Saturday, March 31, 2012

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

I ordered this book many months ago, but it never arrived.  After poking around a bit, however, I did find the Introduction and Chapter 1 online and thought I should give it a comment anyway.  Reilly bravely challenges the modernist notion that "all religions are alike" and takes the step towards that the radical concept that the theology of a religion might have something to do with the nature of its adherents.  The next step is to suggest that there might even be a spiritual dimension out there, but we must whisper this softly.

Now I admit that this notion of the practice of religion being positively correlated with the theology is something that I most definitely adhere too.  What bothers me, however, is the start.  Reilly seems to be taking a path that says that Christianity and Judaism accepted Greek philosophy, whereas Islam did the opposite and formally rejected Greek philosophy, hence, Islam rejected reason itself.  Is the distinctiveness of a religion thus reduced to whether it accepts or rejects Greek philosophy?

The problem I have with this is that I have actually spent a lot of time both studying Greek philosophy and the Christian reaction to it.  Any student of Greek philosophy should know that the Golden Age of classical philosophy was a historical and geographical blip starting a bit before Socrates and ending with Aristotle.  Yes, there were many other schools that popped up, but seriously ...  here is a brief list:

The Academics.  These took over Plato's Academy and mindlessly extrapolated from Socrates questioning to a system based on the notion that all statements are false ... there is no such thing as truth.  As soon as someone cheats them, however, all this high sounding philosophy goes in an instant.

The Skeptics.  Brighter than the Academics, they realized that a philosophy based on the notion that all philosophies are false is self defeating.  Thus, they employed the tactic that there might be truth, but no one had ever seen it.  Their founder, Pyrrho, had to be saved from being run over by out-of-control carts periodically because he chose to remain skeptical of their reality.  It is little surprise that this school did not survive to the modern era.

The Epicureans.  Epicurus explained everything about how the universe worked down to atomic theory.  According to the Epicureans, all opinions they held were thus "science", whereas all other opinions of were "superstition".  The sun was about the size of your fist, contrary to the superstitions of those who said it was bigger than the earth.

The Stoics:  They were mostly moral philosophers who had little to say about science.  There big problem was that they believed that reason leads only to truth, but as the Academics pointed out, all evil has its origin in reason also.

The Neo-Platonists:  These had a very loose connection to Plato (I am being very generous).  They invented the conflict between faith and science.  In their system, faith was the beliefs of the Christians, and science was all other opinions under the Sun.  Thus, they promoted astrology, omens, reading of entrails, dream interpretation, ...

The Cynics:  They seemed to believe that the only way to get out of the tyranny of mindless tradition was to go around offending everyone's sensibilities.

Thus, what we inherited from Greek philosophy was an intellectual garbage dump.  Augustine and Calvin said as much, thus, the condemnation of philosophy was a theme running through Christianity as well as Islam.  We can point to Aquinas and the scholastics as exceptions.  I will leave this aside for the time being.  My claim at this point is that Reilly has almost no knowledge of classical philosophy, but is mainly going off of modernist caricatures.  (Update:  Reading his book more, I will retract this, but note that his understanding of Greek philosophy still seems a bit selective.)

As we proceed down this path, it is important to keep in mind the original goal, which was to explain the uniqueness of Islam.  Explaining this in comparison to Judaism and Christianity is a challenge, but what of Hinduism, Buddhism, Animism, Atheism, Darwinism, Big Bangism or other forms of worship?  I still need to buy a copy of the book and finish reading it.
The Answer Is 42 - Julian.

From the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the original question was about the meaning of life, and all that stuff, but Deep Thought seemed to have lost track of this and suggested that this wasn't really the question to which 42 was the answer.

Anyway, 42 is the number of the Epistle that Julian (332-363AD) wrote where he explains why Christians are to be forbidden from teaching the Liberal Arts.  The meaning of life should only be taught by Pagans.  Julian also invented the conflict between science and faith, where he defined faith to be Christianity and science to be all other opinions known to mankind.  This is roughly the position taught in the US today, as the concepts of theology can science have been completely changed to meet the definitions of Julian so that the conflict between faith and science can be realized.

