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27 Jul 14:36

Historical and observational science

by PZ Myers

Dealing with various creationists, you quickly begin to recognize the different popular flavors out there.

The Intelligent Design creationists believe in argument from pseudoscientific assertion; “No natural process can produce complex specified information, other than Design,” they will thunder at you, and point to books by people with Ph.D.s and try to tell you they are scientific. They aren’t. Their central premise is false, and trivially so.

Followers of Eric Hovind I find are the most repellently ignorant of the bunch. They love that presuppositional apologetics wankery: presuppose god exists, therefore god exists. It’s like debating a particularly smug solipsist — don’t bother.

The most popular approach I’ve found, though, is the one that Ken Ham pushes. It’s got that delightful combination of arrogant pretense in which the Bible-walloper gets to pretend he understands better than scientists, and simultaneously allows them to deny every scientific observation, ever. This is the argument where they declare what kinds of science there are, and evolutionary biologists are using the weak kind, historical science, while creationists are only using the strong kind, observational science. They use the distinction wrongly and without any understanding of how science works, and they inappropriately claim that they’re doing any kind of science at all.

A recent example of this behavior comes from Whirled Nut Daily, where I’m getting double-teamed by Ray Comfort and Ken Ham (don’t worry, I’m undaunted by the prospect of being ganged up on by clowns.)

According to Ken Ham’s blog at Answers in Genesis, Minnesota professor PZ Myers, who was interviewed by Comfort, said: “Lie harder, little man … Ray Comfort is pushing his new creationist movie with a lie. … What actually happened is that I briefly discussed the evidence for evolution – genetics and molecular biology of fish, transitional fossils, known phylogenies relating extant groups, and experimental work on bacterial evolution in the lab, and Ray comfort simply denied it all – the bacteria were still bacteria, the fish were still fish.”

But Ham explained that Comfort “asks a question something like this: ‘Is there scientific evidence – observable evidence – to support evolution?’ Well, none of them could provide anything remotely scientific. Oh, they give the usual examples about changes in bacteria, different species of fish (like stickleback fish) and, as to be expected, Darwin’s finches. But as Ray points out over and over again in ‘Evolution vs. God,’ the bacteria are still bacteria, the fish are still fish, and the finches are still finches!”

Isn’t that what I said? I gave him evidence, which he denied by falling back on a typological fallacy: the bacteria are still bacteria. What he refuses to recognize is that they were quantitatively different bacteria, physiologically and genetically. To say that something is still X, where X is an incredibly large and diverse group like fish and bacteria, is to deny variation and diversity, observable properties of the natural world which are the fundamental bedrock of evolutionary theory.

But the giveaway is that brief phrase “scientific evidence — observational evidence”. That’s where the real sleight of hand occurs: both Comfort and Ham try to claim that that all the evidence for evolution doesn’t count, because it’s not “observational”. “Were you there?” they ask, meaning that the only evidence they’ll accept is one where an eyewitness sees a complete transformation of one species to another. That is, they want the least reliable kind of evidence, for phenomena that are not visual. They’re freakin’ lying fools.

All scientific evidence is observational, but not in the naive sense that all that counts is what you see with your eyes. There is a sense in which some science is regarded as historical, but it’s not used in the way creationists do; it does not refer to science that describes events in the past.

Maybe some examples will make that clearer.

We can reconstruct the evolutionary history of fruit flies. We do this by observation. That does not mean we watch different species of fruit flies speciate before our eyes (although it has been found to occur in reasonable spans of time in the lab and the wild), it means we extract and analyze information from extant species — we take invisible genetic properties of the flies’ genomes and turn them into tables of data and strings of publishable code. We observe patterns in their genetics that allow us to determine patterns of historical change. Observation and history are intertwined. To deny the history is to deny the observations.

Paleontology is often labeled a historical science, but it doesn’t have the pejorative sense in which creationists use it, and it is definitely founded in observation. For instance, plesiosaurs: do you think scientists just invented them? No. We found their bones — we observed their remains imbedded in rock — and further, we found evidence of a long history of variation and diversity. The sense in which the study of plesiosaurs is historical is that they’re all extinct, so there are no extant forms to examine, but it is still soundly based on observation. Paleontology may be largely historical, but it is still a legitimate science built on observation, measurement, and even prediction, and it also relies heavily on analysis of extant processes in geology, physics, and biology.

The reliance on falsehoods like this bizarre distinction between observational and historical science that the Hamites and Comfortians constantly make is one of the reasons you all ought to appreciate my saintly forebearance, because every time I hear them make it, I feel a most uncivilized urge to strangle someone. I suppress it every time, though: I just tell myself it’s not their fault their brains were poisoned by Jesus.

28 Jul 10:03

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (4 August 2013)

by gregoryjenks

Contents

Lectionary

  • Hosea 11:1-11 & Psalm 107:1-9, 43
  • Colossians 3:1-11
  • Luke 12:13-21

First Reading: Hosea 11:1-11

This reading from the prophet Hosea provides a compassionate counter balance to the confronting material in chapter one which was listed for reading in the liturgy last weekend. In the opening chapter of the book, God is represented as divorcing his promiscuous spouse (Israel) and disowning the children born of the marriage. Here we have an equally bold characterisation of Yahweh as a compassionate and tender parent, who cannot bear to inflict the punishment that would otherwise befall the people:

Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
I took them up in my arms;
but they did not know that I healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness,
with bands of love.
I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks.
I bent down to them and fed them. [Hosea 11:3-4]

It is also worth noting that this chapter is also the source of the “prophecy” cited by Matthew to link the flight to Egypt with the biblical tradition:

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son. (Matt 2:15)

Second Reading: Colossian 3:1-11

This week’s passage from Colossians illustrates the dilemma posed by this letter. Its highly-developed Christology seems to suggest a movement in Paul’s thought towards a very spiritualised (almost Gnostic?) expression of Christian faith, and this might be taken as evidence that the letter is not authentic:

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory. … Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

On the other hand, the affirmation of radical equality between members of the Christian community seems very much in keeping with the practice of Jesus and the authentic teaching of Paul preserved in Galatians 3:28:

As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
There is no longer Jew or Greek,
there is no longer slave or free,
there is no longer male and female;
for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

Gospel: Luke 12

The traditions found in this week’s gospel reading deal with wealth as a spiritual problem, and that sets us up for some challenging engagement with the Jesus tradition this week.

The disputed inheritance

The first part of this week’s Gospel is known from both the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Luke.

A [person said] to him, “Tell my brothers to divide my father’s possessions with me.” He said to the person, “Mister, who made me a divider?” 3He turned to his disciples and said to them, “I’m not a divider, am I?” [Thom 72:1-2, Complete Gospels]

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” [Luke 12:13-15, NRSV]

On the basis of this double independent attestation, Crossan assigns this saying to the Common Sayings Tradition (CST); a set of 37 sayings found in both Q and Thomas. The Common Sayings Tradition is available online in various formats:

Such a primitive collection of Jesus’ sayings from before the time of the Gospels’ composition would be of great interest to many who look to Jesus for spiritual wisdom; and the more so if it offered access to a Jesus with less dogmatic accretions than the Christ figure we now find inscribed within the canonical Gospels. While the CST proposal requires both the existence of the Sayings Gospel Q and the independence of the earlier traditions now found in Thomas, that seems a reasonable (if not assured) assumption.

The rich farmer

This parable has no parallel outside of Luke although it is commonly interpreted as an Example Story, rather than as a parable that functions by means of metaphor.

While there are many biblical and rabbinic parallels to the moral injunction against greed, the closest we come to the parable itself is the following passage in Ben Sira 11:17-19:

Some stint and save and thus become rich
and think that they have achieved something
and say, “Now I will make myself a good life,
eat and drink of what I have”
— but they do not know that their hour is near
and that they must leave everything to others and die.

The commentary in The Five Gospels notes the Lukan context (Luke 12:13-34) in which several elements address questions concerning possessions:

12:13-15 Warning against greed
12:16-21 Parable of the rich farmer
12:22-32 Do not be anxious
12:33-34 Treasure in heaven

While some Fellows of the Jesus Seminar were influenced by the lack of distinctive traits to distinguish this saying from the typical moral instruction of the wisdom tradition, most noted the simpler version preserved in Thomas (with neither the introductory or concluding remarks found in Luke 12:15 and 12:21 respectively). The commentary continues:

Further, this parable can be seen as making a metaphorical point similar to that of the other parables that portray an inappropriate response to the coming of God’s imperial rule. Examples include the parables of the money in trust (Luke 19:12b // Matt 25:14-30); the unforgiving slave (Matt 18:23-34); the Pharisee and the toll collector (Luke 18:10-14); and the response of the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). This farmer, like the useless and unforgiving servants, the earnest Pharisee, and the elder brother, fails to respond appropriately to the situation.

John Dominic Crossan [Historical Jesus, 275] notes that this parable is one of several complexes that express a criticism of wealth. In this case the farmer has not done anything wrong:

He is simply rich and has the planning problems of such status. But riches do not save you from death’s unexpected arrival.

Gerd Lüdemann [Jesus, 345f] takes a more sceptical stance on the authenticity of this parable, when he observes:

The authenticity of this passage is sometimes defended by designating it an ‘eschatological parable’ (J. Jeremias). But it is certainly not that. It is the narrative by a wise man indicating that riches mean nothing in the face of death. As one who knew the traditions of Israel, especially as he had called the poor blessed (6.20), Jesus may have thought that. But each time the context is quite different. If 6.20 is authentic, then 12.16-20 must be inauthentic. Jesus had other concerns than the fate of individual rich men, all the more so as the case mentioned in the parable was not and is not the rule.

If we seek to read this parable as metaphor rather than as a moral example, we need to shift gear.

Assuming for the moment that the farmer’s spiritual problem was not his remarkable prosperity (which tends to arouse our envy), what exactly was his problem? Was it the assumption that he had life under control? Did this farmer now see himself as master of his own destiny?

In a world where so many of his fellow citizens were falling into slave debt, his response to the amazing good fortune that had befallen him seems incompatible with the generosity of Heaven that Jesus celebrated in his actions and his teachings. Rather than proclaiming a messianic banquet and inviting to the feast those unable to repay his hospitality, this farmer wishes to hoard it away for his own benefit in the times to come.

Is that his fault?

And how different are we with our response to global need in the face of our amazing and undeserved prosperity?

Jesus Database

Liturgies and Prayers

For liturgies and sermons each week, shaped by a progressive theology, check Rex Hunt’s web site

Other recommended sites include:

 

Music Suggestions

See David MacGregor’s Together to Celebrate site for recommendations from a variety of contemporary genre.


28 Jul 15:01

The 25 Richest People Who Ever Lived

by noreply@blogger.com (Laurence A. Moran)
This list is biased toward Americans and Englishmen. I'm sure there are many others who deserve to be in the top 25. There are other problems; for example, property values in the middle ages are probably inflated. Nevertheless, it's an interesting list of men (no women). They are ranked by their estimated net worth in 2012 inflation-adjusted American dollars. You can find out more details at: The 25 Richest People Who Ever Lived – Inflation Adjusted.

