Friday, November 24, 2017

Flat Earth

A question and answer question from a recent meeting of the flat earth society.

Two thoughts:

1) It is hilarious! It is awesome! (If you watch, the background slides make the mind reel!)
2) But they are professed Christians, so it is also horribly sad.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Things I think about Baptism

John’s Baptism (e.g., Matt 3:11) was preparatory, and for repentance. It was more than a cleansing—it was also a call to turn away from sin, but it was insufficient as a Christian baptism. We know this because Apollos has to be corrected for practicing John’s baptism:
24 Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures. 25 This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John; 26 and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. (Acts 18:24-26)
And again Paul when after a productive but divinely-inspired circuitous route finally lands in Ephesus:
2 He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. (Acts 19:2-5)
This is what I infer from these and related passages. Prior to Jesus’ finished work, the baptism of John was an acceptable foreshadowing.  However, it was a not a baptism into the Christian faith. In some sense it was a baptism that wasn’t offensive to Jews, but Christian baptism should be offensive (you know how I mean that) to Jews. You should be baptized into the entire Christian faith, which includes the Trinity and also the affirmation of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jews might (and did) agree to John's baptism; they could never agree with a Christian baptism and remain a faithful Jew. In that way it would have been offensive.

When we baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit  and use immersion, we are beautifully and unambiguously proclaiming a baptism into the full Christian faith; as a baptism it is a superset of John’s baptism into repentance. However, the action of the administrator doesn’t make the baptism valid.  The validity of the baptism depends on the candidate, not the administrator. 1 As the Westminster confession puts it:
The grace which is exhibited in or by the sacraments rightly used, is not conferred by any power in them; neither does the efficacy of a sacrament depend upon the piety or intention of him that does administer it:  but upon the work of the Spirit,  and the word of institution, which contains, together with a precept authorizing the use thereof, a promise of benefit to worthy receivers.  (WCF 27.3)
If we agree with the WCF (in this case, I do) then we acknowledge the administrator is powerless (but not unimportant.) He does what he does for the edification and pleasure of the body and for the glory of God. However the validity of the baptism depends, humanly speaking, on the understanding (worthiness) of the candidate. In correcting Apollos’ baptism there may have been some correction of the implementation and mode, but the main correction was in the lack of instruction of the candidate, some of whom had never even heard of the Holy Spirit.

Let’s move on to something else.  In the Great Commission and in the great confessions of the Reformation, we are called to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. Agreed, that is what we should do. But what if we don’t? What about Acts 19:5 (and elsewhere in Acts) where the baptism is recorded as in the name of the Lord Jesus? What if you recall that you had a complete understanding of the fact that  you were being baptized into the full Christian faith, i.e., you were a worthy receiver as the WCF puts it. But you recall that your pastor said the words “I baptize you in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Should you be worried? 1 

You should not. The efficacy of the baptism does not depend on the administrator. 1 We all agree for many reasons that it is more than advisable for the administrator  to invoke the triune God, but what is important is that the candidate acknowledges that he/she is being baptized into communion with the triune God.  If the baptism is not valid because the administrator did not  say the right words, we have gone past advisability and the words have taken on the power of  an incantation that are necessary to conjure up the grace of God. In this view, God might be ready to dispense grace, but He is powerless until he hears the right words. May it never be.

So what about Acts 19:5 and similar passages? There are, I think, two acceptable views. One is that Acts 19:5 is descriptive and not prescriptive, while Matthew 28:19 (the Great Commission) is prescriptive.  That would mean that the administrators are commanded to baptize in the name of the triune God. However, it would still not mean that a baptism where the administrator said “I baptize you in the name of the Lord Jesus” was invalid, because, again, the validity does not depend on the administrator. 1 But it might mean that the administrator will have to answer for his error. Another view is that the words used at baptism were a sort of early creed. And in the earliest baptisms, which were of Jewish converts, it may be that it seemed appropriate to emphasize the primary “new” Christian distinctive—the deity of Jesus Christ, to Jews and partially converted (to Judaism) God-fearers who already had a concept of the Father and even the Spirit.  But when baptism spread to pagans it was more important to emphasize all three persons of the Godhead, since all were equally unknown.

I don’t know the answer, but I know this: you are covered either way if you baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, so why not? (Not to mention the words are beautiful and edifying.) There is no reason not to baptize in the name of the trine God. The only risk I see is if you imagine you are commanding the grace of God by uttering those words, or that you are claiming that God could not have dispensed grace if other words were used.

