Plagiarism Paralysis

I’ve want to write a post about plagiarism, with reference to an excellent series of educational “what-is-plagiarism?” posters that I recently discovered.

But, the company publishing the posters won’t return my emails asking for permission to reproduce them.

[Plagiarism Paralysis was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2011/04/06. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

“Uh, What Kinds of Biblical Historical Conclusions Do You Usually Have Here?”

After accepting Professor Bruce Waltke’s resignation, for having spoken aloud about the plain facts of the state of our knowledge concerning the natural world, Reformed Theological Seminary Campus President Michael Milton gushed enthusiastically about the vast spectrum of scientific/historical conclusions that the seminary would find acceptable from its faculty:

“Oh, we got both kinds: Young Earth Creationism and Old Earth Creationism!”[1]

Milton said that the seminary allows “views to vary” about creation, describing the faculty members there as having “an eight-lane highway” on which to explore various routes to understanding. Giving an example, he said that some faculty members believe that the Hebrew word yom (day) should be seen in Genesis as a literal 24-hour day. Others believe that yom may be providing “a framework” for some period of time longer than a day. Both of those views, and various others, are allowed, Milton said.

But while Milton insisted that this provides for “a diversity” of views, he acknowledged that others are not permitted. Darwinian views, and any suggestion that humans didn’t arrive on earth directly from being created by God (as opposed to having evolved from other forms of life), are not allowed, he said, and faculty members know this.

Here’s a hint to President Milton, but especially to any prospective students considering places like Reformed Theological Seminary:

  • no matter how “diverse” the spectrum of “acceptable” conclusions,
  • if an institution draws a line anywhere and says, “The conclusions of your research may extend here, but no further; beyond this line your inquiries may not lead you,” then
  • you are not in an institution of learning. In fact,
  • you couldn’t be more in the dark if you were stuffed into a sack.

I was going to add that those who enforce such parameters or assent to them should be willing to stop using the internet, and all computers (which rely on those merely theoretical critters called “electrons”); forego the MRI, the CAT scan, antibiotics, and all of modern medicine, returning to the leech-craft of their forebears; grow their own food, eschewing the disease-resistant strains available at market; keep the radio off, doing without satellite-produced early warning of natural disasters. After all, these are all the results of unbounded critical inquiry, and have arisen only where such inquiry has won out over efforts to suppress it.

But then I realized that these folks won’t return to their pre-modern dystopia without dragging everyone else along by force, so sorry, they’re just going to have to learn, one at a time, to live in the actual world, with its pesky, bias-challenging data. If one fears that one doesn’t know how, I offer the gentle and redoubtable Professor Waltke as an example.

For other feedback in the biblioblogosphere, see John Hobbins’ response and his round-up of other responses, and more recently, Jim Getz.

BACK TO POST “Creationism,” including so-called Intelligent Design, is always the view that God created all the species in the form that they have today: in other words, that evolution leading to speciation has not happened.

[“Uh, What Kinds of Biblical Historical Conclusions Do You Usually Have Here?” was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2010/04/10. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

December’s Unwelcome Cousin

Pay now or pay later.
Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.
As you sow, so shall you reap.
Give someone enough rope and they will hang themselves.
Ignorance of the law is no excuse.
A smooth sea never made a skilled mariner.
Rome was not built in a day.
If a job’s worth doing it’s worth doing well.
Silence gives consent.
Man does not live by bread alone.

(Allow me to cite my sources.)

Professors and Students, “Friending” Together: Mass Hysteria!

When I asked earlier for comments about students and profs “friending” on Facebook, I rather expected (on the basis of the usual media handling of the matter) something like this:

Dr. Peter Venkman: This city is headed for a disaster of biblical proportions.
Mayor: What do you mean, “biblical”?
Dr. Raymond Stantz: What he means is Old Testament, Mr. Mayor, real wrath-of-God type stuff. Fire and brimstone coming down from the sky! Rivers and seas boiling!
Dr. Egon Spengler: Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes…
Winston Zeddmore: The dead rising from the grave!
Dr. Peter Venkman: Human sacrifice. Dogs and cats living together. Mass hysteria!

