Pharyngula spoke out about Oklahoma State Representative Sally Kern. (More here.)
Kerns is the sponsor of Oklahoma House Bill 2211, the "Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act". You can tell from the title what it is: a bill that would privilege religious opinions over scientific information in public school classrooms.
I had the pleasure this evening of hearing Prof Richard Dawkins, a biologist who is the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford and a member of The Royal Society. He spoke at the Meeting Hall (built in 1910) of the Society for Ethical Culture (founded in 1876). It is located on Central Park West at West 64th Street. Approximately 800 people attended. (800 people is the capacity of the venue, and for all intents and purposes every space was filled. The hall features pews, not chairs, so it's a bit difficult to determine attendance at a glance.)
Professor Dawkins received a standing ovation at the conclusion of his presentation.
I have viewed nearly all of Prof Dawkins' talks that are available online. Many of them conclude with a Q&A session. I must say that the start of the Q&A session this evening was fantastic. Prof Dawkins was gracious and thoughtful. The first questioner pointed out to Prof Dawkins that perhaps he ought to reconsider his use of the term "Darwinism," because it can seem to legitimize the a misuse (deliberate or otherwise) of the term by opponents of proper science education, such as many creationists, that suggests that evolution is a type of cult of personality. As this questioner pointed out: Physicists don't call themselves Newtonians or Einsteinians.
Prof Hawkins said that this was an interesting point, and he had had his consciousness raised by the questioner, and that--yes--he was convinced by the argument and would use the term more carefully in the future. He thanked the questioner, who appeared to me to be quite young, perhaps in his early twenties. I thought this was a fantastic demonstration of open-mindedness to argumentation, especially when one considers how frequently critics cheaply accuse Prof Dawkins or the so-called "new atheists" of being arrogant.
While the questioner did not explicitly say as much, I think it is indeed the case that many religious opponents of a proper science education (e.g., a science education including the teaching of evolution) indulge not only in the incorrect "evolution versus creationism" frame--as if both concepts were equally valid--but sometimes a "Jesus versus Darwin" frame. But the choice isn't between Jesus and Darwin, it's between accepting or not accepting an overarching scientific principle that is based upon evidence repeatedly subjected to peer examination. If one does not believe in evolution it is as if one does not believe in gravity, the germ theory, or plate tectonics: disbelieve it if you'd like, but you will be rejecting the idea ultimately based on religious dogma, personal incredulity, ignorance, or a combination of the three, but not based on scientific evidence...nor based (as the questioner was mentioning) on choosing to like or "believe" Darwin over Jesus, Allah, or anyone else, as if the choice were between an array of clever opinions, including the opinions of religious claimants of supernaturally revealed truth. The questioner has a point, yes: evolution (and for that matter skepticism or secular humanism) is not about Darwin per se. Taking or leaving evolution isn't about any person in history, but about a large body of evidence that you either take as scientifically valid or that you reject for non-scientific reasons.
I would also point out that Prof Dawkins is experimenting with some new angles to his arguments found in The God Delusion, including a heightened emphasis on the value of teaching comparative religion in schools. He made it clear during the Q&A that there are dangers associated with teaching comparative religion courses in public schools, but if such courses are taught competently, they can be very useful in demonstrating to students the simple fact that there are and have been numerous religions on the planet, therefore claims by any one religion that it alone reveals the whole truth of reality are unlikely to be correct.
Professor Dawkins is to be congratulated for treating his audience with such respect and graciousness. His presentation was informative and enjoyable.
Mehdi Kazemi is a gay teenager from Iran. He sought sanctuary in Britain after his boyfriend was hanged for homosexuality. So why is Britain so determined to send him back to Tehran – to almost certain execution?
I believe no British Government should aid even indirectly the homophobia of a theocratic state.
I sent the below as an e-mail to the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith. You can do the same. Click here to e-mail her.
Dear Madam Secretary,
I am writing to urge the Home Office not to deport Mehdi Kazemi. Iran is a theocratic state that treats gay men and lesbians inhumanly, subjecting them even to execution. Mehdi Kazemi’s boyfriend was executed in Iran. I believe it would be horrible for the Labour Government to force Mr Kazemi to return. Once in Iran, Mr Kazemi’s life—should he be allowed to keep it—would be a living hell given the Iranian authorities’ primitive attitudes towards homosexuality. What is more, it would send a signal to the world that the United Kingdom is not the welcoming place that I know it to be, and that the Government is not a beacon for pragmatic progressivism that I know it aims to be.
Thank you for considering this matter.
Please consider echoing my sentiments by e-mailing the Home Secretary.
In examining the religious right it is impossible not to look at its influence on the Republican Party. But it is also important to examine misunderstandings about the religious right.
Some misunderstandings are common, and Amy Sullivan's new book, The Party Faithful, demonstrates that an American evangelical is not necessarily a partisan Republican or even what would generally be considered politically conservative. Sullivan was recently interviewed by Salon.com.
