October 31, 2005

Eternity is not the Present

Josh Kerr argues in a recent post that "...eternity is here and now. If I miss that--if I miss the present--then I've missed everything."

In a dissenting comment, Adria remarks that:

I think the idea of acting for now is important. I think forces every action to be important, instead of distant consequences.

Simultaneously, though, I've always believed that I'm running with endurance the race marked out for me, and that I'm running in such a way as to get the prize.

I have to agree with Adria. It seems to me that Josh is confusing the possibility of the joy and blessings in the Christian Walk on earth in the present with future rewards and joys in the next world. Both are available to the believer, but they are not the same thing.

Regarding future rewards and joy, as Adria already pointed out, Paul does not simply present us with a view to the present. He provides analogies and examples of enduring present suffering with future blessing in mind.

First, there is the example of the race:

1Co 9:24-27 Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.

Paul speaks not of running the race for the races sake or because the race itself is enjoyable. Rather he speaks of running the race explicitily for future gain. To reinforce the analogy, he clearly compares it to a races familiar to the people of the time in which the winner received a "corruptible crown" of leaves that shortly withered and died. Those who ran did not win the crown by virtue simply of running. Indeed, only 1 of many received the crown. Furthermore, even the winner did not receive the crown while running. Certainly, the very act of running can be enjoyable at times, but that does not mean that the joy and blessing of running is the same as the joy and blessing of winning a race or the rewards of victory. Thus, it also seems falacious to me to assume that the rewards Paul speaks of are necessarily the same rewards as we currently enjoy.

Second, Paul points to the example of previous faithful men (Heb. 11) and Christ's own example:

Heb 12:1-2 Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Frankly, I do not care how you look at it, but I would not consider the shame and torment of the crucifiction, the agony of Him who knew no sin becoming sin for us, or this list of tortures:

Heb 11:36-38 And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

to be the kind of rewards we are promised or that Paul is referring to. Josh attempts to address this problem here:

Even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we need not fear. Why? Because of the presence of God. Because of God's present comfort. Because God prepares for us a table in the very presence of our enemies. The shadow is of what is to come; the fear is of the possible future. But the prize is here, and now. Christ doesn't not promise us Christ's eventual presence: "Lo, I will be with you eventually, if you tough it out." Rather, Christ promises us love, which is always present. Love takes no record of the past, nor suspect of the future. Love is always a relatedness oriented toward the present. Greater love is that which lays down its life: completely present, giving up all claim to the future. The greatest form of love is not that which promises something later, if things go well. "If you can just suffer through this painful time, I'll love you again." Such are not the assurances of Christ.

However, while we need not fear and we have His love, we are promised much more than that! One must also be careful not to confuse one blessing with all blessings and NOTHING can separate us from the Love of God, that is not what this discussion is about at all. This is about enduring the refining fire of the difficult times of the present with the perspective of eternity rather than exclusively the present.

Paul presents some of the future blessings we will receive here:

Rom 8:23 And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.

1Co 15:23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.

1Co 3:12-15 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

Rom 8:17-18 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

First, we are promised the redeption of our bodies at His coming. Second, the rewards of works. Certainly, obedience to God and good works have their own inherent reward in the present, but more than that is promised. Third, we are promised joint-heirship with Christ if so be that we suffer with him. That is, heirship and blessing is promised to all, but only those who endure the race receive the greatest rewards. Not all that we receive in this life is the prize. We have also to endure the suffering of life in a cursed world.

The present is not everything and can often be less than desirable, even if there is comfort available even for the darkest of times. However, the suffering of the present is not all that is not everything. Eternity is NOT here and the present is NOT everything. Eternity will not be more of the same, but something quite different, even if it includes some familiar features (such as God's love).

October 17, 2005

Comments on Miers

Heston posted an excellent piece on Abortion here.

