Monday, April 14, 2014

What genealogy tells us about the accuracy of the bible.

I am an amateur genealogist, and have plotted family trees for a variety of people. It combines my interest in history with my eye for detail and research. You will find articles about my own family history elsewhere in this blog.

Before I start plotting a tree I ask people for the names and dates of their parents, grandparents and any other relatives they know of. Then I ask them for any family rumours and legends. Its interesting that although some of these legends can seem quite bizarre 70-80% of them turn up in the evidence and are more-or-less true.

What does this say about the veracity of the gospels? Well, just because the stories in the gospels appear to be fantastical we should not discount them. The gospels only tell snippets from the life of Jesus. As these were initially passed around by word of mouth, people were more interested in remembering the unusual things that happened.  So in the written gospels it tends to be the more interesting and unusual aspects of Jesus life that are recorded. There are no records of his shopping trips or toenail trimming, although he must have done those things. The emphasis is on the unusual, and because these occurrences were unusual they were remembered, passed on and eventually written down.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Churches in Edinburgh on social media

As a follow up to my article Churches in Edinburgh on the Internet I thought I would have a look at churches in Edinburgh on social media.

Most active churches seem to have a Facebook page these days, but these get little interest outside the members. In some cases they have a tenth the number of likes as they have members. Generally they seem to be sharing information about events within the church with members.

When it comes to Twitter the searches I did were quite disappointing.

Church Edinburgh brings up mentions of church buildings, denominational committees and events taking place in church buildings.

Christians Edinburgh doesn't really help you find any Christians in Edinburgh.

Christianity Edinburgh does not fare much better.

What there is of church activity on Twitter seems to be either  the equivalent of the dayglo TBS bible posters you used to see at railway stations (click here to remind yourself) or the equivalent to the church newsletter. There is very little real communication going on between real individuals. There are also very few Christian bloggers in Edinburgh. This does not reflect the stated desire of so many churches to reach the people of Edinburgh.

What do you think?

The "Gospel of Jesus Wife" and why it changes nothing.

I follow a range of people on Twitter and on the issue of this small fragment of papyrus they fall into two camps:

1. The academics like Larry Hurtado, who sums it up in this article (worth reading in full as it mentions the problems with the Coptic in the fragment - for more on this see Mark Goodacre):

.... even if authentic, the fragment would have no bearing on (1) the marital status of Jesus of Nazareth, (2) the question of women’s role in churches, (3) the question of Catholic priestly celibacy, etc.  None whatsoever.  Nada.

2. Atheist critics, who seem to have seized on the fragment's recent early carbon dating by MIT and Harvard  as evidence that it must be true and therefore the gospel accounts of Jesus life aren't.

The odd thing, of course, is that the carbon dating puts it at 700AD, far later than the canonical gospels. If any of the four canonical gospels were found to be from 700AD the same critics would be using that dating as evidence that those documents could not be accurate. I guess that a late date can be used to cut any way you want it to.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Problem displaying Powerpoint presentation in Libre Office Impress

I had an interesting issue displaying a Powerpoint presentation using the Impress presentation program in Libre Office. Although Libre Office has no problem opening the .pptx file from Microsoft Office 2010 the slide layout was wrong and text was overflowing.

The reason was that the font in the original Powerpoint file did not exist on the other machine, which was running Linux Mint 16. Impress was substituting with a similar font which was not as condensed so the text was overflowing the original Powerpoint layout. This surprised me as I had already installed the Microsoft Core Fonts. However, this does not include Calibri which is the default font in MS Office 2010 and the font which had been used in these slides. To fix this I copied the Calibri true type font files from my Windows 7 laptop over to the Linux one.

Here is how to do it.

Note: Your system may not be set up like mine. Attempting this could break something. Beware.

On the Windows PC:

  • Go to c://Windows/Fonts
  • Click on Calibri, which is a font folder.
  • Copy all six Calibri files to a USB memory stick.

On the Linux PC:

  • Copy the files to /home/[username]/ using whatever file manager you have.
  • I put them in a directory called Microsoft
  • Open terminal and type: 


  • You will be asked for your password.
  • This switches you to root user.
  • Then type:

cp -r /home/[username]/Microsoft /usr/share/fonts
This copies the fonts into your font directory.

