CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

In a recent television commercial, country music star Tim McGraw and rap star Nelly meet in an airport where each mistakenly boards the other's plane. (For a small fee, you can view the commerical here [search for Tim McGraw or Nelly]). Needless to say, Nelly is very uncomfortable when he realizes that he is sitting among a group of white cowboys with country music droning in the background. Meanwhile, Tim McGraw is equally uncomfortable when he looks up and notices that he is sitting in a plane filled with black rappers with some hip-hop music for background effect. It is a classic case of two people being put into an unfamiliar environment, and while it is certainly improbable that either man would have come to harm on the other's plane, I would imagine if it had been a real mistake instead of a commercial both men would have really been quite nervous in those unfamiliar (almost alien) surroundings.

The Thinking Christian recently commented on an article that ran on the Planned Parenthood website entitled "Anti-Choice "Crisis Pregnancy Centers": A Personal Account" by Laura P. as told to Teresa Theophano. In this personal account, Laura P. goes looking for a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic and mistakenly ends up in a "Crisis Pregnancy Center" (CPC). Like Tim McGraw and Nelly in the wrong planes, she becomes uncomfortable being in an environment where the people do not behave the way she is accustomed to people behaving. After all, Laura P. had gone to see what she could do about aborting her baby, but these creepy people at the CPC were actually suggesting that she keep it! Imagine that.

The entire article is one of the most fascinating that I have read in awhile because it gives insight into the mind and thinking of a woman who not only sees nothing wrong with abortion, but apparently fears clinics that provide help and counselling so that women can keep their "fetus" alive. There is a very interesting block of text in the midst of the article that is a must read, but I will truncate it here for space reasons. After the CPC gave her a pregnancy test which confirmed that Laura P. was pregnant, the worker:

. . . congratulated me and said cheerfully, "There's an old saying — you never know who's going to bear the next king!" That's when I realized something was wrong; a clinic that was supposed to advise you about all of your "abortion options" would never say a thing like that. * * *

As we walked back down the hallway, she told me about how the center provides assistance for mothers. She said that I could give birth there, and that they would pay all of my medical bills — as well as my baby's bills for the first year or two.

She also told me that the center would provide food and all of my prenatal care, including delivery. I could tell that staff members tried to make the place look comfortable and welcoming, but to me it didn't seem very clean or well-kept. Even if I had no money and I wanted to keep the baby, I don't think I would have chosen to give birth at the center.

The woman then ushered me into another room, saying that a nurse would do an ultrasound for me. * * * After administering the ultrasound, the nurse turned the screen to show me the sonogram results. She said, "This is the fetus." Below the photo of the fetus, someone had typed in the words "Hi Mommy!" I couldn't believe it.

So, let's get the picture here: the woman thinks that she has gone to an abortion mill to discuss her options for ending her unwanted pregnancy (I guess she expected to discuss whether she wanted the baby removed by suction or D&X), but instead was presented with a real abortion alternative -- keeping the baby. The clinic didn't just try to talk her into keeping the baby, but offered real assistance -- it would help pay the medical bills for up to two years, pre-natal care, the expenses of delivering the child and food. Maybe she didn't think the clinic was particularly clean (it may not have been, but given the general tenor of her article, I tend to think that she was trying to make it sound worse than it was), but there is no doubt that the women at the CPC were offering her a real abortion alternative.

How did Laura P. feel about this presentation? It appears that it was not what she expected and she immediately became concerned that the "creepy" people at the CPC may actually use the information she provided to track her down and harrass her.

I was totally shaken but I tried to play it cool and appear calm. The receptionist made an appointment for me to come back in two weeks, and I thanked the woman for her "help." I didn't want to make a scene because I felt so unsafe — and I didn't want them to know that I was considering terminating the pregnancy.

The people at the center were downright creepy; I was worried that they might do something to me. The receptionist gave me all kinds of anti-choice propaganda to take home with me. I threw it away when I got home, and I never went back to the center. Thankfully, they didn't call me to follow up.

I did end up having an abortion, and I know it was the right thing for me. But I'm very wary about the workers at this place catching up with me, which is why I'm concerned about maintaining my privacy.

I've added the emphasis in bold to make a point: Laura P. went to the CPC by accident where she recieved a real abortion alternative. Yet, like the characters in the Tim McGraw-Nelly commercial, she became irrationally uncomfortable when she realized that she was not surrounded by people who are like her -- these people were not pro-abortionists.

Were the CPC workers going to harm her? Of course not; not any more than Tim McGraw's friends would harm Nelly or Nelly's friends would harm Tim McGraw. Still, she is absolutely paranoid that the CPC workers were somehow going to track her down and do something to her (exactly what she is afraid will happen is never specified).

What is most interesting is that Laura P. feels guilty about her decision, even though she knows that getting the abortion "was the right thing for me".

Just a couple of months after I had my abortion, I saw the woman who gave me the pregnancy test. She caught my eye while walking down the street, and I became extremely uncomfortable. I hate the fact that these people have my address and phone number somewhere in their records. It's awful that they set up centers adjacent to Planned Parenthood health centers and try to manipulate women into believing we're sinners. We're not.

I wish I hadn't filled out that form. I wish I'd realized sooner that I was in the wrong place. But I hope that at least other women will learn from my experience. I want them to know what their options are, and to know that places like this aren't any help at all.

I wonder why she felt uncomfortable? Was she worried that this woman from the CPC was going to grab her by the neck in the middle of the street and accuse her of killing her baby? And what is the comment about "sinners"? Nowhere in the article does it say that anyone called her a sinner if she got an abortion. Where did that come from?

I suggest that Laura P. is experiencing a subliminal recognition of the obvious. Yes, abortion may have been the "right thing" for Laura P. at the time if she concentrates only on her selfish needs of the moment. But perhaps, deep down, she is actually recognizing that she is a sinner (as we all are) -- that what she did was morally wrong on a broader and deeper level since she chose to kill her baby through the abortion when other options were available to her. Perhaps she is projecting onto the CPC workers her own personal demons that are haunting her about her very short-ranged decision.

The CPC was not "any help at all"? Probably not to one who has made up her mind that the baby is a clump of cells not worthy of consideration and who is seeking an abortion no matter what. But to those women who are truly interested in knowing the true alternatives for abortion and finding help (financial and otherwise) that will allow them to actually keep the child, the existence of CPCs where you can get good, free advice on abortion alternatives, help in paying for health care, free food, free pre-natal and post-natal assistance, parenting classes and clothing, CPCs are a wonderful place to visit and I thank God that they exist.

Cross-blogged at Apologia Christi.

I recently picked up Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli's Pocket Handbook of Christian Apologetics on an impulse buy at the bookstore. I thumb through it in my spare time and ran across an interesting section entitled, "The Role of Scripture in Apologetics." The gist of the section is that Christians should not expect nonChristians to accept arguments from scripture as authoritative without first establishing the trustworthiness of scripture. They also point out that proving infallibility may be setting our burden of proof too high from the beginning. Kreeft and Tacelli also make the interesting point that "for many years early Christian apologists and Church fathers argued quite effectively for Christianity without even having the New Testament Scriptures as authoritatively defined." Page 80.

It seems a basic point, but for Christians who have grown up in Christian areas with mostly Christian family and friends, it can be overlooked. Though we take the scriptures as authoritative, others will not. Kreeft and Tacelli write that the wrong order to approach apologetics is this:

1. Scripture is infallible;
2. therefore Christ is infallible;
3. thereofore Christ is divine.

This could just as easily take other forms, such as:

1. Scripture is infallible;
2. scripture says that Jesus was resurrected;
3. therefore Jesus was the Messiah.

Kreeft and Tacelli argue that the more convicing order of argument is:

1. Scripture is reliable as historical record, as data;
2. Christ's claims to divinity are found in Scripture;
3. then comes the argument for the truth of these claims [chapter 8 in their book].

Proving that the Gospels are reliable historically is a more easily attained goal than proving it is infallible. And proving that it is infallible is not necessary for most people, so long as you can make a strong case for reliability. As a practical matter, arguments about infallibility and inerrancy tend to get mired in long list of supposed contradictions and even lengthier responses solving the purported contradictions. While proving reliability may also have to cope with some perceived contradictions, the standard for "reliability" is obviously much lower than "perfect." The first goal is to establish faith in Christ. If that can be done without proving inerrancy first, we should not set up an unnecessary stumbling block to faith.

On reflection, this seems to be the tact taken by Gary Habermas and Mike Licona in their book, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. They focus on the "minimal facts" established by the historical evidence and determine that the resurrection is the best explanation for those facts. So, although I do not diminish the efforts of those who argue for the authority and infallibility of authority, it is important to keep the eye on the ball when faced with a particular apologetics question.

