Eating the Apple

Eve did it. Adam did it. Now it's my turn to take a bite. Why not? Hey! It's delicious.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

What is Idolatry?

What is idolatry? Idolatry is usually defined as the worship of man-made objects as if they were gods. This definition is proclaimed in the Scriptures:
Leviticus 26:1 Ye shall make you no idols nor graven image, neither rear you up a standing image, neither shall ye set up any image of stone in your land, to bow down unto it: for I am the LORD your God. (KJV)
Isaiah 2:8 Their land also is full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made: 2:9 And the mean man boweth down, and the great man humbleth himself: therefore forgive them not. (KJV)

Again and again the priest and prophets of the Primary Scriptures condemn the religious practices of foreign peoples. Even the greatest of kings is astigated for idolatry:
2 Kings 23:13 And the high places that were before Jerusalem, which were on the right hand of the mount of corruption, which Solomon the king of Israel had builded for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Zidonians, and for Chemosh the abomination of the Moabites, and for Milcom the abomination of the children of Ammon, did the king defile. (KJV)

It seems to be generally assumed that all pagans are idol worshippers. It is said by commentators that Terah, the father of Abram (Abraham) was an idol worshipper. However, an important factor in a rabbinical story is that Terah recognizes that idols are not gods.

In any case, I am not willing to accept the idea that all ancient polytheists are idol worwshippers. The evidence is not convincing. The Scriptures exhibit a brutal hatred of non-Yahwist worship. The scribes and copyists were not above spinning the facts and rewriting passages in order to suit their theological purposes. The diatribes against non-Yahwist worship appear to be an expression of hatred, not historical facts.

I cannot imagine that a pagan with half a brain would mistake an image for a god. How could anyone believe that an object made by human hands could be a god that existed before mankind was created? In many cultures stars and planets were considered to be gods. How could an image be considered to be a star or planet? That doesn't make sense.

Instead, I think that pagans considered images of gods to be spiritual portals through which they communicated with their gods.

Of course, many people will continue to maintain that those ancient peoples who knelt and prayed before a statue of Aphrodite were worshipping an idol. And if I didn't know better, I would think that those who kneel and pray before a statue of the Virgin Mary were also idol worshippers.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Imagined War

I'm really puzzled over this alleged "war against Christmas". I never heard of such a thing until recently, when John Gibson's book "The war on Christmas" hit the news. What puzzles me is why should anyone this blathering seriously.

In the interests of full disclosure, I state that I have not read the book. Nor do I intend to. I didn't get past the subtitle, "How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought". It just sounds nuts!

In the first place, there is no one person or one organization who speaks for all liberals. There are many types of liberals and they have many opinions. It would virtually impossible organize liberals into a cohesive group with a focussed mission. For proof, look no further than the failures of the Democratic Party over the past decade.

In the second place, many liberals enjoy Christmas. One of the liberal groups in a religious sense are the Unitarian-Universalists. What do Unitarian-Universalists do on Christmas eve? They attend Christmas eve services. They sing the old Christmas carols and listen to the Christmas story. And what do Unitarian-Unifversalists do on Christmas day? They vist with their friends and family, open their presents, and enjoy a Christmas dinner together. No, liberals are not about to abolish Christmas. Even atheists enjoy Christmas.

In the third place, this so-called war is not about Christmas. It is about the use of public property. A public park does not belong just to evangelical Christians. It belongs to everybody. We all pay for parks and public buildings -- Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Zorastrians, mystics, pagans, humanists, non-believers, and even Unitarian-Universalists. Public property should not be used by one religious group to promote its creed or beliefs -- that is what the First Amendment is all about.

There are cases where a religious group meets in a public schoolroom for Sunday services. To me this is acceptable provided that the group pays a fair fee for the use of the facility and that all religious groups have the same priviledge, including agnostic and atheist groups. This means that if a Christian group is allowed to put a Christmas creche on a town common, then every religious group should be allowed celebrate their faith in a similar way. Either that, or allow no religious celebrations on public property.

In the fourth place, there are many mainstream and conservative Christians who can accept a ban on religious displays on public property. If one respects the religious beliefs of other people, if one respects the laws and constitution of our country, if one respects democratic principles, then one can understand the harm that is done by those, like John Gibson and Bill O'Reilly who are find every excuse to demonize 'liberals' and complain that this imagined 'War on Christmas' will lead to thre enactment of "secular progressive programs like legalization of narcotics, euthanasia, abortion at will, [and] gay marriage."

Friday, December 23, 2005

Charlie Brown

Christmas is nigh. This is the time to gather with family and friends, to feast on ham and yam and squash and beans, to open presents by the Christmas tree, to kiss under the mistletoe and to sing yuletide carols. (The ham, the tree and the mistletoe come from ancient pagan traditions.) And after the football games, we will watch the fourtieth repeat of Charlie Brown's Christmas. We love to watch that beloved blockhead try to figure out the true meaning of Christmas. Now we can purchase a DVD of that voice in the wilderness decrying the commercialization of Christmas, gift wrapped for a dollar extra.

