Monday, 31 December 2012

Monday quote

Cronyism isn’t a zero-sum game that takes from some and gives to others; it’s negative-sum. The losses to the losers substantially outweigh the gains to the usually less numerous winners.

David R. Henderson

Monday, 24 December 2012

Monday quote

Want to keep Christ in Christmas? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the unwanted, care for the ill, love your enemies, and do unto others as you would have done unto you.

Steve Maraboli

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Shields of the earth

Timothy Dalrymple published a guest post by Peter Wehner calling out James Dobson over his comments on the mass shooting in Connecticut, USA. Dobson, in the midst of a much longer broadcast, said,
Our country really does seem in complete disarray. I'm not talking politically, I'm not talking about the result of the November sixth election; I am saying that something has gone wrong in America and that we have turned our back on God.

I mean millions of people have decided that God doesn’t exist, or he’s irrelevant to me and we have killed fifty-four million babies and the institution of marriage is right on the verge of a complete redefinition. Believe me, that is going to have consequences too.

And a lot of these things are happening around us, and somebody is going to get mad at me for saying what I am about to say right now, but I am going to give you my honest opinion: I think we have turned our back on the Scripture and on God Almighty and I think he has allowed judgment to fall upon us. I think that’s what’s going on.
It is important to note the larger context of his talk. Dobson replays a talk from 30 years ago talking about the breakdown of the family. The entire talk is on the problems for children without stable families. Divorce gets most of his ire, though he is concerned about absent parents and several other negative influences on the family. He surmises that the murderer was likely affected by a negative family background. Dobson's words above about about the larger picture of the problems in the USA including, but not limited to, mass killings.

In Dobson's comment we can see that his comment about a redefinition of marriage refers to his prediction that things will become worse. Further that he believes that the USA is under judgment from God. Dobson goes on to say immediately after the above comments,
We're seeing things happen that didn't happen just a few years ago. And there's a reason for it, something has gone wrong in this country.

In Shirley's book Certain Peace in Uncertain Times she quotes a scripture from Psalm 47:9 that comes to mind and it says, "For the shields of the earth belong unto God." The shields of the earth—he protects his people and cares about them. And when we are faithful to him, when we revere him, when we read his word and try to apply it, when we are committed to our spouses and to our children, the Lord blesses us. And that's been the source of the greatest prosperity and the greatest blessing on this country of any nation in the history of the world. It didn't happen because we're just nice folks, it happened because we followed biblical principles. And if we walk away from them as we are doing now, and turn our back on the fundamentals of the faith that has guided our forefathers, there will be consequences.
I quote this to show that Dobson sees the problem as being at a national level. This is a corporate problem, not an individual one.

Wehner takes Dobson to task for trying to diagnose evil,
Some Christian conservatives seemingly cannot help themselves.  They have to try to find some deep theological explanation for the evil we witness in places like Newtown, Connecticut.  But often in doing so, they injure the very faith they seek to represent. 
My concern with the post is that it is confused.

Starting with the issue of suffering, Wehner is correct when he points out that the Christian life in the New Testament is intimately connected with suffering, ignoring that the Old Testament says the same things. Paul says that followers of Christ share in Christ's suffering (2 Corinthians 1:5). However, that the righteous may suffer does not negate that the wicked may suffer also. Peter tells us that we are to suffer for righteousness not wickedness (1 Peter 3:17). More importantly however, the argument conflates individual suffering for righteousness in an unrighteous world with God's judgment of nation and the resultant strife. God can certainly judge a nation and scripture testifies to this, both in the case of Israel and many other nations. As such, a righteous person within a nation may suffer if God judges a nation as we see with Elijah.

This appears to be what Dobson is saying above. Rejection of God at a national level will lead to God's judgment. Dobson is not claiming that the children killed (or their parents) were being specifically judged by God.

Wehner expands to this level and asks why the nation is not deteriorating if they are under God's judgment.
Violent crime rates in the U.S. are reaching historic lows. Since 1993, for example, the rate of violent victimization has dropped by more than 70 percent. Those findings undercut the Dobson thesis. If America has gotten less godly, why would God’s judgment (which Dobson believes manifests itself in violent crimes) be getting less, not more, severe? On the flip side, the number, rate, and ratio of abortions in America are lower today than in the past. So why would God lash out now, when the abortion rate is going down, rather than before, when it was going up? And how would Dobson explain why the murder rate was higher when same-sex marriage wasn’t even being discussed and more people believed in God? One can see how terribly confused Dobson’s argument is once it’s actually scrutinized.
What this suggests to me is that Dobson can read the story but Wehner cannot. One needs to have a longitudinal not a cross-sectional view of things, especially history. It takes time for fruit to develop. The consequences of behaviours take some time to work out. We need to look at several decades worth of data and a range of metrics. Accurate data for murder and violence, but also theft, sexual immorality, selfishness, nacissism; and economic issues such as debt. Further, in terms of judgment we need to remember God's patience. God refused to judge the Amorites for 400 years as their sin was not yet full (Genesis 15:16). Repentance would have brought relenting of such judgment as it did for the Ninevites (Jonah; Jeremiah 18:7ff). But repentance and the behaviour that follows has to be real. Wehner's link mentions an 8% drop in the abortion rate 2000–2008; while an improvement, at more than 1,000,000 abortions per year this is hardly a change in heart of the nation.

Wehner makes some other misguided claims. In his third rebutal he says,
Dobson assumes he knows the mind of God and what most grieves, angers and moves His heart.  But surely Dobson knows that Jesus mentions divorce more often than he mentions homosexuality (which Paul addresses but Jesus does not).  So why is same-sex marriage on Dobson’s list but divorce is left off?  And what about the other things that concern God – like indifference to the poor, not caring for the stranger and alien in our midst, a haughty spirit, and riches?  When I listen to James Dobson and I read the gospel accounts, two jarringly different portraits emerge.
Well we can know the mind of God as he has showed us in his word. We may certainly weigh the issues incorrectly as Wehner rightly says; though he then gives a questionable method: counting. While it is true that an issue that the Bible addresses repeatedly is probably important, failure to address things is not condoning them. Jesus addresses divorce a few times, as does Dobson thru-out the broadcast. Jesus does address homosexuality (Matthew 19:4), Dobson does once, and in the context of defending the institution of marriage. Jesus addresses the question of marriage as it was occasional; he was responding to a question. Homosexuality was condemned in Jewish society. It wasn't as if the various Jewish parties were disagreeing over the issue so they brought it Jesus. If homosexuality was condemned and divorce allowed in some circumstances, then if Jesus censures people for being too free with divorce how much more does Jesus reject homosexual practice. If a man may not even look at a woman lustfully he may less look at a man, let alone lie with him.

Other vices may also be a cause of judgment; when people reject God they reject a range of virtues, not just family. The other problems may be of concern to God in the activities of American citizens, though it is the love of riches, not riches, that should be in the above list.

Lastly, Wehner conflates truth and sensitivity.
Now, assume you were a parent of one of the children who was gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School and you heard a well-known Christian figure like Dobson declare that the worst thing you could possibly conceive of – the murder of your first-grade daughter — was a result of the wrath of God.  If you believed this, it would only add to your grief.  And if you didn’t believe it, it would only add to your anger.  And what would Dobson say to the father of the boy who had just dedicated his young life to the Lord?  Why was he the target of God’s judgment?  Because Washington State passed a same-sex marriage initiative?
Truth is not sensitivity. It is fine to discuss the wisdom, or lack thereof, of saying these things at this time. Whether a grieving parent may find Dobson's comments hurtful does not tell us if they are correct or not. This is merely an emotional appeal by Wehner, made worse by misrepresenting a specific death as being due to God's wrath. Nor is this what Dobson said.

I am not a Dobson champion, I disagree with some of his ideas. Nor do I necessarily disagree with Wehner otherwise, I had not previously heard of him and found a couple of his other articles reasonable. Dobson's theology may not always be correct, but it is hardly callous.

Hat tip: MzEllen

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Climate assertions malapropos

Several scientists have sent a letter to the United Nations Secretary General disputing climate change claims and asking him to abandon costly, unnecessary, misguided, and costly policy.
The U.K. Met Office recently released data showing that there has been no statistically significant global warming for almost 16 years. During this period, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations rose by nearly 9% to now constitute 0.039% of the atmosphere. Global warming that has not occurred cannot have caused the extreme weather of the past few years. Whether, when and how atmospheric warming will resume is unknown. The science is unclear. Some scientists point out that near-term natural cooling, linked to variations in solar output, is also a distinct possibility.
There are 134 signatories to this letter, most of whom appear to have doctorates.

