Jan 31, 2005


High school students: closet anarchists, or nanny-staters? Or both?
Although a large majority of students surveyed say musicians and others should be allowed to express "unpopular opinions," 74% say people shouldn't be able to burn or deface an American flag as a political statement; 75% mistakenly believe it is illegal.
Not surprisingly, only 39% of teachers (and 25% of principals) believe that "students should be allowed to report controversial issues in their student newspapers without the approval of school authorities."

Time to readjust lesson plans.

[thanks to Hit and Run]


Ed Brayton's favorite pseudohistorian is rather dashing in a cowboy hat.

Jan 30, 2005

up for the Challenge

Item: Mark Olson's first posting on Awakenings is over at Pseudo-Polymath.

Update: so is the second.

Update Update: and let's not forget the third (and final) entry.

an eye for the bizarre

Anyone interested in epistemology (especially as it relates to Frank Jackson's "Knowledge Argument") must read this recent article from NewScientist. The premise:
The painter is Esref Armagan. And he is here in Boston to see if a peek inside his brain can explain how a man who has never seen can paint pictures that the sighted easily recognise - and even admire. He paints houses and mountains and lakes and faces and butterflies, but he's never seen any of these things. He depicts colour, shadow and perspective, but it is not clear how he could have witnessed these things either. How does he do it?
Read and be amazed.

link of the day

Jubilate, O ye friends of democracy.

Jan 28, 2005

hasta pronto

I'm off to Eastside Catholic HS in Bellevue for a weekend of debate. Normal posting resumes shortly.

flop ten


big wheel keep on turnin'

While the Washington state gubernatorial debacle continues to eat up the op-ed page, we here in the Evergreen State have one person to be thankful for: Secretary of State Sam Reed. Reed's refusal to consistently side with the Republicans during this contest has bolstered his credibility, even as it has simultaneously infuriated and elated both friends and foes. His latest hijinks: calling for the controversy to be settled in the courts (against the Dems, who want to solve the problem in the legislature, which--surprise!--they control).

Most surprising to this blogger, though, is the relative silence on Hugh Hewitt's blog. That the author of If It's Not Close They Can't Cheat has barely even mentioned the ongoing kerfluffle is baffling. Hugh?

Jan 27, 2005

web learnin'

To aficionados of A.I. (the concept, not the plodding Spielberg couldabeenamasterpiece), this is heartening:
Computers can learn the meaning of words simply by plugging into Google. The finding could bring forward the day that true artificial intelligence is developed.

Trying to get a computer to work out what words mean - distinguish between "rider" and "horse" say, and work out how they relate to each other - is a long-standing problem in artificial intelligence research.

One of the difficulties has been working out how to represent knowledge in ways that allow computers to use it. But suddenly that is not a problem any more, thanks to the massive body of text that is available, ready indexed, on search engines like Google (which has more than 8 billion pages indexed).

The meaning of a word can usually be gleaned from the words used around it. Take the word "rider". Its meaning can be deduced from the fact that it is often found close to words like "horse" and "saddle". Rival attempts to deduce meaning by relating hundreds of thousands of words to each other require the creation of vast, elaborate databases that are taking an enormous amount of work to construct.
When computers can get the difference between sarcasm and telling it straight, we're in real trouble.

suicidal man faces possible death penalty

No, really.

Jan 26, 2005


Shafer gets it.

The Challenge of Jesus: Part I

[As explained previously, this represents the first installment in a series of brief articles on N.T. Wright's The Challenge of Jesus.]

Part I: Disappointment

Recently, I have been exploring on the relationship between the synoptic problem and Christian eschatology. After Part II, I decided to take a break, let my thoughts jell, and stop pontificating and start researching. I was surprised by the lack of immediately available information, as far as I could tell, on this specialized topic. So, when Mark Olson challenged non-believers to read Wright's book, I gladly accepted.

Mark's invitation included this statement: "On a personal selfish note, I really do want to hear what a 'differently' biased person might say when reading this." Here's where I qualify. As a former believer, a one-time adherent to the Christian faith, I have a strong affinity for all things Christian; my understanding of Christianity is both from an insider's an an outsider's perspective. So, unlike some "strong atheists" or persons of different faiths, I have no automatic, knee-jerk responses to Christian arguments; to some degree, I can see where Christians are coming from, because I've been there.

