Evolution

Evolution and Islam: Turkey's hot back-to-school story and (let's work it in) the specter of jihad

Evolution and Islam: Turkey's hot back-to-school story and (let's work it in) the specter of jihad

Broach the question of teaching evolution versus "creationism" in U.S. public schools, and you’re probably talking about the debate fueled by biblical literalists of varying stripes. There are also debates that include a variety of scientists who embrace most elements of evolution, but deny that scientists have proven the process is random and without meaning. Remember that famous 1996 statement by Pope John Paul II?

Now, did you know that the same argument convulses Islam, including Sunni Muslim Turkey, where it's the year’s marquee back-to-school story?

Notice that in relation to Turkey I said “argument” not “debate.”

That’s because the increasingly Islamist and authoritarian government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has settled the matter by decree. The debate, such as it was, is over. As Mel Brooks famously proclaimed, “It’s good to be the king." Or wannabe neo-Ottoman sultan, in Erdogan’s case.

In short, Turkey has eliminated the teaching of evolution from primary and high school curricula.

Need to get up to speed on this one? Then read or listen to this piece from NPR. Or you can save a few minutes and just read this excerpt from the NPR script.

At a news conference last month, Turkey's education minister announced that new textbooks will be introduced in all primary and secondary schools, starting with grades 1, 5 and 9 this fall, and the rest next year. They will stop teaching evolution in grade 9, when it's usually taught.
"Evolutionary biology is best left to be taught at the university level," Education Minister Ismet Yilmaz told reporters. "It's a theory that requires a higher philosophical understanding than schoolchildren have."

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Why is America crazy? That Atlantic cover story has the answer -- it's that old-time religion

Why is America crazy? That Atlantic cover story has the answer -- it's that old-time religion

Yes, I heard you.

There is no question that the think piece for this week was that amazing cover story at The Atlantic that ran with that fascinating double-decker headline that caused several of you to click your mouses, sending me the URL.

Normally, "think pieces" are non-newsy essays that offer information or commentary on a subject that I think will be of interest to religion-beat pros and to faithful consumers of mainstream religion-beat news.

This one is different. Let's start with that headline:

How America Lost Its Mind
The nation’s current post-truth moment is the ultimate expression of mind-sets that have made America exceptional throughout its history

Now, before we move on, please CLICK HERE (this is really important) and look at the illustration that ran at the top this essay by Kurt Andersen, an essay that was adapted from his soon-to-be-released book, Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire -- A 500-Year History. This is, of course, an image of crazy America.

So what do we see? Well, there's bigfoot and a church steeple, Mormons and hippies, Fox News and a burning witch, UFOs and Disneyland. Oh, and several symbols of Donald Trump's base. Wait, I guess that should be several OTHER symbols of Trump's base, because all of that craziness is linked to the rise of The Donald. And that craziness has been around in American since The Beginning.

Now, the question that I heard this week from several readers was this: Is this piece at The Atlantic telling us what American journalists think of the American people and, in particular, Americans who are conservative religious believers? Or, is this just what Andersen thinks and the powers that be at The Atlantic simply ran it on the cover as a way to fire up their base, their core readers (kind of like "War on Christmas" stories at Fox News, only in reverse)?

Now, I would stress that it is never helpful to say that journalists in America are some kind of cultural monolith. That's just wrong.

Trump was clearly out of his mind with populist rage when he said that journalists (or the "news media") are the enemy of the American people That's simplistic. As I said over and over on Twitter, it would be more accurate to say that many, perhaps even a majority, of elite journalists on the left and right coasts are the enemies of about 20-25 percent of the American people.

OK, so what does the piece say?

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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.

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Fresh look at evangelicals and the evolution dispute can help guide newswriters

Fresh look at evangelicals and the evolution dispute can help guide newswriters

A recent Gallup Poll showed 38 percent of Americans agree with what’s known as “young earth creationism,” which believes God created humanity in its present form some 10,000 years ago.  

That percentage, the lowest since Gallup began asking about this in 1982, was a tie with those saying humanity developed over millions of years “but God guided the process,” so-called “theistic evolution.” Meanwhile, 19 percent said God played no part, double the number in 2000.

The long-running dispute over evolution continues to present journalists with a big challenge in providing fair treatment, particularly if they lack expertise in Bible interpretation. Thus the importance for all media professionals of “Old-Earth or Evolutionary Creation?,” a July book from InterVarsity Press, known for quality presentations of conservative Protestant thinking.

This dialogue book presents respectful but vigorous disagreements from two evangelical camps that share belief in God as the Creator and the full authority of the Bible. BioLogos of Grand Rapids, Mich., champions of “evolutionary creation” (it prefers that label to “theistic evolution”), which harmonizes the Bible with Darwinian evolution. Debate partner Reasons to Believe (RTB) of Covina, Calif., advocates “old earth creation” and criticizes standard evolutionary theory on scientific and biblical grounds.  

RTB began in 1986 under leadership of the Rev. Hugh Ross, a pastor with a Ph.D. in astronomy.  BioLogos was founded in 2007 by Francis Collins (.pdf here), director of the Human Genome Project and currently director of the National Institutes of Health. The two groups held 15 meetings that provide the substance of the new book. 