While I completely agree with most of the post, he tags a brief section on Harriet Miers on the end, an issue which I have previously avoided commenting on, primarily because I am undecided. On one side, I am, like Heston, disappointed by the lack of clarity on Miers regarding her position due to her lack of a paper trail. I also am concerned about her lack of experience as a judge (nil).

On the other side, I recognize that President Bush knows a lot more about her than would be in her paper trail due to his extensive experience with her. Furthermore, I have gathered that she was either in charge of or one of the major people in charge of helping President Bush select judges, which would seem to indicate that she has a lot of experience with the right kind of judicial philosophy, as reflected in other nominees. Therefore, I think it is likely that she knows what the "right kind" of judge from our perspective is and most likely holds similar views. I have also heard positive things concerning her position on abortion and gun ownership, but again, almost everything we "know" about her is second hand, anecdotal, or circumstancial. And as for the lack of judging experience, it seems to me that judges are just the other side of lawyers. Lawyers act as advocates for positions, just as debaters do, and properly advocating that position to the important audience (judges) requires a proper understanding of judicial philosophy.

In conclusion, my position is this:

1 - I am disappointed in the lack of certainty concerning Miers. I would have preferred a candidate with a more concrete position.

2 - While I am inclined to dismiss her lack of judicial experience, this is the highest court in the land, which makes me leery of putting people with no real judicial experience on it.

3 - As others have argued, the choice of Miers seems to reflect a deeper conviction in that either open presentation of a strict interpretation judicial philosophy as opposed to an activist judicial philosophy can not win or be approved or would be more work/damaging than it is worth. Such an approach may have been neccessary under the Democratic dominated Congress of Ronald Reagan, but Bush doesn't have that problem.

4 - The supreme court position is a very serious lifetime position to the highest court in the land. This means that no longer can she not be removed later (the decision is permanent), the decisions she will be making at the Supreme Court can not be over-ruled by a higher court. This also concerns me a lot.

5 - Thus, while I am very concerned and apprehensive concerning the choice of Miers, I am not convinced that President Bush made a horrible mistake in appointing her, although I am inclined to agree that he made a mistake. This is primarily because most of my concerns are regarding our ignorance of her, an ignorance which President Bush most likely does NOT have. Thus, in evaluating her, he is not concerned about a lack of information on her, he has 1st hand information. We do not. What concerns me more is the ability of the Senate to adequately exercise its obligation of advice and particularly consent concerning someone about whom so little is known.

October 15, 2005

Dark Matter and the Unobservable in Science

I highly recommend this post on ID the Future. It provides a great discussion of the relationship between science and the unobservable, an oft cited argument against ID, which demonstrates that Evolutionary theory actually makes appeals to unobservable events and beings as well. The post lists 3 other parts of the series, which are also fairly good, especially 3 and 2 in that order.

The discussion of the unobservable reminded me of the recent refutation of Dark Matter. From what I understand, it sounds like astronomers applied a certain mathematical model to the universe which indicated that more matter existed than they had previously observed. This matter today remains unobserved, but numerous Dark Matter theories have sprung up to explain the descrepancy between the observed mass and the theoretical mass indicated by the model.

The funny part, which is the primary focus of the paper by Cooperstock and Tieu, is that the model was based on the assumption that Newtonian physics, particularly relating to gravity was a good enough approximation and an the fact that it was also an easier conceptual model to deal with. Cooperstock and Tieu adjusted the model to use General Relativities gravity model and poof, the dark matter (that is, the descrepancy between observed matter and theoretical matter) vanished.

Response to Earthenvesselmz on Minimum Wage Laws

In response to Earthenvesselmz reply to my recent discussion of minimum wage laws:

Minimum Wage

1 - Definately not! Which freedom would be limited? Bob and Jack FREELY agree to a contract. Neither is required to do so. Having once made the agreement, both parties are legally required to follow through, but Bob and Jack have already surrended the right not to do what the contract specifies by signing it.

