Are You a Vatican, Or a Vatican’t? If you’re Pope Benedict XVI, the answer is clear. The 81-year-old Pope has shown no fear or hesitation when it comes to voicing his view on modern issues and embracing technology, culminating in the rather stunning announcement that His Holiness has now created his very own YouTube channel. According to the AP:
“The Vatican said it was launching the channel to broaden Benedict’s audience while also giving the Holy See better control over the papal image online.”
Nice to know his Holiness is as worried about his online reputation as the rest of us. The channel will be updated daily and include clips of papal news items, with content produced by the Vatican’s television station, CTV (not to be confused with the other CTV, which produces plenty of non-Pope-approved material). The clips will be broadcast in Italian, German, English, and Spanish.
To top off his technological embrace, Benedict also gave social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace his official blessing, calling them a “gift to humanity” in their ability to foster friendships and connections.
Of course, all this Internet love doesn’t come without a caveat:
Major sectors of Christianity and Islam have made it clear that they’re not going to be best friends with science anytime soon. But at least one of the major religions is extending an olive branch. New Scientist reports that:
More than 30 Tibetan monks, plus a handful of nuns, will be collaborating with a team from San Francisco’s Exploratorium (“the museum of art, science and human perception”) to build exotic machines to create patterns from sunlight using cardboard, dowels, reflective sheets of mylar and electronic components.
If all goes to plan, the monks will return to their monasteries and start spreading the joys of scientific exploration among other followers of their religion.
• Happy Friday! Half the world’s population could face a global-warming-induced food crisis by 2100, according to a new study.
• And then there’s the floods…
• Need proof that evolution’s more than just a “theory”? Look no further.
• “Dear Obama: Please bring me cap and trade legislation this year.” A wish list from environmentalists.
• The U.S. isn’t the only tech sector getting slammed by the downturn.
• And now for a lesson in brutal honesty: How much does racism really bother you?
Mashing scientific evidence into a pulpy soup of agenda-laden misinformation seems to be a common theme for the modern GOP. The latest (and arguably most egregious) example is outgoing EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, whose reign has been dominated by a poverty of factual information, with hard science routinely twisted to suit political designs.
In a scathing profile in the Philadelphia Enquirer (via ThinkProgress), writers John Shiffman and John Sullivan delve into the cult of mediocrity that dominated Johnson’s time at the agency. The piece is filled with forehead-slappers like the following:
Perhaps one of the best insights into Johnson’s vision for EPA can be found in written testimony he submitted to a Senate committee this year. In the document, Johnson laid out his top 11 goals.
No. 1 was clean energy, particularly approving drilling for “thousands of new oil and gas wells” on tribal and federal lands. No. 2 was homeland security.
Environmental enforcement and sound science ranked ninth and 10th.
And that’s not even the worst of it:
It’s always interesting when technology and religion/culture collide like Mac trucks. The BBC reports that Muxlim Pal, the first virtual world aimed at the Muslim community, is now live in Beta, and will officially launch in 2009.
The site, aimed at “Muslims in Western nations,” is based on the standard virtual world model popularized by The Sims and the eponymous Second Life. Each player gets an avatar that can be fitted with a number of inventory and wardrobe options including hijabs. Avatars can earn and spend currency, though the creators haven’t set up any of the money-making systems pervasive in Second Life. Each avatar multiple “meters” governing its “happiness, fitness, knowledge and spirituality that change when the character carries out tasks in the social world.”
Mohamed El-Fatatry, the founder of the parent site, Muxlim.com, stresses that the focus of the site is not religion itself—of the 26 different content categories on the site, only one is religion. Rather, the focus is on creating a space for Muslim culture in the virtual realm:
• The New York Times advises us to approach the Thanksgiving meal “the way a CEO might.” Uhh, not even sure where to start on that one.
• Some good news this holiday: Cancer diagnoses are on the decline.
• The newest in medical technology: A barcode chip that tests your blood for disease.
• The latest in climate change research: A shrimp on a treadmill. Seriously.
• You know it’s bad out there when gaming companies are seeing their stock take a hit.
• And to top it off, the financial crisis hits Google. It’s official: No one is immune.
