Thursday, September 27, 2007

New York Times and our Science & Religion lecture

Well...it worked out wonderfully. We had Eugenie Scott for our Science & Religion lecture today, and New York Times had a front page story about a new Intelligent Design Movie that misrepresents science and scientists and Eugenie is one of the misrepresented scientists:
A few months ago, the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins received an e-mail message from a producer at Rampant Films inviting him to be interviewed for a documentary called “Crossroads.”

The film, with Ben Stein, the actor, economist and freelance columnist, as its host, is described on Rampant’s Web site as an examination of the intersection of science and religion. Dr. Dawkins was an obvious choice. An eminent scientist who teaches at Oxford University in England, he is also an outspoken atheist who has repeatedly likened religious faith to a mental defect.

But now, Dr. Dawkins and other scientists who agreed to be interviewed say they are surprised — and in some cases, angered — to find themselves not in “Crossroads” but in a film with a new name and one that makes the case for intelligent design, an ideological cousin of creationism. The film, “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,” also has a different producer, Premise Media.

The film is described in its online trailer as “a startling revelation that freedom of thought and freedom of inquiry have been expelled from publicly-funded high schools, universities and research institutions.” According to its Web site, the film asserts that people in academia who see evidence of a supernatural intelligence in biological processes have unfairly lost their jobs, been denied tenure or suffered other penalties as part of a scientific conspiracy to keep God out of the nation’s laboratories and classrooms.

Dawkins wasn't the only one. Here is Eugenie Scott:
Eugenie C. Scott, a physical anthropologist who heads the National Center for Science Education, said she agreed to be filmed after receiving what she described as a deceptive invitation.

“I have certainly been taped by people and appeared in productions where people’s views are different than mine, and that’s fine,” Dr. Scott said, adding that she would have appeared in the film anyway. “I just expect people to be honest with me, and they weren’t.”

This was great publicity for our lecture and we did get a chance to talk about the film with Eugenie today. She is truly worried about its nasty anti-science sentiment portrayed in the film. She mentioned that National Center for Science Education (NCSE) will soon have a website countering some of the propaganda of the film. The problem is that any controversy is good publicity for the ID movement - perhaps after the Dover defeat, these media cheap tricks is the only strategy left for the movement.

In any case, the lecture by Eugenie Scott on "Creationism & Evolution: A Historical Perspective" was great! I will post the video as soon as it is available.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Debating Evolution - The Muslim Edition

Its great that Taner Edis has an article defending evolution on islamonline.net. The article is titled Intelligent Design: A Blind Alley. The other side is represented by Harun Yayha (representing a mish-mash of Creationism and Intelligent Design) and Mustafa Akyol (representing a more traditional Intelligent Design argument).

Edis starts with talking about the issue of science & religion in the Muslin world:
Recently, I was in the audience when Munawar Anees spoke about science and Islam at the Jefferson Center's Summer Institute. Anees, a Muslim scientist who has become a social critic and student of religion argued that conflicts between science and religious doctrine were alien to Islam. Afterward, I asked Anees if this was not a strange statement, considering that the Muslim world harbors perhaps the strongest and most successful varieties of creationism in the world. He answered that Harun Yahya, the famous pseudonym that Turkish creationists operate under, and similar figures represent aberrations that could be ignored when discussing the Islamic attitude toward science.

I wish Anees were right; that his idealized, liberal version of Islam was the more popular, even dominant, point of view. Yet the fact is that creationism of the Yahya variety appeals to a large number of Muslims. And even the serious intellectual culture of Muslims is not friendly toward evolution. Certainly, modern Darwinian evolution, which explains the common ancestry of organisms through purely natural mechanisms, seems largely rejected by devout Muslims.
I'm not too familiar with the work of Munawar Anees, but the answer depends on what evolution we are talking about and in what context. I don't think there would be much problem with micro-evolution and even with evolution of animals and plants. The acceptance problem comes up directly with human evolution and then, yes, most of the thinking just simply shuts down.
And unfortunately, my contribution to the public debate over creation and evolution has to be somewhat unsatisfactory. I am not a believer - I have no business telling religious people how they should understand the Qur'an or the Bible or how they ought to imagine their God acting in the world. I have to be content with pointing out that the scientific community overwhelmingly supports evolution, and that we hold this position based on careful evaluation of evidence and arguments, including the best arguments put forth by anti-evolutionary thinkers. I have to claim that we - scientists - have the appropriate expertise, and that we are the proper authorities to consult about the history of life on earth.
I think this is honest and very well written. One can stick to science and scientific findings without telling telling others what to believe or not to believe. Yes, human evolution will be a huge issue in the Islamic world, but Taner is using the right approach to tackle the problem.
Where natural science is concerned, the Muslim world really is a disaster area. Many Muslims are worried about this state of affairs, regardless of whether they are devout or secular in outlook - they correctly perceive that Western accomplishments in science and technology are a key to unwelcome Western military and economic domination of Muslim lands. If the Muslim world is to improve its scientific prospects, can Muslims afford to indulge in ideas like the popular creationism of Harun Yahya? Is it really a good idea to go down a scientific blind alley such as ID?

