Sunday, April 29, 2012

Following up on Ramana's post, this is a happy garter snake frolicking about in the Springtime weather.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Hebrew listening challenges.

One of my assignments for the Hebrew class is to listen to Hebrew every day and read along with it.  Now that I am nearing the end of the class, the continuation of this exercise is on my mind, but the supplied listening material just covers Genesis 12-16.  I really don't want to keep re-listening to the same material.

There are online Hebrew readings of the Bible, such as the one here.  The problem with this is that they read much too fast for me to follow along and read out loud with them as a pronunciation exercise.  What to do?  The solution I have is to use Audacity to convert the mp3 file to about half speed.  This nicely changes the pitch of the reader's voice to something closer to Darth Vader.  Hopefully I will be able to accurately mimic this.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Hebrew trivia.  Bethlehem (בֵּית לֶחֶם) means House of Bread.

Checking with Dr. Wiki would have been easier.  My Hebrew class has us reading (slowly) from the Book of Ruth, which uses this word many times.  It takes on a bit different feeling reading how Elimelech, Naomi and their two sons left the House of Bread due to a famine.  It is God's provision of bread that causes Naomi to return to the House of Bread after her husband and sons died.  They tell me that the books of Ruth and Jonah are the easiest to read and understand when learning Hebrew, so they are required for elementary study.

I am on lesson 20 out of 22 for the semester.  Just hoping to scrape through with a B, but I certainly feel like it has been a productive journey.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

"I am at home.  Anxious to see you!"

My wife and I have a good relationship, so I sent her this text message as she was getting ready for a tiring, one hour drive home in heavy traffic.  Except there was a little snafu.  Only my wife has sent me messages on my iPhone, so I just continue the response on the open thread.  This time, however, my brother had sent me a message earlier in the day when I was away from my iPhone, so the intended recipient did not get the message.  Ah, the confusion!

Today's hard won lesson of Wisdom:  Double check who you are messaging before you hit "send".

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Watts Up?

My electricity bill is $105/month.  We use about 600kwh over a month, which is billed at an average rate of about $.16 per kilowatt hour here in California.  The first 360 kwh are billed at a rate of about $.10, but this jumps to $.30 after some hours are used.  It goes much higher if you keep using power.

The challenge for me is that my wife and I live by ourselves and really don't think of ourselves as having that many gadgets.  The two televisions are off and unplugged most of the time.  We have two hot water pots for making tea that are always on, and there is a computer server, a backup system and the like.  The meter above shows the usage of the computer rack, which is 158 watts.  This can't nearly account for a 1 kwatt average usage rate.   A low power server might pay for itself.  There is a small outside freezer that uses 70 watts continuously.  It is perhaps 25 years old, but doesn't seem to be the culprit.  I have a laptop that connects to a monitor and a small Bose speaker system.  This system uses 120 watts when fully on. Not sure what else to check.  The doorbell?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Book Pondering: The Closing of the Muslim Mind, by Robert Reilly - Some final thoughts.

 My review of Reilly's book has for the most part not touched on the "Muslim Mind". Before explaining too much, I will repeat a quote from Sun Tzu's The Art of War:

 "He who knows the enemy and himself will never in a hundred battles be at risk; He who does not know the enemy but knows himself will sometimes win and sometimes lose; He who knows neither the enemy nor himself will be at risk in every battle."

There certainly is a war going on, but as Sun Tzu notes, this is only winnable if the West both understands the enemy and understands itself.  My strong belief is that the West doesn't understand itself, which sets a severe limit on what it can achieve.

As for understanding the Muslim Mind, this presumes that the enemy is the Muslim Mind.  How do we know that?  If we do assume this, we are left with the problem of entering into the world view of Islam.  This I haven't made any attempt to do beyond reading the Koran, but that is no good to really understand what is going through the heads of the average Muslim.  In the case of the Greek philosophers and church fathers, I generally tried to read a large set of their writings at a time so that I could get some notion of how they thought while keeping it segregated from how others thought.  The random quotes from clerics in this book are useful, but do people really listen to clerics?  (Speaking as an American.)  Does a ranter represent the views of a society?  What if there are multiple Muslim Mind(s)?

