Public School Battles Continue


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"AUSTIN - In a major defeat for social conservatives, a sharply divided State Board of Education voted Thursday to abandon a longtime state requirement that high school science teachers cover what some critics consider to be "weaknesses" in the theory of evolution."  Dallas Morning News, 22 January 2009

Louisiana (here, too) and Mississippi also have important decisions pending that will influence the teaching of science in public schools.

No matter how these particulars unfold, my prediction is this:

"Until the majority of churches in America preach evolution enthusiastically from the pulpit and teach evolution in inspiring ways in religious education classes, we will never see an end to the science and religion war in America."

For those parents and pastors who truly do believe that exposure to the evolutionary sciences will lead children to question their faith, and especially if a loss of that particular faith (say, scriptural literalism) consigns the child to suffering for eternity in Hell, then of course the war shall continue, even as particular battles are won and lost.

While I am enormously grateful to the National Center for Science Education for helping educators and citizens around the country develop effective actions for countering anti-evolution legislation and regulations, I know that religious leaders need to do their part, as well. Thankfully, The Clergy Letter Project, has scores of sermons to download or peruse -- sermons delivered by clergy in Christian churches, including Methodist, Presbyterian, UCC, Episcopal, Lutheran, Baptist, and more.

I highly recommend that website as a resource for clergy - especially in this "Year of Darwin" - February 12 being the 200th anniversary of his birth, and November 24 set as the date for celebrating the 150th anniversary of Darwin's landmark book, On the Origin of Species, that launched biological evolution into both the world of science and the world of public controversy.  Visit the Darwin Day website for more news and resources.

And if you don't already have a copy of the January 2009 Scientific American: "The Evolution of Evolution: How Darwin's Theory Survives, Thrives, and Reshaps the World -- A Special Issue on the Most Powerful Idea in Science", I highly recommend buying one or reading it at the public library. It's fabulous!


Vision: Global Integrity wiki


Guest blog

The following was written by Connie, my wife, after she and I brainstormed the idea a few mornings ago.

DRAFT PROPOSAL:  Develop and launch a new collaborative website (wiki-like): Global Integrity

ABSTRACT

A wiki or something like it would be developed and launched, tentatively titled "Global Integrity." This new site would allure and enable anybody to contribute an idea for solving a collective problem or responding to a new opportunity, such that (a) the idea can be improved by others and (b) the degree to which wiki visitors express value in the idea will affect the degree to which that idea comes to the attention of those who could actually make use of it.

Site administrators would control the structure of the site and the forms (can this be done on a wiki?) created for receiving new ideas, improving an idea already posted, and/or improving its links (relationships) to other ideas on the site.  Individuals could also post ideas to improve that upper level structure and forms and improve on the suggestions of others in that regard.  Thus a natural sorting process (evolution) would be encouraged at both the content level and the structural frame of the site, always with the aim of (a) birthing and improving ideas for real-world problem solving and transformation, and (b) assisting the fruits of such collective intelligence in actually making a difference in the world.

NEED


Global Integrity: An Invitation to Religious Leaders


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I am writing and posting this blog shortly after President Obama's inauguration. It is intended to introduce a concept that has been growing inside me for several years and that aches to be launched for others to help shape. For now, I shall call this meme global integrity:

Global integrity is right relationship at and with all nested levels, from the personal to the planetary, spatially and temporally.

I believe that promotion of this concept could play a crucial role in moving through the crises now facing our nation (and the world).  It establishes an easy-to-understand frame for discerning helpful actions when problems would otherwise seem too big or complex. Global integrity, as I define it here, has a distinctly religious cast. Hence my invitation to religious leaders to join me in discerning what role religion can play in helping our new president and a newly hopeful citizenry in transitioning through this crisis.

Surely I am not alone is sensing that a brilliant, dedicated, and charismatic president absolutely depends on our help. It is only a matter of time before Mr. Obama explicitly calls upon religious leaders to undertake the task of restoring the moral and ethical fiber of individuals and institutions in our nation -- but this time with respect to failings that led to the financial/economic crisis we are now in and the ecological crisis that looms. 

