Saturday, January 28, 2012

Hearing the Voice of the Ultimate Prophet: The Readings for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

In the Readings for this Sunday, we are following 1 Corinthians and the Gospel of Mark ad seriatim, so there is less cohesion between the Second Reading and the Gospel than on a high feast day.
Nonetheless, the Readings this week can be linked by the theme of “hearing the voice of the prophet.”

1. The First Reading is a very famous passage from the Book of Deuteronomy that should be familiar to every Catholic student of biblical theology. The context: at the end of his life, Moses is giving his valedictory speech to the people of Israel (which is basically the whole Book of Deuteronomy), and amongst his various warnings and promises, he prophesies that God will one day send the people of Israel a prophet like himself, to whom they will need to listen in order to be saved.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Why Materialism Can't Explain Consciousness

Last month, at the Science and Faith conference at Franciscan University, I gave a short response to Alvin Plantinga arguing that if materialism and Darwinism were both true, we ought not to have minds, that is, sentience or consciousness.  In other words, materialist Darwinism cannot account for the mind. I got some blow back from folks who thought I hadn't considered the issue deeply enough.  I wish I had remembered to use this quote (which I filed some time ago) from atheist philosopher Raymond Tallis, in an edition of The Philosophers Magazine, who really makes my case for me:

    Consciousness makes evolutionary sense only if one does not start far enough back; if, that is to say, one fails to assume a consistent and sincere materialist position, beginning with a world without consciousness, and then considers whether there could be putative biological drivers for organisms to become conscious. This is the only valid starting point for those who look to evolution to explain consciousness, given that the history of matter has overwhelmingly been without conscious life, indeed without history. Once the viewpoint of consistent materialism is assumed, it ceases to be self-evident that it is a good thing to experience what is there, that it will make an organism better able so to position itself in the causal net as to increase the probability of replication of its genomic material. On the contrary, even setting aside the confusional states it is prone to, and the sleep it requires, consciousness seems like the worst possible evolutionary move.

    If there isn’t an evolutionary explanation of consciousness, then the world is more interesting than biologists would allow. And it gets even more interesting if we unbundle different modes of consciousness. There are clearly separate problems in trying to explain on the one hand the transition to sentience and on the other the transition from sentience to the propositional awareness of human beings that underpins the public sphere in which they live and have their being, where they consciously utilise the laws of nature, transform their environment into an artefactscape, appeal to norms in a collective that is sustained by deliberate intentions rather than being a lattice of dovetailing automaticities, and write books such as The Origin of Species. Those who are currently advocating evolutionary or neuro-evolutionary explanations of the most complex manifestations of consciousness in human life, preaching neuro-evolutionary aesthetics, law, ethics, economics, history, theology etc, should consider whether the failure to explain any form of consciousness, never mind human consciousness, in evolutionary terms, might not pull the rug from under their fashionable feet.
Thank you, Raymond Tallis, for clearly stating the obvious truth when few are willing to!

By the way, the presentations from the Franciscan Science and Faith conference are now up, including those by Michael Behe, Jay Richards, Stephen Barr, Ed Feser, Ben Wiker, and Al Plantinga.  My response to Plantinga is at the end of his video above.

What does this have to do with Biblical studies?  Actually, quite a bit, because the major challenge to the biblical world view in contemporary culture is the atheist-evolutionist-materialist metanarrative that everything is the accidental byproduct of material processes.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Egyptian Background to the Ark

Next after the astounding "Sodom and Gomorrah" session with the notorious "heat event," the most interesting presentation I attended at this past Society of Biblical Literature was Raanan Eichler's paper on the Ark of the Covenant.  Eichler did a fabulous job of presenting the Ark against its ancient Near Eastern (especially Egyptian) background.  Although I had read about this aspect of the Ark before, Eichler had collected the best visual documentation I have ever seen of ancient Egyptian ritual vessels comparable to the Ark in size, shape, and construction.  He showed how study of these Egyptian objects clarified aspects of the textual description of the Ark in Scripture that have remained obscure for centuries.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

"Why 'Fishers of Men'?: A Forgotten Old Testament Prophecy" (Post & Podcast on the Sunday Readings, 1/22/12

This Sunday Jesus calls the disciples to be "fishers of men" (Mark 1:17). Where does this imagery come from? Here we look at the Old Testament prophecy that seems to provide the background.

Feel free to leave your comments below. You can listen to the podcast on iTunes or below in which we talk about this plus more on Jonah.

