>Santa comes to our house

2009 December 25 2 comments

> Yesterday we had 3 families opening Christmas presents. One parcel under the tree had no gift tag so the intended recipient was unknown. No one there claimed giver status. Of course this did not prevent us opening it. But even when the contents of the gift were revealed, British confectionery and a gift voucher, no person remembered buying the gift, let alone who it was intended for.

Despite his absence from our house since we had children, one suspects the jolly, hoary elf finally decided to pay us a visit.

Categories: weird

>Herod's slaughter of the innocents

2009 December 22 2 comments

> National Geographic did an article on King Herod last year. I didn’t find the writing style particularly riveting though it was variably informative. The article started with this comment about Herod.

An astute and generous ruler, a brilliant general, and one of the most imaginative and energetic builders of the ancient world, Herod guided his kingdom to new prosperity and power. Yet today he is best known as the sly and murderous monarch of Matthew’s Gospel, who slaughtered every male infant in Bethlehem in an unsuccessful attempt to kill the newborn Jesus, the prophesied King of the Jews. During the Middle Ages he became an image of the Antichrist: Illuminated manuscripts and Gothic gargoyles show him tearing his beard in mad fury and brandishing his sword at the luckless infants, with Satan whispering in his ear. Herod is almost certainly innocent of this crime, of which there is no report apart from Matthew’s account. But children he certainly slew, including three of his own sons, along with his wife, his mother-in-law, and numerous other members of his court. Throughout his life, he blended creativity and cruelty, harmony and chaos, in ways that challenge the modern imagination.

The claim that Herod is innocent of this crime because there is not further documentary evidence of the event betrays an unjustified anti-biblical bias.

That Herod was capable of commanding the murder of infants is mentioned in the paragraph above: 3 sons, a wife, etc.

Herod had these people killed,

  • Mattathias Antigonus
  • Several leaders of Antigonus’ group
  • John Hyrcanus
  • Aristobulus (brother-in-law)
  • Kostobar (brother-in-law)
  • Alexandra (the mother of Herod’s wife Mariamme)
  • Miriamme (wife)
  • Alexander (son)
  • Aristobulus (son)
  • 300 military leaders
  • Several Pharisees
  • Antipater (son)

Many of these were killed to prevent a perceived challenge to his kingdom.

And if these examples do not suffice to document Herod’s paranoia and blood-thirst, Josephus records a well known story how Herod had many men imprisoned in Jericho shortly before his death with instructions they be executed when he died. The reason? So there would be mourning at the time of his death. This was not carried out.

So it is apparent that Herod was capable of ordering the death of children if he perceived a threat to his throne.

However the bigger issue here is the illegitimate implication that documentary evidence from the Bible has second class status. Or even errant status. Not only is any other contemporary (or not so contemporary) document held up as the primary standard that the Bible is judged by, the Bible is often assumed to be in error when it touches on aspects of history that no other historian has mentioned.

Matthew was roughly contemporary with these events. He wrote of Herod earlier than Josephus did.

There is documentary evidence of Herod slaughtering the children. It is recorded in Matthew 2. There is no evidence that Herod did not do such an action. There is no good reason to exempt him of this crime.

Categories: bias, Bible, history, testimony

>The post-exilic chronology. Part 1: A common timeline

2009 December 20 Leave a comment

>Sorting out the post-exilic Israelite chronology has its difficulties. Modern biblical scholarship relies heavily on Persian material. The ESV Study Bible is probably typical in its outline. See table below (abridged).

Event Year (BC)
Cyrus king of Persia captures Babylon 539
First year of King Cyrus; issues proclamation freeing Jewish exiles to return 538–537
Jewish exiles, led by Sheshbazzar, return from Babylon to Jerusalem 537?
Altar rebuilt. 537
Temple rebuilding begins 536
Adversaries oppose the rebuilding 536–530
Temple rebuilding ceases 530–520
Temple rebuilding resumes (2nd year of Darius) 520
Temple construction completed (6th year of Darius) 516
Ezra departs from Babylon to Jerusalem (arrives in 7th year of Artaxerxes I) 458
Hanani brings Nehemiah a report from Jerusalem (20th year of Artaxerxes I) 445–444
Nehemiah before King Artaxerxes 445
Nehemiah repairs Jerusalem walls 445
Nehemiah returns to Jerusalem (32nd year of Artaxerxes I) 433–432

The problem I have with this reconstruction (which I will refer to as the common reconstruction) is that it tries to meld the biblical data with the secular perspective of the Persian data. Reading Ezra-Nehemiah using this scheme makes less sense and constant reference to a study Bible is needed to understand when events are happening.

