Archive for the ‘Deep Thoughts’ Category

The Fisher King

July 23, 2017

The Fisher King is a figure in Arthurian legend. He is the guardian of the Holy Grail who has been wounded in the foot and cannot discharge his duties as king of the land he rules. Many scholars believe that the foot or leg is an euphemism for a wound in the groin and that the king is impotent. Whatever the case, according the the legend, because the Fisher King is barren and impotent, so is the land he rules. The health of the land depends on the health or virtue of its king.

This happens to be a motif found in many places in mythology, folklore, and political propaganda. There seems to be a strong need to believe that a strong and virtuous king will have a flourishing kingdom, while the kingdom of a weak or evil king will be desolate. The Chinese belief in the Mandate of Heaven held that the prosperity of the Empire was directly dependent on the virtue of the Emperor. If China was doing well, the Emperor must be good. If there were natural disasters or economic catastrophe, than the Emperor must be at fault somewhere. In the Old Testament there is an explicit link between the devotion of the kings of Israel and Judah and the welfare of the kingdom. It makes sense that if the king or emperor is the representative of God or the gods and is not doing a good job then Heaven might signal its displeasure by causing natural disasters.

One might think in our more modern world in which most countries are republics, such superstitions would be a thing of the past. That does not seem to be the case. It is true that people no longer ascribe earthquakes or hurricanes to the faults of our political leaders, but we do have a way of assuming that they have far more influence over the affairs of the country, especially over the economy, than they actually do. Here is an example from Sean Hannity.

President Donald Trump has made the United States more than $4 trillion richer since taking office last January, but you wouldn’t know that from watching or reading the mainstream press, writes Fox’s Stuart Varney.

As the destroy-Trump media continues to obsess over Russia-Trump conspiracy theories, the President has made good on his campaign promise to unleash the American worker and get the US economy back on track.

Since the President’s inauguration, Trump has added roughly $4.1 trillion to the nation’s overall wealth, affecting all Americans with a 401k, an IRA, a savings account, loans, stocks; essentially anyone with “a dime in the market.”

President Trump did no such thing. He does not have the power to add $4.1 trillion to the economy. It is possible that the policies he supports will encourage economic growth, but six months is far too early for any presidential policies to take effect. Of course, a good deal of economics is psychology. It is likely that if the president is perceived as pro-business, businesses will be more inclined to expand, believing that the economy will improve, creating a self fulfilling expectation. On the other hand, if the president keeps talking about spreading the wealth around, businesses will play it safe, anticipating an economic downturn, that their actions will help precipitate. I think that if Bernie Sanders had been elected president, we would be going into a deep recession. We can give Trump credit for inspiring optimism, but not for any magical powers.

Here is a more egregious example from a singer named Lana Del Rey

I feel less safe than I did when Obama was president. When you have a leader at the top of the pyramid who is casually being loud and funny about things like that, it’s brought up character defects in people who already have the propensity to be violent towards women. I saw it right away in L.A. Walking down the street, people would just say things to you that I had never heard.

I definitely changed my visuals on my tour videos. I’m not going to have the American flag waving while I’m singing “Born to Die.” It’s not going to happen. I’d rather have static. It’s a transitional period, and I’m super aware of that. I think it would be inappropriate to be in France with an American flag. It would feel weird to me now—it didn’t feel weird in 2013.

Women started to feel less safe under this administration instantly. What if they take away Planned Parenthood? What if we can’t get birth control?

This is precisely the same country in 2017 as it was in 2015. The only difference is that the person who is president has changed. If Ms. Lane is not as proud of her country now as when Obama was president, than she is not really very proud of her country at all. Trump cannot make the streets of Los Angeles more or less dangerous. He has no control over people’s character defects. He cannot take Planned Parenthood away. Even if Congress should cut Planned Parenthood’s federal funding, which they should, Planned Parenthood has other sources of revenue. Trump cannot ban birth control. She is ascribing to Trump powers that no president has.

Why do we do this, assume that our political leaders have greater power over events than they actually do? Part of the reason must be that this is what they want us to think. How many politicians running for office criticize their opponent’s handling of the economy? How many politicians boast of the economic growth that occurred during their time in office? They might as well be bragging about how good the weather was. Indeed, the whole idea behind the global warming/climate change alarmism is that national and international governments can change the climate.

Whatever the reason for this kind of thinking, we need to get over it. The president does not run the country. We do. . President Trump cannot make America great again, though he can lead the effort. It is up to each one of us to make this country a better place.

