Shared posts

26 Apr 11:37

Where is the evidence?

by Bobby Henderson

Here’s a video that has been making the rounds.   Richard Dawkins shows great patience in interviewing Creationist Wendy Wright.  I find it painful to watch but also fascinating.

26 Apr 11:35

I have to disagree with Jerry Coyne

by PZ Myers

Ball State University has a crap course on their curriculum: they have a crank professor, Eric Hedin, who is pushing religion and creationism in the guise of an astronomy course. It’s bad science and bad teaching, and I think Coyne has adequately document the abysmal quality of the material. It’s all religious apologetics and intelligent design creationism. I’m not going to disagree with that at all, and Ball State ought to be acutely embarrassed.

Unfortunately, this part of Coyne’s disagreement is invalid.

This has to stop, for Hedin’s course, and the University’s defense of it, violate the separation of church and state mandated by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (“freedom of religion”) and which has been so interpreted by the courts. It’s religion taught as science in a public university, and it’s not only wrong but illegal.  I have tried approaching the University administration, and have been rebuffed.

This will now go to the lawyers.

No, sorry, not right — academic freedom is the issue here, and professors have to have the right to teach unpopular, controversial issues, even from an ignorant perspective. The first amendment does not apply; this is not a course students are required to take, and it’s at a university, which students are not required to attend. It’s completely different from a public primary or secondary school. A bad course is an ethical problem, not a legal one. It’s also an issue that the university has to handle internally.

This kind of thing happens. I’ve known of a couple of cases where faculty go ’round the bend and start flaking out in the classroom, and there’s not much you can do, except what Ball State seems to be doing. Put the person into low level service courses where they have to teach students something basic, like algebra, where their weird views can’t do much harm. Or give them some non-majors elective where they aren’t going to have much influence. I notice in Hedin’s courses that he’s only teaching low level courses and honors/interdisciplinary courses. It looks like maybe the department is doing their best to isolate a problem.

Another option is to take this history into consideration in tenure decisions. Hedin is an assistant professor, and so is probably untenured — the department may be avoiding confrontation until it gets dealt with decisively in Hedin’s tenure year.

If you’ve got a tenured professor who has gone weird on you, it’s a bigger problem…then you’ve got damage that needs to be routed around. Check out Michael Behe’s class schedule at Lehigh, for instance. It looks to me like they’ve carefully placed him only in courses where his ignorance about evolution won’t hurt too much. Are we going to sue Lehigh to get him fired? That won’t work, and is also an insult to a department that is doing their best with a bit of deadwood.

I think it’s very unwise for an atheist professor to pursue legal action against another professor for their religious views. That’s a two-edged sword, and if a university were to cave to public pressure to fire a professor for unpopular views, you know who’d be next.

Now it is possible that the whole physics department at Ball State is full of credulous nitwits who are trying to build a theological perspective into their curriculum. That will be corrected in two ways: they’re going to have a more difficult time hiring good faculty, and as the reputation of their department spreads, they’re going to have a more difficult time recruiting good students. Rot expands, you know. It’s not a good thing to encourage.

But it’s probably premature to threaten a department with legal action for having one dingbat assistant professor.

(via Larry Moran)

26 Apr 11:34

Against the Seriousness of Theology

by Robin Varghese

Via Andrew Sullivan, Razib Khan over at Gene Expression (image from Wikimedia Commons):

Though I have always been skeptical of God, and an explicit and self-conscious atheist from childhood on, I found religious beliefs peculiar and difficult to comprehend in any intuitive sense. This led me early on to reading the source texts and scriptures, as well as theological commentaries (e.g., Summa Theologica, and I’ve read the whole of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament multiple times, and Genesis dozens). In this way I felt I understood on some deep level why people were religious.But I was wrong. When I read Scott Atran’s In Gods We Trust it opened up a whole landscape of cognitive anthropology which explained with much greater accuracy the paradoxes of religious belief and behavior with which I was confronted. The key insight of cognitive scientists is that for the vast majority of human beings religion is about psychological intuition and social identification, and not theology. A deductive theory of religion derived from axioms of creed fails in large part because there is no evidence that the vast majority of religious believers have internalized the sophisticated aspects of their theologies and scriptures in any deep and substantive sense. To give a concrete example, Sri Lankan Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims can give explicit explanations to at least a rudimentary level as to the differences of their respective religious beliefs. But when prompted to explain their understanding of the supernatural in a manner which was unscripted, and which was not amenable to a fall back upon indoctrinated verbal formulas, their conceptions of god(s) were fundamentally the same! (see: Theological Incorrectness). The superficiality of theological system building is also evident in the fact that when confronted with radicalism derived from the logic of shared axioms during the Reformation prominent Protestant thinkers fell back upon tradition and revelation to defend the common creeds inherited from the early Roman church.

And that is why one should always been cautious of taking theology, textual analysis, and intellectualism too seriously when it comes to religion. Mathematicians can derive proofs from logical analysis. Those proofs are invariant across individuals and subcultures. They are true in a fundamental sense. Though natural science attempts to validate and refine theories and formal models which are robust, it fails when there is no empirical check upon the model building.Outside of pure math our powers of ratiocination are overwhelmed by subjective decisions along the chain of propositions. Separate theologians and have them derive from first principles, and there will be no similarity in their final inferences about the nature of God and the universe. Elite theological conformity is a function of social conformity, not the power of intellectual rigor. When isolation is imposed upon a community of religious believers for any given period of time they are almost always defined by a rapid shift toward heterodoxy, as they lose contact with the broader elite consensus (see: Dao of Muhammad as an example of how strongly an alien milieu can totally transform a familiar religious group unless that subculture remains in contact with the broader community).

Theology is not a cause of any great robustness on the macro scale. Nor does it explain much of micro scale behavior. Where does that leave us to be “serious” about religion? As Noah Millman stated it requires a deep program of empirical analysis and research of massive multi-disciplinary scope. Almost no one is interested in such a program from what I have seen.

26 Apr 11:33

CTBHHM: Taming Wild Horses and Lassoing Bears

by Libby Anne

Created To Be His Help Meet, pp. 105-106

Weirdly, this passage actually succeeded in making me more angry than have just about all of the passages so far, but in some sense a different sort of angry. Rather than just saying “What?! No!” after every sentence, I’m going to make four distinct points as I address what she said (along with plenty of “What?! No!”s, of course): The variation within each gender overlaps; Much of what we perceive as innate gender roles is actually socially constructed; Men aren’t foreign entities and shouldn’t be viewed as such; and Masculinity and femininity have been defined differently in different societies and at different times. Now, with that outline, let’s get started!

God created man with a nature that is aggressive, and then commanded him to exercise dominion over the earth (Gen. 1:28). He created the male sex with an extra dose of testosterone, which provokes him to want to work hard, conquer everything in his path, and subdue all things. This is why the male sex is at the forefront of military conquests, exploration, architecture, science, inventions, etc.

You know, the fact that women have in many cultures been barred from the military might play a role in the male sex being at its forefront, for example. Heck, for that matter, the fact that women have in many societies been barred from things like exploration, architecture, science, and inventions might play a role as well! Debi also seems to be oblivious to the fact that there have been important female military leaders, explorers, architects, scientists, and inventors. Marie Curie, anyone?

Also, by bringing both testosterone and the Bible into the picture, Debi is using both God and ”science” to back up her assertions. But the problem is the same as the problem young earth creationists have—when they appeal to science, they are doing bad science. And that leads us to:

Point #1: It’s true that men do have more testosterone than women, but research shows that men and women overlap more psychologically than they differ. In other words, for every man who feels the need to conquer and subdue, there is a woman who feel the same—and a man who doesn’t feel this need at all. It’s a spectrum and continuum, not a dichotomy—human experience varies from individual to individual, and isn’t something you can simply shove into neat and tidy boxes.

No woman would ever go out and tame a wild horse and make a rope out of its mane and tail, and then go out and find a bear and lasso it just to prove that she could—laughing the whole time.

Believe it or not, I don’t know a single man who would do that either. And that, I think, is the problem with what Debi is doing in this section. Like I said above, men and women exist on a continuum, not in a completely separated dichotomy. There may be a few men out there who would do what Debi describes—but if there are, there are almost certainly a few women who would do it as well.

If women were inventors, they would make minivans. Men make four-wheel drive vehicles and then modify them so that they will stand higher and drive faster. They will even put a winch on the front so they can traverse places meant only for alligators or mountain goats.

But women are inventors (here’s a short list). In fact, it might surprise Debi to know that the windshield wiper was invented by a woman, for instance—and that’s without even getting into it.

Debi says female inventors (if they existed) would invent useful things while male inventors invent fast and big and dangerous things—but if this were true, wouldn’t having woman inventors be a good thing? I’ve often thought that if what people like Debi say about men and women was actually true—if women really were extra caring and nurturing and practical while men were extra aggressive and militaristic and impractical—the natural conclusion ought to be that women should rule the world and protect men from themselves. But that’s never the conclusion women like Debi come to. Instead, they often almost seem to say “men are assholes, but they are the assholes God put in charge.”

Men fly to the moon, climb treacherous mountains, fight wild animals, challenge each other at any sport, and laugh with loud hilarious delight the whole time. They like to play or watch games where they knock each other down, just to prove who is the strongest and toughest. Everything they do must end with a testosterone-driven climax. And they think we ladies are hard to understand!

Does Debi seriously think that no woman has ever been to the moon because no woman has ever wanted to go to the moon? Really? Also, believe it or not, there are female mountain climbers. And yes, there are female boxers. And actually, not every man likes to play or watch games where they knock each other down! Some men aren’t interested in proving who is the strongest and toughest! Arg, Debi!

Point #2: To the extent that men are more interested in proving who is the strongest and toughest than are women (and given the variability within each gender that I already mentioned, I’m not sure to what extent this is actually true), how are we supposed to know what of that is actually testosterone  (or other biological differences) and what is social conditioning? After all, our society encourages boys to be daring and competitive and encourages girls to be compassionate and caring. And as that changes—and it has been changing—we’ve seen an increasing number of women interested in these supposedly masculine areas. In other words, Debi is completely ignoring the role of social conditioning in forcing men and women into the gender roles society lays out for them.

Point #3: Also, and this has been bothering me for a while, what is the good in perpetuating this idea that men are these foreign beings that are impossible to understand? In a world of increasingly fluid gender roles and greater equality, this is simply not true, if it ever really was. When people say the other sex is hard to understand, what they really mean is they don’t want to try, and would rather write them off as “the other.” This isn’t healthy and it certainly does not foster understanding between men and women—or mature relationships.

A woman can do just about anything a man can do, but it is always the men who invent it and then eventually invite the ladies along just to make it more interesting. Testosterone again!

Uhhh . . . wow. Look, you can’t actually write off every bit of gender inequality that exists by attributing it to testosterone and thus making it unchangeable and natural. Also, this is incredibly respectful to all of the amazing women who have been powerful leaders, intelligent inventors, and determined athletes in their own rights. Does Debi really think that men invited politics and then invited Margaret Thatcher along just to make politics more interesting?!

A few ladies will always step out and play the men’s games, trying to prove a gender point. The men don’t need a point to prove; they just need to vent. Men are different. We must face it.