That being said, Wright's book is readable, interesting, and surprisingly poignant in parts (which I'll discuss later), and condenses a wealth of information into bite-size chunks. Written for laypersons, and not extensively footnoted, it is perhaps a jumping-off point for scholars. My disappointment relates to its target demographic: Christian believers. The book is a call for recommitment to the quest for the historical Jesus, reconciliation between opposing historical-critical camps, renewal of dialogue among Christians about the true meaning of the Gospels. As an insider-outsider, I can easily navigate through the faith-talk looking for intellectual insight, but I would imagine such language off-putting for a "true" nonbeliever.

Coming soon: Getting the Gist

swing away

Ed Brayton has made bashing WorldNetDaily into a hobby (though he doesn't have time to make it a career). His latest fodder: an article about Wiccans who dare to worship on military bases, and the Christian fundamentalists clamoring to inhibit their rights.

Brayton writes:
Perhaps the most ironic aspect of the whole thing is that these are the first people to wrap themselves in the flag and pat themselves on the back for their patriotism. Yet they urge their followers to refuse to join the military solely because other religions get to join up and practice their faith too? Not only are they willing to shred the first amendment to deny others the same rights they demand for themselves, they're willing to weaken our national defense if the military doesn't give in to their demands for religious purity. I can scarcely imagine anything less patriotic than that.
I give Mr. Brayton one week to discover something less patriotic--and likely in the stream of drivel we all know as WorldNutDaily.

full speed ahead

I thought to myself, If Jason Kuznicki can do it, so can I.

Trackbacks are now available on this blog. Knock yourselves out.

you may now resume thinking

Thanks largely to a furious letter-writing campaign, Brian Weatherson's Online Papers in Philosophy is back... with a vengeance!

Jan 25, 2005

jurisprudential aesthetics

Lo and behold, no such phrase exists on Google--which might partially explain why I found Jonathan Turley's recent article, Art and the Constitution, so novel and intriguing. His thesis:
In many ways, the endeavors of law and art seem to have converged in the interpretation of the Constitution as the Court has moved from more classic to more impressionistic interpretations of constitutional provisions, particularly in the area of national security law.
Worth a look-see.

Jan 24, 2005

when education doesn't suck

Another batch of sophomores, another trip through The Bald Soprano, with delightfully frustrating results. "It doesn't make any sense!" is the common complaint, and eye-rolling greets my inevitable response: "No, it doesn't, and yes it does." The class structure, inductive reasoning, and logic all fall prey to Ionescu's savage wit. Best moment of instruction always involves the Moebius strip, which is patently magical in its defiance of categorization (does it have one side, or two?). Teaching can be fun, and even fascinating, if only for minutes in a high-school day.

Jan 23, 2005

this epigram belongs to me

Nerds of a feather blog together.

lemme calculate that coefficient forya

I am nerdier than 41% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

The quiz is definitely biased toward (against?) one sort of nerd; you'll see what I mean when you take it.*

[Thanks to the Teacher/Ref/Poet]

Update: My wife scored 40; we're perfectly matched.

Update Update: Mark Olson scored 96. Ay caramba!

*Do notice that I said "when."

confounding expectations

Le Trou
You wouldn't guess that uninterrupted shots of pounding through concrete could be this nerve-wracking, but they are. Did I mention that this narrative of men against masonry is a bold humanist fable?

Sling Blade
Billy Bob Thornton: amazing, to the twitch. Dwight Yoakam: brilliant, and more "assholish" than any film character I've witnessed. Did I mention that this redemption story is as searing as any of Flannery O'Connor's?

onward upward

This is too cool: a new audio format destined to replace MP3s as the audiophile's weapon of choice. And so is this, a way to strike back at comment spammers. (Lack of spam is one of the plusses of not being read by many.)

Jan 20, 2005

happy happy

He's smart, svelte, and freshly 23. Hoist a Happy Birthday over toward Matt Anderson of Mere Orthodoxy, a man I am proud to call my brother.

look both ways

Researchers + Free Time =

challenge accepted

To my brother's total non-surprise, I have taken up Mark Olson's challenge to read The Challenge of Jesus by N.T. Wright, and then write an essay or two about it (to be cross-posted at my book-blog, bibliocracy).

