Now why would any rational individual wish to propagate the whole idea of “the sacred” to begin with? For something to be sacred, according to the Merriam-Webster, means to be “dedicated or set apart for the service or worship of a deity,” or alternatively to be “worthy of religious veneration.” This is not what Kauffman means by the term, but the whole idea of “sacredness” seems to me to be the sort of baggage that humanity ought to do without by now.I think this is a better approach to the book and the review gets to the heart of the problem. Read the full review here.
At any rate, Kauffman wants to “use the God word, for my hope is to honorably steal its aura to authorize the sacredness of the creativity in nature.” Wow. First off, the concept of “honorably stealing” is something that is rather questionable, especially when what one is attempting to steal is nothing less than god’s aura. Second, nature is not creative, it just is. Creativity is something that conscious beings do, and to use the term in association with nature is misleading to say the least, and invites of course precisely the sort of quasi-mystical thinking that science is supposed to discourage. Third, there is nothing sacred about nature, either. Again, nature is what it is, and while Kauffman is tapping into the sense of awe shared by so many scientists when we approach the natural world, there is nothing to be worshipped, as worshipping is antithetical to understanding and appreciating, which is what science is about.
Monday, June 30, 2008
He builds his case step by step, first developing powerful arguments against reductionism. Not only is the world in some sense inexplicable at its lowest level (does anyone really understand quantum mechanics in the sense in which we can say that we understand Newtonian mechanics?), it is also necessarily historically unique in its development at higher levels. There is "ceaseless novelty" in what Kauffman calls the "adjacent present" that cannot be anticipated, just as it would be impossible to anticipate all the future uses to which a new invention might be put. So biology cannot conceivably be reduced to physics. Laplace's calculating demon would not be able to foresee all the future because he would not even be able to specify all the relevant variables.
It is from this phenomenon of "ceaseless creativity" in nature that Kauffman develops his case for reinventing the sacred. His argument is partly based on underlining the awe and humility we must feel at contemplating nature and partly a neat sidestepping of the "ought-is" argument in ethics. For him, ethics have emerged from evolution. They are part of the facts of the world we live in.
Okay...but part of the message of his book is to reclaim "God":
Another part of reinventing the sacred comes from the author's conviction that we need to find a new way of expressing human spirituality: "Seeking a new vision of the real world and our place in it has been a central aim of this book--to find common ground between science and religion so that we might collectively reinvent the sacred."
But why should we call any of this "God"? Kauffman's God is not even given the power that the Deists recognize. It is not a prime mover. He feels that "we must use the God word, for my hope is to honorably steal its aura to authorize the sacredness of the creativity in nature." I am sympathetic to this view and, as Kauffman himself notes, there are religions (notably Buddhism) that do not postulate a Creator God and for whom nature is sacred to a high degree.
I don't know who will be convinced by using "God" in this manner. As the reviewer aptly picks up on this point:
So, could his concept of God as nature's ceaseless creativity be convincing? As he expects, believers in a Creator God will strongly disagree with him, whereas humanists are not likely to adopt aword they have expunged from their language.I'm not sure what is point of going through all of this to reclaim the notion of God. Read the full Science review here.
Here is another review by Michael Shermer in Scientific American, and it roughly has the same tone:
In Kauffman’s emergent universe, reductionism is not wrong so much as incomplete. It has done much of the heavy lifting in the history of science, but reductionism cannot explain a host of as yet unsolved mysteries, such as the origin of life, the biosphere, consciousness, evolution, ethics and economics. How would a reductionist explain the biosphere, for example? “One approach would be, following Newton, to write down the equations for the evolution of the biosphere and solve them. This cannot be done,” Kauffman avers. “We cannot say ahead of time what novel functionalities will arise in the biosphere. Thus we do not know what variables—lungs, wings, etc.—to put into our equations. The Newtonian scientific framework where we can prestate the variables, the laws among the variables, and the initial and boundary conditions, and then compute the forward behavior of the system, cannot help us predict future states of the biosphere.”
This problem is not merely an epistemological matter of computing power, Kauffman cautions; it is an ontological problem of different causes at different levels. Something wholly new emerges at these higher levels of complexity.
and it also ends with a note of skepticism for the success of such a notion of God:
He is one of the most spiritual scientists I know, a man of inestimable warmth and ecumenical tolerance, and his God 2.0 is a deity worthy of worship. But I am skeptical that it will displace God 1.0, Yahweh, whose Bronze Age program has been running for 6,000 years on the software of our brains and culture.Read the full Scientific American review here.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
That Odysseus took his time, 19 years, getting home to Ithaca from the Trojan War is the story Homer engraved in the “Odyssey.” But exactly when did he rejoin his Penelope, who had been patient beyond belief?
Plutarch thought a crucial passage in the 20th book of the “Odyssey” to be a poetic description of a total solar eclipse at the time of Odysseus’ return. A century ago, astronomers calculated that such an eclipse occurred over the Greek islands on April 16, 1178 B.C., the only one in the region around the estimated date of the sack of Troy. But nearly all classics scholars are highly skeptical of any connection.
An analysis of astronomical references in the epic has led two scientists to conclude that the homecoming of Odysseus, usually considered a fictional character set in the context of a real historical event, possibly coincided with the 1178 solar eclipse. If, that is, Homer indeed had in mind an eclipse when he wrote of a seer prophesying the death of Penelope’s waiting suitors and their entrance into Hades.
The new interpretation of the eclipse hypothesis is reported in this week’s issue of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Constantino Baikouzis and Marcelo O. Magnasco, scientists at the Laboratory of Mathematical Physics at Rockefeller University in New York and at the Astronomical Observatory of La Plata, in Argentina.
