Category: Science & Religion

This Week's God-Science Face-Off: Rick Warren v. Sam Harris

By Melissa Lafsky | October 1, 2008 3:47 pm

religionThis 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.

Meanwhile, Warren makes a few interesting points about personal responsibility and divine justice. But he sets himself up as easy prey with exchanges like the following:

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Evolution, Science & Religion
MORE ABOUT: atheism, god

Rumors Aside, Sarah Palin Is Still Butchering Science

By Melissa Lafsky | September 29, 2008 5:07 pm

dinosaurInternet 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.

Image: Flickr/williac

MORE ABOUT: dinosaurs, mccain, palin

God 0, Atheism 2: Hitchens Eats Another Religious Figure for Lunch

By Melissa Lafsky | September 23, 2008 1:42 pm

religionAre 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.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Evolution, Science & Religion

Want to Worship the "God" of Science? Here's Your Temple

By Melissa Lafsky | September 10, 2008 5:05 pm

The line between extreme Christianity and extreme atheism has been narrowing, while the debate rages over whether or not one can be—or should be— turned into another. But should those who bow before the altar of science have a physical space to practice their beliefs?

Enter conceptual artist Jonathon Keats (relationship to the other John Keats unknown) who has created the “Atheon,” a new installation at the Judah L. Magnes Museum in Berkeley. The project involves posting NASA images of the universe’s early years in the 14-foot-high cathedral-style windows on the second floor, so passersby can view them while listening to an accompanying song on their cell phones. According to the museum’s Web site, Keats’s work is meant to “call[] forth the fusion of science and religion by building a temple for scientific worship.” We can’t wait to see what Karl and P.Z. have to say about this one.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science & Religion
MORE ABOUT: god, science

Why Fight Curable STDs? Because They Increase the Risk of Incurable STDs

By Melissa Lafsky | September 8, 2008 4:43 pm

condomsThings are looking up for STDs these days. On the side of the newly-revitalized Christian right, you have abstinence doctrines strangling sex education and disease prevention efforts in schools (and celebrating the teen pregnancies that result). On the left, you have the “demystification” of non-lethal diseases like chlamydia, gonorrhea and HPV, sending the message that unprotected sex (and the infections that result) are “really no big deal.” Mix them together, and you’ve got a spike in U.S. infection rates, after years on the decline.

Granted, given that diseases like chlamydia and gonorrhea can be cured with antibiotics, and non-curables like herpes controlled with medication, it’s worth asking: Why are non-lethal STDs so dangerous?

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health Care, Science & Religion

Palin: Pro-Intelligent Design, or Just Anti-Thought?

By Melissa Lafsky | September 2, 2008 10:12 am

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:

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The Trials of Teaching Evolution in 2008

By Melissa Lafsky | August 27, 2008 11:51 am

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.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Evolution, Science & Religion
MORE ABOUT: education

Annual Creationism Conference Takes "Scientific" Approach

By Melissa Lafsky | August 18, 2008 12:15 pm

worlEarlier this month, the Sixth International Conference on Creationism took place in Pittsburgh. Sponsored by the Creation Science Fellowship and the Institute for Creation Research, the week-long event billed itself as a “highly technical, peer reviewed symposium, with planned rebuttals and discussions.” Papers submitted for the conference were put through a “technical review process” that included the following criteria:

Is the Summary’s topic important to the development of the creation model?

Does the Summary’s topic provide an original contribution to the creation

Is this Summary formulated within a young-earth, young-universe framework?

Does this Summary provide evidence of faithfulness to the grammaticohistorical/normative interpretation of Scripture?

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Evolution, Science & Religion
MORE ABOUT: creationism

Are Scientists the Next Religious Zealots?

By Melissa Lafsky | August 4, 2008 1:04 pm

Is science in danger of becoming its own religion? That’s what Karl Giberson is worried about. In a recent essay in Salon, he questions whether hardcore atheists such as P.Z. Myers, a biologist at the University of Minnesota at Morris and author of the popular pro-atheism (or rather, anti-religion) blog Pharyngula, are replacing religious fundamentalism with a new kind of absolutism: The belief that science (as opposed to God) holds the answer to every question in the universe, and religion is nothing more than a scam. Questioning Myers’ ongoing statements such as “we find truth only in science,” Giberson writes:

As a fellow scientist (I have a Ph.D. in physics), I share Myers’ enthusiasm for fresh eyes, questioning minds and the power of science. And I worry about dogmatism and the kind of zealotry that motivates the faithful to blow themselves up, shoot abortion doctors and persecute homosexuals. But I also worry about narrow exclusiveness that champions the scientific way of knowing to the exclusion of all else. I don’t like to see science turned into a club to bash religious believers.

Granted, there’s a back story to his argument: Giberson, the founding editor of the erstwhile Science & Theology News and the author of Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution, became the object of Myers’ criticism after a previous Salon Q&A regarding Giberson’s new book. In a somewhat self-righteous move, Giberson responded with the current essay suggesting that Myers had wrongfully targeted him, and that his dismissals of the theologian’s arguments were themselves a form of dogma.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Evolution, Science & Religion
MORE ABOUT: dogma, modernism, religion

Weekly Science & Politics News Roundup

By Melissa Lafsky | July 18, 2008 1:52 pm

• Offshore drilling: The floodgates have been opened, and many are rushing to discredit it before it starts. But will their voices be enough to squelch the demands of angry election-year constituents?

• With all signs pointing to a tanking economy, it’s nice to know that one area can still rake in the dough: The video game industry.

• Will Wikipedia shut the doors on its self-governing open edit system?

• How do scientists love thee, Wall-E? Let us count the ways. Over at Slate, associate editor Daniel Engber scolds the film for its inaccuracies about obesity, while neuroscientist and Frontal Cortex blogger Jonah Lehrer discusses Pixar’s apparent hat-tip to Darwin.

• Still, Pixar may have a point: U.S. obesity levels continue to rise.

• Whither the salmonella-laden tomatoes? The FDA shifts its eye towards peppers.

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