Archive for June, 2011

Israeli linguistic fingerprint algorithm software to test Bible for authorship attribution

Thursday, June 30th, 2011


The program, part of a sub-field of artificial intelligence studies known as authorship attribution, has a range of potential application – from helping law enforcement to developing new computer programs for writers. But the Bible provided a tempting test case for the algorithm’s creators.

For millions of Jews and Christians, it’s a tenet of their faith that God is the author of the core text of the Hebrew Bible – the Torah, also known as the Pentateuch or the Five Books of Moses. But since the advent of modern biblical scholarship, academic researchers have believed the text was written by a number of different authors whose work could be identified by seemingly different ideological agendas and linguistic styles and the different names they used for God.

Today, scholars generally split the text into two main strands. One is believed to have been written by a figure or group known as the “priestly” author, because of apparent connections to the temple priests in Jerusalem. The rest is “non-priestly.” Scholars have meticulously gone over the text to ascertain which parts belong to which strand.

When the new software was run on the Pentateuch, it found the same division, separating the “priestly” and “non-priestly.” It matched up with the traditional academic division at a rate of 90 percent – effectively recreating years of work by multiple scholars in minutes, said Moshe Koppel of Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv, the computer science professor who headed the research team.

“We have thus been able to largely recapitulate several centuries of painstaking manual labor with our automated method,” the Israeli team announced in a paper presented last week in Portland, Oregon, at the annual conference of the Association for Computational Linguistics. The team includes a computer science doctoral student, Navot Akiva, and a father-son duo: Nachum Dershowitz, a Tel Aviv University computer scientist, and his son, Idan Dershowitz, a Bible scholar at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

The places in which the program disagreed with accepted scholarship might prove interesting leads for scholars. The first chapter of Genesis, for example, is usually thought to have been written by the “priestly” author, but the software indicated it was not.

Similarly, the book of Isaiah is largely thought to have been written by two distinct authors, with the second author taking over after Chapter 39. The software’s results agreed that the book might have two authors, but suggested the second author’s section actually began six chapters earlier, in Chapter 33.

The differences “have the potential to generate fruitful discussion among scholars,” said Michael Segal of Hebrew University’s Bible Department, who was not involved in the project.


Families Affected by Mental Illness Feel Little Support From Churches

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

Although this study is US and Protestant based, from the many grim stories I’ve encountered of mentally unwell folks experiences in the church, I should suspect some UK appositeness.

I am unable to access the original research:

A new study conducted at Baylor University indicated that families with a mentally ill member would like their congregation to offer more assistance. The study, published in the journal “Mental Health, Religion and Culture,” was the first to look at how mental illness of a family member influences an individual’s relationship with the church.

“Families with mental illness stand to benefit from their involvement with a congregation, but our findings suggest that faith communities fail to adequately engage these families because they lack awareness of the issues and understanding of the important ways that they can help,” said Diana Garland, Ph.D., dean of Baylor’s School of Social Work and co-author of the Baylor study.

The study surveyed nearly 6,000 participants in 24 churches representing four Protestant denominations about their family’s stresses, strengths, faith practices and desires for congregational assistance. Families with mental illness ranked help from the church as a second priority; however, families without mental illness ranked it 42nd on their list of requests from churches.

Per Matthew Stanford, Ph.D., co-author of the study and professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor: “The difference in response is staggering, especially given the picture of distress painted by the data…. Families with mental illness reported twice as many problems and tended to ask for assistance with more immediate or crisis needs compared to other families.”

I’m not sure why there exists the great divide between mental health and faith communities. I suspect there are many pastors and religious leaders who still believe that those who pray hard enough will get God on the job and have no need for other treatments. Much like holistic centers, too much emphasis is placed on emotional and spiritual therapies that the physiological underpinnings of mood disorders are forgotten or ignored.

“Mental illness is not only prevalent in church communities,” says Garland, “but is accompanied by significant distress that often goes unnoticed. Partnerships between mental health providers and congregations may help to raise awareness in the church community and simultaneously offer assistance to struggling families.”


Quote of the Day

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

The Christians’ conversion to heliolatry really shows that no institution on earth is now immune to the advances of the religion of environmentalism. So successful is this modern metropolitan faith, with its preachy messages about the need for human self-loathing and its demand that we all do penance for our sins of electricity and comfort, that it is even sucking the old churches into its warped orbit. Surely somewhere there are a few brave heretics, ready and willing to cast out this false religion from the Christian church – and from society more broadly, where its miserabilist grip tightens each day.


Religious belief benefits traumatic brain injury rehabilitation

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

I’m unable to access the original research on this, and so we will have to make do with an article from the Wayne State University.

