Science

One spacey assignment: What's the story on alien life and scriptural literalism?

One spacey assignment: What's the story on alien life and scriptural literalism?

My GetReligion posts run under the rubric "Global Wire," so I may be stepping outside my designated orbit with this one. But since our Hubble site -- excuse me, that should be humble website -- provides us near infinite space (Anyone know just how big the internet actually is?) in which to indulge ourselves, I figure, "Why not indulge?"

(Corny lede, you say? Well, excuse me.)

To get to the point, we're talking universalism. Not the sort of doctrinal universalism you might expect on a site devoted to religion journalism. I'm referring to the spacial universalism of, you know, the universe.

Why? Because of this piece spotted earlier this month on the Website of the Washington Post. How could I pass up a story headlined, "Why the Vatican doesn’t think we’ll ever meet an alien Jesus"?

The story followed July's NASA announcement that it's Kepler planet-hunting spacecraft had discovered one of the closest analogues to our own planet found to date, a planet little more than one and a half times as big in radius as Earth and called Kepler 452b. The plant, said The New York Times, "circles a sunlike star in an orbit that takes 385 days, just slightly longer than our own year, putting it firmly in the 'Goldilocks' habitable zone where the temperatures are lukewarm and suitable for liquid water on the surface -- if it has a surface."

So we're talking the possibility of organic life, no matter how primitive, of a sort recognizable to humans. 

Which brings us back to the Post, the Vatican and Jesus.

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Planned Parenthood reporting 'done right' -- the name on this byline won't surprise you

Planned Parenthood reporting 'done right' -- the name on this byline won't surprise you

Yes, Sarah Pulliam Bailey used to write for GetReligion. 

Yes, we're biased when it comes to her important work for the Washington Post. 

Yes, it's awkward when we start praising a friend and former colleague. (We've admitted as much.) We know that you know that we know that you know that.

But no, that's not going to stop us from calling attention to a story Sarah wrote this week related to the Planned Parenthood videos:

Antiabortion activists see new undercover videos of Planned Parenthood as their biggest opportunity since the 2011 Kermit Gosnell trials to energize support for the issue.
Planned Parenthood, which many antiabortion activists see as the face of abortion, has long been under attack, but the videos have set off renewed debate over its federal funding.

In fact, we're not the only ones who were impressed. Tom Breen, a former Associated Press newsman who did excellent work on the Godbeat, tweeted:

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Trinity and the atomic bomb: In New Mexico where the religion ghosts dwell

Trinity and the atomic bomb: In New Mexico where the religion ghosts dwell

July 16 was the 70th anniversary of a world-changing event; the testing of the world’s first atomic bomb in a New Mexico desert. It would be less than a month before two such bombs would be released in the skies over Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

If any event had grave moral consequences, it was this one. But the silence of any kind of faith-based element to this anniversary in the media is profound.

There are, of course, some bizarre God-connections to this event. The site of  the test was called “Trinity” supposedly after a John Donne sonnet, although no one really knows the origin of the name. It seems odd that a core Christian doctrine about the nature of God is attached to something connected with mass death.

Hinduism gets a role here too. When the main bombs went off in Japan, J. Robert Oppenheimer, the California physicist known as the “father of the atomic bomb” for his work on the Manhattan Project, spouted Vishnu’s famous quote from the Bhagavad-Gita: “Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

Yet, in the coverage I scanned that ran on the day of the anniversary, there was more about "atomic tourists" noting the anniversary than anything about religion.

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Story theme borrowed from another beat: Whatever happened to science in Islam?

Story theme borrowed from another beat: Whatever happened to science in Islam?

Religion reporters should look beyond their ghetto for story themes, and here’s a good one: Why does science lag so notably in the Muslim world, and what can be done about it?

That question was raised by assistant editor Ross Pomeroy at www.realclearscience.com. Some religionistas may recall his 2012 piece for biologos.org titled “Why Strict Atheism is Unscientific.”

The latest Pomeroy headline is equally controversial: “Can Islam Come Back to the Light of Science?” He presents data to highlight the problem, which is far broader than simply Mideast sheiks flying to London or New York for medical treatments:

In 2005, Harvard University alone produced more scientific papers than 17 Arabic-speaking nations combined. The Muslim population of 1.6 billion has produced only two Nobel Prize-winners in chemistry and physics in history, and both moved to the West to work.

Now, Jews are outnumbered 100 to one by Muslims globally yet boast 79 such Nobel laureates. The 57 nations in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation spend less than a percent of their collective gross domestic product on research and development, a third of the global average; Israel spends 4.4 percent.

What went wrong?

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Planned Parenthood video: Stage 3 news offers voices of reason vs. politicians

Planned Parenthood video: Stage 3 news offers voices of reason vs. politicians

I've been in New York City the past day or so taking part in a conference focusing on Plato, Augustine, Machiavelli and Obergefell. Sort of.

I haven't really had time to dig into the whole Planned Parenthood video media storm, but have followed some of the debates (hello @MZHemingway, hello @spulliam). In a way, the entire affair has followed a very familiar pattern.

