Tuesday, April 29, 2008

U.S. among most Bible-literate nations: poll | U.S. | Reuters

U.S. among most Bible-literate nations: poll | U.S. | Reuters:
"VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Americans are among the world's most 'Bible-literate' people and Spaniards, French and Italians are among the most ignorant about what the 'good book' says, according to a new study released on Monday.

A poll carried out in nine countries -- the United States, Britain, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Russia, Italy, Spain and Poland -- also showed Americans were most willing to donate money to spread the message of the Bible. ..."
I suspect interpretation of these results depends a lot on what questions were asked and how the respondents were selected. Stephen Prothero's book Religious Literacy has a bit more pessimistic take on the state of religious literacy in the USA.

Or another way to look at it, if the USA is setting a standard, then the bar is pretty low...

Or am I being too cynical?

Monday, April 28, 2008

Is 'Let Him Who Is Without Sin Cast the First Stone' Biblical? | Christianity Today

Is 'Let Him Who Is Without Sin Cast the First Stone' Biblical? | Christianity Today:
"When Dallas Theological Seminary professor Daniel Wallace examined New Testament manuscripts stored in the National Archive in Albania last June, he was amazed by what he did not find.

The story of the woman caught in adultery, usually found in John 7:53-8:11, was missing from three of the texts, and was out of place in a fourth, tacked on to the end of John's Gospel. ..."
There is additional information about the manuscripts also available on the Christianity Today website.

This is a particularly interesting and informative article about some of the problems in determining what the original text of the New Testament was. These aren't disputes of how to translate a particular word or phrase. They are questions of whether a particular passage was added later for whatever reason.

What do we do about the few instances of serious disagreement about the text of the Bible? Four come to mind:
  • The "Great Commission which ends the Gospel of Mark 16:9-20
  • The story of the the woman taken in adultery from John 7:53-8:11
  • A portion of the story in Phillip and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-40 (in which verse 37 is missing in most recent translations)
  • The "Heavenly Witnesses" in 1 John 5:7-8 (compare the King James Version with the New International Version or the Revised Standard Version)
The first two generally appear in the text at the accustomed locations, but with the second two, the missing words are relegated to footnotes. There may be others, but I have not run across them. In any event, these four are ones that seem to enjoy a consensus that spans the spectrum of belief.

There really isn't anything in the disputed passages that undermines any essential doctrine, although the "missing" verse of Acts 8:37 could be construed as indirectly prohibiting infant baptism:
Acts 8:36 And as they went on the way, they came unto a certain water; and the eunuch saith, Behold, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?
Acts 8:37
And Philip said, If thou believest with all thy heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
Acts 8:38 And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they both went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.

--American Standard Version (1901)
So what about the woman taken in adultery?

It sure sounds like something Jesus might say, given the circumstances. Did he say it? Perhaps. Perhaps not. This question cannot be resolved given what we know currently about the original documents. If a new manuscript were to be discovered then we might find a reason to restore this or other passages to an undisputed status.

What is true, though, is that the earliest manuscripts do not contain this passage, and honesty requires that we acknowledge that.

J. I. Packer wrote an article titled "Good Question: Text Criticism and Inerrancy" which appeared in Christianity Today in 2002. He provides an answer to the question "How can I reconcile my belief in the inerrancy of Scripture with comments in Bible translations that state that a particular verse is not 'in better manuscripts'"?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Nearby Dust Clouds in the Milky Way

Nearby Dust Clouds in the Milky Way:
"The yearly ritual of spring cleaning clears a house of dust as well as dust 'bunnies', those pesky dust balls that frolic under beds and behind furniture. NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has photographed similar dense knots of dust and gas in our Milky Way Galaxy. ..."

Follow the link for a more complete explanation. And while you are there, try browsing around www.spacetelescope.org for more interesting images.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

PC(USA) - Presbyterian News Service - Bare essentials

PC(USA) - Presbyterian News Service - Bare essentials:
"RUMBEK, Sudan — Sudan appears to be a country in waiting.

Waiting for a crucial census that will clarify for the first time since 1993 the population figures in the north and the semi-autonomous south Sudan.

Waiting for elections in 2009.

Waiting for a critical referendum in 2011 that will allow the people of the 10 states of South Sudan to vote on the question of self-determination from the Khartoum-based north.

