Tuesday, August 31, 2010

We got a late start and I am tired, so we stopped in Winnemucca, Nevada. Tomorrow it will be onwards and eastward.

The peaches are getting ripe.

My tree put out thousands of blossoms in the spring and yielded 6 peaches. Good thing I am not depending on farming to survive.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Vedanta: Some compare and contrast.

I have accumulated a number of notes on points that seem similar or different between Vedanta and Christianity. First, a similarity involving a list of virtues from the Bhagavad Gita:

"Humility, modesty, non-injury, forbearance, uprightness, service of the teacher, purity, steadfastness, self-control; ..." - Yet Another Book On Vedanta, The Text.

The similarity of this to a well known Bible verse should stand out:

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law." - Galatians 5:22-23

The list is similar, although the Stoic philosophers also had lists of virtues. The Christian one seems different in that it involves the Spirit of God, who helps those of us who would otherwise be utterly hopeless in these matters.

The description of the Vedas by Dhruv Kaji sounds like they were intended as a comprehensive encyclopedia of everything - something like the accumulated works of Aristotle or the Encyclopedia Britannica. Thus, we have a comment like this:

"Just as in an usual text-book of chemistry we have a list of elements which are considered basic in all matter, Vedanta lists five items which it considers to be the basic building blocks of creation and these are Akash (Space), Vayu (Air), Agni (Fire), Apa (Water) and Prithvi (Earth)." - Yet Another Book On Vedanta, The Text.

This is the same list as the classical Greeks used, although they would classify Space as a deprivation, rather than an element. The Bible doesn't mention these items in this sense, while the early church writers also make almost no reference to the four elements.

Something that sticks out as a contrast is this:

"A student of Vedanta is not just a Vidyarthi or any seeker of knowledge; he has to be first and foremost a seeker of Moksha or liberation." - Yet Another Book On Vedanta, The Student.

I have a little sense that this is the opposite order from Christianity:

"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." - Galatians 5:1

Christianity puts an act of liberation at the start of our spiritual journey, rather than the end. There are many more points, as I mentioned at the beginning, but I still want to hold off commenting until I have had more time to study since there is a lot to absorb and rash statements should be avoided.
Something's lurking in the water ...

I stopped my swimming this summer due to a parasite causing swimmer's itch at Quarry Lakes Regional Park. Another swimming area nearby was closed due to algae. Today there is the report of an entirely new infection spreading through the California waterways. Yikes!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Rattlesnakes and Marriage Counseling.

A few days from now is our 29th anniversary. 29 being a prime number, this is an extra special one, although our relationship has been especially happy so that it seems every day is extra special. These days we are approached by young couples more often for counseling. The passion of the new relationship overcomes everything and there is no thought of the consequences for the future. Eventually the real character of the partner comes through and many feel like they got bitten badly.

I especially advise couples not to build up a lot of venom and then inject that into their partner. This is one of the worst things for a relationship. The kind of mutual, helpful gentleness that characterizes the early relationship must be carried on as it matures. Maybe we feel angry and want to bite, but it is better to hold our feelings and try to keep a positive relationship with our spouse. This couple gave me a funny look and didn't say anything so it was hard to know if they had taken the message to heart or not.

Worried singles are another counseling category. What do you tell someone who is getting older and not yet found a partner? Frequently they are willing to choose anyone, so we have to make sure they realize the dangerous consequences of choosing someone with a violent or unfaithful character.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

30 Miles ...

I was wondering if the old man could still do it. Somehow the 15 miles outbound to Murrieta Falls from Sunol Park was doable along with the mile of elevation gain. Conditions were great with a max temperature of 55 according to the Rose Peak Weather Station. Brisks winds across the ridges were the other feature. This was for weight loss - no carbs, except for 200 calories just before the last set of climbs on the way back.

An Indian man hurt his knee near the top of Rose Peak and takes an early start for the 9 miles of limping as he backtracks to Sunol. He was part of a larger group that was on top of the peak, so I wished him success and headed onwards.

Plenty of gardens here.

Things are quiet and remote on the far side.

Up above Murrietta Falls. It is all dry now.

It is still a long way to the car, but I am glad to see the last 6 or 7 mile downhill stretch. The feet were a bit bruised, but I could still do a bit of jogging during the last few miles.

Vedanta and Scientific Systems.

The term "Scientific" being overloaded with countless meanings today, I need to clarify the title. In the classical philosophical systems, there were many 'sciences' ranging from the natural to the philosophical, as well as applied trades. Religion and astrology were also considered to be 'sciences' and they arranged all knowledge into various sciences. Two thousand years later we have technology, which combined math and physics resulting in spectacular success, but for only a tiny subset of what once was deemed science. In the 3rd century AD, the Roman Emperor Julian invented the concept of a conflict between faith and science and proceeded to strike Christianity off the list of sciences, while retaining mythology, paganism, astrology and omenology. Our modern era has seen even more confusion as various groups try to enhance the reputations of their beliefs by stealing credit for technology, while striking off whatever they don't like from the list of 'sciences'. Modernist intellectuals are the most famous, but it is hardly limited to them. In what follows I am using 'science' in the original classical sense. I should also note that there are reactionary sciences, which may cite some illusory premises when their true premises are based on negation of premises in other sciences. Reactionary sciences typically have much less concern for internal consistency.

I am getting back to my Vedanta introductory book. The author, Dhruv Kaji gives a summary of the sorts of issues and problems that are addressed by Vedanta, along with technical terms, while not going into any details. Then he gives us a section headed "Are Vedantic Teachings Logical?". With what has been presented at this point, this is clearly not a question that can be answered, however, I suspect he is trying to get to something else that is confused in our modernist clutter. We are not really interested in whether one particular assertion seems logical or not, particularly when they aren't amenable to experiment. Instead, I suspect Kaji is asking something like, "Does Vedanta represent a self-consistent science?". At this point my presumption is that it does represent a science, although this is meant in a classical sense. The classical era provided multiple philosophical systems, each of which independently formed a science, while orthodox Christianity also represents a philosophical/theological science. They are in my mind attempts at forming consistent world views. At the same time they are distinct and in conflict, while I am certainly of the classical mindset that syncretism is not a valid method for grand reconciliations.

There is one statement that has me puzzling a bit:

"One other factor which gives Vedanta an air of being outside the bounds of reason is the lack of appreciation of the fact that Vedanta is an independent means of knowledge. As we will see in the subsequent chapters of this book, Vedanta becomes a completely different category of a means of knowledge when wielded by a proper teacher. An independent means of knowledge can have no other proof except proof by its own working. When this is not properly understood, we get involved in frustrating attempts to prove or disprove the teachings of Vedanta without realising that the means which we use for this purpose, happen tot be wholly inappropriate in many core areas of Vedanta." - Yet Another Book On Vedanta, The Teachings.

