Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Bogus Bones of Jesus

[Here is an essay by Kerby Anderson on the flap over the new documentary claiming that the bones of Jesus Christ have been discovered. I haven't seen too much analysis of this yet, but stay tuned.]

Tales From the Crypt: Do we have the bones of Jesus?

Written by Kerby Anderson

The last week in February started out with an incredible announcement. James Cameron (director of the film “Titanic”) and Simcha Jacobovici announced that they have found the bones of Jesus! At their news conference, they promoted their Discovery Channel special “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” that will air on March 4th and also promoted the book by Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino entitled The Jesus Family Tomb: The Discovery, the Investigation, and the Evidence That Could Change History released by Harper-Collins.

If proved reliable, these findings would call into question the very cornerstone of Christianity: the resurrection of Jesus. But are they true?

The foundational claim is that they have discovered the family tomb of Jesus Christ. But is this really the tomb of Jesus or his family? There are many good reasons to believe this tomb has no relationship at all to Jesus and his family. Many are asking what to think about these claims. Therefore, I put together a quick two-page summary of some of the criticisms and concerns that surfaced in the first few hours after the announcement. Before we look at those criticisms, let’s first review the history of this tomb.

We have known about this tomb since it was discovered in 1980. Back then, Israeli construction workers were digging the foundation for a new building in a Jerusalem suburb. Their digging revealed a cave with ten limestone ossuaries. Archeologists removed the limestone caskets for examination.

When they were able to decipher the names on the ten ossuaries, they found: Jesua, son of Joseph, Mary, Mary, Mathew, Jofa and Judah, son of Jesua. At the time, one of Israel’s most prominent archeologists (Professor Amos Kloner) didn’t associate the crypt with Jesus. He rightly argued that the father of Jesus was a humble carpenter who couldn’t afford a luxury crypt for his family. Moreover, the names on the crypt were common Jewish names.

All of this hasn’t stopped Cameron and Jacobovici from promoting the tomb as the family tomb of Jesus. They claim to have evidence (through DNA tests, archeological evidence, and Biblical studies) to prove that the ten ossuaries belong to Jesus and his family. They also argue that Jesus and Mary Magdalene might have produced a son named Judah. However, a number of biblical scholars say this is a really just an old story now being recycled in an effort to create a media phenomenon that will sell books and guarantee a large audience for the television special.

First, does it really make sense that this wouldbe the family tomb of Jesus? Remember that Jesus was in Jerusalem as a pilgrim and was not a resident of the city. How would his family be able to buy this tomb? As we already mentioned, Joseph (who probably was not alive and died in Galilee) and his family did not have the funds to buy such an elaborate burial site. Moreover, they were from out of town and would need time to find this tomb location. To accept this theory, one has to believe they stole the body of Jesus and moved it to this tomb in a suburb of Jerusalem all within about a day’s time.

Second, if this is the family tomb of Jesus and his family, why is Jesus referred to as the “son of Joseph?” As far as we can determine from history, the earliest followers of Jesus never called Jesus the “son of Joseph.” The record of history is that it was only outsiders who mistakenly called him that.

Third, if this is the family tomb of Jesus, why do we have the name of Matthew listed with the rest of the family? If this is the Matthew that traveled with Jesus, then he certainly was not a family member. And you would have to wonder why James (who remained in Jerusalem) would allow these inscriptions as well as allow the family to move the body from Jerusalem to this tomb and perpetrate a hoax that Jesus bodily rose from the grave. Also, the fourth-century church historian Eusebius writes that the body of James (the half-brother of Jesus) was buried alone near the temple mount and that his tomb was visited in the early centuries.

Fourth, there is the problem with the common names on the tombs. Researchers have cataloged the most common names at the time. The ten most common were: Simon/Simeon, Joseph, Eleazar, Judah, John/Yohanan, Jesus, Hananiah, Jonathan, Matthew, and Manaen/Menahem. These are some of the names found on the ossuaries and thus suggest that the tomb belonged to someone other than Jesus of Nazareth and his family. In fact, the name Jesus appears in 98 other tombs and on 21 other ossuaries.