But, after a 21-year civil war that crippled much of the nation’s infrastructure, and an increasingly shaky peace agreement signed in 2005, Sudanese people, especially those in the south, are also waiting for more basic, essential things: water, healthcare, roads, schools."
It has been a while since I blogged about the problems in Sudan, but this Presbyterian News Service article snapped me out of my lethargy.

People who are in Sudan, or have closer knowledge of the region than I, are saying that the people are slowly shifting from a culture of violence to one of peace. But without education their development will be slow -- there is a very low literacy rate due to the inability of schools and other necessary services to operate. Many of the trades and skills have been seriously diminished by the lack of schools, not to mention the significant death toll of the past 20 years.

The US Embassy in Khartoum has an informational page on the situation in Darfur, and mentions the Darfur Peace Agreement of May 2006, which seems to clear the way for increased humanitarian aid. Wikipedia also has an article on the peace agreement, but it appears to be a verbatim copy of the US State Department information that I linked in the previous sentence.

The question is who and how. The United Nations has not had a stellar record in Sudan, but they can rectify that with effective peacekeeping and aid programs. Christian groups might be able to help, but considering the fact that Sudan is predominantly Muslim, such groups need to be particularly sensitive.

Sudan is still waiting.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

NASA - Moondust and Duct Tape

NASA - Moondust and Duct Tape:
"April 21, 2008: At this year's Great Moonbuggy Race in Huntsville, Alabama, Prof. Paul Shiue of Christian Brothers University was overheard joking that duct tape was his team's 'best engineering tool.' Others felt the same way. The sound of gray tape being torn from rolls practically filled the race course as dozens of college and high school student engineers busily assembled and repaired their homemade moonbuggies.

Little did they know, this was in the finest tradition of lunar exploration. Turning back the clock 36 years reveals the key roll of duct tape in NASA's Apollo program:

The date was Dec. 11, 1972. Astronauts Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt had just landed their lunar module Challenger in a beautiful mountain-ringed valley named Taurus-Littrow on the edge of the Sea of Serenity. Mission planners chose the site for its geological variety: the ground was covered by a mix of giant boulders, hardened lava, orange glass beads (a sign of ancient volcanic fire fountains) and, of course, ubiquitous moondust. The valley itself was a fracture created in the aftermath of an asteroid impact billions of years ago; the history of the Moon, many suspected, might be written along its walls. Jack Schmitt, the first geologist on the Moon, could hardly wait to get started. ..."
My son will be thrilled. He insists on taking not less than one roll of duct tape on all scout camping trips, and when I looked in his pack last weekend there were two complete rolls of tape. My first thought was that here was a potential for a lot of mischief, but I didn't say anything. (He comes up with enough ideas for deviltry on his own, and doesn't need me to give him ideas). After we returned I noted that the rolls were nearly unused -- a far cry from when he was a new scout and would go through nearly a whole roll of duct tape. It seems he is rapidly maturing, and this is a comfort as Susan and I contemplate the fact that he is now eligible for a learner's permit.

Anyway, this story out of NASA is a fascinating look into the ingenuity and imagination of the people that took us into the space age.

And I'll try to lighten up on my son for his fascination with duct tape.

Friday, April 18, 2008

What's Shakin'?

Well, that's a loaded question...

I am a light sleeper and tend to wake up for anything out of the ordinary. Early this morning it was several seconds of vibration in the bed.

I immediately thought "the dog needs her flea drops", but I quickly ruled that out as I didn't hear the jangle of the dog tags. Besides, the dog is not allowed on the bed....

How about cats? No cats on or beside the bed.

How about earthquake? Did the New Madrid Fault finally do its thing? By this time the vibration had ended and I decided to go back to sleep.

Upon waking at 6:00am, I did my usual morning things and ended up at my laptop where I checked the news.

It really was an earthquake, 5.4 magnitude, with an epicenter about 130 miles west east of St. Louis and felt up to 450 miles away. The time was 4:36AM. [oops -- 130 miles west of St. Louis would have been just about in our backyard!]

See "Illinois Earthquake Felt in Boone County" for additional information.

[Update] The US Geological Survey revised the earthquake's magnitude downward to 5.2.