There are three ways that I can take this. One is that Vedanta is a science with its own set of presuppositions. We must accept the presuppositions and consider the merits of the science as a whole, just as in Euclidean geometry we must accept the presupposition that parallel lines never meet. Without accepting the presuppositions, we can get nowhere, while we cannot demand that the presuppositions stand up to 'scientific' scrutiny or be dumped.

A second possibility is that Vedanta is in a different category due to the reasons Aristotle gives in The Metaphysics:

"Wherefore, according to this view of things, there would be three speculative philosophies; namely, the mathematical, the physical, the theological. For it is not obscure that if what is divine exists anywhere, it resides in such nature as this; and it is requisite that that should be the most honorable science which is conversant about a genus of things which is most entitled to our respect." - The Metaphysics, book VI

Theology thus stood out in the classical world as the chief science, which is an utterly alien notion to us today. Orthodox Christian views have been fully in line with this comment of Aristotle.

The third possibilities is that Vedanta claims to be something other and above the categories that Aristotle established. At this point I don't have enough data to proceed, but wanted to leave these thoughts.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Brueggemann: The Psalms & The Life Of Faith.

The second essay was much improved over the first. The goal was to identify the various elements that are in the Psalms, either common to all or common to a large number of them. The first of these was the focus on God through the pronoun 'You', while the second element was about God's wonders. This definitely gave me a much better feeling towards the book since my impression of academics is that they tend to view religion as merely an inward psychological experience. A real and powerful God to whom we direct our praise for reasons of His awesome power is quite alien. Today's praise songs do have a 'You' element, but so often seem to be dominated by the 'Me' element.

Much of the rest of this essay was enjoyable, but there is one thing that seems to be missing. The goal of this is to look at how these songs would have been viewed in a B.C. Jewish setting. Related to this is the regular theme of Justice. How do we deal with something like this from Psalm 59:

1 Deliver me from my enemies, O God;
protect me from those who rise up against me.

2 Deliver me from evildoers
and save me from bloodthirsty men.

3 See how they lie in wait for me!
Fierce men conspire against me
for no offense or sin of mine, O LORD.

4 I have done no wrong, yet they are ready to attack me.
Arise to help me; look on my plight!

5 O LORD God Almighty, the God of Israel,
rouse yourself to punish all the nations;
show no mercy to wicked traitors.

This Psalm is from David. Who is he referring to? King Saul chased him through the desert wanting to kill him, but it doesn't seem to me that he is praying against Saul, but other nations. If we try to map this concept into a modern view, what do we get?

Mostly I see leftist viewing conservatives as the "wicked traitors", while conservatives view this of the leftists. Religious conflicts can bring out another dimension. Those of us who work in Dilbert land have a definite and certain notion of the wicked being our rivals or the boss or the owners ... Then there is the dysfunctional marriage where one spouse accuses the other ... One thing everyone agrees on is that politicians are the wicked traitors. Reading the Sermon on the Mount leads me to think that Jesus not only wants to build on the notion of 'wicked', but also give us a completely new paradigm. What if the 'wicked' resides foremost in me instead of everyone else? I will have to wait and see how Brueggemann interprets the Psalms in the light of Jesus.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

How far does a helium balloon go?

I saw three of them on Rose Peak a few days ago. One was stuck in a tree, but I picked up the other two. The second picture is the view back towards civilization from where I picked the balloon up. If it started in Sunol Park, it would only have gone about 5 miles. More likely it started much farther away in Fremont or even further, so it could easily have gone 10 or more miles before landing high on the mountain.

Sounds from the neighborhood ....

I like to take walks with my wife each day. A few days ago we were walking and some nice singing was wafting out onto the road. A group was singing a chorus mixed in with a lead singer's talented and louder voice. All of it was in a strange tongue that I didn't understand, while the acapella music was of a traditional, Asian sort to my untrained ears. Looking over at the house, I didn't see anyone, but the windows were opened and there were a large number of shoes and sandals overflowing the front porch.

All of this left me with many ponderings. How long has this tradition of groups been going on? Was it an extended family? Or friends? Or both? Was it a religious gathering or a social event? Given the varied sizes of shoes, it seemed that the gathering had little segregation by age groups.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Brueggemann: The Psalms & The Life Of Faith.

The Bible has 150 psalms that seem to be arranged randomly at times, while there are plenty of similar poems elsewhere in the Bible. How do we develop some sort of systematic mental arrangement of them and appreciate their content? I borrowed this book to see if I might find something useful. After reading the first essay, it doesn't seem to be going too well. Maybe those of us who are engineering/physics types just don't belong together with poetry, as Lucretius so capably demonstrated.

This book is a collection of academic papers, thus, it is full of jargonisms along with numerous references to other academics. The result is that 30 pages give rise to about 4 pages of his proposed division concept: Psalms of orientation, disorientation and reorientation. I will need to read some more papers to see where this leads. At this point my main observation is that he has pushed a lot of my buttons, but they are thankfully deactivated. For example, among theologians, he quotes a large number of 20th century high-brow academics. Nepotism is the word that springs to mind, but we will set that aside. Did study of the Psalms really begin in the 20th century?

There were, however, two non-theologians referenced: Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx. Regarding Freud, he symbolizes to me the era when intellectuals decided that the science of human behavior, psychology, should be based on a bloody minded denial of everything we know about human nature. Talking about Marx and human nature reminds me that there is a famous saying that has been credited to P.T. Barnum: "There is a sucker born every minute". Barnum just wanted to make a buck, but Marx wanted the suckers to sell themselves and their neighbors into universal slavery - for nothing. We are off to a bad start, but Ipresume that the Freud and Marx references were mandatory to gain academic respectability and won't be representative of the content. Thus, I will resist disorientation and reorientation and instead retain my hermeneutic of suspicion together with a hope for insight while holding firmly to my regular orientation as I proceed into unfamiliar territory ...

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Afghanistan Explained.
The Metaphysics: What is the substance of glazed over eyes?

That was my question, not Aristotle's (384-322BC). Maybe this quote will clarify why my question is pertinent:

"Moreover, in Socrates, who is a substance, will substance be inherent; wherefore, will Socrates be a substance in two substances. And in general the result following ensues - if man is substance, and as many things as are thus expressed - that one of those things contained in definition is substance of anything, and that it has not a subsistence separable from them, nor does it subsist in another: now, I mean, for example, that there is not any animal besides those certain particular ones, or anything else of those things that are contained in the definitions." - The Metaphysics, Book VII.

