Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Faith and Knowledge

From, Take the quiz first because obviously the results article has the answers.  A little nervous but I matched Kottke score- the sample survey turned out to be relatively easy (though CCD and my history major may have helped).

The Pew Research Center recently ran a religious knowledge survey in the US and the results show that atheists and agnostics know more about religion than adherents of various Judeo-Christian religions.
On average, Americans correctly answer 16 of the 32 religious knowledge questions on the survey by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life. Atheists and agnostics average 20.9 correct answers. Jews and Mormons do about as well, averaging 20.5 and 20.3 correct answers, respectively. Protestants as a whole average 16 correct answers; Catholics as a whole, 14.7. Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons perform better than other groups on the survey even after controlling for differing levels of education.
You can take a sample survey here. Woo, 15/15

Friday, September 24, 2010

Science < and Religion >

Now this is a little more interesting — nice questions.

Science and Religion - The Comedy

This just cracked me up. I thought I was looking at an Onion post, but, no, it was supported by the Office of Naval Research and the NASA Ocean Vector Wind Science Team. Wait, that still could be a division of the Onion. Great science: give it a new name — wind setdown; timeless religious truth: how to escape persecution; and easy to follow animation. Sure, it has all been done before, but not with computer animation. This is the kind of tax dollar spending that can part the recession.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Looking for a Pumpkinhead Man Illustration/Drawing

I was wondering if anyone over the years has or knows of someone who has illustrated a pumpkinhead man for Pop's story. Or if someone wishes to draw one, I was thinking mud bowl-esque (dark sketch, need to look closely to find a mischievous pumpkinhead man). Need it by October 27th, either scan and put it up on the blog or let me know of the illustration so I can figure out a way to get it. Thanks! More submissions the better.  Maybe this should go up on craigslist.

Real life Poseidon Video

Cruise Liner in a storm-

Description-On August 1, the Pacific Sun ran into a heavy storm 400 miles north of New Zealand, hitting 25-foot-tall waves and 50-knot winds. Its 1732 passengers weren't prepared to endure the madness that ensued. Absolutely crazy.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Pope in England

These signs kinda make you wish that the pope hadn't waited so long to visit the UK. Selections from Matt Stopera's collection 30 of the the funniest signs from the London pope protests via The Daily Dish (actually, these are also some of the slightly less raunchy.) And then I added a few of my own.

Not really fair because Catholics are supposed to believe in evolution, but still funny.

I like the one in the background: He's not infallible. He's a very naughty boy.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

New Education Movie... check it out

This is a new documentary that is coming out next week. It features a couple of my colleagues and grad school teachers and I wanted to give it a plug. I'm not exactly sure what angle it's going to take, other then painting a terrible picture of teacher unions. If it comes off painting Charter Schools as "the superman" I apologize for the recommendation, but none the less I think it will be a glimpse into what my days and students are like. Hope everyone is doing well!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Beware of Greece Bearing Bonds

Beware of Greece Bearing Bonds- Vanity Fair article on the Greece financial crisis.

The retirement age for Greek jobs classified as “arduous” is as early as 55 for men and 50 for women. As this is also the moment when the state begins to shovel out generous pensions, more than 600 Greek professions somehow managed to get themselves classified as arduous: hairdressers, radio announcers, waiters, musicians, and on and on and on. The Greek public health-care system spends far more on supplies than the European average—and it is not uncommon, several Greeks tell me, to see nurses and doctors leaving the job with their arms filled with paper towels and diapers and whatever else they can plunder from the supply closets.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

504 Sampsonia Way, Pittsburgh, PA, United States

Check out: 504 Sampsonia Way, Pittsburgh, PA, United States on the "street" on Google maps. You can also check it out at:

Saturday, September 11, 2010


You probably have seen this Oscar-winning short, but in case you haven't, be prepared to be stupefied.

Logorama from Human Music & Sound Design on Vimeo.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Re-Re-Redux with Pastor Terry Jones (and Robert Frost)

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've learned from poets prior
Both would suffice for its retire.
But if it had to perish thrice,
I think I know a simpler fate:
To sow a hateful seed then spice
With press—to grow it great.
That's my advice.

