Saturday, December 31, 2011

Some spiders.

On Preaching:  Westminster Catechism, 1647

Being in Taiwan, I get to see many temples.  Besides all the images, the main thing that strikes me is that none of them are set up for teaching.  If I compare with a Christian structure, the main design feature is the gathering hall where people can listen to an oration.  (Note:  Soka Gakkai is a Japanese Buddhist sect which does have the meeting rooms and preaching.)  Meanwhile, I am listening to orations that are recorded as I am shuttled here and there.  The following instructions struck me as being pertinent to this subject:

Q. 158. By whom is the Word of God to be preached?
A. The Word of God is to be preached only by such as are sufficiently gifted, and also duly approved and called to that office.

Q. 159. How is the Word of God to be preached by those that are called thereunto?
A. They that are called to labor in the ministry of the word, are to preach sound doctrine, diligently, in season and out of season; plainly, not in the enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit, and of power; faithfully, making known the whole counsel of God; wisely, applying themselves to the necessities and capacities of the hearers; zealously, with fervent love to God and the souls of his people; sincerely, aiming at his glory, and their conversion, edification, and salvation.

Q. 160. What is required of those that hear the word preached?
A. It is required of those that hear the word preached, that they attend upon it with diligence, preparation, and prayer; examine what they hear by the Scriptures; receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the Word of God; meditate, and confer of it; hide it in their hearts, and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives.   - Westminster Larger Catechism.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Old England, Taiwan.

I would have chosen something with a bit more local flavor.  Anyway, this place reminds me of Hearst Castle.  If I understood correctly, the owner brought 360 containers full of artifacts and deconstructed buildings to Taiwan from Europe to make this mansion in the clouds.  We are at 1,700 meters elevation where things are a bit coolerr.  Pictures below are from my room.

Engineering Tourism.

One of my previous tasks involved Earthquake Engineering methodologies.  Thus, this place was truly a special treat.  Look at the pictures carefully!

The structure was built over eight years beginning in 1990.  A year after completion an earthquake did the damage above.  The Taiwan government decided to preserve this crumpled temple as a monument to the quake.  I heard some snarky remarks, but was too busy inspecting columns to even think about such things.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

5,000 Miles Away From Home.

In Le Midi, which is a hotel in 溪頭 (shitou = headwaters).  My wife's parents would bring her here to the countryside when she was a young girl.  The family had relatives from this area.  It has now become a bit touristy with Monster Village nearby and some beautiful hiking trails that we won't quite have enough time to enjoy.  The local cuisine is bamboo with some venison and mushrooms thrown in.  Nice.  A group from the Philippines entertained us singing American songs, the first of which is linked below.  Here are some pictures.

Evening sky from a hotel window.

Monster Village.

A view out our hotel room window.

Bamboo steamed rice - a local favorite.

Another local dish???

And what the band was singing:

Apollonius of Tyana (15?-100?AD):  Searching for Ramana.

Regarding his trip to India:

"Apollonius himself describes the character of these sages and of their settlement upon the hill; for in one of his addresses to the Egyptians he says,  " I saw Indian Brahmans living upon the earth and yet not on it, and fortified without fortifications, and possessing nothing, yet having the riches of all men." He may indeed be thought to have here written with too much subtlety; but we have anyhow the account of Damis to the effect that they made a practice of sleeping on the ground, and that they strewed the ground with such grass as they might themselves prefer; and, what is more, he says that he saw them levitating themselves two cubits high from the ground ..." - The Life of Apollonius of Tyana, by Philostratus (170-250AD)

This is a peculiar book of sorcery, wizardry, dragons and talking trees that gets mixed up with philosophy in what was intended as an attack on Christianity.  Some of Tolkien's imagery for the Lord of the Rings may trace originally to this work, but I would not want to make any definitive statement.  What I learned is that wizards were presumed to use black arts that involved human sacrifice and consorting with demons to accomplish their magic.  Apollonius denies the charge of being a wizard, but accomplishes the same things through "philosophy".  Hmmm.

