Tuesday, February 21, 2012

JOHN 8:58 does not necessarily mean what it seems  

"Jesus said unto them, "truly I say to you, before Abraham was, I am". (RSV).

This scripture is routinely compared to Exodus 3:14, where we read of Yahweh: "God said unto Moses, "I AM WHO I AM". And he said "Say this to the people of Israel, "I AM has sent me to you"". (RSV). 

Just a few notes:  The Exodus statement was made in response to a request from Moses for God to identify himself.  And the reply (understandably?) "I am who I am" is  simply impatient.   I believe that I myself have at times said "I am who I am" in response to certain challenges.  And  the second part, "I am has sent me", just carries on the impatience of God with Moses's request for identification.   But God gives in to Moses in the next verse and identifies himself as "Yahweh", the traditional god of the Hebrews.  So while the theologians have made much of this passage, it is hardly the claim to uniqueness that they often assert.  It just shows that the Hebrew god was a rather human figure who got impatient with people not knowing who he was -- and who handed out carved stone tablets and various other things.

Moving on to John 8:58 and the expression "I am" there:  The Greek expression Jesus used here is "Ego eimi" -- which is the first person singular form of the verb "to be" in Greek.  Its meaning is not however as straightforward in Greek as it is in its English counterpart.  It is  quite imprecise and can be translated in a number of ways.  Even in that particular passage, translators differ on their rendering of it. Some authorities suggest "I have been" but the suggestion I like best is "I am he".  That translation fits the text best, it seems to me.  He was, after all, answering the enquiry, "Have you seen Abraham?".  And in other passages of the NT (e.g. John 14:9) "eimi" is routinely translated as "have been".

So Jesus was certainly claiming to be an ancient being but the statements in Exodus and John are clearly not comparable.  And in fact the case and tense structures of Hebrew and Greek are very different so any exact comparability would in any event be fanciful.

What Jesus actually said in his native Aramaic, we can only guess of course.  We have only John's  report in Greek.

For what it is worth, John would have been well aware of the ancient and widely used translation of the Hebrew scriptures into Greek -- The Septuagint -- and the Septuagint renders Exodus 3:14 as “EGO EIMI HO OHN,” meaning “I am the being” or "I am the one",  so again comparability between the two texts is lost. If John had seen Jesus's Aramaic words as a reference  to Exodus 3:14, he would presumably have translated them into Greek in the same way that the ancient Jewish translators behind the Septuagint did.

That John in fact chose a Greek expression that is capable of at least two different meanings is however well in keeping with his Gnostic tendencies.  Gnosticism (the pretence of secret knowledge) was around long before Christ and it did eventually infect Christianity.  There were various gnostic Christian sects from the second century on.  John, however, does appear to have written quite late in the first century so may perhaps be regarded as the first of the Christian Gnostics.  The book of  Revelations, in particular, reads very much like a Gnostic text, with its constant use of symbolism. 

So  John took advantage of the various uses of "eimi"  to make one of his  Gnostic  utterances.  Compare John 1:1, where his clever use of an anarthrous predicate also leads most Greekless  people into thinking he is saying more than he is.  He was obviously a very competent Greek stylist.

So John was not being deceitful in using the the words he did.  He was just being vague  -- perhaps with the aim of saying that REAL Christians would be able to untangle the intended  meaning, which is a very Gnostic thing to do.  And at the time that was probably no difficulty.  But with the impossibility  of exactly translating all Greek tenses into languages with different verb structures, misunderstandings have certainly developed.

As someone who has often battled with translating German into English (which are after all two closely related languages) I am confident in saying  in fact that ALL translations are only approximations.  I comment on that at greater length here.  On some occasions you do have to study the original texts  to get an accurate sense of the passage.

I can't resist adding a few more comments about the Septuagint. The Torah section of it (including Exodus) is quite ancient and the oldest surviving manuscripts of the OT are in fact mostly of the Septuagint.  And there are quite a few places where the Septuagint and the Masoretic (Hebrew) text differ in meaning, though the differences are not usually greatly important. 

It used to be automatic among Bible translators to prefer the Masoretic renderings and dismiss the Septuagint as "freely" translated.  A widely held view among textual scholars these days, however,  holds that the Septuagint was based  on a pre-Masoretic version of the Hebrew text and that its renderings are therefore at least as likely to represent the lost original texts as are the Masoretic renderings.  In which case the less enigmatic Septuagint rendering of Exodus 3:14 might reasonably be preferred. So YHWH might originally have been recorded as saying not "I am who I am" but rather something like “I am the being” or "I am the one".

Note finally that the apostle Paul normally quoted from the Septuagint in his epistles.  How's that for a headspinner? 

