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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.