Monday, November 29, 2010

A conversation on the place of theology over the weekend

A friend (AF): Why didn't God make everything clear to all humans when he created them? Why did he wait until so long to disclose himself to his creatures?

Sze Zeng (SZ): May be at that time, humans were not ready to receive such knowledge. I'm not God, so I'm not speaking for him. Just a "may be." It's like we have to teach our children ABC before showing them the Nicene Creed.

AF: I don't understand why theologians need to write so many books just to talk about simple things like God's love for humans. God is just so simple. He just want us to know and love him and that's all. We, especially the theologians, are the ones that complicate things. We make up theologies to complicate our lives.

SZ: Well, it is simple because we are receiving what have been passed down to us. And those traditions that have been passed down were not that simple initially. For example, the doctrine of the Trinity was the articulation resulted from almost four centuries of prayerful debate and arguments among theologians.

When Jesus was around, the Jews at his time were astounded as to how should they, being monotheist, relate to this new reality that seemed to them as representing the one they worship. From there, theologians over a few centuries worked out a conception that has been passed down until our time. We have taken all these for granted and think that these are easy. But there were not so in the beginning.

Nah, here is a book that record how difficult it was in that time to come out with something that we take for granted (passed a copy of R. P. C. Hanson's The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy, 318-381 to AF).

AF: What I don't like about books written by theologians is that they seldom, if at all, refer to the Bible in their writings. That's why I stop reading Alvin Plantinga's God, Freedom, and Evil after going through half the introductory chapter.

SZ: People like Plantinga wrote those works by taking the Bible and other established Christian beliefs for granted. Their works are building on what many other theologians have done in the past thousand years. Even the Bible itself is taken for granted nowadays. Initially there were so many manuscripts that theologians in the past had to work hard to sort out the canon.

AF: I see. Okay, I will read up and we'll talk again next week.

SZ: Enjoy reading ya.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

"Scientific findings are factual"?


Often we hear people say "scientific findings are factual." In fact I assumed that statement almost without reservation. "Almost" because I also know that that statement is not true. Hence though I often assumed that, yet I do not usually claim to be scientific.

The statement "science is about fact" or "scientific findings are factual" betrays one's ignorance in "science." Since Kuhn and Lakatos, we have Feyerabend.

And since the time of these three late prophets, we have a number of high profile misconducts in science (recently Jan Hendrik Schön, Woo-Suk Hwang, Marc Hauser, and Anil Potti) that simply prove the instability and unreliability of "science." (Those who disagree say that the expose of frauds in science shows that science is a self-correcting enterprise. But "self-correcting" is itself problematic as it is self-contradicting as shown below.)

When asked about the pressure to perform that scientists face, Ulrich W. Suter, the investigator on scientific misconducts appointed by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, remarked, "Some of the greatest scientists, such as Lamarck or Galileo, most probably have cheated a little. A scientist makes huge demands on himself. He wants to create something which lasts. If he doesn’t, he doesn’t want to feel like a failure." (Emphasis added) In other words, Suter is saying that it is not uncommon for scientists to cheat due to internal and external stresses.

On the other hand, science itself celebrates self-contradiction. The more foundational it contradicts itself, the more appreciated the contradiction is. For example, the latest discovery from the Large Haldron Collider:

"The findings have surprised physicists as they contradict the accepted view of what happened in the immediate aftermath of the creation of the universe – that the Big Bang threw out a superheated gas that clumped together to form matter. [...] Brian Cox, a particle physicist at the University of Manchester and presenter of the forthcoming BBC series Wonders of the Universe, said [...] "These experiments are providing us with a new energy regime so to see unexpected behaviour is very exciting. These findings are very interesting."" (Emphasis added)

Scientists, like Brian Cox, get excited when science get contradicted (how many Nobel prizes are given to scientists who contradicted earlier scientific findings?).

It is true that they are excited that they found better understanding, but who knows if this is really a "better" understanding, and not merely one among equally false understandings (not even "best inference") given the nature of the scientific enterprise?

In science, every understandings are just waiting to become false understandings. Its own nature of self-correcting demands it. So what exactly do we mean by "factual" or "fact" in an enterprise which seeks after, excited and celebrates its own self-contradiction?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Why scientists have to always present themselves as having explanation and answer on the origin of life?

Paul Davies, Director of BEYOND Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science, wrote:

"Many investigators feel uneasy stating in public that the origin of life is a mystery, even though behind closed doors they admit they are baffled. [...] There seem to be two reasons for their unease. First, they feel it opens the door to religious fundamentalists and their god-of-the-gaps pseudo-explanations. Second, they worry that a frank admission of ignorance will undermine funding, especially for the search for life in space."
(Paul Davies, The Fifth Miracle: The Search for the Origin and Meaning of Life [USA: Touchstone, 2000], 17-18. Emphasis added)


Thursday, November 18, 2010

A philosophical exploration of evolution: The apparent urgency to accept macro-evolution and evolution worldview as part of our identity?

Recently Thomas Jay Oord ended his post on Christian's relation with evolution with this normative, "Evangelicals: accept evolution!"

There are at least two positive ways to see the relation between God and macro-evolution.

First:
1) God exists.
2) Macro-evolution is what has happened and what is happening in our world.
Conclusion: God and macro-evolution are realities that we need to accept. So our work now is to examine the relationship between them.

Second:
1) God exists.
2) Macro-evolution is one of the interpretation of what has happened and what is happening in our world.
Conclusion: God is reality while macro-evolution is still not entirely convincing. So the furthest we can say is that macro-evolution could be one of God's mechanisms in the world.

Oord obviously belongs to the first group. Both God and macro-evolution are realities to him.

