Saturday, April 28, 2012

I thought this was very amusing and some of you might like to see it.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Most Astounding Fact

At the request of Tina and Professor Berry, here is the video that was played in the 2:20 section. The words Tyson used are quite poetic.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Sparrow and Science, Religion, and Pop Culture

The Sparrow, written by novelist Mary Doria Russell, is a book that, I believe, is written in a manner that forces the reader to learn to love it. The story starts out dense and rather slow, and, if you promise to devote it its due time and cognitive capacity, will attach itself to your mind and heart, and feed off human's basic desire for understanding and explanation. At times, I found myself getting caught up in its beautiful use of lengthy descriptors, or dense paragraphs surrounding the complex science behind the methods employed in the discovery of and journey to Rakhat, but if you were able to look past that and instead focus on the core themes of the text, it was easy to identify some major themes that we previously discussed in class.
One of the first works we analyzed for homework, and in class was Ian Barbour's "Ways of Relating Science and Religion." This work talked about the four approaches to dealing with science and religion: Conflict, Independence, Dialogue, and Integration, some of which are represented in The Sparrow. The first one I picked up immediately is Integration. Jesuits are inherently in favor of integration, as demonstrated in Emilio, the Jesutit priest's interest in the Aribeco telescope. Integration is also present in Emilio's idea that the mission to Rakhat was to meet and learn to interact with "more of God's children," and the somewhat uncommon crew came together through God's selection and good will. Are any more of these lenses present? In what ways? Is integration present in any other circumstances?
Even larger, however, I believe is the way in which Russell's characters are made to find, question, and lose their faith throughout the novel. While this class was not intended to be a class in which we discover our personal faith, I believe each one of us would be lying if we did not incorporate personal belief and experience into our class contributions, and the challenging material we were given to read and analyze in class did not succeed in shaping or refining our own view of religion and what it means to be religious. In The Sparrow, there are characters that find their faith (like Anne Edwards,) and people who question their faith, and come close to losing it all together (Emilio Sandoz.) These characters are faced with incredibly taxing situations, both mentally and physically, that stretch the boundaries of what is and isn't conceivable by God's hand. Can you think of any instance, whether in class, for homework, or during research where sometime seemed so inconceivable, but could be proven in some way by God? I know when researching for my WPII, I was looking into the possibility for panic attacks to be controlled using belief in a higher power. While the case in my film was an exaggerated extreme, my research led to the conclusion that the perception of a slowed, controlled reality was in fact possible. Also, throughout the novel, Emilio admits to believing that the circumstances leading up to the arrival on Rakhat, and the events that took place there were determined by God. Has this book, or any other readings we went over in class, made you believe that events that may seem circumstantial can in fact be very targeted acts from a higher power?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Tree of Life

This time watching The Tree of Life again, I was struck by the dichotomy that Jessica Chastain’s character makes at the beginning of the film between nature and grace. In a sense, she is articulating an old theological battle. But what I find interesting about the film is that it seems to acknowledge the dark aspects of nature, death and selfishness being primary among them, but also seems to clearly suggest that it is through nature that one comes to know God. The characters prayers are always accompanied by visual imagery of nature, sometimes as in the long sequence near the beginning, with the origins of the universe and images that show the creation of the earth and the process of evolution. So my sense is that Terrance Malik is attempting to say that this division we place between nature and grace is in some ways false. Nature is graced. It is the means by which we learn of God. St. Bonaventure, in the Catholic tradition, has a similar idea when we called nature “the book of creation” that we had to read as if it were another, and our first, bible. One does not need to look too deeply into Native American religions as well to see nature as somehow connected to a higher power. And I think this is what is so striking to me about this film. It is not a choice that we make between nature or grace as the film initially suggests. Rather it is that nature is graced, in spite of all of its pain and tragedy and impenetrable suffering, and this film, without a doubt does not gloss over that suffering. In many ways, suffering and pain are the heart of this film. It is not incidental that it opens with a quotation from The Book of Job, a text from the bible immersed in the question of suffering and the problem of evil. And I think that is also what I like about it. Malik could have made a happy film about how nature reveals the divine and it would have been sappy and we would have hated it  and thought it banal (maybe some of you hated it anyway J). Instead, he chose to confront the nature of pain and death head on and still say, somehow, that this glorious, troubled universe reveals something of God to us, and that maybe, part of that revelation is in our own experience with suffering…and so with healing and redemption. And yet suffering and death are never pretty, never anesthetized here. The oldest boy fights with God over the drowning of a friend and over a boy maimed in a fire…and the mother keens for her dead son.
But somehow, even through those bits of nature that are loss, the conversation with God keeps going.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Thoughts on Reality TV