Cordoba House Re-redux

Not to keep beating up a very dead, already-processed-into-glue horse, but I wanted to share an article linked to on Sullivan today. The complete essay, written by Leon Wieseltier, is only accesible to subscribers of The New Republic, so I've reproduced it here in full. While reading it, I felt simultaneously the sensations of gratefulness and frustration that always accompany the phrase "That's what I was trying to say!"

Collective responsibility. One of the most accomplished Jewish terrorists of our time, Baruch Goldstein, came from the Jewish universe in which I was raised. When he committed his crime, there were a few former and present citizens of that universe, a revered rabbi of mine among them, who demanded a stringent communal introspection; but the critics were denounced as slanderers who tarred all of religious Zionism, or all of “Modern Orthodox” Judaism, or all of Judaism, with the same treasonous brush. The killer, we were angrily instructed, was an aberration, and any generalization from his action was an unwarranted imputation of collective responsibility. I disagreed. Baruch Goldstein murdered in the name of Judaism, with an interpretation of Judaism, from a social and intellectual position within Judaism. The same was later true of Yigal Amir. They did not represent the entirety of Judaism, or of the Jewish institutions that formed them—but the massacre in Hebron and the assassination in Tel Aviv were among their effects. If the standpoint of broadly collective responsibility was the wrong way to explain the atrocities, so too was the standpoint of purely individual responsibility. There were currents of culture behind the killers. Their ideas were not only their own.

I am reminded of those complications when I hear that Islam is a religion of peace. I have no quarrel with the construction of Cordoba House, but not because Islam is a religion of peace. It is not. Like Christianity and like Judaism, Islam is a religion of peace and a religion of war. All the religions have all the tendencies within them, and in varying historical circumstances varying beliefs and practices have come to the fore. It is absurd to describe the perpetrators of September 11 as “murderers calling themselves Muslims,” as Karen Hughes recently did. They did not call themselves Muslims. They were Muslims. America was not attacked by Islam, but it was also not attacked by Jainism. Mohammed Atta and his band (as well as the growing number of “homegrown” Islamist killers and plotters) represent a real and burgeoning development within Islam, an actualization of one of Islam’s possibilities, an indigenous transnational movement of apocalyptic violence that has brought misery to Muslim societies, and to us. It is not Islamophobic to say so. Quite the contrary: it is to side with Muslims who are struggling against the same poison as we are. Apologetic definitions of Islam will not avail anybody in this struggle.

Sacred space. Nationalism has always arrogated to itself a hallowing power, and the sanctification of Ground Zero is the natural expression of the memory of a nation. But this is a secular sanctity. I see no justification for establishing a mosque, a church, or a synagogue at Ground Zero, even though Muslims, Christians, and Jews died there. (Irreligious people also died there.) Yet nobody is proposing to establish a mosque at Ground Zero. Sacralization is an act of demarcation: its force is owed to its precision. Outside the line is outside the line. Park Place is outside the line, in the “profane” realm. Or has the right finally found a penumbra in which it can believe? On September 13, 2001, a construction worker at Ground Zero discovered two large steel beams in the shape of a cross. Given the design of the towers, the likelihood of such perpendicularity was high—when I visited the unimaginable place a short while later there were smoldering right angles everywhere—but the discovery of this cross was deemed a miracle, and it was raised on a concrete base, and there was talk of incorporating it into the memorial at the site. (It now stands a block away, at a church on Barclay Street.) I was always discomfited by the sight of it. Christianity was not attacked on September 11. America was attacked. They are not the same thing. The image of the Ground Zero cross now appears in TV ads excoriating the “Ground Zero mosque.” The people behind those ads do not deplore a religious war, they welcome one.

