Intelligent Design

Sky-high journalism: A new look at old, old story of whether we're alone in the universe?

Sky-high journalism: A new look at old, old story of whether we're alone in the universe?

Are there other intelligent beings somewhere out there in the cosmos? Forget science fiction. Recent news said level-headed U.S. Navy pilots reported seeing what seemed like UFOs, so classified military protocol deals with how to handle such incidents. Meanwhile, scientists, aided by new technology, have spent decades seeking to contact alien life.

Nonetheless, “perhaps humanity is truly alone,” contends Ethan Siegel, an astrophysics theorist and college teacher turned science writer, in a cover story for the June Commentary magazine. This old, old story is ever new, and perhaps it’s time for journalists to run it past some quotable theologians for an off-the-news if not off-the-wall feature.

Siegel himself offers no insights on the obvious religious implications. That’s not surprising, since he’s an atheist, albeit a Jewish one, who preaches that “everything that has ever happened in this universe requires nothing more than the laws of nature to explain them.”

Still, the questions nag. Did God, or intelligent design's Designer, create beings like us on Earth and nowhere else?

If so, why? Or, if there is intelligent life in other realms, what is God’s purpose with mere earthlings? Are those extraterrestrials “sinful” and “fallen” like us? What would this mean for Christianity’s belief that God was uniquely incarnated on Earth in Jesus Christ? And so forth.

Darwin’s theory of evolution becomes probable when vast stretches of time allow vast accumulations of genetic mutations that can undergo vast selection to yield the origin of vast species. (The Guy, no science whiz, senses that the sudden emergence of countless advanced life forms during the “Cambrian Explosion” half a billion years ago is hard to fully comprehend in such simple terms).

Probabilities also seem to tell us there just have to be many forms of intelligent life beyond those on Earth.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

The New Yorker profiles Pence, but only gets half the man (and guess what is missing)

The New Yorker profiles Pence, but only gets half the man (and guess what is missing)

Certainly I was interested in reading about the unlikely match between the "coarse New York billionaire and the prim Indiana evangelical" that is now running our country, which is why I quickly reached for the New Yorker's piece on Vice President Mike Pence.

With a headline of "The Danger of President Pence," I knew where the article was going, but I hoped there might be solid, factual, even fair-minded gleanings about Pence's faith and how his God connection guides what he does. 

The bottom line: I found little there that other writers hadn't already covered. The feature began like this:

On September 14th, the right-wing pundit Ann Coulter, who last year published a book titled “In Trump We Trust,” expressed what a growing number of Americans, including conservatives, have been feeling since the 2016 election. The previous day, President Trump had dined with Democratic leaders at the White House, and had impetuously agreed to a major policy reversal, granting provisional residency to undocumented immigrants who came to America as children. Republican legislators were blindsided. Within hours, Trump disavowed the deal, then reaffirmed it. Coulter tweeted, “At this point, who doesn’t want Trump impeached?” She soon added, “If we’re not getting a wall, I’d prefer President Pence.”

The piece goes on to describe how little attention has been paid to Pence (who refused to be interviewed for the piece) until now, when people are longing for anyone, anything to replace Trump. And that Pence, with his political experience, conservative moorings and connections, may be as dangerous as his boss or even more so (you know, all that religion stuff).

The New Yorker then went on a long digression about Pence’s connections with billionaires Charles and David Koch. (Not surprisingly, the reporter, Jane Mayer, did not mete out the same criticism to multi-billionaire George Soros and his contributions to Democrats but then again, this part of the piece is recycled from her recent book “Dark Money” about conservative fat cats ).

Any fresh religious content is surprisingly skimpy, when you consider that this is a profile on a very devout man. Starting in his college days:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

When discussing Dawkins' dissing, journalists miss a major irony and lots of context

When discussing Dawkins' dissing, journalists miss a major irony and lots of context

Richard Dawkins is, arguably, the world's most famous atheist. He opposes religions of all stripes as "false," dangerous and anti-scientific. And while that stance has earned him the opprobrium -- and, presumably the prayers -- of many faithful people in many religious traditions, it's rarely gotten him bounced from a speaking engagement.

