Showing posts from December, 2013

Scientists Examine the Power of Prayer

Well this is interesting.  A new paper in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology presents evidence that prayer can increase a person's ability to resists temptation--and offers a non-supernatural explanation for the phenomenon:

The authors made use of two experimental paradigms to test the efficacy of prayer in preventing cognitive depletion. The first, called an emotion-suppression task, simply asked participants to watch a funny video but stifle all emotional responses, verbal and non-verbal, to the content. This requires a good amount of cognitive energy to pull off successfully. The second, called a stroop task, asked participants to indicate the ink color of various words flashed to them on a computer screen. The trick is that the words spell the names of various colors that are either consistent or inconsistent with the ink they are to identify. Check it out here. You’ll find that the inconsistent word/ink items are harder to respond to than the…

Nathan Schneider on the Value of "Proofs of God"

Nathan Schneider, who has recently written a book about the history of efforts to prove God's existence has an interesting blog post about the real value of discussions about these proofs:

Using the long tradition of so-called proofs about God as an academic performance, or as blunt instruments for culture-warring, means missing out on the most worthwhile stuff they have to offer. The proofs are arguments for a particular claim, it’s true. But they’re also meant to invite us into fresh modes of thinking. They need not be so black-and-white—or, in the boxing ring, win-or-lose. The real question a proof about God was created to address may be not be simply whether or not God exists. More often, it’s something more interesting: What do we mean by God? And what can be achieved with proof? .  .  .   The history of religious proofs is a many-sided story. I hope you’ll agree that this is a worthwhile inheritance, though too often we’ve adopted its worst tendencies while ignoring the best…

Ross Douthat on Our Divided Religious Culture

Ross Douthat has an interesting column in the New York Times today that discusses our divided faith world views:

Many Americans still take everything: They accept the New Testament as factual, believe God came in the flesh, and endorse the creeds that explain how and why that happened. And then alongside traditional Christians, there are observant Jews and Muslims who believe the same God revealed himself directly in some other historical and binding form. But this biblical world picture is increasingly losing market share to what you might call the spiritual world picture, which keeps the theological outlines suggested by the manger scene — the divine is active in human affairs, every person is precious in God’s sight — but doesn’t sweat the details.        This is the world picture that red-staters get from Joel Osteen, blue-staters from Oprah, and everybody gets from our “God bless America” civic religion. It’s Christian-ish but syncretistic; adaptable, easygoing and egalitarian.…

A Decline in Evangelical Christianity in America--Why?

Jim Hinch has an article in the American Scholar that explores reasons for the fact that the percentage of Americans calling themselves "Evangelical" is declining.  Pew Research polling has shown a drop from 21 percent of Americans five years ago to 19 percent in 2012:

Secularization alone is not to blame for this change in American religiosity. Even half of those Americans who claim no religious affiliation profess belief in God or claim some sort of spiritual orientation. Other faiths, like Islam, perhaps the country’s fastest-growing religion, have had no problem attracting and maintaining worshippers. No, evangelicalism’s dilemma stems more from a change in American Christianity itself, a sense of creeping exhaustion with the popularizing, simplifying impulse evangelical luminaries such as Schuller once rode to success.
Prominent figures in the evangelical establishment have already begun sounding alarms. In particular, the Barna Group, an evangelical market research org…

Trust in Clergy At All Time Low

Gallup has just published its annual survey on how Americans view various professions, and the results are not pretty for clergy: Americans rating of the honesty and ethical standards of clergy is at an all time low.

Kate Tracy  at Christianity Today offers some thoughts:

In fact, recorded public trust in clergy has now reached an all-time low, with only 47 percent of Americans rating clergy highly on honesty and ethics (compared to 82 percent saying the same about nurses). The previous low since Gallup began asking the question in 1977: 50 percent in 2009.
However, clergy still ranked No. 7 out of the 22 professions studied. And confidence in the overall church as an institution improved over the past year. .  .  . Americans are divided along party lines, as well as age. Gallup found more trust in clergy among Republicans (63%) than Democrats (40%). Similarly, clergy members appear more trustworthy to older Americans than millennials: half of Americans older than age 55 trust cler…

Yes, I'm Back

I stopped blogging when I was asked by the incoming Obama Administration whether I would serve a General Counsel of the Air Force.  (I had served as General Counsel of the Army in the Clinton Administration).  After a wonderful four and half years in that position, I decided that it was time to return to private life.  One consequence of this decision is that I am now free to blog once again.  I have decided to revive this blog, which will continue to discuss issues of faith with a little politics and science thrown in.  I hope my old readers come back and I get a few more as well.

I have also decided to writhe about what I have learned about national security and international affairs.  Please check out A Guy in the World as well if you are at all interested in what is happening in the world.

Proofs of God and Their refutation

William Lane Craig has a short essay on the Fox News blog that it getting a lot of attention from the atheist blogosphere--which is not surprising since the essay is entitle "A Christmas gift for atheists -- five reasons why God exists.

 I personally find these proofs of God a fools errand.  We are kidding ourselves if we think we can "prove" that God exists.  At best, we can come up with reasons for why our faith is reasonable and consistent with existing scientific evidence.  If we are honest, however, we must admit that for each of our asserted reasons for belief there may well be a materialistic explanation that does not depend on a supernatural being.  For example, humans do seem "hard wired" with some moral sense that transcends cultural differences, but this may well be the result of natural selection for this trait.  As a social animal, humans with an altruistic sense were more likely to survive.

As a result, each time I see Christian apologists attemp…

George Clifford on Christ's Second Coming

At the Daily Episcopalian, George Clifford has a wonderful essay about the various ways we think (or in the Episcopal Church, don't think) about the promise that Christ will come again:

Generally, thinking about eschatology (the study of end times) divides into four camps. First, there are the alleged literalists. These Christians claim to accept Biblical teachings about the end of history at face value. .  .  .
Second, some Christians argue for a realized eschatology, i.e., Christians experience the future return of Christ (aka his second coming) in the sacraments and sacramentals. This view's popularity perhaps peaked in the first half of the twentieth century. .  .  .
The third camp is the most common among Episcopalians. These Christians rarely think about Jesus' returning, mindlessly participate in the liturgy week after week without considering the words that they are saying, and view Advent as the inescapable annual prelude to the all-important, heavily secularized …

Thinking About Charitable Giving

The Wall Street Journal this morning has a fascinating article about a group, Give Well, that attempts to evaluate which charities give the most good (e.g. saved lives) for the buck. As you might expect, they determine that particular interventions in the third world provide the best return on the charitable investment:
GiveWell sits at the center of a small but growing movement in philanthropy, what you might call "evidence-based giving," which is particularly in vogue among tech millionaires and billionaires. In addition to praise from economists and those in the traditional philanthropic world, GiveWell has earned accolades from tech types. Its largest funder is Good Ventures, the foundation created by Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and his wife, Cari Tuna, a former Wall Street Journal reporter who now runs the foundation. In its philosophical outlook, GiveWell also has much in common with other tech-funded philanthropies, including Pierre Omidyar's , Jeff Sk…