Anyway, it is quite a yarn that includes a lot of strange tales of Babylon, India, Egypt, and other areas around the Mediterranean Sea.  What is true, false, or mixed is so uncertain that I wouldn't use it for a source for much.  For example, if Philostratus is to be believed, the Indian sages of 2,000 years ago spent most of their time studying Greek mythology and discussing Greek philosophy, except when they were engaged in sorcery.   The comments about Nero and other Roman emperors agree with the character discussed by other historians, but the anecdotes regarding cities like Ephesus and Antioch are not something I would trust.  The linked work includes a response from Eusebius (263-339AD), bishop of Ceasarea which ends with a theological statement comparing the Fates to the Christian view of man.  This last bit is something of interest to those inclined to study the history of the theology of these matters.   This work as a whole would be of interest to those who study the background that caused the emperor Julian the Apostate (331-363AD) to unleash the last major persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire in the name of philosophy and the pagan gods.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Some scenery. 

Missing my tripod.
California Gold Rush - Taiwan Edition

A railway worker from California made his way back to Taiwan and discovered gold while panning in a stream in 1890.  Thus, a boom was started.  Now imagine the television series, Kung Fu, in reverse:  A half-Chinese, half-White goes from the US back to China with a six-shooter and dispenses red-neck wisdom everywhere he goes.

Amazingly, the park was free and very well maintained.  Restorations were still in progress.  Taiwan has certainly progressed in terms of moving upscale with tourism.  Today was a cool, windy and rainy day, so most of the visitors were scared away.  My photography is having some difficulty with the lighting, so it won't quite do justice to the park.

The usual mining rail type scenery is here.  They had some heavy duty Ingersoll Rand equipment like we see in California, but better preserved.

This is the story of the discovery.

What to do with gold?  Try to live forever!

Some newbie dwarves.  I think they should have issued them a long beard and a battle axe instead of the helmet.

The residence built for the crown prince of Japan.  This was done during the Japanese occupation.  The posters said that more than 1,000 English soldiers worked here as slaves, in addition to the Taiwanese and Filipinos. 

A view of the hills where the mining took place.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas from Taiwan!

Taipei 101.

We went to the "largest bookstore in Taiwan", which is Eslite bookstore.  This building has about 9 floors each of which is fairly large.  The collection of books is rather large, but almost entirely in Chinese with a smattering of English and Japanese.  Each floor had at least one place for coffee or tea, with a totally mobbed food court on the bottom and nicer restaurants on the top.  What was surprising is that this is really a department store that specializes in books.  The sold all kinds of kitchenware, clothing, luggage, coats, boots, and a plethora of other items.  We enjoyed browsing around but didn't buy anything.

The locals warm up.

Friday, December 23, 2011


The first chore was to fetch a cell phone so that we can stay in touch with the relatives while we are here.  The slang for a cell phone is 大哥大, which on the surface means "big brother calls".  "Big Brother", however, is the name of the head of a gangster group.  It was a stereotype when the cell phones just came out that only gangsters had cell phones, and their answering one meant that they were getting a call from the chief.  Thus, the origin of the common term for cell phones - at least here in Taiwan.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

On the move again ...

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Smithsonian:  Jurassic Park vs. Darwin

This article has to do with soft tissues that are being found in dinosaur fossils.  The general metanarrative is that all soft tissues would have been removed from bones that were millions of years old and replaced with minerals, leaving only an outline.  Unfortunately for Darwinistas, and fortunately for Jurassic Park Rangers, this is not the case.  It has been a long time since I had a shouting match with one of the Darwin Worshippers, but this article at least acknowledges the existence of those who think that preserved soft tissues from dinosaurs implies a problem.  I am of the general opinion that the Darwin worshippers used a ouija board to settle on the ages of dinosaur bones in the 19th century, and then (a half century or more later) concocted radioactive dating formulas to confirm what was necessary for their religion.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

John Calvin (1509-1564): On Civil Government

Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion is mainly a rebuttal and correction due to the various errors he sees.  Thus, we could argue that the work is essentially reactionary, although the same could be said of almost all philosophy and theology, and indeed of all the thoughts of man.  This section is a reaction to the Anabaptists.  A most curious accusation develops right away, that the Anabaptists believed that they alone were spiritual enough to administer their own government:

"Accordingly, they think that nothing will be safe until the whole world is changed into a new form, when there will be neither courts, nor laws, nor magistrates, nor anything of the kind to interfere, as they suppose, with their liberty. But he who knows to distinguish between the body and the soul, between the present fleeting life and that which is future and eternal, will have no difficulty in understanding that the spiritual kingdom of Christ and civil government are things very widely separated." - Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book IV, Chapter 20.

