Saturday, July 26, 2008

Matt 24 watch, 63: Astronaut Edgar Mitchell's UFO revelations -- whose report do we believe, why?

This week, 77 year old US Apollo 14 Astronaut Dr Edgar Mitchell, made some remarks on UFO's -- Unidentified Flying Objects -- that have hit at least a few headlines around the world.

In the UK Telegraph's report, we may see that:

Dr Edgar Mitchell, said he was aware of several UFO visits during his career, but each one had been covered up . . . . [he] said sources at [NASA] the [American] space agency had described aliens as resembling "little people who look strange to us".

Dr Mitchell told Kerrang! Radio that human technology was "not nearly as sophisticated" as theirs and had they been hostile, he warned: "We would be been gone by now" . . . . "There's not much question at all that there's life throughout the universe, we are not alone at all. I'm most assured about that.

"Have we been able to identify where the other planets are? No, certainly not in our Solar System but we have been able to identify quite a number of planets that could be life bearing planets.

"I happen to have been privileged enough to be in on the fact that we've been visited on this planet and the UFO phenomena is real.

"It's been well covered up by all our governments for the last 60 years or so, but slowly it's leaked out and some of us have been privileged to have been briefed on some of it.

"I've been in military and intelligence circles, who know that beneath the surface of what has been public knowledge, yes – we have been visited.

"Reading the papers recently, it's been happening quite a bit." . . . .

Now, if this is true, it would indeed be earth-shaking news, not only that "we are not alone," but that there would have been a decades long conspiracy across several major governments to conceal the truth from us.

But, should we believe the claim?

Why, or why not?

That is a far more interesting issue, and brings to mind my recent devotional reading from John 8, just after Jesus had routed those who wanted to use the incident of the woman caught in the act of adultery to pose a dilemma to discredit or even destroy him:

JN 8:12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

JN 8:13 The Pharisees challenged him, "Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid."

JN 8:14 Jesus answered, "Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going. 15 You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one . . . . "

JN 8:23 But he continued, "You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. 24 I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins."

JN 8:25 "Who are you?" they asked.

"Just what I have been claiming all along," Jesus replied. 26 "I have much to say in judgment of you. But he who sent me is reliable, and what I have heard from him I tell the world."

JN 8:27 They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father. 28 So Jesus said, "When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. 29 The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him."

So, we come now to the underlying issue of the trustworthiness of testimony: Whose report do -- or, should -- we believe, why?

Dr Mitchell's story gives us a first clue:

"[he] said he was aware of several UFO visits during his career, but each one had been covered up . . . . [he] said sources at [NASA] the [American] space agency had described aliens as resembling "little people who look strange to us."

In short, he acknowledges that he was not himself an eyewitness, but is reporting at second or third hand. Hearsay. (By contrast, observe the John 8 account: Jesus here says he was speaking at first hand from personal knowledge of the facts, which makes his testimony valid as testimony.)

We can go further.

It turns out that Dr Mitchell is a long-time UFO aficionado, and according to for instance so humble a first quick look source as Wikipedia, he has long had new age leanings. Similarly, in a world of the guesswork-based Drake equation and the recent wave of discoveries of extra-solarsystem earth-like planets, the idea that there are a lot of inhabited worlds out there is a commonplace. So is belief in UFO's, at least among enthusiasts -- and indeed this author as an enthusiastic High Schooler had a brief "UFO sighting" experience in the early 1970's.

However, plainly, before taking such statements of testimony or even experience at face value, it would be wise to get some corroboration.

A subtlety lurks -- and this is where my own interest has been sparked.

For, in the case of the citation from John, we are dealing with an ancient source [so that the eyewitnesses are long since dead], and one that is often hotly disputed or even coolly dismissed as anything but credible testimony to anything that happened on the ground in Judaea twenty centuries ago.

So, we must ask: how do we set about sifting wheat from chaff on matters of disputed testimony and claimed records of such testimony?

This is not so easy, but Simon Greenleaf, the justly famous C19 Harvard Law School Professor and a founding father of the modern theory of evidence has summarised some significant courtroom principles that will help us greatly:

1] THE ANCIENT DOCUMENTS RULE: Every document, apparently ancient, coming from the proper repository or custody, and bearing on its face no evident marks of forgery, the law presumes to be genuine, and devolves on the opposing party the burden of proving it to be otherwise. [p.16.]

2] Conversance: In matters of public and general interest, all persons must be presumed to be conversant, on the principle that individuals are presumed to be conversant with their own affairs. [p. 17.]

3] On Inquiries and Reports: If [a report] were "the result of inquiries, made under competent public authority, concerning matters in which the public are concerned" it would . . . be legally admissible . . . To entitle such results, however, to our full confidence, it is not necessary that they be obtained under a legal commission; it is sufficient if the inquiry is gravely undertaken and pursued, by a person of competent intelligence, sagacity and integrity. The request of a person in authority, or a desire to serve the public, are, to all moral intents, as sufficient a motive as a legal commission. [p. 25.]