And here is the slightly problematic bit:
Although an eclipse is not mentioned anywhere in the story, there are omens and what Plutarch inferred was a poetic description of a total solar eclipse. Odysseus has arrived home, disguised in beggar’s rags and in hiding before revealing himself. It happens that, when Penelope’s persistent suitors sit down for a noontime meal, they start laughing uncontrollably and see their food spattered with blood.
At this strange moment, the seer Theoclymenus foretells their death, ending with the sentence, “The Sun has been obliterated from the sky, and an unlucky darkness invades the world.”
There are reasons to think that the darkness of a total eclipse had just fallen on Ithaca. It was close to noon when the 1178 eclipse occurred over the Ionian Sea. It was, as mentioned several times in the story, at the time of a new moon, which the scientists point out is “a necessary condition for a solar eclipse.” And what better atmospherics to accompany a prophecy of doom than a total eclipse, which was considered an ill omen?
Experts on Homer have previously discounted such conjecture. For one thing, the earliest verified eclipse records are in the eighth century B.C., about the time Homer was writing but long after the action in what is known as the Trojan War, around the early 12th century B.C. Scholars say there is no evidence supporting a view at the time, widely quoted, that “a solar eclipse may mark the return of Odysseus.”
Hmm...okay. Thats a lot of cold water. But how did they figure out the specific eclipse in the first place?
The two scientists derived a possible chronology from astronomical references in the story, including the stars by which Odysseus navigated, the sighting of Venus just before dawn as he arrives at Ithaca, and the new moon on the night before the massacre of the suitors and the presumed eclipse.
On the basis of their analysis, the scientists said, these three “references ‘cohere,’ in the sense that the astronomical phenomena pinpoint the date of 16 April 1178 B.C.,” adding, “The odds that purely fictional references to these phenomena (so hard to satisfy simultaneously) would coincide by accident with the only eclipse of the century are minute.”
Well? Solar eclipses are indeed quite spectacular. So there is a possibility that this eclipse may have made enough of an impression (or to have scared the heck out of them) to have been made part of the story that carried this scientific information for five centuries - before it got to Homer (or the collection of bards known as Homer). True or not, its a fun investigative story.
Read the full article here.
Monday, June 23, 2008
Tarsem's "The Fall" is a mad folly, an extravagant visual orgy, a free-fall from reality into uncharted realms. Surely it is one of the wildest indulgences a director has ever granted himself. Tarsem, for two decades a leading director of music videos and TV commercials, spent millions of his own money to finance "The Fall," filmed it for four years in 28 countries and has made a movie that you might want to see for no other reason than because it exists. There will never be another like it.and here is the trailer:
Here is a Point of Inquiry interview with PZ Myers. I think many things get squished in here. For example, there is no real discussion over the definition of religion. This is crucial if statements are being made about science and atheism equivalence. Similarly, the issue of spreading atheism gets entangled up here with public understanding of science. It should be clear that a public discussion over atheism is different than a public discussion over science, and this distinction got blurred couple of times during the interview. But the questions are good and the discussion goes very well. Give it a listen - this is an important issue about a fault-line that exists within the scientific community.
Here is the description of the program:
P.Z. Myers PZ Myers is a biologist and associate professor at the University of Minnesota, Morris and the author of Pharyngula, the most heavily-trafficked science blog online.
In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, P.Z. Myers explains the purpose and impact of his blog, and whether his priority is to advance science education or atheism. He talks about what he sees as his roles in the scientific community and the atheist movement, and how related these roles are. He explores the relationship between science and atheism, and argues that the more a public learns science, the likelier it is that they will become atheistic. And he talks about where a science educator's atheism fits in the classroom. He also addresses the position of leading scientific organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Academies of Science regarding evolution being compatible with religious belief, and their use of religious scientists as spokespeople, and he assesses their motivations and strategies to advance science to a largely religious American public.
Listen to the podcast here.
Update: Here is another related Point of Inquiry podcast: Taner Edis on Science and Nonbelief. This is a good supplement to the above podcast, as it gets into a more nuanced discussion over naturalism. The most interesting aspect of the interview (at least for me) is the discussion about rational choice theory in understanding religions (its about half-way into the interview).
Saturday, June 21, 2008
It comes as no surprise that the Louisiana State Legislature has overwhelmingly approved a bill that seeks to undercut the teaching of evolution in the public schools. The state, after all, has a sorry history as a hotbed of creationists’ efforts to inject religious views into science courses. All that stands in the way of this retrograde step is Gov. Bobby Jindal.And the wack-a-creationism continues. There is nothing new to say here, but I like the fact that the bill also brings in global warming and human cloning. While we are at it, we may also include theories critical of NASA's moon landing claims and perhaps add some 9/11 skeptics to the mix too. This will unite all the crazies for one cause. By the way, why include human cloning? I think they mean stem cells research here...
The new bill doesn’t mention either creationism or its close cousin, intelligent design. It explicitly disavows any intent to promote a religious doctrine. It doesn’t try to ban Darwin from the classroom or order schools to do anything. It simply requires the state board of education, if asked by local school districts, to help create an environment that promotes “critical thinking” and “objective discussion” about not only evolution and the origins of life but also about global warming and human cloning, two other bêtes noires of the right. Teachers would be required to teach the standard textbook but could use supplementary materials to critique it.
That may seem harmless. But it would have the pernicious effect of implying that evolution is only weakly supported and that there are valid competing scientific theories when there are not. In school districts foolish enough to head down this path, the students will likely emerge with a shakier understanding of science.
