Thursday, June 29, 2006

Herma-WHAT-ics? Exege-huh?

I've been going to Bible studies for a good long while. Currently, though, it's gotten very interesting, as I'm involved in an 8-week study of Paul's letter to the Romans. My wife recently got me an exhaustive concordance to my preferred translation, the NASB, including every Greek and Hebrew word as well, which has proved to be an excellent resource. Now, for those not "in the know", Romans deals a lot in soteriology, the faith vs. works argument, the state of the Jews post-Christ, predestination, and the permanence (or impermanence) of our salvation. Pretty weighty stuff. I'm not going to get into that right now, though. What's really got me thinking is the manner in which I choose to approach scripture, particularly as a scientist.

In the sciences, all systems of thought (to the best of my knowledge) are axiomatic. That is, they rest on a relatively small set of axioms, which are taken to be true without explicit proof. These form the basis of all other conclusions in that system. Kurt Godel (forgive my inability to apply umlauts) showed that all axiomatic systems either incomplete (meaning that there exist unprovable statements) or inconsistent (meaning that there exists at least one contradictory statement). In layman's terms, he demonstrated that you can always construct a self-referential statement that says "This statement cannot be proven". If it is true, then your system is incomplete because it is unprovable; if it is false and can be proven, then your system is inconsistent because the statement is false, but was logically derived from the given axioms.

As an article of faith, I believe the Bible to be a perfect document as it was originally written, meaning in its original Hebrew and Greek. This, admittedly, is axiom number one. The rest of the axioms of my faith are given either implicitly or explicitly within the Scriptural text. (Side note: I am not a Biblical literalist, but I tend to believe that everything from at least the Patriarchs on represents at least some historical fact. Rather, I believe the Bible is perfect in its expression of God's promises, His will, and the rules by which we must live our lives as Christians). And there the fun begins: If scripture is perfect, it cannot be inconsistent. I am perfectly willing to accept, however, that it may be incomplete (we are told as much in Romans 8:33, for example).

So, as a scientific endeavor, if I rely on my axiomatic belief that scripture is inerrant, the great joy for me as a rational thinker and faithful Christian occurs when two things in Scripture, as I read them in English, are apparently contradictory. Because I know they cannot be actually contradictory, it becomes an investigation, and my tools are great and varied: commentaries, linguistics, cultural cues, multiple translations, even (and most importantly) delving into the original languages.

For instance: the "almah" controversy. Isaiah 7:14 is the particular prophecy that refers to Christ being born of a virgin. Liberal scholars, agnostics, and others with a vested interest in Biblical prophecy not being true like to point out that, in Hebrew, the word translated as "virgin", which is "almah", actually means "young woman", and has no explicit connotations of virginity; moreover, Hebrew DOES have another word which actually means "virgin". The controversy arises in the fact that the author of Matthew references this verse, and unambiguously uses the Greek word for "virgin" in his own translation -- thus, an apparent contradiction. However, when one combs through the OT scriptures, it is evident that every single use of "almah" refers to a woman who is, in fact, a virgin! Moreover, it is used as a stand-in for the word "virgin" on at least once occasion!

That's the translational cue. Moreover, there's a contextual cue: the whole point of this passage in Isaiah is that God Himself will provide the people of Israel with a sign. Without going into details, it is clear contextually that this must be a pretty important sign. Read the verse. What is so special about a woman giving perfectly natural birth to someone whose name happens to be Emmanuel? What sort of sign is that? What's to prevent the next Joe Schmo from naming his kid Emmanuel? I knew an Emmanuel back in college. Was the kid who played Webster a "sign from Yahweh"? Clearly, something more special is going on here, and the only thing that could be, contextually speaking, is that a VIRGIN bears a child.

Additionally, we have the historical clue: The NT authors relied primarily on the LXX, the Greek translation of the OT scriptures. Without getting into an argument about the authenticity of the Septuagint, let it suffice to say that this document, produced between 300 and 100 BC (that's BEFORE CHRIST, folks!), indeed translated the word into Greek as "virgin" (parthenos). This work, composed by pre-Christ Jewish scholars, was much more "in-tune" with ancient form of Hebrew spoken by the pre- and post-captivity Jews than modern scholars, some 2500+ years removed from the events of authorship. Even THEY thought it meant "virgin". Why, if it "so clearly" means "young woman"?

I could go on, but I think I've made my point. It really is a fascinating "detective"-type problem. And usually, when overly complicated theories that precariously weave the evidence into elaborate schemes to "prove" some controversial (and usual anti-establishment) point, IT'S THE WRONG THEORY. It's amazing how well Occam's Razor sides with traditional Biblical interpretation.


Monday, June 26, 2006

Oh, THAT Liberal Media, part One Hojillion and Two

A number of SCOTUS decisions were handed down today, of varying importance. Now, I'm not gonna comment on the propriety of any of them. What I am going to do is point to this article, particularly to the opening paragraphs:

Justices split 5-4 in the term's oldest case, which was argued in December before Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's retirement. A new argument session was held in April so that Alito could break a deadlock.