Akshay:I don't think there's much reality in reality TV. The contestants, or what ever you want to denote them as, are more like characters than the actors in a sitcom. It's much easier to relate to the cast of How I Met Your Mother than the cast of Jersey Shore or Mob Wives. Characters in a sitcom are created to be real, to be relatable. They are scripted to ignore the camera, where as in reality TV the camera and the director are characters too, picking and choosing what footage is present in the final edit to suggest a certain message. Survivor isn't just a random compilation of people chilling on an island, but rather hones in on specific story lines within the characters, brewing conflict and giving life to the show. Characters in a reality TV show are supposed to just be themselves, but with a camera watching your every move, just how much of yourself are you going to reveal?

Nate: I agree with what Akshay said. Although they say certain TV shows are reality shows, there are people in front of the actors when shooting who give directions and words to say in order to make the audience laugh or to create suspense. On the other side, though scripts are given to the actors in sitcoms or dramas, the actors interpret the script in their own unique ways and also uses ad-lips to make their character more realistic and alive. Thus, I believe that reality TV shows are not realistic. Rather, sitcoms or dramas are more realistic in that each actors make their own characters with what is given.

Pete:Reality TV is somewhat silly, in my opinion. As soon as people are isolated by an array of cameras and producers any semblance of reality leaves the building. People stop acting like themselves and start acting like who they THINK they are as soon as they're in front of a camera.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

May the odds be ever in your favor!

In preparation for tomorrow's grand event, this is a review of Hunger Games from the Austin-American Statesman (and also written by a good friend of mine). What I like about this review is that Joe does a great job of telling the story but also explaining the film elements, many in relation to other films and cultural experiences.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

sound + vision

Hope y'all are having a grand spring break.

A friend posted this article to Facebook from the blog io9. This is actual footage NASA released of the rocket boosters from the Space Shuttle. Watch and listen! And then remember-- this is real. 2001 was shot on a soundstage!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Dalai Lama on Buddhism & Science

A friend of mine posted on Facebook a quote that was attributed to the Dalai Lama. It read, "If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change." Immediately skeptical, I did a quick Google search to see if any other sources could verify the quote's authenticity. To my amazement, I found an editorial in the New York Times written by Tenzin Gyatso that contained this exact statement (for those who don't know, Tenzin Gyatso is the name of the 14th Dalai Lama). So, here we have a rough equivalent of the Buddhist Pope saying that religion must bow to the authority of science. What a statement!

The conclusions we can draw from this are endless - The Dalai Lama isn't saying that Buddhism will adapt with science. He is, quite literaly, suggesting that science is superior; he is suggesting that traditional Buddhist doctrine would instantaneously be wrong if science found itself in disagreement with the faith (Could you image the Pope suggesting that?).

There are a great deal of reasons why I find Buddhism to be so fascinating, but chief among them is the Dalai Lama. Not only is he a religious leader (I believe) who is before his time, but I think that we'll start to see more religious leaders begin following his example by embracing science rather than staunchly opposing it at every turn. If not, as I've said before, I think we'll see religion begin to change on a fundamental level, unrecognizable from its current form.

There are other supremely interesting quotes from the same editorial:

"If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change. In my view, science and Buddhism share a search for the truth and for understanding reality. By learning from science about aspects of reality where its understanding may be more advanced, I believe that Buddhism enriches its own worldview."