Here is the full editorial.
And if you can't have enough of these controversies, check out this interview (from May 25) where philosopher, Barbara Forrest, tackles a creation science supporter in Louisiana. And here is an open letter by Louisiana Coalition for Science requesting Governor Jindal to veto the bill.
Friday, June 20, 2008
After the movie both friends are subjected to a talk by the church minister and a painting of Jesus, "The Light of the World". The main point of the NewYorker story, however, is about the diametrically opposite reactions to seeing this religious painting:
I wasn’t a churchgoer, nor was Rob, but neither of us had seen the movie, and, after all, it was Bergman, and free, so we went. The church was cold. There couldn’t have been more than twenty-five, thirty of us scattered around the pews in our overcoats and scarves.
After the first scoffing murmurs of recognition—the opening scenes of the film show a cold-looking church with a few parishioners in overcoats—we all settled down. You simply cannot be ironical in the face of this movie, its adamant seriousness, the unguarded, naked urgency of its story, and the challenge it presents both to believers and to skeptics to assess the depth and consequences of their convictions.
Tomas, a Lutheran pastor and widower, is suffering a crisis of faith, barely going through the motions of his ministry; indeed, he can’t even find the heart to treat his lover, a schoolteacher, with kindness. One of his parishioners has become obsessed with the prospect of nuclear annihilation. At his wife’s urging, this man, a fisherman, comes to the pastor for reassurance, some blessed word of hope that he can grasp as a lifeline, but Tomas can offer nothing but the bleakness of his own despair. The fisherman commits suicide. Yet Bergman takes care to show that Tomas and the fisherman are not alone in their suffering, and that others, equally afflicted—the fisherman’s wife, the pastor’s steadfast lover, his hunchbacked assistant—are able to bear their pain into a still deeper faith and capacity for love.
Because I really disliked that painting. It seemed to me a typical Pre-Raphaelite production: garish, melodramatic, cloying in its technique and sentimentality; pretentious humbug. The contrast between Bergman’s severe, honest art and this painting, on the same screen, chilled me. Was this what the minister held in his mind as the answer to all our problems—a kitschy figure from a calendar? I turned to Rob. “Let’s get a pint.”
But Rob was intent on this very image. Rapt. He barely glanced at me. “You go on.”
That night—to some extent, that picture—changed his life. He enrolled in Bible classes at the church, and went on to become a missionary in Africa. The same night sent me in the opposite direction, at least for a time. But would a different painting—Caravaggio’s “Conversion of St. Paul,” for example—have kept me in the pew? We like to think of our beliefs, and disbeliefs, as founded on reason and close, thoughtful observation. Only in theory do we begin to suspect the power of aesthetics to shape our lives.
This is a good observation. But, of course, the role reason plays in one's worldview is very different from person to person. More interestingly, what about the role of reason for people who move from belief to disbelief after reading Sagan, Dawkins, or Gould? I think there is no need to count out reason completely.
Read the full story here.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
Now you must be wondering how will he be helping Christ. Well...can he imagine himself to be Mahdi, the hidden Imam?
Long wary of the media and portrayed as the guru of a sect, Oktar has opened up recently, possibly because of a trial in Istanbul on charges of creating a criminal organization. He was sentenced to three years in May but denies the charges and is appealing the verdict.
Oktar says the "Atlas of Creation" campaign and Harun Yahya publishing empire are part of his religious vision of the end of the world in which he plays a role hinted at in his pseudonym.
Harun is Arabic for Aaron, the brother of Moses. Yahya is Arabic for John -- in this case, John the Baptist, he said.
"Harun was the helper of the prophet Moses. Yahya was also the helper of Jesus Christ," Oktar said. "When Jesus Christ comes to the world, we also would like to be helping him ... You might say this is a prayer for that."
Of course, he himself is not going to make such a claim. Except that his recent books are obsessed with Mahdi and end-0f-the-times talk. While Muslims have wildly different interpretations of Mahdi, epecially between the Sunnis and the Shia, in Oktar's books Mahdi is described as a "non-Arab", "having a thick beard", "a mole on his cheek" etc. Oh wait, let him describe it himself (this is from an al-Jazeera interview):
Oktar said Koran verses and sayings of the Prophet Mohammed about the end of the world revealed Jesus would return soon as a Muslim to help Islam's savior, the Mahdi, defeat the Dajjal or Islamic Anti-Christ and establish Islam around the world.
"Our biggest project right now is to lay the grounds for the coming of Jesus Christ," he said. "We understand this is going to be in the next 20 to 25 years."
The idea of Jesus returning as a Muslim is standard Islamic teaching about the end of times. But Muslims normally stress the end times less than evangelical Christians do, and Oktar's focus on this has prompted rumors he thinks he is the Mahdi.
"I do not make such a claim," he said. "Because of parallels in what I have written and the hadith (sayings) of the Prophet Mohammad, some people have thought I could be him... but in Islam it is forbidden for me to make such a claim."
There is a rumor that has been going round for a long while that I have claimed to be the Mahdi. The reason for that is that I have written a book on that subject. I have cited all the relevant hadith in that book. They said that I had described myself, that the information about the Mahdi in the hadith was the same. As a result, [they said] you are claiming to be the Mahdi. They say that his forehead is broad, and your forehead is broad, too. That his brow is curved, and your brow is also curved. They say that the Mahdi has a small nose, and a big body. He is a Sayyid of medium height, they say. He has a mole on his cheek, and one on his back. Because you have all these characteristics, you are probably claiming to be the Mahdi.Of course it could be anyone. And here Oktar estimates time frame of Mahdi based on his interpretation of Bediuzzaman Nursi's sayings (see if you notice any similarities):
Bediuzzaman calls attention to Hijri 1400 as the beginning of Mahdi's ideological struggle against disbelieving philosophies. He further points out that between the years 1401-11 (1981-91), he will unite the benefits of science, skills, and the goodness of civilization to be used in his struggle, and discloses Hijri 1421 (Gregorian calendar: 2001) as the date when the Mahdi will ideologically destroy the disbelieving philosophies.