Much of the Christmas story comes from the Gospel of Luke. The angel Gabriel appears to Zechariah and prophesizes the birth of John the Baptist. A few months later, Gabriel appears to Mary. Now here comes the best part, the Holy Spirit knocks up our virgin heroine.Nine months later, a choir of angels sing to shepherds.

Luke was a Greek who did not know Jesus personally. I imagine Luke reciting the Homeric epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey. Greek tradition is full of stories of gods intervening in human affairs. Zeus is notorious for begetting children of virgin women. Zeus was the father of the Greek people -- he fathered so many of them.

To Jews living in the time of Jesus, the idea of God having sexual intercourse with a mortal woman was not only blasphemous, but dangerous. The intercourse of gods and women was the kind of sinful behaviour that brought on the great flood that nearly destroyed the human race.

But we forget all this when we celebrate the spirit of Christmas. At its best, Christmas is the time for peace and kindness and generosity and love. The only thing wrong with Christmas is that it lasts only one day. The rest of the year we can be mean and nasty and miserly. That is the meaning of Christmas.

May we celebrate the Spirit of Christmas with a good bottle of Christmas spirits.

Scrooge 2005

Some $40 billion of budget cuts were approved by the Senate after Vice President Cheney cut short a trip in order to break a tie vote. These cuts will affect student loans and people on Medicare and Medicaid. Meanwhile efforts were made advance tax cuts that benefit the rich.

Scrooge is alive and well and living in Washington D.C.

Have a Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Radical Militant Librarians

Three cheers for radical, militant librarians!

Big Brother at the University of Massachusetts

To: Senators Edward M. Kennedy and John Kerry

I want to call your attention to a story that appeared today in the Standard Times of New Bedford. Under the headline: "Agents' visit chills UMass Dartmouth senior", the first paragraph reads:

A senior at UMass Dartmouth was visited by federal agents two months ago, after he requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung's tome on Communism called "The Little Red Book".

The story says that according to two professors the student requested the book because he was writing a research paper for a course in fascism and totalitarianism. The student was told by the federal agents that he was being investigated because the book was on a 'watch list' and that the student had spent significant time abroad. Another quote:

Although the Standard Times knows the name of the student, he is not coming forward because he fears repurcussions should his name become public.

If this story is true our government has committed an egregious violation of the student's civil rights. I urge you to investigate this matter. This incident smacks of the evils of McCarthyism.

Perhaps I could be investigated by the government because I bought a copy of "Mein Kampf" by Adolph Hitler. I wanted to know how a great nation, the country of poets and thinkers, could fall under the spell of that psychopath. Neville Chamberlain did not read "Mein Kampf". If he had, he would have known that Hitler would never be appeased. Stalin did not read "Mein Kampf". Or he would have known that 'lebensraum' meant the dismemberment of the Soviet Union. Unless we read "Mein Kampf", we can not truly understand how dangerous ethnic and religious hatred can be. No, the tragedies of Bosnia and Rwanda tell us that we have not learned the cruel lessons of "Mein Kampf."

In closing, I want to say that I agree with Senator Kennedy's remark that 'Big Brother' is running amok. I also support your efforts to bring this lawless president to account for his high crimes and misdemeanors.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Torture and terrorism

Hats off to John McCain on making President Bush agree to a ban on the "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment" of suspected terrorists. Bush caved after McCain obtained overwhelming support in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Previously, Vice President Cheney demanded an exception for the CIA.

The big question is why, why, why was the McCain amendment deemed necessary? After all, the United States has ratified more than one treaty relating to torture.

Consider Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It says, "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." Why is it necessary to have a law which merely repeats what is in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states, "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."

Article 1 of the Convention Against Torture defines torture as "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person ..." The convention also provides that "Each State Party shall undertake to prevent in any territory under its jurisdiction other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment which do not amount to torture as defined in article 1." And, "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture." Not even terrorism!

Why, with all of these treaties is it necessary for John McCain to put forth an amendment that prohibits "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment"? Why, why?

According to our constitution treaties are part of the "supreme law of the land". Thus cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment is already againt the law of the United States. So why?

The simple answer is that the Bush administration has shown nothing but contempt for any law that gets in its way. He has willfully violated not only treaties but our constitution and domestic law. He has failed miserably at one of the basic duties of a president, to see that the laws are faithfully executed. The fuss over torture is just another example of the moral bankruptcy of the current administration.

Proponents of torture argue that torture may be necessary to obtain information about future plans of terrorists. But John McCain knows better. He tells us that torture doesn't work because a tortured person may lie. In addition, the information obtained will not make up for the damage done to our image abroad.

George Bush has shamed us before the world.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Osama's Victory

Today I received the latest issue of Vanity Fair. I hardly care about the latest fashions. But I look forward to its remarkable series of insider reports on politics. Vanity Fair was the one that broke the identity of 'Deep Throat', the FBI official who helped Woodward and Bernstein expose the Watergate scandal.

The latest issue of VF tells the history of Osama bin Laden. It starts with an account of Osama's youth, being one of fifty four children of Muhammed bin Laden, and tells of his early adherence to a strict Islamic lifestyle, his involvement in the Afgan resistance to the Soviet invasion, his hatred of Saddam Hussain, the formation of Al Qaeda, his responsibility for the 9/11 attacks, and his escape from Tora Bora.