There is no consensus. And the lack of warming over the last decade should have made changers at least question their theory. In as much as it has not had this effect, tossing around the label "denier" is misdirected.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Did Charles Darwin recant his theory of evolution?

Creation.com has an interesting article about Charles Darwin's (1809–1882) last days. Russell Grigg reviews the idea held by some that Darwin recanted his theory and became a Christian before his death. Grigg reviews Lady Elizabeth Hope's (1842–1922) recounting of her meeting with Darwin in 1881 (which was first published in 1915), and two books about the topic: Darwin and Lady Hope: The Untold Story by L. R. Croft and The Darwin Legend by James Moore.

It is a thought-provoking read. Grigg concludes that Hope's recount is honest, though the account does not necessarily say that Darwin recanted his ideas, nor can it be concluded that Darwin became a Christian—the article does not mention it, but it is useful to remember Darwin studied theology as part of his arts degree; this may be relevant in interpreting what Darwin was saying to Hope.

Grigg does not think it is likely Darwin became a Christian. He also thinks Darwin subscribed to his theory of the origin of species by natural selection and the descent of men from apes till his death.

Thus Hope's account is accurate from the conversation had, further Darwin may have vacillated in his conversations.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Monday quote

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.

James Madison, The Federalist No. 51: The Structure of the Government Must Furnish the Proper Checks and Balances Between the Different Departments.

Friday, 14 December 2012

DNA in dinosaur bones

A recent study published in Bone (doi:10.1016/j.bone.2012.10.010) shows evidence of residual dinosaur DNA in dinosaur bones. They retrieved osteocytes (bone cells) from the bone and stained it for DNA.

The dinosaurs were Tyrannosaurus rex and Brachylophosaurus canadensis.


Row 1 (ABC) is T. rex. Row 2 (DEF) is B. canadensis. Row 3 (GHI) is ostrich.

Column 1 (ADG) is a anti-DNA antibody stain. Column 2 (BEH) is propidium iodide, a DNA stain. Column 3 (CFI) is 4′,6′-diamidino-2-phenylindole dihydrochloride, a DNA stain.

Note that the stains are limited to the nucleus of the cell.

They also identified several proteins including histones which are closely associated with DNA.

They have not yet sequenced the DNA, though that would be of considerable interest.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

What does Bart Ehrman really know about Jesus?

Bart Ehrman, textual critic, has written an article disputing the biblical accounts of Jesus' birth. In it he disputes traditional beliefs, apocryphal claims, and biblical claims. I have no interest in discussing non-canonical writings here, though I am likely to concur with Ehrman about this, but wish to clarify popular belief and refute his antibiblical assertions. I will list the claims here but it is worth reading the article in full first.

Ehrman claims that the Bible does not mention
  1. What year Jesus came into the world;
  2. That Jesus was born on December 25;
  3. An ox and an ass in his manger;
  4. That it was 3 (as opposed to 7 or 12) wise men who visited him.
Ehrman suggests the following equivalency:
  • The Proto-Gospel of James is incredulous;
  • The New Testament gospels are incredulous.
  • He suggests that if we disbelieve the Proto-Gospel of James we should also disbelieve the New Testament gospels.
He also complains that
  1. Matthew and Luke are the only two (New Testament) gospels that contain infancy narratives;
  2. Matthew and Luke are inappropriate to use as historical sources.
He mentions that the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke are historically problematic because they appear irreconcilable. Specifically
  1. Luke and Joseph give genealogies of Jesus’ father, Joseph but they are different;
  2. Joseph and Mary make a trip from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem in order to register for a census that never occurred;
  3. A star—or other celestial body—cannot lead anyone to a particular town or stop over a particular house;
I will consider each of these claims in turn.

Many of the modern ideas about Christmas are not entirely correct. Unfortunately Ehrman has not entirely identified popular misconceptions. The Bible does specify when Jesus was born. It states that the birth was at the time of Augustus' registration (Luke 2:1), that Herod was still alive, and that Jesus was about 30 in Tiberius' 15th year (Luke 3:1, 23). There are several other pointers in the Bible as to the time of Jesus' birth which narrows it down to a year or two as we are not fully certain concerning the intersection of the biblical dates with the Julian calendar.

Ehrman is correct in that we are not clearly given an exact date when Jesus was born, though there are clues that may allow specifying the day. The choice of December 25 may be a reasonable day to celebrate Christmas as there is some evidence that it may correspond to the Magis' visit.

There one presumes Ehrman means near the manger rather than in it. There may or may not have been animals around the time of the birth. It is of little consequence, but given that a manger is a feeding trough for animals their presence would not be remarkable. He would have been better to argue that Jesus was not born in a stable.

The 3 Magi possibly derives from the 3 gifts, but Ehrman is correct in that the Bible does not specify their number, or the number of their retinue.

Ehrman's comparison of the Proto-Gospel of James to the New Testament gospels fails on at least two accounts. Firstly, if a work on a topic is palpably false, it does not mean that every work on that topic is just as false. Demonstrating errors in James does not bring Luke into disrepute. Secondly, it seems there is some (unintentional) equivocation around incredulous. To the materialist all miraculous stories are incredulous. It is the miraculous that seems incredulous. Of course if God exists, the miraculous is hardly unbelievable—as if God is constrained by his own creation. To the theist, incredulity has little to do with miracles and everything to do with plausibility of the story. Jesus turned water into wine because they had run out of wine, he healed the crippled and the blind to make them well, and he frequently used such events to teach about the kingdom of God. Compare James' angels feeding Mary, Jesus walking immediately after birth, Mary's hymen remaining intact post-partum. It is not that miracles like these are beyond God's power: ravens fed Elijah. The problem is the miracles are to what purpose? This is the miraculous solely for the sake of miracle. It is incredulous not because there are miracles in the story, it is incredulous because it lacks meaning.

His next two complaints are a non-issue. There are only 4 New Testament gospels, only 2 gospels having material about Jesus' infancy is fully half of all the gospels. His statement that Matthew and Luke are inappropriate historical sources is just assertion. Luke is frequently regarded as a pre-eminent historian.

For all the length of the article Ehrman only identifies three problems specific to what is actually written in the Bible. He is wrong on all three counts.

The genealogies are not both of Joseph. Matthew's (incomplete) genealogy is of Joseph who is married to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Luke's is of Jesus via Mary. Jesus was the son as it was supposed of Joseph. Jesus was in fact the son (decendent) of Heli, Heli being the father of Mary. Luke has earlier told us that Mary was a virgin and Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and not Joseph.

Next, there are a couple of problems with the census dismissal. The first problem is Ehrman fails to find corroborating evidence for such census and uses this missing information and reason to dismiss Luke's claims as fiction. Even if Luke were to contradict another historian this does not disprove Luke, if Luke is otherwise more reliable then he deemed more likely to be telling the truth. Yet in this passage it is not even Luke versus others, it is Luke versus no one. Why can we not believe Luke here? Luke is an impeccable historian. And he lived during this era. The second problem is that it probably was not a census. Luke says registration. A census is assumed by some interpreters but not mentioned by Luke. There could be other reasons to register. Some have suggested this registration was to offer an oath of allegiance to Augustus, about the time he was named Pater Patriae.

Lastly, the clue to the star is that it appeared to the Magi. Although God could have made a dazzling light appear in the sky to guide the way this would have been visible to everyone. The Magi saw meaning in various stars that others did not see. It was the conjunction of stars and planets (wandering stars) that led them to Jerusalem and then to Bethlehem.

Reconciling the gospel nativities is not that difficult. Though some difficulties may exist in the texts, others difficulties seem to arise from an assumption that the gospels are errant.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Monday quote

Reading and reflection are the rational pleasures of wise men.

Source.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Christianity and homosexuality. Part 3

Natural law speaks to man's heterosexual design; Scripture declares sodomy verboten. This evidence is enough for obedience, though questions as to why this may be the case can be addressed. To do so we need to ask the right questions such as what is the intent of sexuality? What is marriage? Why do we have marriage? How does the Fall affect these things? What will be the situation in the resurrection?

The original question included the comment,
It’s not a matter of homosexuality means the population won’t grow or be able to look after us in our old age – as was the case in Biblical times.
And elsewhere in the email was the request not to list verses but to explain why this remains the situation millennia later.

I am not certain one can do this staying away from Bible verses per se. Perhaps one can refrain from quoting proof-texts, but defence requires explaining actual texts.