I would think that in the circumstances a really serious Christian Bible student (are there any left?) would be heading out to buy himself a copy of the Septuagint with an accompanying English translation.  I do myself own such a volume but it is quite old so I doubt that it is still in print anywhere.  For what it is worth, however, it was published by Samuel Bagster and Sons of London in 1879.  Bagster had a most comprehensive range of Bible study aids but with the decline of Biblical scholarship they have now gone out of business.  There is however a translation only here that sounds useful.  The most "official" translation of the Septuagint at the moment is here but I don't like the assumptions underlying it at all at all.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa

As my scripture blog shows, the version of Christianity that has always impressed me most is the one I find in the New Testament.  I have always been vaguely offended by the pagan accretions that have been tacked onto the original gospel:  The Doctrine of the Trinity, the doctrine of the immortal soul, the cross, Sun-day worship, Christmas, Easter etc.

But I think I was wrong.  With the exception of the Trinity, those pagan accretions were deliberately adopted because they already had a power over the hearts of men.  So they strengthened the religion and helped it to survive as a vehicle for the original teachings.  Perhaps without  those pagan accretions the original Gospel might have been lost.  As it is the original first century documents (of the New Testament) have survived and are still there for us to read and accept or not as our hearts and minds guide us.

So the grand buildings, the splendid vestments, the ecclesiastical processions, the "bells and smells" of Catholicism and Anglicanism are probably something to be thankful for,  far away though they be from the original Christian congregations of the apostolic era.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: for The Reptile with a Conscience by Nathan Cofnas. Paperback. pp. 523.Available from The Ulster Institute for Social Research. Review by J.J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).

One of Einstein's more famous sayings is: "No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong". That single experiment would now appear to have been done so is Einstein now old hat?  Far from it.  Just as Einstein's relativity subsumed Newton's mechanics, so the next generation of physics will have to cope with the observations that came from Einstein's work.

A failure that Einstein himself acknowledged was his failure to devise a "unified field theory".  Einsten was of course Jewish so it is interesting that another brilliant Jewish writer, Nathan Cofnas, HAS attempted a "unified field theory".  But this theory is not about physics.  It is about ideology.  Nathan has presented us with a theory that accounts for both religion and politics as being from the same rootstock.

And I can even tell you very simply what that theory is.  Nathan points something out that seems obvious when you hear it but nobody previously seems to have thought of it.  He takes Adam Smith's famous theory of markets  -- the invisible hand -- and points out that religious people also see an invisible hand in the world about them:  The hand of God.

You don't have to think about that for long, however, to start saying "Yes but ...".  And that is why Nathan has written his book.  He presents his theory in a much more subtle and careful way than my crude generalization above and proceeds to answer all the "Yes buts ..".  He fleshes out how he believes both conservative thinking and Judeo/Christian thinking arise.

But this is not a book for scholars, philosophers and ideologues only.  It does something that anybody interested in modern  politics needs badly:  It gives an systematic  answer to the old Leftist retort to all facts and arguments that they dislike:  "There's no such thing as right and wrong, anyway".  The crazy thing about that assertion of course is that the same Leftists who say that will say in almost the same breath that racism or anything done by George W Bush is wrong.  They contradict their own assertion almost as soon as they make it.  So it is not only conservatives but Leftists too who need to get their minds clear on what is right/wrong and where that right/wrong comes from.  And Nathan helps us greatly with that.

But WHY do Leftist deny right and wrong when it suits them?  Doing so makes all their OWN doctrines, policies and beliefs look like empty vapour.  It's a strange thing to do.  So:   The reason they do it is because most analytical philosophers say the same thing.  And as John Maynard Keynes once said:  "Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back”.

Analytical philosophers say:  "If there is this objective property of "rightness", how do we detect it and where is it?  Do we lift up a stone somewhere and find it there?  And that challenge has proved hard to answer.  Just what IS rightness and how do we know it is right?

In recent times, however, an answer to that has begun to emerge:  We know some things are right because we have rightness instincts.  Rightness IS located somewhere.  It is located in our long evolution as social beings. It is somewhere in our primitive "reptilian" brain.  But the "Yes, buts ..." come thick and fast to that proposition, as it is obvious that our higher brain (where "conscience" is located) has a role too and can make some things seem right to one person that another person sees as wrong.  So how do we sort THAT mess out?  Nathan goes through it systematically for us and leaves even atheists like me confident that there IS such a thing as a real right and wrong.

Nathan's book will not be the final answer on all the questions it addresses but, like Einstein's theory of relativity, future discussions in the field will have to take account of his arguments if  they are to be well-informed.