4] Probability of Truthfulness: In trials of fact, by oral testimony, the proper inquiry is not whether it is possible that the testimony may be false, but whether there is a sufficient probability that it is true. [p. 28.]

5] Criteria of Proof: A proposition of fact is proved, when its truth is established by competent and satisfactory evidence. By competent evidence is meant such as the nature of the thing to be proved requires; and by satisfactory evidence is meant that amount of proof, which ordinarily satisfies an unprejudiced mind, beyond any reasonable doubt. [pp. 28 - 9.]

6] Credibility of Witnesses: In the absence of circumstances which generate suspicion, every witness is to be presumed credible, until the contrary is shown; the burden of impeaching his credibility lying on the objector. [p. 29]

7] Credit due to testimony: The credit due to the testimony of witnesses depends upon, firstly, their honesty; secondly, their ability; thirdly, their number and the consistency of their testimony; fourthly, the conformity of their testimony with experience; and fifthly, the coincidence of their testimony with collateral circumstances. [p.31.]

8] Ability of a Witness to speak truth: the ability of a witness to speak the truth depends on the opportunities which he has had for observing the facts, the accuracy of his powers of discerning, and the faithfulness of his memory in retaining the facts, once observed and known . . . It is always to be presumed that men are honest, and of sound mind, and of the average and ordinary degree of intelligence . . . Whenever an objection is raised in opposition to ordinary presumptions of law, or to the ordinary experience of mankind, the burden of proof is devolved on the objector. [pp. 33 - 4.]

9] Internal coherence and external corroboration: Every event which actually transpires has its appropriate relation and place in the vast complication of circumstances, of which the affairs of men consist; it owes its origin to the events which have preceded it, it is intimately connected with all others which occur at the same time and place, and often with those of remote regions, and in its turn gives birth to numberless others which succeed. In all this almost inconceivable contexture, and seeming discord, there is perfect harmony; and while the fact, which really happened, tallies exactly with every other contemporaneous incident, related to it in the remotest degree, it is not possible for the wit of man to invent a story, which, if closely compared with the actual occurrences of the same time and place, may not be shown to be false. [p. 39.]

10] Marks of false vs true testimony: a false witness will not willingly detail any circumstances in which his testimony will be open to contradiction, nor multiply them where there is a danger of his being detected by a comparison of them with other accounts, equally circumstantial . . . . [False witnesses] are often copious and even profuse in their statements, as far as these may have been previously fabricated, and in relation to the principal matter; but beyond this, all will be reserved and meagre, from fear of detection . . . in the testimony of the true witness there is a visible and striking naturalness of manner, and an unaffected readiness and copiousness in the detail of circumstances, as well in one part of the narrative as another, and evidently without the least regard to the facility or difficulty of verification or detection . . . the increased number of witnesses to circumstances, and the increased number of circumstances themselves, all tend to increase the probability of detection if the witnesses are false. [pp. 39 - 40.]

11] Procedure: let the witnesses be compared with themselves, with each other, and with surrounding facts and circumstances.[p. 42.]
12] The degree of coherence expected of true witnesses: substantial truth, under circumstantial variety. There is enough of discrepancy to show that there could have been no previous concert among them, and at the same time such substantial agreement as to show that they all were independent narrators of the same great transaction, as the events actually occurred. [p.34. All cites from The Testimony of the Evangelists (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Classics, 1995).]

In the case of John 8, of course, we have the Rylands codex [book-form] papyrus fragment from Egypt, ~ 125 - 150 AD, hundreds of miles from the probable place of composition in or near Ephesus, Asia Minor. This early publication in codex format strongly supports that the Gospel, one of the last NT documents to be written, is indeed a C1 document -- and indeed, the very first circle of writing Church Fathers, AD 96 - 112, cite or allude to it. An unbroken, continent-wide chain of custody takes the document thereafter right down to the invention of printing. Fraudulent or inadvertent material distortion of the record is simply not on the cards.

That is, it is effectively morally certain that the document records a C1 Christian account of Jesus.

But, is it likely to be an eyewitness account, and is it likely to be valid and trustworthy?

For many, immediately as they see the element of the miraculous, they dismiss: we "know," scientifically, that miracles are impossible -- laws of nature get to be such, only because they are exception-less.

However, this begs the question, whether at the gross level of inferring from finitely many fallibly observed cases to what "must" be, or at the more subtle Humean level of asserting that any other explanation than accepting the reality of miracles is to be preferred; as we know of no exceptions to the laws of nature per universal experience of such laws. (But in the face of abundant contemporary testimony and massive record across the ages to the contrary, how do we know -- without begging the question -- that all of these accounts are and must be false?)

