May 2012


Adult stem cell research has been booming.  There are so many advances that it is hard to keep up.  Just recently researchers were able to take adult human skin cells, convert them back to an embryonic state, and then with a string of chemical cocktails convert them into heart cells that were capable of being transplanted into rats.  While not yet ready for human trials, this is a major milestone that may one day give real hope to those who have suffered heart attacks.

 

HT: Wesley J. Smith

The cover story for New York Magazine’s May 28th issue is titled “A Life Worth Ending.”  The author, Michael Wolff, “argues” for the voluntary euthanizing of the sick and elderly—not a rational argument, but an appeal to our emotions, our finances, and our hatred of being inconvenienced.   

Most of the article is taken up with the story of Wolff’s mother who is suffering from dementia, seizures, and a host of other debilitating health issues.  While no human could read his mother’s story without feeling a strong sense of compassion and empathy for both what his mother has endured as well as her family, his proposal is chilling: kill.  Here are some of the most provocative excerpts:

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The Israel Antiquities Authority just announced the discovery of a bulla (small clay stamp used for sealing documents) bearing the name of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus. The bulla dates to the 8th or 7th century BC, roughly the same time Micah prophesied that the messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).  It is the only extra-biblical reference to Bethlehem, and one of only ~40 bulla to be discovered from the First Temple period. 

The tiny (1.5 cm) bulla has three lines of fragmented text in paleo-Hebrew:

Hebrew:

בשבעת

לתב ים

למל]ך]

English transliteration:

Bishv’at
Bat Lechem
[Lemel]ekh 

English translation:

“in the seventh
Bethlehem
king”

The third line only contains a single Hebrew letter, but it is speculated that it is the final letter in the Hebrew word melek, or “king.” Eli Shukron, the excavation’s director, thinks the bulla “belongs to the group of ‘fiscal’ bullae – administrative bullae used to seal tax shipments remitted to the taxation system of theKingdom ofJudah in the late eighth and seventh centuries BCE.” 

While some scholars immediately questioned the paleographic identification of“Bethlehem,” several have since retracted their arguments and agreed that it is indeed Bethlehem.   

A high resolution image is available here.

Gallupreleased the results of their annual abortion questionnaire yesterday.  Since 1995 they have been asking Americans whether they identify as “pro-life” or “pro-choice.”  When they asked the question in 1995, 56% of Americans considered themselves pro-choice and 33% pro-life.  In 2012 the situation is nearly reversed with 50% identifying as pro-life and 41% as pro-choice. 

Often in questionnaires about abortion people’s true positions get blurred by the legal vs. moral distinction.  For example, someone may be opposed to abortion morally, but think people should have a legal right to an abortion.  Such a person could rightly identify as either pro-choice or pro-life.  To truly gauge people’s views on abortion we need to separate the legal question from the moral question. Gallupdid just that, asking people what they thought of the morality of abortion, apart from whether or not they think it should be legal.  The result was 51% saying they thought abortion was morally wrong, while only 38% thought it was morally acceptable. 

 

In The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited Scot McKnight argues that the gospel being preached in evangelicalism today is a truncated or distorted version of the original.  Some think the gospel is justification by faith, while others identify it as the saving work of Christ.  However it is characterized, the gospel is understood to be all about personal salvation.  While that is surely part of it, the gospel is much more.[1]

McKnight argues that the gospel as preached in the NT consists of four elements:

  1. The story ofIsrael
  2. The story of Jesus
  3. The plan of salvation
  4. The method of persuasion

We cannot make sense of the method of persuasion apart from the plan of salvation, and we cannot make sense of the plan of salvation apart from the story of Jesus, and we can’t make sense of the story of Jesus apart from the story ofIsrael.  All four elements were integral to the preaching of the gospel in the early church.  

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Daniel Wallace revealed some additional details regarding some early NT papyri manuscripts in a video interview with Michael Licona, one of which is the highly touted first century fragment of Mark. 

In a nutshell:

  • Number: There are 7 papyri manuscripts of the gospels and Paul’s letters
  • Size: All manuscripts are less than 1 leaf
  • Dates: 1 is probably 1st century, 4 from the 2nd century, and 2 that are probably 2nd century but could be dated to the 3rd century
  • NT Books represented:
    • 1 = Matthew
    • 1 = Mark (possibly 1st century)
    • 1 = Luke
    • 1 = Romans
    • 1 = First Corinthians
    • 2 = Hebrews

I can’t wait to find out more about the collection in 2013!

This marks my 1000th post since I started this blog in February 2006. Hopefully I have the tenacity for 1000 more!

Premise one of the kalam cosmological argument (KCA) states that everything which begins to exist has a cause.  It goes on to reason that since the universe began to exist, it too requires a cause.  Given the properties required of such a cause, the KCA is a powerful argument for a personal creator God.  

To avoid the conclusion of the argument many new atheist-types take exception with the causal principle embodied in premise 1.  Quantum physics, they say, has shown that there can be effects without causes.  And if quantum events do not need causes, then perhaps the universe doesn’t either.  

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Earlier I cited evidence that Facebook is cited in 20% of divorce cases. Other sources are noting that the trend is increasing: 

More than a third of divorce filings last year contained the word Facebook, according to a U.K.survey by Divorce Online, a  legal services firm. And over 80% ofU.S. divorce attorneys say they’ve seen a rise in the number of cases using social networking, according to theAmericanAcademy of Matrimonial Lawyers. “I see Facebook issues breaking up marriages all the time,” says Gary Traystman, a divorce attorney inNew London,Conn. Of the 15 cases he handles per year where computer history, texts and emails are admitted as evidence, 60% exclusively involve Facebook. 