Insensitivities. There are families of the victims who oppose Cordoba House and there are families of the victims who support it. Every side in this debate can invoke the authority of the pain. But how much authority should it have? I do not see that sentiment about the families should abrogate considerations of principle. It is odd to see conservatives suddenly espouse the moral superiority of victimhood, as it is odd to see them suddenly find an exception to their expansive view of religious freedom. Everybody has their preferred insensitivities. In matters of principle, moreover, polling is beside the point, or an alibi for the tyranny of the majority, or an invitation to demagogues to make divisiveness into a strategy, so that their targets come to seem like they are the ones standing in the way of social peace, and the “decent” thing is for them to fold. Why doesn’t Rauf just move the mosque? That would bring the ugliness to an end. But why don’t Palin and Gingrich just shut up? That, too, would bring the ugliness to an end. Certainly the diabolization of Rauf, an imam who has publicly recited the Shema as an act of solidarity and argued that the Declaration of Independence “embodies and restates the core values of the Abrahamic, and thus also the Islamic, ethic,” must cease. In a time when an alarming number of Muslims wish to imitate Osama bin Laden, here is a Muslim who wishes to imitate Mordecai Kaplan. Turn away, from him? But he may be replaced at his center by less moderate clerics, it is said. To which I would reply with a list of synagogues whose establishment should be regretted because of the fanatical views of their current leaders. I also hear that there should be no mosque on Park Place until there are churches and synagogues in Saudi Arabia. I get it. Until they are like us, we will be like them.

A night at the J. At the JCC on Q Street a few weeks ago, there was a family night for “kibbutz camp.” As the children sang “Zum Gali Gali,” an old anthem of the Zionist pioneers, I noticed among the jolly parents a Muslim woman swaddled in black. Her child was among those children! Her presence had no bearing on the question of our security, but it was the image of what we are protecting. No American heart could be unmoved by it. So: Cordoba House in New York and a Predator war in Pakistan—graciousness here and viciousness there—this should be our position. For those who come in peace, peace; for those who come in war, war.

I think this whole debate has actually been quite useful, reminding us of our need to constantly defend the rather cold, abstract first amendment against the white-hot emotions elicited by religion- especially when both thoughts might occupy the same mind.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Science and Religion -- more verbosity

Here’s one more attempt to answer James’ questions about my view of science and religion. And, because it’s too big for a comment, it goes as a separate blog entry.

Before I get to any analysis, however, let me clarify a few things. As to the question: can religion interfere with science, my answer is yes it can and it most likely has. But so have a lot of non-religious – or at least non-proselytizing – people. I’d say that the Visigoths probably had a hand in setting science back a bit and, as have we discussed earlier, so have the Mongols. So, there’s been a lot a bad behavior all around. One thing I readily concede is that religion – as remarkable as it is – cannot insulate anybody from wickedness and stupidity. Whatever religion teaches, people tend to do and think what they want.

The next question might be: so, on balance, has religion helped or hindered science across the globe throughout all history? I have pointed out previously that, at least during the dark ages and subsequent Middle Ages, religion seems to have exerted a positive influence on scientific development. Plus, science and math flourished in Arabic culture at the same time Islam was also vibrant. But, I’m not an historian, and can’t answer the “on balance” question. After all, we’re still pondering the causes of World War I. More likely, this question probably qualifies as topic for a bargument – a passionate debate over a question which has no answer, usually fueled by a few beers (like, who would win in a war between New York and Los Angeles, or which superpower would you rather have, the ability to fly or be invisible). In any event, I think it’s a bit simplistic to say that the evidence is clear that religion always and everywhere shows up being a hindrance to science.

But, on the different question of whether religion must necessarily clash with science, or put a different way, if religion is doing its job, should it be inhibiting science, I happen to have a viewpoint. And I’m also happy to answer the related issue, could science ever discover anything that would definitively diminish the value or importance of religion – that is, does science pose a threat to religion? My answer to all three questions is – no.

Quite by accident I ran across a video clip of part of a conversation among the current and now infamous four horsemen of the apocalypse (Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens), and I actually experienced a revelation. In this particular clip, Harris, without apology, admits that he still uses the terms mystical and spiritual to refer to “a range of experience that is rare and that is only talked about without obvious qualms in religious discourse.” He goes on to say that it was a shame that only religion ever took these experiences seriously. And then Hitchens says that, “If one could make one change, and only one, mine would be to distinguish the numinous from the supernatural.”