The justices are in the final week of their term and handling some of the most contentious and important cases. They meet again Wednesday to announce more decisions.

The Kansas case was unique. The state law says juries should impose death sentences if aggravating evidence of a crime's brutality and mitigating factors explaining a defendant's actions are equal in weight.

Justice David H. Souter, writing for the liberals, said the law was "morally absurd."

But the five conservatives, including Alito, overturned a Kansas Supreme Court ruling that found the law violated the Eighth Amendment's protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

The emphasis on the offending statements is mine. My initial reaction was "What the crap is that???" -- or perhaps a more Jon-Stewart-like "Whaaaaaa?". Since when has the SCOTUS been clearly divided into four "liberals" and five "conservatives"? Now, for any sensible person, I think my complaint speaks for itself. Additionally, to my own knowledge, only sensible people read this blog. But just to be thorough: It seems fairly obvious to me that the press is now trying to play up how ChimpyMcBu$hitlerburton has stacked the once sacrosanct supreme court with his cronies, thus making it a "conservative dominated court" -- a meme that just won't die. Never mind that basic math makes this point absurd. Let us assume for a moment that "originalist" and "conservative" are one in the same, which they are not: prior to Bush, there were three: Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas. Minus one Rehnquist, that makes two. Add one Roberts, that makes three again. Minus one O'Connor, that makes three still (what? O'Connor not a conservoriginalist? Say it ain't so! I stand by that remark without qualification for the time being). Add one Alito, that makes, at most, four. Hmm. I seem to remember NINE supreme court justices, and if grade school fractions are any indicator, 4/9 is not a majority. Ah, math, the class that's "just too hard" for people who end up growing up lefty. "But what about Kennedy?", you might say. Feh. He's another O'Connor, if you ask me. Maybe light to her shadow, or shadow to her light, I'll let you decide. My point is that nobody ever accused him of being part of any VRWC. Well, except may a Kos kiddie, but I'm too lazy to back that up with "facts" -- and besides, they have enough trouble nowadays (wink, wink, nudge nudge).

The fact that the article so blatantly lumps the four dissenters together as the "liberal bloc" and the five concurrors (is that even a word?) as the "conservative bloc" is just grossly biased, particularly when Alito and Roberts have yet to prove themselves substantially. Sure, the liberal remark is justified, based on a consistent voting record, but not the conservative one, and that's important, because that imagined "bloc" constitutes a majority.

You'll note that this article is on foxnews, which I freely admit displays a notable conservative bent in its opinion "pages". As a habit, whenever I detect a liberal bias in any foxnews article, I immediately scan up to the byline, and INEVITABLY, there it is: the good ol' "Associated Press" credit. Never fails.

Update: Oh, and the headline: "Alito Breaks Tie to Uphold Kansas Death Penalty Law". While factually correct (The case had to be re-argued with Alito as a member due to an actual tie prior to his joining the court, although admittedly I'm not sure how this happened, since O'Connor's retirement was entirely dependent on her successor's appointment), it further emphasizes the "conservative packed court" meme by making it seem as though Alito made all the difference. He did not. Four other justices had to cast their lot that direction first for there to even be a tie. Claiming a tie was broken just because there was a one-vote difference is absurd. It's like the idea that, in a closely contested sports game (I'm thinking of Steve Bartman here), a single player's error "cost the team the game". This is just (almost) never true. True, that error might have cost a single point, but the team's failures in allowing the other team to score all those other times sure did help! This is especially true in the Bartman/Cubs case -- they had a substantial lead up to that point, and completely collapsed afterward! This was the fault of every infielder/outfielder/etc for not stopping the avalanche of runs by their opponents. It's just that society loves a scapegoat, particularly when it contributes to some other agenda, hidden or not.

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Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Curse of Ben!

I want to apologize to all my Pennsylvanian readers, particularly those who root for either the Steelers of the Nittany Lions -- they are doomed to failure in the upcoming season, and it is my fault.

But before I apologize, you must recognize that the recent, almost anomalous success of both teams this past season is also due to me, so please, give credit where credit is due.

Huh? What is this guy talking about? I'm talking about dreaded Curse of Ben. You see, whenever I change locales, whatever sports teams are associated with that location experience a year of unprecedented (or at least unexpected) success, followed by at least 3 more years of extreme mediocrity.

The proof is in the pudding, as they say. Let us examine a time line:

1996: Ben moves to Waco, TX. The Baylor Bears, for the first time in anyone's memory, BEAT UT in football. First Big XII conference win, certainly a huge deal at BU.
1997-2000: Baylor wins maybe 5 games, TOTAL.