Yahoo! News today has an interesting news video (1:12 in length) about a statute of the Virgin Mary at a Roman Catholic church in Sacramento, California, shedding tears of blood. The images on the video clearly show red streams of liquid of some sort coming from the upper corners of the right eye of the statute, flowing across her cheek and falling onto her robe.

The video also shows people gathering around a tree somewhere in Texas, but I don't find that "image" as compelling as the statute, so I will not make any comments about the image in the tree bark.

I think that Christians need to be careful about jumping onto the "it's a miracle" bandwagon. While I personally don't discount the miraculous, I understand that the Roman Catholic Church makes it a point to fully investigate alleged miracles because there have been hoaxes in the past. Some come from well-meaning Christians who think (for whatever reason) that God needs help pulling off a miracle. Others appear to be done for more malevolent reasons, like trying to pull a fast one on those "poor gullible Christians".

Nevertheless, it certainly looks intriguing, and I hope that the report of the Roman Catholic authorities is given wide publication regardless of the cause. If the tears are a hoax, the Roman Catholic Church should certainly let everyone know since that will reflect more confidence when the real "miracles" show up. But if no one is committing and hoax, and there is no naturalistic explanation for the crying Virgin Mary, I sure want to know that, too.

Cross-blogged at Apologia Christi.

Back in September, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in general assembly considered whether they should pass a resolution that permits the ordination of practicing homosexuals in the church. According to the report on the issue by the Lutheran, the official publication of the ELCA in an article entitled "Churchwide Assembly: Assembly defeats ministry exceptions":

On Friday, Aug. 12—at the end of a full day of difficult and often-impassioned debate—the Churchwide Assembly defeated the proposed change to permit exceptions regarding expectations for sexual conduct of gay or lesbian rostered leaders (recommendation 3). The 490-503 vote fell far short of the two-thirds required for adoption.

The change to the bylaws would have allowed synod bishops to seek exceptions from the Conference of Bishops “to permit the assignment of a candidate who provides evidence of intent to live in a lifelong, committed and faithful same-sex relationship,” and for the synod bishops to ordain or commission the candidates.

I imagine that many in the ELCA were hoping that would be the end of the issue, but unfortunately, it wasn't to be. Less than three months after the general assembly's votes, some ELCA churches in New York apparently have decided to openly violate the policy. According to "Metro New York Synod votes openly to ordain 'partnered' homosexuals" by Betsy Carlson, WordAlone editor:

At a special meeting of the Metropolitan New York Synod Assembly Oct. 29, supporters of ordaining gays and lesbians in same-sex relationships carried the day and appeared determined to try out that old saw in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

While adopting statements about maintaining unity in the ELCA in the three resolutions passed by the assembly, the voting members went against a decision of the 2005 ELCA Churchwide Assembly and decided 130 to 114 to endorse ordaining, commissioning or consecrating "partnered" gays and lesbians. They also issued guidelines that basically say not to discipline a minister or pastor solely for being in a same-sex relationship.

(There were four resolutions, but the assembly ran out of time before it could take up the fourth. The resolutions can be found at: http://www.mnys.org/headlines/Materials/Proposed%20Resolutions.doc )

The long and the short of it is, the Metro NY Synod is defying current ELCA regulations and rejecting the 2005 assembly's vote against a proposition that would have allowed for such ordinations, but only through a special approval process.

On my quick review, I didn't see anything in the most recent issue of the Lutheran Magazine which reports on this uprising in New York.

I have before said, while I am open to the possibility that I may be wrong and I don't think that this issue is one of those that one side is "Christian" and the other is "non-Christian", I think that the homosexuality issue is one that the Bible speaks clearly about. I have no qualms about the fact that what the Metro New York Synod has done is not in accordance with the Bible as I understand it and as it has been understood virtually unanimously for 2,000 years. Yet, to a certain extent I have to applaud the Metro New York Synod for taking a stand for what it thinks is right (even if they are wrong in doing so). If they feel strongly that this is the most Christian thing to do, then they should proceed because we should not allow general assemblies any more than individual pastors to counter the Word of God.

I think that the ELCA Bishops will not be too critical of this move because they are in agreement with the underlying premise, i.e., that there is nothing "sinful" about homosexuality because Paul didn't understand "constitutional homosexuality." But I think that they are being left with a real problem: if they don't come down very hard on these churches for taking this action in direct violation of the general assembly of the church, then members should ask what was the point of the general assembly? After all, if the membership debates this matter for two or three years and then comes down with a position rejecting what the Metro New York Synod chose to do, and the Metro New York Synod is allowed to do it anyway, then the vote and the general assembly become practically irrelevant.

Do the ELCA Bishops really want a split? I think that if they don't act, that will follow. Not tomorrow or next year, but in the next ten years many of the ELCA churches will fall away. At the same time, if they do act, I think that will lead to an almost immediate reassessment by the churches in the Metro New York Synod whether they want to continue in a church body that is -- in the eyes of its member churches -- violating the Word of God by being "hateful" and discriminatory. So, it is possible that a split is coming anyway they act.

In the interest of full disclosure, the WordAlone article notes that the ELCA and the Metro New York Synod both agree that the Metro New York Synod "was not creating new standards for ordination or ministry or discipline but would 'exercise its constitutional duty' to implement those standards" -- standards that have somehow become unclear. Personally, I think that the standards were not the difficult, and this is an example of searching for loopholes by the supporters of the defeated resolution.

I await anxiously the next move -- it should prove interesting.



And Happy Thanksgiving to All!

Many hymns have interesting histories behind them. One of my personal favorites is the story behind the hymn "It Is Well With My Soul" which was written by a grieving man, Horatio Spafford, who had lost his four daughters in a tragic shipwreck after earlier losing his entire fortune in the Chicago fire. While on a ship at nearly the same place that his daughters' ship had gone down, he wrote these incredible words:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

What incredible faith in the face of adversity. Like Job, who lost his family and his wealth, he did not curse God. I am sure that he had questions, but even when suffering horribly from events that probably gave him cause to questions his faith, he was able to look out and remember the great gift of God.

The hymn most often associated with Thanksgiving, "We Gather Together", also has an interesting history, according to yesterday's Wall Street Journal. In an article entitled A Hymn's Long Journey Home: The surprising origins of "We Gather Together," a Thanksgiving standard by Melanie Kirkpatrick, she reports that this hymn was originally transformed into a hymn from a folksong began on about January 1, 1597.

That was the date of the Battle of Turnhout, in which Prince Maurice of Orange defeated the Spanish occupiers of a town in what is now the Netherlands. It appears likely that Dutch Protestants--who were forbidden from practicing their religion under the Catholic King Philip II of Spain--celebrated the victory by borrowing the familiar folk melody and giving it new words. Hence "Wilt heden nu treden" or, loosely translated, "We gather together"--a phrase that itself connoted a heretofore forbidden act: Dutch Protestants joining together in worship. Its first appearance in print was in a 1626 collection of Dutch patriotic songs, "Nederlandtsch Gedencklanck."

I had never thought about this song as arising out of religious oppression. I don't know if I ever read the words carefully or thought about them in any real depth. But with the understanding given by the Wall Street Journal article, read the words again in this new light. Recognize that people who were being persecuted for their desire to follow God as they understood His will were the authors of the song, and I think it will breathe new life into an old, but excellent, hymn.

We gather together to ask the Lord's blessing;
he chastens and hastens his will to make known.
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.
Sing praises to his name, he forgets not his own.

Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,
ordaining, maintaining his kingdom divine;
so from the beginning the fight we were winning;
thou, Lord, wast at our side, all glory be thine!

We all do extol thee, thou leader triumphant,
and pray that thou still our defender wilt be.
Let thy congregation escape tribulation;
thy name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!



Cross-blogged at Apologia Christi


I recently read an interesting article regarding a competitor to early humanity as he struggled to survive in the race of evolution. The article from World Science.Net entitled "Giant Ape lived alongside humans" courtesy of McMaster University and the World Science staff, states:

An ape taller than a moose lived alongside early humans, and may have been among the early casualties of competition from humans, a researcher has found.

The ape was about 10 feet (3 meters) tall and weighed as much as 1,200 pounds (544 kg), said Jack Rink of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

Rink, associate professor of geography and earth sciences, found that Gigantopithecus blackii, the largest primate that ever lived, roamed southeast Asia for nearly a million years before the species died out 100,000 years ago. This was known as the Pleistocene period, by which time humans had already existed for a million years.

The article included the sketch which I have added in this post. From the article, readers also learn that Gigantopithecus blackii co-existed with humans in the same region where humans were themselves undergoing major evolutionary change, that the ape feasted on bamboo, and it was probably its voracious appetite for bamboo which ultimately led to its extinction.

