Saturday, December 24, 2016

QUIZ- What 'It's a Wonderful Life' character are you?

Friday, December 23, 2016

Christmas Quiz

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Entropy—the sins of society passed down to science

Arthur Eddington*, physicist (mainly astrophysics), mathematician, philosopher of science, said,
If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations—then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation—well these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.
The second law of thermal dynamics, a forbidding phrase to say the least, is better known to this world as entropy, making “collapses in deepest humiliation” even more appropriate. For that is how the world views entropy—the relentless but inexorable flow from order to chaos, the slow but steady process of energy dissipation, and the inevitability of final collapse. We believe the simple truth that entropy forces us to accept the dire sense that, in the long run, everything winds down to dissolution, decay, and doom.
“This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.”

But, hey, that’s the law. Just look around. Hot pans cool down. Raging rivers flow to calm oceans, our winter fuel bills soar as we practically feel the heat dissipate through entropic cracks, stars burn out, windows break sending useful order into hopelessly scattered fragments of chaos, but never the reverse.

Of course, we also see pounding rain and swirling wind arise out of calm oceans and skies, cold matter collapse into itself igniting violent explosions, exotically detailed flowers spring from inert, sluggish mud, trees spread delicate leaves in greater number than those that fell chaotically the year before, or the frantic use of fossil fuels which have been slowly and steadily converging over the millenniums.

What’s happening? Isn’t there also the law of the conservation of energy? Aren’t there a lot of contradictions here? Well, I’m a big believer in the law of contradictions (which I hope, some day, to formulate), but, as you might suspect, when people begin to weigh dissolution, decay, and doom against entropy, a lot of crazy facts and beliefs spew forth. And it turns out that just about everything we think we know about entropy is wrong. It’s almost as if thinking about entropy has dissipated our brains to listless mush. There is so much wrong with our notions of entropy, that it may be the poster child for the creeping mistrust of science.

Entropy is, indeed, fairly simple and useful, but it may be more helpful to first report its misconceptions. I will quote extensively from Frank L. Lambert, Professor Emeritus (Chemistry), Occidental College from an article "Entropy is simple — If We Avoid the Briar Patches!".

•Well meaning muddle
Unfortunately, the ideas of entropy and the second law have been almost hopelessly muddled by well-meaning but scientifically naïve philosophers and writers of both fiction and non-fiction.
•Information Entropy
An additional source of confusion to anyone outside of chemistry or physics is due to brilliant but thoughtless mathematicians. They decided that it would be amusing to name a very important new mathematical function communication "entropy" because "no one knows what [thermodynamic] entropy really is, so in a debate you will always have the advantage". (That quote is of John von Neumann speaking to Claude Shannon (Sci. Am. 1971 , 225 , 180.) For the past half-century this has turned out to be a cruel practical joke imposed on generations of scientists and non-scientists because many authors have completely mixed up information "entropy" and thermodynamic entropy. They are not the same!
•Entropy is NOT deterministic
When we open the oven door and heat dissipates, it does so, not in a required sense, but because it is more probable. Air molecules are constantly moving. When the oven door opens, it’s just more probable that some move out of the oven into the room. Consider 3 distinct air molecules on a 2x2 chess board. There are only 24 different possible combinations of positions for the molecules in that small space.

If we increase the size of the chess board to 4x4, the different possible combinations of positions rise dramatically. By my count, 14*14*14 or 2744. 

Even when only slightly increasing 2-dimensional space, it is extremely unlikely (less than 1%) you would find the 3 molecules in one of the 24 original configurations. That is why you will never find the hot air molecules remaining confined to the oven when the door is opened. It is just so unlikely in that bigger space to the point of “will never happen”.

•Isolated Systems
Most misleading to understanding entropy is when it is discussed in isolated systems. These theoretical systems are not only useless to a beginner but what happens in them can profoundly confuse anyone trying to understand entropy and the second law in the real world. We humans live in an open system of earth, sun, and outer space. We encounter the second law and entropy within that open system. Therefore, the energy-entropy relationships that are useful for us to examine are in that real system.
•Entropy is NOT disorder!
This confusion about disorder and entropy comes from an 1898 statement by a brilliant theoretical physicist whose mathematical contributions to thermodynamics and entropy are still totally valid. However, his attempt to interpret entropy in simple language was incorrect because only after his death in 1906 came an understanding of molecular behavior. Order/disorder became increasingly obsolete to apply to entropy and the second law when the existence of quantized energy levels in physics and chemistry was generally accepted after the mid-1920s.
Although order/disorder is still present in some elementary chemistry texts as a gimmick for guessing about entropy changes (and useful to experts in some areas of thermodynamics), it is both misleading and an anachronism for beginners in chemistry. It has been deleted from most first-year university chemistry textbooks in the US.
Now that we have cleared the air, we can say what entropy is.
The second law of thermodynamics says that energy of all kinds in our material world disperses or spreads out if it is not hindered from doing so. Entropy is the quantitative measure of that kind of spontaneous process: how much energy has flowed from being localized to becoming more widely spread out (at a specific temperature).
It is the measure of hot pans cooling—how much energy is being transferred. It is a measure of cream circulating in coffee—how widely molecules disperse. Notice that included in the definition is the phrase “if it is not hindered from doing so”. That is why the molecules in our bodies don’t disperse or why our carbon atoms don’t explode when exposed to the air. Without our second law of thermodynamics and its measure, entropy, life could not count on a steady flow of energy and, indeed, all would be chaos.