"Der Schwed"  -- yesterday and today

During the 30 years war of the 17th century  Gustav Adolf den store (Gustavus Adophus) led his Swedish troops to many great victories in Europe.  Without him the Protestant cause may well  have lost out to the Catholic South.  His armies were at the time simply referred to as "Der Schwed" (the Swede), though they would have referred to themselves as the "Svea". 

So we see that the Swedish martial spirit did not die out with the Vikings of the 11th  century (Swedish Vikings mostly sailed up rivers into what we now know as Russia.  It was left to the Norwegians and Danes to harass Britain and Western Europe).

And, strange as it seems in the light of their constant peacenikery of the 20th century,  that spirit is still alive today.  For good reasons the proximity of Russia gives everybody at the Eastern end of the Baltic the heebie-jeebies.  Going by their invariant and very successful form since the 11th century,  we would expect the English to deal with such a  peril by forming alliances with other countries.  Not so the Swedes.  They cherish their independence.  And they can realistically do that because of confidence in their military.   They have been prepared to fight Russia alone if need be.  The Finns did it under Mannerheim in the early stages of WWII so they have a successful example to go by. But the Swedish military has to be independent too -- so we come to the Swedish defence industries. 

With a population about the same size as Israel, it is amazing what the Swedish defence industries have produced. The famous Bofors  gun was used for antiaircraft defence by BOTH sides in WWII and is still in use today.  And Bofors are not sitting on their laurels.   I could go on to talk about Swedish military aircraft and submarines but I  think that for the moment I will just say a few words  about Bofors.

Aside from nuclear weapons, the most fearsome thing about the old Soviet Union was their vast fleet of tanks.  And Bofors produced an answer to that in the form of the BILL1, a fearsome antitank missile.  Bofors turned out tens of thousands of them,  quite enough to wipe out the entire Soviet tank fleet with a bit of luck.    It is a guided missile that flies just a bit ABOVE the tank and fires a shaped charge down onto the turret of the  tank at just the right time -- the turret being  a tank's weakest point.  That must be a considerable challenge to the missile's controller but the Swedes must be  confident that trained operators can pull it off.  Below is a video of it in action:

(Note:  Some mischievous person has been circulating the above video together with a claim that it shows an Israeli missile using white phosphorous to destroy a Syrian tank.  Israel has been much criticized for its limited use of white phosphorous in Gaza but insists that it only used phosphorous in accordance with the laws of war.  Using it in an anti-tank weapon would heap criticism on Israel so the false claim attached to the above video is malicious)

And to keep up with advances in tank technology Bofors have produced a BILL2 missile that is even more capable than BILL1.  (The "B" stands for Bofors)

It seems sad that such an apparently effective weapon is not held in the arsenals of Western countries but Swedish neutrality forbids it.  Only a few other "neutral" countries such as Austria and Brazil have it.  So Sweden has had to bear all the costs of developing and deploying the weapon by itself -- a considerable challenge.  Most armament  manufacturers are keen to sell their stuff to all and sundry  -- to help defray the development costs.

And even if Sweden did decide to sell BILL2 more widely, it might not get much uptake.  I remember when I was in the Australian Army during the Vietnam war, we deployed the   prime Swedish antitank weapon of the day, the Carl Gustav.  But as soon as we entered the Vietnam war, the Swedes stopped supplying ammo for it!  Tanks featured little in the Vietnam war so it was not a great setback but it was a salutary lesson in being careful about the source of supply of your weaponry.  The Swedes have no worries on that score.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

IQ, conservatism and racism

On 22nd January I commented on claims by two Canadian psychologists to the effect that conservatives and racists have low IQs.  One look at the study told me that it was brainless so I just reproduced the journal abstract and pointed out two of the things that made it brainless.  I didn't see any point in a detailed look at the paper.

The study has however become much celebrated in Green/Left quarters, with the ineffable Monbiot in the vanguard.  Monbiot's entry into the discussion has however energized a few ripostes from conservatives,  with the most amusing point being that after Leftists  telling us for decades that IQ scores are meaningless they suddenly have done an 180 degree turn and treat them as highly meaningful!

I thought I might add something to what I regard as the two best conservative responses to the original article.  The first is in The Telegraph and makes a number of good points, all of which are worth reading.  

I want to say more about just one of them:  The point that IQ was measured during childhood (10 or 11 years of age) and that such measures are unreliable.  That is however a matter of degree and of purpose.  They are accurate enough to be a useful guide to who will benefit from a selective (more demanding) education, for instance.

