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Showing posts from May, 2005
Adult Stem Cell Breakthrough in Australia

Back in March 2005 researchers at Griffith Universtiy in Australia announced startling new breakthroughs in adult stem cell research that can be turned into brain cells, liver cells, kidney cells and muscles cells. Details can be read at Griffith University's web site here, and is taken from the research team Eskitis Institute for Cell & Molecular Therapies. Quoting from the article:

In contrast to embryonic stem cells, which are thought to be able to give rise to all cell types in the body, adult stem cells are often argued to have lesser abilities. It is thought that the stem cells in tissue that regenerate, like the skin and blood and olfactory mucosa, can only give rise to the cells in that tissue, like skin and blood and olfactory mucosa. It is often argued that adult stem cells would not be as useful as embryonic stem cells for stem cell therapies. This new research turns this argument on its head.

This recently published research…
The Slaughter of the Innocents in Matthew

Unique to Matthew's gospel is his account of Herod's slaughter of the children of Bethlehem:

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: "A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more."
Matthew 2:16-18

Many commentators have expressed doubt about the historicity of this passage because it is not reported by any other source. Because many historical events are only recorded by one source, the argument usually assumes that an event so dastardly was bound to be told by many sources. After all, we are talking about wiping out all of the small children in a city.

As many commentat…
Hallucination Theory: Who’s Imagining Things?

Some skeptics have used the hallucination theory to explain the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus – i.e. the records of Jesus speaking with and eating with groups of his disciples beginning the third day after his public execution. After I briefly review the basic reasons why hallucination theory is implausible in the case of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances, I’ll raise some questions about the tenability of the grief-hallucination argument in the broader historical and religious settings.

When we speak of grief hallucinations, it is likely that we may know someone who has had a grief hallucination. I have had people tell me about their own grief hallucinations. But how did they come to know it was a hallucination? People discover their own mistakes because grief hallucinations do not stand the test of close contact, the test of repeated occurrence, and the test of cross-validation by other people at the same time and place. …
When does Human Life Begin?

A very good article on when embriologists define the beginings of human life can be found in the January edition of First Things Magazine. In his article Embryology: Inconvenient Facts, William L. Saunders, Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for Human Life and Bioethics in Washington D.C. writes:
"Every human being begins as a single-cell zygote, grows through the embryonic stage, then the fetal stage, is born and develops through infancy, through childhood, and through adulthood, until death. Each human being is genetically the same human being at every stage, despite changes in his or her appearance.

Embryologists are united on this point. Consider the following statements from standard textbooks: “Human development begins at fertilization.... This highly specialized, totipotent cell marked the beginning of each of us as a unique individual” (Keith L. Moore and T.V.N. Persaud); “Almost all higher animals start their lives from a single cell, the f…
60 Percent of Doctors Polled Reject Neo-darwinism

Jonathan Witt has an interesting post on a recent poll of doctors and their views on evolution and I.D. The headline of the press release spins the findings of the poll as the Majority of Physicians Give the Nod to Evolution Over Intelligent Design.

A closer look at the details of the poll, however, are quite revealing. Question seven asks, "What are your views on the origin and development of human beings?"

Only 38% of almost 1500 physicisians surveyed were willing to sign on to the following statement: "Humans evolved naturally with no supernatural involvement - no divinity played any role."

Since entrance into the design camp only requires that an intelligent agent played some role, it would seem that only 38% of physicians fall outsidethe design camp. This would seem to contravene the headline attached to this press release.

As our knowledge of the information systems within the cell grows, look for the number of …
The Cross on the San Diego Hillside

As many people know, the ACLU has fought for the removal of the cross that was erected as a war memorial to fallen comrades following World War I. The cross was originally on a privately owned hillside, but became public when the federal government declared the area a national preserve. Naturally, a cross on public land will offend someone with the ACLU, and that is cause to file a lawsuit to remove the cross. Amazingly, in my view, the courts that have heard the matter so far have both ruled for the ACLU and have ordered the cross removed.

The fact that this privately maintained cross that was originally erected on private land which has been attempted to be deeded to a private non-profit political organization to keep it from being public land (a move refused by the court) is being ordered removed is bad enough. What is worse, in my eyes, is that the taxpayers are paying the ACLU for bringing this civil rights suit on our behalf. According to the Wa…
Discussion Over Teaching ID in Public Schools on the Journal Editorial Report

From the Wall Street Journal:

Culture Clashes
Tune in this weekend for a discussion.