It is not just that we know what God has commanded—though obedience without full understanding is an aspect of faith—he has told us much about why the world is.

Therefore the creation mandates must be considered in any approach to sexuality, we learn much of God's intent for the world. God's creation of humans was the culmination of his all his works of creation; we are made in his image, we are given dominion over the rest of the world, we are told to procreate and fill the earth.

Adam does not find himself a companion amongst the animals, but on meeting his wife:
This at last is bone of my bones/
and flesh of my flesh; (Genesis 2:23)
He recognises his need for companionship. God wants relationship, and shows Adam his need. Adam's need for companionship cannot be meet in caring for animals, it needs to be in something—which turns out to be a someone—who shares the image of God. Yet also we see God's intent in creating a woman. God makes her human to share the imago Dei, but makes her female to compliment him as a person. Jesus confirms God's intent by quoting this passage
Jesus answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
The two were to be one.

This is primary, and without the added consideration of children. Marriage is for complimentary companionship: humans not animals, two not many, male and female. God has created us like this, and the intent of design is such that intimate relationship will occur in such a situation. Of course the Fall quickly affected this and continues to do so, which I will address at a later stage.

So what of children as a part of family? Filling the earth was an early command (Genesis 1:28) and was repeated (Genesis 9:1). Homosexual relationships are sterile and cannot obey this command. Neither can barren women who are married, nor persons who choose not to marry including those who do so for the sake of the kingdom. Not having children can be an acceptable situation and need not imply sin. Of course sin is defined in terms of intent. It is certainly not the intent of a barren woman to fail to bear children. Her situation is usually a source of grief. And the man or woman serving Christ and staying unmarried has chosen a calling where they should not be becoming (biological) parents. I am not certain that married couples voluntary refraining from having children is a reasonable option (in most situations). So the issue of a homosexual couple entering a sexual relationship needs to be compared to, at minimum, heterosexuals who marry with the permanent intent of not having children. And though the dominion mandate includes populating the earth, something that will happen despite not everyone contributing a child or two, it is not lots of people that is the predominant reason for parenthood. Malachi tells us the why of having children,
The LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.” (Malachi 2:14-16)
It is godly children God wants, not lots of people. Failing to have a growing population is not the primary issue, it is not having faithful children.

Caring for parents in their old age is not the primary reason for family, though it is something that is important for children (1 Timothy 5:4). As parental care is not the reason for marriage, a perceived lack of necessity for children in senility is not an argument in favour of homosexual unions.

The difference in the contemporary social situation compared to the ancient Near-East is not an argument allowing homosexual unions. Needing children to care in infirmity was not the reason for marriage; and having children is command for the sake of godly people, a command that cannot intrinsically be obeyed by two people of the same gender.

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

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Did Moses write the Pentateuch?

Several authors of Scripture thought so.
  • Exodus 17:14; 24:4–7; 34:27;
  • Numbers 33:2;
  • Deuteronomy 31:9, 22, 24;
  • Joshua 1:7–8; 8:32–34;
  • Judges 3:4;
  • 1 Kings 2:3;
  • 2 Kings 14:6; 21:8;
  • 2 Chronicles 25:4;
  • Ezra 6:18;
  • Nehemiah 8:1; 13:1;
  • Daniel 9:11–13;
  • Matthew 8:4; 19:7–8;
  • Mark 7:10; 12:26;
  • Luke 16:31; 24:27, 44;
  • John 1:17; 5:46–47; 7:19;
  • Acts 6:14; 13:39; 15:5;
  • 1 Corinthians 9:9;
  • 2 Corinthians 3:15;
  • Hebrews 10:28.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Monday quote

We live in a strange period in history when the idea of affordable food is considered a lamentable condition.

Joe Carter

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Atheism's religion

Is atheism a religion? Is evolutionism a religion? Is secularism a religion?

Subscribers to various positions try to prejudice their own beliefs by claiming that religious beliefs should be excluded from the public square, or that such beliefs represent a conflict of interest, or a bias—often implying an unacceptable bias.

Of course if religion is (reasonably) defined as belief in a deity or, more broadly, the supernatural, then materialism is not a religion. Unfortunately for the materialist he is not off the hook. Firstly the debate is over truth. And if God exists, as the majority of the world has believed since creation till now, then the premises of the atheist are false and his conclusions are more likely to be errant.

Even ignoring this, the relegation of religion to second tier prominence is unjustifiable. What is it that people believe? It is their worldview. Consistent or not, events are interpreted according to an underlying belief structure. It is not more logical to justify a course of action based on considerations that deliberately deny divinity rather than affirming it.

One may categorise a worldview by topic. Say, how does one view economics or philosophy? Within such a system the atheist has a view on theology. His claim is atheism, the Christian's claim is theism. Other particular worldviews include pantheism.

The atheist wishes to allow his denial of theism to influence his views, yet deny his theology (atheism) shut him out of the marketplace of ideas; the very reason he gives for banning the theist. He labels a theistic worldview "religion," which is enough to disparage ideas influenced by it, but somehow not have the same effect on areligious reasoning. He wants to eat and keep his cake.

Some atheist and evolutionist thinkers are more aware of the influence of worldview, and can see how such premises affect their ideas in ways analogous to religion. From their mouths....

Hubert Yockey (1916–), evolutionist. Journal of Theoretical Biology (1977), doi:10.1016/0022-5193(77)90044-3.
One must conclude that, contrary to the established and current wisdom a scenario describing the genesis of life on earth by chance and natural causes which can be accepted on the basis of fact and not faith has not yet been written.
Boyce Rensberger, evolutionist. How the World Works.
The fact is that scientists are not really as objective and dispassionate in their work as they would like you to think. Most scientists first get their ideas about how the world works not through rigorously logical processes but through hunches and wild guesses. As individuals, they often come to believe something to be true long before they assemble the hard evidence that will convince somebody else that it is. Motivated by faith in his own ideas and a desire for acceptance by his peers, a scientist will labor for years knowing in his heart that his theory is correct but devising experiment after experiment whose results he hopes will support his position.
Richard Lewontin (1929–), evolutionist. The New York Review of Books (1997).
We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfil many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.
John Dunphy, humanist. The Humanist (1983).
I am convinced that the battle for humankind’s future must be waged and won in the public school classroom by teachers who correctly perceive their role as the proselytizers of a new faith: a religion of humanity that recognizes and respects the spark of what theologians call divinity in every human being. These teachers must embody the same selfless dedication as the most rabid fundamentalist preachers, for they will be ministers of another sort, utilizing a classroom instead of a pulpit to convey humanist values in whatever subject they teach, regardless of the educational level—preschool day care or large state university. The classroom must and will become an arena of conflict between the old and the new—the rotting corpse of Christianity, together with all its adjacent evils and misery, and the new faith of humanism … .
Michael Ruse (1940–), agnostic.
Evolution, akin to religion, involves making certain a priori or metaphysical assumptions, which at some level cannot be proven empirically.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Christianity and homosexuality. Part 2

Previously I expanded on the complementary nature of males and females that can be known from anatomy and physiology. Humans are designed for heterosexual coitus.

The scriptural arguments that homosexual behaviour is forbidden are quite extensive. I do not intend to address them all at this stage but will touch on an interpretative issue concerning Old Testament texts.

There are prohibitions against sodomy in the Torah (Lev 18:22; 20:13). Some have argued that since several other prohibitions are no longer in effect such as wearing clothes made with blended linen (Deu 22:11), or eating shellfish (Lev 11:10), we can dismiss prohibitions against sodomy. The problem with this kind of approach is that everyone agrees that at least some prohibitions in the Torah are applicable. All would say that people should not murder (Exo 20:13), steal (Exo 20:15), or give false testimony (Exo 20:16). Likewise animal sacrifices are generally agreed to no longer be in effect. Some things mentioned in the Torah are still applicable, and some are not. It is not sufficient to say that sodomy is no longer prohibited because we can eat pork. The question is, "Is the sodomy law akin to laws against theft, or laws against sowing a field with wheat and barley?" If we now sanction sodomy, does the same approval apply to adultery (Exo 20:14), child sacrifice (Lev 18:21), or bestiality (Lev 18:23)?

We gain insight into this question from Paul's letters.
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor catamites, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
The words relating to sexual immorality above are "fornicator" (πορνοι), "idolater*" (ειδολολατρεσ), "adulterer" (μοιχοι), "catamite" (μαλακοι), and "sodomite" (αρσενοκοιται, arsenokoitai).