Believe it or not, not every woman who has ever stepped into a supposedly “male” arena has done so “to prove a gender point.” Believe it or not, lots of women actually honestly want to be in a supposedly “male” arena. Serena Williams, anyone? Pearl Buck? Hilary Clinton? And again, there are plenty of men who don’t want to be entrepreneurs, explorers, and inventors, and who find traditional male sports like boxing barbaric—what of them? This entire section is insulting to every gender . . .

Thankfully, men and women were not all created alike. Men were created with traits that I do not want as part of me! But, when I married, it was, of course, to one of those strange male creatures with those traits.

“One of those strange male creatures.” Again with the othering. This is something Debi does throughout the book, and it is increasingly grating on me. The goal should be to foster mutual understanding as fellow human beings, but the way Debi goes about it sounds like reading from a zoology textbook.

When we ladies discover traits in a man like sensitivity, spirituality, and understanding, we are thrilled, because they contrast so starkly with the many coarser and visible traits that so strongly drive his nature.

Or, maybe we’re thrilled because we like traits like sensitivity, spirituality, and understanding. Maybe we’re thrilled because we realize that the men are from Mars/women are from Venus dichotomy Debi is perpetuating here is a load of bull. Maybe we’re thrilled because relationships are formed based on things like understanding, not killing wild boars.

Also, is it just me or this actually an extremely insulting way to talk about men?

Point #4: This is making me think of the Progressive Era, when reformers became concerned that middle class American men had become “sissified” by their “more civilized,” desk job lives. The Boy Scouts, with its “manly” wilderness training, was one result of this concern. The goal was to create a specific type of masculinity in men who had become “feminized” by changing economic situations. Yet even this followed a period when the refined man, who spoke in poetry and emotion and avoided the “vulgar” activities of lower class men, was viewed by the middle and upper classes as very apex of masculinity  The point I’m making here is that what is “manly” and what is “feminine” is actually socially contextualized, and changes and shifts over time. Debi is clearly unaware of that, and has chosen to freeze forever what is “masculine” and what is “feminine”—and if you ask me, she’s chosen a very dangerous place to freeze those categories.

After all, having a nature to subdue all things, he likes best a woman who will give him a token struggle and then surrender to his wit, charm, and strength. He must thoroughly conquer. It is a battle I always enjoy losing. I like to be conquered and consumed by my man. That is my created nature.

I . . . no . . . seriously?

This is what I meant about this being a dangerous point to freeze gender stereotypes.

To keep it brief, these sentences are shot through with what feminists refer to as “rape culture.” This idea that all men want to conquer and all women want to be conquered—it’s really not that hard to see how these conceptions might lead to men pushing past women’s physical boundaries, convinced that although they might be putting up a struggle, they really want to give in. It’s because of this sort of thing that the “no means no” and “yes means yes” campaigns, working to educate people about consent, are so important.

So, let’s review: Men and women are more psychologically alike than they are different, gender roles and stereotypes are affected through social conditioning (i.e., people are affected by how they’re told they’re “supposed to be”), it’s unhealthy to “other” the opposite gender and treat them as though they were completely foreign and different, and ideas about what constitutes “masculinity” and “femininity” are not constant but rather change over time and across society—but Debi does not know or chooses to ignore all of this.

I would give a lot to see Debi in a women’s studies class. Everything she said in this passage was either a flat out lie or else twisted until it might as well be. But perhaps the greatest danger of this passage is the way it pushes men and women into these stereotypes by telling them that this is how they are naturally supposed to be and erasing anything that might not fit into Debi’s neat little dichotomy. Men and women are here described as races foreign to each other, and also as monoliths. Neither is correct and neither is healthy.

26 Apr 11:32

Swimming with Dinosaurs

by eyeonicr

Dinosaurs left plenty of bones, but some also created another type of fossil: preserved track marks. A handful of these tracks were made from swimming dinosaurs, and a new paper in the Chinese Science BulletinA new Early Cretaceous dinosaur track assemblage and the first definite non-avian theropod swim trackway from China (open access) – reports on the discovery of one such find.

Timothy L. Clarey’s new article on these tracks is called Dinosaurs Swimming out of Necessity, but the “necessity” conclusion is entirely his own. His article is quite similar to one from Brian Thomas published in January which we looked at in Stampede? For instance both Thomas and Clarey chose to claim in their opening paragraphs that, in the present day, it is very difficult to form footprints that will eventually be preserved as fossils – here’s Clarey’s opener:

What’s so fascinating about dinosaur tracks? Maybe it’s because their many mysteries beg for solutions. For instance, because tracks in mud are so short-lived today, how did dinosaur tracks ever preserve in the first place? Newly described prints bolster biblical creation’s explanation of dinosaur footprints.

It may be true that it’s hard to preserve footprints in mud, but it’s not so improbable once you consider the shear number of footprints that would have been made over the more than 180 million years of the Mesozoic Era. Clarey never does explain, meanwhile, how “biblical creation” suddenly makes preservation so much easier – not even a “footprints need to be preserved rapidly” claim (which is false, by the way).

The tracks discovered fall into a number of categories. There is a trackway formed by a swimming theropod; some more by non-swimming theropods; another track created by a sauropod; and finally a herd of ornithopods made tracks of their own in the area. Clarey says:

The scientists determined at least one of the theropods was partly afloat as its feet swiped the underwater mud. Its fifty-foot trackway shows a number of tip-toe scratches and claw scrapings. A second theropod, walking in the same direction and on the same horizon as the first, was apparently wading in the water as it left more complete footprints. These scientists interpret the tracks were made as these dinosaurs crossed a river, possibly during a flood event.

The paper doesn’t actually talk about rivers or floods at all (though it does mention that the deposit the tracks are in is “fluvial,” meaning that it must have had something to do with a river), and they say that they can’t even determine what direction the current was flowing in. Despite this lack of real information about the site, Clarey forges ahead with his Great Flood interpretation:

The study authors estimated both dinosaurs had hip heights of just under three feet—from sole to hip—but if they had similar leg height, why didn’t they produce similar tracks? The evidence of both swimming and wading indicates rapid fluctuations in water depth. The first dinosaur was able to wade through the shallow water, while the second, same-sized dinosaur—apparently just moments later—had to swim as the water level rose quickly.

Another thing they don’t know: whether the swimming theropod came before or after the walking ones – Clarey simply assumes the latter, as it is the only option that will fit his explanation. What we do know from the juxtaposition of swimming and walking is that there was a change in water level, but in what direction or over how long of a period we simply have no idea (it must have been short, yes, but enough so to justify the descriptor of “rapid”?).

The parallel trackways of the sauropod and the ornithopods (all within several feet of one another) also indicate they had been wading through the water. The hip heights of these animals were higher than the two theropods, so they evidently had no need to swim.

Clarey claims that the tracks of the ornithopods and the sauropod were paralell and close together – indeed, that all the animals were travelling in the same direction at more-or-less the same time and place – but I can’t find evidence for that in the paper. The swimming theropod and the sauropod were close and largely parallel, yes (the sauropod curves towards and then away from the theropod), while some of the walking theropods and ornithopods were similarly arranged, but lacking a map of the site I can’t find evidence that these two groups are both either nearby or parallel. They might be, but I can’t tell – but for Clarey, they must be.

Creation scientists have suggested many animals swam to escape the Flood waters. These trackways in Sichuan confirm that water overwhelmed the dinosaurs and forced them to swim for their lives for as long as they could, clearly following the Flood events and timeline from the book of Genesis. This deluge created rapid fluctuations in water levels—its tsunami-like waves quickly covering the land surface, and then just as rapidly, draining off. In contrast to the Flood’s grand-scale destruction and deposition, evolutionists call upon dinky, local river floods to explain these sites.

“Dinky, local river floods”? Is this some kind of “I’ve got the biggest flood” dick-waving competition that creationists are unilaterally engaging in? Bigger isn’t necessarily better, guys.

Now, I would argue that the evidence – such as it is – is not favourable for Clarey’s tsunami idea. The paper describes their tracksite with the following details:

In addition to the vertebrate footprints, invertebrate traces are also preserved on the surface. Most common are vertical burrows (Scoyenia isp.) that indicate a non-marine shallow water environment. Mudcracks suggest a change in water depth and a short-term exposure to the air. Developed ripple marks are also widespread.

Elsewhere they mention that one of the walking theropod tracks had been exposed “to later weathering and disturbance by vegetation.” Clarey paints a picture of dinosaurs racing from a tsunami that gains height as time progresses. This discription shows, however, that the area then dried out for a while, perhaps even long enough for plants to grow. Clarey does have the waters receding after the tsunami, but this presents a problem: aren’t these waves supposed to be depositing and/or eroding sediment? You see, if the dinosaurs are running away from the wave they must be at it’s front, but the wave must have done no erosion or deposition until the area dried out and mudcracks formed. Is that compatible with the model Clarey is using?

There are a few other problems. For one, the aforementioned walking theropod was said to be making prints in what was already “soft, wet sediments” (emphasis original), which means that the ground must have been softened by an earlier wave (or other processes, perhaps). But if there had been such a wave, how did these dinosaurs survive it.

Another issue is that the paper calculates that the water level for the swimming theropod as being hip-height, which they inferred to be 90 cm (about 3 feet). The mode of “swimming” was really only half-floating, with the feet still touching the ground with every step. Clarey believes that this is somehow happening in a tsunami situation, but the theropod is not being propelled forwards by the water – if it were, that would be a dead give-away for current direction if nothing else, and should be evident from track spacing.

Given all this I think a stronger case could be made for the water receding at the time that the tracks were made – the ground had been softened by a long submersion, while there wouldn’t be too much more deposition or erosion before the mud would be exposed to the air and could dry. It should go without saying that this explanation is not compatable with Clarey’s tsunamis, as the dinosaurs should be dead already.

Clarey goes on to mention the earlier story covered by Thomas, before concluding:

The evidence for the Flood is found all over the world. Trackways of swimming dinosaurs on many continents confirm the global extent of the cataclysm. Dinosaur track formation clearly required abnormal and catastrophic circumstances. These desperate creatures ran, waded, and swam for as long as they could, but all succumbed to the overwhelming power of God’s judgment as reported in Genesis.

Those poor dinosaurs, who died for our unspecified sins.

Filed under: Daily (pseudo)Science Updates Tagged: Creationism, Dinosaurs, DNA, Footprints, Fossils, Geology, Global Flood, ICR, Science, Skeptic, Skepticism, Timothy L. Clarey
26 Apr 11:29

Library of Ancient Texts Online (LATO) << Charles Ellwood Jones (AWOL: The Ancient World Online)

by (Charles Jones)
[First posted in AWOL 8 December 2009. Updated 25 April 2013]

Library of Ancient Texts Online (LATO)

The Library of Ancient Texts Online aims to be the internet's most thorough catalogue of online copies of ancient Greek texts, both in Greek and in translation. This is a site for all with an interest in the Classics. Very many texts from Ancient Greece are available on the world-wide web, at a variety of sites, in a variety of formats, and in a variety of languages. Some of the richest sites are massive endeavours such as The Perseus Project at Tufts University, or Project Gutenberg. Some visitors will already be familiar with these sites and others. (For links to some other sites, see the Abbreviations page.) However, even these sites lack many texts: some sites contain some comparatively obscure texts, others contain others. LATO helps to repair this situation by gathering a comprehensive set of links to those texts that are available free of charge. No texts are actually hosted on this site.