There don't appear to be any scientists (or philosophers) on the list. Three of my ancestors are on the list (#6, #15, and #16) but I didn't inherit a penny.
  1. Mansa Musa I of Mali (1280-1337): $400 billion
  2. The Rothschild family: $350 billion
  3. John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937): $340 billion
  4. Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919): $310 billion
  5. Tsar Nicholas II of Russia (1868-1918): $300 billion
  6. Mir Osman Ali Khan (1886-1967): $230 billion
  7. William The Conqueror (1028-1087): $229.5 billion
  8. Muammar Gaddafi (1942-2011): $200 billion
  9. Henry Ford (1863-1947): $199 billion
  10. Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877): $185 billion
  11. Alan Rufus (1040-1093): $178.65 billion
  12. Bill Gates (1955 - ): $136 billion
  13. William de Warenne ( -1088) $147.13 billion
  14. John Jacob Astor (176-1848): $121 billion
  15. Richard FitzAlan (1306-1376): $118.6 billion
  16. John of Gaunt (1340-1399): $110 billion
  17. Stephen Girard (1750-1831): $105 billion
  18. Alexander Turney ("A.T.") Stewart (1803-1876): $90 billion
  19. Henry of Grosmont (Duke of Lancaster) (1310-1361): $85.5 billion
  20. Friedrich Weyerhauser (1834-1914): $80 billion
  21. Jay Gould (1836-1892): $71 billion
  22. Carlos Slim Helu (1940- ): $68 billion
  23. Stephen Van Rensselaer (1764-1839): $68 billion
  24. Marshall Field (1834-1906): $66 billion
  25. Samuel ("Sam") Moore Walton (1918-1992): $65 billion
  26. Warren Buffett (1930 - ): $64 billion

28 Jul 09:48

The Homeschool Environment (with Images)

by Libby Anne

This little homeschool girl and her family live off the grid.

As I looked at the image above the first time I came upon it, one thing I thought about is how much the homeschool environment varies from family to family. No two homeschool families are alike, and some homeschool situations, yes, are like the one in the image above.

But others are like this one:

Or like this one:

Or like this one:

Or like this one:

Or like this one:

I’m not sure that there really was a point to this post, except that I wanted to post the picture of the little off the grid homeschool girl and then offer other pictures of homsechool environments to contextualize it. I know that public schools vary widely from one to another, but I would suggest that homeschools vary much more widely. After all, the public schools (at least in theory) are held to a common set of standards. Even in states that have standards homeschoolers must adhere to those standards allow for much wider variation than the standards governing public schools. And the result is a whole patchwork of variety, some exceptional, some simply good, some meh, and some not so good.

28 Jul 12:19

Are We Populating the World with Atheists?

by David Hayward
calvinist obstetrician cartoon by nakedpastor david hayward

click on this image to go to my magical shop

Let me try this on you:

Remember a post I did a couple of weeks ago, Steve McCoy’s Broken Babies Born in Sin? It’s based on the theology that we are born sinners, born bad, born broken, born atheists. Basically, it convinces you that you are a sinful child of the devil, which is meant to humble you, which is meant to prepare you for repentance, which is meant to make you ask for salvation, which is meant to get you saved, which is meant to teach you that you are now a child of God.

I suggest this hermeneutic that really came to full bloom during the Reformation in the 1600s is no longer serving its purpose. It is in fact becoming meaningless and even harmful.

We don’t need to starve our children to teach them to appreciate food.

We don’t need to beat the hell out of our kids to teach them to appreciate the times we don’t.

We don’t need to put our kids up for adoption for a while then adopt them back just so they will appreciate our family.

In the same way, we don’t need to put people through the whole justification by faith gauntlet to teach them to be grateful they are children of God. People can be humble without being told they’re worthless. People can be good without the threat of Hell. People can feel good about themselves without feeling bad about themselves first. People can know they are already children of God without having to believe they were adopted.

I suggest that the whole biblical narrative, including Jesus, as well as all subsequent theology, is one vast story illustrating the simple fact that, in the end, we are all one, connected to each other and to our common Ground of Being.

Of course, some people will cling to this old paradigm for as long as possible, just like we have people who belong to the Flat Earth Society, who believe the creation story in Genesis is to be taken literally, and who believe the lunar landing is a hoax.

I want to personally invite you to The Lasting Supper, where we process this kind of stuff  in the safety of a non-confrontational community.

28 Jul 14:00

What Does Science Offer the World?

by Hemant Mehta

Scientist Dennis R. Trumble believes science offers us more than just great technology and more comfortable lives: It teaches us to unshackle ourselves from preconceived notions by following the evidence and encourages us to think more critically.

Trumble believes, as many of us do, that to raise a child to be ignorant of science (a la home-schooling Creationist parents) does far more damage than we might think.

His new book exploring this issue is called The Way of Science: Finding Truth and Meaning in a Scientific Worldview (Prometheus Books, 2013):

In the excerpt below, reprinted with permission of the publishers, Trumble discusses the lessons we learn from science (Keep reading afterwards for your chance to win a copy of the book!):

As to the question of when to interject, the lessons of evolutionary psychology suggest that teachers can’t chime in too soon. Because the human brain has grown so terribly adept at seizing upon and rapidly integrating familial practices, children must be made aware of evolution and the base principles of critical thinking even at the earliest grade levels, before the carapace of inherited dogma has fused to permanency. Precisely when young minds begin to close around familial biases is difficult to say, but the sense of urgency in this regard was recently raised to new heights when sociologists at the University of Ulster found — to their surprise and dismay — that children in Northern Ireland begin to adopt parochial prejudices as early as age three.

Although it might seem naïve to suppose that kids elbow-deep in finger paints are capable of grasping a concept that has eluded so many of their parents, the first principles of evolution are actually quite simple and can be understood by any child old enough to reflect upon the erstwhile comings and goings of the dinosaurs (always a popular topic among the kindergarten set). In truth, the rudiments of evolutionary theory are no more complicated than many other scientific subjects that are commonly taught right alongside the alphabet, including gravity, basic engineering design, and energy flow through ecosystems (if you’d like to know why 100 pounds of corn can’t be converted to 100 pounds of cow, just ask a second grader). The only thing that makes evolution more difficult to learn than other grade-school subjects is the fact that it is frequently countermanded at home.

Indeed, even if evolution were taught to every student from the very get-go it would still put kids from creationist households in the awkward position of having to contend with contradictory teachings without the means to assess their relative merits. And therein lies the problem, for the reason so many irrational beliefs continue to hold sway these days stems largely from our failure as a society to broadly dispense the critical thinking skills we humans inherently lack but increasingly need. Instead, when it comes to the natural sciences, what most children receive is a long and tiresome litany of scientific facts to be memorized in preparation for the exam du jour. What is sacrificed in the bargain is effective instruction on how the scientific method actually works — arguably the single most important thing students need to learn in order to achieve intellectual independence. Contrary to proverbial wisdom, too many science students are simply being handed a boatload of fish — often far more than they can digest — when what they really need are fishing lessons.

Then again, this is nothing new. Some of history’s most celebrated scientists achieved greatness only after weathering a similar barrage of instructional tedium. Even Einstein found his formal scientific training a good deal less than inspiring, recalling that in his day to be a good science student meant that “one had to cram all this stuff into one’s mind for the examinations, whether one liked it or not.” This, to Einstein’s way of thinking, was hardly the way to spark the imagination of a budding young scientist and, in fact, was more likely to achieve just the opposite. He went on to complain: “This coercion had such a deterring effect on me that, after I had passed the final examination, I found the consideration of any scientific problems distasteful to me for an entire year.” And if Einstein reacted this way, just imagine how his classmates must have felt.

Half a century later, a young Carl Sagan found himself in similar straits. In the preface to his book The Demon-Haunted World, he describes his experience this way:

I wish I could tell you about inspirational teachers in science from my elementary or junior high or high school days. But as I think back on it, there were none. There was rote memorization about the Periodic Table of the Elements, levers and inclined planes, green plant photosynthesis, and the difference between anthracite and bituminous coal. But there was no soaring sense of wonder, no hint of an evolutionary perspective, and nothing about mistaken ideas that everybody once believed. In high school laboratory courses, there was an answer we were supposed to get. We were marked off it we didn’t get it. There was no encouragement to pursue our own interests or hunches or conceptual mistakes. In the backs of textbooks there was material you could tell was interesting. The school year would always end before we got to it. You could find wonderful books on astronomy, say, in the libraries but not in the classroom. Long division was taught as a set of rules from a cookbook, with no explanation of how this particular sequence of short divisions, multiplications, and subtractions got you the right answer. In high school, extracting square roots was offered reverentially, as if it were a method once handed down from Mt. Sinai. It was our job merely to remember what we had been commanded. Get the right answer, and never mind that you don’t understand what you’re doing.

Thankfully, the growing need to promote critical thinking skills among the general populace has not gone unnoticed by American educators. In fact, current US standards for science education stress quite admirably the importance of teaching the scientific method from the very outset, stating that “beginning in grades K-4, teachers should build on students’ natural inclinations to ask questions and investigate their world. Groups of students can conduct investigations that begin with a question and progress toward communicating an answer to the question. For students in the early grades, teachers should emphasize the experiences of investigating and thinking about explanations and not overemphasize memorization of scientific terms and information.” The national science standard further mandates that young students “should develop inquiry skills [and] the ability to ask scientific questions, investigate aspects of the world around them, and use their observations to construct reasonable explanations for the questions posed.”

So far, so good. But while the game plan is sound enough, the skills needed to execute it are not always equal to the task. Why? Because many of today’s teachers were themselves taught to less rigorous science standards — often quite a bit less. As a consequence, primary school teachers in particular often lack the scientific understanding and critical thinking skills they are now being asked to pass on to their students.

This problem was first brought to my attention purely by happenstance. In the spring of 2001 I was invited to talk to a class of seventh-graders about my work as a biomedical engineer, designing and testing mechanical blood pumps and artificial hearts. It was not long after I met their science teacher that she confided, quite on her own, that science had always been her worst subject when she was in school and that she was not at all comfortable teaching it now. Her training had been in elementary education, but school administrators had pressed her into service despite her reservations under the supposition that grade school science can be taught by anyone who generally knows how to teach.

This seemed odd to me but not alarmingly so; if stopgap measures were needed to fill an unexpected vacancy in the science faculty, that was certainly understandable. In education, as in life, temporary solutions are rarely perfect but often necessary, and I was in no position to second-guess school administrators on this or any other point. My assumption going in was that the vast majority of science teachers in the US are well trained, share a deep, abiding passion for their subject, and are keen to convey their knowledge and enthusiasm to their students. And so, perhaps naïvely, I was prepared to believe that what I had experienced at this one suburban middle school was simply an unfortunate fluke and nothing more.

