Monday, August 31, 2009

Anselm of Canterbury (1033 - 1109AD): Proslogion

"Can God make an object that is too big for him to move?" - unknown

As we speculate about the nature of God, there are wonderful issues that arise which provide sport between theists and atheists. The above example is intended to refute the notion that God can really be all-powerful. A little logical analysis should dispense with the above example: If God is all-powerful, then He can make objects of any size, which is the set of all possible objects based on size. He also can move all objects in the same set, so an object too big for him to move is a logical impossibility. There is no distinct set of objects that God can't move. In other words, the additional condition applied to the object - that God can't move it - causes the original statement to be of the form "this statement is false", which causes a well known logical conundrum. This is really a deficiency in language and logic, so we can't conclude anything about God from such games.

Before bringing Anselm into this, I should include this verse as an introduction:

"'Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker, to him who is but a potsherd among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, "What are you making?" Does your work say, "He has no hands"?'" - Isaiah 45:9

Our speculation about God must always be from this mindset. God is simply too far beyond us for us to properly grasp, hence we can babble a lot of gibberish and then congratulate ourselves on our profound philosophy and understanding, and this applies to both theist and atheist alike. Now for Anselm regarding this topic of being all-powerful:

"Again, how are You omnipotent if You cannot do all things? But, how can You do all things if You cannot be corrupted, or tell lies, or make the true into the false (such as to undo what has been done), and many similar things? Or is the ability to do these things not power but impotence?" - Proslogion chapter 7

Anselm continues and concludes that the doing of evil isn't actually the result of power, but of impotence, since we only do evil when something else has control over us. I will award Anselm a few points for being clever, but I don't find this argument to be satisfying. Mainly, based on experience, I have done evil things all by myself for which no external power need be credited. (Noting that Anselm has argued separately that different properties can conflict in man, but not in God - the Supreme Essence.) What I am capable of inducing in the physical world is enormous - both for evil or for good, yet it is my will that determines which of the possibilities are chosen. Can it not be similar with God? He has the physical capability to bring particles into existence and arrange them in any configuration (hence, he is Omnipotent), but His nature and will exclude a great number of possibilities, including those of His working evil.

In the end, our notion of physics is that the universe began in one grand state and works its way through time to a final state, excluding all the possibilities that would have been dreamed up by Statistical and Quantum Mechanics. (Leaving aside possibilities of multiple created universes.) We could thus pointlessly argue that God's power was limited to this one configuration, but such an argument would not leave us in anyway less as a creature within God's creation, nor would it change our accountability before Him.

Part of the reason for Anselm going this route is that he tries to define the characteristics of God so that they are all unified and never provide any possibility of conflict. Then he finds himself in a similar quandary in the next chapter:

"But how are you at once both merciful and impassable? ... Therefore You are both merciful because You save the sorrowful and pardon sinners against you; and You are not merciful because You do not experience any feeling of compassion for misery." - Proslogion chapter 8.

Anselm is trying to reconcile God's mercy with the view that God's plan for creation can never be changed (i.e. he is impassable), so he dispenses with feelings that might prompt God to change his plan. At this point I really must object based on the Bible:

"But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness." - Psalm 86:15.

God's compassion is a regular theme of both the old and new testaments, so I have to wonder what got into Anselm. Did he suddenly find his artificial philosophical framework so compelling that he was able to overlook so great a number of verses? Unfortunately I can't discuss this with Anselm at the moment. This seems to me as an attempt to reconcile predestination and God's unchangeability with the idea that God can change his plan, and this would be a consequence of His compassion. Thus we have passages like this:

"So the Lord relented. 'This will not happen,' the Lord said." - Amos 7:3

To be continued ...

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Japan's change of regime ...

The headlines indicate that they have changed from the "conservative" Liberal Democrat party to the left-of-center Democratic Party of Japan. This reminds me a bit of the time some years ago when the socialists took power for a few months. Exactly nothing changed, so the Japanese went back to the Liberal Democrats. If you have a choice between two parties with the same policies, it is better to choose the party that is more experienced and efficient running the bureaucracy.

The first thing to ponder from the headlines is whether or not the former party was "conservative". Given that Japan's national debt is at 170% of GDP (second only to Zimbabwe) and has the highest corporate tax rates in the OECD, do we really need to ask this? The crises involving the stock market and property collapse of two decades ago were dealt with using Ponzi scheme style devices with the result that the problems weren't solved and there has been little meaningful economic growth since then. This all strikes me as rather liberal, unless I start using the polar opposite definition of liberal from The Economist where liberal means liberalizing markets and encouraging free trade, along with allowing bankrupt companies to go bankrupt.