Links in LATO are organised by author, or, where authorship is uncertain, by the titles of texts. The aim is to make online copies of ancient Greek texts easily accessible to both scholars and to those with a general interest in ancient literature, to ancient historians and archaeologists, teachers and students.



26 Apr 11:29

A Seminar on The History and Material Culture of Ottoman Palestine at the Kenyon Institute, Jerusalem << ASOR Blog (American Schools of Oriental Research)


Fig 1: The seminar poster (graphics by Qais Tweissi)

By: Micaela Sinibaldi

On the 9th and 10th of February 2013 I had the great pleasure to organise a seminar entitled: The History and Material Culture of Ottoman Palestine at the Kenyon Institute in Jerusalem. The seminar consisted of a day of papers and a roundtable discussion at the Kenyon and a day of tours of the Old City led by some of the seminar scholars.

As an archaeologist who works on the Islamic period, I know from my fieldwork and research, which has been especially focused on Petra (Jordan), that it is particularly the later periods which are still largely unexplored by archaeology, particularly the Ottoman period. During my recent work for Brown University, for example, as a co-director of excavations at Islamic Bayda (Petra region), a village whose occupation spans the whole Islamic period, it appeared from my preliminary research that the latest and most extensive phase is Ottoman; however, almost no material is currently available in the region for providing the excavation results with some archaeological parallels. One of the reasons for a very recent interest in the archaeology of the Ottoman period is that, partly because of the wealth of both documentary and monumental architectural sources available, the study of material culture has naturally focused on buildings such as the impressive ones preserved in Jerusalem in the al-Haram al-Sharif and in other areas of the Old City of Jerusalem, rather than on rural sites or on the use of archaeology to help solve chronological questions. The study of monumental architecture has often been supported by documentary sources allowing the reconstruction of its history in detail. I therefore started developing an interest in organising a meeting of specialists of the Ottoman period to discuss how their work makes use of the different kinds of sources and to hear their perspectives on future research in this field which still holds much potential for many years to come.

During my stay at the Kenyon as a fellow in 2012, I approached the Director, Dr. Mandy Turner, suggesting that the Kenyon host a seminar on this topic and she approved enthusiastically. The Kenyon has an important tradition of supporting research on the archaeology and architecture of Jerusalem of the Islamic period, and eminent scholars have used it as a base for their fieldwork in the region. The Kenyon itself is located in a beautiful Ottoman-period building, so this was also an ideal setting for the seminar.


Fig 2: A group of seminar participants at the Jerusalem Citadel after the tour led by Mahmoud Hawari (far right).

I was fortunate, therefore, to be able to spend two days with distinguished scholars, experts on the  History, Architecture and Archaeology of the Ottoman period of Jerusalem and Palestine, to discuss with them these important topics and learn about their recent research. Dr Yusuf Natsheh, the Director of the Department of Tourism and Archaeology at al-Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem, presented a paper on Architectural Stylistic Trends of Ottoman Jerusalem, the subject of his well-known research contributing to the volume Ottoman Jerusalem. The Living City: 1517-1917 (edited by S. Auld and R. Hillenbrand, 2000). Mohammad Ghosheh, an independent scholar and currently Fellow at the Albright Institute in Jerusalem, talked about The Haram al-Sharif under the Ottomans, presenting to the audience illustrations from his recently published monograph (Qubbat al-Sakhrah al-Musharrifah, 2012, whose English language edition, The Dome of the Rock, will be published in 2013). Khader Salameh, until January 2013 the Director of al-Aqsa Mosque Library and of the Islamic Museum in al-Haram al-Sharif, offered his recent research results on The Restorations of Sultan Mahmoud II in Jerusalem, the object of his forthcoming publication. Dr Robert Schick, an independent scholar well known for his wide experience of Jerusalem where he has lived and researched for many years, gave for the first time in Jerusalem the lecture Everyday Life in the Masjid al-Aqsa Compound in the Ottoman Period, which focused on the analysis of a selection of documentary sources showing some practical aspects of running the compound. Two more speakers also presented their research for the first time at this seminar: Dr Mahmoud Hawari, research associate at the University of Oxford whose best known work is the book Ayyubid Jerusalem (1187-1250), illustrated his research in progress for his forthcoming monograph on the Citadel of Jerusalem: The Citadel (Qal’a) of Jerusalem in the Ottoman period: an overview. Finally, Susynne McElrone, an advanced PhD student at New York University, presented the subject of her thesis research with the paper Hebron in the long nineteenth century: the historiography and the history.

The roundtable discussion focused on the use of sources for the study of the Ottoman period and stimulated important research topics, such as the need for more collaboration between historians, art historians and archaeologists; the desire for future research to focus more on rural architecture rather than limited to the better known monumental architecture and on the peripheral areas to integrate with research on urban centres; and the issue of access to archival sources and how to solve them.

Fig 3: Micaela Sinibaldi introducing Yusuf Natsheh’s keynote address at the Kenyon Institute (photo by James Eastwood)

The seminar day was a success with over 50 participants, and the roundtable and panel discussions saw the active participation of the audience, which included scholars from different institutions and individuals from the Jerusalem community. Moreover, much appreciated and important for our discussion was the presence of scholars and participants from the seminar Recent Advances in Islamic Archaeology organised under the auspices of the Albright Institute the previous day. On the seminar day we had an excellent Maghloube lunch in the Kenyon garden, kindly organised and offered by Dr Mandy Turner.

On Sunday, for the tours in the Old City, we were lucky to have a great sunny day. The speakers (along with Mandy and me) had the privilege to meet Yusuf Natsheh who gave us a full tour of al-Haram al-Sharif, including the Dome of the Rock, al-Aqsa Mosque, the Centre for the Restoration of Islamic Manuscripts and the underground areas of the compound. We then proceeded to meet Mahmoud Hawari and the other participants at the Citadel for a detailed tour of the area, illustrating the several phases of the Citadel, as reconstructed by his work on historical and archaeological sources. After a lunch in the Old City with all the participants, our day ended at sunset after a fantastic two-hour tour led by Robert Schick on the Mamluk and Ottoman buildings of the Old City.

Fig 4: Tour of the Islamic monuments of the Old City led by Robert Schick (photo by Micaela Sinibaldi)

It was a great pleasure to receive emails from the audience commenting on how much they enjoyed the whole event, and to know that the speakers found this a very welcomed opportunity for research discussion and further collaborations with each other. I am grateful to Dr Mandy Turner, Director of the Kenyon Institute for hosting, supporting and funding the event and for all her precious suggestions; the speakers for making the event such a success by accepting my invitation, by generously discussing with me aspects of the organisation and by being so flexible with all my requests; finally, the audience for their welcomed presence and active participation in the discussions, which really made the event a collaborative effort.


26 Apr 11:27

Was Islam Responsible for the Boston Bombings, or Was “Internet Islam”?

by Ivan Strenski

RD bloggers have rightly asked the question of the depth of the “piety” of the Tsarnaevs. That too misses a vital point. I do not for a moment discount the sincerity of the feelings for Islam by the Tsarnaev brothers. But, what Islam was the object of those feelings? I would offer that it was for an “Internet Islam”—for an abstract, compact, easily rendered Islam, fed by the representations flowing from out of the ether!

26 Apr 02:20

the perks of being a leader

by David Hayward

the perks of being a leader by nakedpastor david hayward

25 Apr 21:26

An easy-to-miss minor improvement in NA28 - James 1:21

by Dirk Jongkind
The text of James 1:21 has not undergone any change between the NA27 and NA28, but it has been improved anyway.

This is how it is printed in NA27:

διὸ ἀποθέμενοι πᾶσαν ῥυπαρίαν καὶ περισσείαν κακίας ἐν πραΰτητι, δέξασθε τὸν ἔμφυτον λόγον τὸν δυνάμενον σῶσαι τὰς ψυχὰς ὑμῶν.

And here as it is in NA28:

διὸ ἀποθέμενοι πᾶσαν ῥυπαρίαν καὶ περισσείαν κακίας ἐν πραΰτητι δέξασθε τὸν ἔμφυτον λόγον τὸν δυνάμενον σῶσαι τὰς ψυχὰς ὑμῶν.

Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

The difference between the two Greek texts is the absence of punctuation after ἐν πραΰτητι, which leaves open the question whether 'with meekness' goes with 'putting away all filthiness and rampant wickedness', or, as per ESV and NRSV, with the reception of the implanted word. Though I think (rather strongly, actually) that the interpretation of NA27 is to be preferred over that of the two English translations, I also think that it is not necessarily the case that an edition of the Greek text has to decide this on behalf of the reader. NA28 made the right call not to force the issue. This is, therefore, a good case of 'less is better'.
25 Apr 21:26

Research in Religious Studies Conference Lineup, May 4-5, Lethbridge AB

by Dr. Jim

As promised, the Complete List of Papers and Presenters for the 2013 Research in Religious Studies Conference May 4-5 in Lethbridge. All 49 of them.

They are roughly categorized, a full schedule will be sorted out in a bit.

Unlike other conferences, we sort out our sessions and topics AFTER all the papers are selected, so no good ones get left out. That makes grouping them together a tricky business.

Corey Davis, University of Lethbridge,
The Emergence of Ancient Israel

Elsa M. Perry, The University of Lethbridge,
Exotic to Local: Exploitations of Raw Copper Material Resources in the Near East from the Bronze to the Iron Age

Ariel Pollard-Belsheim, University of Lethbridge,
Hydrological Wonders of the Iron Age II period: Judah and Israel

Laura Shuttleworth, University of Lethbridge,
Fighting Words: The Attempt to Authenticate the James Ossuary Inscription

Matthew Pawlak, University of Lethbridge,
The Religion of the First Israelites

Jessica Swann, University of Alberta,
Vanity: Wisdom Literature of the Ancient Near East

Zak Stinson, University of Lethbridge,
Kemetic Magic: On the relationship between Society and Magic in Ancient Egypt

Cristina Atanasiu, University of Calgary,
The Smile of the Poor, Little, Young Prince, The Construction of the Early Mahayana Bodhisattva Image”

Adeana McNicholl, University of Manitoba,
Blood Sacrifice and Spirit-Deity Worship in the “Healing Buddha Sutra”

Ryan Pickard, University of Lethbridge,
The Origins of the Ishiyama-Hongan-Ji war and their significance on the History of Japanese Buddhism

Meaghan Snethlage, University of Lethbridge
Paradoxical Buddhism: Warfare in History … Continue reading

25 Apr 21:25

More pastedowns from the same Syriac manuscript of the Gospels << Adam C. McCollum (hmmlorientalia)

I recently posted an image of a pastedown in SMMJ 68 that came from an older Syriac Gospel lectionary. While still looking through the Jerusalem collection, I found another manuscript with pastedowns (at both front and back) from a Syriac Gospel-book.