Finally there is the question of the DNA testing. Apparently there is evidence that shows that the DNA from the woman (in what they say is the Mary Magdalene ossuary) and the DNA from the so-called Jesus ossuary does not match. So they argue that they were not relatives and thus must have been married.

But does the DNA evidence really prove that? It does not prove she is his wife. In fact, we really don’t even know who in the ossuaries are related to the other. Moreover, we do not have an independent DNA control sample to compare these findings with. At best, the DNA evidence shows that some of these people are related and some are not.

All of this looks like sensationalism from Simcha Jacobovici (who has a reputation as an Indiana-Jones type) and James Cameron (the director of the highly fictionalized “Titanic”). The publicity s certain to sell books and draw a television audience, but it is not good history or archaeology.
© 2007 Probe Ministries

Monday, February 26, 2007

Film Suggestions

Someone suggested that I ask my august body of blog readers to suggest thoughtful and artistically satisfying movies of recent vintage. Please feel free to do so, with a brief discription. I may see "Amazing Grace" in the near future.

Oscar Omission: What Would Schaeffer Think?

Recently, I have been rereading several of Francis Schaeffer's books. Schaeffer was the intellectual mentor I never met, the one who ignited my desire to speak the truth to the contemporary world without fear and with love and reason. Although North Americans throw this phrase around promiscuously, The God Who is There truly did "change my life" for the better when I read it in the fall of 1976. I went on to read all of his books within a few years.

But on the night of the Academy Awards, I find myself realizing that I am not much like Schaeffer in one respect: I ignore much of popular culture. I don't attend movies. (Of course, I don't watch television.) I have perhaps seen three movies in the past decade. They repulse me, by and large; and I have better things to do. This was not the case in the 70s and 80s. I would often attend films, try to discern their worldview, reflection on how they were shaping the culture, and try to give a Christian response--just as Schaeffer did. But in the late 1980s something radically changed. North American films became horribly garish and offensive, by and large. My wife and I stopped attending.

It is true that theater culture is diminishing. Miniaturization strikes again. We have "the home theater." Many people watch films on DVDs at home. They subscribe to NetFlicks, and so on. My wife watches very old movies she tapes off of TV. I don't. That's it.

Have I betrayed my mentor, or has culture changed so radically that abstention is better than interaction? I honestly don't know. Sometimes after rereading a Schaeffer book, I want to view a film just to analyze its worldview commitments and understand what many people are exposing themselves to on a regular basis. Then again, I remember all the unread books, the music to listen to, the bike rides to take, and so on. (The other day, I illustrated nihilism with a scene from "Annie Hall" by Woody Allen. Most of my students were not born when it came out...)

I hear there are philosophically significant foreign films and perhaps a few North American ones as well. But I am far out of the loop.

Dear Francis, what would you think of me? I am committed to the Lordship of Christ, to Reformation Theology, to outthinking the world for Christ, for showing that Christianity is true, rational, and pertinent. That will not change. But I have changed, and culture has changed.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Doug Groothuis letter to The Chronicle of Higher Education

[This edited letter of mine was published in the February 16, 2007 edition of The Chronicle Review. It responds to an article by Lawrence M. Krauss, "Reason, Unfettered by Faith," The Chronicle Review, January 12.]

To the Editor:

Lawrence Krauss does little more than assert that religious beliefs are unfounded. ...
For example, he says, "Even scholars with years of training in theology and history have trouble combining the possible existence of divine purpose with a universe governed by natural laws." But the concept of a universe governed by nothing but natural law is the very definition of naturalism (or philosophical materialism), a worldview that excludes in principle a creator or designer. Of course naturalism is incompatible with theism; no theologian — or anyone else — could make them friends.

