Hermann Ebbinghaus (January 24, 1850 – February 26, 1909) was a German psychologist who pioneered the experimental study of memory, and is known for his discovery of the forgetting curve and the spacing effect. He was also the first person to describe thelearning curve.[1] He was the father of the eminent neo-Kantian philosopher Julius Ebbinghaus.

Hermann Ebbinghaus (January 24, 1850 – February 26, 1909) was a German psychologist who pioneered the experimental study of memory, and is known for his discovery of the forgetting curve and the spacing effect. He was also the first person to describe thelearning curve.[1] He was the father of the eminent neo-Kantian philosopher Julius Ebbinghaus.

China v US energy consumption

China’s energy use has more than doubled over the last decade to overtake the United States as the word’s biggest user, according to preliminary data from the International Energy Agency. As the data from the IEA shows, China has gone … Continue reading

China’s energy use has more than doubled over the last decade to overtake the United States as the word’s biggest user, according to preliminary data from the International Energy Agency.

As the data from the IEA shows, China has gone from using 1,107 million tons of oil equivalent (Mtoe) in 2000, to 2,131 Mtoe in 2008 and is estimated to have consumed 2,265 Mtoe in 2009.

Meanwhile, US energy consumption was only marginally higher in 2008 (at 2,281 Mtoe) than it was in 2000 (2,270 Mtoe), and will actually be shown to have fallen last year (to 2,169 Mtoe).

As Jonathan Watts writes is his news story from Beijing, this is a major turning point. The US has been the world’s biggest energy user since records began.

Energy use and carbon emissions in developed countries approximately leveled off over the past 35 years, where developed countries are defined as Europe, the U.S., the former Soviet Union, Japan, Canada, and Australia. The leveling of emissions from developed countries is in part a result of outsourcing of manufacturing to developing countries.

International trade affects global air pollution and transport by redistributing emissions related to production of goods and services and by potentially altering the total amount of global emissions. Here we analyze the trade influences by combining an economic-emission analysis on China’s bilateral trade and atmospheric chemical transport modeling. Our focused analysis on US air quality shows that Chinese air pollution related to production for exports contributes, at a maximum on a daily basis, 12–24% of sulfate pollution over the western United States. The US outsourcing of manufacturing to China might have reduced air quality in the western United States with an improvement in the east, due to the combined effects of changes in emissions and atmospheric transport.

The world’s richest countries are increasingly outsourcing their carbon pollution to China and other rising economies, according to a draft UN report.

Outsourcing of emissions comes in the form of electronic devices such as smartphones, cheap clothes and other goods manufactured in China and other rising economies but consumed in the US and Europe.

A draft of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, obtained by the Guardian, says emissions of carbon dioxide and the other greenhouse gases warming the planet grew twice as fast in the first decade of the 21st century as they did during the previous three decades.

Much of that rise was due to the burning of coal, the report says. And much of that coal was used to power factories in China and other rising economies that produce goods for US and European consumers, the draft adds.

Keywords: input–output analysis, emission control, international collaboration

a mountain cannot have two tigers

Published on Mar 26, 2015 Public Lecture by Emeritus Professor Paul Dibb and Adjunct Associate Professor John Lee. The belief that China will soon become the dominant power in Asia is based on assumptions that its continued and rapid economic … Continue reading

Published on Mar 26, 2015
Public Lecture by Emeritus Professor Paul Dibb and Adjunct Associate Professor John Lee.

The belief that China will soon become the dominant power in Asia is based on assumptions that its continued and rapid economic rise, and its emergence as a regional peer of America’s in military terms is all but assured. Such a belief underpins arguments that a fundamental strategic reorganisation of Asia is inevitable, and that it will be necessary and perhaps even desirable to concede to China significant ‘strategic space’. Dependent largely on linear extrapolations about the future, such arguments ignore the implications of China’s economic, social and national fragilities, its lack of major friends or allies in the region as well as the considerable military deficiencies and challenges faced by the People’s Liberation Army. With the Defence White Paper due for release in 2015, the government should bear in mind that planning for an era of Chinese dominance in the region—or even its emergence as an American strategic peer in Asia—would be premature if not improbable. Australia should not design its defence force for war with China, but it should be able to counter Chinese coercion and contribute to Allied military operations if necessary.

Paul Dibb is Emeritus Professor of Strategic Studies in the Strategic & Defence Studies Centre, Coral Bell schol of Asia-Pacific Affairs, ANU. He was head of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre from 1991 to 2004. Before that he held the positions of deputy secretary for Defence, director of the Joint Intelligence Organisation and head of the National Assessments Staff. He studied the former Soviet Union for over 20 years both as a senior intelligence officer and academic. He advised ASIO on certain Soviet activities. His book The Soviet Union–the Incomplete Superpower was published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies , London in 1986, reprinted 1987 and second edition 1988.

