Friday, August 21, 2009


Sharing the Gospel

My wife made a good point to me tonight. Some people think that the way to show people that Christianity is good is to behave well, so they are impressed with Christians. There is something to that, but it goes off on a tangent. Christianity is good because it is true. Even as something we wish to be true, it is not so much that it will make me a better person as that it gives me hope even though I remain a bad person. Even if I don't succeed in becoming pure--- and nobody does, really--- God forgives me, as a father forgives a naughty child.

One reason this is important is that Christians really cannot succeed in preaching the Gospel by showing off what good people they are. The World is not impressed by Christian virtue; only by worldly virtue. Often those things coincide--- bravery is both a pagan and a Christian virtue--- but not always. In fact, the World usually thinks that the more Christian you are, the more you are a duped fanatic. Just think of the extreme Moslems--- we are not so much impressed by their bravery as appalled by their willingness to kill people. They do not convert by their example. At best, they make people take a look to see what makes them so brave.

Moreover, thinking that to convert people to Christianity means you must be exemplary in all ways makes us ashamed to admit our Christianity. I do not want people to see how deficient I am and decide that Christians are weak and thoughtless people. It is better if I forget about impressing them with my strength, and concentrate on letting God use me as he wills to convey information or whatever else I may do for Him.

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Monday, August 17, 2009


Proof from Intuition and Failed Attempts to Prove Formally

An insight from Prosblogion:
In fact, I think that sometimes repeated failure is evidence for the insight when it is repeated failure by multiple people. Think of the history of failure to prove Fermat's last theorem. Personally, I never doubted the theorem for a second and I doubt I am alone in believing that the repeated failure to provide a proof did not provide much if any evidence that it was false. Or consider what a history to prove Goldbach's conjecture would look like (I haven't looked to see if there is an actual history of attempts to do so). The very fact that so many people have the insight that it is true is what is guiding all these (sadly failed) attempts, and the (partial) independence of the testimony can be surprisingly strong evidence when modeled probabilistically. And it helps when there is considerable conceptual similarity among the attempts, for the insights are often of the form "considerations pertaining to X support Y" (and we just can't get the bridge in formal logic yet).

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Saturday, August 15, 2009


Good Stewardship of Natural Resources

Steve Sailer is right about parks. The Sabbath was made for Man, not Man for the Sabbath.
To get people back to the National Parks, they don't need cheaper admissions (which max out at $23 per vehicle, which is cheap). They need more luxury. For example, in the roadless high country of Yosemite National Park, above Tuolumne Meadows at around 10,000 feet in altitude, there has long been a circuit of about five High Sierra Camps, with tent cabins and dining halls, each a day's walk (6 to 8 miles) apart. So, you can take a five night hiking trip without carrying your own food and fuel, you can sleep in a bed, and have a hot shower (at three camps): it's $136 per person per night for food and lodging. This circuit is very popular with aging nature lovers who don't want to put up anymore with the rigors of sheer wilderness backpacking at high altitude. So you have to apply in a lottery each year in the autumn for the next summer. My aunt and uncle applied every year for about a decade, but never got chosen, and finally gave up when they got too old for high altitude hiking. That's just sad. Considering how popular this amenity is, you might think the National Park Service would have expanded it, adding more High Sierra Camps in Yosemite, and setting up similar circuits in Kings Canyon and Sequoia to the south. In truth, the more remarkable thing is that the NPS hasn't dismantled the High Sierra Camps.

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Friday, August 14, 2009


International Law Explicitly Permits Jewish Settlements on the West Bank

From Peter Hitchens, August 13, 2009: law, though I am happy to discuss this with any reasonable person, all the way back to the Sanremo Accords and the original League of Nations Mandate, which designated the area now known as the West Bank for "close Jewish settlement", and has not been superseded, so far as I know, by any multilateral treaty or plan put fairly to all sides. The West Bank remained so designated after the entire area east of the Jordan to the Iraqi borders (originally part of the proposed "National Home for the Jews") was arbitrarily sliced off the Palestine Mandate to provide a consolation prize for Emir Abdullah.
I'd never heard this, so I checked. And in fact, international law does authorize Jewish settlements on the West Bank. From: League of Nations: The Mandate for Palestine, July 24, 1922:

Article 6.

The Administration of Palestine, while ensuring that the rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudiced, shall facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions and shall encourage, in co-operation with the Jewish agency. referred to in Article 4, close settlement by Jews, on the land, including State lands and waste lands not required for public purposes.

Hitchens also has a good summary of the extreme views that the Arab countries hold and have always held of Israel, and how the Arabs do not consider the 1967 borders to have any legal validity whatsoever.

I would add that I am always amused by the enthusiasm which Israel's enemies now show for the pre-1967 border of Israel. Their alleged enthusiasm for it now is a fake. Their real objective, as enshrined for decades in the policy documents and propaganda of the Arab world, (though in some cases tardily, reluctantly and insincerely shelved for Western consumption) is the end of the Jewish state altogether. Every Arab political figure in the area has on his wall a map of the region, a map from which Israel has entirely vanished. Hizbollah works for the extirpation of Israel, from just beyond its northern border. Hamas (a movement whose treatment of fellow Arabs who oppose it is extremely repressive and violent) continues to make no secret of this aim. Racialist filth and Judophobic slurry are taught to children in the Arab states and broadcast on Arab TV stations. And until they abandon this aim, and this muck, there can be no compromise. How can you compromise with people who teach tiny children to hate you, and whose aim is your utter destruction? Every concession would merely be a further step towards death, not a step towards peace.