Olson gives several reasons for setting up the project:
  • Many of the non-Christian posters seem to have a poor understanding of the breadth of different interpretations considered "doctrine" in today's "shattered" church(es).
  • This is one such interpretation that seems to me might be more difficult for today's Enlightenment influenced agnostic or atheist to dismiss out of hand, as to do so would require dismissing much if not all historical inquiry.
  • The book is short, readable, and well written.
  • On a personal selfish note, I really do want to hear what a "differently" biased person might say when reading this.

I wouldn't say my understanding is "poor," but, especially in the light of recent ramblings, I welcome every opportunity to enrich it. I respect N.T. Wright as a scholar and exegete, and am looking forward to reading the book for pleasure as much as for education. I am also glad to play the role of Olson's biased Other. That he's offered to do the same merely sweetens the deal.

All in all, this whole experience affirms my blogging ideals: constructive communication across differences, for the betterment of all involved. Thank you for the invitation, Mr. Olson, and welcome to the blogroll.

Jan 19, 2005

mean median mode

Jason Kuznicki has penned another insightful post, this time addressing a pivotal moment in gay politics. Highlights:
It's well documented that when a straight person actually knows a gay person, the prejudices vanish on both sides. The water cooler chats, the backyard barbecues, even the family reunions very often go our way so long as we just show up and affirm who we are....

...Things are pretty good at the top, too. Yes, the Republicans still dominate the federal government, and the religious right still dominates the Republican Party. But right now there are few serious anti-gay initiatives underway at the federal level. The FMA is unlikely ever to pass, and most people now see the ban on gays in the military for what it really was all along: a national embarrassment...

...America's political midsection is stuck in a time warp on gay rights. Local politics is a flashback to a time when "no special rights" was still an incisive slogan, when AIDS was purely the fault of gay people, and when the governor of Maryland, for one, could assert that same-sex marriage was "an oxymoron." This he did just last year. Also last year, my husband Scott called another one of our state legislators--and had to explain to him what a civil union was.
Go read the whole thing.

the wayforward machine

ESPN boldly sallies forth to the maddest moment of March Madness. Wake Forest fans should be pleased.


I've added Various Observations in Written Form to the rollsheet. A teacher, a ref, and a poet: the unholy trinity.

Jan 18, 2005

work cut out

Well, at least I know what I'll be doing this summer.

open letter to Brian Weatherson

Dear Brian,

Did you stop linking, or did we stop thinking?

(Frankly, the latter is more likely.)



shuffle off to Buffalo

Wow. When trying to tackle the Synoptic Problem, be sure to bring along a map and a compass. I thought I'd have my analysis of Jesus's return pronouncements finished by now, but my research has led me into bewildering territory. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are so free with the material, placing entire pericopes in different scenes from Jesus's ministry, adding, subtracting, and altering words and phrases... Back into my midrashic maze I go.

Jan 17, 2005

filthy lucre

If you haven't heard about it by now, Mr. Kos may or may not have been so forthcoming about his blog-funding from one Howard Dean. Regardless of the outcome, the lesson is clear: disclose, disclose, disclose.

For the record, I receive gigantic cheques from Italian magnates who want full blogosphere coverage of the America's Cup.

yes it is, and no it isn't

They have an award show for doublethink, right?

Jesus the logician?

Joe Carter is attempting to inaugurate a blogging project. In his words:
I offer the following as a project to be tackled by my fellow faithbloggers: the creation of comprehensive database outlining the ways in which Jesus used logic in his discourses.
Carter quotes extensively from Dallas Willard, who has a high view of Jesus's use of logical discourse and argumentation. Why shouldn't he? As Douglas Groothuis writes,
For all their honesty in recording the foibles of the disciples, the Gospel writers never narrated a situation in which Jesus was intellectually stymied or bettered in an argument; neither did Jesus ever encourage an irrational or ill-informed faith on the part of his disciples.
But wait. Let's parse the first claim: generally speaking, why would the Gospel writers want to show Jesus's foibles? (His disciples, foolish as they sometimes seem, are perfect foils for Jesus, literarily speaking.) There may have been situations where Jesus was in fact stymied, or took a long time thinking up an answer, that just aren't included. (If we think the Gospels are a "fair and balanced" presentation of Jesus's career and teachings, we assume too much.)

