Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Defenders of the Atheistic Faith

It always gives me a chuckle to see atheists arguing that only religion can make people irrational and confrontational (of course, while denying atheism is a religion).

Michael Flynn (who is a Catholic, and an evolutionist) takes a certain pleasure out of ribbing these guys.

He also has excellent depth in philosophy and reasoning.  I can't do justice in summarizing it.  You really must read it.

The really remarkable part is down a ways:
"There is no distance at all between grasshoppers and locusts. The latter are just grasshoppers that have 'gone Hulk.'  If we didn't know up front that they were the self-same critters, we'd be tempted to classify them as separate species.  The same genome is used by both. The difference is that what the genome does depends on environmental cues within which it does it."

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Christianity in the Public Square

If you doubt there are some who will try to eliminate Christianity from being expressed in public, check out this article by Al Mohler.

First, the most chilling statement:
"If a commercial photography business believes that the [New Mexico Human Rights Act] stifles its creativity, it can remain in business, but it can cease to offer its services to the public at large."
So, the ruling here is that if you feel that the government is forcing you to act against your conscience, you only choice is to stop doing business.

This is not an unusual opinion of one, radical judge.  This is a unanimous opinion from a group of judges.

Indeed one of the judges wrote:
"are now compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives. Though the rule of law requires it, the result is sobering. "

Thursday, July 3, 2014

CNN and Christianity

My CNN feed is often populated by "Fast Facts".  These range all over the place, and are usually of little interest to me.

When I saw "Fast Facts on Christianity", I knew I'd need to check it out :)
"His death made salvation and forgiveness of sins possible for all."
That's a very Arminian (or semi-Pelagian) view, but I can accept that is probably the majority view among Christians...
"Salvation can only be obtained by believing that Jesus was sent by God to forgive the sins of every human, and to confess those sins to him."
That's actually not a bad summary of the Gospel.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Don't Take My Word For It

If you don't know who Bruce Schneier is, I recommend looking him up.  He's very smart, and has dedicated his life to the study of security.

He has written an excellent opinion piece for CNN, describing the state of privacy today, and how we got here.
"The result of all this is we're now living in a world where both corporations and governments have us all under pretty much constant surveillance."
"Now we need to figure out what to do about it. This is more than reining in the NSA or fining a corporation for the occasional data abuse. We need to decide whether our data is a shared societal resource, a part of us that is inherently ours by right, or a private good to be bought and sold."

Thursday, January 23, 2014

NSA Spying and COINTELPRO

For those who aren't aware, from the Wiki article on COINTELPRO:
"COINTELPRO (an acronym for COunter INTELligence PROgram) was a series of covert, and at times illegal, projects conducted by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) aimed at surveying, infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting domestic political organizations. National Security Agency operation Project MINARET targeted the personal communications of leading Americans, including Senators Frank Church and Howard Baker, civil rights leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King, journalists and athletes who criticized the Vietnam War."
This is a real program, which really happened (not hypothetical, not fiction).

In light of this, consider recent revelations:
"Some of the vulnerabilities, if exposed, would likely call into question a radicalizer's devotion to the jihadist cause, leading to the degradation or loss of his authority."
This is not a program to discover real, imminent threats to the safety of Americans.  It is a program to gather information to use against anyone the government considers a threat (whether a threat to American lives, or a threat to government interests).

Again, the argument is not that the program has been misused, or that there are no safeguards to prevent misuse.

This capability should not exist - it is a threat to the freedom of Americans.  Do not look at how it is currently being used, imagine how it could be used by your political enemies.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Icon Smashers

You don't meet many Eastern Orthodox in day-to-day life.  For some reason, they are more aggressive and conspicuous on-line (like a lot of weird, tiny groups).

I had sudden insight that the Great Schism occurs after the rise of Islam.  I wanted to investigate how much EO have been influenced by dhimmitude and Islam in general (seeing as how the EO view Protestantism as a step away from themselves).

I started on Wikipedia, and (as such things usually work out) ended up reading on Iconclasm.


Some might try to view iconoclasm (or the iconomachy - "icon conflict") through a Reformation lens.  However, I don't think it can be seen that way.


The records are somewhat scarce (the iconolaters or iconodules won the struggle, and purged the iconclasts).  The first phase is connected to 726, when the Byzantine emperor (Leo III) is said to have ordered the removal of icons (religious images).

It's unclear how dedicated to this cause Leo was, as later historians seem to have targeted him as the fall guy for later events.  It does seem Leo's son (Constantine V) was more dedicated to the cause.

Constantine went so far as to summon an ecumenical council, although he stacked the deck with iconoclastic bishops.

What's most remarkable is that it was Constantine's son's widow who had iconclasm overturned.  There was another council, this time enshrining icons.  The wording used is most remarkable:
"As the sacred and life-giving cross is everywhere set up as a symbol, so also should the images of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, the holy angels, as well as those of the saints and other pious and holy men be embodied in the manufacture of sacred vessels, tapestries, vestments, etc., and exhibited on the walls of churches, in the homes, and in all conspicuous places, by the roadside and everywhere, to be revered by all who might see them. For the more they are contemplated, the more they move to fervent memory of their prototypes. Therefore, it is proper to accord to them a fervent and reverent adoration, not, however, the veritable worship which, according to our faith, belongs to the Divine Being alone — for the honor accorded to the image passes over to its prototype, and whoever adores the image adores in it the reality of what is there represented."
We see here an attempt to make a distinction between "reverent adoration" and "worship".

There was a second period of iconoclasm (814-842), which was again overturned under the guidance of the king's widow.


Perhaps most interesting, this all does not seem to have arisen from any particular theological crisis or revival.

The Muslims had started to invade the Byzantine empire, and they had an extreme aversion to religious imagery.  It appears some in Byzantium attached their military troubles to God's displeasure.  It was thought that eliminating these idols would restore God's pleasure (and allow them to defeat the Muslims).

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Is it Legal to Build Skynet?

Imagine (if you will) we had the technical capacity to build Skynet.  Assuming they understood what it would lead to (that there was no doubt), would people build it?  I used to assume "no".

Now, a panopticon is not exactly the same as Skynet.  Where one leads to a post-apocalyptic world ruled by man-killing machines, the other might lead to a dystopia like that depicted in 1984.

We must avoid conspiracy theories, but (you would think) those in authority also have a responsibility to not make the conspiracy theories true.

Let's examine some coverage from Ars:
"These are some incredibly complicated systems that NSA was not able to fully and accurately articulate to the court, in large part because no one at NSA had a full understanding of how the program was operating at the time," said Robert Litt, general counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
I would argue that is immoral to build a system which has the capability to violate people's rights on such a large scale (particularly if the system has the potential to take on a life of its own - Cube anyone?)

Much of the argument has been "it hasn't been abused" (so far) - but that is not my complaint.  A system like this should not be built (in much the same way Skynet should not be built - even if one has no intent to turn it on).
“The fact is, while the NSA is not perfect and screws up from time to time, there is absolutely no indication that there has ever been any abuse of this, or frankly, any other program—spying for improper purposes or intentionally exceeding the bounds of proper authority,” Robert Litt, general counsel for ODNI, told reporters.
Again, the system should not exist.  There cannot be abuse if the system doesn't exist.  There has been no evidence given such a system is necessary, productive, or even good or desirable.  There has been no debate, no discussion.