In fact, we may make no proper exclusion of the miraculous based on finite and fallible observations of what usually obtains -- miracles, by definition will be exceptional and to stand out as signs that point to something beyond nature, would have to exist in a context where there is a usual, orderly and predictable course of nature. Miracles would be invsible in a chaotic, disorderly world in which anything can and does happen willy nilly. (And reesponsible choice would be impossible in such a world too, i.e morality would evaporate, as would knowledge and reason.)

So, existence of generally observed natural law is simply not sufficient to rule out the possibility of miraculous "exceptions" to the general pattern. or, better stated: what is an exception to a narrower pattern, may well be an instance of a wider one. For, if God has made an orderly natural world, he may have good reason to act in it from time to time in extraordinary ways.

Moreover, in a Christian context, we have twenty centuries of testimony to the miraculous through the name of Jesus, not just in remote areas or times, but in the lives of many in today's world; including many of the most sophisticated and educated. Such testimony in aggregate carries weight, serious weight.

Most important of all, to explain the otherwise inexplicable, life-transforming and wonder-working power of that name in prayer, we have the resurrection of Jesus, as testified to by over five hundred eyewitnesses, and recorded as early as 55 AD within 25 - 30 years of the event, in 1 Cor 15:1 - 11. Up to twenty of those witnesses are named or identifiable, and NONE of them were ever shaken in their testimony, not even in the face of the most horrible threats, tortures and deaths.

A conspiracy or mass hallucination to propagate such a story is simply even more incredible than the resurrection of Jesus.

Coming back to John's account, for just one instance, the way in which he casually, artlessly, and naturally refers to many geographical, cultural and historical scenes and facts in pre-AD 70 Judaea and Galilee, is a point on which he can be and was checked in details. A point that he would not have anticipated being checked on, as the idea of Archaeology is a most modern one.

The reporter in John, as it turns out on checking, is right, which in a context where there was a massively destructive war AD 66 - 70+, speaks to the authenticity of the claim to be eyewitness, truthful testimony.

As Warren E. Berkley nicely summarises:

The author was a Jew. He understood and quoted from the Old Testament (12:40;13:18; 19:37). He knew and understood Jewish customs (2:1-10; 3:25; 11:55; 11:38,44; 19:40). He knew and understood the Jewish expectation of the coming Messiah (1:19-18). He was aware of the religious differences between Jews and Samaritans (4:9,20). The writer was a Jew. A Jew from Palestine. He knew the pool of Bethesda had five porches (5:2). {Archaeologists have unearthed the five porticoes of the pool of Bethesda by the Sheep Gate. Among many scholars who were not asked to participate in the Jesus Seminar, there is a new consensus of confidence in John due to these recent discoveries. Some have even asserted that John's record is more reliable than the synoptics (Smalley, quoted in THE EVIDENCE FOR JESUS, by France, p.#131)}. But further, he knew that Bethany was only fifteen furlongs away from Jerusalem (11:18). He knew that Ephraim was near the wilderness (11:54). He knew that the Garden of Gethsemane was on the other side of the brook Kidron (18:1). He knew that there was a paved area outside of the praetorium (19:13). He was aware of the region of Samaria and that Jacob's well was located in Sychar (4:5-6), and that it was deep (4:11). Again, archaeologists have found this well. He knew about the sacred mountain of Samaritan worship (4:20-21). He was aware of Galilee (1:44,46; 2:1,2). Another interesting feature of John is that, when compared with the Synoptics, his Gospel consistently gives more references to chronology, geography, topography, and the like. As recently as 1961 an inscription was discovered in Caesarea, providing for the first time extra-biblical corroboration of Pilate as Judea's prefect during the time of Christ.

Also, the writer was an eye-witness of what happened. He does not state his name, but there are traces of his own hand in the gospel. "We beheld his glory," (1:14). He knew the number of pots used at the wedding at Cana (2:6). He knew the value of the anointing perfume (12:5). He was at the crucifixion (19:33-35). He knew the distance from the shore of the apostles boat and the number of fish caught (21:8,11). "This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true," (21:24).

So the writer was a Jew from Palestine, who was an eye-witness and he was a master of accuracy in chronology, geography and history. Also, an apostle, "whom Jesus loved." . . . . if it is true that he was an apostle, and one of the inner three, and he was not Peter, or James [cf the details in the linked], then he must have been the Apostle John, the son of Zebedee.

So, we have good reason to infer that John was written by the traditional author, John Zebedee, the beloved disciple and the only one to live to truly old age and die a more or less natural death.

So, this brings us right back to the key challenge: whose report will we believe, why?

Should we believe Dr Mitchell's hearsay account, or the recorded, carefully transmitted eyewitness testimony of John Zebedee?

Again, and again (with our souls potentially in the balance), why, or why not? END

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Matt 24 watch, 62: Prager's remarks on homosexualists' fallacious analogies to objections to inter-racial marriage

The well-known American talk show host and commenter, Dennis Prager [a conservative Jew], has published a very important "food for thought" column today, "On interracial and same-sex marriage."