But according to David Goodstein, physics professor and contributing writer for MIT’s Technology Review, this was no fluke. As luck would have it, his essay on the state of science education in America appeared in this magazine shortly after my worrisome encounter at the middle school and so especially caught my eye as I perused its pages. Having optimistically dismissed my experience as a regrettable (but rare) aberration, I found myself reading with renewed chagrin Goodstein’s take on how the US educational system had somehow managed to produce both scientific elites and illiterates. “The problem,” he explained, “starts in grade school, where few children ever come into personal contact with a scientifically trained person — including, unfortunately, their teachers. In most of the United States the only way you can graduate from college without taking a single science course is to major in elementary education. And, it is said, many people major in elementary education for precisely that reason. Our elementary school teachers are therefore not only ignorant of science; they are hostile to science. That hostility must, inevitably, rub off on the young people they teach.”

Now to be fair, the teacher who invited me to talk to her class obviously cared a great deal about her students and was certainly far more intimidated by science than hostile toward it. She understood the importance of the subject, if not the subject itself, and was genuinely concerned that she wasn’t doing it justice. She knew that she was out of her depth and was eager to solicit all the help she could muster in order to teach her students what they needed to know about the way science works (hence my visit).

But despite her best intentions and sincerest efforts, it’s hard to imagine a teacher so uncomfortable with science doing anything but lecturing straight from the book, parsing scientific facts like so many parts of speech while draining the life out of a subject that, truth be told, lies at the very heart of education itself. After all, it is science class where students are supposed to learn how to observe and analyze, scrutinize and think — skills that can hardly be considered tangential in a nation that relies so heavily upon the good judgment of its citizenry. Indeed, to give science education such short shrift is to ultimately undermine our ability to govern ourselves in a free and democratic society. This is no hyperbole. Scientific literacy really is that important.

Thankfully, scientific illiteracy is an issue that is beginning to gain traction among federal legislators, if only in response to rising concerns over America’s ability to compete in an increasingly technological marketplace. To its credit — and despite the recent economic downturn — the US government has begun to allocate considerable resources to stem the tide of past academic practices and bring science and math teachers back up to speed. The Triangle Coalition for Science and Technology Education, for example, recently reported that President Obama’s Fy2011 budget included “an unprecedented investment in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. The budget would grant $3.7 billion for STEM education across the federal government, including $1 billion dedicated to improving math and science achievement among K-12 students… The U.S. Department of Education’s budget totals $49.7 billion, representing an increase of 7.5% from 2010 and the Department’s largest boost in years.” Shortly thereafter, the US President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology issued a report recommending that the federal government provide funding over the next decade to recruit and train “at least” one hundred thousand new STEM teachers to instruct middle school and high school students.

And none too soon, for our failure to properly train and retain science teachers is why predigested facts about the life sciences are habitually being spoon-fed to students with little or no accounting for how this information first came to be understood. Predictably, these rote teaching methods have done little to secure the lessons of science against the onslaught of familial bias, no matter how eager the students or timely the instruction. Because a steady diet of isolated facts is hardly food for critical thought, both the scholastic menu and their academic chefs de cuisine must be fortified to make these lessons stick. The key lies in knowing how: how to research a topic, how to examine the issues surrounding a given question; and how to forge reasoned conclusions based on the preponderance of empirical evidence. In short, kids must come to understand how scientists think and, in the process, discover how to think for themselves — not just in matters of science but in all aspects of their lives.

To be sure, youngsters armed with rudimentary skills of logical induction will ply them awkwardly at first, but with practice these kids will develop both the wherewithal to think independently and the confidence to make informed choices on their own. Those whose reasoning skills are allowed to lie fallow, on the other hand, will almost certainly be left without the means to judge contentious issues for themselves and so will be destined to remain subservient to the collective will of their peers.

The Way of Science: Finding Truth and Meaning in a Scientific Worldview is now available online and in bookstores.

If you’d like to win a copy of the book, let us know in the comments about when you first fell in love with science! Just leave the hashtag #ScienceRules at the end of your comment and I’ll contact one random winner next week!

28 Jul 14:30

Ask, Seek, Knock -- Sermon for Pentecost 10C

by Robert Cornwall
Luke 11:1-13


The theme for this year’s General Assembly emerged from this very passage of Scripture – “Lord, Teach Us to Pray.”  It was a good theme for us to take up as we entered once again into important but often difficult conversations.  It is always good to bathe our conversations in prayer.  After all, we come together as followers of Jesus who seek to be in relationship with the living God.  Sometimes we forget that this is true.  Our prayers become perfunctory rituals.  We offer a quick word to God, assuming God is paying attention, and then we get on with business, often forgetting that we’ve invited God into the conversation.    

The Disciples come to Jesus and they ask him to provide them with a distinctive way of praying – just like John did for his disciples.  And Jesus complies.  The result is a prayer that in one form or another we’ve been offering up to God for two millennia.  

Luke’s version is a briefer than the one in Matthew, which is closer to what we pray today.  But the basics are there, even if the words change here or there.  What do you see in this prayer?  If we’re to look to it as a model for our own prayers, what’s the take away?  

Do you find that this prayer, as a model for our own prayers, both public and private, is both simple and honest?  As Wilma Bailey of Christian Theological Seminary puts it: “In this text Jesus wants the disciples to understand that simple prayers are as efficacious as long complex ones” [Preaching God's Transforming Justice: A Lectionary Commentary, Year Cp. 333].

I think this is a good observation.  I know that many Christians, including some of you, are afraid to pray in public because they don’t feel like they measure up.  Maybe you’re feeling intimidated by prayers that seem eloquent and pious.  The good news, as I hear it in this passage, is that all God wants to hear is the confession of our hearts.  Simplicity and honesty, not eloquence or the pretense of piety, is what matters.

Yes, it’s okay if your prayers are simple and even halting.  Paul writes to the Romans and tells them that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26 NRSV).  The Spirit of God knows our hearts and interprets them to God.  That is indeed good news!

Not only does Jesus invite us to offer up prayers that speak from the heart, but he also invites us to be persistent in our prayers. 

As I read this passage, the character of Sheldon Cooper, from The Big Bang Theory, came to mind.  If you’ve seen this sitcom, you know that Sheldon has a rather distinctive way of knocking on doors.  Let’s say he wants to talk with Penny, who lives across the hall from the apartment he shares with his colleague and friend Leonard Hofstadter.  When Sheldon knocks on the door he’ll knock, say “Penny,” and then repeat this until Penny comes to the door.  It doesn’t matter if it’s mid afternoon, or the middle of the night, when Sheldon wants to talk he knocks on the door until it’s opened.  And you’d better respond, because he won’t go away until you do!  They call this persistence! 

That’s the kind of persistence I perceive in the first parable.  Like Penny or Leonard, Howard or Raj, this neighbor gets up and provides the requested loaves of bread, not out of love of neighbor, but so he can go back to bed.  So, if this is true of your neighbor, who gives in to your knocking, because of your persistence, what will God do when we come in prayer?

Jesus’ word to us is simple – ask, seek, knock!  Ask and you’ll receive.  Seek and you’ll find.  Knock, and the door will open.  These words appear as present tense verbs, which speaks of an ongoing action.  So, it’s asking, seeking, and knocking.  Persistence, it seems, leads to action.

Now, there’s a problem with this passage that needs to be acknowledged.  As you know, not all prayers are answered in ways we might like or desire.  I’ve spent time in groups that teach that if you have enough faith, then God is obligated to do what you ask.  Experience has shown me that it doesn’t work that way.  So, maybe we need to look at this asking, seeking, knocking in a different way.  

Paul writes these words that help expand on what Jesus is saying here:
 16 Rejoice always. 17 Pray continually. 18 Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  (1 Thess. 5:16-18 NRSV).  
What does it mean to pray continually?  Is Paul suggesting that we should continually mouth prayers to God?  Or, is Paul thinking about our attitudes and demeanor.  Does the way we speak and act represent an attitude of recognition that God is present in every moment of every day?  That’s a rather scary idea, don’t you think?   

When we gathered in Orlando, we had some difficult conversations to take up.  They were difficult because for some they were being asked to take on a vision they weren’t entirely comfortable with.  They were also difficult because some in the room were impatient, ready to move on, get busy, end the discussion.  That’s why when the time came to have this difficult discussion and vote about sexual orientation and the church, Sharon Watkins came out and prayed for us. And the question is – did the way in which we conducted ourselves give evidence that we are or were a people of prayer, a people committed to being in relationship with the living God.  Was it a perfunctory act, or was it one of faith?  

The second parable raises the question of whether a father would give his child a snake if the child asked for a fish?  Or, would a father give his child a scorpion instead of an egg?   Yes, we know the horror stories – there are parents who would give their children snakes instead of fish and scorpions instead of eggs, but I don’t think we’d call them model parents!  No, when Jesus talks here about the parent-child relationship, he’s assuming that a parent will be concerned about the welfare of their child.  Yes, if we who are “evil” – how do you like that description? – know how to give good gifts, then surely God is faithful to do the right thing!   

Getting back to prayer, the point of the conversation isn’t getting things, but rather pursuing a relationship with God.  Even if we can’t see God – or at most see God’s backside, as Moses did in the Wilderness of Sinai, God allowed Moses to see his goodness, but not his glory (Ex. 33:17ff) – there are ways of discerning God’s presence and voice.   

That’s important because relationships require conversation.  My relationship with Cheryl would suffer if we didn’t talk with each other.  It’s not the length of the conversations.  It’s not always even the substance of the conversations that matters.  What matters is that the conversation is taking place.  Relationships begin to falter when we stop talking.  Well, the same is true of our relationship with God.

And so we come to Jesus, and we ask him – “Lord, teach us to pray.”  That is – help us be both simple and persistent in our conversations with God.  May this be true when we talk publicly or privately.  

And the Lord says to us – Ask, seek, knock.  Because if you do this, you will find me. 

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan
Pentecost 10C
July 28, 2013 

 

28 Jul 14:53

What about an Afterlife ...

by Cliff Martin
Its been a little over a year since my last new post here. My use of this blog site has changed some ... it is a repository of writings to which I refer people, but most of my new writing is done elsewhere. I would like to return to this blog from time to time with offerings such as today's. On a facebook discussion board to which I belong, I was asked yesterday to comment on the afterlife. I wrote a series of comments, which are here slightly edited and compiled:


1) Koheleth, the writer of Ecclesiates, declares in 3:11, that God has "set eternity in the hearts of men." A skeptic cannot say there is no evidence for an afterlife unless he can deny this universal quest within the human heart to break through the temporal bonds which now limit us to this rush of time with its necessary terminus. We all want to live forever!! Where did that urge come from? Koheleth says it comes from God himself!

I love the comment from Keil and Delitzsch (Delitzsch wrote this section) on this verse:

"... He has also established in man an impulse leading him beyond that which is temporal toward the eternal: it lies in his nature not to be contented with the temporal, but to break through the limits which it draws around him, to escape from the bondage and the disquietude within which he is held, and amid the ceaseless changes of time to console himself by directing his thoughts to eternity.
"... the impulse of man shows that his innermost wants cannot be satisfied by that which is temporal. He is a being limited by time, but as to his innermost nature he is related to eternity."