Coincidentally, Oktar started his anti-evolution crusade (ha!) in 1980-81. But I don't know if he actually claimed victory against disbelieving philosophies in 2001 or not.
Read the full Reuters' article here.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
"I had read the descriptions of dysentery in Crusader armies recorded in medieval chronicles but could not tell which organisms were responsible," says Piers Mitchell of Imperial College London. Detecting dysentery-causing parasites by microscope from archaeological samples is difficult because the cysts are tiny and degrade in soil. So the team used an assay (ELISA) that uses antibodies specific to proteins produced by the parasites.Samples were taken from two locations in Israel: a cesspool used by the citizens of Acre and the Hospital of St. John, whose latrines were used by knights, soldiers, and pilgrims. The researchers unveiled traces of two dysentery-causing parasites, Entamoeba histolytica and Giardia duodenalis, at the St. John Hospital latrine. No parasites were found in samples from the cesspool, suggesting that locals didn't suffer from the problem, the researchers write in July's Journal of Archaeological Science.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Monday, June 16, 2008
For the last six years, he has traveled across North America with his wife, Connie Barlow, in a van that displays an image of two fish kissing each other — one labeled Jesus, the other Darwin — explaining to conservative and liberal congregations why understanding and accepting evolution will bring them closer to spiritual fulfillment. The religious advantage to embracing the evolutionary worldview, Dowd says, is that it explains our frailties, our addictions, our infidelities and other moral deficiencies as byproducts of adaptation over billions of years. And that, he says, has a potentially liberating effect: never mind guilt; once we understand our sinful ways, we can get past them and play a conscious role in the evolution of humanity.Read the full article here. It includes criticism both from religious and atheistic side for his views. Indeed, the pastor seems to go a bit too far in incorporating evolutionary psychology into his spiritual (?) world view. But at least he accepts science for the explanation for the physical world.
On the other side, William Dembski has gone ballistic over Ken Miller's new book and his brand of theistic evolution. Read commentary on this at Open Parachute and at Pharyngula. The funniest part of Dembski's rant is that he calls Ann Coulter for his defense. Really? C'mon Billy D... you can to do better than that.
Here is what he has to say about Ken Miller and Francis Collins:
Hmm...this is so much fun! And then Billy D. lays out his strategy, which includes the unleashing of Ann Coulter over the civilized world:
Could it be that the evolutionists’ assault on both science (by perpetuating the fraud that natural selection has unmatched creative powers) and religion (by using evolution as a club to beat people of faith) is undermining America’s soul? Not according to Miller. He’s got other fish to fry. For him, it’s the ID proponents’ assault on evolution that is undermining America’s soul. Forget about Dawkins and his blasphemy challenge. Let’s shaft the ID community.
Francis Collins agrees. His endorsement of Miller’s book leaves no doubt that the ID people are a bigger threat than the atheistic evolutionists like Dawkins:With devout believers like this, give me a good infidel any time.
“In this powerfully argued and timely book, Ken Miller takes on the fundamental core of the Intelligent Design movement, and shows with compelling examples and devastating logic that ID is not only bad science but is potentially threatening in other deeper ways to America’s future. But make no mistake, this is not some atheistic screed — Prof. Miller’s perspective as a devout believer will allow his case to resonate with believers and non-believers alike.” –Francis Collins, Director, the Human Genome Project and author of The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief
Yes, please do compare Collin's endorsement with Coulter's.
What’s our strategy. The strategy is multipronged. Let me just give you one prong: WIN THE YOUTH. The release date for Miller’s book is June 12th. I’ve got a book titled Understanding Intelligent Design: Everything You Need to Know in Plain Language (co-authored with youth speaker and high-school teacher Sean McDowell) whose release date is July 1st. It is geared specifically at mobilizing Christian young people, homeschoolers, and church youth groups with the ID alternative to Darwinian evolution. You might want to compare Francis Collins’ endorsment of Miller’s book with Ann Coulter’s endorsement of mine:
In my book Godless, I showed that Darwinism is the hoax of the century and, consequently, the core of the religion of liberalism…. Liberals respond to critics of their religion like Cotton Mather to Salem’s “witches.” With this book, two more witches present themselves for burning: Sean McDowell, whose gift is communicating with young people, and Bill Dembski, often called the Isaac Newton of intelligent design. I think Dembski is more like the Dick Butkus of Intelligent Design. His record for tackling Darwiniacs is unmatched. This book gives young people all the ammo they need to take on Darwinism and understand the only viable scientific alternative to Darwinism: intelligent design. Every high school student in America needs a copy of Understanding Intelligent Design. –Ann Coulter, BESTSELLING author of Godless: The Church of Liberalism.
Read Isaac Newton's - er.. I mean Bill Dembski's full rant here. Also Ken Miller's book is Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul.
Friday, June 13, 2008
I hope their prayer group has started to look for more earth-bound solutions. But 2% of the US population still leaves 6 million people using prayer rituals for healing!
The recent death from untreated diabetes of an 11-year-old Wisconsin girl has invigorated opposition to obscure laws in many states that let parents rely on prayer, rather than medicine, to heal sick children.
