Thursday, September 27, 2012

"Jesus’ Wife" text fragment is a fake

Jesus’ Wife fragment judged a fake « Daniel B. Wallace:

Not that this is a surprise:

“News flash: Harvard Theological Review has decided not to publish Karen King¹s paper on the Coptic papyrus fragment on the grounds that the fragment is probably a fake.” This from an email Dr. Craig Evans, the Payzant Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Acadia University and Divinity College, sent to me earlier today. He said that Helmut Koester (Harvard University), Bentley Layton (Yale University), Stephen Emmel (University of M√ľnster), and Gesine Robinson (Claremont Graduate School)–all first-rate scholars in Coptic studies–have weighed in and have found the fragment wanting. No doubt Francis Watson’s comprehensive work showing the fragment’s dependence on the Gospel of Thomas was a contributing factor for this judgment, as well as the rather odd look of the Coptic that already raised several questions as to its authenticity.

Does the Big Bang cosmology support God or atheism?

Stephen C. Meyer: does the Big Bang cosmology support God or atheism?

Hint: the answer is God

Summary at the link. The video is here:

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Close to the Big Bang

Here is the latest deep-field photo by the Hubble telescope.

Click image to view larger.
Called the eXtreme Deep Field, the picture captures a mass of galaxies stretching back almost to the time when the first stars began to shine. 
But this was no simple point and snap - some of the objects in this image are too distant and too faint for that. 
Rather, this view required Hubble to stare at a tiny patch of sky for more than 500 hours to detect all the light, 
"It's a really spectacular image," said Dr Michele Trenti, a science team member from the University of Cambridge, UK. 
"We stared at this patch of sky for about 22 days, and have obtained a very deep view of the distant Universe, and therefore we see how galaxies were looking in its infancy."
Most people know that the universe is expanding, but not many non-astronomers are familiar with the theory of inflation, which reveals that the term "Big Bang" is misleading. Instead, says NASA's "Universe 101" web site, the universe's creation "is better thought of as the simultaneous appearance" of the universe everywhere there is the universe.

Inflation theory holds that the universe went from nothing at all to more than 99 percent of its present size in less than one-billionth of a billionth of a second – which is to say, instantly. So while empirical data, especially the uniformity of cosmic background radiation, support the conclusion  the universe began from a single point, from any reasonable human perspective there was no explosion. The universe simply appeared everywhere at once, instantaneously.

Inflation theory explains how the image of the galaxy enclosed in a square, above, can be thought to be the galaxy when it was only 460 million years old (making it presumptively the oldest object ever photographed). Stars and galaxies did not form right away after creation, but this galaxy was already billions of light years distant from ours when it came together.

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

What does the 'new' in 'new atheism' really mean?

What does the 'new' in 'new atheism' really mean? | Lois Lee | Comment is free |
We can get so waylaid in debates about what new atheism means, that we fail to notice what is the real problem with the "new" in "new atheism", namely that it suggests that this particular branch of contemporary atheist culture as the only one, that it is simply the most recent manifestation in a linear and one-track intellectual tradition. Instead, the emergence of new atheism seems far more about a moment of devolution rather than evolution: it should make clear the ways in which atheist cultures are proliferating and distinguishing themselves from one other. It should make clear that non-religion has its own denominations
What I see as the "new" part of the New Atheist movement is its adherents' eagerness to convert others, especially religious believers, into atheists, too. That is, the new part of New Atheism is not is atheism, for which they offer arguments that are neither new nor very compelling. It is their - dare I say it - evangelical zeal to make converts. (Richard Dawkins, for example, has said this explicitly.)

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Interview with a Cairo rioter

I must protect my sources and means, but I have this morning conducted an interview with a Cairo resident who took part in the riot against the American embassy in Cairo last week. In fact, he was one of the relative few who actually made it over the wall into the grounds of the embassy.

My interview was with a Cairo man, 28 years old, named Muhammad Achmed Mohammed. He speaks English well but not quickly and sometimes stops and restates his point. In the transcript, I have omitted those kinds of gaps or restarts in order to enhance clarity.

ME: Hello, Muhammad, thank you for agreeing to speak with me today. I hope my readers and I will understand better what happened last week with the events at the American embassy.

Muhammad: Yes, of course. I am happy to talk with you. We need to understand one another better, I agree with you.

ME: Well, then let's start there. What would you like Americans to understand most of all?

Muhammad: It is very simple: If you insult Muhammad the prophet, peace be upon him, we will kill you.

ME: So if I said to you, in person, not on the telephone – and please understand that I am not saying this, I am merely proposing a fictional situation for discussion, nothing more – that Muhammad was a false prophet, what would your reaction be?

Muhammad: I would have to kill you.

ME: Even though I am not a Muslim?