John Lee is an Australian academic working on international economic and security affairs with a focus on the Asia-Pacific. Lee is an adjunct associate professor at the Australian National University’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, a Michael Hintze Fellow at the Centre for International Security Studies, University of Sydney and a senior scholar at the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC. Lee is a board member of the Institute for Regional Security.

Published on Oct 16, 2015
Is China’s ascendancy a threat to the U.S.? China’s rise as an economic and military power, coupled with its aggression in the South China Sea, have led some to call for a major rebalance of U.S. policy and strategy. Can China be trusted to act as a responsible global stakeholder? And will they be a long-term ally, or adversary?

Published on May 27, 2015
Sure China has the largest standing army in the world, with 2.3 million people, a military budget of 120 billion dollars, and experimental spider tanks. But it turns out that China’s People’s Liberation Army might not be as powerful as you think.

Published on Jul 29, 2015
Japan is pushing forward a controversial set of bills that China is saying will allow Japan to wage war on China. That would break the Potsdam Declaration and change Japan’s constitution, the one the United States made Japan sign after World War 2 banning Japan from having a military .

Go engine

Mastering the game of Go with deep neural networks and tree search David Silver, Aja Huang1, Chris J. Maddison, Arthur Guez, Laurent Sifre1, George van den Driessche, Julian Schrittwieser, Ioannis Antonoglou, Veda Panneershelvam, Marc Lanctot, Sander Dieleman, Dominik Grewe, John Nham, Nal Kalchbrenner, Ilya Sutskever, Timothy Lillicrap, Madeleine Leach1, Koray Kavukcuoglu, Thore Graepel1, Demis Hassabis … Continue reading «Go engine»

Mastering the game of Go with deep neural networks and tree search

David Silver, Aja Huang1, Chris J. Maddison, Arthur Guez, Laurent Sifre1, George van den Driessche, Julian Schrittwieser, Ioannis Antonoglou, Veda Panneershelvam, Marc Lanctot, Sander Dieleman, Dominik Grewe,
John Nham, Nal Kalchbrenner, Ilya Sutskever, Timothy Lillicrap, Madeleine Leach1, Koray Kavukcuoglu,
Thore Graepel1, Demis Hassabis

The game of Go has long been viewed as the most challenging of classic games for artificial intelligence owing to its enormous search space and the difficulty of evaluating board positions and moves. Here we introduce a new approach to computer Go that uses ‘value networks’ to evaluate board positions and ‘policy networks’ to select moves. These deep neural networks are trained by a novel combination of supervised learning from human expert games, and reinforcement learning from games of self-play. Without any lookahead search, the neural networks play Go at the level of stateof-the-art Monte Carlo tree search programs that simulate thousands of random games of self-play. We also introduce a new search algorithm that combines Monte Carlo simulation with value and policy networks. Using this search algorithm,our program AlphaGo achieved a 99.8% winning rate against other Go programs, and defeated the human European Go champion by 5 games to 0. This is the first time that a computer program has defeated a human professional player in the full-sized game of Go, a feat previously thought to be at least a decade away.

The challenge is daunting. In 1994, machines took the checkers crown, when a program called Chinook beat the top human. Then, three years later, they topped the chess world, IBM’s Deep Blue supercomputer besting world champion Garry Kasparov. Now, computers match or surpass top humans in a wide variety of games: Othello, Scrabble, backgammon, poker, even Jeopardy. But not Go. It’s the one classic game where wetware still dominates hardware.

An interview with Martin Müller

David Ormerod: To start with please tell us a bit about yourself and your research interests. How did you learn of Go and how did you become involved in computer Go?

martin mueller computer go picture

Martin Müller: I am a professor in the Department of Computing Science at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada.

My research interests are in heuristic search, studying how to solve large, complex problems using computer searches.

The main application areas studied in my research group are games such as Go, and automated planning.

In recent years, Monte Carlo search methods have been our main focus – both for games and for planning. As part of my game-related activities, I am the leader of the team developing the open source software Fuego, which was the first program to defeat a top professional in an even game on 9×9.

I learned Go when I was 15 years old and played a lot in my teens and early twenties. I am a 5, 6 or 7 Dan amateur player, depending on the country. My biggest success was probably taking 2nd place at the US Go congress open tournament in 1998.

I became interested in computer Go as an undergraduate in my home country of Austria, through my supervisor. This was around 1985. I have stayed with the topic ever since, doing a Diploma thesis, a PhD and a few postdocs, before getting my current job.

What’s Monte Carlo?

Most people with any interest at all in computer Go know that the strongest programs these days use a ‘Monte Carlo’ algorithm, but many people don’t know much more about it than that.