“Affairs happen with a lightning speed on Facebook,” says K. Jason Krafsky, who authored the book “Facebook and Your Marriage” with his wife Kelli. In the real world, he says, office romances and out-of-town trysts can take months or even years to develop. “On Facebook,” he says, “they happen in just a few clicks.” The social network is different from most social networks or dating sites in that it both re-connects old flames and allows people to “friend” someone they may only met once in passing. “It puts temptation in the path of people who would never in a million years risk having an affair,” he says. Facebook declined to comment.

A lot of people think the government can recognize same-sex unions as “marriage” without any detrimental effects on religious institutions and religious liberties.  I think this is a delusion.  The legal recognition of same-sex unions will almost inevitably result in religious discrimination on a social level, and likely on a legal level as well.  

How can the government say on the one hand that a failure to legally recognize same-sex unions as “marriage” and treat them as equal to opposite-sex unions in every way is to engage in discriminatory behavior, and yet at the same time permit churches to discriminate against same-sex couples by refusing to marry them?  Talk about legal schizophrenia!  Consider the logic involved: 

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The next time you hear someone say they are not a Christian because there are too many hypocrites in the church, here are a handful of tactful ways to respond: 

  1. What do you mean by “hypocrite?” (You want to make the point that a hypocrite is not merely someone who is morally imperfect, but someone who says he believes X but purposely fails to practice X)
  2. Yes, there are hypocrites in the church.  Jesus told us there would be.  But Jesus wasn’t a hypocrite.  What do you think about Jesus?
  3. Yes, there are hypocrites in the church.  Jesus told us there would be.  But there are also genuine Christians who are following Jesus.  Why do you choose to let the hypocrites dictate your response to Christianity rather than the true followers of Jesus?
  4. What does that have to do with you?  Couldn’t Christianity still be true even if a lot of confessing Christians are bad people?  The question God is concerned with is not what others do, but what you believe and how you live.
  5. Are you saying that because other people fail to live up to their ideals you don’t have to even try?  
  6. If you can’t tolerate all the hypocrites in church, why not follow Jesus independently of a local church body—to avoid all of those immoral Christians? (This will get them to tell you the real reasons they are not a Christian) 

Do you have any more to add to the mix?

It’s 1856.  The American presidential race is on.  What would you say to me if I told you that I am opposed to slavery, but was prepared to vote for a political candidate who personally supported it, or who was part of a political party whose platform included support for it?

While there would be no reason to question the sincerity of my personal belief/position, one would be thoroughly justified in questioning the level of my concern and the propriety of my political priorities.  If candidates’ economic and foreign policy was more influential in determining my vote, then slavery ranks low on my totem poll of priorities.  While I say I am morally outraged that society would permit the use of human beings as property, my political choices indicate that my concerns lie elsewhere.  After all, how could one be genuinely concerned for the welfare of African Americans while at the same time supporting political parties and political candidates whose platform includes the enslavement of African Americans?

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It’s long been the conclusion of scholars that Esther and Nehemiah are the only books of the OT not represented among the Dead Sea Scrolls.  The May/June 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR), however, reports that Norwegian scholar, Torleif Elgvin of the Evangelical Lutheran University College in Oslo, Norway, and Esther Eshel of Bar-Ilan University are publishing a collection of two dozen previously unknown DSS fragments from Cave 4, the Bar-Kokhba caves, and Wadi ed-Daliyeh in a book titled Gleanings from the Caves (T&T Clark publishers).  If this checks out, then Esther would remain the only book not found in the DSS.  Of course, if Nehemiah and Esther were written on the same scroll as most scholars believe, then while we may not have an extant copy of Esther from the DSS, there is good reason to believe the text was present in the community as part of the Nehemiah scroll.

On January 30, 2011 the governor of Illinois signed “The Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act” into law, thereby enacting same-sex civil unions that are equal in rights and responsibilities to marriage in the state.  While religious organizations who did social service work were specifically exempted from the non-discrimination elements of the law, the State of Illinois moved to cancel more than $30 million dollars worth of contracts with Catholic charities who worked with the state to provide foster care and adoption services because they would not pair children with same-sex couples.  The state began sending referrals to other foster care agencies.  The Catholic charities challenged the state in court and lost at both the circuit and appellate levels.  They ultimately had to drop the case due to a lack of funds to appeal it further up the chain.  The lack of state cooperation and funding will virtually ascertain the closure of these adoption agencies, which have more than 90 years of experience in this area.

The lawyer who represented the Catholic charities, Peter Breen of the Thomas Moore Society, commented, “This stands as a stark lesson to the rest of the nation that legislators promising ‘religious protection’ in same sex marriage and civil union laws may not be able to deliver on those promises.”  Indeed.

During his debate with Arif Ahmed and Andrew Copson at the Cambridge Union Society, Peter S. Williams gave a lucid illustration for the argument for the existence of God based on the contingency of material reality.[1]

Imagine if I asked you to loan me a book.  You say you don’t have it, but you’ll ask your friend to loan you his, and in turn you’ll loan it to me.  When you ask your friend for the book, he says he does not have it, but he’ll ask his friend to borrow his copy, and in turn he’ll loan it to you, who will loan it to me.  If this process continues ad infinitum, I will never receive the book.  If I do receive the book it is because the process of requesting to borrow the book is not infinite, but temporally finite.  Somewhere down the chain of requests to borrow the book, someone actually had the book without having to borrow it from someone else.  

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