I am inclined to think not. At the least, I would like to see more liberal Muslim options, represented by scientists such as Munawar Anees, become more prominent. Otherwise, I fear the future of science among Muslims will be as dark as the present.

Well said. Read the full article here and also note the reaction right underneath the article.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Lecture on September 27th:"Creationism & Evolution" by Eugenie C. Scott


As part of Hampshire College Lecture Series on Science & Religion, we will have Dr. Eugenie C. Scott from the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) give a lecture on Creationism & Evolution: A Historical Perspective. If you live in/near western Massachusetts, please join us at the lecture. As usual, we will also be recording the lecture and I will post the video when its available.

Here is the full announcement:
Hampshire College Lecture Series on Science & Religion Presents

Creationism and Evolution: a Historical Perspective
by Eugenie C. Scott

Thursday, September 27, 2007 5:30p.m.,
Franklin Patterson Hall
Hampshire College

Abstract:
Since the early part of the last century, American society has been witness to a very public dispute between those who deny the evidence for biological evolution and the scientific community that has been responsible for working to unearth and interpret that evidence. The public image presented by those who reject evolution has taken many forms over the years, from a reliance on the Bible as an inerrant text, to the more recent formulation of "intelligent design," which attempts to present the creationist argument as one of scientifically equal weight to that of evolutionary biology. Dr. Scott will discuss the history of these controversies and offer her thoughts on the future tactics of the creationists.

Dr. Eugenie C. Scott is a physical anthropologist and Executive Director of National Center for Science Education (NCSE). She is the author of Evolution vs Creationism: An Introduction and is considered the leading critic of creationism and its offshoot intelligent design.

Upcoming lectures:
* Jennifer Hecht, Thursday, October 25, 2007
* George Saliba, Thursday, March 6, 2008
* George V. Coyne, S.J., Friday, March 28, 2008

About the Hampshire College Science & Religion Lecture Series:
This is the second year of a three-year lecture series that aims to bring together philosophers, theologians, historians and scientists to discuss topics in science & religion. The themes for the lecture series are as follows:

2006-2007: Nature, Belief & the Supernatural
2007-2008: A History of Conflict & Cooperation
2008-2009: A Matter of Origins & the Meaning of Life

For more information on the Lecture Series, please visit http://scienceandreligion.hampshire.edu/

Sponsors:
The Hampshire College Integrated Science & Humanities Initiative
Hampshire College Office of the President
Hampshire College Office of the Dean of Faculty
The Schools of Cognitive Science, Natural Science, and Humanities, Arts & Cultural Studies

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Controversy over the shape of the Earth - flat or round?

Now this is entertainment!! I had never seen The View before, but now I know what I was missing. Actually, Whoopi Goldberg comes out pretty good (and why not - after all she was on Star Trek). The co-host illuminating us about evolution is Sherri Shepherd. Quite appropriately, this is on her website:
Now just keep praying, that every morning I don't put my foot in my mouth - but if you know me, it's bound to happen :O)
Alas - This seems to be another prayer test that has failed completely.

And here is the article from New York Times that prompted the conversation on The View about the origins of morality: Is Do Unto Others Written in Our Genes?

Enjoy! And please please if you have never ever thought about the shape of the Earth - close your eyes, take a deep breath, and think about it now.

Monday, September 17, 2007

God being sued by a state senator from Nebraska

Well, this is not from the Onion, but its still pretty funny, creative, and kind of real - at least for Omaha:
State Senator Ernie Chambers is suing God. He says it to prove a point about frivolous lawsuits. Chambers says senators periodically have offered bills prohibiting the filing of certain types of suits. He says his main objection is the constitution requires that the doors to the courthouse be open to all. Chambers said, "Thus anybody can file a lawsuit against anybody - even God."
And it has a bit of everything - the issue of Omnipresence and Omniscience:
Chambers lawsuit, which was filed on Friday in Douglas County Court, seeks a permanent injunction ordering God to cease certain harmful activities and the making of terroristic threats.The lawsuit admits God goes by all sorts of alias, names, titles and designations and it also recognizes the fact that the defendant is “Omnipresent”.