I have Julian's viewpoint as paraphrased by Edward Gibbon in 1776.  What I don't have is the original source, since Gibbon did not include references.  Thus, I have been searching through the various historians along with the works and letters of Julian.  The Historians are Socrates, Sozomen and Ammianus Marcellinus. All of these mention his forbidding Christians to teach, as well as the edicts either forbidding the children of Christians to study or using soft coercion to get them into the public, pagan schools.

The letters is a collection of fantastic idealization of classical Greek religion with references to religion scattered everywhere.  Within these, letter 25 gives the instruction to the Jews to rebuild the temple.

Letter 36 mentions the theft of books in Alexandria and demands that the library of George be transferred to Antioch.  This includes writings of all sorts.  Letter 42 doesn't seem to be on line except as an image, so I will attempt to type this in (noting that the source uses 'f' for 's' ... :) ):

Epistle XLII.  An Edict forbidding the Christians to teach polite Literature.


True learning, in my opinion, confifts not in words, in elegant and magnificent language, but in the found difpofitions of a well-formed mind, and in juft notions of good and evil, of virtue and vice.  Whoever therefore thinks or teaches otherwife feems no lefs deftitute of learning than he is of virtue, Even in trifles, if the mind and tongue be at variance, it is always efteemed a kind of difhonefty.  But if in matters of the greateft confequence a man thinks one thing and teaches another, does he not refemble thofe mean-fpirited, difhoneft, and abandoned traders, who generally affirm what they know to be falfe, in order to deceive and inveigle cuftomers?


All therefore who profefs to teach ought to be ftrict in their morals, and fhould never entertain opinions oppofite to thofe of the public; fuch, efpecially, ought to be thofe who inftruct youth, and explain to them the works of the ancients, whether they are orators, or grammarians; but particularly fophifts, as they affect to be the teachers, not only of words, but of manners, and infift that civil philofophy is their peculiar province. Whether this be true or not I fhall not at prefent confider.  I commend thofe who make fuch fpecious promifes, and fhould commend them much more, if they did not falfify and contradict themfelves by thinking one thing, and teaching their fcholars another.  What then?  Were not Homer, Hefiod, Demofthenes, Herodotus, Thucydides, Ifocrates, Lyfias, guided in their ftudies by the Gods, and efteemed themfelves confecrated, fome to Mercurry, and others to the Mufes?  It is abfurd therefore for thofe who explain their works to defpife the Gods whom they honoured.


I do not mean (I am not fo abfurd) that they fhould change their fentiments for the fake of inftructing youth; I give them their option, either not to teach what they do not approve, or, if they choofe to teach, firft to perfuade their fcholars, that neither Homer, nor Hefiod, nor any of thofe whom they expound, and charge with impiety, madnefs, and error, concerning the Gods, are really fuch as they reprefent them.  For as they receive a ftipend, and are maintained by their works, if they can act with fuch duplicity for a few drachms, they confefs themfelves guilty of the moft fordid avarice.


Hitherto, I allow, many caufes have prevented their reforting to the temples; and the dangers that every where impended were a plea for their difguifing their real fentiments of the Gods.  But now, when the Gods have granted us liberty, it feems to me abfurd for any to tech what they do not approve.  And if they think that thofe writers whom they expound, and of whom they fit as interpreters, are truly wife, let them firft zealoufly imitate their piety towarrds the Gods.  But if they think their ideas of the moft holy Gods erroneous, let them go into the churches of the Galileans, and there expound Matthew and Luke.  In obedience to your rulers, you forbid facrifices.  I wifh that your ears and your tongues were (as you exprefs it) regenerated in thofe things of which I wift that myfelf, and all who in thought and deed are my friends, may always be partakers.


To mafters and teachers let this be a general law.  But let no youths be prevented from reforting to whatever fchools they pleafe.  It would be as unreafonable to exclude children, who know not yet what road to take, from the right path, as it would be to lead them by fear, and with reluctance, to the religious rites of their country.  And though it might be prper to cure fuch reluctance, like madnefs, even by force, yet let all be indulged with that difeafe.  For the ignorant fhould, in my oopinioni, be inftructed, not punifhed.