 

 

The Resistance

July 8, 2017

I don’t object to the opposition that Democrats have shown towards President Trump and his policies. The Democrats are the opposition party and their job as the opposition is to, well, oppose. I am not one who complains much about gridlock or that the government isn’t moving fast enough. As far as I am concerned, gridlock is precisely what the Founding Fathers intended when they wrote the Constitution. They were most concerned about protecting the rights and liberties of the people and did not want a situation in which the majority could vote away the rights of the minority, thus they intentionally made it difficult for the federal government to do much without a broad consensus among the people. If I wanted a government in which everyone marches together in lockstep, I would consider moving to China or North Korea. What I do object to is the way that the people most opposed to Donald Trump have taken to calling themselves “The Resistance”. Not the loyal opposition, not simply the other party who happens to have disagreements on policy, but the Resistance, as if they are fighting against an enemy occupation.

The Resistance is deliberately named to harken back to the resistance movements in France and other countries occupied by Nazi Germany during World War II. This is a ridiculous conceit on their part. The resistance fighters of World War II faced considerable danger and hardships. The Nazis were not known for their kindness towards those who fought against them and their countrymen who chose to collaborate with the Germans could be far crueller. The only danger that a resistance fighter against Donald Trump could possibly face would be being interrupted by a standing ovation in the middle of a public rant against the president or developing carpal tunnel syndrome from being at their keyboard too long. In other words, there is no danger at all in “resisting” Donald Trump. If anything, judging from recent headlines, it takes more courage to publicly support Trump, at least in such progressive strongholds as Hollywood and college campuses.

It requires no courage to be against Donald Trump. He is not a Fascist dictator who has suspended the constitution. The police will not arrest anyone who speaks out against Trump. He does not have a paramilitary army of thugs to silence dissenters. It is the “antifa” protesters who are behaving like thugs. The Resistance is just a cheap way to feel courageous and virtuous. It is a way for people to feel as though they are fighting the good fight against oppression without having to do anything about the real oppression in the world.

Who is the Resistance and what are they resisting anyway? I notice that there don’t seem to be many marginalized, and oppressed people leading the marches against Trump. The Resistance seems to be comprised of Democratic politicians, journalists and media figures, Hollywood celebrities, academia, federal workers of the so-called Deep State, and the like. In other words, the Resistance seems to be those people with the most power to influence public opinion in the country, in many cases the people who seem to despise the “Deplorables” who live in flyover country the most. I get the impression that the are actually less concerned with losing their freedom than with losing their power to hector and bully the rest of us who do not care to follow the policies they see as enlightened. Trump’s populist tone and his “political incorrectness” must be really frightening to these people.

What are they resisting if Donald Trump is not a dictator who seized power in a coup or a puppet of an occupying power? They are resisting the duly and constitutionally elected President of the United States as well as the elected representatives, of at least the majority party, in Congress. The Resistance likes to accuse President Trump of shredding the constitution, but they are the ones who have been proposing one unconstitutional means after another to remove Trump from power. After the election they were urging the electors who were pledged to support the Republican candidate to be faithless electors and vote for someone else. They have proposed that Trump’s cabinet invoke the twenty-fifth amendment to declare him unfit for office. They are now promising to impeach Trump if the Democrats regain a majority in Congress, even though there is no evidence that Trump has committed any crimes. The Resistance is resisting the results of a democratic election. They are resisting the concept of democracy in this country. They are resisting the idea that we the deplorables should have any say in the direction this country takes. They are resisting the idea that the United States should have a government of the people, by the people, for the people, wishing instead to have a government of the elites, by the elites, for the elites.

For some time now, I have had the strangest feeling that I was living in a country occupied by an enemy determined to destroy, or at least fundamentally change, every aspect that makes this country unique. It seems to me that the people who have been running this country and shaping public opinion have been doing nothing but attacking America and the ordinary people who have made it great. Our history has been disparaged as nothing more than a history of systemic oppression and racism. Our founding fathers, the greatest men who have ever lived, have been dismissed as dead, White, slaveholders. Our great heroes are defamed as racists who committed genocide. Our religion has been mocked as intolerant. Our values and our way of life are derided as old fashioned and obsolete. If we dare to take a stand and ask that our concerns be addressed, we are called racists and bigots.

Both political parties have been taking part in this. The Democrats are openly against us. The Republicans listen to us before the elections, but as soon as they get to Washington, they decide that they don’t need to keep their promises. We had the Tea Party to try to get them to listen and it has had some success, despite the unanimous opposition from the media. It wasn’t until Donald Trump ran for president that they started to notice us, and even then we were all racist deplorables. I still do not altogether trust or like Trump, but he does seem to be one of the few people in Washington who really gets it. He won the presidency by understanding why so many of us in flyover country are so upset, and he seems to really be trying to fight for us.