Integrity is not just about politicians' private parts or the private lives of citizens; it's about our survival as a species. If religious leaders were to make this shift in focus, we would most surely discover that differences in beliefs and many of the seemingly irresolvable contentions of the past few decades fade into the background. Instead, religious leaders of vastly different faiths and political leanings will find substantial common ground. The common ground, I suggest, is integrity. If religious institutions do not step into the task of vigorously working for more integrous relations and systems at all levels within society, then who will?

NESTED LEVELS

Thanks to the sciences, we empirically know that reality is best understood as nested levels -- like nesting dolls or concentric circles -- in both space and time. Spatially, subatomic particles reside within atoms, within molecules, within cells, within creatures, within ecosystems and societies -- and all jostling around this one planet -- cycling here, recycling there, and ultimately powered (mostly) by the Sun. Temporally, that same nested sequence tracks the order of evolutionary emergence as it actually took place over the course of 13.7 billion years. That is, this physical sequence correctly reflects the development of these things over time, thereby identifying ancestral origins and relationships. Subatomic particles originated before molecules; molecules had to emerge before there could be cells, and so on, all the way up to human civilizations and our global ecosystem that includes them all.

We need a new concept of integrity that embraces all of this larger reality we are becoming increasingly aware of.  Because of its nested, multi-level focus, global integrity offers a powerful framework for addressing problems by attending to both the forest and the trees at the same time. At its core is this understanding:


How and Why I'm a Pentecostal Evangelical


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Journalists and newscasters sometimes describe me as an 'evangelical minister' or ‘Pentecostal preacher', even though I speak far more often in moderate and liberal churches (and in secular settings) than I do in evangelical and Pentecostal venues. Not surprisingly, both religious liberals and conservatives genuinely ask, "In what sense do you consider yourself a Pentecostal evangelical?"

For thirty years I've proudly called myself a Pentecostal, though my political and theological views are by no means right-wing, and for the past two decades I've tended to say "evolutionary Pentecostal", for clarification. My experience in Pentecostal and evangelical contexts has been positive—indeed, salvific—and continues to nourish my life and work. I was raised Roman Catholic but struggled with sex, drug, and alcohol-related issues in my teens, during the mid 1970s. Soon after my 20th birthday, I had a born again experience and went on to graduate from an Assemblies of God college and a Baptist seminary. I pastored three churches in the 1980s and 90s and have been an itinerant evolutionary evangelist for the past seven years. Speaking in tongues (see below for my naturalized interpretation) has been a vital part of my spiritual practice for decades.

The primary reason I unabashedly call myself an evolutionary Pentecostal, however, is this: The core tenets of the evangelical-Pentecostal tradition accurately reflect the nature of the Universe and the human condition so long as they are REALized—that is, made real. And, yes, as I shall explain below, it is easy for an evolutionary evangelical to translate our basic statements of faith in natural, science-based (demythologized), and profoundly life-giving ways . . .


President Obama's Testosterone Levels


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 UPDATE: Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow riffed on this topic in an August PODCAST available for listening online, titled "Evolution and Infidelity"

On the eve of Barack Obama's inauguration, I find myself reflecting on what has become my primary prayer these days: that he and Michelle both know, and that those in their support circles know, the following:

1.  As I state in my book, Thank God for Evolution (TGFE), "There is a well-established link in mammals between gains in status and elevated levels of testosterone. Either can cause an upswing in the other" (page 161). Given this, as President of the United States, we can expect that Barack's testosterone levels will be higher than ever and will most likely remain sky high for his entire presidency.  This means, among other things, that his 'inherited proclivities' or 'unchosen nature'—his biological instincts—will inevitably lead him to be more risk taking and to think more about sex than ever before.  This is natural; nothing wrong here.

2.  Evidence suggests that testosterone levels in women who are in his presence will also skyrocket—meaning women that he interacts with will be more likely to take risks themselves, be unconsciously flirtatious,  and some will not be able to (nor want to) avoid fantasizing about him.  Connie, my wife, has even begun calling him 'the sexiest man alive'.  This is natural too; nothing wrong here—provided he and his team are not shocked by this turn, and thus are prepared to calmly deal with it.

3.  Integrity is not a solo sport; it's a team sport.  An understanding of our evolved brains (and thus of our inherited challenges) can be a terrific support in staying the path.  I discuss this in chapters 9-12 of TGFE.

