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Friday, March 28, 2008

Epicycles & Electrons, Part III



Truth and utility are different. Consider a tool I learned to use while in the Navy, the maneuvering board, or moboard, pictured here. The way it works is this: you note the distance to another ship and the bearing and mark it with an X. Then, after a set number of minutes, you do it again. With this information, you can determine how close the other ship will come to you. A skilled user can determine maneuvers to increase that distance or to position your ship in some position relative to it. It is also a good way to recognize vessels on a collision course with you, Constant Bearing Decreasing Range, CBDR in Navy parlance, or stationary objects, which will present as having a reciprocal course and equal speed as own ship.

The first assumption of the moboard is that your ship is stationary. Everything moves around your ship. It is a very useful tool, and I bet many captains still require their officers to be competent with it.

Now consider Ptolemy again. Why can’t the Earth be the center of the solar system? We know that the idea of stationary (and simultaneous, btw) is arbitrary. There really is no such thing as stationary. Let’s make our convention that the Earth is the center, the Sun and the Moon revolve around the Earth, as do the planets, although obviously their orbits are distorted by the gravitational pull of the Sun. [FN1] The only reason not to do this is the math would be more complicated. There is no so-called truth about what is stationary and what is moving.

But that’s wrong, isn’t it? Although stationary is a convention, it is more true to describe the Earth as orbiting the Sun and the boat as approaching the buoy. There is a truth, perhaps a relative truth, outside of utility.

[FN1] You cannot make the Earth non-rotating. If the Sun was to be modeled as moving completely around the Earth every 24 hours, there would be forces involved that would have to go unexplained. Also, it’s speed in relation to the Earth would be a problem.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Conflation of God Models

Mrs. Schroedinger to Mr. Schroedinger: What the hell did you do to the cat?
It looks half dead!


See, cats can't really be half dead and half alive, no matter what we learn about subatomic "particle" behavior and quantum mechanics. This is a playful confusion of the the two models of the physical world. We do see less playful and more harmful confusions in the form of pseudo-science. My friend Matt tells me that as soon as someone refers to quantum mechanics while describing behavior or personality or macroscopic physical experiences you know you are about to hear some garbage.

Liam sent me this wonderful "legal pleading" on behalf of Adam and Eve and all of Humanity, that playfully weaves in an out of Paul's God of "eternal power" and the God of Genesis 1 and the God of the Adam and Eve story. Enjoy.

Bill Clinton Makes Me Sad

Bill Clinton did many good things for the United States and the Democratic Party. Most significant to me, he effectively administered the federal government, including the budget and under his administration the United States was a force for peace in the world, admired by other nations. He gave in too much to social conservatives' agendas on gay marriage, welfare reform and judicial appointments.

With the unchecked rise of social conservatives in recent years, I've come to resent his failures more. But, like many Clinton admirers, this campaign has turned me off completely. And this quote helps explain why:
"If a politician doesn't wanna get beat up, he shouldn't run for office,” the former president said in Parkersburg, West Virginia. “If a football player doesn't want to get tackled or want the risk of an occasional clip he shouldn't put the pads on."
CNN. The problem is not that Obama is being treated badly. Like Bill Clinton, I "don't give a rip" if Obama's feelings are hurt. The problem is that Bill is hurting the chances of electing a Democrat President. His comments do not address the problem, and, take another shot at one of the two people we want to be president by implying he is weak.

If Clinton had said that the November election is a long way away and that Barrak & Hillary would have to face any of these things eventually anyway, then fine, that is a comment I can accept as justification. But this, "stop being a baby" narrative is more garbage and more evidence that the worst caricatures of the Clintons are closer to true than I wanted to believe.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

We are the ones we've been waiting for.

