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Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year

The National Post of Canada has named the scientific study of happiness as one of the year's most interesting ideas, which "helped define 2007 and will shape the way we live in 2008." The honor comes with a look at some of the most revolutionary findings of this new field. —Heather Wax

Florida Follow-Up

After much media attention and mockery—in the form of a deluge of emails from the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster—members of the Polk County School Board are changing their tune about Florida's proposed new science education standards. A month ago, a local newspaper story (picked up by national blogs) revealed that four of the seven board members wanted to see "intelligent design" included alongside evolution in the science curriculum, but a new story claims they've now reversed their position, insisting that they can separate their personal beliefs in ID from their votes. This fight may be over, but it seems the battle over Florida's science standards—which would finally include the term "evolution" and which state officials say will be more relevant and accurate—rages on. —Stephen Mapes

Spiritual Cinema

The Golden Compass, in theaters now, is the latest in a string of movies about spiritual life, what it means to be human, and the moral choices we all make—and these films are creating a new niche in Hollywood. —Heather Wax

Great Debate

Los Angeles Times religion editor Steve Padilla recounts a debate he moderated between best-selling author Sam Harris and Rabbi David Wolpe, a rising leader in Conservative Judaism, at American Jewish University. The atheist and the rabbi shared their perspectives on science-and-religion, the existence of God, and the role of faith in society.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Best Books 2007

New York Times critics Michiko Kakutani, Janet Maslin, and William Grimes have listed their favorite books of the past year, and among Maslin's choices are two books about Einstein, Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson and Uncertainty: Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr, and the Struggle for the Soul of Science by David Lindley.

Atheists & Airwaves

"Atheists Talk," a one-hour, live radio program from the group Minnesota Atheists, will debut on Air America Minnesota on January 13. (The organization currently airs a show with the same name on cable access television). Celebrity atheist Richard Dawkins will be the first guest.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Hail to the Chief

Bruce Alberts, a biochemist at the University of California, San Francisco, will be the new editor-in-chief of the journal Science. He will take the helm from Donald Kennedy in March.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Under Review

Antony Flew's new book, There Is a God—about "how the world's most notorious atheist changed his mind," according to the subtitle—was recently reviewed in The New York Times. Flew wrote the book with Roy Abraham Varghese, who's known for writing and editing books on science-and-religion. —Heather Wax

'Tis the S&R Season

Yet this year, says Alan Boyle, award-winning science editor of MSNBC.com, there is a disheartening lack of science-and-religion discussion (especially from the scientific perspective) in both the general news and the presidential debates. Boyle picks up a theme that physicist Lawrence Krauss highlighted earlier this month with essays in the The Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times. —Stephen Mapes

Friday, December 21, 2007

To a Degree?

A Texas advisory council of university educators has recommended that the state grant accreditation to the Institute for Creation Research, which offers an online master's degree program for science education that trains science teachers using a "biblical framework." The ICR, which specializes in "the study and promotion of scientific creationism, biblical creationism, and related fields," had been offering graduate courses in California since 1981, but the institute's recent move to Texas required it to reapply for accreditation. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board will likely consider the controversial application in January. —Dan Messier

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Spirituality on Campus

In the latest phase of their national, multi-year study, Spirituality in Higher Education, Alexander and Helen Astin, retired UCLA professors, found that after three years of college, students are more concerned with spiritual issues and more engaged in a "spiritual quest" than when they begin college. The researchers surveyed more than 14,000 college students on 136 campuses both when they were freshman and juniors, and found that as juniors, more students considered issues such as integrating spirituality into their lives and becoming a more loving person as "very important." Regular attendance at religious services, however, declined over the three years. —Stephen Mapes

The New Atheism

With his essay in the current issue of the The New Republic, Damon Linker looks at the history of atheism and takes on today's crop of high-profile, anti-religious writers, among them Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. —Heather Wax

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida has sent a letter to the State Board of Education praising the proposed new science standards for public schools and urging the board to make sure religious beliefs stay out of the science classroom.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Rating Religiosity

Beliefnet and Time magazine have teamed up to create the God-o-Meter (pronounced Gah-DOM-meter), "a scientific measure of God-talk in the elections." The continuously recalibrating God-o-Meter rates the candidates according to what they are saying about religion on the campaign trail and how effective those statements are.


