Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Last link of the year

This is just cool: The 7 Ships of the New Space Age. "American engineers are designing and testing more new manned spacecraft than at any other time in history. Here are 7 vehicles that will change how we work and play in space."

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Heifer International

I neglected to mention this before Christmas, and for that I apologize, but I recently discovered a very interesting ministry: Heifer International. I learned of it when a relative donated something in my children's names. If you look at their gift catalog, what they do is enable people in poor countries to become independent and self-reliant. One of the primary ways they do this is by asking people to buy them animals: my kids chose to donate a flock of ducklings and a flock of chicks respectively ($20 each). The people who receive them will not only receive a consistent source of eggs for their own family, they will be able to sell eggs, breed more ducks and chickens to sell, etc. This will allow them to become financially stable. Heifer Int'l has numerous other breeding animals you can buy, or buy a part of, to give to a poor family: geese, fish, pigs, bees (freaking bees), and more, not to mention animals that produce milk, which can be used to produce cheese and butter, either for direct consumption or sale: cows, goats, sheep, camels, water buffaloes (freaking water buffaloes), some of which can also be used as plow or pack animals. Again, the point of this is that these gifts will not only provide poor people with a meal or two: it will provide them with the resources to become financially independent and stable. You want to give a gift that keeps on giving? Here it is.

Saturday, December 28, 2013


Peter Geach has passed away. He was one of the great philosophers of the last 100 years. He almost made it to 100 himself. Bill Vallicella comments here and here.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

When could the New Testament have been changed?

I've written before that when the Qur'an was written, it sanctioned the Bible. It wasn't for another century or two that it became impossible to ignore the contradictions between them. For example, the Qur'an says Jesus wasn't crucified. Muslims have responded to this by suggesting that the Jews and Christians changed their Bibles after the Qur'an was written, but apart from the conspiracy-theory nature of this suggestion (Jews changed the Old Testament, and Christians also changed their Old Testament in exactly the same way?) it simply doesn't work: we have hundreds of copies of the New Testament in Arabic that predate the composition of the Qur'an -- about 500 before 500 AD. All of these copies are consonant with the New Testament we have today, as well as the thousands of copies in other languages from the pre-Islamic era.

Another point to make here, one that illustrates how conspiracy-theory-ish the claim is, is that the church was so widespread at this time that it would have been logistically impossible to change all of the copies in the same manner. But since all the copies we have are consistent, if the NT was altered, the alterations must have been done to all the copies. This raises the question of at what point did the church reach this state of being too widespread for all the copies of the NT to be changed?

The answer is: very early. When Paul wrote the epistle to the Romans, he said explicitly that he had been wanting to visit the churches in Rome for many years. Romans is dated to the mid- to late-50s AD. So within about 20 years of Jesus' crucifixion, most commonly dated to 33 AD, there were Christian churches in Rome. And of course, we also know that there were churches throughout Asia Minor (Turkey), Greece, and North Africa by this point as well. If we take Rome as the furthest extent of the Gospel, it means the Church had spread throughout the eastern Mediterranean by the middle of the first century AD. In fact, Paul also tells the Romans that he planned to go to Spain to plant churches there, and there is an ancient tradition that he was successful in this before returning to Rome to eventually be martyred (1 Clement 5:6, written in the 90s AD, states that Paul had preached the Gospel to the "farthest bounds of the West" which would not have merely referred to Rome). And this only addresses the western expansion of the Church from Jerusalem, not south (think of Philip and the Ethiopian), north, and east -- there is, again, an ancient tradition that the apostle Thomas made it as far as India by 52 AD, and was martyred about 20 years later on India's east coast. The Saint Thomas Christians in India date their origin to this period.

Of course, the NT was still being written throughout the second half of the first century, but copies of the various books were made and sent to as many churches as possible. By the end of the first century, it would not have been possible to change all of the copies of the NT documents because the church was just distributed over too large of a geographical area. So if the documents were going to be altered, it had to be done before this point. It would not have been logistically possible to change all the copies of the NT in the same way after the end of the first century -- and that's being very liberal.

Moreover, the Apostolic Fathers, students of Jesus' apostles, were quoting the NT by the end of the first century, in close succession to each other. Their quotes are not only consistent with each other, they are also consistent with the NT we have today. So if anyone tried to alter the NT after the Apostolic Fathers began writing, they would have had to go through those writings and alter their quotes as well -- and again, altered all the copies of their writings in the same way. This is just ridiculously implausible. So the NT couldn't have been altered after this point.

But the flip-side of that coin is that the NT couldn't have been changed before the end of the first century, or even the early decades of the second, since before this point, Jesus' disciples and some of his apostles were still alive and could repudiate any tampering of the texts. The apostle John lived to about 100 AD, and Quadratus specifically states in the early second century that there were people still living who had been healed by Jesus. These people would have had enormous influence in the early Church simply because they knew, saw, spoke with Jesus himself. If someone tried to change the documents while they were still alive, they would have protested it, and their protestations would have won the day given their status as eye- and ear-witnesses to Jesus' ministry. So the NT couldn't plausibly have been changed before the end of first century, and it couldn't plausibly have been changed after the end of first century.

