Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Was Jesus Rich?

From an article I read a while back that I thought was quite interesting. Now I don't believe the claims made by the 'prosperity gospel' about what this would imply about Jesus and Christianity, but the question about whither or not Jesus was rich, I do find interesting.

When I first heard them state this claim I thought it was preposterous, but the proponents make a half decent case in terms of using familiar things from the Bible and providing examples from biblical passages to back up there claims, while interpreting these passages in a context that I had never really thought about before:

“Mary and Joseph took a Cadillac to get to Bethlehem because the finest transportation of their day was a donkey,” says Anderson. “Poor people ate their donkey. Only the wealthy used it as transportation.”

…The proof [of Jesus' wealth], he says, is scattered throughout the New Testament. One example: The 12th chapter of the Gospel of John says that Jesus had a treasurer, or a “keeper of the money bag.”

“The last time I checked, poor people don’t have treasurers to take care their money,” says [Rev. Tom] Brown, author of “Devil, Demons and Spiritual Warfare.”…Brown says Jesus’ own words prove that he wasn’t poor.

“Jesus said you will always have the poor, but you will not always have me,” Brown says. “Jesus did not affirm himself as being part of the poor class…

Jesus’ wealth is evident even in the Gospel accounts of his execution, some pastors say.

The New Testament reports that Roman soldiers gambled for Jesus’ clothing while he hung on the cross. They wouldn’t gamble for Jesus’ clothing unless it was expensive, Anderson says.

“I don’t know anybody — even Pamela Anderson — that would have people gambling for his underwear,” Anderson says. “That was some fine stuff he wore.”

After reading this though, I later found this passage on a blog by Gary North refuting it to a degree:

Jesus’ family was poor. We know this because of the law of the offerings governing the firstborn son (Ex. 13:13). A lamb had to be sacrificed — expensive. A poor family could substitute two turdledoves (Lev. 5:7, 11). Jesus’ family offered turtledoves (Luke 2:24).

The treasurer — Judas Iscariat — held the money for the disciples. He stole the money (John 12:6). It was not Jesus’ money.

Jesus had no home or resting place (Matthew 8:20).

The coat was nothing special. It was more useful than four pieces of cloth divided four ways (John 19:23-24).

I think it is safe to say that Jesus clearly would not have been considered rich according to the standards of his time, since rich would be basically the elites who owned significant sways of land and Jesus clearly didn't, but the issue is slighlty muddled by the fact that (as I've seen one scholar mention) there was nothing that would be like the middle class in the sense that we have one today. Jesus did have some financial resources so it would not be right to say that he was destitute poor either. Hence Jesus could easily mix with both the poor and the rich and not seem entirely out of place among either.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Origins of Life

I hope one day to do a post on the Origin of Life, but at the moment I have seen this interesting article at Medical Daily.

Transition metal catalysts could be key to origin of life, scientists report

One of the big, unsolved problems in explaining how life arose on Earth is a chicken-and-egg paradox: How could the basic biochemicals—such as amino acids and nucleotides—have arisen before the biological catalysts (proteins or ribozymes) existed to carry out their formation?

In a paper appearing in the current issue of The Biological Bulletin, scientists propose that a third type of catalyst could have jumpstarted metabolism and life itself, deep in hydrothermal ocean vents.

According to the scientists' model, which is experimentally testable, molecular structures involving transition metal elements (iron, copper, nickel, etc.) and ligands (small organic molecules) could have catalyzed the synthesis of basic biochemicals (monomers) that acted as building blocks for more complex molecules, leading ultimately to the origin of life. The model has been put forth by Harold Morowitz of George Mason University (GMU), Vijayasarathy Srinivasan of GMU, and Eric Smith of the Santa Fe Institute.

"There has been a big problem in the origin of life (theory) for the last 50 years in that you need large protein molecules to be catalysts to make monomers, but you need monomers to make the catalysts," Morowitz says. However, he suggests, "You can start out with these small metal-ligand catalysts, and they'll build up the monomers that can be used to make the (large protein catalysts)."