*Note that Eddington is often, apparently incorrectly, cited to have said, “Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine.” There is no record of him ever writing that. Myk correctly, cites J. B. S. Haldane for having said, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.”

Monday, December 5, 2016

Are we entering a post-literate age?

Scientists tell us that the human brain evolved for speech but not for writing.  To read and write, we had to borrow from other parts of the brain designed for the recognition of faces and objects.  And it was something we had to work at and learn.  In the old oral world, which lasted 10's of thousands of years, knowledge existed only in the present tense between just a few people.  Nothing could ever be confirmed or checked; once information was conveyed, it had to be repeated to be remembered; once forgotten, it disappeared forever.  And, you couldn't really review or study oral communications. Spoken nuanced, complex thoughts were hard to follow or remember.  So, you had to keep it simple and brief, and you repeated things often. 

Are we returning to the pre-literate world?  What are Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and other platforms but the means of expressing ideas that are pithy, clear, memorable and repeatable, like our pre-literate ancestors. 

The great works of Homer, The Iliad and The Odyssey began as oral tradition.  They were only written down later.  Consequently, the language was formulaic so that it could be remembered.  Thus, for Homer it's never just Achilles, but the swift-footed Achilles. It's always Hector, breaker of horses; bright-eyed Athena; Agamemnon, lord of men; the wily Odysseus.  Dawn doesn’t appear, it’s always "rosy-fingered" Dawn that appears.

As evidence of our return to a pre-literate age we have president-elect Trump.  For Trump, like Homer, it was never Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Hillary Clinton or others, but “Lyin’ Ted," “Little Marco,” “Crooked Hillary, ” “Crazy Bernie Sanders” and “Goofy Elizabeth Warren.”

No doubt Homer would feel right at home.

For further reading:  Donald Trump, the First President of Our Post-Literate Age

Monday, November 21, 2016

Another Scientific Impossibility

British inventor Roger Shawyer proposed the EM Drive or Electromagnetic Drive in 1999. It was the best way to travel to Mars and other space destinations, except for one thing—it broke Newton's Third Law of Thermodynamics: every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

NASA has finally peer reviewed the EM Drive and, hokey smokes, it works! Leave it to science to continually defy its own laws to reinvent itself. More evidence that the universe is "stranger than we can imagine."

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

American Muslims Respond Swiftly to Trump's Call to Report Problems

In the second presidential debate, Donald Trump called on all Muslims to “report when they see something going on.”  “Muslims have to report the problems when they see them,” he said. “And, you know, there’s always a reason for everything. If they don’t do that, it’s a very difficult situation for our country.”

American Muslims immediately swung into action and did their patriotic duty.  Even before the debate ended, the reports started pouring in:

I'm a Muslim, and I would like to report a crazy man threatening a woman on a stage in Missouri.  ‪#debate

I wanna report a guy who is constantly sniffing and doesn't know what he is talking about ‪#MuslimsReportStuff ‪#debate@chaudary_zainab

And Muslims continued to report problems when they saw them:

I did laundry this morning but still haven't put it away

I think my sister drank orange juice straight out of the carton, will continue to investigate

#MuslimsReportStuff Gremlins 2 is the rare sequel that completely deconstructs the franchise. For my money, it's better than the first.

#MuslimsReportStuff My dad is taking a nap, I'll keep on watching him as Trump ordered.

#muslimsreportstuff My mother uses store-bought filo pastry for her samoosas every single year.

My brother leaves his wet towel on the floor everyday. FBI pls deal with this #MuslimsReportStuff

Muslims, keep up the good work!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Francis Featured

Technique, tools, touch, vision, speed, willingness to win, creates opportunities for others, strong shot…some people have it all.

Monday, October 3, 2016

It's True! The system is rigged.

I guess the system really is rigged.  At least for those in the real estate business.

Friday, September 30, 2016


It is interesting that this Congress seems to be able to overcome partisanship only when there's opportunity to strike a self-righteous pose.  Despite warnings from the CIA director and others, CIA Director Calls 9/11 Legislation 'Badly Misguided'An Obama Veto Worth Backing, Congress has overridden Obama's veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (Jasta) which creates a new exception to foreign sovereign immunity -- to permit suits against countries for their possible involvement in acts of domestic terrorism.  The purported purpose of the bill was to give the 9/11 victims -- and their lawyers -- the ability to sue Saudi Arabia.