The headlines also called this a "vote for change", but - as with the US and Obama - it strikes me as a "we like the status quo but want more of it" type vote. This will be fun to watch.
Alcatraz Swim Safety.

These events feature a number of kayakers who circle the group. Our instructions are that if we get into trouble we are to stop and wave our hands. For the most part I didn't see any of them near me, but this photo seems to show one who was right behind me and watching me finish the last few yards to shore.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Looney made it!

That is me finishing up at the San Francisco Aquatic Park. Most of the swimmers were ahead of me, but you can still see some yellow caps behind and there are plenty more further back. My time was almost 20 minutes slower than I hoped, but circumstances weren't good. For example, I was still on the boat next to Alcatraz when the horn went off signaling the start. Additionally, my wife had the flu last week which I managed to get yesterday afternoon. That meant balancing medicine to keep the nasal passages clear and cough down while trying not to effect my heart rate too much. Handling the choppy swells when you are nervous about breathing is difficult, so I really couldn't get into any decent swimming rhythm. I wish I could find a place to get some choppy swell training in before this kind of event.

I heard that the best swimmers finished after about 27 minutes, which was more than double my pace. Wow! There was one lady who swam the English Channel and was participating in this event. This year seemed to have far more wetsuits than before with most of them using the triathlon suits. The water felt warm to me, however, so I probably could have skipped the wetsuit and chaffing. The last lady to finish came in 20 or 30 minutes after I was done. She was handed a walking cane by her friends as soon as she was getting out of the water and was greeted with a round of applause from everyone. I admire someone who has trouble with mobility, but finds another path to stay fit and takes on a difficult challenge.

These events are always fun to go to just to see a kind of America that is becoming more and more a rarity: A crowd that is mostly Caucasian and isn't suffering from obesity.

They gave me advertisements for three more events: A SF-Alcatraz-SF swim that is double what we did today (September 26), a 3 kilometer across the Golden Gate swim (October 11) and the Tiburon mile swim. It all sounds so tempting!

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Alcatraz swim will require us to get up early tomorrow morning, but will I be able to sleep?

Anyway, I am a bit overwhelmed with all of the well wishers and prayers that have come my way. Thanks everyone. Hopefully the Lord will keep me healthy for the next few hours.
Toyota shuts auto plant in Silicon Valley.

This is the local NUMMI plant which operated off and on since the 1960s here in Fremont. The plant was re-opened as a joint venture between GM and Toyota in the 1980's in an earlier era of market loss by the US car companies. If I recall correctly, the idea was to teach GM how to build cars to the same level of quality as Toyota was building them. The closing of the plant was expected locally for a long time due to the cost of operating such a facility here. The environmental and labor regulations in California are certainly one factor, while another is that the local median home price of $531,861 isn't quite affordable on Silicon Valley high tech wages, and certainly not on any kind of wage that would be nationally competitive for auto workers. Another likely factor is that this was the only unionized plant that Toyota operated here in the US.
Disgusted with the US regarding Honduras.

So we should be clear: Zelaya wanted to become a Chavez style left-wing dictator, so he ordered an illegal election to be held and then got the ballots along with pre-stuffed ballot boxes from Venezuela. For this the judiciary lawfully removed him from office and the military was needed to execute the order. After this, the military did not take power, but immediately handed it over to the next in line of the political party that was already in control. The western media and intellectuals then immediately screamed "coup!" and demanded his return to power, and presumably the conversion of Honduras to a left-wing dictatorship, thereby trashing the definition of the word "coup". The US and Europe are now trying to cut off aid to Honduras with the idea of pressuring them to accept this state of national slavery. Apparently, we are switching from the Bush doctrine of imposing democracy on unwilling countries to imposing dictatorship on unwilling countries.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Last training swim before Alcatraz complete ...

I will give my aging muscles two full days to recover. Today's swim seemed to go faster than Monday's, but I finished 2 minutes slower - 50 minutes to cover 2,400 meters today vs. 48 minutes on Monday. Perhaps the new wetsuit that I was trying on the first time today gave me a little drag, or changed my position just enough to slow me down. There was a little chaffing at the end, but it wasn't as bad as my previous wet suit.
High above the tree line, but something still grows.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Monday, August 24, 2009

Evangelical Lutheran Church of America officially embrace Salvation by Depravity.

Before starting my rant, when was the last time you saw a group of creationist atheists? Or perhaps a Jewish group that had a pig sacrifice/barbecue/feast in their synagogue every Sabbath? How about a Mormon coffee house? Or an Islamic topless bar? Drug free Rastafarians? The ELCA, however, has decided to ordain gay pastors, which is no less incredible.