An interesting aspect of scores at that age, however, is what I call the chimpanzee effect.  In brief, this effect is that dummies mature faster so a relatively high score in childhood can lead to a relatively low score in adulthood.  So it is quite possible that the high scorers in the data used by the Canadian authors became relatively low scorers later on. So if the high scorers in that body of data were later found to be liberals, it is quite possible that the same people were dummies in later life!  So the data could be said to show the opposite of what the authors claim.  The data could be said to suggest that it was the liberals who were the dummies.

That is all just speculation, however,  The truth is that the data are incapable of telling us which way around it went at all.

That little point is really just a bit of fun, however.  The second  article by statistician Briggs is by far the most pointed.  Briggs had a strong enough stomach to read the whole article. And when he did, he basically found that the authors had misrepresented their results.  The correlations with IQ were in fact negligible.   They were statistically significant but statistical significance is only a correction for small sample size and the sample sizes in the data used by the Canadians were large. 

So statistical significance is irrelevant.  It is other forms of significance we have to look at.  Let me put it this way:  What the Canadians found was (roughly) that out of 100 high IQ people, 51 would be liberals and 49 would be conservatives.  Such a near-even split means of course that IQ is essentially irrelevant to ideology, or is not a socially or scientifically significant predictor of ideology.

Now we come to "racism".  The correlations between conservatism and racism were more substantial.  Briggs rightly detects the flaw in that.  The correlation is between WHAT THE AUTHORS SAY is conservatism and racism and there is no external validation of either measure.  So all I want to do is draw attention to something I set out long ago:  That even eminent Leftist psychologists have NO IDEA what conservatism is.  A much noted paper in the field even identified  Stalin, Khrushchev and Castro as conservatives!   Can you get any madder than that?  So it is no wonder that when they use their questionnaires to predict how people will vote, they find that "conservatives" AS IDENTIFIED BY THEM are just as likely to vote Democrat as Republican (for instance).   How clueless can you get?  What is going on of course is that Leftist psychologists swallow hook line and sinker of Leftist propaganda about conservatives.  They believe that conservatives really are as Leftist propaganda describes them.  It would appear that they never bother to talk to any actual conservatives to find out what they really think. 

By contrast, I am a conservative so  a questionnaire that I devised based on a thorough knowledge of what conservatism actually is, did what the Leftist questionnaires could not:  Provided a substantial prediction of vote.  See here.  So once again the arrogance and ignorance of the Left has led them to a false understanding of reality and scientific work that is futile and useless.  The work by the two Canadian authors certainly tells us NOTHING about the correlations with  conservatism.  I have written more extensively elsewhere about the relationship between conservatism and IQ.

For  reference, the Canadian study is:  "Bright Minds and Dark Attitudes: Lower Cognitive Ability Predicts Greater Prejudice Through Right-Wing Ideology and Low Intergroup Contact"  by Gordon Hodson and   Michael A. Busseri

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Deep dishonor in America's Leftist academe

The Humanities faculty at Durham's Duke University have demonstrated bigoted anti-white attitudes that are perfectly mainstream among such faculty at American universities. An amazing total of 88 of them signed the now notorious condemnation of the innocent Duke lacrosse players before the players had even appeared in court, let alone been convicted. Their hatred of American society immediately blasted away the centuries of wisdom which said "innocent until proven guilty". And the wisdom of that maxim was shown when the players were found NOT guilty.

So what is still going on at Duke can reasonably be extrapolated to at least the Humanities departments of America's universities and colleges. And that is not pretty.

One of the Lacrosse players who was NOT accused by the pathetic Crystal Gail Mangum was nonetheless caught up in the blast and suspended by the university at roughly the same time as the other players. He is now suing. As you can read here, Ryan McFadyen is arguably the person who behaved with greatest honor in the whole affair. He certainly behaved with greater honor than prosecutor Nifong or Durham police -- who tried to suborn him into giving false evidence. There is another glimpse of his character here.

And when McFadyen refused to be intimidated into giving false evidence, Nifong and the police must have realized that he had put them into a dangerous position. Fabricating evidence is a crime with severe penalties. So they immediately went all-out to blacken his name. And that blackening still shows up today in that he has become something of a hate figure to many.

So he is now suing over that defamation and the illegal and improper behaviour of all concerned in the matter.

The trial has however produced some document disclosures that reveal the full depth of the moral depravity of senior Duke U officials. The documents contain bombshell emails from Duke President Brodhead and others suggesting that Duke's primary concern was to protect its PR, even if that meant sacrificing innocent students.