Jesus, no doubt, is a master of rhetoric. But rhetoric sometimes comes at the expense of logic. Even within the Gospels one can find examples of sloppy reasoning and obfuscation, many (if not most) in John, chief among the Gospels for its oracular density and maddening repetitiveness. I'll point out just a few examples.

First, look at Jesus's defense of his authority in the book of John, specifically chapters 5 and 8.
Jesus examines what constitutes valid evidence for a claim. First, he states,
"If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid. There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is valid."
Seems fair enough; trumpeting one's own accomplishments is a pretty poor way to gain credibility. But three chapters later,
The Pharisees challenged him, "Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid."

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. You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. But if I do judge, my decisions are right, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me. In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two men is valid. I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me."
In John, Jesus sounds very much like Walt Whitman. "Do I contradict myself? / Very well then, I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)"

In Matthew 15 (paralleled in Mark 7 ), contra Groothuis, Jesus actually is bested in an argument.
Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon possession.”

Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

He replied, “It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs.”

“Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.”

Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.
(We may speculate as to why Mark's rendering doesn't include the line "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel," and makes no mention of "faith," and why Luke's Gospel entirely omits the story.)

Other logical fallacies are there for the finding. There's petitio principii, John 8:43:
Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say.
Denying the Antecedent, John 8:47:
He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason that you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.
To sum up: there is no need to deny Jesus his greatness as an orator and profound thinker. But his logic is not perfect. In that respect, he's just like the rest of us.

apocalypse when?

Slate's Jeffrey Rosen, reviewing Mark Tushnet's A Court Divided, points out the obvious:
Tushnet's accessible and astute book reminds us—at the moment when we need to be reminded—that the Supreme Court rarely transforms the national political debate. Most of the time, it influences national politics only at the margins—striking down obscure laws that have lost their national constituency (such as sodomy laws) or tacking gently left or right in response to shifts in the national mood. Occasionally, the court tries to impose a vision that is intensely contested by national majorities (as it did during the 1930s), and in these rare cases it tends to provoke a political backlash, followed by a judicial retreat. Most important of all, Tushnet offers a useful caution to his fellow liberals: Rather than squandering their energies on ineffective opposition to Supreme Court nominations, they should focus instead on retaking the White House and Congress.

Jan 15, 2005


I'm stuck at Federal Way High School for a debate tournament, so no new postings until tomorrow. Meanwhile, read everything here, and if it doesn't move you to tears, it's time to renew your membership in the human race.

Jan 13, 2005

lackey's lament

"Bush has 'serious concerns' over Williams flap," trumpets USA Today.
In the interview, Bush said "I appreciate the way Armstrong Williams has handled this, because he has made it very clear that he made a mistake. All of us, the Cabinet, needs to take a good look and make sure this kind of thing doesn't happen again."

Like what... actually firing someone? Too late--Rod Paige already quit.

Williams is pseudo-apologetic:
Williams called Adelstein's comments a "witchhunt," telling The Associated Press that what he did "was strictly advertising … I know that I've done nothing wrong, nothing illegal."

Meanwhile, conservative commentators weigh in...

Jan 11, 2005


Now that the Rathergate report is out, the conservative blogosphere is both triumphant and angered. Heads are rolling at CBS, but where's the beef? No finding of actual partisan bias? You gotta be kiddin' me.

But bias shows through omission, too. Some conservative bloggers are off the train entirely on an even more egregious scandal, the fact that tax dollars have funded illegal propaganda for the No Child Left Behind Act, courtesy of a $240,000 check to one Armstrong Williams. (Not to mention the previous Karen Ryan brouhaha.) Partisans influencing their own private news organization is one thing; a Pravda-esque propaganda scheme is quite another.

(Williams's defense: I was biased long before I was paid! Not so fast, says Michelle Malkin.)

LaShawn Barber is also following the story--and makes the same comparison.
Watch and learn, but don’t get angry and don’t defend Williams’s actions. Get righteously indignant. What he did was wrong, and he must pay the consequences. That’s the one thing we must be consistent about even if liberals won’t. I want this episode to be a lesson to all conservatives — bloggers, blog readers, writers, politicians — whoever you are.
I couldn't agree more. Bias cuts both ways--something liberals and conservatives, now, can agree on.