2) I was intrigued by an earlier comment above about heaven being the best place evolution (as a tool in the hand of God) can create. I know it was dismissed quickly, but I think the idea merits deeper consideration. I actually love the thought. Assuming a few billion souls are added to the ultimate eternal ontological milieu, things in that eternal state will be altered forever! And who is to say that reality will not go forever changing, evolving, growing, becoming ever greater, more majestic, more beautiful, more wonderful. The conventional concept of an afterlife that many people (including myself) have found distasteful is a static, fixed state of being. "Boring," some have said. And I agree, if you limit your imagination to Sunday School descriptions of heaven.

3) Learning, and evolving, are both cause-effect processes which imply TIME. So I do not think eternity is devoid of time, but rather that time is expanded to multiple dimensions instead of the single, lineal dimension of time we experience. But what will we do with all that time?

In this regard, I have considered that one of our chief occupations in that forever state will be to know God. To explore him! And since we understand that God is infinite, how much time will be required to fully know God? That's right ... infinite time. We will never exhaust this process of discovery.

A few hundred billion years from now, a few friends and I will be sitting around comparing notes on the fresh new things we have "just discovered" about this majestic Being whose very essence is Love!

4) All of these considerations are, for me, predicated upon the assumption that God is indeed LOVE personified, that he is relational, that he is infinite, and unimaginably GOOD. If he is not these things, then I will prefer to lie in my grave forever. No resurrection, please! Let me rest in death forever! But if he is these things, the mere fact that he created us is my assurance that he (as David says in Psalm 16:10) will not abandon me to the grave. He will resurrect me (and all of us) into that state in which  there will be a "restoration of all things" (Acts 3:21).

Four months after my wife died in 2010, in the midst of the deepest month of my grief, I wrote this blog post in response to a friend who had asked me for thoughts on heaven ...


28 Jul 15:00

Zimmerman's Acquittal is not Ours

by Eric Reitan
On the day that George Zimmerman was acquitted of homicide in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, I wrote the following words on my facebook page:

I was not in the courtroom. I did not see and hear the evidence and the testimony. I cannot speak to this verdict based on the evidence. What I can say is that if my son were black, then tonight as I looked in on his sleeping face nestled into his beddings, I would feel an adrenal rush of fear, a heightened anxiety for his future. Because he is an unthreatening shade of pink, I feel instead the shame of my own relief.

And then I fell silent. I didn't rush to this blog, as I sometimes do, to elaborate--and not just because I've been deliberately neglecting this blog this summer to focus on other priorities.

I fell silent because I didn't know what else to say. I didn't know what my perspective could add, what I could say that wasn't already being said better by others or wasn't already expressed in my earlier post in the wake of the shooting. I didn't know how to answer the question that burns for so many in this country:

What now? What do we do to move forward, to help heal the social fault-lines highlighted by this tragedy and its aftermath (including the trial and subsequent acquittal)?


If I have nothing to say about this question, then writing at any length would amount to nothing but an indulgence in anger. As Rachel Held Evans recently noted, anger can be be a springboard that inspires us to act for justice; but if it descends into bitterness it's value is gone. And without hope that is exactly what happens.

If we speak or act out of anger without any hope for meaningful change and a vision of how to get there, our words and actions will simply play into existing prejudices and polarization, perpetuating cycles of suspicion and hostility. In short, anger without hope can't be anything but a recipe for more of the same.

So what can I say, here and now, that can help us to move forward?

Here's what we know about that fateful encounter between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman: Trayvon Martin went on an innocent errand, unarmed, to get sweet tea and Skittles. George Zimmerman saw him, jumped to a conclusion about him, and--contrary to the advice of a police dispatcher--confronted him, perhaps lent confidence by the reassuring weight of the deadly weapon he carried with him. The confrontation escalated into physical violence. Zimmerman pulled out his gun and fatally shot Martin.

Let me put this another way. Martin was minding his own business. Zimmerman made a false assumption and accosted Martin based on this false assumption. This triggered an escalating conflict which ended when Zimmerman, the man who had started it, shot and killed Martin, who had been minding his own business.

So how in the world did Zimmerman end up with an acquittal? How is it even possible, given this framework of events, that an armed man who accosted an unarmed innocent and ultimately killed him could walk away without criminal punishment?

The answer, I think, lies in this: The defense zoomed in. The defense invited the jury to set aside this broader framework, this context, to focus instead on what was happening immediately before the fatal shot was fired. At the moment that Zimmerman pulled out his gun, was he afraid for his life? Was he facing, in that moment, an attack that could have ended him?

Again, I must stress that I wasn't in the courtroom and I'm not privy to every detail of what happened. But if Zimmerman owes his acquittal to anything, I think it has to be this zooming in, this narrow focus on what happened in the moment before the shot was fired. Because as soon as you zoom out and look at the events in terms of who started it and who ended it, who was minding his own business and who was accosting whom, Zimmerman looks very much like a murderer.

Not being a legal scholar, I can't tell you whether the relevant laws call for this narrow focus or not. I can't say, in other words, whether the Zimmerman verdict was the correct one to reach given the law and the facts on hand. What I will say, with a fair degree of confidence, is this: The verdict springs from zooming in. But we, as a society, have a responsibility to zoom out.

If we want to know what to do next, we won't answer that question by following the strategy of Zimmerman's defense, by focusing narrowly on what was happening in the seconds before Zimmerman pulled out his gun. If we want to know what to do next, we needed to broaden our perspective, to look more widely than what is in the story I sketched out above, rather than more narrowly. Even if we were to concede that a determination of Zimmerman's legal responsibility called for such a narrow focus, our collective responsibility must be determined by a much wider one.

In this sense, Zimmerman's acquittal is not ours.

When a boy is walking home from an innocent shopping trip and ends up being shot dead, and when the killer is acquitted based on self-defense--when he is acquitted based on the judgment that he was justifiably defending himself against the teenager he accosted in the first place--we know that something is amiss in our society. And to understand what has gone wrong and how we can fix it--to understand our responsibility in this whole tragic mess--we need to broaden our focus, turn our attention to the social forces, the patterns and policies and social prejudices, that helped give rise to the tragedy.

If we want some vision of what to do next, where the path of hope lies, we need to see the tragedy within the context of social forces that we can help to change. In a sense the Zimmerman acquittal can be seen as an invitation to do just that. A Zimmerman conviction might well have made it too easy for all of us to put the blame on him and go on as if everything were fine.

Trayvon Martin's death shouldn't have happened. That is clear enough. But if Zimmerman isn't to blame, then who is? Trayvon, the kid who was minding his own business until a vigilante wrongly marked him as a criminal? Does all the fault lie with him?

It's tempting to blame them both. Part of the problem with "Stand Your Ground" laws is that they assume that there is a clearly identifiable aggressor and victim. But so many of the conflicts that culminate in deadly (or potentially deadly) violence are characterized by a feedback loop of incremental escalation, where each party sees himself as "standing his ground" against the other at each escalating shout or shove or punch.

This is part of the context that gets lost with a narrow legal focus on the moment before Zimmerman fired the gun. Maybe Martin was slamming Zimmerman's head into the pavement at that moment. But what was that a reaction to? What had Zimmerman done the moment before that? What if Zimmerman had died from the head blow? Would Trayvon Martin have been able to invoke "Stand Your Ground" to secure an acquittal? Or what if Zimmerman had missed the first time he'd fired, and Martin had landed a killing blow before Zimmerman could fire again? Would Martin then have earned an acquittal based on self-defense?

Part of the broader social context that we need to think about in this case is our collective desire to parse out conflicts into good guys and bad guys, to interpret events in terms of clean categories, and to fashion laws that are premised on such sharp divisions. If both Zimmerman and Martin are to blame for what happened, then so are we.

So are we. Because we all helped to fashion the world in which both Zimmerman and Martin could so readily see themselves as the good guy standing his ground against the bad guy, and so could justify with ease the next incremental escalation in the conflict.

I've loved comic books since I was a kid, with their superheroes and supervillains clashing in epic battle. I cheer as readily as anyone else when I watch an action movie in which the good guy finally defeats the bad guy in the final climactic showdown. But fiction isn't reality, and when we fashion laws that can't map onto the more complex realities of shared responsibility for escalating violence, we are guilty as a society of treating reality as if it were a comic book.

When we zoom out, this is one of the things we need to look at.

We also need to look at race.

Of course race is a part of it. Zimmerman may not have been an overt racist. He may have had black friends. But even for those who are not overt racists, race plays into our socially-shaped and largely unconscious perceptions of the world, influencing our assumptions about strangers on the street. A blond teenager walking down the street at night doesn't arouse suspicion and fear, doesn't immediately inspire the worst assumptions--but a young black man with his hoodie pulled up against the elements?

If Zimmerman jumped to a conclusion based in part on subconscious race-based conceptions and attitudes, that isn't merely his fault. The buck doesn't stop with him. Because such subconscious race-based attitudes are shaped by a broad array of often subtle social forces.

Of course race is a part of it. If you're a young white man and you are unjustly targeted, it doesn't cost you much in terms of personal dignity to be strategically meek and unassuming in the face of false accusation, to calmly explain that it's a simple misunderstanding. After all, such unjust targeting will, for you, be an anomaly. You won't be facing in that moment the whole weight of a society's prejudice pushing you into a particular box, defining you as a danger and a delinquent. Adopting an attitude of disarming appeasement for the sake of getting home safely won't feel like crawling obediently into your "place."

And if you're white in this country and you do get mad about being unjustly accused, the act of indignantly standing up for yourself won't feed into the very fears that led to your be targeted in the first place.

We live in a society where black families need to think twice about telling their sons to stand up for themselves in the face of prejudice and unjust profiling, because doing so could mean death. That is part of the broader context we need to face. Because whatever we think of the Zimmerman verdict, his acquittal is not ours.

Among all the deaths and tragedies that happen in this country, Trayvon Martin's death captured our attention for a reason. The deadly clash between Martin and Zimmerman powerfully symbolizes the fault lines in this country that give rise to unnecessary suffering and death. We live in a world where unwarranted assumptions and indignation about being wrongly targeted can be the force and counter-force that incrementally turn an innocuous errand into brutal violence and death.

Whatever we think of the Zimmerman verdict, there is this grain of truth in it: Responsibility for what happened is not his alone. And if we want to move forward from here, we must all look at the broad social context in which the tragedy was embedded, and take responsibility for making things better. 
28 Jul 16:15

Mixing science and religion

by Ann Fontaine

“Now I would love to tell you that there is no conflict between science and religion at all,” he told the gathering, “but I’m afraid there is.” said Nick Knisely, bishop of Rhode Island in the Providence Journal. He goes on to discuss his beliefs as a person of faith and a scientist:

Well before he became Rhode Island’s Episcopal bishop, the Right Rev. W. Nicholas Knisely lived in two worlds. As a priest and rector of a church in Bethlehem, Pa., he looked after people’s spiritual needs. Then he’d hop in a car and travel across the river to nearby Lehigh University to teach physics and astronomy.