He begins:

The most effective of all morality-based arguments for same-sex marriage, the one that persuades more people than any other argument, is the one that equates opposition to same-sex marriage with the old opposition to interracial marriage.

The argument, repeated so often that it sounds incontestable, is this: Just as parts of American society once had immoral laws that forbade whites and blacks from marrying, so, today, society continues to have immoral laws forbidding men from marrying men and women from marrying women. And just as decent people overthrew the former, decent people must overthrow the latter . . . .

But the equation is false . . .

In discussing why that equation is an instance of the fallacy of unwarranted [im]moral equivalency, he notes that:

1] Race and sex bear no equivalence, as skin colour does not mark the same level of innate difference that sex does. For instance -- and indirectly rebuking an astonishing recent court ruling in Colorado -- "Separate bathrooms for men and women is moral and rational; separate bathrooms for blacks and whites is not."

2] Racism -- being based on superficial characteristics such as skin colour or shape of facial features or hair texture etc -- is plainly a moral aberration, while objection to the attempted "redefinition" of marriage to include men "marrying" men and women "marrying" women, is based on a longstanding moral consensus of great civilisations and religions around the world; not just that in Western culture.

3] So, implicitly, there is a serious "who is more likely to be right?" question that must be faced:

advocating same-sex marriage . . . advocates something that defies every religious and secular moral tradition. Those who advocate redefining marriage are saying that every religious and secular tradition is immoral. They have no problem doing this because they believe they are wiser and finer people than all the greatest Jewish, Christian and humanist thinkers who ever lived.

4] Of course, however improbable, it is logically possible that that is indeed so. But do we see the required case being patiently made, step by persuasive, and convincing step? Sadly, just the opposite:

Comparing the prohibition of same-sex marriage to prohibiting interracial marriage is ultimately a way of declaring the moral superiority of proponents of same-sex marriage to proponents of keeping marriage defined as man-woman. And it is a way of avoiding hard issues such as whether we really want all children to grow up thinking it doesn't matter if they marry a boy or a girl and whether we really want to abolish forever the ideal of husband-wife based family.

5] Prager therefore throws down the gauntlet:

Those who wish to redefine marriage for the first time in Jewish, Christian or secular humanist history may offer any honest arguments they wish. Comparing the prohibition of same-sex marriage to prohibiting interracial marriage is not one of them.

Sobering words, and an invitation to serious discussion on matters foundational to our civilisation and its moral underpinnings.

A serious discussion that must address the point that it is self-evident that maleness and femaleness are complementary and fundamentally so in a way that maleness and maleness or femaleness and femaleness are not.

So much so, that as our Lord observed about creation order on being challenged about easy divorce and remarriage:

3 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?"

4 "Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,'[a] 5 and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'[b]? 6 So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."

7 "Why then," they asked, "did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?"

8 Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.


Matthew 19:4 Gen. 1:27
Matthew 19:5 Gen. 2:24

If this is so for easy divorce and remarriage, how much moreso is the implication that marriage is embedded in the Creation order for humanity relevant to an attempt to say that Adam and Steve -- or Eve and Sue -- are equivalent to Adam and Eve? END

Friday, July 11, 2008

Matt 24 watch, 61: The Gabriel ink-on-stone tablet

A few days ago, the news reports on the recently announced Gabriel Stone Tablet -- apparently, discovered in Jordan a decade ago [which, BTW, underscores the often overlooked fact that the historic land of Israel was on both sides of that well-known River . . .] -- were brought to my attention.

As is now sadly usual, the news reports have breathlessly announced yet another "undermining" of the authenticity of the New Testament.

This time, on novel grounds: based on interpretations of lines with lost or faded text regarding the thought of an obscure C1 BC Jewish sect, the NT's report that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, was allegedly simply copied from Jewish thought of the day:
. . . Mr. Knohl contends that the stone’s writings are about the death of a leader of the Jews who will be resurrected in three days . . . .
“This should shake our basic view of Christianity,” he said as he sat in his office of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem where he is a senior fellow in addition to being the Yehezkel Kaufman Professor of Biblical Studies at Hebrew University. “Resurrection after three days becomes a motif developed before Jesus, which runs contrary to nearly all scholarship. What happens in the New Testament was adopted by Jesus and his followers based on an earlier messiah story.” . . . .

Mr. Knohl said that it was less important whether Simon was the messiah of the stone than the fact that it strongly suggested that a savior who died and rose after three days was an established concept at the time of Jesus.

The obvious problem?

The 500+ eyewitnesses and the record of such within 25 - 30 years, leading to a worldwide movement over the past two thousand years that manifests the supernatural, liberating, life-transforming, healing power of that resurrection:
1 Cor 15:1Now, brothers, I [Paul] want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

3For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Peter,[b] and then to the Twelve. 6After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

9For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.


