Friday, June 30, 2017


Friday, June 23, 2017


The latest volume of Faith and Philosophy is out and it has what looks to be a very interesting article: "How to Tell Whether Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God" by Tomas Bogardus and Mallorie Urban. I haven't read it yet. Here's the abstract:

Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God? We answer: it depends. To begin, we clear away some specious arguments surrounding this issue, to make room for the central question: What determines the reference of a name, and under what conditions do names shift reference? We’ll introduce Gareth Evans’s theory of reference, on which a name refers to the dominant source of information in that name’s “dossier,” and we then develop the theory’s notion of dominance . We conclude that whether Muslims’ use of “Allah” co-refers with Christians’ use of “God” depends on how much weight is given to what type of information in the dossiers of these two names, and we offer a two-part test by which the reader can determine whether Muslim and Christian uses of the divine names co-refer: If Christianity were true and Islam false, might “Allah” still refer to God? And: If Islam were true and Christianity false, might “God” still refer to Allah? We explain the implications of your answers to those questions, and we close with a few reflections about what, in addition to reference, might be required for worship, and whether, from a Christian perspective, salvation turns on this issue.

This is relevant to a recent kerfuffle when a professor at Wheaton was fired for saying Christians and Muslims worship the same God, which in turn prompted this essay by Christian philosopher Kelly James Clark in defense of the claim that the professor was right. The Prosblogion has already posted on the Bogardus-Urban article. I have some thoughts on the matter which I might express at some point, but I'm open to correction by my betters.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017


I recently glanced through Saturnalia by Grant Callin, a great book that I've written about before. The plot is that an alien artifact is discovered on one of the moons of Saturn, and it becomes clear that the aliens have set it up as a treasure hunt for other artifacts in the Saturn system. Constant throughout is the number six: everything is a function of this number, not least in the fact that the artifacts are all hexagons. You can even see hexagons drawn lightly on the book's cover:


Another interesting point is that the book has a scene when they travel over the north pole of Saturn (which they call "The Old Man") and are overwhelmed by it:

The Giant filled everything -- the viewports, my senses, all of space -- so that I had to press my nose to the glass even to see the edge of the rings against the black. The northern cloudbands, with their delicate colors, formed beautiful pale rings around the pole, cut in half by the black knife of the shadow's edge. sworls, spots, eddies, all were displayed in lovely, exquisite detail. For time unmeasured I stared. . . . 
I was struck dumb with fear and awe, my heart pounding so hard it seemed ready to burst at every beat. My throat was dry and my tongue clove to the roof of my mouth. My bowels were all but moving of their own accord. I was certain that we were going to be sucked into that pattern -- to become a part of it. At the time, somehow, it seemed right; as if it were unfair to behold such beauty and still be allowed to live. 
I have no idea how long I gazed before Junior, his voice uncharacteristically husky, finally broke the silence: 
"You are now one of only eight members of the human race who have seen this sight. It has changed every one of us." 
I nodded, unable to reply, as he continued softly: "When I know I'm dying, I'm going to suit up and have the boat throw me straight down at the Old Man's heart." 
My voice returned in a whisper: "I'm coming with you."

OK, so why am I bringing this up? Because in re-reading this book for the umpteenth time something clicked. There is a hexagon at the north pole of Saturn. Yes really.

Now I never heard of Saturn's hexagon until the Cassini mission arrived at Saturn in 2004, so I thought it was a recent discovery. However, it was apparently observed by the two Voyager spacecraft in 1980 and 1981. I can't find any Voyager photographs of it, but here's an abstract for a 1993 article that refers to "Saturn's polar hexagon". At any rate, according to NASA, 2006 was the first time a clear shot of the north pole was taken.

Grant Callin published Saturnalia in 1986. I guess it's possible that he knew about what was assumed to be a temporary storm at the north pole of Saturn from the Voyager spacecraft and worked it into his book as a call-out to the six other people who knew about it, none of whom would actually read it. Or else he's a magician. Either way I'm pretty impressed.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

I'm horrified

I'm horrified at the fate of Otto Warmbier, the American college student who traveled to North Korea with a group in early 2016, was arrested and imprisoned, and several weeks later was forced to give an obviously coerced statement that he had tried to steal a banner hanging on a wall in the hotel he had been staying in. The video of that statement is terrible to watch: Warmbier was crying hysterically. He was sentenced to 15 years hard labor. Several days ago, the North Koreans released him to the United States, but revealed that he had been in a coma for over a year. Upon his return, doctors determined that he had suffered massive brain damage from lack of blood flow to the brain. He died within days.

I'm amazed that so many people take it for granted that the alleged reason for his imprisonment is what really happened, especially since we know that the reason they've given for his coma is false. They said he came down with botulism and they gave him a sleeping pill which caused the coma. But the American doctors have said that there are none of the tell-tale signs that he had botulism, and at any rate, botulism-plus-sleeping-pills wouldn't cause a coma. Something prevented the blood from getting to his brain, and botulism wouldn't do it. He may have suffered a heart attack and didn't receive treatment quickly enough, but we don't know. What we do know is that the North Koreans are lying about one of the two basic facts of his case that they've told us. So why are so many people assuming that they're telling the truth about the other basic fact, the reason for his arrest and imprisonment? I mean, in his forced confession, he claimed to have tried to steal the banner on behalf of the American government. Does anyone really believe that?