In documents submitted February 3 by Plaintiffs' lawyers, President Brodhead is quoted in an email sent very early in the case to other Duke staff:

“Friends: a difficult question is, how can we support our lacrosse players at a devastatingly hard time without seeming to lend aid and comfort to their version of the story? We can’t do anything to side with them, or even, if they are exonerated, to imply that they behaved with honor. The central admin can't, nor can Athletics.”

And Joe Alleva, then of the Duke Athletic Dept., also testified during his deposition on January 20, 2012, that he made positive and truthful statements about Plaintiffs and their teammates’ character at the University’s press conference on March 28, 2006.

Mr. Alleva testified that he was “crucified” immediately afterwards for making those statements by President Brodhead himself and in front of the Crisis Management Team, all of whom knew how “off-message” Mr. Alleva’s truthful, positive statements about plaintiffs were.

Alleva was the one who later told Duke lacrosse coach Pressler that "it's not about the truth" any longer; that the case was about the interest groups and the integrity (reputation) of the university. (Hence the title of coach Pressler's book, "It's not about the truth").

Or as Robert K. Steel (then chairman of Duke's Board of Trustees) said in explaining why Duke would not be defending its falsely-accused students: "Sometimes people have to suffer for the good of the organization". More details here

You would think that all the exposure of their moral depravity might have created some caution among Duke faculty about race-related matters. It does not appear to have done so. Just a few days ago I ran a large excerpt from an article which summarized the Arcidiacono affair. I will simply refer readers to there for a treatment of that little explosion of rage and hate. See HERE for the full article. Having their warped view of America threatened is intolerable to Duke's Leftist Mafia.

No Leftist will admit it of course but I cannot see why Duke should be regarded as atypical. I don't think there is anything especially poisonous in the air at North Carolina. I think we have seen coming to the surface at Duke what is smouldering away beneath the surface at most of America's universities and colleges. They are true heirs of Stalin and the ghastly Soviet Union. They are a nest of vipers.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Whine! whine! whine! Would YOU be devastated if you found that most physicists are men?

In a profoundly unscientific article, two female physicists are apparently deeply disturbed by the reality concerned. Under the heading "Women in physics: A tale of limits" Rachel Ivie and Casey Langer Tesfaye have written a long screed that can be summarized with both brevity and accuracy by a very fashionable whine: "We bin discriminated against".

A physics education does however seem to have given them some faint attachment to the scientific method, so they go to considerable lengths to substantiate their claims. But do they turn to physics to substantiate their claims? Not at all. Far from offering any comparison of male and female work in physics, they turn to sociology! Like sociologists they have faith that questionnaire surveys will tell them something about reality. I did such surveys for many years and eventually concluded that they don't.

Their anti-scientific orientation is most clearly revealed by "the dog that didn't bark", however. They ignore over a hundred years of research that repeatedly reveals women to have better verbal ability and men to have better mathematical ability. And since physics these days is little more than applied mathematics, that datum could hardly be more relevant. It suggests that not many women have what it takes to be good physicists.

They could of course disagree with what is one of the most replicated findings in science but instead of disagreeing with it, they simply ignore it -- thus violating one of the most fundamental canons of science: That you must have regard for what others before you have written on your subject.

So their own writing suggests one very good reason why there are not many women physicists: They are just not very good scientists. Their own work suggests that hormones take the place of rationality.

And in the end why does it matter that most physicists are men? I can't see that humanity is badly served by that reality but the case that it does matter is presumably arguable. But they make no attempt to argue it. They just resort to that terminally destructive and totally unrealistic Leftist obsession with "equality". They are very poor intellects indeed. Procrustes would be proud of them.

For reference, I reproduce below the concluding section of their article:
The global survey follows a body of work that has examined the importance to career success of access to resources and opportunities. The survey found that women are less likely than men to report access to various resources and opportunities that would be helpful in advancing a scientific career. It also confirmed, consistent with cultural norms, that men are more likely than women to have a spouse who will shoulder the burden of housework. We noted the cultural expectation that women are responsible for child care and documented survey results showing that parenting affects the careers of women more than it does the careers of men.

Admittedly, our results are derived from the testimony of survey respondents, and it is conceivable that the sex differences we have found exist not because women are treated differently but because they differ from men in their expectations about work. However, the results reported here will come as no surprise to the researchers who have already found that resources, opportunities, and family responsibilities affect women’s careers.4,6 We believe the results reflect an underlying reality of disadvantage—not differing work expectations—and that all the sex-based differences documented here adversely affect the careers of women physicists.

The low representation of women in physics is a problem the community needs to address, but the community also needs to address inequities in access to resources and opportunities. Cultural expectations about home and family also inhibit the progress of women physicists; those, of course, are much more difficult to change. Nonetheless, we look forward to a future in which science truly means science for all.