Both BioLogos and RTB support the vastly long timeline that has long been standard among scientists.

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Can they dig it? Big-time journalists balk at multiple views of Grand Canyon's origins

Can they dig it? Big-time journalists balk at multiple views of Grand Canyon's origins

There's no argument, is there? The Grand Canyon, like the rest of our planet, is multiple millions, if not billions of years old.

We're all agreed on that, right?

Well, not every last one of us. Take Andrew Snelling, Ph.D., for one. He's an Australian with a doctorate in geology from the University of Sydney. Snelling works with Answers in Genesis, the Kentucky-based organization that promotes "young Earth creationism."

That's the belief that not only "in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1, New International Version), but also that said creation took place recently -- only thousands of years ago. That's thousands and not billions or millions.

Snelling is trying to prove his theory by doing -- get this -- on-site scientific research. He wants to collect sedementary rock samples from the Grand Canyon, for which one needs permission from the National Park Service.

Let's go to the news, courtesy of (among others) The Atlantic magazine's website, which served up the evenhanded headline "A Creationist Sues the Grand Canyon for Religious Discrimination." Read on:

Snelling is a prominent young-Earth creationist. For years, he has given lectures, guided biblical-themed Grand Canyon rafting tours, and worked for the nonprofit Answers in Genesis. (The CEO of Answers in Genesis, Ken Ham, is also behind the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter theme park.) Young-Earth creationism, in contrast to other forms of creationism, specifically holds that the Earth is only thousands of years old. Snelling believes that the Grand Canyon formed after Noah’s flood -- and he now claims the U.S. government is blocking his research in the canyon because of his religious views.

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Donald Trump's cabinet: Are his choices merely a list of evangelical deplorables?

Donald Trump's cabinet: Are his choices merely a list of evangelical deplorables?

OK. I get that for lots of people, Donald Trump’s cabinet picks seem like a freak show line-up.

But can we at least try to maintain a little bit of journalistic objectivity when we describe these folks? Yes, this is a debate that's raging all over the place right now. Just ask New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet. And remember the Fixer-Upper couple bouhaha that BuzzFeed tried to ignite two weeks ago (which I wrote about) that blamed the two home remodelers for the views of their pastor? 

Lots of folks condemned that sort of damned-by-association style of journalism. In this latest wrap-up of Trump’s cabinet, I see it again in this RNS story.

(RNS) An education secretary who supports school vouchers to get more children into private religious schools. A White House strategist whose ex-wife accused him of anti-Semitism. A national security adviser who called Islam “a political ideology hiding behind a religion.”
After a campaign in which President-elect Donald Trump was accused of trafficking in bigotry and hatred, and of changing his views to win the conservative religious vote, he is choosing Cabinet members who have made controversial statements on religious and ethical issues.

I get the second half of the sentence, but was the first part (on “bigotry and hatred”) necessary? Yes, it is a statement of fact about attacks by Trump critics on the left and right, but still. The article then goes on to list several cabinet nominees:

Pruitt is a member of First Baptist Church of Broken Arrow, Okla., where he has served as a deacon. First Baptist is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, which has opposed marriage equality, reproductive rights for women and LGBTQ rights, including bathroom access for transgender people.

My goodness, are these people villains or what? The Southern Baptists also took a strong stand against racism, for refugees and repudiated the Confederate flag at their June meeting. I guess that wasn’t good enough.

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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. 

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AP turns anti-Catholic superstar Jack Chick into an all-purpose fundamentalist hero

AP turns anti-Catholic superstar Jack Chick into an all-purpose fundamentalist hero

This will be risky, but I'd like to talk about Adolf Hitler and religion for a moment.

The problem with creating a metaphor involving Hitler is that, as journalist Ron Rosenbaum told me long ago (this is a paraphrase): What people say about Hitler usually reveals more about their biases and beliefs than about those of Hitler. (Rosenbaum is the author of an amazing book, "Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil.")

So here goes. Readers, especially Jewish readers, what would you think if you read a news feature covering the life and legacy of Hitler and, right at the beginning, it stressed that he was known for his oppression of Marxists, Catholics, faithful Lutherans, gays, Jews and gypsies?

On one level, all of that is true. That is an accurate list of groups in Germany, Poland, France and elsewhere that Hitler attacked. But isn't it rather strange to see his war on the Jews turned into a mere bullet item in a list of what appear to be similar offenses?

Now, please hear me say this: I am not about to compare the work of Jack T. Chick with that of Hitler. So what am I attempting here?

I am saying that, when I read the Associated Press obituary for the famous -- many would say "infamous" -- cartoonist the lede struck me as strange. Click here for the version that ran in The Los Angeles Times -- which is symbolic since Chick was based east of LA.

Now, Chick was famous for using his pen to attack lots of different targets. But there is no question that he attacked one body of religious believers more than any other and in ways that were uniquely scandalous. But read the AP lede and try to figure out which body got stabbed the most:

Jack T. Chick, whose cartoon tracts preached fundamentalist Christianity while vilifying secular society, evolution, homosexuality and the beliefs of Catholics and Muslims, has died. He was 92.

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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.

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