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Showing posts from October, 2007

Evolution of the Eye

One of the arguments used by suppoprters of creationism is that there are some structures--such as an eye that are so complex that it is impossible for them to have evolved. The difficulty with this argument is that each example cited in the past--such as the evolution of the eye--is ultiately pretty well explained by evolution.

Nonetheless, I thought that this explanation from Scientific American was an especially good one. It also does a good job explaining the randomness of mutations.

The question being answered is "If mutations occur at random over the entire sequence of a species' genome, how can a complex organ such as an eye evolve? How can all the mutations that direct the development of that organ be concentrated in the right places?"

Here is the answer (in full) by University of Utah biologist Jon Seger :

Looking back through the history of a species' genome, mutations do indeed appear to be attracted to certain genomic locations (and likewise repelled by othe…

Today's Hidden Slavery

Bob Herbert of the New York Times has a must-read column this week on the often forgotten issue of modern slavery--in the United States. As I have said before, this is a moral issue that should be at the forefront of any values agenda. Sadly, it is not:

The woman testifying in federal court in Lower Manhattan could hardly have seemed more insignificant.

She was an immigrant from South Korea and a prostitute, who spoke little or no English. She worked, she said, in brothels in New York, Philadelphia, Georgia, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C.

She did not offer a portrait of the good life. Speaking through an interpreter, she told about the time in D.C. when a guy came in who looked “like a mental patient, a psycho.” Weirded out, she wanted nothing to do with him. But she said the woman who ran the brothel assured her everything would be fine.

It was fine if you consider wrestling with Hannibal Lecter fine. The john clawed at this woman, gouging her flesh, peeling the skin fr…

Do Political Parties Matter

As usual, Freakonomics has an interesting post--this time on the issue of whether political party affiliation matters? The answer appears to be that at the local level, party affiliation does not. Seems to me that this reflects that the issues faced by most Mayors--streets, garbage collection, police and fire protection, etc. have little to do with the ideology that drive our two major political parties:

Do parties matter. That’s the question asked by the Wharton economists Fernando Ferreira and Joseph Gyourko. But they are not talking about national political parties. In that realm, party affiliation has indeed been shown to have a strong effect on legislation and policy. No, Ferreira and Gyourko are interested in whether party affiliation matters on the local level — and their answer, essentially, is no. Using data from more than 4,500 U.S. mayoral elections between 1950 and 2005 in more than 400 cities with populations of at least 25,000, here is what they learned:

[W]e find that…

The Future of Anglican Communion Looking Brighter?

I finally have had some time to reflect today on recent events in the Anglican Communion, and I must say that I am becoming more encouraged. Why? I think that the following recent developments are all positive: the favorable response of the ACC to the House of Bishops response to the Primates Communique, the fairly rapid consent to Mark Lawrence as Bishop of South Carolina, the decision of Quincey not to leave the Episcopal Church--at least for now, and the acceptance of 500 Bishops of their invitation to Lambeth.

My sense, from reading the conservative blogs is that the efforts toward schism may be losing steam--and it appears more and more likely that is schism occurs, the Episcopal Church will remain in communion with Canterbury, and those who leave us will not.

I am hopeful that the consent of Mark Lawrence will send a message that there is a home in the Episcopal Church for those who opposed the actions of General Convention 2003.

Am I a bit too optimistic? Perhaps. But I think it u…

Father Matthew on Desert Spirituality

Father Matthew has released another video--this one is on desert spirituality. Here is his description:

Here is a short piece from my recent journey to the diocese of Los Angeles’ clergy conference a few weeks ago. The desert drive had me thinking of the Christian hermits of the 4th and 5th centuries, whose contemplative and mystical tradition is a veritable gold mine of spiritual treasures.
. . .
You can get an excellent introduction to the desert fathers and mothers in ABC Williams’ book, here: http://www.amazon.com/Where-God-Happens-Discovering-Another/dp/1590302311

Religion and Wealth

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Well this is a very interesting graph from Pew Global Research that shows an inverse reltionship between a nation's per capita GDP and its level of religiousity. Religiosity is measured using a three-item index ranging from 0-3, with "3" representing the most religious position. Respondents were given a "1" if they believe faith in God is necessary for morality; a "1" if they say religion is very important in their lives; and a "1" if they pray at least once a day.

Note that the United States is an outlier--our level of relgiousity is far higher than would be predicted by our per capita GDP. And several wealthy Muslim countries (most notably Kuwait) are also outliers.

