Archive for September 15th, 2008|Daily archive page

Church of England apologizes to Charles Darwin

The Rev. Malcolm Brown, the head of the Church of England’s public affairs department, has said that the Church owes Charles Darwin an apology, “for misunderstanding you and, by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still.” He said that in a larger essay, “Good religion needs good science,” which itself if part of an excellent series of articles and essays, found at here, on Darwin that the Church of England is releasing in advance of 2009, which is both the bicentennial of the scientist’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the first publication of On the Origin of Species.

Charles Darwin, shortly after his return from the voyage of the Beagle

Charles Darwin in the late 1830s, shortly after returning from the Beagle's historic voyage

They compare hostility to Darwin and evolution to the opposition that Galileo faced for saying the Earth moved around the Sun. Pope John Paul II officially apologized for the Catholic Church’s role in putting Galileo on trial and stifling his ideas. Some have criticized the apology, calling it “ludicrous” or “pointless,” the latter being the characterization of Darwin’s great-great-grandson.

I think it is appropriate to admit fault where it is real, but care should be taken to not distort the history of the church’s reaction to the theory of evolution which is certainly not the story of universal rejection. Indeed, the publication of The Origin of Species in North America was organized by Darwin’s confidante, Asa Gray, professor of natural history at Harvard and a committed Christian. (Gray later wrote a book titled Darwiniana.) The British historian James Moore writes that “with but few exceptions the leading Christian thinkers in Great Britain and America came to terms quite readily with Darwinism and evolution”, and the American sociologist George Marsden reports that “…with the exception of Harvard’s Louis Agassiz, virtually every American Protestant zoologist and botanist accepted some form of evolution by the early 1870s.” And it wasn’t just scientists among Christians who quickly embraced evolution. One Anglican clergyman wrote to Darwin suggesting that evolution was actually a “loftier” conception of God than the old-fashioned idea of God creating humans the easy way, by just molding them out of dust. In other words, there is grandeur in this view of life.

I do very highly recommend the articles published by the Church of England on Darwin and his life, though I have only begun to skim through them myself. They point out that Darwin was raised and always surrounded by Anglicans and even studied briefly for the priesthood as a young man (some Islamic Creationists take this to be proof that evolution is a Christian plot to undermine the morals of good Moslems). His journey away from Christian faith into what he later said was best characterized as agnosticism, not atheism, had nothing to do with his scientific discoveries; it was largely the result of his daughter’s death, which he found difficult to square with the existence of a loving, all-powerful God.

Darwin knew that his research and theories would prove controversial and expected the attacks that he received. However, his fears that his family and friends would reject him were happily unfounded. When he died in 1882, he became one of only five non-royals to be given a state funeral in the 19th century and was buried in Westminster Abbey, close to John Herschel and Isaac Newton.

Comments are welcome. And you can check out those aforementioned articles here: http://www.cofe.anglican.org/darwin

McCain and Obama on science

Back during the primary season Science Debate 2008 originally wanted to get all the candidates from both parties on the same stage to debate their respective views, approaches, and policies towards science-related topics.  That didn’t happen.  But what is about as good as could be hoped for is that both Barack Obama and John McCain have now submitted answers to questions they were given in a range of categories that together cover the spectrum of issues that face us and that require a scientific approach.

The 14 categories are: innovation, climate change, energy, education, national security, pandemics and biosecurity, genetics research, stem cells, ocean health, water, space, science integrity, research, and health.

The candidates’ written responses can be seen and compared side-by-side here.  Highly recommended, even for those who have already made a decision about who to support.

Monday Miscellany: Fundraising, Palin, and the Pope

My previous miscellany entry proved to be popular, so I’ve decided to make it a regular staple of my blog. I’ll note interesting news items and articles throughout the week and then bring them to your attention with some comments of my own, usually on Monday, since I can get some alliteration going there. Though “Sunday Sundries” would also sound cool. So, check out the links for more interest on the items that interest you and please comment.

If he'd be as good a president as he is a fundraiser we should all vote for this guy!

If he'd be as good a president as he is a fundraiser, we should all vote for this guy!

While John McCain may have a slight, within-the-margin-of-error lead in the polls, Barack Obama raised $66 million during August, his biggest one-month haul yet. His campaign reports $77 million on hand and is not subject to limits on how much they can raise and spend since he refused federal funding, becoming the first presidential candidate to ever do so. McCain, on the other hand, is now committed to spend no more than the $84 million he has received from the federal government.

Over 2.5 million people have financially contributed to Obama’s campaign. OpenSecrets.org reports that through 31 July, Obama’s campaigned had raised $390 million, 96% of which is from individual contributions. With his haul from August, he’s raised $467,000,000. That’s more than the nominal gross domestic product of Vanuatu, Comoros, or East Timor.