Most of the information in this article comes from people who knew bin Laden personally. It is an effective antidote to the posturing and spin that comes out of Wasington.

The basic fact remains that Washington never did develop an effective strategy for dealing with bin Laden. The Clinton administration did fire a missle at a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan and another missle at a camp in Afganistan. The bombing of the Cole did little to wake up America.

If the Clinton administration was feckless, the Bush administration did zilch before 9/11. Of the top people in the Bush White House, only Dick Clark tried to raise the alarm about bin Laden. But he was roundly criticized and ignored. Ohers would say, "Dick Clark's hair is on fire."

Even after 9/11 the Bush strategy was feckless. First, the lack of American troops allowed bin Laden to slip out of Tora Bora into Pakistan. Second, the Iraq war energized al Qaeda. The worst thing about the Iraq war is that we did Osama bin Laden's work for him. We got rid of one of his biggest enemies, namely Saddam Hussaain. Also the war opened up Iraq to infiltration by Al Qaeda.

Every day that Osama bin Laden remains free is a victory for Al Qaeda. Every day that Osama bin Laden is a defeat for the struggle against this terrorism. And the only one that George Bush can blame is himself.

Monday, December 12, 2005

'Democracy' in Iraq

Now the great test of Iraqi democracy has begun. Today some people have voted by absentee ballot. This includes prisoners who have not been convicted. (I wonder who received the vote of Saddam Hussain.)

We will know soon whether this great experiment with democracy will work. Can the new government rule effectively? Will the new government gain the respect of the people? Can it cope with the insurgency? Will it be stable?

Our own history should have taught us many lessons.

Elections do not a democracy make. The Soviet Union had elections. And all of the citizens were required to vote. But no imagines that the Soviet Union was a democratic country. In the age of slavery and Jim Crow, the United States was not a democratic country. The U.S. did not become a democratic country until the 1960's when the Voring Rights Act was passed.

Constitutions do not a democracy make. A country's learders must be willing to abide by the constitution. Time and again, governments of the United States have used unconstitutional means to meet some crisis, real or pretend. This started in he early 1800's with the infamous Alien and Sedition Acts.

Political parties do not an democracy make. More than 100 political parties contested the first election in Iraq. That is too many. It is a recipe for political paralysis. In Germany's Weimar Republic some twenty five political parties contested the elections. No political party could rule effectively until 1933 when the Nazi Party took power.

The trouble in Iraq lies in the fact that the new constitution has not healed the country. Instead, the electoral process has laid bare the bitter divisions in that society. The new constitution, which favors the interests of the Shia over the Sunni, may become a bone of contention. Whatever the outcome of the election, the insurgency is not likely to abate.

The Shia have suffered severly from the insurgency. Policemen, parlimentarians, and government officials have been assassinated. Shite mosques have been attacked. Shia weddings have been attacked. Even funerals have been attacked. Not even the dead can rest in Iraq.

The Shia have shown remarkable forbearance up to now. But someday, those who have lost friends and loved ones will demand a bitter accounting. The insurgents are only inviting retribution for their atrocities. Ans it will be the Sunni who will suffer.

The likely response to entrenched disruption and disorder will be the emergence of a strongman. This strongman may, like Hitler, be elected under the aegis of a democratic process, but then impose dictatorial powers. The new rulers will not have to burn a Reichstag to justify extraordinary powers. Hitler waited three months before establishing the first concentration camp at Dachau. The new Iraqi strongman will not have to wait. We already know of two 'secret' prisons where suspected insurgents are tortured. That is the 'strange fruit' of Bush's ill-considered war.

All this can happen under a facade of democracy. George Bush can hardly complain about the excesses of a new Iraqi strongman. That would be admitting the failure of his adventure in Iraq. How can Bush complain after gutting the Bill or Rights?

An Iraqi strongman may unleash the Shiite militias against the Sunni. Since the Shia constitute sixty percent of the population of Iraq, the decision to crack down on the Sunni might be a democratic decision. Then American troops will be needed for years to come in order to protect the Sunni from the democratically-elected Shiite government. That would be a most ironic outcome.

Perhaps some day Amreicans will ask, "Why did we oust one strongman only to install another?"

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The War Against Christmas

Today I shall take a break from my blog postings. Instead, I have the honor of reprinting a speech of Herr Doktor Professor Meister Reverend Bom Bastis. He is the Professor of Obfuscatory Theology at Wellfall Bible College. Here is his speech:

My friends, it is a sad occasion that I come before you to speak today. Even as I speak, there are pernicious, evil forces bent upon destroying the very fabric of our civilization. Even as I speak, we are embroiled in a war that will determine the future of our Christian society. Should we lose this war, our nation will be engulfed by evil forces. Our children will be corrupted by evil. They will be seduced by sex. They will be addicted to drugs. They will fall under the satanic spell of rock and roll. Sadly, my friends, we have almost lost the battle against these triple evils.

But before we can truly understand our sad plight, we must identify the origin of the war of which I speak. This war againt our Christian society was started by abominable atheists, sadistic satanists, apostate agnostics, salacious secularists, and hubristic humanists. The war was started by Thomas Paine with his book "The Age of Reason". Let me tell you, reason has no place in a Christian society! The war was carried on by the "Humanist Manifesto".