It is really we who are the Resistance. We are the ones fighting to restore democracy in this country. We, the bitter clingers, the Deplorables, the people who love this country and want to see it become great again are the revolutionaries against the people who think there that this country was never really great and who want to see it transformed into something quite different. Donald Trump is the leader of this resistance movement, for the moment, but if we want to see America great and free again, we cannot rely on any leader. We have to rely on ourselves. It is up to us all to make America a great nation. Let’s get out there and fight.

The Crushed Little Man

June 19, 2017

Take a look at this pillar.

This pillar with the little man crushed under it can be found in the Church of the Jacobins in Toulouse, France. I read about this oddity in this article from Atlasobscura.

The Church of the Jacobins is in the center of the city of Toulouse in southern France. It is a Gothic mass of brick and stone, decorated inside with elaborate trompe l’oeil and soaring pillars. Most famously, it houses the remains of St. Thomas Aquinas. A lot less famously, it has this strange little carving of a man trapped under one of the pillars.

The remains of Thomas Aquinas are entombed in a golden reliquary along the side wall of the nave. Just behind it to the left there is a double-column that sits on a square base. Look down towards the floor and you’ll see, sticking out, a peculiar pair of bony hands and chubby crossed feet, their meaning and origin unknown. Some of the church tour guides don’t even know the crushed little man is there.

The church dates to the early 13th century, founded by the French Dominican order of the Jacobins. It has weathered a complicated history, beginning with the Dominicans being outlawed in France during the Revolution. It then began a journey that included everything from a takeover by Napoleon (who used it as barracks and an armory for the military), a period as a school gymnasium, an exhibition hall, and, during World War I, a safe haven for art treasures from the Paris museums.

The later decades of the 20th century saw enormous efforts to bring back the majesty of the church. After periods of major restoration – including the reveal of medieval paintings that had been whitewashed by Napoleon – it has emerged as an important museum and cultural center for Toulouse. But the little carving remains a mystery, the only one of its kind in the church. Posted, you might say, without comment.

It’s a little hard to find the little man, but look behind the St. Thomas Aquinas golden altar. You’ll see his little squished hands and little squished feet at the bottom of the pillar to the left.

I wonder what the sculptor was thinking. Does the crushed little man have any relation to Thomas Aquinas? Aquinas was one of the Catholic Church’s most prominent theologians who did much to codify Catholic doctrine. His philosophical system, Thomism, is still used by the Catholic Church and even other Christian denominations to some extent. Maybe the little man represents Truth crushing ignorance, or the Devil being crushed by Christ.

Here is a painting of Thomas Aquinas overcoming Averroes, a Spanish Muslim philosopher who helped to reintroduce Aristotle to the West.

Presumably the painter considered Thomas Aquinas’s interpretation of Aristotle to be superior to Avarroes’s. Maybe the crushed little man represents the same idea in stone.

Or maybe it was just a joke. Maybe the artisan who was carving out the base of the pillar thought it would be funny to make it look like they stuck the pillar on top of a man. I wonder if anyone noticed or if the artist got into any trouble. I wonder what sort of person he was, or even what his name was. We will never know, but I think I’d like to meet him in whatever afterlife might exist and learn his story.

One Horn

May 31, 2017

I have been studying German lately, mostly by using Duolingo, and I have noticed an interesting difference between English and German. This article I read about Ira Einhorn, the founder of Earth Day who murdered and composted his girlfriend brought the difference to mind.

Ira Einhorn was on stage hosting the first Earth Day event at the Fairmount Park in Philadelphia on April 22, 1970. Seven years later, police raided his closet and found the “composted” body of his ex-girlfriend inside a trunk.

A self-proclaimed environmental activist, Einhorn made a name for himself among ecological groups during the 1960s and ’70s by taking on the role of a tie-dye-wearing ecological guru and Philadelphia’s head hippie. With his long beard and gap-toothed smile, Einhorn — who nicknamed himself “Unicorn” because his German-Jewish last name translates to “one horn”  —advocated flower power, peace and free love to his fellow students at the University of Pennsylvania. He also claimed to have helped found Earth Day.

Einhorn is actually the German word for unicorn. What I have noticed is that English tends to create new words for new or abstract concepts by taking words from other languages, particularly Latin and Greek and often combining them in new ways not found in the original languages. German tends to create new words from other German words and seems to be less eager to take words from other languages.