But the comments to my inquiry, even among those with reservations about student/prof friending, were persistently reasonable. I shouldn’t be too surprised: when teachers in higher education* discuss social media, the matter is one that comes up regularly, and so most of us have had time to think on it and hear from others.

As  see it, there are excellent reasons for students and profs to Facebook-friend…and also excellent reasons not to. It depends on how one answers some questions that don’t seem to come up regularly in the sound-bite-sized media scare pieces.

What is Facebook for? You’ll often hear some pretty definitive pronouncements about what Facebook (or other tools like Twitter) is for. Facebook is for sharing pictures of your cat. Facebook is for dorking around with a quiz while dozing through class. Facebook is for reconnecting with old friends. Facebook is for self-promotion. I’m going to make a suggestion here: It’s too early to say what Facebook is for. Within the bounds of its terms of service, Facebook is for whatever a user says it’s for. That said, it’s a really good idea for each user to clarify in her own mind what Facebooks is for, for her. (All of this goes double for Twitter, and I’ll say more in a later post.)

For some professors, Facebook is a place to relax with peers and with old friends (power-equal relationships). Let their hair down. Maybe engage in a little harmless griping. It’s a combination faculty lounge, gym, pub, and backyard cookout. Such a prof would likely be wise not to “friend” students (at least, not without a pretty sophisticated and confident tailoring of her privacy settings).

For other professors, Facebook is an extension of their professional persona. To the extent they have non-professional contacts, those friends can be counted on to be “rated PG” when writing or commenting on their walls or tagging them in photos. These profs may welcome student “friend” requests as an opportunity to open an additional line of communication with students.

Of course, everything is a trade-off: a prof whose FB friends include students doesn’t get to use FB as an extension of the faculty lounge, doesn’t get to rip off cuss words, and should probably be circumspect about her political pronouncements (as she should in the classroom, since she has the power to intimidate students whose convictions differ from hers). So, OMG! On Facebook, as everywhere else, it turns out you can’t have your cake and eat it, too.

What is a “friend” on Facebook? I would be the first to agree that “I am not friends with my students, and they are not friends with me.” When I say that, though, I use the word “friend” in its everyday sense: someone with whom I have a power-equal relationship of mutual support and confidence. In that sense, friendship between faculty and students is not possible. But what is a Facebook “friend”? This simply brings us back to the question of what Facebook is for. For some, Facebook is a place where “friend” means the same thing as in the rest of my life. But for the most part, users are still determining what a “friend” is on Facebook.

For profs who have student friends on Facebook, “friend” is going to have a pretty circumscribed meaning in that context. Also, with the use of Friends Lists, the prof (and student) can micro-edit their privacy settings quite a bit. For example, a prof might not allow students to tag photographs of her; a student might not allow profs to see photos of her at all. Facebook “friends” don’t have to share everything, not even everything that they have/do on Facebook.

Some users rightly point out the issue of power-imbalance: with them, I will agree that, in general, a prof probably should not offer friendship to students. When students offer friendship requests to their professors, we should respect the fact that they also are making themselves vulnerable: they may, through no fault of their own, suffer a bit of embarrassment down the line (another friend may post something inappropriate on their wall, for example). A student who “friends” a teacher is trusting that teacher not to capitalize on such an incident. For this reason, I’m inclined to “hold off” on accepting friendships from brand-new students: they may leave school, they may drop my classes, they may decide I’m a jerk. By contrast, if I find myself in an awkward, too-soon-FB-friendship with a new dad at my kid’s school (for example), at least there isn’t that awful power-imbalance making the situation worse.

I look forward to looking at the issue in a year or so, and seeing what the trends are then: what issues will continue to vex? Which ones will seem quaint or be eliminated by new options?

* My experience is with adult students. The question of how high school or middle school teachers might ethically use social media with their minor students is another kettle of fish.

Comments, Please: Professors and Students as Facebook Friends

I’m working up a post on students and professors being friends on Facebook, but in truth, it’s wandering, and I’m just too darned tired to shape it up this morning for publishing.

So help me out in the meantime: what are your convictions about Facebook “friending” between students and professors? I’m talking about adult students here: higher education. As a bit of a preview: I suggest that one’s answer to this questions depends on what you think Facebook is for, and that the answer to that question is user-specific.

Comments on students and profs being Facebook “friends”?

Changing the Rules: Being Religious at Work & Play

This post leads up to a link: this link. But it’s a short lead-up, so go ahead and read me first!

Once, my young son went off to my sister’s for a couple of days and a night. They played some baseball, some tag, some handful of your usual backyard games. When I picked him up, my sister’s children said to me, “Hey, we figured out what the ‘J’ stands for in his name” (J is his middle initial.) I gamely asked, “What does it stand for?”

“Je-changin’ the rules!” they cried, cracking up together.

Every child goes through it, and it’s tempting for everyone. When the game doesn’t seem to be going our way, we want to change the rules in our favor. Eventually, we learn that when we give in and try to change the rules, we aren’t playing tag, or baseball, or much of anything anymore: nothing is getting done except us rehearsing our tired, unchanging, irrelevant apologetics. We are rightly told by others to play ball or go home: everyone else trying to get something done, and done well.

This lesson is good practice, because not every activity with rules is a game. People who are “je-changin’” the rules in the workplace aren’t called “bad sports.” They are called “corner-cutters,” “scammers,” or “perjurers,” the “recently fired.” Depending on the consequences, they may be called “manslaughterers,” or “perpetrators of negligent homicide”: that well-meaning fool with the bewildered look on his face getting dragged off at the end of Law and Order, his wake of surviving victims sobbing helplessly on the edge of the screen.

James McGrath has a good post on the impulse—common among Christian newcomers to religious studies but also considered by some to be found in higher places—to be “je-changin’ the rules” in the workplaces of scientific and historical inquiry. “Christian baseball”? By all means, have a look.

[A little later: Art has a related discussion going on: does “theology” fail to be ethical in a way that “religious studies” succeeds?]

Barack Hussein Obama Anti-Christ Video Debunked. Sigh.

Debunking dishonest Bible-woo is tiresome (but not hard: this post took me less than 75 minutes from conception to Publish), but has to be done. Let’s be clear: the maker of this video starts with the conclusion he wishes to reach (that the President is the “antichrist” [whatever that is, which is a topic for another day]). He then commits whatever sleight-of-hand and misdirection is necessary to work backward from that conclusion to an impressive-sounding biblical basis. We’ll link the video, then take it step by step.

[Update, 2011/01/18: the original poster has removed the video. You can still find a version of it here, with some attempts at bolstering the video’s claims.]

“I will report the facts.” Nearly of these “facts” are false:

“Jesus spoke these words originally in Aramaic…” This is not known. It may be that Jesus preached both in Aramaic and in the Greek of the New Testament. If he did preach in Aramaic, there is no reason to be optimistic about our ability to retrovert the Greek of the gospels into that alleged Aramaic original. Imagine giving an English translation of Don Qixote to twelve English-speaking scholars who had never heard Spanish spoken by a native, and having them all retrovert the English translation to the original Spanish. Know how many completely different “originals” you’d get? That’s right: twelve.

“…which is the oldest form of Hebrew.” No, it isn’t. Aramaic doesn’t precede Hebrew. They are sibling languages, with significant differences in vocabulary, morphology, and grammar. So, speaking in Hebrew is not “much the same way” as the way Jesus would have spoken Aramaic.