That is certainly a lot to know about this ape. How many fossils of this animal have been found? According to the article, no complete fossilized animal has been found. Have a nearly complete set of bones been found? Well . . . no. According to the article:

For nearly 80 years, the animal has intrigued scientists, who have pieced together a description using nothing more than a handful of teeth and a set of jawbones.

This reminds me of a drawing from the very funny science parody entitled Science Made Stupid, reproduced below, which shows a series of animals being reproduced in their entirety from very minimal fossils. (The Science Made Stupid site is hilarious because, like all good comedy, it starts with a grain of truth and unmercilessly parodies scientific discoveries. I recommend everyone read it for the laughs).

Now, while I am not an proponent of evolution, I am comfortable with the idea of theistic evolution (God created the universe in such a way that through the evolutionary process, man was predestined to come into existence just as he has) -- I just don't happen to think that Darwinian evolution is the way it, in fact, occurred. Thus, my point here is not to say "this shows evolution is wrong" -- I don't think this is a demonstration that evolution is wrong. It does, however, show that evolution can be oversold.

I believe that the teeth and jawbones found can be determined to come from some ape-like creature (although I don't know how it can be determined, based on the evidence in the article, that this was a different species of ape as opposed to an oversized specimen of an ape that we already know existed). I believe that the size of the ape can be determined based on the size of the teeth and jawbones and comparing them to the size of jawbones and teeth on present day apes (although there is some room for doubt about how accurate this could be). I believe that it is possible to date the teeth within a few tens of thousands of years (and if the teeth are from differing apes, it would be possible to get a range of possible dates). I also think that the jaws can help tell whether the ape was a herbivore or carnivore (or possibly even an omnivore). Certainly, other clues in the area where the fossils were found may be able to tell us what types of vegetation grows there and were the most likely candidate for the ape to be consuming. But isn't that as far as it goes without really beginning to speculate?

I don't know if the drawing of the Gigantopithecus blackii is accurate. I don't know that it necessarily lived with early human-type creatures. I don't know for certain what it ate or what eventually caused its extinction -- at least I don't think that anyone can answer these questions about the Gigantopithecus blackii with any certainty. Yet, with the exception of the cause of extinction which is admittedly theoretical, each of these "facts" are presented in this article as being established.

Everything that they say may be proven ultimately to be true, perhaps there is more evidence for these "facts" about the Gigantopithecus blackii which are not included in the article which would make the case more convincing, but right now it appears to be another case of speculation in the name of evolution being treated as known fact, thus presenting yet another example of the overselling of evolution.

Prolific and conservative New Testament scholar Ben Witherington has read and reviewed Anne Rice's newest novel, Christ the Lord -- Out of Egypt. As I wrote earlier, Anne Rice has returned to her Catholic faith and embarked on writing a three-novel series about Jesus. Professor Witherington is welcoming of Rice's latest venture but offers some informed criticism, though mostly about historical and biblical details. Helpfully, Prof. Witherington provides this synopsis of Rice's novel:

The novel is in essence about the mental journey Jesus makes over the course of a traumatic year which also involved much actual traveling (leaving Egypt, coming to Nazareth, visiting Jerusalem both before and after arriving in Nazareth) as he comes to realize who he is as he pieces together that the “Christmas story” is in fact all about him!

I have bought Rice's book and read the first chapter. It is interesting but so far at least I do not find the writing style compelling. I have not read any of her other books, but suspect that this is more a matter of the point of view. When you write from the point of view of a young child who is confused, it does not make for the clearest literary effort.

In other Ben Witherington news, he has released a new book of theological focus: The Problem with Evangelical Theology: Testing the Exegetical Foundations of Calvinism, Dispensationalism, and Wesleyanism. The book is described as follows:

In this volume Ben Witherington wrestles with some of the big ideas of these major traditional theological systems (sin, God’s sovereignty, prophecy, grace, and the Holy Spirit), asking tough questions about their biblical foundations. For these key doctrines, Witherington argues that evangelicalism sometimes wrongly assumes a biblical warrant for some of its more popular beliefs and, further, pushes the reader to engage the larger story and plot of the Bible to understand these central elements of belief.

I for one am looking forward to reading this. Usually, systemic theology is not of much interest to me, but this kind of overview and critique of present-day evangelical theology looks to be informative and perhaps controversial. Moreover, having read much of Prof. Witherington's other writings, I have confidence that he will treat the matter in an informed and honest manner.

"Bombers Kill 74 at Two Mosques in Iraq " by Chris Tomlinson, Associated Press writer:

Suicide bombers killed 74 worshippers at two Shiite mosques near the Iranian border Friday, while a pair of car bombs targeting a Baghdad hotel housing Western journalists killed eight Iraqis.

The suicide attackers targeted the Sheik Murad mosque and the Khanaqin Grand Mosque in Khanaqin, 90 miles northeast of Baghdad, as dozens of people were attending Friday prayers, police said. The police command said 74 people were killed and 75 wounded in the largely Kurdish town.

At sunset, dozens of people were still searching the rubble of the three-story Khanaqin Grand Mosque. As the men dug, 12-year-old Sarkhel Akram collected copies of the Quran, the Muslim holy book, then she kissed them and put them away.

The suicide attacker walked into the mosque and detonated his explosives in the middle of a group of people, said Ali Abdullah.

Omar Saleh, 73, said from his bed at Kalar hospital that he was bowing in prayer when the bomb exploded.

"The roof fell on us and the place was filled with dead bodies," he said.

It is my recollection that just last Summer there were cries of outrage from the mainstream Islamic community when the United States was accused of desecrating the Koran at Guantanamo Bay by not handling the Koran appropriately. Now, the Muslim extremists in Iraq are blowing up mosques destroying places of worship and almost certainly destroying some Korans in the process. Yet, I see nothing in this article from the Islamic community condemning the bombers and expressing outrage at their cowardly attacks. Are such statements out there and the press is simply not reporting it (as often happens), or is their outrage reserved for Western societies only?

I really hope that the more mainstream Islamic community speaks out loudly, clearly and unmistakebly condemning these attacks and the groups that carry them out.

Those of you who have been following the topic of zero here know how Bede of Bede's Library has been indespensible in his knowledge of the time period and his research. The issue was raised after I read Charles C. Mann's book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. I blogged on the issue and wondered what evidence there was that, as 1491 claimed, the use of zero in Europe was opposed by the church. As he stated, zero "didn't appear in Europe until the twelfth century. Even then European governments and the Vatican resisted zero--a something that stood for nothing -- as foreign and un-Christian." Mann, 1491, page 19.

Mr. Mann responded here, listing his references and admitting the phrasing of his book was poor on this point. He still believed, however, that his sources indicated that "in europe, governments and church authorities resisted zero."

Bede responded and said that he would look into the referenced sources and get back to us with more later. He has now done so. As I said before, Bede's knowledge of this area is extensive, as he has a Masters in Historical Research and is working on his PhD in the History of Science.

After checking all of the references cited by Mr. Mann, as well as another book on the subject (and having previously ready many primary sources dealing with mathematics from the time period), Bede reports that none of the sources actually support the idea that there was church opposition to zero. Either the books literarlly did not make the accusation, were only conjecturing, or merely asserted it without sourcing. Bede concludes:

In summary, it seems that the church trying to ban zero is another anti-Christian myth that just won't die. But if anyone knows better, please let me know. The only thing I like less than being proved wrong is to continue being wrong longer than necessary!

I actually do not assert that this is necessarily the final word on the issue and echo Bede's request for more information if anyone has any actual evidence that the church, or some church leaders, opposed the use of zero.

From today's Best of the Web at that Wall Street Journal website:

Here's a truly bizarre story from the Associated Press:

Skeletal remains discovered by hunters last week in Audubon County in western Iowa are those of an infant or fetus, Audubon County sheriff's officials said.

The sheriff says "further tests" are necessary to determine if it's an infant or a fetus. Is he serious? Everyone knows an infant is a human being, while a fetus is just a clump of cells. How could anyone have trouble telling the difference?

This is priceless. Think about it: if the baby was aborted at 38 weeks, was it a fetus or an infant? What if the baby was stillborn at 39 weeks? What if the baby was aborted at 41 weeks (it was past its due date) but still had not been born?

I certainly have no idea how an examination of the bones of the fetus/infant will give the examiner any relevant information on whether the dead "thing" was a fetus or an infant. After all, it seems as if the bones could tell the medical examiner how many weeks had passed since the date of conception based upon the development of the skeleton, but the bones certainly could not tell him whether the baby would be classified as an infant or a fetus because that determination depends upon whether it was wanted or not, right?

