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.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Sacred Search

"The Sacred Search" (Gary Thomas) - This book was recommend by Focus on the Family, and I find them to be a little moralistic and light on the Gospel oftentimes.  This book is representative of that, but it does have some good principles and reminders of what is important (the kingdom of God), and what is not important (our emotions).

Monday, November 4, 2013

Big Brother is Watching

I'm not excited to go over this now, but I've got over one hundred articles backlogged all relating to this topic.  I won't be able to go into a lot of detail, but I want to catalog what is happening, and what I think about it.

The first thing to realize is that our government is monitoring us on a level which only crazy (tinfoil hat) people have speculated.

There have been accusations and scanty evidence presented for years.  There were some who believed this was in view when the Patriot Act passed, but I remember the government assuring us this sort of thing would not happen.

There is a good overview of the history of the program at the ACLU.  There are many technical details of the program at Ars.

Highlights from the ACLU:
  • The challenge to the program was started when the program was discovered in 2005 (under President Bush).
  • Aug 2006, a district court ruled the program unconstitutional
  • July 2007, the 6th Circuit Court overturned that decision
  • Feb 2008, the Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal
The key to overturning the decision was:
"the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the case, ruling the plaintiffs in the case - which includes scholars, journalists, and national nonprofit organizations - had no standing to sue because they could not state with certainty that they have been wiretapped by the NSA."
The implicit claim here is that the surveillance was limited.  It was not applied to everyone, everywhere.  When asked for details as to who could be monitored (under what conditions, to what extent, or for how long) - we were told this information was classified (in effect, "trust us").

It was only when one man chose to reveal the classified details that we were able to discover that the government could not be trusted.

Their secret implementation of a secret interpretation of a secret law was in violation of a plain reading of the Constitution.

Monday, July 15, 2013


"Slave" (John Macarthur) - Who is a Christian?  Is it just whoever says they are?  Is there anything one must believe or do?

One failing of most English translations (including the King James) is the word doulos.  This goes back at least to Tyndale, and does not appear to be any sort of systematic attack.  It seems the word "slave" (which is the closest English word) did not hold much meaning to people at that time.

Yet, today, we have people who claim that Jesus can be Savior, without being Lord (the Lordship salvation controversy).

Is it any surprise we have people making their own way?  Past evangelists have emphasized a "personal relationship" with Christ, and that is certainly necessary.  But it is the relationship of a master and slave!

John Macarthur (as always) brings deep exegesis to the subject, and brings to bear all of Scripture on this vital topic.  Even if you are convinced of the need to have Jesus as Lord, you will be encouraged, exhorted, and educated on every aspect of this personal relationship.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Erasing Hell

"Erasing Hell" (Francis Chan) - Francis Chan is no Frank Turk.

When you're wrong, Frank Turk will slap you and say "What are you doing?"  It's probably for the best that there is only one Frank :)

Chan has a much more irenic approach.  He is pleading, and cajoling.  I am probably not in the audience he is targeting, but I know there are a lot of people who are there.

This book is short, but very well researched and argued.  If you are at all in doubt on the doctrine of Hell, and not able to take a helpful slap, this might be the book you need.

For those who are familiar with the doctrine of Hell, most of the arguments Chan presents will be familiar as well.  I did learn that the notion that Gehenna is a burning trash dump is actually a medieval invention.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Defense of the Trinity

Deut 6:4 "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord"

Christianity is monotheistic - there is one God.  But it is also trinitarian - three persons in the Godhead (three in one, "triple unity", trinity).

Obviously, understanding the fundamental nature of God is a hard problem.  He is infinite and holy, while we are finite and not.  But God has stooped down to our level to reveal Himself, and we must try to reconcile what has been revealed.

Attacks on the Trinity usually come in one of two forms:
  1. Jesus is not God (Arianism)
  2. God is not three "persons", but rather, three "modes", "roles" or "forms" (Sabellianism, or modalism)
Let us address the first point first.
  1. The Old Testament (Is 9:6) says the child born unto us will be called the "mighty God" and "everlasting Father".
  2. Sin is an offence, and only the one offended can forgive.  When Jesus forgives sins, He is claiming to be God (the people at that time understood this, and sometimes took up stones against Him)
  3. In Hebrew the term "son", in the metaphorical sense, means to have the nature and attributes ("son of destruction" is a destructive person).  We think of "son" as derivative (less than), but that is not the original meaning.  "Son of God" is claiming to be God (again, the people at that time understood this, and took up stones).
  4. God is love, and love is a relationship (there must be some object for the love).  Under orthodoxy, the three Persons love each other.  Apart from that, it is hard to say what God's love is.
As to the second:
  1. We see all three Persons present at Jesus' baptism.  (Also, there are two other occasions where the Father speaks from Heaven to Jesus on Earth).
  2. God is love - number four above.
  3. Jesus repeatedly prays to the Father.  Is Jesus addressing Himself?
  4. We see the Trinity at work in many places.  The Resurrection is attributed to all three Persons.  Salvation is the work of all three.