This chapter has me wondering if I might need a psychiatric examination for having read it. Much of the narrative is incomprehensible like the above. Then there are notes that are startlingly banal, such as a comment that defining man as a "bipedal animal with two-feet" involves an unnecessary redundancy, while we must also be careful to separate bipedal animals with and without wings. But how do we distinguish bicycles and cars with automatic transmissions from humans, since they are all bipedal and don't have wings? Are they part of the same genus? The good news is that I am about half way to the end.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The School Of Athens: Humanism + Rethinking a Francis Schaeffer notion.

A book I read in college was "How Should We Then Live?" by Francis Schaeffer, which was widely distributed and influencial. He talked about art and Western thought. This painting was given as an example of what he viewed as a Renaissance era transition from Christian philosophy to Humanism, which then led to the evils of our modern era. A quote is here regarding the meaning. Currently we have a split between populist Christian philosophy which states that humanist philosophy is distinct from science, whereas populist modernism teaches that humanism created science. What if both stories are wrong? And what exactly is humanism? Let's do a little fact checking …

We will begin with a little time travel via my 1910 Encyclopedia Britannica. This is chosen purposely to try to examine the notion of humanism in its original, pristine condition with a minimum of modern appendages.

"HUMANISM … in general any system of thought or action which assigns a predominant interest to the affairs of men as compared with the supernatural or the abstract."

As if religion weren't concerned about the affairs of men! So who knew that we could develop a system of philosophy by the process of elimination? But so we don't underestimate the power attributed to this method of thought by subtraction:

"The term is specially applied to that movement of thought which in Western Europe in the 15th century broke through the medieval traditions of scholastic theology and philosophy, and devoted itself to the rediscovery and direct study of the ancient classics. This movement was essentially a revolt against intellectual, and especially ecclesiastical authority, and is the parent of all modern developments whether intellectual, scientific or social."

Wow! For some reason this revolution in philosophy only warrants one paragraph. So who might be a prime example of this 15th century intellectual revolution?

"The term has also been applied to the philosophy of Comte in virtue of its insistence on the dignity of humanity and its refusal to find in the divine anything external or superior to mankind, and the same tendency has had marked influence over the development of modern Christian theology which inclines to obliterate the old orthodox conception of the separate existence and overlordship of God."

In fact the only example given for this 15th century philosophical revolution is Auguste Comte, who was born in 1798 and was a typical 19th century theistic-atheist intellectual. Checking another book of mine, The History Of Philosophy, A Reader's Guide, which purports to give a list of the hundred greatest philosophical writings along with an extensive vocabulary of philosophical word, we find that Auguste Comte doesn't show up on the list, nor does the term 'humanism'.

Just for fun, we can turn to the long winded 1910 Encyclopedia Britannica on Comte where we learn that he was a founder of Positivism, which doesn't show up on my philosophical basics list either. Curiously we learn that he founded a new "Religion of Humanity" where humanity itself was a deity. He appointed 13 disciples, developed a new calendar of saints for his religion, and proceeded to develop a liturgy, doctrines, and so on. The article continues:

"In examining the conditions of a spiritual power proper for modern times, he indicates in so many terms the presence in his mind of a direct analogy between his proposed spiritual power and the functions of the Catholic clergy at the time of its greatest vigour and most complete independence, - that is to say, from about the middle of the 11th century until towards the end of the 13th."

Apparently the humanist script didn't get passed on to Comte.

From my current perspective, the referenced 15th century philosophical revolution was actually the printing press. This truly transformed society in countless ways, but hardly qualifies as a philosophy. Humanism thus appears to be nothing more than another 19th century hoax - like the flat earth theory - that came out of the history departments. Also in the pattern of the flat earth theory, an army of hopeful young scholars was employed to take historical quotes and ideas, rip them out of context, and then bring them together to construct the massive edifice of the Myth of Humanism.

Returning to Schaeffer, in the process of trying to criticize a phantom he attacks something valuable to Christians. The symbolism of The School Of Athens also points to the fact that Augustine's education emphasized the methods of Plato, while Aquinas' was towards Aristotle. Both of these Christian scholars led to the Protestant Scholastics, who in turn bequeathed us our current forms of Christianity. But going back further, Luke, John and Paul also show signs of their classical framework so that any attempt to divorce the Bible from classical studies is certain to lose something that was intended by the original authors. Meanwhile, modernist and post-modernist intellectuals are as far from classical studies as a backwoods fundamentalist redneck, so why worry about them?

At the same time, I still firmly believe Hebrews 4:12 -

"For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart."

Nuance is lost when we neglect classical studies, while error may go unrecognized, but the Bible still holds its effectiveness.
One more rattler ...

I used to see a snake or two in a season, but now it is once a week. This one looked to be about 7 or 8 years old from the tail. Any theories on why I am getting so popular with the snakes these days?
Arrian (86AD-160): On Indian Philosophy.

Having finished The Campaigns Of Alexander, I am anxious to find the other book Arrian wrote called Indica. Something I had pondered after looking a bit at Vedanta was when there had first been interactions between western philosophy and Indian philosophy. Aristotle (384-322BC) was famously the private tutor of Alexander (356-323BC), who went off to India to pursue his philosophical studies(!) ...

"One must admit, then, that Alexander was not wholly a stranger to the loftier flights of philosophy; but the fact remains that he was, to an extraordinary degree, the slave of ambition. In Taxila, once, he met some members of the Indian sect of Wise Men whose practice it is to go naked, and he so much admired their powers of endurance that the fancy took him to have one of them in his personal train." - The Campaigns Of Alexander, Book VII.

Alexander tries to persuade the oldest of their group, but the man doesn't want to join and he lets him go. The first thing we will note is that being wise means running around naked! I am sure there are plenty of modern protesters who will appreciate this! We must note, however, that these Wise Men despised everything worldly in favor of the other worldly, while the modern protester is the exact opposite.

"On the other hand, another of these Indian teachers, a man named Calanus, did yield to Alexander's persuasion; this man, according to Megasthenes account, was declared by his fellow teachers to be a slave to fleshly lusts, an accusation due, no doubt, to the fact that he chose to renounce the bliss of their own asceticism and to serve another master instead of God."

Obviously anyone who listens to an earthly boss isn't wise! The story continues, but I will add one more from the funeral of Calanus:

"The horse he was to have ridden was of the royal breed of Nesaea, and before he mounted the pyre he gave it to Lysimachus, one of his pupils in philosophy, and distributed among other pupils and friends the drinking-cups and draperies which Alexander had ordered to be burnt in his honor upon the pyre."

And so several Greeks had been the student of the Indian sage, Calanus, while at the same time Alexander had founded towns and settled Greeks along the Indus river. I wouldn't assume too much of this interaction, since the Greek golden age of philosophy was already over, and the Indian's were also well established when the Greeks arrived. Something that does strike me, however, is that Arrian refers to this Indian sect as "philosophy". I can't recall this term being used elsewhere for something that originates outside of Greek civilization during all my classical readings, except for Christianity.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Lorquin's Admiral.