While theistic philosophers and theistic scientists readily accept the existence of natural laws,...they also point out that empirical investigation has given good evidence that the universe was created (otherwise the Big Bang has no cause or explanation) or designed (otherwise the fine-tuning of so many cosmic constants necessary for life remains inexplicable, and many irreducibly complex molecular machines cannot be adequately accounted for). ...Moreover, there are solid philosophical and historical arguments for biblical miracles such as the resurrection of Jesus (see Richard Swinburne's The Resurrection of God Incarnate).
Professor Krauss fails to interact with any of these arguments. Instead he simply claims that religious beliefs must emanate from bad sources. Now who is being unreasonable?

Douglas Groothuis
Professor of Philosophy
Denver Seminary
Littleton, Colo.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Stuffed Animal Rights: Animals of Fabric Speak Out!

1. Animals of fabric (stuffed animals) are no less significant than animals of flesh. If you think otherwise, you are a fleshist.
2. They deserve to be washed regularly. Don't you?
3. They need counseling before and after being put into the dryer.
4. They should never be abused (punched, stepped on, piled on top of each other, made to listen to Kenny G, etc.).
5. They should never have idiotic comments attributed to themselves, such as, "Teddy says he thinks a Pro-Life Democrat will run for President in 2008").
6. They should never be given to the dogs as playthings. A stuffed animal would never hurt a dog.
7. They should be repaired when damaged. You go to the doctor, don't you?
8. They should never be thrown out, but rather given a proper burial (with a eulogy).
9. They should never be left out in the elements (even at roadside memorials). Would you stay outside for days on end?
10. No one should spend more than a fraction of their income on procuring stuffed animals. Even they know they are not real and shouldn't be made into idols.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

More Jazz Awards

In light of the responses to my self-generated Curmudgeon Classics Awards (and because of other musings on music), here are more.

1. Utterly in his own transcendent category: piano: Thelonious Monk

2. Contemporary tenor saxophone: Michael Brecker (RIP)

3. Piano: Bill Evans

4. Fusion drummer: Billy Cobham

5. Fusion electric guitar: Alan Holdsworth

6. Fusion electric bass: Stanley Clark

Monday, February 12, 2007

Evolution Sunday: Groothuis Responds

[This story is from today's Rocky Mountain News.]

Church makes evolutionary change over time
February 12, 2007

Here's a neat historic twist: Sunday, in the same Denver sanctuary where William Jennings Bryan, that fiery foe of evolution, is believed to have thundered out an oration 96 years ago, the Rev. Mark Meeks was celebrating a new national church movement called . . . Evolution Sunday.
"I don't need a religion that explains everything, or a sacred text that conforms to my understanding," Meeks told 60 worshippers at Capitol Heights Presbyterian Church, 1100 Fillmore St.

"Scientific exploration can help us understand our religion," continued Meeks, a cozy, bearded presence in a well-seasoned fleece sweater.

On the other side, he said, are biblical literalists who believe "the world came to be 6,000 years ago, already ripe, so to speak . . . They make an idol of the sacred texts, trying to reduce God to our own understanding."

The Bryan link? It's a fanciful but fun stretch. Legend has it that Bryan came to the Capitol Heights church to stemwind at its 1911 opening. Fourteen years later, he was the legendary prosecutor of evolution teacher John Scopes.

Nearly 100 years later, Bryant is nearly forgotten, while the fight over evolution has proved to be timeless.

About a dozen Colorado churches took part in Evolution Sunday, a movement begun last year by Michael Zimmerman, a dean at Butler University in Indianapolis. He's collected 10,000 clergy signatures supporting evolution over creationism.

Nor do the Evolution Sunday supporters like the "intelligent design" theory, says Doug Groothuis, a Denver Seminary philosophy professor who himself writes and debates extensively in support of intelligent design.

