Sunday, September 30, 2007

Civics Quiz

Some bragging here:

See the USA Today news story on this quiz.

So 85% may not be all that good given the pool of test takers. Oh well.


The civics literacy test covered American history, government and political thought, plus international affairs and the market economy. Some highlights:
Group Freshman average Senior averge
Havard (top seniors) 63.59% 69.56%
Yale (top freshmen) 68.94% 65.85%
St. Thomas Univ. (Fla.) - 1 (lowest freshmen and seniors) 29.75% 32.50%
Eastern Conn. State - 1 (biggest gain) 31.34% 40.99%
Cornell (biggest loss) 61.90% 56.95%
Combined scores/State non-flagship universities 41.50% 47.40%
Private, secular non-Ivy universities 56.20% 60.10%
State flagship universities 50.70% 54.40%
Catholic universities 45.20% 48.30%
Protestant universities 53.80% 56.60%
Ivy League universities 64.00% 64.10%

Friday, September 28, 2007

As Prices Soar, U.S. Food Aid Buys Less

From the NY Times. Something to think about in this upcoming push for "biofuels." Have you seen the price of milk in the US lately?

By CELIA W. DUGGER Published: September 29, 2007

Soaring food prices, driven in part by demand for ethanol made from corn, have helped slash the amount of
food aid the government buys to its lowest level in a decade, possibly resulting in more hungry people around the world this year.

The United States, the world’s dominant donor, has purchased less than half the amount of food aid this year that it did in 2000, according to new data from the Department of Agriculture....[

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Sabians followers of John the Baptist

Are these the followers of Apollos mentioned in Acts as the preacher of the baptism of John? The Wikipedia article on them only traces them back to 900 AD. Apollos later became a Christian through Aquila and Priscilla.

By Zaid Sabah, USA TODAY

BAGHDAD — Dressed in gleaming white robes, a small group of Sabians gathered on a Sunday afternoon to wash away their sins — and to forget about the problems facing Iraq and the followers of their ancient religion.

The Sabians belong to a centuries-old sect that follows the teachings of John the Baptist but is neither Muslim nor Christian. Flowing water plays a symbolic role in their faith, and several people were baptized at the recent ceremony, including three couples who were getting married....[More]

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Was the 'Big Bang' Creation?

As a scientist spending most of my life as an agnostic, and cultural Catholic, it always seemed to me that the Big Bang was the beginning of creation. It certainly fits Genesis 1's description. Einstein appeared to pull back from the idea of the Big Bang as it would imply a creator. he preferred to think of constant universe rather than one with a beginning:

  • Albert Einstein's reaction to the consequences of his own general theory of relativity appear to acknowledge the threat of an encounter with God. Through the equations of general relativity, we can trace the origin of the universe backward in time to some sort of a beginning. However, before publishing his cosmological inferences, Einstein introduced a cosmological constant, a "fudge factor," to yield a static model for the universe. Einstein later considered this to be the greatest blunder of his scientific career.
  • Einstein ultimately gave grudging acceptance to what he called "the necessity for a beginning" and eventually to "the presence of a superior reasoning power." But he never did accept the reality of a personal God.

Einstein didn't believe quantum theory either as it would imply God played dice.

I couldn't get to sleep last night and listened to radio, a physicist, Lawrence Krauss was on declaring that the Big Bang was evidence that biblical creation do not happen. Radio host didn't press with more questions, but this is one Christian who wholeheartedly disagrees.

Krauss went on to say intelligent design was bunk and the theory of evolution is the basis of modern drug design. I don't believe as a physicist, Krauss has designed any successful drugs. I know of at least one who has. Phil Skell, a former professor of mine at Penn State and a member of the National Academy of Sciences has this to say:

  • Evolution Theory is a broadly overarching historical theory that pertains to the developmental history of living organisms over the past 3.5 billion years. It is reasonable to examine its credentials and determine its current utility. Does it have a directive impact in the inductive, or experimental, sciences, such as Physics, Chemistry, and Biology? Despite statements in the literature that make it out to be vitally important in modern Microbiology, Neurobiology, Genetics, Plant Biology, Medicine, Surgery, Pharmaceutics, etc., I believe this assignment to evolutionary theory cannot be justified. Nobel Laureate, Francis Crick wrote: "It might be thought that evolutionary arguments would play a large part in guiding biological research, but this is far from the case." I am mindful of the statement of a professor at a prestigious medical school, that Darwin is not mentioned in the four-year medical program. And, another from a researcher in the pharmaceutical industry, that his company does not have a Division of Darwinian Concepts to help in making more effective their choices for future research.
  • Over A half century ago, during WW II, I was personally associated with an antibiotics research group, engaged in the full range of activities, from finding organisms which inhibited bacterial growth to the isolation and proof of structure of the antibiotics they produced. Since then there has been astounding sophisticated advances in instrumentations and methodologies, but nonetheless persons engaged in current activities make no more use of Darwinian Concepts than in those earlier days; those Concepts do not, and did not, have a determinative impact on the conception and prosecution of the projects.

Militant Darwinists seem to promulgate the idea that all of modern science rests upon the theory of evolution. Everything from microchips to drug design will suffer if evolution isn't taught in grade school without any doubts. Evolution should be taught, but there are holes big enough to fit a truck through with clearance.

