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Recently in Science and Faith Category
Last night, I saw a splendid production of “How the World Began” produced by the Boulder Ensemble Theater Company, also known as Betsy. If you hurry, you can catch the last performance of Catherine Trieschmann’s fine play this afternoon at 4 p.m. According to the director, Betsy’s production is only the fourth, after New York and two other cities.
Very briefly, the play involves a young, idealistic, single, pregnant biology graduate who comes from New York to teach biology in a rural Kansas town, at least in part because it has recently been destroyed by a tornado. Early on, she obliquely refers to creationism as gobbledygook and is challenged after school by a very troubled student. Unfortunately, she digs in her heels and refuses to apologize, with consequences both predictable and unpredictable.
Another in an annual series of discussions of science and religion at Ohio State is scheduled for October 5. The announcement:
*The Evolution of Religion*
Wednesday, October 5, 7-9pm
- Moderator Neal Conan, host of NPR’s *Talk of the Nation *
- Nicolas Wade, New York Times science writer and author of *Before the Dawn* and *The Faith Instinct*
- Lionel Tiger, Charles Darwin Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus at Rutgers University, and author of *God’s Brain*
The event is free but reservations are required. To register, visit this site or call 614.228.2674 for details. Supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation.
The series is sponsored by public TV station WOSU, by the Center for Science and Industry in Columbus, and by the Department of Entomology at the Ohio State University. I wrote about one such on the Thumb four years ago. They have had a distinctly “accommodationist” flavor, and given the Templeton Foundation’s funding of the series (via Susan Fisher of the Department of Entomology at Ohio State), I suspect this one will carry on that theme. I know little of Tiger’s or Wade’s views on that, so I may be wrong. The entire series of webcasts is archived at this site.
Tom Baillieul, a member of Ohio Citizens for Science, has a background essay on the evolution of religion available here (PDF).
(I can’t resist noting that the Department of Entomology is also home to one of the creationist “scientists,” Glen Needham, who played a significant role in the Bryan Leonard affair at Ohio State.)
Looks like the cartoonist Wiley Miller has started a series of strips on teaching the “controversy.” He’s got the age of the dinosaurs wrong, and carbon dating does not work that far back anyway, but, hell, the strip is called Non Sequitur. The money quote so far is, “Um, just as an F.Y.I., saying ‘facts’ would be a lot less offensive if you used air-quotes.”
Well, no, not really, but a recent program on National Public Radio in the U. S. claimed that “Evangelicals Question the Existence of Adam and Eve.” More specifically, the program noted that Dennis Venema of Trinity Western University and a few other evangelical scholars argue, correctly, that evolutionary theory precludes the possibility that all of humanity descended from a single couple. Let us hope that they are the thin edge of the wedge.
Unfortunately, the bottom line is more likely a statement by Albert Mohler, the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary: “Without Adam, the work of Christ makes no sense whatsoever in Paul’s description of the Gospel .…” I have no idea whether this claim is true, but it is certainly not evidence for the existence of Adam. Venema and the others are on the right track when they note that the Bible consists of allegory and poetry, as well as history, and need not be taken literally. Mohler, by contrast, needs to learn the meaning of the phrase begging the question.
As was reported on PT and elsewhere, Chris Rodda recently decided to make a pdf of her book Liars for Jesus available for download free. Just today, the National Academies Press announced that it would make available pdf’s of nearly all its books, also free for download. NAP is the publisher of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Research Council.
Not to be outdone, I have decided to make a pdf of my book No Sense of Obligation: Science and Religion in an Impersonal Universe available for free download here.
The New Scientist reported yesterday that U. S. Muslim clergy have signed an Imam Letter to the effect that evolution is compatible with their Muslim beliefs. I cannot find any information yet as to the number of signatories, but they will join approximately 13,000 Christian clerics, 500 rabbis, and 250 Unitarian-Universalist clerics when they affirm
that the timeless truths of the Qur’an may comfortably coexist with the discoveries of modern science. As Imams we urge public school boards to affirm their commitment to the teaching of the science of evolution. We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth
Apropos of Matt’s post just below, in a post titled “NCSE becomes BioLogos” Jerry Coyne has thrown a hissy fit over NCSE noting the upcoming Webcast on ‘Evolving Christianity’ featuring a number of theists of varying stripes speaking on how they accommodate their theism and science in general and evolution in particular.
I commented on Coyne’s site more than five hours ago but my comment is still labeled (after hard refreshes) as “Awaiting moderation” while several comments posted later than mine have appeared. So I’ll reproduce my comment below the fold, warts and all.