This is the list of Persian kings as they appear in the Bible.

King Reference
Cyrus Ezra 1:1–4:3
Ahasuerus Ezra 4:6
Artaxerxes Ezra 4:7–24
Darius Ezra 4:24–6:22
Artaxerxes Ezra 7:1–Nehemiah 13:9

The common reconstruction places Cyrus ~530 BC. The opposition described in Ezra 4:1–6 is during the time of Cyrus to Darius ~530–490 BC, so Ezra 4:7 onwards is proposed to be describing a similar situation, i.e. opposition, even though it is several years later. There is a single verse about the time of Ahasuerus ~480 BC then several verses dedicated to Artaxerxes who is placed later ~460 BC. This aside supposedly stops at Ezra 4:23 with the next sentence returning to the opposition under Darius. Effectively the text is interpreted thus,

Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia. [Aside on Ahasuerus and Artaxerxes.] Then the work on the house of God that is in Jerusalem stopped, and it ceased until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.

After the discussion about rebuilding the temple under Darius ~520 BC the text moves to the return of Ezra under Artaxerxes ~460 BC (some 50–60 years later).

Then Nehemiah returns some 13 years after Ezra, also during the reign of Artaxerxes.

Having laid out the common reconstruction I would like to point out what I see are the deficiencies.

Probably the most obvious issue is the distortion of the narrative around the opposition to building. We read of opposition in Ezra 4:4–5 and instead of any explanation we get a diversion some 50 years into the future. When the story returns to the previous era there are no details about the opposition previously mentioned. Ezra does go on to talk about letters sent in the days of Darius but this does not appear to be so much external opposition as enquiry. The governor Tattenai does ask about the authority under whom the Jews were acting in rebuilding the temple, but he does not stop them, and then he asks Darius if the Jewish claim can be confirmed from the archives.

There is also a possible issue with the common reconstruction in that Artaxerxes opposes the building of the city, which includes the walls (Ezra 4:12), yet he sends Nehemiah back to repair the walls in the 20th year of his reign (Nehemiah 2:8). It is possible that Artaxerxes did change his mind, but this does give one pause.

Further, the context of Ezra 4:24 fits the preceding verse 23 better than the earlier verse 5. We have a letter of opposition from the surrounding people leading to a decree by Artaxerxes to stop building the city,…

Then, when the copy of King Artaxerxes’ letter was read before Rehum and Shimshai the scribe and their associates, they went in haste to the Jews at Jerusalem and by force and power made them cease. Then the work on the house of God that is in Jerusalem stopped, and it ceased until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia. (Ezra 4:23–24)

If we read these verses together it says that the Jews were rebuilding the city and were compelled to stop, therefore the work on the temple also ceased. And there was no further building until the time of Darius.

Lastly, if one were not attempting to fit his prior ideas about the reigns of the Persian kings, would the common reconstruction come out of the book of Ezra?

In part 2 I will discuss a revision of this scheme.

>Potential advent astronomical events

2009 December 18 Leave a comment

>Below is a table of astronomical events that occurred near and up to 1 BC as seen from Jerusalem.

Dates are according to the Julian calendar.

Time is Jerusalem time. For universal time (UTC) subtract 2 hours. For Babylon time add 1 hour. Time is specified as such

  • Conjunction: time of closest approach.
  • Eclipse: time of central shadow.