Now the war has entered its most terrifying phase. The war of which I speak is the War Against Christmas! This battle will determine the future of our civilization.

Suppose you go to a store to buy Christmas presents. A store associate may greet you saying, "Happy Holidays" or "Season's Greetings". You might think that the associate is simply trying to appeal to people of any faith, to put Jews, Muslims, and non-believers at ease. You may think that this is the policy of a neighborly and friendly business.

No! That associate is doing the devil's work! "Happy Holidays" is the slogan of those evil and pernicious forces working to undermine our Christian values. That is the very manifestation of the War Against Christmas! You must take a stand against this heretical and un-Christian attack upon our values. You must demand that the associate be fired. You must demand that the management of the store adhere to Christian values. Every banner saying "Happy Holidays" or "Season's Greetings" must be torn down.

You must also demand the abolition of anything that smacks of pagan idolatry. You must eliminate all yule logs -- the burning of yule logs is a pagan practice. You must destroy all mistletoe -- kissing under a mistletoe is an insidious and evil practice of paganistic prostitution. Above all, destroy all so-called Christmas Trees -- those Asherah poles were worshipped by those pernicious Teutonic pagans. And remember, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ never had a Christmas tree. Nor should you, lest you fall into sin!

My friends, I have not informed you of the devilish dangers facing us. I have told you of what you can do to restore the Christian meaning of Christmas. Now let me conclude by saying that if we eliminate "Happy Holidays" and "Season's Greetings", and if we stop prostituting ourselves with yule logs and mistletoe and so-called Christmas trees and all of the pernicious trappings of paganism, then we can begin to win the War Against Christmas.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Keturah, continued

In a previous post I pointed out a discrepancy between Genesis 25;1 and 1 Chronicles 1:32. The former says that Keturah was the second wife of Abraham; the latter says that she was a concubine. I did not try to resolve the issue. I left it for the reader to investigate the passage and draw his or her conclusions. Now it is time for me to state my conclusions.

First, what do we know for sure? Biblical tradition asserts that Moses wrote down the first five books of the Bible as dictated by God. Modern critical scholars take issue with that tradition. They believe, based upon the words of the text, that there were three source texts of Genesis (J, E, and P), and that these source texts were combined by a redactor, probably Ezra. The redaction occurred either during the Babylonian Exile or shortly thereafter. The author of Chronicles was either a contemporary of Ezra or lived shortly thereafter. Indeed, some authorities believe that the Chronicler was Ezra.

No matter what view you take concerning the possible Mosaic authorship of Genesis, one thing is clear -- Genesis has priority over Chronicles. It is clear that the chronicler relied upon the books from Genesis through Kings and some of the major prophets.

Thus, I conclude that 'wife' was changed to 'concubine' in Chronicles. I do not believe that the wording of Genesis was changed from 'concubine' to 'wife'. That would diminish the importance of Isaac.

The most interesting question is: why was this change made?

Some scholars have concluded that Keturah was not a wife, but a concubine. I do not accept such a conclusion. In the first place, such scholars would have to believe that Chronicles is more credible than Genesis. Second, if Keturah was a concubine, she was no ordinary concubine. She had a very high status in Abraham's household. She, and no other concubine after Hagar is named. Not only that, her sons and grandsons are named. This in a document that deprecates the importance of women.The attention paid to Keturah, in both Genesis and Chronicles, leads me to believe that she was truly a wife of Abraham.

Some scholars even suggest that Keturah was Hagar, the mother of Ishmael. I do not find this suggestion credible. In the first place, why would Genesis use a different name for Hagar? Second, Hagar and Ishmael had been expelled from Abraham's household as demanded by Sarah. Not only that, Sarah demanded that Ishmael be disinherited. [Genesis 21:8-10] Ishmael and Abraham were thus estanged. There is no indication that Ishmael ever returned to his father's house before his death. (Ishmael did return to bury his father.) Why then would Hagar leave her son's household and return to the man who cast her out and disinherited her son.

You might wonder, what is so important about this issue. What difference does it make whether Keturah was a wife or a concubine? My answer is that is does make an importance both theologically and politically. It was important the the Chronicler.

The main theological reason was to enhance the importance of Isaac and Jacob and diminish the importance of the other sons of Abraham.

A second theological issue applies to those who claim that the Scriptures are 'inerrant'. How can one defend the inerrancy of the Scriptures in the face of this discrepancy? What kind of verbal handstands are required to bridge this difference?

The political reason comes from the fact that Chronicles was written shortly after the Babylonian Exile. The Persian king Cyrus allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem. But only a small of Jews left Babylon. As a result the new Jewish community in Jerusalem was weak and surrounded by enemies. Sometimes these Jews had to defend themselves against accusations of disloyalty to the Persian king.

Now let us recall the covenant between God and Abraham:
Genesis 15:18 In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates.

Even today, many Jews understand this passage to mean that they have title to the land of Israel. Many of the Jews who were recently removed from Gaza believe that their government is violating the 'will of the Almighty'. In the Scriptures, there are several passages that recall God's promise of land to Abraham. For example,
Deuteronomy 1:8 Behold, I have set the land before you: go in and possess the land which the LORD sware unto your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give unto them and to their seed after them.

