Nobody Liked Caroling With Yoda

scott bailey cracks me up!


Nobody Liked Caroling with Yoda

Nobody Liked Caroling with Yoda

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via Scotteriology

conversations on science and religion

American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Logo

American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

Christian Brady has brought my attention to a wonderful June 17, 2010 article by David Moltz at Inside Higher Ed entitled, “Science Gets Religion.” The article examines the real tension between faith and science within academic circles. Simply put, there are just as many scientists that dismiss out of hand anyone espousing any form of faith or belief in a god whatsoever as there are fundamentalists of all faiths who dismiss science as a manner of understanding the world. Those of us standing somewhere in between the two extremes experience difficulty arguing in support of the need for dialogue between these two worldviews. Just as moderate politicians often find themselves defending against attacks from both sides, often (and unfortunately) resulting in their gravitating towards one pole or the other in an effort to maximize financial support and minimize political exposure, so to do many scholars gravitate towards one extreme or another, often for the same reasons. Rational dialogue is sacrificed for political and/or religious ideology and institutional funding.

The AAAS’s new Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion (DoSER) will assist with facilitating dialogue between the two groups. It will be interesting to see what kinds of discussions this group produces. Will it be junk science disguising religious fundamentalism pretending to be science? Will it become a target for attack from Dawkins’ “militant atheists?” Or, will the group ask for honesty from both sides and discuss matters of ethics and faith without sacrificing the fundamental principles of science?

The article is worth a read.

(via christian brady)

a one man ventriloquist: glenn beck’s misrepresentation of the dead sea scrolls

Glenn Beckyou have got to be absolutely kidding me.

joel mentioned it. jim brought it to my attention. and now i must vomit.

just when you thought glenn beck couldn’t get any stupider, this one-man intellectual gulf oil spill has spewed forth yet another gusher of sheer misinformation madness. my first inclination was to blow off mr. beck with a response in the form of a quote from the adam sandler cult classic, billy madison:

Mr. Madison Beck, what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

however, because glenn beck chose to tread on the treacherous triumvirate of biblical studies, archaeology, and religion that is the dead sea scrolls, i feel compelled, nay, obligated in my role as a member of an apparent scholarly squad of biblical ‘discovery’ debunkers to respond.

first, let me assure you that i have no political or anti-conservative bent. i am a political moderate, with an appreciation of pundits on both sides. there are smart liberals and there are smart conservatives; glenn beck is neither. mr. beck is not as cunning as bill o’reilly, not as witty as keith olbermann, not as smart as rush limbaugh, and not as hot (intellectually) as rachel maddow. glenn beck lacks the political acumen of george will, the savvy of paul begala, the objective demeanor of juan williams, the strategic humor of james carville, the ingenuity of thomas friedman, the inquisitive journalistic tenacity of steve inskeep, the experience of david gergen, the brains of jeff greenfield, and the influence of matt drudge. rather, our friend mr. beck, apparently suffering from diarrhea of the mouth, is little more than an annoying sideshow – an overly dramatic, undereducated, sub-populist, train wreck, that makes the otherwise media-wise rupert murdoch look like a fool for signing him.

so what has mr. beck said that has so roused my intellectual ire? beck recently touched a nerve – a nerve i’ve sworn to defend – by pontificating upon the dead sea scrolls. beck, who apparently feels that his single theology class at yale before dropping out qualifies him to expound on the scrolls, recently made comments so utterly and fantastically false, that i dropped what i was doing and began to write this response.

in his amateurish attempt to imitate and channel the dilettantish ways of jim barfield, simcha jacobovichi, ron wyatt, noah’s ark ministries international, and vendyl jones, beck invoked the dead sea scrolls in a nonsensical rant that began with comparing children to empty clay pots and ended with the recitation of portions of the declaration of independence.

A Fragment of the Dead Sea Scrollslisten as beck speaks concerning things about which he knows nothing (beginning at the 0:36 second mark) and read along:

Beck: You know the… Dead Sea Scrolls. You know what they are? Stu, do you know what the Dead Sea Scrolls are? …

Stu: Well, of course I do.

