FaithWorld

Saudis want more science in religion-heavy education

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(Secondary students sit for an exam in Riyadh June 15, 2008/Fahad Shadeed)

Saudi teenager Abdulrahman Saeed lives in one of the richest countries in the world, but his prospects are poor, he blames his education, and it’s not a situation that looks like changing soon. “There is not enough in our curriculum,” says Saeed, 16, who goes to an all-male state school in the Red Sea port of Jeddah. “It is just theoretical teaching, and there is no practice or guidance to prepare us for the job market.”

Saeed wants to study physics but worries that his state high school is failing him. He says the curriculum is outdated, and teachers simply repeat what is written in text books without adding anything of practical value or discussions. Even if the teachers did do more than the basics, Saeed’s class, at 32 students, is too big for him to get adequate attention. While children in Europe and Asia often start learning a language at five or six, Saudi students start learning English at 12. Much time is spent studying religion and completing exercises heavy with moral instruction.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia sits on more than a fifth of the globe’s oil reserves and thanks to high oil prices it has almost tripled its foreign assets to more than $400 billion (248 billion pounds) since 2005. The region’s thinkers had a profound influence on the evolving western science of the Middle Ages. But from kindergarten to university, its state education system has barely entered the modern age. Focussed on religious and Arabic studies, it has long struggled to produce the scientists, engineers, economists and lawyers that Saudi needs. saudi ed 2

(Saudi students at the Technology College in Riyadh October 30, 2010/Fahad Shadeed)

High school literature, history and even science text books regularly quote Koranic verses. Employers complain that universities churn out graduates who are barely computer-literate and struggle with English. So frustrated are some students, they have taken to the streets in protest.

Sorry, Catholics can’t confess via the new iPhone app – Vatican

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(Religion apps for the iPhone, photographed in New York, July 21, 2010/Tom Heneghan)

Catholics cannot confess via iPhone and technology is not a substitute for being present when admitting sins to a priest, the Vatican spokesman said on Wednesday. The statement by Father Federico Lombardi follows the launch of an iPhone application aimed at helping Catholics through confession sanctioned by the Catholic Church in the United States.

“One cannot speak in any way of confessing via iPhone,” Lombardi said on Wednesday, adding that confession required the presence of the penitent and the priest. “This cannot be substituted by any IT application,” Lombardi added.

France to renew tight bioethics limits, critics hit Catholic lobbying

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(An in-vitro fertilization (IVF) procedure in Warsaw, October 26, 2010/Kacper Pempel )

France’s parliament opened debate on revising its bioethics laws on Tuesday amid protests that Roman Catholic Church lobbying had thwarted plans to ease the existing curbs on embryonic stem cell research. The bill, originally meant to update a 2004 law in light of rapid advances in the science of procreation, would also uphold bans on surrogate motherhood and assisted procreation for gays.

The debate coincided with news of France’s first “saviour sibling,” a designer baby conceived in vitro to provide stem cells to treat a sibling suffering from a severe blood disorder.

Bless me iPhone for I have sinned — an app for Catholic confession

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(Religion apps for the iPhone, photographed in New York, July 21, 2010/Tom Heneghan)

An iPhone app aimed at helping Catholics through confession and encouraging lapsed followers back to the faith has been sanctioned by the Catholic Church in the United States.

Confession: A Roman Catholic app, thought to be the first to be approved by a church authority, walks Catholics through the sacrament and contains what the company behind the program describes as a “personalized examination of conscience for each user”.

WikiLeaks bares even tiny Vatican’s diplomatic soul

vatican (Photo: Vatican City with St. Peter’s Basilica at left and the square Apostolic Palace — home of the pope and many Vatican offices — to the right and the long Vatican museum in the background, April 6, 2005/stringer)

The Vatican may be the world’s smallest state but even its diplomatic soul has been laid bare by WikiLeaks cables covering everything from sex abuse and media blunders to old “technophobic” cardinals. Cables sent from the U.S. embassy to the Vatican to the State Department depict Pope Benedict as sometimes isolated as aides try to protect him from bad news, and say his number two is seen as a “yes man” with little credibility among diplomats.

The cables were published by the Guardian newspaper, one of several news organizations with have been given access to the leaked cables from U.S. embassies around the world.