I am old enough to recall that these enthusiasts were not so enthusiastic about the pre-1967 border before 1967, when it was the border of Israel. No Arab state accepted it as legitimate, let alone lawful. So why are they so keen on it now? I guarantee that if the 1967 border were to be restored tomorrow, the Arab campaign against Israel (backed elsewhere by our strange Israel-haters, who can only find one country on the map of the world to disapprove of) would continue unabated. At that stage, before 1967, the official policy of the Arab world was to 'drive the Jews into the sea'. The 1967 border itself, a militarily indefensible and impractical frontier, was the cease-fire line at the end of the 1948 War, not an internationally agreed frontier between peaceful sovereign states. For most of its existence it was repeatedly violated.

PM2317561View of a concrete The 1948 war was itself caused by the Arab world's rejection of the 1947 partition plan, which allocated Israel a much smaller territory even than the land enclosed in the supposedly sacred 1967 border. That rejection itself followed the similar rejection of the partition proposed by the 1937 Peel Commission, which was even less generous to the Jews than the UN would be ten years later.

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Cowardice at Yale University Press

From VC:

Yale University Press has decided not to include controversial Danish cartoons depicting Muhammad in a book about the cartoons and the resulting controversy. Other depictions of Muhammad slated for inclusion in the book, The Cartoons that Shook the World, have also been pulled. The NYT reports:

The book’s author, Jytte Klausen, a Danish-born professor of politics at Brandeis University, in Waltham, Mass., reluctantly accepted Yale University Press’s decision not to publish the cartoons.

John Donatich, the director of Yale University Press, said by telephone that the decision was difficult, but the recommendation to withdraw the images, including the historical ones of Muhammad, was “overwhelming and unanimous.” The cartoons are freely available on the Internet and can be accurately described in words, Mr. Donatich said, so reprinting them could be interpreted easily as gratuitous.

He noted that he had been involved in publishing other controversial books . . . and “I’ve never blinked.” But, he said, “when it came between that and blood on my hands, there was no question.”

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Friday, August 7, 2009


The American Teenager

Ben Stein in TAS says of director John Hughes (Ferris Bueller's Day Off; Planes, Trains, and Automobiles; Home Alone):

The insight that will make him immortal... was that the modern American white middle class teen combines a Saudi Arabia-sized reservoir of self-obsession and self-pity with a startling gift for exultation and enjoyment of life. No one had ever thought to note that along with James Dean's sulky self-obsession might also come a shriek of happiness at just being alive.

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Sunday, August 2, 2009



Some Christians think that Halloween and the Harry Potter books are bad, as encouraging witchcraft. I will not talk about Halloween here, but I will talk about the Harry Potter books. I've had occasion to praise them recently, because while my son and daughter were in the hospital we read one of them out loud, and it was useful for them and for me. It distracted from their physical pain and from all of our pain from recent loss of loved ones, allowing switches back and forth from mourning to imagination. Harry Potter's world worked this magic because it is a mixture of the mundane and the wondrous, because it has many novel contrivances, and because it is full of suspense. A few other books can do this too--- the Oz series, for example, or Tolkien, or Narnia--- but the hospital happened to have Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone at hand.

On the other hand, what of this passage from Deuteronomy 18?

Deuteronomy. 18:10-12. There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch. Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee.

At first sight, this passage seems to condemn not just Harry Potter, but Tolkien and Oz. (Narnia is exempt, I think-- I don't recall good magic in it.)

But wait. We must ask what the words in Deuteronomy mean. Some Christians use the Ten Commandments to condemn not just murder but the death penalty, war, and resistance to crime. Indeed, one could use it to advocate vegetarianism--- does "Thou shalt not kill" have an exemption for animals? Actually, what about killing plants? So we must pay attention to translation and meaning.

In the case of Deuteronomy, what do enchanter, witch, charmer, wizard, and necromancer mean? I don't have time now to go to the Hebrew, though that is clearly relevant. Note first, though, that here we seem to have five distinct kinds of magic, besides the other kinds in the passage which don't apply to Harry Potter's kind of magic at all. (I know there's divination in the novels, but it's peripheral and Harry and his friends don't do real divination and consider the subject "pseudo-magic".)

Whatever they mean, I don't think it can apply to what Harry Potter and friends are doing. What they are doing is not really magic, but science. Harry, Ron, and Hermione do not reach into a supernatural world to engage the power of spirits. There are a few ghosts in the book, but notice how no spells make use of them, and how little different the ghosts are from people except in their immortality and nonphysicality. Rather, what the Hogwarts kids do is learn how to use wands to manipulate things, and what kind of magical creatures and plants lurk in the world unobserved by ordinary people. Most people-- Muggles-- can't use wands, just as most people can't do calculus (and never could, because they're not smart enough). Those who can have to go to school and learn it just like biology or trombone. It's called "magic", but how is it different from "chemistry"?

I'll have to continue later. But I'll make a second point here. Look at the context of Deuteronomy 18:10-12. What's in front and behind it?

18:9 When thou art come into the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations....

18:13 Thou shalt be perfect with the LORD thy God.

18:14 For these nations, which thou shalt possess, hearkened unto observers of times, and unto diviners: but as for thee, the LORD thy God hath not suffered thee so to do.

It's "the abominations of those nations" that is condemned. The Canaanites are condemned in the Bible to a degree beyond any other people. Thus, it may be just their forms of magic that are being condemned here. Or, it may just be their evil use of it.

A couple of references (which do not make the points I make above, I think):

"Are all witches equal? Six types of Witchcraft" (note: I suspect this site is not to be trusted farther than you can test their arguments yourself--but that is usefully far).

"Religious debates over the Harry Potter series," not to be considered as unbiased as most Wikipedia articles, but moderate in tone, fair, and with lots of citations so you can check up on it.

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