There are few things in the Bible clearer than the teachings on the sin of sexual immorality. For a period of two centuries, however, intellectuals have encountered passages that they find offensive in one way or another and contradicted the clear teachings one after another. Eventually we find a group with an entirely new religion, but still operating with the symbols and vocabulary of a former religion. Certainly I won't argue that people don't have a 'right' (at least as far as God allows free will) to chose different beliefs. Where I take issue with is theologians who systematically negate the moral teachings of the Bible, and then simultaneously assert that they are being true to the teachings of Jesus and set themselves up as Christian teachers, while condemning those who are sincerely trying to be true to the Bible. It would be helpful if the ELCA deleted the words "evangelical", "Lutheran" and "Church" from their title, as this is misleading to say the least.

Separately, I am wondering about a potential legal conflict for all Christians resulting from these groups that engage in theology by contradiction. All religions have some moral teachings (to my knowledge) and these have major significance theologically. When we talk of freedom of religion in the US, it has always been assumed that morals were involved. Now if we have another group asserting that they are Christians, but systematically negating Christian moral teachings, we have the potential for intellectuals to argue that Christians have no unique moral teachings, hence, morality and religion are two independent and disjoint entities. The morals of the amoral can then be imposed on Christians and society in general, while intellectuals cleverly assert that there has been no reduction in freedom of religion! It is this kind of sophistry that has me a bit concerned, but I still recognize that God is in charge of everything and His church will triumph in the end.
Repost: The first Alcatraz swim I did before I started blogging. Three years ago, I posted some memories of this first swim when it was still fresher in my mind. Here it is again:

"No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God." - Luke 9:62

Yesterday was the Alcatraz Sharkfest. I thought that I would blog about the first time I did this swim. The Envirosports group rented two ferries and we had about 800 swimmers. In one sense, I was prepared. The distance to the San Francisco aquatic park is about 2,000 yards and I had been swimming 4,000 yards regularly. Although the water is cold, I was wearing a sleeveless wetsuit. There was a blast of the horns and 800 of us began jumping off the boat into the water. The start line was just around a point of the island in the water behind a line of kayakers. Making my way to the kayakers, I wasn't feeling too well already.

The horn blasted again and the swimmers were all oozing through the water like too many eels in a bucket. We were bumping into each other. Suddenly, I was swimming on someone else's feet. Then I noticed that my heart was racing, but I had just started. The wetsuit was uncomfortable around my neck and I like my breathing. As we cleared the point, something else happened. We had been sheltered from the strong winds that come through the Golden Gate, but now we were hit by them. The waves picked up and the salt spray started blowing in my face. I had been training in the calm pool water with straight lines clearly visible under water. I had also trained with all of my breathing done when my head was turned to the right, but that meant facing the spray from the Golden Gate.

Then I began looking back at Alcatraz. A minute or so later, I looked again. It wasn't getting any smaller. San Francisco wasn't getting any closer. It seemed that everyone was passing me. I began to panic. Our safety ring of kayakers was about 100 yards away, but even that looked too far suddenly. How to calm down?

Then I changed my patterns. I took 10 strokes and stopped to look for the buildings on the San Francisco horizon that were my point of reference. Take 10 strokes, look. Take 10 strokes, look. I stopped looking back at Alcatraz which was much of my source of anxiety. Take 10 strokes, look. Gradually it switched to 20 strokes, look. The rhythm was going. Eventually I crossed the channel and approached the sea wall next to the aquatic park. Here the waves are much bigger due to the reflections. Getting into the aquatic park, the waves calmed down and I could feel another rush of adrenaline to help me cover the last 200 yards to the finish.

Envirosports knows how to throw a party. If you ever visit San Francisco, check their event schedule first. My ending time was about 50 minutes. The best times were for olympic class swimmers who took about 30 minutes, but others took as long as one hour, 30 minutes. I can never look at Alcatraz the same.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Overhearing Conversations ...

"My feeling about Edmund Hillary is ..."

"Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro isn't worth it. It takes up too much time from the safari. ..."

The first example I heard on a return from Rose Peak several months ago. A group had walked the almost level mile or so to Little Yosemite in Sunol Park and were suddenly inspired to compare and contrast the expedition with climbing Mount Everest. The second conversation was overheard as I was relaxing in the meadow on the side of Mount Dana and a group of hikers was walking by.

Somehow being away from the cubicle world of Dilbert for a moment of time and putting a toe into the wilds causes people to transform in mysterious ways. They become friendlier, greeting everyone while stopping to chat with total strangers. Then there is a part of this that seems to inspire people to dream about greater adventures and perhaps let their vanity go in ways that they wouldn't otherwise. As for me, I have been through the same phases. Since I was a kid, however, getting out on an adventure that would push my limits was something I have always liked to do. Reflecting on God is the main part of this. The Psalms of the Bible are a good source for inspiration for those who love nature and want to reflect on God instead of the vanity of man:

"The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;
planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God.
They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green,
proclaiming, 'The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.'" - Psalm 92:10

The picture is from the Tioga Pass parking lot as the earlier sunny skies had given over to a rainy afternoon.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Altitude Sickness.