Foreign sovereign immunity exists for a reason:  sovereign immunity avoids the potential adverse political consequences from private lawsuits against foreign governments.  As Bob Corker of Tennessee, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, noted, when you start doing away with sovereign immunity, “you end up exporting your foreign policy to trial lawyers.”  International affairs are complicated enough without a lot of private citizens crossing swords with foreign governments.

There are already some exceptions to sovereign immunity -- claims involving commercial transactions  and claims against countries that have been officially designated as “state sponsors of terrorism” by the American government (Saudi Arabia is not one).  The new exception allows civil lawsuits against any sovereign nations that “knowingly or recklessly contribute material support or resources, directly or indirectly, to persons or organizations that pose a significant risk of committing acts of terrorism…” regardless of any designation that it is a "state sponsor of terrorism."

What reveals the lack of seriousness in the override is that Congress in the same week approved a major arms deal to Saudi Arabia.  Senate Votes to Advance $1.15 Billion Saudi Arms Deal.   If the Senate really believed that Saudi Arabia was behind the 9/11 attacks, why is it selling the Saudis over a billion dollars in arms?

To me, Jasta is a lot of nonsense.  First, the 9/11 victims have been compensated.  More Than $38 Billion Paid to 9/11 Victims.  So, this isn't really about compensation.

Beyond that, the law represents a rather sad reprisal to a particularly heinous crime.  When Pearl Harbor was bombed and Japan killed some 2400 Americans, Congress didn't swing into action and decide to teach Japan a lesson by allowing the Pearl Harbor victims to sue the Japanese government.  It declared war on Japan and pursued that war until there was total victory.  If Congress really believed that Saudi Arabia was behind a terrorist act that claimed more lives than the Pearl Harbor attack, Riyadh would have been leveled long ago.

The Congressional override is clearly just a lot posturing before an election in an attempt to garner a few more votes.  It does nothing to further American interests, and does much to harm them.  Already Congress is having buyer's remorse.  The Runaway 9/11 Bill That Congress Refused to Stop.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Summer Movie Report 2016

Here is my summer movie report for this year.  Sue and I saw seven official summer movies. Without giving too much away, I give my basic reactions.   Included are the Metacritic ratings in parentheses.

Love & Friendship (87)  Whit Stillman, known for his semiautobiographical triad Metropolitan, Barcelona and The Last Days of Disco, returns to his Jane Austen obsession (Metropolitan being inspired by Jane Austen.)  – this time with the re-telling a little-known Austen short story.  The critics loved this movie, and I can’t help but feel that I should have liked it more.  But in my dotage I found the plot a bit hard to follow and couldn’t quite keep the myriad characters straight.  Suggestion:  take notes.  Kate Beckinsale, however, is marvelous and astonishingly attractive at age 43.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople (80)  For us, this wins as the flat-out most entertaining movie of the summer.   I’m going out on a limb here, but this movie may be Sam Neill’s finest hour (yes, and that includes Jurassic Park).  The movie could also double as a travelogue for New Zealand.

Cafe Society (64)  Here is more Woody Allen nostalgia.  The reviews were mixed on this one but, for Sue and me, it was also way up there in the sheer entertainment category.  It wasn’t as good as recent Allen offerings Midnight in Paris or Blue Jasmine, but still well worth watching.   With a funny Steve Carell, Twilight star Kristen Stewart, and Jesse Eisenberg as Woody Allen’s stand-in.

Captain Fantastic (72)  I’m of two minds about this movie. I think that you’re supposed to really admire the lead character for his totally principled approach to his life, but he was also really annoying and obnoxiously self-righteous.  So, I didn’t know what to think of him – perhaps that was the point.  But, for you Aragorn groupies, Viggo Mortensen, the lead, turns in a superb performance. 

Indignation (79)  Adam Chandler of the Atlantic Monthly once wrote an article entitled, “Stop Making Film Adaptations of Philip Roth Novels.”  Of course, moviemakers continue to ignore this demand.  (I think some six have been made so far.)  Indignation is the latest effort.  It may not fully capture Roth but it was still a pretty good movie – one of those movies that continues to haunt you days after you’ve left the theater.  Never did the 50’s seem so strange.

Don’t Think Twice (83)  We really enjoyed this movie.  It joins Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Café Society as our favorites of the summer.  Maybe all you need to know about this movie is who is involved.  Comedian Mike Birbiglia wrote and directed the movie, and is in the cast.  Also in the cast is comedian Keegan-Michael Key of the Comedy Central series Key & Peele.   And, I should mention co-star Gillian Jacobs, who grew up in Mt. Lebanon (class of 2000)(Did anybody know her?  James, Ali, Theresa, Pete?).  Finally, one of the producers is Ira Glass (Birbiglia has made a number of appearances on This American Life).