Front pastedown of SMMJ 159

Front pastedown of SMMJ 159

Back pastedown of SMMJ 159

Back pastedown of SMMJ 159

The front pastedown has the Markan passage on the Syrophoenician woman (Συροφοινίκισσα; see Sebastiano Ricci’s painting here) from the last word of Mk 7:24 to halfway through 7:29 (again the Peshitta, as SMMJ 68), and the back has Lk 19:29 (beginning at the third word) to 19:34 (third word from the end), but this time in the Ḥarqlean. (The only difference between these texts and those in Kiraz’s Comparative Edition of the Gospels, the Peshitta of which is based on the edition of Pusey and Gwilliam, are at Mk 7:25 [w-ʾit here, but d-ʾit in the printed ed.] and 7:26 [Phoenicia spelled with final yod here, ālap in the printed ed.].) A comparison of these two extraneous pages from SMMJ 159 with the one from SMMJ 68 quickly reveals their origin in the same manuscript. Apparently this Gospel lectionary was at Saint Mark’s and no longer being used, probably too damaged to be of practical use, and apart from their original peers these three folios found new life in SMMJ 68 and 159. Like the former Jerusalem manuscript, the latter, according to a note in Arabic at the beginning, was repaired in October, 1910.

“A new critical edition of the Peshitta Gospels is needed, though the quantity of Peshita mss. renders this a formidable task.” So say R.B. ter Haar Romeny and C.E. Morrison in their entry on the Peshitta in GEDSH (p. 330). This manuscript, now much reduced and scattered, more folios of which might appear elsewhere lurking at the beginning or end of manuscripts at Saint Mark’s, adds to that quantity of Peshitta manuscripts: for Mark in the front pastedown of SMMJ 159, and for John and Matthew in the front pastedown of SMMJ 68. Not that these particular Syriac Gospel witnesses are all that unique or interesting, but they do serve as a reminder of the surprises manuscripts can offer. And, from a different angle, the script here has much to appreciate for its clarity and simplicity; it would make an easy exercise for beginning students to practice their reading skills.

25 Apr 21:24

Nothing in Biochemistry Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution

by (Laurence A. Moran)
The title of this post is a slight paraphrasing of Theodosius Dobzhansky's famous saying, "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution. That was the title of an article he published in American Biology Teacher and that's significant since the main point was to convince teachers that evolution is important.

What applies to biology also applies to biochemistry. Evolution should come up in many places in a typical biochemistry course. The most obvious place is when we teach comparisons of nucleotide and amino acids sequences and the construction of phylogenetic trees. Students have to know the underling concept behind these comparisons. The have to know why some sequences are conserved (negative selection) and why some sequences are variable (fixation of neutral alleles by random genetic drift).

But this isn't the only place where evolution is important. How can you explain why humans need vitamin C and "essential" amino acids without mentioning evolution? How can you teach biochemistry without covering the evolution of biochemical pathways? How do you explain the existence of a complex process like the membrane-bound photosynthesis complexes in chloroplasts without showing how it evolved from simple bacterial examples? Who teaches the information flow section of the course without starting with E. coli and working toward the more complex eukaryotic examples? How do you explain why animals need glucose when most species don't need an external supply of complex carbohydrate? How do you explain why gluconeogenesis is a more primitive pathway than glycolysis? Why are comparative genome studies important in working out metabolic networks? Why does "homology modeling" work?

The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) is trying to set up a certification scheme for biochemistry programs in America. The idea is that universities and colleges that meet certain standards would receive a stamp of approval from ASBMB. There would be a nation-wide exam for graduating students and if they pass the exam they get a sort of "certification" that proves they have the minimum skills and knowledge to take jobs that require these skills.

The trick is to define the common skills and knowledge that are needed. I attended two sessions at EB2013 where these criteria were discussed. One was a presentation by the committee in charge followed by some discussion: "ASBMS Certification Program for Bachelor's Degrees in Biochemistry Molecular Biology and Related Majors." The questions in this session were focused on how to get certified and not on what was in the proposal.

The other session was "Promoting Concepts-Driven Teaching Strategies in BMB Through Concept Assessments" but, as it turned out, there was very little chance to discuss the concepts that were being assessed.

You can read the current draft proposal by clicking on the link at ASBMB Degree Certification Program in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. You might be interested in finding out what a department needs to do in order to be certified.

I'm more interested in what biochemists have to teach. Here's the relevant section ...
Core Concepts and Learning Objectives

An ASBMB-recognized program should be able to relate each element of its BMB curriculum to one or more of the core concepts listed below and their related learning objectives (For reasons of space, sample learning objectives are provided in Appendices II – V):

1. Energy is Required by and Transformed in Biological Systems.
2. Macromolecular Structure Determines Function and Regulation
3. Information Storage and Flow Are Dynamic and Interactive.
4. Discovery Requires Objective Measurement, Quantitative Analysis, & Clear Communication.

The curriculum should present these core concepts in a manner that illustrates the pervasive role that Evolution plays in shaping the form and function of all biological molecules and organisms.
That last sentence is new to me. I've never seen it on any of the slides shown at either of the meetings I attended (EB2012 and EB2013).

It's a welcome addition. But, since most biochemistry courses in America are taught out of Chemistry Departments, I wonder if this will make certification more difficult.

Finally, I can't help but insert a plug for my book. It's the only biochemistry textbook that presents the subject from an evolutionary perspective and it's certainly the only textbook where the pervasive role of evolution is emphasized in every chapter.

The next step will be to help the organizing committee refine and upgrade the "Learning Objectives" for each of the core concepts. These are given in four appendices in the draft document.

Dobzhansky, T. (1973) Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. American Biology Teacher 35:125-129.
25 Apr 21:24

Foreword by Steven Fine (Excerpted from Benyamim Tsedaka’s The Israelite Samaritan Version of the Torah)

by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Steven Fine is professor of Jewish History at Yeshiva University in New York, director of Yeshiva University’s Center for Israel Studies, and co-editor of Images: A Journal of Jewish Art and Visual Culture.  He wrote the following foreword for Benyamim Tsedaka and Sharon J. Sullivan’s groundbreaking new volume The Israelite Samaritan Version of the Torah: First English Translation Compared with the Masoretic […]
25 Apr 21:24

It’s Not Rocket Science (But it Might Involve Time Travel)

by Eddie

Bible Translation really isn’t rocket science. OK, there are lots of tricky technical aspects to it which are far from easy, but the basic principles about why translation needs to happen are quite straightforward. To illustrate this, I’m knicking the whole of a post from Archdruid Eileen, which captures the issue pretty well:

Just a thought, really.

Let’s take the words of Jesus and consider that they would have been spoken in Aramaic, in all likelihood.

Somebody translated that into Greek. And then St Matthew (let’s suppose it’s the Beatitudes we’re talking about here) gathered and maybe regularised the Greek interpretations of what Jesus said on the Mount.

Or if it were the Matthew, maybe he did the translation himself, from the Aramaic in his own memory.

Modern Bible translators take that Greek translation and turn it into English.

Now if you’re King James to the bone, then you’ve got to then make the act of translation from KJV to your own thought-forms. Although, to be fair, if you’re that much of a KJV wallah your thought-forms may well be 17th Century anyway.

And after those 2-3 acts of translation, chances are you’ll still end up with the words “hunger and thirst after righteousness”, or something similar. So if you want to explain that to a non-Christian you’ll need to do another translation step.

It strikes me the options to improve the situation are this, in descending order of utility in accurately understanding the words of our Lord:

1) Invent the Tardis and go back to the 1st Century Middle East, taking everybody you might want to share your faith with, with you.

2) Learn Koine Greek. Better, learn it yourself and then teach it to all your friends.

3) Don’t keep shouting at your friends in KJV English.

4) Try and think of a good way of saying “hunger and thirst after righteousness”.

25 Apr 21:23

Creationism certainly does undermine education!

by PZ Myers

Tina Dupuy had a good op-ed published in the Sedalia, Missouri newspaper, titled “Teaching creationism hurts kids, undermines educational system“. Yeah, it does: it prompted some rebuttals that made her case even more strongly. John Nail has some complaints:

Writer had it dead wrong on debate over teaching creationism

In response to Tina Dupuy column in the April 15 paper entitled “Teaching creationism hurts kids, undermines education system,” I’d like to say, “Phooey!”

From the article it sounds like she has some real issues with her mother. [Cheap shot. Dupuy's article had issues with her mother's fundamentalist dogmatism…just like Nail's] It may be good therapy for her to vent in the column, however she submits NO scientific evidence of the evolution theory [The piece is about how creationism kept her ignorant of science; it's not a scientific treatise]. The only item she mentioned was when she wrote, “There’s plenty of self-evident evidence (see: the flu virus). …”. A virus is not even a living organism. [And yet…they evolve!]

From the Answers in Genesis website ( [Uh-oh. Not a trustworthy source at all]: “So what should one say if asked, “Is the ‘bird flu’ evolving”? It could be said that the avian influenza genome is evolving only in the sense that it’s continually changing and modifying [Uh, yes? That's evolution!], and not in the sense that it will someday be something other than an influenza virus [It will become a different kind of virus, with different properties. It will not become a chicken, nor does evolution predict that it will]. Yes, influenza viruses do possess a certain degree of variability; however, the amount of genetic information which a virus can carry is vastly limited[So? So's the amount of information in your genome, John Nail -- that we don't have infinite genomes is not an argument against evolution], and so are the changes which can be made to its genome before it can no longer function[Again, limits are what we expect in the real world; show me a system with an absence of limitations on its behavior and maybe I'll start believing in your god].”

“Scientists”[The only "scientists" who deserve scare quotes are the shabby charlatans that Nail cites] tell us the moon is 4.6 billion years old. If it were then the Apollo 11 astronauts should have stepped off into several feet of space dust instead of the inches they did. Based on the accumulation of dust (which is measured by “scientists”) the moon would be 7-10,000 year old [Oh, please. Seriously? The Moon Dust argument? Even Answers in Genesis, Nail's favorite source, rejects that claim!].

The word dinosaur means “large lizard”[No, actually, it means "terrible lizard"] — Ms. Dupuy, we still have large lizards [So? "Dinosaur" is a specific name referring to a specific clade with specific features in their anatomy that are distinct from those of extant lizards—the argument from word roots is irrelevant to the biological reality. I could call John Nail an ass, but that doesn't mean he'll sprout long ears and a tail and start braying (oops, well, he is doing that last bit already)]. In fact, large lizards were small when they were young. Noah could have easily had immature “dinosaurs” on the Ark [He could have also packed in every species in the planet as gametes stored in liquid nitrogen, with the temperature maintained by giant refrigerators driven by a nuclear power plant. Your fantasy about what 'coulda' happened isn't evidence of reality]. Natural Science museums do not show the rabbits, squirrels and other currently known animals whose bones were found with the dinosaur bones[Say what? Rabbits found in the Cretaceous would be amazing. Too bad they aren't — John is just making shit up]. It would be to hard to explain why they were living together in the same times[Yes it would. But they haven't.].