And, boom, there was the revelation, from that one throwaway line of Hitchens. My thinking on this suddenly fell into place. What I realized is this: I believe in the numinous; I do not believe in the supernatural. In fact, my view is that belief in “the supernatural” is just a crass form of idol worship – another golden calf – and doesn’t qualify as religion at all. The supernatural realm appears to work much the same as our own: it follows the same laws of cause and effect and, like our world, things apparently can be “designed” there. The only difference between the supernatural and the natural world is that one more force exists – a force that, while otherwise outside the natural realm, can be influenced in much the same way that people are influenced, either by buttering somebody up or doing nice things for him. And, it must be added, the intelligent design of the supernaturalists is only “intelligent” because it’s intelligible to us humans.

In other words, God is just one of us, but really, really powerful. That’s not religion; that’s idolatry – taking something that’s familiar and profane, and setting it up as divine. It’s this kind of thinking that might prompt someone like Edmond de Goncourt to say “If there is a God, atheism must seem to Him as less of an insult than religion.”

Rudolf Bultmann puts this supernatural thinking in the category of myth rather than religion: “Myth talks about gods as human beings, and about their actions as human actions . . . Myth thus makes the gods (or God) into human beings with superior power, and it does this even when it speaks of God’s omnipotence and omniscience, because it does not distinguish these qualitatively from human power and knowledge but only quantitatively.”

Religion’s job, however, is to smash idols and open us up to the numinous. Indeed, the word religion comes from the Latin religionem, meaning “respect for what is sacred.” Jews observe the Sabbath. Muslims pray five times a day. Hindus practice yoga. Sufis dance. These practices were intended to heighten people’s awareness of the numinous – the presence of the sacred.

For me, the numinous is not just some psychological category. The experience of the holy, or transcendence or – dare we pull out the phrase now – the mysterium tremendum, is the experience of something real. I concede that this for me is an article of faith, but, like Old Marley’s death, “this must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.”

And so you might ask, if that’s religion’s task, why is it so bad at it? Among other reasons, often times the use of supernatural language by religion is an honest yet clumsy attempt to describe the numinous. Transcendence is so elusive that it must be described by metaphor, poetry or analogy. And people forget that they’re using metaphors. Add that difficulty to what else we know about religion from Huston Smith: “Institutions are not pretty. Show me a pretty government. Healing is wonderful, but the American Medical Association? Learning is wonderful, but universities? The same is true for religion... religion is institutionalized spirituality.” So, religions often betray their mission. Nevertheless, Smith insists, “If we take the world’s enduring religions at their best, we discover the distilled wisdom of the human race.”

Quoting Einstein in the blog seems to be in vogue these days, so here I take my turn:

A human being is part of a whole, called by us the ‘Universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.

This might seem like a tall order, but my view is that the purpose of religion is to expose the delusion of separateness and free us from that prison, both in terms of our fellow humans and the cosmos. Hence, its two primary concerns: compassion for others and a reverence and awe of the sacred. In other words, love of God and neighbor.

If properly understood, religion has nothing to do with filling in the gaps of science. Its purpose, rather, is to put us in touch with reality in a profound way -- and to urge us to overcome divisions among people and see to it that our fellow humans get a decent life. According to Huston Smith, religion “calls the soul to the highest adventure it can undertake, a proposed journey across the jungles, peaks, and deserts of the human spirit. The call is to confront reality.”

Sin abounds, of course, and religion will always be forgetting its way and will start gap-filling, and we will have to cajole or prod it back. But in this period of late-capitalism, when the cultural tide sweeps us toward endless material acquisition, an increasing sense of self-entitlement and contempt for the outsider; when wars and unimaginable cruelty persist; and great wealth exists beside crushing poverty, religion's radical suggestion that “[if I] have not love, I am nothing,” may be the most urgently needed message of all.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Science and Religion - Because I'm (probably) too verbose

Thank you for reminding me of Neil Tyson—great lecture with much truth. The Newton story is dramatic evidence that religious beliefs can hinder scientific development, even by the smartest guy whoever lived. (As irony, a Michael Hart book ranks him the 2nd most influential person who ever lived—after Muhammad.) Of course, before Tyson, Leibniz, Newton's friend, made fun of him for his religious beliefs

Sir Isaac Newton and his followers have also a very odd opinion concerning the work of God. According to their doctrine, God Almighty wants to wind up his watch from time to time: otherwise it would cease to move. He had not, it seems, sufficient foresight to make it a perpetual motion.