My pastor forwarded this article by Michael Lerner to me. It is titled The Obama Phenomenon:
Obama knows that most people want a very different world, but don't believe it is possible unless someone else makes it happen. He challenges his audience by telling them that there is no one else, that they themselves are the people who must make the world different. To quote Obama from his Super Tuesday speech: "So many of us have been waiting so long for the time when we could finally expect more from our politics, when we could give more of ourselves and feel truly invested in something bigger than a particular candidate or cause. This is it. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek."
If the Dean campaign provided a nucleation site for the formation of progressive grass roots in an environment of superheated desire to do something about conservative rule, just think what the Obama campaign could create.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A good idea

I just signed up as a "delegate" at Jesus in 2008. The idea is pretty neat, frame various issues and ask commenters to suggestion where Jesus would stand on the issue. I think the webpage would be a wonderful tool for an adult Sunday school class or discussion group. However, I was not impressed with the discussion. Individual comments seemed pretty long, such that even with only 20 or so posts, I got bored before I finished them all. That means what I wrote was just another unconnected opinion rather than a part of a conversation.

Of course, I only enjoy reading the blogs of people I know well. I really love to see it when people have posted a comment here. But on CNN, or God's Politics, or Atrios, I don't know why I ever look at them.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Epicycles & Electrons Part II

I think it is uncontroversial that the way God is characterized in the Bible is different in different places. The model of God, if you will, is different. Is it evolving?

I've written about the differences in the creation stories, but consider these two passages:
And God said, "Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind." And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
Genesis 1

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, "Where are you?"

He answered, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid."

And he said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?"
Genesis 2-5

I don't know if the creation myths are contemporaneous or not, but the God who calls things into being is clearly different then a God from whom you can hide from in a tree. God from the story of Jonah seems more like the God of the first creation myth. All powerful, all knowing. Although, capable of changing his mind.

Bargaining with God happens frequently in the Bible. Read how the author of Genesis characterizes Abraham's relationship with God Almighty in the days before the destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah:
The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the LORD. Then Abraham approached him and said: "Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?"
Genesis 18. Abraham does a good job and gets God all the way down to 10 righteous men. Compare to Mohammad getting the daily prayer requirement down to 5. Similarly, we learn of God bargaining with Satan in the story of Job. I think these stories are much more like the image of God in the second creation myth.

God also starts out as the best god among the gods:
"On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn—both men and animals—and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.
Exodus 12 And, here
Jethro was delighted to hear about all the good things the LORD had done for Israel in rescuing them from the hand of the Egyptians. He said, "Praise be to the LORD, who rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians and of Pharaoh, and who rescued the people from the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the LORD is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly." Then Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and other sacrifices to God, and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat bread with Moses' father-in-law in the presence of God.
Exodus 18.
When Paul writes about God, you start to see the that-than-which-nothing-greater-can-be-conceived idea of God from the middle ages.
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
Romans 20.

So, any argument that the God model is different in different parts of the Bible? Do you see an evolution or a confluence of different traditions? Could this mean that God changes? The idea of a changing God is championed by process theologians. There is a link on the right. (WARNING:Site contains academia not suitable for persons without a doctorate, and not some silly trade school doctorate like a Juris Doctorate or Medical Doctorate. A real PhD doctorate.)

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Do not be afraid.

This was the Easter message that came through to me this morning. Angels telling us to not be afraid.
An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." from the first chapter of Matthew.

The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: 'He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.' Now I have told you." from the twenty-eighth chapter of Matthew.
Then when the women were racing to spread the news they ran into Jesus himself, who said to them, "Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."

One of the reasons we should not be afraid is that, after commanding us to go out and make disciples, Jesus assures us, "[S]urely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." He will be with us, he will really be with us. As the hymn goes, "You ask me how I know he lives. He lives within my heart." And for me, the step that requires me to remember the admonition to not be afraid, is to recognize that while I have never walked with the man born to Mary 2000 years ago, Jesus the Christ lives, really. Regardless of the state of his body he lives on in me. And that is more than a platitude. It is more than saying I remember him, or know about him. It is something fearful, particularly for those who loved the man while he walked on the earth, to think of him going forward in a new form. But, in accepting it our hearts our opened.

Today, my heart is full of joy because today I am not afraid.