All-in-all an interesting way to start off the day.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A Renegade Against Greenpeace | Newsweek Future Of Energy | Newsweek.com

A Renegade Against Greenpeace | Newsweek Future Of Energy | Newsweek.com:
"Patrick Moore is a critic of the environmental movement—an unlikely one at that. He was one of the cofounders of Greenpeace, and sailed into the Aleutian Islands on the organization's inaugural mission in 1971, to protest U.S. nuclear tests taking place there. After leading the group for 15 years he left abruptly, and, in a controversial reversal, has become an outspoken advocate of some of the environmental movement's most detested causes, chief among them nuclear energy. NEWSWEEK's Fareed Zakaria spoke to Moore about his sparring with the green movement, and why he thinks nuclear power is the energy of the future."
There are more and more former anti-nuclear activists who are re-evaluating their stands based on science and reality. Some interesting statistics are presented in this short interview.

It's been years since I have gotten into a discussion with anti-nuclear folks, but there seem to be fewer and fewer scientists in such groups and more and more ideologues. And it's no fun arguing with ideologues...

My wife told me that the current Discover magazine has an article on the same topic. I was not able to wrest it out of her hand, but I'll take a look later. I should also note that she pointed me to this Newsweek article.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Perry Presbyterian Church closes after 125 years

"PERRY How does a congregation say 'good-bye' to their long-time house of worship? How do they permanently close the doors to what has been their church home as long as they can remember? Just ask the former members of the Perry Presbyterian Church who held their final Worship and Closing Service at the Church, Sunday, April 6, after over 125 years of service to the 'glory of God.'..."
I was present at Presbytery when the Session of the Perry Presbyterian Church asked that the congregation be dissolved and the members dismissed to other congregations.

Here in the Presbytery of Missouri Union we have many such congregations, some of which go on and on, and over the past century many have simply dissolved.

It was a somber vote, but there was no point in denying the request.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Interviews: 'A Poorer Story, but a Better Movie' | Christianity Today Movies

Interviews: 'A Poorer Story, but a Better Movie' | Christianity Today Movies:
"In late 2005, Douglas Gresham was nervously looking forward to the theatrical release of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, the film adaptation of the first book in the beloved Chronicles of Narnia.

Gresham had a dual interest in the film's success. Not only was he one of the movie's producers, but he's also the stepson of the books' author—C. S. Lewis. ..."
Here is a good interview with the co-producer of Prince Caspian, due to be released on May 16, 2008. We get a glimpse into the mind and personality of a person who is at once the stepson of C. S. Lewis, a producer of film adaptations of Lewis' books, and a Christian who has his own story to tell.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Go Royals!

It's been a while since the Royals have had a season open like this. With the 4-0 win over the New York Yankees yesterday their record improved to a quite respectable 6-2. I'm going to enjoy it while I can and hope I don't jinx them.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Apple Sour Over Big Apple's Green Logo

Apple Sour Over Big Apple's Green Logo:
"SAN FRANCISCO -- Apple Inc. (AAPL) says The Big Apple is worming into its territory with a logo the city is using for its green living campaign.

Apple on Friday renewed its challenge to a trademark registration application that New York City filed last May, saying the apple logo was too similar to its own.

Both logos depict a plump apple with a leaf. Apple's logo is white, with its signature bite mark, while New York City's proposed trademark is a green, figure-eight outline reminiscent of an infinity sign, with a stem, and the word 'greeNYC' under it. ..."
It seems to me that Apple Computer has some lawyers with too much time on their hands....

New York City, known widely as "The Big Apple", has pointed out that they were using an apple long before Apple Computer Corporation did. And I would venture to add that most, if not all, of the employees of Apple were born after NYC became associated with an apple. Personally, I'm not all that confused by GreeNYC's use of a stylized apple in its logo.

The city of Manhattan, Kansas must be getting a little nervous at this point, with their nickname of "The Little Apple".

Maybe our friends from Cupertino need to get a grip.

Note: The Apple Computer logo is an image obtained from Wikipedia. The GreeNYC logo came from an Infoworld article on this topic. Both are low-resolution and serve to illustrate a point.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Google won't like it, but neither will any other search company--too bad | Coop's Corner : A Blog from Charlie Cooper - CNET News.com

Google won't like it, but neither will any other search company--too bad | Coop's Corner : A Blog from Charlie Cooper - CNET News.com:
"On the eve of the RSA security conference, there's a showdown in the offing between 'Old Europe' and U.S. search operators. Earlier today word leaked about a European regulatory plan to press search engine providers to dump personal search data after six months.