Paul elsewhere uses the word "arsenokoites" (αρσενοκοιτεσ) in a vice list in his first letter to Timothy
...the lawless and disobedient, the ungodly and sinners, the unholy and profane, father-killers and mother-killers, murderers, fornicators, sodomites (αρσενοκοιταις), kidnappers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, (1 Timothy 1:9-10)
This is a compound word that some claim Paul coined. It is derived from "arsen" (αρσεν) meaning "male" and "koite" (κοιτε) meaning "bed". That "bed" (koite) can have sexual overlay in the meaning (compare to, "bed a girl") can be seen in that we get "coitus" from this Greek word. This word is a reference back to Leviticus
καὶ ὃς ἂν κοιμηθῇ μετὰ ἄρσενος κοίτην γυναικός βδέλυγμα ἐποίησαν ἀμφότεροι θανατούσθωσαν ἔνοχοί εἰσιν (Lev 20:3, Greek Septuagint)

And he who lies with a male in a bed as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; let them certainly be put to death, they are guilty. (Lev 20:13, English Septuagint)
Paul's use of this word in his lists is straight from Leviticus which favours reading the ruling in Leviticus as a permanent prohibition and not a temporary injunction for the Israelites.

I think both the design of human anatomy and the commands of God provide us with the answer to homosexual practice. Nevertheless, an understanding of the broader aspects of sexuality and God's intention can help us understand not just what God commands but why.

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

*While idolatry is not intrinsically sexual, in practice it is often closely associated with sexual immorality.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Monday, 26 November 2012

Monday quote

For man, by the fall, fell at the same time from his state of innocence and from his dominion over creation. Both of these losses however, can even in this life be in some part repaired; the former by religion and faith, the latter by arts and sciences.

Francis Bacon (1561–1626), New Organon.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Christianity and homosexuality. Part 1

A Christian friend of mine (with no significant internet presence that I am aware of) has asked me about homosexuality. His basic question, embedded in a longer email, was:
I can’t see why God would have a problem with homosexuality, assuming that is was ‘good’ homosexuality. We have many, many examples of ‘bad’ heterosexuality. If we take all of what we say a monogamous, loving, ‘Godly’, heterosexual marriage should be and call that a ‘good’ relationship then I can’t see any difference if you just slotted in the word homosexual instead of heterosexual (except, obviously, you can’t have kids – leaving homosexual adoption etc aside). It’s not a matter of homosexuality means the population won’t grow or be able to look after us in our old age – as was the case in Biblical times.
Part of the difficulty answering this is that he is familiar with various other Christian controversies and observes that many people just quote mine Scripture to support their view. This can be true at times, parts of the Bible are used to hold up a prefabricated structure rather than the entire Bible forming the foundation and walls. Such an approach to Scripture can be a temptation, though I would argue that many Christians try to reframe their thinking from Scripture. Therefore he is not that interested in a list of verses refuting homosexuality as others could just offer an alternative list. Though I think finding verses showing the acceptability of homosexual behaviour and unions from Scripture is difficult, I will address the larger issue as I see it.

The arguments that homosexual behaviour is iniquitous comes from both general and specific revelation: nature and scriptural commands against it. Understanding the broader intentions of God gives reasons for these commands. I will initially post on general revelation, specific general revelation, and what could possibly be titled allegory.

The natural argument is significant. Christians know that the world is designed and hence purposeful. Teleology is asserted though variably understood. The natural anatomy of men and women is clearly complementary. The main purpose of the penis and the sole purpose of the vagina is coitus. The gonads are anatomically and functionally associated with them. The urethra is a conduit for urine, but its position is related to the presence of a penis, it merely needs to exit the body from the bladder and its location seems convenient. The uterus (womb) is anatomically intermediate between the vagina (coitus) and ovaries (reproduction). An anatomical connection is a biological necessity. The uterus is also functionally associated with the ovaries with regard to reproduction.

This knowledge of both the anatomy and the function of the sex organs in relation to coitus and reproduction demonstrates that men and women were designed complementary. This does not deny that an organ can have duel function, such as taste and speech with the tongue. Nor that an activity is restricted to a single function. Eating brings sustenance and pleasure. Coitus can give pleasure, produce intimacy, and create life. The point is that nature shows us that heterosexual coitus is how humans were designed to operate. To argue for sodomy (heterosexual or homosexual) one would need to show how such an activity is part of human design: a duel function analogous to the tongue being a taste organ as well as a speech organ.

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

Monday, 19 November 2012

Monday quote

The great problem with discontented people (and that means discontented husbands and wives) is that they are the most unteachable people on earth.

Douglas Wilson

Monday, 12 November 2012

Monday quote

It's precisely those systems that fail to defend private property rights that are most inclined to abuse the earth. There's a name for this in economics—"the tragedy of the commons."

Robert Sirico (1951–), Defending the Free Market.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Revolution or reformation

Changing the direction of society can be pursued progressively or suddenly. Advocates of change can be righteous or unrighteous; the change desired beneficial or disastrous. The path to Christendom is good, all other paths are broad and head toward Abaddon. The Western road to secularism, even though it probably won't end there, is in the wrong direction.

But what of the way we change where we are headed? The French revolution arising from the enlightenment and the worship of (fallen) reason was disastrous. Marxists in their pursuit of communism encouraged revolution against the bourgeois which led to the largest death toll in the history of conflict. A question arises as to whether the negative aspects of these revolutions were because of their wrong-headed goal—the idolatries of reason and the state respectively—or their revolutionary nature. If so, a second question is whether revolution is acceptable in the pursuit of the good.

The method of revolution is sudden change. The overthrow of a regime or system is pursued immediately. It declares war on its opponents and seeks to remove their influence by any means. It is not just transformation, but immediate change. As such the conflict is obvious to all, and prone to violence, especially so if wicked men are at the forefront.

Conversely reformation seeks to change by degrees. Though the creation of Protestantism may be viewed as sudden and it is referred to as the Reformation, Luther was not initially trying to split the church, he was trying to reform it. This failed, and the rise of Protestantism was good for both Christendom in general, and for the Roman Catholic church. Nevertheless, the method of reforming is gradual change, it re-forms, it replaces poor and wrong practices with good ones.

It seems that revolution is generally destructive when it is pursued for wrong ends. Though even reformation in the wrong direction is detrimental. And it is subtle. We may not be Marxists, though we are all Fabians. It is uncertain if abortion can be completely laid at the feet of socialism, yet Progressives do advocate its tolerance, and at 40 million abortions per year it dwarfs the communist death toll.

So is revolution a permissible method in pursuit of the good? There may be some situations where revolution may be defended, but in general it seems it is to be avoided.

Judgment at times is revolutionary in its arrival. God is patient with man, but disobedience may be punished greatly and suddenly. Resisting aggressive evil may leave no other option. Wickedness that is bold may need to be resisted by righteousness that is bolder. However these seem to be the exception.

Jesus tells us the kingdom of God is like yeast in bread (Luke 13:20-21). Daniel describes a stone that becomes a mountain that covers the whole earth (Daniel 2:35,44-45). There is no time frame for these but both are processes of growth and have been going on for the last 2000 years.

The kingdom of heaven reforms. God is in the process of change. He redeems people for himself. We become disciples and this takes time. We are baptised to show Jesus' life in us, and we take the bread and wine continually as we became more like him. We are changed in his likeness. In the same way Jesus can redeem and reform culture. Music, art, politics, justice, economics can all be redeemed; and the process of redemption is usually one of reformation. Revolution is destructive. It may be necessary at times, but God is redeeming this fallen world—transforming it slowly, a process of reformation. We need to take a long view. Looking at where people and cultures are is less useful than looking at where they are headed.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Letters to the editor

The Sacred Sandwich prints several letters to the editor after Christianity Today publishes Paul's letter to the Galatians.

From 2009. Most amusing.


If Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians was Published in Christianity Today

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

Dear Christianity Today:

In response to Paul D. Apostle’s article about the Galatian church in your January issue, I have to say how appalled I am by the unchristian tone of this hit piece. Why the negativity? Has he been to the Galatian church recently? I happen to know some of the people at that church, and they are the most loving, caring people I’ve ever met.

Phyllis Snodgrass; Ann Arbor, MI

————————————————————————
Dear Editor:

How arrogant of Mr. Apostle to think he has the right to judge these people and label them accursed. Isn’t that God’s job? Regardless of this circumcision issue, these Galatians believe in Jesus just as much as he does, and it is very Pharisaical to condemn them just because they differ on such a secondary issue. Personally, I don’t want a sharp instrument anywhere near my zipper, but that doesn’t give me the right to judge how someone else follows Christ. Can’t we just focus on our common commitment to Christ and furthering His kingdom, instead of tearing down fellow believers over petty doctrinal matters?