Could you briefly explain where the term Monte Carlo came from and what it means in this context?

The term Monte Carlo refers to an affluent suburb of Monaco which is famous for its Casino. Monte Carlo methods use statistics collected from randomized simulations as a way to analyze complex systems which are too hard to ‘solve’ by other means.

They were first developed for nuclear physics and atomic bomb research in the 1940s. Nowadays they are very widely used, but their application to games such as Go took off just a few years ago.

Now that computers are powerful enough, Monte Carlo methods are used across a wide variety of disciplines.

For example, I’ve used them at work to help with risk analysis. It’s often difficult to explain to people why this approach works though, because it seems so counterintuitive at first.

Do you have a good analogy to explain how a large enough number of random simulations can provide a useful answer to a question?

Statistical sampling, which is at the core of Monte Carlo methods, is a very powerful technique.

For example, think about opinion polls. Any single random person who you ask about their opinion may be completely crazy, but if you ask one thousand people, who are carefully selected to represent the overall population, then you get quite a good idea of the general mood and can use that to make informed decisions.

This is why we keep getting more and more of those pesky phone calls doing surveys at dinner time!

How computer Go programs improved

It’s been more than five years since UCT (an extension of Monte Carlo search) was first applied to Go, but the strongest programs were still at the kyu level not that long ago (at least on 19×19 boards).

In contrast, the strongest programs these days are dan level and they seem relatively sharp, even in tactical situations.

To what extent do they make use of heuristics for shape, tesuji, life and death, the opening and so on?

Many programs use learned local patterns such as 3×3 for simple shape, and they modify the playouts to avoid some bad tactical moves.

Also, when there is a single important fight going on, the full board search will be able to analyze it quite deeply, and do well in the tactics. The problems start when there are several fights going on at the same time.

For the opening, some programs simply use large scale patterns to imitate popular openings played by human experts. But usually those are not absolute rules. These moves simply get a bonus, but the search can override them. So it is better than the hard coded ‘expert systems’ of the 1980s.

What other changes and improvements have helped computers get to their current mid-dan level on larger boards since then?

I think many factors are involved. Better patterns and rules as above, better search, better parallel scaling, several years of testing, debugging and tuning the programs, and better hardware all help.

What are the pros and cons of combining a knowledge based approach with a Monte Carlo approach?

Crazy Stone is a program that plays the game of Go (Weiqi, Baduk), by Rémi Coulom.

It is one of the first computer Go programs to utilize a modern variant of the Monte-Carlo tree search. It is part of the Computer Go effort. In January 2012 Crazy Stone was rated as 5 dan on KGS, in March 2014 as 6 dan.

Coulom began writing Crazy Stone in July 2005, and at the outset incorporated the Monte Carlo algorithm in its design. Early versions were initially available to download as freeware from his website, albeit no longer.[2] Pattern recognition and searching was added in 2006, and later that year Crazy Stone took part in its first tournament, winning a gold medal in the 9×9 competition at the 11th Computer Olympiad.[2] Coulom subsequently entered the program into the 12th Computer Olympiad the following year, winning bronze in the 9×9 and silver in the 19×19 competitions.

However, Crazy Stone’s most significant accomplishment was to defeat Kaori Aoba, a professional Japanese 4 dan, in an 8-stone handicap match in 2008. In doing so, the engine became the first to officially defeat an active professional in Japan with a handicap of less than nine stones. Three months later, on 12 December 2008, Crazy Stone defeated Aoba again in a 7-stone match.[3]

In March 2013, Crazy Stone beat Yoshio Ishida, Japanese honorary 9-dan, in a 19×19 game with four handicap stones.[4]

On March 21, 2014, at the second annual Densei-sen competition, Crazy Stone defeated Norimoto Yoda, Japanese professional 9-dan, in a 19×19 game with four handicap stones by a margin of 2.5 points.

Crazy Stone computer Go program defeats Ishida Yoshio 9 dan with 4 stones

Crazy Stone, a computer Go program by Rémi Coulom, defeated Ishida Yoshio9p with a four stone handicap, as part of the inaugural Denseisen at the 6thComputer Go UEC Cup in Japan (March 20, 2013).

The Computer vs the computer

It was an ironic showdown between the computer and ‘The Computer’.

Ishida was nicknamed ‘The Computer’ in his prime, because of the accuracy of his counting and endgame skills.

Ishida Yoshio

Ishida Yoshio picture

Born in 1948, Ishida is now 64 years old.

However, back in the 70s, Ishida won the prestigious Honinbotitle for an impressive five consecutive years, making him one of the top players of that era.

After the game, Ishida said that he thought the program was a ‘genius’ and marvelled at the calmness and flexibility of its moves.