I just got an announcement to the effect that “The Clergy Letter Project has just become a co-sponsor of a free on-line series hosted by Michael Dowd and entitled ‘The Advent of Evolutionary Christianity: Conversations at the Leading Edge of Faith.’ This exciting series begins this Saturday, 4 December.” As a Nice Jewish Boy, not to mention a nonbeliever, I doubt I will participate, but I noticed several panelists of whom I think highly – not least John Shelby Spong, John Haught, and Ian Barbour. Additionally, biologist Ken Miller is on the panel, as are physicists Charles Townes and my former colleague at NIST, Bill Phillips, and astronomer Owen Gingerich. In case any of our readers are interested, I will post the gist of the announcement, which I got from Michael Zimmerman, below the fold.
The subtitle of this book, by Baylor professors Paul Froese and Christopher Bader, is “What we say about God—& what that says about us.” The thesis of the book is, in essence, that classifying people according to their religious denomination (or lack thereof) tells you little about, for example, their politics or their views on science. Instead, Froese and Bader classify people according to the kind of God they believe in: authoritative, benevolent, critical, and distant (not to mention none).
Froese and Bader pose 2 questions, “To what extent does God interact with the world? To what extent does God judge the world?” As a result of interviews and surveys, they conclude that
In view of the Disco ‘Tute’s recent frantic braying against theistic evolution and evolutionary creationism (having joined Ken Ham in that effort), Jeremy Mohn asks Are God and Keplerism Compatible? Some Catholic, Jewish and Protestant Authors Say No. The book’s blurb tells us that
God and Revolution includes chapters by Willard Rembski, author of The Decline of Revolution; Steve Meyerson, author of Signature in the Solar System: Epicycles and the Evidence for Intelligent Design; Denise O’Lambert, co-author of The Spiraling Drain; Davis Hoffenkling, editor of Signature of Controversy: Responses to Critics of Signature in the Solar System; John Wellington, author of Icons of Revolution; and Jonathan East, author of Kepler Day in America. (John Pieret adds Casey Mustuvbeen, co-author of Traipsing Into Revolution.
Enjoy, and remember, it’s all about the science!
via John Pieret,
I generally do not think authors should comment publicly on book reviews, but this spring I came across two reviews of a book that I coauthored, which had somewhat divergent viewpoints and were written by reviewers who were put out by our treatment of religion. Both reviewers, to some extent, project their own views onto us, but for very different reasons, and I thought that this interesting divergence called out for a brief response.
The book in question is Why Evolution Works (and Creationism Fails), by me and Paul Strode. A review in Science Education by Adam Shapiro, now a postdoc at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine, begins with this enigmatic niggling:
Possibly stimulated by Jerry Coyne’s post, there’s a spate of web attention to a survey concerning evolution, science, and religion performed by the Center for Public Policy of Virginia Commonwealth University (pdf here). The survey was purportedly performed in collaboration with VCU Life Sciences. I seriously wonder who they consulted in the Life Sciences. It surely could not have been an evolutionary biologist, because like so many such surveys, this one asks a stupid question, and commenter Kevin on Coyne’s blog nails it:
I have a HUGE problem with question 1.
“Which of these statements comes closest to your views on the origin of biological life:”
What? Are you talking about abiogenesis? How am I to know whether it happened all at once or gradually over time?
The alternatives offered were
– Biological life developed over time from simple substances, but God guided this process,
– Biological life developed over time from simple substances but God did not guide this process,
– God directly created biological life in its present form at one point in time?
[Note: the order of answers was randomized among people]
Kevin went on:
Now, if you’re talking EVOLUTION, that’s a different kettle of fish. That can be defined as “diversity of life forms on this planet.” That we know a LOT more about.
But “origins of life”? Not so much.
Bad poll question. Horridly bad. Almost designed to allow theists to wedge a god into a gap.
Exactly right. This poll in fact tells us precisely nothing about acceptance of evolution because of the sloppy wording of that question. Worse, asking the question that way merely propagates the creationist conflation of the question of abiogenesis and the reality of evolution. So again, I wonder who in the VCU Life Sciences they actually consulted on that question.
I just received a letter from Michael Zimmerman, addressed to “Members and Friends of The Clergy Letter Project.” The gist of the letter is that Evolution Weekend will be 11-13 February 2011 and will once again provide religious congregations the opportunity to discuss evolution and how it can be accommodated into their worldview. In addition, congregations are encouraged to discuss “the many environmental threats to the health of both natural and human communities.” The relevant part of Professor Zimmerman’s letter follows.