"The goal here is not to prove Buddhism right or wrong - or even to bring people to Buddhism - but rather to take these methods out of the traditional context, study their potential benefits, and share the findings with anyone who might find them helpful."

"You see, many people still consider science and religion to be in opposition. While I agree that certain religious concepts conflict with scientific facts and principles, I also feel that people from both worlds can have an intelligent discussion, one that has the power ultimately to generate a deeper understanding of challenges we face together in our interconnected world."

Also, this last quote plays into the discussion we are having over AI: "Just as the world of business has been paying renewed attention to ethics, the world of science would benefit from more deeply considering the implications of its own work. Scientists should be more than merely technically adept; they should be mindful of their own motivation and the larger goal of what they do: the betterment of humanity."

If you want to read the whole editorial, here's the link: Our Faith in Science By Tenzin Gyatso.

Hope you're all having a wonderful break!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Expanding the Definition of Religion

The OED defines religion as a state of life bound by religious vows; the condition of belonging to a religious order. Do you think this definition is accurate? We believe this definition is basically arbitrary since it uses religion in the definition twice. If this is not the definition what definition can you come up with? Must every religion fall under your definition? We feel that there are too many religions out there, and some may be secular that does not fall under the typical definition, so what do we do then? What criteria can be used to define a religion? In class we discussed possible religions in our culture today such as democracy, capitalism, and scientism. Do you believe these could be religions? If these are religions do sports and playing video games also count as religions? Finally, we discussed the possibility of a definition of religion that can always be changed and extrapolated. For example at one time the world was predominately polytheistic and monotheism could not have existed without polytheism. So at the time monotheism technically was not considered a legitimate religion because it did not fall under the definition of religion for that time. Christians were even called atheists. So meaning the definition varies over time depending on the era and ideologies bouncing around at the time. So concerning if science has become a religion, it is definitely not too absurd of an idea, you would simply have to expand your understanding and definition of what religion is to have it fit under the umbrella of religion.
Jamie and Wale  

Science As A Religion?

One of the biggest focuses of this class has been to define things that are simply hard to define. But how do we go about doing that? Is the Oxford English dictionary the supreme authority on words? Some would argue yes, because there must be an authority. Personally, however, I’ve never put much stock in “authority.” I also believe that it’s contrary to the English language to set anything in stone. If Shakespeare had played by the rules, his works wouldn’t have been half as brilliant, half as well remembered, or half as beautiful. The English language is constantly evolving, so setting it in stone is contrary to its very nature. The question we’re being asked to answer is asks, “What criteria are you using to define religion?” And that’s a question that should be answered; but also consider if the definition of religion is changing, or if it might have changed already.

You can only ask the question, “has science become a religion,” if you define what a religion is. In the 2:20 class, I (Luke) said that I thought that science was more of the “Holy Scripture” of atheism and/or agnosticism, which could be thought of as religions (the criteria used at that point was: an external practice of some sort, and holding some sort of metaphysical belief) So this is something else to think about, if science is not a religion, what role does it play in what you are defining as a religion?

Professor Berry brought up the possibly use of money or capitalism as potential “religions” in our society. Do any of you buy into that concept or do you think that our society has another ‘religion’ altogether?

--Chase and Luke

Monday, March 5, 2012

Marilynne Robinson on "Imagination and Community"

"In the stack of magazines, read and unread, that I can never bring myself to throw away, there are any number of articles suggesting that science, too, explores the apophatic—reality that eludes words—dark matter, dark energy, the unexpressed dimensions proposed by string theory, the imponderable strangeness described by quantum theory. These magazine essays might be titled “Learned Ignorance,” or “The Cloud of Unknowing,” or they might at least stand beside Plato’s and Plotinus’s demonstrations of the failures of language, which are, paradoxically, demonstrations of the extraordinary power of language to evoke a reality beyond its grasp, to evoke a sense of what cannot be said." 