When I was in law school in the mid-1980s, I was a teacher's assistant for a professor who was writing a book about taxes and the law. Part of my job was to locate cases brought by various tax authorities that threatened to revoke a church's tax exampt status for speaking politically in violation of the Internal Revenue Code (Title 26) and tax regulations.

For those unfamiliar with the law, churches are considered exempt from federal taxation under the provisions of 26 U.S.C. Sec. 501(c)(3), which specifically states that among the entities exempt from taxation are included:

Corporations, and any community chest, fund, or foundation, organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purposes, or to foster national or international amateur sports competition (but only if no part of its activities involve the provision of athletic facilities or equipment), or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals, no part of the net earnings of which inures to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual, no substantial part of the activities of which is carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation (except as otherwise provided in subsection (h)), and which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.

I have highlighted a number of phrases in this section to point out that if a church desires to retain its tax exempt status, the church must be operated "exclusively" for religious purposes. If the church makes the mistake of having a "substantial part" of its activities include attempting to influence legislation or engaging in "propaganda", or if the church does anything to "participate or intervene in any political campaign", it risks losing its tax exempt status.

While a substantial body of case law has arisen that attempts to define more closely what types of activities step over this line, the determination as to whether any particular church has actually engaged in proscribed actitivities is largely a "case by case" analysis. The mere risk of stepping over the line and losing the tax exemption is enough to force many churches (especially smaller churches with tight budgets) to take a "don't come anywhere close to crossing the line" approach to discussing matters of public concern.

The effect of the ban prompted the House of Representatives to consider enacting The Houses of Worship Political Speech Protection Act (HR 2357) which would have allowed religious organizations to engage in an "insubstantial" amount of political speech activity without endangering their 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status. According to an article entitled "Bill to free churches coming to House floor" by Joseph A. D'Agostino And John Gizzi:

"Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code has been interpreted by courts to prevent even a single activity which might be regarded as 'participating in, or intervening in' a political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to a candidate for public office," says a description of the bill provided by [Rep. Walter Jones', R-N.C] office. "HR 2357 confirms this country's tradition and respect for the First Amendment by removing the muzzle from churches and houses of worship created by the absolute ban against all speech or activities that may be regarded as 'political.'

"The political ban in Section 501(c)(3) was inserted in 1954 by then-Sen. Lyndon Johnson. This was done with a floor amendment to the Revenue Act of 1954, and absolutely no hearings or congressional record was developed on the need or reasons for the absolute ban."

"Johnson wanted to silence some of his opponents," said Jones in an interview. "It is time to restore the right of political speech to churches and their pastors."

This may simply be my perception, but the threat of withdrawal of the tax-exempt status has seemed to weigh more heavily on churches that aligned themselves with conservative values than churches that aligned themselves with liberal values. It seemed that any involvement in politics by a religious figure on the conservative side like Pat Robertson brought cries that the involvement inappropriately crossed the boundary between separation of church and state, while religious figures like Jesse Jackson were free to run for president without any of the same cries arising. Well, it looks as though the threat of the loss of tax exempt status has reached a more liberal church in Los Angeles, and the church leaders don't like it at all.

According to "Church May Lose Funds Over Sermon" as published in the Free New Mexican:

The Internal Revenue Service has warned a prominent liberal church that it could lose its tax-exempt status because of an anti-war sermon a guest preacher gave on the eve of the 2004 presidential election, according to church officials.

The Rev. George F. Regas did not urge parishioners at All Saints Episcopal Church to support either President Bush or John Kerry, but he was critical of the Iraq war and Bush's tax cuts.

The IRS warned the church in June that its tax-exempt status was in jeopardy because such organizations are prohibited from intervening in political campaigns and elections.

The church's rector, J. Edwin Bacon, told his congregation about the problem Sunday.

"It's important for everyone to understand that the IRS concerns are not supported by the facts," Bacon said.

Bacon later said he chose Sunday to inform the congregation because Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu was in attendance and because he believes a decision from the IRS is imminent. He called the IRS threat "a direct assault on freedom of speech and freedom of religion."

While I am certainly conservative in my approach to religion, I am not celebrating this action by the IRS. I do not want to see any church, liberal or conservative, being threatened with removal of their tax-exempt status simply for discussing (or even advocating) what they view as the important issues of the day from their religious and moral perspective.

Of course, there is a certain amount of irony in the fact that a liberal church should be targeted by the IRS, given that it was primarily liberal religious organizations that opposed the enactment of The Houses of Worship Political Speech Protection Act. Take, for example, the Unitarian Universalists Association's call for its members to oppose the enactment of the legislation:

This bill threatens to destroy the invaluable separation of church and state, transform religious organizations into political machines and create a destructive loophole in our nation’s campaign finance laws.

Likewise, consider the statement by the United Church of Christ which was echoed by the Interfaith Alliance (an organization of churches which includes the Episcopal Church, USA -- the denomination with which All Saints Episcopal Church, Los Angeles, is apparently affiliated):

This bill would open a dramatic loophole in the nation's campaign finance laws. Donations to houses of worship are tax-deductible because the government assumes that their work is contributing to the common good of society, not to a particular political party or a partisan campaign. As such, contributions to churches are tax-deductible, and donations to political candidates and parties are not. HR 235 would create a significant new loophole in our nation's campaign finance laws, with serious ethical and legal implications.

Because of their unique mission, houses of worship should not be allowed to retain their tax exempt status while engaging in political campaign activity.

Given the fact that through the first 150 years of the United States, churches were a place where the moral issues of politics were taken up and discussed, it certainly seems contrary to our political heritage to have churches silenced by threat of tax reprisals. It is my view that the tax code should be revised to allow churches to speak freely about the issues of the day, and I urge Congress to take this action.

According to the San Francisco Examiner in an article entitled "Pope Cites Universe's 'Intelligent Project'":

Pope Benedict XVI has waded into the evolution debate in the United States, saying the universe was made by an "intelligent project" and criticizing those who in the name of science say its creation was without direction or order.

* * *

Benedict focused his reflections for the audience on scriptural readings that said God's love was seen in the "marvels of creation."

He quoted St. Basil the Great, a fourth century saint, as saying some people, "fooled by the atheism that they carry inside of them, imagine a universe free of direction and order, as if at the mercy of chance."

"How many of these people are there today? These people, fooled by atheism, believe and try to demonstrate that it's scientific to think that everything is free of direction and order," he said.

"With the sacred Scripture, the Lord awakens the reason that sleeps and tells us: In the beginning, there was the creative word. In the beginning, the creative word — this word that created everything and created this intelligent project that is the cosmos — is also love."

I think that it is great that Pope Benedict XVI has stood up for what is becoming increasingly obvious to anyone interested in the subject: the universe demands the existence of a creator or creative being. By taking up in a very clear way that the Biblical position is that there must be an intelligent project behind the universe, he has hopefully awakened the Roman Catholic community that may have been lulled to sleep by Pope John Paul II's earlier talk on evolution where he seemed content to accept the larger portion of evolutionary theory.

Regardless of the way Pope John Paul II's talk was couched by the press or the advocates of Darwinism which suggested that the former pope embraced evolutionary theory in its entirety, Pope John Paul II rejected the Darwinian view that life arose in the universe by chance and natural selection alone. In his earlier talk, linked above, the Pope made it clear that such a randomeless creation was not within the teaching of the Roman Catholic church.

[R]ather than the theory of evolution, we should speak of several theories of evolution. On the one hand, this plurality has to do with the different explanations advanced for the mechanism of evolution, and on the other, with the various philosophies on which it is based. Hence the existence of materialist, reductionist and spiritualist interpretations. What is to be decided here is the true role of philosophy and, beyond it, of theology.

5. The Church's magisterium is directly concerned with the question of evolution, for it involves the conception of man: Revelation teaches us that he was created in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gn 1:27-29). The conciliar constitution Gaudium et Spes has magnificently explained this doctrine, which is pivotal to Christian thought. It recalled that man is "the only creature on earth that God has wanted for its own sake" (No. 24). In other terms, the human individual cannot be subordinated as a pure means or a pure instrument, either to the species or to society; he has value per se. He is a person. With his intellect and his will, he is capable of forming a relationship of communion, solidarity and self-giving with his peers. St. Thomas observes that man's likeness to God resides especially in his speculative intellect, for his relationship with the object of his knowledge resembles God's relationship with what he has created (Summa Theologica I-II:3:5, ad 1). But even more, man is called to enter into a relationship of knowledge and love with God himself, a relationship which will find its complete fulfillment beyond time, in eternity. All the depth and grandeur of this vocation are revealed to us in the mystery of the risen Christ (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 22). It is by virtue of his spiritual soul that the whole person possesses such a dignity even in his body. Pius XII stressed this essential point: If the human body take its origin from pre-existent living matter, the spiritual soul is immediately created by God ("animas enim a Deo immediate creari catholica fides nos retinere iubei"; "Humani Generis," 36). Consequently, theories of evolution which, in accordance with the philosophies inspiring them, consider the spirit as emerging from the forces of living matter or as a mere epiphenomenon of this matter, are incompatible with the truth about man. Nor are they able to ground the dignity of the person.