I can't help myself. I have to represent this by a flow chart (click to enlarge).

1 Let’s not introduce absurdities. We are talking about modest deviations within the orthodox practices of pastors who are attempting to honor and glorify God with reverence. If someone was baptized by being shot with a water pistol, I’d advise them to switch churches and do it again, even if as the candidate they had a proper understanding of what they were assenting to.

You make a liar out of Jesus!

On the Biologos site, there is a discussion of Mark 10:6. This post is an expansion of a comment I left there.

In context, here is the passage in question:
2 Some Pharisees came up to Jesus, testing Him, and began to question Him whether it was lawful for a man to divorce a wife. 3 And He answered and said to them, “What did Moses command you?” 4 They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” 5 But Jesus said to them, “[Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. 6 But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. 7 For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, 8 and the two shall become one flesh; so they are no longer two, but one flesh. (Mark 10:2-8, NASB)
What is this passage about? It is about marriage and divorce. So it should be interpreted as a discussion about marriage and divorce, which I’m not going to do. Which is dumb, right? Yes it is. Well I have to, because the Young Earth Creationists and their, um, scientific foundation as represented by Answers in Genesis consider verse 6 to be proof of a young earth.

The YEC/AiG argument is this: believing there were billions of years between the formation of the universe and Adam and Eve 1 makes a liar out of Jesus is v6 when he says from the beginning of creation. When you look at the AiG “exegesis” of this passage, it is painful to read how they contort to allow the beginning of creation to refer to the end of the six days. It amounts to the computational trick of introducing a slop “fudge factor” into a calculation. Here they grant to Jesus a fudge factor of exactly six days.

For the computer programmers, it is something like this 2
public static final int SLOP = 6; //days 

if (adam.getCreationDay() > SLOP) { 
I believe that we sometimes forget that Jesus, like any other “person”, is not required to be literally scientifically correct if he is not espousing on science (which, in fact, he never does.) He is entitled, like the rest of us, to converse with all figures of speech often which, taken literally, are not scientifically, mathematically or even historically correct. He is not, for example, divinely prohibited from using hyperbole which by its very definition is never literally true. So blindly taking Jesus “literally and simply” (or rather, doing so when it’s convenient) is to tell Jesus that unlike every other speaker, every sentence he utters must hold up under miscroscopic parsing independent of the context and intent.

Even in modern peer-reviewed scientific literature (let alone everyday non-scientific conversation) you can find figures of speech that are literally not true scientifically, but the readers, assumed to be intelligent (and the most neglected biblical hermeneutic is that the bible is meant to be read intelligently) do not conclude that this makes liars of the writers. It is not hard to find sentences in physics literature such as “at this point the electron knows to do X” where “knows to” summarizes the fact that the detailed scientific explanation of the electron doing X is not the point of the present discussion, and it would only obfuscate the main point to litter the text with verbiage just to make the sentence scientifically air tight. Nobody speaks that way, and Jesus isn’t required to.

Jesus is not talking about science or the details of creation in Mark 10:6. He is saying nothing more than “ever since there were men and women, they were meant to bond together in marriage.”

It's that simple.

1 I part ways with those OECs at Biologos who do not affirm a historic Adam and Eve.
2 Although AiG probably programs in COBOL.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Solution to Physics Problem #3

Type: simple mechanics
Level of difficulty (1-5):  2.5

Click on the image to enlarge.

Postdestined (a short story)

Way back in 2005 I published, in an anthology, a truly awful short story entitled Postdestined. It's about a trip into hell. I remember I was limited to 5000 words. That makes character development near impossible--which given that I lack the skill it doesn't really matter. (I think Dickens had sentences longer than 5000 words).

I have lost the electronic copy. But for your amusement here is a scanned version.

It has some mild swearing (no F-bombs). Let's call it PG13.

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Tuesday Child Puzzle via Monte Carlo (repost)

I get more than a few hits for this old post, so here is a rerun.

There has been a lot of chatter about the Tuesday Child puzzle:
I have two children. One is a boy born on a Tuesday. What is the probability I have two boys?
Everyone's instinct is to say: Tuesday has nothing to do with it, so the answer is simply 1/2.