The is about as good as I could hope. There was a spring running across the trail just below the summit of Rose Peak which was attracting a lot of bugs.
Bloggers required to pay business license ...

The article says that Philadelphia based bloggers are being hit with a $300 fee for a business license. Any revenues from adds need to be declared also. No doubt this will rapidly spread around the country as other desperate cities look for revenue. Any thoughts on whether or not that would improve the quality of blogging?

Then there is the story of the 7-year old operating a lemonade stand in Oregon who got hit with a $120 temporary restaurant license.
California Proposition 23: Suspending the Regulations?

This is something to watch for those interested in political trends. The last half century has seen a steady increase in regulation, bureaucracy, and government ownership. Except for a blip during Reagan's term, the growth of the state has been relentless. On the other hand, our schools teach the kids that we are a pure capitalist economy, and there is no greater threat to the world than greenhouse gases. So is the country suffering from runaway, unregulated capitalism? Or is it suffering from a runaway, unregulated public sector?

A few years back California's legislature put together a bill for "reducing greenhouse gases" that will result in massive upheaval to the economy. Prop 23 requires that these new rules be suspended until the unemployment rate goes below 5.5% for a year. At the rate we are going, this could take a few decades. The argument on the one side is that all these rules will continue killing jobs and cause companies to flee the state. The other side argues that all these rules generate economic activity, especially in the "clean energy" sector, thus, they argue the exact opposite: increasing regulations increases economic activity. The only effect of a regulation is in creating new jobs related to compliance and enforcement! Maybe we can find out what people really think?

Or maybe not. The ballot title assigned to this initiative by the bureaucrats maliciously begins thus: "Suspends Implementation of Air Pollution Control Law ...".

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Regarding cutting off the nose and ears as a punishment ...

Time Magazine put this in the news recently for the world to discuss. Being one who likes to trace the origin of various things, here are some notes:

"Alexander had Bessus brought before a full meeting of his officers and accused him of treachery to Darius. He then gave orders that his nose and the tips of his ears should be cut off, and that thus mutilated he should be taken to Ecbatana to suffer public execution before his own countrymen, the Medes and Persians." - The Campaigns Of Alexander, Book IV.

The Darius in the above is Darius III (380-330BC), the last emperor of the Persian Empire, while Bessus is one of Darius' officers who killed him. Alexander the Great (356-323BC) is at this stage embracing oriental customs, which includes their style of punishment. The footnote references and reminded me of an earlier incident described by Herodotus (484-425BC) involving Darius I (550-486BC) who is in the book of Daniel:

"Noble exploits in Persia are ever highly honoured and bring their authors to greatness. He therefore reviewed all ways of bringing the city under, but found none by which he could hope to prevail, unless he maimed himself and then went over to the enemy. To do this seeming to him a light matter, he mutilated himself in a way that was utterly without remedy. For he cut off his own nose and ears, and then, clipping his hair close and flogging himself with a scourge, he came in this plight before Darius." - Herodotus, The Histories, 3.154.

This story is from the second conquest of Babylon by the Persians. One of the Persian commanders prepared a ruse in which he pretends to be a traitor to the Persians, goes over to the Babylonians, and then leads them into a trap. The note about "Noble exploits in Persia" being "highly honoured" should be of interest to those who study the book of Esther.
"Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me." - Ezekiel 3:17

Friday, August 20, 2010

San Francisco Fortifications.

There are a lot of these to explore near the Golden Gate Bridge and up through the headlands. Most of them date from World War II, but there is a Civil War era structure right under the bridge called Fort Point. On the San Francisco city side of the bridge, the forts are mostly on the edge of the Presidio, 'presidio' being a word for garrison or fortress in Spanish, which somehow makes things clearer to Californians. We had a bit of overhead entertainment too during our expedition. The plaque in the second photo below surprised me because I wasn't aware of any other fortifications and they didn't look particularly different, but these were from the era just preceding and up to World War I.

Arrian (86AD-160): Ezekiel and the Destruction of Tyre.

There are some problems to discuss regarding Biblical prophecies of Tyre, but first some comparisons.

"'Son of man, because Tyre has said of Jerusalem, "Aha! The gate to the nations is broken, and its doors have swung open to me; now that she lies in ruins I will prosper,' therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against you, O Tyre, and I will bring many nations against you, like the sea casting up its waves; They will destroy the walls of Tyre and pull down her towers; I will scrape away her rubble and make her a bare rock."'" - Ezekiel 26:2-6

The conquest of Tyre was a totally unreasonable prediction, given that Tyre was a fortress on a rock separated from the mainland. Alexander (356-323BC) was spurned by Tyre, thus initiating the unreasonable. A seven month siege resulted that involved constructing a causeway to the island under fire, along with using improved siege artillery to "destroy the walls". Eventually all the surrounding nations joined in the attack so that the "many nations" was also fulfilled. Skipping a juicy story, the final result after killing 8,000 Tyrians is here:

"Azmelicus, the King of Tyre, together with the dignitaries of the town and certain visitors from Carthage who had come to the mother city to pay honour to Heracles according to an ancient custom, had fled for refuge to Heracles' temple: to all of these Alexander granted a free pardon; everyone else was sold into slavery. In all, including native Tyrians and foreigners taken in the town, some 30,000 were sold." - The Campaigns Of Alexander, Book 2.

According to the footnotes, a few other historians (Plutarch, Diodorus and Curtius) provide additional details, but otherwise things are largely the same.

The problem develops because the prophecy of Ezekiel and the similar one in Isaiah 23 state that siege and destruction will be done by the Babylonians, not the Greeks. (Additional prophecies are in Joel 3, Amos 1, and Zechariah 9.) A young Christian going to the class of a modernist professor will likely hear, "the prophecies weren't fulfilled', without noting that Tyre eventually was destroyed in a rather extreme manner that is largely in line with the prophecies, albeit with a two century delay. A point of difference is that Ezekiel says that Tyre will never be rebuilt, whereas Isaiah says that after 70 years it will be. The other tidbits are that Babylon had fought against Tyre, but failed to take the island fortress. Another successful siege and conquest of Tyre was done a few years after Alexander's siege.

On this subject, I am reminded of Jonah:

"'On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: "Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned"'" - Jonah 3:4

In the end the people of Nineveh repent, and God relents. Or does he? Again, the prophecy is delayed, but a century passes before a coalition of nations razes the city, leaving palace treasures buried in the sands to be uncovered in the 19th century. It seems to me that the prophecy stands to the greater part, but God makes adjustments for whatever reason.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Arrian (86AD-160): The Campaigns Of Alexander.

