Unexpected Support For An Obscure Biblical Aside

I noticed something odd when I was reading some news recently: [in response to claims of nigh-immortality for humans in the near future] Outside the conference, many scientists who specialize in aging are skeptical of such claims and say the human body is just not designed to last past about 120 years. Even with healthier lifestyles and less disease, they say failure of the brain and other organs will eventually condemn all humans.[source]

120 years? Interesting…

Then the LORD said, “My Spirit will not put up with humans for such a long time, for they are only mortal flesh. In the future, they will live no more than 120 years.” Genesis 6:3, NLT

Nothing conclusive here (we’re not talking about data published in a peer-reviewed journal or anything), but I did think it was worthy of comment.

Does The Bible Teach That Jesus Is God?

It is sometimes alleged that the Bible doesn’t really claim that Jesus is God. This is a list of passages that establish the doctrine. This list isn’t written to persuade nonbelievers that Jesus is in fact God, but to persuade everyone that the Bible indeed claims that He is.

Passages That Explicitly Assert Jesus Divinity

  • In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the
    Word was God
    . (John 1:1, NIV)
  • No one has ever seen God. But his only Son, who is himself God,
    is near to the Father’s heart; he has told us about him. (John 1:18, NLT)
  • Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your
    hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said
    to him, “My Lord and my God!”
    Then Jesus told him, “Because you have
    seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have
    believed.” (John 20:27–29, NIV)
  • Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has
    made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought
    with his own blood
    . (Acts 20:28, NIV)
  • Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of
    Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen. (Romans
    9:5, NIV)
  • we wait for the blessed hopethe glorious appearing of our great
    God and Savior, Jesus Christ,
    who gave himself for us to redeem us
    from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own,
    eager to do what is good. (Titus 2:13–14, NIV)
  • to those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus
    have received a faith as precious as ours (2 Peter 1:1, NIV)

Continue reading “Does The Bible Teach That Jesus Is God?”

The Gospel According to Gamaliel

In the cumbersomely-titled article Support For Authenticity of The Book of Matthew Comes From An Unlikely Source, you can learn how archaelogical/historical finds are increasing our confidence in the biblical text.

One of the first Gospels to be doubted was Matthew. Church tradition said it was written by Matthew, a tax collector who became a disciple of Jesus, a witness to events. Conservative Christian clergy and scholars said they believe the book of Matthew was written between A.D. 40 and 60, within Matthew’s lifetime.

But other scholars concluded the Gospel wasn’t written any earlier than A.D. 85, perhaps as late as A.D. 135, long after Matthew’s death. If the author wasn’t a witness, the thinking goes, the Gospel becomes less credible.

So to scholars the dating is important.

In an essay written for the book Passover and Easter: Origin and History to Modern Times, Israel J. Yuval of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University reported a find in the Talmud that appears to show Matthew could have been written earlier than some scholars contend.

Yuval wrote that a leading rabbinical scholar of the time was “considered to have authored a sophisticated parody of the Gospel according to Matthew.”

The parody, written by a rabbi known as Gamaliel, is believed by some well-respected liberal Christian scholars to have been written about A.D. 73 or earlier.

The fact the parody exists and the date when it was believed to be written “would undercut badly (biblical critics’) claims of a late date of A.D. 85–90 or later,” said Bob Newman, professor of New Testament at Biblical Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania.

I Was Predestined To Believe In Free Will

Questions about free will ever keep you up at night? I just read a great rambling roundtable of an essay called Faith and The Science of Free Will.

It’s a response to an essay by John Horgan in the New York Times, which reads in part: A couple of books I’ve been reading lately have left me brooding over the possibility that free will is as much a myth as divine justice. The chief offender is The Illusion of Conscious Will, by Dr. Daniel M. Wegner, a psychologist at Harvard.… We think of will as a force, but actually, Dr. Wegner says, it is a feeling“merely a feeling,” as he puts itof control over our actions. I think, “I’m going to get up now,” and when I do a moment later, I credit that feeling with having been the instigating cause. But as we all know, correlation does not equal causation.