Florence Foster Jenkins (71)  Sue, I think, liked this movie more than I did.  And, it’s a rather amazing true story.  Jenkins was an item in the 30’s and 40’s in New York City.  So, it’s the sort of thing I would have liked to ask Mom or Dad about.  My problem was that I didn’t see why I should care about this person.  Sue, however, saw something honorable in Jenkins.  In any event, we agree that Meryl Streep is as accomplished as ever, and Hugh Grant gives a particularly elegant performance.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Related Peanuts

To go with Myk's Peanut post, I'll offer a 'trending' video:

I put 'trending' in quotes since, despite 6 million current views, this is what generally all contemplative people have been asking for thousands of years. Although there are countless books and articles, both fiction and non-fiction, written on this subject (some of which Mr. Fry and others may find interesting, informative and/or consoling), it is still a quandary. Maybe I should have placed a spoiler alert before the last sentence.

Art Imitates Life

I can't tell you how many times I've had this same sort of conversation.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Populism vs Elitism

When I was in Pittsburgh to attend brother Pete’s dinner celebrating la fête nationale de la France, I learned that Bill and I were reading the same book this summer:  The Quartet by Joseph J. Ellis.  It tells the pretty compelling story of how four men – George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison – almost single-handedly manipulated the American political machinery to send the Articles of Confederation packing and establish a national constitution.  It was an unlikely achievement.  At the time, few people had any interest in consolidating the 13 former colonies into a single nation.  They saw rule by a “distant” federal government to be no different than foreign rule by the British parliament.  (As the book points out, the Articles of Confederation were more of a treaty among sovereigns than a plan for a central government.)

One of the concerns of the quartet in framing this new govenment was what might be called “unbridled democracy.”  Even Jefferson, the anti-federalist, acknowledged that:  “a choice by the people themselves is not generally distinguished for its wisdom, that the first secretion from them is usually crude and heterogeneous.”  Or, as my conservative friend likes to say, “People are morons.”  

On the other hand, these four also recognized that the people represented the greatest check on tyranny.  Madison spells out the paradox in the Federalist Papers:  “If men were angels, no government would be necessary….  In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the greatest difficulty lies in this:  You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.  A dependence on the people is no doubt the primary control on government, but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.”

So, they deliberately built into the constitution provisions that checked both the power of government and the power of the electorate.  Ellis claims that our founders would be utterly astounded to discover that their humble document had endured 230 years.  Ellis says that, “It has endured not because it embodies timeless truths that the founders fathomed as tongues of fire danced over their heads, but manages to combine the two time-bound truths of its own time:  namely, that any legitimate government must rest on a popular foundation, and that majorities cannot be trusted to act responsibly, a paradox that has aged remarkably well.”

Has there been a more salient example in our time of the people's choice not being distinguished for its wisdom than the nomination of Donald Trump for the presidency?  Based solely on popularity, with almost no support from any party or the political establishment, he has managed to secure this nomination.  And it was achieved by Trump being a textbook demagogue – “a person, especially an orator or political leader, who gains power and popularity by arousing the emotions, passions, and prejudices of the people” -- appealing to the worst in the electorate.  I don’t need to give you the long list of Trump’s inflammatory statements; every day, he seems to come up with another one.  

Bill thinks Trump is essentially harmless, but 50 former senior Republican national security officials claim that he would be “the most reckless President in American history.”   See Statement by Former National Security Officials.  In any event, from now on, I’m going to be a little less critical of elitism.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Things I Don't Understand

Today I read another headline, "IEA Sees Oil Glut Easing". This confirms other headlines such as "Everything You Need to Know About The Oil Crisis" where oil prices seem to be associated with a thriving economy or "How Plunging Oil Prices Threaten the U.S. Economy". It used be that the oil crisis was about the lack of oil and skyrocketing prices. Now it's about oil glut and falling prices.

So the goal has gone from cheap energy to help support our oil industry? How can you not love economists who can give you a crisis no matter which way things turn? Is this all concocted for our amusement? I, for one, am amused. I'm not thinking about oil industry/media conspiracies or change-is-bad/Republican/media conspiracies. That would be stupid. I believe we're more silly than stupid.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Forced to Watch Breaking Bad

We all wish we were seeing the show for the first time, too.

Shorts & Murmurs - Forced to Watch “Breaking Bad” by newyorker

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Theories of Atonement V

Classical or Patristic Theory – Part 3(b)

[We pick up where Part 3(a) left off.]

God accomplished another thing in the incarnation that allowed him to confront the last enemy, death, and so complete His saving act. He overcame the related problems of impassibility and immutability. Classic theism teaches that God is impassible — He is not subject to suffering or other feelings. This is really a corollary to another principle of classic theism, the doctrine of God’s immutability: God cannot change.

This posed a dilemma for God’s plan to save humanity from its downward plunge. Since death was the real culprit behind humanity’s crisis, it had to be destroyed if humankind were to be saved. God, however, could not destroy death unless he could get access to it. He had to die and be enveloped by death in order to shine his divine light in death’s dark void and so eliminate it. But, death involves both suffering and change. God by his nature could do neither.

