Southern Religion

Scientists ask, is religion adaptive?

There are good reasons to ask. Jesse Bering of the Scientific American writes:

Given the world’s political climate, it is hardly necessary to point out why having a better scientific understanding of religious behavior is worthwhile. In fact, while we were meeting in this overly decadent tearoom, a large group protesting Israel’s recent Gaza strikes against Hamas was marching outside the hotel, demonstrating against yet another conflict at least partially fueled by head-scratching religious ideologies.

He was attending a scientific conference about foundations of religious belief and behavior. And the findings were predictably abstruse.

Afterlife was disposed of as a product of an inability to conceive of our own nonexistence. Belief in God as evolved from the cementing effect the threat of divine punishment has on groups. Church attendance as a way of establishing trust. And so on in the search for scientific meaning amid man’s discovery or higher meaning.

Like religious confessionals, this one was best when it took on a touch of hope and a touch of penance.

When Bering wrote:

At the very least, I hope that this type of research helps people get past the simplistic pigeonholing that all too often occurs when discussing science and religion—that religious people are “airheads and stubborn to science” and scientists are “cold materialists without a spiritual side.” I, for one, am a bit of both of these things.

Oh, and to answer the question, since Bering didn’t quite assert an answer, some scientists tend to presume as a matter of faith that religion is adaptive.

Because religion has survived and flourished. Whereas maladaptive practices rarely do that (survival of the fittest tells us).

January 23, 2009 Posted by | Science | , , , | Comments Off on Scientists ask, is religion adaptive?

Sistine YouTube (blogging pope?)

Slowed by an inheritance of Bush technological ineptitude, the Obama administration may reflect wistfully from time to time on the Catholic Church’s YouTube channel.


Retro in design until almost the apotheosis of retro, the Vatican site describes its YouTube channel:

This channel offers news coverage of the main
activities of the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI and of relevant Vatican events.
It is updated daily.
Video images are produced by Centro Televisio Vaticano (CTV), texts by Vatican Radio (RV) and CTV.
This video-news presents the Catholic Churchs position regarding the principal issues of the world today.
Links give access to the full and official texts of cited documents.

Pope Benedict XVI plans to get his views out regularly via YouTube.

This should not leave you with the impression that the Vatican is new to new media. Reuters reports the Vatican has had a Web site since 1995.

The next step is obvious, then. Inspired by the example of scribes of a bygone era and perhaps piqued a little by the success a very Protestant Obama is having at it, when will His Excellency begin to blog?

January 23, 2009 Posted by | Science | Comments Off on Sistine YouTube (blogging pope?)

Vatican concerned about 1st human trials for embryonic stem cell therapies

Catholic News Service wrote:

Catholic church leaders have spoken extensively about the ethics of using embryonic stem cells. Most recently Cardinal Francis E. George, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote Jan. 19 to President Barack Obama discussing this and other health-related issues. Read the letter here.

In December, the Vatican issued a 32-page document, “Dignitatis Personae” (”The Dignity of a Person”) in which it warned of of the ethical dilemmas posed by new developments in stem cell research. Read the CNS story here.

How concerned?

CNS will have a report on this next week.

In response to FDA approval of trials, “which will use human stem cells authorized for research by then-President George W. Bush in 2001.”

The Washington Post reports:

Geron Corp., a California-based biotech company, has been given the OK to implant embryonic stem cells in eight to 10 paraplegic patients who can use their arms but can’t walk. Stem cell injections will be given within two weeks of the injury. The study will begin this summer, and will be conducted at up to seven different medical centers.

. . .

Patients will receive injections at the site of the injury. It is hoped these cells will mature into cells that will repair damaged nerves and produce chemicals that nerve cells need to function and grow.

This is about healing the lame and the halt. To us, this is about following a good example as best we mortals can.

January 23, 2009 Posted by | Religion, Science | , , , , | Comments Off on Vatican concerned about 1st human trials for embryonic stem cell therapies

Anti-evolutions’ loss confirmed in ‘formal’ Texas Board of Education vote

Terrence Stutz of the Dallas Morning News reported at 11:09 AM CST on Friday, January 23, 2009:

AUSTIN – Without debate, the State Board of Education today tentatively approved new science curriculum standards that scrap a longstanding requirement that students be taught the “weaknesses” in the theory of evolution.

The action followed a meeting Thursday in which members who are aligned with social conservatives failed to muster enough votes on the 15-member board to retain the rule. Only seven Republican members backed the requirement.

The rest of the story here.

Full explanation of the debate here.

January 23, 2009 Posted by | Politics, Science | , , , | Comments Off on Anti-evolutions’ loss confirmed in ‘formal’ Texas Board of Education vote

bWe: Baptist Women for Equality

Shirley Taylor, a former employee of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, has founded a group called bWe – Baptist Women for Equality, whose goal is to open Southern Baptist leadership roles to women.