When I was in school in the 60s we learned about the cavemen: The Peking man, the Java man and others. When they were exposed as hoaxes, they were not removed from the textbooks [Because those are all examples of Homo erectus. They were not exposed as hoaxes, by any means — rather, many more fossil examples have been found].

I could list many scientific reasons that macro-evolution makes no sense but we believe what we want to believe[If they're of the same quality as the reasons given so far, no need to bother]. As an ancient text says, “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.”[I think it was in the best interests of the authors of the Bible to claim that wisdom is foolishness, to make their foolishness look wise.]

I have taught[Fuck, no!] in a Christian school (St. Paul’s Lutheran)[Unsurprising] for the past fifteen years. We look at both sides of the argument[Liar. We can see already that he knows nothing of the science]. The government schools only look at one side so who is getting a “better” science education? [The kids in schools that actually teach the evidence, and how it was determined, and who are not getting prepackaged superstition in the guise of science] We are not afraid of the scientific discoveries[Because you will readily distort them to fit your agenda]. They prove the Bible true! [Seven day creation, zombies invading Jerusalem, genetics determined by striped sticks, self-serving ahistorical bullshit, all of that? Nope.] The Bible is not a bunch of “stories.”[Actually, it is largely the mythology of a tribe of pastoral, patriarchal jerks who successfully murdered and enslaved their way to a small niche in the Middle East, and then frantically invented a legendary triumphal history to prop up their egos when they were serially crushed by stronger tribes] It is a record of God moving in the history of mankind [Yeah, right, and Star Trek: The Next Generation is about an all-powerful psychopath named Q…but that doesn't make it true]. We cannot prove that God created the earth and everything in it in 6 days, no one we know was there to see it[But we can look at the scientific evidence and disprove your myth]. Neither can we prove that a spark started life billions of years ago. No one was there either[A true acolyte of the frauds at AiG: "Were you there?" Nope, but there's more to evidence than just eyewitness testimony…which is actually a miserably poor form of evidence]. And we certainly cannot replicate either in a lab[Actually, yes, we can replicate pieces of the chemistry in the lab. We can't replicate magical beings poofing things into existence]. So, Ms. Dupuy, it all comes down to what we want to believe[I want to believe I'm a billionaire who can fly by flapping my arms. Is it true?]. I understand that if you do not believe that God created the world in six days[Because it is contradicted by the evidence] then you probably have a difficult time in believing the account of God’s amazing work in the lives of people then and now [Which is unsupported by any credible evidence]. My prayer is that God would touch your life in a mighty way so that you will know with certainty that God is real [What an evil wish: the one thing we learn from the Bible is that their imaginary deity is a vicious amoral thug. I wouldn't wish it on anyone, not even John Nail].

Just to put the icing on the cake, John Nail actually is a teacher (kindergarten through 5th grade) and principal at St. Paul’s Lutheran School in Sedalia. I feel so much pity for the kids being sent to that undoubtedly awful school.

25 Apr 14:01

Catholic ads in NY: Jesus was 'the original hipster'

by The Editors

By Pallavi Reddy, CNN
Follow @pallavireports

(CNN) – Ads around Brooklyn bring a new meaning to Joan Osborne's lyrics, “What if God was one of us?”

In a new ad campaign launched by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn this month, people in the borough and neighboring Queens have a new way to view Jesus: “The Original Hipster.”

The ads feature the bottom half of a man - meant to be Jesus - wearing robes with a pair of dirty red Converse sneakers peeking out from the bottom.

Follow the CNN Belief Blog on Twitter

In a news release, the diocese refers to Seth Meyers' joke on “Saturday Night Live” that Converse sneakers are why more Catholics are returning to the church, and says the marketing campaign is “showing a cooler and more welcoming side of the Catholic Church.”

Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood, near Queens, is considered to be the "unofficial East Coast birthplace of hipsterism," as a 2012 article in Forbes put it.

Monsignor Kieran Harrington said he understood the importance of relating to the people of the area.

“Jesus appears (in these ads) like people of the L train,” he said. “What is a hipster anyway? Someone who stands against the (mainstream) culture. Jesus stood against the culture.”

CNN Belief: The Curious Case of the Christian Hipster

Ten months ago, the conversation started about creating such a campaign to let people know there are a variety of different faces who attend the church.

Harrington says these particular ads were a collaboration with the ad and PR agency Ruckus. Now they are found in places where the church doesn't usually advertise, including bus stands, restaurants and gyms.

The ads have generated online buzz in Salon, the Gothamist and other sites, and traffic on the diocese's website has gone up 400%, Harrington said.

As for what kind of ads to expect from the diocese next, the monsignor said: “It’s for you to find out.”

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

25 Apr 13:59

Jobs creationists CAN do (Guest post)

by jonnyscaramanga

David Waldock is one of the most articulate commenters on this blog. His response to Monica Stringer’s defence of ACE was so comprehensive I didn’t bother to reply myself. David is an ex-ACE student, but he preferred not to write about his own experiences. Instead, here’s his analysis of where belief in Creationism will take you…

This was originally intended to be a comment on Jonny’s post “5 jobs a Creationist can’t do“, but after an extended conversation on Facebook, we thought my thoughts might be better presented as a post in its own right, extending the discussion.

First, I understand the position that Jonny is taking; all other things being equal, young earth creationism (YEC) is intellectually incompatible with many disciplines. However, there are doubtless people who identify as young earth creationists who are in those disciplines.

An example which springs to mind is nursing (I know of several nurses who believe in YEC), yet effective nursing requires acknowledging that microbes evolve in response to antibiotics. Does this mean these self-defined creationist nurses aren’t really nurses?

What I think is actually meant is that holding YEC beliefs requires one to perform intellectual gymnastics in some way, or to compromise one’s beliefs in order to function effectively within one’s chosen discipline. I note that Answers in Genesis explicitly give this advice:

“Because of the intense persecution and potential discrimination, some have chosen to keep their biblical views “under wraps” until they receive their degrees.”

What does this look like in reality?

Isolating parts of one’s life, to keep the faith-life separate from the work/study-life, is difficult. This type of cognitive dissonance is going to manifest itself in a variety of ways, ranging from mild neuroses to serious mental health problems (for more on this, go and listen to this interview with Carole Tavris, author of Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)).

Indeed, the failure to resolve a stress-inducing situation is one of the leading causes of anxiety disorders. Chronic anxiety can result in depressive illnesses, social withdrawal and feelings of low self-esteem; these conditions are also associated with eating disorders and addictive behaviours. So the best that can be said about this type of dissonance is that it could lead to mental health problems of varying degrees.

Second, we know that  people who hold a deeply-held belief which forms part of their identity tend to perceive counter-evidence as an attack on them, and not merely a challenging of the ideas they hold to be true. When presented with counter-evidence, believers actually interpret the information as reinforcing their belief through post hoc rationalisations.

The classic example of this is in end days cults, where believers are persuaded that the world faces armageddon in the near future, normally on a date prophesied by their leader. When the date passes without the predicted end of the world, where one would expect their faith to be shaken, the strongest believers interpret this to be a reinforcement of their belief: one classic example has it as evidence that their leader’s intercession held the end times back (For more on this, When Prophecy Fails).

Within the context of this discussion, you might find a person who wants to participate in, say, biological disciplines having their fundamentalist faith reinforced and pushed to greater extremes by the barrage of evidence for evolution. And don’t forget the persecution complex we seen in fundamentalism: Jesus said we will be persecuted for our beliefs, so when someone challenges them robustly, it’s merely reinforcing the belief that they are right and righteous!

This might merely result in them resenting the people who don’t believe the same as them, but it might be express by people trying to prove a point using inappropriate means, or in some passive-aggressive behaviours. I don’t think it’s too extreme to suggest that this may explain some of the most vocal, extremist adherents of Creationist dogma, whether on websites or on talk radio.

It’s also worth mentioning that in many ways, being a covert Creationist is in some way dishonest. This is, of course, surprising given the passionate assertion that the ten commandments are at the heart of morality, but an inescapable conclusion, particularly given the importance of evangelism in most fundamentalist faith systems.

If the YEC beliefs are true, and the person does not believe the facts they espouse in their discipline, but stay silence, then the importance of telling others the good news is weakened. On the other hand, it may be the belief in Creationism that is mere lip service; perhaps, like me in my fundamentalist days, they hope that saying the right things will, one day, result in their actually believing it.

To bring this back to education, what does this mean for young people attending ACE schools?

I would argue that it means that the young person’s right to an education, enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, is being ignored. Education, to mean anything, must include preparing the child to live and function in the adult world. I think it fails from several perspectives, and should, in my view, be considered a form of abuse.

First, the simplest argument is that it fails to prepare young people for life in the wider world. The fact is, pretty much all ideas are challenged in the real world, and by insulating them from this reality means that they are unprepared to deal appropriate with different perspectives (I speak from personal experience). The intellectual segregation fails to prepare the child for entry to the rigorous adult ecosystem of ideas, knowledge and evidence.

Second, it prepares the child to fail. How can someone reach their full potential when their education restricts the young person’s access to ideas? The placing of psychological and spiritual barriers around the child’s development and interests may be beneficial to ensuring the perpetuity of certain belief systems, but it surely means that promising young people fail to make the full contribution to society of which they are capable. Or, from a neoliberal ACE perspective, it prevents them from reaching their full earning potential.

Third, as I outlined above, it prepares young adults to lie and to have to aspects of their lives which are not integrated. It trains them, like Peter, to deny their beliefs when in what they consider hostile territory, and this can have dire consequences for their health, relationships and emotional stability.

So, can Creationists work in the biological, archaeological, linguistic, psychological and rigorous theological disciplines? Of course they can. The question, in my view, is what the consequences are.

And of course, they can always become “Creation scientists”.

Related posts:

25 Apr 13:58

Covergence and Divergence in Pentateuchal Theory

by (Jim Davila)
Convergence and Divergence in Pentateuchal Theory:
Bridging the Academic Cultures of Israel, North America and Europe

Date: May 12–13, 2013
Location: Israel Institute for Advanced Studies, The Hebrew University.

The Pentateuch lies at the heart of the Western humanities. Yet despite nearly two centuries of critical scholarship, the human origins of this monument of civilization remain shrouded in the past. Indeed, the traditional conception of a unified, self-consistent foundation narrative has long been given up. Critical scholarship has isolated multiple layers of tradition, inconsistent laws, and narratives that could only have originated from separate communities within ancient Israel, and were joined together at a relatively late stage by a process of splicing and editing.

Recent developments in academic biblical studies, however, jeopardize the revolutionary progress that has been made over the last two centuries. The so-called “Documentary Hypothesis” has dominated academic discourse on the Pentateuch since the end of the nineteenth century. More recently, however, the source-critical method has come under unprecedented attack. In fact, in many quarters it has been rejected entirely. While new perspectives are constantly being generated to replace traditional paradigms, the past forty years of scholarship have witnessed not simply a proliferation of intellectual models, but the fragmentation of discourse, especially among Israeli, European, and North American scholars.

This conference seeks to further international exchange and re-establish a shared intellectual. Presentations will be offered by a group of twenty-five international scholars, drawn from the fields of Biblical Studies, Second Temple/Dead Sea Scrolls, and Jewish Studies, with extensive time for discussion and debate.

