Monday, October 30, 2006

Austrian Economics

Austrian Economics is not about the economics of the country Austria. Austrian Economics is a school of economic thought whose founders were all from Austria. So why am I posting about it? Because I believe in it. Here's why.

The first thing I should do is describe Austrian Economics. Its methodology is much more like geometry than anything else. Whereas most schools such as the German historical school or the Keynesians assume market equilibrium and then immediately begin heavy-duty calculations, the Austrian school makes a few very basic assumptions about human nature and then, by axiomatic-deductive reasoning, attempts to see what the consequences of those assumptions are.

What are its assumptions? There are two major ones: the law of human action, and the law of marginal utility. The law of human action states that, at every moment in time, a human being will evaluate the possible courses of action and their perceived outcomes, and then he will pick the course of action whose outcome is most favorable to himself. This really is inherently obvious. Naturally, wiser men have better developed ideas about outcomes, and are often better at waiting for the longer term for a better outcome. But all men behave in this way. We all want what is best for ourselves. Even sacrifice fits into this picture, because the sacrifice is always for a greater good. The law of marginal utility states that the more we have of a thing, the less valuable each additional unit of the thing is. For example, if I have one gallon of water, an additional gallon might be very valuable. But if I have ten thousand gallons, an additional gallon would be worth considerably less. There is a verse in the Bible that fits this law very well indeed. I believe it's in Proverbs.

From these two assumptions, and essentially modus ponens, the Austrian economists explain an unbelievable number of things. One of their conclusions is that governmental intervention is almost always bad; it is almost always inefficient, and usually produces the opposite of the result desired. In other words, the Austrian school argues for highly limited government and privitization of most things.

Because I believe in the two starting laws, and because I believe in modus ponens as a valid method of arriving at truth from truth, I believe in the results of Austrian economics.

Interestingly, another way of arriving at the advisability of limited government (and thus only serves to reinforce the Austrians' position) is the idea of the inherent sin nature of man. As the saying goes, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Ergo, government must be severely limited, or it will inevitably oppress its subjects.

I think that Christians should give the Austrian school of economics serious consideration. Where to begin, you might ask? One place is Man, Economy, and State, by Murray Rothbard. Don't be intimidated by the large size: it's quite readable. A tad harder, but absolutely foundational, is Ludwig von Mises' Human Action, which is available for free on the Internet.

In Christ.

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Sunday, October 29, 2006

On the Trinity and Culture

My brother is on a Trinity kick. Having finished his research on N. T. Wright/Federal Vision/Norman Shepherd/New Perspective on Paul, and discovered the truth that all the afore-mentioned groups are not Confessional, he has turned his attention to the somewhat more exalted grounds of the Trinity.

I was talking with him Sunday night about it, and Lane mentioned a quote of Sinclair Ferguson, talking about the "cash value" of the Trinity. What Ferguson was talking about was the practical value of the doctrine of the Trinity. What good is it? And Ferguson noted that in the Upper Room, what did Jesus talk about? The Trinity. There's proof enough that the Trinity doctrine has value.

That reminded me of the extremely important place I believe the doctrine of the Trinity holds in the culture wars, specifically beauty.

Now I have posted on beauty before; if you follow my archive link to August 2005, and scroll down to the second-to-last post, you will find the post on Philippians 4:8. Also, in January 2006, I have a post entitled Philippians 4:8 Revisited. What I should like to do is tie the doctrine of the Trinity into all this.

To recap those blog entries: 1. Philippians 4:8 tells us to logizesthe on beautiful things, among others. The word logizesthe means to dwell on deeply, to meditate. It does not mean to bleep on over. It would be folly to imagine that Paul would urge his readers to logizesthe on things that were not worthy of it. What things are worthy of the logizesthe kind of thinking? I argue that it is the complex things that will stand up to that kind of meditation, not the simple things. 2. The second point I made is that Paul does not tell us to logizesthe on those things we think are beautiful, but the things that are. This automatically implies that things have intrinsic beauty whether we see that beauty or not. Put another way, beauty is more absolute, not relative. So in terms of a thing, it could be beautiful or not. Also, our perception of that thing could be either that we think it is beautiful, or not. You could set up a little table with these options. If the thing is beautiful, and you think it is beautiful, or if it's ugly and you think it's ugly, that is called having good taste. If it's ugly but you think it's beautiful, or if it's beautiful but you think it's ugly, you have bad taste.

I have argued that complex things are more beautiful than simple things. I should really say that those things that have at least a layer of complexity to it in some aspect are more beautiful than those things with are simple no matter which way you look at them. The reason is that they stand up to logizesthe.