The notion of Islamism is one that really needs looking at.  My belief is that this is trying to foist onto Islam a fraudulent concept that was invented for throwing Christianity into disarray.  It starts with the argument that there is a distinction between the teachings of Christ and Christianity.  No doubt this is true, but the end result is almost always that a new Christianity is substituted that is even further from Christ.  The concept of Islamism is one that tries to separate Islam from Islam, when the real separation is the degree to which humans embrace a particular religion or ideology.

To put it another way, atheism as an ideology is purely amoral, with no belief in right and wrong, true or false.  Yet atheists themselves almost all take on some degree of morality and affirm that things are right or wrong, true or false.  Occasionally, however, we have people like Stalin who were true to their ideology,  Do we then try to subdivide and distinguish between atheism and atheismism?  Of course not.  The distinction involves the degree to which atheists internalize the doctrines of atheism and how they weigh them relative to conscience and interactions with society at large.  Similarly, Christianity teaches one thing, but Christians often behave quite differently.  This is not evidence that Christianity is divided, in spite of how it is presented.  Thus, I believe that the notion of Islamism is something that makes it impossible to understand the Muslim Mind.

I should also say that I believe that there is a spiritual dimension to all this, as outline in the book of Galatians and also the story of Hagar and Ishmael in the book of Genesis.  This part I feel I have some glimpses of, but I don't expect to understand it fully during my life time.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

NYT: The rise in The Rise in Research Retractions .

"The higher a journal's impact factor, the two editors found, the higher its retraction rate."

To be fair, retraction rates have to do with work that can be sloppy, or even work that was done with all due diligence but for reasons that were unknowable at the time turned out to be wrong.  But many of the retractions are outright fraud.  The main highlight of the article is a 10 fold increase in retractions over a decade when publishing had only gone up 44%.

The author of the article highlights what happens when unscrupulous people seek attention AND also believe they won't be caught with regard to the paper publishing industry.  A bigger issue might be the proposal writing industry that draws in the $billions and isn't nearly so well monitored.  Then there are the non-falsifiable sciences where proving someone was wrong is impossible, thus, making fraud a theoretical impossibility.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Book Pondering:  The Closing of the Muslim Mind, by Robert Reilly - The Sources of Islamism, The Crisis.

Finishing the book, there are a number of thoughts expressed and many examples of the ideology of violence.  Reilly ponders and dismisses some of the solutions that are proposed, such as the belief that fixing poverty will stop Islamism.  Islamism he admits is a bad term, and defines it as a mix of western revolutionary conceptions grafted onto a framework that is loosely derived from Islam.  This has me pondering the oft repeated assertion that the Soviets weren't Marxist and the like.  I am still waiting for someone to assert that the NAZI's weren't true fascists.  It would be fun to see where that goes.

One prescription that is popular today is the notion that conflict could be reduced if only Islam could be mainlined - i.e. the theology needs to be gutted and replaced with something more sensible by altruistic intellectuals, like was done to Christianity.  He doesn't leave much hope for this.  

Reason is where Reilly places his hope, and cites the Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle as a good starting point.  I am not so sure.  In this book Aristotle defines Political Science as the science of the souls of men, and declares that this is the most honorable science.  Another prescription for tyranny?  Democracy - which Reilly idolizes - is condemned by Aristotle as a licentious perversion of a constitutional Republic.  Finally, Reilly finishes with a call to reason:

"The recovery of reason, grounded in Logos, is the only sentinel of sanity.  This is imperative for the East as well as the West. 'Come now, let us reason together.' (Isaiah 1:18)" - The Closing of the Muslim Mind.