This is working out to be a good yarn, but it is also a bit of reading to help in Bible background. It has been noted that Luke's introduction to his gospel along with other writing patterns fit the mold of Thucydides and Polybius, and scholars have speculated that this was due to a classical education. Josephus is out of the pattern in many ways. Another historian writing in Greek a half century after Luke is Arrian, but rather than writing about what he has seen, he is rehashing materials from Alexander the Great (356-323BC) and clearly is not an eyewitness to any of the events. Here is his intro:

"Wherever Ptolemy and Aristobulus in their histories of Alexander, the son of Philip, have given the same account, I have followed it on the assumption of its accuracy; where their facts differ I have chosen what I feel to be the more probable and interesting. There are other accounts of Alexander's life - more of them, indeed, and more mutually conflicting than of any other historical character ... " - The Campaigns Of Alexander, Book 1

The classical education pattern for dealing with remote history is that when you have difficulties ascertaining the veracity of sources, you are up front about it and do your best to come up with sensible criteria for weighting material.

There is a well known verse from the Bible:

"Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship." - Romans 12:1

For us, the imagery doesn't come across very strong. A 'sacrifice' is when we go to church - late with our breakfast in hand - on Sunday morning rather than watching a game on television. How would the imagery have been received in the first century AD?

"Alexander, however lost no time, and the enemy, on his approach to the town, having sacrificed three boys, three girls, and three black rams, made a movement as if with the intention of engaging the Macedonians at close quarters; but no sooner had the latter come within striking distance than they abandoned their defensive positions, strong though they were. The bodies of the victims they had sacrificed were found still lying where they fell." - The Campaigns Of Alexander, Book 1

Tacitus has a more vivid description of human sacrifice from the perspective of the Roman observers. I suppose Paul's intended image as he writes to the Romans is more in line with Arrian and Tacitus than our modern notions.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Pondering the "Like" button.

The article is from the Sacramento Bee. I was tempted to press "Like" on this page, but thankfully have a bit of self-discipline. Why is it only "Like"? Sometimes I want a "Loathe" button or maybe a "Tears" button for sympathy. Can't we have few more options in our repertoire of emotions? What focuses my attention is when someone on a social networking site posts that they know someone who is terminally ill and five people press "Like". I am not sure I really Like the Like button.
Another Happy California Rattlesnake.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Not this season ...

I had to send some relatives off to SFO today, so my wife and I went on to San Francisco for a little stroll. An Alcatraz swim looks awfully enticing, but I will probably skip this year. My local swim area at Quarry Lakes is causing a lot of "swimmers itch". According to the sign, this is caused by some microscopic snail like organism. Last week I ended up with a dozen mosquito bite like welts with several days of itching, although I didn't have this earlier. My only other good alternative is to drive out to Pleasanton and swim at Shadow Cliffs swim area. I should give it a try some day.
C.S. Lewis: The Abolition Of Man

This book was written in 1943. Before pontificating regarding thoughts the book provoked, I will start with a philosophical principle:

"It is from such principles, not disdaining common principles, that this science proceeds; it has no way of proving them, save to defend them against naysayers, but then no scientist proves his principles." - Aquinas, The Nature of Theology, Book 1.

What happens if we try to contradict the above? For example, we could go through each science one by one, highlight a presupposition, and then demand that the presupposition either be proven or rejected. What would be left? The science Lewis is concerned about is the one regarding the common values of civilization. He begins with an example from a textbook being provided to school children where - under the guise of teaching literature - the children are subtlely taught that common values are subjective, hence, they aren't valid. In the process of feeding this propaganda to the children, the authors have also managed to completely screw up basic notions of literature. Lewis compares this to a father sending a kid to a dentist, but the dentist only provides some amateur philosophy, neglects to fix the tooth, and then sends the kid home. And the father still has to pay the bill. The result is a systematic deconstruction of common values, while trashing education in the process. But what value is there that we can propose that can prove that one type of education is trash and another not? This too is subjective, so the logical end of this debunking of premises is not pretty.

Lewis then tries to extrapolate forward to see what might come of this. Mostly he sees a dystopia with a small group of people manipulating billions in terms of their beliefs and even their genetics. Some of this seems prescient when we consider the impact on gender imbalances in China and India, yet at the same time, the current political forces seem aligned towards subdivision, resulting in little control for a class of hyper-elites.

Much of the angst in the US today is due to the breakdown of values and the fallout, given that the process Lewis described has continued uninterrupted to this day. We bicker over gay 'marriage', mosques at ground zero, and the new concept that it is an unconstitutional violation of the law to check if laws are being broken. How do we proceed if the only value is that there are no values? What if the only law is the one that says we are not allowed to enforce laws? And finally, that values in a secular state must be debased to the lowest common denominator?

Conservatives lament this lack of values and would like to return to something more sensible. At times I am in this mode too, but there is a problem: I (along with all other conservatives) was raised in this educational environment that was premised on the debunking of premises. Even if I want to get out of it, there are problems with my mindset, while checking with conservative pundits will quickly result in disagreement regarding what those values are. Lewis proposes something he calls the Tao, that looks like an Esperanto of values derived from Christianity, paganism, Confucianism, and other basic ethical schools. This might have worked in 1943, but would be problematic today as we have established large sectors of society which are outside of all these, while Sharia law looms as something also quite out of the norm. At the same time, Lewis acknowledges a certain problem: Values are passed from one generation to the next, which in his quaint world meant from father to son. A key part of this is that the father is passing to the son what the father's world view is. The Tao simply won't do, because it is always tainted by someone else's values, so passing it on is more like an indoctrination than a natural process.

In all this I find reasons for optimism. Dystopia is something to be terrified of, yet it can't be fully implemented in a society that is breaking down. If society continues towards breakdown, people will naturally be drawn towards communities that provide the value framework that gives stability and meaning to life, since these communities will shine like beacons in the night.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Aristotle (384-322BC) vs. Common Descent

"And, moreover, some things are one according to number, but others according to species, and others according to genus, and others according to analogy." - The Metaphysics, Book V.

Before a child can talk, she learns to group all kinds of things hierarchically. There is mom, and family, and really strange people. There are objects, which subdivide into toys, which subdivide into noisy toys and flashy toys, and there are food sources which are quickly recognized. She has learned from instinct much of what Aristotle is trying to put into words: We group similar objects into a simple category, a species, as a block forms a set of blockish things. At a higher level, we group all sorts of play objects into a genus of toys. Although conceptually simple, there are things which are awkward to deal with such as water, which is indefinite in quantity and endlessly sub-dividable. Man we can work with, but how about musical, which is an attribute potentially applied to man?