The incarnation – fusing God’s divinity with the person of Jesus – would allow God to enter the realm of death and undo it. As Myers puts it: “When Christ’s human nature succumbs to death, the fullness of divine life enters the privation state of death. As a result, the privation is filled, i.e. cancelled out. In the death of Christ, death dies.” In Jesus’ death, the Word of God “touches” death and the privation that is death is swallowed up in the essence of being that is God. “For when death came into contact with life, darkness with light, corruption with incorruption, the worse of these things disappeared into a state of nonexistence. …” Gregory of Nyssa, Catechetical Oration.  Russian Orthodox theologian Vladimir Lossky explains that, “the only way to conquer death was to allow it to penetrate God Himself where it could find no place.”

Athanasius sums it up nicely:
The Word perceived that corruption could not be got rid of otherwise than through death; yet He Himself, as the Word, being immortal and the Father’s Son, was such as He could not die. For this reason, therefore, He assumed a body capable of death, in order that it, through belonging to the Word who is above all, might become in dying a sufficient exchange for all, and, itself remaining incorruptible through his indwelling, might thereafter put an end to corruption for others as well, by the grace of the resurrection. Athanasius, On the Incarnation.
And so, in his death on the cross, the Word of God destroyed death. Having annihilated death, Jesus was restored to life and rose on the third day.

Characterizing Jesus as the “generous wrestler,” Athanasius makes it clear that, by His manner of death, Christ demonstrated that the power of death in any form had been abolished, and need no longer be feared:
Death came to His body, therefore, not from Himself but from enemy action, in order that the Savior might utterly abolish death in whatever form they offered it to Him. A generous wrestler, virile and strong, does not himself choose his antagonists, lest it should be thought that of some of them he is afraid. Rather, he lets the spectators choose them, and that all the more if these are hostile, so that he may overthrow whomsoever they match against him and thus vindicate his superior strength. Even so was it with Christ. He, the Life of all, our Lord and Savior, did not arrange the manner of his own death lest He should seem to be afraid of some other kind. No. He accepted and bore upon the cross a death inflicted by others, and those others His special enemies, a death which to them was supremely terrible and by no means to be faced; and He did this in order that, by destroying even this death, He might Himself be believed to be the Life, and the power of death be recognized as finally annulled. Id.
Just to be clear, even after Christ’s death and resurrection, people still die. But, as Myers puts it, death has become a doorway through which we step into the life of God.  Athanasius says, “death is no longer terrible.” Id. With Christ’s death and resurrection, death has lost its power.

But, we are not quite done.  As the Patristic fathers saw it, God did not simply stop the downward plunge and restore humankind to where it was before Adam’s fall. According to Myers, God raised us up to a higher status than we had ever known:
God's real intention wasn't just to free human nature from death, but also to elevate us to a new status.. If Christ had only freed us from death, we would still remain corruptible by nature ... the Son of God goes a step further. He not only removes us from the clutches of death, but also allows our nature to participate in his own incorruptible life.
In other words, if we were simply restored to the state of human nature before the fall, we would still be susceptible to corruption and might repeat the downward plunge. In order to save his creation, humanity, God implanted the divine life of the Son as a new trait of human nature, thus imprinting our nature with incorruptibility. Through the incarnation we have become divine.

Irenaeus, Athanasius and Gregory of Nazianzus all said it in slightly different ways, but Athanasius said it most directly: “God became man in order that we may become gods”. Athanasius, On the Incarnation. The goal of the Incarnation, said Gregory of Nazianzus in his second public sermon, is “to make man god and a partaker of heavenly bliss.” Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 2.

The Council of Nicaea of 325 C.E. defined the Son as having the same substance with the Father and was, therefore, fully God. (Today, we Catholics now say in the creed that Jesus Christ is “consubstantial with the Father.”) In the Incarnation, that divine substance was not simply united with a single human being but – and remember our Platonism here – was united with human nature itself. By taking upon himself our flesh through birth, Jesus as the Word of God united the essence of humanity to his divine nature. Athanasius says, “[T]he Word did come among us; and that He might hallow and deify them, the Word became flesh.” Athanasius, Against the Arian. And again, The Word “deified that which He put on, and more than that, gave it graciously to the race of man.” Id.

John Chrysostom emphasizes the great surplus we have received from Christ beyond a simple restoration of our prior status: “Paul did not say ‘grace’ but ‘abounding grace’. For from that grace we received not only as much as was required for removing that sin, but much more. … For Christ paid off much more than we owed – as much more as a limitless ocean compared to a small drop of water.” John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans.

And to drive his point home he makes this analogy:
As then if any one were to cast a person who owed ten mites [a mite is a Greek lepton, the smallest and least valuable coin in circulation the Hellenized world] into prison, and not the man himself only, but wife and children and servants for his sake; and another were to come and not to pay down the ten mites only, but to give also ten thousand talents of gold, and to lead the prisoner into the king's courts, and to the throne of the highest power, and were to make him partaker of the highest honor and every kind of magnificence, the creditor would not be able to remember the ten mites; so has our case been.  Id.
Myers says that the deification taught by Patristic fathers was not considered to be a transformation of each of us into individual gods, as the Mormons believe. Rather, it is human nature that is deified and, because in the Platonic view all individuals participate in that nature, once it is infused with divinity, each participates in the divine. And so, though the incarnation, we have all been united with the Father. According to Gregory of Nyssa “God united Himself to our nature in order that our nature might be made divine through union with God.” Gregory of Nyssa, Oratio Catechetica. Athanasius puts it this way: “For He has become Man, that He might deify us in Himself…, and that we may become henceforth a holy race, and partakers of the Divine Nature.” Athanasius, Letter To Adelphius.