John Haught, a senior fellow in science and religion at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University and author of Deeper Than Darwin and God After Darwin, recently spoke with Salon.com about his theology, the new atheists, and why there should be no conflict between science and religion, evolution and God. —Heather Wax

Monday, December 17, 2007

In Court

Medical science is going head-to-head with religion in a Winnipeg, Manitoba, courtroom. The family of Samuel Golubchuk is fighting to force a local hospital to keep the 84-year-old on life support, saying that the hospital's decision to disconnect his ventilator and remove his feeding tube violates the family's Orthodox Jewish religious beliefs. Doctors say that continuing to offer care to Golubchuk, who won't recover and is in pain, violates their ethical guidelines. The decision in this case could set legal precedent and affect many Canadian families facing end-of-life health-care decisions. —Heather Wax

Shining STARS

The origins of life, subjectivity in foundational physics, and top-down causation are among the proposed study topics of the winning STARS interdisciplinary research teams for 2007. (STARS stands for "Science and Transcendence Advanced Research Series.") The five teams, comprised of both scientists and humanities scholars, will each receive grants of 100,000 dollars to pursue research in their chosen fields. In 2008, two of the teams will receive another 200,000 dollars to explore their topics in further detail. STARS, a program of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences in Berkeley, California, is concerned with discovering how science, "in light of philosophical and theological reflection, points toward the nature, character and meaning of ultimate reality." —Stephen Mapes

Friday, December 14, 2007

Pastafarian Resigns

For months, the Flying Spaghetti Monster had tremendous control over the virtual world Second Life. That changed on December 11, when Cory Ondrejka, whose Second Life avatar is the FSM, resigned as the chief technology officer for the online world. The FSM, a pasta-based deity invented in 2005 by Oregon State University physics graduate Bobby Henderson, was created as a humorous challenge to the validity of "intelligent design." —Dan Messier

Read All About It

The very first science-and-religion library will be built at Cambridge University over the next three years thanks to The International Society for Science and Religion. The society will assemble a collection of 250 books for the new library—a collection that will then be replicated for about 150 higher education institutions in countries around the world. —Sara Kern

Thursday, December 13, 2007

S&R Lecture Series

The University of St. Andrews has announced the James Gregory public lectures on science and religion, a four-year, twelve-lecture series focusing on the many places where the two fields interact. The series was developed through the joint efforts of Eric Priest, a professor of theoretical solar physics, and Alan Torrance, a professor of systematic theology, and it's the first collaboration between the schools of divinity and mathematics & statistics. The series begins with "Can a scientist believe in the resurrection," a lecture by N.T. Wright, bishop of Durham and a New Testament scholar, on December 20. —Stephen Mapes

Donations Requested

Rabbi Reuven Bulka, the chairman of the board of the Trillium Gift of Life Network in Ontario, Canada, wants to promote organ donation as a religious imperative.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


Todd Drogy teaches English composition at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Science & Religion Today's Dan Messier recently spoke with him about his decision to shape his course syllabus around readings in religion and science.

SRT: Why did you decide to organize your course around science and religion?
TD: The debate on the proper place of religion in society is so intense, so fraught with opinion and bias and feeling, and, at the same time, so important. And the range of ideas about where and how and if religion should influence American society at large spans across and intersects so many pointed, worthwhile discussions. So, it seemed like the theme of religion and its place in present-day American society would be fertile ground for sustained textual inquiry. Also, I was attracted to this theme because I felt it was not heavy-handed; students could come from any background and have any number of convictions, and stand on equal ground in this wrestling match of ideas. And students could write with feeling, with conviction, with interest, while simultaneously being forced—by the very complexity of the subject—to question their assumptions and look deeper and more critically into the issue at hand.

SRT: What did you have your students read?
TD: The major readings of the course were Teaching a Stone to Talk by Annie Dillard, The Language of God by Francis Collins, The End of Faith by Sam Harris, and "A Fist in the Eye of God" by Barbara Kingsolver.

SRT: What's been the student reaction?
TD: The reaction has been varied. Many students were already well-positioned in one camp or another, either against the idea of organized religion or for it, either disturbed by the influence of religion in American society or wishing there was greater influence. But overall, there seemed to be interest and engagement with the fullness of the issue. I saw students leaving their ground, their place of safety, and venturing out to encounter complex, perhaps disturbing, ideas, even when those ideas challenged their preconceptions. And I saw students really willing to use writing as a tool of investigation and clarification of issues—religious, political, scientific issues—confronting American society. So I would say the reaction was encouraging. There was little boredom, and a lot of strong feelings, and interest. Which is a good place to begin writing from.

Want to help shape the future of this course?
Leave a comment or send Todd Drogy feedback, ideas, or answers to his questions:

TD: I used Francis Collins' book The Language of God to represent a compelling, well argued, thoughtful, and generous Christian point of view. Are there any other suggestions for texts I could use in the future that would fairly, meaningfully, present a serious perspective on the role of religion—its currency, its usefulness—in present day American culture?