Dale and Leilani Neumann of Weston, Wis., are facing charges of second-degree reckless homicide after their child, Madeline Kara Neumann, died on Easter after slipping into a coma. The death, likely preventable with insulin, has renewed calls for Wisconsin and dozens of other states to strike laws that protect parents who choose prayer alone in lieu of medical treatment.The case also has frustrated the Church of Christ, Scientist, the main promoter of prayer as therapy, which says a few tragic cases have unfairly tarred a practice that can restore health. The Neumanns, a Christian couple who run a prayer group out of their coffee shop, are not Christian Scientists. The National Center for Health Statistics, a federal agency, estimated in 2004 that more than 2% of the population uses prayer rituals.
The recent deaths of children have spotlighted the little-known lobbying work of the Church of Christ, Scientist, a denomination with anywhere from 60,000 to a half-million members, according to various estimates. The group believes that health can be restored through a stronger connection with God -- in effect, willing the body to be healthy. The church is the largest that supports relying on prayer for healing, though other small sects do, as well. Of course, many religious denominations advocate prayer in conjunction with medical treatment.It would be easy to say that they are crazy and just walk away. But they have been successful in providing protection to parents who want to treat solely by using prayers.
The Christian Science church doesn't provide guidance on whether members may seek medical care, says Mr. Davis, the church spokesman. He says the church does not bar members from getting medical care, nor does it advise members when they should do so.
Church founder Mary Baker Eddy believed it was "fear that creates the image of disease and its consequent manifestation in the body." Spiritual practitioners, who are trained by the church to heal through prayer, get patients to think differently about their relationship with God, says Mr. Davis, who also is a spiritual practitioner. "It's an affirmation [of truth]," Mr. Davis says. "It's that understanding that restores harmony."The church's Christian Science Journal prints monthly testimonies that prayer has wiped away prostate cancer, a breast lump, leukemia and other illnesses. Brian Talcott, a practitioner in Berkeley, Calif., says he has seen cases of glaucoma and cataracts disappear.
Every state forbids child abuse and requires parents to provide health care. But in the 1970s and 1980s, many states added provisions offering legal protections to parents who used prayer treatment. Many of these statutes were passed after Congress in 1974 began offering money to bolster child-protection agencies. But there were strings. Federal health and welfare officials, pressed by Christian Scientists, made the funding contingent upon the requesting state legislating legal safeguards for those opting to treat with prayer.And, just in case, if you were still thinking that this wackiness may not be that dangerous:
In all, 45 states offer some legal accommodations in child-protection laws for parents who use spiritual healing, according to the Christian Science church. The laws vary widely, with some states protecting parents or guardians from felony abuse or murder prosecutions, while others exempt prayer practice only in misdemeanor cases, according to Children's Healthcare Is a Legal Duty Inc., a nonprofit group based in Sioux City, Iowa, that opposes such laws.
A 1998 study in the journal Pediatrics, by Rita Swan, president of Children's Healthcare Is a Legal Duty, and Seth Asser, a Rhode Island pediatrician, reported that 172 children died with no medical care because of religious reasons in the two decades after states began exempting faith healing. Of those, 140 children had a greater than 90% chance of survival if they had been treated medically, the researchers found. "Some of the religious defenses to felonies are a chilling betrayal of children," says Ms. Swan, a former Christian Scientist who lost a child to spinal meningitis in 1977 after initially relying on church practitioners before finally seeking medical help.Read the full story here.
Thursday, June 12, 2008
The operation in the private clinic off the Champs-Élysées involved one semicircular cut, 10 dissolving stitches and a discounted fee of $2,900.
But for the patient, a 23-year-old French student of Moroccan descent from Montpellier, the 30-minute procedure represented the key to a new life: the illusion of virginity.
Like an increasing number of Muslim women in Europe, she had a hymenoplasty, a restoration of her hymen, the vaginal membrane that normally breaks in the first act of intercourse.
As Europe’s Muslim population grows, many young Muslim women are caught between the freedoms that European society affords and the deep-rooted traditions of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations.
Gynecologists say that in the past few years, more Muslim women are seeking certificates of virginity to provide proof to others. That in turn has created a demand among cosmetic surgeons for hymen replacements, which, if done properly, they say, will not be detected and will produce tell-tale vaginal bleeding on the wedding night. The service is widely advertised on the Internet; medical tourism packages are available to countries like Tunisia where it is less expensive.
While the subject is serious (and for some, it also has serious consequences), it is now the theme of a new Italian comedy:
But hymen repair is talked about so much that it is the subject of a film comedy that opens in Italy this week. “Women’s Hearts,” as the film’s title is translated in English, tells the story of a Moroccan-born woman living in Italy who goes to Casablanca for the operation.
One character jokes that she wants to bring her odometer count back down to “zero.”
Ok..this line is funny - but then the director of the film goes on to say this:
“We realized that what we thought was a sporadic practice was actually pretty common,” said Davide Sordella, the film’s director. “These women can live in Italy, adopt our mentality and wear jeans. But in the moments that matter, they don’t always have the strength to go against their culture.”
But this is complicated. First of all, he should stop using "our" here. Cultural interactions are complex, especially when one is referring to second generation immigrants (or even for first generation - I've been in the US now for some bazillion years, with 1 bazillion=19 years). I'm not defending this sexist custom, but there can be many different reasons (individual circumstances, one's own nature, the particular peculiarities of the culture one is coming from, etc) why one may choose not to challenge one's own culture of origin. And of course, vice versa - you also have your rebels without a cause. So then the opposition to the procedure can potentially cause more problems:
The French College of Gynecologists and Obstetricians opposes the procedure on moral, cultural and health grounds.
