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Carnival of Evolution

Carnival of Evolution

For those of you new to Clashing Culture, this is an experiment in cooperation among bloggers who have a common interest in science, religion and their interactions with society at large.  Check out the profiles on the right for more about us.  We all four share in common an interest in teasing out the facts of evoliution, which is still a relatively poortly understood set of theories which tie together the facts thatt show how nature expands its species.  Evolution is about life itself, and the fact of evolution is undeniable.

The misunderstanding of evolution leads to a culture ill at ease with exploring science, mistaking an interest in evolution with a desire to preclude any sort of religious question or answers on how life “is.”  Evolution is about origins, which was once the solely-owned territory of religious explanations.  I think that this crowding out of supernatural explanations for the shape of all life is threatening to many people, but that hardly justifies the way that the concept of evolution is unjustly attacked.  And especially in the United States.  So, the purpose of this carnival is to highlight the blog posts that have been submitted or that I have found over the last two weeks since hosted by Greg Laden on October 3.  I hope that the readers come away with a better understanding of evolution, and more comfortable with the concept.

And to illustrate the main issue, I start with a post by Ben Connor Barrie at Grown Ass People. From the Front Lines of Evolution. So, what happens when the Discovery Institute releases a textbook?  It isn’t pretty, but it is worth watching as some legislatures consider Academic Freedom Bills.  (Acadmic Freedom  ain’t what they are seeking.)

Eugenics is a tricky issue for evolution, and in fact is has very little to do with natural selection.  Eugenics is the purposeful manipulation of genetics to achieve a societal goal.  Evolution is a blind process with no societal goal, but only a goal of survival to reproduce.  So, what is now happening in Lousiana?  A proposal for eugenics? Chris Green presents Eugenics to Make a Comeback in Louisiana? posted at Advances in the History of Psychology. Chris’s submission comment:

The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported on September 24 that a Republican member of the Louisiana House of Representatives named John LaBruzzo “is studying a plan to pay poor women $1,000 to have their Fallopian tubes tied” in order to contain the state’s welfare costs.

Most of us have seen the movie Inherit the Wind. It is a stylized dramatization of the 1925 Scopes Trial in Tennesee. The Trial didn’t resolve the issue of education’s responsibility for teaching evolution. Jeremy Burman presents Advances in the History of Psychology » Blog Archive » The Scopes Trial Revisited posted at Advances in the History of Psychology. Jeremy’s comment:

In a recent issue of Science as Culture, 17(2), Matthew J. Tontonoz compares the recent “evolution wars” with a revival of the historic Scopes trial of 1925. In this formulation, William Jennings Bryan — who had served as the Democratic presidential nominee in 1896, 1900, and 1908 — plays the role presently adopted by, as Tontonoz puts it, “today’s creationists and proponents of intelligent design.”

Evolution aids our understanding of the interconnectedness of all life, and for one person thinking of evolution erased the “themness” of race. Hank Fox writes a moving essay on how evolution finally opened his eyes to the mistake of a racial divide among humans. He experienced an awakening. Thank You Mister Darwin. Again. at Earthman’s Notebook.

But one day when I looked at Them, I saw US.

I was standing in line at a grocery store on that day, and there was a “black” man standing next to me. I reached down into myself, as I often do, inspecting my feelings, and I was surprised to notice that the fear was gone. This was just some guy, a neighbor, a fellow human thrown into my company by accident in a supermarket checkout line. His eyes met mine momentarily, brown eyes to blue, human eyes, and we both smiled easily.

So, with all of the cultural icons of evolution, where does the science part come it? Well, let’s begin with this article on the interrelationship between hox D genes and homeotic transformation in birds. Nagraj Sambrani presents Homeotic transformation and digit evolution in Birds | Hoxful Monsters posted at Hoxful Monsters. The article refers to an article in an open-access journal so that you can check out the paper on your own.

R. Ford Denison presents This Week in Evolution: Experimental evolution of predation and sexual attractiveness posted at This Week in Evolution.