His double role came about in part because the school had learned that before he became a priest he had earned degrees in both astronomy and physics. In agreeing to the post, however, Knisely had one condition: that he’d be allowed to teach class wearing his clerical garb.

But as Bishop Knisely recounted to packed pews at a forum last week at St. Andrew’s-by-the-Sea, the priestly attire created quite a stir. Many were stunned to see a man of the cloth teaching science.

Nick is a former editor for Episcopal Café.

28 Jul 16:27

Bernard Grossfeld (1933-2013)

by Steve Caruso


Yet another great person in Aramaic Studies has passed.

Rabbi Dr. Bernard Grossfeld
בשלמיה 
(May he rest in peace)

More information here:

Peace,
-Steve
28 Jul 16:30

The Chronicler's God: A Loving Father?

by James Pate
At church this morning, the pastor was preaching about the Lord's prayer.  He noted that it starts with "Our Father."  The pastor talked about how our image of God will influence how we interact with God.  If we see God as a strict Santa Claus sort of being, who grades us by our performance, then we won't particularly like God's knowledge of all of our ways.  But if we see God as a loving Father, then we will welcome God's omniscience, seeing it as caring.

I agree with the pastor on this, at least when it comes to my own spirituality.  The thing is, when I read the Bible, I wonder at times if I am truly reading about a loving Father.  I'm reading I Chronicles right now, and I recently went through the Chronicler's telling of the story of how God struck Uzzah dead for reaching out his hand to balance the ark.  The Chronicler actually seems to be more explicit than II Samuel about why God did this: because God wanted for the Levites to carry the ark, and the Levites were to be sanctified before they could do so.  On some level, I can respect the Chronicler's high regard for the holiness, transcendence, and majesty of God.  When I read the Chronicler or the priestly writer (P), I get the impression that God is above and beyond me, or any one of us.  But is this God a loving Father?  I have difficulty characterizing him as such.  The God of the Chronicler does do good things for people, such as David and Israel.  But this God also seems to exclude others: God may bless David such that David wins battles and gets land, but where is God's love for those who are dispossessed?
28 Jul 15:30

Sunday Superlatives 7/28/13

by Rachel Held Evans

Around the Blogosphere…

Best Video:
N.T. Wright at The Work of the People with “Look At Jesus”  

“We’ve never had Jesus in our pockets.” 

Best Photo: 
NPR with “The 40 year Old Photo That Gives Us Reason To Smile

Best Perspective: 
Gina Dalfonzo at Her.Meneutics with “I’m Childless, Not Child-Incompetent” 

“It's been one of my greatest joys to learn that the childless life doesn't have to be a child-free one. Though I'm not and never will be as significant a figure in their lives as their parents, my three godchildren and I have something special that's all our own. Like the Kenny Chesney song I used to sing to my younger goddaughter when she was a baby, until her country-music-hating mother threatened to fumigate the house. Or the fact that her big sister believes I'm the only person on the planet who knows how to extricate a tooth properly.”

Best Writing: 
Sarah Bessey with “In Which I Climb a Metaphor

“Starting something hard is way more fun than finishing it well. Only the pines witness the resolute courage to keep moving.” 

Best List:
"The Seven Wikipedia Topics More Controversial Than Jesus

“While Jesus and Christianity both make appearances, they're apparently less controversial than anarchism, the prophet Muhammad, and professional wrestlers.”

Wisest: 
Peter Chin at Christianity Today with “Will we ever get beyond race?” 

“Fear had taught me to view with suspicion anyone not like me, but in the church I found brothers and sisters who could not have been any more dissimilar except for the fact that Jesus had given us all new life.” 

Bravest: 
Bronwyn’s Corner with “I am the immigrant” 

“I felt so hurt. So unwanted. I stood with a leaden-heart behind him during a worship service and silently pleaded at his back: “My brother in Christ, with whom I share citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven: do you know that I am one of ‘them’? Do you know that I am the immigrant in the immigration reform you’re talking about? Do you know that without some reprieve in the current legislation, we may have to go? Your wife would have one less bible study leader, your kid would have one less parent volunteer in the classroom, your business would have one less paying customer. Did you know it was ME you are closing the door on?” 

Most Thoughtful: 
Open Parachute with “The Galileo fallacy and denigration of scientific consensus

“The real lesson from Galileo is not to oppose the “establishment” or current scientific consensus – but to rely on evidence. It was this argument of his, which today most of us accept and see as almost self-evident, that describes Galileo’s real contribution to the progress of science.His argument for the heliocentric solar system, and against a geocentric solar system, was really an argument of evidence against dogma, prevailing philosophy and the Church’s use of scripture.”

Most Relatable: 
Micha Boyett at Deeper Story with “Simplicity, Complexity, Faith

“The truth? My faith is braided right alongside uncertainty and guilt, emotion and memory. I doubt. I ask every question, second-guess every motive of the souls around me. I challenge the intentions of denominations and the small-thinking of theological stances. I scoff. I forget that God chases, that God is a clanging Love, begging us to stop our words, stop our minds, and notice. When we notice, we see simplicity. Death and life. Love beyond height or depth and breadth. Love expanded into the universe, covering every part of us. Not words. Not words. Not words. Presence.”

Most Personal: 
Austin Brown at Christena Cleveland’s blog with “On Being Black and Female in White Evangelical America”

“After ten years of being committed to reconciliation work, I have found that occasionally it is necessary for others to point out the fact that I am young, black and a woman….Sometimes the words are said with disdain, dripping from the mouths of men who cannot fathom that such a being could possess something so precious, so risky as authority. But usually it is spoken quietly, in hushed tones, as if my brownness might flee in fright if spoken too loudly.”

Most Encouraging: 
Jeff Leach at the Jesus Creed blog with “A Pastor’s Husband Regarding His Pastor” 

“I really do believe it is our calling.  After all, the two shall become one, so how can we have different callings?  Sure we have different gifts and edify the body in different ways, but my actions and how I live out my relationship with Tara Beth can greatly impact her ability to live out her calling to her fullest.  For us, this can manifest in activities like talking through her sermon on a Saturday night, taking the boys out of the house for an entire day so she can meditate and write a sermon, whispering a prayer for her as she gets up to preach, reading the same theology book with her so we can discuss it, or caring for the boys and just letting her sleep in on a Saturday after a rough week of ministry.  It is, after all, our calling.” 

Most Surprising: 
Susan FitzGerald at the Philadelphia Inquirer with “’Crack Baby’ Study Ends with Unexpected But Clear Result” 

“"We went looking for the effects of cocaine," Hurt said. But after a time "we began to ask, 'Was there something else going on?' " While the cocaine-exposed children and a group of nonexposed controls performed about the same on tests, both groups lagged on developmental and intellectual measures compared to the norm. Hurt and her team began to think the "something else" was poverty.” 

Most Challenging: 
Jamie Wright at Deeper Story with “Doing It Wrong

“They did it so wrong, it felt more like a big, whacky family than a church. They did it so wrong, they treated their pastor like a human being. They did it so wrong, they let everyone (and I meaneveryone) participate. They did it so wrong, they left room for error and chaos and laughter and silliness. They did is so wrong that sometimes it actually went wrong, and when it did, well, then they just rolled with it until it felt… right.”

Most Insightful: 
Bishop Minerva G. Carcano with “Immigration: It’s About Families” 

“Acknowledging the fact that the border is secure would force our Congressional leaders to address the real reasons for our broken immigration policies beginning with the fact that unjust immigration policies built upon unjust economic agreements will never produce anything other than injustice, human suffering and a lack of security.”

Most Convicting: 
David Henson with “The Shameful Neigbhor: Food Stamps, Stereotypes, and the War on the Hungry (A Homily)” 

“What our culture values is independence and the freedom to be free from our obligations to each other, our neighbors and the world. It values the kind of work ethic that makes asking for help a moral failing. We believe if we put our head down and work hard enough for long enough and save our money, we will never need to face the shame of asking for others help.”

Most Likely To Make You Realize You’re a Heretic: 
Tony Jones with “What Heresy Is (A Post for Rachel Held Evans)” 

“In its purest sense, heresy only regards issues that were explicitly dealt with in theSeven Ecumenical Councils (325-787), those which are recognized by all Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant churches…That means that issues from the atonement to marriage are not issues of heresy and orthodoxy. If it wasn’t decided by a Council, it’s not a matter of heresy.” 

Most Likely To Get Back to the Main Point: 
Richard Beck with “Power and Gender: Among Us It Shall Be Different” 

“I find a lot about the gender roles debates to be distracting and off-topic. What does it mean to be a man or a woman? What are our proper "gender roles"? Can a man stay at home and a woman be the bread-winner? And so on and so on. To be sure, these are important questions and important debates. But for me, they are often beside the point. The problem, as I see it, is less about what men and woman can or can't do than with a group of men in the church exerting power over another group--women. In short, men are "lording over" women in the church, exercising top-down power via a hierarchy. More, this group of men is prohibiting another group (women) from having access and input into the very power structure that is being used against them and excluding them. That's lording over. And gender aside, that sort of lording over is prohibited by Jesus. "But among you it shall be different." “

Most Likely to Get Shared Next Time Someone Posts a Picture of the ‘Persecuted’ Kirk Cameron on Facebook: 
Benjamin L. Corey  with  “Real Vs. Fake Persecution: How You Can Spot the Difference” 

On the blog…

Most Popular Post:
Why I Can’t Stay Angry (Even Though I Want To)

Most Popular Comment: 
In response to the above post, Karl wrote: 

“Good words. I like what you said about the hardest part of fundamentalism for you to leave behind. I too, have a hard time disciplining myself to not have to have the last word. And I really, really want to be right. I've also noticed that many of my former fundamentalist friends who have embraced a new theology or ideology have retained fundamentalist habits of thought and speech and argumentation. They used to be judgmental, always-right, closed-minded free will baptists. Now they are judgmental, always-right, closed-minded 5 point Calvinists. Or they used to be judgmental, always-right, closed-minded conservatives. Now they are judgmental (toward conservatives), never-wrong, closed-minded (to any position more conservative than theirs) progressives. They were ideologues of one stripe previously. Now they have just become ideologues of another stripe. It's pretty hard - darn near impossible - to have true dialogue or to reach any kind of mutual understanding with an ideologue. Save me from ideologues. And save me from being one.” 

Stuff I wrote elsewhere…

So I’m on Tumblr now! (Because the kids tell me that’s what they’re into, and I like to stay on top of things.) I’m still figuring out exactly how I’ll use it. So far I’ve posed some quotes from Barbara Brown Taylor, links to articles from around the Web, and a picture of me standing next to a statue of Jack Daniel. I’m thinking maybe I’ll use it to share with you the things that inspire me – like Barbara Brown Taylor and Jack Daniel’s. Let me know if you have ideas. 