Until now.

Radio station KPFA in Berkeley, California, canceled an event featuring Dawkins -- in the video above, he uses the rather charming term "de-platformed" to describe it -- because the station didn't like the author's "assertions during his current book tour that Islam is the “most evil” of world religions, Twitter posts denigrating Muslim scholars as non-scholars and other tweets," as a statement from the radio station indicated.

This generated somemainstream media coverage, with The New York Times coming to the fore:

Henry Norr, a former KPFA board member, criticized Mr. Dawkins in a July 17 email to the station. “Yes, he’s a rationalist, an atheist and an advocate of the science of evolution -- great, so am I,” Mr. Norr wrote. “But he’s also an outspoken Islamophobe -- have you done your homework about that?”
Lara Kiswani, the executive director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center, which is based in San Francisco, also emailed the station last week. She said Mr. Dawkins’s comments give legitimacy to extremist views.
“KPFA is a progressive institution in the Bay Area, and an institution that reflects social justice,” she said in a phone interview on Saturday. “It isn’t required to give such anti-Islam rhetoric a platform.”
Quincy McCoy, the station’s general manager, did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. In a KPFA news broadcast on Friday, he said the station “emphatically supports free speech.”

Except, apparently, when that "free speech" offends followers of one of the three Abrahamic faiths.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Tom Wolfe, foe of pompous elites, targets Darwinian evolution, so where are the religious responses?

Tom Wolfe, foe of pompous elites, targets Darwinian evolution, so where are the religious responses?

Perpetually white-suited Tom Wolfe is a both a novelist and “new journalism” pioneer who applies fictional techniques to non-fiction with trademark florid verbiage. He gladly punctures elitist pomposity, as in the famed “Radical Chic” satire from long-ago 1970 or later take-downs of modern art and architecture.

At age 85, he’s again rousing the rabble with “The Kingdom of Speech” (Little, Brown). The Religion Guy confesses he has not yet read the book so the following relies on media coverage. There’ve been vigorous responses over recent weeks but, oddly,  little from religious commentators.

Whatever the odds that “natural selection” of advantageous physical mutations produced countless new species across eons of time, religious thinkers often contend that Charles Darwin’s evolution theory cannot explain the origins of humanity’s self-consciousness, love, moral sense, creativity, artistry, or even Darwin’s own mind. So, does the origin of species ultimately and logically require a  Creator?  Are humans unique divine creations or mere mammals with special tricks, “trousered apes,” in Duncan Williams’ memorable phrase? Obviously, hot theological stuff.

Wolfe, a professed atheist, takes aim at Darwinism, also a target of many religious conservatives, because it fails to explain the origin of human language. One Wolfe hero is linguistics professor Daniel Everett, who theorized about the origin of language years ago as a Bible translator in the Amazon jungles. The book also champions the oft-forgotten Alfred Russel Wallace, who simultaneously came up with the natural selection concept while the upper-crust Darwin won the celebrity sweepstakes.

Wallace later broke with Darwin, figuring that evolution explains much, but not human attributes like language, which implies some higher power beyond  nature. 

Please respect our Commenting Policy

After 75 years, evangelicals in science still debate Darwin, Bible and evolution

After 75 years, evangelicals in science still debate Darwin, Bible and evolution

This past July the annual conference of the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA), an organization of Christians in the sciences, offered a high-powered speaker lineup on the human brain and mind: Justin Barrett, director of the psychological science program at Fuller Theological Seminary; Audrey Bowden, assistant professor of electrical engineering at Stanford University; Edward Davis, historian of science at Messiah College; Douglas Lauffenburger, biological engineering professor at M.I.T.; William Newsome, director of Stanford’s Neurosciences Institute; and Los Alamos National Laboratory physicist Roger Wiens.