Stage 1: Activist group on the cultural right releases advocacy journalism piece making strong claims that clash with the views of most mainstream journalists and focus on charges that are almost impossible to verify in a matter of Internet minutes.

State 2: Mainstream press either (a) ignores the story or (b) says that the heart of the story is something like "right-wing group's video goes viral in conservative media, leading to outrage among sane people who support the abused liberal group." How many headlines did you see with that tone?

Stage 3 is where we are now. Many, but not all, elite publications are covering the story, in part because the offended group -- Planned Parenthood in this case -- has put out a press release and started returning calls from journalists. The story is now legit.

This leads to another formula that has been seen many times in the past: Short restatement of right-wing accusations, followed by lengthy coverage of the response from liberal group, followed by -- here is the key -- lots and lots of reactions from Republican lawmakers courting the religious- and values-voter base, which means this whole affair is simply a matter of politics.

Business. As. Usual. #MovingOn.

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Aborted baby parts for sale: Did journalists drag their feet on Planned Parenthood story?

Aborted baby parts for sale: Did journalists drag their feet on Planned Parenthood story?

By now, you've seen THE VIDEO.

It's been the talk of social media, particularly among pro-life advocates, for a full day now.

Given the subject matter, it's no surprise that GetReligionista emeritus Mollie Hemingway — now a senior editor with The Federalist — has been all over the issue.

Six hours after the video began making waves, Mollie wrote at The Federalist:

This is a story that requires thoughtful and substantive coverage. That the media are beginning by ignoring it is not a good sign that they have learned a single lesson from crapping the bed with their coverage of the monstrous abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell.

But can "thoughtful and substantive coverage" be produced immediately? While understanding Mollie's frustration, I sympathize, too, with the perspective of another former GetReligionista: Washington Post religion writer Sarah Pulliam Bailey.

On Twitter, Sarah made the case that, hey, real reporting takes a little time:

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Rare mid-week think piece: That communitarian Pope Francis encyclical said what?

Rare mid-week think piece: That communitarian Pope Francis encyclical said what?

I realize that it's rare for your GetReligionistas to serve up one of our "think pieces" in the middle of the week, but, frankly, I am still digging out from the move to East Tennessee and missed this handy little essay this past weekend. So here we go.

Has anyone else been amazed that so much of the coverage of the papal encyclical Laudato Si (full English text here) has (a) tried to turn it into a truly radical political document and (b) seemed to suggest, as usual, that Pope Francis is the first occupant of the Throne of St. Peter to wade into these troubled waters.

I mean, this document has all kinds of things in it, including -- for liberals, surely -- some highly troubling language in which the pope's communitarian and Catholic moral vision is applied to, let's say, abortion:

120. Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?

Or how about that passage that many are interpreting as a statement addressing life choices facing those who see themselves as transsexuals?

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When will ‘three-parent babies’ come to the U.S.?

When will ‘three-parent babies’ come to the U.S.?

The headline above is borrowed verbatim from a Feb. 6 Scientific American article (coverage here) after the House of Commons voted by 75 percent to make Britain the first nation to legalize “three-parent babies.” The House of Lords gave the final approval Feb. 24.  Newcastle University researchers are already paying women to be genetic donors, and the first such births are expected next year.

The hope here is to avoid babies with devastating “mitochondrial” birth defects and related ailments like muscular dystrophy.  So these experiments have the best of motives, though scientists and theologians alike question the means.  Reporters should note good online coverage of pros and cons by Sarah Knapton in the London Telegraph.

News media take note: The U.S. debate will gain prominence with a March 31 – April 1  “public workshop” in Washington by the  panel that’s advising the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Institute of Medicine on this. Its delightfully bureaucratic name: “Committee on Ethical and Social Policy Considerations of Novel Techniques for Prevention of Maternal Transmission of Mitochondrial DNA Diseases.” 

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There Pope Francis goes again: Madonna of the rabbit

There Pope Francis goes again: Madonna of the rabbit

Pope Francis’ remark about Catholics breeding like rabbits is a joy.

Just when I reach the point of indifference and exhaustion with religion reporting, the pope breathes life into journalism. He makes me laugh. What a grand fellow he is, and a misunderstood one.

The casual comment given to the press during his flight home from Manila has sparked great press interest. One might have heard the rabbit remark from Ian Paisley and other hard-nosed Protestants a generation ago. Today such comments are heard in the last bastions of anti-Catholic prejudice: the faculty lounge and press room.
 
Reuters has a nicely written report on Francis and rabbits, which summarizes the story and the difficulties of reporting on Pope Francis. He combines high and low culture in his comments, mixing pastoral and theological categories, church and secular language. The problem for reporters is discerning into which category to place his words.
 
The Reuters piece begins:

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (Reuters) -- Catholics should not feel they have to breed "like rabbits" because of the Church's ban on contraception, Pope Francis said on Monday, suggesting approved natural family planning methods.

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