This part of the discussions seems more than a little bit ironic as we consider the discussions of  Separation of Church and State as phrased by Jefferson in his discussions with the Danbury Baptists.  Calvin spills a lot of ink arguing for the need of Christians not only to obey civil government, but to give honor to the offices of that government.

"The first duty of subjects towards their rulers, is to entertain the most honourable views of their office, recognising it as a delegated jurisdiction from God, and on that account receiving and reverencing them as the ministers and ambassadors of God."

As for types of government, Calvin mentions the classical three types: Monarchy, Aristocracy, Democracy. His preference seems to be some sort of Aristocracy:

"I, for my part, am far from denying that the form which greatly surpasses the others is aristocracy, either pure or modified by popular government, not indeed in itself, but because it very rarely happens that kings so rule themselves as never to dissent from what is just and right, or are possessed of so much acuteness and prudence as always to see correctly. Owing, therefore, to the vices or defects of men, it is safer and more tolerable when several bear rule, that they may thus mutually assist, instruct, and admonish each other, and should any one be disposed to go too far, the others are censors and masters to curb his excess."

Then there is Calvin's argument for Liberty, for which I am now tending to view that our modern notions probably derive from him, albeit he undoubtedly learned these notions from the classical Greeks:

"And as I willingly admit that there is no kind of government happier than where liberty is framed with becoming moderation, and duly constituted so as to be durable, so I deem those very happy who are permitted to enjoy that form, and I admit that they do nothing at variance with their duty when they strenuously and constantly labour to preserve and maintain it."

With that I have reached the end of Calvin's massive work, although I now must go back and listen to a few sections from book III that I skipped.
"Kind of wobbly, isn't he?" - Thumper, from the movie Bambi.

I have done some walks regularly, but today is the first time that I have gotten my heart rate up, done some hard breathing and gotten all sweaty in nearly three months.  A bit of coughing accompanied me, but it was good to be on the mountain again.  Just as I was preparing this, however, my swimming team reminded me that there are additional responsibilities.  Some of our club members are planning a relay to swim from San Francisco to Los Angeles. There is still some recovering to do before I contemplate swim events.  

Our family Bible readings are reaching the end of Deuteronomy which tells of the last thing that Moses did:

"Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho.  There the Lord showed him the whole land ... " - Deuteronomy 34:1

But he descended rather than dying on the mountain, so it says:

"And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said.  He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is."  - Deuteronomy 34:5

Friday, December 16, 2011

John Calvin (1509-1564): The Apostasy.

This section is a long winded critique of the Catholic Church's form of the Lord's Supper. Calvin begins with a complaint of the symbolism that is advocated by the papists:

"By these and similar inventions, Satan ... blinded almost the whole world into the belief that the Mass was a sacrifice and oblation for obtaining the remission of sins." - Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book IV, Of the Popish Mass

The problem is that the Christian view is that there was only one sacrifice - the sacrifice of Christ on the cross - and the Lord's Supper is a celebration of this and a distribution of Christ through the Holy Spirit. Earlier Calvin condemns the doctrine of transubstantiation - the notion that the bread and wine become the literal flesh and blood of Christ when we partake of the Lord's supper.  With that error, however, the papists make it out that each Mass is a sacrifice anew of Christ, but this deprecates the one true sacrifice that was performed.  All the paraphernalia associated with this re-sacrifice of Christ is thus condemned:

 "Another iniquity chargeable on the mass is, that it sinks and buries the cross and passion of Christ. This much, indeed, is most certain,—the cross of Christ is overthrown the moment an altar is erected. For if, on the cross, he offered himself in sacrifice that he might sanctify us for ever, and purchase eternal redemption for us undoubtedly the power and efficacy of his sacrifice continues without end. Otherwise, we should not think more honourably of Christ than of the oxen and calves which were sacrificed under the law, ..."

Related to this is Calvin's complaint against the papists for presuming to set up a new category of priests:

"But those who sacrifice daily must necessarily give the charge of their oblations to priests, whom they surrogate as the vicars and successors of Christ. By this surrogation they not only rob Christ of his honour, and take from him the prerogative of an eternal priesthood, but attempt to remove him from the right hand of his Father, where he cannot sit immortal without being an eternal priest."