Also, I'm interested in whether, from a Christian perspective, the idea of basing an English composition course around the idea of religion and its role in society seems meaningful, worthy, valid, and interesting?

Lastly, from a Christian perspective, what texts would you use, if you were designing a course such as mine, in order to represent a point of view in contrast to what is seen as the stereotypical Christian point of view on the proper role of religion in today's society?

Evolution Speeds Up

Human evolution is happening faster than we thought, according to a new study led by John Hawks, an anthropologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The recent genetic changes were driven by the huge population growth of the last several thousand years, the researchers say, which created greater opportunity for beneficial mutations and required people to spread to new environments where they had to adapt. Africans, for example, have new genes that provide resistance to malaria, while Europeans have a gene that helps them digest milk as adults. According to the study, there hasn't been much gene flow between Africa, Europe, and Asia, where genes are evolving quickly and local environmental and cultural factors are affecting them differently, and as a result, people worldwide are becoming less genetically similar to each other. The research team includes two of the University of Utah scientists who proposed in 2005 that natural selection may be responsible for enhanced intelligence, but also genetic diseases, among Jews of central or northern European origin. —Heather Wax

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Survey Says

According to new data published in this month's American Journal of Psychiatry, psychiatrists, who are less religious on average than other physicians, appear to be more interested than other doctors in the faith and spirituality of their patients and more comfortable discussing their patients' religious concerns.

More Follow-Up

Public opinion remains firmly divided over the Florida Department of Education's plan to add "evolution" as a "big idea" in the state's science curriculum. Some of the more than 3,000 citizens who have weighed in on the DOE's Web site have voiced concerns regarding the new policy, with complaints that include outright rejections of evolution and indignation over presenting only a single theory to students. Many citizens support the change, however, which they feel will bring respectability to an ailing public education system. The National Center for Science Education, which gave the state an F in last year's curriculum reviews, says the state's new policy makes it a candidate for an A rating this year. Public comments will continue to be accepted on the DOE's Web site until Friday, when the writing committee will begin to review the policy in light of public opinion. —Stephen Mapes

ISU Follow-Up

The Iowa State Daily, the newspaper of Iowa State University, has released the full emails surrounding the tenure case of astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez, who claims he was denied tenure because of his belief in "intelligent design." The complete emails tell a fuller, richer, and quite different story than do the excerpts released last week by the Discovery Institute, an ID think tank where Gonzalez is a fellow. —Heather Wax

Monday, December 10, 2007

Headed to Court

Nathaniel Abraham, a former postdoc researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and a Christian biologist, is suing the institute in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, claiming that the research center unfairly fired him because he believes in creationism rather than evolution. Abraham filed an earlier complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, which ruled against him. —Dan Messier

Father of Forgiveness

University of Wisconsin-Madison psychologist Robert Enright, author of Forgiveness Is a Choice, talks about pioneering the field of forgiveness research in Saturday's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Tenure Fight Continues at ISU

"Intelligent design" proponent Guillermo Gonzalez continues his tenure appeals at Iowa State University, where he currently serves as an assistant professor of physics and astronomy. This past spring, Gonzalez was denied tenure, a decision ISU President Gregory Geoffroy says was based on a review of scientific accomplishments but Gonzales claims was motivated by the school's discrimination and disapproval of his work on ID theory. According to the Discovery Institute (an ID think tank in Seattle where Gonzalez is a fellow), recently uncovered private emails between ISU faculty members indicate that they "secretly plotted" to oust Gonzalez from the school's faculty. The institute, which held a press conference on the emails in Des Moines at the beginning of the week, bases its case on isolated quotes and has yet to make the full texts of the emails available, leading some to question their validity as incriminating evidence. Gonzalez' position at ISU expires in May. —Stephen Mapes

New Additions

AC Grayling, a philosopher at Birkbeck College, University of London, and Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist at Case Western Reserve University, have joined New Scientist as regular columnists. Appearing on alternate weeks, Grayling's column, "Mindfields" will explore "the implications, assumptions, hidden difficulties, and philosophical twists behind the science that's in the news," while Krauss' column, "World lines," will share this thoughts on "everything from the latest big results in physics and cosmology, to those volatile areas where science, religion, and politics do battle." —Heather Wax

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Barbara Forrest Writes

Barbara Forrest, co-author with Paul Gross of the book Creationism's Trojan Horse and an expert witness in the Dover case of 2005, has posted a statement on the forced resignation of Christine Comer, the director of science curriculum for the Texas Education Agency. Comer was forced to resign after she forwarded an email message from the National Center for Science Education (a pro-evolution group) announcing that Forrest, a professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University, would be speaking in Austin about her expert testimony and the "wedge" strategy of the "intelligent design" movement. —Heather Wax

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Theologian Thomas Torrance Dies

Thomas Torrance, a Scottish theologian and Templeton Prize laureate, died on Sunday at the age of 94.