Now where does such beauty come from? From the beauty of holiness. The beauty of otherness, of being set apart. The Trinity is nothing if not holy, but the Trinity is also exceedingly highly beautiful above all else. It has complexity to it. You might also argue that it has a simplicity to as well. Well said! We worship one God in three Persons. So there is simplicity and complexity. My point is that there is complexity. So things which well represent this philosophical idea of the one and the many simultaneously, will be a far greater art than that which does not. The greatest art of all is that art which seems simple at first glance, but has complexity when you analyze it. As I have mentioned before, in Matthew Henry's commentary on Proverbs 12:23, he writes, "Ars est celare artem - the perfection of art is to conceal it."

This flies directly in the face of popular culture, as Ken Myers would say in his seminal book All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes. Popular culture is not interested in complexity, because complexity interferes with instantaneous gratification. We want it NOW! Appreciating complexity requires time, which popular culture does not want to spend. And thus Myers argues that popular culture is not healthy for the Christian because it propagates a mind-set antithetical to proper Christian thinking. That's not to say that exposure to popular culture will corrupt you irretrievably: we believe in grace for crying out loud! But what is the balance in your life? Weigh the popular culture against the folk culture and high culture (the latter two, Myers argues, are conducive to proper Christian thinking) in your life, and see what comes out on top. Beware a steady diet of popular culture and nothing else! Also beware attempting to heal the wound lightly!

These are things we need grace to do. It's hard work to appreciate high culture and even folk culture. This is not work we can do to be saved (see
Susan's recent post on this: On Causation (Law and Grace), October 29th, 2006); rather it is a work I believe Christians are called to do because they are saved.

So see what Beethoven and gourmet and Celtic and Dickens are all about. They will reward you according to how much you put into them. Popular culture reaches a point of diminishing returns. Which will you choose?

In Christ.

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

A Personal Item

Normally, I don't post personal items on my blog, but this is too good an opportunity of praising God not to pass up. Through God-given talents, I have finally managed to finish the first draft of my Ph.D. dissertation! Once my advisor has taken a good look at it, he will be able to tell me whether I have enough material to defend or not, which in turn will go a very long way towards figuring out whether I will, indeed, graduate in December. Praise God!!!

In Christ.

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Saturday, October 21, 2006

Spell Checkers and their Pitfalls

Spell checkers, though they are getting more and more sophisticated (checking grammar and so on), will not find all your mistakes. It greatly amused me when I first saw this poem, and you'll see why. There is no substitute for proper spelling!

Ode To Spell Checkers

by Jerrold H Zar

I have a spelling checker.
It came with my PC.
It plane lee marks four my revue
Miss steaks aye can knot sea.

Eye ran this poem threw it,
Your sure reel glad two no.
Its vary polished in it's weigh.
My checker tolled me sew.

A checker is a bless sing.
It freeze yew lodes of thyme.
It helps me right awl stiles two reed,
And aides me when aye rime.

Each frays come posed up on my screen
Eye trussed too be a joule.
The checker pours o'er every word
To cheque sum spelling rule.

Bee fore a veiling checker's
Hour spelling mite decline,
And if we're lacks oar have a laps,
We wood bee maid to wine.

Butt now bee cause my spelling
Is checked with such grate flare,
Their are know fault's with in my cite,
Of nun eye am a wear.

Now spelling does knot phase me,
it does knot bring a tier.
My pay purrs awl due glad den
With wrapped word's fare as hear.

To rite with care is quite a feet
Of witch won should bee proud,
And wee mussed dew the best wee can,
Sew flaw's are knot aloud.

Sow ewe can sea why aye dew prays
Such soft wear four pea seas,
And why eye brake in two averse
Buy righting want too pleas.

In Christ.

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Saturday, October 14, 2006

Invitation to Debate

For the next state election in Virginia, we have an issue on which to vote. Here is the issue, as explained by the Virginia State Board of Elections:

[begin explanation]
Shall Article I (the Bill of Rights) of the Constitution of Virginia be amended to state:

“That only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this Commonwealth and its political subdivisions.

This Commonwealth and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage. Nor shall this Commonwealth or its political subdivisions create or recognize another union, partnership, or other legal status to which is assigned the rights, benefits, obligations, qualities, or effects of marriage.”?


Present Law

The Constitution does not define marriage. Under current statutory law in Virginia, persons who marry must have a license and be married by a licensed minister, judge, or other person authorized by law to perform marriages. Present law prohibits marriages between certain individuals. For example, the law prohibits a marriage between a brother and sister, between a couple where one of the parties is married to someone else, and between couples of the same sex.

In 1975, the General Assembly enacted a statute (present Code of Virginia § 20-45.2) that states "A marriage between persons of the same sex is prohibited." In 1997, the General Assembly added a sentence to § 20-45.2 that states that:

Any marriage entered into by persons of the same sex in another state or jurisdiction shall be void in all respects in Virginia and any contractual rights created by such marriage shall be void and unenforceable.

