I went and saw the Noah movie a couple of weeks ago. I hope to post something more in-depth concerning my reaction to the movie. I generally liked it and thought it was well done. Many people have written about how it doesn’t seem to follow the biblical story line as closely as they would like. But I would say that the movie is much more biblical than a lot of people believe. For now, I’ll link to the NYTimes review of the movie, which I found quite insighful.

There was another interesting post this week from Tom Bartlett in the Chronicle of Higher Education – “Do Atheists Really Believe in God?” It cited a recent study in Finland.

In a forthcoming paper in the International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, titled “Atheists Become Emotionally Aroused When Daring God to Do Terrible Things,” researchers asked subjects to make the horrible statements mentioned above. Some statements were offensive (puppy kicking), some were malevolent (parents drowning), and some dared God to do awful stuff, to the subjects, their friends, or their families. Of the 29 subjects, 16 were self-described atheists and 13 were religious . . . .

Then subjects were asked to read aloud the statements while hooked up to a skin-conductance meter, which basically measures how much you sweat. The idea is that the more you perspire, the more worked up you are about a particular statement . . . . According to the skin-conductance tests, the atheists found asking God to harm them or others to be just as upsetting as religious folks did. The researchers also compared the reactions of the atheists when making statements like “I wish my parents were paralyzed” and “I dare God to paralyze my parents.” Atheists were, like believers, more bothered by the latter statement, if you believe the skin-conductance tests.

A number of comments responding to the post pointed out that the study may not prove very much. Perhaps the atheists were still affected by things they were taught as children, and so forth. What struck me, though, was Bartlett’s reference to the “supernatural.”

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Speaking of kids and the Bible in church, I remember another Sunday not that long ago, again a

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Speaking of kids and the Bible in church, I remember another Sunday, again at my very respectable Presbyterian church, when a group of rather young children, maybe grades K-2nd or so, sang two songs in the main service. The first was a “fun” upbeat song about Noah’s ark. You may have heard it before. You can get a YouTube version of it here. The second song was about how God loves us and will always take be there to take care of us (I think it was long those lines). The problem is that the kids left out several very important parts of the Noah story. So, I’ve written a few new verses for the song that I think should always be included in it from now on. They are:

Last Sunday (2/24) at the Presbyterian church I attend, a group of kids, grades 4-6 I’d say, gave a brief performance on the “fruit of the Spirit” (based on Galatians 5:22-23). The adult leaders of the group did a very nice job making the presentation creative and interesting. They had set up a slide show to accompany the various recitations done by the kids. My favorite slide showed a still image of the “wait” symbol that you often see on a computer – a series of lines flashing around in a circle. I, and others I’m pretty sure, thought that something had malfunctioned with the slide show. But, no, it was Read More

As I understand it, Dr. Christopher A. Rollston, the Toyozo Nakarai Professor of Old Testament and Semitics at Emmanuel Christian Seminary in Johnson City, Tennessee, could well be dismissed from his position at the seminary. From what I have heard of the situation, the dismissal appears to be extremely unfair and in violation of the principles of academic freedom. Many sources suggest that an op-ed piece by Rollston in the Huffington Post about how women are viewed in biblical texts rankled some of the more conservative elements at the seminary. The issue made headlines at Inside Higher Ed and is all over the blogosphere. I’ve been friends with Rollston since 1997 and our days together as grad students at Johns Hopkins. He’s become an incredibly well-respected scholar. I hope that he is able to survive this. For more on the controversy, see these links:

Inside Higher Ed article

Public letter from Professor P. Kyle McCarter, William Foxwell Albright Professor of Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies at Johns Hopkins University (please see this letter for ways in which you can support Rollston)

Blog post with many of the relevant details (written by a former student at Emmanuel)

Blog post in support of Rollston

This is a rather delayed post, but it’s been on my mind since I saw Marco Rubio’s speech at the Republican National Convention this past August. Here’s an excerpt:

America was founded on the principle that every person has God-given rights. That power belongs to the people. That government exists to protect our rights and serve our interests.

That we shouldn’t be trapped in the circumstances of our birth. That we should be free to go as far as our talents and work can take us.

We are special because we’ve been united not by a common race or ethnicity. We’re bound together by common values. That family is the most important institution in society. That almighty God is the source of all we have.

Special, because we’ve never made the mistake of believing that we are so smart that we can rely solely on our leaders or our government.

Our national motto is “In God we Trust,” reminding us that faith in our Creator is the most important American value of all.

What I found interesting is the implication that having faith in “God” is one way of asserting that power belongs to the people and not to the government or regime. The “most important” thing (“value” in his words) that binds Americans together, he seems to be saying, is “faith in our creator,” as opposed to patriotism or loyalty to the country. I’m not sure that he’s right about this (I was a little surprised when I heard him say it), but it made me think of an issue that still gets debated among biblical scholars.

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A recent blog post by Tom Bartlett on the site of the Chronicle of Higher Education mentions the possibility that “evolution is a lousy story” and that “the biblical story of creation . . . couldn’t be richer.” According to Dan McAdams, a professor of psychology at Northwestern University, this is one reason why more Americans don’t believe in evolution (fewer than half do, according to the Pew Research Center). Others (e.g., Jerry Coyne) say Americans’ opposition to evolution has nothing to do with whether or not evolution is a story. Instead, as Bartlett points out, most who reject evolution say that it’s because of “God or Jesus or religion in general.” According to Coyne, “belief in evolution will only rise when belief in God declines.”

I think that McAdams is on to something important. Stories are what we tell ourselves to make meaning out of the stuff of life and the world around us. Bartlett quotes McAdams: “People create stories to make sense of their lives.” And then he  paraphrases him: “When you think about it, we tell stories to make sense of pretty much everything.” To make sense of = to make meaning out of. Without stories (and I would include music as a type of story), I’m not sure that there would be much of a way to do this. Science gives us data, but, as soon as it starts using words such as “wonderful” and “elegant,” it’s no longer science but story. What Coyne really wants, without realizing it I suppose, Read More

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