Let the Nominations Begin

Nominations opened today for the 2008 Purpose Prize, a Civic Ventures initiative that awards five 100,000 dollar prizes and ten 10,000 dollar prizes to Americans over 60 who are working to solve significant social problems by combining innovation, creativity, and their experience. Nominations close March 1.

Calling All High Schoolers

This winter, the Alliance for Science—whose mission is to "heighten public understanding and support for science and to preserve the distinctions between science and religion in the public sphere" and to "bring together scientists, teachers, and science-related companies with the many religious bodies that have found no conflict between religion and science"—is holding its second annual National High School Essay Contest. The contest encourages students to personally engage the scientific culture by writing on the effects of climate and agricultural developments on evolution. The deadline for submission is February 29. —Sara Kern

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

No Alternative

Three of the five members of the Rio Rancho Public Schools Board of Education in New Mexico voted yesterday to rescind a policy allowing "intelligent design" to be taught in public school science classrooms. —Heather Wax

On the Shelf

Amir Aczel, the critically acclaimed author of Fermat's Last Theorem, has written a new book, The Jesuit and the Skull, about science, faith, French cleric and scientist Teilhard de Chardin, and the search for Peking Man.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Stem Cell Follow-Up

Alan Leshner, CEO of AAAS and the executive publisher of the journal Science, and James Thomson, a professor of anatomy at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and the first scientist to isolate and culture human embryonic stem cells, put the latest stem cell breakthrough into scientific perspective in today's Washington Post. —Heather Wax

Fired Over Evolution?

Was the director of science curriculum for the Texas Education Agency forced to resign for criticizing "intelligent design"?

Warming Up to Environmental Change

As the global warming debate continues to heat up, "green sermons"—in which religious leaders call for environmental activism—are beginning to sweep the Southeast, thanks to movements like the Interfaith Power and Light campaign. These messages from the pulpit are raising awareness of key environmental issues, such as energy conservation and the reduction of carbon footprints, among a large demographic of American society. Advocates hope to see the trend spread to congregations throughout the country. —Stephen Mapes

Friday, November 30, 2007

Karl Giberson Makes Us Think

FROM THOMAS JAY OORD, A PROFESSOR OF THEOLOGY AND PHILOSOPHY AT NORTHWEST NAZARENE UNIVERSITY: Karl Giberson has a way of sneaking up on you. Last night, his lecture to 300-plus students, professors, and interested others at Northwest Nazarene University was a subtle yet convincing sneak attack.
Giberson, a physicist and Christian evangelical scholar, began by innocuously noting that as some scientists gain fame, they come to represent the face of science. Yet the statements that these famous "oracles of science" utter on life's big questions do not necessarily represent science in general or even the opinion of a majority of scientists. Most of the scientific oracles Giberson had in mind have names as famous as political leaders and televangelists: Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan, E.O. Wilson, Stephen Jay Gould, Stephen Weinberg, and Stephen Hawking.
Giberson offers a convincing case that science is not and has never been essentially at odds with theology. Some scientists hate religion, sure. But numerous scientists believe in God, even the kind of God that's taught in Sunday School. To the crowd of God-believers Giberson addressed last night, this criticism of atheistic scientists was music to the ears. Most had intuited something like Giberson was saying, but it was heart-warming to hear a world-renowned science-and-religion scholar explain well their intuitions.
But then Giberson turned the temple tables. While the oracles of science do bad theology, said Giberson, critics of evolution do bad science. Philip Johnson rightly rejects a scientism that has no room for God, but evolutionary theory need not be—and, in fact, is not—scientism. (Scientism is the religion of those who find their purpose, ethics, and explanation of reality in mindless materialism alone.) Johnson and his ilk are misguided.
Ken Ham suffered even more from Giberson's criticisms. Ham and other anti-evolutionists regard all social evils as the product of evolution. This inference is at best hilarious and at worst destroys the impulse to love God with one's mind.
Giberson called on his audience to reject the megaphones at the extremes of the science-and-religion "discussion." Instead of embracing the scientism of the oracles and instead of rejecting evolution like the young-earthers, Giberson called for a sophisticated scientifically and theologically informed approach to the ultimate questions of life.
Just when we thought that the explanation of life could be captured on a bumper sticker, Giberson sneaks up and obliterates our simplistic answers. Hallejuah!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Under Investigation