Specifically, they “advocate for women deacons and women pastors in Baptist churches.”

Their Web site offers An Open Letter to Baptists (.pdf) which introduces the group and includes brief discussions of scripture and the Southern Baptist Convention’s 2000 Baptist Faith and Message.

It begins:

Even if you think everything is all right in your church, please consider those other churches where women can be Ministers to Children, Ministers to Youth, Ministers to Women, can be on all committees which make church policy and pertain to theology, and financial matters, but who cannot serve a piece of bread and cup of juice.

Do you know why your church does not have women deacons? It can be found in “the cold heart of the church” which is your church’s By-laws. Church By-laws can be changed. When women decide that enough is enough, the cold heart of the church will be changed to include women as Deacons and accept women as Pastors.

Closing the site home page is:

How often do you tell your daughter that she is scripturally inferior to your son?

You tell her every time you take her to church.

How often do you tell your son that he is scripturally superior to his sister?

You tell them every time you take them to church.

Unless your church recognizes women deacons and women pastors.

The site has been frequently updated with new materials, thus far all in .pdf format.

Southern Baptist policies appear to us to be the focus of the site and its literature, since there are other Baptist organizations whose policies with regard to women are far more inclusive.

We look forward to learning more about the group and following their progress.

More about bWe

Goals, rationale, hope for success [here].

January 23, 2009 Posted by | Cultural, Religion | , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Mexico City policy reversed

Reuters reports that President Barack Obama will reverse reversed the Mexico City Policy today.

Called the Mexico City Policy because it was unveiled at a United Nations conference there in 1984 by former President Ronald Reagan, it forbidsforbade U.S. funding abroad to organizations which offer abortion services or counseling to provide legal abortion, counsel or refer for abortion, or lobby for the legalization of abortion in their country.

Catholic Culture protests:

Cardinal Francis George noted in a recent letter to the president, “The Mexico City Policy, first established in 1984, has wrongly been attacked as a restriction on foreign aid for family planning. In fact, it has not reduced such aid at all, but has ensured that family planning funds are not diverted to organizations dedicated to performing and promoting abortions instead of reducing them. Once the clear line between family planning and abortion is erased, the idea of using family planning to reduce abortions becomes meaningless, and abortion tends to replace contraception as the means for reducing family size. A shift toward promoting abortion in developing nations would also increase distrust of the United States in these nations, whose values and culture often reject abortion, at a time when we need their trust and respect.”

Whereas Marty Meehan and Gloria Feldt explained in the Boston Globe:

The “Mexico City” policy prohibits US dollars and contraceptive supplies from going to any international family planning program that provides abortions or counsels women about their reproductive health options. The policy isn’t about money going to pay for abortions. Even those groups that use only private funds for abortion services — where abortion is legal — are barred from assistance. This is money going to family planning programs.

[N]ot only are organizations that provide or counsel about abortion services affected; those that dare to take part in a public discussion about legalizing abortion are also affected (hence the name “global gag rule”). … This policy has nothing to do with government-sponsored abortions overseas. Ten years before the gag rule was in place the law strictly prohibited that. This policy is about disqualifying prochoice organizations from receiving US international family planning funding.

Under Bush’s policy, organizations that play a vital role in women’s health are forced to make an impossible choice. If they refuse to be “gagged,” they lose the funding that enables them to help women and families who are cut off from basic health care and family planning. But if they accept funding, they must accept restrictions that jeopardize the health of the women they serve.

The most tragic ramifications have been felt in the developing world. In Kenya, for example, two of the leading family planning organizations have been forced to shut down five clinics dispensing aid from prenatal care and vaccinations to malaria screening and AIDS prevention. Kenya’s experience is common, according to “Access Denied,” a report on the impact of the global gag rule on developing nations. Researchers found that programs for rural communities and urban slums have been scaled back by as much as 50 percent. As a result more women are turning to unsafe abortion — a leading cause of death for young women in much of Africa — because they lack access to family planning information and essential contraceptive supplies.

Legally, the eliminated order would be unconstitutional in the United States and restricts foreign organizations from engaging activities that are legal in their own countries and here.

Whether you agree with its goals or not, the rule was and always has been a use of presidential fiat to legislate action which the actual legislative process would not support. It is well discarded.

January 23, 2009 Posted by | Science | Comments Off on Mexico City policy reversed

More prayer on the right, and less politicking?

Pulpits which thundered on the right, now turning away from the culture wars?

Sandhya Bathija, writing at the Americans United for Separation of Church and State blog, says::

William Graham Tullian Tchividjian, the grandson of famous evangelist Billy Graham and the new pastor of Ft. Lauderdale’s Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, surprisingly says he has no interest talking politics. It’s quite a change from his grandfather, and even more so from his predecessor, TV preacher D. James Kennedy.

Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church’s former pastor was a religious right leader who pursued the culture wars from his pulpit and on his radio and television broadcasts, books, pamphlets, tapes and DVDs.

That left an impression. One Tchividjian is correcting.

On Tuesday he told the Miami Herald:

”Dr. Kennedy came from a completely different generation, and my leadership by that fact alone will be different,” Tchividjian said.

While the late Kennedy kept a hand in all aspects of the church organization, including its radio, television and print media arm, and Westminster Academy and Knox Theological Seminary in Fort Lauderdale, Tchividjian will oversee only the main church.

”Those ministries have gone their own separate ways. They have their own presidents,” said Coral Ridge executive minister Ronald Siegenthaler. “The church will be more focused on the local community, as opposed to more national and international outreach.”

We feel Bathija is right when she argues that Tchividjian is in step with the Pew Forum’s August 2008, survey which found that 52 percent of Americans agreed that houses of worship should keep out of politics.

If a harbinger, Tchividjian is certainly a notable one. He will, however, not be lonely. The demographics are, for many, irresistible.

January 23, 2009 Posted by | Cultural, Religion | , , , , | 3 Comments

Still a faith-based nation

Faith-Based Organizations, as a result of Bush regulatory changes, now successfully “retain their religious identity while providing publicly funded services.”

Reviewing Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in well-stated detail, Winnifred Fallers Sullivan concludes:

Understanding Americans to be fundamentally religious is now deeply embedded in government and in our public culture. That is the default position. Not secularism. Chaplaincies are proliferating across the U.S. to serve Americans in the military, in hospitals, in colleges, in the workplace—and in crisis situations. While President Obama is careful to speak always with respect for people who are not religious, all the evidence suggests that we are still a faith-based nation.

It is at The Immanent Frame blog, here.

January 23, 2009 Posted by | Politics | , , , , | Comments Off on Still a faith-based nation

Obama clearly pro-choice

President Barack Obama was politic but uncompromising. He did not on Thursday end to the “Mexico City policy” requiring any non-governmental organization to agree before receiving U.S. funds that it will “neither perform nor actively promote abortion as a method of family planning in other nations.” Although he will later. Nor did he give way on previously expressed values.

The core of Obama’s Roe v. Wade anniversary statement:

On the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we are reminded that this decision not only protects women’s health and reproductive freedom, but stands for a broader principle: that government should not intrude on our most private family matters. I remain committed to protecting a woman’s right to choose. While this is a sensitive and often divisive issue, no matter what our views, we are united in our determination to prevent unintended pregnancies, reduce the need for abortion, and support women and families in the choices they make. To accomplish these goals, we must work to find common ground to expand access to affordable contraception, accurate health information, and preventative services.

Is this not unequivocally pro-choice?

January 23, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Texas school board anti-evolutionists lose

A 20-year-old requirement that high school science classes discuss the so-called weaknesses in the theory of evolution, was dropped in a preliminary vote Thursday by the Texas State Board of Education.


The formal vote is scheduled today.

The Board was swayed, according to both the Dallas Morning News and Houston Chronicle, by the advice of a panel of science educators.

“We’re not talking about faith. We’re not talking about religion,” said board member Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi. “We’re talking about science. We need to stay with our experts and respect what they have requested us to do.”

Kathy Miller, president of the watchdog group Texas Freedom Network (which live-blogs the debate here), has argued that the word weaknesses “has become a code word in the culture wars to attack evolution and promote creationism.”

Or as Howard M. Friedman at Religion Clause explains:

The new language calls on students to “analyze and evaluate scientific explanations using empirical evidence.” Proponents of the new language say that the “strengths and weaknesses” formulation is used to justify exposing students to religious theories masquerading as science.

The key issues are explored at Teach them Science, a Web site devoted to the issue. It is maintained by the Center for Inquiry and the Clergy Letter Project. Or, alternatively, the New York Times offers a balanced but ultimately less detailed overview. And if you wish more, current detail, Tony’s curricublog has audio files of the hearings.

Other curriculum votes are scheduled for March, so the heated, two-decade debate is by no means over.

The final decision is of overarching importance because the size of the Texas textbook market gives it sweeping, national impact on the way school science textbooks in general are written.


Terrence Stutz of the Dallas Morning News reported at 11:09 AM CST on Friday, January 23, 2009:

AUSTIN – Without debate, the State Board of Education today tentatively approved new science curriculum standards that scrap a longstanding requirement that students be taught the “weaknesses” in the theory of evolution.

The rest of the story here.

January 23, 2009 Posted by | Science | , , , | 1 Comment