A transition metal atom can act as the core of a metal-ligand complex, in which it is bound to and surrounded by other ligands. Morowitz and his colleagues propose that simple transition metal-ligand complexes in hydrothermal ocean vents catalyzed reactions that gave rise to more complex molecules. These increasingly complex molecules then acted as ligands in increasingly efficient transition metal-ligand complex catalysts. Gradually, the basic molecular ingredients of metabolism accumulated and were able to self-organize into networks of chemical reactions that laid the foundation for life.

"We used to think if we could understand what carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulfur were doing, we would immediately be able to understand biology," Morowitz says, listing elements that constitute a large proportion of Earth's biomass. "But now we're finding that these other fairly rare elements, transition metals, are necessary in biology, so we ask, 'What was their role in the origin of life?'"

The proposal suggests that the rise of life forms is a natural consequence of the unique properties of transition metals and ligand field theory, which describes the characteristics of ligand complexes.

"The idea has emerged from a study of the periodic table. We strongly feel that unless you're able to see how life comes about in some formal chemical way, you're never really going to solve the problem," Morowitz says.

Morowitz and his colleagues are preparing experiments to test the catalytic properties of transition metal-ligand complexes built with different types of ligands. Ligands known to bind tightly to transition metals include molecules produced during the course of the reductive citric acid cycle, a series of biochemical reactions essential for many microorganisms.

"We think life probably began with the reductive citric acid cycle, and there is evidence that under hydrothermal vent conditions some of the cycle's intermediates form," Morowitz says.

"We are going to start with these molecules and mix them with various transition metals, cook them at different temperatures for a while, and see what kinds of catalysts we've made."
Such experiments could reveal what kinds of catalytic reactions took place to lay the foundations for life. The hypothesis also allows for the possibility that life could have arisen more than once.

"Life could have originated multiples times, and, if we find life elsewhere in the universe, it could be very similar to the life we know here because it will be based on the same transition metals and ligands," Morowitz says. "It's a conjecture at the moment, but it could become a formal scientific core for the emergence of life."

I always have to wonder about probabilities with these theories. For instance, the article says "We used to think if we could understand what carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulfur were doing, we would immediately be able to understand biology," Morowitz says, listing elements that constitute a large proportion of Earth's biomass. "But now we're finding that these other fairly rare elements, transition metals, are necessary in biology, so we ask, 'What was their role in the origin of life?" The fact that rare elements are being found to play an important role in biology, would suggest the chances of life arising on multiple occasions are less likely you would imagine, but the article seems to imply that the simple nature of the molecular mechanism could lead to a form of basic metabolism occuring, which would then be able to self-organize within a chemical network and then chemically react to enable the origin of life to take place. We will have to wait and see how the experiments turn out though.

Monday, 1 November 2010

On Augustinian Platonism

Steven Ozment in his book "The Age of Reform 1250-1550" outlines Augustine’s modification of Platonism within the Christian Tradition, in a chart which I have reproduced here:

Click on it to make it larger

Steven Ozment writes:

"Augustine replaced the Platonic doctrine of reconciliation with his own distinctive doctrine of “divine illumination,” one of his most influential teachings. This doctrine placed the eternal forms of the Platonists within the mind of the triune Christian God, thereby making them truly divine ideas. Hence, when one plumbed the depths of one’s own mind in search of truth, one found there, not an innate ability to recollect eternity, as the Platonists had taught, but Christ, the eternal wisdom of God, the second person of the Trinity, whose very name was Truth. Through the illumination of Christ, indwelling truth, the mind received divine light by which it could know truly. Whether pagan or Christian, people understood and functioned within the world around them, thanks to this special grace of God. Without such divine illumination, all they would know was a chaos of phantasms. According to Augustine, just as God frees the will so that people can truly do good things, so he enlightens their minds so that they can surely know."