The Turkish publisher of Richard Dawkins' latest book, The God Delusion, will be questioned by an Istanbul prosecutor today as part of an investigation into whether the book "incites religious hatred" and attacks "sacred values." Voice your own opinion in a CNN Quickvote: Do you believe Richard Dawkins' book The God Delusion insults religious values?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Ken Ham, president and CEO of Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, recently spoke with a Cincinnati TV station about creation, evolution, and the reactions to his controversial, six-month-old museum.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Readers Respond

Readers wrote in to The New York Times in response to Paul Davies' science-and-religion op-ed.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Paul Davies Writes

Paul Davies, a physicist, cosmologist, and astrobiologist, as well as director of Beyond, a research center at Arizona State University, shared his views on science and religion on the op-ed pages of The New York Times this past weekend.

The Next Battleground?

Could there soon be a new battleground in the ongoing fight to add “intelligent design” to the public school science curriculum? Four of the seven board members of the Florida School District of Polk County want to revamp science standards, feeling that ID should be taught alongside evolution in the science classroom (feelings that challenge current law and are at odds with the scientific community). The board members voiced their opinions in response to proposed new state science standards that list "evolution" as one the "big ideas" Florida students must learn. It's expected the state Department of Education will approve the new standards in January, and it's too early to say how the school board's opposition might play out, but the hot spot of Polk County could very well be the site of the next ID flareup. —Stephen Mapes

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Francis Collins Speaks

Dr. Francis Collins, a research scientist best known for his work in genetics, made the case for faith this past weekend when he spoke about the compatibility of science and religion at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. —Sara Kern

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Stem Cell Breakthrough

In a promising breakthrough that bypasses the ethical debate over the creation and destruction of embryos and may reshape the field of stem cell research, scientists announced today that they turned human skin cells into stem cells that could hold the same promise as embryonic stem cells, namely the ability to become nearly any tissue in the body. —Heather Wax

ID Dismissed at Baylor

It's been a year since the return and subsequent quick dismissal of notorious "intelligent design" proponent William Dembski from Baylor University, but the controversy surrounding the event—and the subject of ID in general—continues to swirl around campus, thanks in large part to Robert Marks. Marks, a professor of computer and electrical engineering, was front and center in the Dembski saga and has continued his attempts to secure funding for research supporting the ID agenda through grant proposals, a podcast, and a Web site that has since been removed from Baylor's server. —Stephen Mapes

Monday, November 19, 2007


University of Texas senior Sarah Miller, who spent the past four summers in a theology program at the University of Oxford, where she studied the ways in which science and religion contribute to our understanding of the universe, has been selected as a Rhodes scholar for 2008.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Judgment Day Arrives

The NOVA documentary Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial can now be viewed in its entirety online. The documentary, which first aired November 13, tells the story of the Dover, Pennsylvania, school board's attempt to include intelligent design in the public high school curriculum and the high-stakes trial that followed. —Heather Wax

Thursday, November 15, 2007

On the Shelf

Can a passion for science lead to a passion for religion? Aileen O'Donoghue, a physics professor at St. Lawrence University, seems to think so. In her new book, The Sky Is Not a Ceiling, which hits the bookshelves today, she tells how her love of astronomy led to a stronger faith. O'Donoghue, a frequent contributor to National Public Radio, mixes both scientific and spiritual matters into a work that Catholic periodical America describes as "a healthy antidote to the popular atheism of Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins." —Stephen Mapes

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Learning Altruism

Is altruism a skill that develops through practice? Daniel Worthen and Andrew Flescher, two professors at California State University, Chico and authors of the new book The Altruistic Species, believe it is. The conclusion is based, in part, on the findings and observations of their students, who “shadowed” neighborhood altruists as part of a rigorous course that Worthen, a professor of psychology, and Flescher, a professor of religious studies, co-created in 2004 called “What Motivates Altruism.” —Sara Kern

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Ron Chrisley Speaks

Ron Chrisley, who holds a readership in philosophy and is director of the Centre for Research in Cognitive Science at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, will talk about "Naturalizing the Spiritual: Lessons from Cognitive Science" tonight at Yale Divinity School at 7:30 p.m. as part of the school’s Initiative in Religion, Science and Technology.