  • Now type:

fc-cache -fv

Which refreshes your font cache.

For information, the way to install the standard Microsoft fonts is to use this command:

sudo apt-get install msttcorefonts

The amount of spam I am receiving has decreased, or has it?

Having moved me email domain between three different hosting services this year I have noticed a big variation in the amount of mail being trapped by my spam filters. The rolling thirty day average has been:

Host 1 : 250-300
Host 2 : 800-900
Host 3 : 50-100

Why the big difference? Well, all hosting companies use real-time blackhole lists (RBL's) to prevent the most blatant spam from getting through. This has more to do with protecting mail servers from overloading than protecting customers from spam. When a mail server connects the receiving mail server looks up that server on a list and denies connection if it appears on it. This prevents the server having to open, write to and close a file, saving processing and I/O resources.

Real-time blackhole lists are lists of mail servers known to be originating spam. There are many in existence. Some are more severe than others. Some block whole countries, some never remove a server once it has been detected sending spam. My guess is that Host 1 was using something like Spamhaus to temporarily block the worst offenders, Host 2 was not using RBL's and Host 3 is using something far more severe.

One slightly worrying aspect is that I am currently unable to receive receipts by email from a company I buy IT gear from. This may be because the server generating them has been blacklisted. There is no real way of knowing for sure.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Linux drivers for Zoostorm Pink laptop model 7873-9043

I thought I would post this article as there are a number of out of date articles about this floating around the internet.

I recently bought a Zoostorm model 7873-9043 laptop from Ebuyer (the pink one they sell for £280). It is manufactured by Clevo (the Clevo model number is W251EL) and very nicely specified.

I installed Linux Mint 13 which is the current LTS (long term support version) and the WiFi would not work. The WiFi chipset is RTL8723AE. Some articles I found are suggesting installing windows drivers or downloading unofficial drivers via Realtec staff.

I had a look at installing drivers, but this did not make sense as the WiFi had worked when I had tried a live disk of the latest version of Linux Mint. The problem seemed to relate to the version I had chosen to install, which was 13 LTS. On examination I could see that the drivers were there but I could not turn the card on even using manual commands. I think there are software switches required in relation to this chip set which are only present in more recent Linux kernels. Mint 13 is kernel 3.2 whereas Mint 16 is kernel 3.11.

So I experimented with updating the kernel in Mint 13 to 3.11. Although the OS worked as before and the Bluetooth worked the WiFi still did not.

Rather than faffing about with drivers, the simplest way to make it work was to install Linux Mint 16. When I did this the WiFi worked straight away. The driver loads every time i start the machine and it automatically connects to my WiFi. Linux Mint 16 is not an LTS release, but it will be by the end of May 2014 and it seems stable already.

I hope this helps someone else avoid the heartache of trying to install drivers unecessarily.

Monday, March 31, 2014

My return to faith.

Those who have followed my blog over the past few years will already know my spiritual journey,  which could be summarised as “conservative evangelical” to “questioning evangelical” to “disbeliever” (following the crash of my creationist beliefs) to “attempted atheist” to “tolerant liberal”. I now have to come clean and admit that I have never really been able to rid myself of my belief in God. For the simple reason that it is based on knowledge rather than faith and I can’t totally deny something that I know to be true. I have returned to my faith.

Over the past few months a number of situations have arisen where I felt uncomfortable because things were being said or done that were jarring with my knowledge of Jesus which was still smouldering away somewhere within me. This caused me to look at who I am, where I am and how I can reconcile my dislike of church and religion with what is a very real love for the things of God.

So why believe?

Well first of all it’s not about believing, but knowing.

The Scottish pattern I was brought up with is that a minister (dressed in black advocates robes complete with white tabs) stands in the pulpit and give a forensic argument for his case, expounding his evidence and asking you to agree with him. This is exactly the same as the process you get in a court of law where a jury decides what to accept, either convicting or acquitting based on the evidence put before them. Its also why many Scottish ministers had law degrees as their first degrees before studying divinity.

Legal argument is not a method of communication you will find in the bible. Jesus said “follow me”. He didn’t say “get all your ducks in a row theologically and then agree to accept various creeds”.  He said “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”. Notice the emphasis on knowing. There is no mention of going along with things for the sake of it.