  1. 1 Corinthians 15:3 Or you at the first
  2. 1 Corinthians 15:5 Greek Cephas
Here are my thoughts, in response to the ever-alert reader I:


1] Isaiah 53 speaks of a suffering Christ, who rises from the dead, 700 BC. [The idea of a suffering servant messiah who dies for the sins of the people and rises, bringing salvation to those who believe his report, as well as healing and deliverance was there all along, for at least 700 years!]

2] Jesus, in speaking of three days to rise, used the analogy of Jonah in the belly of the beast of the sea for three days. [So, indeed, the idea of such a rising messiah in three days was part of Jewish culture, from the days of Jonah.]

3] Jesus clearly had to address the issue of the political messiah, who would overthrow Roman rule on analogy of the Maccabean revolt. Indeed, the confrontation in Gethsemane with Peter trying to behead one of the arresting party distinctly echoes1 Maccabes 1 - 2 -- in the circle of disciples, no less. The difference is Jesus' rebuke, which is telling in light of the fate of 6 of 7 Hasmonean brothers: those who take up the sword will perish by it. And, of course he ducked the crowds who would make him king by force, and he told Pilate et al that his kingdom was not one of this world, or his followers would fight.

4] In short, the climate of being a part of the messianic trend of Judaism, but also deliberately distinguishing himself from the politicised messiah is plainly there in the NT. THAT is the key difference! (Including, Jesus distinguishing himself from sects that may have seen the political messaiah slain then rise. That is in the end -- given the texts such as Isaiah 53, and the general climate of yearning for "Maccabes Uprising II" -- not particularly surprising.)

5] Thus, we can see the deep flaw in:

. . . Mr. Knohl contends that the stone’s writings are about the death of a leader of the Jews who will be resurrected in three days.

He says further that such a suffering messiah is very different from the traditional Jewish image of the messiah as a triumphal, powerful descendant of King David.

“This should shake our basic view of Christianity,” he said as he sat in his office of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem where he is a senior fellow in addition to being the Yehezkel Kaufman Professor of Biblical Studies at Hebrew University. “Resurrection after three days becomes a motif developed before Jesus, which runs contrary to nearly all scholarship. What happens in the New Testament was adopted by Jesus and his followers based on an earlier messiah story.” . . . .

Mr. Knohl said that it was less important whether Simon was the messiah of the stone than the fact that it strongly suggested that a savior who died and rose after three days was an established concept at the time of Jesus. He notes that in the Gospels, Jesus makes numerous predictions of his suffering and New Testament scholars say such predictions must have been written in by later followers because there was no such idea present in his day.

But there was, he said, and “Gabriel’s Revelation” shows it.

“His mission is that he has to be put to death by the Romans to suffer so his blood will be the sign for redemption to come,” Mr. Knohl said. “This is the sign of the son of Joseph. This is the conscious view of Jesus himself. This gives the Last Supper an absolutely different meaning. To shed blood is not for the sins of people but to bring redemption to Israel.”

--> First, that there should be a variant on the usual desired/expected/ candidate political messiah where he is slain [the usual fate of leaders of uprisings under the Romans!] but rises, even in three days is rooted in the OT expectations.

--> Thus, it is unsurprising in the end to see such a correlation as is now in view; but that is not grounds for inferring to cause in any sense that undermines the authenticity of the NT teachings. (There is a dubious higher critical principle that in effect disputes the autheticity of anything in the NT that reflects the hebraic context of C1 Palestine. Usually, it is read as ruling that a saying of Jesus is inauthentic; here, it seems to be used to infer that Jesus's teachings are simply derivative of that context.)

--> What is underscored, here, is the distinctive emphasis of Christ on spiritual transformation and a messiah whose work is primarily spiritual: dying as the lamb of God sacrificed for our sins [cf John the Baptist's "behold the Lamb . . ."], rising as our Lord and Saviour.

--> And, of course, precisely which of these would-be political messiahs rose from the dead in three days, with 500+eyewitrnesses and resurrection power in a church that has gone to the world of lost sinners -- one soul at a time -- with the gospel that saves, heals and delivers?

--> Thus, we see a strained twisting of evidence [in part somewhat scanty and based on reading missing or half-erased words] to find an anti-Christian interpretation. That says more about Mr Knohl and his ilk than it does about the NT and the gospel.


So, in the end -- and as Pastor Sam Green of Grace Missionary Church, Constant Spring Jamaica, so strongly reminded me five years ago -- we come back to the still telling force of the Apostle Peter's theological last will and testament:
2 Pet 1:12 . . . I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. 13I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, 14because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.

16We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased."[a] 18We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.

19And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. 21For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

So, then "whose report will we believe" -- why? END

Monday, July 07, 2008

1 Chron 12:32 report, 54: On Moodle, Alice, Java, Multimedia, Robots and cybercamuses

As long-term readers will know . . . slowly, painfully, step by step . . . TKI has been working its way towards developing a cybercampus based college intended to link to local micro-campus centres and vision and action teams, to help foster reformation, God-blessed, truly sustainable development of our region, and a projection to the wider world, based on demonstrated success.