All of these concepts are developed in object oriented programming. Species and genera are handled by various levels of super-class or sub-class. What we learn from programming is that these classes develop naturally as we consider common properties of things, although there is never a unique layout of class hierarchies. There are better and worse designs for these things with a few guidelines to help, but we are really driven by our innate intelligence as we try to figure out what is or is not a good design for our classes. The modern mindset separates from the classical in that we don't view a class definition as sacred. A key statement of the classical frame is this:

"entity is denominated partly as that which subsists according to accident, and partly that which subsists essentially;" - The Metaphysics, Book V

In our modern framework, "essentially" refers to the characteristics which are highlighted due to their commonality, while "accident" is the exceptional features, such as the man being musical. "Essentially" is ambiguous in Object Oriented programming, whereas it is believed to be unique in Classical expression.

I decided to compare this a bit with the Common Descent notion. According to the meta-narrative, all life began with one organism, and these proceeded on through various subdivisions resulting in the current configuration of the tree of life that we now have: species, genera, ... phyla... This was done systematically for centuries, looking at things that were more similar or less. We didn't need Common Descent to tell us that a dog was more like a cat than a squid. Conceptually we might gain something by knowing the pathway from the ancestor to the descendants, but this is purely speculative. Even if there was a unique path, we have no way of knowing this, while the distinctions of species, genera, etc., are done more of less the same as would be done without a conception of Common Descent: It is driven by innate human intelligence studying similarities and differences. In other words, Common Descent in practice adds exactly nothing in terms of a theoretical framework compared to the notions that preceded it, while in other ways it seems to be less in that it doesn't acknowledge the ambiguity of designations, even when they are clearly there.

What then is the function of Common Descent? After pondering things more, I have a sense that Common Descent has a function, but of a completely different sort than advertised. Classical philosophy was deprecated in the 19th century, along with the above theories that Aristotle discussed. The subject matter was simply too difficult and tedious. In this environment, the Darwinists erroneously thought they had something new and profound when they were simply rehashing old ideas with less rigor. Since these ideas are innate and a core part of human intelligence, the Darwinists managed to convince themselves that they were the true founders of intelligence itself, as if people would not have known how to group similar items without this new found wisdom! Thus, the belief in Darwinism that those who accept in "evolution" have intelligence, while those who do not believe are something sub-human regarding intelligence. There is, however, nothing new under the Sun, thus, we see the same attitudes from the original inventors of naturalistic sciencism from more than 2,000 years ago expressed in Lucretius.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Aristotle (384-322BC): The Three Species Of Intellectuals.

"Now, a proof of this is the following: for dialecticians and sophists assume, indeed, the same figure as the philosopher (for sophistical is only apparent wisdom, and dialecticians dispute about all things); to all, however, is entity common. But they dispute concerning these, evidently, from the cause of these being proper subjects of inquiry for philosophy. For, indeed, sophistry and dialectics are employed about the same genus as philosophy is; but philosophy differs from the one in the mode of power, and from the other in the choice of life." - The Metaphysics, Book IV.

A sophist is one who deliberately sets out to generate an argument that leads to a false conclusion, while a dialectician is one who loves logic for the sake of argument alone. Philosophy is concerned with logic and argument, while differing from the others in its objective of finding a useful, correct result. Note that all three of these can be pursued to the fullest extent of human training and intellectual capabilities.

The distinction preferred by modernists is a two-fold one, or more properly a single-faceted one: There are scientists and dilettantes. Scientists are 'in the know' and accepted by their peer group of other scientists, while dilettantes are outside this circle.

The context here is discussion of ontology - the science of being - which spends countless hours discussing concepts such as entity, species and genera. Much of this maps quite nicely to modern notions of Object Oriented Programming, which causes me to have an interest that would be considered irrational by reasonable people. But even this is a repeated pattern as this quote from Seneca (3BC-65AD) regarding suddenly being overcome by madness in wanting to study the various classical notions of 'causes', which included Stoic, Platonic and Aristotelian models:

"I was at this with more than my customary concentration, too, what with the difficulty of the subject and my refusal to give in, until some friends of mine put a stop to it, applying force to restrain me as if I were an invalid who was recklessly overdoing things." - Letters From A Stoic, LXV.

One thing I have observed with my reading is that the comparison of different schools of thought was done by Aristotle, while making its way through Seneca and Augustine (354AD-430), and then we see it repeated again in Aquinas (1225AD-1274).
"The parable of those who take guardians besides Allah is as the parable of the spider that makes for itself a house; and most surely the frailest of the houses is the spider's house - did they but know." - Qu'ran, Surah 29.41

Spiders are one of the most successful and widespread of all God's creatures ...

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Truth ...

"But it is correct, also, that philosophy should be styled a science, speculative of truth." - Aristotle, The Metaphysics, Book II.

"And again when it signifies that what is is, it is true signification." - Anselm, On Truth.

"What the true adds to being, accordingly, is the conformity or adequation of thing and intellect, on which conformity, as has been said, knowledge of the thing follows." - Aquinas, The Meaning Of Truth.

Yikes! This leads me to Pilate's cynical rhetorical question:

"What is truth?" - John 18:38

My reflections on this have been of a simpler sort. Consider the following:

Mother: "Did you take a cookie?"
Daughter: "Of course not!" ... congratulating herself on having anticipated the question and inducing her naive younger brother in taking the cookie for her.

Thus, the answer the daughter gave to the mother is entirely truthful, yet at the same time not in the least helpful towards ascertaining the truth of the matter. It is, of course, the missing information that causes the answer to not fully represent truth. Every competent con-artist knows this.

The philosophers spend a lot of time discussing whether truth can change or is immutable. For example, the statement "Socrates sits", undoubtedly was true, but is no longer. In this situation I still see that the statement has elements of truth, but is inadequate due to missing information: "Socrates sits" needs to be augmented with additional information delimiting the time associated with "sits". A more general examination should make it clear that "truth" must grow endlessly in scope as we start asking questions to make "Socrates sits" clearer, such as "Who is Socrates?" and "Where is he sitting?". Going to an extreme, truth represents all the precise states of the universe as they progress throughout time, so that nothing would be left out for the being who wanted to know the exact sequence of causes that led to a particular event. Truth is not only beyond human capacity, but beyond the universe itself so that if it does exist, truth can only be God.

The above still leaves a lot hanging, however, since it hasn't mentioned abstractions and the rules which they obey, nor things which are outside of the universe, nor statements about what does not exist. This is quite a painful little topic!
Media: Confidence.

I am sure my blog posts aren't up to the standards of the Loose Bloggers Consortium, which has just done an article about Media, but there was an article published by Gallup on public confidence in media - Newspaper and Television - which I thought worth highlighting. The current level of those with considerable confidence is 22% for television and 25% for newspapers. There has been an erosion in confidence over 20 years, although this seems to be in blips in the period of '91-'95 and '06-'07. The first corresponds to the Bush Sr. to Clinton transition along with the Whitewater scandal. The second was in preparation for the elections that gave the supermajority in congress to the Democrats. Looking at the breakdown, liberals and Democrats are much more likely to trust both than conservatives and Republicans, in spite of the fact that all the vitriol against media seems to be coming out of liberals and is directed at Fox News. The one high point of confidence is the 18-29 year old bracket who claim to have a 49% level of high confidence in newspapers, although this corresponds to the percentage who have never seen a newspaper.