This is one of the paragraphs from a beautiful article by Pulitzer Prize winning author, Marilynne Robinson. You can find it here if you'd like to read the entire thing...which I strongly recommend.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

UW Writing Conference

I attended a conference about Comics and Feminism. Both of the speakers had topics that ended up relating to one another quite a bit. The first speaker made a presentation on the way women are portrayed in video games and how it affects both sales and men's view towards women. I thought this topic was super interesting, and was enlightened by what she had to say. She stressed that for a final project topic you should pick something that you are interested in...which was a very good point.
The second speaker wrote about how the "She-Hulk" is exhibited in comics. I thought this was cool because I had never heard of She-Hulk. Both presentation had strong feminist tones.
I think the most important thing for me to remember when writing and picking my final project topic will be to choose something that I am interested in and something that has a lot of information available on it.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Is It Human Error Or Computer Error?

Is It Human Error Or Computer Error?


A Space Odyssey is quite different from other movies I have ever seen. I almost regarded it as a documentary film instead of a science fiction movie at first. The sound of the movie is filled with music a lot. That is also why we feel different about it. The gorgeous scenes in the earth, in space, and inside the aircraft give me extremely real feelings that it may be a true history of human-beings. However, it turns out to be a story for that there is still a story line in this movie. Human-beings have to finish a Jupiter Mission. HAL 9000 computer, the sixth member of the Discovery Crew, is a intelligent computer and central nerves system of the ship. It was considered to be able to perfectly behave like a smart human without mistakes or emotions. However when I was watching it before the tragedy happened, I had some bad feeling about it. Not only because that the number Six and the red light from its eyes reminded me of the scary human-look Number Six in the movie Battlestar Galactica, but also the pungent music, or noise with the scenes.

It turns out to be that Hal, the computer later made the mistake and didn’t admit it was its faults. Its behavior became not adorable when it found the secret of Frank and David talked and then terminated four people’s life inside the spaceship after that. It went against what it argued before “The 9000 series is the most reliable computer ever made. No 9000 computer has ever made a mistake or distorted information.” What do you think of this? Is computer foolproof and incapable of error? Do you think that the error is made by human brain or Hal, the machine intelligence? Do you believe machines could have genuine emotions? Do you think they should have?

UWP Student Writing Conference

The conference was really helpful especially because each presenter took us through their entire process. The first presenter wrote on a subject very unrelated to our class, yet really interesting. Her topic focussed on how the media can and does influence the public's opinion using connections between two wars. Since I am a journalism major I am really familiar with this topic. I find it really interesting that she chose the El Salvador Civil War and Iraq War to discuss the public's approval ratings for presidents. Additionally, it was really helpful when she explained that her argument changed at the last minute. I tend to have this problem a lot; therefore, now I know how to better handle it. She also explained how sometimes you cannot answer every question your topic draws. She was really focussed on method sources, which gave me some further insight on the concept of a method source.
The second presenter took Professor Berry's class last semester, so she offered so much insight. Her topic was the positives and negatives of the Catholic church's negation of contraception. I asked a lot of questions about interviewing because she had interviewed a lot of people and I know we have to as well for our final paper, so that was really helpful. Especially because she said just because someone says something does not mean it is always 100% accurate and that you should basically fact check. Also, she explained how her argument was not really for or against, but rather explaining the benefits and drawbacks. She also talked about using a lens, hers was humane vite. The most helpful piece of advice she offered was to keep an open mind when researching. This presentation really showed the appeal of writing about something controversial. I think I will definitely try to pick a topic that is controversial for my paper because papers on controversial issues always seem passionate. You could tell Jackie was really interested in her topic and she was really well informed. I would like to come out of the final paper knowing I learned something new.
The conference overall was great to get me thinking about what I may want to write about. I was especially glad I was able to hear the project of someone who took Professor Berry's class last semester.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Voyager at the Edge of the Solar System

I recently listened to Radiolab's most recent episode titled "Escape" in which Ann Druyan and the Radio Lab hosts discuss NASA's Voyager probe, which is poised at the edge of the solar system. This little probe has caught my imagination. Nothing made by humans has ever gone so far; nothing we have made has ever left our star system. We don't really know what is out there. We don't know what it will be like.