Here's another coin for you: the NT was translated from Greek into Latin and Syriac by about 150 AD. After this, these languages had different copying traditions. Yet all of the copies in these languages are totally consistent with each other. This fact by itself doesn't allow any tampering of the NT documents after 150 AD. If someone tried to alter the NT, the best they could have done (ignoring the previous points) is to alter all the copies in one of the languages, not all three. The copying of the texts in these languages were independent of each other, and yet they are all consistent, so any tampering of the original text would have had to have taken place before the translations were made by 150 AD.

But, as noted above, the Apostolic Fathers, who wrote between 90 and 160 AD, refer to and quote the NT extensively, and these quotations are all consistent with each other, with all of the earliest copies of the NT that we have, and with the NT we have today. Some of these individuals may have even survived to 170 AD when the Muratorian fragment lists the books accepted in the NT canon -- Polycarp, a student of the Apostle John, was martyred either in the mid-150s or late-160s AD, for example. And because of their authority to relay first-hand information of what Jesus' apostles had believed and taught, the Apostolic Fathers held important positions in the church. The same reason why the NT couldn't have been altered before the apostles and other eyewitnesses had died applies here as well, although the case here is weaker as the Apostolic Fathers were not themselves eyewitnesses of Jesus' ministry. Thus the NT could not have been altered before about 155 AD when the Apostolic Fathers were all dead, but again, it could not have been altered after 150 AD when the NT was translated from Greek into Latin and Syriac.

Besides, any alteration of the documents recording the events of Jesus' life would have been met with a great outcry by those who were being tortured and murdered because of their belief that these documents were reliable, and in fact, were revelation from God. There is simply no feasible point in time when the NT could have been altered. Of course, this doesn't mean that the documents were correct when they were written, although the presence of the eye- and ear-witnesses to Jesus' ministry makes it plausible that they were. But that's a post for another day. Here, I'm just arguing the narrower point that the NT we have today is essentially the same as it was when it was originally written.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

God's humility

C.S. Lewis writes about the humility of God, that he would accept a convert even when the convert does not want God and would prefer anything to him. No matter the motivation -- a fear of hell, an inability to refute Christianity -- anything is good enough. He is not offended that he is our last resort.

There's another interesting element of the humility of God though. One of the most common themes in the Bible is people complaining to God about God. Bad things happen, and it seems like God just isn't there, or if he is that he doesn't care. "God, what the hell, do something," is a common biblical refrain (although not those exact words I think). This forms a part of God's revelation to humanity. When God was inspiring the Bible authors, part of the inspiration involved frustration, deep anger, and utter bewilderment at God's  inaction -- his perceived inaction, that is. So if you're feeling any of these emotions at the moment, just reflect on that fact for a while.

Monday, December 16, 2013

China Moon

Well, China has landed a probe and a rover on the Moon. It's the first thing to land on the Moon since 1976. Glenn Reynolds, a.k.a. Instapundit, wonders whether they're going to make a territorial claim for all of the sweet, precious Helium-3. He hopes it will kick start another space race. As for me, yeah, I'm feeling a little jealous. I think we should have a permanently-manned station on the Moon -- in fact, we should have had one by the mid-1970s. By now we should have had permanently-manned stations on the moons of Jupiter.

Saturday, December 14, 2013


This is what Mercury looks like close up.

They've just determined that this meteorite is from Mercury. Very cool.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Ted Chiang's fiction

Some of Ted Chiang's short fiction is available online. Read it and agree that he is one of the greats.

Tower of Babylon
Story of Your Life
Seventy-Two Letters
What's Expected of Us
The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate
The Lifecycle of Software Objects
The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling

I haven't read the last two yet. But I'm starting.......now.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Gödel and mechanism

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a new entry on Gödel's Incompleteness Theorems (they also have an entry on Kurt Gödel himself). A subcategory of the article is on Gödelian arguments against mechanism, which, as is often the case, paints a somewhat bleak picture of such arguments' success. In addition to listing J.R. Lucas as a proponent of an anti-mechanist argument à la Gödel, the article also mentions mathematical physicist Roger Penrose who argued along these lines in The Emperors New Mind and Shadows of the Mind (and elsewhere). Two other philosophers the article points me to, who I was unaware had argued similarly, are John Searle in The Mystery of Consciousness and a couple of essays by Crispin Wright (along with a rebuttal by Michael Detlefsen). So I have some reading to do.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Blowing in the wind

This comic today reminds me of G.K. Chesterton's essay "The Wind and the Trees" (which I wrote about before here), where he compares the soul or spirit to the wind and the body to the trees. "The great human dogma, then, is that the wind moves the trees. The great human heresy is that the trees move the wind." The comic doesn't quite draw the same conclusion.

Friday, December 6, 2013

So cool

A private firm named Moon Express plans to send an unmanned spacecraft to the Moon in 2015 in a reconnaissance mission. Their long-term plan is to mine the Moon for rare minerals like titanium and platinum. Here's their website.

Monday, December 2, 2013

More Favorite Movie Scenes


The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

...and continued

Master and Commander


Fight Club

Court Jester

...and continued

Death to Smoochy

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai across the Eighth Dimension

Duck Soup

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Sunday, December 1, 2013


Plotting the Destinations of 4 Interstellar Probes. It'll just take another 40,000 years is all.