I have a good friend, and colleague who invented the glucose detector while we were both graduate students at Penn State. The device is the one you can buy anywhere, and has probably saved 10,000's of lives. He was then and is now a 6-day creationist. I believe in old earth so we differ there. But he and I would agree that the everyday successful functioning of science does not depend on accepting evolution without doubts.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Matthew 5:17-20, 12:1-14, 30-32

My reading at Church Yesterday

Jesus speaks on the Law of Moses in the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 5:17-20

  • 17 "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 "For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 "Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 "For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Christians are not under the Law but rather righteousness. But see how Jesus applies the righteousness that God intended in the Law given to the Jews in the following:


  • 1 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat. 2 But when the Pharisees saw this, they said to Him, "Look, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath." 3 But He said to them, "Have you not read what David did when he became hungry, he and his companions, 4 how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat nor for those with him, but for the priests alone? 5 "Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent? 6 "But I say to you that something greater than the temple is here. 7 "But if you had known what this means, (quotes Hosea OT) `I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT A SACRIFICE,' you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 "For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath." 9 Departing from there, He went into their synagogue. 10 And a man was there whose hand was withered. And they questioned Jesus, asking, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?"--so that they might accuse Him. 11 And He said to them, "What man is there among you who has a sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 "How much more valuable then is a man than a sheep! So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath." 13 Then He said to the man, "Stretch out your hand!" He stretched it out, and it was restored to normal, like the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.

The Pharisees go on to test Jesus again and accuse him of sorcery later, He has this to say:

The Christian is under the Holy Spirit. How then should a Christian who is under the guidance of the Holy Spirit view the Law of Moses? Christ came to fulfill the Law. With the Law there is righteousness that should be apparent to the Christian. In the 613 Commandments for example there is
  • 31. Not to take revenge (Lev. 19:18)
It is good that we not take revenge, but what did Jesus teach us in his Sermon on the Mount? In Mt 5:21-22 it is that just anger is evidence of guilt. It is indeed there in Lev. 19:18. However does Lev 19: 19 & 20 impact a Christian? These are things in which the Holy Spirit guides us. In those Laws there is righteousness intended by the Lord for all ages.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Tax Collector in The Gospels The 1st and 21st Century Contexts

The tax collector earned the scorn of the gentile, common Jew, the Pharisee, and Jesus in the Gospels. Jesus recognizes that the tax collector was a man in need of redemption in Matthew and Luke (another Link). His apostle, Matthew was a tax collector before he sought salvation.

How do we perceive the tax collector in the 21st century? I'm sure there are many Christians working for our IRS. How do they justify the righteousness of working as tax collectors when they are so scorned as sinners in the Gospels? If read without context, the tax collector in modern America is a sinner and should give back half of anything he earned to the poor, and perhaps make severe restitution to others.

Christians working for the IRS should rest easy. The Gospels were written in the 1st Century AD with the Jews and others under the domination of Romans. The Jews suffered under this occupation and tax collectors were part of the Roman apparatus for domination of Judea. In modern America, we have control of the tax collector (in principle) and they are in the service of a government we have elected.

This underscores the importance of reading Scriptures in its historical context. The word of God is made clearer to us when we consider the historical context in which human hands wrote scripture.

Note added Sept. 28 - Wikipedia article on publicans

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Notre Dame and Michigan

As we go in this weekend's battle of the 0-2 giants consider:
  • Such underperformance raises a serious question about whether Notre Dame, and similarly Michigan, can hope to contend regularly for national championships without lowering their rigorous academic standards. ....[more from NY Times]

  • In assessing Penn State’s 31-10 victory over Notre Dame, Joe Paterno said at his weekly news conference: “Notre Dame has got some problems. They didn’t challenge us, really.”
Take advice from Joe Pa, he knows all about lowering standards.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

613 Commandments of Judaism

From Judaism 101:

  • Below is a list of the 613 mitzvot (commandments). It is based primarily on the list compiled by Rambam in the Mishneh Torah, but I have consulted other sources as well. As I said in the page on halakhah, Rambam's list is probably the most widely accepted list, but it is not the only one. The order is my own....[more]

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Roman Divorce-by-Separation

David Instone-Brewer makes frequent reference to the unilateral divorce that Paul was trying to prevent among Christians in 1 Corinthians 7. Instone-Brewer calls it a divorce-by-separation. Unlike the legal term used by the Hillel Pharisees for their form of groundless unilateral or the "Any Cause" (1, 2, 3, 4) divorce, there doesn't seem to be one for Roman law. A chapter from a monograph "Marriage Divorce, and Children in Ancient Rome" (1991) describes the historical aspects of Roman divorce in the late Republic, early Principate. Divorce Roman Style: How Easy and how Frequent was it? (pp31-47) by Susan Treggiari describes the process.

pp. 33-34
"If the initiation and continuance of a marriage depended on consent, explicit or implies of both spouses ..., then it follows logically that divorce may be produced by the withdraw of that consent by one of parties, or perhaps we should say, more positively, by the decision of one party not to retain the relation"

p. 36
"No ratification from any outside authority (such as Church or State) was necessary for divorce, any more that it was for marriage."

p.37 top
"Just as documentation of the action of the divorcing spouse was not legally necessary, so receipt of the notice by the husband or wife remained inessential."

p. 37 bottom
"As far as the legal system went, by the time of Cicero it appears that both husbands and wives could divorce each other, unilaterally, without seeking outside ratification."

This is the Greco-Roman unilateral divorce that Instone-Brewer describes in his many works. Paul refers to it in verses 10-16 in 1 Corinthians 7.