However the language of the covenant applies equally to ALL of Abraham's seed. There is nothing in the covenant that distinguishes between the sons of wives and the sons of concubines. Nevertheless, both Jewish and Christian traditions rejects the claims of Ishmaelites because Ishmael was the son of a concubine. Also the claims of Edomites are rejected because Esau despised his birthright for a bowl of soup.

Having said this, it is worth noting that Jewish tradition accepts the claims to the promised land from ALL of the sons of Jacob in spite of the fact that Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher were sons of concubines.

But in the post-exilic time, the Jews in Jerusalem may have had a particular problem. Suppose a band of foreigners should come to Jerusalem and say, "We are a Midianites." (maybe true, maybe not.) "Your holy books say that we, of Abraham's seed, own this land. We demand land!" Now the Jews of Jerusalem would not want to accept that claim. But what reason can they give for rejecting it?

During the time of King Solomon, when this passage of Genesis was probably written, the king could just say, "You have land east of the Gulf of Aqaba. Go there and leave us alone!" The land in question is part of the territory that God "gave" to Abraham.

But after the exile, these Midianites could have approached Persian officials and obtained an edict granting land in or near Jerusalem. The chronicler might have feared this possibility and might have rewritten the story of Abraham to forestall that possibility. If Keturah was a concubine, then the Midianite claim can be rejected on the same basis as the Ishmaelite claim. I suspect that this is the reason why the Chronicler says that Keturah was a concubine.

Like the author of Genesis 25, the Chronicler treats Keturah as a very special woman. He lists all of her sons and grandsons. I don't think that the Chronicler would pay that much attention to Keturah if she was just a concubine. This suggests to me that the Chronicler, in the back of his mind, really understood Keturah to be Abraham's second wife. Therefore, the Chronicler was 'economical with the truth'. Of course, I cannot know for sure what was going on in the mind of the Chronicler. Thus I cannot prove my thesis. I can only offer it as a plausible explanation for the inconsistancy between Genesis and Chronicles.

My final conclusion is that Keturah was the second wife of Abraham, and that the chronicler tried to rewrite history.

Note: Quotations are from the KJV. Theophilis 3 software was used in the research of this essay. (

Friday, December 09, 2005

Dirty Little Secrets

Now the dirty little secrets are coming out. After many days of evasions, a government official has admitted that 'our' government is detaininging secret prisoners in secret locations.

Do you remember when our national leaders showed a "decent respect for the opinions of mankind"? Not President Bush. He has manifested a marked disdain, even contempt, for the opinions of the peoples of the world.

President Bush has shown an utter contempt for the constitution and laws of our country. He has usurped the powers of Congress and the courts. He has arrogated to himself the powers never authorized by law or constitution. He claims the power to designate any person in the world, for any reason, as an 'illegal enemy combatant' who can be abducted, held incommunicado, imprisoned for life in a secret location, and subjected to 'harsh treatments' short of organ failure and death. And this happened without democratic oversight or judicial review.

This is the foundation of tyranny!

He has undermined trial by jury. He has no regard for 'due process' or 'habeas corpus'. These rights are the foundations of our liberties and our greatest protecton against tyrannical government.

Within living memory, our country sponsored tyrannies in foreign lands. Once again, tyranny is upon our soil!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Comment on Intelligent Design

Here is a comment that I received on my essay on 'intelligent design':

Your essay is quite interesting, but I believe it overextends the idea of ID, which is not to prove that a greater power exists, how it exists, and how it subsists. ID sets to prove the existence of a greater power by demonstrating in nature that certain relations are impossible without a guiding force behind it.

It's not relevant to the argument of ID to show how a creator exists in the infinity of the cosmos, but rather show its footprint on our world and thusly demonstrate its existence.

Because, you know, proof is such a messy thing to get. What with all that work and stuff...

This is a thoughtful reply and deserves the courtesy of a considered reply. First let us consider the question of a footprint.

Do you recall the first photograph of a face on Mars? The image is striking and, to many, convincing. But we just do not know whether it is the 'footprint' of an ancient Martian civilization or a "trick of light and shadow". Nor do we know whether the footprints of 'bigfoot' are the prints of an large unknown primate or the result of a hoax.

How can we know the truth? A scientist who discovers a possible footprint will want to know as much as possible about it. He asks, what kind of foot made that print? What kind of creature owned that foot? If the scientist cannot identify the creature that created the footprint, then the discovery is suspect. Thus the so-called bigfoot footprint will not be accepted as conclusive proof. Bigfoot will not be accepted by scientists unless and until a specimen is found, alive or dead.

Likewise, the theory of intelligent design will not be accepted as scientific unless the 'intelligent designer' is discovered.

A second issue in the comment is the question of proving that "certain relations are impossible without a guiding force behind it". How can we prove that something is impossible? Consider the conjecture that a bacterial flagellum cannot be produced by natural causes.

(The term 'conjecture' refers to a statement that the proponent believes true, but cannot prove. There are several famous conjectures in mathematics. The Goldbach Conjecture states that every even number greater than two is the sum of two primes. Even after 263 years, this conjecture has neither been proved nor disproved.)