In the lawsuit Chambers says he’s tried to contact God numerous times, “Plaintiff, despite reasonable efforts to effectuate personal service upon Defendant (“Come out, come out, wherever you are”) has been unable to do so.”

The suit also requests that the court given the “peculiar circumstances” of this case waive personal service. It says being Omniscient, the plaintiff assumes God will have actual knowledge of the action.
and of course the problem of evil:
The lawsuit accuses God “of making and continuing to make terroristic threats of grave harm to innumerable persons, including constituents of Plaintiff who Plaintiff has the duty to represent.”It says God has caused, “fearsome floods, egregious earthquakes, horrendous hurricanes, terrifying tornadoes, pestilential plagues, ferocious famines, devastating droughts, genocidal wars, birth defects, and the like.”

The suit also says God has caused, “calamitous catastrophes resulting in the wide-spread death, destruction and terrorization of millions upon millions of the Earth’s inhabitants including innocent babes, infants, children, the aged and infirm without mercy or distinction.
I'm assuming that its a typo in the last sentence - and its "innocent babies" and not "innocent babes" - but who knows. Read the full story here.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Ram's bridge controversy: Religious claim vs scientific evidence


Thanks to Don for bringing this to my attention. This is an interesting issue regarding science & religion. The dispute is about building a canal near a geological feature known as Ram's bridge (or Adam's bridge) that lies in between India and Sri Lanka.
The canal project proposes to link the Palk Strait with the Gulf of Mannar between India and Sri Lanka by dredging a canal through the shallow sea.

This is expected to provide a continuous navigable sea route around the Indian peninsula.

Once complete, the canal will reduce the travel time for ships by hundreds of miles and is expected to boost the economic and industrial development of the region.

However, there is sacred value attached to the same area:

Hindu devotees believe the area between India and Sri Lanka - now known as Adam's Bridge - was built millions of years ago by Lord Ram, supported by an army of monkeys.

Scientists and archaeologists say the Ram Setu (Lord Ram's bridge) - or Adam's Bridge as it is sometimes called - is a natural formation of sand and stones.

So the matter was in the courts and a report submitted by the government has sparked off protests:

In their report submitted to the court, the government and the Archaeological Survey of India questioned the belief, saying it was solely based on the Hindu mythological epic Ramayana.

They said there was no scientific evidence to prove that the events described in Ramayana ever took place or that the characters depicted in the epic were real.

Hindu activists say the bridge was built by Lord Ram's monkey army to travel to Sri Lanka and has religious significance.

Read the full story here. India's culture minister has now offered to resign due to this controversy and directors responsible for the report have been suspended.

So how should we address the issue? Was the government insensitive in saying that the religious explanation is solely based on a mythological epic? This is an issue where religious belief directly conflicts with scientific evidence and there may not be another way of dealing with it.

Perhaps we can think of Young Earth Creationists, who believe that the Earth is 6000 years old and that this belief is based on information from the Bible (by counting generations, etc). Should scientists be sensitive to this view when talking about, for example, plate tectonics? No, they shouldn't - there is absolutely no reason to consider the idea of a 6000 year old Earth for any scientific discussion.

A more complicated example is the dispute over the remains of the Kennewick Man - the skeletal remains of a person who died roughly 9000 years ago. These remains are of enormous value to scientists. Here the claim of some Native American tribes that the Kennewick Man was their direct ancestor and should be buried by traditional means was challenged by scientists who claimed that there is no direct lineage. The origin story of the Umatilla tribe says that people have been on their territory since the dawn of time and that the government claiming that Kennewick Man has no connection to the Tribe is basically a rejection of their beliefs. This gets more complicated because of complex ownership laws between the US government and Native American tribes.