Barring the unforeseen, it's likely the European Commission will look kindly upon the plan. This would be quite a big deal, setting the stage for a continent-wide challenge to the way big search engine companies set procedures handling log deletion and browser cookies. ..."
This seems just a little paranoid, but the European Community has been more concerned with the appearance of privacy that we here in the US. Considering what is logged by ISPs and web hosting services, the sorts of information Google maintains is trivial, by comparison.

Another thing to consider is that the dynamic addresses provided by ISPs to the majority of users change on a fairly regular basis. Making the connection between a user and his/her activity on the web requires access not only to web server logs, but ISP data on who had a given dynamic address assigned at a particular time -- and I suspect a court order as well.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Big Win for Va.'s Breakaway Anglican Parishes in Property Fight | Christianity Today

Big Win for Va.'s Breakaway Anglican Parishes in Property Fight | Christianity Today:
"A Virginia judge Thursday upheld key arguments of 11 Anglican churches seeking to keep their property and assets after leaving the Episcopal Church and its Virginia Diocese. The Anglican District of Virginia (ADV), a coalition comprised of defendants in the case, called the ruling an 'initial victory' in one of the biggest church property battles in recent history."
I spent my school years from 6th through 8th grade, and again from the last couple months of 11th grade through graduation in Falls Church, VA. In seventh grade our Virginia History class went on a series of Saturday field trips to some of the local historical sites, and among them were The Falls Church and Truro Parish. George Washington was a vestryman at the Falls Church, which is located a couple blocks from the Falls Church Presbyterian Church where my parents were members, and where I was first received into communicant membership.

This ruling is based on Virginia law which uses "neutral principles" in determining questions of ownership of church property, which I assume means that the denominational hierarchy is not automatically presumed to be the owner of the property. In addition, an 1867 law governing divisions of property in a church split says the faction with the majority of votes is entitled to the property.

It's pretty sad when things get to this point, but I expect we will see more and more of this, especially where there is such a wide gulf between the denominational hierarchy and the people in the congregations.

PC(USA) - Presbyterian News Service - PC(USA) set to lease Presbyterian Center space

PC(USA) - Presbyterian News Service - PC(USA) set to lease Presbyterian Center space:
"LOUISVILLE — The General Assembly Council (GAC) announced today that it has signed a leasing contract for approximately 30,000 square feet of first floor office space at the Presbyterian Center in downtown Louisville.

“We are in a prime area for downtown real estate,” said Joey Bailey, GAC deputy executive director for shared services, 'and it only makes good stewardship sense to take advantage of our location to produce additional funds for mission.'..."
This raises a lot of interesting questions, but with the budget crunch and recent personnel cuts in the Louisville PC(USA) staff, using the empty space to generate revenue makes sense.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Blogger Implements delayed posting

Or not...

If the delayed posting worked, then this will have a time stamp of 5:00pm.

[UPDATE] Finally! Blogger has implemented delayed posting (you have to go to draft.blogger.com to try it out). This has been on my wish list for some time.

Can This Last?

As of last night, the Kansas City Royals were 3-0 -- a statistic that I was beginning to despair of ever seeing again. Keep it up guys!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Presbyweb: Moderator Candidates Answer "What is the Gospel"

Presbyweb has been a valuable resource for years, providing news and commentary about not only the PC(USA), but the Church in the world. Its offerings are available by subscription (and the user still gets to pay what he or she feels the service is worth). A thirty day trial subscription is available.

In a welcome departure from the lists of questions provided by various interest groups to all the moderatorial candidates for the upcoming General Assembly, Hans Cornelder asks one simple question: "What is the Gospel?". The moderator has limited power, does not define policy, does not administer the bureaucracy of our denomination, but IS the "public face" of the PC(USA) for many people. He or she must be able to clearly define why we have come together as a body calling ourselves the Presbyterian Church (USA).

In its April 1, 2008 edition, Presbyweb listed the responses of all four candidates for Moderator of the 218th General Assembly:

Carl Mazza
Bruce Reyes-Chow
Roger Shoemaker
Bill Teng

What I read opened a window on the candidates' minds. I have formed an opinion, but I will not express it here. The commissioners who will make the decision need to be able to deliberate and pray without pressure.

I hope to hear more such questions being asked, and I thank Hans Cornelder and Presbyweb for setting a standard.