Jerusalem is longitude 35°14′ East

Date Time Sun Moon Planet Star Const* Event
5 BC
Mar 23 20:21 Yes Total lunar eclipse
Sep 15 22:12 Yes Total lunar eclipse
4 BC
Mar 13 2:41 Yes Partial lunar eclipse
3 BC
Feb 15 14:30 Yes Yes Partial solar eclipse
May 20† 0:47 Mercury Saturn Conjunction: 40′
Jun 12 18:06 Venus Saturn Conjunction: 7.2′
Aug 12 7:20 Venus Jupiter Leo/ Cancer Conjunction: 4.2′
Aug 31 23:03 Mercury Venus Conjunction
Sep 8–10 Yes Yes Virgo Sun and Moon in Virgo
Sep 11 Yes Yes Virgo Sun in Virgo. New Moon at feet of Virgo
Sep 14 7:05 Jupiter Regulus Leo Triple conjunction (1): 20′
Dec 1 Jupiter Jupiter stationary
2 BC
Feb 17 17:15 Jupiter Regulus Leo Triple conjunction (2): 51′
Mar 29 Jupiter Jupiter stationary
May 8 18:10 Jupiter Regulus Leo Triple conjunction (3): 43′
Jun 17 19:53 Venus Jupiter Leo Conjunction: 6″. Close to Regulus. Full Moon
Jul 17 7:14 Yes Partial lunar eclipse. Not visible from Jerusalem
Aug 26 17:15 Mars Jupiter Leo Conjunction. Venus and Mercury also massing with Mars and Jupiter
Dec 25–30 Yes Jupiter Virgo Jupiter stationary. December 25 is solstice
1 BC
Jan 10† 1:09 Yes Total lunar eclipse
Dec 29 14:31 Yes Partial lunar eclipse. Only end of eclipse visible

*Const. = constellation.
†Date given based on time in Jerusalem. Times are usually given in UTC which for these events would be 1 day prior.

These dates were obtained from The Star that Astonished the World by Ernest Martin and NASA’s lunar eclipse site.

Categories: astronomy, chronology, nativity

>The moon and the age of the earth

2009 December 15 6 comments

> In my defence of a young earth I wanted to address the philosophical issues which I think are foundational to the argument. Discussions that fail to identify these issues end up with proponents of an old earth indirectly defending their presuppositions as if they are conclusions.

Consider 2 dating systems that give contradictory results. Which do we take as preferable? They both cannot be true. One or neither is true. Frequently the position is taken that dating system A gives the correct result and dating system B in in error because of incorrect assumptions X, Y, and Z. But it may be just as reasonable to take B as the correct result and explain why A is in error. Unfortunately proponents of A fail to see the philosophical validity of this. And even if they do, their subsequent arguments still frequently assume A.

I am not saying that all systems are equally convincing in their arguments. Rather that if B can be questioned then so can A.

I anticipated giving further specific arguments in favour of a young earth, or at least against a 4 billion year old earth. One argument is the maximum age of the moon.

The moon is known to be receding from earth. The rate is currently about 4 cm per year, though it is decreasing; the moon receded more quickly in the past. The recession is due to a transfer of angular momentum from the earth to the moon. The loss of angular momentum on earth is due to ocean tidal friction.

If we calculate how long it would take the moon to get to its current position if the moon was initially at the surface of the earth we get a figure of ~1 billion years. This is the maximum possible age for the earth-moon system. It can be much younger than this.

This maximum age is slightly, but negligibly, shorter if we consider the Roche limit. The earth’s gravity exerts a force on the moon dependant on the distance of the moon from the earth. At a certain distance the force exerted from the earth on the near-side of the moon compared to the lesser force on the far-side of the moon is greater than the gravitational force holding the moon together. This is called the Roche limit. This ignores added force from any internal tensile strength that holds the moon together.

The Roche limit for the moon is ~18,000 km from the centre of the earth. The moon is currently ~384,000 km from the (centre of the) earth. The earth’s radius is ~6,300 km.

Categories: creationism, moon, science

>Hostile witnesses on Climategate

2009 December 12 Leave a comment

> Much of the internet was abuzz about the released emails and documents from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, now referred to as Climategate (or the CRUtape letters). Notable for their silence were more mainstream newspapers and internet news sites. And when Climategate was covered the issue was minimised as having no real significance, a normal spat between fallible people who happened to be scientists, and having no bearing on the truth of anthropogenic global warming.