Epistle 43 is with regard to confiscation of the property of Christians (actually the Arians).  Epistle 49 is the origin of the welfare state:

Epiftle XLIX.TTo Arsacius, High-prift of Galatia

...
It is not fuficient for you only to be blamelefs.  Intreat or compell all the priefts that are in Galatia to be alfo virtuous.  If they do not, with their wives, children, and fernats, attend the worfhip of the Gods, expell them from the prieftly function; and alfo forbear to converfe with the fervants, children, and wives, of the Galileans, who are impious towards the Gods, and prefer impiety to religion.
...  (more admonitions to virtuous behavior by pagan priests)
...
I have ordered Galatia to fupply you with thirty-thoufand bufhels of wheat every year; of which the fifth part is to be given to the poor who attend on the priefts, and the remainder to be diftributed among ftrangers and our own beggars.  For when none of the Jews beg, and the impious Galileans relieve both their own poor and ours, it is shameful, that ours fhould be deftitue of our affiftance.

Epistle 52 bans Christians from certain public offices.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Hegel:  Introduction To The Philosophy of History.

This work would be more accurately named "Introduction To A Collection Of Speculations Regarding History". Hegel is all over the temporal and spacial map with this work so that it is essentially impossible to know what Hegel was really thinking.  I will make a few general observations keeping this caveat in mind.

Hegel begins by asserting that history is too varied and historians too sloppy to provide any hope of extracting generalized lessons.  It I accept this, I am immediately drawn to questioning the title of the work.  Philosophy means "Love of Wisdom".  And what is a generalized lesson, other than a gem of wisdom?  It would seem to me that he is incoherent from the starting point, but we will just note this and move on.

Next Hegel moves into discussions of Providence and a generalized plan of everything according to some higher wisdom.  The classical Greeks talked of society moving in cycles.  Hegel asserts that nature moves in cycles, but the motivations of man cause things to move in a different mode.  It seems to me that his notion is roughly a Christian notion of God working a plan through history, but others have asserted that Hegel is speaking of an evolutionary model.

The later portions emphasize "Geist", which means soul or spirit.  Perhaps it is more like Aristotle's "Anima".  Not quite sure.  Hegel talks of a Geist for the individual, but also a Geist for nations in which the spirit of the community is a composition of the spirit of the individuals who make up that community. There is nothing too peculiar here.  Hegel asserts that the end goal of history is freedom, and that the Geist is defined by freedom.  This is a point where I start to take issue because Christianity teaches that souls can be enslaved and that freedom of the Geist is only possible by God's intervention through Jesus Christ. Hegel claims to be Christian, so this oversight seems problematic.

Along the way Hegel gets into many little peculiar observations that don't seem to build into a coherent whole.  For example,  Hegel gives much attention to the similarities between German (via Latin and Greek) and Sanskrit.  He comments on Chinese moral systems, but finds them to be lacking in that they are mere systems of rules (albeit impressive ones), whereas true morality is backed by freedom and moral reasoning.  He then notes that Europeans and Chinese bother to record their history, whereas Indians do not.  The Vedas are compared with Homers works in terms of epic poetry.

After reading this work, I would like to go visit his tomb, kick the coffin, and ask for some more explanations and clarifications.  Some other time.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Great Courses:  Understanding Complexity

This is being watched as part of the weekly talking group at my work.  Professor Page gives us some definitions that begin with large networks of interacting agents.  A second feature of complexity is that different properties show up at different scales.  This is well known to us in physics where a simple gas can develop into turbulent flows with large eddies at a very different scale.  The last feature of complexity is the active agent.  Usually this is a human who makes individual choices, but sometimes a different biological agent.  It is this last requirement that seems to create a dividing wall between the physical sciences and "complexity science".

My work has been on complex software systems for modeling physics.  This can involve piecing together 100,000 lines or more of code involving dozens of different physical theories and hundreds of algorithms.  It also involves complex networks of logic that manage data sets which are also complex networks.  Is there any relationship between this and "complexity science"?  This is what I hope to learn.