The New York Giants and the New York Jets have broken off negotiations with Allianz, a German insurance company, for the naming rights to their new stadium due to the company’s significant ties to the Nazis and the Holocaust. According to Wikipedia:

Allianz insured both the facilities and personnel at the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp and the Dachau concentration camp. Allianz also provided accident insurance for engineers at the I.G. Farben chemical company, manufacturer of the Zyklon B gas used to exterminate 1.2 million Jews and others at the Auschwitz and Majdanek extermination camps during the Holocaust. Allianz also provided insurance to the Nazis for valuables seized from Jews prior to their forced relocation to the camps.

Additionally, several company executives served in the German government and were responsible for policies which terminated or denied payment of life insurance policies issued to Jews. The payments instead went directly to the Nazis. The issue is more sensitive in the New York City area than it perhaps would be elsewhere due to the regions many Jewish people in general and Holocaust survivors in particular.

More is coming out about Sarah Palin’s tenure as chief executive of Wasilla and Alaska. The New York Times reports that, as governor, she hired five former high school friends for high ranking jobs in the state government and that “the Wasilla High School yearbook archive now doubles as a veritable directory of state government.” They imply that Franci Havemeister, a former real estate agent who now makes $95,000, may not be qualified to run the State Division of Agriculture, her childhood love of cows notwithstanding. Some of Palin’s firing decisions may also have been politically motivated; in 1997, she fired Wasilla’s longtime city attorney, Richard Deuser, after he issued the stop-work order on a home being built by Don Showers, one of her campaign supporters. The article also provides examples of what they call extreme secrecy, like the wide use of personal e-mail accounts, not subject to subpoena and freedom of information laws, to conduct state business. Over 60 legislators and other Alaska and local officials were interviewed for the story, quite a few of which defend and support Palin. I highly recommend the article.

Pope Benedict XVI is visiting France where he held mass with an estimated 220,000 in attendance. France is, of course, a heavily Catholic nation–on paper, at least. Recent polls indicate about 51% of French people self identify as Roman Catholic, down from about 80% in the early 1990s. According to various, somewhat contradictory polls cited by Wikipedia:

  • half of French Catholics don’t believe in God
  • 17% of French Catholics don’t believe in God; and among those who do, most (79%) described Him as a “force, energy, or spirit” and only 18% as a personal god
  • 32% of French people are agnostic; 32% are atheists; and 27% believe in God
  • 34% of French citizens ” believe there is a God”; 27% “believe there is some sort of spirit or life force”; and 33% “do not believe there is any sort of spirit, God, or life force”
In Italy, it is illegal to insult this man. Why?  He occupies Saint Peter's chair, he can take it!

In Italy, it is illegal to insult this man. Why? He occupies Saint Peter's chair--he can take it!

Benedict has made challenging Europe’s increasing secularization a major part of his pontificate and France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, also wants the public sphere in France to be more open to people expressing religious belief. Sarkozy, due to a pair of divorces, is ineligible to receive communion.

In other Benedict-related news, Sabina Guzzanti, a popular Italian actress and comic, is facing possible jail time for insulting the Pope. Yes, according to Article 313 of the Italian Penal Code, it is illegal to “insult the honor” of the Pope and the Italian president. The offending remark, delivered at a political rally, was that the Pope would “go to hell and be pursued by two big, gay and very active devils” as a result of his views on homosexuality. Probably not helpful for advancing the public discourse on the subject, but hardly something a person should go to jail for. Thank God for the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Bill and Jerry’s Microsoft ads

Microsoft has an interesting new series of ads featuring company co-founder and chairman of the board Bill Gates hanging out with Jerry Seinfeld. Here’s the first spot:

In the best Seinfeldian tradition, they’re basically ads about nothing: no Microsoft products are mentioned and computers are never seen.  The ads center around Gates and Seinfeld trying to “connect” with “real people.” And I think they’re funny. Check out the second, longer spot:

I think this is a very interesting advertising approach. It seems the basic goal is to simply get customers thinking positively about Microsoft and their frontman, who haven’t always gotten the best press. The spots couldn’t have cost much to produce (beyond Seinfeld’s fees), and each has been viewed almost a million times each in the past few days on YouTube alone, though they’re also being televised.

I think it is fun to see Bill Gates, one of the richest men in the world (current networth: $58 billion), making fun of himself.  He comes across as very likable in the two ads and he seems to have a good sense of humor.  If you look closely in the first ad, you can see that the picture on his Shoe Circus Clown Club membership card is his mugshot from a 1977 arrest (for a traffic violation in Albuquerque).

The ads also tie Jerry Seinfeld, a very well-liked guy, to the Microsoft brand; no doubt the software giant hopes that people’s warm feelings about the comedian to rub off on their software products.  Hey, if Jerry Seinfeld is in an ad with Bill Gates, Microsoft can’t be that evil of an empire, right?