Both groups affirm that God exists while the first group affirms also macro-evolution in the same or almost similar degree of certainty as the affirmation of God's existence.

The second group holds that God's existence as more certain than macro-evolution.

I belong to the second group. In fact I'm okay if we don't know how the species around us came to be what they are now. That is I can live without knowing life's origin as in how we came to be.

Knowing that God exists is sufficient to give sense to life and how we relate to other lives. The story of our origin perhaps can never be exactly told in our life time and, you know what? That is okay.

Macro-evolution is a sub-category of a broad worldview of evolution, the belief that materials are on an ever-changing and never-ending process. This worldview can be popular today but not so tomorrow.

Some theories lasted only a short while before it wane into oblivion, like phrenology that was popular for about thirty years (though I see similarities of that with some neuroscientists today who think that neuroscience can explain morality). Some lasted a long time for a few thousands years, like Aristotle's infinite time until the discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation in 1964. And some others like Newton's framework lasted a few hundred years.

The notion of evolution is potentially a pervasive one, like Newton's mechanical worldview. Back then, everything makes sense and predictable by assuming that everything function in a mechanistic way; with right tools and right measurement, we will get the correct picture of everything.

Nowadays, not many people buy into the mechanistic worldview. First, Einstein's (who is no friend to quantum physics) general relativity replaces Newton's notion of gravity and so delivered a deadly blow to the worldview. Then quantum physics came and shattered the leftover confidence in a mechanistic world. At least for now.

'Evolution' is gaining fame like that of Newton's mechanistic worldview. Some like David Sloan Wilson thinks that the evolution framework should be applied in all other studies like "dance, literature, and religion in addition to political science, psychology, and sociology." (Emphasis added) He states that it is a great loss to us if we do not include this framework in all our fields. "...we handicap ourselves when we attempt to study our species without reference to genetic and cultural evolution."

If to go along with Wilson's reasoning, our notion of God is not only in the evolving process (à la Robert Wright) but also the result of the long chain of cosmic evolution (à la J. Wentzel van Huysteen). This does not necessarily pose problems to the belief of God's existence.

However, this does mean that the notion of evolution itself is the product of the cosmic evolution and by itself will one day evolve itself out of existence. If it does not evolve, then it defeats itself as a worldview. If it does, then it is contingent and therefore is not necessary.

The idea of God's reality is not like the evolution worldview which is fundamentally grounded in contingency. Besides, our relation to God is at best a Kierkergaardian leap, a dialectic that is contradicted by our attempts to grasp the ungraspable divine reality. And such "leap" is shunned as a methodology in science, although on hindsight we now know that some phrenologists, Aristotelians, and Newtonians approached their respective fields with plenty of leaps.

It requires another hindsight to show us that the evolution framework is not that dissimilar with the rest which are now in oblivion. Until that hindsight appear, it is certainly okay to accept macro-evolution as a reality, like the phrenologists, Aristotelians, and Newtonians in their own epoch.

For those who are not in a hurry, it is okay to know nothing about life's origin, as in the 'how' question. God still exists and lives still go on. Yes, we have human's genetic code mapped out. This might help us to find more efficient and effective ways to cure this and that sickness, yet the map makes no contributions to the most important questions asked of human "What makes us human?" and "What is a good life?"

Some say a long and painless life is the mark of a good life, so we need to map out genetic code to find cure for the diseases and extend lifespan. Really?

Sophie Scholl only lived up to 21 years before she was executed by Hitler's army for distribution newsletters criticizing the regime. Her life is less good simply because hers is shorter and more painful compared to those with longer and less painful lives?

Does or can evolution worldview contribute to these important questions? Perhaps in this way: People like Scholl gave up their lives for the sake of the common gene pool, to ensure the survival of the species. And this is good?

If yes, so all our language of morality has been reduced to materiality, as in 'moral' is simply a mask to make sense of the contingency of materials? Existence precedes essence? Materiality as the ground for the transvaluation of all values, in order for the emancipation of the Übermensch?

These questions are now more urgent than ever, especially when "human beings can now be rebuilt from top to toe with artificial parts." How and where would be the place for humanity in the evolution framework where contingency of the materials is a perennial reality? Humanity is simply a blip on the radar of the long chain of cosmic evolution?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Legislation is a moral business

Previously I posted a piece on the police force and its moral business.

Here is one on the moral nature of legislation written by Micah Watson, the William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion and Public Affairs at the James Madison Program at Princeton University, and the Director of the Center for Politics & Religion at Union University.

He wrote that, "...every law and regulation that is proposed, passed, and enforced has inherent in it some idea of the good that it seeks to promote or preserve. Indeed, no governing authority can in any way be understood to be morally neutral. Those who think such a chimerical understanding is possible could hardly be more wrong. For, in fact, the opposite is true: You cannot not legislate morality." (Emphasis original)

Another good point:
"What is the law for? The answer at some point will include a conception of what is good for the community in which the law holds. The inversion of the question makes the point even more clearly. What would provide a rationale for a law or governmental action apart from a moral purpose?

The “good” here in question is not merely the product of passing fads or idiosyncratic preferences. When something is wrong, it is not wrong merely because it offends someone’s personal taste. The governing authority’s power to pass and enforce laws takes account of the beastly side of human nature while holding that some wrongs are so fundamental that they demand a robust and coercive response. If there are truly deeds that are gravely morally wrong, then it follows that there must be an authority established to command that such deeds be avoided and to punish the transgressors who commit them."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ian Lyons, bio disc, scalar energy and party trick = Lies, con job, cheating consumers



Three years ago, I posted on Bio Disc. Here is the video how the inventor of Bio Disc is using party trick to convince people that his product generate 'scalar energy'. This is an outright lie!