"By examining the evidence empirically," Groothuis says, "intelligent design people appeal to certain features of nature that they think are better understood according to a designing mind rather than some mindless process."

But to Evolution Sunday-goers, notions of a grand designer threaten to undermine the science.
"It fosters contempt for scientists in general, and voters are worried scientists aren't doing real science, and so they slash science funding, which is so important to this country," warned Cathy Russell, an evolutionary biologist who celebrated Sunday at her Boulder church.

By the way, Evolution Sunday is pegged to the birthday of Charles Darwin, who turns 200 in two years. (Imagine that celebration.) Russell will be there: "I'm totally passionate about this."

or 303-954-5055

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Grammy Inspired Jazz Awards (for fun, but serious music)

Inspired by the institution known as the Grammys, I hereby create the Curmudgeon Classic Awards for greatest jazz musicians and album--not limited to contemporary musicians.

Jazz musicians:

1. Saxophone: John Coltrane.
2. Small combo: John Coltrane Quartet.
3. Big Band drummer, soloist: Buddy Rich. No one else is close.
4. Small combo drummer: Elvin Jones, Tony Williams.
5. Piano: Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, Keith Jarrett.
6. Trumpet: Miles Davis (pre-electric).
7. Bass: Jimmie Garrison.
8. Circular breaching champion (saxophone and a lot of other things): Roland Kirk

Jazz albums:

1. John Coltrane, "A Love Supreme."
2. John Coltrane, "Crescent."

Contemporary favorites:

1. Alto Saxophone: Kenny Garrett, Greg Osby.
2. Tenor Saxophone: Joshua Redman, Branford Marsalis, Charles Lloyd, Wayne Shorter, Sonny Rollins (living legend category, just below Coltrane).
3. Drums: Brian Blade, Dave Stewart, Jeff Watts, Roy Haynes (living legend).
4. Guitar: Pat Metheny, Pat Martino.

Waiting, watching

Beauty favors
the prepared soul.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Letter to Christianity Today from Dr. Gordon Lewis

[My esteemed colleague, Dr. Gordon Lewis, wrote this leter to Christianity Today recently. Since they may not print it in its entirety, I wanted to make the full argument available to my intrepid readers. Dr. Lewis, now 80, is an evangelical treasure.]

Letter to the Editor of Christianity Today
From: Gordon R. Lewis, Sr. Professor of Theology and Philosophy,
Denver Seminary

Re: “Five Streams of the Emerging Church” (CT February 2007, pp 35-39).

Commendably, Scot McKnight seeks to “practice the way of Jesus;” sadly, he fails to follow Jesus’ way with words. Does not McKnight’s assertion that “no language is capable of capturing absolute truth.” contradict what Jesus said to his heavenly Father? “I gave them the words you gave me” (John 17:8). “I have given them your word” (v.14) and “your word is truth” (v.17).

Apparently McKnight’s wordless god is not the God who has spoken in human languages. “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb 1:1-2).

Like the mystics of the world’s religions, as well as Kierkegaard and Barth, McKnight presupposes that God’s thoughts are infinitely different in every quality from any concepts expressed in human language. So what God reveals is himself, not information about himself. Apparently McKnight overlooks the fact that God created men and women in his image and that the image includes a mental capacity for receiving revealed information. A believer’s new nature is “renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Col 3:10).

So McKnight alleges that, “God didn’t reveal a systematic theology but a storied narrative, and no language is capable of capturing the Absolute Truth.” However, in the midst of the Bible’s true stories are indicative sentences asserting what is the case. In the narrative of Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, he asserted, “God is spirit.” When walking on the road to Emmaus, Jesus explained, “A spirit does not have flesh and bones.” Such affirmations are the building blocks of a consistent view of God. The parables illustrated the true information Jesus taught about his kingdom.

