Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Amazing Grace

My daughter and I went to see Amazing Grace yesterday and came away from the theater both moved and inspired.

The film production is first-rate and the acting is superb. It's possible to wish that the story jumped around a little less for the sake of those not familiar with the historical timeline, but it's not overly difficult to follow, and it offers wonderful insight into the life of a man who deserves far more fame than what he has been given.

I told my daughter on the way that William Wilberforce is probably one of the greatest men that most people never heard of. He was a member of Parliament who, driven by his desire to serve God, employed his exceptional gifts in the service of the fight to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire of the 18th century. The movie gives us a fine portrait of what that arduous struggle was like for Wilberforce and his allies and inspires the viewer with Wilberforce's tenacity and courage.

Amazing Grace is a movie everyone should see, if for no other reason than to witness what true character and heroism look like in a man. If you haven't yet seen it, I hope you will.


What's the Difference, Jim?

Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost takes Jim Wallis to task for what he sees as .... inconsistency in Wallis' willingness or unwillingness to resort to force:

Two months ago, Jim Wallis wrote about his support for military intervention on The Huffington Post:

[Representatives from Evangelicals for Darfur] had complete agreement that only a large and strong multi-national peacekeeping force, with the authority to use "all necessary means," would suffice to end the genocide in Darfur - and that Sudan must be compelled to accept it.

Although Wallis is willing to use military force to protect the people of Darfur, he does not believe the people of Iraq should have been afforded the same protection, In fact, a recent anti-war protest, Wallis denounced the war as "an offense against God" and said that we don't need a surge in troops but rather, "We need a surge in conscience."

It does seem strange that Wallis would endorse the use of force to stop the genocide in Darfur but condemn the use of force to end genocide in Iraq. Perhaps Wallis, who usually sounds very much like a pacifist, has a reason for this distinction. If so, we'd like to hear it.

Meanwhile, others who are opposed to U.S. involvement in Iraq but in favor of U.S. involvement in Sudan might offer their own rationale for their views via our Feedback button.


Does Darwinism Explain Religion?

Cornell's Allen MacNeill is an unusual example of an academic Darwinian. He presents interesting courses on the ID/Darwinism controversy in which he apparently gives a relatively fair treatment to ID. His latest offering is titled Evolution and Religion: Is Religion Adaptive. Evidently the seminar will explore the evidence for an evolutionary explanation for the survival of religion. MacNeill writes:

I realize that putting myself in between such formidable opponents is perhaps asking for trouble...but I couldn't possibly get into any more trouble than I did last summer, could I? Once again, we shall rush in where angels fear to tread, and consider a very topical topic. As was the case last year, I invite anyone with an interest in the question posed as the title of this blog to consider taking this course, or at least sitting in on our discussion online.

We will have an online course blog, where any and all comments, criticisms, suggestions, and other trivia will be roasted and long as they are civil. As for accusations that I'm biased, let me say upfront that I (like almost everyone else) have an opinion on the question: I believe (based on my research into this question) that the answer is "Yes" and that the specific context within which the capacity for religious experience has evolved is warfare...but we'll talk all about that this summer.

We may also talk about whether or not God (or gods, or whatever) exist, but that will not be the primary focus of the course, nor will I allow it to become the primary focus of our discussions. This course isn't about the existence or non-existence of God (or Darwin or me). It's about whether or not the ability to believe in things like God (or gods, or whatever) has adaptive consequences. It's a fascinating topic and I hope that enough people will sign up for the course with opposing viewpoints on this subject to make for as interesting a summer seminar as last year's was.

I think it's going to be very difficult to prove that religion confers some evolutionary advantage given the six criteria MacNeill lists for demonstrating adaptation. Even so, and despite the tendentious reading list (see first link), it sounds like a fun course.


How Edwards Got Rich

My friend Byron has written to take exception to yesterday's post on John Edwards. He essentially challenges my opinion that Edwards has gotten rich through ethically dubious means and wonders if I'm suggesting that doctors should not be sued if they cause harm.

The answer is that of course they should, if they can be shown to have been negligent or incompetent. Edwards, however, won dozens of huge settlements when it was by no means clear that this was the case, and he knew it wasn't the case.

Anyone who is interested in checking this out might read this 2004 Washington Times piece by Charles Hurt.