Sullivan is a Democrat and an evangelical Christian. She has deep moral concerns about abortion, but is pro-choice. Also, she is strongly pro-gay rights. Her two main contentions in Party Faithful are that Democrats must stop conceding the evangelical vote to the Republican Party, and that to do this does not require that Democrats become conservative on the issues of abortion or gay rights. She notes that Democratic politicians who refuse to ridicule evangelicals, refuse to stereotype them as rightwing nuts, and who instead make thoughtful shifts in language based on genuine respect for people of faith might be surprised how much evangelical support they get.
Sullivan makes this point by acknowledging simple facts:
Sixteen million evangelicals voted for John Kerry in 2004. So, to write off the entire constituency from the beginning is to ignore people that are already on your side. ..... I would point you to the elections in 2006 and those in Michigan and Ohio, where you had not just two pro-choice candidates running for the position of governor but two pro-gay rights Democrats, and they were both able to win nearly half of the evangelical vote.... There will always be evangelicals who will never vote for a pro-choice candidate, but you're also going to have a pretty large pool of voters who just don't want to have someone call their personal beliefs right-wing and intolerant.
She outlines the problem this way:
It continues to shock people when I talk to Democratic audiences and I remind them that 87 percent of Americans say that religion is an important part of their lives. And that includes a heck of a lot of Democrats. Republicans are not getting 87 percent of the vote. I continue to meet...Democrats...who insist...that Bill Clinton is not religious, that it's just an act.... Who find it inconceivable that Nancy Pelosi is a committed Catholic, [or think] that whenever she talks about faith now it's just the result of advisors and consultants telling her it's smart, when in fact this is a woman who's been quoting the Bible in closed-door meetings for decades. So I do think Democrats are kind of surprised to learn who the religious are in their midst and I think those are mostly the secular Democrats. The religious Democrats who I talk to are somewhat relieved because they had all been thinking that they were all by themselves.
Frederick Clarkson of Talk To Action noted that Sullivan seems to represent what's been called the "Third Way" for the Democratic Party relative to religion and religiously-charged issues, and he is distrustful of it:
While I agree that it is possible and desirable to adjust language so as not to be unnecessarily off putting to people who are pro-choice, but queasy about the choice itself; this kind of thinking can provide a cover for creeping religious right thinking in the party, something we have seen, for example, from Mara Vanderslice and Eric Sapp's Common Good Strategies.
Actions of [Zapatero's] first government have included withdrawing Spanish troops from Iraq, a controversial negotiation with the armed separatist group ETA, the creation of Spanish Courts for Violence against Women, legalizing same-sex marriages and a program of amnesty for undocumented immigrants.
The British Embassy in Washington D.C. has sent out by e-mail a Ministry of Defense release in which Maj. Gen. Barney White-Spunner (photo), who is the general officer commanding the Multi-National Division South East and commander of all British troops in southen Iraq, outlined his perspective and some developments.
From the release:
The British came to Iraq to help. We have never seen ourselves as an occupation. Some have disagreed. But I hope that now we have withdrawn from [Basra], handed over security and wish to devote ourselves to development and training, there can no doubts about our intentions. While the multi-national forces have the military technology and power to support your security forces, we will not be here forever. The recent reductions in UK forces here in Basra demonstrates this, but it also demonstrates our confidence in the Iraqi security forces. ..... [T]he people of Basra....seek to make Basra the great regional city and commercial centre that its history demands it should be. ..... The first meeting of the Basra Economic Forum last week was a major step. Next week the Basra Development Commission is holding 'Invest Basra 2008' in Kuwait to bring regional investors and Basra businesses together.
A recent article (AP) examines the non-fiction book, Blue Like Jazz. According to the article, it's a best-seller among some evangelicals and "puts [a] tolerant face on Christianity." The book's author, Donald Miller, is an evangelical, but the term "Christianity" for him came to mean, "conservative politics, suburban consumerism, and an 'insensitivity to people who aren't like us.'"
The article continues with Miller's words:
"I felt, once again, that there was this underlying hostility for homosexuals and Democrats and, well, hippie types. I cannot tell you how much I did not want liberal or gay people to be my enemies. I liked them," he wrote. "The real issue in the Christian community was that (love) was conditional . . . You were loved in word, but there was, without question, a social commodity that was being withheld from you until you shaped up."
As the article notes, many 20-something evangelicals are buying Miller's book and passing it along. Apparently, he's struck a chord. However, I share the skepticism of Frederick Clarkson of Talk To Action, who stated in an e-mail:
Miller is … heading off in the direction of a depoliticized conservative evangelicalism and getting along with people instead of being arch and judgmental. Seems to be a common thing among the younger generation of evangelicals these days. It is quite unproved, however, if their voting and general political behavior will be much affected by these various shifts.