In 2004, the General Assembly passed a law to prohibit certain civil unions or other arrangements between persons of the same sex. That law (Code of Virginia § 20- 45.3) states that:

A civil union, partnership contract or other arrangement between persons of the same sex purporting to bestow the privileges or obligations of marriage is prohibited. Any such civil union, partnership contract or other arrangement entered into by persons of the same sex in another state or jurisdiction shall be void in all respects in Virginia and any contractual rights created thereby shall be void and unenforceable.

Thus, civil unions or other arrangements which purport “to bestow the privileges or obligations of marriage” are prohibited by statute.

Proposed Amendment

If approved by the voters, this proposed amendment will become part of the Constitution of Virginia. The proposed amendment adds a definition of marriage as the “union between one man and one woman” to the Constitution's Bill of Rights and prohibits Virginia and its counties, cities, and towns from creating or recognizing any legal status by any name which is comparable to marriage.

Marriage in the Commonwealth creates specific legal rights, benefits, and obligations for a man and a woman. There are other legal rights, benefits, and obligations which will continue to be available to unmarried persons, including the naming of an agent to make end-of-life decisions by an Advance Medical Directive (Code of Virginia § 54.1-2981), protections afforded under Domestic Violence laws (Code of Virginia § 18.2- 57.2), ownership of real property as joint tenants with or without a right of survivorship (Code of Virginia § 55-20.1), or disposition of property by will (Code of Virginia § 64.1- 46).

A "yes" vote on the proposed amendment will result in the addition of the proposed Section 15-A to Article I, the Bill of Rights. A "no" vote will mean that there will be no change made in Article I, the Bill of Rights.


Amend Article I of the Constitution of Virginia by adding a section numbered 15-A as follows:


Section 15-A. Marriage.

That only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this Commonwealth and its political subdivisions.

This Commonwealth and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage. Nor shall this Commonwealth or its political subdivisions create or recognize another union, partnership, or other legal status to which is assigned the rights, benefits, obligations, qualities, or effects of marriage.

Attorney General's Office


Explanation -- 473 words

Approved by House Committee on Privileges and Elections 5/10/06
Approved by Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections 5/12/06
[end explanation]

I'm assuming for the purposes of debate that sodomy is a sin, as evidenced by the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and by Romans chapter 1. It is therefore a contradiction to speak of "homosexual marriage."

The question is, is this amendment expedient for the purposes of spreading the gospel? On the one hand, it is certainly correct for the government to acknowledge the truth. On the other hand, I do not believe marriage should be as under-the-purview of the government as it is. The government takes an interest in it, as it should. Marriage has things like name-changing and legal protection from testifying against spouses and that sort of thing. However, for example, to require a license to marry, to me, seems ridiculous. Finally, we must distinguish between what is and what ought to be. I believe there should be a balance between the two in terms of how we determine our actions. Not every course of action moving us toward our goal is necessarily wise.

And so, what think you?

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Friday, October 13, 2006


Sorry, I just couldn't resist the impulse to blog on Adrian's blog. This is Lane. Adrian allowed me to go onto his blog in order to install the recent comments hack. Now you can see the 8 most recent comments listed in between the previous posts and the archives. Let me know if any of you would like to have this quite appetizing feature on your blog. You know where to find me. Hehe.

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Thursday, October 12, 2006


Calculus is the second-greatest technological invention by mankind (second only to the printing press). When Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz independently invented the calculus, building on the work of earlier mathematicians like Descartes and Barrow, they showed themselves to be responsible for the modern technological age. In particular, the Fundamental Theorem of the Calculus has extremely far-reaching consequences. It is easily the most important theorem in all of mathematics.

I love calculus; it's my favorite mathematics. Aside from simply having the very best name of any branch of math, it's so powerful! There's so much you can do with it. And it is very beautiful.

So I wanted to put forth a few calculus challenges that were a little off the beaten track. Enjoy!

1. Assume a function f is thrice differentiable. If, at a point a we have f''(a) = 0 and it is not the case that f'''(a) = 0, what can you say about f at a? Supposing the second derivative is zero, and the third derivative is also zero, what changes? This is known as the Third Derivative Test.

2. Are endpoints critical points? This is a neat question, asked by one of my students at Tech. The answer is not in any calculus book that I am aware of, though the question is clearly in the realm of calculus.

3. Without looking it up, do you know how to integrate sec(x)?

4. Integrate sqrt(1 - x^2) by using trig substitution, and check your answer using implicit differentiation. (Ok, this one is a bit more mainstream; I just like trig substitution).

5. Examine the following famous ODE, known as the time-independent Schroedinger equation: f''(x)=2m ( V(x) - E ) f(x) / hbar^2, where hbar is Planck's constant, and m is mass. V(x) is simply a function of x called the potential, and E is the energy, a constant. Assume that f is continuous and differentiable everywhere on the real line, and is also nonzero. Show that for bound states (fancy way of saying that f has a finite integral over the entire real line), it must be that E is greater than the minimum value of V(x) for all x.

