Sunday, November 25, 2007

Armenian Genocide

Bill Press’ column October 18 ( raises several questions:
1. If no time is the wrong time to declare genocide, why haven’t previous Congresses done it? Could it be that the current leadership is so invested in defeat in Iraq, that they see a resolution condemning the Armenian genocide as a way to split the Turks from the U. S., thereby making defeat in Iraq more likely?
2. With current issues like the war in Iraq and global warming to worry about, it’s difficult to see why Congress would spend time on an issue that dates to the First World War.
3. Congressional resolutions are a poor way to conduct diplomacy. In World War II when the U. S. and Britain had differing views about how to deal with the future of India, President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill hashed out the issues privately, thereby avoiding a public squabble that would have hindered the war effort.
4. What is the value of beating the Turks over the head about what their ancestors did during World War I when a serious, immediate issue requires trust and careful diplomacy: Turkey’s difficulties with their Kurdish minority, which threaten to spill over into Iraq?
5. What deterrence to future dictators will result from a Congressional resolution? One can imagine a future Hitler saying, “We don’t have to worry about the Americans. The Turks tried to wipe out the Armenians and all the Americans did was approve a piece of paper in their Congress 90 years later.”
Congress should concentrate on current issues that it can do something constructive about. The world will take far more heed of our actions than of our high-sounding rhetoric.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

After whose kind?

Gen 1:24 is one of those “proof texts” creationists use to claim that the Bible teaches against evolution. In the NIV this verse reads

24 And God said, "Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind." And it was so.

The creationist will say, “See, the animals reproduce after their kinds.” I have never understood how the creationists can logically attach this interpretation to Gen 1:24, since reproduction isn’t mentioned. This verse isn’t about reproduction. It’s about creation. The Lord appears to be saying "Let the land produce living creatures [according to the specifications I have in mind]” Also note that the land is being commanded to produce living creatures.

The passage gets more interesting and suggests a possible alternative interpretation when you look at other versions. The New American Standard Bible for example says:

24(A)Then God said, "Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth after their kind"; and it was so.

My NASB Open Bible flags the first “their” with a dagger, indicating that “their” has been inserted by the translators to improve readability. Another NASB footnotes the first “their” with “Literally its”. The King James Version renders 1:24 as

24And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.

And this raises an interesting question: Could “his” refer to the earth rather than the creature? Young’s literal translation gives some support to this idea:

24And God saith, `Let the earth bring forth the living creature after its kind, cattle and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after its kind:' and it is so.

If “its” refers to the earth, then this passage is saying that the creatures and the earth are the same kind. In other words, the creatures are made of the same elements as the earth.

Am I arguing that Genesis 1:24 supports abiogenesis? I suppose one could make that argument, but if my interpretation is correct, I believe the passage is saying something quite different. It’s saying that the creatures are material beings made from the same elements as the earth, just as the earth is a material entity. This is absolutely true. And it removes this passage from the creation/evolution controversy. This makes sense, in view of the Bible’s role as God’s letter to humanity rather than a science textbook.

Genesis 1:24 sets the stage for Genesis 2:7, in which God breaths the breath of life into the man he has made from the dust of the earth. The animals are brought forth by the earth and immediately go about their lives. Man too is made from the dust of the earth, but then an additional step takes place: God breathes the breath of life into him. Thus in a material sense, man is of the same kind (made of the same elements) as the earth, but in addition man has a spiritual component, since the Hebrew word interpreted as breath can also mean spirit.

So Genesis 1:24 and 2:7, taken together, establish that man has a spiritual component, animals don’t.

1. Later (in ~ Genesis 6) it says all creatures having the breath of life died [in the flood]. However only man’s breath of life was acquired by a direct act of God.

Murdering the language

The purpose of language is to communicate. That would seem to be a no-brainer. But like Newspeak in the novel 1984, language is also used to obfuscate or head off “undesirable” thoughts. Witness for example the many terms that have been used to designate African-Americans: In the 50’s it was “Negro”. Starting in the 60’s we went through “Black”, “Afro-American” and “African-American”. Rumor has it that the government changed the term used to designate African Americans every time they suspected people were “catching on” to the meaning of the term.

“Native American,” used to refer to American Indians is another attempt to obfuscate. “Native” means “born here”. If you were born in America, you are a native American. The correct term for American Indians is “aborigine”. Perhaps, though, the arbiters of language can’t bear to use a word that conveys the image of “primitive people”. Why not just refer to them as Indians, or better yet, refer to them by their tribe? Many Indians have no objection whatever to being referred to as Indians, and none will object to being referred to as Chippewa, Sioux, etc. (so long as you get it right). On a recent visit to Plimoth Plantation I encountered the term “native peoples”. That doesn’t grate like “native American.”

Why is there a proliferation of “hyphenated American” terms: Italian-American, Irish-American, Vietnamese-American? An American is an individual who is an American Citizen, by birth or by naturalization. The hyphenated terms might be useful for first generation immigrants, but when they are applied to people whose families have lived in America for generations, all they succeed in doing is dividing us into separate ethnic groups.

What on earth is “reverse discrimination”? Logically it should mean “the opposite of discrimination” – a very desirable goal for any society to strive for. A dictionary definition however, is

Discrimination against members of a dominant or majority group, especially when resulting from policies established to correct discrimination against members of a minority or disadvantaged group

In other words, in our society discrimination against whites would be reverse discrimination. No wonder kids grow up confused, with poor language skills.

Still another abomination of language is the use of made-up words. GM got itself in trouble a few years ago by shortening “Berlinetta” to “Beretta”. Unfortunately, as any James Bond fan knows, there is a real Company with that name, and they sued GM. A few years later GM named a van “Savana”. How many kids will misspell “Savanna” as “Savana” because their father bought a Savana? One of my favorites is “Cingular”. Why does a company name have to look like a misspelled word? Fortunately for the language,
“Cingular” was replaced by “AT&T” now that AT&T owns BellSouth.