Ernie Fletcher Is Out

Kentucky's Republican governor, Ernie Fletcher, a strong advocate of teaching creationism and "intelligent design" in public schools, was convincingly defeated in the state's fall elections by Democratic challenger Steve Beshear. Fletcher had been extremely vocal in Kentucky's ongoing debate over teaching ID in public schools, speaking for it in both his State of the Commonwealth address and in election debates. Though it is unclear to what extent Fletcher's loss was influenced by his opinions on the subject, it is clear that the candidates took opposite positions on the topic. —Stephen Mapes.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Help From Above?

Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue will host a prayer service tomorrow to seek respite from the drought affecting Georgia and several neighboring states.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Vatican Studies Embryos

In an attempt to add its own voice to current bioethical debate, the Vatican is holding a conference on the origin and development of the human embryo from November 15 to 17 at Vatican City. The conference is being organized as part of Science, Theology and the Ontological Quest, a program designed to address the historical misunderstandings between science and religion. Organizers insist that the conference is intended to stimulate respect between the two sides and not necessarily a changing of beliefs. —Stephen Mapes

Thursday, November 8, 2007


The Philanthropy Project has launched. With 10 million dollars and an Emmy Award-winning physicist at its helm, the project is working with the American Film Institute to create a multimedia campaign that encourages citizens to become more charitable.

On the Newsstand

The Economist has a special report on religion and public life.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007


The Society for the Scientific Study of Religion again handed out awards at its annual meeting, held last weekend in Tampa, Florida. Nancy Davis, the Lester Martin Jones Professor of Sociology at DePauw University, and Robert Robinson, co-director of the Center for Survey Research at Indiana University, shared the Distinguished Research Award for their article, "The Egalitarian Face of Islamic Orthodoxy: Support for Islamic Law and Economic Justice in Seven Muslim-Majority Nations." Stephen Ellingson, an assistant professor of sociology at Hamilton College, won the Distinguished Book Award for The Megachurch and the Mainline.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

More S&R at UW-Madison

The University of Wisconsin-Madison is hosting two panels on science, religion, and the human mind. "Contemplation and Education—Landscape of Research" will be held November 12, with "Science, Religion & Contemplative Practice" taking place the following evening. The same panelists will appear at both events: the Rev. Thomas Keating, founder of the Centering Prayer Movement; John Dunne, associate professor and co-director of the Collaborative for Contemplative Studies at Emory University; and Richard Davidson, director of both the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience and Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior at the University of Wisconson-Madison.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Peter Bowler Speaks

Peter Bowler, a professor of the history of science at Queen's University in Belfast, Ireland, will discuss "Monkey Trials and Gorilla Sermons: Varieties of Christian Reactions to Darwinism" at Stetson University in Florida tonight at 7 p.m.

Francis Collins Honored

Dr. Francis Collins, a leading geneticist and director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, was honored today with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the nation's highest civilian honors. Collins' work with the Human Genome Project revolutionized genetic research and has made progress toward finding genetic contributors for many common diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, and mental illness. His book The Language of God made an impact in the field of science and religion by affirming the concept of "theistic evolution." Collins and seven other recipients received their awards from President Bush at a White House ceremony. —Stephen Mapes

Friday, November 2, 2007

New Additions

Mary Tucker and John Grim, coordinators of the international Forum on Religion and Ecology, have been granted five-year appointments at Yale University's School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. The environmental ethicists will work closely with the Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics, the Divinity School, the Institution for Social and Policy Studies, and the department of religious studies to develop a program of study relating religion and ecology. —Stephen Mapes

Thursday, November 1, 2007

On the Move

After two years at Duke University, Dr. Peter Agre, winner of the 2003 Nobel Prize in chemistry, is returning to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore to head the Malaria Research Institute at the Bloomberg School of Public Health. Last year, Agre discussed science and religion on The Colbert Report.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The E-Word

Florida has released revisions to its state standards for science education, making it a requirement to teach "evolution" in Florida public schools. Two years ago, the state received an F for its science curriculum. Supporters of the decision have been vocal—they believe the change will help provide children with a firm grounding in contemporary science—but the public has until December 14 to review and comment on the new standards. —Sara Kern

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Science of Gratitude

Robert Emmons, a psychologist at the University of California, Davis, and a leading researcher on the nature, causes, and consequences of gratitude spoke with The Dallas Morning News about his new book, Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier.

