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You thought the fake doctorates some ministers sport were bad …

A man who writes papers which students turn in as their own, and sometimes takes online courses for them, says in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

I do a lot of work for seminary students. I like seminary students. They seem so blissfully unaware of the inherent contradiction in paying somebody to help them cheat in courses that are largely about walking in the light of God and providing an ethical model for others to follow. I have been commissioned to write many a passionate condemnation of America’s moral decay as exemplified by abortion, gay marriage, or the teaching of evolution. All in all, we may presume that clerical authorities see these as a greater threat than the plagiarism committed by the future frocked.

November 19, 2010 Posted by | Education, Religion | 2 Comments

Who’s smarter than an atheist?

Despite their claims to the contrary, neither Jimmy Akin of the National Catholic Register nor the staff of the Christian Science Monitor will help anyone answer that question.

No. Neither makes the mistake of relying on a shorter Pew Forum quiz to arrive at the wrong answer.

Yet both use headlines which mislead readers toward believing that by comparing their scores on the full, 32-question quiz to the aggregate scores for atheists and agnostics who were surveyed, they can determine whether they’re smarter than an atheist.

Not going to happen. No opportunity to disaggregate the Pew data to find you an atheist with whom to compare yourself is offered.

Nor is the full survey an intelligence test.

The measurement tool reveals and was designed to reveal social trends.

The data can be useful to those who analyze and apply it. As opposed to the recreation of applying the measurement tool to yourself.

September 29, 2010 Posted by | Education, Politics, Religion, Science | , , , , | Comments Off

Atheists & Agnostics, Jews and Mormons score best on test of religious knowledge

Atheists/Agnostics, Mormons and Jews score best on test of religious knowledge

From the Executive Summary of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey

Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons are among the highest-scoring groups on a new survey of religious knowledge, outperforming evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Catholics on questions about the core teachings, history and leading figures of major world religions.

On average, Americans correctly answer 16 of the 32 religious knowledge questions on the survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life. Atheists and agnostics average 20.9 correct answers. Jews and Mormons do about as well, averaging 20.5 and 20.3 correct answers, respectively. Protestants as a whole average 16 correct answers; Catholics as a whole, 14.7. Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons perform better than other groups on the survey even after controlling for differing levels of education.

Atheist PZ Myers did a restrained victory dance.

Get Religion suggests that as a nation we do in fact need to be better informed about religion. Lest Americans continue to excel at believing without knowing.

Matthew C. Nisbet, associate professor in the School of Communication at American University, argued that the survey’s outcome was to be expected, scientifically. He sees it all “in the context of research I have conducted with my colleague Dietram Scheufele on like those shaping political knowledge more generally.”

He explains:

(1) Each of the highest scoring groups is a very small minority in a U.S. culture [that is] dominated by other belief traditions. Under these conditions of minority status, there is much higher motivation for members of these groups to seek out, acquire, and retain knowledge about their own beliefs, the beliefs of others, and the legal protections afforded religion.

(2) This motivation to acquire and retain knowledge is amplified when these minority individuals also anticipate engaging in conversations or arguments with others–where as a small minority–they often have to defend their own beliefs.

In other words, contrary to some of the claims made today, it’s not that atheists are smarter or superior to other groups, but instead, the social climate in the United States encourages and motivates atheists to acquire higher levels of religious knowledge.

While members of more dominant groups feel secure in their relatively uninformed lassitude.

September 28, 2010 Posted by | Education, Religion | , , , , | 1 Comment

Media coverage heightens pressure on Liberty’s Ergun Caner

Posted by SteveDeVane at 7:22 AM

Accusations that Ergun Caner fabricated parts of his background hit newspapers across the country this week increasing the likelihood that the president of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary will have to resign.

For months, Liberty University administrators stood by Caner as bloggers questioned statements he made about his background. Then newspaper reporters started calling, and last week school officials decided to investigate.

If questions from reporters prompted an investigation, one would think the recent articles would force the school to show Caner the door.

GetReligion highlights stories about Caner by Associated Press, The Tennessean and The News & Advance in Lynchburg, Va., where Liberty is located.

The AP story was picked up by papers ranging from the San Francisco Chronicle to the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C.

The GetReligion post correctly notes the importance of a paragraph in The Tennessean story that says several Southern Baptist leaders who have supported Caner in the past declined to comment. One of those who wouldn’t talk is former Southern Baptist Convention president Paige Patterson.

Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, has close ties to Caner and his brother, Emir.

Any chance Southwestern will have an opening for Caner on its staff?