And the information Voyager keeps sending us continues to surprise us. The solar wind stills and we think it has crossed over, but it hasn't...though it might any minute. And, as I recently wrote to Tina it makes me feel all excited and worried about this little spaceship all at once. She replied, "I know! Fly little space ship!!!"

There is something of us reaching out beyond any place we have ever reached before. It is beautiful and terrifying all at once...perhaps as we ourselves are beautiful and terrifying all at once...and maybe even as the universe itself. I keep thinking about the old maps of the world, drawn by European hands, who stopped speculating beyond the known world and simply wrote "There be Dragons!" And I wonder what Voyager will find...and if we will know.

Voyager once sent back a parting look at earth when it had reached Neptune. The image is a pale blue dot caught in beams of solar light. It is stunning in its smallness.


We are that small speck in an endless field, sending out such a tiny ambassador into the universe. And all I can think of is "Fly little space ship!!!"

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Technological Advances, AI, and Religion


Artificial Intelligence, like so many other developments in science and technology, does cause some ethical and theological concern. I asked myself plenty of times while reading Tamatea's article, "is AI a good idea?", and I couldn't come up with as answer. I believe that, as humans, we are created in the "image of God," as Peterson's article states. If so, then, why AI? It's an advancement, yes. It does have some positive aspects, yes. But, how far is too far? This idea of technological singularity terrifies me a little bit, especially after having watched Battlestar Gallactica. (I had nightmares for weeks after watching I, Robot.) Though I highly doubt machines will ever evolve and try to destroy the human race, I do believe that it is dangerous to develop computers that think for themselves. In a way, it's "playing God." In a way, it's creating a life of some sort. The Radiolab we listened to about AI really helped me understand that. I remember being terrified of Furbies as a child, and until I listened to this particular radio show, I could never place why. It's because I felt that I was actually responsible for a life, even thought it was only a toy. I don't want to say that we should eliminate AI fully, but we should definitely be more cautious of it. I don't think its smart for us to create something smarter than we are. 


I think that there are legitimate ethical and theological concerns about AI. In my opinion, one of the primary concerns is that computers will soon be as intelligent as humans, also referred to as the “singularity.” I think this gives rise to concerns about human’s ability to control technology. The idea of the “singularity” reminds me of the movie Eagle Eye when the supercomputer at the department of defense begins blackmailing certain individuals with the intended goal of killing the president and his cabinet. Do you think that it is possible that technology could advance past that of human intelligence in a similar manner as to what happened in Eagle Eye? Also, should AI have rights if it does gain the same level of intelligence as humans?
William Bainbridge suggests that as AI progresses there will be no more gaps for God to fill, creating an increase in religious resistance. I think that this is clearly a theological concern for AI because as technology progresses, religion could become viewed as less important and for lack of better words, believable. Do you agree with Bainbridge’s opinion that AI will lead to an increase in religious resistance?


There are multiple issues that certain technological advances, such as Artificial Intelligence, bring to the table. I found the difference in Buddhist and Christian responses to be symptomatic of the broader incoherence of opinion regarding technological advances in general. For example, the Amish responded to technological advances by functionally saying, "Actually, we don't want to continue advancing technologically. We think everything is perfect just the way it is." Yet many people, religious and nonreligious alike, view technological advancement as the main goal of the human enterprise. After all, advances in agricultural technology or infrastructure are what allowed the human race to flourish and develop. There are many opinions on the subject, and they are not necessarily dictated by a person's religion. What are your opinions on technological advances in the field of Artificial Intelligence? Is it possible that if computers/robots became too intelligent the result could be a Terminator-like apocalypse? What about all the predicted benefits that will come in the fields of medicine or transport?