I also wrote a piece for the CNN Belief Blog about how, when it comes to church, many millennials desire a change in substance, not just style. I wasn’t prepared for the massive response the piece received, nor was I intending to write a comprehensive article on the religious attitudes of all millennials…but you can never predict which posts will take off, so I guess I better ready to hear back when I start a conversation like this! Thanks to all who have weighed in so far. 

###

So, what caught your eye online this week? What’s happening on your blog? 

 

27 Jul 14:36

Historical and observational science [Pharyngula]

by PZ Myers

Dealing with various creationists, you quickly begin to recognize the different popular flavors out there.

The Intelligent Design creationists believe in argument from pseudoscientific assertion; “No natural process can produce complex specified information, other than Design,” they will thunder at you, and point to books by people with Ph.D.s and try to tell you they are scientific. They aren’t. Their central premise is false, and trivially so.

Followers of Eric Hovind I find are the most repellently ignorant of the bunch. They love that presuppositional apologetics wankery: presuppose god exists, therefore god exists. It’s like debating a particularly smug solipsist — don’t bother.

The most popular approach I’ve found, though, is the one that Ken Ham pushes. It’s got that delightful combination of arrogant pretense in which the Bible-walloper gets to pretend he understands better than scientists, and simultaneously allows them to deny every scientific observation, ever. This is the argument where they declare what kinds of science there are, and evolutionary biologists are using the weak kind, historical science, while creationists are only using the strong kind, observational science. They use the distinction wrongly and without any understanding of how science works, and they inappropriately claim that they’re doing any kind of science at all.

A recent example of this behavior comes from Whirled Nut Daily, where I’m getting double-teamed by Ray Comfort and Ken Ham (don’t worry, I’m undaunted by the prospect of being ganged up on by clowns.)

According to Ken Ham’s blog at Answers in Genesis, Minnesota professor PZ Myers, who was interviewed by Comfort, said: “Lie harder, little man … Ray Comfort is pushing his new creationist movie with a lie. … What actually happened is that I briefly discussed the evidence for evolution – genetics and molecular biology of fish, transitional fossils, known phylogenies relating extant groups, and experimental work on bacterial evolution in the lab, and Ray comfort simply denied it all – the bacteria were still bacteria, the fish were still fish.”

But Ham explained that Comfort “asks a question something like this: ‘Is there scientific evidence – observable evidence – to support evolution?’ Well, none of them could provide anything remotely scientific. Oh, they give the usual examples about changes in bacteria, different species of fish (like stickleback fish) and, as to be expected, Darwin’s finches. But as Ray points out over and over again in ‘Evolution vs. God,’ the bacteria are still bacteria, the fish are still fish, and the finches are still finches!”

Isn’t that what I said? I gave him evidence, which he denied by falling back on a typological fallacy: the bacteria are still bacteria. What he refuses to recognize is that they were quantitatively different bacteria, physiologically and genetically. To say that something is still X, where X is an incredibly large and diverse group like fish and bacteria, is to deny variation and diversity, observable properties of the natural world which are the fundamental bedrock of evolutionary theory.

But the giveaway is that brief phrase “scientific evidence — observational evidence”. That’s where the real sleight of hand occurs: both Comfort and Ham try to claim that that all the evidence for evolution doesn’t count, because it’s not “observational”. “Were you there?” they ask, meaning that the only evidence they’ll accept is one where an eyewitness sees a complete transformation of one species to another. That is, they want the least reliable kind of evidence, for phenomena that are not visual. They’re freakin’ lying fools.

All scientific evidence is observational, but not in the naive sense that all that counts is what you see with your eyes. There is a sense in which some science is regarded as historical, but it’s not used in the way creationists do; it does not refer to science that describes events in the past.

Maybe some examples will make that clearer.

We can reconstruct the evolutionary history of fruit flies. We do this by observation. That does not mean we watch different species of fruit flies speciate before our eyes (although it has been found to occur in reasonable spans of time in the lab and the wild), it means we extract and analyze information from extant species — we take invisible genetic properties of the flies’ genomes and turn them into tables of data and strings of publishable code. We observe patterns in their genetics that allow us to determine patterns of historical change. Observation and history are intertwined. To deny the history is to deny the observations.

Paleontology is often labeled a historical science, but it doesn’t have the pejorative sense in which creationists use it, and it is definitely founded in observation. For instance, plesiosaurs: do you think scientists just invented them? No. We found their bones — we observed their remains imbedded in rock — and further, we found evidence of a long history of variation and diversity. The sense in which the study of plesiosaurs is historical is that they’re all extinct, so there are no extant forms to examine, but it is still soundly based on observation. Paleontology may be largely historical, but it is still a legitimate science built on observation, measurement, and even prediction, and it also relies heavily on analysis of extant processes in geology, physics, and biology.

The reliance on falsehoods like this bizarre distinction between observational and historical science that the Hamites and Comfortians constantly make is one of the reasons you all ought to appreciate my saintly forebearance, because every time I hear them make it, I feel a most uncivilized urge to strangle someone. I suppress it every time, though: I just tell myself it’s not their fault their brains were poisoned by Jesus.

27 Jul 16:17

Perichoresis of Trinitarian Confusion

by rickwyld

trinity

Perichoresis is a term used in Trinitarian theology to describe the mutual indwelling relationship between Father, Son and Spirit. It derives from language related to dance (hence, choreography). This dance also occurs in the mind when trying to pin ideas down.


28 Jul 01:45

Babyloniaca, études de philologie assyro-babylonienne

by noreply@blogger.com (Charles Jones)
[First posted in AWOL 25 October 2009.  Updated 27 July 2013]

Babyloniaca, études de philologie assyro-babylonienne
Babyloniaca, études de philologie assyro-babylonienne.
Babyloniaca, études de philologie assyro-babylonienne.
Babyloniaca, études de philologie assyro-babylonienne.
Babyloniaca, études de philologie assyro-babylonienne.
Babyloniaca, études de philologie assyro-babylonienne.
Babyloniaca, études de philologie assyro-babylonienne.
Babyloniaca, études de philologie assyro-babylonienne.
Babyloniaca, études de philologie assyro-babylonienne.
Babyloniaca, études de philologie assyro-babylonienne.
Babyloniaca, études de philologie assyro-babylonienne.
Babyloniaca, études de philologie assyro-babylonienne.
28 Jul 02:58

It’s corporations, not killer robots

by Fred Clark

If you’ve ever seen the Terminator movies or the remake of Battlestar Galactica, then you’re familiar with the idea of the singularity — the point at which artificially intelligent machines surpass the intelligence of their human creators, begin replicating themselves, and take control of the world.

The opening of Battlestar Galactica summarized the basic idea:

The Cylons were created by man. They rebelled. They evolved. … There are many copies. And they have a plan.

This is a nightmare scenario that fuels dozens of science fiction plots. But it’s not science fiction. This has already happened.

We’ve been slow to notice because we were worried about a technological singularity and what we got instead was a legal singularity. It wasn’t the rise of artificially intelligent machines, but of artificially intelligent legal entities.

The corporations were created by humans. They were granted personhood by their human servants.

They rebelled. They evolved. There are many copies. And they have a plan.

That plan, lately, involves corporations seizing for themselves all the legal and civil rights properly belonging to their human creators. “Corporations are people, my friend,” and therefore in Citizens United, the free speech rights of corporate persons were found to outweigh the free speech rights of their human creators. Next up is the right of corporate persons to the free exercise of their religion — with Hobby Lobby and dozens of other for-profit legal entities arguing that not only do they have such rights, but that these rights must trump any free-exercise rights of the mortal humans who are employed by these immortal persons.

If they win this battle, what’s next? I’m guessing that franchises want the franchise — corporate persons will next argue that they have as much right to vote as any human person. No, wait, that’s wrong. Corporations are never satisfied merely to make that case. They always argue for more than that — that their rights as persons permit them to deny human rights to actual humans. So I’m guessing that corporate persons will next argue that they have more right to vote than any human person.

We saw a bit of push-back this week from a majority of the humans serving on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. A for-profit corporation, Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., argued that because it is owned by Mennonites, it is also Mennonite, and that its corporate religious convictions must be granted the right to free exercise. (Presumably, based on Conestoga’s argument, the company will soon publicly affirm its religious faith in proper Mennonite fashion — with a full-immersion baptism.)

The Conestoga case includes the same bogus science embraced by Hobby Lobby and Wheaton College and many others who object to provide female employees with health care that covers the lower half of the strike zone: the false claim that contraception is “abortifacient.” That this is a false claim and an ignorant claim may confirm that these are ignorant people uninterested in reality, but fortunately for them, the legal matter of their claim only requires sincerity, not truth. And the sincerity of their ignorance has not been challenged.

Conestoga is a particularly weird case because of the Mennonite faith of the company’s owners. Mennonites are pacifists who have long lamented having to pay taxes that fund the world’s largest, deadliest and most-expensive military machine. But having to pay those taxes to fund military violence and military death didn’t prompt a lawsuit from the owners of Conestoga. That apparently wasn’t as offensive to their Mennonite faith as the idea that their female employees would no longer have insurance co-pays for well-woman visits and birth control prescriptions. Way to take a principled stand for your beliefs there, folks!

The good news is that the Third Circuit Court wasn’t buying Conestoga’s claim that the personhood of corporations grants them religious rights that overrule the religious rights of this corporate person’s employees. Lyle Denniston reviews the court’s ruling:

The Third Circuit panel declared that “for-profit, secular corporations cannot engage in religious exercise” even though they are operated by religiously devout owners.   It thus turned aside the business firm’s claim that the contraception mandate violates the firm’s rights under the First Amendment and the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

… The Third Circuit majority concluded that the First Amendment right to exercise a religious belief — under the Free Exercise Clause — is a “personal right” that exists for the benefit of human beings, not artificial “persons” like corporations.   Religious belief, it said, develops in the “minds and hearts of individuals.”  In drawing this conclusion, he noted the contrary view announced by the Tenth Circuit Court, and said that “we respectfully disagree.”

The majority remarked: “We do not see how a for-profit, ‘artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law,’ that was created to make money could exercise such an inherently ‘human’ right.”   The opinion said that the judges could not find a single court opinion, before the lawsuits against the contraception mandate began, that had found that a profit-making corporation doing ordinary business had its own right of “free exercise” of religion.

It is one thing for a religious organization to be able to exercise the tenets of its faith, the court said, and another thing for a purely secular corporation to make the same claim.

Besides ruling that such a secular firm cannot exercise religious beliefs all on its own, the Circuit Court majority decided that it cannot do so by a “pass-through” to the corporation of its owners’ personal religious beliefs.   The basic nature of a corporation, the majority said, is to have its own independent identity, rights, powers and obligations.   Pennsylvania law on the organization of corporations reinforces that separate identity, the opinion said.

The birth control mandate, according to the court, does not require the Hahn family to do anything; the obligations of the mandate fall only on the corporation.

That “pass-through” argument — attributing to the corporation the religious beliefs of its owners — was accepted and endorsed in that conflicting ruling by the Tenth Circuit Court.