May 20, 2010 Posted by | Education, SBC | , , | 1 Comment

Protesting, Liberty investigates Ergun Caner claims

Liberty University officials will investigate allegations that the president of the school’s seminary fabricated much of his life history, a decision they say they made only after members of the “mainstream media” inquired (not, alas, Wade Burleson, FBC Jax Watchdog and/or other bloggers).

Ergun Caner, the president of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, faces questions regarding discrepancies in statements he has made about his background. A resolution being circulated would ask the Southern Baptist Convention to distance itself from him.

The investigation signals a change for Liberty, which had previously stood by Caner, saying he had done nothing “theologically inappropriate” and the issue was neither ethical nor moral.

University Provost Ron Godwin is forming the committee to conduct a “official inquiry” into the allegations with plans to finish by the end of next month, according to a statement on the university web site.

“Liberty does not initiate personnel evaluations based upon accusations from Internet blogs,” Liberty chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr. said. “However, In light of the fact that several newspapers have raised questions, we felt it necessary to initiate a formal inquiry.”

The announcement did not identify the newspapers. The statement was released a short while after Alternet, a news magazine and online journalism site, posted a story about Caner.

After the Caner investigation is complete, Liberty officials might want to launch a “formal inquiry” into how many people get their news from online sources. They might start with this study that found that the internet is now the third most popular news platform, behind local television news and national television news. Or merely confess that in dissing bloggers, Liberty “doth protest too much.”

May 12, 2010 Posted by | Education, SBC | , | 1 Comment

Condomonium goes to school in Rome

The Vatican is displeased with Kepler scientific secondary school in Rome’s decision Wednesday to install condom vending machines for students. To be in the girls’ and boys’ toilets, they will sell condoms at half the usual retail price.

They didn’t do it just to provoke the Vatican. The London Daily Mail reports:

In a recent survey of 7482 students in Italy by the Ministry of Health on sexual knowledge, 18 per cent admitted regularly having intercourse without using a condom, which officials said had contributed to rises in sexually transmitted diseases.

Other Italian schools and British schools are considering the same action. The British have an additional reason, again from the Daily Mail:

According to he latest figures available from the Italian Ministry of health the teenage pregnancy rate is six per 1000 girls aged between 15 and 19, compared to 26.4 in the United Kingdom – one of the highest in Europe.

Meanwhile, the long and sometimes strident epidemiology/theology debate continues, literally.

March 11, 2010 Posted by | Catholic, Education, Health | , , , , , | Comments Off

New Baylor president not a Baptist … yet

Ken Starr’s appointment as president of Baylor University raised eyebrows not only because of his controversial background investigating President Clinton but because of his non-Baptist religious roots.

Starr told the Texas Baptist Standard that he plans to join a Baptist church before beginning his duties on June 1.

Oklahoma pastor Mitch Randall pointed out in an article at EthicsDaily.com that Starr was raised in the Church of Christ and is currently a member of McLean Bible Church in Virginia.

“I wonder if Starr’s denominational metamorphosis occurred after careful theological reflection and prayer or after a contract was placed before him?” Randall asks.

Tim Rogers at SBC Today sees Starr’s plans as “another church member becoming Baptist because of convenience.”

“I wish Dr. Kenneth Starr the best, but this is another example of becoming a Baptist because it suits a particular need instead of it being a conviction of the soul.”

But Baptist blogger Wade Burleson, takes issue with those who are upset that Starr is “not Baptist enough.”

“I think that we Southern Baptists, unfortunately, are becoming more and more known for being Southern Baptists than devoted followers of Jesus Christ. When we are more concerned about the President of Baylor University being baptized in baptist waters than we are the spiritual condition and maturity of the man who takes the office, then we have sacrificed our ‘Christian’ heritage on the alter of religious ideology.”

Louis Moore, who covered religious issues in Texas for the Houston Chronicle, said in a blog post that Starr “needs to be as clear about his theology as he wanted Bill Clinton to be about his sexual activities.”

Moore’s wife Kay served in the 1990s as a Southern Baptist representative on a dialogue group of 10 Southern Baptists and 10 members of the Church of Christ. Moore lists specific issues that he and his wife feel Starr should address.

“We hope in the next weeks and months Judge Ken Starr will articulate as clearly as he wanted President Bill Clinton to articulate in the courtroom and that he (Starr) will state emphatically what he truly believes about baptism and salvation as well as about minor issues such as whether a church ought to have instrumental music in its worship center, whether a church ought to celebrate Easter, and whether he agrees with the traditional Churches of Christ viewpoint on the role of women in public worship.”

Until Starr answers those questions, hard-line conservative Baptists will have to be happy having a non-Baptist, right-wing political hero as president of the world’s largest Baptist university.