Some of the above relates to the belief that the flesh and blood of Christ are physically present at the Catholic Mass.  If Christ be one body, and is present being sacrificed at the mass, then how can he also be at the right hand of God in Heaven?  Much of this is new to me.  I had always assumed that the office of Catholic priest was a hangover from paganism, but had not considered that they were trying to symbolically crucify Christ again each time a Mass is performed, thus, needing a priest and an altar.  My description here is quite simplified compared to Calvin's actual practice of considering all known arguments, along with rebuttals, counter-rebuttals, ...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

John Calvin (1509-1564):  On Baptism.

"Whether the person baptised is to be wholly immersed, and that whether once or thrice, or whether he is only to be sprinkled with water, is not of the least consequence: churches should be at liberty to adopt either, according to the diversity of climates, although it is evident that the term baptise means to immerse, and that this was the form used by the primitive Church." - Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book IV, section 19.

I am shocked.  Yet I am in agreement.  I wouldn't have thought to have heard this from Calvin, but there it is.  Although I don't agree with Calvin on everything and he is condescending in his attitudes, there is much to be praised in this section.  For example, having listened to it I have a sense that every objection that could be conceived of to various forms of baptism - especially baptism of infants - has been itemized in its strongest form with an attempted refutation.  This is in contrast to modernist intellectuals who do everything in their power to deny the existence of dissent, and then misrepresent it when they must face it.

Now that I see that Calvin accepts immersion, I am wondering what his complaint is with the Anabaptists:

"This confutes the error of the Donatists, who measured the efficacy and worth of the sacrament by the dignity of the minister. Such in the present day are our Catabaptists, who deny that we are duly baptised, because we were baptised in the Papacy by wicked men and idolaters; hence they furiously insist on anabaptism."

I do wonder if the issues was the "dignity of the minister" or the paedobaptism, but we will leave this alone.  What is curious here is that Calvin as a fierce protestant is defending the validity of a papist baptism.  Thus, he does not require someone to be re-baptized if they abandon Catholicism for Protestantism.  His point is that the validity of the baptism is by Christ and not by the presiding clergy.  This would amount to an admission that the papists do in some way - however inadequate it might be - acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and savior and direct their flocks towards Him.  Calvin also claims that the anabaptists believe that any sin committed after baptism is not forgiveable.  Such a viewpoint would make heaven inaccessible to just about everyone.

At this point I should note that Calvin argues for an efficacy of baptism with regard to sin that is considerably stronger than I was taught:

"Thus first John baptised, and thus afterwards the apostles by the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, understanding by the term repentance, regeneration, and by the remission of sins, ablution."

He specifically dissents from the teaching of Augustine and other church fathers on this. Those who take Calvin's view usually also make baptism mandatory, since it is more than a mere symbol.  Given the assumption of baptism being necessary for salvation, it then follows that in life threatening emergencies either the laity or women might step in to perform baptisms.  Calvin disagrees with all these options.  Regarding laity:

"The practice which has been in use for many ages, and even almost from the very commencement of the Church, for laics to baptise, in danger of death, when a minister could not be present in time, cannot, it appears to me, be defended on sufficient grounds."

and women:

"Of the same thing we have a sufficient witness in Epiphanius, when he upbraids Marcian with giving permission to women to baptise. I am not unaware of the answer given by those who take an opposite view—viz. that common use is very different from an extraordinary remedy used under the pressure of extreme necessity—but since he declares it mockery to allow women to baptise, and makes no exception, it is sufficiently plain that the corruption is condemned as inexcusable on any pretext. In his Third Book, also, when he says that it was not even permitted to the holy mother of Christ, he makes no reservation."

So what happens to those who weren't baptized but died?

"By far the better course, therefore, is to pay such respect to the ordinance of God as not to seek the sacraments in any other quarter than where the Lord has deposited them. When we cannot receive them from the Church, the grace of God is not so inseparably annexed to them that we cannot obtain it by faith, according to his word."

Regarding baptism of infants, Calvin defends this with extensive arguments equating baptism to circumcision.  The most famous objection to this is that an equivalence with circumcision would imply that only the baby boys should be baptized.  Calvin bravely enumerates this argument and tries to deal with it, but he is clearly faltering so that his answer is uncharacteristically brief.  My main observation is that Jesus was circumcised, he was held and blessed as a baby, and he was baptized later.  Calvin asserts that these are all equivalent, which begs the question as to why they should all three have been done for Jesus.