Thus, these are areas where science & religion conflict is almost unavoidable. While sensitivity toward these issues is necessary, we should not shy away from stating scientific evidence. Yes, Dawkins would have a valid point here and in the case of Ram's bridge, Indian government was justified in saying that it is a natural geological formation.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Natural & Supernatural: A Lecture by Lawrence Principe

As part of Science & Religion lecture series at Hampshire College, Lawrence Principe gave a lecture on Natural & Supernatural: Miracles and the order of nature on April 12, 2007. Lawrence Principe is Professor of the History of Science, Medicine & Technology and Professor of Chemistry at Johns Hopkins University. He has also done two fantastic lecture courses for the Teaching Company titled Science & Religion and History of Science: Antiquity to 1700. [If you have a commute that takes more than 20 minutes, then you should definitely try a Teaching Company course on almost anything - as their quality is consistently very high. No, I'm not paid by the company - but I am an addict of their courses (p.s. Only buy courses on sale - otherwise they are too expensive)]

Here is the abstract for his talk and below you will find the full video of his lecture:

Natural & Supernatural: Miracles and the order of nature
In the popular press and daily conversation we often hear events casually described as miracles. This abusive use of the term, however, leads us to forget that the word has a precise and highly-restricted theological meaning that was developed over centuries of scholarly investigation, particularly in the Latin Middle Ages. This lecture illustrates how precise discussions of miracles opened up crucial questions about the way the world works and the way in which human beings are able to study and understand it using the method we now call science. Indeed, several current science/religion issues are illuminated or resolved by a careful consideration of the miracles.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Evolution and Religion: A lecture by David Sloan Wilson

We have been running a lecture series on Science & Religion at Hampshire College (I will post the details for this year's (2007-08) lectures very soon). David Sloan Wilson was our speaker on March 8, 2007. Here is the title and abstract for his talk and below you will find the full video of his very enjoyable lecture:

Evolution and Religion: Two sideshows and the main event
Evolution and Religion are perennially in the news, but not for the right reasons. On the one hand we have debates about creationism and intelligent design. On the other hand, we have attacks on religion by evolutionists such as Daniel Dennett in Breaking the Spell and Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion. Both of these are sideshows compared to the main event: The serious study of religion as a natural phenomenon from an evolutionary perspective. I will review the nascent field of evolutionary religious studies and what it means for the more general study of cultural evolution, evolutionary psychology, and the quality of everyday life.

Here is the video:


For additional reading:
Jared Diamond has an excellent review of David Sloan Wilson's book Darwin's Cathedral: Evolution, religion and the nature of society in the New York Review of Books titled, The Religious Success Story. For his most recent book Darwin for Everyone: How Darwin's theory can change the way we think about our lives, here is a review by Natalie Angier titled, Sociable Darwinism.

Monday, September 10, 2007

On the origins of morality - Frans de Waal

Here is part of an interview with primatologist, Frans de Waal, in The Believer dealing with the evolution of morality:

BLVR:
Much of your work recently has been aimed at correcting another misconception—that morality is exclusively a human invention, something that evolved long after we split from other apes. Do you think apes and bonobos are moral species? Do they exhibit moral behavior?

FDW: Well, I usually don’t call it moral behavior. I tend to call it building blocks or prerequisites for morality. I don’t think that chimpanzees are moral beings in the human sense. But they do have empathy, sympathy, reciprocity. They share food, resolve conflicts. All of these elements are present in human morality. So what I argue is that the basic psychology of the great apes is an essential element of human morality. Humans add things to that, making our morality far more complex. And that’s why I don’t want to call chimpanzees moral beings exactly.

BLVR: Why do you want to hesitate if you believe that chimpanzees have gratitude and empathy, indignation, maybe, what we call the moral emotions?

FDW: They have the moral emotions, yes. You can see gratitude, outrage, a sense of fairness—you can see parallels and equivalences in all the great apes. But to get to morality you need more than just the emotions. So yes, empathy is a good thing to have. And I cannot imagine how humans could have morality without empathy, but what morality adds to that, for example, is what Adam Smith termed the “impartial spectator.” You need to be able to look at a situation, and make a judgment about that situation even though it doesn’t affect you yourself. So I can see an interaction between two humans and say this one is wrong and this one is right. I’m not convinced that chimpanzees have this kind of distance in their judgments. They certainly have judgments about what they do and how they interact with others. And how others treat them. I’m sure they have opinions about that, about how to react to that, but whether they have opinions about more abstract interactions around them and a concept about what kind of society they want to live in. Do they have a concept about fairness between others, or do they only care about fairness for themselves? That kind of distance that you see in human moral reasoning. I’m not sure you’ll find that in a chimpanzee.

BLVR: Correct me if I’m wrong but I thought I read something in Chimpanzee Politics and some other work indicating that chimps do react with a kind of indignation when they see one chimp mistreating another chimp. A third party will react, punishing the offender.