I also had some thoughts regarding the conversation at the end of class on Thursday, in which we discussed the fact that technological advances require our participation and, to some extent, our willingness to sacrifice. I saw an interested documentary the other day about advances in Quantum Physics which discussed the possibility of teleportation. The narrator explained that teleportation is possible, but that it involves disassembling an object or person and reassembling it in a second location. He went on to address the question that arose from this discovery: Is the person or object the same  person/object when it is reassembled? The narrator believes the answer was yes, because it was the exact same composition of particles as the original. However, this does raise serious religious and philosophical questions. For example, if the object is really the same just because its particles are assembled in the same way, is there still room for the idea of a soul? I found this discussion ties into Bainbridge's belief that advancing technology could have serious negative impacts on religion. What are your thoughts on the subject?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

"America's Darwin Problem"

I thought this was an extremely interesting article written by a biologist at Brown University. It is quite clear the position of conflict that he takes and assumes other people take as well.
--I do realized that it is the Huffington Post, if you look past the journalistic bias the author made some interesting points.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday in many Christian churches and the juxtaposition of this against our visit to the Human Origins exhibit last Friday and our conversation about human “specialness” struck me today. Christianity, like Judaism and Islam, holds that humans have been made “in the image of God.” There is no theological consensus on what that means, though there are lots of ideas ranging from our ability to love and have relationship to our ability to reason to our capacity for self-awareness. But how “the image of God” is defined is not really what I want to talk about here. Instead, I bring this up to say that in Christianity there is a deep understanding that because humans are made in the image of God that we are special and somehow different from the rest of creation. But what struck me today is that there is a balance involved in this. On Ash Wednesday as the priest puts ashes on each person’s forehead (an ancient Jewish symbol of repentance) he also says to each person “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” What struck me is that in a religion that holds to a deep distinction of humanity from the other animals, there is also this very profound reminder that we also came from the earth and our connected to it, a reminder of our own origins, and, I think, a call to be humble in spite of what may make us special. Because maybe we are made “in the image of God” whatever that might mean, but we are also made of the same dust, the same matter, that makes up everything around us, and Christianity thinks that is important enough to remind its followers once a year both with words and with symbols marked upon their bodies, made from this same dust.

Here's a short video explaining the practice a little more:

Monday, February 20, 2012

Monty Python's Philosopher Soccer Match

This came up in another class that I teach and since so many of you are writing about philosophers I thought I would share it with you (though many of you are writing about the English philosophers). Anyway, this is one of my favorite things in the world. Enjoy!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Most Beautiful and Most Wonderful

When I was a little girl my favorite place to go was the Tampa Museum of Science and Industry. Even though I grew up near Orlando, my family did not have season passes to Disney World or Busch Gardens; we had season passes to MOSI (the above-mentioned museum). So my early memories of science are filled with what it was like to walk as a very small person and look up at enormous dinosaur skeletons, to watch as my father, an electrician, explained the way a current climbed up a Jacob’s ladder, to send a giant pinball though an equally giant pinball machine to learn about kinetic and potential energy, and to sit still and in awe as galaxies swirled above me in a planetarium. And this is also the place where I first fell in love with the world and learning about it…and so with science…well that and my home in the Florida countryside with its lizards and fiddler crabs and an endless ocean. But all of that is to say that whenever I enter a science museum, I feel like I am five again—astonished by and in wonder at everything around me, ready to explore, and in love with the world.

The Hall of Human Origins is not different for me. I can’t help but be in wonder in front of the answer to one of the deepest questions of our existence: where did we come from? I love how the answer to that question shows our connectedness to every living thing around us and to the earth itself. I am looking at a bowl of fruit sitting on my kitchen table as I type and I remember that I am 60% similar to a banana. That knowledge changes how I approach that banana, how I approach everything…and that approach, which may be one that started when I was a child wandering through another museum, is one of reverence to everything around me, everything I am somehow genetically connected to, which is what I think Darwin felt as well. The last lines of The Origin of the Species get at this, and are very meaningful to me:

"There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone circling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved."

“Forms most beautiful and most wonderful.” Yes, that is what I felt as I walked through the exhibit this time. And that humanity is one of these most beautiful and most wonderful forms. Darwin’s text deals with brutal things: survival of the fittest, extinction, death, but this is how he chooses to end his text with beauty, wonder, and even hope.