Self-knowledge then becomes the knowledge of God:  "If one knows himself, he will know God, and knowing God will become like God.... His is beauty, true beauty, for it is God, and that man becomes a god, since God wills it. So Heraclitus was right when he said, 'Men are gods, and gods are men.'" Clement of Alexandria (circa 150 – circa 215), The Instructor.

We now glimpse a picture of humanity that bears little resemblance to a lot of what we hear from modern Christian preaching. I suspect that we have all heard preachers express a dim view of human nature. Indeed, the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity – “our nature is not merely bereft of good, but is so productive of every kind of evil that it cannot be inactive” – yet endures. Wayne A. Grudem in his influential book, Systematic Theology, originally published in 1994, says, “It is not just that some parts of us are sinful and others are pure. Rather, every part of our being is affected by sin—our intellects, our emotions and desires, our hearts (the center of our desires and decision-making processes), our goals and motives, and even our physical bodies.” Pittsburgh native, Robert Charles Sproul, founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, puts it this way: “Our problem with sin is that it is rooted in the core of our being. It permeates our hearts.”

At the risk of engaging in superficial religion comparisons:  the Patristic view of humanity that sees divinity at its core seems closer to that of Vedantic Hinduism than the current Christian view.  Hindus in this tradition believe that each person has an individual soul, or “true self,” which is the essence of the individual – referred to as “atman.” Brahman is the term for “world soul” or “cosmic soul.” It is the eternal essence of the universe and the ultimate divine reality. It is the life source of all that has been, is and will be throughout the entire cosmos.

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad says it clearly: “Atman is indeed Brahman.” That is, the individual soul is the world soul. Our truest self participates in the ultimate divine reality. Athanasius could not have said it better.

This leads us to wonder, could Greek and Indian thought have influenced the other? Through Alexander’s conquests, parts of India were brought into the Greek world. And we know that the Greek philosopher Plotinus in the hope of studying Persian and Indian philosophy attached himself to a Roman military expedition to Persia led by Emperor Gordian III in 243 C.E. (The expedition was aborted when his own troops assassinated the emperor.)

I suppose the other question that might be asked is this: if the Indians and Greeks are correct, and we have within our true self a connection to the divine, how well are we living up to the promise?

Next time we will see why Christianity changed so drastically. And if our wash lady doesn't put my new straw hat in the soapsuds, and take all the color out of the ribbon, I’ll tell you about Anselm of Canterbury and John Calvin.

John Chrysostom. "If you do not find Christ in the beggar at the church door, neither will you find him in the chalice.”
Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria
Gregory of Nyssa.  “Concepts create idols; only wonder comprehends anything."

Postscript:  You can skip these last two blog posts and just listen to Benjamin Myers' presentation at the third annual Los Angeles Theology Conference held in January 2015.  Unfortunately, it's a bit long (87 minutes).  But, he's a very intelligent and clear speaker and he has a mellifluous Australian accent.  I hesitate to include this video because it exposes how shamelessly plageristic I've been.

You may also wish to visit Myers' outstanding blog:  Faith and Theology

Prior Post -- Theories of Atonement IV (Classical or Patristic Theory – Part 3(a))

Next Post -- Theories of Atonement VI (Anselm of Canterbury)

Theories of Atonement IV

Classical or Patristic Theory – Part 3(a)

I have decided to break into two parts (or subparts) this next installment of the "Theories of Atonement" series -- because it got so long.  Even as split both sections end up being a bit lenghty.  The first part will focus on certain preliminary matters and then turn to the notion of the Incarnation, and what it acheived.  The second subpart will discuss Christ's death and resurrection and the deification of humankind.   Just remember, these two posts were originally written as a single blog post.  And so to begin:

As we have seen, Gustav Aulén sought to correct earlier notions of Patristic thinking on atonement. Benjamin Myers now wants to correct Aulén.

Myers applauds Aulén’s efforts to show the depth and richness of the Patristic tradition, as well as Aulén’s ecumenical suggestion that this tradition could serve as a common source that all churches – Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox – could draw upon. But, Myers maintains that Aulén’s view of the Patristic theory of atonement is fundamentally wrong.

Specifically, he has two bones to pick with Aulén. First, he rejects Aulén’s contention that the Patristic view was merely a generalized idea or theme of atonement expressed in numerous variations, and not a fully realized theory or explanation of how salvation occurred. Myers’ second criticism of Aulén was that Aulén’s Christus Victor image – Christ’s triumph in a conflict between God and the powers of evil – is not an accurate characterization of Patristic thinking.