Pew offers this analyis:


Global publics are sharply divided over the relationship between religion and morality. In much of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, there is a strong consensus that belief in God is necessary for morality and good values. Throughout much of Europe, how…

Religion and Ameliorating Poverty

Freakonomics has an interesting post about how disadvantaged children who grow up in religious households do better on many measures than children who don't:

According to Rajeev Dehejia, an economics professor at Tufts University, one answer may be to join a church. Dehejia, along with Thomas DeLeire, an economics professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Erzo Luttmer and Josh Mitchell, from the Harvard economics department, have written a new working paper called “The Role of Religious and Social Organizations in the Lives of Disadvantaged Youth.” In it, they test the impact of religion on more than 20,000 children raised by “disadvantaged” families, as defined by factors like family income, the parents’ levels of education, and “child characteristics including parental assessments of the child.” Using the National Survey of Families and Households, they questioned each child on the amount of involvement his or her parent had with a religious organization, then observe…

Party Here, Sacrifice There

When I was General Counsel of the Army, I was quite disturbed by the disconnect between our nation's military and the larger nation. The problem has never been that the military is out of touch with the rest of the nation--the problem is that those of outside of the military have grown to believe that military service is something that "others do." As a recent op-ed in the New York Times well argues the problem has gotten worse. Indeed, I would argue that one reason what Bush finds it so easy to stay in Iraq despite wide opposition is that very few are sacrificing anything by staying in Iraq:

IN January 2006 I stepped off a C-130 in Tal Afar, Iraq. As I began my 13-month deployment, I imagined an American public following our progress with the same concern as my family and friends. But since returning home, I have seen that America has changed the channel.

Young investment bankers spend their impressive bonuses on clubs in Manhattan and many seem uninterested in the soldie…

Another Army Officer Speaks Out Against Torture

In my experience, some of the folks most horrified by the Bush Administration's "nuanced" definition of torture are Army officers--especially Army officers who have any experience with interrogation. Here is a recent example:

I served 30 years in the U.S. Army as an intelligence officer, which included extensive experience as an interrogator in Vietnam, in Panama and during the 1991 Gulf War. In the course of these sensitive missions, my teams and I collected mountains of excellent, verified information, despite the fact that we never laid a hostile hand on a prisoner. Had one of my interrogators done so, he would have been disciplined and most likely relieved of his duties.

. . .

In a recent interview with NPR's Terry Gross, I told her that 10 years ago the notion we would even be having such a dialogue was unthinkable. Somehow, perhaps blinded by the horrors of 9-11 and its aftermath, or by that barrage of chilling video footage of hooded executioners snuffing out …

More Climate Change Bad News

Science Daily is reported some very disturbing news about climate change--the Earth's atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) is growing much faster than expected:

A team of scientists has found that atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) growth has increased 35 percent faster than expected since 2000.

The study found that inefficiency in the use of fossil fuels increased levels of CO2 by 17 percent, while the other 18 percent came from the decline in the efficiency of natural land and ocean sinks which soak up CO2 from the atmosphere.

The research by the Global Carbon Project, the University of East Anglia (UEA) and the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) shows that improvements in the carbon intensity of the global economy have stalled since 2000 after improving for 30 years, leading to the unexpected growth of atmospheric CO2.

The study also states that global CO2 emissions were up to 9.9 billion tons of carbon in 2006, 35 percent above emissions in 1990 (used as a reference year in the Kyoto Prot…

From The Lead: Race, Genetics, and the Environment

I usually save my best stuff for The Lead--I am the Sunday editor. I do so because the readership of that blog (even on Sunday's) is quite large, and the readership here is, well, more modest.

Today, I wrote on a matter very important to me as the fatehr of an African American child, and I will rpeat that post here:

James Watson, who won a Nobel Prize in medicine for his work in determining the structure of DNA, caused quite a furor when he said he was “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours - whereas all the testing says not really.". He said he hoped that everyone was equal, but countered that “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true”.

Watson has since backtracked from these comments, but the furor continues. (And, as the father of an African-American child, this is an issue that I take quite personally). Steven Levitt, one of the authors of Freak…

Souls, Life and Abortion

Professor James McGrath has a very interesting post today on the abortion issue--and in particular how the moral issues are more complicated than either side wants to admit:

There is a wonderful articulation of a serious and balanced pro-life position in Jonah Goldberg's most recent piece in the National Review Online, "Life Matters". He says up front that there is much he does not know about the soul, its relationship to life, and what we mean by it in the case of a recently-fertilized egg. He also acknowledges that, if one is talking about consciousness, then life does not begin at conception. He thus has no passionate feelings about "Plan B" and other methods of terminating a pregnancy within a few hours or days of conception, but does feel strongly about other issues like partial-birth abortion.

I think there is on this topic, like so many others, room for an alliance in the middle between those who reject both extremes. There are many people who are pro-choi…

Abortion Rates and Legality

A new study finds that abortion rates are similar in nations that outlaw it and nations that do not. This supports the view of many (including me) that criminal sanctions on abortion are not the answer to reducing the number of abortions. The New York Times has the details:

A comprehensive global study of abortion has concluded that abortion rates are similar in countries where it is legal and those where it is not, suggesting that outlawing the procedure does little to deter women seeking it.