4.  Deep-time, evolutionary wisdom will also be necessary to move our country and our world forward in healthy ways.  I discuss this in chapters 14-17 in TGFE.

I suspect President Obama knows all this, of course.  At least I pray he does.  I also pray that he puts in place the structures of support and accountability to make it easy for him to stay in impeccable integrity.  Without such support, it won't be easy, even for an unimpetuous man like him.  Especially because women will now be throwing their panties at him—and not even realize they're doing it.

P.S. (from my wife, Connie Barlow):  On Sunday, January 18, I did a guest sermon at a Unitarian Universalist church in Tampa. I had been scheduled to speak there more than six months ago, but given the timing, I threw away my sermon and spent the entire 20 minutes on the topic Michael raises above.  I began by reading from Martin Luther King Jr's final speech, and I mentioned John F. Kennedy.  These were great men, I said, but they lived in another time and they both died young.  Would they have been considered great in the kind of world we find ourselves in today?  Then I recited the sorry list of sex scandals that felled politicians in 2008 alone.  I followed that by reciting Jimmy Carter's 1976 faux pax: "I've looked on a lot of women with lust. I've committed adultery in my heart many times."  Oh for that level of self-revelation to be our worst scandal today!  Anyway, I then presented the science of our evolved brain and how this understanding can assist us in getting real with the challenges that are not of our own doing.  My dream is for President Obama to have a tight group of peer-level men with whom he checks in on a regular basis—and for press conferences to begin each time with this simple question: "Mr. President, have you checked in with your men's group this week?" And then on to politics.  What an example this would set for all the politicians, indeed all the men, in our nation!

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SEE: Social competition and testosterone level, from Chapter 3 in Joshua S. Goldstein's War and Gender (2001: Cambridge University Press)

PREVIOUS POSTS OF MINE ON THIS SUBJECT (Evolutionary Psychology, Neuroscience, Instincts, and Integrity):

Religion and Self Control - January 2, 2009
"I'm a Human With Mismatched Instincts" - October 1, 2008
Sex and the Olympics - August 29, 2008
There's Nothing Shameful About Accountability - August 11, 2008
Lizard Legacy Bites 3 More Alphas - March 24, 2008
Evolutionary Morality and Ethics -  January 16, 2008
Zoey 101, Brain Science 101 - December 27, 2007


Traditional Religion's God Problem


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A holy view of evolution solves traditional religion's God problem.

What is 'traditional religion's God problem'? Simply this: If taken together and interpreted literally, the world's religious scriptures portray God in ways that we all know in our hearts cannot possibly be true. For example, all of us (even atheists!) know that God cannot possibly be schizophrenic, nor a tribal-cosmic terrorist. Yet that is precisely the view that the world's sacred texts collectively offer. That's traditional religion's God problem.

Please know that I am not exaggerating or overstating the case, and I'm certainly not dissing religion! It is an easily verifiable fact that if you look at the world's religious literature as a whole, God supposedly says and does lots of contradictory, mutually exclusive things. Some traditions say "God is like this, He said this, and He did that." Others say, "NO, God is like this, He (or She) said this, and did that." If all these tales are true, God is either schizophrenic or suffers from multiple personality disorder. Saying "our stories are true and all others are myth" doesn't make the problem go away for humanity as a whole.

And it gets worse before it gets better.


The Economist Embraces Evolution


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"It is time to turn to Darwin to explain human behavior."  So reads the tag line to one of four articles on evolution recently published in an important, establishment magazine.  That The Economist chose to make evolution the theme of its 18 December 2008 issue is more significant than the details of the content. Indeed, all four articles lack a byline, making the collection even more significant by implying a degree of editorial consensus. The lead article explains the timing,

"Novermber 2009 is the 150th anniversary of On the Origin of Species. Until 1859, human nature was the province of God. It was Charles Darwin's famous book that brought it into the realm of scientific discourse."

Evolution, The Economist suggests, is "an idea that has gone out of fashion in the groves of academe over the past few decades, but is now due for a revival: that there really is a human nature, and that it is worthy of proper, scientific investigation."