Organizers: Bernard M. Levinson, University of Minnesota; Konrad Schmid, University of Zurich; Baruch J. Schwartz, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem; and Jan Christian Gertz, Heidelberg University.

Speakers: Joel Baden, Yale University; Mark J. Boda, McMaster Divinity College; David Carr, Union Theological Seminary; Cynthia Edenburg, The Open University of Israel; Jan Joosten, University of Strasbourg; Reinhard G. Kratz, University of Göttingen; Christoph Levin, University of Munich; Noam Mizrahi, Tel Aviv University; Christophe Nihan, University of Lausanne; Thomas Römer, University of Lausanne and Collège de France; Christopher Rollston, George Washington University; Dalit Rom-Shiloni, Tel Aviv University; Michael Segal, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Jean Louis Ska, Pontifical Biblical Institute; Jean-Pierre Sonnet, Pontifical Gregorian University; Jeffrey Stackert, University of Chicago; Jakob Wöhrle, University of Münster; David Wright, Brandeis University; Molly Zahn, University of Kansas.

For more information:
25 Apr 13:58

Love and Freedom: Conditionalism vs. Universalism

by Richard Beck
Last fall when I was blogging through Rob Bell's book Love Wins I wrote a post about the relationship between freedom and love and how freedom and love play out in the debate between conditionalism and universalism.

As many noted when Love Wins came out, Bell appears to be espousing conditionalism rather than universalism. That is, love wins for Bell because God respects human freedom, not because everyone, eventually, is reconciled to God.

C.S. Lewis believed in conditionalism and famously phrased the notion this way: The doors of hell are locked, but they are locked from the inside. We banish ourselves from heaven, not God. The idea here is that God never forecloses on salvation. Not now, not ever. But humans, exercising their freedom, can turn away from God and keep turning away. Perhaps for eternity.

[Addendum to original post:
A couple of readers in the comments have said that the view Lewis and Bell are espousing is not called "conditionalism." "Separationism" may be a better term, but I've not heard that term widely used. "Conditionalism" according to readers properly names the view known as "conditional mortality," an idea often associated with annihilationism. For my part, I've used, perhaps improperly, the word "conditionalism" to describe C.S. Lewis' and Bell's view that heaven is available if you open the door.]

Here are selections from Love Wins where Bell is walking through his conditionalistic vision of "love winning":
If we want hell,
if we want heaven,
they are ours.
That's how love works. It can't be forced, manipulated, or coerced.
It always leaves room for the other to decide.
God says yes,
we can have what we want,
because love wins.
Now back to that original question: "Does God get what God wants?" is a good question, an interesting question, an important question that gives us much to discuss.

But there's a better question, one we can answer...It's not "Does God get what God wants?"
"Do we get what we want?"
And the answer to that is a resounding, affirming, sure and positive yes.
Yes, we get what we want.
God is that loving.

If we want isolation, despair, and the right to be our own god, God graciously grants us that option. If we insist on using our God-given power and strength to make the world in our own image, God allows us that freedom; we have the kind of license to that. If we want nothing to do with light, hope, love, grace, and peace, God respects that desire on our part, and we are given a life free from any of those realities. The more we want nothing to do with all God is, the more distance and space are created. If we want nothing to do with love, we are given a reality free from love.
What follows is largely taken from my post last fall, as I've recently revisited this material in preparation for my classes on Love Wins for the Pepperdine Lectureship. The specific issue I'd like to assess in Bell's vision, and with conditionalism generally, is the regulating notion that love requires freedom. Love wins for Bell, not because we all get to heaven, but because we all get what we want. Love wins because love allows us freedom. So even if someone is separated from God, perhaps for all eternity, that is a win for love. Because you are getting what you want.

You don't want God and walk away.
God allows this.
So love wins.

Let's think about that. Love, according to Bell (and others like N.T. Wright and C.S. Lewis), allows people to walk away from God. More, Love allows people to keep walking. Toward what? Away from "light, hope, love, grace, and peace." So Bell asks us to imagine Love allowing people to walk deeper into darkness, despair, hate, revenge, and violence. To get a sense of this imagine the horrors, depravity and bestiality of war. And then keep multiplying that. We imagine Love allowing people to walk deeper and deeper into that?

The question all this raises is if a loving God would allow that decent into madness to happen.

The response, I'm guessing, comes back to the issue of freedom. What, it might be asked, am I suggesting? That God thwart our choices and corral us, against our will, into heaven? That seems to be the key idea driving Bell's position: Love requires freedom. This is how love "wins." As Bell says, "That's how love works. It can't be forced, manipulated, or coerced. It always leaves room for the other to decide."

It's at this point I'd like to push back with a little psychology, because I think the notion of freedom at work in conditionalism is flawed.

At root, our psychological experience of freedom is comprised of two things: 1) Self-authorship/ownership and 2) Choice/caring congruence.

We feel free when we "own" our decisions and actions. When I scratch my nose I feel that I "own" (i.e., willed) the entire action. This sense of ownership helps create a feeling of self-authorship. I am writing, with my decisions, the story of my life.

We know this experience of "ownership" is a feeling because there are situations when this feeling can become suspended. Hypnosis and disassociation are examples. In such cases my motor cortex is activated--I'm doing things--but I don't feel the actions are "mine."

The second part of the feeling of freedom involves choice/caring congruence. When our choices align with what we want or care about we feel a sense of inner harmony and freedom. I'm doing what I want to do. Harry Frankfurt calls this volitional unanimity. Everything within me "agrees." Desire, choice and behavior are aligned.

Feelings of "unfreedom" occur when we are forced, say, at the point of a gun, to do something that is misaligned with what we care about. We are doing something we don't want to do. The point-of-a-gun example seems obvious enough when we think of external compulsion. But the compulsions can be internal as well. Psychosis, compulsions and addictions are all examples of states where people feel internally overthrown. But these are really just extreme example of what Paul describes in Romans 7, doing things we don't really want to do. Paul describes this lack of volitional harmony as being "wretched." It doesn't feel good. It doesn't feel free. We feel internally betrayed and coerced, "against our will" as it were.

All this describes our inner experience of freedom.  Freedom--call it free will or voluntary behavior--is the experience of self-authorship and inner unanimity.

Let's now go back to Bell's statement: "That's how love works. It can't be forced, manipulated, or coerced. It always leaves room for the other to decide." As it stands, this assessment is totally non-controversial. Love doesn't put a gun to your head. Love doesn't force, manipulate, or coerce.

In short, God wants our choices to be voluntary. God wants us to "own" the decision. God wants us to "want" the decision.

But here's the critical issue at this point, an issue Bell and other conditionalists overlook. As we've just noted, more than mere choice is involved in creating the experience of freedom. For a feeling of freedom to exist we need choice/caring congruence.

Suddenly, this freedom thing is looking a bit more complicated. Freedom isn't simply the absence of external coercion. Freedom is about getting our choices to align with our affections and desires. God abandoning us to our choices isn't freedom. It's a lack of coercion, to be sure. But that's a very thin view of freedom, love and choice.

Let me try to illustrate this by taking on a sacred cow.

You often hear preachers say, "Love is a choice." This is wrong. Love is fundamentally about caring. To be clear, I'm not saying that love is a fleeting feeling. I'm saying that love is a deeply rooted affection.

What is remarkable is that everyone knows this already. So it's a testimony to how strange things have become that I have to spend words convincing people to stop and note how very strange and inhuman is the "love is a choice" formulation. Just think of someone you love (I've got my sons in my mind) and ask yourself: What best describes your experience of love toward these people? Choice? Or a deeply rooted affection?

I don't know about you, but I don't wake up and "choose" to love my sons. No, I wake up and feel a deeply rooted affection.

To be sure, those affections affect my choices and decisions. And that's going to be my final point in all this. Caring drives choice. I make loving choices because I care about my boys. I don't choose to care about my boys so that I can make loving choices. That's backward.

How did the "love is a choice" meme become so ascendent and popular among preachers? Here's my best guess:

The "love is a choice" meme gained prominence among preachers as they were trying to preach the centrality of covenant and promise-keeping in the face of marital infidelity where people were justifying their actions with statements like "I just don't love him/her anymore." And by this people meant, "I don't 'feel' in love with him/her anymore." To push back on that argument preachers started to respond with,"Love isn't a feeling. It's a choice." And what they meant was that feelings of affection ebb and flow, but a commitment gets you through the low periods. This is true, but we should get clear about what is actually going on.

What the preachers tend to miss is that you have to care about commitments for the "love is a choice" encouragement to work. Because if I don't care about my commitments or keeping my promises you have very little leverage with me on this score. Again, this is my root point. Caring is what grants us volitional traction. If you don't care about something I can't use it to sway your choices.

In short, what the "love is a choice" encouragement is doing is this: "I know you don't care about him/her right now. But you should care about the promise you made before witnesses. You should care about your integrity. You should care about what God thinks." And so on. The hope here is, because caring has evaporated for the spouse, that caring can be found elsewhere--in God, the kids, the commitment, the extended family, personal integrity/reputation. But at the end of the day you've got to find caring somewhere. Because if you can find that caring and bring it to the front you can affect the choice. You can say stuff like, "Okay, you don't love him/her. But think about the kids." You try to fish for some alternative/backup location of caring to give the marriage time to heal and for spousal affections/caring to reemerge.

The point is, I understand the whole "love is a choice" idea and what it's trying to do--shifting caring from the spouse to the promise--but we shouldn't think "love is a choice" is good psychology. "Love is a choice" isn't psychology, it's a rhetorical strategy and it should not be used to guide us in thinking about human freedom.]
Given what I've sketched above, let's return to the view of freedom at the root of Love Wins and conditionalism. What's the problem with Bell's view of love and freedom in Love Wins?

On the one hand, the notion that Love isn't going to force or coerce anyone into heaven is perfectly true. I totally agree. But there's something problematic if this is all we mean by "freedom," God just leaving us to our choices. Again, freedom isn't just about choices. Freedom about something deeper and more complex. Freedom has to be about what we care about. Freedom has to be about love.

I think Augustine was pointing to this when he said that all our little loves are shadowy and incomplete until they fully rest in the Love of God. "Our hearts are restless," he famously wrote, "until they rest in Thee." Our affections are broken and scattered. Our loves are all pointed in the wrong direction. And due to that disarray our choices become sinful and self-defeating.

With our affections broken our choices are broken.

Here the deep problem with conditionalism comes into view. If our affections are disordered there is no way we can "chose our way" toward God. Something deep within us is confused and disoriented. We want the wrong things. So if God wants us to turn toward the Kingdom God can't just abandon us to our choices. God can't just step back and say, "I love you. And because I love you I will step back to grant you freedom." That's a recipe for disaster. Because freedom isn't about the absence of external pressure or force. Freedom, rather, is about getting our choices aligned with our affections. But if we want the wrong things to begin with how are we to make good choices?

The point is, love isn't going to win if God just steps back to abandon us to our choices. There might be a "win" in there somewhere, but it's not a winning God would want. Love doesn't win if all we have are choices running amok because of our disordered affections. No, love really wins only when God begins to work at a deeper level, when Love begins to work with our loves. Love moves our loves toward Love. Our desires and affections have to change before our choices begin to move. And that requires positive action on God's part. Not the Divine withdrawal and passivity that Bell imagines in Love Wins.