“We had a revolution in France to win equality; we had a sexual revolution in 1968 when women fought for contraception and abortion,” said Dr. Jacques Lansac, the group’s leader. “Attaching so much importance to the hymen is regression, submission to the intolerance of the past.”
Yes, true. But don't penalize women, who for whatever reason, want to keep the illusion of this tradition. And here are two complex situations:
Again, of course, it's terrible the way these women are being treated - and of course this is really sexist, as only women have to prove their chastity. Lets oppose the custom. But is it a good idea to deny women the opportunity for hymenoplasty? On the flip side, you can also argue that its great that they will be able to fool the people who cling to this sexist custom. In any case, in all likelihood, their kids will not have to face the same issues.
But the stories of the women who have had the surgery convey the complexity and raw emotion behind their decisions.
One Muslim born in Macedonia said she opted for the operation to avoid being punished by her father after an eight-year relationship with her boyfriend.
“I was afraid that my father would take me to a doctor and see whether I was still a virgin,” said the woman, 32, who owns a small business and lives on her own in Frankfurt. “He told me, ‘I will forgive everything but not if you have thrown dirt on my honor.’ I wasn’t afraid he would kill me, but I was sure he would have beaten me.”
In other cases, the woman and her partner decide for her to have the operation. A 26-year-old French woman of Moroccan descent said she lost her virginity four years ago when she fell in love with the man she now plans to marry. But she and her fiancé decided to share the cost of her $3,400 operation in Paris.
She said his conservative extended family in Morocco was requiring that a gynecologist — and family friend — there examine her for proof of virginity before the wedding.
“It doesn’t matter for my fiancé that I am not a virgin — but it would pose a huge problem for his family,” she said. “They know that you can pour blood on the sheets on the wedding night, so I have to have better proof.”
Read the full story here.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Here, the author is talking about his uncle, who was also the mudir (headmaster) of his madrassa in Kumsai, Ghana. This segment also highlights the love-hate relationship of Muslims with the West, especially when it comes to modern science:
He often expressed admiration for Western achievements in science and technology, but he was also fond of insisting that none of the advances made by the West had ever outsmarted death. One day, I heard my uncle tell the assistant mudir that his lack of faith in the West arose from the simple fact that the white man couldn’t make electricity shock-free. In my uncle’s view, something that gives light, energy, and even life should not also harm or kill. This perceived failure alone was enough to cast doubt in Uncle’s mind over the entirety of Western civilization.
My uncle’s skepticism, as irrational as it was logical and theological, was founded on the belief that Western science could never attain perfection; perfection could be achieved solely by the one and only Allah. And yet Uncle Ustaz did believe that the West had come close to perfection in the field of aviation. He marvelled at the fact that something as heavy as a jet plane, with all its cargo, could stay in the air for such a long time. When I was about eleven, Uncle started disseminating a theory that went like this: airplanes are able to take off from the ground and remain in the firmament only because aviation engineers worldwide recite a special prayer verse from the Koran before each plane departs. In 1982, Uncle Ustaz took a trip to Nigeria, and, when he returned, he claimed to have seen something that proved his theory: an aviation engineer, “a white man he was,” placed a hand on one of the plane’s tires and read aloud from a small Koran just as the plane was preparing for takeoff. Soon, the story of the Koran-reciting aviation engineer became an article of faith in my city’s Muslim community; it had finally been shown that the white man was powerless without the aid of Almighty Allah.
Read the full article here.
Monday, June 09, 2008
The Ahmadi students were “accused” of preaching their religious beliefs. The principal was pressured into expelling the entire Ahmadi student body by a mob of protesters belonging to Islami Jamiat e Talaba. The mob circled the Principal’s office and demanded the expulsions. The same day, a mob of about 300 college students also barged into Ahmadi students’ rooms, beat them and threw their luggage out of their rooms.Ahmadi's are treated horribly in Pakistan (here is a detailed analysis of their persecution). They are constitutionally declared "non-Muslims" - in fact, it is considered a crime if they call their place of worship (which is a mosque) a "mosque" or if they utter religious phrases from the Qur'an.The renewal of my Pakistani passport is an ordeal - as one of the main requirements on the passport form is to attest that Ahmadi's are not Muslims and that their founder is an imposter prophet. Oh you don't believe me? Just download the passport renewal form and check out the bottom of second page. To the credit of the government, they are employing these obscene discriminations in the 21st century - daring the sensibilities of every reasonable person on the planet.
What makes this incident especially troubling is the fact that the decision to expel Ahmadi students was taken by a government-run medical school, under full knowledge of the relevant Punjab ministries.
Here is more about student expulsion from the Daily Times: (PMC is Punjab Medical College)
Preaching against Ahmadis: Sadr Anjuman Ahmadiyya Pakistan Rabwah spokesman Saleemuddin alleged that the PMC hostel boarders and wardens launched a campaign against female Ahmadi students last month.Shameful.
He alleged that some of the boarders brought four of the Ahmadi students out of their rooms in the midnight of June 4, and locked them in another room, where they were beaten up. He alleged that local cleric Allama Junaid, invited to the college mosque to give a sermon on the same night, instigated students against Ahmadis.
He alleged that the boarders, with the consent of hostel wardens, forced 15 students – 11 girls and five boys –to leave the hostels at 4am on June 4. He alleged that on June 5, a mob of 300 college students had barged into Ahmadi students’ rooms, beat them and threw their luggage out of their rooms. He alleged that the boarders also stole valuables of Ahmadi students. He said that the PMC principal had also ordered the Ahmadi students to return home till the matter cooled down.