I think it does have bearing because if the scientists involved are shown to be otherwise dishonest, there is reason to suspect this character flaw would extend to fraudulent reporting and publishing in the scientific arena.

The desire and willingness for fellow global warming affirmers to defend these people is slightly concerning. Appropriate responses are to withhold judgment until further information is available, or to decry such behaviour as damaging to the issue. Dubious defence for one’s cause should be shunned, it causes damage in the long run.

Several who are convinced of the reality of global warming have realised the serious nature of these emails and stated as such. Below are several links to comments by people who otherwise think global warming is real and man-made. I do not agree with this hypothesis, nor everything they have written in these articles. I include them to emphasise to those who subscribe to global warming that the emails and documents are of a serious nature and suggest dodgy behaviour by several people in the forefront of the pro-global warming debate.

George Monbiot

There appears to be evidence here of attempts to prevent scientific data from being released, and even to destroy material that was subject to a freedom of information request.Worse still, some of the emails suggest efforts to prevent the publication of work by climate sceptics, or to keep it out of a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. I believe that the head of the unit, Phil Jones, should now resign. Some of the data discussed in the emails should be re-analysed.

Chip Knappenberger

As it now stands, a bias can exist in the current system. That it does exist is evident in the Climategate emails. By all appearances, it seems that some scientists are interested in keeping certain research (and particular researchers) out of the peer-review literature (and national and international assessments derived there from). While undoubtedly these scientists feel that they are acting in the best interest of science by trying to prevent too much backsliding and thereby keeping things moving forward efficiently, the way that they are apparently going about it is far from acceptable.

Instead of improving the process, it has nearly destroyed it.

If the practitioners of peer-review begin to act like members of an exclusive club controlling who and what gets published, the risk is run that the true course of science gets sidetracked. Even folks with the best intentions can be wrong.

Richard Tol

The emails reveal a systematic effort to deny legitimate freedom-of-information requests.

They contain evidence that the rules of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change were deliberately broken to include a paper that supports a particular point of view.

The emails show an intolerance of views and facts that do not support the received wisdom of the people involved.

One of the stolen documents reveals that a key result, the instrumental record of the global mean temperature since 1850, cannot be reproduced.

This is serious stuff.

John Tierney

As the scientists denigrate their critics in the e-mail messages, they seem oblivious to one of the greatest dangers in the climate-change debate: smug groupthink. These researchers, some of the most prominent climate experts in Britain and America, seem so focused on winning the public-relations war that they exaggerate their certitude — and ultimately undermine their own cause.

…Contempt for critics is evident over and over again in the hacked e-mail messages, as if the scientists were a priesthood protecting the temple from barbarians. Yes, some of the skeptics have political agendas, but so do some of the scientists. Sure, the skeptics can be cranks and pests, but they have identified genuine problems in the historical reconstructions of climate, as in the debate they inspired about the “hockey stick” graph of temperatures over the past millennium.

It is not unreasonable to give outsiders a look at the historical readings and the adjustments made by experts like Harry. How exactly were the readings converted into what the English scientists describe as “quality controlled and homogenised” data?

Trying to prevent skeptics from seeing the raw data was always a questionable strategy, scientifically. Now it looks like dubious public relations, too.

Judith Curry

In my opinion, there are two broader issues raised by these emails that are impeding the public credibility of climate research: lack of transparency in climate data, and “tribalism” in some segments of the climate research community that is impeding peer review and the assessment process.

And further comment by Curry here

What has been noticeably absent so far in the ClimateGate discussion is a public reaffirmation by climate researchers of our basic research values: the rigors of the scientific method (including reproducibility), research integrity and ethics, open minds, and critical thinking. Under no circumstances should we ever sacrifice any of these values; the CRU emails, however, appear to violate them.

Categories: climate change

>Adjusting multi-site and single site temperature data

2009 December 8 2 comments

> NIWA offer as their explanation for the temperature adjustments the paper

  • Rhoades, D.A. and Salinger, M.J., 1993: Adjustment of temperature and rainfall measurements for site changes. International Journal of Climatology 13, 899–913.