PZ Myers presents Fossil daisy-chain posted at Pharyngula. My curiosity is piqued as to what they were doing…

Greg Laden presents Cultural Evolution from Mosquitos to Worm Grunting posted at Greg Laden’s Blog. So, how do yams and sickle-cell anemia tie together?

John Hawks presents Human evolution stopping? Wrong, wrong, wrong. | john hawks weblog posted at John Hawks Anthropology Weblog. Follow the links in this post to other writers who tear apart the idea that our species is not going to change anymore.

Richard Owen, who coined the word “dinosaur” is one of the most disliked, and yet probably misunderstood 19th century scientists. Brian Switek presents Richard Owen, the forgotten evolutionist posted at Laelaps.

Greg Laden presents Greg Laden’s Blog : Culture Shapes How We Look at Faces posted at Greg Laden’s Blog.

The Urban Scientist presents Science Vocab: Dulosis – Slave-making in Ants posted at SES: Science, Education & Society.

GrrlScientist presents Love, Sex and War in the Seychelles posted at Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted) Her comment:

This is a study of the evolution and behavioral ecology of an endangered species that predicted the worldwide economic collapse — it’s amazing what birds can teach us about ourselves, if we only look carefully.

Greg Laden presents Cultural Evolution from Mosquitos to Worm Grunting posted at Greg Laden’s Blog. I had never even heard of worm gruntiing before I read this. How does it work? Does it matter if its practitioners know?

The final post approaches an area of interest to cultural historians; archaeologists, anthropologists and all of us who are interested in our cultural background and the role that evolution plays. Whatever your religious position, the existence of God is separate from the practice of religion. Massimo Pigliucci presents The cultural evolution of religion posted at Rationally Speaking.

Evolution is a far wider field of study than most people accept, and the tendency to either ignore it or only teach it as a separate “unit” in biology classes is dangerous to our society. If our education system tries to hide evolution because it may offend certain “sensibilities” then it will have far-reaching negative effects on our ability to understand ourselves and our relationships to each other and to the natural world.

Thanks to everyone who submitted, and thanks to those who didn’t know they submitted articles. I also want to thank Dr. Daniel Brown (Irradiatus of Biochemical Soul) for maintaining this much-needed carnival. The next issue is going to be at The Other 95%, hosted by Kevin Zelnio and Eric Heupel. Send your posts to be included through the submission form.

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It’s about time for another edition of Four Stone Hearth.  It’s an honor to host the carnival here at Clashing Culture because anthropology is one of the main areas where discussion about religion and culture is founded in scientific method.  I’ll be compiling the best entries from anthropology blogs over the past few weeks, but need your help in submitting entries.  If you’ve not read Four Stone Hearth before, here is the general idea:

For the purposes of the Four Stone Hearth, anthropology is the study of humankind, throughout all times and places, focusing primarily on four lines of research:

  • archaeology
  • socio-cultural anthropology
  • bio-physical anthropology
  • linguistic anthropology

Each one of these subfields is a stone in our hearth.

And with Carnival of the Liberals (by Mike) and Four Stone Hearth hosted here on the same day, hopefully we will get some good cross-fertilization.  When you send me your entries, please let me know which corner of the hearth you are representing.  (That’s tom[underscore]robey[at]yahoo[dot]com…)  I’d appreciate your entries by Tuesday 9PM PDT.

Be sure to gather ’round next Wednesday.

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(cross-posted from Tangled Up in Blue Guy)

More Book Hysteria

Stephanie has an alert on a book being pulled from the presses based on a review by a scholar in Texas.  The book hasn’t even hit galleys yet, only reached advanced preview copy stage and already calls have been placed by people who haven’t read the manuscript to demand that it not be published by Random House.  Some have demanded that the book be pulled from the bookstores (?) and an apology issued to all Muslims worldwide.