Can this impossibility be proved? What kind of proof is needed? Let me offer a plan of a proof for proving that a flagellum cannot be produced by natural means:

1. Sequence the DNA of many bacteria that lack a flagellum.
2. Record the DNA genomes of these bacteria in a computer databsae.
3. Write a computer program which simulates bacterial change on the recorded genomes.

Specifically, this program:

4. Selects one of the bacteria and apply a natural genetic change upon the recorded DNA.
One process of genetic change is mutation. Also bacteria engage in direct transfer of DNA.

5. If the genetic change kills the new bacterium, eliminate it from further consideration. Also eliminate duplicates, if any.

6. Examine the genome for the signature of a flagellum. In that case, we have proof that the flagellum can be produced by natural means. That would be contrary to the expectation of the advocates of intelligent design. Print out the chain of changes that resulted in the flagellum and stop.

7. Add the new genome to the computer data base.

8. Apply another genetic change to the original bacterium and repeat the steps above starting with step 5. Continue until all of the possible genetic changes have been evaluated.

9. Repeat the process above for every one of the original set of genomes. This completes one cycle of evolution of bacterium.

10. Perform more cycles of evolution on the recorded genomes. Suppose the program performs a cycle without adding any new genomes. If no flagellum has been produced (in step 6 above), it may be concluded that a flagellum cannot be produced by natural means. Stop.

This is a simple sketch of a very complex computer program. Anyone who has even a modest amount of training in computer science should be able to spot immense problems with this plan. Among these problems are:

1. The process of mutation is not well understood. We do not know all the possible ways that a genome may mutatte. Therfore we cannot now write a computer program that models that behavior.

2. The same comment applies to direct gene transfer between bacteria.

3. What criteria should be used to determine whether a genome is viable? Until this is understood, one cannot write a computer program to model this part of the process.

4. Is the starting set of bacteria adequate?

5. This program will require a huge memory. Suppose the program begins with a starting set of one thousand different types of bacteria. After one cycle, there might be one million genomes in the data base. After two cycles, one billion. After three cycles, one trillion. The database will grow exponentially and might very well exceed the capacity of all of the hard disks on planet earth.

6 How long must the program run before a conclusion of impossibility can be reached? If a chain leading to a flagellum is found, then the program terminates in step 6. But if that doesn't happen, how long must the program run? One would probably want a result in a reasonable time, say a year. That might be enough for 100 cycles, probably not enough for a conclusion. Every time a cycle is completed, the next cycle will grind much more slowly. Suppose the program has to run for a thousand cycles or a million cycles to reach a result. That might exceed the lifetimes of our great great grandchildren.

7. There is a problem with the stopping criterium in step 10. Certain mutations may increase the size of a genome. Then every cycle will generate additional genomes, and the process will never end. Then we will be forced to put a limit on the size of a genome, and discard genomes that exceed that limit. What is a reasonable limit? It should be larger than the largest known genome. But how much larger?

8. The methods used by this program would have to be published and reviewed by all interested parties. And there would have to be general agreement that the program will work and produce the desired result. Otherwise the results will not be accepted.

9. By the time that this progam is designed, written, and debugged, scientists may have found a chain of genetic changes that produces a flagellum. This might come from the analysis of the genomes of certain key types of bacteria. That would obviate the need for this program.

I trust that the reader will understand the huge difficulties involved in attempting to prove an impossibility. In spite of our sophisticated science and technology, we simply do not have the capability creating a computer program that will prove that a flagellum cannot be produced by natural means. The proof that a flagellum is impossible is, for all practical purposes, impossible.

The purpose of this essay is to demonstrate that the proponents of intelligent design are too easily satisfied by insufficient proofs. While they magnify nit-picking flaws in a scientific theory, they put forward theories that have no scientific credibility.

What it comes down to is a matter of faith. Do you put your faith in a nebulous and unkown 'intelligent designer'? Or do you put your faith in the processes of scientific research --experimentation, theory building, logical deduction, and peer review?

I choose science.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Keturah:Wife or Concubine?

I am intigued by a minor discrepancy in the Scriptures. Was Keturah a concubine? Or was she Abraham's second wife? Genesis says that she was Abraham's second wife. Chronicles says that she was a concubine. How can this discrepancy be resolved?

Let's start with the only two passages in the Scriptures that mention Keturah by name:

Genesis 25:1 Then again Abraham took a wife, and her name was Keturah.
2 And she bare him Zimran, and Jokshan, and Medan, and Midian, and Ishbak, and Shuah.
3 And Jokshan begat Sheba, and Dedan. And the sons of Dedan were Asshurim, and Letushim, and Leummim.
4 And the sons of Midian; Ephah, and Epher, and Hanoch, and Abida, and Eldaah. All these were the children of Keturah.

1 Chronicles 1:32 Now the sons of Keturah, Abraham's concubine: she bare Zimran, and Jokshan, and Medan, and Midian, and Ishbak, and Shuah. And the sons of Jokshan; Sheba, and Dedan.
33 And the sons of Midian; Ephah, and Epher, and Henoch, and Abida, and Eldaah. All these are the sons of Keturah.