In English we watch television (Greek tele “far” + Latin visionem, participle of videre “to see”). Germans watch the Fernseher (literally “far-seer” in German). We may study science (Latin scientia “knowledge) in school while Germans study Wissenschaft (“knowledge” in German). If you study chemistry you may be familiar with the elements, like hydrogen (Greek Hydr “water” + gen “produces or born from” thus “made from water”) or oxygen (Greek oxys “acid”+ gen so “made from acid). In German they are Wasserstoff (waterstuff) and Sauerstoff (sourstuff). Carbon comes from Latin carbonem “coal” Germans call it Kohlenstoff, “coalstuff”.

Electricity (Latin electrum and Greek elektron both meaning amber) is one of humanity’s greatest inventions. The Germans do have the word Elektrizität but they also call it Strom “stream, current”. We may be afraid of exposure to radiation(Latin radiationem “shining” from radius “beam of light). A German would prefer not to be exposed to Strahlung “beaming”.

You don’t have to study science to notice the difference. English speakers may vote (Latin votus “to vow”) in an election (Latin ex “out of” + legere “to choose”) for Congress (Latin congressus from com “with” + gradus “to walk” thus walking or meeting together) or Parliament (French from parler “to speak”). Germans may abstimmen (choose or coordinate) in a Wahl (choice) for the Bundestag (Bundes “Federal” Tag literally “day” from Latin diet “daily” the name of various representative assemblies in the Holy Roman Empire and elsewhere). This body may pass legislation (Latin legis latio “proposing a law”). In German it is Gesetzgebung (Gesetz “law” + gebung “-tion” so “lawization”. In English, we may participate (Latin participare “to share”) in and organization (Latin organizationem from organum “organ”). In German they teilnehmen (take part) in a Unternehmen (undertaking). I could go on and on but you get the idea.

I don’t want to exaggerate the contrast between the two languages. German does have plenty of words derived from Latin, mostly taken, like English through French, and English, of course, does make new words out of older English words, just like German. We can say we take part in an “undertaking” too. In fact, English seems to have a double vocabulary, one made up of simpler words derived from Anglo-Saxon and another composed of fancier words from French and Latin. Which approach is better, the German or the English is a matter of taste, I think. English perhaps has more words and is more eager to appropriate words from other languages, but all those Latin words may make English a more abstract language in some respects, one more easy to obfuscate in. German seems somehow homier, yet as anyone who tried to read Hegel or some of the other German philosophers can attest, German can also be an obfuscating language with dense verbiage.

So, why is English half a romance language, while German remains, well, Germanic? Part of the reason must be that there was nothing like the Norman Conquest in German history. Germany was not conquered by a nation that spoke a Romance Language as England was conquered by the French speaking Normans and so there was not the huge influx of Latin derived words into German as there was with English.

Yet, I also think that there is another reason why English has generally been careless about adopting words. from other languages. For some reason, English speakers seem to lack the concern about language purity found in the speakers of many other languages. The French have the Academie Francaise, an official institution that tries to safeguard the purity of the French language by setting standards for usage and inventing proper French words to replace any foreign words that have managed to slip in. Almost every major language has a similar official organization to set standards, with one exception, English. There has never been any sort of official or semi-official body in the English speaking world with any authority to set official standards for usage, or even for spelling, nor has there been any serious movement to purify the English language by purging it of “foreign” words. Other languages have had spelling reforms sponsored by various governments. German spelling was reformed in 1901 and again in 1996. The People’s Republic of China simplified the characters used in written Chinese, and there was even a proposal, shortly after the Communists came to power to abandon the characters altogether in favor of romanization. Ataurk ordered the Turks to abandon their traditional use of the Arabic script to write Turkish in favor of the Latin alphabet. Nothing like that is likely to occur in English, even though English orthography is a mess and badly needs to be simplified.

It seems that there is simply about the Anglophone mind and culture that tends to resist regimentation and regularization imposed from above, even when such such regularization might make things easier. English speakers have generally been the most reluctant to adopt the metric system, and the United States still uses the traditional system of measurements. We seem to prefer things haphazardly and chaotically rather than rational and regular, and we don’t mind speaking a language where every rule has an exception and in which if we don’t have a word for something, we have no trouble stealing words from other languages. If the new words aren’t proper English words, we don’t care.

Maybe if English were more regular, it would be an easier language for foreigners to learn. Since English is rapidly becoming the Common Tongue of the whole world, maybe we owe it to the poor souls who have to learn the language to make it easier for them. On the other hand, the fact that English has at least one word from almost every other language may make it at least a little familiar to others. English is certainly a more interesting and dynamic language because of its propensity to borrow shamelessly from other languages and maybe that is part of the reason English is the primary international  language.