The introductory video makes mention of some of the physical phenomenon that develop at larger scales, but the emphasis is on the active agent.  My work, however, does not involve managing active agents.  The applications for complexity theory seem to be economic, social and ecological.  I have typically viewed these areas as being hand waving sciences, so that they really aren't sciences at all.  If there is something that can bridge the gap between the true physical sciences and these other areas, it would seem at the current point that "complexity science" might do the trick.  Since I am on travel, I have missed the second lecture this week, but will need to do a bit of make up work.  With my Hebrew studies going, I will not be able to dig in the way I like.  How to manage a complex life?

Thursday, March 22, 2012


Language and Gender.

Given that I am studying Hebrew, some comments on their treatment of gender in the language are mandatory.  First, some general comments.

European languages have annoying aspects of gender that mostly show up in articles like "a" and "the" and also adjectives, so that the French and Germans must distinguish where a noun is feminine or masculine.  Thus, we have "der Winter" - the winter - and "die Sommer" [Correction per Ursula:  Sommer is masculine .. should have checked the dictionary rather than the net!] - the summer - where winter is masculine in German and summer is feminine.  English is spared most of this, but we still have gender issues that were discovered by the feminist fanatics over the concept of humans being divided into categories of "he" and "she".  Chinese avoids this fuss with both he and she reducing to ta : he, thus, eliminating all gender strife in China.  Japanese isn't quite the same, but doesn't have much gender distinction as I recall.

Hebrew, however, is plagued with gender to a degree that I would never have imagined.  Yes, there are masculine and feminine nouns, but that is just the start.  In English we have our usual verb conjugations:

I say
He says/ She says
We say
You say

There aren't too many forms, unless we go to something irregular:

I am
He is/She is
We are
You are

The 2nd person singular form of the verb is the same, regardless of gender.  I believe that this is the same throughout most Latin derived languages.  In Hebrew, however, there are different verb forms depending on whether the subject is masculine or feminine.  This also applies to "you" as well which has four forms distinguishing masculine/feminine; singular/plural.  The gender complications affect just about everything, including nouns, pronouns, adjectives, prepositions and numbers.  What a mess!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Wordpress struggles ... trying to respond to Ramana.

I gotta log into Wordpress, but will need to figure out how to do this later.  Anyway, I passed a quote to him that he has included in one of his posts:

Psalm 82:6 - "I said, 'You are "gods"; you are all sons of the Most High'".

The Old Fossil noted that this was from the Old Testament, thus, not the words of Jesus.  This misses the fact that this particular verse was specifically highlighted by Jesus:

"Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods’? If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and the Scripture cannot be broken— what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?" - John 10:34-36

Ramana was comparing this a bit to the beliefs that we are all part of an extended God.  It reminds me a bit of Spinoza's view that everything is in God, but I would not want to assert that they are the same.  My tentative view of the Jewish/Christian interpretation is that we have an eternal existence and our created in the image of God - thus, the assertion that we are 'gods'.  Yet at the same time we are eternally distinct and subordinate to the one God who created us.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

What to do about the TV?

There is a nice flat panel TV hanging on the wall next to where I am typing this.  It hasn't been turned on for several months. We have two in the house, one that was used by my wife, and one by myself.  My wife's TV is closer to the kitchen and laundry areas, thus we still have the traditional role separation.  So practically we have two unused TVs, but a cable TV bill to pay.  Cutting it would seem to make sense, but the older relatives might come by and want to watch the TV.  The younger ones simply pull out some gadget and give it their full attention.  

I am not quite sure why I stopped watching TV.  The argument could be made that today's programming is all bad, but that would only be compelling if programming from earlier decades was actually better.  In other words, this argument is a loser.  Until I turn on The History Channel and there is a ghost and aliens mystery marathon.  The Viagra commercials are another candidate.  Once a night might be tolerable, but every 15 minutes?  Don't they know that you can OD on Viagra?  Still, lousy and annoying commercials have been a distinguishing mark of TV since its inception.  A final possibility is that I am just getting old, grumpy and nothing can satisfy me.  

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Spring Break, Anthropology and Miracles.