We will get to Myers’ first complaint when we discuss his alternative view of Patristic thinking. So, let me start with the second complaint.

In late antiquity, we see the rise of what we now call Gnosticism. It took many forms, but basic Gnostic belief was extremely dualistic, drawing a clear distinction between the physical world and the spirit realm. Gnostics believed that the visible, material world was fashioned – not by God – but by a lesser deity known as the Demiurge (from the Greek word for “craftsman”) and, hence, was 
a flawed copy of the true universe. Depending on the version of Gnosticism, the Demiurge was malevolent or incompetent, either infirmity being sufficient to account for the evil and suffering in the world.  The spirit realm where the true transcendent God lives, however, is untouched by the Demiurge and remains blessed. Even so, humans were bound in their “evil” physical body, and could only be released from its confines through gaining gnosis, or secret knowledge.

The early church drew a hard line on these beliefs. There was no Demiurge. Creation and the physical world came from God and were, therefore, good. Of course, that left the problem of evil and human suffering for which the Gnostics had a ready answer.

William Blake's "Ancient of Days" has been interpreted as a depiction of the Demiurge.

The solution for the church fathers was to say that evil was not, as the Gnostics claimed, another power like the Demiurge that strove with God; rather, evil is a privation, the negation of the good. Gregory of Nyssa describes evil as the absence of virtue:
For as sight is an activity of nature, and blindness a deprivation of that natural operation, such is the kind of opposition between virtue and vice. It is, in fact, not possible to form any other notion of the origin of vice than as the absence of virtue. For as when the light has been removed the darkness supervenes, but as long as it is present there is no darkness, so, as long as the good is present in the nature, vice is a thing that has no inherent existence; while the departure of the better state becomes the origin of its opposite. Gregory of Nyssa, The Great Catechism.
Athanasius of Alexandria (circa. 296 - 373), renowned Christian theologian and Church Father (known as “the Great”), made it simple: “God alone exists, evil is non-being.” Athanasius, On the Incarnation.

So, while the ancient Christian writers liked to speak about demons and their leader, Satan, that was mostly for dramatic effect. If they gave the devil more than his due, it was because it made for a better story. Demons may have plagued humans, but they did not strive with God. The arguments against Gnostic dualism were frequent and consistent in early church writings. In Patristic thought, there simply were no evil forces for Christ to pit his strength against. Myers puts it this way: “Aulén has mistaken an eccentricity for a type.”

Rather, as the Patristic fathers saw it, humankind’s real foe and greatest evil was not Satan but the ultimate deprivation of being: death. Indeed, according to St. Paul, “Death is the last enemy to be destroyed.” I Corinthians 15:26. Death and the threat of nonbeing was not only a horror in itself, but the fear of death held humanity in its grip. We read that the “wages of sin is death,” but the Patristic fathers saw it the other way around: our mortality is the cause of sin. The modern Greek Orthodox theologian, John S. Romanides, says that because man  "lives constantly under the fear of death, he continuously seeks bodily and psychological security, and thus becomes individualistically inclined and utilitarian in attitude. Sin is the failure of man to live according to his original destiny of selfless love which seeks not its own and this failure is rooted in the disease of death."

John Chrysostom (circa 349 – 407), another important church father (Chrysostom in Greek means “golden-mouthed,” a tribute to his oratory skills), describes the advantages of one who does not fear death:
He who fears death is a slave and subjects himself to everything in order to avoid dying…[But] he who does not fear death is outside the tyranny of the devil. For indeed “man would give skin for skin, and all things for [the sake of] his life,” [Job 2:4] and if a man should decide to disregard this, whose slave is he then? He fears no one, is in terror of no one, is higher than everyone, and is freer than everyone. For he who disregards his own life disregards more so all other things. And when the devil finds such a soul, he can accomplish in it none of his works. Tell me, though, what can he threaten? The loss of money or honor? Or exile from one’s country? For these are small things to him ‘who counteth not even his life dear,’ says blessed Paul [Acts 20:24]. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Hebrews, Homily IV.
So, contrary to Aulén’s contention, evil is not some malevolent power that Jesus had to defeat in order to save the world. It is a deprivation – a void – that would have to be addressed quite differently to secure our salvation.

And that brings us to Myers’ second argument: that Aulén erred in his contention that the Patristic approach lacked any coherent theory or explanation of atonement. A closer examination of the Patristic theory makes Meyers’ point.

As an initial matter, to understand the Patristic explanation of both humankind’s fall and God's mechanism for salvation, we must consider a bit of Biblical history looking through our Platonic goggles. The early Christian theologians accepted that there was a universal form – human nature – in which all individual humans participate. Adam, the first human, was the blueprint of that form.