He said that the principal had also formed a disciplinary committee to probe into the matter, which, the spokesman alleged, gave its verdict to boot out 23 students without investigating the case. “The committee claimed to have rusticated the student under Rule iii, Clause-V, of the college prospectus,” he said.
Saturday, June 07, 2008
He's a revered Hindu monkey god. And now, he's the chairman of an Indian business school.I hope Hanuman changes the password on the new laptop after logging on for the first time - very crucial...otherwise anybody will be able to hack into his computer and get vital information about the world. Here is the vice chairman of the school:
Hanuman, the popular god known for his strength and valor, has been named official chairman of the recently opened Sardar Bhagat Singh College of Technology and Management in northern India, a school official said Saturday.
The position comes with an incense-filled office, a desk and a laptop computer. Four chairs will be placed facing the empty seat reserved for the chairman and all visitors must enter the office barefoot, said Vivek Kangdi, the school's vice chairman.
"When we were looking for a chairman for our institution, we scanned many big names in the field of technology and management. Ultimately, we settled for Lord Hanuman, as none was bigger than him," Kangdi said.
Hanuman is one of the most popular gods in the crowded pantheon of Hindu deities. His most famous feat, as described in the Hindu epic the Ramayana, was leading a monkey army to fight the demon King Ravana and rescue a kidnapped princess.
The Sardar Bhagat Singh College in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state, awards bachelor's degrees in engineering and management. The school opened last year.
At least there won't be much debate over the separation of religion and state at this school.
The Texas State Board of Education is again considering a science curriculum that teaches the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution, setting an example that several other states are likely to follow. This is code for teaching creationism.
It has the advantage of sounding more balanced than teaching “intelligent design,” which the courts have consistently banned from science classrooms. It has the disadvantage of being nonsense.
The chairman of the Texas board, a dentist named Don McLeroy, advocates the “strengths and weaknesses” approach, as does a near majority of the board. The system accommodates what Dr. McLeroy calls two systems of science, creationist and “naturalist.”
Actually, its great that he calls the two systems creationist and naturalist. Unlike the Intelligent Design advocates, at least he is being honest by calling his view creationist. Of course, the idiocy remains all the same:
The trouble is, a creationist system of science is not science at all. It is faith. All science is “naturalist” to the extent that it tries to understand the laws of nature and the character of the universe on their own terms, without reference to a divine creator. Every student who hopes to understand the scientific reality of life will sooner or later need to accept the elegant truth of evolution as it has itself evolved since it was first postulated by Darwin. If the creationist view prevails in Texas, students interested in learning how science really works and what scientists really understand about life will first have to overcome the handicap of their own education.
Scientists are always probing the strengths and weakness of their hypotheses. That is the very nature of the enterprise. But evolution is no longer a hypothesis. It is a theory rigorously supported by abundant evidence. The weaknesses that creationists hope to teach as a way of refuting evolution are themselves antiquated, long since filed away as solved. The religious faith underlying creationism has a place, in church and social studies courses. Science belongs in science classrooms.
Read the full editorial here. I think, we have now reached a stalemate in the fight over evolution and creationism/ID in schools. The creationists are not going to gain any new significant ground but they will keep scientists and educators busy by creating (ha ha) new code words for creationism, and advocating their inclusion in biology textbooks. I think fatigue will set in soon (if it hasn't already) and people will get tired hearing about another new code word for creationism. The Discovery Institute's "teach the controversy" strategy was new and novel few years ago and they managed to fool some people and generate sympathy regarding that. But now its old news and one can easily see through these new code-words. Unfortunately, valuable time still has to be spent countering this idiocy.
Wednesday, June 04, 2008
Now a battle looms in Texas over science textbooks that teach evolution, and the wrestle for control seizes on three words. None of them are “creationism” or “intelligent design” or even “creator.”
The words are “strengths and weaknesses.”
Starting this summer, the state education board will determine the curriculum for the next decade and decide whether the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution should be taught. The benign-sounding phrase, some argue, is a reasonable effort at balance. But critics say it is a new strategy taking shape across the nation to undermine the teaching of evolution, a way for students to hear religious objections under the heading of scientific discourse.
Already, legislators in a half-dozen states — Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri and South Carolina — have tried to require that classrooms be open to “views about the scientific strengths and weaknesses of Darwinian theory,” according to a petition from the Discovery Institute, the Seattle-based strategic center of the intelligent design movement.
So the Whack-A-Creationism-Mole continues. Perhaps they should include "strengths and weaknesses" of every scientific theory included in the curriculum - that should keep the education board busy for a while...
And here is the origin of this phrase:
Read the full depressing story here.
The “strengths and weaknesses” language was slipped into the curriculum standards in Texas to appease creationists when the State Board of Education first mandated the teaching of evolution in the late 1980s. It has had little effect because evolution skeptics have not had enough power on the education board to win the argument that textbooks do not adequately cover the weaknesses of evolution.
Yet even as courts steadily prohibited the outright teaching of creationism and intelligent design, creationists on the Texas board grew to a near majority. Seven of 15 members subscribe to the notion of intelligent design, and they have the blessings of Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican.
What happens in Texas does not stay in Texas: the state is one of the country’s biggest buyers of textbooks, and publishers are loath to produce different versions of the same material. The ideas that work their way into education here will surface in classrooms throughout the country.
Tuesday, June 03, 2008
by Martin J. Murphy
While watching a cannonball's motion,
Galileo conceived of the notion
That natural laws,
Not a mystical Cause,
Ruled the physical world's locomotion.
Though its own view was mostly confused,
The Church was not greatly amused
With this flaunting of Deo
By old Galileo
And ordered it quickly defused.