I look at the quote and agree - sort of - because Logos is understood to be Jesus Christ, and the passage from Isaiah is inviting men to reason with God to avoid his wrath.  That means repenting, turning from their sins and worshiping God alone.  But Isaiah writes this a little further:

"He said, 'Go and tell this people: "Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving."  Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes.  Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed." - Isaiah 6:9-10

In other words, God promises to block their reason due to their sin.  This is a glimpse of the spiritual dimension that Reilly never mentions.  I will finish with a classical Greek rebuttal to the notion that reason leads in the direction he hopes:

"This villainy which he employed was clearly buttressed by the utmost use of reason. It is not merely the stage that abounds in such crimes; even more, our daily life is studded with examples almost as outrageous. The households of each of us, the law-courts, the senate, the voting-booths, allied communities, the provinces - all have experience of how reason lies behind right conduct, but also behind evil-doing. Right conduct is practiced rarely and by the few, whereas the second is constantly performed by a host of people. It would therefore have been better if the immortal gods had granted us no use of reason whatever, rather than to have it bestowed with such a baleful outcome." - On The Nature Of The Gods, Book 3.69

Friday, April 13, 2012

Book Pondering:  The Closing of the Muslim Mind, by Robert Reilly - The Wreckage

This chapter discusses the general economic situation of Islamic countries.  This includes many of the poorest countries in the world.  Those that are rich are typically running off of oil wealth generated by facilities that are run by foreigners.  That this weighs down on the psyche of the citizens of these countries is obvious.

However, the issue with the book remains:  cause and effect, cause and effect.  Reilly supposes that the intellectual rejection led to scientific failure which led to economic failure.  That is one possibility.  This hypothesis runs smack into the problem of the rest of the world that is or was poor until recently.  Do Japan and South Korea adore Greek philosophy?  Is China a bastion for intellectual freedom?  There are many factors for success, but it seems to me that a work ethic and ambition are the most common formula for success in science and technology at the individual level.  At the macro level, it is the ability of an organization to function without being completely overwhelmed with corruption, incompetence and dysfunction at all levels.  

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Book Pondering:  The Closing of the Muslim Mind, by Robert Reilly - Decline and Consequences.

This chapter is supposed to be a critique of Islamic civilization, but it again begs the question of whether or not Reilly is familiar with Western civilization.  There is a charge that every kind of conspiracy theory gets peddled in the Islamic media.  As examples, he cites Polio vaccinations and a report that the medicine Tamiflu is part of some Zionist conspiracy.  What Reilly misses is the Western controversy over Autism being linked to vaccinations and recent problems with too many parents refusing immunization shots for their children.  The Taliban shuts things down in Muslim countries.  Medical malpractice lawyers shut things down here.  And seriously, Al Qaeda might be smuggling drugs, but we have professors and politicians publicly arguing that marijuana is a medicine.  Is there really such a difference?  If there is a difference, can we defend the notion that Islam is more irrational than the west?

Moving on to journalism, my favorite slap down is this:

"The 2003 UN Arab Human Development Report's take on Arab media state: 'News reports themselves tend to be narrative and descriptive, rather than investigative or analytic, with a concentration on immediate and partial events and facts.'..."

You mean we get the facts straight without someone filtering and spinning a conspiracy out of them???  Time to turn off NPR and get a subscription to the Muslim News Network!

Another gem is this:

"The enormous influence of Saudi Arabia today in the Muslim world is often thought by Westerners to be almost completely due to its oil wealth - petro-Islam.  However, this discounts the fact that many Muslims, including in countries like Egypt, which are traditionally opposed to Saudi Arabia, see this wealth as a direct gift from Allah."

This has me thinking that Reilly must be an atheist.  I suggest he go back and re-read the book of Job, and perhaps the story of Joseph in Genesis.  

Continuing ...

"One must realize that the phrase "insha' Allah [God willing]" is not simply a polite social convention, but a theological doctrine."

You mean they actually believe their theology?!  Heaven forbid!!!  And why is Providence, Rhode Island named Providence?  Or what is the meaning of Matthew 6:25-34?  

Reilly is completely baffled that people would believe that a weapon would hit or miss based on the will of Allah.  Now Reilly is an Irish name, and I really shouldn't need to remind him of what the Calvinists did to Catholic Ireland (undoubtedly as predestined) during the time of Cromwell.  