Zen is a strong Go engine by an individual Japanese programmer Yoji Ojima (cluster parallelism is added by Hideki Kato). On KGS several bots run engine maintaining ranks between 3d and 5d: Zen19, Zen19b, Zen19D and Zen19n. Zen was the first bot to hold a KGS 3d rating for more than 20 rated games in a row, and a blitz version seems to be holding 5 dan ratings in 2011. It was also the first to hold a 2d and 1d rating for more than 20 games, respectively. Hardware used to run Zen19 on KGS: Mac Pro 8 core, Xeon 2.26GHz.

It won the 2009 Computer Olympiad in Pamplona, Spain, running on the slowest hardware among the competitors. It also won the 2011 Olympiad in Tilburg.

Zen was released commercially under the name Tencho no Igo Zenith Go on 18 September 2009. Version 2 release on August 27, 2010 and version 3 release on 30 September 2011. Website for the software (Japanese) [ext]

See latest go software updates for current version information.

In 2011, several different experiments of Zen started playing on KGS:

Name Rating Time Hardware KGS Archive
Zen19N 4D 20 Minutes + 30 seconds Byo-Yomi Mac Pro 8 cores, Xeon 2.26 GHz [ext] Zen19N
Zen19B 5D 15 seconds per move Mac Pro 8 cores, Xeon 2.26 GHz [ext] Zen19B
Zen19D 6D 15 seconds per move Mini-cluster of 6 PCs [ext] Zen19D
Zen19S 5D 20 Minutes + 30 seconds Byo-Yomi Mini-cluster of 6 PCs [ext] Zen19S
Zen19 5D 15 seconds per move [ext] Zen19

The only version active in 2014 has been Zen19S

objective morality

Is there an absolute objective moral value? This is one of the first unsolvable questions of Philosophy. There are claims made by some that without God there would be no absolute morality. I do not follow the argument. The gist … Continue reading

Is there an absolute objective moral value? This is one of the first unsolvable questions of Philosophy. There are claims made by some that without God there would be no absolute morality. I do not follow the argument. The gist seems to be that since there is no objective basis for an absolute morality, and since an absolute morality seems to be a good thing, and since the existence of God would be an absolute reference, then God exists. There are two problems with this approach.

For one, there is a conceptual difficulty referred as the Euthyphro dilemma, found in Plato‘s dialogue Euthyphro, in which Socrates asks Euthyphro, “Is the pious (?? ?????) loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?”  The dilemma has had a major effect on the philosophical theism of the monotheistic religions, but in a modified form: ” Is what is morally good commanded by God because it is morally good, or is it morally good because it is commanded by God?”

One the other, once moral good and evil is defined, there is necesarly Evil. The “Epicurean paradox,” or the problem of evil,   is a trilemma argument (God is omnipotent, God is good, but Evil exists), commonly seen as this quote:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?

This argument was a type favored by the ancient Greek skeptics, and may have been wrongly attributed to Epicurus by Lactantius, who, from his Christian perspective, regarded Epicurus as an atheist.  It has been suggested that it may actually be the work of an early skeptic writer, possibly Carneades. The earliest extant version of this trilemma appears in the writings of the skeptic Sextus Empiricus 160 – 210 AD.

In the Tetrapharmakos (Greek: ?????????????), or, “The four-part cure,”  the Greek philosopher Epicurus‘ (341 BC,Samos – 270 BC, Athens) offerd four remedies for healing the soul:

?????? ? ????,
????????? ? ???????
??? ??????? ??? ????????,
?? ?? ?????? ??????????????
(PhilodemusHerculaneum Papyrus, 1005, 4.9–14)

“The fundamental obstacle to happiness, says Epicurus, is anxiety,” writes D. S. Hutchinson

Don’t fear god,
Don’t worry about death;
What is good is easy to get, and
What is terrible is easy to endure
(PhilodemusHerculaneum Papyrus, 1005, 4.9–14)

Kahlil Gibran expressed this ideas like this:

“Don’t call the physician, for he might extend my sentence in this prison by his medicine. The days of slavery are gone, and my soul seeks the freedom of the skies. And do not call the priest to my bedside, because his incantations would not save me if I were a sinner, nor would it rush me to Heaven if I were innocent. The will of humanity cannot change the will of God, as an astrologer cannot change the course of the stars. But after my death let the doctors and priest do what they please, for my ship will continue sailing until it reaches its destination.”