We had quite an adventure to Mount Dana today in Yosemite. With a 4:00am start, we were able to catch a 8:00am breakfast at the Tuolumne Grill. By 9:00am the group of 5 of us were headed up from the Tioga Pass gate towards the 13,061 foot summit. One of our members picked up some severe altitude sickness at an elevation of 11,000 feet. This usually starts with a headache, but then can include nausea, visual anomalies like spots, and a lot of coughing. From past experiences, I had brought along a bottle of Advil and some cough strips which helped to take care of most of the symptoms. In spite of this, the altitude sickness was just getting worse for him, so I decided it was best to accompany the sufferer back down while the remaining three continued on towards the summit. I also passed the camera equipment on, so this picture looking towards Mount Lyell (left) wasn't one that I took.

We went down to a grassy area at 10,500 feet overlooking Tuolumne Meadows. The sun gave us some warmth, and the short night's sleep meant that we were soon snoozing away while our comrades were continuing with their assault on the summit. An hour and a half later, however, and the weather was changing. Initially there were some small white puffy clouds, but these gathered and became darker until the sky was black. Per the advice on summer climbing in the Sierras, we were planning the schedule with the idea of getting off the top by noon so that we would not need to worry about thunderstorms and lightning. Unfortunately, the other three still hadn't come back down the mountain after an hour and a half of waiting. We finally headed back to the car, but then I decided to head back out until I found them. Thankfully this took less than a mile backtracking. They had made it to the top with some buzzzing heads too, but we were all safely back down now and finished the last bit in the rain. 6 hours was roughly the amount of time to cover the same number of miles. The Lord seemed to have a plan in all this, because we now had a fresh driver to begin the trip back, while all the rest were exhausted and quite happy to sleep. Certainly this is a beautiful part of God's creation.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Chasing the girl in the burqini ...

Yes, it is terrible. I went to swim earlier than usual at Quarry Lakes and several swimmers were there already. It turns out they were from somewhere on the peninsula and had biked over to do their swim. I was swimming faster than most of them, but then a young man passed me swimming much faster than me and left me struggling to keep up while my ego was sinking rapidly. At the end of the lap, he dropped out, telling me that he had just been doing his final sprint, whereas I was still on the warmup. Ego restored.

But then it happened. She swam by me in a black and gray burqini with a pink cap. Time to give chase. Four loops and 800 meters later, she was still keeping about the same distance ahead of me. Given that I was planning for 2.4 km, I wasn't willing to chase too hard, but then again, I wasn't willing to stop and give up either. Certainly it makes the time go faster when you are trying to catch someone. More importantly, there is a different sensation in a race with people ahead of you that you are trying to catch, while others are trying to catch you. I was quite thankful for the unexpected training experience. Eventually she did stop and we got to chat for a few minutes. She was getting ready to do The Triathlon At Pacific Grove. She asked me the distance and I gave her my precise "233 yards or about 200 meters" which seemed to leave her puzzled. Afterward she asked the life guards who gave a much clearer "100 yards buoy to buoy" answer. What I called a "burqini", however, is really a triathlon wetsuit. I guess burqinis remind me of the open water swim clothing, so it is harder for me to understand the fuss in Europe. Just 8 more days until the Alcatraz swim.
Nobel Prize winning taxi cab driver in Singapore ...

I started a ph.d. program at Stanford a long time ago, but didn't finish and still have some high tech employment. Mingjie Cai was more capable, finishing up his Stanford degree and going a lot further. Sadly - or maybe not - he is a taxi cab driver in Singapore now providing observations and insights regarding his clients, rather than doing the same job on individual biochemical molecules. Part of me says that bringing a scientific mind to the taxi cab driver's seat to analyze the biochemical entities in the back seat and publish results is at least as beneficial. Certainly there would be some more substantial entertainment factor.

In the academic rat race, you must work like crazy to beat out the other 100 candidates for the one tenured professor slot that brings a secure income. Talented people are guaranteed to be cut after years of working. Regarding Dr. Cai, I am wondering how to get a ride from his particular cab the next time I am in Singapore. Probably I would pay him to drive me around for a few hours so we could chat.

This reminds me of another blogger - Micheal Westmoreland-White - who is a historian and theologian, but was purged from the Southern Baptists' seminary when they took it back from the liberals around about 1980. Last I heard he was working at UPS.