The general idea has been to take the classic discipling the nations vision to the next level, and to organise a cost-effective college using web technologies and facilities, supporting community-based people, facilities and initiatives, providing regionally relevant education and training within a Biblical context.

This, eventually, would range from second-chance secondary education [Caribbean education systems, sadly, are demonstrably enormously wasteful of potential], through Associate and even Bachelor degree and higher levels as necessary. To start with, however, the focus would be on targetted workshops, seminars adn short skill/capacity-building courses that address key areas of urgently needed capacity building: e.g. discipleship of the mind 101 (worldviews, issues and actions), ICTs -- IT productivity, Agriculture transformation I -- small scale high impact backyard scale agriculture using drip irrigation and mulching, etc.

Good news: over the past two weeks, there has -- at long last -- been a bit of a breakthrough.

For, as sometimes happens, several more or less independent lines of thought and inquiry come together, and the whole becomes more than the sum of the parts. That tends to make the old creative juices going and so we get some brainstorms. That now seems to have happened, and we can now begin to see some outlines of a practical way forward.

The following notes on points are more or less a progress report, and are offered to help spark interest, discussion and more formal proposals and action:
1] Moodle and the cybercampus backbone

Moodle is an open source -- i.e. "free" --web based course management system that has potential to support a cyber-campus, with structured content, multimedia learning resources, forums, wikis, blogs and more. Indeed, it is the platform being used by the regional anglophone university, UWI, to host its open campus initiative.

The breakthrough here is that over the past fortnight, I have finally spotted how to activate the Apache "light" server based Web On a Stick version, using literally a USB memory stick [4 GB; EC$110 on a "bargain" price.] In my Vista system the 1.7 version of Moodle, with PHP 5, activates and the trick is to use the admin account and the password, password, to log in. (This means I now have my very own web server on a USB memory stick, hosting Moodle and a sample course.)

So, I have been able to develop a sample, USB-resident course web, and have confirmed that this is "reachable" for more or less ordinary, computer-literate teachers.

In addition, I have been exploring the world of open source alternative software with very interesting results. [You might want to start exploring by noting the impressive power of Sun's Open Office, and then continue by looking at Inkscape drawing package, Scribus Desktop publishing, Dia diagramming software, Thunderbird
personal information management, GIMPshop photo-editing and Open Proj project management software as start-points for your own investigations. (Indeed, Ubuntu is is well worth a look as a popular way into the open-source Linux Operating System. )]

In short, a cyber-campus based on more or less open software systems is definitely practically doable.

2] Agriculture renewal

Over the past several years, I have become interested in a local initiative that used plastic sheet mulching and drip irrigation to produce vegetables and similar crops. (In some measure, that's because St Elizabeth Jamaica's guinea grass mulching based agriculture is part of my DNA.) Couple that to rain-collection systems, software control and renewable energy through say small windmills and Solar PV systems, and we see the outlines of a small-scale intensive production, sustainable agriculture backbone.

Multiply such by a potential mini-campus site hosted by a local church in a nearby EC island as a campsite, with access to several acres of land and a pond; with a small hotel a few chains down the road. This high potential, relatively undeveloped site is on the outskirts of the capital city of that EC island. (NB: The eldership of the host church is very open to working with such initiatives.)

In short, we have a potential mini-campus site for an agriculture-based "school" that can also explore renewable energy and related information and communication technologies [ICT's], etc.

3] ICT productivity, I -- Alice, Java and ICT's

Information technology dominates today's world.

But, there is a big barrier to moving from consuming IT to being productive with it: the need to become a programmer. Java has been a step forward, but it is generally speaking not user-friendly enough to be highly motivating.

Major downer.

So, you can realise why I became very excited when I discovered the Alice initiative
online: a programming learning environment that uses the creation of videogame-like worlds with active characters to break into the world of object-based programming.

In effect, you select a three-dimensional world, pick and put in characters and props, then program the characters to act (and interact) based on preset sets of behaviours; all in a Java-based environment.

Soon, version 3 will incorporate the characters from the Sims gaming system, through collaboration with Electronic Arts -- a major leap in potential. (And, as my 9 year old demonstrates, it is an almost irresistible invitation to begin to learn to program.)

There are of course online tutorials and courses, even textbooks that bridge to Java. So, we have a gateway into developing a generation of IT-productive people.

But, that is only part of why I think this is a key opportunity . . .

4] ICT's productivity, 2 -- multimedia, robotics, interfacing

First, the multimedia world is itself a useful one for creating entertainment and learning resources.

Alice opens the door to training in such multimedia, interactive programming.

More subtly, though, one uses Alice to create characters in a three-dimensional environment who act mechanically: move, spin, jump, talk etc.

