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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