First video: Ian Lyons demonstrates scalar energy.



Second video: The same trick used at parties without Bio Disc.



ABC.net has a scientific explanation for this trick:

The "Finger Lift" is a fairly common party trick. It's used by primary school kids doing sleepovers, high-school students trying to impress each other, and many people trying to push a spiritual barrow. The Finger Lift also goes under the name of "Stiff As a Board, Light As a Feather".

Once you've seen it, your memory of the marvellous event is quite precise — and utterly wrong. The subject was seated in a chair, or on a table, or lying down on the floor.

Then four of you gathered around, and were told to try to lift the subject using either just one single finger, or your two index fingers joined into a single lifting unit from your two clenched hands. As you would expect, you couldn't lift them (either with a single finger, or with two fingers joined together).

Then, the voodoo magic began.

First, you were told to chant a song, or rub your own two hands together, or to pile all eight hands of the potential lifters one at a time on top of the head of the subject, or to press on their shoulders — or something.

It didn't matter exactly what it was — there was always some kind of silly ritual that didn't seem to make any sense.

Then you were instructed to count to some number, or to chant a song, and then at a certain point, to try to lift. And then — lo and behold — your fingers acquired magical strength and you could lift the subject effortlessly into the air.

Why is it so?

There are three answers — timing, poor memory, and the natural underestimated strength of your fingers.

First, the timing. There are lots of videos of this Finger Lift on YouTube. One of them claims that "it's an old Romanian trick", while others have Chinese or Africans doing it.

But they all have the timing in common. For the first doomed attempt to lift the subject, there was no effort to get everybody to do the lift at the same instant. In fact, there was deliberate vague misdirection, along the lines of "so go ahead try to lift".

And in all of the videos on YouTube, you can see that the lifters are very much out of time with each other.

That means that for the brief instant each person is trying to lift the subject by themselves, they are fruitlessly trying to lift the entire 50–80kg weight of the subject on one (or two) fingers.

But for the second successful attempt, the timing is very precise.

The purpose of the chanting of the numbers, or the prayer, or song is not to Unleash the Power Within — it's really to synchronise the four potential lifters into one single lifting unit.

And there is usually a countdown to the final lift. So all four lift as one, and so each one has to lift only 12–20kg with the chosen finger or fingers.

The second factor is the very fallible human memory. Every person who has described this to me has described the strange mystical power that gave them the ability to not only lift the subject into the air, but also, to effortlessly hold them there.

But every time I have seen it done, the lifters just barely lifted the subject, and could not hold them there, and in fact, almost dropped them in their haste to get them down to the ground again.

And that is what you will see on YouTube.

And the third and last factor is that your fingers are actually very strong. Louis Cyr, the old-time French Canadian strongman (1863–1912) could lift 553lb (250.2kg) with a single finger (his right middle).

The old-time American strongman of the early 1900s, Warren Lincoln Travis, lifted 560lb (254kg) on his 50th birthday with a single finger.

The Finger Lift party trick has made it into popular culture with appearances in South Park (the "Marjorine" episode) and the film, The Craft. In each case, it was associated with exotic witchcraft, not prosaic timing

These simple explanations are really giving the finger to the myth.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The issue of 'contextualization'

Last week in a meeting, a friend mentioned that our group can produce our own educational materials that are contextualized to local context. I raised my question over his suggestion.

I affirmed the need for relevance in issue and language in our context. That simply means that we need to raise issues that have immediate concern to us (eg. immigration issues in Singapore) and not those which are not (eg. Tea Party movement in America).

I objected against the idea of 'contextualization' if that means we always have to keep looking for new identity for ourselves or make our case distinct for the mere sake of new identity and being distinct.

The idea of contextualization is not to be abstracted as a tautology that everyone in this part of the world must conform to if to be genuine to our situation and location. Our reasoning, response, and engagement are not confined by contextualization. If brought to the extreme, contextualization became individualization, where context is being pushed onto the individual.

This simply ignores the commonalities that we share and alienate individuals from individuals. In the end, we have nothing but fragmentation and anarchy.

I do not deny the good will of folks who pioneered the idea of contextualization. They were aware of colonial imposition and weary that this would repeat itself. So they pushed for contextualization so that the locals able to articulate, evangelise, and celebrate the faith in their own expression.

Their reason is for locals to emancipate into authentic embodiment of the Christian identity rooted in their 'culture', distinguishing themselves from others; asking different questions and giving different answers.

The moot point here is obviously the word 'culture'. All knows that 'culture' is not stagnant. Culture is parasitic. It can not survive on its own. It lives on those who embodied it. Without a host, there is no culture. 'Ang Pow' ceases to be a cultural expression when no one is giving or receiving it.

Contextualization therefore is not a project to distinguish identity in this world where culture is fluid. In a global village, where the 'world is flat', the questions that we face are limited in variety, and the answers that we have converge from time to time.

The questions we asked might have been asked by our counterparts. The answers we thought of might have been provided.

If we don't have new questions or encounter an entirely new situations, we don't keep looking for new identify for ourselves or make our case distinct for the mere sake of identity and being distinct.

If we don't have new answers to old questions, we shouldn't use 'contextualization' as an excuse to distinguish ourselves from those who already provided the answers, as if we are the pioneer who respond to these questions simply because we answer them in our context.

And besides, "To be a Christian is to learn to live in a story you haven't chosen." Rightly said by Stanley Hauerwas. The Christian identity is not something pre-culture that is waiting to be contextualized or culturated by us. That identity itself is already embodied in a particular culture in the 1st century Palestine, whether we like it or not.