Logic haters to the contrary, Jesus used indicative sentences conveying propositions to teach about God, angels, human souls or spirits, his own deity and mission, signs of the end of the age and a spirituality that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. Paul’s letters, furthermore, began with doctrinal assertions before moving to their applications in life. If McKnight’s postmodern theory of language were true, Jesus and Paul would be guilty of “linguistic idolatry!” In contrast, Jesus said, “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life: (John 6:63). His assertions were not limiting but liberating. “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).

Although systematic theologians claim that divinely revealed assertions are necessary to evangelical spiritual experience, they do not regard them sufficient for every aspect of life. Yes, anyone who comes to God must believe the revealed information that he exists (Heb 11:6). Assent to the truth of that proposition should guide one’s holistic commitment to its personal referent, the living Lord of whom it speaks. “God is spirit” does not completely encompass infinity; God’s awesome being has many other characteristics.

One who practices the way of the articulate Jesus teaches the truth of his assertions. As he said, “These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me” (John 14:23-24). “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away (Mat 24:35).

Friday, February 09, 2007

Are Newspapers Dying?

Upon our return to Centennial, we noted that The Rocky Mountain News had shrunk and was redesigned as a tabloid. The heft was gone; it seemed emaciated. The Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post are now distributed by the same company and are housed in the same building, although their editorial leadership is distinct. This is a cost-cutting move. This follows a trend of several years: people--particularly younger people, "wired people"--are turning to other news sources. One cartoon depicted two twenty-somethings looking at a newsstand. One said to the other, "I don't get it. It's a day old and you have to pay for it." Is there a point to the daily newsprint?

Major newspaper put most of their material on line. News is posted as it breaks. Why wait until the next day? Why bother with the dirty paper, most of which you never read, and that ends up in the garbage? Is one's preference or attachment for the newspaper merely generational? I was brought up reading it, writing letters to editor, clipping articles, and writing editorials in my junior and high school papers and later in major city newspapers. Nevertheless, in almost five months in Sun City West, Arizona, we did not take the newspaper. I listed to the radio (NPR and Talk Radio--quite a contrast), read The New York Times and other sources on line, and read magazines and books.

Newspapers have their constitutional draw backs and trade-offs. They separate and present a collage, unlike a book or magazine. They splatter divergent articles on the same page, often without much coherence or integration. (This is Marshall McLuhan's insight.) They are incessantly daily; that is, they seldom put things into an historical context. Editorials may articulate such a context, but they are boxed in to 500-750 words. Some feature stories run as a series, which may go on for several days. This may provide more context and depth, if they are well-researched and well-written. But some stories are there simply to fill space. There has to be news, after all. But why? Maybe silence or a blank page would be better for the soul.

Images end to dominate most newspapers now. USA Today is modeled after television, as Neil Postman pointed out long ago. Images are not conceptual, but impressionistic, incapable of abstraction or analysis.

Yet newspapers have their allure, a justified uniqueness worth preserving. They are embodied--not as substantial or long-lived as books or even magazines, but they exist off of the screen. The screen carries with it an entirely different set of sensibilities. (I wrote of this in a chapter of a book, "The Book, The Screen, and the Soul," in The Soul in Cyberspace. That book was put onto a CD-ROM, ironically.) The screen moves. One screen can house an unlimited number of different words or images; it is not inscribed upon, but filled with markings without ink.

Heft has its virtues; bulk has its rewards. You pick up the paper; bring it in; leave it out; pick through it; talk about it with family members (the same paper; you do not have many people staring at different screens). You can clip a story. You can rip it to shreds in disgust or crumple it up and throw it across the room--good curmudgeonly performance art. You may find something unexpected, something a search engine would not reveal. The paper is not constituted or styled for your own individual interests, as is so much of the internet. You take what it gives and see what you find.

This past Sunday, I spent an hour in a local Starbucks, reading The Old Gray Lady's Sunday edition. (I didn't buy it, but borrowed it from the stand, and put it back--pretty much--as I found it.) There was a review of a book about the dark side of Paris and other interesting things and ridiculous things--a narcissistic and pointless story about a new professor's anxieties about his sartorial comportment. Yes, I could have read this on line, but it wouldn't have been the same. You don't turn through pages on line, you search for articles. Those pages, encountered as pages, may yield a serendipitous reward. And the pages will not mysteriously disappear, as data on screens so often does. Yes, I may spill my coffee on it, but it won't short-circuit anything.

There are the inevitable trade-offs with any medium, electronic or not. But newspapers have their charm, their telos, their place in our culture. May their demise be denied, or at least prolonged.

Monday, February 05, 2007

The Downside of the Wireless Classroom.

[Some of the students at my own institution are using their laptops to play video games and do on line shopping while attending lecture classes. Apparently, this problem is rampant. I am very impressed with the insights of Dr. Bugeja's article, which are similar to some of the idea's articulated in my book, The Soul in Cyberspace.]

The Chronicle of Higher Education
From the issue dated January 26, 2007


Distractions in the Wireless Classroom

Getting your students' attention may be as simple as requiring them to turn off the technology


When Kevin and Mollie Cooney recently visited their daughter's psychology class at the College of William and Mary, they noted how attentive students seemed to be in the large lecture hall.

The Cooneys, who are both news anchors for the CBS affiliate in Des Moines, Iowa, and who sit on the advisory council of the journalism school I head at Iowa State University, were intrigued by the tapping of the laptop keys as students appeared to be taking copious notes. "As we looked over their shoulders from our back-row seats," says Mollie Cooney, "we found instead they were on Facebook, Dave Matthews Band Web sites, instant-messaging friends, and e-mailing fellow classmates."

"Granted," she adds, "these students were in the minority, and our daughter swears she never takes her laptop to class for that reason. But as parents who pay hard-earned money to send kids to school with better computers than we will ever own, it's a bit disconcerting as to how they are actually being used!"

That scenario is happening across the country. Cynthia M. Frisby, associate professor of strategic communication at the University of Missouri, has noticed students on MySpace and eBay during her lectures. She has also noticed more failing grades. The final straw, she says, came in an e-mail message from a student "complimenting my outfit, failing to realize that the time stamp was on the e-mail, further suggesting that he was not paying attention to my lecture."

Now she bans laptops in large lecture courses and has a clause in her syllabus about the inappropriate use of technology. The result? "Huge increases in attention and better performance on exams," she says. "Students have even mentioned that they feel like they are doing better without the laptop."

Syllabus clauses warning against the misuse of technology are increasingly common. In my own school of journalism, about 20 percent of syllabi contain such warnings. Some examples:

"Anyone who engages in rude, thoughtless, selfish behavior, such as use of a cellphone for instant messages, games, etc., will have his or her cellphone confiscated until the next class session and will be excused from the class. The cellphone will be returned after the student apologizes to the class at the next class session."

"If your cellular phone is heard by the class, you are responsible for completing one of two options: 1. Before the end of the class period you will sing a verse and chorus of any song of your choice or, 2. You will lead the next class period through a 10-minute discussion on a topic to be determined by the end of the class. (To the extent that there are multiple individuals in violation, duets will be accepted)."

As more and more classrooms go wireless, technology warnings on syllabi soon will be as standard as the ones about cheating (which laptops also facilitate). In 2004, only about a third of classrooms provided wireless Internet access, according to the annual Campus Computing Survey. Wireless networks now cover more than half (51.2 percent) of college classrooms.

My own university, one of the most wireless in the country, may be experiencing those problems ahead of the curve. As the number of wireless access points has increased on the campus, so has the number of reports of Web surfing, text-messaging, and gaming during class.

Other high-tech institutions are seeing the same phenomenon. I became acquainted with Ione DeOllos, an associate professor of sociology at Ball State University, after USA Today interviewed me about her institution's purported status as the most wireless in the nation.