So, the obvious challenge is to extend Alice, and link the software-based model world to the real one, through creating PC-resident input-output interfaces and using sensors, effectors and suitable control and modelling of dynamics to act into the real world, mirroring it in the on-screen "world."

In short, we also have a potential gateway into robotics (and the wider world of mechatronics), instrumentation and control, as well as high tech manufacturing.

5] Alternative energy technologies

Training in alternative energy technologies is a natural fit with the above.

For instance, we could target solar, wind, micro-hydro and other renewable and alternative energy technologies as components of and extensions to the above.

6] Discipleship, issues, renewal, development and Reformation studies

In an emerging global era in which the de-Christianising tidal wave from the North and the Islamist one from the East are rising challenges to go with our own local ones, the churches of the Caribbean region need to build the capacity to tackle issues, address church and societal renwal and reformation, and make a significant contribution to the sustainable development of our home region and the wider third world.

That itself motivates a whole stream of studies.
In short, there is a lot of work to do, and we have a clear opportunity to do it.

So, yet again: why not now? why not here? why not us? END

a few cleanups

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Matt 24 Watch, 60: Happy Birthday America -- reflections on the value and validity of the US DOI

This weekend marks the 232nd anniversary of the US Declaration of Independence, in 1776; an event which is in many ways even more significant than the 60th anniversary of independence of Modern Israel as we discussed some weeks ago.

That is especially so in light of the ongoing war for the culture, and for the minds and souls of men that lurks within it.

For, on one hand, we see an agenda to reduce our understanding of Western Culture and its major contributions to human progress to a one-sided litany of horrors, shame and crimes.

On the other, we see the twisting of the concepts of liberty and rights to promote libertinism, licence and amorality in the name of liberty, and the destructive perversion, subversion and suppression of the right in the name of "tolerance," "diversity" and "rights." (Indeed, we now see ever more clearly, that the gospel is being censored and the biblically based Christian Faith risks being outright censored or even criminalised in such a climate, under labels such as "bigotry," "discrimination" and "hate speech.")

Such demands a cogent response.

An excellent place to begin -- on this its 232nd anniversary -- is with an excerpt of the 1776 US Declaration of Independence:
When . . . it becomes necessary for one people . . . to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident
, [cf Rom 1:18 - 21, 2:14 - 15], that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness . . . when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security . . . .

[ . . . . ]

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions [Cf. Judges 11:27 and discussion in Locke], do, in the Name, and by the Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
In short, in the view of the US Founders -- BTW, not just Jefferson (who was writing as a member of a drafting committee of the Continental Congress)! -- our rights are an inalienable endowment from God, our Creator; who has made us all equally in his image.

Thus, on pain of the absurdity that comes from foolishly denying self-evident truth, we must first reckon ourselves to be equals under God.

So also, since we reflect God's image, to abuse or oppress another human being is an affront not only to that person, but to God, who made him or her in his image. Therefore, we may properly make binding moral claims that our lives, liberties and pursuit of our individual life-callings under God (the basis for true happiness) should be respected.

This, in turn, draws deeply on the force of Locke's citation from "the judicious [Anglican theologian Richard] Hooker" in his discussion of the implications of the Golden Rule for the moral order of civil society:
. . . if I cannot but wish to receive good, even as much at every man's hands, as any man can wish unto his own soul, how should I look to have any part of my desire herein satisfied, unless myself be careful to satisfy the like desire which is undoubtedly in other men . . . my desire, therefore, to be loved of my equals in Nature, as much as possible may be, imposeth upon me a natural duty of bearing to themward fully the like affection. From which relation of equality between ourselves and them that are as ourselves, what several rules and canons natural reason hath drawn for direction of life no man is ignorant. [2nd Essay on Civil Government, ch 2 section 5; citing Hooker's Ecclesiastical Polity, 1594 -.]
In that context, Governments are instituted among men, with a main duty to protect our rights.

Immediately, that means that if officers of such a government undermine or ignore this duty, the people, acting together under their representatives, and/or through other of their civil authorities, may first petition for redress, then if that is ignored, call and act for reformation under God. (Thus, we can easily see that the US DOI is in part derived from the Discipling Mandate of Matt 28:18 - 20, which calls for the church to teach the nations to obey the Christ of God -- i.e., among other things, to prophetically call for reformation through the direct implications of the Golden Rule of Matt 7:12 etc) .

However, sometimes, the just call of the people for corrective reformation is resisted, through "a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object [that] evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism . . . "

In such a case, the people have a reserve right of revolution, to remove those who have abused the mandate of just civil government under God, and to restructure Government to promote justice and liberty under God. (Thankfully, in our day -- and in no small measure due to the impact of the American Revolution -- we have a regular, peaceful institutionalised potential revolution every four or five years: The General Election.)