Besides, 'contextualization' could simply be another manifestation of colonialism. We are told to contextualize so that what we say or do will not have to be considered or taken seriously by those who told us to contextualize as they have a different context than ours.

But of course, given the time limit in that meeting, I didn't say all that is blogged here. In fact, I didn't say much. The bottom line is that if 'contextualization' is simply to draw out and address immediate concerns, then it is fine (as no one exist without context). Anything more than that is suspect.

After the meeting, the chairman and I spoke while on our way to the elevator. He re-emphasized the need for us to contextualize. With a smile, I replied cheekily, "The idea of contextualization was introduced to us by those from the West through certain institution, scholars, and books. So if we adopt it, we are defeating the idea itself."

The elevator came.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Freedom of Speech at different places

The phrase 'freedom of speech' has, however, been politicized to the extend that anyone who wants to be seen as someone reasonable, someone who is for humanity and human rights, invoke this phrase like a mantra. Yet we know that different countries have their own idea of what constitutes 'freedom of speech'.

So how do we differentiate one from the other who invoke this phrase?

Concerning that question, Larry Hurtado heard this from his friend:
What’s the difference between the Russian Constitution and the American Constitution? Both give freedom of speech; but in the US you get freedom after speech too!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Scot McKnight's three categories of theory of history in relation to historical Jesus research

"Neoliberal historical Jesus scholars think they tell the truth because the Gospels are not what happened.

Ecclesial Jesus scholars, like [Martin] Kähler, it is well known, and his more recent incarnation in Luke Timothy Johnson, tell the truth, whether it happened or not. The truth, they say, transcends what happened for it is the significance of what happened that is the truth.

Modernistic historical Jesus historians, some of whom would be Evangelicals, often believe that the Gospels tell the truth about what happened, and what happened is the truth, which, as is also well known, puts a big twist in their knickers if they discover that what they thought was the truth--that is, what happened--was not what happened, for it is therefore not the truth."
(Scot McKnight, "Telling the Truth of History: A Response to James D. G. Dunn's Jesus Remembered," in Memories of Jesus: A Critical Appraisal of James D. G. Dunn's Jesus Remembered, ed., Robert B. Stewart and Gary R. Habermas [USA: B&H Academic, 2010], 51. Emphasis original; paragraphs added.)

I see these three examples are basically different in degree of confidence over the text's description of historical realities. My position is unashamedly the third one when it comes to the four gospels. Why? I'll need to write a trilogy myself to attempt an answer!

But broadly and briefly, I think we cannot settle the problem of how much degree of confidence should we confer onto the gospels by merely analysing the texts. We need to widen our textual analysis to include literatures contemporary with the gospels, like what Richard Burridge did. There is also a need to analyse the immediate reaction towards these literatures, like what Richard Bauckham did with Papias' relation to the transmitted tradition about Jesus.

There is no short of the need to understand the various facets of 'memory' in the ancient world like oral history, eyewitness testimony, cultural memory, etc. Then the debate over metaphysic (supernaturalism or naturalism?) is inevitable as the gospels contain accounts that were surprising even to their first readers. Following from that, the studies on the philosophy of science has to follow as it will always came up whether if the assumptions underlying the scientific enterprise contradict historical claims, even claims that are apparently scientifically incredible. Then, the discussion over contemporary epistemology is warranted when we have to justify various level of belief on these ancient literatures. These are just the few pertinent issues off my head.

Even if the trilogy made it to the printers, a few months later, assuming that the project is widely be accepted and has almost no dissenters (which is impossible), the appearance of some new discoveries in any one of the above mentioned areas will effectively place the project for reconsideration.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

If you're curious what I did on Sunday....


This is meditation from the Vipassanā tradition.

"Vipassanā, which means to see things as they really are, is one of India's most ancient techniques of meditation. It was rediscovered by Gotama Buddha more than 2500 years ago and was taught by him as a universal remedy for universal ills.

This non-sectarian technique aims for the total eradication of mental impurities and the resultant highest happiness of full liberation. Healing, not merely the curing of diseases, but the essential healing of human suffering, is its purpose.


Vipassana is a way of self-transformation through self-observation. It focuses on the deep interconnection between mind and body, which can be experienced directly by disciplined attention to the physical sensations that form the life of the body, and that continuously interconnect and condition the life of the mind. It is this observation-based, self-exploratory journey to the common root of mind and body that dissolves mental impurity, resulting in a balanced mind full of love and compassion.
" (Dhamma.org)
"...brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." (Philippians 4.8)

"...I will meditate on your wonderful works.They tell of the power of your awesome works—and I will proclaim your great deeds." (Psalm 145.5-6)

This meditation is difficult if you are a Kantian.

Bernard Lewis on Islamic tradition on the relation between religion and state

The eminent scholar of the history of the Middle East and Islam Bernard Lewis recounts what was the Muslims' sentiment like in the seventeenth century in that area:

"The Muslim jurists discuss at some length whether it is permissible for a Muslim to live in a non-Muslim country. They consider the case of the non-Muslim in his own country, or in their terms, the infidel in the land of the infidels, who sees the light and is converted to the truth faith [Islam]. May he stay where he is or may he not? The general consensus of the classical jurists is no. It is not possible for a Muslim to live a good Muslim life in an infidel land. [...] If a Muslim land is conquered by the Christians, may they stay under Christian rule? The answer of many jurists was again no, they may not stay. The Moroccan al-Wansharisi, considering the case of Spain, posed what turned out to be a purely hypothetical question: if the Christian government is tolerant and allows them [Muslims] to practice their religion, may they then stay? His answer was that in that case it is all the more important for them to leave, because under a tolerant government, the danger of apostasy is greater."
(Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong?: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response [UK: Phoenix, 2002], 40)

That's the tradition of our Muslim neighbors. To their conscience, they can only live in a Islamic state. We see this in Malaysia, especially certain quarters of the political arena, ruling and opposition parties alike.