Beck: No, come on. Most people don’t. I’m not…

Stu: I heard of them. I don’t really know.

Beck: You don’t really know, do you. You have no why they were there.

Stu: Nu uh.

Beck: Sarah, average person doesn’t know. Any idea? Take a guess on what, why the Dead Sea Scrolls are there, anything else.

Sarah: Something religious.

Beck: OK good. Even though I’ve explained this on this program a couple of times, I’m glad to see that, I’m glad to see that even the people that work with me everyday don’t even listen.

Stu: Well, there’s, we were actually talking about American Idol last night. The guy won! It was unbelievable.

Beck: All right. So here’s what happened. When Constantine decided he was going to uh… cobble together an army, um, he did the uh… Council of uh… Nicaea, right, Pat?

Pat: Yea.

Beck: Council of Nicaea. Um… and what they did is brought all of the religious figures, uhh, together, all the Christians and then they said, “Ok, let’s uh, put together the Apostles’ Creed, let’s, you know, you guys do it.” So they brought all their religious scripture together, and that’s when the Bible was first bound and everything else. And then they said, “Anybody that disagrees with this is a heretic and… off with their head!” Well, that’s what the Dead Sea Scrolls are. The Dead Sea Scrolls are those scriptures that people had at the time that they said, “They are destroying all of this truth.” Whether it’s truth or not is, is up to the individual, but that… at that time those people thought that this was something that needed to be preserved and so they rolled up the scrolls and they put ’em in clay pots and they, they put ’em in the back of caves where no one could find them. They were hidden scripture because everything was being destroyed that disagreed with the Council of Nicaea and Constantine. That’s what those things are.

this is absolutely, fundamentally, unequivocally false! allow me to make two key points:

  • the dead sea scrolls were written between approximately 200 bce and 70 ce. the council of nicaea met in 325 ce. not even close.
  • there is nothing whatsoever christian about the dead sea scrolls. no portion of the new testament is represented in the scrolls.

i don’t know where to begin. arguing that the dead sea scrolls were hidden to hide them from the council of nicaea is like arguing that we won the war of independence over the british because of our advanced computer technology; the timing is off a couple of hundred years. perhaps glenn beck is confusing the dead sea scrolls with the nag hammadi library, a cache of early christian gnostic texts written in coptic dating to the third and fourth centuries ce and discovered in the upper egypt town of nag hammadi in 1945. but of course, facts are secondary in the mind of glenn beck. what really matters to the likes of beck is massaging and distorting these facts until they fit whatever preconceived argument he’s already formulated in his mind.

in this regard, the comments glenn beck made about the dead sea scrolls closely resemble the deteriorated state in which the dead sea scrolls were discovered: they came forth from the mouth of a dark, seemingly bottomless cave, covered in bat guano, and smelling like bullshit, which is exactly what glenn beck has offered up in his latest attempt to portray himself as a biblical historian. the difference, of course, between the dead sea scrolls and glenn beck is that the dead sea scrolls at least tried to keep their thoughts and ideas hidden away to themselves.

in attempting to discuss religion and the dead sea scrolls, glenn beck has achieved something astonishing. he is a one-man ventriloquist: his lips are moving, but he’s actually talking out of his ass.

what religion should you be?

in case you were wondering, here’s a quick and easy flowchart to help you decide.

what religion should i be?(with thanx to jason calacanis and holytaco.com.)

on the balancing act between faith and credible archaeology

i recently received a letter via facebook that asked an intriguing question: how does one do archaeology and still retain one’s faith?

the question alone gave me pause because it implied that doing science will ultimately lead one to renounce one’s belief in god, or at the very least shatter one’s theological understanding of the world.