 

Charles Murray at Middlebury

March 18, 2017

Earlier this month sociologist and writer Charles Murray attempted to give a speech at Middlebury College. He was not successful because some of the students at Middlebury College decided that they didn’t want to hear what he had to say, and they didn’t want anyone else to hear him, so naturally they shouted him down. College is, after all, not the place where one might be expected to be exposed to new insights and experiences that might challenge one’s worldview.

Here is the story from insidehighered.com

Hundreds of students at Middlebury College on Thursday chanted and shouted at Charles Murray, the controversial writer whom many accuse of espousing racist ideas, preventing him from giving a public lecture at the college.

Murray had been invited by Middlebury’s student group affiliated with the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank at which Murray is a scholar. Many of his writings are controversial, but perhaps none more than The Bell Curve, a book that linked intelligence and race and that has been widely condemned by many social scientists (even as Murray has been supported by others).

Prior to the point when Murray was introduced, several Middlebury officials reminded students that they were allowed to protest but not to disrupt the talk. The students ignored those reminders and faced no visible consequences for doing so.

As soon as Murray took the stage, students stood up, turned their backs to him and started various chants that were loud enough and in unison such that he could not talk over them.

I wonder how much any of these students actually know about Charles Murray and his work. I doubt very much if any of them have read the allegedly racist “The Bell Curve”. For that matter, I wonder if any of the critics of Murray and “The Bell Curve” have actually read the book. As it happens, “The Bell Curve” is not about race but about the relation of intelligence, or at least that portion of intelligence measured by IQ tests, and success in a meritocratic society like the United States. Murray considers the question of how much IQ is determined by heredity and suggests that people of higher IQ will tend to form a new elite separated from the mainstream of American society. I gather Murray considered this to be undesirable. Only towards the end of the book, in an appendix I believe, does he take up the question of race, noting that some races score higher on IQ tests than others and speculating that heredity may play a role. Murray did not, so far as I know, suggest that one race is inherently superior to another or that any individual of any race should be denied their civil rights. I do not believe that Charles Murray is a racist.

Here are some of the things the protesters chanted:

“Racist, sexist, anti-gay, Charles Murray, go away.”

“Your message is hatred. We cannot tolerate it.”

“Charles Murray, go away. Middlebury says no way.”

“Who is the enemy? White supremacy.”

“Hey hey, ho ho. Charles Murray has got to go.”

Obviously, they have no idea about what Charles Murray actually thinks. For that matter, they don’t really know what racism, sexism, fascism, or any of the other epithets they shout actually mean. If questioned, they couldn’t explain why racism or fascism are bad things. They only know that Murray is a thought criminal, a Goldstein to be attacked.

They are like the sheep in Orwell’sAnimal Farm” who are too dull witted to understand the meaning of the revolution or the principles of Animalism. They can only chant, “Four legs good, two legs bad” over and over, as they are taught be the pigs. At the end of the book, when the pigs decide to stand on two legs like humans, the sheep just as mindlessly chant, “Four legs good, two legs better”. Like the sheep, these students mindlessly repeat slogans without any understanding of their meaning or the issues.

I suppose it is not really their fault that they are so ignorant and foolish. They were taught to be that way be a failing educational system. They went to college presumably to learn how to think and were only taught what to think, or not to think at all. Trump University may have been a fraud, but at least the people who paid money got a few investing tips and a photo next to a cutout of Donald Trump. The students at Middlebury and all too many other colleges have ended up being dumber as a result of their supposed education.

Universities were invented to teach students how to think. If, instead they exist to indoctrinate students into left wing ideology and to suppress dissenting views, then what good are they?

That Cartoon from the New Yorker

January 23, 2017

This cartoon from The New Yorker has been making the rounds lately.

170109_a20630-1000“These smug pilots have lost touch with regular passengers like us. Who thinks I should fly the plane?”

What, exactly, is the cartoonist trying to say here? That we should not be led by democratically elected leaders but by some body of elites or experts especially trained in government, perhaps with some sort of license or certification, just like a pilot? That only persons specially vetted should be permitted to hold public office? That this body of certified leaders ought not to be accountable to the people they lead since they are not sufficiently acquainted with the nuances of government? Is the only role of the passengers simply to sit down and shut up while the pilot flies the plane? Do they have no recourse if the pilot is manifestly incompetent or flies the plane to a destination contrary to their wishes?