FDW: Yes, true. Yes.

BLVR: Wouldn’t that count?

FDW: Yes—I think you can probably find examples of this in chimpanzee life. But in a way even the interactions around them affect themselves: these are their friends, their relatives, their rivals. They are never impartial spectators. If chimpanzees have a morality, it likely is a self-centered morality.

BLVR: Can you give some examples of empathy in other species?

FDW: Well, yes. Today, you saw that old [chimpanzee] female Penny who can barely get up on the climb bars, right?

BLVR: Yes.

FDW: We often see young females push her up onto the climber. So that’s altruistic helping because it’s really hard to imagine that they’re doing it to get some favor back from this old lady. I give many examples in my books of sophisticated empathetic behavior in chimpanzees, including those that clearly require “theory of mind”—the ability to take the perspective of other chimps.

BLVR: So you think when a young chimp is helping Penny up the climb bars, she feels her frustration in some way, and she does this by taking her perspective, imagining what it must be like not to be able to climb on her own?

FDW: Well, the young chimp must understand Penny’s goal and also the trouble she has trying to reach her goal. That’s a very complex action right there. In humans there is a literature that says that perspective-taking requires a strong sense of self. A “self-other” distinction. Which is why in children, perspective-taking comes only at two years, when they are able to recognize themselves in the mirror. So we did the mirror-recognition experiments with chimps and also recently with elephants. Because elephants are very well known as highly altruistic animals. And they have large brains. So the thinking was that more complex empathy, based on perspective-taking, must correlate with mirror recognition.

Read the full interview here.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Timothy Ferris: The Mix Tape of the Gods


A nice op-ed piece by Timothy Ferris in New York Times: The Mix Tape of the Gods
Thirty years ago today, the Voyager 1 space probe — a one-ton robotic craft whose long antennas make it look rather like a spider the size of a school bus — was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on a mission to reconnoiter Jupiter and Saturn. To succeed, Voyager would have to survive five years in the vacuum of space, where it would encounter cosmic rays, solar flares, the hurtling rocks and sand of the asteroid belt, and Jupiter’s intense radiation bands.

The probe did all that, transmitting back reams of scientific data and memorable color photos: of the sputtering red and yellow volcanoes of Jupiter’s moon Io; of the shimmering blue ice that shrouds Io’s fellow satellite Europa, beneath which a liquid ocean is suspected to dwell; of Saturn’s myriad rings and the murky mysteries of its orange satellite, Titan, whose hazy atmosphere is thought to approximate that of the early Earth.

Having accomplished its mission, Voyager 1 might have quietly retired. Instead it remains active to this day, faithfully calling home from nearly 10 billion miles away — so great a distance that its radio signals, traveling at the speed of light, take more than 14 hours to reach Earth. From Voyager’s perch, the Sun is just another star, south of Rigel in the constellation Orion, and the Sun’s planets have faded to invisibility.

Its twin, Voyager 2, explored all the outer planets (we can now say "all" after the sad demotion of Pluto - no no, I'm not upset about it at all :o) ) and is also reaching the edge of our solar system:
That limit is defined by a teardrop-shaped bubble called the heliosphere, where the solar wind (particles blown off the Sun’s outer atmosphere) comes to a halt.

If all continues to go well, Voyager should pierce the heliosphere’s outer skin by around 2015. It will then depart into the void of interstellar space, where it is destined to wander among the stars forever.

This is truly awesome:

Forty thousand years will elapse before Voyager 1, departing the realm of the Sun at a speed of 38,000 miles per hour, passes anywhere near another star. (It will drift within 1.7 light years of a dim bulb called AC+79 3888.) And 358,000 years will elapse before Voyager 2 approaches the bright star Sirius.

Out there, our concepts of velocity become provincial. The stars are moving, too, in gigantic orbits around the center of the Milky Way galaxy. Voyager, a toy boat on this dark sea, will not so much approach Sirius as watch it sail by, bobbing in its mighty wake.

Contemplation of Voyager’s billion-year future among the stars may make us feel small and the span of our history seem insignificant. Yet the very existence of the two spacecraft and the gold records they carry suggests that there is something in the human spirit able to confront vast sweeps of space and time that we can only dimly comprehend.

If some recoil from the brink of space, others find it liberating. Our perspective was aptly expressed by the 18th-century science writer Bernard de Fontenelle, in his fictional dialogue “A Plurality of Worlds.” “You have made the universe so large that I know not where I am, or what will become of me,” complains a lovely young marquise whom Fontenelle is tutoring. “I protest it is dreadful.”