Aisha and Muhammad Wedding Night

Aisha and Muhammad Wedding Night

The book is a(n) historical fiction based on the life of Muhammad’s child bride, Aisha. Aisha was nine years old when she was married off to the Prophet Who Shall Not Be Depicted.  Many of us are familiar with the edict against depictions of the prophet who started Islam.  It is considered blasphemy, which is odd because Muhammad is not considered to be the son, brother or cousin of Allah.  He was a man who claimed to have been visited by an angel and given the Koran.

The professor who put a stop to the book is Denise Spellberg, an assistant professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.  She’s not a Muslim, but the novel apparently so disturbed her that she started spreading the word to Muslims who she thought should know about this upcoming affront to Islam.  From an article in the Wall Street Journal by Asran Q. Nomani:

This time, the instigator of the trouble wasn’t a radical Muslim cleric, but an American academic. In April, looking for endorsements, Random House sent galleys to writers and scholars, including Denise Spellberg, an associate professor of Islamic history at the University of Texas in Austin. Ms. Jones put her on the list because she read Ms. Spellberg’s book, “Politics, Gender, and the Islamic Past: The Legacy of ‘A’isha Bint Abi Bakr.”

But Ms. Spellberg wasn’t a fan of Ms. Jones’s book. On April 30, Shahed Amanullah, a guest lecturer in Ms. Spellberg’s classes and the editor of a popular Muslim Web site, got a frantic call from her. “She was upset,” Mr. Amanullah recalls. He says Ms. Spellberg told him the novel “made fun of Muslims and their history,” and asked him to warn Muslims.

In an interview, Ms. Spellberg told me the novel is a “very ugly, stupid piece of work.” The novel, for example, includes a scene on the night when Muhammad consummated his marriage with Aisha: “the pain of consummation soon melted away. Muhammad was so gentle. I hardly felt the scorpion’s sting. To be in his arms, skin to skin, was the bliss I had longed for all my life.” Says Ms. Spellberg: “I walked through a metal detector to see ‘Last Temptation of Christ,'” the controversial 1980s film adaptation of a novel that depicted a relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. “I don’t have a problem with historical fiction. I do have a problem with the deliberate misinterpretation of history. You can’t play with a sacred history and turn it into soft core pornography.”

Rather than deal too much with the subject of the story here, as Stephanie has done a great job of discussing the issue, I am going to ask you to watch with me the reaction that people have to this story.  I think that the publisher should be ashamed of pulling it.  I think that the author, Sherry Jones, should be free to shop her book to other publishers without having to return her advance money.  I think that the book should be given a chance at the bookstores.  What I want to watch in the reaction to this is to see if the same people who took affront at PZ Myers will join in on the call to publish this novel.

The issue I am concerned about is where people are willing to draw the line at respecting others’ religious beliefs.  Do you see where I am leading?  The feeling that certain people have about the sacred ban on graphic depictions of the prophet is the same one that Catholics have about the Eucharist.  It is a killing offense, a blasphemy against Allah, the Prophet and all Muslims.

Will the same people who called for PZ to be reprimanded, fired or even killed for his actions now turn around and demand that the book be published; illustrating the hypocrisy that religion engenders?  Or will they now join with the Muslims and Dr. Spellberg to call for respect of others’ beliefs and demanded that Sherry Jones apologize and humble herself before the worldwide anger of Muslims?

Spellberg defends herself in a letter published Saturday in the Wall Street Journal:

As a historian invited to “comment” on the book by its Random House editor at the author’s express request, I objected strenuously to the claim that “The Jewel of Medina” was “extensively researched,” as stated on the book jacket. As an expert on Aisha’s life, I felt it was my professional responsibility to counter this novel’s fallacious representation of a very real woman’s life. The author and the press brought me into a process, and I used my scholarly expertise to assess the novel. It was in that same professional capacity that I felt it my duty to warn the press of the novel’s potential to provoke anger among some Muslims. (emphasis mine, tuibguy.)

