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Monday, July 20, 2009

We've Moved!

We've got a new Web address: scienceandreligiontoday.com

Friday, July 17, 2009

Bring Betty Broadband!

That's the name of a new campaign launched by an interfaith coalition of religious groups that wants to bring high-speed Internet access to poor and rural communities that still don't have it. They see broadband communication as a "fundamental right," and they're now collecting signatures for a letter that will go to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke.
The main message:

For too long, the process of reaching out and educating traditionally disenfranchised communities has been left to volunteer efforts and the philanthropic community alone. Increasing access doesn't just assist the people who are helped, we all benefit. Just as the value of a telephone increases when we can reach more people by using it, the value of the Internet for all of us increases when we are all connected. ...
As members of a wide range of faith communities in this country, we are prepared to do our part to help our friends and neighbors to get online and to get broadband access. We hope the federal government will also step up to the plate.

Field Notes

Why We No Longer Need Religion
Daniel Dennett: I am confident that those who believe in belief are wrong. That is, we no more need to preserve the myth of God in order to preserve a just and stable society than we needed to cling to the Gold Standard to keep our currency sound. It was a useful crutch, but we've outgrown it. (guardian.co.uk)

God of the Philosophers
H.E. Baber: Claims about the existence and nature of God are, rather, controversial to philosophers, including Christian philosophers. That is to say, we recognize them as propositions about which reasonable, informed people may disagree. (guardian.co.uk)

Will Aliens Look Like Humans?
Is there reason to think that actual aliens, from a star system a thousand light-years away, would be similar in appearance to the evolved apes that we now call Homo sapiens? Some scientists, such as Cambridge University paleontologist Simon Conway Morris, think there is. After all, there's a phenomenon in nature known as convergent evolution. It's the tendency of evolutionary processes to find similar solutions to any given environmental challenge. (Seth Shostak, Space.com)

What Does it Take to Sustain a Happy and Successful Relationship or Marriage?”
Gwyneth Paltrow: A long-term relationship between two people is an ever evolving organism. Some stay the course, some fall, all stumble. Here I’ve asked a few very wise women, most of whom are in varying forms of longtime partnerships, for their insights. (GOOP)

Eugenie Scott

“‘If man evolved from monkeys, then why are there still monkeys?’... That’s probably the second most common question I get on talk radio.” Watch your language! It's a common message from Eugenie Scott, a physical anthropologist and director of the National Center for Science Education. (Susan Milius, Science News)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Denis Alexander Says S&R Are "First Cousins"

"If the Darwin Festival told us anything about science and religion, it was the same old message underlined once again: that science and religion are first cousins that occasionally squabble, but far more as friends than as foes," Denis Alexander, director of The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, writes in a piece on the festival in today's Telegraph.

Opinions on Francis Collins Nomination

It's been a week since President Obama announced his intent to nominate Dr. Francis Collins as head of the National Institutes of Health. In that time, there's been lots of reaction to the pick.

Steven Waldman, co-founder and editor in chief of Beliefnet, thinks the nomination is a "culture war statement":

