Saturday, February 3, 2007

The Dawkins Delusion

Dr. Terry Tommyrot has written a book titled The Dawkins Delusion, and is interviewed about the book here. Apparently Tommyrot doesn't think Dawkins really exists and finds arguments to the contrary woefully inane.

Dr. Tommyrot actually sounds exactly like Dawkins himself, or what Dawkins would sound like if he really existed. Anyone familiar with Dawkins' writings, or at least those writings attributed to him, especially The God Delusion, will find the interview pretty funny.

HT: Uncommon Descent.


The Slate in '08

According to the latest Fox News Opinion Dynamics Poll at this point in the contest it looks like Hillary vs. Rudy in 2008:

13. If the 2008 Democratic presidential primary were held today, for whom would you vote if the candidates were:

  • Hillary Clinton 43%
  • Barack Obama 15
  • John Edwards 12
  • Al Gore 11

14. If the 2008 Republican presidential primary were held today, for whom would you vote if the candidates were:

  • Rudy Giuliani 34%
  • John McCain 22
  • Newt Gingrich 15
  • Mitt Romney 3

I really don't think McCain has much of a chance of getting the Republican nomination. Too many conservatives just don't trust him and don't appreciate his shenanigans with the "gang of 14." Gingrich is probably the best of the candidates in terms of ideas and intellect, but he has too much personal baggage. Of course, so does Rudy. Moreover, Rudy is liberal on social issues like abortion, so it's a surprise that he ranks so high among Republicans. Perhaps it's because he's more likeable than McCain and has more charisma than Newt.

Hillary has the Democratic field to herself right now, but that would change if Gore mounted a serious effort. I think the left would dump Hillary in a nanosecond if Gore were to jump in, and I think he'd be harder for the Republicans to beat in November than Hillary would. The base of the Democratic party finds him more genuinely left than Hillary who they view as an unreliable opportunist.

We'll see.


Teach the Controversy

I was listening to NPR the other morning as they aired a feature on a struggling public school in Baltimore. They had their tape recorders in a biology class as the teacher tried to reconcile the upcoming lesson on Darwinian evolution with the Creationist convictions of some of her students. The lecture included this:

"You've got your area of faith. You've got the things your parents have taught you, your church has taught you. And all those things are good. But because we're in a science class, science is not based on faith. Science is based on fact. But I'm not saying this is right or wrong. All I'm telling you is this is on your [test]."

This is not a good approach. It sets up a false dichotomy between faith and fact, religion and science. In reality, it is a matter of faith, not fact, to believe that life could have arisen by purely material processes. and it is a matter of fact, not faith, that no one has been able to figure out how life could have ever originated as a consequence of the action of chance and physical forces.

What the teacher should have said, if she wanted to avoid controversy, is that "what we are going to be studying in class is the consensus view among scientists about how life arose. There are problems with this view and there are some scientists who think it is wrong. What we will not do is take a formal position on the question of whether or not the origin of life and the diversification of life required the input of an intelligent agent. We leave that question open. Our focus wil instead be on the physical evidence, both in support of the consensus view and against it, and allow you to draw your own conclusions about the philosophical questions. If the philosophical questions interest you, and they should, feel free to share your thoughts with the class."

That would have piqued the interest of at least some of her students, but, unfortunately, too many teachers know too little about this controversy to address it fairly, accurately and interestingly with their students.


A Friend of God

Alexandra Pelosi, daughter of the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, has put together a documentary on American evangelicalism to air on HBO throughout this month. Rebecca Cusey offers a critique of Pelosi's film at National Review Online. According to Cusey, the documentary could have been a lot worse than it is, and also a lot better. Nevertheless, Pelosi's film touches upon an interesting point. Here's Cusey's commentary:

The biggest lesson of the film is that normalcy is in the eye of the beholder. When Pelosi shows thousands of people singing "I am a friend of God," a club of skateboarders "skating for Christ," or even an impassioned sermon, those familiar with evangelicalism see nothing odd. However, your average New Yorker or San Franciscan, or even your suburban neighbor who has never walked through the door of a church, sees something very strange indeed.

Turning a hobby, such as skating or cruising cars, into an outlet for proselytizing may come across as artificial, even manipulative. The fervor of emotional worship, multiplied by thousands of worshippers, can leave those without that experience scratching their head. "There's something very strange about these people," says Pelosi to [Pastor Ted]Haggard [This was filmed before the revelations of Haggard's improprieties became public] about the enthusiastic worshippers, "They're so happy." Happy, perhaps, but disconcerting nonetheless - or all the more - to many liberals.

In an interview with the gay magazine The Advocate, she says, "A lot of New York liberal Democrats who go to the megachurches come back talking about how scary they are." To those who have never been a part of evangelicalism, the lingo, the constant referrals to the Bible, the personal lifestyles defined mainly by their biblically imposed limits, religious passion, even the pure power of thousands of people at a rally, can be terrifying.

Evangelicals would do well to understand this, not to conform to the broader culture, but to speak a language those outside the church can understand.

Cusey notes that Evangelicals don't see themselves as the rest of the country sees them, but the fact is, most Evangelicals don't care how the rest of the country sees them. They should, though, and for the reason that Cusey gives. A group that strikes those it would like to win to the faith as "scary" is not likely to enjoy much success. Like Paul, Christians should be prepared to become all things to all men that some of those might be persuaded that Christianity is true. Making oneself "scary," or presenting an image that seems completely alien to those whom Christians wish to persuade, seems an unpromising way to accomplish this. This is not to say that Evangelicals should not be who they are. It is to say, though, that they should be more alert to how they are perceived by others and the effect that perception has on the attractiveness of the Gospel they offer.