And I'd also like to make the point that this healing of affections is generally going to be a very slow process. Because Bell's right on this point: God isn't going to overthrow or coerce our affections, internally or externally. God can't just change our affections overnight without that being experienced as a volitional assault upon us. These are psychic structures rooted deep, deep within our identity. These are psychic glaciers that are going to have to move at a glacial pace.

But they can move, even if slowly. And the slow pace allows us to preserve our inner sense of self-authorship and unanimity.

Which brings us to one the reasons why I prefer universalism to conditionalism. Conditionalism suggests that God abandons us to our disordered affections and the predictable volitional mess that soon follows. Universalism, by contrast, confesses that God loves us and will not abandon us, that freedom isn't about a lack of coercion. A lack of coercion is not what sets us free. What sets us free is having our affections healed. Freedom happens when our loves come to rest in Love. And where conditionalism envisions God's abandonment, universalism envisions God's tireless and eternal involvement in bringing this healing to completion. It is a vision of Love healing the loves of my life--bringing order, unanimity, and harmony.

Bringing freedom.

That is when Love truly wins.
25 Apr 13:57

young ladies can’t do that

by David Hayward
young ladies can't do that cartoon by nakedpastor david hayward

“Young Ladies Can’t Do That” by nakedpastor David Hayward

Lisa and I decided early… well… it wasn’t a decision, it’s just the way we are… that we wanted to provide an environment where our children could grow up independent, courageous and wise. Themselves.

We have three children. Our first two are boys. Men now. But I want to talk about our third. Our third child is a girl, now one of these young ladies in the cartoon. I clearly remember her early days when she began to verbally challenge us. Instead of responding with the traditional and easy “You will think and do as we say because we’re your parents” routine, we interpreted those embryonic expressions of defiance as opportunities for discussion, dialog and even debate. Yes, it’s exhausting. Yes, it’s messy. Exercising the mind and spirit is hard work. But the reward is we have a courageous and confident daughter who thinks for herself. She’s pulled up a chair to the big people’s table.

So I encourage people to defy the attitude expressed in this cartoon. If you are in an intellectually stifling place, get out! Don’t let anyone control you. There are places where you can think and express yourself in your own way… where you can explore and exercise your independence, freedom and intellect.

Have you seen the recent story of the FEMEN protesters drenching an Archbishop with water? FEMEN is a topless feminist group I’ve been following for a while. They arrive in the wake of Pussy Riot, two of whom are still in a remote Russian prison. This does not surprise me. We may not all agree with their tactics. But this is what happens when people, like women and members of the LGBTQ community, are stigmatized, marginalized and silenced. They won’t have it. And they shouldn’t!

Christianity, and it’s church, has a notorious tendency to do this. But I also perceive and encourage its better impulse to liberate all people to full equality.

I was interviewed yesterday by Revangelical. You might want to check it out. It’s short.

Think and speak out!

25 Apr 13:57

A Conference on the Pentateuch in May at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

by John Hobbins

    The academic study of the Pentateuch appears to be in the throes of a losing battle with the forces of entropy. Once upon a time, there was wide agreement about JEDP. No more. Will Humpty-Dumpty ever be put back together again?

    Probably not, but the least one might do is frame the issues in the study of the Pentateuch in such a way that the modes of address and content of the Pentateuch become a matter of burning interest to anyone who occupies herself with (1) the foundations of national and international law; (2) the Scripture-based ethical stances that inform the religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and the cultures in their debt; and (3) the proper stance a state and those who maneuver the levers of power should take over against a state constitution.

    Last but not least, the unique mode of political address which dominates the Pentateuch, a mode of address in which a single principle of justice and truth addresses a polity and creates that polity as it does so, deserves critical attention. This mode of address continues to be productive at the junctures which inform political debate in the 21st century. 

    A conference in May on the Pentateuch at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem is promising in this regard. Here's hoping that the May conference will be as Hume was to Kant, and awake many from their dogmatic slumbers. 

    For more information, go here: I tip my hat in gratitude to Bernard Levinson and the other organizers of this splendid conference. 

25 Apr 13:56

Samaritan Passover 2013

by John Byron
One doesn't have to be familiar with the Bible to know about Samaritans. The phrase "Good Samaritan" has entered into our language and is applied to any number of people who have provided selfless acts in the service of others.

 I suspect, however, that many people have no clue that the idea of the "Good Samaritan" come from one of Jesus's parables. Yet, the name is almost ubiquitous.  From where I am sitting I can see the houses on Samaritan Drive. And through the trees I can see that roof line of Samaritan Hospital. Most of us in town, myself included, give little thought to origin and meaning of these names.

For those who do know that the "Good Samaritan" is a character in one of Jesus' parables, many would be surprised to learn that the Samaritans are not some group in the past. The Samaritans still exist and they represent a religious community that is older than Christianity. If you drive out of Jerusalem and head north you will eventually come to Mount Gerizim, the ancient and modern home to the Samaritans. This is where they have live and worshiped for more than 2500 years.

In the spring of 1998 Lori and were part of a group privileged to visit  Mount Gerizim and to observe the Samaritan Passover. We were introduced to the Samaritan High Priest, toured their small museum and visited the ruins on Gerizim. It was a unique religious and cultural opportunity.

The highlight of the day was being able to witness the slaughter of the lambs. Fifty men, each dressed in white coveralls, entered a fenced off area pock marked with deep, narrow pits. Each man had with him a lamb and a long knife. As they stood there the high priest chanted a number of prayers in their language. After the space of about thirty minutes the 50 men all caught the throats of the lambs at once. They then took some of the blood and wiped it on one another and then took some home in a container. Finally, they skewered the lamb on long poles and placed it in the pit, fleece and all, where there was already a fire burning. The lamb would cook slowly all night and would be retrieved for the meal the next day. 

This week the small community in the West Bank celebrated their ritual again. Here is a description from the article in Ha Aretz.

As the sun set on Tuesday, Ben Asher led his community in a prayer service on their holy Mount Gerizim, which is where they believe God instructed Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Members wore white clothing and chanted passages from the 12th chapter of Exodus, which describes how the Israelites fled Egypt, in ancient Hebrew and Aramaic. (The Samaritans learn to read the ancient Hebrew script as children and some of their liturgy is in Aramaic; They converse in Arabic and modern Hebrew.)
Then a cheer was raised and the community's butchers simultaneously slit the throats of the sheep. The men then dabbed the spilled blood on their foreheads. As the uninitiated in the international audience watched with horrified expressions, the men gutted and skewered the animals on long spits and placed them in sunken fire pits. The cooked meat was served with matzah and bitter herbs at midnight.
“I love this part of the holiday,” said Cochava Yehoshua, a Samaritan woman from Holon who, like all community members based there, spends the entire week of Passover in Kiryat Luza so as to avoid leavened bread. When asked if the bloody scene made her squeamish, she said: “When you grow up in this community, you get used to it.”

The rest of the article can be found here. It provides a nice historical overview of this group as well as a description of their modern practices. 
25 Apr 13:56

2013 York Christian Apocrypha Symposium

by Mark Goodacre
Details are now available for this exciting event:

2013 York Christian Apocrypha Symposium
The 2013 York Christian Apocrypha Symposium, “Forbidden Texts on the Western Frontier: The Christian Apocrypha in North American Perspectives,” will take place at York University September 26–28, 2013.
The event is organized by Tony Burke (York University) in consultation with Brent Landau (University of Oklahoma). It brings together 22 Canadian and U.S. scholars to share their work and discuss present and future collaborative projects.
There are more details at the link above.  There are some great speakers at the symposium, including Tony Burke, Brent Landau, Jean-Michel Roessli, Pierluigi Piovanelli, Charles Hedrick, Stephen Patterson, Cornelia Horn, Nicola Denzey Lewis, Lee Martin McDonald, Annette Yoshiko Reed,  F. Stanley Jones, Stephen Shoemaker, Mark Bilby, David Eastman, Kristian Heal, Mary Dzon, Janet Spittler and Lilly Vuong.

I'll be there too as a respondent to the paper by Stephen Patterson.   Many thanks to Tony Burke for his hard work in organizing this fascinating symposium.

25 Apr 13:56

Shameless Self-Promotion

by Alana

Making Memory Cover I received notice last night that copies of my second book, Making Memory: Jewish and Christian Explorations in Monument, Narrative and Liturgy have started to roll off the press, and are available for immediate purchase at the exceptionally reasonable price of US$23 from Wipf & Stock via phone (541-344-1528), fax (541-344-1506) or email ( It will be available for sale via the Wipf & Stock website within a fortnight, and the full range of online retailers (Alibris, the Amazons, Book Depository, etc.) in a month or two; the Kindle version will be out in six months or so.

The book has received two generous endorsements from my colleagues:

Widely relevant, this compelling and thoughtful book explores the complex phenomenon of remembrance. Combining aesthetical, literary, and theological analyses, Alana Vincent offers a highly original and important contribution to the growing interdisciplinary field that investigates how politics of memory and uses of history shape the relation to the past.
-Jayne Svenungsson, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, Stockholm School of Theology

In this rich and well-researched book, Alana Vincent [asks] us to join her on a fascinating odyssey in the unruly sea of cultural memory, where we are constantly tossing on waves, alternating between ‘remembering’ and ‘forgetting’: to remember for fear that we forget, and to forget lest we remember.
-Jesper Svartvik, Professor of Theology of Religions, Lund University and the Swedish Theological Institute in Jerusalem

In related news, I will be giving the following papers drawn from material explored in this book at conferences later on this year:

“Forgetting Capsules: Public Monuments and Religious Ritual”, at the 4th Nordic Conference in Philosophy of Religion Monument and Memory, 16-18 June, Stockholm School of Theology.

“Postmemory and the Boundaries of Civic Family: Anne of Green Gables and Edeet Ravel”, at the British Association for Jewish Studies conference Memory, Identity, and Boundaries of Jewishness, 7-9 July, University of Kent.

I will also be presiding at “The Generation of Postmemory: Writing and Visual Culture after the Holocaust: A conversation with Marianne Hirsch”, featuring contributions from Björn Krondorfer and Laura Levitt, and sponsored by the Religions, Holocaust and Genocide group at the American Academy of Religion in Baltimore this November.

And in less related news, I will also be giving a paper related to my current line of research, on inter-religious relations and theological aesthetics, in the Study of Judaism Section at the AAR; that paper is titled “The Salt Cellar and the Kiddush Cup: Gender and Jewish Aesthetics”. And Mark and I will be presenting a co-authored paper on Paul Ricoeur’s reading of Hannah Arendt at a symposium on Ricoeur and Arendt in Oxford on the 20th of June.

Finally, while this deserves a post of its own (and will get one eventually) I should note that I am now able to entertain enquiries from students interested in pursuing a PhD under my supervision at the University of Chester. Needless to say I am particularly keen on projects which involve some degree of interdisciplinarity, but I am happy to consider any project which falls under the broad umbrella of Jewish Studies, Theology of Religions, or Religion and Culture, and I have a number of colleagues who are happy to co-supervise projects which may benefit from such input.