The moral imperative You shall not murder, included as one of the Ten Commandments in the Torah, it is qualified by context and claims of self defense. The imperative is against unlawful killing resulting in bloodguilt. The Hebrew Bible contains numerous prohibitions against unlawful killing, but also allows for justified killing in the context of warfarecapital punishment, and self-defense. In fact, religious texts sometimes define piety by the willingness to kill at God´s command. The Book of Mormon starts with this concept. In Chapter 4 of the Book of Nephi, it says:

10 And it came to pass that I was constrained by the Spirit that I should kill Laban; but I said in my heart: Never at any time have I shed the blood of man. And I shrunk and would that I might not slay him.

11 And the Spirit said unto me again: Behold the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands. Yea, and I also knew that he had sought to take away mine own life; yea, and he would not hearken unto the commandments of the Lord; and he also had taken away our property.

12 And it came to pass that the Spirit said unto me again: Slay him, for the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands;

13 Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.

14 And now, when I, Nephi, had heard these words, I remembered the words of the Lord which he spake unto me in the wilderness, saying that: Inasmuch as thy seed shall keep my commandments, they shall prosper in the land of promise.

15 Yea, and I also thought that they could not keep the commandments of the Lord according to the law of Moses, save they should have the law.

16 And I also knew that the law was engraven upon the plates of brass.

17 And again, I knew that the Lord had delivered Laban into my hands for this cause—that I might obtain the records according to his commandments.

18 Therefore I did obey the voice of the Spirit, and took Laban by the hair of the head, and I smote off his head with his own sword.

The Old Testament establishes the holiness of Abraham by his willingness to kill his own son. The Binding of Isaac (in Hebrew the ???????? ???????, Akedát Yitz?ák, also known as “The Binding” ??)????????), the Akedah or Aqedah,[1][2]or in Arabic as the Binding of IshmaelDhabih (????) or “Slaughter”), is a story from the Hebrew Bible in which God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, on Mount Moriah. The account states that Abraham “bound Isaac, his son”[3] before placing him on the altar.

According to the Hebrew Bible, God commands Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice. (Genesis 22:5 and 22:8). After Isaac is bound to an altar, the angel of God stops Abraham at the last minute, saying “now I know you fear God.” At this point Abraham sees a ram caught in some nearby bushes and sacrifices the ram instead of Isaac.

An angel prevents the sacrifice of Isaac.Abraham and IsaacRembrandt, 1634

The Book of Genesis does not tell the age of Isaac at the time. The Talmudic sages teach that Isaac was thirty-seven, likely based on the next biblical story, which is of Sarah’s death at 127, being 90 when Isaac was born.

Genesis 22:14 states that the event occurred at “the mount of the LORD”. 2 Chronicles 3:1Psalm 24:3Isaiah 2:3 & 30:29; and Zechariah 8:3, identify the location of this event as the hill on which Solomon was said to later build the Temple, now believed to be the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

The majority of Jewish religious commentators argue that God was testing Abraham to see if he would actually kill his own son, as a test of his loyalty. However, a number of Jewish Biblical commentators from the medieval era, and many in the modern era, read the text in another way.

The early rabbinic midrash Genesis Rabbah imagines God as saying “I never considered telling Abraham to slaughter Isaac (using theHebrew root letters for “slaughter”, not “sacrifice”)”. Rabbi Yona Ibn Janach (Spain, 11th century) wrote that God demanded only a symbolic sacrifice. Rabbi Yosef Ibn Caspi (Spain, early 14th century) wrote that Abraham’s “imagination” led him astray, making him believe that he had been commanded to sacrifice his son. Ibn Caspi writes “How could God command such a revolting thing?” But according to Rabbi Joseph H. Hertz (Chief Rabbi of the British Empire), child sacrifice was actually “rife among the Semitic peoples,” and suggests that “in that age, it was astounding that Abraham’s God should have interposed to prevent the sacrifice, not that He should have asked for it.” Hertz interprets the Akedah as demonstrating to the Jews that human sacrifice is abhorrent. “Unlike the cruel heathen deities, it was the spiritual surrender alone that God required.” In Jeremiah 32:35, God states that the later Israelite practice of child sacrifice to the deity Molech “had [never] entered My mind that they should do this abomination.”

The Sacrifice of Isaac, a painting on the floor ofBeit Alfa Synagogue

Other rabbinic scholars also note that Abraham was willing to do everything to spare his son, even if it meant going against the divine command: while it was God who ordered Abraham to sacrifice his son, it was an angel, a lesser being in the celestial hierarchy, that commanded him to stop. However, the actions and words of angels (from the Greek for “messenger”) are generally understood to derive directly from God’s will.