Though they do not link to it nor give a digital object identifier (doi:10.1002/joc.3370130807).

The abstract states

Methods are presented for estimating the effect of known site changes on temperature and rainfall measurements. Parallel cumulative sums of seasonally adjusted series from neighbouring stations are a useful exploratory tool for recognizing site-change effects at a station that has a number of near neighbours. For temperature data, a site-change effect can be estimated by a difference between the target station and weighted mean of neighbouring stations, comparing equal periods before and after the site change. For rainfall the method is similar, except for a logarithmic transformation. Examples are given. In the case of isolated stations, the estimation is necessarily more subjective, but a variety of graphical and analytical techniques are useful aids for deciding how to adjust for a site change. (Emphasis added)

I did not fully follow all the maths in the paper. It was not particularly complex but I would need to spend some time doing examples to completely grasp it.

In the introduction they define “site change”,

We use the term site change to mean any sudden change of non-meteorological origin. Gradual changes can seldom be assigned with any certainty to non-meteorological causes. Where long-term homogeneous series are required, for example, for studies of climate change, it is best to choose stations that are unlikely to have been affected by gradual changes in shading or urbanization. This is no easy task. Karl et al. (1988) have concluded that urban effects on temperature are detectable even for small towns with a population under 10000.

…This paper is concerned with the estimation of site-change effects when the times of changes are known a priori, such as when the station was moved or the instrument replaced.

The paper predominantly discusses adjustments to data when there are site changes and there are surrounding overlapping data sets (nearby thermometers) that can be used to assess whether there needs to be adjustment.

Later in the paper when discussing sites that have no overlapping data the authors state,

Such an adjustment involves much greater uncertainty than the adjustment of a station with many neighbours. A greater degree of subjectivity is inevitable. In the absence of corroborating data there is no way of knowing whether an apparent shift that coincides with a site change is due to the site change or not. However, several statistical procedures can be used alongside information on station histories to assist in the estimation of the effect of a site change. These include graphical examination of the data, simple statistical tests for detecting shifts applied to intervals of different length before and after the site change, and identification of the most prominent change points in the series independently of known site changes. Finally, a subjective judgement must be made whether to adjust the data or not, taking into account the consistency of all the graphical and analytical evidence supporting the need for an adjustment and any other relevant information.

Moreover when they apply this adjustment to a station in Christchurch to demonstrate their method comparing with the more accurate method used earlier in the paper they significantly over estimate the difference,

The 1975 site change at Christchurch Airport is somewhat overestimated, when compared with the neighbouring stations analysis. The contrast between the estimates based on 2 years data before and after this site change is particularly marked. For the neighbouring stations analysis the estimate is 0.45°C (Table TI); for the isolated station analysis the estimate is 1.58°C (Table V). This is to be expected when a site change coincides with an actual shift in temperature, as occurred in this case. The isolated station analysis then estimates the sum of the site change effect and the actual shift.

In their conclusion they note,

Adjustments for site changes can probably never be done once and for all. For stations with several neighbours, the decision to adjust for a site change usually can be taken with some confidence. The same cannot be said for isolated stations. However, large shifts can be recognized and corrected, albeit with some uncertainty. Ideally, for isolated stations, tests for site change effects would be incorporated into the estimation of long-term trends and periodicities as suggested by Ansley and Kohn (1989). This is not practicable at present on a routine basis, but may be in the future.


Whatever adjustment procedures are used, the presence of site changes causes an accumulating uncertainty when comparing observation that are more distant in time. The cumulative uncertainties associated with site change effects, whether adjustments are made or not, are often large compared with effects appearing in studies of long-term climate change. For this reason it is a good idea to publish the standard errors of site change effects along with homogenized records, whether adjustments are made or not. This would help ensure that, in subsequent analyses, not too much reliance is placed on the record of any one station. (Emphasis added)

Ironically, the methods suggested in this paper do not include the method used by NIWA in defending their Wellington data.


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