The equally intriguing 2017 conference, July 28-31 at Colorado School of Mines, will focus on environmental science and -- yes –- “climate change.” And on Oct. 11 the organization will be marking the 75th anniversary of its founding with a banquet at Wheaton College in Illinois. The current issue of the ASA quarterly, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (check here), is devoted to the group’s history, and Colorado State University molecular biologist Terry Gray has posted a series of historical articles.

Full membership in ASA is restricted to persons with bachelor’s degrees or beyond in the sciences who affirm the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds and belief in “the divine inspiration, trustworthiness and authority of the Bible in matters of faith and conduct.” Most are evangelical-type Protestants.

Though members’ interests range from chaos theory to entomology to the morality of fracking, the most heated debates usually swirl around Darwin, evolution, creation, the Book of Genesis, origin of the universe and of earthly species and, therefore, what it means to be human.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Why do some Protestants teach “young earth” chronology?

Why do some Protestants teach “young earth” chronology?

ANNE ASKS:

What is the explanation for today’s “young earth” movement among evangelicals?

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

This question highlights the split between many Christians in science and a wing within conservative Protestantism that believes Genesis chapter 1 requires a “young earth” chronology with earth and all living things originating some 10,000 years ago, not the billions of years in conventional science.

Confusingly, this is -- especially in news reporters -- called “creationism” though Christians who accept the long chronology also believe God created earth and life. Most “creationists” also say God literally formed the world in six 24-hour days, immediately fixed all species and humanity without evolution, and caused a flood that covered the globe.

In the 19th Century, geologists shifted to the vast timeline that was later confirmed by measuring radioactive decay in earth’s minerals. Long chronology was essential for Darwin’s theory that gradual evolution produced all biological species.

Whatever they thought of Darwinism, leading evangelicals and fundamentalists originally saw no biblical problem with the new geology.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

GR reader contributes a little ghost-spotting of his own

You know that cliché about some stories writing themselves? Well, sometimes a reader fairly writes stories for us, too. It came this past week with a brief e-mail by James Stagg, a friend of this blog. He called our attention to mostly excellent interview with the Rev. George Coyne, a Jesuit priest and former director of the Vatican Observatory. Not without its issues, though. See below.

The Q&A-style interview, on Syracuse.com, has an adept triple news hook. For one, many people would be surprised that the Vatican even has an observatory. For another, as a priest and scientist, Coyne is chairman of religious philosophy at Le Moyne College, a Jesuit school. And the college is in Syracuse, providing a local angle for the interview.

Coyne also gives a “snappy interview,” in Stagg’s words. We’re treated to inside info such as:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

10 years of GetReligion: Labels, labels, labels, labels!

It is my understanding that there was some kind of Jerry Springer-esque debate last night between young-earth creationist Ken (hello dinosaurs) Ham and Bill (The Science Guy) Nye. Let me state up front that I am not terribly interested in what either man had to say.

However, I am curious to know if any of the thousands of religion-beat pros who live and move and have their being on Twitter can answer the following questions:

(1) At any point in the broadcast, was the term “creationist” defined? Did the definition involve six 24-hour days or was the emphasis on God being meaningfully involved in creation, period?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

All the experts say evolution story lacks WHAT!?

The best journalism recognizes the importance of doing both — particularly on complicated and controversial subject matters. On the other hand, the Austin American-Statesman embraces neither concept in a news story reporting that “critics” say students are being taught creationism in two public high schools.

A charter-school operator with contracts to teach at two Austin high schools has come under fire for questioning evolution in its science curriculum — the latest in a long line of clashes over Christianity in Texas classrooms.

Advocates for the separation of church and state say that Responsive Education Solutions — one of the state’s largest charter operators, which the Austin school district partners with at Lanier and Travis high schools — is pushing creationism.

Please respect our Commenting Policy