To the Christian, we have the theological polity of saeculum where there is a distinction made between the authority of the Church and the State based on Matthew 22.21. In such polity, other religions and even Christian apostasy and heresy are therefore can and should be tolerated. This should be the case even for Christendom. An insight that was not appreciated in the ante/post-Nicene and Medieval period and resulted the Church being stained with a grotesque guilt forever. And rightly so... So that the next Christendom, if ever occur, may learn.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Deliberating the general historicity of all the gospel accounts, in particular, John's gospel vis-a-vis the synoptic tradition

I am writing an essay on the gospel of John chapter 18 for a paper for hermeneutics class. While reading through the passages, I felt that I need to talk about the historicity issues. While reading J. Martin C. Scott's commentary, I noticed that he was rather confident in separating the theological from the historical portion in the gospel.

Here is what I wrote:

Look at these two sentences by Scott: “[On John 18.6] This is less a historical report than a theological comment by the Fourth Evangelist on Jesus’ authority…” and “There being no obvious theological interest in reporting the story in this way, it may well be that the [Fourth Gospel] retains a historical reminiscence independent of the Synoptic tradition." (J. Martin C. Scott, “ John” in Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible, ed. James D. G. Dunn and John W. Rogerson [USA: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003], 1203, 1204.)

I think that we can neither, strictly speaking, tag one part of John’s gospel as historical without theological reference, while other parts as mere theological statement without historicity even with the aid of the three synoptic gospels.

The usual scholarly practice in comparing John’s account with the synoptic tradition in order to investigate the historicity of the former is an overly optimistic attempt. Such stunts are employed with the assumption that one is more historical than the other. Yet the adjudication to favour the historicity of one rather than the other is often lacking in substance.
However, this is not to disregard altogether the historical question of these texts. Attempts capably initiated by scholars like Richard Bauckham and Richard Burridge are utterly valid. My problem lies not with the general historicity of the data contained in all four gospels, but in the confidence to adjudicate one datum as (more) historical than another when we have contradictory accounts, like Jesus’ visitation to the Jerusalem temple (John 2 vis-à-vis Mark 11). We do not know whether Jesus went into the temple at the beginning or near the end of his life. But what we can be certain of is that he did caused commotion at the temple at one point of his life.

After writing my thoughts above, I found out that James Dunn thinks the same:

"[I]t is the recognition that Jesus can be perceived only through the impact he made on his first disciples (that is, their faith) which is the key to a historical recognition (and reassessment) of that impact."
(James Dunn, Jesus Remembered [USA: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003], 132. Emphasis original.)

Michael Bird shared a quote from Gerhard Kittel, which dated all the way back to 1930, that argued similarly:

"The Jesus of History is valueless and unintelligible unless He be experienced and confessed by faith as the living Christ. But, if we would be true to the New Testament, we must at once reverse this judgement. The Christ of faith has no existence, is mere noise and smoke, apart from the reality of Jesus of History. These two are utterly inseparable in the New Testament. They cannot even be thought of apart … Anyone who attempts first to separate the two and then to describe only one of them, has nothing in common with the New Testament."
(Gerhard Kittel, G. K. A. Bell and A. Deissman [eds], Mysterium Christi [London, 1930], 49.)

Since this is not unknown to scholars since the 1930s, it just amazed me that there were scholars who didn't take notice or pay much attention at this vital point. Unless we get this clear, all that we say about the historicity of the gospels' data is simply ignoring the nature of the text. If scholars in the past heed this point consistently, the market would be spared from so many fictitious books that question the historicity of the gospels. Or, that's precisely why this point is ignored: produce more books to be sold in the market. And not so much over genuine scholarly contribution?

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Christopher Hitchens vs Peter Hitchens


The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life organized a conversation between the Hitchens brothers on the topic 'Can Civilization Survive Without God?' last month.

Christopher Hitchens is famous for his popular book 'God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything' in 2007. His brother, Peter Hitchens, published 'The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith' in this year as an indirect response to Christopher.

CNN.com has covered the news on their website with a short video clip of the conversation.

The entire transcript is available at the organizer's website.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Who is Stanley N. Salthe; what did he do and say?


Stanley N. Salthe is Professor Emeritus in the Biology Department at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. He is also a Visiting Scientist in Biological Sciences at Binghamton University, and an Associate Researcher at the Center for the Philosophy of Nature and Science Studies of the University of Copenhagen.

Nine years after obtaining his Ph.D in Zoology from Columbia University, Salthe published a textbook on evolution in 1972 entitled 'Evolutionary Biology'.