Friday, May 27, 2005 12:01 a.m. EDT

What does the Senate's judicial deal mean for President Bush's Supreme Court nominees? Plus a debate over whether "intelligent design" should be taught along with evolution in public schools.

The program is presented by Thirteen/WNET New York. The more than 300 public TV stations around the country set their program schedules individually, so to find out the day and time when "The Journal Editorial Report" will air near you, please check your local PBS listings or consult the PBS Web site.
If the Journal Editorial Report is not aired on your local PBS station (as it apparently is not aired on mine), it appears that you can see at least partial video clips and transcripts from the program on the PBS site above after the program is aired.
What's Absurd about Christianity?

Michael Martin, Ph.D., has written an essay entitled "Is Christianity Absurd?" wherein he asserts that Christianity is absurd for five reasons, and coincidentally provides credence to the observation of Peter Kreeft, Ph.D., that there is one and only one requirement for believing "any of the one hundred most absurd ideas possible for any human being to conceive -- you must have a Ph.D."

Dr. Martin makes the following claim in his essay:

Is Christianity absurd in the dictionary sense of being ridiculously incongruous and unreasonable? It seems to me that the answer is "yes." Given standard criticisms of Christianity and certain plausible interpretations of it, Christianity is filled with ridiculous incongruities and unreasonable beliefs and practices. I will consider here five aspects of Christianity where absurdity seems to arise: The Path of Salvation, Heaven, Christian Ethics, The Atonement, and God. The incongruity …
Differences without Discernment

On the O'Reilly Factor a couple of weeks ago, Bill O'Reilly was speaking with a woman from some gay rights group (I don't recall which one) about whether a certain sex education curriculum should be permitted in the classrooms. According to the Crosswalk.com newsstory about the case:

The curriculum also ventures into the realm of religion, explaining what Jesus allegedly did and did not say about homosexuality, portraying evangelicals as intolerant and prejudiced, and referring readers to "gay-friendly" religious organizations.
According to the Associated Press story dated May 5, 2005:

For example, the curriculum juxtaposes faiths such as Quakers and Unitarians that support full rights for gays and lesbians with groups such as Baptists, who are painted as "intolerant and Biblically misguided," the judge wrote in his opinion.

"The court is extremely troubled by the willingness of the defendants to venture, or perhaps more…
Wright and Crossan Debate the Resurrection -- Other Distinguished Scholars Comment

In March there was a discussion forum hosted by the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Called the "Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum," the inaugural forum hosted N.T. Wright and John D. Crossan. The focus of the discussion was the resurrection, and other scholars, such as William L. Craig, Craig Evans, and R. Douglas Geivett attended to comment on the anchor presentation and discussion of Wright and Crossan. Unfortunately, work prevented my attendance. However, I did order the CD set and have enjoyed them very much.

I had planned on providing a summary of the conference, but have been beaten to the punch by an actual attendee. ChrisChillin, host of the N.T. Wright Page, has started a thread in which he will be providing a comrehensive summary of the conference. The first installment is quite detailed.

Check it out. And, if interested, order the tapes. I have found them to be…
The Value of a Christian Education

A study of teenage males in England found some marked differences between those who attend Christian schools and those who attend public schools.

First, they were less permissive sexually:

Three quarters of Christian pupils said it was wrong to have sex before the legal age of consent at 16, compared with 29 per cent of other teenagers.

And 73 per cent of the Christians interviewed said abortion was always wrong, compared with 39 per cent of their peers.

Second, their mental health was superior:

Professor Francis, whose research is published in the British Journal of Religious Education, also found that Christian school pupils appeared to have a more optimistic outlook on life.

Teenage boys and men in their early twenties are recognised as being two of the groups most at risk of developing mental illnesses such as depression.

While 30 per cent of boys educated in secular schools said they had considered suicide, the figure at Christian schools was 20 per …
A Very Welcome New Blog

There is a new blog that promises to be of interest to Christians and others interested in the Bible. Bryan Cox, who has been a member of the Christian Cadre, has started the blog, Biblaridon, which will offer "various and sundry musings on myriad topics but especially on the Bible." As you can see for yourself at his website, Bryan is especially informed about the history of the Bible and its sundry forms and manuscripts. He is also a good friend and a great guy.

I have added him to bloglines so I can keep tabs on his latest.
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A Question of World Views

The world view of different cultures as seen through the eyes of popular artists (some users may need to scroll down to see the remainder of the post):

El Greco



Van Gogh



Dali




The point? The worldview which gives rise to a popular artist like Dali is deeply distorted.