The exchanges (several people comment) are insightful, such as this one: My response to this is based on The Volitional Brain: Towards a Neuroscience of Free Will, edited by Benjamin Libet (Imprint Academic, 2000). As I understand it, Libet was actually one of the scientists involved in the experiments that Dr. Wegner refers to. The fact that Libet’s position is nowhere mentioned makes me very suspicious of Wegner’s agenda.

The conscious will appears to be initiated by an unconscious brain event. If the experiment is correct, then this calls into question free will. But Libet says the conscious will can veto these subconscious decisions (see page 51 of The Volitional Brain). The conscious veto may itself have a preceding unconscious process. But this would become an unconscious choice of which we become conscious rather than a consciously causal event (52). The conscious veto is a control function, not just simply becoming aware of a wish to act. The role of conscious free will would be, then, not to initiate a voluntary act, but rather to control whether the act takes place. The ethical implications of this are actually consistent with most ethical and religious systems. Most of the Ten Commandments are thou-shall-not commandments (54). The experiments cited by Wegner give us no indication that actions cannot be consciously controlled.

Pretty cool stuff. You can read an expanded version of the essay here.

Yet Another Christian Nobel Laureate

Charles Colson just brought another Christian Nobel Laureate to my attention: Arno Penzias. Dr. Penzias won the Nobel Prize in Physics for co-discovering cosmic background radiation.

Dr. Penzias says, “The creation of the universe is supported by all the observable data astronomy has produced so far. As a result, the people who reject the data can arguably be described as having a �religious� belief.” That is, people who refuse to consider the evidence because it conflicts with their preconceived ideas are following a “dogma” in the most stubborn sense of the word.

In an article in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, Penzias told Dr. Jerry Bergman of the American Scientific Affiliation, “I invite you to examine the snapshot provided by half a century�s worth of astrophysical data and see what the pieces of the universe actually look like.… In order to achieve consistency with our observations we must … assume not only creation of matter and energy out of nothing, but creation of space and time as well.”

Penzias, a Nobel Prize winner, added, “The best data we have are exactly what I would have predicted had I had nothing to go on but the five books of Moses, the Psalms, the Bible as a whole.”

Read the rest of Colson’s commentary…

I’m updating the list of famous scientists who believe.

Genes and God: Contrasting Perspectives

London’s Telegraph had an unusually balanced article on how leading scientists think about God.

The occasion? The 50th anniversary of the discovery of DNA.
The players? Watson & Crick (discoverers of DNA, both atheists) and Francis Collins (head of the Human Genome Project, devout Christian).

In Crick’s mind, “The god hypothesis is rather discredited.” Indeed, he says his distaste for religion was one of his prime motives in the work that led to the sensational 1953 discovery.

“I went into science because of these religious reasons, there’s no doubt about that. I asked myself what were the two things that appear inexplicable and are used to support religious beliefs: the difference between living and nonliving things, and the phenomenon of consciousness.”

And according to Watson, “Every time you understand something, religion becomes less likely,” said Watson. “Only with the discovery of the double helix and the ensuing genetic revolution have we had grounds for thinking that the powers held traditionally to be the exclusive property of the gods might one day be ours.”

But Collins (who has succeeded Watson as head of the Human Genome Project), believes that religion and science “are nicely complementary and mutually supporting”, he said. As one example, his research to find the faulty gene responsible for cystic fibrosis provided scientific exhilaration and “a sense of awe at uncovering something that God knew before that we humans didn’t”.

“The tragedy is that many people believe that, if evolution is true, which it clearly is, then God can’t be true… God decided to create a species with whom he could have fellowship. Who are we to say that evolution was a dumb way to do it? It was an incredibly elegant way to do it.”

“Jim, who I know much better than Francis, avoids bringing this topic up when we are having a conversation.”

The article concludes with what I found to be a sadly amusing story of Crick’s antipathy to faith. You really ought to read the whole thing.