2000: Ben moves to Seattle, WA. The UW Huskies go to, and win, the Rose Bowl
2001-2004: Huskies? Who dey? Too lazy to look it up, but even a winning record would have been a good thing for them in those years.
Also in 2000 (well, 2001, but still): Seattle Mariners tie the all-time win record with the 1906 Chicago Cubs, at 116 wins in a season.
Post 2001 season: Seattle Mariners trade every single one of their good players except Ichiro, their manager, and probably the bat boy just for good measure. Winning record? What's that?

2005: Ben moves to State College, PA. Nittany Lions are 11-1 (I think -- too lazy to check), perfect post-season play as well. Pittsburgh Steelers win the superbowl.
2006: Poor Ben Roethlisberger. The Curse of Ben begins. I apologize in advance for whatever calamity befalls PSU as well, but this might be a good year to place a bet against them.

Incidentally, in 18 years spent growing up in Arkansas, the Razorbacks, as good as they are, never won a championship. It wasn't until Ben was going to move away to TX that the Hogs became the NCAA basketball champions. I'm just sayin'.


Friday, June 16, 2006

Those Wacky Roman Catholics

Just read this article about how the Catholic bishops of the US voted to change the english rendition of the liturgy of the Mass so that it's closer to the "original" Latin (because, you know, Jesus and the apostles spoke Latin, and all). During my four years at a Catholic highschool, we had our monthly student-body Masses, so I'm not a stranger to the liturgy, although since our masses consisted of 750 boys on bleachers in an un-air-conditioned gym, I suspect they were somewhat diluted in essence (in particular, no kneeling). However, I do remember the "The Lord be with you / and also with you" response, rendering it in my own head with a thick Brooklyn accent as "Da lwad be witcha / an' also witchoo". Apparently that has changed now to "The Lord be with you / and with your Spirit", which doesn't seem to make a lot of sense to me.

Anywho, the thesis of the article seems to be that this will drastically affect the way Catholics worship. This all seems very strange to me, an Evangelical Protestant. Don't get me wrong -- if this is the way you worship, and it is truly Spirit-led and heart-felt, then far be it from me to disparage it. However, I don't understand how one could be "turned off" of church attendance just because the words you are supposed to say, week in and week out, have been tweaked slightly. For me, worship of the Lord has always been an extemporaneous thing, unique from one time to the next.

I'm curious to hear the perspective of some Catholics on this, particularly in how it will affect their worship experience. Maybe the Mazur boys men will chime in?


Thursday, June 15, 2006

Oh, THAT Liberal Media

So the DJIA surged, surged, I say, nearly 200 points today, recovering a great deal of the loss from the past week or so. I recall very clearly last week that both CNN and FoxNews prominently announced, even before the close of the market, that it was practically hemorrhaging as it "plummeted" (despite only one daily loss of over 100 points, if I recall correctly). Meanwhile, at least foxnews has the decency today, right after market close (at least as early as 4:30 by my watch), to announce the remarkable rebound of the market today. CNN? Front-page, big-box article about inflation fears and basic gloom-and-doom on the economy. Not a word about the market's sudden surge.

Economic bad news? Front page big box on CNN!
Optimistic news? *crickets*


Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Another intellectual exercise

So Bush went to Iraq today. Good for him, and I mean that sincerely. That got me thinking about how many other American politicians had been to Iraq, both before the war and after, which then got me imagining what it would be like for certain politicians if they were somehow captured by terrorists while in Iraq.

So the exercise is this: take a politician, and imagine his reaction when captured by terrorists inside Iraq.

I'm thinking in particular of somebody like Washington state politician "Baghdad Jim" McDermott, or perhaps even Teddy Kennedy (not that I'd ever expect the latter to go over there). I just can't help but think that, under duress, they wouldn't hesitate to point out that they were "on their side", and quickly point out all the evidence that would prove such a statement.

Don't get me wrong, I suspect many a hawk would likewise say anything to preserve their lives; the only difference being that they would not have the cold, hard facts to back up their case that they were "on the side" of the terrorists.

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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Moral Equivalence Exercise!

Another mental exercise for the intellectually honest:

Part 1: When I hug a small child and tell her to trust me, it is because she is my daughter and I love her. When another man hugs a small child and tells her to trust him, it is because he is a pedophile and wants to do unspeakable things to her.

We have both performed precisely the same act, but any rational human being can tell you that these two acts are not morally equivalent, and the reasons for this don't require an advanced degree in philosophy or ethics to explain.

Part 2: When the United States invaded a sovereign country, it was to remove a violent, oppresive regime that was a threat to both national security and global stability. When Germany invaded a sovereign country, it was for a silly little thing called lebensraum.

Again, the act, invading a sovereign country, is the same in each case. And again, citing that mythical, rational human being and his keen perceptive abilities, these things are not morally equivalent. And yet the left continues with the "BUSH=HITLER" meme, which seems, frighteningly, to be creeping beyond the fringe into the mainstream of the left-of-center.

The lesson here is that identical acts do not imply moral equivalence! The end may not always justify the means, but it certainly differentiates the means.