• 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:
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.
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:
This week, Newsweek joins the rising tide of forums holding the “God Challenge”: pit a religious figure (generally of the Christian persuasion) against a hardcore atheist, and let them battle it out over the existence of God. This week’s contestants are mega-preacher Rick Warren, of California’s Saddleback Church, and Sam Harris, philosopher and author of The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation, with editor Jon Meacham acting as referee.
The conversation, for the most part, sticks to the general formula: Is there a God, what evidence do we have either way, should the Bible be interpreted literally, does prayer really “work.” No surprise, the points and counterpoints meet with the same language barrier that dominates nearly all of these attempts to “translate” religion into rational terms, and vice versa.
Harris, for his part, is no stranger to debates like these, and holds his own through questions about the existence of secular morality and the ability to be spiritual without believing a doctrine. He does, however, fall into the paternalistic “I know better than you” trap that can’t help but alienate the billions of humans who do believe in God. Telling people they’re stupider than you is simply never a winning strategy.
Internet slanders or no, Sarah Palin has reportedly spoken words demonstrating her dangerous lack of thought about evolution and education. Now it seems that Matt Damon’s dinosaur question may be more than just a puffed-up Internet rumor as well.
The L.A. Times has a source who claims to have spoken directly to Palin about dinosaurs in 1997, when she was mayor of Wasilla. Stephen Braun reports that the notoriously soundbite-ready VP nominee told Philip Munger, a music teacher at the University of Alaska in Anchorage, that “dinosaurs and humans walked the Earth at the same time” 6,000 years ago—an statement that’s so horribly incorrect on so many levels, yet still all too common in creationist lore. Munger said Palin insisted that “she had seen pictures of human footprints inside the tracks.” Were these pictures on display here by any chance?
Granted, Munger is no fan of the photogenic governor: He writes the actively anti-Palin blog ProgressiveAlaska, and has appeared on ultra-liberal Air America radio to speak out against her. Still, unless yet another blogger digs up evidence that he’s lying, there’s no proof that their exchange is a myth. And, of course, all this could be cleared up by a simple Q&A with Palin herself—if such a thing was possible.
Are you there God, and if so, will you please provide an emissary that can go head-to-head with Christopher Hitchens without getting spectacularly flayed?
That was the pertinent issue during yesterday’s “Big Questions conversation” at the Pierre Hotel, hosted by On Faith and the John Templeton Foundation. The luncheon pitted Hitchens, the anti-theist poster child, against Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete, a physicist, theologian, and author of God at the Ritz: Attraction to Infinity.
Given the pro-God squad’s spectacular failure the last time it staged a debate like this, the buzz among the predominantly male and heavily tweeded crowd was, “Will Albacete bring his A game against a man known for his periodic disembowling of religious delegates?”
The answer, unfortunately, was a resounding no. While the monsignor presented a charismatic and sympathetic figure—his Isaac Hayes-esque vocal resonance was worth the trip alone—his arguments, if one could call them that, didn’t make it past a freshmen theology class.
So, yeah, Sarah Palin was named as McCain’s VP choice last Friday, in the slim chance that you hadn’t heard. The pro-hunting, anti-choice, pro-drilling, experience-lacking Alaskan governor already has the media—and much of the country—talking in circles about whether her nomination is a boon for women, conservative voters, the GOP, etc.—or a disaster. But while her “talk tough” ways may sound progressive, and her willingness to penetrate the “good ‘ol boys network” may signal a positive direction for the GOP, her views on teaching creationism are anything but encouraging.
The daughter of a public school science teacher (sweet irony), Palin had this to say during the Alaskan governor’s race when asked about teaching creationism in public schools (via Tapped):
“Teach both. You know, don’t be afraid of information.
Healthy debate is so important and it’s so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both. Growing up with being so privileged and blessed to be given a lot of information on, on both sides of the subject—creationism and evolution.
It’s been a healthy foundation for me. But don’t be afraid of information and let kids debate both sides.”
When later asked to clarify her position, she backtracked into “I’m just promoting the free exchange of ideas” territory:
The New York Times has a report this week on the hoops teachers are jumping through to teach evolution in public schools. Specifically, it follows the efforts of David Campbell, a Florida biology teacher who does an astonishing job of compromising, tip-toeing, and cajoling, all to get his students to accept—and maybe even learn—the process of evolution.
Overall, the piece paints a bleak picture for teachers, made all the worse by the lack of a clear nationwide mandate for teaching the subject. Despite all the scientific evidence we have, some states are still stacking obstacles in the path of instructors who want to devote class time to human evolution. This summer, Louisiana passed a law protecting the right of local schools to teach “alternative” (i.e., non-scientific) theories for the origin of species, while the Florida Department of Education didn’t explicitly require its public schools to teach evolution—or, as the legislature calls it, “the organizing principle of life science”—until February of 2008.