Adam and Eve were created with the potential of immortality. “[God] did not make [man] mortal, nor did He fashion him as immortal,” says Ephrem the Syrian in his Commentary on Genesis. Rather, as Athanasius puts it, “[God] gave [human beings] a law, so that if they guarded the grace and remained good, they might have the life of paradise … besides having the promise of their incorruptibility in heaven.” Athanasius, On the Incarnation. Similarly, John of Damascus (c.676 – 749), the last of the Greek Fathers, writes that God gave Adam the commandment in Eden “with the promise that should he let reason prevail, recognizing his creator and observing his Creator’s ordinance … then he would become stronger than death and would live forever.” John of Damascus, On the Orthodox Faith.

As those of us who attended Sunday school know, Adam and Eve failed the test. By turning away from God in the Garden of Eden, Adam corrupted not only himself but he fatally altered the human blueprint – imprinting death upon the entire human race. As Irenaeus said, “in the original formation of Adam all of us were tied and bound up with death through his disobedience.” Irenaeus, The Proof of the Apostolic Preaching. It was as if Adam had been afflicted with a genetic disorder that was naturally passed on to his descendants.

Athanasius makes it clear that our mortality was the natural result of turning from God and not some divine punishment:
For transgression of the commandment was turning them back to their natural state, so that just as they have had their being out of nothing, so also, as might be expected, they might look for corruption into nothing in the course of time. For if, out of a former normal state of non-existence, they were called into being by the Presence and loving-kindness of the Word, it followed naturally that when men were bereft of the knowledge of God and were turned back to what was not (for what is evil is not, but what is good is), they should, since they derive their being from God who IS, be everlastingly bereft even of being; in other words, that they should be disintegrated and abide in death and corruption. Athanasius, On the Incarnation.
As Athanasius said, God is being, and so to turn from God inevitably leads to decay and non-being.

In any event, according to the Patristic fathers, humankind was in a perilous state, facing extinction. Due to its inherited infirmity, “the whole human race has been locked in a downward slide toward nothingness,” says Myers. Athanasius saw the situation as dire: “For this cause, then, death having gained upon men, and corruption abiding upon them, the race of man was perishing; the rational man made in God’s image was disappearing, and the handiwork of God was in process of dissolution.…” Athanasius, On the Incarnation.

God, however, had not yet lost his love for humankind and, like other monarchs, He didn’t like to look bad. Allowing his creation to fall into neglect and ruin certainly would have reflected badly on him. Better He had not made humanity at all. “For if He had not made them, none could impute weakness; but once He had made them, and created them out of nothing, it were most monstrous for the work to be ruined, and that before the eyes of the Maker.” Accordingly, “It was, then, out of the question to leave men to the current of corruption.” Id.

And for this reason, God’s Word became flesh in the incarnation. Here, God accomplished two things.  [Note:  God's second achievement will be discussed in the next post].  First, by joining himself to humankind, he healed the corruption wrought by Adam. In essence, he re-stamped human nature, removing Adam’s “genetic defect”:
For it was for this end that the Word of God was made man…. For by no other means could we have attained to incorruptibility and immortality, unless we had been united to incorruptibility and immortality. But how could we be joined to incorruptibility and immortality, unless, first, incorruptibility and immortality had become that which we also are, so that the corruptible might be swallowed up by incorruptibility, and the mortal by immortality, that we might receive the adoption of sons? Irenaeus, Against Heresies.
Again, just as it is not possible to understand the corruption of all humanity without seeing its cause as the injury to the abstract “form” in which all humans participate, it is also not possible to see how the healing of all people came about from the healing of that same form. Christ is humanity made new; he has altered human nature. “God recapitulated in Himself the ancient formation of man, that He might kill sin, deprive death of its power, and vivify man” Irenaeus, Against Heresies. Indeed, St. Paul calls Christ the “last Adam.” 1 Corinthians 15:45.

It is clear that the transformation of human nature brought about by the incarnation affects all humans. Gregory of Nazianus (circa 329 – 390), theologian and Church Father, explains this by his well-known kitchen analogies: The Word became human “with the aim of hallowing Man through himself, by becoming a sort of yeast for the whole lump. He has united with himself all that lay under condemnation, in order to release it from condemnation.” Gregory of Nazianus, Oration 30. Indeed, “a few drops of blood recreate the whole world and become for all human beings like a curdling agent for milk, binding and drawing us together into one.” Gregory of Nazianus, Oration 45.

Athanasius explains the universal effect of the incarnation by comparing it with a great king coming to live in a large city: “You know how it is when some great king enters a large city and dwells in one of its houses; because of his dwelling in that single house, the whole city is honored, and enemies and robbers cease to molest it. Even so it is with the King of all; He has come into our country and dwelt in one body amidst the many, and in consequence the designs of the enemy against mankind have been foiled....”  Athanasius, On the Incarnation.  (my emphasis). Because, through the Incarnation, the Word altered human nature itself, we all benefit from that change.

[Please see next installment for second half of this post.]

Early icon of Christ, c. 6th century.  Notice that the right half of the face is not a mirror image of the left.  This was to point out Christ's dual nature.  I'm still trying to figure out which side is divine and which side is human. 

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