Note that this is not an attempt to spoon-feed completely from scratch the entirety of Mary Midgley’s philosophy to everyone who has got it into their heads that Midgley is a soft-headed (simply ludicrous if you know anything about Midgley – e.g. she has been called “One of the sharpest critical pens in the West”), theism-friendly (she is a long-time atheist), anti-Darwinian (she was one of the earliest and strongest voices for bringing Darwin into philosophy in a serious way), post-modernist (actually a very old-fashioned rationalist scientific liberal) nincompoop. If you want to talk sense about Midgley, please go read Beast and Man and The Ethical Primate and then we’ll talk.
That said, here is my 2 cents replying to UP (and somewhat to PZ), in an attempt to give people a quick sense of the kind of thing Midgley is trying to get people – particularly New Atheists – to think about, when it comes to religion.
Michael Zimmerman of Clergy Letter Project and Evolution Weekend fame tells us that his recent article The Nonscience of the Scientific Arguments against Evolution received the seventh-highest number of comments in the history of the Huffington Post. I was frankly very pleased to hear that his contributions are catching on so fast. Richard B. Hoppe commented on an earlier article here.
Mr. Zimmerman’s latest article is called The Danger of Ignoring Creationism. For those who don’t already know, he explains, among other things, why the Discovery Institute is little more than a shill for the billionaire Howard Ahmanson, whom Mr. Zimmerman quotes as saying, “My goal is the total integration of biblical law into our lives.”
Creationism correlates with HIV denial, global-warming denial, and probably many other denials, not to mention Holocaust denial. It is thus easy to argue with Mr. Zimmerman’s contention that creationism is essentially a religious war, not a controversy between science and religion. Why can’t it be both?
Picky, picky! The article is very well worth reading, and if you don’t characterize it as scary or weird, you must not have paid enough attention. I receive Mr. Zimmerman’s e-mails every week or so, and I look forward to a continuous stream of equally enlightening articles.
The song of the title of this post is a catchy and highly amusing piece that suggests that if we’re just mammals we should have sex. It’s sort of a low brow version of Andrew Marvell’s To his coy mistress. Instead of Time’s wingéd chariot, we should do what mammals do on the Discovery Channel. Except, humans don’t. They do something special. Think about it. We aren’t dogs, monkeys, dolphins or bowerbirds, we’re humans. We are a species (which, as I keep reminding folk, is the noun of “special”).
So when Phillip Johnson, the father of the modern intelligent design movement, attacks Christopher Hitchens for calling “great men” “mammals”, and points out:
While Hitchens never refers to the authorities on his side as “mammals,” reserving that category for those whom he wishes to belittle, it will not escape the reader that if “great men” are only mammals, then so are scientists, including the esteemed Charles Darwin and the not-quite-so-esteemed Richard Dawkins, and so, of course, is Hitchens himself. Which raises the question: Why should we take seriously any speculation by a mere mammal, or even the consensus of mammal opinion, about the origin of its species, no matter how much evidence the mammals imagine themselves to have gathered?
… we might be inclined to agree. If we’re just mammals, then we shouldn’t pay attention to Hitchens or Dawkins or Darwin, right?
I call this Darwin’s Monkey Mind Puzzle. Darwin wrote near the end of his life:
But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind? [Letter to William Graham, 1881]
It is recently the argument presented by Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga against evolutionary theory - it’s self defeating. If evolution is true, then we have no warrant for thinking that evolution is true, ergo Augustine is right. Or something. I would like to discuss this a little, reprising some arguments Paul Griffiths and I have presented in a forthcoming paper. On my blog.
Sorry to be so late, but February 12 is Charles Darwin’s birthday, and February 12-14 is Evolution Weekend. From the Evolution Weekend home page:
Evolution Weekend is an opportunity for serious discussion and reflection on the relationship between religion and science. One important goal is to elevate the quality of the discussion on this critical topic - to move beyond sound bites. A second critical goal is to demonstrate that religious people from many faiths and locations understand that evolution is sound science and poses no problems for their faith. Finally, as with The Clergy Letters themselves, which have now been signed by more than 12,000 members of the clergy in the United States, Evolution Weekend makes it clear that those claiming that people must choose between religion and science are creating a false dichotomy.
If you live in a largish metropolitan area and know of any events that PT readers might want to attend, please announce them in the Comments.