Octavo Dia

Monday, February 25, 2008

China Rising

Today at work people were discussing the rise of China, and how it will shortly dominate the world in everything. I hate how my opinions are much more complicated than the simple anecdotes about "everything being made in China" that are needed in conversation. Whenever I read something about China, what strikes me is not, "They're getting better every day in every way." What I read is "Whatever they're doing is not sustainable." Whatever category I look at--financial policy, the environment, resource usage, politics, foreign relations, etc.--I see a growing undercurrent that is hidden by dramatic economic growth. When the economic hiccup comes, and it will come, all these contrary currents will rise to the surface, and China's rise will come to a shuddering halt. It will take years, if not decades, to put its house in order before it can begin to rise again.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

God is Imaginary: #4 Think about science.

Think about science.

When I was debating in college, my coach said that there was a form of argument that was much stronger than any other, and that was the retort. A retort is an argument that says, "Not only is what they say wrong, the truth is precisely the opposite." In this case, I do not need to repeat what has been said elsewhere. That retort is enough.

Their argument is, however, a devastating assault on polytheistic religions. "Why did that happen?" "Oh, it's the whim of some god or other." Unless you have a consistent, unchanging God, they are correct that religion contradicts science. However, the foundational assumption that there is a God of order who created order, is entirely consistent with the scientific method.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

God is Imaginary: #3 Look at historical gods.

Look at historical gods.

The kernel of this argument is that believing in something, regardless of how many believe, doesn't make it so. It goes on to repeat the old canard that Christianity has borrowed everything from other religions. So lets start with the bullet-pointed quotations (which are taken directly from The Da Vinci Code--they might as well quote from Harry Potter).

First, C.S. Lewis argued that, if Christ was entirely original, you'd take him for a kook--it would require high level incredulity to believe that no one had stumbled upon even a vestige of the truth. That other religions contain pieces of the truth should not be surprising, particularly when you consider that...

Second, if the Bible does contain true history, then all people were once part of a believing society. It would, once again, require a high level of incredulity to believe that those people had lost all of the truth, regardless of how it was corrupted and perverted. Which leads to the third concept that...

Third, everyone had access to these things at the same time, yet publication was lacking. People recorded the happenings of the Flood, and moved on, long before the time of Moses, who recorded them by inspiration. So in the hundreds of years between Babel and Moses, it is quite possible that some "older" religion adopted it--even though they were coexistent.

So we see that lack of originality is by no means a devastating assault on Christianity. It is to be expected if you consider the history in Scripture to be true history.


Most of the items listed in the first bullet point, the inheritance from older religions, have to do with form, not substance. To this I refer to Collossians 2:16-17, "Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ." In short, borrow as needed. If one can lead pagans to Christ through the adoption of sun-disc halos, it is a small price to pay.

The one issue in the first bullet point that does need addressing is the "god eating." Those of an atheist bent will accuse me of splitting hairs, but as the saying goes, "God is in the details." The "god eating" religions, such as gnosticism and the Jewish Zimzum heresy, were based on the same concept--that god had been broken into pieces, and those pieces were scattered throughout creation. Thus by eating certain things, one could contribute to the "wholeness" of god. The Christian "god eating" is entirely different. God is not broken into pieces--He is infinite--and therefore within and throughout everything, so such "god eating" is meaningless in that sense. Instead, the "god eating" is no more eating than you are "self eating" every time your heart pumps. Christians are the body of Christ, and he nourishes us.


In the second bullet point, Mithras was called "Son of God" and "Light of the World," solely in The Da Vinci Code, which is another reason they might as well be quoting Harry Potter.


And finally, in the "Understanding the Rationalizations" box, they repeat another piece of wisdom, "It was once the case that most people believed the world to be flat." No. It is still the case that people believe that it was once the case that people believed the world to be flat. This particular idea comes from, wait for it, another novel. I'm still waiting for the devastating Harry Potter quote. This novel is by Washington Irving, about Christopher Columbus. It was hard to make Christopher Columbus into a hero when he went on his voyage because his math was wrong and everyone else's was right, and so the flat earth myth was born. Herodotus recorded the roundness of the earth in 500 B.C. The Book of Job recorded the roundness of the earth in 1700 B.C. There's not much literature older than that. Those silly Sumerians believing that the earth is flat!


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Friday, February 15, 2008

You voted for HIM?

I have been pondering the inherent contradiction of a secret ballot and limiting suffrage to citizens. I think I have come upon a solution. Use some form of biometric I.D., but simultaneously make it illegal for use in any other purpose. For example, that biometric would be automatically disallowed for admission as evidence, in I.D., in searchable databases, and use by private industry. It would be and remain only a citizenship proof used only in voter registration.

It would, of course, have to be jealously guarded, and any infraction would have to be attacked desperately, (the social security number, for example, contains in its legislation that it is to be used for tax purposes only, and we see how well that works).

Anyway, I think palm prints, which are very widely available, and not useful for much besides I.D. (the downside of DNA is people need to use it for science, medicine, etc.), and not widely used, would be the best such biometric.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

God is Imaginary: #2 "Statistically Analyze Prayer"

Statistically Analyze Prayer.

This section basically says that when you place prayer in any sort of scientific test, it shows no effect whatsoever. I could say "Thou shalt not put the Lord thy God to the test." However, that's right up there with "The Lord works in mysterious ways" for purposes of irking atheists. Much along the line of Answers in Genesis' "Arguments Creationists should NOT use," those are two references which I think should be avoided unless there is no other response, which, given the infinite wisdom of God, is highly unlikely.

In this case, the problem is that the "scientific" studies do not have a control group, so the net effects cannot be measured. Forgive me for the analogy, but in Slaughterhouse Five, the Tralfamadorians do not experience time linearly, they view it more as a plane, and so they focus on the good parts of life rather than the unpleasant parts. God, however, is entirely outside of time. For Him, time is not only viewable, but simply is. He is not bound by time. A prayer uttered today may have been answered decades before its utterance--we just do not know. Our experience of life is the experience of a world already blessed by God in response to prayers--those which we have not prayed, and even those which the Spirit prays for us. In short, I would say that prayer is untestable, so systematic studies of prayers are impossible.

Just a quick caveat: prayer for the dead is a restricted category. Several times, in several different parables, Christ's description of heaven is quite strict on their being a cutoff period. Once the door is closed, once you have died, no pleading at the gate will extend your time of grace or let you enter.

Finally, I would just like to address the "Understanding the Rationalizations" at the end of the post. People have apparently said that God must remain hidden. That is entirely incorrect. As it states in Romans 1:20 "Since the creation of the world, God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." Not only is God not hidden, He is self-evident.


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Reversion

An Egyptian court just ruled that Coptic Christians who have converted to Islam can revert to Christianity. While it does not speak well for religious tolerance, that this was even an issue, the part that really surprised me was that people had their religious affiliation on their identity cards. Talk about discrimination potential. You don't even need to ask prying questions to avoid hiring a non-Muslim. As soon as you see their I.D., you can come up with some excuse for why they are unqualified. It's an invitation to discriminate.

Family Circus


Actually, Billy is quite right. In Ukrainian, the word for forehead is "cholo." The word for man is "choloveek," literally translated as "forehead aged." Puberty gives men a wrinkled forehead that children, such as three-year-olds, lack. Why the Family Circus is commenting on the etymology of Ukrainian words however, is still an open question.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

War Powers Act

The War Powers Act is definitely broken. Once the authorization to use force is given, the President can pretty much do what he wants for as long as he wants. Unless the opposition party can gather both its strength and its political capital to the fight, this state of affairs can continue indefinitely--which is precisely what the war powers act was designed to avoid.

Perhaps by forcing the issue it can be made useful again. What if Congress were required to re-authorize the use of force within 90 days of a Congressional election? Congress is supposed to reflect the will of the people, and it seems that in no case is this more needed than the conduct war.