There is a fear in me too that I could lose my employment and find that my mental skills were no longer deemed valuable, after all the intellectual pride and ambition of my youth. This is certainly no different from what others experience. The strong lose their strength. The beautiful lose their beauty. But then there is another category of those whose strength and beauty were valued, still retain them undiminished by age, but their virtues are not valued anymore. I quoted from the Roman historian Sallust elsewhere and noted his similarities to the morality of the Apostle Paul regarding wealth. The Romans did have a notion that the purpose of virtue was to establish the memory of a person which would survive death. The book of Ecclesiastes gives us this:

"There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow." - Ecclesiastes 1:11

When I first read this, my assumption is that people will be forgotten after they are dead, but in fact most of us will be forgotten while we are still alive. Is there any permanent remembrance that we should hope for like Sallust did? The Bible does talk of an eternal remembrance:

"Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets." - Luke 6:22-23

Is a desire to be remembered only a vanity of the ambitious? Or does it afflict others? The above verse isn't actually a command to seek persecution so that we can be remembered in heaven. But I must say that working with young people to teach the Bible, to teach about our risen Lord and Savior Jesus, and to talk about morality and right and wrong, has provided more satisfaction than all the high tech success and fleeting recognition. Even here, however, the desire for remembrance of myself is of no importance. The important thing is that the young people remember Jesus.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Richard Dawkins site hacked. Failure to embrace Intelligent Design resulted in vulnerabilities being exploited. This week's sermon: "Hack unto your neighbor's web site as you would have him hack unto you".

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Thanks Mom!

Yes, my mother does check out my blog and read my earlier post discussing the issue of whether or not I should use a wetsuit for the upcoming Alcatraz swim. A card arrived in the mail shortly afterward with a little gift to help me buy a wetsuit. Wow! I have now completed this task. The one in the photo looks a bit small, but it is actually an extra large and still a bit snug on me. It isn't the normal ironman swimming wetsuit, being sleeveless, but it should provide the right amount of warmth for this event with plenty of freedom of movement. I tend to get claustrophobic in the wetsuits which cover the arms completely and go down to the feet. Only 11 more days!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Another crabby blogger comes to a sudden end.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Anselm of Canterbury (1033 - 1109AD) anticipates continuum mechanics.

"This, then, is what time and space stipulate: that (and only that) which is enclosed in their limits, neither escapes the logic of (spatial and temporal) parts and wholes, nor exists as a whole in more than one place and time simultaneously." - Monologion Chapter 22.

Previously Anselm has argued that the "supreme essence" (presumably God) is everywhere in both space and time. In this chapter, he is taking up the idea of a control volume and a time slice and then asking if the "supreme essence" would be subject to physical laws or not. Because mechanics was my field of study, this is certainly a curious bit of writing. Continuum mechanics begins with analyzing the mathematics of volumes (either fixed or deforming) in time, employing the techniques of multi-variable calculus. We then use these mathematical principles with the various physical equations for mass, force, thermodynamics or electromagnetics. We then make simulation programs based on these principles to model countless real world phenomena. Given the amount of math and physics that this is built on, continuum mechanics usually isn't formally introduced to students until graduate school. Anselm has the exact same mindset but is writing many centuries before Newton invented calculus, while the continuum mechanics viewpoint wasn't formalized until the 19th or 20th century.
Another view of these two GORGEOUS snakes.

Steve Irwin expressed it best. If you click on the picture and zoom, you can see the rattles on the tail.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Rattlesnake Love: It's A Beautiful Thing.

"Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth - for your love is more delightful than wine. Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes; your name is like perfume poured out. No wonder the maidens love you! Take me away with you - let us hurry! Let the king bring me into his chambers." - Song of Solomon 1:2-4

Today was the first time into the Ohlone Wilderness since I got back from Taiwan. It is good to be home.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Anselm of Canterbury (1033 - 1109AD): Monologion

"Who made God?" - The Wannabe Skeptic.

This rhetorical question is supposed to be an insurmountable dilemma, but generally comes with a caveat: Any response entailing more than 6 words is deemed non-responsive and evasive. A skeptic who wants to be more than a noob will need to spend some time to read Monologion, because Anselm attempts to deal with this question and more regarding God through the tools of philosophy and without any reference to the Bible. Anselm is considered to be one of the Doctors of the Church. Being a pre-Reformation figure, he is respected both by Protestants and Catholics alike. Per my usual pattern, I came across this book for $5 at the used bookstore which was an irresistible temptation. Some theology teachers would probably have something to say about the methods I have for choosing and organizing my reading.

Monologion is not quite to my liking with all the attempts to reason using abstract vocabulary. Terms like 'Supreme Nature' and distinguishing between 'good' and 'goodness' give my more pragmatic nature a headache. Frequently I find myself having read all the words of a paragraph while upon completion realizing that I hadn't picked up anything of the content, so that I have to back track and re-read. The abstract talk is easy for me to dismiss as a bunch of meaningless gibberish, but is this the real teaching of the Bible?