I have always been uncomfortable with the addition of different doctrines to mark someone as a “true Christian”. Whether its dispensationalism or creationism or pentecostalism, people have continually added things to Christianity.

Rather like John Lennon’s:
Ev'rybody's talking about
Bagism, Shagism, Dragism, Madism,
Ragism, Tagism
This-ism, That-ism, 
It wasn’t meant to be like this. As creeds were developed new sects split off and more and more options were added to the list of what makes someone a “true believer”.

None of the people coming up with these ideas know any of it for certain, but they need to feel certain.  So they create religious systems that allow them to live in a more solid feeling world where they “know who their friends are”. This is true for many people, not just Christians. We see the same phenomenon in the the conspiracy theory community and  “truth” movement.

Its a natural human desire, but Christianity was meant to be more fluid than this. This is why it was originally described as "the way". Its about a journey, not a destination. You don't need to swallow a camel of additional "isms" to be on that journey.  Its people who make that difference in order to puff up their own self importance. And there is no difference between little faith and big faith. Jesus talked about “faith the size of a mustard seed” and he did not treat people preferentially if they believed more things than someone else.

All I know is what I know, and this is that Jesus lived and walked in Galilee, in some way was God and in some way redeemed me. How that all worked I simply don’t know. But I do know that it matters.

Secondly, the person of Christ.

I don’t normally do relationships well so the idea of having a relationship with God is quite foreign to me. However,  I do understand the concept of following someone and I find that can follow Jesus as the first disciples did. He might be quite far in the distance sometimes and I might be hobbling along at the back with my doubt and uncertainty, but I feel captivated by him as much now as when I first believed.

Thirdly, I don’t need to be able to nail everything down.

Complete knowledge of everything is impossible. We can never know everything and I am happy to acknowledge that limitation. Paul said to the Corinthian church that “we see through a glass darkly”. This doesn’t mean I don’t want to investigate things or find out more. It is part of my nature to do so - and I would argue that our enquiring nature is part of the image of God. We want to know as much as God wants to be known. I just can’t build my house on a sand of conjecture and theorising and I don’t think the church is meant to do that either. Its about simpler creeds and accepting that some things can never be known.

Fourthly, revelation.

I think all religions contain some truth, but the greatest revelation of the divine will is in Jesus Christ and his teachings. Why? Because, as the disciple John put it “We love, because He first loved us.” All goodness comes from God, whether people recognise it or not and this love, and goodness, is personified in Jesus and him giving himself up for others on the cross. This is the secret revealed to us, which is not really a secret, it's just that we often can’t see it.

Fifthly, its not about perfection.

There is no need to be perfect to be a Christian. How often have you heard, or said, “and you call yourself a Christian!”. This idea of the Christian comes from the nominal church where people sadly and often put themselves above others simply because they attended church on a Sunday. The Christian message is that nobody is perfect and everyone needs redemption. Think about this: back at the beginning Peter denied Christ three times, yet, at no time during those denials was he any less a Christian.

Here is a thought which may have an impact on ideas of evangelism. God’s activity is not restricted to Christians. Depicting non Christians as damned or bad is wrong because we are all made in the image of God. We need to recognise that God is out there doing good without us or in spite of us and that some of that is being manifested through people who do not even know him. Imagine going into the world saying "look at this good and how it reflects the nature of God" rather than "look at all this evil".

So where does this leave me?

The only way I can describe it is this: I am simply Christian, not a simple Christian.

I don’t think I will ever be capable of attending a church on a regular basis. I will always be of the questioning type and that would make adhering to any church creed just for the sake of it far too difficult for me.  I also don't like big groups or loud noises, so it is probably not for me.

I will continue to live an imperfect life, but I can live it acknowledging the presence of God along side me. I am happy and content with this life and I thank God for what he has done for me. I have no desire for “more” and no feelings of inadequacy compared to others. I don’t want to be a leader and I am happy to stay a follower. An old friend of mine used to describe this practice as “living in the good of it”, and that seems a good description.

On the issue of evangelism, Christianity is a personal thing and nobody can be forced to believe it. You can create a scheme to trick people into saying they agree with you, but that is not actually faith. They have to “know” the truth and that in part comes from meeting people who are living a life which is on that journey with Jesus in spite of their weaknesses. Through that  weakness they may see the light of life.

For now I am just glad to be on the journey.