After more than two decades of further research, Salthe wrote a book published by Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press that argues against the theory of evolution, a theory which he has promoted in his 1972's textbook. In this work, Salthe also observes that the evolution theory is often used as a sort of origin myth by certain fraction of the society, and the fact that this myth is widely politicized:
"[E]volutionary biology's role in our socioculture appears to be primarily to generate believable myths for the skeptic.[...] the dialectic between Darwinian and developmental cosmologies is reflected as well in the deeper aspects of many of our current political problems."
(Stanley N. Salthe, Development and Evolution: Complexity and Change in Biology [USA: MIT Press, 1993], 289-290).
Ten years later, Salthe made a public statement in 2003:
"Darwinian evolutionary theory was my field of specialization in biology. Among other things, I wrote a textbook on the subject thirty years ago. Meanwhile, however I have become an apostate from Darwinian theory and have described it as part of modernism’s origination myth. Consequently, I certainly agree that biology students at least should have the opportunity to learn about the flaws and limits of Darwin’s theory while they are learning about the theory’s strongest claims."
(Emphasis added)
In 2009, through her correspondence with Salthe, Susan Mazur recorded what Salthe told her about the mechanism of natural selection and its relation with macro-evolution:
"Oh sure natural selection's been demonstrated . . . the interesting point, however, is that it has rarely if ever been demonstrated to have anything to do with evolution in the sense of long-term changes in populations. . . . Summing up we can see that the import of the Darwinian theory of evolution is just unexplainable caprice from top to bottom. What evolves is just what happened to happen."
(Susan Mazur, The Altenberg 16: An Exposé of the Evolution Industry [USA: North Atlantic Books, 2010], 21. Emphasis added.)
On 21 February 2006, the NYTimes.com, in an article entitled 'Few Biologists but Many Evangelicals Sign Anti-Evolution Petition', reported that Salthe described himself as an atheist. Now we have a little bit of idea about Stanley N. Salthe.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Babies morality: What modern infant psychology has in common with the theology of apostle Paul?



Paul Bloom, a Professor of Psychology at Yale University, wrote about the experiments to detect babies' morality on NYTimes.com. In the study, it is found that babies as young as 5 months old able to prefer good character rather than evil character.

"To increase our confidence that the babies we studied were really responding to niceness and naughtiness, Karen Wynn and Kiley Hamlin, in a separate series of studies, created different sets of one-act morality plays to show the babies.[...] In both studies, 5-month-olds preferred the good guy — the one who helped to open the box; the one who rolled the ball back — to the bad guy. This all suggests that the babies we studied have a general appreciation of good and bad behavior, one that spans a range of actions.[...]

Can babies see [one individual acting justly and the other is not?] To find out, we tested 8-month-olds by first showing them a character who acted as a helper (for instance, helping a puppet trying to open a box) and then presenting a scene in which this helper was the target of a good action by one puppet and a bad action by another puppet. Then we got the babies to choose between these two puppets. That is, they had to choose between a puppet who rewarded a good guy versus a puppet who punished a good guy. Likewise, we showed them a character who acted as a hinderer (for example, keeping a puppet from opening a box) and then had them choose between a puppet who rewarded the bad guy versus one who punished the bad guy.

The results were striking. When the target of the action was itself a good guy, babies preferred the puppet who was nice to it. This alone wasn’t very surprising, given that the other studies found an overall preference among babies for those who act nicely. What was more interesting was what happened when they watched the bad guy being rewarded or punished. Here they chose the punisher. Despite their overall preference for good actors over bad, then, babies are drawn to bad actors when those actors are punishing bad behavior."

Do all these sound rather insightfully familiar?

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1.20)


Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Why I changed my mind over macro-evolution?


On 19 February 2009, my friends and I were discussing about macro-evolution, whether is there any evident for it. I told them that I thought macro-evolution theory was correct because of its highly reliable predictive power as seen in the discovery of the Tiktaalik:

"Previous research suggested that vertebrates' invasion of land took place about 375 million years ago in a river — so Shubin and fellow researchers searched for fossils in 375 million year old rocks that had preserved a river delta ecosystem. Having studied other organisms from this water/land transition, the paleontologists knew what sort of animal they were looking for. And when they did discover Tiktaalik (after five separate expeditions to Canada), it wasn't much of a surprise: Tiktaalik had the set of characteristics that they had expected to find in such an organism."
(Emphasis added)

Tiktaalik is considered as the transitional link between fish and tetrapod (creature with backbone and four limbs). Macro-evolution theory postulates that the ancestors of current day land creatures were aquatic. Here's the simplistic description:

Fish-->Tetrapod-->Amphibian-->Land creatures

And the Tiktaalik marks the transitional link between fish and tetrapod in the evolution-chain above. This also means that a tetrapod did not precede the Tiktaalik in the chain in the same way land creatures did not precede amphibians.

However, in January 2010, Evolutionnews.org highlighted a report published in the magazine Nature 463, 40-41 (7 January 2010), that footprints of tetrapod were found. And these footprints dated to about 20 millions year before Tiktaalik's era. This calls into question that the Tiktaalik is the transitional link between fish and tetrapod since tetrapod existed before Tiktaalik.

A few months ago, in June, I read through James Le Fanu's book 'Why Us?: How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves'. The book calls into question the prevalent uncritical acceptance and endorsement of the theory of macro-evolution, particular the notion of 'natural selection', based on the scientific discovery in the area of neuroscience, the origin of language, genetics, human anatomy, etc.

One of the arguments made is the problem in our fossil record:

"The problem is that the history of life, as told in the fossil record, reveals the contrary pattern of the sudden emergence (in successive wave) of a diversity of new life forms; their persistence, virtually unchanged, over millions of years; and then their sudden and unexplained disappearance--only for the whole cycle of emergence, stability and extinction to be repeated. Thus, brief synopsis of the 'History of Life' starts three thousand million years ago with those first single-cell organisms. Then nothing much happens till six hundred million years ago with the 'Cambrian explosion' of marine fossils, which culminated in their mass extinction 250 million years later. This was followed by the 'dinosaur explosion' that lasted till their mass extinction seventy million years ago. And this in turn was followed by the 'mammalian explosion' of which we are a part. Meanwhile, along the way the major groups that mark the crucial transitions from sea to land and land to air make their appearance with little or no warning. 'It is as though life goes behind the bushes and emerges in new clothes,' writes the biologist Robert Wesson of Harvard University--and in an abundance of diversity that defied all imagination."
(James Le Fanu, Why Us?: How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves [USA: Vintage, 2010), 95-97. Italic original.)