I am not sure why she felt it was her responsibility to frantically call Sahed Amanullah and warn him that the book was coming out, and I am not sure if she knew that he would run the Twilight Bark of an Islamic listserv.  It seems so, but it isn’t fair to take his word that she was frantic.

I’ll never be in the position of judging the historical accuracy of the novel, but even though Spellberg thought it was poorly researched, I think that her judgment in telling him that it was offensive without offering to let him read it and make up his own mind was irresponsible and yes, it did lead to the book being pulled.  This happened even though she opposes censorship.  She advocated its censorship in a passive aggressive manner so that she could claim a plausible deniability.  Her hands are clean, she says.

When we recoil in fear from offending the beliefs of another group, we give religion a power it doesn’t deserve.  We let it control even those of us who don’t share the religion.  The people who bugged me the most in the crackergate fiasco were not so much the rabid catholics who wanted to see him destroyed and humiliated, the people who made me most angry were the equivocating atheists who said we should excoriate him because he wasn’t showing the proper respect to a religion he didn’t believe.

Sherry Jones is not showing disrepect, she is writing a novel based on a historical person.  It may or may not be accurate. Stephanie says it is not, in fact, pornographic.  It is a novel, and if it were to be published perhaps it would stimulate interest in Aisha and people would look to Spellberg’s work on Aisha to research further if they were drawn into the story.  She has blocked off this avenue because of her own equivocation, the warning of great danger, and she gave in to the false power of religion to declare offense.

So, let’s see if the Catholics who hate PZ respond to Random House’s decision to call of the book by demanding that they not give into terrorists and go ahead with publication.  If they do, it would be both amusing and infuriating. Muhammad should not be “hands off,” nor should Aisha, but then neither should be a wafer.

All this saddens me. Literature moves civilizations forward, and Islam is no exception. There is in fact a tradition of historical fiction in Islam, including such works as “The Adventures of Amir Hamza,” an epic on the life of Muhammad’s uncle. Last year a 948-page English translation was published, ironically, by Random House. And, for all those who believe the life of the prophet Muhammad can’t include stories of lust, anger and doubt, we need only read the Quran (18:110) where, it’s said, God instructed Muhammad to tell others: “I am only a mortal like you.”

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Today marks the seventh anniversary of George W. Bush’s controversial policy banning federally sponsored research on embryonic stem cell lines.  I still remember when I heard his speech: I was on a mission to find a part for an art project I was working on – there’s an ‘antique electronics’ store in North Seattle I thought would do me well.  It was one of three times I’ve ever pulled over to listen to a radio broadcast.  (The other two: Bill Berry’s retirement and NATO activity in Kosovo.)  On August 9, 2001, I wasn’t yet a stem cell researcher, but I had a decent grasp on the scientific and political implications of some of the various proposals Bush could have put forward.  I also had read that this statement would be the first the new president would make about an issue his conservative evangelical Christian base cared deeply about.

Electron Microscopic Image of an hESC

Electron Microscopic Image of an hESC

Before moving on, interested readers might wish to reacquaint themselves with the federal policy about human embryonic stem cell research.  The bottom line is that human embryonic stem cell (hESC) lines created after 9:00 PM EDT on August 9, 2001 could not be used in research supported by federal funds.  Despite the policy being called in the media a ‘stem cell ban,’ there was no prohibition of stem cell research – if you had your own money, you could do whatever you wanted.

What’s funny about the policy decision Bush ended up making is that it was framed as a compromise between science and religion.  A compromise is usually an agreement that both sides agree on; this one is one that both sides were unhappy with.  Would have representatives of science and faith communities actually sat down to make a proposal, I think the outcome would have been different.  Instead, a small group of insulated advisers devised a proposal that they thought would cut political losses.

Consider one Catholic thinker’s perspective.  Michael Mendiola wrote about stem cell policy in 2001:

I am uncomfortable with the language of compromise, for it seems to intimate too easily that we may ethically give up or water down our most deeply held convictions.  My point, rather, is that we may indeed hold on to those convictions, yet still allow public policies and practices that go against those convictions on good ethical grounds.

He implicitly acknowledges that research on embryonic stem cells could be permitted with the caveat that the policy was founded on some (other than his own) good ethical grounding.  As one of my stem cell researching colleagues recently reminded me, this policy overlooked what should be the basic objection to hESC research in the first place: a mass production (and subsequent destruction) of potentially viable human embryos by the in vitro fertilization (IVF) industry.

Not a single embryo being saved from ultimate destruction, as the IVF industry remains without serious regulation. By delaying research, human health was harmed. An opportunity for a serious discussion and enduring compromise on both fertility treatments and stem cell research was bypassed for political expediency.

This is what Catholic and Evangelical opponents to hESC research should have been concerned about.  Instead, they were deceived that embryonic stem cells came from aborted fetuses.  Sorry folks, the stem cells that come from aborted fetuses are by accepted definition adult stem cells.  (By an ironically sick twisting of fact, one adult stem cell proponent included fetal brain cell treatments for Parkinson’s disease as proof that adult stem cells were better than embryonic cells, but that argument is for a different day.)  No, IVF wasn’t in the cross-hairs of the Bush policy.  It was actually – you guessed it – abortion.

Ask someone on the street today where embryonic stem cells come from and a surprising number belive they are taken from aborted fetuses.  You’re not stupid to think this.  Some really smart people get this confused, and even more had the science mixed up back when policy discussions about stem cell research were in their prime.  The NIH has a good informational sheet about where embryonic stem cells come from at their stem cell website if you need to get back up to speed.

A lot of what I read back in 2000-2004 conflated stem cell research with research on aborted fetuses.  Noted ethicists and theologians would base entire arguments against stem cell research upon the notion that people would start getting paid for abortions.  The oft-cited quote by Karl Barth that

No community, whether family, village or state, is really strong if it will not carry its weak and even its very weakest members

is a slogan of the anti-abortion movement, and rang familiar to sympathetic people of faith.  I think it is fair to use this quote if you agree that a blastocyst in a freezer is in fact a member of a family, village or state.  Practically the embryo is neither.  These balls of cells languish in liquid nitrogen until their owners decide they are no longer needed, at which point they are thawed and disposed of in bleach.

The end result of the policy is that, anything goes if you have your own money.  This slowed down all of the richest universities, but did not stop them, because research was still permitted on the ‘presidentially approved’ lines.  This decision to allow certain lines to be researched still bristled with many in the religious community, because respect for the lives of those 60 11 approved lines was still lacking.

Last year, the Bush Administration paid a few minutes attention to the effects of their stem cell policy.  The group that first derived human embryonic stem cell lines (Thomson et al) confirmed a Japanese group’s discovery that genetic modification of a few (4!) genes could result in immortalized pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) that looked a lot like human embryonic stem cell lines.  The idea is that hESC research was rendered superfluous in the context of a technique that generates the same cells but without destroying embryos.  For many reasons (offered by the iPSC developers themselves) this is not true, but it does make for a good story.  And these cells do present a true middle ground between the scientific proponents and religious opponents to hESC research.  But for the Bush administration to take credit for enacting policies that made this research possible is absurd.  The groundbreaking studies were conducted in Japan.

I personally believe these iPSCs are more scientifically tenable than hESCs as sources for human therapy, and applaud continued research with them.  But so far, every experiment they have been used for has been informed by results from hESC research.  Now that Harvard and several other large universities have set up institutes run completely independent of government funding, hESC research will proceed – if at a still delayed pace.

The unfortunate moral of this story is that the Federal government had an opportunity to enact a responsible set of regulations that could have addressed the unacceptably high rate of embryo destruction in IVF clinics, set reasonable guidelines on the use of those samples in research, and taken the lead in conducting responsible life-giving research.  Instead, President Bush made a political statement that failed to address both the moral concerns of his religious constituency and the health care concerns of the average science-revering American.

For stem cell scientists, August 9, 2001 is a day that will live in infamy.

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Lincoln vs. Darwin

My life outside of blogging has been a little hectic recently.  This has led to a few new experiences for me.

  1. I haven’t had much time to blog.
  2. I haven’t done much reading outside of medicine.
  3. I crave real-life information so much that I’ve bought magazines just to keep in touch with the outside world.

All of this resulted in my purchasing Newsweek the other day.  And why not?  The cover featured two people on my list of folks I’d want to meet if they weren’t dead.

The article tried to decipher whether Abraham Lincoln or Charles Darwin was more important, the answer to which was obvious to me.  Recall that without Darwin, there would have been Wallace; without Lincoln, we’d have…  The article did bring to my attention several interesting factoids about these men’s lives.  I may have once known they were born on the same day (Feb. 12, 1809), but had forgotten.  Also,

Both lost their mothers in early childhood. Both suffered from depression (Darwin also suffered from a variety of crippling stomach ailments and chronic headaches), and both wrestled with religious doubt. Each had a strained relationship with his father, and each of them lost children to early death. Both spent the better part of their 20s trying to settle on a career, and neither man gave much evidence of his future greatness until well into middle age: Darwin published “The Origin of Species” when he was 50, and Lincoln won the presidency a year later.

Consider this description of Darwin’s The Origin of Species by the article’s author (Malcolm Jones):

Reading “The Origin of Species,” you feel as though he is addressing you as an equal. He is never autocratic, never bullying. Instead, he is always willing to admit what he does not know or understand, and when he poses a question, he is never rhetorical. He seems genuinely to want to know the answer. He’s also a good salesman. He knows that what he has to say will not only be troubling for a general reader to take but difficult to understand—so he works very hard not to lose his customer. The book opens not with theory but in the humblest place imaginable: the barnyard, as Darwin introduces us to the idea of species variation in a way we, or certainly his 19th-century audience, will easily grasp—the breeding of domestic animals. The quality of Darwin’s mind is in evidence everywhere in this book, but so is his character—generous, open-minded and always respectful of those who he knew would disagree with him, as you might expect of a man who was, after all, married to a creationist.

So too, was Lincoln generously open minded.  It has been said that he held one of the most politically diverse cabinet of advisers of any American president.  While this is an opinion I’m in no position to argue or agree with, it does make sense to me based on the little I know about Lincoln’s leadership style.

I tried to connect the fact that both men ‘wrestled with religious doubt’ with their eagerness to hear opposing opinions and perspectives that might shape their plans or idea.  I think that too many staunch proponents of creationism have never really wrestled with their faith – at least in terms of their understanding of the natural world.  These need to take their lead from Jacob; he wrestled so much, he dislocated his hip.  And many defenders of evolution have wrestled with a religious faith that they ended up leaving behind in favor of agnostic or atheist perspectives.  Ironically, the occasional post-religion self-righteousness makes it hard for these folks to sit at the same table with religious people and discuss matters influenced by faith.  It’s the respect for those who would disagree that I see missing in so many of today’s ideological conflicts.  If I think literalist creationism is a silly idea, I must still strive not to think the proponent of or believer in that idea is silly.  The chances are good that respect and humility will make more inroads to revealing that evolution doesn’t actually conflict with Christian faith than browbeating.

I’m not saying this is easy.  Maintaining respect and humility when your reasoning suggests there is no logical basis for another person’s beliefs is mighty hard.  I certainly have a long way to go in these regards.  I think it’s useful to call upon Patience and Fortitude.

Patience and Fortitude are also the names of the lions in front of New York City's public library.

Patience and Fortitude are also the names of the lions in front of New York City's public library.

