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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Paper, Pen and Ink

Today, more than ever, our daily life depends upon electronic, digitized text. Looking at the tremendous variety and number of computer devices that surround each of us, how can paper-based information be at all relevant, much less vital?

I believe information that is published with ink on paper (or parchment), is much more reliable, and long-lasting than any other medium we know of.

First issue: long-lasting

Although metal, or glass, or pottery could be considered more durable, the practical and realistic characteristics of paper and ink most likely provide longer-lasting archival documents.

The technology and energy to create, store, and retrieve information based on metal or ceramics, including glass, requires much more time and intelligence and care than a simple graphite or ink mark on a notecard. That basic notecard can be kept in a dry environment, even one found in nature, with no human intervention, without degradation.

Second issue: reliability

Because paper-based information can be published quickly, easily, and to a broad audience, mistakes and falsehoods can easily be disputed. Once written or printed, and distributed, a reader (or non-reader!) can physically hold it in their hand, preventing the author from easily revising it. The holder of the paper can write his own article, correcting the mistake and exposing the lies, with proof of the original error in his possession.

Not easily done with E-mail or websites. Unless hackers gain access (actually quite easy to do) or internet administrators use their privileges, the author of a digital document can easily revise, at any time, any portion of his original publication. Little remains that can prove there was a change. Of course, computer users have the capability of downloading information and saving it electronically, but until it is printed on paper, it still is susceptible to easy change or loss.

Why am I thinking about these things?

Here's an excerpt from an article describing the dispute between Islam and Christianity regarding the crucifixion of Christ:

The Great Offense: Was Jesus Really Crucified?

By John Piper

The Qur'an says that Jews were mistaken about the death of Jesus, indicating He was taken up by God unhurt.

"And because of their saying: We slew the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, Allah's messenger—They slew him not nor crucified, but it appeared so unto them; and lo! those who disagree concerning it are in doubt therefore; they have no knowledge thereof save pursuit of a conjecture; they slew him not for certain. But Allah took him up unto Himself. Allah is ever Mighty, Wise. There is not one of the People of the Scripture [Jews] but will believe in him before his death, and on the Day of Resurrection he will be a witness against them." (Sara 4, 157-159, quoted from The Meanings of the Glorious Qur'an, trans. Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall (New Delhi : Kitab Bhavan, n.d.), 91.)

But Mohammed wasn't born until 571 years after the birth of Jesus. Tacitus, born in 55 a.d., was a Roman historian living during the years in which the Christian believers were just beginning to gather in churches.

The testimony of Tacitus contradicts the information recorded by the Qur'an:

"All human efforts . . . of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular." (Tacitus, Annals, translated by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb, accessed 11-26-03, http://classics.mit.edu/Tacitus/annals.11.xv.html. Italics added.)

It was common knowledge that Christ was crucified. If there were any question that he had died in this way, it would have been eagerly disputed wherever Christians preached. But it wasn't. The fact of his death by crucifixion was not questioned.

Christians openly based their faith on the fact that Jesus was publicly tried, condemned, executed, and raised from the dead. Thousands of people who opposed the faith could have proved it wrong, if Jesus had not died. The resurrection was disputed, but not the crucifixion.

With only electronically created and decoded documents, this historical information could have been deleted, distorted, and easily denied. With the information recorded on parchment, we have accurate and reliable testimony from an eye-witness.

Thank God for paper and ink!