The beginning of this chapter asserts that a life of reason - founded upon the classical Greeks - is necessary in order to have Constitutional government, Rule of Law, and Democracy.  Again, we are left drowning in a sea of problems, since the Babylonians had Rule of Law under Hammurabi (a thousand years before Greece discovers literacy), Sparta had a constitutional government under Lycurgus - long before philosophy arrived in the Peloponnese, and the Democracy of Athens predates Socrates by a century.  And didn't they vote to execute Socrates???  The industrial and scientific revolutions, however, took place under monarchies when unlimited freedom of inquiry and opinion weren't exactly casual slogans of a free press.

A final note is the complaint that Islam can't accept the concept that "all men are created equal". This has to be balanced against a clear understanding that the West - as taught by the Atheist cult of reason - denounces the concept of "created" as something only total fools believe in, yet also idolizes the notion that "all men are created equal".  Overall score for this chapter:  Mullahs 6; Reilly 0.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Irenaeus (?-202AD) :  Patience pays off ...

This has to do with the pre-Socratic philosopher Anaxagoras and the Flat Earth theory.  I have been accumulating references as I go along from classical writers for anything that might indicate a flat earth belief, since this is what was preached to us in the government schools when I was young regarding Christians.  I still haven't found a person affirming such a belief in their own writings, but Irenaeus includes a note that invites some extrapolation in conjunction with quotes from other authors:

"Anaxagoras, again, who has also been surnamed "Atheist," gave it as his opinion that animals were formed from seeds falling down from heaven upon earth. This thought, too, these men have transferred to "the seed" of their Mother, which they maintain to be themselves; thus acknowledging at once, in the judgment of such as are possessed of sense, that they themselves are the offspring of the irreligious Anaxagoras." - Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book II

I don't fully understand that, but it seems to be a naturalistic explanation for human origins.  As I already noted, Anaxagoras was the recipient of the first recorded Flat Earth insult, delivered by Socrates:

"And I rejoiced to think that I had found in Anaxagoras a teacher of the causes of existence such as I desired, and I imagined that he would tell me first whether the earth is flat or round; and then he would further explain the cause and the necessity of this ..." - Plato (424-348BC), Phaedo.

In fact Socrates is disappointed and concludes that Anaxagoras is devoid of knowledge and a mere babbler of nonsense.  A bit more research turned up this note on the beliefs of Anaxagoras in a philosophical catalog prepared by Hyppolitus (170AD-235):

"And that the earth is in figure plane; and that it continues suspended aloft, by reason of its magnitude, and by reason of there being no vacuum, and by reason of the air, which was most powerful, bearing along the wafted earth." - Hyppolitus, Refutation of All Heresies, Book I

Thus, we have the curious fact that the first known attribution of a flat earth belief is to an atheist!  Irenaeus brings up Anaxagoras as one of the numerous sources from which Gnostics take their imagery, but he is not noted as being a source of Gnosticism.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Josephus (37AD-100):  Dealing with internet rumors ...

Against Apion is a long winded response to a collection of nasty insults that were published by Apion.  In attempting to refute all Apion's claims, Josephus gives opinions on all kinds of subjects:

Hyksos:  Looks like Josephus was a bit ahead of James Cameron and Exodus Decoded:

"This whole nation was styled Hycsos, that is, Shepherd-kings: for the first syllable Hyc, according to the sacred dialect, denotes a king, as is Sos a shepherd; but this according to the ordinary dialect; and of these is compounded Hycsos: but some say that these people were Arabians." Now in another copy it is said that this word does not denote Kings, but, on the contrary, denotes Captive Shepherds, and this on account of the particle Hyc; for that Hyc, with the aspiration, in the Egyptian tongue again denotes Shepherds, and that expressly also; and this to me seems the more probable opinion, and more agreeable to ancient history. [But Manetho goes on]: "These people, whom we have before named kings, and called shepherds also, and their descendants," as he says, "kept possession of Egypt five hundred and eleven years." " - Against Apion, Book I

A puzzle to me from Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary might well be solved here:

"Accordingly, these priests are all circumcised, and abstain from swine's flesh; nor does any one of the other Egyptians assist them in slaying those sacrifices they offer to the gods."  - Against Apion, Book II.

And Voltaire:

"There are customs of pure fantasy. Why did the priests of Egypt imagine circumcision? it is not for health." - Philosophical Dictionary

I had wondered where Voltaire came up with this, since it could only have come from a classical literature source.  Herodotus mentions circumcision and claims it was first practiced by the Egyptians, but does not mention a purpose.  Now I admit that there is a certain pleasure for me to think that circumcision had been a mark of priesthood so that the Jews should have been known as a nations of priests.  

There was a summary of the Jewish laws which should silence some modernists for at least 12 seconds with their novel interpretations.

Regarding the Jewish scriptures, there is a note that conflicts with my impression that Josephus works exclusively with the Greek Septuagint:

"For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another, [as the Greeks have,] but only twenty-two books, which contain the records of all the past times; which are justly believed to be divine; and of them five belong to Moses, which contain his laws and the traditions of the origin of mankind till his death." - Against Apion, Book I

This refers to the Hebrew scriptures which has 22 books.  This is obtained from the Biblical OT count by merging Ezra with Nehemiah, and the three 1st and 2nd series.  Josephus gives a further explanation of his preference for scriptures:

"... for, as I said, I have translated the Antiquities out of our sacred books; which I easily could do, since I was a priest by my birth, and have studied that philosophy which is contained in those writings: and for the History of the War, I wrote it as having been an actor myself in many of its transactions, an eye-witness in the greatest part of the rest, and was not unacquainted with any thing whatsoever that was either said or done in it."

This is noted mainly because it is Josephus in his Antiquities who gives us the story of the translation of the Hebrew scriptures into the Septuagint.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Book Pondering:  The Closing of the Muslim Mind, by Robert Reilly - The Metaphysics of the Will

This chapter concerns the dispute between free will and predestination schools which necessarily leads into notions of cause and effect.  I would have liked to see a comparison between the Islamic disputes and those of the Calvinists vs. the Arminians, or maybe we could bring in the modernists with their notion that all things were predetermined by the Big Bang, except that Karma is infused everywhere ...  

Reilly thinks that much hinges on the notion that will precedes reason in Islam's notion of God, whereas in Christianity it is the opposite:

"This is exactly the disputed point:  for Averroes and Aquinas the source of creation is knowledge and wisdom; for al-Ghazali it is will and power.  Knowledge and wisdom have an inherent order; will and power do not."

My quibble with this is that some of this discussion implies a temporal ordering of will and wisdom, yet Christianity puts these outside of time.  A cute consequence of this 

"Thus, points out Hoodbhoy, 'Many if not most, orthodox ulema contend that prediction of rain lies outside of what can be lawfully known to man, and infringes on the supernatural domain.  Consequently, between 1983 and 1984, weather forecasts were quietly suspended by the Pakistani media, although they were later reinstated."

Now I must say that many Americans - including atheists - have a similarly dim view of weather forecasting!

There is more substance to the next point that good and evil exist only as whims of the almighty:

"Al-Ash'ari expressed this view in a question and answer dialogue:

Since the Creator is subject to no one and bound by no command, nothing can be evil on His part.
Objection:  Then lying is evil only because God has declared it to be evil.
Answer:  Certainly.  And if He declared it to be good, it would be good; and if He commanded it, no one could gainsay him."

I believe that is similar to how political correctness works - truth is whatever the one with the most power decrees it to be.  This distinction is quite important, as Christians view God as being inherently good and God's will flows from his goodness.  Atheists love to dispute with the Christians on this point, but quite sensibly refrain from disputing with Islam.  Where Reilly gets into a tangle is that the Greek philosophical notion of the gods is that they are arbitrary and do whatever they please, yet they must also be honored unconditionally.

Regarding man's moral condition, we have this:

"Morality, or what is just, cannot be known rationally for two reasons.  One is practical:  reason is too corrupted by man's self-interest. ...  The other reason man cannot independently know right from wrong, which really makes the first reason close to disingenuous, is epistemological:  man cannot know what does not exist to be known (whether he is self-interested or not).  Since nothing is right or wrong intrinsically, there is nothing to be known in this respect."

The first reason sounds like an extension of the Calvinist's Doctrine of Total Depravity.  The second sounds like atheism, except that there is a controlling legal authority.  At this point I am starting to align a bit with Reilly's narrative.  My complaint with the book so far centers on this:  "cause and effect, cause and effect".  Reilly asserts that "Mohammed was not a theologian", so when the Ash'irite's appear it is as if they were transported in through the hyperspace from another dimension.  The cause of this Ash'irite school just seems to be the Fates or whatever.  Yes, they quote from the Koran, but so do the Mu'tazalites, who come to an opposite view.  I presume that this reflects the Papist notion that the meaning of scripture is determined not by reason, but by tradition. (Reflecting a reality that is in direct conflict with all the quotes from Aquinas and Augustine.)  Or maybe the post-modernist view that scripture can be construed to mean anything ... or the manner of David Hume where cause and effect are deemed to be synonyms, so describing something is deemed to be explaining the cause.  

Regardless, we are left with the notion that good and evil are not abstract realities in Islam, but purely arbitrary so that what is good one moment can be evil the next and vice verse.
Josephus (37AD-100):  The Life of Josephus

This work is primarily a justification for his role as governor of Galilee.  He paints a picture of a province on the verge of civil war where he is the only force trying to bring about civility and order.  As a result, others are constantly scheming to kill him.

My pondering on this has mainly been in comparison to the beginnings of Islam.  Mohammed brought about the unity of the various warring tribes and sent them pouring out of Arabia to form an religious empire of the sword.  Galilee and Judea did the opposite during the 1st century Jewish wars, as the factions turned inward to destroy each other.  The Romans came in and imposed order by blotting out the country.  Josephus has not one reference to Christians in his narrative, so it would be a stretch to claim that Christians were a cause.  With all the animosity, many Christians were probably driven out before the catastrophic wars began.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Josephus (37AD-100):  Stoics vs Pharisees.

"So when I had accomplished my desires, I returned back to the city, being now nineteen years old, and began to conduct myself according to the rules of the sect of the Pharisees, which is of kin to the sect of the Stoics, as the Greeks call them." - The Life of Josephus

This is what Josephus writes about himself.  My main reason for noting this is that Pharisees are generally viewed as the vilest of the vile, while Stoics are viewed as the most honorable of the classical philosophers.  In fact there is much similarity between the two, in that both are religiously conservative and hold that personal moral and mental discipline are to be pursued vigorously.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Irenaeus: Against Heresies

Max asked a question regarding the last post.  My response will be to include an excerpt, so that it will not be necessary for me to extract a principle regarding the manner in which the gnostics had employed the Bible!

"2. These AEons having been produced for the glory of the Father, and wishing, by their own efforts, to effect this object, sent forth emanations by means of conjunction. Logos and Zoe, after producing Anthropos and Ecclesia, sent forth other ten AEons, whose names are the following: Bythius and Mixis, Ageratos and Henosis, Autophyes and Hedone, Acinetos and Syncrasis, Monogenes and Macaria. These are the ten AEons whom they declare to have been produced by Logos and Zoe. They then add that Anthropos himself, along with Ecclesia, produced twelve AEons, to whom they give the following names: Paracletus and Pistis, Patricos and Elpis, Metricos and Agape, Ainos and Synesis, Ecclesiasticus and Macariotes, Theletos and Sophia.