Post-modernists have claimed that a religious culture distorts someone's view of the world. Just to look at the art, it would seem that an anti-religious culture distorts the worldview. Later artists show a loss focus, or a loss of the sense of beauty or reality. Finally artists like Dali actually prize deliberate distortion (for its novelty or boldness, or breaking the old tired cliches of the dogmatic and rigid past, of course). It's all very intersting and fun as an experiment. (For the record, I actually enjoy the "melting clocks" ... but not nearly as much as El Greco's works.)

The same trends can be seen in a culture's scholarship, but the trends are perhaps se…
Resurrection Show on ABC's 20/20 Friday Night

Tonight, ABC's 20/20 is doing a "Special Report": The Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It will feature scholars such as William L. Craig, a leading defender of the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus, as well as Luke T. Johnson, Paul Maier, Father Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, Lee Strobel, Bishop Shelby Spong, and Ben Witherington.

Broadcast time is 10/9 Central.
Pentecost: A Pentecostal Minister's Thoughts

Since this past Sunday we celebrated Pentecost, in honor of the occasion a Pentecostal minister had posted his thoughts on Pentecost, asking for theological works on a "full-blooded Pentecostal theology".

I saw a piece once that focused very tightly on 2 points about the Holy Spirit and how it manifests itself in the church:

1) As far as "proclaiming the message", on that first Pentecost when Peter was filled with the Spirit, what he preached was Christ crucified and risen. That is the content of the Spirit's message. The prophets, who prophesied by the Spirit, spoke of Christ's life, death, and resurrection; of the atonement he made for us; and of his coming again. If we speak by the Spirit, the main thing we confess is that Christ is Lord.

2) As far as gifts of the Spirit, the greatest are not the showy ones, but faith, hope, and love ... and the greatest of these is love.

Nothing new, but maybe to the po…
What Does Pliny the Younger Really Tell us About Early Christianity?

In the early second century, Pliny the Younger – Roman governor of Bithynia – wrote a letter to Emperor Trajan regarding the treatment of Christians. The Emperor wrote a brief response.

Online discussions of Pliny’s correspondence tend to focus on what this non-Christian reference to Christ tells us about the existence of Jesus. (see here and here). Though I also engage in the Jesus Myth game as time permits, I was reading a book by Paul Barnett, Is The New Testament Reliable?, which took a broader look at the interaction between Pliny and early Christianity. That got me to thinking about the broader contact between Pliny and our early Christian sources.

To begin with, Pliny was writing about Bithynia, which was also a destination of the First Epistle of Peter. It seems likely therefore, that Pliny was persecuting some of the very Christians who had read that epistle. It was interesting to go back and read 1 P…
Nazi Persecution of the Christian Churches

In yet another of the ENDLESS debates over the supposed Christianity of Hitler, a Jewish member of our discussion board provided the following two links showing how Hitler and the Nazis persecuted the Christian Churches.

THE PERSECUTION OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCHES
To: Major William Coogan
From: Lt. Carl E. Schorake
July 10, 1945

This memo was prepared for the Nuremburg Trials. I found the opening paragraph of page 8 especially illuminating:
"1. _THE NATURE OF THE PERSECUTION_
Throughout the period of National Socialist rule (of Germany), religious liberties in Germany were seriously impaired. The various Christian Churches were systematically cut off from effective communication with the people. They were confined as far as possible to the performance of narrowly religous funcitions, and even within this narrow sphere were subjected to as many hinderances as the Nazis dared to impose. These results were accomplished partly by legal and partly …
Alternative Explanations for the Resurrection?

This is the final installment of a response to Michael Martin's article, "Why the Resurrection is Initially Improbable," Philo, 1, no. 1 (Spring-Summer 1998): 63-73. Mr. Martin's article is being reprinted this spring in a book by Prometheus Press. The entire response is also available here. The full response includes additional material which was not well-suited to an installment format.

Martin argues that it is not necessary for him to provide an alternative explanation for the historical evidence of the resurrection. But during his writing about other explanations, he placed a precise mathematical figure on the probability of alternative explanations. How is it possible to calculate an exact mathematical probability value without any given alternative theory in mind? How can anyone else assess whether that probability figure is valid? As someone I know has jokingly said, "86.7234% of all statistics are made …
No Trustworthy Accounts of Jesus after the Resurrection?

This is the next-to-last installment of a response to Michael Martin's article, "Why the Resurrection is Initially Improbable," Philo, 1, no. 1 (Spring-Summer 1998): 63-73. Mr. Martin's article is being reprinted this spring in a book by Prometheus Press. The entire response is also available here.

