August 2010

Feynman Trilogy

Six Easy Pieces, by Richard Feynman ★★★★
This, and the subsequent two books, are actually not a trilogy, though they seem to go together, in providing a layman’s read for modern physics. Feynman has written a number of other popular-read books. In this book, Feynman, the noted Nobel-prize-winning American physicist, includes six lectures that he gave at Caltech to explain fundamental physics to non-scientific types. While these lectures are very rudimentary, they exhibit the sheer brilliance of Feynman, who has the ability to make those principles that one strained over in college physics seem quite simple. This book is a fun read for both the scientifically literate, and those who are otherwise.

Six Not So Easy pieces, by Richard Feynman ★★★★
Obviously, this is a continuation of the book reviewed above. This time, Feynman attempts the nobler task of explaining Einsteinian physics to laymen. He mostly succeeds, and is even able to offer a rationale behind such formula as E=mc2. There are some formulae that he fears not tackle how they were derived, such as the Lorenz transformation. This book is a natural continuation of his previous text, and fun read.

QED, by Richard Feynman ★★★★
QED is what made Feynman a Nobel prize winner, in that he was able to tackle one of the dilemmas of quantum mechanics, that of applying quantum mechanics to electricity, etc., thus quantum electrodynamics. Feynman makes one thing perfectly clear, and that is that ultimately, he has no clue as to really understanding the nature of quantum physics. Quantum physics doesn’t make sense, but it seems to give the correct numbers to most, but not all, calculations. It provides only a model, and as we learn more, even more confusing data seems to grab our interest, such as all the new atomic particles that continue to be discovered. Feynman diagrams provide a rough visual experience as to how photons and electrons interact, though it also demands such explanations like time going backward. I won’t hold my breath too much on the next installment of physics explanations. This was a fun though somewhat bizarre book to read, and, together with the other two books above, helps a non-physicist see where we’re at in the grand world of physics.

Telling God How He Did It

Brother Dennis opened up some thought processes when he made some comments regarding a book that I reviewed by Dempski called The End of Christianity. In particular, he comments on God sticking His fingers into the process of Creation/Evolution by saying “This is a key issue between intelligent-design theorists and evolutionary creationists. Why God should have to tinker with the creation after he establishes the laws of the universe along with initial conditions is unclear. Has he not gotten it right from the start?”.
Simultaneous with Dennis’ comments, I receive an e-mail from NH, a physician and Christian thinker whom I respect dearly. His note is as follows…
“I would commend to you a careful reading of these two items:
in which 8 geologists appeal to the PCA to accept the “old earth view.”  It is a pitiful piece when looked at from a theological perspective, and actually quite poor from a scientific perspective (the analogies, in particular, are often invalid). Hopefully, when you read it you will anticipate the arguments made in this point-by-point rebuttal by another geologist:
Both the links are worth reading, the second article being a rebuttal of the first. You may determine for yourself the strength of his rebuttal, though I consider it as a standard classical argument of young-Earthers.  Clearly, NH is a 7-literal day creationist. I am very reluctant to trash either Dennis’ or NH’s comments, yet offer a slightly different approach.  The first difficulty is in creating a discussion. The 7-day creationist (if you wish, young-earth folk) consider their stand as a litmus test of orthodoxy, and any disagreement is considered either an inability to believe the Scriptures or inability to hold Scripture as the infallible word of God. The old-Earthers look at disdain at young-Earthers as somewhat scientifically naive and guilty of the sins that possess many medieval theologians that fought against Kepler and Galileo. Neither side is right.
I proffer several foundational statements.
1. The word “day” in Genesis 1-3 does not necessarily denote 24-hour spans. This argument is ably developed by both Hebrew scholars and biblical scholars that look at the use of the word “day” throughout Scripture.
2. The genre of Genesis 1-3 is neither strictly poetic nor strictly literal-historical. Those who develop the construct of Genesis 1 as simply being apologetic against the Egyptian gods are wrong, though an apologetic is implied by the structure of how Moses constructs Gen. 1. Nor does it utilize language and terms that suggest an accurate detailed historical approach to creation.
3. The implication that God commands events to happen in each of the days of creation suggests a divine interference on a “daily” basis. Dennis’ comments, of which I’ve heard many times before, suggest that there is an “anthropomorphism” in the very substance of the atomic structure of the universe, that demanded that this is the sort of universe only that could have come out of the “big bang”. This seems to lean dangerously to Deism, if not Animism, whereby Nature itself is offered the source of personality, and that the universe, once wound up, can take care of itself.
Thus, there remain a few questions of relevance…
1. What is the level of involvement of God in the process of creation/evolution? At what stage, or, at what time in history, did God decide to cease active interventional work in the universe outside of the laws of nature, and thus work through the “laws of the universe” in his actions in the world, including his miracles as described in Scripture? This is simply an unanswerable question. Scriptures give us no clues, and science could never answer such questions.
2. Is it morally deceptive of God to create things that are aged? To what extent would he have done that? In my opinion, it is neither right nor proper to ask such questions.
3. Do the questions of creation/evolution really need to recruit discussions of a universal flood? Are these not ultimately separate questions?
4. Can we ultimately claim an exegetical basis for establishing the genre-type of Gen 1-3? I bring this up, because young Earthers wail long and hard about the abandonment of a strictly literal interpretation of the Scripture. Yet, John Gerstner, in Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth, waxes long and hard against dispensationalists who force literal interpretations when the genre doesn’t permit a literal interpretation.
My own personal stance leaves me neither a strictly young nor old earth creationist. I feel that we assume too much when we attempt to engage in the creation argument. I feel that discussions have not allowed for a plastic middle position, and focused on how far from that middle one needs to go before one falls off the edge. It could happen both ways. I feel that Dempski falls off the edge when he removes God from much of the processes of creation. Morris from the Creation Research Institute falls off the other edge by pushing his agenda so hard he simply does poor science. It would be better for Morris to simply be a fideist than an apologist. Yet, I also accept that much of science will eventually be proven wrong, that our standard tools such as carbon dating will be replaced, and that new paradigms will replace old ones. Like Hugh Ross and others of the conservative old-earth school, I see how we may use science as an apologetic for a Christian worldview, even though the science may evolve with time. As an example, the red-shift observation in the stars led to the “big-bang” theory, which is entirely consistent with Christian thinking that there was a time when the universe was not, and then came instantly (almost) into being. The intelligent design argument wonderfully argues against a laissez-faire universe explained entirely by random events. God clearly interfered with natural processes at all stages throughout the development of this world, though we will never know the balance of interference/natural process nor the speed/acceleration by which he had natural processes occur. To me, the arguments sit around trying to tell God how He did things. I’m sure He’s not so amused at our undertakings.
Since we are on the topic of God interfering with nature, there is one more thing that bothers me. I just wish to know why Jesus didn’t turn the water into beer rather than wine.