I think the cartoonist has it backwards. The passengers do not work for the pilot. The pilot works for the passengers. The passengers are the ones who decide where the plane is going. They are the ones who buy the tickets from the airline for the plane that will take them where they want to go. The pilot cannot decide, on his own, what the plane’s destination will be. If a pilot decides that he knows better than the passengers where they ought to go, or if the pilot shows that he is not capable of properly flying the plane, than the passengers have good reason to complain to the  airline and demand a refund of the price of their ticket. If an airline continually employs incompetent pilots who ignore their duties to the passengers, that airline will lose customers and eventually go out of business.

If we apply this analogy to the country, it is we the passengers who decide in what direction we want the country to, not some self-proclaimed elites. We elect people to public office so that they will work for us by taking the country in the direction we want. We do not elect them to office to tell us where to go or how we should live our lives. It may be, as the cartoonist suggests that we have chosen poorly in electing Donald Trump as our next president, but it is still our choice to make. As a very wise man said some two hundred years ago:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

 

Recently, it seems that we have been electing pilots who do not want to listen to us, the passengers. They seem to have the idea that it is their job to take the airplane where they want it to go on the basis that they know better than the rest of us. We have been trying to get the pilots to listen to us , with mixed results. Now, we have elected a new pilot from a very different background. This new pilot has not been to flight school, as we may put his lack of experience in electoral politics, but perhaps he will be more inclined to remember his proper job. Perhaps the other pilots may learn from this last election and start to listen to us again. If not, we may have to switch airlines, or exercise our right to,”alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government”. We may hope that it doesn’t come to that, but it is up to those we elect to represent us to start doing what we tell them to do.

The Nativity According to John

December 23, 2016

Like Mark, John does not include a narrative of the nativity. Instead, John chooses to go all the way back to the beginning.

 1.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 all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-4)

“The Word” is the usual translation of the Greek word λογος (logos) but logos means more than just “word” Logos means something like speech or discourse or reason. Hence the word logic is derived from logos, as well as “ology” as in geology or biology. The Stoic philosophers used the word logos to refer to the divine Reason in their pantheistic belief system while the Hellenistic Jews identified logos with the wisdom or spirit of God. John follows the Jewish view by identifying the logos with God. Notice he also identifies light and life with God this is a theme found throughout his gospel and in the first letter of John.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. (John 1:6-8)

John the Baptist was not the Word. He was only a messenger.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:9-14)

The Word became flesh. But who was the Word or the Son.

15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. (John 1:15-18)

The Word made flesh was Jesus Christ. Of the four gospels, John most emphasizes the divine nature of Jesus, even to the  point of omitting incidents that show any weakness on the part of Jesus. John does not mention Jesus’s temptation in the desert by the Devil after being baptized by John the Baptist nor does he show Jesus’s agony at the Garden of Gethsemane. There is no cry of despair from the cross. Jesus is alway shown as being calm and in control of events.

It may be that John wanted to emphasize the divinity of Jesus as a rebuttal to those who either believed that Jesus, while the Messiah was merely human and those who held that Jesus  was born human but had been adopted as the Son at his baptism or at some other time. John states that Jesus has existed since before time began as the eternal Word of God. At the same time, John firmly rejects the other extreme that Jesus did not really have a body made of matter but only seemed to be flesh. This idea was held by many Gnostics who taught that physical matter was an inferior substance to the spiritual realm, created by an inferior, and perhaps evil, deity. Jesus Christ, being a emissary from the higher God could not have a body made of mere flesh. John asserts that the the Word was made flesh and that really did have a body and really did eat and sleep.

It is curious that both these heresies are still found today, clothed in modern garb. Many liberal theologians cannot believe in the divinity of Jesus and insist that he was merely a great moral teacher. There are some Atheists who insist that Jesus never really existed in the physical realm but only as a myth. Maybe there really is nothing new under the Sun.

Tomorrow we celebrate the Word made flesh, the birth of our Saviour Jesus Christ.

The Nativity According to Mark

December 22, 2016

The Gospel of Mark does not actually include a narrative of Jesus’s birth. Instead Mark gets right to business with John the Baptist.

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God,  as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way”
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.’”

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

(Mark 1:1-8)

Then Jesus makes his first appearance, fully grown and ready to begin His public ministry.

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

(Mark 1:9-15)

English: John the Baptist baptizing Christ

English: John the Baptist baptizing Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mark’s gospel was probably the first gospel written. It is the shortest of the four gospels and seems to have been intended as a sort of FAQ for Christians wanting to know more about the central figure of their faith. Mark doesn’t include a lot of details about Jesus’s life and teachings. He just gives the basic facts about Jesus’s ministry, his miracles and his death on the cross.