Ed Bilgeway; Tonganoxie, KS

————————————————————————–
Read more

Monday, 5 November 2012

Monday quote

Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Prophecy is better understood after it is fulfilled

In an earlier post I wrote,
There is an aspect of hiddenness to Scripture. Related to this hiddenness is the concept that prophecy is better understood after the event than before it. That is, its fulfilment clearly relates to the prophecy, but this is much harder to grasp before the event.
This could seem to imply that prophecy is not really prophecy if we can only perceive it after it is fulfilled, or worse, that it is not prophecy at all and we just look to random events that may line up with vague ponderings—a Nostradamus approach where cryptic predictions have innumerable confirmations.

This is not really what I am getting at. I think it possible to understand prophecy before the event. And some prophecies are quite clear. Jeremiah clearly stated that Babylon was going to conquer Jerusalem. The Jews would be exiled for 70 years and then return. Daniel was praying near the end of that time asking God about the return (Daniel 2:9). So some prophecy is easy to understand. Nevertheless some prophecies are harder to grasp and some is very difficult to understand.

This may be intentional, God gives words he knows will be difficult to understand. This may relate to us not grasping the issue: for example, at times we relate 2 disparate things because they seem similar to us and we fail to see crucial distinctions. This may be because it addresses issues we have yet to encounter: new inventions, different culture.

Whatever the reason is that we struggle to understand, the reason for God giving elusive prophecies may relate in part to him wanting the prophecy to exist—that is, publicising the foretelling of events—without people knowing exactly what is to come, especially those who oppose God.

So I do not mean that the prophecy is vague and any number of events fulfil it, I mean that an event clearly fulfils it, but all the details of the prophecy become much clearer after we encounter its fulfilment.

An example is Isaiah 53, the 4th of the suffering servant passages (Isaiah 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12). Isaiah 53 clearly applies to Jesus, as do all of the suffering servant passages. There has been no other life that fits these verses, and applying them to the nation of Israel fails. Yet who could really understand all that Isaiah 53 was saying before the incarnation of the Messiah. Perhaps there were several interpretations before Jesus, but there is only one after him. And did any one person get it correct before Jesus? Peter tells us that not only did the prophets inquire carefully about the salvation to be offered, but also the angels!
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. (1 Peter 1:10-12)
Post fulfilment clarity is not ad hoc, it is more an aha moment.

A potential application of this is that if an event accurately fulfils prophecy then this event may be the intention of the prophecy (or the first event in a duel fulfilment). If an event does not clearly match the prophecy (after it occurs) then perhaps the connection is strained and the prophecy is yet to be fulfilled.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Eschatological schools

Following on from my prophetic principles, how do I see eschatology in general, and specifically Revelation? Revelation 1:1-7 mentions that the vision concerns the return of Christ. Verse 1 says the events are soon,
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place.
Verse 7 mentions Jesus return,
Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him.
Verse 19 adds,
Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.
This means that Revelation discusses things happening around the time it was written and in the future. It need not solely mean immediately, that is the first generation after Jesus' resurrection; nor end-times, the last generation before Jesus returns. It potentially covers affairs from the time of John's vision until Jesus' return.

Briefly classifying the 4 major schools:
  • Preterism*: Most of the prophecies of the Bible find their fulfilment in the first generation after Jesus' resurrection; that is, by 70 AD.
  • Historicism: The prophecies of the Bible are fulfilled in various persons thru-out history until the return of Christ.
  • Futurism: Most prophecies of the Bible find their fulfilment in the last generation before Jesus returns.
  • Idealism: The symbols are predominately symbolic of ideas and most do not correspond to any specific event.
By most prophecies I mean those that were not fulfilled by the time of Jesus, I do not mean those that are acknowledged to have been fulfilled such as Jeremiah's prophecy of the return from exile, or Isaiah's prophecies of the first coming of the Messiah.

I think that preterism, historicism, and futurism all offer a potentially valid approach. Idealism may get us thinking more carefully about what the symbols refer to, but it fails to recognise and apply genuine prophecy.

Because I am not attached to any one particular option I read some passages with an immediate (preterist) fulfilment, and others with a distant (futurist) one.

There is agreement among the schools in some aspects. Most interpreters identify the churches in the early chapters as representing real churches that existed in the time Revelation was written. Antipas was a martyr. Jezebel was a false prophetess. The Nicolaitans were a false sect. These should all be understood as literal people from the first century. Likewise they agree that Jesus returning in the clouds has yet to happen (Acts 1:11).

Here are some examples where each school is probably correct. Other schools may not necessarily disagree with the interpretation here, but the interpretation is most in line with the approach of the particular school.

Preterism
In the Olivet discourse Jesus refers to those escaping when they saw Jerusalem surrounded.
“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. (Luke 21:20-24)
I think this is best interpreted as occurring at the time of the destruction of the temple 66–70 AD under Vespasian then Titus. Interestingly there was a break in the fighting when Vespasian returned to Rome to become Emperor before Titus took over the seige. At this time many Christians, remembering Jesus' words, fled Jerusalem.

Historicism
The best example of this school of interpretation is Daniel's visions. His vision of the 4 beasts in chapter 7, then the ram and the goat in chapter 8, then the kings in chapter 11 refer to events that occurred over the following decades and apply to specific kingdoms and people. The beasts are kingdoms
  • Lion/ eagle: Babylon
  • Bear: Media/ Persia
  • Leopard/ bird: Greece
  • Terrible beast: Rome
The ram and goat are the kings of Media/ Persia and Greece respectively (Daniel 8:20-21).

Futurism
The final defeat of Satan, the new heaven and Earth, the judgment of the nations are all events at the end of the age. They are best viewed as future events.

Here are some problems with the schools.

Preterism
Not all of the Olivet discourse was fulfilled in the first century. Antichrist(s) may be yet to appear.

Historicism
Though Daniel offers a good example of the Historicist view, I have not read convincing interpretations of Revelation along these lines. The rise of Islam, the Great Schism, the Catholic/ Protestant split; none of these are clearly seen. I am also not certain about the allegorical application of the letters to the 7 churches to the global church thru the ages. Even if true, it is not the primary meaning.

Futurism
Disagreement with the number of the beast applying to Nero. Forcing a strict chronology on Revelation. Not applying parts of the Olivet discourse to the destruction of Jerusalem in the first century.

As mentioned previously, I would apply aspects of each of these as I see them apply to a specific passage. Based on the specifics of the prophecy and how events have panned out I would say some events have already occurred, and some are yet to be. Some of the difficulty in recognising the Messiah in Isaiah may have related to seeing him as both a suffering servant and a conquering king. These do not seem compatible, yet we know they are. He came first to suffer and die for our sins. He was raised victorious over death. He is seated at the right hand of God, and will return again to enforce his dominion. Let us not make this mistake, failing to realise that some aspects of prophecy were fulfilled in the first generation after Jesus ascended, and others in the last generation before he returns, and perhaps even some in between these generations.


*I am using preterism to mean partial preterism. I consider full preterism (hyper-preterism) with its claim that the return of Christ was in the first century and was therefore spiritual to be false.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Prophetic hermeneutics

SLW has written an interesting piece on Antipas. He refers to his prophetic hermeneutic which is interesting.
  • If events have significance to God's plan of redemption, those events will be foretold by prophets.
  • If the prophesied event occurred within the time frame during which biblical writing was inspired, its fulfillment will be recorded in the scriptures dealing with that period.
  • If a prophecy interprets the past (as it certainly does in the Revelation) it's fulfillment in the past will be recorded in the scriptures dealing with that period. (Predictive) prophecy is difficult to interpret. It may imply now, or soon, or distant future, or perhaps have duel fulfilment.
He bases this on Amos 3:7. These premises are well worth considering though I am not going to interact with them directly.

The post lead to a discussion on the dating of the book of Revelation and various interpretations of Revelation.

Traditionally these are
  • Preterism
  • Historicism
  • Futurism
  • Idealism
Let may say at the beginning that I do not have strong eschatological views. My reading around the issue is not in-depth enough. I am also not sure that if I did have more certainty, I would find the issue evoking significant passion. It seems more important to have a right view of beginning-times than of end-times.

Had I labelled myself previously, perhaps it would have been a futurist. I find I have increasing sympathy for preterism. I would not say that I have abandoned futurism for preterism, it would better to say I have incorporated aspects of preterism.

Nevertheless, I do not think that Revelation needs to fit into a preterist, historicist or futurist interpretation; I am more concerned with what Scripture says and with consistency. As Douglas Wilson has written,
We must always allow the words of Scripture to speak to us, straight up, and not modify them for the sake of a theological system. Receive the Word as spoken, and let the system (which will form necessarily) take care of itself.
It may be that eschatology is best understood under the classification of futurism, or preterism, or idealism, or historicism; or they may each contribute aspects of the truth.

It seems that futurism has a slightly more literal approach to prophecy. Although I have sympathy with literal hermeneutics, there are aspects of prophecy that call this approach into question; or at least suggest modification.

My general hermeneutic is probably better described as more grammatical (straightforward interpretation) than literal. Much of the Bible is to be understood in a literal manner (especially history). Still, figures of speech, idioms, approximations, hyperbole, rhetoric are all features of Scripture and Scripture needs to be interpreted with this in mind.

So is predictive prophecy literal? Well it may point to literal events: Isaiah's prophecies of the Messiah meant that a real person was coming. Yet some fulfilments of prophecy seem to be more spiritual than physical.

There are aspects of prophecy that should make us question whether something is literal, or rather that a literal aspect may be fulfilled in a difficult to perceive way. A couple are hiddenness and scriptural interpretation of prophecy.

If we view prophecy in the broadest aspect: God speaking to people though his servants, it seems that clarity is attenuated by righteousness. What I mean by this is that our ability to understand is modified by our receptiveness to God. Those inclined toward God understand better than those opposed to God. Jesus spoke in parables for this reason. Isaiah says,
‘You will be ever hearing, but never understanding;/
you will be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’/
This people’s heart has become calloused;/
they hardly hear with their ears,/
and they have closed their eyes (Isaiah 6:9-10, Septuagint)
Thus there is an aspect of hiddenness to Scripture. Related to this hiddenness is the concept that prophecy is better understood after the event than before it. That is, its fulfilment clearly relates to the prophecy, but this is much harder to grasp before the event.

We also need to read how the authors of Scripture understood prophecy. For example Matthew's interpretation of prophecies is different than I would expect at times. Jesus indicates that some things should be understood as more spiritual than material. We need to learn from Jesus and the inspired authors.

We need to read Scripture (including eschatology) aright. Avoiding both hyperliteralism (phylacteries) and over-spiritualisation (Jesus has returned in the church; Jesus has risen in our hearts); and also rightly discerning which aspects are more literal and which are more spiritual.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Inside the cell

This video is an animation of cellular activity. The animators tried to make the cells and cellular structures true to life. Colour is added, and there is more space in the animation: cells are packed full and structures would be difficult to discern with an accurate spatial rendering, though shape and scale are probably accurate.


What struck me first on seeing this, other than the cell being sublimely impressive, was that God must have had such a fun time designing life. It must have brought him so much pleasure.

More on the making of this animation here.

A longer 8 minute video with commentary available here. Well worth the time.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Monday quote

One of the most foolish, and most dangerous, things one can do is to take love for granted, instead of nurturing it and safeguarding it as the prize jewel of one’s life.

Thomas Sowell.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Patents and price setting

A conversation with my pastor got me thinking about how we treat patents. He is more socialist minded than I. In defence of his position he used a patented medical product as an example of what he considered excessive markup within the market. The problem as he saw it was that people would mortgage their homes to purchase medications if it would potentially cure them, or stave off death for some time.

Now one could argue for the market based on the fact that the company has invented a cure that was not previously available; without the company the cure would not exist. So perhaps they should be allowed to charge what they will. And people are willing to pay large sums of money for medical promises that are known to provide no benefit. Health is a difficult area. One could argue for some federal involvement or oversight because health is an area that people are forced into (sickness is not usually a choice), and they often make decisions in a vulnerable state. Perhaps an issue for another time.

Nevertheless, the discussion got me thinking. Arguing for the free market using patented products has one on the back foot. Competition and productivity allow for low prices for consumers and wealth creation. Patents interfere with this mechanism.

Patents apply to intellectual property, which is not property at all. A better argument for patents (and copyright) is that the government allows a temporary monopoly to sell in acknowledgement that the person created the concept. Such reasoning for patents has some merit. If we accept this however, we are appealing to the government to enforce our monopoly. This raises the question as to whether the government can also have a say on the conditions of monopoly.

I think an argument can be made that allows the government to set minimum sales figures and maximum prices. The first is to prevent artificial scarcity, driving demand by intentionally limiting supply, a supply that cannot be made up by competitors. The second to limit profiteering, especially of a product that is excessively desirable such as a cure for cancer.

Now one could argue (as above) that these products would not exist if it were not for their inventors, and people are no worse off if such an item does not come to the market than they were prior to the invention. This is not necessarily the case however. People are creative. It is likely that several people would occasionally invent similar things to solve a problem. Here are a couple of situations.

The first is software. There seem endless patents in software for ideas that many programmers would solve given a problem. It seems that many patents are little more than a race to state (code) the obvious. There is true innovation, but not all of it is. If several programmers come up with a solution independent of each other and are hit with patent infringement, perhaps it wasn't that innovative.

The second is biomimetics. Many ideas arise from imitating an idea derived from the living world. Think velcro, though there are many others. Copying design from the living world has led to a plethora of new creations. Of course such activity still requires much research and subsequent experimentation. But again this is a race to copy more than be innovative. If several researchers copy the same part of an organism to create a similar machine or product, the first there gets all the benefit.

Some ideas arise from a single person and may be unlikely to arise in the near future otherwise. Our situation is not really different after such a product becomes available but prohibitive to acquire than what it was before that person invented it. However consider when similar ideas arise frequently. Our situation may improve as useful products become available and competition lowers price. But if the right to production limited to the first person to register it then the consumer fails to gain these benefits because other creators who are prepared to make and sell the product are prohibited from doing so. The monopolist may price the product significantly above production cost and outside the price range of many people, yet others who arrived at the idea independently and who are prepared to sell marginally above cost are prevented from doing so by law.

If we are to have a state enforced private monopoly for creativity via patent and copyright law then perhaps the state can dictate the conditions of the monopoly. Such a position would mean that creators could either patent or not patent a concept. If they choose not to patent they can sell the quantity they wish and charge what they will with the benefit of being the first to the market and the ability to maintain secrecy. Competitors would need to reverse engineer a product then copy it as best they can. If the creators choose instead to patent their concept then they gain a temporary monopoly enforced by the state but must sell a minimum number of products at a fixed price (or markup), both set by the state.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Monday quote

Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.

Albert Szent-Gyorgi (1893–1986).

Friday, 19 October 2012

Romans and salvation

Reading thru several chapters of Romans recently I noted a few aspects that speak to the Arminian/ Calvinist debate. I don't claim uniqueness here, others have undoubtedly put more time into this, nevertheless I document them for my own sake. They may be of some interest.

Paul's argument in chapter 5 compares Adam to Christ. The form of the argument suggests that all people are referred to here. While Paul says "many," he uses this for both Adam and Jesus.
But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:15-19)
We know that Adam's sin affected all men. "Many" is talking about everyone in this passage; for both Adam and Jesus. Thus Jesus' death can justify all men, which disputes limited atonement. Lest any think that this justifies universalism, Scripture makes clear that some reject Christ. The passage is talking about what Adam resulted for men, and what Jesus accomplished for men; not what sins men would choose to do, nor whether men accept Christ's work. The gift is universal for those who want it. "Come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price." (Isaiah 55:1).

The next chapter rebukes the idea that men can sin in order that God's grace may be manifest, as Paul has also previously condemned in chapter 3. He implores us not to sin,
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.(Romans 6:12)
Sinning is obedience to sin which is slavery to sin. And continuing in this path will pay the wages of death, but slavery to God will result in the gift of eternal life. Paul is talking to believers here, they are baptised with Christ in his death. Such unity in his death will certainly mean unity in his resurrection—if indeed you continue in the faith (Colossians 1:23). Paul refers to their status as slaves of sin before salvation (verse 20), but the warning against sin and encouragement in their ability to choose righteousness now they are in Christ implies that choice to sin is possible, and slavery to sin and hence the wages of sin is possible. This disputes perseverance/ preservation (as Calvinism defines it).

Chapter 9 is favoured as teaching unconditional election. I grasp this reading, though it fits more with Pharaoh as an individual, Esau and Jacob should probably be read collectively as this and the following chapters are talking about the nation of Israel (Jacob). It is not my intention to dwell on this chapter here, though I note that Peter (2 Peter 3:15-16) states that Paul can be hard to understand. If this is the case then it may be that passages like Romans 9 are difficult, and need to be understood in light of other passages. If we say the Calvinist reading of Romans 9 is clear this means significant amounts of Paul elsewhere is hard to understand, as well as several other authors of the Bible.

Nevertheless, in chapter 11 it is clear that what keeps us in the tree (kingdom of God) is faith. We are grafted in because of faith, and removed because of unbelief.
They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. (Romans 11:20-23).
Both Arminians and Calvinists can agree here that salvation is connected to faith. I think this agreement should be remembered in discussions, and this fact receive significant emphasis. The disagreement is over the source of the faith: Is it God who provides the faith, or the person who responds to God in faith. Chapters 9 thru 11 are somewhat difficult in places; yet it seems to me that the association between disobedience and not understanding in chapter 10, and the exhortation to continue in God's kindness in chapter 11, would make most sense when faith is understood as a response to God.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

The richest men of the last 1000 years

Celebrity Networth have calculated the wealthiest people of the last 1000 years adjusted for inflation. Presumably these are people whose wealth is known from history. While gold can be compared by weight, I am not certain how accurate property assessments are. I guess that various monarchs held substantial land holdings that may reach this level of wealth.

Figures are in 2012 $US.
  1. Mansa Musa I – Net Worth $400 Billion
  2. The Rothschild Family – $350 Billion
  3. John D. Rockefeller – Net Worth $340 Billion
  4. Andrew Carnegie – Net Worth $310 Billion
  5. Nikolai Alexandrovich Romanov – Net Worth $300 Billion
  6. Mir Osman Ali Khan – Net Worth $230 billion
  7. William The Conqueror – Net Worth $229.5 Billion
  8. Muammar Gaddafi – Net Worth $200 Billion
  9. Henry Ford – Net Worth $199 Billion
  10. Cornelius Vanderbilt – Net Worth $185 Billion
  11. Alan Rufus – Net Worth $178.65 billion
  12. Bill Gates – Net Worth $136 Billion
  13. William de Warenne – Net Worth $147.13 Billion
  14. John Jacob Astor – Net Worth $121 Billion
  15. Richard Fitzalan 10th Earl of Arundel – Net Worth $118.6 Billion
  16. John of Gaunt – Net Worth $110 Billion
  17. Stephen Girard – Net Worth $105 Billion
  18. A.T. Stewart – Net Worth $90 Billion
  19. Henry Duke of Lancaster – Net Worth $85.1 Billion
  20. Friedrich Weyerhauser – Net Worth $80 Billion
  21. Jay Gould – Net Worth $71 Billion
  22. Carlos Slim Helu – Net Worth $68 Billion
  23. Stephen Van Rensselaer – Net Worth $68 Billion
  24. Marshall Field – Net Worth $66 Billion
  25. Sam Walton – Net Worth $65 Billion
  26. Warren Buffett – Net Worth $64 Billion
It is interesting to compare the wealth of Solomon. One cannot directly assess his wealth, but some calculations are possible. 1 Kings 10:14-15 states,
Now the weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year was 666 talents of gold, besides that which came from the explorers and from the business of the merchants, and from all the kings of the west and from the governors of the land.
It is uncertain if 1 year represents his best year, i.e. a specific year, or every year. Taking 1 talent as roughly 75 pounds (~34 kilograms), 16 ounces per pound, this is an income of 799200 ounces. At $US1750 per ounce this is an annual income of $14 billion dollars in 1 year. Solomon ruled for 40 years though he may not had had that income every year, especially in the earlier years. This is besides all the income from explorers, merchants, kings and governors.

He also had $11 million worth of chariots of his own besides what he made thru exporting them. He had wealth in ivory, fauna, and spices. Silver was so abundant its value was not worth calculating, "Silver was not considered as anything in the days of Solomon." (1 Kings 10:21).

He also owned much land. His palace in Jerusalem, his palace in Lebanon. He was able to give cities to King Hiram and his wife was given a city by Pharaoh on Solomon's marriage to his daughter. The land holdings probably add significantly to his valuation. It is likely he would get into the top 25 above.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Monday quote

It is better to be opposed by an enemy than to be adrift in meaninglessness, for the simulacrum of an enemy lends purpose to actions whose nihilism would otherwise be self-evident.

Theodore Dalrymple.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

The Binumariens come to faith in Jesus

I found the account of how the Binumarien tribe of Papua New Guinea came to belief in Christ intriguing. I am always encouraged when I hear of people joining the kingdom of God. And it is it interesting as I have heard similar things previously about how genealogy helps ground belief.

From Hidden People: How a remote New Guinea culture was brought back from the brink of extinction by Lynette Oates.

Hat tip: Creation Ministries International

Monday, 8 October 2012

Monday quote

Does the whole vast structure of modern naturalism depend not on positive evidence but simply on an a priori metaphysical prejudice? Was it devised not to get in facts but to keep out God?

CS Lewis. They Asked for a Paper.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

What we do not deserve

It is always good to be reminded of the basics.

During communion today part of the prayer mentioned that we do not deserve for Jesus to have even died for us. So often we remember that we do not deserve God's grace, we do not deserve to have him take us into his kingdom. Yet beyond not deserving him to forgive us, we do not even deserve for him to have been incarnated in order to die for us.

No matter how much we desire to join God's kingdom—and that desire itself arises in response to God drawing us to himself—we could not be in his kingdom unless he choose to die for this unworthy race.

Oh the kindness and the goodness of God.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Species and speciation

Evolution claims common descent, that is all life forms are related to each other via a common ancestor. Every living thing shares a granddad—if we go back far enough, or put more scientifically, universal common ancestry.

The alternative is known as fixity of the species, species don't change. Of course species do change, every offspring is different to its parents. On a population level gene frequencies change and mutations arise. So fixity of the species cannot mean change does not occur, rather that it is limited. So how does one define species?

Unfortunately the number of definitions is somewhat large, and much depends on what you want your definition to do. If you favour evolution, then definitions more in line with the theory may be favoured. A creationist could do the same.

From a creationist perspective I would favour the definition of species to be that of the fundamental types of plants and animals God created to breed with each other. A tree with fruit producing seed after its kind (Genesis 1:12). Beasts after their kind (Genesis 1:25). This is the basis of baraminology.

How do we work this out in practice? Some of the animals extant are different in some ways from their likely forebears, though many bear striking resemblance!

Linnaeus was onto something. Unfortunately it seems his species and even genus categories were not broad enough. We do not have fixity of the species if we use the Linnaean taxonomy.

If we start with created kinds that can breed, changes over time may limit reproduction. For example changes in body size, or timing of fertility, or cellular incompatibility may preclude breeding. These changes may come about by genetic changes such as allelic loss, mutation, targeted adaptability, chromosomal rearrangement. So while I dispute a species definition based on isolated reproductive populations, such populations may in fact be unable to breed when reintroduced to each other.

It seems likely that the various feline species descended from a pair (or group) of cats with great capacity for variation. The same with cattle, dogs, bears, and so on. Such variation can be seen in the size difference between a lion and a domestic cat, and the coat differences between tigers and leopards.

The best working definition for "species" (or type, or kind, or baramin) would consider hybridisation. Organisms that can produce offspring whether sterile, fertile (partially or fully) would be included within the same species group. A corollary of this is organisms that share hybridisation partners (however distant) would be grouped together.

This would greatly reduce the number of species, and each species would show significant variation, but the species would be isolated from each other. Tigers, leopards, lions, jaguars, lynxes will all be grouped together, but they would remain completely distinct from bears or parrots.

This is similar to fixity of the species. It allows for greater variety than is usually envisioned, though not an alien idea if we ponder domestic dog varieties. It allows for speciation in that subsequent populations may lose breeding capacity with each other, though at the cost of decreased genetic diversity, and no capacity to generate fundamentally new organisms. Some may dispute this definition of fixity of the species by reason that such groupings are frequently at the level of family or even order, or that non-interbreeding populations may arise. Fine, I am committed to the concept, not the name. "Inviolable organism boundaries with capacity for significant adaptation" is adequately descriptive though not so eloquent.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Monday quote

Physical expressions of approval between parent and child, such as hugging, kissing, cuddling, and caressing do not imply sexual behaviour.... Similarly, physical expressions of disapproval, such as spanking, should not be construed as criminal assault.

Stella Kargiannakis

Monday, 24 September 2012

Monday quote

The gateway of your mouth should have 3 keys. Is it true? Kind? Necessary?

