February 18 - 24, 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.


The first item in this week's column may be a familiar story, as Kansas and Evolution are intertwined in the memories of U.S. citizens, with this tug-of-war between science and intelligent design never seeming to cease in the land of Dorothy and Toto. Right now, science is winning. From the Kansas City Star:

TOPEKA | Capping two years of bitter controversy and occasional ridicule, the Kansas Board of Education on Tuesday rescinded science curriculum standards that cast doubt on evolution.

In their place are new guidelines reflecting the scientific consensus that evolution is a foundation of modern biology and a critical component to a science education. It’s the fourth time the board has changed the standards in eight years.


The first item in this week's column may be a familiar story, as Kansas and Evolution are intertwined in the memories of U.S. citizens, with this tug-of-war between science and intelligent design never seeming to cease in the land of Dorothy and Toto. Right now, science is winning. >From the Kansas City Star:

//TOPEKA | Capping two years of bitter controversy and occasional ridicule, the Kansas Board of Education on Tuesday rescinded science curriculum standards that cast doubt on evolution.

In their place are new guidelines reflecting the scientific consensus that evolution is a foundation of modern biology and a critical component to a science education. It’s the fourth time the board has changed the standards in eight years.//

Read the full article here...



This story from the New York Times throws a spotlight on scientists or science students who believe very strongly in religious myths about "the young earth." It includes comments from a professor (Michael Dini) at Texas Tech University (in Lubbock, TX, where I live); Dini was involved in a controversy for insisting that his students be completely competent in biology to get letters of recommendation from him:

But Dr. Ross is hardly a conventional paleontologist. He is a “young earth creationist” — he believes that the Bible is a literally true account of the creation of the universe, and that the earth is at most 10,000 years old.
For him, Dr. Ross said, the methods and theories of paleontology are one “paradigm” for studying the past, and Scripture is another. In the paleontological paradigm, he said, the dates in his dissertation are entirely appropriate. The fact that as a young earth creationist he has a different view just means, he said, “that I am separating the different paradigms.”

He likened his situation to that of a socialist studying economics in a department with a supply-side bent. “People hold all sorts of opinions different from the department in which they graduate,” he said. “What’s that to anybody else?”

But not everyone is happy with that approach. “People go somewhat bananas when they hear about this,” said Jon C. Boothroyd, a professor of geosciences at Rhode Island. [...]

Michael L. Dini, a professor of biology education at Texas Tech University, goes even further. In 2003, he was threatened with a federal investigation when students complained that he would not write letters of recommendation for graduate study for anyone who would not offer “a scientific answer” to questions about how the human species originated.

Nothing came of it, Dr. Dini said in an interview, adding, “Scientists do not base their acceptance or rejection of theories on religion, and someone who does should not be able to become a scientist.”


Read the complete Times article here...


Just to show that people in a non-religious society can be superstitious, a story about the rise of fortune telling in China, according to an article in The Christian Science Monitor:

Wherever you look, happy hogs are rearing up on their hind trotters advertising this or that, or simply waving banners emblazoned with the new Chinese credo, for which the coming year is believed to be especially favorable: "Get Rich."

Advertising and commercial pressures have swept superstitious consumers into a froth of excitement that reveals how much many Chinese today hope that traditional fortunetelling tools can enrich them as they pursue former Supreme Leader Deng Xiaoping's famously un-Communist exhortation, "To get rich is glorious."

Fortune telling, an ancient Chinese art officially frowned upon by the country's Communist authorities, is a booming industry in modern China. People's belief in divination, life charts, geomancy, and simple lucky numbers is on the rise, say practitioners, followers, and sociologists.

Read the article in the Monitor here...