So, flawed though the American Revolution inevitably was -- it is after all a work of finite, fallible, fallen, too often ill-willed people (just like us . . . ! Cf Matt 7:1 - 5 on first removing the planks in our own eyes so that we can help our brothers with sawdust in theirs) -- it was a tremendous achievement, and remains pregnant with vital lessons for us today.

Well worth the saying:

"Happy Birthday, America!"

However, there is a very different view of progress in Western Civilisation, especially in the Western Hemisphere.

Pam Hoffecker, A Pennsylvania mother and author, in commenting on the "educational" video The Columbus Controversy shown to her son in a high school history class, gives us a telling insight:
"When I looked at the video about Columbus, I was very upset. It began with a teacher grabbing a purse from a student's desk, saying "This is my purse. I didn't steal Samantha's purse. I discovered this purse." Columbus was presented as an anti-hero who sought gold and slaves, brought genocide to the indigenous, and should be ridiculed. It never mentioned that the supposedly peaceloving Carib Indians owned slaves and would fatten, castrate and eat male babies in cannibalistic rituals. True, the European immigrants did exploit Indians, but there are two sides to the story. . . ." [NB: From my recent reading of Samuel Eliot Morison on the European voyages of discovery from 1492 on, it is plain from multiple contemporary records that there was indeed widespread cannibalism, slavery, war and oppression in Amerindian cultures across Central America, the Caribbean and South America.]
But, immediately -- even obviously -- we should know that the act of discovery is morally and logically distinct from wrongdoing that may have been done by sinful, fallen discoverers, their companions, and those who followed them. So, "discovery" should not be in effect equated to stealing or a justification for it. That sort of distorting, unfair rhetoric has no proper place in the classroom.

Moreover, the act of discovery -- in the broadest sense [geographical, scientific research, inventive, social, political, commercial, etc ] -- is a high-risk, technically very difficult, and important achievement. That should be recognised, not least as the hope of future discoveries due to the enterprise of free men seeking to fulfill their calling under God is a vital step to opening up positive possibilities for our own future in the face of the manifold, daunting challenges of our day. (Indeed, that basic lesson is a direct point of comparison between our own time and the hemmed-in, hard-pressed Europe of Columbus' day. Yes, we should learn from the flaws and sins of the discoverers of the past, but we must also learn from their achievements! And, for that matter, the then innovative patents mechanism put into the US Constitution has been a major engine of free enterprise-driven technical and economic progress.)

Similarly, the in large measure biblically-rooted breakthrough in government and liberty that the Reformers, their predecessors and their successors had pioneered for centuries found culmination in the tremendous achievement of the US Declaration of Independence, Constitution, creation of a free, self-governing republic dedicated to liberty and justice for all -- however imperfect it has been at any given time.

So, a balanced history education programme should teach us to appreciate the positive achievement of discovery and the doors to massive progress it opened up, while also recognising the sobering impact of the wrongs on both sides of the situation.

This is precisely what we do not find here, and on many other topics relating to the good that Western Civilisation -- formerly known as Christendom -- and its underlying biblically rooted Judaeo-Christian tradition have done.
Q: Why is that so?

A: Because, for many decades now, there has been an active politically messianistic agenda driven by evolutionary materialist secularists, post-modernist neo-pagans, homosexualists and many others, to gain a critical mass of support to reject the Judaeo-Christian heritage of our civilisation, and to replace it with one species or another of a radical secularist-pagan utopia. So, they have set out to [a] one-sidely rewrite our history to emphasise the failings of the West, to [b] uncritically boost the achievements of any other culture or religion [thus leading to the perceived moral and cultural inferiority of the West], and to [c] generally destroy the remaining influence of the biblically anchored Judaeo-Christian tradition.
But, as we have just seen, it is precisely that tradition that is the tap-root of the liberty and democracy that we enjoy.

Indeed, it should be plain that if: we are all created equally in God's image, which gives us inalienable rights, and that Governments are instituted under God to do good, promoting justice and restraining evil-doers, then: Government is accountable under God for justice, and has no just power to "create" new rights out of whole cloth that run counter to the order of Creation. Nor, may it "erase" those creation-order based rights that are endowed by our Creator. In short, Government under God, properly, is strictly limited and accountable under God and before the people, who are also under God. [Cf Ac 17:16 - 34, also the 2002 JTS/CGST public lecture on ethics and development.]

That is precisely why those who have agendas to manufacture new "rights" that run counter to the obvious Creation-based order of Nature -- so-called same-sex marriage is an obvious case in point [Cf Matt 19:1 - 6] -- and/or to suppress true rights, seek to undermine, discredit and even suppress the Tradition that materially contributed to the rise of modern liberty.

So, much is at stake in the ongoing battle for the soul of our civilisation.

Will we rise to the challenge, or will we be like those who stood on the sidelines -- or, worse . . . -- 232 years ago?

Again, let us reflect: why not now? why not here? why not us? END


UPDATE, Jul 7:
Additional links, minor edits. Additional comments on discovery and its extension to the patents mechanism.