Pope Benedict XVI's statement really seems to me to be no different than what Pope John Paul II originally said. Neither of them deny completely the idea of evolution, but both of their statements can be seen as supporting the idea that there has been a creative force behind the universe. This creative force created the universe in such a way as to ultimately lead to humanity. Both Popes are in agreement that this is not, as the Darwinists would have you believe, a process that occurred divorced from God, or as the Statement of the National Association of Biology Teachers on the Teaching of Evolution says, "The diversity of life on earth is the outcome of biological evolution —- an unpredictable and natural process of descent with modification that is affected by natural selection, mutation, genetic drift, migration and other natural biological and geological forces."

What is more difficult to read from the two statements is exactly how far the Popes have claimed this intelligent project extends. Is the creative moment limited to the time of the creation of the universe, or is the pope extending approval to the idea of such concepts as irreducible complexity in biological systems that seems to make the naturalistic arising of life all but impossible. As a friend of mine pointed out on a discussion board a few days ago, it is bad theology to assume that God couldn't design a universe that produced life without having to intervene to juryrig the process from time to time. Thus, it could be the case that the Popes have adopted his view that God created the universe in such a way that He knew would ultimately result in man, and he did not step in to alter the otherwise purely naturalistic process at any time since.

At the same time, the question -- when it comes to ideas about evidence of intelligent design in complex theological systems -- is not about whether God could have created a universe in such a way, but whether he did in fact create such a universe. When I see the evidence for design in biological systems, I don't say "God couldn't have created the universe in such a way as to produce life without having to intervene to juryrig the process from time to time", rather I am saying "here is evidence that can be seen in nature that shows that there is an intelligent designer behind these biological systems."

I am looking forward to seeing what Pope Benedict XVI has to say further on the subject of this "intelligent project". In the meantime, to those of the Roman Catholic faith who may have been woken up to this subject by the statements of Pope Benedict XVI, welcome aboard.

Continuing on with the development of the use of zero in Europe, my friend and fellow Cadre member Bede has chimed in after reading Mr. Mann's email on the subject. Bede has a Masters in Historical Research and is working on his PhD in the History of Science, so his opinion is worth more than mine. Check out his blog on the issue here. I include an excerpt:

I would firstly say that I have studied a manuscript written by the Cambridge University maths lecturer in 1508 and it uses zero as a matter of course. So do all 16th century maths textbooks. I've looked at the collected letters of Gerbert (that’s Sylvester II) already and not found anything related to zero. However, he is credited with being one of the first to introduce Arabic numerals into Western Europe. I'll also check Sacrobosco's Algorismus as that was the main medieval textbook on arithmetic. The earliest version I've seen was printed in 1488 and I think that uses zero (I wasn't looking but it covers normal adding up and multiplying that is impossible without zero). I might dig back to look at some of the manuscripts which date from the thirteenth century.

An important question here is whether we are talking about a naked zero or zero used as part of another number (ie. 490 is not zero but we use zero to write it). For most kinds of arithmetic, you don’t need a naked zero and this might be what is rare in medieval sources. Merchants certainly don’t use it unless they are giving their goods away for free. However, the use of zero as part of other numbers is common from at least the early thirteenth century and it doesn’t appear to be controversial. Contrary to what Mann says, all medieval accounting records that I have seen use Roman rather than Arabic numerals. This is what we would expect as merchants continued to use the abacus to add up rather than arithmetic. Hence, they didn’t need a zero.

Bede also notes that we still have little in the way of primary sources on the issue.



Today is Veteran's Day. The picture pays tribute to the United States and those who have sacrificed while serving her. The picture includes the grave of an unknown soldier that is meant to represent all those who have sacrificed their lives, their time, their health, and their innocence, to protect our nation.

My grandfather is one such veteran. Leaving his pregnant wife behind, he shipped off to the European Theater in World War II. Away for years serving in the army artillery corp, he served in North Africa, Italy (at Anzio), the invasion of southern France, and the drive on Germany. He picked up a bad case of malaria and some German souveneirs, but returned intact to meet his daughter (my mom) who did not recognize him at first having only seen him in pictures. But his ordeal was not over. Like so many of his generation, when communist North Korean forces invaded the defenseless South, he was recalled to duty and spent another year fighting in literally chilling conditions. Grandad does not bring up in conversation the wars he found himself fighting, but I have dragged some of the information out of him on a couple of occasions. Since serving his country, he has served his family well and now is enjoying a well-deserved retirement.

My uncle C.W. was a young farm boy whose brothers and friends had gone off to war. As he got old enough he joined them, leaving his young wife behind. He served on an anti-aircraft battery, seeing friends killed in front of and behind him, of an aircraft carrier at the height of the Japanese kamikaze attacks. He too returned to his wife and lived a good life, dying only last year.

My uncle Eddie was already in the navy when World War II began. In fact, he was at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and survived the Japanese sneak attack on that infamous day. Uncle Eddie continued to serve in the navy through the long march back across the Pacific, including serving in the brutal battle of attrition that was the Gaudalcanal Campaign. So many ships, both U.S. and Japanese, were sunk around that Island that they call the surrounding sea "Ironbottom Sound." He too returned and lived a good life and now rests at a national cemetery in Houston.

My uncle Ben was already in the U.S. Armed Forces when World War II started as well. In the Army, he served throughout the entire war. I am still trying to track down more information on his service, but we believe he fought in the infantry in the European Theater.

My wife's father, Harvey, also served his country. He joined the Navy during the Korean War, an ironic choice for a young man who had lived his entire life in North Dakota. He shipped out to San Diego and was placed on a destroyer that became the first naval vessel to receive hazard pay for their efforts dueling with North Korean shore batteries and facing threats from North Korean aircraft. After his time in the Navy, Harvey settled down in the San Diego area, married my mother-in-law, and worked for the defense department and in the defense industry until his retirement (which he enjoys very much).

My great grandfathers served their states, though not their country, in the War Between the States. One served in the Texas Cavalary and may have fought at Sabine Pass. The other served in the Arkansas Infantry and passed along chilling stories of suffering and privation, including seeing his troop (and himself) marching in the harsh winter without shoes, their feet so swollen and cracked that they left a bloody trail of footprints in the formerly pristine snow.

The earliest direct ancestor that I know of who served the United States was Colonel Joseph Hardin (check out his homepage here) who served in various Indian campaigns and the Revolutionary War. He was a minuteman in North Carolina and served in the Cherokee Expedition. He also served in the battles of Ramseur's Mill and the more famous King's Mountain in our War for Independence. Colonel Hardin's home and lands were burned by Tories so he would have been left with nothing after the War had he not been awarded a land grant in Tennesee. So succesful was his move to Tennesse that he established Hardin County (so named today, you can read the history of Hardin County here), served in various levels of government, and left behind a vibrant family. All this came at a cost, as he lost three of his sons to Indians.

One of Colonel Hardin's grandsons was William Barnett Hardin. He moved to Texas in 1826 and joined the Texas Army when the Texas Revolution began. William Hardin participtaed in the bitter house-to-house fighting of the Seige of Bexar (San Antonio). Wounded in that battle, William Hardin left the army after Texas gained its independence. He thereafter served in various local government positions and helped establish a Methodist church. To his great credit, he worked diligently to protect the rights of Texas Indians.

I am proud of my Granddad, my uncles, my great grandfathers, my father-in-law, and of my forebearer Colonel Hardin and his family. And today we should all be proud of and grateful to our veterans. They have served our country and in doing so have served each of us, providing us with peace, security, inspiration and freedom. To all of those who have served in defense of this country, thank you. In the words of the Apostle John, "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends."

Finally, let us pray for the safety and success of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who are serving in harm's way in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in other places of which we are unaware.

"Then a champion came out from the armies of the Philistines named Goliath, from Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a bronze helmet on his head, and he was clothed with scale-armor which weighed five thousand shekels of bronze. He also had bronze greaves on his legs and a bronze javelin slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver's beam, and the head of his spear weighed six hundred shekels of iron; his shield-carrier also walked before him. He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel and said to them, 'Why do you come out to draw up in battle array? Am I not the Philistine and you servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will become your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall become our servants and serve us.'" -- 1 Samuel 17: 4-9

Goliath -- even today, 3,000 years later, we know of the giant of the Philistines. But was he a really a man, or a myth told to enlarge the image of David, King of Israel (who we now know for certain was a real person), much like the American Myth of George Washington chopping down the cherry tree? The Bible does not give us much information about Goliath. We know that he was from Gath, a city of the Philistines, but do we know where Gath is today?