In some later Jewish writings, the theology of a “divine test” is rejected, and the sacrifice of Isaac is interpreted as a “punishment” for Abraham’s earlier “mistreatment” of Ishmael, his elder son, whom he expelled from his household at the request of his wife, Sarah. According to this view, Abraham failed to show compassion for his son, so God punished him by ostensibly failing to show compassion for Abraham’s son. This is a somewhat flawed theory, since the Bible says that God agreed with Sarah, and it was only at His insistence that Abraham actually had Ishmael leave. In The Last Trial, Shalom Spiegel argues that these commentators were interpreting the Biblical narration as an implicit rebuke against Christianity’s claim that God would sacrifice His own son.

The Tzemach Tzedek[4] cites a question asked by Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk: At first glance, this appears to have been mainly a test of Isaac, for he was the one to be giving up his life al kiddush Hashem (in order to sanctify God’s Name). However the Torah states (Gen. 22:1) that God meant to test Abraham, not Isaac? Rabbi Menachem Mendel answers that although it is a very great Mitzvah to give up one’s life, it is unremarkable in the annals of Jewish history. Even the most unlettered and “ordinary” Jews would surrender their lives in martyrdom. Thus, as great a Mitzvah as it is, this test is considered trivial for someone of the spiritual stature of Isaac, who, as one of our forefathers, was likened to God’s “chariot” (Gen. Rabba 47:6) for he served as a vehicle for the divine traits of kindness, strictness, and compassion.

Rather, at the binding the main one tested was Abraham. It was a test of faith to see whether he would doubt God’s words. Abraham had been assured by God that “Your seed will be called through Isaac” (Gen. 21:12), i.e., Isaac (and not Ishmael) would father a great nation—the Jewish people. However, Abraham could apparently have asked a very glaring question: at the time that God commanded him to offer up Isaac as a sacrifice, Isaac was still single, and if Isaac would die now, how could he possibly father the nation which was to be born from Abraham? Moreover, isn’t God eternal and unchanging, as God declares: “I have not changed” (Malachi 3:6), implying that He does not change His mind?

Abraham believed with faith that if this is what God was telling him to do now, this was surely the right thing to do. It was passing this test that was remarkable even for someone of Abraham’s stature.

In The Binding of Isaac, Religious Murders & Kabbalah, Lippman Bodoff argues that Abraham never intended to actually sacrifice his son, and that he had faith that God had no intention that he do so. Others suggest[who?] that Abraham’s apparent complicity with the sacrifice was actually his way of testing God. Abraham had previously argued with God to save lives in Sodom and Gomorrah. By silently complying with God’s instructions to kill Isaac, Abraham was putting pressure on God to act in a moral way to preserve life. More evidence that Abraham thought that he won’t actually sacrifice Isaac comes from Genesis 22:5, where Abraham said to his servants, “You stay here with the ass. The boy and I will go up there; we will worship and we will return to you.” By saying that we (as opposed to I), he meant that both he and Isaac will return. Thus, he didn’t believe that Isaac would be sacrificed in the end.[5]

In The Guide for the PerplexedMaimonides argues that the story of the Binding of Isaac contains two “great notions.” First, Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac demonstrates the limit of humanity’s capability to both love and fear God. Second, because Abraham acted on a prophetic vision of what God had asked him to do, the story exemplifies how prophetic revelation has the same truth value as philosophical argument and thus carries equal certainty, notwithstanding the fact that it comes in a dream or vision

In Glory and Agony: Isaac’s Sacrifice and National NarrativeYael S. Feldman argues that the story of Isaac’s Binding, in both its biblical and post-biblical versions (the New Testament included) has had a great impact on the ethos of altruist heroism and self-sacrifice in modern Hebrew national culture. As her study demonstrates, over the last century the “Binding of Isaac” has morphed into the “Sacrifice of Isaac,” connoting both the glory and agony of heroic death on the battlefield.

Jihad (English pronunciation: /d???h??d/Arabic: ????? ?ih?d [d?i?hæ?d]), an Islamic term, is a religious duty of Muslims. In Arabic, the word jih?d translates as a noun meaning “struggle” or “resisting”. The word jihad appears in 23 Quranic verses.[1] Within the context of the classical Islam, particularly the Shiahs beliefs, it refers to struggle against those who do not believe in the Abrahamic God (Allah).[2] However, the word has even wider implications and interpretations.

Jihad means “to struggle in the way of Allah”. Jihad appears 41 times in the Quran and frequently in the idiomatic expression “striving in the way of God (al-jihad fi sabil Allah)“.[3][4][5] A person engaged in jihad is called a mujahid; the plural is mujahideen. Jihad is an important religious duty for Muslims. A minority among the Sunni scholars sometimes refer to this duty as the sixth pillar of Islam, though it occupies no such official status.[6] In Twelver Shi’a Islam, however, Jihad is one of the 10 Practices of the Religion.