A long cable in February 2009, though couched in diplomatic language, reads like a scathing criticism of the Vatican’s internal and external communications structures, which are held responsible for some of Pope Benedict’s biggest public mishaps. “The Holy See’s communications operation is suffering from ‘muddled messaging’ partly as a result of cardinals’ technophobia and ignorance about 21st century communications. Only one senior papal advisor has a Blackberry and few have e-mail accounts. It has led to PR blunders on issues as sensitive as the Holocaust,” a U.S. diplomat writes.

Give up your iPod for Lent, British bishops urge

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Apple Inc CEO Steve Jobs with iPod Nano display in San Francisco, 9 Sept 2008. Credit: Reuters/Robert Galbraith

Church of England bishops are encouraging British Christians to give up their iPods for Lent, instead of more traditional vices such as chocolate, to help save the planet.

The Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, and the Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, are among those calling for a carbon fast for Lent — a period ahead of Easter which Christians traditionally consider a time of penance and reflection — which began on Wednesday.

For God’s sake, blog!, pope tells priests

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Vatican and new media on pope2you.net, 22 May 2009/Jonathan Bainbridge

For God’s sake, blog! Pope Benedict has told priests, saying they must learn to use new forms of communication to spread the gospel message.

In his message for the Roman Catholic Church’s World Day of Communications on Saturday, the pope, who is 82 and known not to love computers or the internet, acknowledged priests must make the most of the “rich menu of options” offered by new technology.

“Priests are thus challenged to proclaim the Gospel by employing the latest generation of audiovisual resources — images, videos, animated features, blogs, websites — which, alongside traditional means, can open up broad new vistas for dialogue, evangelization and catechesis,” he said.

Did God stop CERN from discovering the “God particle”?

collider-1The great quantum physicist Niels Bohr once said a colleague’s new theory was crazy, but perhaps not crazy enough to be correct. Two scientists seem to have taken that approach to heart when they speculated that God may have shut down the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva to keep it from discovering the elusive “God particle.” (Photo: Part of the Large Hadron Collider, 22 March 2007/Denis Balibouse)

According to an essay in the New York Times, the scientists are trying to explain why the collider, the world’s largest particle accelerator turned on with great fanfare in September 2008 by the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), was closed down for major repairs just over a week later. The 3 billion-euro collider was supposed to track down the Higgs boson, a subatomic particle believed to have given mass to the universe milliseconds after the Big Bang created it some 15 billion years ago.

Physicists think this minuscule speck of matter, if ever found, could explain the mysterious code at the origin of the physical world. To know this would be to “know the mind of God”, as Einstein put it. The Nobel Prize winning physicist Leon Lederman dubbed the Higgs boson the “God particle” in a book of the same name 15 years ago.

A new taint on the Shroud of Turin?

shroud-faces (Photo: An archive negative image of the Shroud of Turin (L) next to one created by Luigi Garlaschelli and released in Pavia, Italy, on 5 Oct 2009/Turin Diocese (L) and Luigi Garlaschelli (R)/Turin Diocese (L) and Luigi Garlaschelli)

Italian scientist Luigi Garlaschelli tells me he has been getting lots of hate mail as well as emails of support since our Oct 5 story that he had reproduced the Shroud of Turin with material available in the Middle Ages, a feat that he says proves definitively that the linen some Christians revere as Jesus Christ’s burial cloth is a medieval fake.

Given the controversy that has surrounded the Shroud, particularly since the 1988 carbon dating tests, this was hardly a surprise. One of Christianity’s most disputed relics, it is locked away at Turin Cathedral in Italy and rarely exhibited. It was last on display in 2000 and is due to be shown again next year. The Catholic Church does not claim the Shroud is authentic nor that it is a matter of faith, but says it should be a powerful reminder of Christ’s passion.

Until now, scientists have been at a loss to explain how the eery image like a photographic negative of a crucified man was left on the cloth.  Garlaschelli, a professor of organic chemistry at the University of Pavia, will present his findings at a conference in northern Italy this weekend.

from AxisMundi Jerusalem:

Sorting through a digital history

With more and more libraries digitising their archives, academics have a growing number of texts they can access without having to get on a plane and journey to distant continents. Perhaps in the near future, researchers will be able to simply log on from their office to view a database of a nearly infinite number of ancient texts, prayers or whatever writings have been handed down by our ancestors. Dead Sea scrolls

Of course, problems arise with digitising thousands of years of handwritten documents. Making a digital copy is the easy part. Helping the computer understand what is written, well, that is a tough one.

Gideon Ben-Zvi, who has founded a couple companies in the field of Optical Character Recognition (OCR), told me that: "The eyes outperform even the best OCR software by magnitude, although the speed achieved by OCR is far faster than humans."