Muhammad: There is only the consideration that because you are not a Muslim of course you do not believe that Muhammad, peace be upon him, was a prophet. Nonetheless, you would deserve to die unless you immediately repented of you sin and made shahada that,"There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet." If you did that, of course then we would be brothers and you would live.

ME: What if someone who has already made shahada said that Muhammad was not a prophet after all?

Muhammad: That is apostasy and he would have to die without hesitation. So you see, Islam is actually more forgiving of nonbelievers than Muslims.

ME: But my fictional example was purely religious in nature, whether Muhammad was or was not a prophet. What if I said something not really religious, such as – another fictional example to help us understand, please remember – "Muhammad was a murderer and pedophile child rapist?"

Muhammad: It does not matter. You cannot insult the prophet in any way and expect to live.

ME: So, no claiming that Muhammad snorted cocaine?

Muhammad: Afraid not.

ME: Kited checks?

Muhammad: No.

ME: Voted for Obama?

Muhammad: Still death, except for that insult I would torture you first.

ME: Let's get back to the embassy matter. What did you do that first night?

Muhammad: As I was leaving my workplace that later afternoon, my friend Achmed Muhammad Achmed called me on my cell phone and told me that we were going to storm the American embassy later that evening. I told him I wanted to take part.

ME: Did he say why you were storming the embassy?

Muhammad: No, it was not necessary. We had been talking with the Salafis about it for a long time. They said that September 11 would be a good date. That made sense.

ME: When you said, "we" would be going against the embassy, who do you mean by we?

Muhammad: Achmed Muhammad Achmed and two thousand of our closest friends. There were more than that in the event, but I didn't know all of them. We are aligned with the Salafis but when the riot began, the Brotherhood tried to horn in. That was rude.

ME: Did you and the other Salafis riot because of the Youtube video?

Muhammad: Huh?

ME: Did you and the other Salafis riot because of the Youtube video? The one that was said to insult Islam?

Muhammad: Let me see . . . Oh, yes, that was the reason, certainly.

ME: The White House says that the riots in Cairo and Libya and eighteen or so other Muslim nations are not protests against America or the Obama administration. Your response?

Muhammad: Oh, yes, of course, that is correct. We love America and especially we love President Hussein.

ME: Obama.

Muhammad: Gesundheit. Is that the right word?

ME: No, I mean President Obama, not President Hussein.

Muhammad: Who?

ME: Obama!

Muhammad: What?

ME: I don't know! ... Okay, reset. You mentioned your workplace and that you love America and its president. What do you do for a living?

Muhammad: I own "Achmed's Flag Emporium," where my brother and my cousin make and sell American flags that are specially designed to burn easily and brightly. Business is excellent!

ME: But you love America?

Muhammad: Of course! Selling American flags to burn is making me rich!

Update: Jump ahead to 3:07


Endnote: Just to make sure - please realize that this is "interview" is a work of fiction, intended as satire. I did not actually speak to anyone in Egypt.

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Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Air Force's newest officer

2nd Lt. Thomas Sensing, USAFR, left
Big day Friday! I arose very early, drove to the Nashville airport and boarded a plane for Tampa, then drove to Bradenton. There I administered the oath of military commissioning to my son, Thomas, who thereby became a Second Lieutenant in the US Air Force Reserve. He will hold this commission while he completes medical school (which he just started this fall). When he graduates he will be commissioned a captain in the regular Air Force's Medical Corps.

As a retired Army officer, I am authorized to administer these oaths. So it was a really great thing to commission my own son. Next summer he will attend the USAF Commissioned Officer Training school at Maxwell AFB, Ala., where he'll buy his uniforms and all that (and maybe get a haircut!). A lot of medical students have already started school by the time their military scholarships are awarded, so they don't worry about that sort of thing until the summer break.

Got back home late Friday night. A grand day all around!

So far my family is represented in the Army (me), the USMC by my eldest and now the Air Force by Thomas. My daughter just started her freshman year at Tennessee Tech where she is studying chemical engineering and sort of considering applying for the Navy's Nuclear Power Officer Candidate (NUPOC) program at the end of this school year. Here's the vid:

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Our sugar addiction

Americans are becoming more obese because we eat so much sugar. Here is a small section of a highly informative infographic:

Click and read the whole graphic.

Sugar is added to almost everything you buy in a grocery that is not plain raw. Glucose, sucrose and  fructose are found on a shockingly high number of nutrition labels, just see for yourself. Fast foods are packed with added sugar. Sugar is literally addictive. Eating a high-sugar diet - the typical American diet - leads directly to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.