I'm also horrified at the response of some Americans to this. They've basically said, "Well, he went there and broke their laws, that's what you get." They've mocked him, and they've mocked the terror he expressed in his forced confession. This could have happened to someone you love, who these mockers love. It's beyond disgusting. It is vaguely similar to the case of Michael Fay who confessed to committing vandalism and stealing signs in Singapore in 1993, and was sentenced to be caned -- that is, to be struck with a cane four times. The American public was divided on this: he committed a clear crime but corporal punishment bothered many people. Others said he was in their country, and that's how they punish those crimes there. But this is only vaguely similar: Fay confessed to more severe crimes than Warmbier, and Warmbier's punishment was much worse than Fay's. I think if they had sentenced Fay to 15 years hard labor, Americans would have been united to bring him back home. Moreover, Fay lived in Singapore, Warmbier merely traveled to North Korea for a few days. And there are numerous claims, alleged at least, that North Korea has kidnapped Americans and forced them to live in North Korea for whatever purposes they have for them. We know they've done that with South Koreans and Japanese before. So for people to treat Warmbier's case offhandedly is, again, beyond disgusting. And is it really so implausible that North Korea treated Warmbier as a representative of the United States that is currently rattling its saber in their direction? This is a horrific crime, and it wasn't just committed against Otto Warmbier and his family.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

What I'm reading

The Goodreads widget on the sidebar has the books that I'm currently reading, and I try to keep it moderately up to date. However, in the coming months much of my reading will be more focused on journal articles, so much so that I expect there will be fewer books. Having said that, I'm trying to start a habit of reading about ten pages per day of a book by either C.S. Lewis or Dallas Willard. And since I'm listing the science-fiction books I'm reading now too, there should still be a few books listed on the sidebar.

Saturday, June 10, 2017


Here's an interesting essay that explains the dust-up at Evergreen State College as an application of postmodernism.

Friday, June 9, 2017

OK, this

is heartbreaking and disturbing. A teenage girl going on a mission trip to Africa is killed in a bus accident on the way to the airport. There's evil that makes you wonder where (or if) God is, but in this case, it's the apparent randomness and meaninglessness that makes you wonder where (or if) God is. It's one of those times when God doesn't make sense.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Why is this even a thing?

R-rated language and violence.

Of course it had to be Anthony Hopkins.

Friday, June 2, 2017

An Inconvenient Thought Experiment

I want to make a distinction between two similar concepts. Mere hypocrisy would be when someone believes something but does not act in accordance with that belief. In contrast to that, I want to propose another category where someone says she believes something, but her actions are so discordant with that belief, that we either think that she doesn't even believe what she says she does, or we think that if she believes it, she doesn't really think it's important, despite her insistence to the contrary. We may not know what her motives are, but we do not think her motives include a genuine belief of what she says she believes and a genuine concern for it. This strikes me as much worse than hypocrisy. Perhaps we can just call these people liars. So while a hypocrite can believe p and think it's important even though she does not act in accordance with p (at least on some occasions), a liar either does not even believe p or doesn't care about p, all the while pretending to believe and care about it, and trying to get other people to act in accordance with p.

First case: Say someone believes that pornography is morally wrong, but breaks down on occasion and views it. That person would be acting hypocritically. Now say that person is the head of an anti-porn organization that wants to make pornography illegal. You may disagree, and it would probably depend on further circumstances, but I would still consider such a person to be a mere hypocrite, although this case is significantly worse than the first. She could certainly still believe that pornography is morally wrong, but insofar as she occasionally breaks down and views it, she is not in a position to tell the rest of us not to view it. Her own actions contradict her words. A recovering alcoholic who has been clean and sober for fifteen years can lecture us on the evils of alcohol, but someone who still gets drunk doesn't get to.

But now say that the head of the anti-porn organization is a porn star herself. I would no longer say she's merely a hypocrite, I would say she is a liar. I'd say either she doesn't actually believe that pornography is terribly harmful in the first place, or she just doesn't care. If she did believe that it is wrong and important, she wouldn't be doing what she's doing. I wouldn't know why she's heading up an anti-porn organization, but her actions would preclude her reasons being what she says they are.

Second case: Let's say President Trump announces that he wants to push Congress to make adultery illegal (and just in case it's not clear, I'm making this up). Say he argues that adultery is not only a terrible thing to do, one of the most immoral acts one could commit, it also violates the most important and sacred contract any of us will ever enter into -- all of which is true. And since breaking lesser contracts carries legal repercussions, breaking your marriage vows should as well. He references numerous studies showing that adultery has an enormous negative impact on social cohesion.