February 16, 2010 Posted by | Education, Religion, SBC | , | Comments Off

N.C. Catholic Bishops’ bad call on public school curricula

North Carolina’s Catholic bishops are overwrought about proposed new language for a nonexistent civics and economics textbook, CNA reports.

Bishop of Raleigh Michael F. Burbidge and Bishop of Charlotte Peter J. Jugis sent a Feb. 11 letter to the state’s Catholics referring to “draft text that is being proposed for a revised textbook on Civics and Economics,” although they are actually taking issue with the language of curriculum standards for Social Studies, Civics and Economics [.pdf]. Not a textbook.

Even so, the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh reports in its News section:

The proposed text asserts that Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that legalized abortion and struck down state and federal laws that regulated and limited access to abortion, is an example of how the Supreme Court has upheld rights against oppressive government. The implication of this proposed text is that opposition to Roe v. Wade is wrong.

The language over which they are hyperventilating, and over which North Carolina’s right-wing Civitas Review waxed righteous before them, is in fact a well-accepted example of U.S. Supreme Court actions upholding individual rights and overruling oppressive government. That general language is so frequently used to define that topic in text books, law review articles, Constitutional Law coursework descriptions and the like that Google search on it returns 4,700,000 (four million, seven hundred thousand) hits.

Specifically, the version we searched on is:

Using three Supreme Court Cases (e.g., Brown v Board, Roe v Wade, Korematsu v US) as support explain how the US Supreme Court has upheld rights against oppressive government?

The bishops’ letter also said comments are closed tomorrow (Feb. 15), and that is incorrect as well. The State Board of Education, Department of Public Instruction has announced via its Web site:

The deadline for feedback on 1.0 has been extended through March 2nd, 2010.

The bishops and Civitas are objecting to a curriculum standard which requires, as it should, honest and accurate student understanding of the law of the land, because they disagree with the law. Not because the curriculum actually errs.

February 15, 2010 Posted by | Catholic, Education | , , , , | Comments Off

Religious Freedom Day

January 16 is Religious Freedom Day, commemorating the Virginia General Assembly’s adoption of Thomas Jefferson’s landmark Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom on January 16, 1786. In his proclamation | [.pdf] this year, President Barack Obama writes:

The Virginia Statute was more than a law. It was a statement of principle, declaring freedom of religion as the natural right of all humanity — not a privilege for any government to give or take away. Penned by Thomas Jefferson and championed in the Virginia legislature by James Madison, it barred compulsory support of any church and ensured the freedom of all people to profess their faith openly, without fear of persecution. Five years later, the First Amendment of our Bill of Rights followed the Virginia Statute’s model, stating, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . .”.

This is a good time to review both the frequently misstated history of religious freedom in the United States, and the frequently misdescribed current law: Religious Expression in American Life: A Joint Statement of Current Law.

The struggle to variously redefine the former and rewrite the latter is ongoing.

January 16, 2010 Posted by | Education, History, Law | | 1 Comment

Australia’s NSW Police investigating Scientology

“Hundreds of allegations” against the Church of Scientology are being investigation by New South Wales Police, the Sydney Morning Herald reported Tuesday.

This investigation of the cult founded by the late L. Ron Hubbard was provoked by “a series of letters from former members tabled in Federal Parliament by independent senator Nick Xenophon,” reported The Age.

Xenophon used parliamentary privilege to accuse Scientology of criminal misconduct, including torture and forced abortions. The Sydney Morning Herald reported:

The most senior executive to defect from the church, American Marty Rathbun, has said the allegations, including coercion to have abortions and donate money, are unwritten church policy, dictated from its head office, according to a speech by the Greens MP John Kaye to the NSW Upper House.

Federal funding to two schools closely linked to Scientology was also under fire. Herald education editor Anna Patty wrote:

FEWER than 100 children will benefit from more than $1.6 million in Federal Government subsidies over four years to two schools strongly linked to the Scientology movement.
. . .
A NSW Greens MP, John Kaye, said the Athena School had enrolled fewer than 50 students last year, according to NSW Government figures. He said the Rudd Government, despite its concerns about Scientology, had endorsed the use of public money to support a school that promoted Hubbard’s teaching.

”Public funding to the Scientology schools promotes the teachings of an organisation that has been accused of intimidation, blackmail and fraud.”

Dr. Kaye said:

”These explosive revelations underline the urgency of investigating the operations of the Church of Scientology in Australia. It is possible that recognising the organisation as a religion was a grave mistake that has granted legitimacy to a cult that bullies, intimidate and exploits,” he said.

”There is a growing case for comprehensive examination not only of the church leadership in Australia but also of the church itself as a religion.”

December 2, 2009 Posted by | Crime, Education | | Comments Off

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