I still found this interesting nonetheless:

DETROIT – Brigid Waldron-Perrine, Ph.D., a recent graduate from Wayne State University, and her mentor, Lisa J. Rapport, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Wayne State University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, found that if traumatic brain injury (TBI) victims feel close to a higher power, it can help them rehabilitate. The study was recently published in Rehabilitation Psychology.

Traumatic brain injury is a disruption of normal brain function after a head injury and affects 1.7 million Americans annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those struggling with the long-term effects of TBI are at a heightened risk for mental and physical problems. Such problems can significantly inhibit rehabilitation outcomes and are therefore important to address in the context of rehabilitation efforts. And when TBI leaves people feeling stressed, less satisfied with life and functionally dependent on others, rehabilitation is the only option.

“Among healthy adults, religion and spirituality have shown strong association with improved life satisfaction and physical and mental health outcomes,” said Waldron-Perrine. But research about religion’s effect on TBI rehabilitation in particular is lacking.

To fill this void, Waldron-Perrine interviewed and completed neuropsychological tests on 88 individuals diagnosed with TBI victims, most of whom were male, African American Christians. Participants also completed a neuropsychological measure of their cognitive abilities. A significant other of each TBI victim also participated and reported on the injured individual’s functional status.

Waldron-Perrine found that most participants who reported higher levels of religious well-being (a connection to a higher power) had better emotional and physical rehabilitation outcomes. But public religious activities or practice and existential well-being – a sense that life has a purpose apart from any religious reference – did not have such an effect influence on rehabilitation outcome.

This “intriguing” finding, she said, may be due to the fact that TBI victims lack full control of their ability to participate in public religious practice. “They often must rely on others for scheduling and transportation to social events, so their public religious participation does not wholly reflect their true use of religious resources,” she said.

As expected on the basis of previous studies, social support was related to positive physical and mental rehabilitation results. This, Waldron-Perrine said, is consistent with other research studies linking religious social support to positive health outcomes in other populations. But even when Waldron-Perrine adjusted for social support, religious well-being still stood as a unique and strong predictor of positive health outcomes in TBI patients.

“Individuals cope with the tools available to them, and perhaps especially for those with limited means and few alternatives, religion can take on great power as a psychosocial resource,” Waldron-Perrine said.

Achieving Happiness: Advice from Augustine

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

Yesterday I posted a personality test that identified if we are suited to an Ignatian, Augustinian, Franciscan or Thomistic style of prayer.

Strangely, the vast majority of respondents on Twitter and elsewhere, were categorised as Augustinian. Not entirely sure of the reason for this, however, in view of this, it seems fitting to post a little something from Psychology Today reflecting on Augustine and happiness:

Our fundamental problem, according to Augustine, has to do with love. Our problem is misplaced loves. We love the wrong things, or we love the right things in the wrong way. For example, we wrongly love power, fame, wealth, appearance, and many other things that are unworthy of our love. We also love things that are worthy of love, such as other individuals, but if we do this in an excessive manner, putting others into a place reserved for God, we make a serious mistake and undermine our own happiness.

If we love God first and foremost, believes Augustine, this will work itself out in our lives as all of our other loves will become properly ordered. We will still love others, the creation, and other good things in life, but in the right way and to the right extent. So, for those who share Augustine’s belief in God, he would say that in order to be truly happy we need properly ordered loves, which we can only achieve as we embrace the spiritual life in deeper ways.

Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) intervenes over church leaflet that claims God can heal illnesses

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has stepped in following a complaint from the head of Nottingham’s Secular Society, who was handed the following leaflet whilst shopping.

The leaflet – distributed by St Mark’s Church in Woodthorpe – claims God could heal various illnesses, including back pain and cancer.

You can read the details here, and Vic has already offered his thoughts on this.

The crux is that the ASA need “robust evidence” to support the claims of healing contained in the leaflet.

The ASA are quoted as saying:

We are not here to stop religious or faith-based organisations from promoting what they believe in.

But if they are making absolute claims about curing serious conditions then we have to see that evidence to back it up.

What do you think? Did the church overstep the mark? Does God heal today? Should this leaflet be banned? Is proof of divine healing required to make such claims?

The growing collaboration between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

I love charting the slow but steady progress towards an alliance between the Orthodox and Catholic Church. One day I hope to see them in full communion.

My most recent posts on on the Orthodox – Catholic relationship can be found here and here.

There is a growing collaboration between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches in efforts to slow the collapse of Christian influence in European culture. There have been other signs of the Spirit at work in pulling these Churches to a along the path toward reestablishing communion.