this issue comes up again and again with students. essentially, archaeology students soon learn that while some of the passages and claims made within the bible are consistent with archaeological findings, many others are not. this quickly leads a person of faith to make one of two choices: either to cling to one’s faith and begin to look for alternate ‘methodologies’ that could explain the bible’s claims that are inconsistent with the archaeological evidence, or, to accept the scientific data and re-examine one’s religious preconceptions. afraid to admit that what they were taught or have believed for so long might be wrong, many students opt for clinging to their belief in the inerrancy and infallibility of the bible and seek out new ways to interpret the data so that it is congruent with their preconceived beliefs. yet, this methodology leads only to poor science, even poorer interpretations of the data, and ultimately to misleading claims about the nature of the remains.

sometimes, archaeology is nothing more than boring rocks in the ground. but the true archaeologist does not seek out the big discovery that changes all we know in one amazing find, but rather gives his or her life to seasons of excavation and discovery, letting the evidence speak for itself until the larger picture of the social, economic, and yes, at times, religious makeup of the society is slowly revealed.

so for those seeking to balance faith and archaeology, here are a few tips:

  1. follow the data wherever it leads. sometimes the data doesn’t line up with the text of the bible. this is true about many sites and many verses. in some places, the text just isn’t supported by the evidence. this does not mean that the bible does not contain truth in other places, but it does tell us a lot about the author and the message the author was attempting to convey. remember, even the early church father origen offered a straightforward explanation of the preservation of factual truth within documents edited by human hands. in his commentary on john 10:4, origen says, ‘the spiritual truth was often preserved, as one might say, in material falsehood.’ just because a factual error exists in the text of the bible doesn’t mean that truth cannot still be conveyed.
  2. follow sound scientific methodology. if your methodology is good, your claims will be better received, and you (and/or your organization) will retain credibility. don’t fudge. take good notes, log everything (especially if it is contrary to your hypothesis), and don’t cut corners. methodical monotony is boring, but will be your friend in the long run. baby steps, small turns, an inch at a time. it is by the archaeological method employed that the academy will judge an archaeologist. credibility is earned over a long period of time, not with a single find.
  3. not every ‘biblical archaeology’ object is the same. just because noah’s ark and the holy grail are most likely legendary, doesn’t mean the ancient israelites didn’t carry a gold covered wooden box (the ark of the covenant) around in front of them when they marched into battle (like every other army at the time). each object is unique and should be treated as such. walls and pots are often (read: usually) more important than gold and silver. treat every object with respect, wash every sherd, and always check for writing.
  4. partner up. the best way to earn credibility as an archaeologist is to partner with and work for an established, credible archaeologist or excavation. don’t seek to strike out on your own too quickly. this requires substantial fundraising and once you begin asking for funds more than you dig, scholars begin to question your motives, your credibility drops, and your conclusions will be questioned more often. be humble. pay your dues. earn your stripes. and then, when you have established the credibility and education you need, work with the authorities to secure your own excavation.
  5. never, ever search for the ark of the covenant, noah’s ark, or the holy grail. adventure quests will always bring immediate derision and condemnation from the academy. never claim to be the first to discover anything; someone else has already done something similar. cite them! remember that most scholars rightly reject any primordial notion of god destroying the earth with a flood; they opt instead to see this story as a parallel to the gilgamesh epic or some other early flood narrative. sensational claims are the quickest way to expose oneself as a fundamentalist. know the literature, read, and always see what your opponents have to say before you make a claim.
  6. submit to the peer-review process. the most credible archaeologists submit to the peer-review process and allow their findings to be critiqued by the academy. submit articles for publication in refereed journals and present papers at national conferences. welcome criticism and feedback. this is the only way to ensure your that interpretations will gain the traction they need to become the accepted consensus.

ultimately, it’s not about what you believe, or even what you can prove. rather, a credible archaeologist or archaeology program is judged by the methodology it uses to reach its conclusions. if the science is good, and the results are published in credible journals, the program as well as the scholar will be a success.

meeting students where they are: using twitter to teach

one of my many hats is that of instructional technologist at ucla. part of my job is to seek out new technologies and new uses of existing technologies for use in improving university instruction. a recent article by simmi aujla entitled, ‘professor gets religion about twitter in class,’ caught my eye.

the article reported on a digital humanities effort by mount royal university professor steven engler to get students interested in his religious studies course. the article states:

Hoping to get students engaged in his introductory course on Islam, Christianity and Judaism, Steven Engler, a professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary, will test students on news stories posted to the class’s Twitter account.

i am a twitter user, but am not its biggest fan. to me, twitter is facebook without most of the functionality. twitter is facebook’s status updates and nothing more. that said, twitter is where many of the students are and for that reason, anyone who can effectively find an instructional application for twitter should be commended. curriculum should never be modified just to make room for technology; rather, technology should be used to improve instruction when and where it can.

professor engler’s twitter tests are one example of using twitter in a manner congruent with its design. twitter is essentially a series of headlines limited to 140-characters. in that sense, it is like the drudge report, but with only one headline at a time. using twitter as a current events headlines rss feed allows a professor to slip a little instruction into a student’s otherwise narcissistic daily exchange of comedy, drama, and global positioning declarations. and, by making the quizzes simple and not count for too much of the student’s grade, it is important enough to demand worthwhile attention, yet not so overblown that it looks gimmicky. it is a great way to get the students thinking about something besides what some girl they will never date is watching on tv.

on the occasion of charles darwin’s 200th birthday

 

Smithsonian)

Charles Darwin (photo: Smithsonian)

today is charles darwin’s 200th birthday. 200 hundred years. it seems like so long ago. and yet, we’re still so far away.

 many people of faith understand the so-called father of human evolution to be some incarnation of satan, sent to earth to tempt the faithful away from the truth of a biblical creation. others, the atheist fundamentalists on the opposite end of the spectrum, worship darwin as he who rang the death knell for a still believed modern myth. and somewhere in between, there are those of us who see darwin for who he was: a deeply moral man who asked a lot of questions.

darwin used his eyes and his brain. he observed and he thought. and he had the courage to ask questions. and once he did, he set in motion a revolution that was nothing less than an alternative way of understanding the world, or at least its origin. until darwin, many people simply believed what they were told despite what they saw, and feared social alienation or physical harm for failing to do so. but darwin took the next logical step and asked whether or not we had to blindly accept how the church understood the origin of the earth. in a sense, darwin is not unlike martin luther, who dared to question the catholic establishment’s authority over the interpretation of the world. thus, darwin was to the church what luther was, well, to the church. they both dared to ask the question of why we must accept what tradition tells us.

200 years later, people of faith are still wrestling with the question of whence we came. those with a fundamentalist understanding of the bible argue that if even a single part of it is not historical truth, none of it can be. they invoke a slippery slope argument in an effort to hold on to what ‘we’ have always believed, instead of asking questions, searching for truth no matter where it lies, and relying on faith to see them through. as an unfortunate result, much of science has been denied, or worse yet, ignored, in an attempt to cling to how a pre-scientific text explains the earth’s origins. and in its place, a pseudo-scientific amalgam of intelligent design and irrational archaeology has been exalted for the full viewing of the faithful.

so while, on lincoln’s 200th birthday, we can celebrate the fact that an african american has been elected president of a nation that once enslaved his like, we cannot yet celebrate a true reconciliation between science and faith. fundamentalists cling to a literal six day creation today like they clung to biblical teachings of ‘slaves obey your masters’ during the civil war. and like slavery, fundamentalist christianity and its black and white understanding of the bible must be overcome.

i am hopeful that just as we overcame a religious opposition to an equality among races, so too will we of faith one day embrace an interpretation of the bible that allows science to explain the ‘how,’ and frees the bible to provide a word as to ‘why.’ until such a time as this, those of us who have dedicated our lives to scientific inquiry, and who happen to live lives of faith, must continue to speak boldly and offer a hermeneutic for both science and the bible that asks the hard questions, follows the data, and lets the truth fall where it may.

so as we celebrate darwin’s birth, let him not be a lightning rod for controversy, but let him be a reminder that we should commit ourselves to observing and thinking about our world and our faith. for like the human species, our understanding of the bible changes over time, and so too must our faith. for both humans and their faith are endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful, which from so simple a beginning have been, and are being, evolved.

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