According to Dr. Aren M. Maeir, The Institute of Archaeology, Bar Ilan University, at a webpage entitled "Tell es-Safi/Gath: The period of the United Kingdom of David and Solomon, at least from an archaeological point of view, is in fact well represented at Tell es-Gafi."

Although there is a bit of a controversy regarding the exact location of Gath, most scholars believe that it was located at the site known as Tell es-Safi. This tell, which is situated approximately halfway between Ashkelon and Beth Shemesh, on the border between Philistia (the southern coastal plain of Israel) and the Judean Shephela (foothills), is one of the largest biblical sites in Israel (ca. 40 hectares/100 acres). Settled almost continuously from the Chalcolithic period (5th mill. BCE) until modern times, it is a veritable mine of archaeological evidence from all periods. Although its impressive size and archaeological promise were noted during the last century, until recently, very little archaeological research had been conducted at the site. Aside from a brief, two-week excavation conducted in 1899, only cursory visits and illicit robber excavations (conducted by the late General Moshe Dayan) took place at the site.


* * *

[W]e have found stratigraphic evidence spanning from the end of the Late Bronze Age (ca. 13th cent. BCE) until the late 8th cent. BCE (Iron Age IIA). Of some importance is the fact that we have found impressive finds from the "middle stage" of the Philistine culture between the 10th and 8th cent. BCE. This phase is missing at many other Philistine sites and is of importance for the understanding of the development of the Philistine culture.

In addition, these remains can be dated to a very important period during and immediately after the “United Kingdom” of David and Solomon. In recent years, some scholars have questioned the veracity of the description of the events in this period as portrayed in the Bible. Accordingly, it is claimed that there is little, if any, non-biblical archaeological and historical evidence that relates to this period. But in light of the extraordinarily rich finds that were discovered at Tell es-Safi, it would appear that, at least from an archaeological point of view, this period is in fact well represented at this site. To this, one can add that the rich finds appear to support the view that Gath did in fact have a primary role among the Philistine cities during the earlier stages of their history.

Having found what certainly seems to be the Biblical Gath of the "United Kingdom" period, is there any evidence from that site that Goliath actually existed? Not directly (so far), but indirectly there is some evidence supporting the existence of Goliath of the Philistines.

On Nov. 10, 2005, the Jerusalem Post published an article entitled "Goliath Found?" which, while not pointing directly to the ancient giant of Gath, certainly provides some evidence that he actually existed. According to the article:

A very small ceramic shard unearthed by Bar-Ilan University archaeologists digging at Tell es-Safi, the biblical city "Gath of the Philistines," may hold a very large clue into the history of the well-known biblical figure Goliath.

The shard, which contains the earliest known Philistine inscription ever to be discovered, mentions two names that are remarkably similar to the name "Goliath".

Are these inscriptions the Goliath mentioned in 1 Samuel? Professor Aren Maeir, Chairman of Bar-Ilan University's Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology says that is highly improbable. The names are apparently not the same as Goliath of Gath, even if they are similar to the Biblical Goliath. Still, the fact that these names are found on this ancient pottery shard has some bearing on the truth of the Biblical account. According to the article:

Regardless of the low odds, the archaeological find may be seen as the first clear extra-biblical evidence that the story of the battle between David and Goliath may be more than just a legend.

Written in archaic "Proto-Canaanite" letters, the inscription found on the shard, dating to the 10th or early 9th century BCE, contains two non-Semitic names: Alwt and Wlt. Most scholars believe the name Goliath, of non-Semitic origin, is etymologically related to various Indo-European names, such as the Lydian name Aylattes.

Following intense examination of the inscription, Prof. Meir (along with his colleagues Prof. Aaron Demsky, an expert in epigraphy at Bar-Ilan University, and Dr. Stefan Wimmer, of Munich University) has concluded that the two names which appear in the inscription are remarkably similar to the etymological parallels of Goliath.

Okay, I am not an epigraphologist (if there is such a thing). I don't understand directly the significance of the two names as they relate to the name Goliath. However, what is apparent to me from the article is that the simple fact that since the names Alwt and Wlt are found on these pottery shards, since they are near relatives of Goliath (epigraphically speaking), it is certainly much more likely that Goliath was the name of an actual living human being. Moreover, since these pottery shards date to the period of the United Kingdom, it certainly adds credence to the fact that a person named Goliath may have existed at the time of King David, or slightly before . . . say, when he was a mere child.

So, while these shards do not point directly to the existence of Goliath, they certainly serve as evidence for the conclusion that a person with such a name could have existed during the same time period as David. Moreover, this discovery adds further ammunition to rebutting people like Donald Harman Akenson who, in his book Surpassing Wonder: The Invention of the Bible and the Talmuds, posits that the first eleven books of the Old Testament were written during the Babylonian exile. After all, if the mysterious genius actually wrote the books that constitute the history of the Old Testament during the Babylonian exile, he had to be a very, very smart guy to know that the name Goliath would have been a name that would be archaeologically proven to have even possibly existed around the time that King David (who was a real person) actually lived. I think believing an unknown genius would predicted that discovery takes a lot more faith than I have.

In a recent post, I noted that the book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, by Charles C. Mann, stated that zero "didn't appear in Europe until the twelfth century. Even then European governments and the Vatican resisted zero--a something that stood for nothing -- as foreign and un-Christian." Mann, 1491, page 19. Although I did not doubt the timing of zero's appearance in Mayan and European culture, I did ask whether the Vatican had opposed zero (because I honestly did not know). Fortunately, Mr. Mann has emailed me and clarified his comment and provided specific examples and references on the issue. He has given me permission to post his email on the blog:

I am the author of "1491," the book which Layman blogged
about on Wednesday. As the post says, I made a brief
reference to the Church and zero in my book -- too brief,
because I think I was inadvertently misleading. This is the
good thing about blogs -- they point out where people like
me goofed. Anyway, here is a longer explanation of
what I should have said.

First, as I hope you realized, my book is not a brief
against the Roman Catholic Church. For example, I devote
time to its campaign against the exploitation of Indians,
which began very early with a papal declaration of their
rights as human beings that is something Catholics can be
proud of to this day.

But the church goofed about zero, though, in my opinion.
Let me explain. The Vatican did not have a single
monumental campaign against the zero (which is what I think
my book suggests -- sorry!), but there were numerous
ecclesiastical attempts to ban and stifle it, most but not
all on a local level. The best single source for this that
I know of is Tobias Dantzig's classic book Number from the
1930s, but histories of zero by Robert Kaplan and George
Ghevergese Joseph are also useful. The most useful popular
source is Dick Teresi's Lost Discoveries, which came out
in, I think, 2002.

According to all the historians that I know of, zero did
not come into Europe until Fibonacci, in the 12th century.
Prior to that, hardly anyone there had heard of it, and
calculations were difficult. And zero didn't become a full
fledged part of the European curriculum until the 17th
century -- Descartes apparently didn't use it, for example,
in his mathematics.

The reason is that zero is weird, if you think about it.
When you calculate with zero, you are treating a nothing as
if it were an entity, a something. Middle Ages western
intellectuals, many of whom were priests, couldn't wrap
their heads around it. Even Fibonacci referred to the "nine
[Indian numerals] and the sign 0" -- he didn't want to call
it a number, but saw it was a convenient device for
calculation.

This suspicion led to a series of actions against zero.
Back in 967, for example, the monk who became Pope
Sylvester II figured out that his counting would be easier
with a zero sign (it wasn't a zero, as in a circle, but
worked like one). He was accused of trafficking with evil
spirits and forced to abjure it. This kind of thing went on
until at least 1348, when the ecclesiastical authorities of
Padua prohibited the use of zero in price lists, arguing
that prices had to be written in "plain" letters.

Through much of this period European merchants went ahead
and used zero for their accounts, because it was so much
easier. But they hid this from the legal and churchly
authorities. Florentine bankers, prohibited in the 12th
century from using "infidel" symbols, created duplicate
sets of books, one to show the church, one to do your
calculations in. Thirteenth-century archives are replete
with evidence of such bootleg zeroes.

So I should have said "in europe, governments and church
authorities resisted zero" rather than "European
governments and the Vatican." My apologies, and thank you
for drawing my attention to my mistake.

Best wishes,
Charles C. Mann

I truly appreciated hearing from Mr. Mann and told him in my response that although I had not finished reading 1491, I do not believe it is anti-Catholic or anti-Christian. In my less learned opinion, it is a welcome reassessment of the issues related to American Indians. I truly hope I did not give the impression that I thought Mr. Mann had written an assault on the Catholic or any other Church.