Moreover, the researchers found that abortion was safe in countries where it was legal, but dangerous in countries where it was outlawed and performed clandestinely. Globally, abortion accounts for 13 percent of women’s deaths during pregnancy and childbirth, and there are 31 abortions for every 100 live births, the study said.

The results of the study, a collaboration between scientists from the World Health Organization in Geneva and the Guttmacher Institute in New York, a reproductive rights …

Welcome Bishop Smith

I am a big fan of our bishop in Arizona. I was therefore pleased to see that Father Nicholas Knisley had convinced Bishop Kirk Smith of Arizona to join the blogosphere. His new blog can be found here.

As one of his first posts, he discusses the issues with Christ Church
of the Ascension in Paradise Valley:

Ever since I began my time as bishop, I have tried to make it clear to the unhappy members of that parish that I valued their presence in the Diocese, and that they were welcome to their own theological understandings. You have heard me say many times that our church is a big tent, and that anyone who wants to be an Episcopalian should be!
One of the ways I did that was to arrange for them Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO) in which I invited the Bishop of the Diocese of the Rio Grande to become their Episcopal visitor. This system worked for a while.

However, with the announcement by the rector, Fr. Ken Semon, that he was leaving to take an interim position in that Diocese,…

Africans and Homosexuality

The New Republic has an interesting analysis of why much of the energy agaionst homosexuality within the Anglican Communion seems to be coming from Africa:

Many African societies have well-established traditions of same-sex interactions and gay subcultures. In different parts of the continent, we can find everything from warrior cultures in which mature men sexually initiate youths, to examples of gender crossing. A decade ago, the varieties of African homosexuality were documented in the book Boy-Wives and Female-Husbands, edited by Will Roscoe and Stephen O. Murray.

Why, then, did opposition to gay rights become so critical for many African Christians? The answer has a lot to do with the rapid spread of Christianity on the continent in a relatively short time. In 1900, Africa had 10 million Christians, representing around 10 percent of the population. By 2000, that figure had grown to 360 million, or 46 percent. As a result, most African Christians today are first- or second- generat…

Bad News on climate Change: We Need Zero Emissions

Well, this study offers some very, very bad news:

Only the total elimination of industrial emissions will succeed in limiting climate change to a 2°C rise in temperatures, according to computer analysis of climate change. Anything above this target has been identified as "dangerous" by some scientists, and the limit has been adopted by many policymakers.

The researchers say their study highlights the shortcomings of governmental plans to limit climate change.

A warming of 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures is frequently cited as the limit beyond which the world will face "dangerous" climate change. Beyond this level, analysis suggests the continents will cease to absorb more carbon dioxide than they produce. As the tundra and other regions of permafrost thaw, they will spew more gas into the atmosphere, adding to the warming effect of human emissions.

. . .

In January 2007, the European Commission issued a communication stating that "the European Union's o…

The True Benefits of Marriage

Theo Hobson has a very interesting comment on the benefits of marraige--and how and why our culture display a very different (and inaccurate view) of marriage:

In a brilliant article in today's Telegraph, Rowan Pelling considers the poor image of marriage. The problem is that defenders of this institution make it sound dull, dutiful and socially responsible. To the average singleton, she writes, it sounds like "a domestic penitentiary".She adds: "What nobody evangelises is the incredible liberation many people find within marriage. Most unwed people under 40 are a seething mass of insecurities. They may be free to go backpacking in Goa at a second's notice, but they're imprisoned by self-doubt and vulnerability."
The stability of marriage, she goes on, "provides a platform from which risky and exhilarating enterprises can be launched". She concedes that the psychological security of a strong relationship is also possible outside of marriage, bu…

Out of Africa: Why?

It is becoming the consensus of scientists that study human evolution that human beings arose out of a small group of humans living in Africa 150,000 to 75,000 years ago. This "Out of Africa" theory is supported both by genetic evidence (human gene variation is greater in Africa than in other regions of the world) and by some recent evidence based on skeletons.

One of the unanaswered questions has been: why did humans leave Africa in the first place? A group of University of Arizona scholars may have an answer--we left Africa after a population boom caused by an end to a long drought in Africa:


From 135,000 to 90,000 years ago tropical Africa had megadroughts more extreme and widespread than any previously known for that region, according to new research.

Learning that now-lush tropical Africa was an arid scrubland during the early Late Pleistocene provides new insights into humans' migration out of Africa and the evolution of fishes in Africa's Great Lakes.