Reflections on Atheism and Amorality

In that class that I guest-lectured in I fielded some questions from atheists. Ive been reflecting on atheism since then, and Id like to offer a refinement of my thoughts.

First, a disclaimer. It is possible that someone could find this hurtful or offensive. I do not seek to deliberately offend, but I do seek to be honest. It seems to me that atheism has several serious problems, and I am about to address one of them: atheism’s intrinisic divorce from morality. This is not a personal attack on anyone–in fact, you can be an atheist and also be quite a moral person. But if you are an atheist you do not have a compelling reason to be moral (or even to believe that morality is a meaningful concept), and that is what I want to address.

I can sum up what Ive been thinking in one phrase: atheism is amoral. Amorality flows directly from a rejection of all nonmaterial reality.

Allow me to explain: a moral law is an entirely different sort of thing than a law of physics. You cannot get a moral ought from a material is.

If all we are is a collection of particles arranged in a complicated fashion, then there is no compelling reason to suppose that any motion of those particles is logically preferable to any other. Say, for instance, a collection of particles driving a knife through another collection of particles versus a collection of particles nursing another, smaller collection of particles.
Continue reading “Reflections on Atheism and Amorality”

Ancient Tablet Seems to Corroborate Biblical Narrative

According to the Associated Press, archaelogists have found a very special tablet.

Israeli geologists said Monday they have examined a stone tablet detailing repair plans for the Jewish Temple of King Solomon that, if authenticated, would be a rare piece of physical evidence confirming biblical narrative.

The find whose origin is murky is about the size of a legal pad, with a 15-line inscription in ancient Hebrew that strongly resembles descriptions in the Bible’s Book of Kings. It could also strengthen Jewish claims to a disputed holy site in Jerusalem’s Old City that is now home to two major mosques.

The sandstone tablet has a 15-line inscription in ancient Hebrew that resembles descriptions in Kings II, 12:1–6, 11–17, said Israel’s Geological Survey, which examined the artifact. The words refer to King Joash, who ruled the area 2,800 years ago.

In it, the king tells priests to take “holy money … to buy quarry stones and timber and copper and labor to carry out the duty with faith.” If the work is completed well, “the Lord will protect his people with blessing,” reads the last sentence of the inscription.

It’s interesting, but I should note that there seems to be much more confusion over this tablet’s authenticity than over the James ossuary.

The Church Changes The World

The church too often gets a negative rep on the college campus. Consider this: “Would anyone notice if our church closed down tomorrow?” a preacher asked his congregation. Harvard University researcher Robert D. Putnam says yes, Christianity and other religions do make a difference in American society. (source)

Some highlights:
* half of all personal philanthropy is religious in character, and half of all volunteering occurs in a religious context.
* Churchgoers are substantially more likely to be involved in secular organizations and to have deeper informal social connections.
* In one survey it was membership in religious groups that was most closely associated with other forms of civic involvement, like voting, jury service, community projects, talking with neighbors, and giving to charity.

Food for thought…

Cool Archaelogical Discovery Corroborates the New Testament

In yet another case of archaelogy confirming the biblical record, scholars recently announced the discovery of an ancient ossuary bearing the inscription James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.

The relic has been dated to just before 70 A.D., which jives with the biblical dating of the death of James.

You can read the details at Christianity Today (very pro), National Geographic (pretty neutral), and the New York Times (slightly skeptical).

Incidentally, you might be intrigued to note that the inscription pronounced phonetically sounds like “Yacob son of Yussef brother of Yeshua.”

Yacob? Who’s Yacob?

James and Jacob are both legitimate English equivalents of the Hebrew Yacob.
Betcha didn’t learn that in Sunday School…

I’ve heard that this dates back to translation of the King James Bible. As you probably know, names are often radically changed when Anglicized, and often for nonphonetic reasons. The story I heard claimed that the translators of the King James Bible decided to dub the brother of Jesus James as a thank-you to their sponsor. It sounds like an urban legend to me, but stranger things have happened.