On June 28, 2011 a delegation from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople made their traditional visit to Rome for the Feast of Apostles, Peter and Paul. As the West staggers under what Pope Benedict XVI called a Dictatorship of Relativism, it is the fullness of truth revealed in Jesus Christ as found within His Church which can save it from rushing over a cliff to its own demise. The world needs the Church, breathing with both lungs, East and West, to once again become its soul in this age which has lost its moral compass.

Pope Benedict is the “Pope of Christian Unity”. In his first Papal message he proclaimed, “Nourished and sustained by the Eucharist, Catholics cannot but feel encouraged to strive for the full unity for which Christ expressed so ardent a hope in the Upper Room. The Successor of Peter knows that he must make himself especially responsible for his Divine Master’s supreme aspiration. Indeed, he is entrusted with the task of strengthening his brethren (cf. Lk 22: 32). With full awareness, therefore, at the beginning of his ministry in the Church of Rome which Peter bathed in his blood, Peter’s current Successor takes on as his primary task the duty to work tirelessly to rebuild the full and visible unity of all Christ’s followers. This is his ambition, his impelling duty.”

He has placed the commitment to the full communion of the Church at the forefront of his Papacy. This is especially evident in his love, respect and repeated overtures toward our Orthodox brethren, whom we recognize as a full Church and whose priesthood and Sacraments we also recognize. There is a growing collaboration between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches in efforts to slow the collapse of Christian influence in European culture. There have been other signs of the Spirit at work in pulling these Churches to a along the path toward reestablishing communion.

Full text of the Pope’s message to the Orthodox delegation can be found here.

Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World: Recommendations for Conduct

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

An historic document has just been released in Geneva, which is effectively a global code of conduct for mission and evangelism.

The document is a collaborative effort between the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), the Pontifical Council for Inter Religious Dialogue (PCID) of the Catholic Church, and the World Council of Churches (WCC).

The three bodies include Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, Protestant, Evangelical, Pentecostal and independent churches with a combined membership of some two billion people representing nearly 90 percent of the world’s Christians.

This document has been put together in response to accusations of the Church seeking to “unethically” convert “non-Christians”, which is code for those of other religions.

Here’s some gumpf:

“It is a historic text both for its content and because this is the first time since the 16th century that the three main bodies representing nearly all of world Christianity jointly endorse one document and recommend it to their respective constituencies,”

You can access the document on the following link in PDF format:

Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World: Recommendations for Conduct

You gotta love their faith

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

To combat the summer fires that once again threaten to devastate the territory of Russia, the Ministry for Emergency Situations has decided to also try religious ‘weapons’.

According to reports by Ria Novosti agency, the ministry’s Krasnoyarsk department has decided to install in Siberia’s parishes 25 giant crosses, donated by the local Russian Orthodox Church. The crosses were sent on June 24 and placed in areas most affected by the flames: the districts of Boguchansky and Kezhemsky. Since the beginning of the dry season, Siberia is the region most devastated by the fires. Each cross carries a reproduction of the Russian icon of Neopalimaya Kupino, also known as Lady of the burning bush, said to protect against fires. The website also reports that four icons at the four cardinal points, and a fifth at the center, will be placed in every town.

As announced by the Ministry for Emergency Situations, the initiative was launched by the Church who contacted the authorities and an agreement was signed in 2010, when Russia was hit by the worst fires in its recent history: 62 dead in two months and thousands of displaced people across the country. “Any proposal of our citizens, even those that are not scientifically proven, will be welcome,” said Yelena Smirnykh, a ministry spokesman in Moscow.


How to find a prayer style for your personality type

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

I’ve been following and enjoying a series of articles on Carl Jung over at the Guardian, written by Marc Vernon.

Yesterday Vernon talked about Jung’s personality types, namely, the introvert and extrovert. This classification of personality types has stood the test of time, and been reinforced through their incorporation into personality tests such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.

For the sake of this blog post, the following paragraph is the most relevant:

More elaborate, post-Jungian developments of the basic theory are harder to test, though they clearly also speak to many. For example, in the realm of spirituality, it is said that there are, broadly, four spiritual temperaments: Ignatian, Augustinian, Franciscan and Thomistic. Very roughly, an Ignatian spirituality will appeal to someone with a sense of duty; an Augustinian prioritises meaning; the Franciscan type needs to feel free; and a Thomistic spirituality values rational order and subtlety.

The reason I highlight this, is that quite coincidentally I happened upon a website that purports to find the prayer style to fit our personality type.

This website uses the Myers-Briggs indicator test to identify if we are suited to an Ignatian, Augustinian, Franciscan or Thomistic style of prayer.

My personality type came out as suiting an Augustinian style of Prayer.

Obviously I’m not reading much into this, it’s a bit of fun, but why don’t you have a go and let us know if you think the result is accurate for you.

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