"Darwin became unfashionable among bien pensants because of a reaction to the excesses of eugenicists, racists and ‘social Darwinists' who misused his theories. Darwinism seemed to emphasize the darker sides of human nature, and that sat uncomfortably with socialism. Yet man is an evolved species. His behavior makes no sense unless its evolution is comprehended. In any case, evolution explains not just the nasty aspects of humanity, but also the nice ones."

Nasty and nice aspects of our evolved (and still evolving) human nature are set forth in all four articles. Of widest appeal is "Why We Are, As We Are." This article's tagline is a kind of manifesto:

"As the 150th anniversary of the publication of On The Origin of Species approaches, the moment has come to ask how Darwin's insights can be used profitably by policymakers."


Religion and Self-control


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Evolutionary psychology, evolutionary neuroscience, and evolutionary religious studies have been getting some good press lately thanks to Mike McCullough. Dr. McCullough is Professor of Psychology and Religious Studies at the University of Miami. He is the author of Beyond Revenge: The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct (2008: Jossey-Bass) and co-author (with Brian Willoughby) of "Religion, Self-Regulation, and Self-Control: Associations, Explanations, and Implications" (Jan 2009: The Psychological Bulletin).

I first learned of Dr. McCullough from the Evolutionary Religious Studies website, which lists him (as well as me and Connie) among the "faculty and independent scholars" writing and speaking about religion from an evolutionary perspective. I wrote about this field of study in my Evolutionary Religious Studies blog post in September of 2007.

A couple of months ago, Connie and I listened to Krista Tippett interview Dr. McCullough on American Public Media's Speaking of Faith show. The program was titled "Getting Revenge and Forgiveness". The interview was excellent, as usual. (I recommend subscribing to the Speaking of Faith podcast). Most recently, PhysOrg.com ran a most helpful summary of McCullough and Willoughby's research, as did John Tierney from The New York Times, who wrote a feature article titled, "For Good Self Control, Try Getting Religious About It."


The Great Story/Big History: "To Educate the Human Potential"


Last night Connie and I finished listening to David Christian's masterful 48 lecture (30 minutes each) Teaching Company course: Big History: The Big Bang, Life on Earth, and the Rise of Humanity. As I enthusiastically shared in my last post: BIG HISTORY: THE TEACHING COMPANY, no one paints the big picture of cosmic, Earth, biological, and human history ("the Great Story") in all its scientific splendor more beautifully and powerfully than Professor Christian does in this course. (If you only do one thing for yourself educationally this year, I recommend this course above anything else!) Upon completion, I immediately thought of Maria Montessori's 1948 book, To Educate the Human Potential, which Thomas Berry turned me on to twenty years ago. In my opinion, Montessori's greatest gift to humanity (expressed wonderfully in this book) is this vital understanding:

When the Great Story—the epic of evolution, or universe story—is the foundation of education, students can excitedly learn who they are, where they came from, where things are headed, and how all scientific and educational disciplines fit into a coherent whole. More, their imaginations are sparked and they begin to wonder what role they themselves will play in the ongoing story—that is, what their own 'cosmic task' will be and thus how they too will leave their mark upon the world. What could possibly be more important? In Maria's own words...


Big History: The Teaching Company


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Yesterday afternoon, after I delivered a Sunday program at a church in Savannah, GA, one of the attendees asked, "When is this perspective going to be available as a college course?" I excitedly told him, "It already is. Get David Christian's Big History course from The Teaching Company website. There's no better articulation of the arrow of cosmic complexity in existence. It's the best of the best!"

For a decade and a half, The Teaching Company has made available to the public (via DVD, CD, and audiotape) college-level courses taught by some of the best professors in the world. Connie and I have watched or listened to quite a few of these courses over the years, and we have loved them all. But none more so than the program we are listening to now: Big History: The Big Bang, Life on Earth, and the Rise of Humanity, taught by David Christian, author of Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History. The book is very good, and I recommend it. But the course is an absolute must!

One of my favorite quotes from Joel R. Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams' excellent book, The View From the Center of the Universe, is this:

Without a meaningful, believable story that explains the world we actually live in, people have no idea how to think about the big picture. And without a big picture, we are very small people.

IMHO, no one paints the big picture—the grand epic of cosmic, Earth, biological, and human history—more elegantly than David Christian.

Here's what The Teaching Company's top contributor (the highest ranked reviewer on their site) had to say: