the plagues meant that Pharaoh was in a position that even while he held God in contempt, he was unable to resist. Pharaoh could not resist God and the narrative of the plagues makes this clear, much like an unarmed man with a hundred guns poised over him. Yet God gives Pharaoh the obstinacy to refuse the Hebrews. Even when the magicians said it was the hand of God, even when they could not stand in the presence of Pharaoh, even when Pharaoh's servants told him that Egypt was destroyed.

And why did God do this?
Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews,... "But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth. You are still exalting yourself against my people and will not let them go." (Exodus 9)
Pharaoh had already chosen against God. God's power manifest to Pharaoh meant that Pharaoh would crumbled. God strengthened Pharaoh's resolve so that God's judgment could be bring God glory.

This is consistent with Paul's reasoning in Romans. After the example of Pharaoh Paul writes,
What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory... (Romans 9)
Pharaoh was already a vessel of wrath. But God strengthened Pharaoh's resolve and waited patiently, that his glory may be even more manifest. The hardening was not to make Pharaoh judgment-worthy, it was to delay God's judgment and thus increase God's majesty. And this is indeed what happened. Rahab says to the spies,
I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. (Joshua 2)
Had God not hardened Pharaoh's heart, he still would have come under judgment, but the Hebrews would have left near the beginning of the plagues. But the 10 plagues afforded many Egyptians to fear God and leave Egypt to join with Israel. And the destruction of the Egyptian army in the Red Sea struck fear into men from the surrounding nations. It was the salvation of Rahab. God's patience in judgment of Pharaoh led to the salvation of a prostitute in Jericho. Peter states,
And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, (2 Peter 3)
In summary it may be preferable to see the metaphor of hardening a heart more as retaining resolve rather than making one resistant. And the context of Exodus and Romans suggests that hardening was not in order to have a reason to enact judgment—God already had reason enough—but to delay complete judgment.

Friday, 14 January 2011

4 pillars of Western civilisation

John Wright lists 4 unique fundamental pillars unique to Western civilisation
  1. Monotheism
  2. Monogamy
  3. Reason
  4. Liberty
I have not categorised the pillars of Western civilisation, let alone the unique or fundamental ones. But if we give Wright the benefit of the doubt I find it interesting that these 4 come from the creation and antedate the Fall.

Monotheism is foundational, God exists prior to creation. In the beginning of creation God already is.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)
Monogamy is seen in the creation of the woman from the man and their joining in marriage. God created both, and intended monogamy in the pre-Fall world.
Then the LORD God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him."

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:18,24)
Reason is a significant component of the imago Dei. It is a characteristic that we share with God and not the animals. A characteristic we are to use to his glory.
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. (Genesis 1:26)
And liberty was given men so they have the capacity to love. Freedom of thought and action was important enough that God ran the risk men would abuse it. We are not given liberty to do as we will, rather that we may submit to God—freely.
And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die."(Genesis 2:16-17)

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Globus cruciger and flat earth

I have previously written about the myth of the flat earth. The world has been known to be a sphere since before Christ.

Jim S. mentions a useful proof about the knowledge of sphericity of the earth. The existence of the globus cruciger.
The ball was supposed to represent the earth, with the cross on top representing Christ's dominion over it, and the sovereign would hold it to show that "he's got the whole world in his hands." The earliest of these dates to the fifth century, before the fall of Rome, and they were used throughout the Middle Ages. In fact, orbs without the cross were common for centuries beforehand. Thus, any claim that the ancients or medievals thought the earth was flat can't even get started. 
Representing the earth with a ball because the shapes match seems fairly convincing. The scenes depicted on some globes make a celestial interpretation of the globe less viable.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Bergman and Lucas ring model of the atom. Part 1

Spinning charged ring.
Despite being moderately well read in science and having knowledge of various atomic theories, I was unacquainted with Parson's 1915 atomic theory which was modified in 1990 to produce the Bergman/ Lucas model.

Current thinking is that matter obeys quantum mechanics at the microscopic level. Quantum mechanics is a moderately effective theory which came about because classical mechanics did not explain phenomena that were observed at the atomic level. These phenomena were, however, interpreted in the context of the model of the atom based on Rutherford's work which showed the mass concentrated in the tiny nucleus at the centre of the atom. Atomic particles were treated as spheres. Thus physical laws that had been established at the macroscopic level were proclaimed not applicable at the microscopic level.

The Bergman elementary particle model and Lucas atomic model state that subatomic particles are rings, rather than spheres, point particles, or wave functions. The rings have a charge that circuits the ring at the speed of light which sets up a magnetic field. The rings are stationary, some electrons are external to the nucleus but do not orbit it, there is no wave function located around the atom. The larger the particle (greater mass) the smaller the ring. Think of a compressed spring: the smaller the spring is compressed the greater the stored energy; and mass and energy are convertible. There are 4 particles: the electron, the positron, the proton, the antiproton. Neutrons are a closely paired proton and electron.

Why a new model? There are several reasons.
  • Philosophical issues
  • Parsimony and beauty
  • Inadequacies of the current model
  • Explanatory or predictive power of the new model
I will discuss these in a future post.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Monday quote

I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason and intellect has intended us to forget their use.

Galileo Galilei

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Independence for Southern Sudan?

South Sudan votes on independence tomorrow. While I generally approve of smaller states, it remains to be seen whether this will have a beneficial effect in the region.

The problematic region of Darfur is not part of South Sudan.

Capital of South Sudan: Juba

Population of South Sudan: ~9 million

Current map of Sudan

Friday, 7 January 2011

Blogging on Genesis

I have been keen to write more posts on the earlier chapters of Genesis. I have several posts half written. So as time and inspiration allow I hope to publish a variety of posts on creation and the Fall during the coming year. These may cover a range of issues such as the meaning of the text, the implications in history or doctrine, or other related issues.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Monday quote

I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedoms of the people by gradual and silent encroachment of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.

James Madison

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Structure of Hyksos city of Avaris discovered

An article from a few months ago mentioned that radar may have identified streets from the ancient city of Avaris. It's location was previously known but recent imaging has revealed more detail
The radar images show the outlines of streets and houses underneath the green farm fields and modern towns in Egypt's Delta.

Egyptian antiquities chief Zahi Hawass said in a statement that the area could be part of Avaris, the summer capital of the Hyksos....
The Hyksos are identified with the Second Intermediate Kingdom in the current conventional secular chronology. Comments from Manetho and Josephus (who quoted Manetho) may suggest how the Hyksos fit into a a biblical chronology.
Now this Manetho, in the second book of his Egyptian History, writes... "there came, after a surprising manner, men of ignoble birth out of the eastern parts, and had boldness enough to make an expedition into our country, and with ease subdued it by force, yet without our hazarding a battle with them. So when they had gotten those that governed us under their power, they afterwards burnt down our cities, and demolished the temples of the gods, and used all the inhabitants after a most barbarous manner; nay, some they slew, and led their children and their wives into slavery. At length they made one of themselves king, whose name was Salatis; he also lived at Memphis, and made both the upper and lower regions pay tribute, and left garrisons in places that were the most proper for them. He chiefly aimed to secure the eastern parts, as foreseeing that the Assyrians, who had then the greatest power, would be desirous of that kingdom, and invade them; and as he found in the Saite Nomos, a city very proper for this purpose, and which lay upon the Bubastic channel, but with regard to a certain theologic notion was called Avaris, this he rebuilt, and made very strong by the walls he built about it, and by a most numerous garrison of 240000 armed men whom he put into it to keep it. Salatis came there in summer time, partly to gather his corn, and pay his soldiers their wages, and partly to exercise his armed men, and thereby to terrify foreigners....

This whole nation was styled 'Hyksos', that is, Shepherd-kings: for the first syllable 'Hyk', according to the sacred dialect, denotes a king, as is 'Sos' a shepherd; but this according to the ordinary dialect; and of these is compounded Hyksos: but some say that these people were Arabians." Now in another copy it is said that this word does not denote Kings, but, on the contrary, denotes Captive Shepherds, and this on account of the particle "Hyk"; for that "Hyk", with the aspiration, in the Egyptian tongue again denotes Shepherds, and that expressly also; and this to me seems the more probable opinion, and more agreeable to ancient history. "These people, whom we have before named kings, and called shepherds also, and their descendants," as he says, "kept possession of Egypt 511 years." After these, he says, "That the kings of Thebais and the other parts of Egypt made an insurrection against the shepherds, and that there a terrible and long war was made between them." (Flavius Josephus, Against Apion, Book 1;14)
This would be consistent with an tribe invading a nation without an army. Velikovsky followed by Courville and Down suggest this occurred following the exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt. This would place the events about ~1400 BC. They identity the Hyksos with the Amalekites who had previously fought Israel at Rephidim (Exodus 16).

In support of this conjecture we note that the Hyksos had Canaanite names
The Amalekites dwell in the land of the Negeb. The Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the hill country. And the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and along the Jordan. (Numbers 13)
Of minor significance we also note that the duration of Hyksos rule in Egypt is commonly apportioned ~150 years in secular chronologies whereas Scripture has Saul fighting the Amalekites 400 years after the Exodus (1 Samuel 15), more in keeping with Manetho's figure of 511 years. It must be mentioned that Manetho is somewhat unreliable with chronology. Also, it is not clear whether Saul's battle included Egyptian based tribes; the battle extended to Shur east of Egypt.

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