"The Word (logos) became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." - John 1:14

"God is love." - 1 John 4:8

In this sense, Anselm is being more true to the Bible than I have because it does teach that abstract notions such as Logos are concrete in God. Still, I am a bit leery of extended derivations with abstractions that we can never master.

Anselm gives this note that I found fascinating:

"A craftsman can only imagine bodily things on the basis of things he has already come across. ... True, a human being can, indeed, come up with the thought or a picture of some animal that has never existed, but this can only be a composite of parts taken from other things experienced and remembered. But what did the supreme substance draw upon in order to sketch in itself the forms of what it was going to make?" - Monologion chapter 12.

Here Anselm is noting something which academia can't face: The vast majority of what we call 'creativity' is simply piecing together existing themes in new orders. It takes true genius to go beyond this, but as soon as the new pattern is revealed, all the mediocre practitioners will be able to pick up on it and use it themselves, without giving a thought to credit or respect the one who came up with the new pattern in the first place. It is this fallacy that is at the core of the pseudo-science of evolution: The creator of anything can be trivially and safely dismissed as unnecessary once we see the pattern. Unless, of course, the creator still retains authority over us.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

This is a view of the Quarry Lakes Swim area. The link to the route is here.

The loop is 0.1327 miles, which is 233 yards or a little more than 200 meters. One buoy is now missing and I cut corners a bit, so I usually figure no more than 200 meters for a loop.
Regarding running noses ...

Yesterday I went to swim at Quarry Lakes. The workout was good and I was able to cover the Alcatraz distance in about 50 minutes, which is what I was hoping for. Afterward, however, my nose started itching from the lake water that had worked its way in and it got worse and worse so that I was sneezing and wiping it every minute or so. I went to fetch an antihistamine from the drug store which helped get things under control, but still had a rough night trying to sleep. The nose was no longer dripping, but it was stuffed up all night making it difficult to breath.

This reminded me a bit of a time years ago in college when I went to my Chinese class sick. The teacher asked me what was wrong, and I responded with "my nose is running" translated almost word for word into Chinese. The result was a lot of amusement among all my Chinese acquaintances, since the teacher was one of the students. Some things just shouldn't be translated word for word from one language to another.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Civil War, by Julius Caesar (100BC - 44BC).

"Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." - Jesus (Mark 12:17)

A lot of ink has been spilled regarding the above verse along with countless opinions. Many leftists seem to think that Christians must vote for every tax increase in order that Jesus' command to "render to Caesar" might see greater fulfillment. Others don't feel Christians should pay taxes to a neo-pagan/atheist government. This post is about Caesar's views and this is - to my knowledge - one of only two works that have reached us written by the hand of Caesar or one of his dynasty.

The Civil War is an attempt by Caesar to justify his actions in the period of the overthrow of the Roman Republic and war with Pompey over who would ultimately control Rome. Thus, it isn't necessarily what he believes so much as what he considers would be accepted by the majority of reasonable aristocrats and Roman citizens of his age. It is in this sense that his quotes should be taken regarding anything religious. Before going on, however, I have just been reading Xenophon - a Greek Knight involved in many military campaigns - and thought it should be noted that Xenophon is much more including religious affairs in the discussion of the military than Caesar. Before every battle, Xenophon is discussing sacrifices, reading of entrails, and omens while attributing the outcome to the spiritual domain. Caesar is much more into the details of the battle and although he certainly is acknowledging "fortune" in a spiritual sense as being something that determines the outcome, his description is in another sense more of what we would expect of a modern writer giving the outcome of battles. Thus, my first quote from Caesar is one given during a harangue at the battle of Durazzo:

" ... they must remember that heaven helps those who help themselves. " - The Civil War, III.4.

This quote is quite famous and could be approved by atheists and agnostics, but I know that Christians use it too, particularly when dealing with deadbeats in their midst.

The verse at the top is a major topic in our current church/state disputes. Of course "Caesar" as Jesus used the term already referred to a state, and here is another tidbit as the forces of Pompey were over confidant of victory and began bickering among themselves:

"Much controversy also ensued amongst the rival claimants to the various prizes of the war, notably the great pubic priesthoods, whilst the consulship was settled in advance over a number of years." - The Civil War, III.4.

The public priesthoods were some of the highest religious offices, but these were given out to politicians by voting. Edward Kennedy for bishop? Silvio Berlusconi for pope? Nicolas Sarkozy for pontiff in charge of moral development? Jesus gives this command recognizing that the state will have a religion that is wrong. Lest we think of the Roman state as a theocracy, there is also this bit:

"Over the whole of Italy troops were being enlisted, arms commandeered, money levied on the country towns and even plundered from the temples; in short, every distinction between the claims of the State and of religion was obliterated." - The Civil War, I.4.