2 - The incentive may not make ALL people care, but it will likely make some people care, depending on the expected outcome. Essentially, all investment is the postponement of present good for expected future greater good, even if that greater good is unsure. If companies (and by application, people) would always choose to take the short term benefits over vague long term benefits, there would be no saving, no entrepaneurs investing in new ideas, no research and development firms, etc. Take the medical industry for example. Within the medical industries are lots of businesses willing to invest in research projects that won't generate profits for years as new drugs and medical tools are developed, which then have to go through a lengthy FDA approval process before they can even be sold and the possibility exists that the FDA could reject the drug making it impossible to profit from the project. I see no justification for your unsupported ascertion that people ignore long term unquantifiable benefits for short term quantifiable benefits.

Furthermore, I see no justification for the idea that given the assumption that people (for that is what businesses and governments are composed of and the ones who make the decisions we are discussing) will suddenly become more concerned with the long term benefits if we relabel their institution as a "social" institution. People still have self-interest and the governments job would still be the same.

3 - Which problem are you refering to? The fact that legislating higher wages can not increase the capital to pay for wages by the same proportion? That actually isn't a capitalist problem, it's a monetary problem (in part). Simply by legislating that 10 employees formerly paid out of $100 now be paid 50% more, the $100 does not become $150. Theoretically, the government could either print more money, raise taxes, or borrow to compensate the $100 with the additionally $50, but that money has to come from some where. In the case of printing money, the currency is devalued, which is essentially a flat tax on everyone. If the government raises taxes, it is effectively decreasing the wages of other workers to increase the wages of other works. Another 10 workers who are paid out of $200 are taxed $50 to pay for the other 10 workers and they now effectively make less. Finally, if the government borrows money, it has to pay it back later with one of the other options, so that is only a short term solution. Therefore, I reject your unsubstantiated assertion that "captialsim" causes "this" problem. Furthermore, if capitalism is the problem, what would your solution be? Clearly, if capitalism is a problem, minimum wage laws are just a symptom solution. Capitalism remains to continue causing problems.

As for the lack of freedom in worker-employer contracts, this is absolutely not the case. My sister and I worked minimum wage jobs at Target one summer (or rather, she did and I opted to work at night for an additional $ an hour) and our alternative certainly was not starvation. We freely chose the jobs valuing the contribution to our college educations and augment our life-styles (I was able to afford the laptop I am typing this on). The pitfall of the "living wage" argument which you seem to be ascribing to here is that it seems to me that most of the people seeking minimum/low income jobs are younger people like me, who are supported to an extent by others but want to get a job to augment our lives or save for the future. We aren't in danger of starving.

As for work vs. starving, there is no right to food. God had the following to say about getting food:

Gen 3:19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

The apostle Paul had this to say about the relationship between working and eating:

2 Thes. 3:10 For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.

Therefore, I find the starve or work a minimum wage job to be hardly terrifying or some kind of inherent problem that condemns capitalism and necessitates legislation of any kind. In fact, I find the ascertion that the alternative of starvation entitles the poor man to something to be unbiblical.

Furthermore, how does the fact that I wish to employ low cost labor and someone else agrees to work for that price suddenly make me responsible for guaranteeing an arbitrary minimum quality of living or justify forcing me to act as some kind of charity? If I am not mistaken, that is why we have charities and welfare (which is another topic).

Ownership Derived from Investment

I suspect you are referring to Locke's argument that property rights dervice from the infusion of something (say land) with one's own labor (building a house and a fence). However, you omitted a key component of Locke's argument which is that that that which is made personal property by an infusion of labor is necessarily previously unowned. Thus, his argument, while it suggests a reasonable justification for the emergance of private property, does not provide the definitive means of gaining property. We are not in a system of nature or lack of ownership within which Locke applied his argument. Today, nearly all goods and land is owned. Thus, I can not go and build a house in your backyard and claim I therefore own your backyard because that violates your property rights. Today, ownership is achieved through free legal transfers of previously owned property, not the creation of new property through the infusion of labor. Therefore, the short answer to your question is no.

Likewise, the answer to your second question is no. The company is pre-owned. If I go into a factory and work, I do not become an owner of the company. There are two ways to look at this. First, if I am not hired by the company, I am violating their property rights in the first place by breaking into their factory and trying to work for them. Second, if I am legally hired by the company, I have already agreed on a form of compensation, my salary. I do not receive ownership in the company, but I receive ownership in currency. Another way to look at the 2nd case is to observe that my labor for the company is not owned by me, and therefore the infusion of that labor with the companies goods makes the goods the company's and not mine, for I have sold the ownership or property of my labor to the company in exchange for ownership of some other property.

October 12, 2005

Solving Chemical Reactions Without Guessing

For those who have every been tormented by the evils of playing guessing games with balancing chemical equations, I have news for you. There is a way to solve them that involves real math, not adding magic/houdini numbers until both sides are balanced. The first and simplist way involves only simple algebra. For this reason I am surprised and somewhat shocked that even in College Chemistry, they teach the guessing method, which leads me to wonder if this is something that only math nerds know, if Chemists have some aversion to math, and how late, if ever, it is taught to Chemistry majors. Hopefully they do, but I wouldn't be surprised... :-/

Anyway, the first method works like this. Say you have an unbalanced reaction as follows:

H2 + O2 -> H2O

Begin by adding coefficients (variables representing the number of molecules of each part in the equation), which is what you are going to solve for:

A*H2 + B*O2 -> C*H2O

Now we can write a balanced equation representing each chemical contribution in the equation as follows:

H: 2A = 2C
O: 2B = C

Before proceeding, allow me to further explain how I arrived at the above equations. The equations are arrived at by isolating each element in the equation and the coefficients related to it. For Hydrogen, this is A and C on either side (A = C). To properly balance the equation, we have to multiply coefficients by the subscripts for the number of atoms in each molecule, to get the number of atoms on each side (which have to add up to the same thing for the equation to balance).

The next step is very simply, but conceptially probably the most advanced, having a connection to linear algebra. Essentially, the equation has an infinite number of answers (which makes sense, because once you balance the equation, you can multiply across the equation by any number, and still have a balanced equation). Furthermore, since we have 3 variables and 2 equations, we can not solve for any variable. To fix this problem, we simply assign an arbitrary value to one of the variables, and because there are an infinite amount of multiples which balance the equation, this "free" variable will lead us to a ratio of coefficients for which any multiple balances the equation. To keep things simple, it is usually easiest to simply assign A the value of 1 (A = 1). Which leads to the following conclusions:

2A = 2C : 2C = 2(1) : 2C = 2 : C = 2/2 = 1
2B = C : B = C/2 : B = (1)/2 = 1/2


A = 1
B = 1/2
C = 1

Which gives us the balanced equation:

A*H2 + B*O2 -> C*H2O
1 * H2 + 1/2*O2 -> 1*H2O

At this point, some of you are probably wondering what insanity leads me to think that a system that yields fractionally balanced equations (half a molecule you say?) is a great thing, because such answers are unacceptable. However, remember that this is simply a multiple of ratios for which their are an infinite number of alternative multiples, and that we can simply multiply across the reaction to scale to whatever we want. In this case, we want the smallest balanced equation with whole number coefficients. Therefore, the final step is to multiply the reaction by the smallest value which will yield all whole number coefficients. In this case, that number is 2:

2 * (1 + 1/2 -> 1)
2 + 1 -> 2
2 * H2 + 1 * O2 -> 2*H2O
2*H2 + O2 -> 2*H2O

Which is the final, balanced quation, having 4 atoms of H on the left and 4 on the right (2*2 = 2*2) and 2 atoms of O on each side (2 = 2). While this method might be a bit longer than just guessing for a reaction this simple, the guessing method can quickly become painful with reactions slightly more complex. That and methodical people like me cringe whenever we hear "just guess". :o

The second method is essentially the same thing in a different format, using matrices and linear algebra to speed the process up a bit. However, the theory is a little more detailed and draing matrices is a bit difficult with text. Somehow I strugged through Highschool Chem without this, but taking it over again at the University reminded me how evil it was. Also, from what I was learning in linear algebra, I was pretty sure their had to be a systematic way to solve these problems. I got pretty close to figuring it out by myself, but had to check the web (where I found the above way of doing it) and my linear algebra book (which had the matrix method). Of course, our instructor simply recommended a 3 step guessing plan (1 - Guess 2 - Add up 3 - Repeat).

October 11, 2005

Minimum Wage Laws

Last week in Macroeconomics, we were covering minimum wage laws and are instructor claimed that it wasn't certain whether they hurt the economy/poor people or not. He said that on one side, there is the argument that the articifial increase in cost decreases incentive to hire people. On the other side, he said others argue that the increase wages stimulate economic growth to maintain a similar level of jobs or that due to decreased turnover, it is actually better for businesses in the long run. I reject those arguments for 3 reasons:

1 - As I pointed out earlier, government's proper role is not simply doing what economists or economics seems to indicate would be best for the economy. The governments role is to protect the rights of it's citizens, maintaining their freedom and protecting them from the assaults of others upon that freedom. Thus, the fact that "society" might be slightly better off if Bob gave Jack a raise, that is not sufficient warrent to force Bob to give Jack a raise. Bob and Jack have entered into a free agreement whereby Jack works for Bob for an agreed upon price.

2 - As our instructor pointed out, part of the assumption behind the pro-min. wage argument is that businesses only consider the short term and not the long term, while government considers the long term. How, by virtue of being a beaurocrat, one mysteriously loses self-interest and short-term tunnel vision and becomes a selfless civil servant dedicated to the best long term interest of society, nay, the WORLD as a whole, I doubt I shall ever know. Indeed, the facts seem to contradict this. Consider the recent Oil for Food Scandal, the New Orleans Debacle, and Social Security. In all cases, beaurocrats either acted on self-interest or lacked long term vision. People are people whether they work in the private sector or the public sector, and as such business will have at least as much interest in their long term success as some random beaurocrat who has no self-interest in the company whatsoever. In fact, they have every incentive to care MORE. ;-)

3 - Regarding the final reason presented, that the additional wages somehow stimulate the demand for minimum wage jobs, I see no reason to suspect this is the case, primarily because legislating a higher wage does not increase the capital available for labor investments. The capital remains the same, but is simply more concentrated into the hands of fewer laborers, which would seem to indicate that the same money that was going into the hands of these laborers is going to them and they have the same amount to spend. The only difference is that there are now fewer laborers receiving a higher wage. Those few may be better off, but those who have a harder time finding jobs are worse off.

October 2, 2005

The Horrors of Dover

The Distant Collegian has posted a hilarious and telling examination of a news article dealing with the Intelligent Design policy of the Dover School here.

I particularly "like" the article section here:

"A defense attorney argued that it could have been the result of a fundamentalist Bible club her daughter had joined at school. But Smith told a court full of people yesterday that her daughter's comment was one way the mention of intelligent design in her daughter's high school has affected her."

So let me get this straight, the kid attends a public school and a Bible club.  She comes home one day and confronts her mother about inconsistencies in her own faith.  Having no answer for her daughter, she decides that instead of educating herself and finding the answer, she sues the school, somehow concluding that the school (which admittedly did expose kids to ID), not the Bible club was the cause of this unsettling discussion revealing her own ignorance/inconsistencies.  

Obviously, may be reasons why the school is suspected.  Perhaps the daughter herself said it was the ID at school and not anything at Bible club.  Does the article every address this?  No.  It dismisses is solely based on the mother's unfounded claim, leaving us to with the unsupported impression that a school has been the sole prompting for a confrontational discussion concerning religion about her mother, and this is so horrible, it requires court intervention because children are starting to think about what they are learning.  Horrors!  If only the young woman had come home and asked her mother about drugs the world would be fine!