S&R Lecture Series

In September, the physics department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison unveiled its new freshman seminar, "Seeking Truth: Living with Doubt," a science-and-religion course three years in the making. Now, the department is sponsoring (in conjunction with the religious studies department of Edgewood College and two area libraries) a series of discussions on the intersection of reason and faith. The first talk, "Religious Fundamentalism in America," featuring Pulitzer Prize-winning author Chris Hedges and UW-Madison physics professor Marshall Onellion—who teaches "Seeking Truth"—will be held tonight from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Madison Public Library. —Stephen Mapes

Monday, October 29, 2007

Call for Proposals

The Foundational Questions Institute, or FXQi, directed by MIT physics professor Max Tegmark, is offering grants totaling approximately 2.5 million dollars for unconventional research on the foundations of physics and cosmology. The deadline for initial proposals is December 15.

Positivity and Health

A group of researchers, led by University of Pennsylvania psychology professor James Coyne, followed 1,093 patients with head and neck cancer for five years and found that patients with positive outlooks were no more or less likely to survive longer than patients who did not have positive outlooks. Their study will be published in the December 1 issue of Cancer.

Friday, October 26, 2007

For the Record

Homer Jacobson, a former chemistry professor at Brooklyn College, has retracted statements from his 1955 American Scientist paper "Information, Reproduction and the Origin of Life" after learning that they are being cited by creationists. The New York Times spoke with Jacobson about the decision.


The journal In Character has announced the 2007 winner of its second annual prize for editorial and opinion writing about human virtues.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Call for Proposals

The University of Chicago is offering grants for projects to study wisdom. Proposals are due by November 19.

In Press

FROM MIKE McCULLOUGH, A PROFESSOR OF PSYCHOLOGY AND RELIGIOUS STUDIES AT THE UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI: My upcoming book, Beyond Revenge: The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct, is finally done. In this book, I use research from biology and the social sciences to argue that humans' capacity to forgive is every bit as natural as is our tendency to seek vengeance. I also argue that an evolutionary approach to understanding both of these basic human traits can reveal new ways we can go about trying to make the world a more forgiving, less vengeful place. The book will be in stores next April.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Dinesh D'Souza's Opinion

Dinesh D’Souza, author of the new book What’s So Great About Christianity and one of the country’s most prolific conservative writers, published an aggressive opinion piece this week in USA Today. According to D’Souza, modern critics of religion miss “the larger story of how Christianity has shaped the core institutions and values of the USA and the West,” including science, which he says “is based on an assumption that is, at root, faith-based and theological.” —Sara Kern

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Norman Mailer's God

Norman Mailer’s latest book, On God, hits the bookshelves today. The legendary American author offers a unique system of belief in which God is an artist. “And like an artist," writes Mailer, "God has successes, God has failures.” In the book, a conversation with Michael Lennon, an emeritus professor at Wilkes University, Mailer presents his theology and vision of the universe, addresses a modified version of "intelligent design," and explains why technology is the work of the devil. New York Magazine has an excerpt. —Stephen Mapes

Monday, October 22, 2007

Bill McKibben Makes Us Happy

FROM KARL GIBERSON: Yesterday I had the privilege of hearing Bill McKibben for the first time, at Derby Academy in my hometown of Hingham, Massachusetts. He made a familiar point, but there was something about his pastoral sincerity and understated physical presence that drove the point home. Studies show, he said, that Americans’ self-reported “happiness” peaked in 1956 and has declined steadily since, despite our rapidly rising standard of living. This rising standard of living—bigger cars, bigger homes, bigger vacations—has squandered much of the world’s energy, created a dangerous political environment, and initiated global warming. But we are less content, having created a culture of affluence in which playing with expensive toys has replaced meaningful human interaction.
McKibben’s simple but compelling point: If we change our lifestyle to conserve energy, we will end up doing things that make us happier—shopping in local farmer’s markets, commuting on public transit with other people, carpooling, walking more. In short, we need to be more European, like we used to be. Not surprisingly, Europeans report a much higher level of personal happiness than we do—despite driving toy cars, taking the train everywhere, and living in tiny flats.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Obama Warms Up

Presidential hopeful Barack Obama has asked religious leaders to be "good stewards of God's earth" by focusing on environmental issues. "It is our responsibility to ensure that this planet remains clean and safe and livable for our children and for all of God's children," Obama said last weekend during a forum on religion and climate change. Obama is not the first candidate to link conservation and faith; Republican candidate Mike Huckabee has also publicly encouraged Christian stewardship of the environment. —Stephen Mapes

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Love, chemically

Ruth Feldman, a professor of clinical and child psychology at Bar Ilan University in Israel, has conducted the first study linking the hormone oxytocin to the special, strong bond between mother and child.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

New Addition

Leonard Susskind has joined the faculty of Canada's Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics as an associate member. Susskind is a founder of "string theory," which holds that the universe is composed of tiny, vibrating strings. It also proposes that there are a number of extra, hidden spacetime dimensions, which means there may be multiple alternate universes. Susskind, a professor of theoretical physics at Stanford University, will conduct research at the institute. —Sara Kern

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Will it Win?