3. Such are the thirty AEons in the erroneous system of these men; and they are described as being wrapped up, so to speak, in silence, and known to none [except these professing teachers]. Moreover, they declare that this invisible and spiritual Pleroma of theirs is tripartite, being divided into an Ogdoad, a Decad, and a Duodecad. And for this reason they affirm it was that the "Saviour"--for they do not please to call Him "Lord"--did no work in public during the space of thirty years, thus setting forth the mystery of these AEons. They maintain also, that these thirty AEons are most plainly indicated in the parable of the labourers sent into the vineyard. For some are sent about the first hour, others about the third hour, others about the sixth hour, others about the ninth hour, and others about the eleventh hour. Now, if we add up the numbers of the hours here mentioned, the sum total will be thirty: for one, three, six, nine, and eleven, when added together, form thirty. And by the hours, they hold that the AEons were pointed out; while they maintain that these are great, and wonderful, and hitherto unspeakable mysteries which it is their special function to develop; and so they proceed when they find anything in the multitude of things contained in the Scriptures which they can adopt and accommodate to their baseless speculations." - Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book I

This refers to the vineyard parable that is in Matthew 20:1-16.  The names of the AEons are Greek words some of which are used in the Bible, but not exclusively so.  My main observation is that this system of AEons causes the point of the parable - stated clearly and concisely in Matthew 20:16 - to be lost in the noise.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Irenaeus:  Against Heresies

Gnosticism 101.  In the interest of completeness, I have started listening to this long work.  There are summaries of this work out there, so I won't repeat this in any detail.  What stands out to me is the way Irenaeus goes on and on and on describing all the primordial beings and stories that one gnostic sect has come up with.  And this is just a summary.  The Bible is then grafted onto these stories as the various Bible stories and characters are deemed to be symbolic of some spiritual event in some other mystical dimension.  It all reminds me a lot of the views of the hippies that I spent time with back in the 70's.  I have listened to one hour of this work.  Another 24 hours of exciting listening remains.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Book Pondering:  The Closing of the Muslim Mind, by Robert Reilly - continuation.

Islam grew rapidly from its beginnings into an empire extending from India and China to Spain.  A few interesting authors have come down to us leaving us some tantalizing glimpses of intellectual genius, but what do we make of this?  Admittedly this is a period that I have done little studying on, but will make some comments keeping this in mind.  Reilly's thesis is that Islam was picking up Hellenism - for a time - just like Christianity (and Judaism) did.  This produced a period of Islamic scholarship, but due to politics and The Fates, a different school got the preeminence and changed the direction of Islam.  Here is what Reilly writes:

"The freedom to interpret revelation was based upon the Mu'tazilite teaching, shocking to the traditionalists, that the Qur'an was created in time.  The standard orthodox belief was that the Qur'an is uncreated and exists coeternally with Allah.  If the Qur'an was created, it is subject to rational criteria.  If it is subject to rational criteria, it is not the exclusive domain of the ulema.  An uncreated Qur'an would not allow for this interpretive freedom.  Caliph al-Ma'mun knew that the teaching of a created Qur'an and of man's free will would enhance his authority and undermine that of the traditionalist ulema.  Therefore, he sponsored the Mu'tazilites.  He also genuinely embraced their views because he was fascinated by philosophy."

His thesis is that if Islam had stuck with a notion of a Qur'an created in time, then Islam would have embraced the faculty of reason, whereas their belief that the Qur'an was eternal caused them to do the opposite.  

At this point, I again have a major problem:  Christianity insists that the Bible is a revelation that is coeternal with God:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it." - John 1:1-4

The Christian theologians that developed this concept the most were the scholastics such as Anselm and Aquinas.  The Word is understood to be the Bible, which is God's Word, yet is also Christ eternal who, although being born, was still uncreated.  It seems to me that Reilly has no hope to employ his argument consistently as he switches between Christianity and Islam.  To complete the counter argument, it is the scholastics who would bring the teachings of Aristotle back to a West that was rising out of illiteracy.  

A modernist would then jump in and say, "See, that is why Christianity is in the Dark Ages", thus, forcing a bit of consistency onto Reilly's argument.  Modernism, however, didn't show up until centuries after the industrial and scientific revolution had occurred.  At the same time, it is the modernists who deny the possibility of specific theological concepts having meaning, arguing that anything can be given all possible interpretations.  Accepting this would defeat the entire purpose of the book.  I am still trying to figure out what framework is Reilly's starting reference point, which he badly needs.