Jan 10, 2005

the synoptic shuffle, part II

[continued from part I, and a work in progress]

Here is where we come to the greatest discrepancy between Matthew's version and the other two. Matthew has lifted this passage (or, the other two have misplaced it?) and put it into an entirely different discourse, in ch. 10, the instructions to the twelve disciples, which creates even more interesting problems with the phrase "this generation."

In Matthew, Jesus sends out the 12 disciples; in the Lukan passage containing the same phrases, Jesus sends out 72(!) two-by-two to "every town and place he was about to go." (Luke's other sending-out passage, in ch. 9, follows Matthew as far as the 12 are concerned; see also Mark 6). Underscoring the point, Matthew lists the twelve, who disperse to unknown results; Luke's anonymous seventy-two come back marveling that "even the demons submit to us in your name."

Matthew's account includes the curious prediction, "You will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes." This passage might be dismissed as a reference to Jesus's entrance into Jerusalem, were it not for a later passage in Matthew 16:27-28 (and remember, the disciples, in Matthew's account, never return from their mission). "For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then he will reward each according to his works. Assuredly I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom." (16.27-28) Luke, in a parallel passage (at an entirely different point in the narrative), puts it in slightly different, more ambiguous terms: "...there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the kingdom of God."

What's going on here? The clues point to a watering-down of the apocalyptic language of the coming of the kingdom.

All three synoptics follow up the prediction with the Transfiguration; is this the coming of the kingdom? It would seem so, except that there are 1) no angels, and 2) no judgment / reward.

What about the Ascension? Luke appears to invent it as a necessary explanation for Jesus's tarrying; it is contained in no other gospel (unless we include the late emendation to Mark, 16:9ff, which directly seems copied from Luke/Acts.)

a brief interlude

God is bored.

Omniscience is a curious condition. Boredom comes from a lack of curiosity; curiosity comes from imperfect knowledge. Hence God, with all knowledge, discovers nothing, learns nothing, is surprised by nothing: ennui writ divine.

And yes, that last phrase is completely new.

Except to God.

roasting Gonzales

Dahlia Lithwick is--how do I put it--peeved.

Jan 9, 2005

the synoptic shuffle, part I

One of the greatest conundrums in New Testament scholarship is the matter of the relationships among the three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Which came first? Were they independently constructed based on similar sources? Did Matthew revise Mark, or vice versa? Did Luke revise one or both? Did all draw from a "book of sayings" similar to the Gospel of Thomas, and then try to fit Jesus's sayings into a coherent narrative? Who wrote them? What cultural, historical, theological, or linguistic factors explain the differences among the three texts?

Obviously, I have neither the time nor the erudition to answer all these questions, which are great fodder for biblical scholars the globe over. Thanks to a recent discussion about Jesus's prophecies related to the "end of the age," though, we can look at a specific pericope and examine these issues.

We'll leave behind, for the moment, the question of which Gospel came first. In the words of preachers everywhere, let's turn in our Bibles to the book of Matthew, chapter 24. Done reading? Now turn to Mark 13. Then to Luke 21.

First, notice that the sermon comes at a different narrative point in each synoptic. Matthew places it after a discussion of "Seven Woes," which occurs in the temple (and is unique to that particular gospel). Mark, though, along with Luke, places it after an incident involving a widow leaving her tithe at the temple--a story found nowhere in Matthew. Clearly we're not looking at a journalistic, "as-it-happened" incident, but at an attempt to reconstruct the circumstances of a particular discourse. (A question for another day: which of the gospel authors, if any, was an eyewitness to what actually happened?)

All three agree on the following minimal account.

Jesus and his disciples leave the temple; the disciples point out the stones, and Jesus makes the startling prophesy: they will all be torn down. Later, Peter, James, John, and Andrew (in Mark) or "the disciples (Matthew) or "some of the disciples (Luke) privately ask him, "when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?"

Jesus then launches into a lecture on the "signs of the age." The highlights:

1. Watch out for false prophets claiming to be the Christ. You'll hear of wars, but don't be alarmed; the end is yet to come. There will be earthquakes and famines--the "beginning of birth pangs" (except in Luke).

2. You'll be persecuted for your faith. When you see the "abomination that causes desolation" (Matthew and Mark) or "Jerusalem surrounded by armies" (Luke), if you're in Judea, run for the hills, and don't even stop to gather your things. Pray that it doesn't happen in winter--but God will shorten these days of travail for the sake of the elect. Again, false Christs will arise and deceive people with signs and wonders; don't be fooled.