An unsettling story from The Washington Post about increasing tensions and violence between Sunni and Shiite throughout the Middle East:

The growing Sunni-Shiite divide is roiling an Arab world as unsettled as at any time in a generation. Fought in speeches, newspaper columns, rumors swirling through cafes and the Internet, and occasional bursts of strife, the conflict is predominantly shaped by politics: a disintegrating Iraq, an ascendant Iran, a sense of Arab powerlessness and a persistent suspicion of American intentions. But the division has begun to seep into the region's social fabric, too. The sectarian fault line has long existed and sometimes ruptured, but never, perhaps, has it been revealed in such a stark, disruptive fashion.

Newspapers are replete with assertions, some little more than incendiary rumors, of Shiite aggressiveness. The Jordanian newspaper Ad-Dustour, aligned with the government, wrote of a conspiracy last month to spread Shiism from India to Egypt. On the conspirators' agenda, it said: assassinating "prominent Sunni figures." The same day, an Algerian newspaper reported that parents were calling on the government to stop Shiite proselytizing in schools. An Egyptian columnist accused Iran of trying to convert Sunnis to Shiism in an attempt to revive the Persian Safavid dynasty, which came to power in the 16th century.


Read the complete artice here...


A rather fine review of Hirsi Ali's autobiography, about her becoming an infidel to Islam. The New York Times has given her a fair amount of coverage in recent weeks:

A Somali by birth and a recently elected member of the Dutch Parliament, Ms. Hirsi Ali had waged a personal crusade to improve the lot of Muslim women. Her warnings about the dangers posed to the Netherlands by unassimilated Muslims made her Public Enemy No. 1 for Muslim extremists, a feminist counterpart to Salman Rushdie.

The circuitous, violence-filled path that led Ms. Hirsi Ali from Somalia to the Netherlands is the subject of “Infidel,” her brave, inspiring and beautifully written memoir. Narrated in clear, vigorous prose, it traces the author’s geographical journey from Mogadishu to Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya, and her desperate flight to the Netherlands to escape an arranged marriage.

At the same time, Ms. Hirsi Ali describes a journey “from the world of faith to the world of reason,” a long, often bitter struggle to come to terms with her religion and the clan-based traditional society that defined her world and that of millions of Muslims all over.


Read the full Times story here...


A few weeks ago, I spoke to my Unitarian fellowship about many problems related to sports, including bias and violence among athletes and coaches, and here is an article on ethics and sports as relates to high school athletes, from the Los Angeles Times:

"There is reason to worry that the sports fields of America are becoming the training grounds for the next generation of corporate and political villains and thieves," says Los Angeles ethicist Michael Josephson.

The latest two-year study of high school athletes by the Josephson Institute found a higher rate of cheating in school among student-athletes than among their classmates. It also found a growing acceptance of cheating to gain advantages in competition.

Josephson's report, based on interviews across the country with 5,275 high school athletes, concluded that too many coaches are "teaching our kids to cheat and cut corners."

Read the full story here...



Closing with happier news, a report appeared in The Boston Globe about educated and smart women having more successful marriages, which puts aside the stereotype of the "old maid school teacher":

Pity the overschooled old maid and the lonely career woman. Highly educated or high-achieving women are less likely to marry and have children than other women. If they do marry, they are more likely to divorce. Even if they don't divorce, their marriages will be less happy. And, oh, yes, they'll be sexually frustrated, too.

These maxims, widely accepted for at least two centuries, are bad news for a state so focused on brainy pursuits. Thirty-five percent of Massachusetts women 25 and older have a bachelor's degree or more, a level of educational attainment almost 10 points higher than the national average. So perhaps it follows that 28 percent of women in the state have never been married. Massachusetts's proportion of never-married females is the third highest in the nation, topped only by the District of Columbia and the state of New York. But are these women really educating themselves out of the marriage market? If a woman reads Proust or computes calculus, is she unable to attract a mate?

Conventional wisdom says the answer to both questions is yes. But a close look at the historical transformation of marriage in America suggests that educated women now have a surprising advantage when it comes to matrimony.

Read the full Globe article here...

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