“Dreadful, Madam?” Fontenelle replies. “For my part, I am very easy about it.

A Saint's robe and nuclear science

Who has the real robe of Saint Francis of Assisi? Well, here is a good example of how science can help resolve issues regrading religious objects.
Four Franciscan churches in central Italy claim that they each hold a habit of St Francis of Assisi, the friar who founded the Franciscan order in the early 1200s. Carbon dating has now substantiated one of those claims, and helped to shore up a story from the church's history many centuries later. In Italy, religious relics are venerated by millions of Catholics who believe that God works miracles through them, or who simply fear them. Every year more than three million visitors come to the major shrine of St Francis, a basilica in Assisi that hosts famous frescoes depicting the saint's life, and one of the habits said to have belonged to the saint. A second robe is held at the Sanctuary of La Verna near Arezzo in Tuscany; a third at the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Florence; and a fourth at the Basilica of Cortona near Arezzo.
And nuclear science to the rescue (really we don't get a chance to say this very often):
So the order asked Italian nuclear scientists to check up on the habits. "The request came directly from the Franciscan order," says Pier Andrea Mandò of the Italian National Institute of Nuclear Physics in Florence. He and his team took a few tiny samples from the robes and used a standard technique known as accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) to measure the amount of isotope carbon-14 in the cloth. The result, presented this week at the European Conference on Accelerators in Applied Research and Technology in Florence, shows that the robe kept in the Basilica of the Holy Cross is 100 years too young to have belonged to St Francis. But the one held in the Basilica of Cortona dates to between 1155 AD and 1225 AD, roughly contemporary with the saint.
Now this is a nice story. But then I got to this:
Investigations of relics are not unusual in Europe, although they can give rise to much controversy. "Many relics have been recognized as fake, such as the arm of St Anthony of Padua, which turned out to be a stag's penis on examination," says Antonio Lombatti, a researcher of medieval church history at the National History Institute in Parma, Italy.
Huh! Really? Now this is weird and I did not find much info about this claim even on Wikipedia. I guess we should get back to a much more standard controversy:
Particularly hostile debates between scientists and men of faith followed the 1988 radiocarbon dating of the Shroud of Turin — a linen cloth bearing the image of a man that many think is the imprint of Jesus. The research dated it at least from 1260 AD.
See Skeptical Shroud of Turin for more on the controversy.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Religious beliefs of American physicians

Here is a study that shows that psychiatrists are the least religious of American physicians. However, its not as dramatic as the news headline makes it appear.
Psychiatrists are more likely to be Jewish or have no religious affiliation than U.S. doctors overall and less likely to be Protestant or Roman Catholic Christians, said the study, published on Monday in the journal Psychiatric Services.
In terms of percentages, only 10% of all doctors and 17% of psychiatrists say that they are not affiliated with any religion. On the other hand, 31% of all college professors have no religious affiliation (this is a pdf file of the paper on beliefs of college professors by Gross & Simmons).

So what's the big deal about psychiatrists being the least religious amongst doctors? I'm really not sure. But here are some speculations by the lead investigator of the study:

Dr. Farr Curlin, a University of Chicago medical professor who led the study, said research by the American Psychiatric Association in 1975 saw similar patterns among psychiatrists.

"There still seems to be something about the field to lead doctors who are religious to be less likely to go into it," Curlin said in a telephone interview.

Anti-religious views expressed by some early figures in the field, including Sigmund Freud, may play a role in driving religious medical students from psychiatry, he said.

And does Dr. Curlin have a similar explanation for college professors? I think he is making a big deal out of this slight difference. Some of the reasons are probably true but then, so what? Furthermore, I'm not sure what to make of the over-representation of Jewish psychiatrists. A more troubling (perhaps?) result is this:

The survey asked the doctors to whom they would refer a patient with continued deep grieving two months after his wife's death. More religious doctors were less likely to send patients to psychiatrists and more inclined to send them to a member of the clergy or religious counselor, the survey found.

Overall, 56 percent of doctors said they would send him to a psychiatrist or psychologist, 25 percent to a member of the clergy and 7 percent to a health care chaplain.

Protestant doctors were half as likely as those with no religious affiliation to send a patient to a psychiatrist or psychologist, the survey found.

Hmm...let me quickly check the affiliation of my doctor.