• Sketchy study finds that more people believe in aliens and ghosts than God. Or perhaps they just think God is an alien?
• And here’s a fun idea in the obesity era: health waivers for Thanksgiving dinner guests. More casserole, anyone?
Karl Giberson, physics professor, author, and P.Z. Myers nemesis, thinks—perhaps rightfully—that there’s no reason you can’t have it all: knowledge and understanding of evolution, belief in God, and adherence to Christianity. Planting his feet in such a roiling middle ground puts him in a unique position that warrants discussion. Enter the Templeton Foundation, self-appointed adjudicator of the God-science debate. In Monday night’s event at the Harvard Club in New York, the organization brought Giberson together with resident agnostic Michael Shermer, an author and the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine.
In a rather tepid exchange (though after Hitchens, a fistfight would seem tame), the two men danced around what’s wrong with creationism, why religion may be more than a result of evolutionary psychology, and whether there’s a “reason” to believe in God.
Shermer got things rolling with a question about why evolution and Christianity—which, he said, is “about God’s relationship to Christ”—are so consistently combined in American culture. “The U.S. has always been very religious and very entrepreneurial,” Giberson responded. “And assaulting religion turned out to be successful entrepreneurially.” True enough, though a fundamentally weak point when you consider that promoting religion has been just as—if not more—profitable.
The British government recently appointed a new minister of science, and he’s quite a character. Aside from being a millionaire with a PhD in robotics who left his position in the Ministry of Defense (a body that has been known to house interesting sorts) to race sports cars, Lord Paul Drayson of Kensington is also, he says, a wee bit psychic. In a recent interview with the U.K. Times, he professed to have “an uncanny ability ‘like a sixth sense’ to know and predict some events instinctively.”
Drayson returned to the government last month, when he was given a cabinet seat and made the Minister of State for the newly-created Committee for Science and Innovation. While his background has long combined science and business—he was the co-founder of PowderJect Pharmaceuticals, one of the country’s biggest suppliers of vaccines and other drugs—it hasn’t been without scandal. In 2002, when Drayson was still running the company, it recalled its supply of a tuberculosis vaccine after it failed to meet “end of shelf life” specifications. The recall came amid whispers that the company had secured large vaccine contracts with the government because Drayson was a generous donor to the party in power.
In the interview this week, Drayson clarifies that he’s not claiming “extra-sensory” or paranormal powers; rather, his future-seeing talents are more the “hyper-instinctual” variety, circa Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, a book Drayson admires:
Humans have been historically eager to kill each other. Throughout history, we’ve thought up all sorts of nutty reasons to slaughter our fellow man that had nothing to do with immediate survival of the fittest. We tend to chalk all these wars up to cultural differences fed by a species-wide need to be ideologically right (and impose that right-ness on others), along with a knack for weapons discovery culminating in a technology boom that’s constantly supplying bigger and better ways to off each other. Add governments to the mix, and you’ve got a big steaming pile of questionably necessary interspecies violence.
So it’s a little—but not a lot—surprising that the growing scientific consensus is that war not only dates back to the origins of humankind, but has also played “an integral role” in or species’ evolution. According to this theory, which emerged during a recent conference at the University of Oregon, the war “instinct” was present in our common ancestor with chimps, and has been a “significant selection pressure on the human species,” as evolutionary psychologist Mark Van Vugt put it.
His and his colleagues’ reasoning goes something like this: Evidence exists to show that war and humans have been friends since the beginning (fossils of early humans show wounds consistent with combat injuries). As such, we would have evolved “psychological adaptations to a warlike lifestyle.” To this end, researchers have presented “the strongest evidence yet that males—whose larger and more muscular bodies make them better suited for fighting—have evolved a tendency towards aggression outside the group but cooperation within it.”
A few weeks ago, we recounted a debate between atheist posterchild Christopher Hitchens and Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete, a prominent physicist and theologian. In the wake of around 20 requests for visual proof of what went down, we also promised to post a video of the debate once it became available. Cut to today, when, via the Templeton Foundation, you can watch the event in its entirety here.
Additional Coverage of the Debate: