January 28 - February 3, 2007

This column will provide links to, plus quotes and summaries of, on-line articles that might be of interest to the Infidel community. Because theinfidels.org is concerned with educational issues, the articles selected will help to inform and enlighten readers as well as entertain them. In order to conform to "fair use practices," only small segments of the articles will be quoted. One caveat: to read the entire linked article, readers may have to subscribe to on-line versions of newspapers or magazines.

In an editorial in the Boston Globe, Derrick Z. Jackson opines about Bush's sudden departure from saying "God Bless America" at the end of his speeches (including the recent State of the Union address):

GOD BLESS President Bush for not saying "God bless America." [...]
For the Bush presidency, divinity has been too close to political design. Former Attorney General John Ashcroft quoted the Bible in depicting the war on terror as a "defense of our freedom in the most profound sense. It is the defense of our right to make moral choices, to seek fellowship with God." Bush talked out of both sides of his mouth to the Washington Post's Bob Woodward, claiming that he would not justify a war based on God but that he prayed to be "as good a messenger of his will as possible."

Perhaps the messenger, in the privacy of his soul, questions whether Thy will was done. Six years of asking God to bless America while cursing global cooperation has created more hell than heaven. Just maybe, Bush, seeing his party humbled in the November elections, has decided to take on a more humble approach in general.

War aside, asking for blessing for merely one's own country becomes more anachronistic with each computer service call we make to India, with each Japanese car factory in mid-America, with every sneaker made in China, Vietnam, and Indonesia, and of course, with every barrel of oil we import from undemocratic or barely democratic nations in the Middle East and Africa. Whether he meant it or not, Bush is headed in the right direction on publicly asking for God's blessing. America under his watch had been giving a bad name to God.

Read the full Globe article here...

It's amazing how easily science can take a backseat under staunch religious protest by off-base visionaries of the coming apocalypse and the "return of Christ." From the Washington Post:

Hardiman, a parent of seven here in the southern suburbs of Seattle, has himself roiled the global-warming waters. It happened early this month when he learned that one of his daughters would be watching "An Inconvenient Truth" in her seventh-grade science class.

"No you will not teach or show that propagandist Al Gore video to my child, blaming our nation -- the greatest nation ever to exist on this planet -- for global warming," Hardiman wrote in an e-mail to the Federal Way School Board. The 43-year-old computer consultant is an evangelical Christian who says he believes that a warming planet is "one of the signs" of Jesus Christ's imminent return for Judgment Day.

His angry e-mail (along with complaints from a few other parents) stopped the film from being shown to Hardiman's daughter.

Read the complete story here...

Sadly, here's a report of a growing alliance between a gay basher and U.S. Slavic churches. I bring this news with real regrets, as my family is all Slavic. From the Seattle Times:

On a recent Sunday morning, at a strip mall in Kent, a few hundred people gathered to worship, rocking out to a band playing contemporary worship songs and cheering on the fiery pastor -- all in Russian.

This might seem an unlikely place for Ken Hutcherson -- Redmond's Antioch Bible Church senior pastor, who is known for outspoken views against homosexuality -- to look for allies in his effort to overturn a state law banning discrimination against gays and lesbians.

But then Pastor Andrey Shapovalov asked the children to come forward. Bless them, he said. "Pray that none of them become homosexuals or lesbians or have abortions or live a life of crime."

Find the complete article here...

Here is a somewhat testy review of "The God Delusion," at the New York Review of Books (though after reading the earlier stories, it would seem Dawkins' book needs only further exposure):

The creationist argument works like this. Living things are enormously complex. Even the simplest of present-day organisms, like bacteria, are far more complicated than anything found in the nonliving world. All organisms carry genes, built from a replicating molecule like DNA (which is itself very complex). But DNA alone doesn't make an organism. Organisms also possess many different proteins (each, in turn, made of amino acids), as well as other molecules that help make structures like cell membranes. Moreover, all these parts must be arranged in just the right way: membranes on the outside of the cell and DNA on the inside, and so on. Creationists argue that the idea that such organized complexity could arise by natural means—without the intercession of a designer mind— is absurd. In particular, they argue that the probability that life could assemble itself spontaneously is extremely close to zero. To dramatize this, they suggest that thinking life could arise by natural means is like thinking a tornado could tear through a junkyard and assemble a Boeing 747. Such an event is not, strictly speaking, impossible but it's so extraordinarily unlikely that it is, according to creationists, unworthy of serious consideration.[1]

Dawkins's variation on this argument involves a judo-like move in which he turns its logic against itself. In particular, Dawkins claims that rejecting natural means to explain life and instead invoking a designer God leaves us with a hypothesis that's even more improbable than the naturalistic one:

"A designer God cannot be used to explain organized complexity because any God capable of designing anything would have to be complex enough to demand the same kind of explanation in his own right.

"In short, only complicated objects can design simpler ones; information cannot flow in the other direction, with simple objects designing complicated ones. But that means any designer God would have to be more complex —and thus even more improbable— than the universe he was supposed to explain. This argument, Dawkins concludes, 'comes close to proving that God does not exist': the God Hypothesis has a vanishingly small probability of being right."

Read the full review here...

New thinking about "magical thinking," also published in the NY Times:

Psychologists and anthropologists have typically turned to faith healers, tribal cultures or New Age spiritualists to study the underpinnings of belief in superstition or magical powers. Yet they could just as well have examined their own neighbors, lab assistants or even some fellow scientists. New research demonstrates that habits of so-called magical thinking — the belief, for instance, that wishing harm on a loathed colleague or relative might make him sick — are far more common than people acknowledge.

These habits have little to do with religious faith, which is much more complex because it involves large questions of morality, community and history. But magical thinking underlies a vast, often unseen universe of small rituals that accompany people through every waking hour of a day.

The appetite for such beliefs appears to be rooted in the circuitry of the brain, and for good reason. The sense of having special powers buoys people in threatening situations, and helps soothe everyday fears and ward off mental distress. In excess, it can lead to compulsive or delusional behavior. This emerging portrait of magical thinking helps explain why people who fashion themselves skeptics cling to odd rituals that seem to make no sense, and how apparently harmless superstition may become disabling.

Find the complete Times article here...

Women just don't "cut it" in instructing men about religion, no matter if they're scholars. And so retro trends continue among conservative Baptists, though one minister named Wade Burleson spoke up in defense of a particular professor, Sheri Klouda. From the Dallas Morning News:

"Sheri Klouda is not a pastor, she has not been ordained or licensed, she does not perform ministerial duties. She is a professor, for heaven's sake," Mr. Burleson said by phone Friday. "The same institution that conferred her degree and hired her has now removed her for gender. To me, that is a very serious, ethical, moral breach."

Dr. Patterson did not respond to requests for comment. Speaking for the seminary instead was Van McClain, chairman of the Southwestern trustees.

He confirmed that Dr. Klouda was told she would not get tenure and was encouraged to find another job. He would not say why.

But Dr. McClain did say that Dr. Klouda's hiring as a professor in the school of theology, which occurred before Dr. Patterson arrived in 2003, represented a "momentary lax of the parameters."

Southwestern, he said, has gone back to its "traditional, confessional and biblical position" that women should not instruct men in theology or biblical languages.

Read the full story here...

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