Requiem: Verdi

Messa da Requiem, by Verdi, conducted by von Karajan ★★★★★
This is a staged piece with an empty audience, performed by the Teatro alla Scala in Milan in 1967. This was a time when Karajan, and many of the performers, such as Leontyne Price, and Nicholai Ghiaurov were truly in their prime. Luciano Pavarotti is very young in this production and appears a touch insecure, though Verdi gave the tenor a minor solo part in this work. The work itself is a compositional masterpiece, stylistically being very operatic. Karajan’s conducting is also demonstrative of the best that this piece could possibly be performed. Interestingly, he is usually found with his eyes opened during the conducting, a characteristic I find peculiar to Karajan conducting choral works. The filming is a little problematic at times since the camera seems to stray off of the performers, and the view is often obstructed by microphone poles. All in all, this is one of the best performances of Verdi’s Requiem, and a must have by any music lover.

Der Kuhhandel

Der Kuhhandel, by Kurt Weill ★★
This opera is about the country of Santa Maria that started as a peaceful, happy country, until corruption encouraged the leaders into an arms race with a neighboring country, resulting in oppressive taxation and brutality to its citizens. The staging was not totally minimalistic, and so was endurable for a European-produced production, and the singing/acting was well done. The opera was interesting in that if one simply closed their eyes and listened to the music, they would imagine that they were listening to a modern American movie-musical, such as a Rogers & Hammerstein musical or the Wizard of Oz, etc. I am sure that Kurt Weill had a major influence on the later composition of musicals.
So, why the poor rating? Weill was a Jewish composer that had to flee Germany during the Nazi years, eventually dying at age 50 in NYC. His political leanings tended toward Communism, and this opera represents a very strong leaning toward the same. Yet, it represents highly confused thinking, possibly attributing to why the opera never really became popular. The corrupt government is the source of evil. Simple, primitive life is good. The government is hell-bent on destroying your life while living themselves a life of luxury. Unfortunately, all of these traits were present in virtually all of the socialistic or communistic regimes of the 20th century. When Weill protests capitalism, he also glorifies capitalism by extolling the virtues of owning private property (a cow, which is the peasant’s means of producing a living). Such muddled thinking is so true of most liberals today, shooting a “capitalist” straw man. Weill seems to protest moral decadence by having the fat government officials relishing in a brothel, yet, had the brothel maidens dancing in the forefront at the end of the opera. Perhaps Weill needs better direction as to a real (I actually mean, only) system of morality.

Napola, Elite für den Führer

Napola, Elite für den Führer ★★★
This film has been produced in English, but I, unfortunately, have only the German version. I was able to follow most of the speaking, though there were critical sections where I was totally unable to understand what was going on. Thus, my review may not be entirely accurate. It is a quasi-historical film (historical fiction) detailing a young boy, good at boxing, who is asked to enroll in a special school system that Hitler had set up to establish an elite system of education. This boy goes against the wishes of his parents to attend the school and does well at first until questions start arising. There is an unusually high attrition rate at the school, and certain classmates are treated in a very embarrassing fashion, such as the kid who occasionally has a problem with bedwetting. The turning point was when the students were asked to hunt down and shoot some young escaped Russian POWs. This led the star character to give up, and in the end, get thrown out of the school.
Reading the reviews of this movie, many comments on how this film represents a resurrection of rethinking some of the crimes of the past Nazi regime. I’m not sure such an episode is worth re-thinking. The mistake made in this film is that they do NOT engage in a re-thinking, but rather, a re-creation or a re-invention of what actually happened. They imply that young Germans actually knew better, that they had hearts and souls that defied the evil of their elders and wished to correct those evils. One wishes that were true, but such is not the case in any epoch, in any time, in any place. Such is human nature to defy the elders, but in such a fashion as to generate an even worse ethic or morality. So, Napola doesn’t satisfy the wish for a therapeutic re-think of past sins. It excuses the past by claiming that the youth really knew better, and often did act in defiance of Nazi policy. A few did, such as Sophie Scholl, but most did not.