And humanity too is a brutal story: war, genocide, slavery, and yet all of the answers to the question “What does it mean to be human?” throughout the exhibit were about what makes us beautiful: we write music, dance, and sing; we make sculptures and paint images; we have empathy and care for those who would die without our help; we use tools and language and write; we live in community.  The exhibit that most struck me in the Hall of Human Origins was an interactive film about Neanderthal burial practices. I was struck by this answer to what it means to be human: bury the dead, mourn, place flowers in a grave. The beautiful unnecessary practice of recognizing the meaning of a life, the importance of an individual, the passage of time and life and death. This is part of our own beauty, our gift to this universe in which we find ourselves. Sometimes the tension between religion and evolution hinges upon the idea that humans lose their “specialness” if we have evolved like any other animal and from animals. But, as a religious person, I see something else in our evolution. I see that we are unique and special among the species of the world precisely because we have come from other animals, precisely because we are connected to the world around us so profoundly and we are able to be aware of this and look with wonder at how we came to this place. We give a unique and unrepeatable beauty to this vast and stunning universe…but we could never do so if we were not a part of it, if we were not one of these “endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful.”


Also, I promised a few of you that I would add this picture, which is me as a Homo Floresiensis:

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Richard Dawkins and the Reason Rally

Over at there is a brief article up that more or less expresses how I feel abut Richard Dawkins, which has come up a few times in class. I also think he is a very poor religious scholar (though an excellent evolutionary biologist). I wanted to like you to it here, especially since it relates to the conversation about evolution and religion that you are already having here and that we have been engaging in class.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Can Evolution and Religion Coexist?

Hey guys,
I’m one of the moderators for today and just wanted to get the discussion going with a few questions. Do you think evolution and religion are opposing ideas? Or can the two exist in dialogue with each other? Another question I had, dealing with the discussion we had at the end of class on Tuesday, was whether you think accepting evolution is also a form of faith?
I personally do not believe in any form of creationism, but that does not mean that religion and evolution cannot coexist. For example, even though almost all scientists accept evolution to be true, many of them still believe in God. Even when strong proponents of evolution point to Darwin’s The Origin of Species, they often neglect to note that Darwin never mentioned the role of God. On the other end of the spectrum, many Christians do not necessarily reject the theory of evolution. This is where the theory of intelligent design comes into play. Proponents of intelligent design agree that evolution is true, but maintain that God set forth this process. Therefore, it seems that there can always be a relationship between evolution and religion. However, this is wholly dependent on the people involved. Some people are willing to objectively give both sides a chance, while others just cling to what they have been told and tentatively reject the other notion.
Of course there are conservatives on both sides. For instance, some people reject the theory of evolution because it contradicts the literal interpretation of the Bible’s text regarding the origin of the universe: that God created heaven, Earth, and all species in six days. On the other hand, conservative scientists may argue that religion should play no role in science. One point from earlier in the semester that I like is the discussion of the different realms religion and science are in. It seems that science serves to answer the “how” questions, while religion answers the “why” questions.
I personally think that evolution and religion can coexist as long as people are willing to give both sides a fair chance. To answer my second question, I would say that accepting the theory of evolution is not a matter of faith in terms of the religious way of thinking of it. Of course, accepting the scientific studies and experiments dealing with natural selection and evolution requires some sense of trust, but I think that the word faith does not really apply to this discussion.