Now say it comes out that he is a serial adulterer himself: he has a mistress in every city, he's practically the patron saint of adultery. He might try to explain this away somehow, but that's not relevant for this thought experiment. All I'm asking is this: Would you believe that he really thinks adultery is a terrible thing to do? That it's really one of the most immoral acts one could commit? That it really violates the most important and sacred contract that he has ever entered into? I know what my answer would be: No, he does not really believe these things. If he did believe them, if he really believed them, he wouldn't be doing what he's doing. Sure, he's advocating for a law to make it illegal, but the reasons he's giving for it aren't his reasons. I don't know what his real reasons would be, but I'd suspect that enacting such a law would give him certain powers over certain people in an underhanded way. I would think he probably had some loophole in place that would allow him to continue doing whatever he wanted, probably the people of his social set too, while the law would apply to us lower class schmoes. To everything he says about the evils of adultery (which I agree with), I would respond, "But he doesn't believe that himself." I wouldn't be accusing him of mere hypocrisy, but of being a liar, of actually disbelieving that what he says is true and important.

Third case: Say a celebrity gives a speech about manmade climate change and about how we all need to lower our carbon footprint, and air travel is one of the biggest contributors to atmospheric CO2. This celebrity gives speeches like this numerous times a year, maybe even makes a documentary to advocate it. But the celebrity has his own private jet and leads a life of luxury (and hence, waste) that gives him a much higher carbon footprint than the rest of us. Regardless of his attempts to justify his lifestyle, I would ask the same question: Do you think this celebrity really believes what he is saying about climate change is true and important? And again, my answer would be: No. If he really believed these things, he wouldn't be doing what he's doing. He's not merely a hypocrite, he's a liar. And this case is not hypothetical like the above examples are. I'm thinking of Leonardo Dicaprio. I am arguing that Leonardo Dicaprio does not believe manmade climate change is true and important. He is a liar. And obviously it applies just as much to all of the other celebrities who are flying all over the world all the time while giving interviews about how they recycle and drive electric cars. Even if they fly commercial, they're still doing it a lot more than the rest of us who only fly a few times a year (if that) -- not to mention that they're doing it in first class which gives them a much larger carbon footprint per flight than us less important people who have to squeeze into the cattle car section.

To be clear, I don't begrudge them this lifestyle, but I do resent them telling me that I need to lower my carbon footprint while they live this lifestyle. It's like someone screaming at the top of her lungs, and right in my face, that I'm whispering too loudly. Once more, I'm not accusing them of merely being hypocrites but of being liars, of actually disbelieving that climate change is true and important. Whatever laws they're hoping to enact, there would of course be loopholes allowing them to continue their lives of luxury. If a celebrity could only fly a few times per year, they couldn't make a living, they couldn't retain their status as celebrities. So you can bet the family farm that whatever restrictions they're advocating for will have a clause that makes an exception for the important people like them.

Fourth case: Say a politician tries to enact legislation to lower our carbon footprints. But of course this politician lives a pampered life and flies all the time, maybe he's even important enough to fly in a private jet (provided by the taxpayers of course). He flies all over the world, constantly. Does he really believe climate change is true and important? Of course not. And like celebrities, the case here is not hypothetical but actual. I'm thinking of John Kerry, who, towards the end of his sojourn as Secretary of State flew to Antarctica, purportedly in order to investigate climate change but really because it was on his bucket list. That one trip put more CO2 into the atmosphere than fifty average Americans do in a year total. Anyone who really believed climate change is real and important would not make such a trip -- anymore than someone who thought pornography was so harmful that it should be made illegal would be a porn star. And also like celebrities, we can multiply politicians here as well. Al Gore kind of fits into both categories. He flies all over the world as much as any politician or celebrity, and his house uses as much electricity per month as the average American house uses per year.

Again, I don't begrudge them this: their jobs require them to travel all over the world, and while they could reduce it to some extent, I'd rather our leaders operated under the assumption that they don't need to keep an eye on their air miles. What I resent is that they want to make and enforce laws to prevent Johnny Q. Public from flying a few times a year in planes carrying hundreds of people while the political class are exempted so they can continue living, and flying, in luxury. If Al Gore really believed manmade climate change is real and important, he wouldn't be doing that. If John Kerry really believed manmade climate change is real and important, he wouldn't have the United States military fly him in a large plane to Antarctica. Since they are doing these things, I conclude that Al Gore and John Kerry don't really believe manmade climate change is real and important. They are liars. What are their real reasons for their claims to the contrary? I neither know nor care, but I suspect it would involve money, power, or both. All I know for sure is that it's not because they think it's true and important.

Bear in mind that I'm not challenging manmade climate change myself, or that it's important, perhaps important enough to enact legislation. I'm not suggesting that I don't believe it's true and important, Nor am I suggesting that the average person can't advocate for laws lowering our collective carbon footprint. I'm just arguing that these celebrities and politicians don't believe climate change is true and important. Their actions belie their words so dramatically, they cannot be seen as mere hypocrites but as liars.

Fortunately, I have a solution. Have all these celebrities and all these politicians limit their carbon footprints to that of the average American for ten years. If that doesn't affect the global production of CO2, then they can start lecturing us.