Some years ago I had sought a book outlining in detail Christian theology regarding baptism.  This portion of Calvin's Institutes is the best I have seen, since it covers so many doctrinal variations and arguments both pro- and con-.  Even Baptists can benefit from it.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A glance out the window.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Calvin (1509-1564):  On Love.

"If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing." - 1 Corinthians 13:3

Everyone loves 1 Corinthians 13 - the chapter on love - including non-Christians.  As for me, I have to wonder if people have really processed what it is saying.  Is it possible to give all your possessions to the poor, commit yourself to doing things for others, become a martyr in the process, and still not have love?  The answer is sadly yes, because it can be some sort of pride or vanity that is propelling the actions rather than a genuine concern for the people.  Calvin invokes the above verse (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book IV, On Vows) as he addresses the issue of monks, who he considers were decent enough in former ages but had become utterly vile creatures in his own age.  Calvin next considers the rich young ruler to whom Christ says:

"Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”" - Matthew 19:21-24

Calvin explains that the reason the young man went away sad was that he had realized that he had not kept the law - that he had not loved God beyond all else.  The command Jesus gave to give his wealth to the poor was for no other reason than to make it clear to the young man where his heart - and love - were really directed.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Times They are a Changin

I had some physics/engineering topics of interest that I wanted to study more.  One of my handy references, a Physical Chemistry book, is falling apart due to the cheap bindings that were used for the overseas publishing. The book was probably purchased in Singapore, but I may have gotten it in Taiwan.  The brain is all fuzzy now.  To remedy the situation, I took a trip over to Stanford University bookstore today.  In the past this was always a treat as I could find all kinds of exotic technical books on subjects like Hypersonic Flow in Extra-Terrestrial Atmospheres.  Today's visit, however, featured a technical book section limited to one row bookshelves.  The bookshelves devoted to trashy novels now exceeds the technical books.  Admittedly the history section had some interesting works such as a History of Venice by Pietro Bembo (1460-1547).  With too many works to listen to on audio, however, I decided to pass on these.  A good number of Loeb classics were there.  I would have bought the works by Julian, but they only had volume II and I wanted volume I.  In the end, I purchased nothing and left shaking my head at the decline of technical books.  I would prefer to thumb through the books first before making a choice, but this is not to be.

Calvin:  Separation of Church and State

"Some, in imagining that all these things were temporary, as magistrates were still strangers to our profession of religion, are led astray, by not observing the distinction and dissimilarity between ecclesiastical and civil power. For the Church has not the right of the sword to punish or restrain, has no power to coerce, no prison nor other punishments which the magistrate is wont to inflict." - Institutes of the Christian Religion

This section continues over a large number of pages as Calvin tries to trace out the developments from the simpler times when the church was distinct from the civil power to the time of the popes.  The types of the abuses involved in confounding civil and religious authority were systematically enumerated.  That the issues of civil and ecclesiastical power grabs are two way is noted by Calvin also:

"Never did any bishop, so long as any true appearance of a church remained, think of usurping the right of the sword: so that, in the age of Ambrose, it was a common proverb, that emperors longed more for the priesthood than priests for imperial power."
Great Courses:  Jay Garfield regarding Kant

This is a series of lectures on various philosophical and religious ideas throughout history.  As part of our weekly get together at work, we listened to his lecture on Kant.  I was looking forward to this to get a different take on Kant and wasn't disappointed.

The first thing that really demands a comment is Garfield's claim that there were no teaching philosophers in the West from the time of Aristotle to Kant.  Huh?  That covers more than 2,000 years, but I think we can argue the exact opposite:  From the time of Aristotle to Kant there was no period without teaching philosophers.  In the classical era, the pagans had such professional teaching philosophers as Seneca, Epictetus and Plotinus.  Early church fathers all studied and taught philosophy along with theology.  For those who would claim that philosophy and theology are distinct, Aristotle most adamantly denies this in his Metaphysics.  It is only in the modern era that such a notion has been peddled, while even professor Garfield makes no such distinction as he deals with Eastern religious teachers.  We needn't, however, spend so much time on those things as to consider a graduation ceremony where the professors put on some medieval style robes and the most distinguished students are awarded the Philosophiae Doctor (Doctor of Philosophy), or Ph.d.  The European university system developed from the 11th to 13th centuries for the purpose of teaching philosophy, while Kant lived in the 18th and 19th century.  Clearly professor Garfield is lecturing from an alternate dimension!  A distinguishing mark of the modern era, however, is that most recipients of the Doctor of Philosophy will never have taken a single class on philosophy nor will they have read a single work of a philosopher.