"Fishers of Men": Podcast on the Sunday Readings (1/22/12)

The New Exodus in Mark
Jesus' description of the apostles as "fishers of men" probably relates to hopes for the restoration of Israel. To do that, let's take a closer look at Mark 1.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Leaving Behind the Nets: The Readings for the 3d Sunday of Ordinary Time

Responding immediately to the Word of God is the theme for this Sunday's Readings.

The First Reading is from the Book of Jonah, one of the twelve “minor prophets” of the Old Testament. Jonah is best remembered for his colorful experience with a great “whale” or sea creature, but the “whale” experience is not actually the theological heart of the book, which is focused on the nature of prophecy and God’s saving love for all humanity, not just Israel.

In this Sunday’s selection, we hear the account of Jonah’s preaching to Ninevah. Ninevah was the capital of Assyria, the “evil empire” of Jonah’s day. “Ninevah” evoked the sentiments that “Moscow” prompts among those of my generation, who grew up during the height of the Cold War. Ninevah was everything evil: capital of a pagan empire that imposed its will on vassal peoples with military cruelty. Ninevah would, in fact, ultimately be responsible for the destruction and deportation of the northern ten tribes of Israel. This is why Jonah ran away in the first place—to avoid God’s call to preach to this wicked city:

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Hawking's Bummer Birthday: No Eternal Universe

According to  an editorial in the New Scientist from a few days ago, Stephen Hawkings got the worst presents ever at a recent conference held in honor of his seventieth birthday.

Hawkings made headlines about a year ago when he claimed that the fundamental forces of the universe (like gravity) were eternal and were sufficient to explain the sudden emergence of all matter and energy spontaneously in the Big Bang.  Hawkings has admitted he wants the universe to be eternal, in order to avoid having to acknowledge the existence of a creator.

Unfortunately, the presentations at Hawkings' "birthday party" showed there is no workable model of an eternal universe.

The New Scientist article requires a subscription, so I quote here from another website that summarizes the situation:

"Here are the models in brief and why they don’t work:
  1. Eternal inflation:  Built on Alan Guth’s 1981 inflation proposal, this model imagines bubble universes forming and inflating spontaneously forever.  Vilenkin and Guth had debunked this idea as recently as 2003.  The equations still require a boundary in the past.
  2. Eternal cycles:  A universe that bounces endlessly from expansion to contraction has a certain appeal to some, but it won’t work either.  “Disorder increases with time,” Grossman explained.  “So following each cycle, the universe must get more and more disordered.”  Logically, then, if there had already been an infinite number of cycles, the universe would already been in a state of maximum disorder, even if the universe gets bigger with each bounce.  Scratch that model.
  3. Eternal egg:  One last holdout was the “cosmic egg” model that has the universe hatching out of some eternally-existing static state.  “Late last year Vilenkin and graduate student Audrey Mithani showed that the egg could not have existed forever after all, as quantum instabilities would force it to collapse after a finite amount of time (”  No way could the egg be eternal.
The upshot of this is clear.  No model of an eternal universe works.  Vilenkin concluded, “All the evidence we have says that the universe had a beginning.”  An editorial at New Scientist called this, “The Genesis Problem.”"

 It's only a problem if you rule out a priori the existence of God.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

TSP 15: "Why Jesus was Baptized and Tempted?" with John Bergsma

In this episode of The Sacred Page Podcast John Bergsma joins me to discuss why Jesus was baptized and tempted in the wilderness? Here we talk about Creation imagery, Exodus motifs, and Davidic typology in the Gospel accounts--and  how they are all tied together!

You can download the show from iTunes here. Don't forget to subscribe to the show and to rate it over at iTunes (if you like it!).

Get more of John Bergsma's CDs at

Also, don't forget to call Saint Joseph's Communications to get this week's free give-away, the first part of the audio book of Archbishop Fulton Sheen's now classic Life of Christ: 800:526-2151 or email johnny[at]saintjoe[dot]com.

TSP 15: "Why Was Jesus Baptized and Tempted?" with John Bergsma

Podcast on the Sunday Readings: "Hearing the Call" with John Bergsma

In this Sunday's readings (2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B) Jesus calls the disciples (John 1:35-42) and God calls Samuel (1 Samuel 3:3b-10, 19). Here John Bergsma and I discuss the significance of these stories.

Podcast on the Sunday Readings with John Bergsma

Friday, January 13, 2012

Is God a Person or “The Force”? The Readings for the 2nd Week in Ordinary Time

George Lucas concocted an interesting religion for his Star Wars film series by combining elements of Christianity and eastern religion. Ultimate reality, or “God,” in Star Wars turns out to be “the Force,” an impersonal power with a “dark” and “light” side, similar to the way many forms of eastern religion conceive of the divine. So, instead of the Christian farewell “May God be with you,” Star Wars characters say, “May the Force be with you!”