The entire book argues that if we are not sure of the mechanism that enabled the emergence of life, then we should not simply embrace any theories, like natural seletion, that are available in the market and take it as truth. Somethings are meant to be mysterious at this juncture of human discovery.

In the recent exchanges between the Discovery Institute fellows and BioLogos fellows, the matters about the Tiktaalik and those biological explosions in our fossil record were brought up. BioLogos, which propagates macro-evolution theory, mentions the fossil record but neglect the biological explosions. They mention Tiktaalik but neglect the discovery of tetrapod footprints.

It is understandable for their negligence as the neglected matters pose real problems to their interpretation of both the fossil record and Tiktaalik.

I think such approach to the contribution to the deposit of general knowledge, particularly in science, is dishonest. And this is not the first time organizations and individuals that propagates macro-evolution theory neglect these matters in their description of fossil records and Tiktaalik.

There have been other occasions when misrepresentation being made by proponents of macro-evolution theory against those who disagree with them. A recent one is one made by John Wise on Michael Behe.

These made me wonder. If macro-evolution is true, why then the need to provide only half-truth and misrepresentation about the theory and dissenters?

My current agnosticism over macro-evolution is the result of seeing all these misdeeds done by its proponents. In a way, they are worse than the medieval Roman Catholic authority in their dealing with Galileo. At least the Catholics back then did not misrepresent Galileo.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The day the earth stood still and theo-ecology


We often think that we own the earth. But do we?

In the movie The Day The Earth Stood Still, when Klaatu came to earth to initiate the destruction of humans to which none of our technology able to halt, Regina still thought that humans able to dictate the terms of negotiation.

Regina: What is your purpose in coming here?

Klaatu: There is a gathering of world leaders not far from here; I will explain my purpose to them.

Regina: I'm afraid thats not possible. Perhaps you should explain yourself to me instead.

Klaatu: Do you speak for the entire human race?

Regina: I speak for the President of the United States. Now, please; tell me why have you come to our planet.

Klaatu: *Your* planet?

Regina: Yes, this is our planet.

Klaatu: No, it is not.

The simple fact is that we don't own the earth. Even if we belong to the long chain of biological evolution, that merely says that we are a product of the earth. To say that the earth belongs to us is putting the equation around. And overturning an equation, in theological language, is idolatry.

In the day of annihilation, it is not the earth that stand still. We will be the one who stand still, finally, willing to listen.

Professor Barnhardt: There must be alternatives. You must have some technology that could solve our problem.

Klaatu: Your problem is not technology. The problem is you. You lack the will to change.

Professor Barnhardt: Then help us change.

Klaatu: I cannot change your nature. You treat the world as you treat each other.

Monday, November 01, 2010

The psychology of money buying happiness


Money can buy us happiness? A recent study conducted by psychologist Elizabeth Dunn, Daniel Gilbert, and Timothy Wilson suggests that it depends on our pattern of spending.

Here are their findings summarized by TheProvince.com (H/T: Big Questions Online):

1. Buy many small lovely things rather than one big one

Go ahead, buy yourself that $4 latte.

Ever had an economist tell you how easily a $4 latte at work every morning will quickly add up to a staggering yearly sum of $1,040? And wouldn't you rather spend that kind of money on something bigger, like a vacation or home theatre system? Well, the answer may be no.

It may well be that a latte a day, or every few days, will make you happier than a single big-ticket item once a year.

"This is not to say that there's anything wrong with large purchases," writes Dunn. "But as long as money is limited by its failure to grow on trees, we may be better off devoting our finite financial resources to purchasing frequent doses of lovely things rather than infrequent doses of lovelier things."

One reason why small, frequent pleasures beats one large infrequent one is because we're creatures of adaptation.

"If we buy an expensive dining room table . . . it's pretty much the same table today as it was last week. Because frequent small pleasures are different each time they occur, they forestall adaptation," says Dunn.

Research also tells us that breaking up a pleasurable experience into a series of experiences can help maximize joy, something frequent coffee drinker Eva Sajoo, of Vancouver, seems to understand innately.

"Certainly I get a lot of pleasure out of a very well-crafted cup of coffee," she says. "But I think you enjoy it more if you don't have it every day."

2. Savour the cheap joys of life

Cozy up to a movie on a rainy day. Or go out for a walk on a bright summer's day.

Not only are these simple pleasures often cheap, or better yet, free, but savouring the mundane joys of life will make you happier, according to research.

"In a study of Belgian adults, individuals who had a strong capacity to savour the mundane joys of daily life were happier than those who did not," writes Dunn.

Interestingly, the same study found this capacity to savour "mundane joys" was significantly reduced among wealthy individuals. That may be because the wealthy have unfettered access to "peak experiences," which undermines their ability to appreciate smaller moments.

3. Practice 'presence' for an extra jolt of joy

Spending money on yoga retreats, meditation DVDs or self-help books isn't just for hippies or the spiritually inclined.

Scientific research is now also extolling the benefits of becoming more "present" or "engaged" -- which activities such as yoga are said to help you achieve.

Researchers have found that people who are more fully engaged in an experience will get more enjoyment from it.

"A wandering mind is an unhappy mind," Dunn and colleagues sum up succinctly.

Vancouver yoga teacher Jacci Collins says she's experienced firsthand the positive effects of presence.

"I use not only my physical practice of yoga, but my meditation practice as a way of just trying to bring me back into my life, because sometimes, life just spins out of control and the days are going by so quickly. And when you're aware of what you're doing at every moment, somehow you have more appreciation for every moment," says Collins.