The earliest Christians weren’t really interested in the details of Jesus’s birth or His early life. Even His teachings were of secondary importance. For the early Christians, the most important fact about Jesus was that he was crucified, died, and them came back to life, defeating death and sin and redeeming the whole world. Paul, whose letters are some of the earliest Christian writings hardly mentions any details of Jesus’s life. He was surely not ignorant. Both he and the recipients of his letters already knew the information found in the Gospels. For both Paul and the people he wrote to, the most important thing was the death and resurrection. For the earliest Christians Easter, not Christmas, was the most important day of the year. Indeed, the birth of Christ may not have been celebrated by Christians until the third or fourth century.

There is a lot of talk, these days, about the War on Christmas, and I have written posts about the Secular Christmas Grinches who seem determined to ruin Christmas for everyone, or at least strip it of all meaning until it is a generic “Holiday”. As Christians, we should remember the importance of Christmas and should fight against the increasing marginalization of the Judeo-Christian worldview that this nation was founded upon. Still, we should also remember that Christ’s death and resurrection was the reason he came into the world. If Jesus is the reason for Christmas, Good Friday and Easter are the reason for Jesus. We should remember Christ on the cross as well as baby Jesus in the manger.

Piltdown Man

December 19, 2016

The intellectual process of developing theories and hypotheses based on observations and experiments and checking those hypotheses with further experiments and observations that we refer to as science has proven itself to be the best tool human beings have ever developed for understanding and making use of the world around us. This process is not an easy one, however.  Not only is it a lot of work to conduct the necessary experiments and interpret the results, but the process demands a  rigorous honesty that does not come easily to anyone. Most people are less interested in discovering the truth than in being proven right, and there is always a tendency to consider only the evidence that confirms existing ideas and ignore the evidence against them. As Dr. Richard Feynmann put it in his lecture about cargo cult science:

It’s a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty—a kind of leaning over backwards.  For example, if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid—not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you’ve eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked—to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them.  You must do the best you can—if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong—to explain it.  If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it.  There is also a more subtle problem.  When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition.

In summary, the idea is to try to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another.

The problem is that this level of integrity is almost contrary to human nature. There is a great temptation to cheat, particularly when the rewards of fame and fortune are present.

One of the most famous instances of scientific cheating is Piltdown Man. Piltdown Man was a hypothetical “missing link” between human and ape discovered by an amatuer paleontologist Charles Dawson at the Piltdown gravel quarry in 1912. Dawson stated that workmen at the quarry had discovered skull fragments which they had given to him. Dawson had been able to reconstruct the skull with these fragments and other pieces that he had found at Piltdown. The resulting skull had a roughly human cranium, although only two thirds the size of a modern human brain, but an ape-like jaw with large canines. Clearly this was the remains of a creature caught midway in the transition between human and ape, the missing link of the chain of evolution.

Charles Dawson

Charles Dawson

At first, there was some skepticism about Dawson’s find. The canines seemed too large for the jaw and the whole thing seemed to be just a little too neat a combination of human and ape. Then, Dawson found another skull about two miles away. It might be possible for a human skull and ape jaw to have somehow been put together once and fossilized . Surely that couldn’t happen twice. Piltdown Man was accepted as a legitimate ancestor to homo sapiens.

 

Piltdown Man

Piltdown Man

 

At the time of Piltdown Man’s discovery, relatively little was known about the details of how humans evolved from their apelike ancestors. Over the years, more early human fossils were discovered and much more was learned about how humans became human. As the missing pieces were fitted together, it became increasingly obvious that Piltdown Man didn’t fit in. Paleontologists began to suspect that Piltdown Man was either an aberration, perhaps a mutation of some sort, of a hoax. In 1953, the question was definitely settled. Piltdown was shown to be a hoax. Piltdown Man was actually a rather crude forgery. The skull was that of a medieval man with a small head. The jaw was from an orangutan and the canines were the teeth of a chimpanzee.

The only remaining question was whether Charles Dawson was the forger or whether he was merely an innocent dupe. Dawson was the obvious suspect, but there were others associated with the discovery of Piltdown Man, who might have been able to perpetrate such a hoax, notably Sir Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame, and the Jesuit priest and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Recent research, however, has indicated that Charles Dawson was indeed the forger. He actually had something of a history of perpetrating such hoaxes and was well known for his skill at making unexpected archaeological finds, invariably later discovered to be forgeries.