These two passages are almost identical. They both agree on the names of Keturah's sons and grandsons. The main point of difference is that Genesis calls Keturah a wife and Chronicles calls her a concubine. Which was she? What say you? What do you make of this discrepancy? The really interesting question is WHY does this discrepancy exist.

I shall give you my answer in a future blog.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Weasel Words

Consider some recent statements from Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.

New report:

Rice said the United States does not permit or tolerate torture under any circumstances.

Translation for those who need it:

According to Attorney General Gonsalves pulling out fingernails is not torture. Electric shocks are not torture. The breaking a suspects bones is not torture. Any method that does not cause pain consistent with organ failure or death is not torture

Quote from Condoleeza Rice, Secretary of State:

Information gathered by U.S. intelligence agencies from a "very small number of extremely dangerous detainees," the secretary said, and has helped prevent terrorist attacks and saved lives "in Europe as well as in the United States and other countries."

Translation for those who need it:

Forget the fact that the United States has thousands of detainees in Guantanamo and Afganistan. Also forget the bombings in Madrid, London, Bali, etc., etc., etc.

Quote from Condoleeza Rice, Secretary of State:

"We cannot discuss information that would compromise the success of intelligence, law enforcement, and military operations.

Translation for those who need it:

The United States has secret prisons in foreign countries.

Quote from Condoleeza Rice, Secretary of State:

The United States does not and has not transported anyone from country to country for the purpose of interrogation by torture.

Translation for those who need it:

The United States does not and has not transported anyone from country to country for the purpose of interrogation by humiliating and degrading treatment.

Quote from Condoleeza Rice, Secretary of State:

"The United States has fully respected the sovereignty of other countries that have cooperated in these matters,"

Translation for those who need it:

"The United States does not respect the sovereignty of countries that have criticized us.

Question: What makes us different from our enemies?

Sunday, December 04, 2005

9/11 Lessons Not Learned

Former members of the 9/11 Commission have just said that the nation is at risk of more terrorist attacks because the government has failed to implement many of the recommendations of the commission. They said, in essence, that Washington politics has compromised national security.

A few months ago I took a ride on a mid-sized prop jet. The security screeners at the airport gave me the royal treatment. They made me take my shoes off and checked me for nail files and clippers. Because I am a heavy individual I was given a seat belt extender when I got on the aircraft. A seat belt extender makes a pretty good weapon, much better than nail clippers.

I agree with the 9/11 Comissioners. We have a long way to go, baby!

Google and All That

I started my career working for a computer manufacturer working for a computer in the days when the leading edge technology was core memory. For those of you too young to remember, women used to spend hours stringing tiny wired through donut-shaped ferrite cores.

My company did not offer communications networks back then. It sold products that allowed two computers the ability to talk to each other over leased or dial-up phone lines. The internet wasn't even a dream in anyone's eyes.

Later I worked for a minicomputer vendor who offered multi-user business systems. A file with 10,000 records was a big file for that machine.

Time and again I have been amazed by many improvements in computer technology. Not only that, I have flabbergasted by the speed that new innovations take root, and by the cost of computing has dropped.

IBM's first PC had a clock rate of 4.77 megaherz at a cost of about $5000 without disk memory. Today I am using a $700 laptop with a clock speed of 1500 megaherz, more than 300 times faster. And improvements in computer CPU incresae the ratio substantially. My little laptop is more powerful than the million dollar supercomputers of yesteryear.

One of the first computers I worked with has a main memory of 4000 bytes. My laptop has half a gigagbyte -- and it's too small.

Way back wnen, IBM had a 50 megabyte disk drive that was about the size of a closet. My laptop has an 80 gigabyte drive that fits in the palm of my hand. And 80 gigabytes is small.

Today I am still truly impressed by Google. It gathers information from millions of web sites, stores it in a monster database, and responds to queries in seconds. Not only that, as I type in a query it displays the number of entries it has before I finish typing. Amazing. I don't know how Google does it. It seems like magic.

In the past, document query systems were limited to specific topics, such as cancer research or archeology. But Google can tell you something about anything.

Years ago I could not have imagined the internet. I could not have imagined software with the power of Google.

I even use Google as a spell checker. To check the spelling of Hannukah I type it into my Google toolbar. Google not only confirms that spelling, but provides alternates, Hanukkah and Chanukah.

With all of my experience, can I predict the shape of the computer industry ten years from now?

No way!

Saturday, December 03, 2005


Recently I heard that the Supreme Court upheld the sentence of a man who was convicted of using a firearm in the commission of a felony. What the man did was to trade a rifle for illegal drugs. He received an extended sentence for 'using' a firearm.

Excuse me! But I thought that the phrase "using a firearm in the commission of a felony" meant things like armed robbery, or threatening someone with a firearm, or using a firearm to commit vandalism. I would have never imagined that it could mean trading a firearm for someting illegal. And I don't believe that the legislators who enacted these laws would have agreed with the Supreme Court.

It seems to me that the Supreme Court is ignoring one of the fundamental tenets of the law, namely respect for the spirit of the law. That can be found often by reading legislative debates and studying the judicial history of the of the law. And the court is ignoring past decisions of the court which said that the spirit of the law is more important than the letter.