"Lak…

Same-Sex Marriage Campaign

Proponents of sam sex marriage equality are about to engage in a campaign in a very serious way--at least in California:

Frustrated in efforts to legalize same-sex marriage through legislation or litigation, proponents will launch a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign this week to "open hearts and minds" in Sacramento and other major cities.

The 60-second ads will run in the capital, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and Palm Springs as part of a monthslong campaign to prod families to openly discuss same-sex marriage.

"The long-term goal is to have the majority of Californians support the freedom to marry -- to change the climate here," said Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, which is coordinating the campaign.

same TV spot will run in all five cities, beginning Thursday.

The ad depicts a traditional wedding, with an excited crowd, a flower girl tossing petals and a tuxedoed groom. As the bride walks down the aisle, she is tripped by a spe…

Ending the Culture Wars

E.J. Dionne has an interesting column this morning about an effort of moderate Democrats to end the Culture Wars:

You know the religious right is in trouble when some of its leaders threaten to bolt the Republican Party if it nominates a candidate who supports abortion rights.
But the well-publicized warning directed against Rudy Giuliani this month is decidedly not the most important sign that religious conservatives are facing the disintegration of their movement. What matters more is that a new generation of evangelical leaders, tired of the rancid partisanship, is breaking away from the culture wars. The reach of this new evangelical politics will be tested with the release tomorrow of a statement under the very biblical title "Come Let Us Reason Together." The question for the future is how many in the evangelical ranks will embrace this call.
Organized by Third Way, a group that is close to many leading moderate Democrats, the statement calls for "first steps towar…

Revolution in Jesusland

Now this is fascinating--there is a new blog, Revolution in Jesusland, that aims to educate secular progressives about what is happening in the Evangelical community. It is the thesis of the blog that there is room for alliance on many issues between Evangelicals and progressives, and at the very least secular progressives need to pay attention to what is occuring in the Evangelical community.

Here is the blogs's explanation:

This blog is a plea to the progressive movement, to take another look and get to know the diverse and complex world of evangelical Christianity in its own terms. Here you’ll find interviews, commentary, analysis and other dispatches from all over “Jesusland.” This tour will explore everything from the workings of the local church, to the evangelicals’ vibrant, decentralized national leadership training infrastructure to theological questions such as, “How in the world DO they read the Bible literally?” and “Do they really think I’m going to hell?”

There are two…

The Fractured Evangelical Vote

The New York Times has an interesting analysis of the fractured nature of the Evangelical vote this election cycle. I found one point especially worth noting: this is a "voting bloc" that is more diverse than most analysts understand:

The spectacle has laid bare the enduring myth that evangelicals are a monolith that is “easy to command,” to use the phrase made famous by a Washington Post article in 1993.

Evangelical Protestants make up about 26 percent of the population. But according to surveys in the new book “The Faith Factor” by John C. Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, that pie can be sliced even further. Only 12 percent of the population are the evangelical Protestants Mr. Green calls “traditionalists,” the political and theological conservatives who make up the bedrock of the religious right. Almost an equal share (11 percent of the population) are evangelical “centrists” and about 3 percent are “modernists,” groups that are politic…

Another Theologian on Same Sex Relationships

Okay, this is interesting. I know of dozens of liberal theologians (who have persuaded me) who have written on why the Bible should not be read as condemning homosexuality, but now an evangelical theologican who was formerly a professor at the conservative Fuller Theological Seminary is making this argument:

An evangelical theologian is visiting several churches this fall refuting the common Christian interpretation of the Bible that Jesus and Scripture opposes homosexuality.

Jack Rogers, professor of Theology Emeritus at San Francisco Theological Seminary, is trying to get a positive word out in the Christian churches about the gay and lesbian community and thinks churches should be leading the charge for their equal rights.

“I’m trying to help people understand that the Bible rightly interpreted, which I would think is through the lens of Jesus’ redemptive life and ministry ... does not condemn Christian people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered," said Rogers, accord…

Bibical Literalism and the Road to Atheism

Professor James McGrath makes an excellent point about the dangers of bibical literalism to faith:

Personally, I am fundamentally (if you'll excuse the pun) convinced that there are no genuine Biblical literalists in the world today - not even Ned Flanders on the Simpsons, who on the brillian episode "Hurricane Neddy" famously claimed "I've done everything the Bible says - even the stuff that contradicts the other stuff". No one believes in the dome. No one believes that 14=13, that pi equals precisely 3, and so on. But to acknowledge that interpretation is always a factor does not seem black and white enough to some, and certainly isn't a good advertising strategy, and so claims of being a Biblical literalist continue to be made, in spite of their inaccuracy and (in at least some cases) dishonesty (since I assume some of those using such rhetoric know enough about the Bible that they ought to know better).My strongest reason for opposing these misleadin…