4. Buy experiences, not things
Follow in the footsteps of 19,000 screaming teens who spent $60 on a Justin Bieber concert last week, rather than squandering it at the mall. That's right, these 19,000 "Bielebers" were made happier simply by spending their money on an experience rather than a thing.

If happiness can be bought, then it's essential to get the buying right, according to Dunn and colleagues.

"Experiences are good, but why are they better than things? One reason is that we adapt to things so quickly. After devoting days to selecting the perfect hardwood floor to install in a new condo, homebuyers find their once beloved Brazilian cherry floors quickly become nothing more than the unnoticed ground beneath their feet," writes Dunn. "In contrast, their memory of seeing a baby cheetah at dawn on an African safari continues to provide delight."

Mark Holder, associate professor of psychology at the University of B.C. Okanagan and a happiness expert, adds that the difference in happiness gained from a material object versus an experience is most acute after two weeks.

"When we spend, we don't tend to savour our big screen TVs, but we do tend to savour our experiences with others. We relive them through photographs, for example, we relive them by telling stories and by reliving, those people are happier," says Holder.

5. Spend on others, not yourself
Next time you think of buying something for yourself, buy it for a friend instead. Spending on others will make you happier, not only because it makes you look good (thereby boosting your mood), but because spending on others is a legitimate way to improve our connections with others, according to Dunn.

While this advice may seem to make sense, especially in light of how often we're reminded that "giving is receiving," it's surprising how many people disbelieve it, says Lara Aknin, a graduate student working with Dunn.

A 2008 survey of more than 100 UBC students conducted by Aknin found that a significant majority of students believed money spent on themselves would make them happier than if it were spent on others.

"There's this disconnect between what people believe will make them happy and what actually does," says Aknin. "People aren't that good at making good predictions because their look-ahead is plagued by all these errors, and we forget that when we look into the future we're not going to be in the exact same state that we are now."

6. Buy less insurance

Next time you're asked if you want to buy a warranty, say no. Businesses have long capitalized on our tendency to underestimate how well we cope with traumas, tragedies or just plain old bad luck. By offering an insurance against "unhappiness" from extended warranties to insurance policies, we're actually spending more than we need to guard against negative situations.

Dunn explains that just as we have a physical immune system to ward off disease, our psychological immune system has a remarkable ability to reconstruct and rationalize a negative situation into a positive one: "Ordinary people are remarkably adept at reconstruing events in order to avoid self-blame and the regret that accompanies it."

7. Delay, delay, delay consumption

Don't be tempted by those optimistic sales campaigns that proclaim "No money down!" or "Don't pay for six months."

If you wait till you have the cash to purchase the product or service, you'll get an extra jolt of happiness, says Dunn.

There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that the "consume now, pay later" mentality leads people to short-sighted behaviour, such as racking up debts or saving little for retirement -- decisions that can ruin lives, argues Dunn.

But another, less obvious reason why delayed consumption leads to more happiness is because "anticipation is a source of 'free' happiness."

"Research shows people can reap substantial enjoyment from anticipation of an upcoming event even if the event itself is not entirely enjoyable," according to Dunn.

8. Happiness is in the details
Who hasn't dreamt of owning a vacation home -- say, a waterfront cabin or ski chalet? Well, those dream homes may be more of a mirage in a desert.

Humans are adept at imagining, but tend to skip over the details, seeing the future in "simple, high-level ways," argues Dunn.

That means while we're picturing the glassy waters of a lakeside retreat, finer details like calls about a plumbing disaster, or long drives home after the vacation, or the constant buzz of mosquitoes while you're enjoying your glass of wine tend to recede in the background.

"Consumers who expect a single purchases to have a lasting impact on their happiness might make more realistic predictions if they simply thought about a typical day in their life," Dunn advises.

9. Don't shop around

Save your time and refrain from comparison shopping. Recent research suggests that comparison shopping may distract consumers from the attributes that will make them happiest, by making them focusing on the differences between available options.

Dunn gives the familiar example of shopping for real estate, in which would-be buyers typically attend countless open houses and viewings and scrutinize spec sheets for features and information on each home.

"As a result, home buyers might overestimate the hedonic consequences of living in a big, beautiful house in a great location vs. a more modest home, leading them to take out a larger loan than they can truly afford, " argues Dunn.

The same process may also lead consumers to seek out products that provide the "best deal," which is not always the product that makes them happiest.
10. Follow the herd

Can't decide which book to read? Movie to watch? Next vacation? The easiest way to get promising "happiness" results is to follow the herd.

"Research suggests that the best way to predict how much we will enjoy an experience is to see how much someone else enjoyed it," explains Dunn.

So chances are, summer blockbusters are as likely to bring us as much joy as they did the thousands of other people who've seen them.

A 2009 study drives home the point: Women were asked to predict how much they would enjoy a speed date with a particular man. Some women were shown his photo and autobiography. A second group were shown only the rating of how much other women enjoyed the date.

Think the vast majority of women shown the photo and autobiography would make a more accurate prediction? The opposite proved true.

Reading through these ten suggestions, I am reminded of what apostle Paul wrote about his ability to be abounded and abased. In fact that is the principle underlying all the ten suggestions stated in the trio's report. However, apostle Paul made it explicit that it is actually not his own ability that he is able to be content in any situation.

"... for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength." (Philippians 4.11-13)

The "him" Paul was referring here is not his biological father or boyfriend. Paul was referring to his Lord, Jesus Christ. An example from the apostle that is so relevant for us in this age of consumerism where we are constantly being told that our contentment lies in our purchases.