Why did it take so long to expose Piltdown Man? The forgery was not very sophisticated and the discoverer had a reputation for not being particularly honest. To be fair, a space of forty years between the discovery and the exposure is not an unreasonable amount of time considering how much was discovered about human development in that time. Still, one might have expected more skepticism to be shown, especially considering how important the find seemed to be at the time. It seems as if everyone involved in the research involving Piltdown Man showed a disregard for the sort of scientific integrity that Dr. Feynman was talking about. For years no one seemed to want to consider the increasing evidence that Piltdown Man wasn’t real.

I think that was the problem. Piltdown Man was exactly what most paleontologists were expecting. At the time of his discovery, the general consensus was that human beings developed large brains first, while retaining a more apelike physiology such as a large jaw and lack of bipedalism. Only later, they believed did humans began to walk erect and to develop a flatter, more human face. It was also generally believed that human beings developed somewhere in Eurasia, Perhaps even in Germany, where Neanderthal Man had been discovered not long before, or in England. There was a certain amount of nationalistic pride in being the area where humanity began. It is not that surprising, then, that British paleontologists were the least likely to be skeptical about Piltdown Man.

In any event, these assumptions that Piltdown Man seemed to confirm have proven to be wrong. Primitive humans, such as the Australopithecus (Lucy)  began to walk erect on two feet long before developing larger brains, and the human race arose in Africa, almost the opposite of what was generally believed. I wonder how much these widely held but wrong assumptions held back the science of paleontology.

I also wonder how many other Piltdown Mans there are out there that are holding back the progress of science. I don’t mean hoaxes or forgeries necessarily, though that is a greater problem is science than many realized, but ideas and theories that are held to be settled science but aren’t. I wonder how much that everyone “knows” to be true and so not worth questioning, are not true, and how long it will take before anyone thinks to question it.

Women’s Chess

December 4, 2016

I am a bit confused by this article I read from PJMedia.

Sports competitors are often asked to conform to the rules of the countries they visit.

That might mean eating local cuisine or simply driving on the opposite side of the road.

For one elite chess player, embracing one country’s religious customs isn’t an option. And she may not be alone

U.S. women’s chess champion Nazi Paikidze-Barnes won’t appear at February’s world championships to be held in Tehran. Female players will be expected to wear a hijab, which is mandatory by Iranian law.

That isn’t acceptable to her:

If the venue of the championship is not changed, I will not be participating. I am deeply upset by this. I feel privileged to have qualified to represent the US at the Women’s World Chess Championship and to not be able to due to religious, sexist, and political issues is very disappointing.

Paikidze-Barnes may have company soon enough. Former Pan American champion Carla Heredia wants the 64 female players slated to participate in the event to protest the mandatory hijab garb as well.

“Sports should be free of this type of discrimination,” Heredia explained.

Nazi Paikidze-Barnes, chair of Fide’s Commission for Women’s Chess, said the hijab ruling shouldn’t be an issue. It’s a matter of respecting local culture, Polgar says, adding the dress code will apply to all players.

It’s not the question of whether or not female chess players should be required to wear the hijab when playing in Iran that confuses me, but rather why should there be such a thing as Women’s Chess, as opposed to Men’s Chess.

womensworldchamp1981

Sports and competitions involving physical prowess usual segregate between men and women. There are men’s and woman’s tennis, soccer, track and field, and so on. This segregation exists because men are generally stronger and more physically powerful than women. There are exceptions and a degree of overlap to this generalization; weaker men and stronger women, but the generalization is true enough that in any physical contest between a man and a women, the man will almost always have a decisive, and in sports an unfair, advantage. In most cases, a competition between a male athlete and a female athlete might not be interesting to watch. In mixed gender team, the female players might often be sidelined in favor of the male players who would be more able to make the goals, etc. Thus, we have men and women’s sports, to make the competitions fairer and more fun to watch.

Chess is not a contest of physical prowess but of mental ability. The difference in physical strength between men and women is entirely irrelevant in games like chess. Why should there be such a thing as Women’s Chess? It may be that there are differences between male and female cognition. There may be some element of truth in the stereotype that boys are better at math while girls have superior language skills. Even so, the mental differences between men and women are surely more subtle with a far greater degree of overlap than the physical differences. Such mental differences as may exist also do not favor one gender as much as the obvious physical differences. I do not believe that anyone would contend that one sex is generally more intelligent than the other. Even if the specific skills needed to be successful at playing chess were more common in men than in women, the disparity would surely not be so great as to require separate leagues for men and women. I don’t understand it.

 


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