3. In the days following that distress, the "sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light;the stars will fall from the sky and the moon will not give its light." At that time, the Son of Man will come in the clouds with power and glory, sending his angels to gather up the four winds.

4. Think about a salient analogy: when its twigs become tender and shoots appear, you know summer has just about arrived. SO, when you see these events, you'll know that the end is "right at the door."

5. "I tell you the truth: this generation will ceratinly not pass away until all these things have happened."

6. Except the Father in heaven, no one knows exactly when this will happen. Not even me. Therefore,

7. Watch!

Now, the interesting differences.

Wording: in Matthew and Mark, the end is "still to come;" in Luke, it "will not come right away." (This is in the NKJV; when I have time I'll look up the Greek texts.)

Luke adds "pestilences" and "fearful events and great signs from heaven" to the list of maladies in (1), and makes no mention of "birth pangs."

Mark and Luke mention "standing before kings and governors" in (2), and refer to "not worrying about what to say" when dragged before the authorities; in Luke, Jesus says that he will directly guide the speech of the believer, and that "not a hair of [the believer's] head will perish." Mark, along similar lines, puts it in slightly different words: "it is not [the believer] speaking, but the Holy Spirit."

Here is where we come to the greatest discrepancy between Matthew's version and the other two. Matthew has lifted this passage (or, the other two have misplaced it?) and put it into an entirely different discourse, in the tenth chapter, the instructions to the twelve disciples, which creates even more interesting problems with the phrase "this generation."

In Matthew, Jesus sends out the 12 disciples; in the Lukan passage, Jesus sends out 72(!) two-by-two to "every town and place he was about to go." Underscoring the point, Matthew lists the twelve, who disperse to unknown results; Luke's anonymous seventy-two come back marveling that "even the demons submit to us in your name."

[more to follow]

Jan 7, 2005

response to a response

My brother has responded to my earlier comments on this earlier post. Because I'm only up this early to make sure the roads are safe enough to travel to Tacoma for a speech tournament, I have about fifteen minutes to address it. Let's see how I do.

First, note that the parables listed (about drowsiness, about delay) and the tasks given (preach the Gospel to the nations) invoke no timescale. Will the Church take a decade or centuries to "fall asleep?" When the known world is fairly small (no guess that North America even exists, for example), how long will preaching to "all the nations" take? Looking back, current theologians will say, "Obviously centuries for both," but this is because centuries have come and gone. We'll see below why this isn't fair to the text.

Matt also raises other issues:

One final point: in 24:36, two verses after Jesus allegedly claims he will return within that generation, Jesus reminds his listeners that no one knows the day or the hour of the Son's return, "not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone."
If anything, this text could be seen to deny Jesus's full divinity; if Jesus is "fully God," how could the Father know something he doesn't? But we leave that particular difficulty aside, and focus on the fact that Jesus uses the phrase "day or the hour," which refers more clearly to a very-soon-coming (imagine if Jesus had said "the year or the decade" instead) than it does to a far-off-coming; at any rate, it's hardly compelling evidence for the latter.
Clearly, then, it seems unlikely that Jesus Himself thought he was going to return within that generation. One can account for his statement in 24:34 by limiting the scope of "all things" to the destruction of the temple, a limiting that seems plausible in light of the disciples question in 24:3 and in light of Jesus's reference to the "Parable of the Fig Tree" in 32 and 33.

We see that the first statement simply isn't supported in the text. The "all things" in 24:34 make little sense if they refer to the "all things" in 24:3. The "all things" in chapter three are physical objects; the "all things" in 24:34 are events (physical objects don't "happen"). Read the whole passage for yourself, and see if the meaning is as plain as I think it is.
Especially the whole "timing" issue:29“Immediately after the distress of those days “ ‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’[c]

30“At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. 31And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.

Here's what it boils down to: to accept that Jesus didn't "really" mean what he said, you have to accept that "near" doesn't really mean "near," that "immediately" doesn't really mean "immediately," that "right at the door" means "miles away trudging through the snow," and, most important, that Jesus's conference with his disciples was a ruse--not just in the sense that his prophecy never came true, but in the sense that he never really meant it for them.

There, fifteen minutes, done. How'd I do?