To me, Mr. Collins is not just a scientific leader, he's a Christian role model. He shows that being a believer doesn't mean checking your brain at the church door, that people of faith have just as much intellectual heft as seculars and, most important, how faith and science can happily co-exist.
Michael Gerson, a former speech writer for George W. Bush, also likes the choice of Collins, a theistic scientist who favors evolution (and embryonic stem cell research) and sees "modern science and Christianity are not competing answers to the same question; they are ways of thinking about two very different sets of questions, both of which should be taken seriously." According to Gerson:
Collins' appointment says something good about the maturity of modern evangelicalism, which is starting to abandon some of its least productive debates with modernity. Criticisms of evolution, rooted in 19th-century controversies, have done little more than set up religious young people for entirely unnecessary crises of faith as they encounter scientific knowledge. In the running conflict of modern biology and evangelicalism, Collins is a peacemaker.
Everyone seems to agree he'd make a good administrator (Collins led the public effort to sequence the human genome "ahead of schedule and under budget.") Yet there are those who have misgivings about the pick—not as a result of Collins' scientific qualifications per se or his personal religious beliefs but because of his very public faith commitments. As cognitive scientist Steven Pinker explains:
It’s not that I think that there should be a religious litmus test for public science administrators, or that being a devout Christian is a disqualification. But in Collins’s case, it is not a matter of private belief, but public advocacy. The director of NIH is not just a bureaucrat who tends the money pipeline between the treasury and molecular biologists (which is how many scientists see the position). He or she is also a public face of science, someone who commands one of the major bully pulpits for science in the country. The director testifies before Congress, sets priorities, selects speakers and panelists, and is in many regards a symbol for biomedical research in the U.S. and the world. In that regard, many of Collins’s advocacy statements are deeply disturbing.
Others, however, see a more positive spin on Collins' public defense of religion and discussion of faith. Chris Wilson of Slate suggests:
If Collins' faith mollifies even a few political conservatives who would otherwise continue to waste time and money fighting research efforts that violate their specific religious tenets, then the benefits of his faith should outweigh whatever qualms scientists might have.

Field Notes

Dispatch From the Sonia Sotomayor Hearings
Richard Just: We've heard a lot of debate about whether constitutional law can possibly survive close contact with the concept of empathy. But after spending the afternoon at the Sotomayor hearings, listening to senators left and right prattle about empathy and its relationship to justice, I have another question: Can the concept of empathy survive close contact with constitutional law? I ask because empathy has become the watchword of these hearings—and in the process it is getting battered, vilified, and badly distorted. (NPR)

What Questions Can Science Answer?
We can more or less agree on what “science” means, and still disagree on what questions it has the power to answer. So that’s an issue worth examining more carefully: what does science actually have the power to do? (Sean Carroll, Cosmic Variance, Discover)

Bishop Calls for Removal of Holy Water to Prevent Spread of Swine Flu
Holy water can pass on more than just a priest’s blessing—it can also transmit the swine flu virus, a British bishop says. That’s because churchgoers dip their fingers into one container of liquid, then touch their nose or eyes, thereby giving the virus a free ticket into their body. For this reason, the bishop is urging priests in Essex, UK, to remove holy water from their churches to prevent cases of the flu. (Allison Bond, Discoblog, Discover)

People More Likely to Return a Lost Wallet if There's a Baby Photo Inside
According to Richard Wiseman, a psychologist, the result reflects a compassionate instinct towards vulnerable infants that people have evolved to ensure the survival of future generations. “The baby kicked off a caring feeling in people, which is not surprising from an evolutionary perspective,” he said. Scientists argue that it would be difficult to genetically code for feeling empathy exclusively towards your own child and much easier to code for feeling empathy towards all children. (Hannah Devlin, The Times)

"Brüno" Banned in Ukraine
When Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan hit cinema screens in 2006, few were surprised that the real-world home of Borat, the idiot-innocent Kazak main character, decided to ban the film as a matter of pride. But now censors in Ukraine are giving his latest film, Brüno, the same no-show treatment, claiming morality—not hurt feelings—as the reason. (James Marson, TIME)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Can an iPhone App Make You Happier?

Check out Live Happy, a positive psychology iPhone application developed by Signal Patterns Labs (the same company that developed the Gratitude Stream iPhone app). The application is based on the research of Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychologist at the University of California, Riverside, and the author of The How of Happiness. Grab the free version of the app or the paid version, which allows you to send Lyubomirsky questions.
Live Happy prompts users to perform activities (right on the iPhone) that research has shown help to boost happiness. These include things like taking a photo (to savor a moment), texting a thank-you message to a friend, or performing a random act of kindness.
Could these kinds of one-offs actually make people happier? "As a whole," says Lyubomirsky, "performing these activities adds up to a new mindset and a more positive way of engaging and viewing one's daily life."