So how interesting that Michelle Obama is promoting to schools the new federal guidelines that want pupils to eat more fruit and vegetables. That is literally a recipe for childhood obesity. Fresh fruit today has been bred for many generations to have the highest fructose content possible. If you bite into a fresh apple you are just eating a large hunk of crunchy sugar with a dietary-insignificant amount of nutrients.

Dietary carbohydrates are sugars once they are digested. Simple carbs break down to sugars very quickly while complex carbs less quickly. But both simple and complex carbs become sugar in the bloodstream. Carbs are found in a amazing number of vegetables. Potatoes of course, are high carb, but so are many veggies that most people would consider "safe." Green, leafy vegetables are in fact safe, but is the only category of vegetable that is safe in its entire.

It is dietary sugar and carbohydrates, pure and simple, that make you fat.  Dietary protein and dietary fat not only do not make you fat, to the contrary, if you eliminate sugars and carbs from your diet you will drop weight literally within 24-36 hours and will not be hungry while you slim.

Rules of thumb for food shopping and eating:
  • The more ready to eat something is, the quicker it will make you fat and give you diabetes. 
  • The more processed a food is, even if it requires a lot of preparation, the quicker it will make you fat and give you diabetes. 
  • The more simple carbohydrates a food has, the quicker it will give you diabetes because it spikes the blood-glucose level so fast, leading over time to insulin resistance. 
  • Read labels of everything. Foods with one or less carbs per serving are pretty much free, but should be eaten with meals, not as snacks.
  • Meat, fish, poultry (MFP henceforth) and eggs are on limits in all particulars except when they have sugars added, such as glazed ham. Read labels on packaged meats.
  • When you are hungry, eat MFP until you are sated. Don't worry about weights, measures or calorie counting. Just don't keep eating once you are satisfied. Don't worry about how often you eat MFP during the day, as long as you are actually eating to satisfy hunger. 
  • Drink water, not sugared soft drinks or sweet tea. Diet drinks are fine, but remember that aspartame, the most common artificial sweetener in them, seems to stimulate insulin production, lowering blood glucose, and that typically leads to snacking. That's one reason that diet drink consumers eat so much.  Saccharine, however, is safe (the pink envelope stuff). Caffeine apparently stimulates insulin production, too (hence the famous coffee and donut break) so drink decaf beverages if you can. 
This list is simple summary of what you will learn if you read this absolutely invaluable book. Amazon's page is here. (BTW, I don't make money off this link.)
Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It

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Monday, September 10, 2012

Human DNA isn't junk after all

New peer-reviewed paper in Nature falsifies Darwinian junk DNA prediction
Here’s biologist John Timmer to explain the orthodox Darwinian view of DNA from 2007:
Personally, I fall into the “it’s all junk” end of the spectrum. If almost all of these sequences are not conserved by evolution, and we haven’t found a function for any of them yet, it’s hard to see how the “none of it’s junk” view can be maintained. There’s also an absence of support for the intervening view, again because of a lack of evidence for actual utility. The genomes of closely related species have revealed very few genes added from non-coding DNA, and all of the structural RNA we’ve found has very specific sequence requirements. The all-junk view, in contrast, is consistent with current data.
Problem is, a study reported in Nature, one of the most highly respected scientific journals in the world, is that at least 80 percent of the human genome is active and the other 20 percent probably is to a very high proportion.

One of the planks of the evolution platform is that
... because the genome of an organism has been cobbled together through a long, undirected evolutionary process, the genome is a patchwork of which only limited portions are essential to the organism. Thus on an evolutionary view we expect a lot of useless DNA.
But there is very little "useless DNA." So to preserve this plank of evolution theory - and it is a major plank -  biologists are going to have to figure how evolutionary processes managed both to preserve functional DNA while shedding "junk" DNA, and what were the gene-pool survival advantages of doing so.

Good luck with that.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Bishop Schnase offers prophetic assessment of UMC

Wesleyan Wisdom: Bishop Schnase offers prophetic assessment of UMC - The United Methodist Reporter:

He seems right on target.
Early in his address, Bishop Schnase lists additional sobering realities. The bold type assertions are his; the extrapolations are mine. 
1. We have a crisis of relevance. This expresses itself in numerous ways: lifelong episcopacy; district superintendents who resort to “cluster charge conferences” and do not hear preachers preach or visit congregations; seminary faculties who do not foster strong connecting links between academic preparation and pastoral service; a disconnect between societal change and “social principles”; theological confusion that leaves us a sitting duck for extremists of all stripes. 
2. We are failing to reach young people. Every local church would do well to have every older family identify where the youth and adults are who were in that church as children. It is true that many are not in church and this in itself is a sad testimonial to our Christian formation ministry. That is not, however, the whole story. Spend one Sunday visiting the independent and Pentecostal congregations in your community and you will find some of our “lost children.” 
3. There’s a disconnect between leadership and people in the pews. The economic philosophy, political persuasion and theological convictions of our preachers make lots of sermons either foreign or “over the top” to many in the pews. Our seminaries, two of which I served as faculty member, have been perilously close to developing an adversarial relationship with our parish culture.
4. Our organizational systems are not conducive to our mission. Peter Drucker says that in his first visit to company leadership he asks, “What’s your business?” Many stammer in answering. What would your church leadership say? Then he asks, “How’s business?” To this we must answer: “Not good.” ...
5. We have an unsustainable financial system. Our support base erodes with every older adult death. Recent studies by the Lewis Center document what we have known. People under age 50 are giving less to the church. 
From the local church to the general church, we are adopting unsustainable budgets. Draconian apportionment cuts may be needed. 
6. Membership and attendance are almost at a hemorrhage level in some areas.The UMC’s Newscope reports that only a handful of annual conferences showed membership/attendance gains in 2011 and that U.S. membership has dropped to below 7.6 million (compared to almost 11 million in 1968). Our membership continues to get older. The Lewis Center warns us that we must attract younger people and escape the earlier “suburban captivity” of United Methodism. 
See also my post, "Death Throes of the Blue-Model Church."

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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Christian Madrassa Talibanism

On Not Throwing the Baby out with the Bathwater (A Message for Abused Ex-Fundamentalists):

I grew up in a form of Christianity most of you can’t even imagine.  Sometimes I’m even embarrassed to talk about it.  Whenever I meet someone who also grew up in it I want to grab them and sit down and talk at length.  I want to say “Hey, let’s form a support group!”  Often I find they went one of two directions with it—either deeper in or farther away. 
You see, the religious form of life I was raised in was almost cultic in its extreme legalism.  I’ve come to refer to us as “urban Amish.”  We lived in a city, but we regarded everything and everyone around us as bound for hell unless they repented and joined our group or something very much like it. ...You see, our form of Christianity was not garden variety fundamentalism.  It made fundamentalists look like liberals.  We considered fundamentalist Baptists liberals because they didn’t believe in the supernatural gifts of the Spirit such as speaking in tongues and healing.

Read the whole thing.

Monday, September 3, 2012

12 Quotes: Thinking About Christianity

12 Quotes: Thinking About Christianity:

Thinking About Christianity QuotesAs Christians we accept one foundational truth - God - and everything else makes sense. An atheist denies God and has to accept incredible explanations for everything else. It takes more faith to deny God than to believe in Him- John MacArthur
Thinking About Christianity QuotesWe're not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be. - C.S. Lewis
Thinking About Christianity QuotesMany are willing that Christ should be something, but few will consent that Christ should be everything. – Alexander Moody Stuart
Thinking About Christianity QuotesWhatever is only almost true is quite false, and among the most dangerous of errors, because being so near truth, it is the more likely to lead astray.  - Henry Ward Beecher
Thinking About Christianity QuotesWe stumble and fall constantly even when we are most enlightened. But when we are in true spiritual darkness, we do not even know that we have fallen. - Thomas Merton
Thinking About Christianity QuotesIt takes God a long time to get us to stop thinking that unless everyone sees things exactly as we do, they must be wrong. That is never God's view. There is only one true liberty -- the liberty of Jesus at work in our conscience enabling us to do what is right. Don't get impatient with others. Remember how God dealt with you -- with patience and with gentleness. But never water down the truth of God. Let it have its way and never apologize for it. - Oswald Chambers
Thinking About Christianity QuotesWe may disagree with the content and approach of the New Atheists, but we should be grateful for the chance to engage these issues with a culture that is paying closer attention than any time in recent history. - Sean McDowell
Thinking About Christianity QuotesResolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.- Jonathan EdwardsThinking About Christianity QuotesWhat I believe is so magnificent, so glorious, that it is beyond finite comprehension. To believe that the universe was created by a purposeful, benign Creator is one thing. To believe that this Creator took on human vesture, accepted death and mortality, was tempted, betrayed, broken, and all for love of us, defies reason. It is so wild that it terrifies some Christians who try to dogmatize their fear by lashing out at other Christians, because tidy Christianity with all answers given is easier than one which reaches out to the wild wonder of God's love, a love we don't even have to earn. - Madeleine L'Engle
Thinking About Christianity QuotesDoubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving. - Frederick Buechner
Thinking About Christianity QuotesIt occurs to me it is not so much the aim of the devil to lure me with evil as it is to preoccupy me with the meaningless. - Donald Miller
Thinking About Christianity QuotesKnowledge is indispensable to Christian life and service. If we do not use the mind that God has given us, we condemn ourselves to spiritual superficiality and cut ourselves off from many of the riches of God's grace. - John Stott

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Jesus is served

John 6.5-14 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people t...