6. Also in the above problem with the Schroedinger equation, show that if V(x) is an even function, then f can be taken to be either even or odd.

Numbers 5. and 6. are due to Griffiths' Introduction to Quantum Mechanics, 1995, p. 24.

Have fun!

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A Recital

Every once in a while, I get up the gumption (or is it chutzpah?) to put on a recital. The purpose is to inflict my playing on others, mainly so they can see just how hard it is to get good at piano. After all, I've taken lessons for ten years, and look where it's gotten me! Don't forget the Ambrose Bierce definition (from Devil's Dictionary) of a piano:

PIANO, n. A parlor utensil for subduing the impenitent visitor. It is operated by pressing the keys of the machine and the spirits of the audience.

Anyway, if anyone in the blogging world is interested in seeing it (a long shot, perhaps), here's the info:

Adrian C. Keister
In Concert

Original Works

Friday, October 27th, 2006

Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church
2101 Shadow Lake Road
Blacksburg, VA 24060


Church Suite No. 1

Piano Sonata No. 2

Present Life Melodies

In Christ.

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Saturday, October 07, 2006

Scientists as Elite?

Here is a conversation, with an arbitrary person whom I'll call Azelma, that occurs frequently with me:

Azelma: what do you do?
Me: I'm a graduate student at Virginia Tech.
Azelma: O, really? What are you studying?
Me: Mathematical physics.
Azelma: Wow! I could never do that. You must be brilliant.

Which forces me to be honest and exclaim against the compliment; I really have to do that, because I am quite simply not brilliant. The Lord has given me some intelligence, to be sure, but I'm no Richard Feynman or Stephen Hawking.

What brought this conversation to my mind was a very interesting quote, supported by an interesting science fiction novel, which I wanted to share with you. In the book Reading Between the Lines: A Christian Guide to Literature, Gene Edward Veith, Jr., writes the following:

Even if the masses sink into illiteracy and drug themselves by "amusement," the influential and the powerful will still be readers, as they are today. In the ancient pagan world, reading was a zealously guarded secret for the priests and the ruling elite, who, because they had access to knowledge, had access to power. [Neil] Postman explores the paradox of a society increasingly dependent upon its scientists but undermining the literate thought-forms science demands. "It is improbable that scientists will disappear," he concludes, "but we shall quite likely have fewer of them, and they are likely to form, even in the short run, an elite class who, like priests of the pictographic age, will be believed to possess mystical powers."

I have no wish whatsoever to be thought of in this way, since it's thoroughly unbiblical. Unfortunately, I can see the beginnings of it already.

Interestingly, Veith and Postman aren't the only ones to see this sort of idea. Isaac Asimov, one of the greatest writers of science fiction, wrote the Foundation heptology, to coin a word. This was originally a trilogy, but then he added a prelude and three more books at the end. In any case, in the first book in the series that he wrote, called simply Foundation, he has the following interesting scenario. Suppose a group of people have the knowledge of nuclear power, and they are ejected from a mighty empire to the far edge of the known universe, among peoples who definitely do not remember the ideas of nuclear power. What would such people look like to their neighbors? They look like priests and magicians, and indeed, they set up a priesthood with all the trappings of a religion.

For Veith, the more immediate solution to the problem is to read, though he's not arguing that such is our salvation. Instead, he advocates the Reformation ideal: learning to read in order to read the Bible. That is the goal. But, as Veith also states, "Reading the Bible tends to lead to reading other books, and thus to some important habits of mind."

Veith's book is excellent; I'd highly recommend it! He explores all the major genres of literature, including nonfiction, fiction, poetry; tragedy and comedy, realism, fantasy; history; and the relationships between writers, publishers, and readers.

Veith's book is one of the Turning Point Christian Worldview Series, all of which I can recommend (Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning and All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes are in that series.)

In Christ.

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Friday, October 06, 2006


For those of you who are martial arts aficionados, or aficionados of martial arts movies, I can do no better than point you to Jet Li's Fearless, now in theaters. This movie is really great. In the tradition of Hero, and Romeo Must Die, there is real character development (rare for action movies I suspect); it also has a good message. There is forgiveness for real wrongs, letting go of vengeance, recognition of true valor, honor, letting go of self. While these concepts are not anchored in a Christian worldview, I was very impressed with the values in this film. There is no nudity or sensuality (there is a romance of sorts, but remarkably tastefully done), no language that I can recall. There is a great deal of violence, to be sure. But it's violence with a point, that point being to show how it is the last resort to solving problems. This movie is based on a true story. You can look it up on Yahoo Movies to get an idea of the plot. Highly recommended!

In Christ.

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