Congress is famously the lowest of the Gallup survey's ranking of institutional credibility with a positive rating of 11%, while the military scores a 76%. What surprised me in this survey of negativism was that "The church or organized religion" came out at 48% positive, 30% with a good vibe now and then, and only 20% negative. It is hard to imagine, but maybe I have been looking at too many newspapers and negative blogs? The one institution I would like to see on the list is the most important and influential one: The Ivory Tower.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Aristotle (384-322BC): Some comments on science.

The term science is derived from Latin and relates to the verb, scire - to know. There is a corresponding term in Greek that Aristotle uses that is translated as science. The concept of science is thus ancient, although the modern notion of scientific method usually begins its formulation with Isaac Newton.

"For of speculative science the end is truth, but of practical science, a work; for even though they may examine how a thing is, practical men do not investigate into the cause of that thing in itself, but in relation to something else, and as connected with the present time: but we do not know the truth without the knowledge of cause." - The Metaphysics, Book II.

It is interesting to see this split, since it seems to be a precursor to the current split between liberal arts vs. vocation, or the pure science vs engineering, or even abstract math vs applied math. In each case the first is deemed to be more pure than the second. Here is another quote on this topic from Seneca.

Another interesting observation is the disputed manner in which science comes about:

"But some persons, indeed, do not admit those making assertions, unless one speaks with mathematical precision; but others do not approve of what is said, unless they express themselves by means of an exemplar; and others think it right to adduce a poet as a witness. And some require all things to be expressed with accuracy; whereas accuracy is troublesome to others, either on account of their not being able to carry on a train of reasoning, or on account of their considering such as mere quibbling about verbal niceties, - for the precise involves some such thing. Wherefore, as in the case of contracts, so also in that of philosophic discourse, precision seems to be a thing to some persons that is illiberal." - The Metaphysics, Book II.

Taking the poets as a proxy for 'previous authorities', the same divergences are observed today, although a student will be taught otherwise.

Regarding the linked translation, I can't recommend this. There are a number of typos in the book along with paragraph long sentences, but no notes to clarify anything. There is an online text from a different translator here. This is the first time I can remember feeling a need to re-read passages from a different translator to try to understand what is being written.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

My kids went to China and all I got was some pictures ...

The following sign is on the wall of a public toilet. A translation is as follows:

"Do Not Defecate. Please control yourself, if you are caught you will be fined."

The explanation I have is that many of their toilet systems have a manual flush that is only operated once or twice a day, so only urination is permissible.

Aristotle (384-322BC): Metaphysics

My general goal was to try and to obtain a rough overview of Christian theology in some sort of chronological order from the church fathers through the Reformation. An unregulated curiosity started this search, but it has gotten more clear as I have proceeded. The most important of these early church writers is Augustine (354AD-430). Reading Augustine directly, it was quickly clear that a large number of modern commentators completely misunderstand him, primarily because they only excerpted a few quotes which they got from other commentators who ... Unfortunately reading Augustine directly isn't so simple, because he presupposes a great deal of knowledge about classical philosophy - particularly Stoicism - along with classical history, pagan theology, and even pagan mythology and poetry. Filling in the background is difficult to the point that it is clear that we can never look at the world quite as he does.

Moving along and skipping a few, I eventually got to Aquinas (1225-1274), but here is a problem: Aquinas depends heavily on Aristotle, while Augustine did not. Although much of the classical background for reading Augustine has been filled in, I haven't studied Aristotle, so back to the remedial work. Even if I can follow Aquinas without reading Aristotle, I have no way of appreciating where Aristotle ends and Aquinas begins without a familiarity with Aristotle. Getting going on this book, I immediately came across this statement in the introduction:

"Aquinas develops these aspects of Aristotle's thought into a more complete theology. However, it is not easily apparent how or why Aquinas and others could use Aristotle's Metaphysics as a basis for developing a theistic account of God compatible with their respective scriptures. A novice can see that the God of the philosophers (based on Aristotle's Metaphysics) is not merely different, but significantly at odds with God as depicted inn scripture. Athens is not Jerusalem. This adaptation of Aristotle's theology for their own religious ends and purposes is arguable not merely unsuccessful, but also one of the oddest developments in the history of philosophy." - Metaphysics, Introduction, by Michael Levine, Professor of Philosophy.

The related passage of Aristotle regarding the "science" of theology is this:

"But this science, such as we have described it, alone is possessed of both of these characteristics; for to all speculators doth the deity appear as a cause, and a certain first principle; and such a science as this, either God alone, or he principally, would possess." - Metaphysics, Book 1.

I have to read further, but it is clear that Greek notions of God were all over the map, and Aristotle says "to all speculators", so that what Aristotle is stating would seem to apply just as well to Hinduism as to Mayan Sun gods. Only Darwinistas would seem to be excluded, and this only because they refuse to admit that their speculations presuppose a supernatural creative power embedded in nature itself. A final point is that the linkage between classical philosophy and Christianity isn't done by Aquinas, but rather the Apostle Paul who was familiar with both to a degree that modern philosophy professors can never match. Onward ...
Evolution and Ethics, The Romanes Lecture, by Thomas Huxley, 1893

My previous post was on C.S. Lewis and That Hideous Strength. There was a passing reference to the above linked speech as part of the speculative philosophizing that formed the thesis of the story. Huxley was a biologist, a famous proponent of evolution and the person who coined the term 'agnostic'. The 1890's were a time of rapid growth in scientific learning so there was much excitement. It is sometimes fun to look back and see what things they said:

"The value of a strong intellectual grasp of the nature of this process lies in the circumstance that what is true of the bean is true of living things in general."

Huxley starts out talking about beans and how they grow. As a biologist, this statement would have been treated with the utmost seriousness by non-biologists of his era. Looking now at the phrase, "a strong intellectual grasp of the nature of this process", the modern perspective forces us to raise an eyebrow. The "nature of this process" is one of biochemical processes that wouldn't be discovered for another half century, while a century later there would only be a cursory understanding of some of the sub-processes. Today there are undoubtedly more bits understood, but it would be boastful to talk of a "strong intellectual grasp". If I look at an engineered process today like simply turning on a computer, the number of things happening is mind boggling involving both hardware and software, while some of the architects of these processes are dead. If someone from the computer industry told me that they had a "strong intellectual grasp" of the process of starting a computer, I would be quite skeptical. This is a chronic problem, however, as intellectuals conflate observation with understanding and being with cause. Anyway, it is clear that Huxley - as a biologist - didn't know beans about beans, given that he died in 1895.