Like Leibniz and Myk, I find it strange that his religion would stop him at this particular juncture. It is ironic, however, that we are condemning the greatest scientist who ever lived for not doing enough. Would that we all had religion hamper us like Newton. But we don't need the Newton example to show us that religion can hinder scientific thought. We have thousands of creationists who confirm that every day. So, whether the Newton story is completely true or not, the lesson certainly is.

Therefore, if the question is, can religion stifle scientific inquiry; the answer must be "Yes." It is happening all the time. But, as Myk reminds us through Loren Eiseley, we could also ask the question, can rational thought stifle human knowledge and well-being? The answer is also "Yes" as told by the story of the deviser of Belsen or the atomic bomb or, less dramatically, by the thousands of people who justify harmful action through perfect rationality in their minds. Just as I would say to the creationists, these non-seekers of truth are not practicing religion, you would say these people, who are rational in their own minds, are not really practicing scientific thinking or rationality.

So we have the huge problem of what is religion and what is rational thought. For religion we have talked on this before, and Myk exquisitely provides a short answer through quotes from Bultmann, Armstrong and others. But Myk just touches on the nature and meaning of religion, there is so much more and we need to be constantly be reminded of what Myk is briefly saying. But let's move on to the side of rationality.

G. K. Chesterton said, while pointing to a padded wagon going to Bedlam, an asylum for the insane, "There goes a man who believes in himself." His point was that the insane are completely rational to themselves. A person needs a frame of reference outside of himself.

When you ask the questions, "do you think religion is a prerequisite for the pursuit of knowledge or science? and "if religion is not a prerequisite for human curiosity and scientific advancement, does it have a net positive force on them?" you are implicitly setting up science as the goal.

It is a worthy goal, though, perhaps not the only one. Let's examine what pure experimental science has taught us.

The double slit experiment tells us that a single particle shot one at a time through a screen with two parallel slits will act as if it is two particles going through both slits and interacting with itself to form a wave pattern. (Read that again slowly.) That is not all! Additionally, if a sentient being—as far as we know, only a member of the human race—observes the particle, even without disturbing it, the particle will stop interacting with itself and no longer be a probability. This is science. It is not rational. Scientists would have us believe in parallel universes, places which 'exist' but are out of our reach. It sounds suspiciously like Limbo or maybe Purgatory. I hope we don't have to bring Angelic wing motion back to explain the universe. (Humor)

Science isn't always rational. Hell, rationality isn't always rational. And this is the beauty of science. It has shown us time and time again that, what appears to be common sense, is not always understanding. Since science has revealed that our own observation affects the universe, perhaps we need to recognize that empirical science has limits. Science, not religion, is telling us that we need to use new ways of thinking. Perhaps the next leap in understanding the universe is not through the empirical methods of old 20th century science. Perhaps we need to go in much more imaginative directions. Meditation, drugs, pure mathematics? I don't know. But I do know this. I am not going to put all my eggs in the 20th-century-methods-of-empirical-science basket. My mind is more open than that.

Let's go back to your questions with a twist.
Do you think imagination is a prerequisite for the pursuit of knowledge or science? and does it have a net positive force on them?

Especially for James, do you think humor is prerequisite for the pursuit of knowledge or science? and does it have a net positive force on them?

Or love.

In all cases (religion, imagination, humor or love), I would say not only is it a prerequisite, but it is impossible to pursue knowledge without them. They are part of who we are whether we like it or not. Let's use them wisely.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

It's Always Better in September

Those of you who have nothing to do from 9/11 to 9/17 and have a hankering for the Jersey shore are welcome to stop by. The address is 1104 North Beach Avenue, Beach Haven. It's looking like there will be a sizable gathering there on Sunday, 9/12, with Sean, his parents and the NJ cousins making appearances. Jim, since I know you read the Harvey blog, I figured this was one sure way to get the pertinent information to you.