Last year, she says, the University Senate adopted a policy "that allows professors to limit technology use in classrooms. Senators had received complaints from faculty members about students who were using computers to play games, watch videos, and e-mail and instant-message others." The Senate decided it needed to make a clear statement to students "that inappropriate use of technology would not be tolerated."

DeOllos added a warning about in-class use of cellphones to her own syllabi, and plans to extend it to include laptop computers, banning them on a case-by-case basis.

Shutting off the wireless. You can't. In a few short years, universities have moved from dial-up, to wired Ethernet, to controlled Ethernet (which could be switched off), to wireless.

Dennis Adams, chairman of the information-sciences department at the University of Houston, wrote about shutting off wireless networks in the September 2006 issue of Communications of the ACM, the flagship journal of the Association for Computing Machinery. "While classroom access to the Internet may be a wonderful teaching tool," he wrote, "it can also be a barrier to learning."

Adams admitted in an interview that turning off wireless was nearly impossible. But you can see why he is tempted. In "The Laptop Backlash," an article published in the October 14, 2006, issue of The Wall Street Journal, a reporter who sat in on Adams's "Management of Information Systems" course observed: "While Prof. Adams lectures, five students use an online chat room to post comments on his lecture. ... Another student spends nearly two-thirds of the three-hour class playing computer chess, instant-messaging, and viewing photos of a fraternity party posted on the Web." The reporter also saw another student buying shoes on eBay.

In his Communications essay, Adams cites a 1972 work by Eda LeShan on "the Sesame Street syndrome." She argued that, by overemphasizing the idea of right and wrong answers, the show taught children that thinking and questions are irrelevant because adults do the asking and answering. Nowadays, the syndrome "has come to describe students who expect to be entertained as they learn," Adams wrote. "If the entertainment doesn't come from the front of the wireless classroom, it comes from the Internet."

Theodore Roszak, whose books include The Making of a Counter Culture and The Cult of Information, has sounded that warning for decades. When cellphones started ring-toning in his classroom at California State University's East Bay campus, the professor of history retired.

"What kids need to learn," he says, "and what teachers must commit themselves fiercely to defending, is the fact that the mind isn't any sort of machine, that thinking with your own naked wits is a pure animal joy that cannot be programmed, and that great culture begins with an imagination on fire. We should remind our children at every turn that more great literature and more great science were accomplished with the quill pen than by the fastest microchip that will ever be invented."

Roszak's greatest fear is that technology "will reduce the mind to the level of the machine."

The Google syndrome. If Sesame Street taught generations that there are right and wrong answers, Google reinforces that lesson but makes no claim as to the accuracy of the answers.

Certainly, search engines and databases are vital in many disciplines, especially the medical sciences.

"In the setting of the medical school, particularly clinical encounters, wireless access is actually beneficial," says Lawrence H. Phillips, a professor of neurology at the University of Virginia. "There is often competition between students on rounds to see who can access clinically useful information the fastest.

"On the other hand, I think my 16-year-old and her friends text-message each other continuously during class and other times when they should be studying," he adds. "The IM function on the computer goes continuously when she is working on the computer at home. This type of behavior will certainly carry over into the college classroom."

Will the emerging distracted generations be able to meet complex challenges on the horizon, like global warming and pandemics?

David D. Ho, chief executive officer of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center and a professor at Rockefeller University, is best known for his work in suppressing viral replication through the use of multiple-drug therapies. Early in his AIDS-related research, he would come upon treatments that succeeded in the lab but failed in humans — "but that's science," he has said. Soon he came to understand that the AIDS virus mutates rapidly, resisting each individual drug. That's when he and his team turned to mathematics, calculating probabilities of the virus mutating simultaneously around multiple therapies. Odds were in the patient's favor.

Computers can calculate those odds in a nanosecond, but they cannot formulate the question nor conceive the process by which to do so. Neither can Google.

"We should be teaching our students to think creatively or to become innovators, not just test takers," he says.