What the court did was to use a dictionary meaning of the word 'use' to turn the law on its head.

Let's see where the dictionary gets us. Consider the constitutional requirement that a president be a "natural born citizen". The meaning of this clause is not defined in the Constitution, nor has its meaning been tested in court. Let us consider how a future court might interpret this clause using Webster's dictionary.

To many people the phrase "natural born citizen" means citizen at birth. Then the word 'natural' is redundant. So why did the framers of the Constitution include the word natural? There must have been a reason. Let's consult the dictionary. The word 'natural' is the opposite of 'artifical'. Thus the phrase 'natural born' must be meant to exclude the 'artificially born'. What can this mean? It means that people born by Caesarian section cannot become president.

I love my grandchildren, I cherish them. I just don't want to believe that neither of them can become President of the United States.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Out of the Manger

In many communities there are lawsuits over the display of manger scenes on public property. As an atheist, I think that is going too far.

Although I support the separation of church and state, I don't mind he public display of religious symbols as long as it doesn't rise to the level of proselytization. I view the display of the so-called Ten Commandments and prayer in public schools as crossing the line.

I can accept and even enjoy the creche scenes on a town common. But there is an issue of fairness. We should also allow the display of Hannukah lights on public property, Not only that, but during Ramadan allow an Islamic display. The Taj Mahal is an excellent Islamic symbol that is widely admired by non-Muslims. It could be the basis of an Islamic display during Ramadan. Also at appropriate times we should see displays commemorating the birth of Buddha, the birth of Confucius, the birth of Krishna, and the birth of Horus. We scan also honor the Great Goddesses -- Isis, Astarte, Diana, Hecate, Demeter, Kali and Innana. The most obvious date for this celebration is Mother's Day. This would allow people of all faiths to celebrate their sense of the sacred on public property.

As things stand, the controversy will continue unabated. I can imagine Joseph saying to Mary, "Back then we couldn't get into the inn. Now we can't even get into the manger".

No Recall of Sony Rootkit CDs

Mark Russinovich has just posted a piece on with the headline:

Premature Victory Celebration?

There is just one thing wrong with this. The question mark should be an exclamation mark.

Contrary to reports in news media and on the internet, Sony does not have a recall or return policy that applies to retail stores. Even after Thanksgiving, retailers like Walmart, Kmart, and Best Buy still sell the rootkit CDs to unsuspecting customers. There is no indication that Sony has told retailers and wholesalers to return these CDs. Sales of 'rootkit' CDs will likely continue until current stocks are exhausted, maybe after Christmas.

Sony's website( does not use the word 'recall'. All they offer is a 'mail-in exchange' program whereby they will replace a 'rootkit' CD with a replacement without the XCP software. There is nothing in Sony's language that would stop them from replacing an XCP CD with one that has another type of copy protection software. I predict that they will do exactly that.

I believe that Sony's management has made the cynical calculation that they can still make a hefty profit from XCP discs even after counting the cost of the exchange program. Profits still can be made in spite of the bad publicity, in spite of the warning from the Department of Homeland Security (, and in spite of potential lawsuits. Sony can figure that only a small percentage of Americans will know or care about the copy protection controversy. And only a small number of people will take the trouble to mail back the CD. And if someone's computer is disabled by the XCP software -- Sony can sell him a brand new VAIO.

Sony can probably fend off any lawsuits and string them out until the plantiffs' resources are exhausted. And what about the Attorneys General of New York and Texas? Sony could very easily use their influence with those great paragons of virtue and integrity -- the state legislatures -- and nip off those lawsuits.

It seems that Sony has not learned anything from the XCP scandal. I predict that Sony will expand its use of copy protection software on music CDs. In a year all of Sony's CDs and DVDs will be copy protected. All Sony's management seems to care about is profits. Sony's behaviour will not change until there is a major impact on the bottom line. I, for one, will not buy ANY Sony products.

Meanwhile millions of people will receive Christmas presents that make their computers vulnerable to all kinds of malware and jeopardize their credit cards and bank accounts.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Sales of Sony 'rootkit' CDs Continue

In spite of a warning from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Computer Emergency Readiness Team (, some national retailers continue to sell music CDs containing the Sony 'rootkit' software. According US-CERT, this software "hides certain files from the user" and thus "can pose a security threat, as malware can take advantage of the ability to hide files."

Sony has listed more than 50 CD titles on its website. (

Since Thanksgiving day I visited four national retailers of CDs in my vicinity. All of them had 'rootkit' CDs available for sale. Employees at KMart, Walmart, and Circuit City were unaware of any corporate policy concerning the recall of these CDs. An employee of FYE stated that there was a voluntary recall, meaning that the customer had to initiate the return.

The Sony website ( makes no mention of a 'recall'. What Sony is offering is an 'exchange' whereby the customer can swap affected CDs with CDs of the same title but without the XCP software. There is nothing to prevent Sony fom giving these customers CDs with the Sunncomm copy protection software.

Considering that lawsuits are being filed against Sony BMG, it seems surprising that these retailers would expose themselves to bad publicity and possible lawsuits. Sony seems to have no sense of corporate responsibility. Protection of profits seems more important than protection of its customers.