25 Apr 13:48

Samaritan Passover 2013 << Jim Davila (

by (Jim Davila)
Samaritans make annual sacrifice - and preserve a way of life
Although there are now less than 800 Samaritans, their Passover sacrifice - set according to calendar different from the mainstream Jewish one - draws an even bigger crowd.

By Andrew Esensten | Apr.24, 2013 | 5:55 PM | 2

The Samaritan community conducted its annual Passover sacrifice Tuesday evening under the leadership of a new high priest, as 50 sheep were slaughtered on Mount Gerizim in an ancient ceremony that attracted more than 1,000 spectators from around the world.

High Priest Aabed-El Ben Asher was elevated to his position, which is reserved for the eldest member of the priestly family, following the death last week of High Priest Aaron Ben Ab-Hisda at age 84. Ben Asher, 78, is the 133rd high priest in a line that the Samaritans claim stretches back to Aaron, brother of Moses.

More on Samaritan Passover here and links. More on the succession of the Samaritan high priesthood in 2010 here. And a recent post on the new translation of the Samaritan Pentateuch is here.
25 Apr 13:48

Sometimes the simplest explanation still makes the most sense

by bdheyink

James McGrath, on his blog “Exploring our Matrix” provides an explanaton for the numbering of the fish in John 21. The number of the fish (153), like many other numbers in the Bible, has seemed to invited all kinds of speculations regarding its symbolism and deeper meaning.

Yet, McGrath during one of his classes had a student (Jordan Burt) who also fished and he gave probably the simplest and easiest explanation for the number being given in the text: Fishermen count their fish (follow the link to read McGrath telling the story himself).

It’s an explanation that appeals to me. I like the simpleness of it, but also how it reminds us of the fact that the disciples were blue collar workers (fishermen). It’s not that the writer of the gospel of John couldn’t have made the number 153 have a deeper symbolic meaning, but isn’t it symbolic enough for both God’s humour and wisdom that the future of the church was given into the hands of these down-to-earth men who think of counting and recording their fish?

25 Apr 13:47

Picture of the Week: High Place of Dan << BiblePlaces Blog

by (Seth M. Rodriquez)
(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

"Why go to Israel?"  Perhaps you've asked yourself that question before or someone else has asked it of you.  If you have been to Israel (or live there now) then you can probably think of several reasons why someone should go.  But for someone who has never been, this is a valid question.  After all, for most people in the world, it is a serious investment of time and money (and a certain amount of risk) to travel to the Holy Land.  Why go through all the trouble?

My favorite way to answer that question is to tell people that the Bible comes alive and somehow becomes more real when you go to Israel or any of the other lands of the Bible.  From our armchairs in what the Bible refers to as the "ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8), it is all too easy to fall into the trap of reading the Bible like you would read a fictional book.  Even if you believe every word is true, those times and places are so far removed from your everyday life that it is difficult to remember that the heroes in the Bible were real people who faced real challenges and who had to exercise real faith.  However, traveling to biblical lands removes much of distance between you and the people in the Bible.  You see the biblical places with your own eyes and you become aware that you are standing in the same spot as David or Ruth or whomever.  Suddenly it hits you ... "This is where it happened!" ... and a biblical story will jump off the page into real life.

In my experience, such moments happen in different places for different people when they visit Israel.  Our picture of the week is of one of the places where it happened to me.  It comes from Volume 1 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands which focuses on Galilee.  It is a photograph of the High Place at Dan.  In the foreground is a reconstruction of a horned altar that once stood at that spot, and behind it are steps leading up to an elevated platform where one of Jeroboam's golden calves once stood.

I was familiar with the story of Jeroboam's idolatry when I first visited the site and could even point out for you on a map where Dan and Bethel were, the two places where Jeroboam erected golden calves for the Israelites to worship.  But it wasn't until I was standing there, close to the spot where this picture was taken, that I ever stopped to think that there was an actual place on the globe where a golden calf had stood and where sacrifices were offered to it.  The absolute certainty of the place drove home to me the reality of 1 Kings 12:26-30.

Jeroboam said in his heart, "Now the kingdom will return to the house of David.  If this people go up to offer sacrifieces in the house of the LORD at Jerualem, then the heart of this people will return to their lord, even to Rehoboam king of Judah; and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah."  So the king consulted, and made two golden calves, and he said to them, "It is too much for your to go up to Jerusalem; behold your gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt."  He set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan.  Now this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship before the one as far as Dan. (NASV)

So why go to Israel?  Well, for one thing, the Bible will come alive for you in ways you don't expect.

This photograph and over 1,100 others are available in Volume 1 of the Pictorial Libary of Bible Lands which is available here for $39 (with free shipping).  Additional photographs of Tel Dan and links to more information about the site can be found on the BiblePlaces website here.
25 Apr 13:45

caution Christians

by David Hayward

caution christians cartoon by nakedpastor david hayward

A show interviewed me today. I’ll post it as soon as it is up. But I was asked an interesting question. He asked me how I stand being criticized every day and getting nasty emails and messages all the time.

Well, for one thing, if I give it I have to take it. I’m in the critiquing business. I always check my work before I post it to make sure it is constructive criticism and not just mean. I wrote a whole post about the etiquette of critique, and I always try to make sure I follow my own advice. I always want my critiques to be fair and done in such a way that it doesn’t prevent, damage or jeopardize my relationship with others.

Secondly, I said that you get used to it after a while. You develop a thick skin. When you are certain about what you are doing and are passionate about it, you can withstand pretty severe criticism and attacks. It’s like playing the guitar. After a while you develop callouses on your fingertips that enable you to play better and longer.

What was most interesting to me though was that the interviewer knew how much I got negative press. He said that he sees all that goes on around my blog and the things that are being said. That was interesting. There is a storm around nakedpastor. That’s for sure!

I tell everybody that engaging others online, like on Facebook, is like the Thunderdoom. You don’t come out of there without some cuts and bruises. But if you like a good fight and you think the fight is worth it, then you do it gladly. But expect to get stabbed in the back, slapped around, spit upon and kicked while you’re down. Some people delight in doing that.

I have some friends that have quit Christianity altogether just for this reason. They were tired of the infighting. It is just too ridiculous for them to put up with anymore.

I understand. I still want in the game though. In fact, I want to go to the big league.

25 Apr 13:42

Ray Comfort at YOM

by eyeonicr

The infamous Ray Comfort (“Bananaman”) is a fellow Kiwi, but one that we’ve persuaded to leave and inflict himself on the rest of the world – after all, if he’d stayed he would have been a big fish in a rather small and derisive pond. At the ICR’s Your Origins Matter blog there’s a post up today called “Ray Comfort Answers Atheists, Part 1,” one of a number of guest posts that have appeared there in the last few months.

Readers of the Sensuous Curmudgeon blog should be familiar with Comfort’s “atheists ask” series, which is only new to YOM. Indeed even today’s specific questions should be familiar, as the most recent SC post is about a Comfort article on World Net Daily that includes both of those at YOM and a number of others. WND claims that this series is “exclusive,” but it doesn’t look like this is the case.

The true origin of the material seems to be Comfort’s highly active facebook page – you might remember a recent story going around about his misunderstanding the word “bibliophile,” which also took place on said page. At the SC it has been suggested that Comfort may be making the questions that he claims to have been asked by atheists up out of whole cloth. I don’t think this is the case – looking at the following question (which is direct from the page, and not in the YOM or WND articles) I think we are talking about real questions coming from real people trying to bait and ensnare Comfort. Also, Comfort may well possess a sense of humour, though that’s neither here nor there.

“Ray, have you quit beating your wife yet?” Lori L[redacted]

No I haven’t. Scrabble is such a great game. Speaking of games and wives, Sue and I enjoy watching rugby. However, we don’t like it when a particular rival team plays our home team in New Zealand. Those games are too stressful. So we record them, check the results, and if we lose we don’t watch it. We only watch the games we win. That deals with the stress.

Read the Book of Revelation and see why Christians never stress.

Comfort dodges the immortal question-without-a-good-answer surprisingly well, but unfortunately he chooses to dodge many more legitimate queries. The first YOM answer isn’t quite that bad, however:

“Why did God give me an appendix? Why are my wind and food pipes too close together to avoid choking easily? Why do women have to go through such severe childbirth in order for our pelvis’ to be shaped in such a way we can walk upright?” Patricia B

The appendix is said to be vestigial. But it’s not. Duke University said: “Appendix Isn’t Useless at All: It’s a Safe House for Bacteria, By Duke Medicine News and Communications. Long denigrated as vestigial or useless, the appendix now appears to have a reason to be — as a ‘safe house’ for the beneficial bacteria living in the human gut.” Eat slower and it will fix your choking problem. Plenty of women who have never had children walk just fine.

Comfort is quoting the introduction to this press release from 2007. The trouble here is that “vestigial” doesn’t mean that the organ is entirely useless. Another example of a vestigial organ is the tailbone in humans: any creationist should be quick to tell you that it serves as an important muscle anchoring point (which it does). But if the tailbone was intelligently designed from scratch, without being reliant on any pre-existing structure, then why does this muscle anchoring point look just like the fused vertebrae of the stump of a tail, rather than something uniquely designed for its purpose?

The same goes for the appendix. Sure, it probably provides a home for bacteria in case of diarrhoea, but was it necessary to use for this the withered (and occasionally deadly) remnant of an organ used by other animals to digest plant matter?

I don’t know about the choking business – Comfort may have a point there – but Garnetstar at the SC blog took a closer look at the Pelvis issue for you.

The other question at YOM is a bit more of a dodge:

“I think Jesus of Nazareth would be saddened by the actions of those who worship his name.” Grant M R.

The Bible gives a list of those who will not enter the Kingdom of God: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10) The word “revilers” means foulmouthed abusive slanderous people. Revilers are rooted in disobedience to the Gospel, often denying the reality of His existence and abusing those who love Him. So instead of making up thoughts about Jesus being sad, we should base our theology on Holy Scripture to see what it sees about how He feels: “And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power…” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9).

To be fair, “Grant M R” did not provide much in the way of specifics, but Comfort’s “answer” doesn’t even try to address the issue – which is that there are plenty of “extortioners” and the like who profess to be Christian. I’ll add that neither of those quotes are from Jesus, but instead are supposed to be from Paul’s letters.

YOM claims to be about “conversations,” but looking at their page they don’t seem to be very good at it. Also starting this week is a series called “Dorm Conversation.” They ask “How can science put “evolution” to the test?” – the sole response answers:

To answer the question at the end, I suspect many in science would claim evolution has repeatedly been tested since Darwin published his Origin of Species. One simple test though I feel should be done. We should be able to observe non-living matter via spontaneous generation evolve into life on earth, somewhere and likely in numerous locations. Seems like a simple enough test.

That’s not evolution, that’s “spontaneous generation” – the creationists’ idea of abiogenesis. Has anyone here got a better idea?

Filed under: Your Origins Matter Tagged: Creationism, Evolution, ICR, Ray Comfort, Science, Skeptic, Skepticism, The Sensuous Curmudgeon