Needless to say, the phrase "distinction between State and religion" is startlingly similar to "separation of church and state", which leaves me pondering if there is a relationship between the early Baptist notions and the Roman notions. Both the early Baptists and Caesar were offended that the state overstepped its boundaries and started abusing religion.

All this is very interesting to me and would seem to be helpful if people were to seriously discuss church/state issues, but I suppose that the modern era of post-Reason and mental slackerism precludes any serious discussion.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Taiwan Butterflies.

I wonder where they go during a typhoon.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Looks like my presence in the south of Taiwan caused it to be hit by a typhoon!

UPDATE: The news says that this typhoon was the worst in 50 years. In two days, many areas got more than 2 meters of rainfall, which is more like the annual average. This is hard to imagine.

Friday, August 07, 2009

A Cure For Cullinary Withdrawal Symptoms.

Our relatives took pity on us for having to eat Chinese food for two weeks. The Howard Hotel in Kenting has this Tex-Mex Restaurant to give us a bit of what we are used to. Burritos? Ribs? Burgers and fries? Pizza with squid? Well, the last probably is neither Tex nor Mex. It was certainly a nice change. The one University of Texas graduate in our party claimed that it wasn't genuine Texican cuisine, but given that he grew up in Singapore we decided that it was authentic enough for the moment.

A true Tex-Mex restaurant has to have cow horns and a bar. Did I note that they had country music playing? There were the Dixie Hicks, and some good old Tennessee Blue Grass music. The latter made me feel down right at home. I was expecting to hear God Bless Texas, but guess I didn't hang around long enough. They really should replace the dogs with armadillos.

The skull on the wall was necessary to complete the authentic atmosphere.
Xenophon (430-354BC) on Left Wing vs. Right Wing politics.

Ever wonder how old the notion of left-wing and right-wing in politics is? Neither did I, but here is the quote from a speech given by Theramenes at a trial where he is defending himself against accusations made by Critias in 404BC:

"'Name one instance, Critias, if you can, when I have joined forces with either the extreme left or the extreme right wing and helped them to deprive decent people of their citizenship.'" - Xenophon, A History of My Times, II.3.48.

From the context, it seems that left wing and right wing refer to those who support either Democracy or Oligarchy, although I can't tell which is which. Then there is this lovely tidbit:

"'But I, Critias, have always been consistently opposed to those who think there can be no good democracy until the slaves and the sort of people who would sell their country if they needed a drachma take part in the government; and I have also equally been opposed to those who think there can be no good oligarchy until the state is brought into the condition where a few men rule with absolute power.'" - A History of My Times, II.3.48.
Xenophon (430-354BC) and Parallelomania.

Parallelomania is a new term to me that John Hobbins is blogging about. Apparently it is a scholarly analysis method where observations of tenuous similarities between two texts result in wild, unsupportable deductions. Have I ever done that? Perhaps my earlier observation applies: The hymn, "Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee" uses the phrase "Lord of love", and this occurs in the English translation of the Bhagavad gita as a reference to Krishna, but not in the Bible. My only additional piece of evidence is that the hymn doesn't talk of Jesus as Lord and Savior, while the author of the hymn, Henry van Dyke, was a universalist religious studies professor who almost certainly had read the Bhagavad gita. OK, it is still a stretch to say that Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee is referring to Krishna, although I don't consider this a Christian hymn given the lack of a Christian testimony from the author.

On to Xenophon:

"They then called a meeting of the Assembly at which the Council brought in the following proposal. It was introduced by Callixenus: 'That, since in the previous Assembly ... and, if they are adjudged guilty, they shall be handed over to the Eleven, and their property shall be confiscated to the state and the tenth part of it shall belong to the goddess.'" - Xenophon, A History of My Times, I.7.9.

In an earlier reading of Xenophon's The Persian Expedition, this tenth part also showed up and had me pondering similarities to the Bible, although there is certainly not enough info to make any deductions. Here are some similar quotes from Xenophon:

"'You all know, men of Athens, the extremely severe terms of the decree of Cannonus. It provides that if anyone does harm to the people of Athens, he shall make his defence in chains before the Assembly, and if he is found guilty, he shall be put to death by being thrown into the pit, his property shall be confiscated, and a tenth part of it shall belong to the goddess.'" -
A History of My Times, I.7.20


"After this Agis went to Delphi, and made an offering of the tenth part of the booty to the god." - A History of My Times, III.3.1

This is all the references to a tenth part, and there are no references to other amounts being given as offerings. For the moment, I am just collecting these notes. Without a lot more data, it would be irresponsible to make any deductions based on similarities between these and the Bible's reference to a tithe.
Streams of Living Water, by Richard Foster.