That answer is wrong. Here is the trouble with everyone's intuition: they read the problem as: I have one son born on a Tuesday, what is the probability that my next child will be a son? There the answer is 1/2. But that is not the problem at hand--here both children are already born. It's a different problem

The answer is actually 13/27 = 0.481, not 1/2.

Let's accept that for now. If you Google you'll find a lot of proofs, some with tables and some using complicated Bayesian analysis. I'll get the result later, via simulation, but for now we'll assume it is correct. But the way to think about it is this: there are lots of ways that two children can be born on any of seven days, say Boy on Tuesday and Girl on Saturday, all with equal probability, and exactly 1/4 of them have two boys. But as I place constraints, such as Boy on Tuesday, many of the possibilities are eliminated and the probabilities change. For example, I can place a very tight constraint: I have two children, one is a son born Tuesday and the other is a son born Saturday. What is the probability I have two sons? Why it is one of course, because all arrangements except Boy on Tuesday and Boy on Saturday have been eliminated by the constraints.

Of course Tuesday really has nothing to do with it. What is relevant is that a boy is constrained to be born on one specific day—any day would do--this could just as easily be the Friday Child Puzzle. It is the limitation that one of the children is a boy born on one specific day out of seven that is relevant.

To see this, assume you asked:
I have two children. One is a boy born on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday. What is the probability I have two boys?
Clearly this is the same as simply asking: I have two children, one is a boy, what is the probability that the other is a boy? Here the answer is clear—the possible arrangements given that we have at least one boy are: BB, BG, GB. They occur with equal probability, so the probability of BB (two boys) is 1/3.

We could generalize the puzzle this way:

I have two children. One is a boy born no later than day N where N is 1..7. What is the probability I have two boys?

Let's call that probability P(N).

So the original form of the puzzle is: what is P(1)? The answer we are accepting (for now) is not 1/2 but 13/27.

The second form of the puzzle, where the constraint is a boy born on any of the seven days, could be stated this way: what is P(7)? That we just demonstrated is 1/3.

What is the meaning of P(0)? This would mean that the first boy wasn't born on any day. This pathological case becomes, simply, what is the probability that the other child is a boy, which is our beloved 1/2.

Let's make a prediction. We have:

P(0) = 1/2 = 14/28
P(1) = 13/27
P(2) = 12/26
P(3) = 11/25
P(4) = 10/24
P(5) = 9/23
P(6) = 8/22

P(7) = 7/21 = 1/3

The red values P(2) through P(6) come from a prediction based on an obvious pattern. Let us remember what this means. P(1) is the probability of two boys given that one son is born on one specific day, say Tuesday. P(2) is the probability given that one son is born on one of two days, say Tuesday or Wednesday. Etc., etc., etc.

I wrote a Monte Carlo simulation for this problem and the results are:

Days   Prob of 2 boys
 P(1)       0.4811
P(2)       0.4615
P(3)       0.4399
P(4)       0.4167
P(5)       0.3911
P(6)       0.3631
P(7)       0.3336

These are good approximations to the predicted fractions above. The zero row is not in the output because it is a pathological case and the code won't handle it.

Note that P(1), as advertised, is 13/27.

The probability (that the second child is a boy) drops smoothly from P(0) = 1/2 (when in effect there is no first child) to 1/3 when the first child is a boy, born any day.

The JAVA program is given below. 1

public class TuesdayChild {

//constant defining a boy baby
   private static final int BOY = 0;

//method that randomly selects a sex
   private static int randomSex() {
     return (int)(Integer.MAX_VALUE*Math.random()) % 2;

//method that randomly selects a day, 0--6
  private static int randomDay() {
    return (int)(Integer.MAX_VALUE*Math.random()) % 7;

//main method
   public static void main(String arg[]) {
     TuesdayChild tchild = new TuesdayChild();

//how many trials per iteration
     int numTrial = 10000000;

//hold the results for each case. We will vary the
//number of days one boy is constrained to be born on
//from 1 (corresponding to the problem as stated) to 7

     double results[] = new double[7];

//loop over the constraint days 
    for (int numDays = 1; numDays <= 7; numDays++) { 
      int passCount = 0; //number of trials passing constraint
      int twoBoyCount = 0; //subset that have two boys

//now loop over the trials
     for (int i = 0; i < numTrial; i++) { 
      Trial trial = Trial(numDays); 
      if (trial.keepTrial()) { 
        if (trial.twoBoys()) {
    results[numDays-1] = ((double)twoBoyCount)/passCount; 
//now print the results
   System.out.println("Days Prob 2 boys");
   for (int numDays = 1; numDays <= 7; numDays++) {
      System.out.println(String.format("%d %8.4f", numDays, results[numDays-1])); 