So the Pope sent some priests who inquired
If it wouldn't be best he retired?
"Undoubtedly you know
What we did for Bruno;
Do you also wish to be fired?"
He asked an old Cardinal's opinion:
"Pray tell me, Your Grace, if you will then,
Does this mean what I think?
That henceforth I must shrink
From discussing my clever perception?"
Said Bellarmine, "No, it is not a ban;
If you want to keep teaching of course you can.
They merely have said
To take care where you tread
And smile when you say thing Copernican."
Unbeknownst to our venerable dissident
The records said something quite different.
When the Pope saw the note
The inquisitors wrote
He lost what remained of his temperament.
The message the Vatican sent
Was blunt in its stated intent
"Recant all this heresy
Quick or we' harass thee,
Now 'til your life has been spent."
In facing the dread inquisition,
Few men could defend their position;
So it shouldn't surprise
When we are apprised
Of old Galileo's decision.
"Explaining celestial motion
Needs more than just faith and devotion.
But to save my poor head
I'll recant what I've said
(Though I'll secretly keep to my notion)".
So our friend the illustrious Florentine
Spent his last years in Vatican quarantine,
Locked up in his home
By the prelates of Rome
For being a cosmical libertine.
The Church caused a major imbroglio
By correcting Copernicus' folio
Yet it couldn't discern
The abuse it would earn
In forbidding the whole Dialogo?
By killing Sidereus Nuncius
For the news that their views were defunctus,
The renaissance ended
And darkness descended
Upon the Dominican dunces.
In spite of the Vatican's dissuasion
Galileo still rose to the occasion.
Though once deemed heretical,
He proved more prophetical
Than those of a clerical persuasion.
Sunday, June 01, 2008
On a related note, here is a nice article about Darwin's book, The Voyage of the Beagle:
Its language is that of a young man intoxicated by the tropics ("To a person fond of natural history, such a day as this brings with it a deeper pleasure than he can ever hope to experience again") and careless of the risks ("Upon landing I found that I was to a certain degree a prisoner . . . a traveller has no protection beside his fire-arms"). The youthful Darwin was a master of unadorned English. He took with him more than geology textbooks: "Milton's Paradise Lost had been my chief favourite, and in my excursions during the voyage of the Beagle, when I could take only a single small volume, I always chose Milton."On learning about evolution from culinary experiences:
And again, here again it shows his focus away from large animals:
Knowledge was mightily advanced on the expedition, but quite how it influenced his thinking is often misinterpreted. Darwin spent only five weeks of the five-year adventure in the Galapagos, with just half that time on visits to islands. He scarcely noticed the finches and lumped their corpses together into a jumbled mass. In fact, the local tortoises were more important. On the island of James he "lived entirely on tortoise meat . . . the young tortoises make excellent soup." In those lumbering creatures, Darwin saw, without realizing it at the time, his first hint of evolution, for animals from James were subtly distinct from those on Indefatigable and Albemarle nearby. In a rare conjunction of taxonomy with gastronomy, he noted that the James specimens were "rounder, blacker, and had a better taste when cooked" -- which at the time seemed little more than a curiosity but was in fact his introduction to the biology of change.
Read the full article here.
Much of his work was not on animals but on rocks; and in a few short weeks in the Andes (and a few days on the tiny island of Cocos-Keeling) he worked out how coral atolls were the product of small creatures that labor to stay near the surface while their basalt foundations sink beneath. The idea was dismissed as absurd until the drills of the military during the H-bomb tests on Bikini revealed the hidden foundations predicted a century before.
The Beagle book was the first step to our understanding why the world is how it is. Its last few pages have a strikingly modern resonance, for they predict what our native planet may soon become. A few months before returning home, the ship dropped anchor at St. Helena, in the South Atlantic, one of the most isolated islands in the world. Darwin was delighted by the place: Its volcanic mountain rose "like a huge black castle from the ocean." He admired the "English, or rather Welsh, character of the scenery" and noted to his surprise that the vegetation, too, was decidedly British, with gorse, blackberries, willows and other imports. On his first day, Darwin found the dead shells of nine species of "land-shells of a very peculiar form" (one of few mentions of snails in his entire writings) and noted that specimens collected from one location "differ as a marked variety" from others picked up a few miles away -- another hint of evolution. All apart from one were extinct and had been replaced by the common brown snail of English -- and American -- gardens.
Here is a clip from AAAS on the compatibility of science and religion - a perfect representation of Gould's non-overlapping magestaria (NOMA) (tip from Framing Science). Yes, when pushed this view gets into trouble (as Francis Collins in this clip talking about God answering personal prayers). But the question is, who is the audience? This video would work for those who are religious and science-friendly and may provide them with a justification for supporting (and doing) science. On the other hand, many would have good reasons to point out that NOMA can be a slippery slope - and that these boundaries are overstepped all the time. Thus, there may not be a single good approach to talking about science & religion. Different videos for different audiences.
Yesterday was my last day on Chincoteague Island. At breakfast at the hotel, I overheard a conversation about the movie Expelled. A guy, probably in his 70's, was talking to a younger couple (seemed like his son and his wife). He liked the movie and was now reading Michael Behe's new book. He was familiar with the fine-tuning argument (with explicit religious overtones) and also with the tenure case of Guillermo Gonzalez. However, what struck me was his interest and fascination with science. Too bad, he got suckered into ID-nonsense. But I was thinking, he would be the perfect audience for this AAAS video - well-educated, religious, and having a deep interest in science. Yes, NOMA has serious problems - but we should also not cede this demographic to ID.