When you move into a new neighborhood, rarely are you accepted immediately.  Maybe you look different than the others.  No one knows you.  Perhaps the previous occupants were anti-social, or you could never live up to the friendliness of the folks who were there before.  Most of the time, fostering good relationships takes time.  Don’t move in and put up a fence right away, or try to tear one down.  Instead, stop by with a misdelivered letter, or shovel the sidewalk.  I think it’s the same way in the science-religion debate.  Do I need to call a differing perspective silly?  Some would advise to call a spade a spade.  That tack lacks the generosity of Lincoln and Darwin.  Perhaps hanging in there and keeping up the conversation will help shape some future greatness.  It worked for Abe and Chuck.

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Design and the Intelligent Design movement (IDM) will probably come up regularly on this blog, and in fact I am eager to discuss the concept of design with the other bloggers here. But it’s almost impossible to bring up “design” without bringing to mind the IDM, and that’s unfortunate, Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Camebecause the IDM is contaminated with some of the most toxic intellectual and cultural ideas that one can find outside of the brand of fundamentalism that Mike brought up a few days ago.

The natural theology of the IDM, and its obvious stealth creationism, are topics for another time. Today I thought I’d point readers to a disturbing outburst by one of the IDM’s leaders, a tirade that is notable for its vicious malice and for its stark explication of the soul of the movement. ID raises interesting (if shopworn) questions about design and information, but its raison d’etre is not design. The IDM is a social and political movement against naturalism (HT: Ted Davis of Messiah College). And Bill Dembski, one of the movement’s most prominent spokespersons, makes it clear that the goal is total war — “culture war” to be exact. Here’s one of the more chilling sections of Dembski’s most recent call to arms:

So here’s the deal, everyone. Theistic evolutionists are implacably opposed to ID… They are happy to jump in bed with Richard Dawkins if it means defeating ID. They are on the wrong side of the culture war. And they need to be defeated.

Those who know anything about the IDM know that culture war is one of its founding principles, but maybe you all didn’t know that Christians like me, who accept and even embrace evolutionary explanations, are among their most reviled foes. Am I on the Enemies List because I criticize ID? (Well, okay, they haven’t actually named me. Yet. Dang.) Nope. What makes “theistic evolutionists” anathema to the culture warriors of the Discovery Institute is made clear in this comment on Dembski’s followup to the Fatwa of 12 June:

I would have preferred peaceful co-existence with the TE’s. My first choice was to agree to disagree—to seek common ground—to dialogue in a spirit of friendliness and mutual respect. But it was they who decided to go on the attack, defending their materialist atheist friends…

Yes, I have “materialist atheist friends,” and I’ve been known to defend them and drink beer with them and even hug them sometimes. And it’s clear that “being in bed with Richard Dawkins” or “defending atheist friends” is far more horrifying to some IDM leaders than is, say, fabricating a fairy tale about “junk DNA.”

Anyway, I’m not currently worrying about mathematicians and aerospace engineers showing up in my driveway with torches, pitchforks and graphing calculators, but if they do, I sure hope Mike and Anastasia will make some room for us in their basements.  And in the meantime, I’m praying that Christians will wake up and see the “culture wars” as the insanely self-destructive exercises that they are, and looking for a day when they give a culture war and nobody comes.

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Religion and… aliens?

Brandon Kiem of Wired Science posted two articles today about religion and aliens that were amusing yet thought provoking: Will Aliens Destroy Earthly Religion? and The Surprising Spirituality of SETI. I find them especially interesting now because I just finished rereading an old favorite: Rama II. It’s not the best SF book, but there is just enough discussion of what may happen to religion in the future to make it interesting for me.

What would happen to individuals and to religious institutions if we discovered that we aren’t alone in the universe? Does a person’s faith or lack thereof make them more or less accepting of the idea that life on other planets might exist, or are the two views unrelated?

I’ve always believed that there is a possibility of intelligent life on other planets that we cannot rule out. If they show up, I won’t be surprised – but neither am I expecting it. Instead, I choose to focus on intelligent life on our planet (more on that in a later post).

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