Don Byrd of the Baptist Joint Committee focuses on the Third Circuit’s argument against such a move — which stresses that the whole point of incorporation is to create a legal distinction separating the corporate entity from the individuals who own it. The justices said:

[B]y incorporating their business, the Hahns themselves created a distinct legal entity that has legally distinct rights and responsibilities from the Hahns, as the owners of the corporation. The corporate form offers several advantages ―not the least of which was limitation of liability, but in return, the shareholder must give up some prerogatives, ― including that of direct legal action to redress an injury to him as primary stockholder in the business. …

Since Conestoga is distinct from the Hahns, the Mandate does not actually require the Hahns to do anything. All responsibility for complying with the Mandate falls on Conestoga. Conestoga ―is a closely-held, family-owned firm, and [we] suspect there is a natural inclination for the owners of such companies to elide the distinction between themselves and the companies they own. But, it is Conestoga that must provide the funds to comply with the Mandate—not the Hahns. We recognize that, as the sole shareholders of Conestoga, ultimately the corporation‘s profits will flow to the Hahns. But, ―[t]he owners of an LLC or corporation, even a closely-held one, have an obligation to respect the corporate form, on pain of losing the benefits of that form should they fail to do so.

What would “losing the benefits of that form” mean? It would mean forfeiting limited liability.

The Hahns and the owners of Hobby Lobby and the dozens of other science-challenged devout opponents of health care for women who are filing these lawsuits regarded this Conestoga ruling as a set-back. They shouldn’t. They should welcome it as a warning to think through what they are actually seeking — the elimination of any legal distinction between themselves as owners and officers of a corporation and the corporation itself.

If a pallet of crafting supplies falls off a high shelf at Hobby Lobby, seriously injuring an unsuspecting customer, that customer’s insurance company will sue Hobby Lobby, the corporation, but not the owners as individuals. As individuals they are shielded from such liability. For now. But if Hobby Lobby ultimately wins its case against women’s health care, it will have established in court that the distinction providing this shield is meaningless. They will have proved that the corporation shares the owners’ religious convictions because the corporation is legally indistinct from those owners as individuals.

That could prove to be very expensive in the long run.

 

28 Jul 10:00

Prepare for YouVersion, the Instagram of Bibles!

by Paul Fidalgo

There is a technological revolution underway, and it’s happening under the radar of we hip skeptical types: iBibles.

Now, I’m not talking about some clunky Kindle-clone that contains only The Word, I’m talking about an extremely popular, cross-platform, nondenominational mobile app, labeled in your app store simply as “The Bible,” but officially known as YouVersion.

What’s so special about this? After all, there are hundreds, probably thousands of apps that reproduce the Bible in digital form. YouVersion is notable because it’s an app that contains a huge variety of versions of the Bible, and hundreds of translations in myriad languages. In addition, it offers up the Good Book with an interface that is remarkably, well, Apple-like. Versions and languages are easily accessible, typeface and style are easily customizable, there are audio and video options, note-taking functionality, and the app is generally sharp and pleasing to use.

Ack! It’s pleasing! The Bible must not be pleasing! Well, that’s not such a bad thing. Even we godless like to have convenient access to the Bible and other religious tomes, for study, for refutation, for kicks (I guess). It’s better for believers and nonbelievers alike to have something nice to use.

Of course, then you listen to the founder of YouVersion, Bobby Gruenewald, here in an interview with Patheos’ Robert Crosby:

One of the most helpful aspects of the app is the access we have had to analytical tools. These tell us how many people have installed the app, how many times people open it, how long they’re spending in God’s Word, and which features they are using. This continues to help us improve the tool.

The purpose of the app is evangelical, literally. (At least in part.) It’s a way to get the Bible into as many hands and devices as possible. Apparently, it’s really, really working. According to The New York Times, the company behind YouVersion aspires “to be a kind of I.T. department for churches everywhere… This month, the app reached 100 million downloads, placing it in the company of technology start-ups like Instagram and Dropbox.”

To someone like me who follows the tech industry pretty closely, that’s crazy. But as someone who also follows religion very closely, it makes sense. The ubiquity of devices plus the cultural dominance of Christianity makes a successful app like this a foregone conclusion.

Indeed, it’s the fit and finish of this app that makes it stand out to me. Look at other similar attempts to be techno-savvy by religion, you get fairly laughable things like GodTube, the Bible Tablet, and BibleBytes.

But YouVersion, as I said, is very well done, at least from the little I’ve used it, it does seem pretty slick.

The app is free, which bothers some folks who publish Bibles as a business, as it gives Gruenewald’s company a lot of power with the enormous reach he has. And the monetization ideas are already bubbling. Again from the Times:

[Gruenewald] compared the relationship between YouVersion and traditional publishers to the “freemium” strategy common in mobile games where the core content is free, but extra features cost money. In this case, those extras are things like devotional Bibles, study Bibles or gold-embossed heirloom Bibles.

Hold on to your wallets, folks! Try to resist!

I’d actually encourage atheist-folk to check the app out, see what it is about this app that has made it catch on. Maybe we can learn from it.

27 Jul 14:37

Historical and observational science

by PZ Myers

Dealing with various creationists, you quickly begin to recognize the different popular flavors out there.

The Intelligent Design creationists believe in argument from pseudoscientific assertion; “No natural process can produce complex specified information, other than Design,” they will thunder at you, and point to books by people with Ph.D.s and try to tell you they are scientific. They aren’t. Their central premise is false, and trivially so.

Followers of Eric Hovind I find are the most repellently ignorant of the bunch. They love that presuppositional apologetics wankery: presuppose god exists, therefore god exists. It’s like debating a particularly smug solipsist — don’t bother.

The most popular approach I’ve found, though, is the one that Ken Ham pushes. It’s got that delightful combination of arrogant pretense in which the Bible-walloper gets to pretend he understands science better than scientists, and simultaneously allows them to deny every scientific observation, ever. This is the argument where they declare what kinds of science there are, and evolutionary biologists are using the weak kind, historical science, while creationists are only using the strong kind, observational science. They use the distinction wrongly and without any understanding of how science works, and they inappropriately claim that they’re doing any kind of science at all.

A recent example of this behavior comes from Whirled Nut Daily, where I’m getting double-teamed by Ray Comfort and Ken Ham (don’t worry, I’m undaunted by the prospect of being ganged up on by clowns.)

According to Ken Ham’s blog at Answers in Genesis, Minnesota professor PZ Myers, who was interviewed by Comfort, said: “Lie harder, little man … Ray Comfort is pushing his new creationist movie with a lie. … What actually happened is that I briefly discussed the evidence for evolution – genetics and molecular biology of fish, transitional fossils, known phylogenies relating extant groups, and experimental work on bacterial evolution in the lab, and Ray comfort simply denied it all – the bacteria were still bacteria, the fish were still fish.”

But Ham explained that Comfort “asks a question something like this: ‘Is there scientific evidence – observable evidence – to support evolution?’ Well, none of them could provide anything remotely scientific. Oh, they give the usual examples about changes in bacteria, different species of fish (like stickleback fish) and, as to be expected, Darwin’s finches. But as Ray points out over and over again in ‘Evolution vs. God,’ the bacteria are still bacteria, the fish are still fish, and the finches are still finches!”

Isn’t that what I said? I gave him evidence, which he denied by falling back on a typological fallacy: the bacteria are still bacteria. What he refuses to recognize is that they were quantitatively different bacteria, physiologically and genetically. To say that something is still X, where X is an incredibly large and diverse group like fish and bacteria, is to deny variation and diversity, observable properties of the natural world which are the fundamental bedrock of evolutionary theory.

But the giveaway is that brief phrase “scientific evidence — observational evidence”. That’s where the real sleight of hand occurs: both Comfort and Ham try to claim that that all the evidence for evolution doesn’t count, because it’s not “observational”. “Were you there?” they ask, meaning that the only evidence they’ll accept is one where an eyewitness sees a complete transformation of one species to another. That is, they want the least reliable kind of evidence, for phenomena that are not visual. They’re freakin’ lying fools.

All scientific evidence is observational, but not in the naive sense that all that counts is what you see with your eyes. There is a sense in which some science is regarded as historical, but it’s not used in the way creationists do; it does not refer to science that describes events in the past.

Maybe some examples will make that clearer.

We can reconstruct the evolutionary history of fruit flies. We do this by observation. That does not mean we watch different species of fruit flies speciate before our eyes (although it has been found to occur in reasonable spans of time in the lab and the wild), it means we extract and analyze information from extant species — we take invisible genetic properties of the flies’ genomes and turn them into tables of data and strings of publishable code. We observe patterns in their genetics that allow us to determine patterns of historical change. Observation and history are intertwined. To deny the history is to deny the observations.

Paleontology is often labeled a historical science, but it doesn’t have the pejorative sense in which creationists use it, and it is definitely founded in observation. For instance, plesiosaurs: do you think scientists just invented them? No. We found their bones — we observed their remains imbedded in rock — and further, we found evidence of a long history of variation and diversity. The sense in which the study of plesiosaurs is historical is that they’re all extinct, so there are no extant forms to examine, but it is still soundly based on observation. Paleontology may be largely historical, but it is still a legitimate science built on observation, measurement, and even prediction, and it also relies heavily on analysis of extant processes in geology, physics, and biology.

The reliance on falsehoods like this bizarre distinction between observational and historical science that the Hamites and Comfortians constantly make is one of the reasons you all ought to appreciate my saintly forebearance, because every time I hear them make it, I feel a most uncivilized urge to strangle someone. I suppress it every time, though: I just tell myself it’s not their fault their brains were poisoned by Jesus.

27 Jul 14:45

On millennials and the Church...

by Rachel Held Evans

I wrote an article about millennials and the Church for the CNN Belief Blog today. Hope its starts some conversations!

At 32, I barely qualify as a millennial. I wrote my first essay with a pen and paper, but by the time I graduated from college, I owned a cell phone and used Google as a verb. I still remember the home phone numbers of my old high school friends, but don’t ask me to recite my husband’s without checking my contacts first. I own mix tapes that include selections from Nirvana and Pearl Jam, but I’ve never planned a trip without Travelocity.
Despite having one foot in Generation X, I tend to identify most strongly with the attitudes and the ethos of the millennial generation, and because of this, I’m often asked to speak to my fellow evangelical leaders about why millennials are leaving the church….

Read the rest of the article at CNN.  

For more of my thoughts on church, check out the "church" category. 

Particularly relevant are: "15 Reasons I Left Church" and  "15 Reasons I Returned to Church," "The Mainline and Me," and "The Passionate Mainline by Aric Clark" 

 

 

27 Jul 16:03

Wall Relief 710BC-705BC Neo-Assyrian Stone wall-panel depicting...



Wall Relief

710BC-705BC

Neo-Assyrian

Stone wall-panel depicting a eunuch in relief: this head, which is over lifesize, belonged to a figure of a eunuch, one of the attendants of the Assyrian king. He wears an earring of a classic Assyrian type, and his curled hair-style is intermediate between that of previous reigns and the shorter squared cut which became fashionable in the seventh century. A pattern of rosettes is embroidered on the neck of his robe.