Saturday, 22 September 2012

How to give away $500 million

Forbes has an article on David Green, a billionaire who has bankrolled the popular youversion app.

Much of his philanthropy is directed at distributing biblical literature,
Through foundations he supports, he has already distributed nearly 1.4 billion copies of Gospel literature in more than 100 countries, mostly in Africa and Asia. The OneHope Foundation targets children age 4 to 14 with Scripture tailored to them, while Every Home for Christ sends evangelists with Bible booklets door-to-door in some of the poorest countries on Earth.
The temptations of wealth are significant, and one should not seek the world in exchange for his soul (Matthew 16:26). But what if you seek the kingdom and in the process God blesses you with wealth. There are several biblical examples such as Abraham, Job and Solomon. There are moderns such as George Muller. A well known New Zealand example was Robert Laidlaw.

Interesting read and Green gives some useful advice.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Monday quote

[Freedom] is the delicate fruit of a mature civilisation.

John Dalberg-Acton (Lord Acton), (1834–1902).

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Fibonacci primes

In the Fibonacci series if the nth term is a prime, then n also is prime (except n = 4).

Fibonacci series
1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610, 987, 1597, 2584, 4181, 6765, 10946, 17711, 28657, 46368, 75025, 121393, 196418, 317811,...

Primes
2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31, 37, 41, 43, 47, 53, 59, 61, 67, 71, 73, 79, 83, 89, 97, 101, 103, 107, 109, 113, 127, 131, 137, 139, 149, 151, 157, 163,...

Examples
  • 2 is a prime, it is the 3rd term in the Fibonacci series and 3 is a prime
  • 5 is a prime, 5th in the series and 5 is a prime (trivial)
  • 13 is a prime, 7th in the series and 7 is a prime
  • 89: 11th term
  • 233; 13th term
  • 1697; 17th term

Monday, 10 September 2012

Monday quote

Just so two people may be at the same spot in manners and behaviour, and yet one may be getting better and the other worse, which is just the greatest of all differences that could possibly exist between them.

The Princess and Curdie, George MacDonald (1824–1905).

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Samson coin

Interesting coin find in Israel near the Sorek River, west of Jerusalem.
Israeli archaeologists recently discovered a coin, dating from the 11th century before Christ. It depicted "a man with long hair fighting a large animal with a feline tail."

While Shlomo Bunimovitz and Zvi Lederman of Tel Aviv University don't claim that the figure depicted on the coin is proof that Samson actually existed, they do see the coin as proof that stories about a Samson-like man existed independently of the Bible.
This is somewhat intriguing. I wouldn't have thought it likely that a coin was cast with the image of Samson. Though this need not be Samson, Sorek is the place where Samson met Delilah,
After this he loved a woman in the Valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah. (Judges 16:4)
though his lion exploits antedate this. He attacked the lion at Timnah, not too far from Sorek,
Then Samson went down with his father and mother to Timnah, and they came to the vineyards of Timnah. And behold, a young lion came toward him roaring. Then the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him, and although he had nothing in his hand, he tore the lion in pieces as one tears a young goat. (Judges 14:5-6)
I am not fully convinced but would be interested in further detail.

Friday, 7 September 2012

In your faces evolutionists

We have been long told that most of the DNA we have is junk, useless leftovers with no function after millennia of mutation and selection. Apparently only gene coding DNA is functional. Thus it was in the 1980s, and 1990s, and even 2000s though some of the more astute were suspicious.

The creationists were more circumspect. Perhaps gene coding DNA was a small component of the genome but, they protested, all that DNA is there for a reason. We are designed and we are very complicated. Our lack of knowledge does not preclude that the rest of the DNA is functional, we just aren't finished looking. So the junk DNA scenario was disputed by creationists decades ago. Pseudogenes, they said, probably had a function and were not left over relics from our primate, mammalian or reptilian past. Other codes beyond the triplet codon to amino acid likely existed.

This week Nature published 6 papers of several they aim to publish on the ENCODE project, along with other related material at their site.

The publication has made this news though much of this kind of information has been known to several researchers. The importance of introns has been known for some time. That polymerases produce far more RNA than is translated into protein is documented, even if the reason the this has been elusive. Gene regulators and promoters have been known of for decades, though it turns out that enhancers do not exist solely adjacent to the gene, but at distances of hundreds of thousands of bases distant. Why? Well because the 3 dimensional configuration of DNA means that a distant "file" location may happen to be physically nearby.

Interestingly the design advocates were long claiming unknown function for junk DNA. After all, while a few mutations have accumulated since creation, 95% of our genome housing junk is not consistent with design, even broken design. Creationists were dismissed, but it turns out they were correct all along. And the evolutionists who insisted that our genome was predominantly junk are left looking the fool. So much for the off quoted adage,
Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.
Though I don't expect them to be questioning their dogma soon, rather adding some evolutionary spin,
Why evolution would maintain large amounts of 'useless' DNA had remained a mystery, and seemed wasteful. It turns out, however, that there are good reasons to keep this DNA.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Monday quote

Bad is called good when worse happens.

Norwegian proverb

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Inerrancy and biblical inspiration

There are a variety of ideas about how and to what extent that God inspired the text of the Bible. I hold to a moderately common belief, that of plenary inspiration.

Plenary (complete) inspiration carries the idea that God inspired all of the Bible. That God was involved in overseeing every item of Scripture, that is the Bible includes both the history God wanted included as well an the theology that it contains therein.

Some people add the adjective "verbal", that God oversaw even the words that were chosen. I don't subscribe to such a view, nor do I see how it differs much from the dictation view. Though advocates of verbal plenary inspiration do nuance that God inspires the content taking into account the attributes of the human author such as his writing style, level of education, culture.

Though the verbal plenary view is reasonable, my objection to it is that I do not think this is required by Scripture, nor do I think it happens to best explain what we find in the Bible text. Further, I think that God uses men for his purposes extensively. God voluntarily limits his actions at times based on the activities and prayers of his servants. This includes those whom God used to author Scripture.

I think that godly men frequently recorded events that they were aware of. Theoretically this could mean that an author included events that another author (had God used another) may have left out, or may have given in more detail. I do not intend to imply that Scripture is arbitrary. God's plan for redemption involved Israel, and much of the history of Israel would have been included in any resultant Bible. And I think much is included in Scripture to broaden understanding. But if we had more authors of psalms, or the psalmists had written poems about different events, or not written some at all, then there may have been differences in what we call Scripture.

Other examples may include which proverbs of Solomon were chosen, or proverbs of other wise men, which churches the apostles wrote to and what they addressed. Letters were occasional, that is written in response to issues that arose. While the issues are likely to have some similarities from church to church, the specifics may have meant that letters could have differed from what we have.

One could even consider how much of what a prophet said to his hearers was written down: however given the nature of divine pronouncements via prophets I think the prophetic books have less scope for variance, and I wonder if they are quite exhaustive in what they include.

The occasional nature of letters and prophecies means that the Bible contains much of what it does because of the actions and decisions of men. God works out his purposes, but God's response to David's sin is conditional on David sinning. If central characters of biblical history had made different decisions then the specifics of the Bible text would be different, though still theologically true.

However, even if personal actions were not markedly different I think the specifics could still vary based on who God used to author the Bible, and what such author chose to include.

Given my perspective above, in what way do I consider God the author? Firstly, I think God moved men to include specific events, that is, God ensured that the events he wanted recorded would be included by someone. Secondly, God gave them insight on the correct interpretation of events: why certain events occurred; their supernatural explanation. Thirdly, God prevented writers from authoring error. The first is inspiration, the second inspiration and inerrancy, the third inerrancy.

Taking blogging as an example. It is possible that I could I could write a post based on a topic that I think God wishes me to address, that in fact he does wish me to address. In that sense the particular post would be inspired. It may be that I have a take on the topic (even an uncommon interpretation) that happens to be correct. It is also possible that I could write a post that was without error. Thus the particular post would be inerrant. This does not necessarily make me inerrant, it may be that I was wanting to include a paragraph  that is not quite true but then decide not to include it. Such restrictions would be consistent with plenary inspiration. Yet even considering all these restrictions it is clear that such a post could still be written in a multitude of ways, all of which cover the topic and do not include error. And this just by one author, another author could write quite differently.

The same could be said about a book, or a sermon. Not that such blog posts, books, or sermons should be added to the canon.

What this means is that there is some range of what could have been in our Bible. Our Bible is still reliable because it includes things God wants us to know, and it is without error so we can trust it whenever it touches on a specific topic.

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