Martin makes a series of interrelated claims about the New Testament records of Jesus’ resurrection. He claims that there were no contemporary eyewitness reports of seeing Jesus after the resurrection other than Paul and that the other "alleged" eyewitnesses who saw Jesus after the resurrection may not have been reliable and trustworthy. From there he continues to multiply layers, that those who heard the eyewitnesses and passed on their reports may not have been reliable and trustworthy, and that those who recorded the accounts (supposedly third-hand) may not have been reliable and trustworthy. How do M…
Was the Number of the Beast 666 or 616?

Some media play has been given to the existence of an alternative manuscript tradition for Revelation which has the "number of the beast" being 616 rather than the infamous 666. Despite the breathless coverage of the issue by some, this is hardly news. Irenaeus, writing in the second century, devoted an entire chapter to the number of the beast and therein explained why he favored the number 666 rather than 616.

What is new is that MSM outlets like National Geographic and the Gaurdian have carried the story as if it is a new discovery. Yes, an early manuscript fragment uses the alternative 616 rather than 666. But as noted above and here, we already knew that both traditions existed in the second century so this does not really tell us much we did not already know. Some scholars think 616 was original, more think 666 was original, and some are agnostic about the issue.

Does it matter? Not really. Both 616 and 666 mean the same …
Narnia Comes to the Movies

Having grown up with the Chronicles of Narnia, I shuddered a bit when I learned that they were going to be produced as live-action films by Disney. The first rumors were that they were going to secularize it by sanitizing the overt Christian symbolism. Since it does not get any more overt than having a Lion portray Christ, I was left wondering just what would be left of the books. But, perhaps due to the success of The Passion, word came down that they were going to simply portray the books as they were; neither trying to maximize the Christian symbolism or minimize it. I think this is for the best; not only for the artistic intergrity of C.S. Lewis' literary masterpiece, but because the film should be a much greater commercial success if Christians are not alienated from the production.

I saw the trailer today for the first installment: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Very impressive. Check it out.
Pope Benedict XVI -- His Stand and the Remnant Church

A couple of weeks ago, Time Magazine ran an article about Pope Benedict XVI, focusing on his life and his thoughts. As most interested people already know, Pope Benedict XVI has been referred to as an ultra-conservative who takes stands on doctrinal clarity much to the dismay of some of the more liberal catholics, especially here in the United States.

One of the quotes in the article (which I will paraphrase since I do not have a copy of the magazine in front of me as I write) related to his writings that called on members of the Roman Catholic Church to either follow the church teachings or be denied communion. Some feared that this would cause a backlash by the more liberal members of the church would may cause these Roman-Catholic-in-name catholics who stray from the church teachings on such subjects as homosexuality, the ordination of women or abortion to leave the church. Time reports: "Benedict XVI's frequently stated…
"No Eyewitnesses to the Resurrection"?

This is a continuation of a response to Michael Martin's article, "Why the Resurrection is Initially Improbable," Philo, 1, no. 1 (Spring-Summer 1998): 63-73. Mr. Martin's article is being reprinted this spring in a book by Prometheus Press. For those interested in reading the remainder of the response to Martin, further installments will be published on this blog. The entire response is also available here.

In recent years, I have heard people make the claim that there were "no eyewitnesses to the resurrection". Mr. Martin also makes that claim. This claim is common enough among skeptics, but it is misleading.

The "no eyewitnesses" claim is, if you think about it, spectacularly wrong. One of the earliest written accounts of the events, recorded by Paul in his first letter to the people of Corinth, mentions that there were over 500 eyewitnesses. Later, more detailed accounts mention appearance…
Why Raise Jesus from the Dead?

This is a continuation of a response to Michael Martin's article, "Why the Resurrection is Initially Improbable," Philo, 1, no. 1 (Spring-Summer 1998): 63-73. Mr. Martin's article is being reprinted this spring in a book by Prometheus Press. For those interested in reading the remainder of the response to Martin, further installments will be published on this blog. The entire response is also available here.

Mr. Martin's original article gives prominent place to one particular complaint: there is (he states) no plausible reason why the resurrection should have occurred. In the course of this response, I will discuss a number of the reasons for Jesus’ resurrection.

God's Purposes and Jesus' Resurrection

When discussing the resurrection and God’s purpose, Mr. Martin limits the discussion to theories of atonement. While I will respond to Mr. Martin on the atonement, the discussion of God’s purpose will not be limited to aton…