David J. Skorton, president of Cornell University, says that students have been doodling since the days of chalk and slate, "but the ability to check the weather or game scores or the headline news from their laptops during class puts an unprecedented barrier between the student and the instructor."

Coping methods. Dennis Adams, at the University of Houston, is adapting to the wireless classroom. When he makes an important point, he asks students to close their laptops and listen. "I don't abuse this," he says, "but use it as a way to summarize or to communicate a difficult concept." He concedes, however, the problem is probably more in changing the way professors teach.

That is predictable. According to the French philosopher Jacques Ellul (1912-94), technology is autonomous and "radically modifies the objects to which it is applied while being scarcely modified in its own features."

Apply technology to the economy, and the economy henceforth is about technology. Apply it to journalism, and journalism is about technology. Apply it to education, and education is about technology. All must adapt, and in so doing we lose centuries of erudition because principles no longer apply in practice. Worse, because autonomous technology is independent of everything, it cannot be blamed for anything.

To combat technology distractions, some universities are relying on educational campaigns to make students more sensitive to classroom etiquette. The University of Wisconsin at Madison provides information via links to Web pages that faculty members can note in their syllabi. One link (http://www.doit.wisc.edu/network/wireless/advice_stu.asp) encourages students to stay on task and not distract others or themselves. Another (http://www.doit.wisc.edu/network/wireless/advice_fac.asp) provides ground rules for wireless use and classroom laptop etiquette.

Jane Drews, information-technology security officer for the University of Iowa, believes that a solution to wireless distractions is etiquette education. "From the person who endlessly chats on a phone while in a restaurant, to someone's pager or cell going off in the middle of a presentation or lecture, we are creating a society of very rude technology users. We have an online class offered to freshmen that includes a Responsible Computing' module, with a section on netiquette.' I've suggested it be expanded to include classroom etiquette, too."

I have been advocating a required orientation class, "Interpersonal Intelligence," informing first-year students about when, where, and for what purpose technology is appropriate or inappropriate.

Perhaps the best suggestion comes from my associate dean, Zora Zimmerman, who proposes that student government take the lead with a campaign to "Reclaim the Classroom."

Despite digital distractions, ever-larger class sizes, decreased budgets, and fewer tenured colleagues, professors still are responsible for turning students on to learning. To do so, we just may have to turn off the technology.

Michael Bugeja, director of the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University, is the author of Interpersonal Divide: The Search for Community in a Technological Age (Oxford University Press, 2005).


Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Strange Silence: Omission Explosion

No one is commenting on the kind of activities I am proposing instead of consuming the spectacle of football. Everyone is weighing in on football. That is telling in itself.

What about the alternatives proposed? They were supposed to be provocative and edifying.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

More Super Bowl Party Ideas

1. Read a good book in one sitting.
2. Inspect your soul in silence for one hour.
3. Pray for the American church to wake up.
4. Pray for the global church, especially the suffering church.
5. Lament what needs to be lamented.
6. Rejoice in your salvation (if you are saved).
7. Ask yourself where you will spend forever (it isn't in a football stadium).
8. Read The Book of Romans.
9. Memorize Scripture.
10. Sing unto the Lord.
11. Recite Scripture unto the Lord.
12. Associate with the lowly.
13. Compose an essay on the moral viciousness of football.
14. See how many push ups you can do.
15. Organize your library (of books!).
16. Write a hand-written letter to someone.
17. Call someone you miss and try to edify them.
18. Fast unto the Lord, seeking wisdom.
19. Repent what needs to be repented of.
20. Listen to John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" in one sitting through headphones.
21. Write poetry--even bad poetry.
22. Read poetry--only good poetry.
23. Pray for the Victoria's Secret Models.

Super bowl Party

The Curmudgeon Super bowl party is unlike any other:

1. You do not watch it.
2. You do not talk about it.
3. You do something constructive instead.

You abstain for edification.