“…from the heights, or from the heavens.” Nice try: the speaker has substituted “heights” (in order to get to bamah, the word he wants to use) for “heavens” (shamayim, a word he wants to get away from because shamayim sounds nothing like “Barack Obama”). The argument from this point is not based on Jesus’ words (in any language), but on a paraphrase that the speaker finds convenient.

(We could stop here: Now that we see that the groundwork comprises crippling falsehoods, it is clear that anything built on it is pointless. We’ll continue anyway, just for the exercise.)

“…from Strong’s Hebrew Dictionary.” As Bryan mentioned on Facebook, When someone grounds their argument in the use of Strong’s concordance/dictionary, they are saying, “I do not know any Hebrew. Do not trust anything I say on the topic.” Strong’s is a tool designed for people who do not know Hebrew.

Baraq is the Hebrew word for lightning: this is a fact. It has nothing to do with the name of our President, but baraq does mean “lightning.” Barack, our President’s name, is Swahili, and related to Hebrew Berekh, “to bless.” (Think of the better known form, Barukh, “blessed.”) In other words, why would a speaker of Hebrew (or Aramaic, or Greek) would use the word “lightning” to evoke the Swahili (or Arabic) name, Barak = “blessed/blessing”?

Isaiah 14: No mention of Satan here: Isaiah is plainly talking about the king of Babylon, whom he compares to the mythic “Daystar, son of Dawn.” He says so [ref. added: Isa 14:4]. But, the Jesus of the gospel Luke may be evoking Isaiah when he says that he “saw Satan falling as lightning from the heavens,” so I’ll give this a pass.

Isa 14:14: “I will ascend above the heights of the clouds.” That’s right: the word “heights” (which, you’ll recall, Jesus does not use anyway) is not associated with the falling of the Daystar, but with his (planned but not certainly achieved) ascent. Also, the “heights” are plural: the phrase is bamotê-ʿab, “the heights of the cloud.” Hear it? Not bamah, but bamotê.

“Some scholars use the O [to transliterate the conjunction waw].” No, they don’t, because it is never, never pronounced “O.” The prefixed conjunction we- or wa- becomes u- in biblical Hebrew when it precedes a bilabial consonant (b, m, p) or any consonant followed by the shewa, or half vowel (Cĕ-; think of the first vowel in a casual pronunciation of “America” or “aloof”). It is never o-. Sorry, but never.

“…or, ‘lightning from the heights.’” Okay, in the second place, the conjunction never means “from.” Hebrew (or Aramaic) has a preposition for that. The phrase baraq u-bamah (not o-bamah) will mean, “lightning and a height” (whatever the heck that is; also remember that baraq has nothing to do with “Barack”). The phrase will never, never mean “lightning from the heights.” Sorry, but never. (And in the first place, remember, Jesus never even said, “lightning from the heights.” He said, “lightning from the heavens,” which is why all this stuff about “heights” is pointless.)

Conclusion: if a Jewish rabbi today, influenced by Isaiah, were to say the words of Jesus in Luke 10:18 (seriously: why would our rabbi do this?), he would not say, “Barakh Obama.” He would not even say, baraq u-bama. Or baraq u-bamoth (lightning and heights). If he means to use Jesus’ words, he would not even say, baraq min-habbamoth (lightning from the heights). I suppose he might (might) say, baraq min-hashamayim (lightning from the heavens). So now you know why our secret Muslim president’s Arabic Kenyan birth certificate remains hidden in a clandestine madrassah in the Lincoln Bedroom: because on it, you will indeed find the true name of the antichrist…

(oh, wait, neither Isaiah, Luke, or even Revelation [or Daniel, if you care] use the word “antichrist”: it is used in the letters of John as a generic term for “unbelievers”)

…Baraq MinHashamayim.

If you want to see some other debunking, go see Mark Chu-Carroll at Good Math Bad Math, Michael Heiser at PaleoBabble, Bryan at Hevel, and James McGrath at Exploring Our Matrix. Each of them adds some additional arguments that I don’t make here.