There are two commonly accepted meanings of jihad: an inner spiritual struggle and an outer physical struggle.[3] The “greater jihad” is the inner struggle by a believer to fulfill his religious duties.[3][7] This non-violent meaning is stressed by both Muslim[8] and non-Muslim[9] authors. However, there is consensus amongst Islamic scholars that the concept of jihad will always include armed struggle against persecution and oppression.[10]

The “lesser jihad” is the physical struggle against the enemies of Islam.[3] This physical struggle can take a violent form or a non-violent form. The proponents of the violent form translate jihad as “holy war”,[11][12] although some Islamic studies scholars disagree.[13] The Dictionary of Islam[3] and British-American orientalist Bernard Lewis both argue jihad has a military meaning in the large majority of cases.[14] Some scholars maintain non-violent ways to struggle against the enemies of Islam. An example of this is written debate, often characterized as “jihad of the pen”.[15]

According to the BBC, a third meaning of jihad is the struggle to build a good society.[7] In a commentary of the hadith Sahih Muslim, entitled al-Minhaj, the medieval Islamic scholar Yahya ibn Sharaf al-Nawawi stated that “one of the collective duties of the community as a whole (fard kifaya) is to lodge a valid protest, to solve problems of religion, to have knowledge of Divine Law, to command what is right and forbid wrong conduct”.

The Quran contains at least 109 verses that call Muslims to war with nonbelievers for the sake of Islamic rule.  Some are quite graphic, with commands to chop off heads and fingers and kill infidels wherever they may be hiding.  Muslims who do not join the fight are called ‘hypocrites’ and warned that Allah will send them to Hell if they do not join the slaughter.

In the US most pro-lifers are at the same time pro-gunners. In fact, pro-life, pro-gun, and anti-homosexuality is the tripod base of the moral issues that define the conservative right in the US. The same voices that claim that God is the source is the source of morality proclaim that Science is the source of Evil:

As a watchman on the tower, I feel to warn you that one of the chief means of misleading our youth and destroying the family unit is our educational institutions. There is more than one reason why the Church is advising our youth to attend colleges close to their homes where institutes of religion are available. It gives the parents the opportunity to stay close to their children, and if they become alerted and informed, these parents can help expose some of the deceptions of men like … Charles Darwin.

Ezra Taft Benson

In the United States at the turn of the 20th century, Darwinism was greeted with glee because it seemed so compatible with the prevailing ideology of theday,  where robber-baron capitalists like the Carnegies, Mellons, Sumners, Stanfords and yes, even Jack London, could not stop rattling on about how the “survival of the fittest” justified crushing unions, exploiting immigrant labor or being left unregulated to amass huge fortunes while administering monopolies. A ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality is deeply entrenched in our culture. Despite the fact that this Wild West mentality  is a historical byproduct, it is now attributed to Darwin’s Origin of the Species.

Religious fundamentalists are sincere on their view of the World as a battleground between Good and Evil. For them anything that undermines faith in God, especially with regards to children, is utterly evil. The teaching of Science to children, in particular Evolution, is seen as a threat to children indoctrination. Nonetheless,  the attack on Evolution is an attack on Science as a whole. Science is not about what to believe but rather a method to perceive Reality. It is the critical objective look at reality aspect of Science that is perceived as a treat by the religious establishment. However,  teaching religious ideas as an alternative to factual descriptions of reality undermines science education by misinforming students about the scientific method — the basis for science literacy. It must be said that there is a propagandistic perversion of language, and there are religious groups that use the language of science to mislead and actually undermine a scientific conceptualization of Reality.

Because Science wins over Religion on factual description of Reality, the attack on Science is made nowadays on moral grounds.  From the point of view of religious fundamentalists, Science is a competing religion, although a silly one at that. Then the scientific community is under attack with this straw-man argument against evolution:

But if design, conversely, is rational, why do so many scientists reject it? Because this is not an issue of science, but of religion. Their religion is that of materialism and naturalism, and they are under no illusions as to the implications of design.

James M Tour, in the blog entry Layman’s Reflections on Evolution and Creation. An Insider’s View of the Academy, claims insufficient understanding of what he calls Macroevolution.  At the end of his article, Tour makes a reference to the movie, “Expelled. No Intelligence Allowed.” He asserts that a subset of the scientific establishment is retarding the careers of Darwinian skeptics. He closes citing  Viktor Frankl , The Doctor and the Soul with the comment If Frankl is correct, God help us:

“If we present a man with a concept of man which is not true, we may well corrupt him. When we present man as an automaton of reflexes, as a mind-machine, as a bundle of instincts, as a pawn of drives and reactions, as a mere product of instinct, heredity and environment, we feed the nihilism to which modern man is, in any case, prone.