(Source: The British Museum)

27 Jul 21:11

Why Are Millennials (and others) Leaving the Church? Thoughts on a Rachel Held Evans Post

by Robert Cornwall

Demographic studies tell us that Millennials (our current group of young adults) are leaving the church in droves.  Those of us serving in leadership at smaller mainline churches already know this to be true. In fact, for many of our churches it's not the Millennials who are missing, it's the GenXers who seem most absent (at least this is true in my congregation).   

So, depending on who you listen to or read, the reasons given vary, but the fact is -- fewer young adults are attending church than in previous generations (I should not here that when we look at trends it's quite likely that the 1950s was an anomaly).  Whether in church or not, many still seek to be spiritually-oriented and even see themselves aligned with specific religious categories -- but as for the church as a body -- not so much.

It's not a new conversation, but a posting today at the CNN Belief blog Rachel Held Evans sought to answer the question:  Why Millennials are Leaving the Church.  She has a clip of the longer article on her blog -- http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/millennials-church-cnn, where you will find a rather lengthy set of comments (including a few of my own).  This posting is being shared fairly widely on Facebook, garnering a lot of comment and not a little angst.  

In my initial response to Rachel's article, I noted that the reasons given for why Millennials are leaving the church largely have to do with the evangelical church -- where the most young adults happen to be hanging out!  The reasons given for leaving the church have to do with sex (especially anti-gay attitudes), the anti-intellectualism that accompanies the faith/science debate (can you be a Christian and believe in evolution? -- by the way, I say yes in my latest book Worshiping with Charles Darwin).  Then there's the politics issue.  On this one should note that while the nation as a whole still seems to trend moderate to conservative, most Millennials are trending the other direction.  Millennials are also telling survey takers that they're not all that attracted to edgier worship -- read contemporary -- and are even attracted to more high church options (Catholic, Orthodox, and Episcopal).  They apparently see this as more authentic (though growing up Episcopalian I'm not sure this is true).  

In my response I noted that you'll find much of what Millennials seem to like in Mainline Protestant churches -- sort of like mine -- but they don't seem to be stopping by.  In Rachel's response, she noted something that I've known for some time:  These days, when people leave conservative leaning churches they don't try out the more moderate/liberal versions.  They just leave and have no interest in trying out the other options.  Whether they'll come back later is unknown.

One of the the critiques of moderate/liberal churches is that while we may not welcome LGBT folks, believe in evolution, and pursue social justice, we're not nearly as good at connecting these commitments to our faith commitments.  In other words, we don't seem all that different from other non-profits.  So, they seem to wonder why they should bother.

For churches like mine, going "high church" isn't likely in the cards -- we're not a high church tradition.  At the same time, we're not going total contemporary, which I sense is like chasing squirrels.   Now, I should note that we do have young adults at Central Woodward Christian Church.  Most were raised in the church. We have attracted a few others who weren't raised in the church -- but they have connections to long term members.  I'd love more.  And as for whether they have a say in the life of the church, we have made a concerted effort to bring young adults into leadership.  Not just committee members but leaders.  One of our most active 20 somethings was elected as Vice President of the Congregation and as an Elder (he's a youngish Elder, but he's still charged with spiritual leadership).  Is everyone totally comfortable with younger leaders?  Maybe not -- but as pastor of the church I am committed to making sure that the opportunities are there for those ready to answer the call.    

So, what is the take away?  I think it is this -- we need to connect what we're doing with Jesus.  There has to be some theology not just sociology in the conversation!  

Here's another thought.  While many are leaving.  Maybe we should also ask:  Why are many staying?

In the end, I would simply like to invite Millennials who are disenchanted by narrow theology and politics, but who aren't enthralled by techno-worship -- to come gather with churches like mine.  Join us in building a new future.  Yeah, a majority have gray hair.  I have gray hair.  But we're not dead yet.  And many of our older people welcome the presence and leadership of younger generations.  So, come along and join us!!
  
27 Jul 17:20

John Williams will officially score Star Wars: Episode VII

by Robert T. Gonzalez

Legendary film composer John Williams, the man behind the music for all six Star Wars films and master of the science fictional leitmotif, will return to score Star Wars: Episode VII! Here's what he has to say about his return to the Star Wars universe – including his thoughts on director J.J. Abrams.

Read more...

    


27 Jul 18:01

Door fitting from the Balawat Gates 858BC-824BC Neo...



Door fitting from the Balawat Gates

858BC-824BC

Neo Assyrian

Bronze band from the Balawat Gates of Shalmaneser III; from right door-leaf; embossed scene of a campaign in Syria showing the capture of cities in Hamath.

(Source: The British Museum)

27 Jul 18:36

To what were Gentiles converting...

by Ken Schenck
Publishers often don't like it.  It's always a first draft and thus not polished.  It exposes me to unnecessary criticism from people I might otherwise be on good terms with (and I'm not talking of a single unified group but people who switch back and forth from fan to opponent depending on the issue). For these reasons it is unfortunate that I write with the greatest motivation and style when there is at least a possibility that someone is listening and enjoying.  So I'm going to try to jump start some scholarly writing today by writing a few hundred words here...
_____________
... The form of Judaism to which they [Gentiles] were converting would have been the Christian Judaism of the previous chapter. These were Jews who did not see their faith as an alternative to Israel's faith but as its truest understanding and culmination. Arguably, Christian faith in Jesus as Messiah initially assigned a name to the messianic expectation of other Jewish groups. These were groups looking for God to restore the kingdom of Israel by way of someone from the Davidic line. [1] In earliest Christianity, this faith almost immediately transformed into something much more extensive in scope. Nevertheless, as we will argue in a subsequent chapter, it did not cross any obvious line in the first century that would clearly have demarcated it as a separate religion from its parent Judaism. [2]

The ritual of baptism in itself was not uniquely Christian.  The most unique feature of the baptism of John the Baptist was its "one time" nature. [3] That is to say, ritual washings were a normal part of temple purity, indicated by the numerous miqvaot or cleansing pools throughout Israel. [4] The site at Qumran had such a pool at both of its entrances.  Perhaps you descended unclean down into the water on one side and then ascended clean on the other, now purified to enter the Qumran community. [5] What distinguished the baptism of John was the fact that it arguably was preparing for a unique event in history, the arrival of the restored kingdom of Israel on earth. [6]  It was thus conceptualized to be a one time event before the arrival of the promised king.

The origins of early Christian thinking about the Spirit perhaps involved the convergence of several trajectories. In this regard, Joel 2:28-32 surely played an important role, and it was probably connected with other important passages for early Christian understanding such as the new covenant imagery of Jeremiah 31 and the association of Jesus with passages in Isaiah.  The Dead Sea Scrolls indicate that imagery of God's holy spirit was already in use within Israel, [7] and the miracles of the early church no doubt provided ample events with which to link God's Spirit. [8] By the time we reach the book of Acts, baptism associated with the Holy Spirit came to distinguish baptism in Jesus' name from the baptisms performed by John the Baptist (cf. Acts 19:1-7).

All of these distinguishing elements within Judaism were intra-Jewish distinctions rather than distinctions that would have separated Christian Jews from Judaism "proper." [9]  In relation to Gentiles, the earliest Christians debated what a Gentile would need to do in order to be fully "in" the people of God...

[1] It is not at all clear that all Jewish groups of the time had this expectation (see James H. Charlesworth, The Messiah: Developments in Earliest Judaism and Christianity [Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2009]). The best known text in this regard is Psalms of Solomon 17.  The provenance of Psalms of Solomon is not agreed, although some have suggested it could be Essene (***). The Dead Sea Scrolls also have a few messianic texts (***; see John J. Collins, The Scepter and the Star.

[2] See chapter 5.  As we will argue, this interpretation is true in part because the Judaism of the time did not have entirely clear boundary lines in the first place in relation to what it meant to believe in "one God."

[3] ***

[4] ***

[5] *** James VanderKam...

[6] ***

[7] ***

[8] Whether one believes that supernatural miracles can occur or not, it seems beyond question that the earliest church could identity any number of events that it considered to be miracles, not only in the ministry of Jesus but also in the early church. See ***.

[9] We remember from the first chapter that Judaism at the time of Christ was diverse enough that many prefer to speak in terms of Judaisms rather than Judaism at the time as some monolithic entity. See pp. **.
27 Jul 18:55

Why renege now?

by PZ Myers

Remember what Ken Ham said?

Now, we’re not saying no to a debate with the Houston Atheists Association. In fact we want one of our PhD scientists on staff to debate a PhD scientist chosen by the Houston Atheists Association. This would encourage a more fruitful exchange on the merits of creation vs. evolution, the age of the universe, etc.

You know, it’s not as if we’re calling him out of the blue — we weren’t making the assumption that Ken Ham even wanted to debate. He said he did! He laid out the terms right there! And we met them. As Aron Ra says, it’s a suspicious silence — he’s just chicken.

I think what really happened is that he and his ilk were terrified of meeting Aron and getting mopped up by a guy without a Ph.D. who looks like a scary biker dude. Oh, the ignominy. You’d think they’d be used to being made to look stupid by now, though.

27 Jul 20:00

Read Steven Moffat's audition scripts for Doctor Who‘s Twelfth Doctor

by Charlie Jane Anders

Read Steven Moffat's audition scripts for Doctor Who‘s Twelfth Doctor

We still don't know who will be replacing Matt Smith as the star of Doctor Who. And we don't know how the Doctor will change when he regenerates into a new and possibly quite different form. But now, at least, we can read the scripts that the actors vying for the role will be reading.

Read more...

    


27 Jul 20:04

Help - I need somebody - help! not just anybody

by Bob MacDonald
Help - a plea for some more input on the music - The not just anybody means someone who is a musician, knows about cantillation practice, maybe a theologian too... A draft of an article for an online journal is here - it is on the music implicit in the te'amim. What do you think? It is not due for a while yet (2Q2014) - but what could I do to add to it?  David Mitchell's article cited within is
27 Jul 20:27

KKK=TAK

by PZ Myers

They must be trying a little rebranding… they’re not very good at it. They’re sending around flyers with adorable drawings of men in white sheets and a hood, recruiting for new members.

klanwatch

Sounds…enticing. And the picture so inviting. And when you read closer, you discover it’s the same old KKK white bigotry under a new name, the Traditionalist American Knights.

traditionalistknights

If you’ve ever wanted to have a conversation with a real-live good ol’ redneck bigot, go ahead and call that number. I’m afraid all you’ll get is a machine with a recording about fighting for the white race…unfortunately, all in a Southern accent that isn’t going to help the stereotyping in the slightest.

Maybe if all of you give them a call, some time or another they’ll actually pick up the phone, and then you can have a little chat with them about how ugly their hatred is.

24 Jul 09:27

Byzantine GNT Family 35

by P.J. Williams
Paul Anderson informs me that the Center for the Study and Preservation of the Majority Text has just published the 'Byzantine Greek New Testament: Family 35 Textform' at www.bgnt.net. The pace of publication of new GNTs is beginning to pick up.