God is Not Great," the best-selling book from well-known journalist and atheist Christopher Hitchens, is a 2007 National Book Award finalist. The book, which condemns religion as “violent,” “irrational,” and “intolerant,” received mixed critical response, but quickly shot to the top of The New York Times Best Sellers list, continuing a string of high-profile anti-religious books that includes Daniel Dennett’s “Breaking the Spell” and Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” (a best-seller for 51 consecutive weeks). “God is Not Great” competes against four other works for the nonfiction award. The winner will be announced November 14. —Stephen Mapes

Monday, October 15, 2007

Power Players

Beliefnet.com has chosen “The 12 Most Powerful Christians in Hollywood.” Mel Gibson is at the top of the list.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Virtues and Values

A survey of 1,600 Canadians found that those who believe in God think virtues like patience, kindness, generosity, honesty, and courtesy are more "important" than atheists do. Reginald Bibby, the University of Lethbridge sociologist who conducted the study, says it's possible societies may "pay a significant social price" if they continue their trend toward secularism (his results don't necessarily mean believers "always translate their values into action," he says). Bibby's findings are detailed on his site and in the October 11 issue of Canada's National Post. —Dan Messier

On the Shelf

FROM RICHARD LERNER, BERGSTROM CHAIR OF APPLIED DEVELOPMENTAL SCIENCE AT TUFTS UNIVERSITY: My new book, The Good Teen, hit the bookshelves on October 9. It supports a new conception of adolescence, based on strengths rather than weaknesses.
A number of things lead to positive youth development: a positive purpose, sustained relationships with caring and competent adults (parents, teachers, mentors, coaches, or faith leaders), and the opportunity to develop life skills and to participate in valued community activities.
Positive development is defined by the five Cs: "competence," "confidence," positive social "connection," "caring," and "character." My research also shows that young people "contribute"–another C—to their own healthy development and to positive changes in their social worlds: They are generous toward themselves (keeping themselves fit and healthy, and less likely to smoke or to be involved in other risky behaviors, such as drinking, drug use, or bullying) and they are generous toward their family and community.
Young people who display these characteristics are more likely to have solid identities and to take actions that reflect the importance of civic engagement and civic contribution.
The Good Teen explains that if parents and other adults follow the ideas I present about how to promote positive development in teens, two things can happen: They can enhance the likelihood that adolescents will thrive and they can reduce the probability that young people will show the risk and problem behaviors that many have long thought are inevitable during this period of life.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Evolution of Language

Researchers from Harvard University have discovered that English verbs undergo natural selection—and their findings have made the cover of this week's Nature. The team, which includes scientists from the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics, led by biologist and mathematician Martin Nowak, created an algorithm to compute when irregular English verbs will succumb to the standard rule of the past tense—in other words, when they will be "regularized" to end in "ed."
Their algorithm led them to a simple mathematical formula: A verb used 100 times less frequently will evolve 10 times as fast. The past tense of uncommon irregular verbs like "shrive" and "wed" should end in "-ed" within the next 500 years, they predict. The irregular past tense of common verbs like "be," "have," and "do" should effectively last forever. The team hopes this will be the first in a long line of discoveries linking science and language.—Stephen Mapes

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Last week, the Religion Newswriters Association announced its 2007 contest winners, selected for excellence in religion reporting in the mainstream media. Winners are chosen in several different categories, including Religion Reporter of the Year, Religion Writer of the Year, Best Religious Series or Story of the Year, and Best Religion Section. Awards are also given to the best reporters within mid-size or small newspapers, as well as to the best student religion reporter. This year, the judges, which include current and former journalists and scholars, chose their winners from more than 320 entries in 11 different categories, and the prizes totaled almost 15,000 dollars.—Sara Kern

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Character Development

Congratulations to the 2007 Purpose Prize winners. Chosen from more than 1,100 nominations from 48 states, these five social entrepreneurs, all over the age of 60, have used their life experience to improve their communities and to innovate. It's time to redefine how we think of retirement, believes Civic Ventures President Marc Freedman, who helped initiate the prizes. "It's the intersection of the longevity revolution and the demographic revolution and either one of those alone would be a significant social development," he says, "but the combination brings things to a magnitude that we're only beginning to grasp." —Heather Wax