//class for a single trial
   class Trial {
//sex of child 1 and child 2
   int sex1 = randomSex();
   int sex2 = randomSex();

//day of birth child 1 and child 2
   int day1 = randomDay();
   int day2 = randomDay();

//this will determine how many days we constrain the birth
//of one boy. It can be 1--7. At one, one boy will be constrained
//to be born on one day, such as Tuesday. This is analogous to the
//puzzle as stated. If it is two then one boy is constrained to be
//born on two days, say Tuesday or Wednesday. If it is seven, one boy
//is constrained to be born on any day. This is the same as simply saying
//you have one boy. The answer for that case should be 1/3.

   int _max;

   public Trial(int max) {
     _max = max;

//see if we keep this trial because at least one of the two children
//was a boy born within the constrained number of days

   public boolean keepTrial() {
     return ((sex1==BOY)&&(day1<;_max)) || (sex2==BOY)&&((day2< _max)); } 

//see if this trial has two boys
   public boolean twoBoys() {
     return (sex1 == BOY) && (sex2 == BOY);

1 God programs in JAVA, and uses the blessed 2  K&R brace style, just as surely as Jesus speaks in early 17th century English. However, His use of comments and exception handling is  purely anthropomorphic.
2 This is one of those special times when "blessed" is a two syllable word.

We are not justified by belief alone

Alternate title: The Gospel in four words.

In Genesis 15 we read of the Abrahamic covenant. But right in front of our face, should we care to look, is the most explicit example of justification by faith alone. And it's faith, not belief. We are not justified by belief alone. In spite of the fact that, unfortunately, translators chose the word believed at an inopportune time. The passage:
2 Abram said, “O Lord God, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “Since You have given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir.” 4 Then behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.” And He took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” (Gen 15:2-5)
By now Abram had already talked to God on several other occasions. He had witnessed God make a unilateral covenant. At this very point in Abram's life, would you say that Abram believed in God? Surely the answer is yes in that Abram, at this point, believed God existed. He had first-hand contact of which we can't help but be envious. He would have, we can be certain, given his full intellectual assent to a question about the reality of God.

Then we move on. The very next verse tells us:
6 Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. (Gen 15:6)
V6 expresses a change that occurs at that point--then he believed, not because he believed. This belief cannot mean "he accepted that God was god and that he existed." Been there, done that. Abram did not, we can assume, wonder if his prior personal interactions and conversations with God were hallucinations. It has to mean something more that acknowledgement, which was already present, or the word "then" is misleading. Abraham already gave intellectual assent--v6 expresses an elevation of his disposition toward God beyond the simple belief that he already shared (even with the demons.)

It does mean more. The word translated in v6 as "believed" could also be translated as "had faith" or "trusted."

I'm convinced there is no adequate word in English. Trust may be the closest. Faith is more common. This inadequacy of language may be part of what makes the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone so difficult to understand.

What is faith? I can only begin to grasp it by what it isn't. It is not works. Abraham was not justified because he trusted God and offered Isaac. Cause and effect are backwards in that view. No, Abraham trusted God and offered Isaac because he was justified, and that justification manifested itself as faith. Abraham was already justified before he offered Isaac. Before he did anything meritorious.

If you are saved you are justified by faith. What is that? Mentally delete everything good (in human terms) you did prior to being saved. Those are but filthy rags with no merit. Also delete everything good you did after to being saved. They may indeed be meritorious--but mentally delete them just the same. Without any of these, you are still justified by faith. Whatever is left in you after you have deleted all those good works--that is faith. And it comes from God.

The gospel in four words comes from Romans 4:5; God justifies the wicked.


Saturday, November 18, 2017

Sigh to the Nth power

A video of charismatic preacher Kenneth Hagin (1917-2003). It makes me indescribably sad and indescribably angry. Probably more sad than angry. But it's close.

Physics Problem du Jour (#3)

Type: simple mechanics
Level of difficulty (1-5):  2.5

Click on the image to enlarge.

Solution will be posted (but not televised.)

Solution to Physics Problem #2

Type: simple mechanics/E&M
Level of difficulty (1-5):  2

Click on the image to enlarge.