Mr. Mann's website is www.charlesmann.org and it has instructions on how to contact him should you wish to comment on this or another issue. He, like the rest of us, has had to cope with the ever rising tide of spam.

A few days ago BK post on this blog about Questions about homosexuality and silencing Christians in Canada. Unforunately, the article from the Minnesota Star Tribune had already gone stale dated, and could no longer be accessed. BK then said "I would like some insight from anyone who has any personal knowledge or experience as to what is going on in the Great White North."

Well, I not only live in the Great White North (aka Canada), but I live in the diocese of Bishop Fred Henry, about whom the original article was written. Are Christians being silenced on the issue of homosexual rights, and same sex marriage laws? Here is a listing of some of the stories that either have, or are now, working their way through Canadian courts and Human Rights Tribunals:

Human Rights Complaint Filed Against Catholic Bishop for Defence of Traditional Marriage. This complaint is based upon a letter Bishop Henry circulated to the parishes of his own dioceses(!!) It is now working its way through the system.

From Religious freedom under attack in Canada:

Chris Kempling is a secondary-school teacher, employed as a counsellor since 1990, who was denounced by the B.C. Teachers Federation for supposedly discriminating against “gays.” He was suspended from his duties for writing letters to the editor of his local newspaper opposing homosexual practices...

There is Bill Whatcott, recently fined $20,000 by his provincial Nurses Association in Saskatchewan for speaking out against homosexuality. Also in Saskatchewan, Hugh Owen was convicted and fined in 2001 by the Saskatchewan HRC for placing a newspaper ad with Biblical references (not even the actual verses) condemning sodomy. Thus the Bible became “hate-literature” (by the Saskatchewan provincial court). In Ontario, printer Scott Brockie was convicted and heavily fined in 1996 by the Ontario HRC for refusing to print materials for the Gay and Lesbian Archives. It cost him $15,000 in legal fees. In PEI, a couple who refused to rent a room in their Bed and Breakfast to homosexuals eventually had to close down their business. An Alberta Protestant pastor, currently under HRC investigation for a newspaper letter (my note: it was a letter to the editor in which he talks about the medical risks of homosexual activity), had a fundraising dinner disrupted by an invasion of “gay” activists...

In 2001, the private Christian Trinity Western University in Langham, B.C., spent $1.5 million on legal fees in an effort to have their teachers’ certification recognized. It had been originally denied because the university prohibits immoral sexual conduct by their students (this included the prohibition against heterosexual students living together with members of the opposite sex, as well as practicing homosexual students). Their principal adversary in the case was the B.C. College of Teachers, the same body which today continues with its persecution of Kempling...

In Ontario in May 2002 homosexual student Marc Hall, with the help of a “gay” lawyer and a provincial MPP successfully forced his Catholic high-school to allow him to bring his “boyfriend” to the graduation prom. In this case, young Mr. Hall also had the support of the Catholic Teachers’ Union (Hall v. Powers, 2002)! An appeal is still pending.

In Manitoba the Winnipeg School District has forbidden its schools the use of four Christian camps for their students. This move was instigated by yet another HRC case (not yet settled) in which the Mennonite Camp Ames is being sued for “discrimination” on refusing a booking from a “gay” choir...

While Federal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler claimed, in December 2004, that no one would be forced to officiate at a homosexual marriage, civilian commissioners—many of whom have religious convictions—were being dismissed by the provinces which have jurisdiction over the administration of marriages. Already some have been forced to resign in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Newfoundland.

Church property does not seem to be immune either, as the Coquitlam B.C. Knights of Columbus found out in December 2004. They are being sued by a pair of lesbians for refusing a hall rental for their “wedding reception.”

...In the spring of 2004 Bishop Henry was called by a Calgary Revenue Canada agent—and ordered to remove the pastoral letter from his website on grounds that an election had been called. The bishop pointed out that his letter was in no way partisan—it named neither persons nor parties—and that he had a right to inform his faithful. He flatly rejected the demand.


Father Raymond deSouza (originally from my home parish, now living in Ontario) wrote a powerful article on the ongoing destruction of freedom of religion and freedom of speech in Canada around the issue of homosexual rights. That article can be found under the title Thinly Disguised Totalitarianism. I strongly recommend it to anyone that wants to know what is happening in our great country. What is happening to Bishop Henry is not an isolated incident. It makes the most news, I suppose, because he is an outspoken, and very high profile bishop of the Catholic Church. I wish I could say that things are getting better up here, but I am afraid that they are not.

Nomad

I have been waiting to see whether any new facts came out about this discovery, but did not want the news to become stale. Archeologists have announced the discovery of what is perhaps the oldest church in the world, dating from the mid-second to early-third centuries The discovery is full of ironies. It was found by Israeli prisoners, but not in their own prison. They had been brought into a high-security prison to help clear the grounds for construction of a new prison ward. The high-security prison is home to terrorists from Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The final irony is perhaps the site of the prison and the discovery: Megiddo, the biblical site of Armeggedon.

Leaving behind the irony of the find, what of its substance? The site is about the size of a tennis court with two mosaics taking up about half of that. To date, only about 10% of the church has been uncovered.

The first mosaic is well-preserved and black and white. It contains two images of a fish, an ancient Christian symbol. Here is a good picture. It contains an inscription which the Israeli Antiquities Authority has translated as stating, “Gaianos, also called Porphyrio, centurion, our brother, having sought honor, with his own money, has made this mosaic. Brouti has carried out the work.”

The second mosaic, a simple flower pattern, contains additional inscriptions. Here is a good picture. One inscription states, “The God-Loving Aketous has offered this table to the God Jesus Christ as a memorial.” Another inscription exhorts that four women be remembered: Frimilia, Kiriaka, Dorothea, and Karasta.

The mosaics are part of the reason that archeologists date the church to the mid-third to early-fourth centuries. Experts have dated the mosaics themselves to the third century. Additionally, the use of fish – an absence of a cross – is evidence of an early date. The fish was used by early Christians as a secretive symbol of their faith. The cross did not become a prominent Christian symbol until after Constantine’s conversion. The fact that the church is not in the shape of a basilica, the common form of churches in the fourth century, also points to an early date. Yotam Tepper, the lead archeology of the excavation, also stated that the pottery found in the church, the style of Greek writing in the inscriptions, and the style of the geometric patterns in the mosaic all point to a third century date. The use of a table instead of an altar, which became common in the Byzantine period, also points towards an early date.

There is some dissent, though by a few scholars who have not been to the site. Notably,the IAA and on-site archeologists were intially reluctant to describe the site as an early church, "but they said its inscribed dedications to community figures, mosaics of fish and specific mention of 'the God Jesus Christ' were proof it was a public building used in Christian worship -- the sort of structure archaeologists here had read about in historical texts but had never uncovered." A team of Italian researchers are scheduled to investigate the site and compare it to other Christian archeological discoveries.

Assuming the early date stands up, and the evidence presented so far is fairly persuasive, what is the significance of the discovery? Very high. Most of our evidence for early Christian beliefs and practices comes from literary evidence. This site could provide hard archeological insight into what it is early Christians believed and did, especially regarding their rituals and worship. As Dr. Tepper notes, “Normally we have from this period in our region historical evidence from literature, not archaeological evidence ... There is no structure you can compare it to. It is a unique find.”

Furthermore, the inscriptions themselves are highly significant. The reference to “God Jesus Christ” is yet more evidence of the high Christology of the early church. The fact that a Roman centurion was supportive of a Christian church suggests early and notable success among gentiles. The reference to five women as important figures in the early church is in line with evidence from Luke-Acts and Paul’s letters of the important role women played in early Christianity.

It also may reinforce the notion that though Christianity was officially outlawed, and oftentimes subject to harsh persecution, its condemnation was not universally applied. The church, if it dates as early as the IAA and archeologists believe, existed before the Edict of Milan (whereby Constantine legalized Christianity). However, given the size of the church and the blatant Christian symbols and inscriptions, it appears this group of Christians were permitted a rather public existence.

Finally, regarding the significance of the discovery, the reference to the “table” and its obvious place of prominence suggests the centrality of a common meal, likely the Lord’s Supper, to Christian meetings. That it is still described as a table suggests that it was a place where Christians partook of the Lord’s Supper as a common meal rather than being described as an altar wherefrom the Lord’s Supper would be served.

One issue that is still being worked out is just what to do with the site. It would be . . . somewhat awkward to erect a museum and what promises to be a significant tourist attraction within or even near a maximum security prison holding terrorists. On the other hand, moving the site would detract from its authenticity and be expensive.