One of my kids returned home for spring break and we had a chance to discuss a bit of his anthropology class.  I asked him if they had mentioned eugenics - the belief that there were significant differences in race extending to mind and character in addition to skin color and perhaps susceptibility to certain diseases.  The answer was that they had not mentioned eugenics.  They were heavily promoting the notion that men descended from apes as a fundamental and necessary concept for human understanding, but they were also explicit in stating that all humans are more or less equivalent as far as mental, moral and temperament are concerned.  Thus, anthropology has two principles:  1) human behavior must be understood by looking at apes first and 2) the human species evolved in a uniform manner from the apes.

I just wanted to highlight the post-modern conflict here.  Effectively they are trying to argue that evolution proves that all men evolved equally, which contrasts with our American ideal that "all men are created equal".  Of course anyone who observes dogs knows that although there are common characteristics that make up dogs, at the same time there is a diversity of instinct, temperament and mental capacity of the different dog breeds.  Yes, this has been engineered to some degree, yet the choices of the breeders were driven by environment.  Similarly, environments have been wildly different for humans growing up in various parts of our planet.  Thus, the only way that atheist anthropologists can arrive at the notion that "all men evolved equal" is to invoke a miracle.  Now they will certainly argue that evolution did it, therefore they are not invoking a miracle.  This "logic" is purely post-modern.  Most religions assert miracles done by sentient beings.  Stone age mystics invoke miracles done by nature itself.  Darwinists are not one whit less dependent on miracles, they simply define the miracle to be not-a-miracle and then blurt that science explained things - without any supporting derivation.  Brushing aside the sophistry, I am not sure how to distinguish the Darwinist view from the stone age mystic view.

As a creationist, I can take the view that all humans are descended in less than 300 generations from a common ancestor, whereas the Darwinists need to go back at least 100,000 generations.  In the end, the result that anthropology teaches is a purely creationist doctrine that begs for a Tower of Babel story to be true, yet they falsely claim that they deduced this from evolution.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Elections ...

There is a California primary coming up in June, which I have given zero thought about so far.  In preparing for this, my main thought is of the bankruptcy of Greece and their effort to use "swaps" so that bankruptcy can be achieved without formally being declared.  It is a bit like the chapter 11 bankruptcy in the US which keeps a bankrupt entity afloat so that it can continue bleeding the creditors, while making it more difficult for more responsibly run competitors to achieve fiscal health.

The US is formally on the same track as Greece, having chosen the Greek legal/economic model a few elections back and appointed judges who will issue ruling after ruling declaring fiscal sanity to be unconstitutional, while professors and other talking heads will pour out vitriol onto any effort to change course.  It is like the Greek model, but doubly so, since the classical Greeks declared that this is how Democracy ends.  Short of God's intervention, it seems to me that little can be done avert this self-inflicted disaster.

Besides the economic disaster, there is also the moral collapse that the classical Greeks described.  In our case, the intellectualloids have argued that the only sin God will definitely condemn is the sin of theocracy.  The only way we can avoid theocracy is for the government to be an active sponsor for depravity and desecrations.  If we do otherwise, then we are agreeing with God, hence, we would be a theocracy!  Thus, per these geniuses, the only sin is to not be an enthusiastic promoter of sin!  Ah, but Plato and Aristotle described all this.

And what does that have to do with the election?  Part of me says that we are doomed no matter who wins, but if someone decent wins, the intellectualloids will declare to succeeding generations that America failed because of the evils of decency.  To deliberately vote for someone evil so that the collapse would occur under her watch, however, would be against my conscience.

Regarding the Republican candidates, I am still bugged.  Ron Paul is a libertarian, which I consider to be part of the latter degenerate stages of Democracy.  It is a formal belief that governments have no role in restraining vice, nor in promoting virtue. Gingrich seems to have too many problems managing his own house so I would be reluctant to give him a larger task.  My main fear regarding Romney is that he isn't Mormon enough ...  is he really going to take a stand against a runaway theocracy of vice and depravity? I still don't know much about Santorum, but the hysterics of the intellectual classes indicates that he is probably good.  Still, to vote for him seems to be a bit like choosing a lamb to be sacrificed.  Pondering this can still wait a while.  Mañana.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

A bit of spring.