Is that the ultimate nature of reality? An impersonal force which is neither good nor evil but somehow combines both? Or does nature ultimately come from a loving and personal Being, who created us for a relationship with Himself?

The readings for this Sunday’s Mass come down clearly in favor of the personal view of God and reality.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Jesus hates religion?!

A new viral video makes the claim that Jesus hates religion. Here it is:

One of my students, Mary Lane, has posted a brief response, "Why I Love Jesus AND Religion", to which I say, "Amen!" Here's a snippet from her fine post:
. . . while it may be tempting to play the, “yeah, I think religious people are lame, too” card in an attempt to get more people to hear our message, we need to be careful that our message does not fly in the face of the Gospel. I don’t have time to cover everything misleading in the video here, but I will try to hit the main points. 
What if I told you Jesus came to abolish religion? 
…Then I’d say you probably haven’t read the New Testament very carefully. Jesus is pretty clear in Matthew 5:17 when He says, 
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”
The Law, of course, being the Law of Moses, i.e. The Old Covenant, i.e. RELIGION.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

TSP 14: Who Were the Magi?: Curtis Mitch on the Epiphany [Extended Podcast]

Who were the Magi? What was the Star of Bethlehem? What is the story of the Magi meant to teach us?

This week I was honored to be joined by my good friend, Curtis Mitch, Curtis is the co-editor of the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible. Mitch is also the co-author (with Edward Sri) of a new commentary on the Gospel of Matthew.

TSP 14: Who were the Magi?: Curtis Mitch on the Epiphany

Friday, January 06, 2012

Podcast: On the Readings for the Epiphany with Curtis Mitch

This Sunday we celebrate the Epiphany! In this podcast, Curtis Mitch joins me for some analysis on the Sunday readings. This is just a short summary of the next full episode, which will feature a full length discussion with Curtis on Matthew 2.

Curtis Mitch is the co-editor of the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible. Mitch is also the co-author (with Edward Sri) of a new commentary on the Gospel of Matthew.

Podcast: On the Epiphany with Curtis Mitch

Go to the Light: the Readings for Epiphany

The word “Epiphany” comes from two Greek words: epi, “on, upon”; and phaino, “to appear, to shine.” Therefore, the “Epiphany” refers to the divinity of Jesus “shining upon” the earth, in other words, the manifestation of his divine nature.

The use of the word “epiphany” for the revelation of divinity predates Christianity. The Syrian (Seleucid) emperor Antiochus IV, the villainous tyrant of 1-2 Maccabees, named himself “Epiphanes,” because he considered himself the manifestation of divinity on earth. His people called him “Epimanes,” which means roughly “something is pressing on the brain,” in other words, “insane.” Antiochus Epiphanes tried to stamp out Judaism in the 160s BC but was defeated and died shortly afterward; apparently mankind would need to wait for a different king to be the “Epiphany” of divinity.

Our First Reading is taken from Isaiah 60:1-6:

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Washington Post Editorial on Converting to Catholicism

Here's something you don't see everyday--at least in the mainstream media: a positive portrayal of Catholicism.

The Washington Post has an editorial up by one Bob Arscott. He describes his journey to Catholicism.

A major moment for him was the birth of his granddaughter.
". . . it was after I was confirmed that I learned of the power of prayer- through the birth of my grandchild. My daughter lost one child early on and was told there were problems with her next conception. Unbeknowst to anyone, my wife prayed to St. Gianna for help. When my daughter gave birth to a little girl, she named her Gianna. She never knew my wife was praying to St. Gianna. She just liked the name."
He concludes,
"When I became a Catholic I felt as if the missing pieces in my life were put into place. The road that I travel on today is completely different and more rewarding. To be completely dedicated to Christ and his way is a full time commitment and a struggle every day. With the help and guidance of the Church, family and friends, hopefully I can make a better mark on this world."
Read the whole thing here.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Fr. Robert Barron: "Why I Loved to Listen to Christopher Hitchens"

If only all Christians could speak with the clarity and charity of this brilliant Catholic theologian. . .

What Made St. Basil "Great"

Today is the Feast Day of one of my favorite saints: St. Basil the Great, a Doctor of the Church. In honor of him, I just had to post a little bit about him.

Good Stock

Basil came from a holy family. His parents suffered under Galerius’ persecution of the Church. His father was well-known for his virtue and as a teacher and his mother was the daughter of a martyr. In fact, his parents produced three saints: Macrina, Basil and Gregory of Nyssa. Basil and Gregory of Nyssa with Gregory of Nazianzus of course go on to become known as the Cappadocian fathers. Two other sons also became bishops.