Having laid a foundation of error, Garfield then proceeds to construct an edifice on top of it as he explains Kant. The work that he focuses on is What is Enlightenment? Kant rants against religions as being forces of dogmatic ignorance in this work while calling on people to use their brain independently of everyone else.  Fast forwarding to our current era, we can note that religious dogma has been removed from the schools.  At the same time, our current era has the greatest level of philosophical ignorance since the illiterate barbarians swept away Rome.  In spite of this, political correctness still demands conformity of opinion to its dogmatisms while encouraging people to challenge everything else.  Atheism insists that it alone possesses philosophy, apparently referring to such great atheist philosophical republics as North Korea.  My final observation is that only the most dogmatic of the western dogmatists, the Catholics, have several philosophy classes as a requirement both to get a college degree at a Catholic school and as a prerequisite for theology programs.

At this point I should link to Ramana's post on Idiot Culture along with the article that described Idiot Culture.  It seems to me that Kant and Garfield have taken the traditional modernist line that everyone who wrote before The Enlightenment was an ignorant dogmatic fool.  I tend to view the earlier thinkers as people who made some contributions within the constraints of human frailty.  By dismissing them while offering nothing as an alternative, the enlightened Modernists are the ones who paved the way to our current Age of Idiocy.  Yet here I am falling into the opposite error:  From the time of the misnamed enlightenment, reason has degenerated into nothing but dogmatic ignorance with professors waving their credentials to defend their views rather than providing sensible arguments.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Calvin (1509-1564):  On the infallibility of the Pope.

Book IV of Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion has been the easiest to listen to as Calvin tells various stories.  There is a very long section on the history of the Papacy which would at least compel an atheist to believe in the existence of the Devil, even though he might still deny the existence of God.  The origin of the notion of the infallibility of the Pope can't be traced, but the 16th century featured its constant invocation against the Protestants:

"Roman theologians cease not to boast that by special privilege our Saviour has provided that the Pope cannot err, because it was said to Peter, “I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not”(Luke 22:32)."

What strikes me as curious here - that I hadn't considered before - is that Calvin claims (in the same paragraph) that this doctrine is emanating from the mouths of atheists:

"The first head of the secret theology which is in vogue among them is, that there is no God. Another, that whatever things have been written and are taught concerning Christ are lies and imposture. A third, that the doctrine of a future life and final resurrection is a mere fable. All do not think, few speak thus; I confess it."

The formal justification being a non-sequitor, the only plausible explanation for the doctrine of infallibility is that the atheist bishops and clergy were simply looking for any way conceivable to maintain their control over the church treasury, hence the fabrication of the doctrine of infallibility.  There is a footnote regarding Erasmus who notes persecution for unfaithfulness in Germany, but not in Rome:

"Erasmus, in a letter to Steuchus, says, “It may be that in Germany there are persons who do not refrain from blasphemy against God, but the severest punishment is inflicted on them. But at Rome, I have with my own ears heard men belching out horrid blasphemies against Christ and his apostles, in the presence of many besides myself, and doing it with impunity!”"

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Thomas More (1478-1535): Utopia.

Yes, Utopia is the title and More is the originator of the meaning that we now have for the word.  It is hard to imagine this strange bit of fiction being written 500 years ago.  It begins with a lament of consumerism, but picks up on ideas from Plato's Republic and the stories of the founding of Sparta, mixes them up with other notions, and gives us a new island nation in the New World which he calls Utopia - which actually means nowhere.  More's Utopia isn't intended to be understood as perfect; just much better than the current European societies.

One of More's laments is the practice of executing people for theft.  More's Utopia is much more humane in that any thief is made a slave and forced to do hard work for life, which he is grateful to have because his life was spared.  This reminds me of the laments of Victor Hugo in Les Miserables.