One bit of truth that Huxley realizes is that we cannot speak of the "ethics of evolution", but only the "evolution of ethics". Thus, much of the rest of the speech is a tour of various philosophies, starting with the Vedas and moving through Buddhism. Greek philosophy is also discussed in a general sense referring to a number of schools as if they were one. Although much is stated in this area, we are also facing a problem: Greek philosophy and the Vedas go back to the beginning of recorded history for these civilizations. In these areas, the pinnacle was reached more than 2,000 years ago, yet he is having trouble acknowledging the existence and contributions of Christianity:

"Modern thought is making a fresh start from the base whence Indian and Greek philosophy set out; and, the human mind being very much what it was six and twenty centuries ago, there is no ground for wonder if it presents indications of a tendency to move along the old lines to the same results."

Evolution as change which sometimes moves uphill and sometimes downhill is part of the description. It is clear that he views the progress of ethics as having been effectively on hold for 2,000 years. Huxley arbitrarily chooses Stoicism as his favorite moral framework for the restart, although he misses the fact that Stoicism was a historical blip which was only embraced by a small wealthy intellectual class of Rome and Greece.

"Cosmic evolution may teach us how the good and the evil tendencies of man may have come about; but, in itself, it is incompetent to furnish any better reason why what we call good is preferable to what we call evil than we had before."

Here we have a statement that is true, but doesn't go nearly far enough. Evolution certainly doesn't provide any better guide than what we have for deciding what is good and what is evil, but Huxley has also related all ethics to systems of religion or traditional philosophies. In our secular world, any linkage of good/evil distinctions to religion or tradition is automatically invalid, and evolution - as the only remaining guide - provides no basis for calling anything good in preference to what we call evil. We are free to exchange the meanings as they suit our whims, leading either to nihilism or some sort of subjective populism of the Hauerwas sort, or simply a malicious inversion of right and wrong. Looking back from more than a century past the triumph of evolution, we find our society steadily diverging from the values of Stoicism and descending to a primitive licentiousness.

The next quote states the real problem of Ethics and Evolution:

"As I have already urged, the practice of that which is ethically best—what we call goodness or virtue—involves a course of conduct which, in all respects, is opposed to that which leads to success in the cosmic struggle for existence. In place of ruthless self-assertion it demands self-restraint; in place of thrusting aside, or treading down, all competitors, it requires that the individual shall not merely respect, but shall help his fellows; its influence is directed, not so much to the survival of the fittest, as to the fitting of as many as possible to survive. It repudiates the gladiatorial theory of existence."

Thus, within any given community, those who are least ethical will have the greatest survival chances, so we have something akin to the Prisoner's Dilemma. I still think this is a fatal flaw in evolution theory, since it is impossible to justify the existence of the conscience as a product of evolution.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Book Review: That Hideous Strength, by C.S. Lewis

The normal order of things is that we read The Chronicles Of Narnia when we are teenagers - along with The Lord Of The Rings - and move to books like Mere Christianity or The Screwtape Letters when we are in college. The Space Trilogy is the awkward bit. I read the first two books as a teenager, but the third, That Hideous Strength, came off as so dull that I let it go after a few pages.

These days I generally don't read fiction, unless it is truly a classic. We have television, news and political speeches for fiction. That Hideous Strength has been sitting on my bookshelf for a long time and I felt a need to tie up a loose end, so chose to read it anyway. It is an earlier sort of science fiction which is both naive compared to our current knowledge, yet at the same time they tend to be rather blatant about moralizing. In this aspect, Lewis can be a little tedious with his long passages.

What I can say now is that this book is not something that would be fully appreciated unless one had experienced a career among the intellectual classes. As a professor, this is certainly the life of Lewis, although he tries to deny in the preface that it is really uniquely about professors. Perhaps this is the reason that I didn't fully appreciate the book when I was younger. The theme driving everything is the aspiring young intellectual, and the motivations which drive them, sometimes to destruction. The first of these motivations is the self-centered vanity that is the primary engine, but then the course is steered by hopes and even more so by insecurity, fears, and the desire to be accepted by the peers that the young person looks up to. In the process, he has set himself up to be used by powers that he can never understand. Perhaps it is universal, but at the same time, it seems to me to be even more true for intellectuals - of which I am also one.

Another theme of the book is what happens if the theoretical frameworks that the professors peddle in their ivory towers ever actually become real. That Hideous Strength was written in 1943 during World War II. It describes a world where all morality breaks down, yet at the same time there is a real authority compelling the breakdown. The evil conspiracy is loosely linked to a college, and a particular professor of ethics is mentioned who spends all of his lectures harmlessly arguing that ethics is nonsense. What would happen if society were truly to take this sort of lesson to heart?
No Summer here in the San Francisco Bay Area.

I thought it would be good to show everyone how we have been deprived of a true summer this year. This is the extended forecast for Fremont, California.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Today there was a meeting of the B.R.I.G.H.T. Initiative. BRIGT is an acronym for Birds Right to Ingest Gleefully Human Tissue. I was recently hired on as a consultant for them to provide insights into the thinking process of humans. My qualifications in this matter aren't fully clear, but it seems to have something to do with my prior interest in Zoroastrian funeral rites. I am not at liberty to go into details regarding the discussions, but the passage from Revelation 19:17-21 was being analyzed enthusiastically.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556): What I disagree with ...

There is certainly much that is praiseworthy and Christian in the writings of Ignatius. At the same time, I wouldn't want to mislead and give the impression that I am entirely in agreement. The primary area is this:

"We should praise the cult of the saints, venerating their relics and praying to the saints themselves, praising also the stations, pilgrimages, indulgences, jubilees, dispensations and the lighting of candles in churches." - Personal Writings, Additional Material.

And a prayer:

"Hail Mary, full of grace,l the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now, and at the hour of our death. Amen." - Personal Writings, Appendix.

In contrast, we have this statement from the Bible:

"Then the angel said to me, 'Write: 'Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!' ' And he added, 'These are the true words of God.'

At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, 'Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.'" - Revelation 19:9-10

And to make sure nothing is left hanging ...

"Jesus replied, 'The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God's children, since they are children of the resurrection.'" - Luke 20:34-36

So the next state for Christians after death is to become "like the angels", and we have a specific command from an angel in Revelation that he not be worshiped, but that God would be worshiped instead. In spite of these clear teachings, Ignatius goes ahead and advocates the worship of Christians who have already died. I tend to view popery as a similar sort of aberration involving the living. The rhetoric can be made even more fiery given that the Queen of Heaven is another name for the ruthless prostitute deity, Ishtar, who is mention in places like Jeremiah 7:18. At the same time, and to be fair, it is rare that Ignatius speaks of Mary and the above was the only statement regarding the saints that I saw in this selection. The clear emphasis is on God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.