Monday, February 13, 2012

When Myth Becomes History

Does the truth of historical events matter? Does the myth? Does it matter how we tell these stories in popular culture? Are we allowed to appropriate them for our own ends?
Hey guys,
Katharine, Jennifer, and I are the moderators for Myth and History.
Personally, we would say bias is inevitable because historical accounts differ based on who's writing it. Levi-Strauss mentions that if you take two historians w/different political leaning writing on the same subject like the American Revolution, you're bound to get two different accounts. We also were in agreement that every culture and country manipulates history for their own use, though in an ideal world, that would not be the goal of the narrator, and it strikes us as counterproductive to appropriate history for your own ends, although it's very common. Historical "truth" should matter, but even historical accounts are biased depending on who's writing, so it's difficult to not create a myth based on an event, unless we have archaeological evidence. Most myths have a basic structure that is probably historically accurate, but as Levi-Strauss says, the details of the content differ based on who's telling the story. An interesting detail we noticed is the way that Levi-Strauss defines a myth, which didn’t match what we think of as a myth, (how would you define a myth?). As it relates to popular culture, we definitely think the bias of these “myths” is important, because the way that the stories are portrayed will be how the younger generations will see and remember it. If a film, for example, is based on a true event but highly inaccurate, the viewers will still believe it to be true, and it will be rather difficult to replace that false information with the true history.
- Shazreh, Katharine, and Jennifer

Myth and History

There are two different approaches that can be taken with regard to the truth of history: (1) history is written by the victors, and (2) what happens in the past can greatly affect the future. The fact that history often takes the perspective of the victors can skew the perspective and very often is one sided (so it may not be the entire truth). The way people understand history can greatly affect their actions (i.e. Hitler's interpretation or mis-interpretation of historical events may have drove his actions) so it is important that when history is written that it is true. Myth does not necessarily matter if it is true because it can be allegorical.

As I said, people's actions can be affected by how they come to realize historical events--a sort of butterfly effect. Just because something falls into the category of popular culture should not give it a free pass for reporting falsities. You should not be allowed to appropriate the historical facts and myths for your own end. This is a slippery slope that allows you to only support your own point of view while completely ignoring the other. Unfortunately though, you can see this take place far too often with modern sensationalist journalism.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012


In our ongoing conversation about words, language, and "the linguistic turn" I wanted to post this video, partly because it is connected to the RadioLab episode that we will listen to in class later today and partly because I think that it is just beautiful. And beauty is something that we are going to also have to deal with in this class. I also think it gets at the idea of how we use language and how the language that we use shapes how we think. Enjoy:

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Long on Language: Discussion

To start the discussion on language:

If we all speak different languages, is it possible that we all perceive the world differently?
How are language and culture intertwined?
Can you speak intelligently about a culture, if you only know the language?
What are risks of translation?
Is language a help or a hindrance?

Don't feel like you have to answer all these questions! This is just food for thought. Please remember to comment (don't start new posts).

~Kaleb, Azim, Poonam [moderating team]

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Atheist Church?

I read this article recently about an atheist church being founded in London, and I found it both fascinating and a little strange.

Please post using a single thread per discussion

Hi guys,

No one is in trouble, but the conversation is MUCH easier for everyone to follow if the moderators begin the thread with their initial post and then everyone else leaves their comments in the "comments" section of that initial post. Can you guys do that from now on?

Reaction to Long’s Idea of Culture

I’d like to start off by saying that I agree with Long’s initial definition of culture: “our cultivation of language, actions, habits, gestures, thoughts, etc. for specific purposes is what we mean when we use the term culture” (pg. 3). But where him and I differ is the way he analyzes and applies this definition. It seemed to me that Long had a difficult time disassociating religion with culture. While I do acknowledge that he makes differentiations between the two (and acknowledging the obvious fact that the title is Theology and Culture), I believe they are inadequate. Any culture is of course influenced by religion, but there are many other factors included in this broad concept. For example the very divisive concept of abortion in our culture is not just affected by religious concepts but also by scientific and philosophical concepts as well.

I found his commentary about the hammer, and the lack of knowledge someone would have with just a definition fairly interesting. I think that he is correct that language is influenced by culture (or perhaps vise versa). But more specifically, I think that language is affected by the context in which the language is residing. For example, he refers in the reading to a hammer and the lack of information the definition of the hammer would give you when you are trying to roof a house. I use the word context instead of culture because a person in the United States that is trying to roof a house with a hammer can have the same concept of a hammer as someone across the globe that is roofing a house. I don’t believe that the knowledge they share of the hammer is commonalities in the culture (granted the fact that both of the individuals are using a hammer for roofing might be considered by some to be similarities in culture), but commonalities of the context in which the hammer is being used.