“I became acquainted with the last stage of that corruption in my second concentration camp, Auschwitz. The gas chambers of Auschwitz were the ultimate consequence of the theory that man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment; or as the Nazi liked to say, ‘of Blood and Soil.’ I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some Ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers [emphasis added].”


The movie Expelled main theme is that what it calls Darwinism inherently contain the seeds of Nazism, and even more Darwinism equals Nazism. This frighteningly immoral narrative is capped off a la Moore, with shots of the Berlin Wall, old stock footage of East German police kicking around those trying to escape through the wall to the West and some solemn blather by Ben, who calls upon each one of us to rise up in defense of freedom and knock down a few walls in order to get creationism back into the curriculum at American Schools.

The morality of Science is best exemplified by the words of Bertrand Russell:

“I should like to say two things, one intellectual and one moral. The intellectual thing I should want to say is this: When you are studying any matter, or considering any philosophy, ask yourself only what are the facts and what is the truth that the facts bear out. Never let yourself be diverted either by what you wish to believe, or by what you think would have beneficent social effects if it were believed. But look only, and solely, at what are the facts. That is the intellectual thing that I should wish to say.

The moral thing I should wish to say… I should say love is wise, hatred is foolish. In this world which is getting more closely and closely interconnected we have to learn to tolerate each other, we have to learn to put up with the fact that some people say things that we don’t like. We can only live together in that way and if we are to live together and not die together we must learn a kind of charity and a kind of tolerance which is absolutely vital to the continuation of human life on this planet.”

— BBC’s Face to Face interview of Bertrand Russell, British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, Nobel Prize

However, one must accept that there is a danger on overplaying the objectivity of Science. A lot of modern development of technology has been payed by the arms industry. The Wind Rises (???? Kaze Tachinu?) is a 2013 Japanese animated historical drama film written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, that deals with this ambiguity.  The Wind Rises is a fictionalized biography of Jiro Horikoshi (1903–1982), designer of the Mitsubishi A5M and its successor, theMitsubishi A6M Zero; both aircraft were used by the Empire of Japan during World War II. Jiro Horikoshi’s first work was the flawed Mitsubishi 1MF10, an experimental aircraft that never passed the prototype stage after some flight tests. However, lessons learned from this design led to the development of the far more successful Mitsubishi A5M (Allied codename “Claude”) which entered mass production in 1936. Some time later Horikoshi and his team at Mitsubishi were asked, in 1937, to design Prototype 12 (corresponding to the 12th year of the Showa era). Prototype 12 was completed in July 1940, and it was accepted by the Imperial Japanese Navy. Since 1940 was theJapanese year 2600, the new fighter was named as “Model 00″ or “Zero” or A6M Zero, in Japan also known as the “Rei-sen” (literally meaning “zero fight”, shortened for Model zero fighter airplane). Subsequently, he was involved in many other fighters manufactured by Mitsubishi, including the Mitsubishi J2M Raiden (Thunderbolt) and the Mitsubishi A7M Reppu (Strong Gale). Despite Mitsubishi’s close ties to the Japanese military establishment and his direct participation in the nation’s buildup towards the Second World War, Horikoshi was strongly opposed to what he regarded as a futile war. Excerpts from his personal diary during the final year of the war were published in 1956 and made his position clear:

When we awoke on the morning of December 8, 1941, we found ourselves — without any foreknowledge — to be embroiled in war…Since then, the majority of us who had truly understood the awesome industrial strength of the United States never really believed that Japan would win this war. We were convinced that surely our government had in mind some diplomatic measures which would bring the conflict to a halt before the situation became catastrophic for Japan. But now, bereft of any strong government move to seek a diplomatic way out, we are being driven to doom. Japan is being destroyed. I cannot do [anything] other but to blame the military hierarchy and the blind politicians in power for dragging Japan into this hellish cauldron of defeat.[2]

I believe that moral values are a social construct and that they are the distillation of the knowledge of millennia of what behavior supports an stable society. Every time we engage in activities that hurt others, we will at the end hurt ourselves. This is the ultimate meaning of morality: what is good for ourselves. Epicurus emphasized minimizing harm and maximizing happiness of oneself and others as the basis for morality:

It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and well and justly (agreeing “neither to harm nor be harmed”), and it is impossible to live wisely and well and justly without living a pleasant life.

The largest migration in history

Published on Mar 1, 2012
Migration from inland villages to coastal cities has transformed China. Now that is changing, as regional cities inland become the new focus of migration patterns.

Published on Mar 1, 2012
Migration from inland villages to coastal cities has transformed China. Now that is changing, as regional cities inland become the new focus of migration patterns.


Published on Aug 14, 2013
A video explaining why the country of Korea split into two different countries: North Korea and South Korea.

Published on Aug 14, 2013
A video explaining why the country of Korea split into two different countries: North Korea and South Korea.