It is a fascinating find that may prove to be one of the great archeological finds of the decade. I will keep my eyes open and provide updates as new information is provided.

From the Wall Street Journal's Best of the Web, November 9, 2005:

"It seems to me that using explicitly religious criteria--rather than jurisprudential philosophy--for judicial nominations is yet another sign of how degenerate Bush's brand of conservatism is."--Andrew Sullivan on Harriet Miers, Oct. 28

"The upshot of [Pope] Benedict's church will be indeed to dictate to Catholic public officials, including judges, what they can and cannot do and still be allowed to receive communion. Under those circumstances, a judge's religion would indeed be fair game for Senate hearings, it seems to me."--Andrew Sullivan on Sam Alito, Nov. 7

'Nuff said.

No point here, political or otherwise, but I could not pass up the irony revealed in this article.

I have been reading 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, by Charles C. Mann. It is an interesting read and unabashadely revisionist, though -- as far as I can tell -- not motivated by religious or political reasons. The thrust of the book is that the American Indians, especially those in South America, had created great empires and civilizations with their own technological and mathmatical accomplishments prior to the coming of Columbus. On one hand, this runs afoul of traditional views of American Indians as having been uncivilized. On the other hand, it runs afoul of liberal views of the American Indians as living in complete harmony in nature. The rise and fall of more than one Indian civilization can be traced to their use and abuse of the surrounding environment.

Early in the book, Mann makes a stray comment that caught my eye because I had recently seen the issue discussed elsewhere. On page 19, Mann writes that the Mayans first used the "zero" -- which he calls "arguably the greatest intellectual feat" -- in the fourth century whereas "It didn't appear in Europe until the twelfth century. Even then European governments and the Vatican resisted zero--a something that stood for nothing -- as foreign and un-Christian." Mann, 1491, page 19. Although the evidence of Mayan mathmatical progress seems well supported, what about the charge that the Vatican opposed the use of zero?

In a discussion group I participate in, Bede's Journal's Religion and Science Group, the issue of zero had been raised and a knowledgeable contributor stated that he was not aware of any evidence of papal resistence to zero, although there may have been some local opposition scattered about. There was opposition to zero by some traditionalists, who preferred the Roman system (which lacked zero) and the use of the abacas. As this article notes, adoption of zero "seems to have been slow, for institutions such as the Medici bank and the English Exchequer (the pioneer of the abacus) did not adopt them before the sixteenth century." I have done some online searching and found no evidence of official Vatican opposition to zero.

Is this another anti-Christian myth or is there some truth to this? Feedback would be welcome.

Since I became a serious thinking Christian, I realized that reading all of C.S. Lewis' books was a part of my sanctification. The current book I'm reading is The Screwtape Letters and Screwtape Proposes a Toast. In The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape writes Wormwood in his twenty-seventh letter about prayer: (As a bit of background for those unfamiliar with this classic, Lord help them, Screwtape is a high ranking "devil" who writes letters to his predecessor, young Wormwood, who's training )

"But since your patient has contracted the terrible habit of obedience (to prayer), he will probably continue such 'crude' prayers whatever you do. But you can worry hum with the haunting suspicion that the practice is absurd and can have no objective result. Don't forget to use the 'Heads I win, tails you lose' argument. If the thing he prays for doesn't happen, then that is one more proof that petitionary prayers don't work, he will, of course, be able to see some of the physical causes which led up to it, and 'therefore it would have happened anyways,' and thus a granted prayer becomes just as good a proof as denied one that prayers are ineffective."

Has this thought not crossed your mind every so often when praying? For a long time, when I would face unanswered prayers of importance and insignificant prayers which turned out to come true, the reasoning of Screwtape's argument played in my mind. In the instance where serious prayers were unanswered I would struggle with the effectivenes of prayer. "How are my prayers worth expressing when they are left unanswered? Why put up with constant disappointment by trying to understand why my prayers are not being answered?" On the otherhand, when I would pray for, what I thought were small, prayers, I would somehow rationalize my way out of believing God pulled through by divine intervention. There were many instances when the day seemed impossible to complete the amount of errands I had to run or work I had to finish. Most of the time, though, all would work and I even saw chances to impact others for Christ's glory. When it first happend, I would think, "Amen!" But then swiftly dismiss it and not give God the glory which was his to begin with. "Thankfulness" had, and still on occasion, been a problem. This also touched on the amount of trust (faith) I put in God to transform my life and plans.

Jack Lewis, through Screwtape, wrote, what I think, is crucial for Christians to be aware of when praying. As I believe Satan is a real entity, in that he exists to destroy and persuade us from Truth (Jesus Christ), it is foundational for mature Christians to recognize and discern attacks on Truth such as this false thinking. Some events can be explained by naturalistic explanations, but that does not thwart the intervention by an outside person, God. Next time, when you are interceding for the Holy Spirit to convict the heart of your unbelieving friend, or for the grocery bill to work out right because you are low on fund, trust in the Lord. Understand, first, that the amount of trust isn't what makes the fulfillment of prayer. God loves our prayers and desires us to depend on Him for sustaining our spirit through difficult and even mundane times. The bible tells us that putting your act of trust in Christ mimics incense to the Holy Spirit.

Rioting in France has spread to 300 towns and cities, though the "burned car count" dipped a bit last night. It is an interesting phenomenon that the gauge of the severity of the rioting has been the number of cars burned. Blame for the rioting has been assigned to French racism, povery and unemployment (check about any AP article giving background), Islamic fanaticism, the failure of assimilation, the refusal to assimilate, friction with the local police, and a French politicians comment that the rioters are "scum."

The AP has a timeline for the riots.

I also benefited from this WSJ article comparing immigrant opportunities in the US to immigrant opportunities in Europe (free registration required).

I have to add that there is some dark humor in all of this. The former Socialist Prime Minister of France, Laurent Fabius, has criticized President Chirac's plan to impose curfews to combat the rioting. According Mr. Fabius, curfews are "repressive." Perhaps it is my naive colonial upbringing talking, but I thought that the express purpose of a curfew was to repress certain activities?

I have been watching the History Channel's special on the Crusades, The Crusades: Crescent and the Cross. Overall it has been very informative, though there is a tendency, no doubt thought to be "balanced" by some, to split time between scholars from Muslim lands and scholars from Christian lands. On one hand the input from Muslim scholars is a welcome change. On the other hand, it is not entirely successful. Because the scholars from Muslim lands see things very much from the Muslim perspective, whereas the scholars from Christian lands seem to have little affection for the Christian perspective, the effect is not balance but a tilt towards the Muslim perspective. As I said, though, taken as a whole I thought the series was pretty good.

Yet there were two scenes that I found particularly troubling. One was at the end of the series when one of the Muslim scholars said that stories of the Crusades were retold today in Muslims nations "as if they happened yesterday." The other scene showed one of the Muslim scholars speaking to a score or more Muslim children on the site of the siege of Antioch. He explained to the children in detail how the Christians had laid siege to Antioch and after through treacheary having gained entrance to the city they set about slaughtering the Muslim occupants. The account was true enough, but is it really a story for children without the context of the times or an explanation as to how things have changed since the Crusades? There was no mention of Nur ed-Din's slaughtering of Franks after re-taking Edessa. Nor was there any explanation about how Jerusalem and Antioch were originally Christian lands that the Muslims had obtain by conequest. Nor was there any explanation about how the Muslims were regularly attempting to spread Islam, by force of arms, further West by conquering Constantinople and toppling the Byzantine Empire. Nor did the Muslim scholar mention that one of the series of events that precipated the Crusades was the actions of the Sixth Caliph, Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah. Al-Hakim had the Church of the Holy Sepulcher -- Christianity's most holy site -- destroyed down to the foundations. He also persecuted Christians to so great a degree that pligramiges had to cease from Christian lands (though they were later resumed to some extent after Al-Hakim's passing).

My point is not that Christians were the good guys in the Crusades. They inflicted truly terrifying atrocities that can be considered Christian in no way, such as the slaughters following the conquests of Antioch and Jerusalem, as well as the severe persecution of Jews in Christian and Muslim lands. The point is that long and narrow-minded memories on either side is a dangerous thing. To a large extent, the West has moved on. There is no impetus for reclaiming "Christian lands." Indeed, there is no mechanism to do so. Christian nations sided with the Muslims against the historically Christian serbians in the recent post-Yugoslavian crisis. At nearly the same time, Christian nations did nothing to help the Christians being oppressed by Muslims in the Sudan. As a Penn State historian notes, "For the West at least -- if not for Islam -- the age of the Crusades is long past." Phillip Johnson, The Next Christendom, page 186. The West and Christianity is better for it, and so too would be the Muslim nations and peoples be if they adjusted similarly.

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