Jan 4, 2005

if I only had no brain

Update: A hearty welcome to readers of The Loom.

This meme shows up in the weirdest places. And I quote:
Or consider a still more striking example. The December 12, 1980, issue of Science contained an article by Roger Lewin titled “Is Your Brain Really Necessary?” In the article Lewin reported a case study by John Lorber, a British neurologist and professor at Sheffield University:
There’s a young student at this university,” says Lorber, “who has an IQ of 126, has gained a first-class honors degree in mathematics, and is socially completely normal. And yet the boy has virtually no brain.” The student’s physician at the university noticed that the youth had a slightly larger than normal head, and so referred him to Lorber, simply out of interest. “When we did a brain scan on him,” Lorber recalls, “we saw that instead of the normal 4.5-centimeter thickness of brain tissue between the ventricles and the cortical surface, there was just a thin layer of mantle measuring a millimeter or so. His cranium is filled mainly with cerebrospinal fluid.
Is it really possible for someone with nearly no brain to magically maintain cognitive function? Is this the killer dualist anecdote, proving the mind-body gap not only unbridgeable, but a complete red herring?

Skepticism is in order. John McCrone writes,
Lorber's claims were never publicly refuted. And Lorber – who died in 1996 – stuck firmly to his story, claiming that in 500 CT scans he had found many hydrocephalics with hardly any brain left above the level of the brainstem and yet living ordinary lives (Lorber, 1981). So a little detective work was needed to get to the bottom of this one.

Talking to colleagues and contemporaries of Lorber, it was revealed he was probably greatly exaggerating the extent of brain loss in his cases. Said one source: "If the cortical mantle actually had been compressed to a couple of millimetres, it wouldn't even have shown up on his X-rays." Another agreed, adding that brain scans with modern techniques such as MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) show stretching, but not much real loss of brain weight with slow-onset hydrocephalus. He says the brain structure adapts to the space it is allowed: "The cortex and its connections are still there, even if grossly distorted."

Sufferers with hydrocephalus also report many subtle symptoms that don't show up in standard tests of cognition. They do well on basic reading and arithmetic or IQ-type questions, but struggle with focused attention, spatial imagination, general motor co-ordination, and other skills that rely on longer-range integrative links across the brain. This fits a picture of a brain in which all the cortical processing regions are in place but where the white matter - the wealth of insulated connections that actually occupies much of the centre of the cerebral hemispheres - has been pulled out of shape.

So Lorber's results were striking but overplayed. And certainly the rise of neuroimaging over the past decade ought finally to have put paid to this long-running myth about the 10 percent brain. One of the most important lessons from the first scanning studies of brains actually caught in the act of thinking - with areas lighting up with increased metabolic activity – was just how widespread were the patterns of activation for the most minor mental responses. No areas were silent, just relatively active or inactive in forming the reaction to the moment.
We need our brains. It's that simple.

gutting the heart

The Heart of Christianity

Is a Cadillac transmission a Cadillac CTS? No, of course not--that's confusing parts and wholes. What if we add axles and an engine? Still no? How about wheels, tires, a body, and perhaps an exhaust manifold? Is it a CTS yet?... [read more]

parade of ignorance

And in this case, it's not always a bad thing. The Edge asks pop-star thinkers what they believe, but can't "prove" and the results are varied and, at times, surprising. Go there and read it for yourself--a summary would be a grave injustice.

Update: But not to Joe Carter.

(Excerpted in the New York Times, thanks to Arts and Letters Daily.)

Jan 2, 2005

bestest posts of 2004

Here are the posts that made me think in 2004, from the blogs I read nearly every single day.

Mere Orthodoxy
I noticed that all of the most thought-provoking posts were by my brother--no offense to the other bloggers, but he and I naturally lock horns on just about any topic.

Dispatches from the Culture Wars
Ed Brayton loves to deflate stupidity, and there are plenty of stupids to be found online. Some of his better posts, though, aren't as prickly.

PZ Myers is nothing if not opinionated, warm-hearted, and often quite funny. But he's at his best when in Science Teacher mode.
The Evangelical Outpost
Joe Carter posts more than is humanly possible, but somehow manages to stay interesting. His landmark achievement over the past year has been his Know Your Evangelicals series, a great place to learn about the heterogeneity in Evangelical Christian thought.