An intriguing bit in Utopia seems to prepare the way for the much later political writer, John Locke, of whose work I have recently listened to:

"But if the natives refuse to conform themselves to their laws they drive them out of those bounds which they mark out for themselves, and use force if they resist, for they account it a very just cause of war for a nation to hinder others from possessing a part of that soil of which they make no use, but which is suffered to lie idle and uncultivated, since every man has, by the law of nature, a right to such a waste portion of the earth as is necessary for his subsistence." - Utopia

The point of similarity between More and Locke is the "law of nature" and the derived arguments about unproductive use of the land, but More's work predates Locke's by more than 150 years. The Just War notion is also tied into both works.  The path from More to Locke might be a strange one, but it seems clear that there must be such a path and that Locke wasn't the originator of many of the ideas I had presumed him to be the author of.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804): What is Truth?

Thus, the question that Pilate gave to Jesus is finally to be answered by Kant:

"To know what questions we may reasonably propose is in itself a strong evidence of sagacity and intelligence. For if a question be in itself absurd and unsusceptible of a rational answer, it is attended with the danger—not to mention the shame that falls upon the person who proposes it—of seducing the unguarded listener into making absurd answers, and we are presented with the ridiculous spectacle of one (as the ancients said) 'milking the he-goat, and the other holding a sieve.'" - The Critique of Pure Reason

Thus, Kant claims that the entire question is absurd, preparing the way for the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  The reason is this:

"If truth consists in the accordance of a cognition with its object, this object must be, ipso facto, distinguished from all others; for a cognition is false if it does not accord with the object to which it relates, although it contains something which may be affirmed of other objects. Now an universal criterion of truth would be that which is valid for all cognitions, without distinction of their objects. But it is evident that since, in the case of such a criterion, we make abstraction of all the content of a cognition (that is, of all relation to its object), and truth relates precisely to this content, it must be utterly absurd to ask for a mark of the truth of this content of cognition; and that, accordingly, a sufficient, and at the same time universal, test of truth cannot possibly be found."

This is unfortunately an argument that all universals are absurd, since they can only be inferred from particulars, yet each particular is different, so that the universal can never be deduced.  In the case of Kant, however, he has taken an opposite view in the case of time, which he has insisted is an a priori concept that is part of the human faculty of reason.  But then we arrive at time the same way:

"I cogitate therein only the successive progress from one moment to another, and hence, by means of the different portions of time and the addition of them, a determinate quantity of time is produced."

We could also use a mode of argument from the scholastic era that time seems to pass differently depending on what you are doing, whether sleeping with or without dreams, and depending on work or play or waiting or listening to a long, tedious sermon.  Thus, it seems to me that Kant would have a hard time defending the thesis that "What is truth?" is an absurd question, while "What is time?" is an a priori part of human reason. 

But this does have me pondering whether or not truth might be a priori, whereas I still don't believe that Kant's argument that time is a priori is convincing.  Besides the simple definition that Kant has given above, we all know that there is something more.  When a child has been up to no good during the past hour, and his parent asks "what have you been up to?", the child immediately considers everything he did during that hour.  Then he answers something like, "I have been studying", because he spent 5 minutes on homework during that period.  This meets the philosopher's standard for truth, and perhaps gives the child relief from fear of punishment, but hardly comforts the conscience that truth has been honored.  Truth is more than mere factual correctness, as our conscience loudly proclaims.  

Going back to Kant's framework, this would lead one to deduce that truth, being clearly related to the moral law, is an a priori principle of the Practical Reason.  On the other hand, the notion that truth is the accordance of a cognition with its subject is still there, so that it would seem to me that truth is known both to the Pure Reason and the Practical Reason.  Thus, I don't think that Pure and Practical reason can be so cleanly separated, and truth is a unifying force.  

Of course the example of the child is subject to a rebuttal; that the information the child provided was deliberately designed to make sure the parent's cognition was not in accordance to the facts, thus, the original definition of truth is sufficient.  But going back to Kant's argument for time, he claims that time is an a priori reality because no event can be conceived outside of time.  I would likewise claim that no moral judgment can be conceived outside of truth, just as the case of the child and parent above is centered on truth.

Having said all that, being a Christian, I should quote a few of the verses that are important to my understanding of truth:

"'You are a king, then!' said Pilate.
Jesus answered, 'You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.'
'What is truth?' Pilate asked. With this he went out again to the Jews and said, 'I find no basis for a charge against him.'" - John 18:37-38

"Jesus answered, 'I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the father except through me'" - John 14:6.