This isn't really a book review, because I don't have the book and haven't read it. I have, however, seen a few excerpts, looked at a derivative workbook, and have been pondering the Renovaré phenomenon. For those who aren't familiar with this, the basic idea of Renovaré is for Christians to broaden their horizons by looking at other "traditions" of Christianity.

I should first note that reading what a variety of earlier Christian writers say about the Bible and Christianity is something that has always caught my interest. Formal studies hasn't been an option, but reading here and there over many years has been beneficial. A traumatic change for me has been the modern music in churches. Growing up in a traditional hymn based worship, we would sing songs going back several centuries and I felt connected to a large part of protestant history, along with some earlier songs. With the introduction of modern worship, featuring drums and guitars, this collection of traditions was dumped, leaving me feeling a bit disoriented.

As a college student, I switched to a Reformed Presbyterian church which gave me an appreciation of the degree to which much of Evangelical Christianity had been theologically divorced from earlier traditions. This was the result of the secularization / liberalization of universities and seminaries throughout Europe and America in the 19th century. Some of my friends have been attending Western Seminary in Los Gatos and they seem to be getting a sensible correction to this, but I do have a too little too late sense. Whether our education is divorced from earlier Christianity or not, however, I view the Bible as a sufficient tool to guide the average person towards truth. Reading classical literature may give me some better appreciation of some nuance in scripture, but I always feel that simple people frequently pick up on the core meaning quicker without all of the high brow reading.

Now back to Streams of Living Water. The author, Richard Foster, is from a Quaker background and from Fuller Seminary. I generally rank Quakers as being outside the limits of what would be considered Christian, due to their founders views on perfection and little talk about Jesus as Lord and Savior. Foster's book, however, gives some stories from some respected Christians ranging from Martin Luther to John Wesley to Billy Graham. On the other hand, there was a story of Frank Laubach, who apparently went into missions after losing the presidency of Union Seminary by one vote. Union Seminary? Aren't they a bunch of ultra-modernists, believing in universalism, and perhaps agnostic about whether God exists or not? Another stream was the "contemplative tradition" which started in 4th century Egypt as some people headed out into the desert. From my readings, this seems to have been one big misunderstanding as the Jewish Essenes were presumed to have been Christians and their "contemplative tradition" - as passed on by Philo and Josephus - was picked up and taught by well meaning early Christian leaders like Eusebius.

Reading about other Christians is certainly rewarding. At the same time, however, there needs to be some critical thinking about what is right and wrong, and whether or not certain practices conform to Biblical teaching or not. My sense is that Foster's book provides an introduction, but there are no warnings, cautions or whatever. It is a bit like going through a collection of snakes, picking them up one by one, but not knowing which are poisonous and which are harmless.
Overdressed in the Taiwan Summer.

Keep in mind that it is typically >90F and ~90% humidity, so that those of us who aren't used to heat are sweating within a few minutes of standing outside. There isn't any Taliban in Taiwan to enforce rules, but this sight is quite common in the countryside.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Recovering from jet lag ...

It is a bit hard to concentrate today, but I did manage to get my registration in for the Alcatraz Swim on August 29th.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Yeh! The airport in Taoyuan has free wireless internet! Another post as I depart...

We dropped by Taipei 101 again for lunch and picked up a gift, but didn't go to the top. This is a good transition back to the world of pointless materialism from our mission trip mode as we return to the US.
Delirious should know what this is. I took this picture from the front of my cousin's coffee shop.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Warning: Crabby Drivers.

OK, that isn't the correct translation for the sign.

Lost in Translation.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

到了没有? Are we there yet?

Yesterday we headed off for Kenting Park at the southern end of Taiwan. It was about two hours of driving, which was enough to have the children repeating the most famous phrase in travel。

We arrived at the Howard Hotel where we were given a Hawaiian themed greeting that reminded me of previous visits to Fhloston Paradise. Here is a view from the hotel lobby.

This is a view from the hotel room window.

Being an engineer, the nuclear power plant really does enhance the scenery.

I have been here before and remembered the 50 meter pool with the lanes oriented in the long direction. A few hundred meters wore me out the last time, so my earlier swimming practice was partially to help get ready for this pool. An afternoon workout yesterday was followed up by a morning workout today. Sadly, I am still not in shape to truly utilize a 50 meter pool.

I still think that the nicest scenery I have seen here on this trip was in the hills just behind the church in Zhudong. Most of the problem is that this place has been de-bugged, which means few mosquitoes and no butterflies.
Here is a picture movie of the first week at Zhudong.

Be sure and turn your sound on. This has a sound track of some pop-Taiwanese Christian music.