Finally, it is good to note that no one would fabricate such a hard doctrine.  The easy way would be to support modalism or Arianism (Arianists excercised a great deal of power for a time).  But we cannot deny what the Bible teaches, God is Three in One.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


As we've seen from the "Know Your Heretics" series, Christology can be a hard subject, with lots of possible error modes.

The orthodox position is well captured by the Chalcedonian creed:
    "We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach people to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood;
    truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body;
    consubstantial [co-essential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood;
    in all things like unto us, without sin;
    begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood;
    one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably;
    the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten God, the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ;
    as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us." (emphasis added)
The highlighted portions allow us to categorize the Christological heresies:
  1. Denial that Christ is God
    1. Arianism (and Ebionism)
    2. Adoptionism (that a human Jesus became divine at some point)
  2. Denial that Christ is one person with two natures (and two wills)
    1. Nestorianism (two persons for the two natures)
    2. Apollinarism (a human person with a divine spirit or mind)
    3. Docetism (spirit only)
    4. Monothelistism (one will for the two natures)
  3. Unmixed ("inconfusedly")
    1. Monarchianism (the idea the divine overrides the physical)
    2. Monophysitism (mixing of the two natures), which leads to Patripassionism - the idea that the Father suffered on the cross)
Monophysitism is mentioned briefly in my post on Nestorianism.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Tallest Watchtower

This was a very short book (it showed as six pages in my e-reader).  It consists of a very short story, and a short story.

I should start by saying that short fiction is a very difficult medium to work in, and it can be very hit or miss. Some people will resonate with a story, while others will not get it at all. There is little time for characterization, but you can present a powerful image or argument (without having to deal with wrap up or continuing consequences).

With that disclaimer, I must say I was not very impressed with either story in this book.

The first story was very moving, but very predictable. Adoption is a powerful picture in Christianity, but the author failed to bring everything together and present a clear message. Similarly, as Christians, we do not mourn death in the same way as unbelievers, but there are still some emotional consequences (which were not respected here).

The second story was also very predictable, and the message is a little odd (from a Christian point of view). It felt a lot like "Ghost Dad" or something like that.

On top of these things, the editing left a lot to be desired.  I noticed several grammatical errors, and the language was stilted in places.

Sunday, January 27, 2013


"Sherman: The Ruthless Victor" (Agostino Von Hassell and Ed Breslin) - This was a short book at 115 pages.  Before becoming a Christian, I was never much interested in biographies.  Now, I am finding them really intriguing.  I do enjoy those that use more first hand accounts, but that does tend to drive up the book size.  This book uses more second and third hand accounts, and works as a good overview of the life of Sherman.

I also like to evaluate the theological angle of these accounts, but it seems pretty clear that Sherman was an atheist (he certainly lived his life that way).  He was also a pretty unlikeable guy, and it makes for an unpleasant experience just reading a description of him.  That is no slight on the authors, it's who he was.

Sherman is famous for saying "War is Hell".  What few people realize, is that he was one of the people instrumental in bringing about the Hell of total war.  I will leave further discussion of that for another post.

What I found most interesting was that Sherman nearly became a banker.  After that failed, he was a teacher at an army academy, which ended in the run up to the Civil War (the school was nationalized by the South, and Sherman returned to the North in preparation for returning to the Army).

His performance in the war was actually pretty unimpressive.  He did a lot of damage, but didn't face a whole lot of actual combat.

I think the clearest revelation of Sherman's character comes from how he treats others.

The press was initially critical of him, and he of them.  Later in life, he became famous and he warmed to the coverage then.  He also sought to manipulate the media.

General Grant clearly thought well of him, and went out of his way to protect Sherman's position and reputation (not in a combat sense).

How does Sherman repay him?  By belittling the man in his private notes (p 94).

Overall, a good book about a wicked man.

This does make me want to read about Grant...