Climate change debate spurs warm feelings in London

china-climateIt is rare that religion and science find agreement, but that is what happened when Britain’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks spoke at a meeting on saving the earth from climate change.

“The great Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson published a book in 2007 called “Creation”, subtitled An Appeal to Save Life on Earth,” Sacks told leaders of all the major faiths meeting at Lambeth Palace in London on Thursday. (Photo: A partially dried reservoir in Yingtan, Jiangxi province, China, 29 Oct 2009/stringer)

“I thought that was a very good book. E.O. Wilson is known not to be religious, but what this book was was a call to religious people and scientists to call off the war between religion and science and work together for the sake of the future of life on earth.

“And I felt that was a very generous and appropriate call by a non-religious scientist.”

He said “that science and religion despite their apparent friction actually converge on a profoundly scientific and at the same time religious idea that there is a kinship of life and hence a covenant of life”.

The scientist who leaves room for spirituality

bde-11 (Photos: Bernard d’Espagnat, 13 March 2009/Charles Platiau)

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant once wrote that he “had to deny knowledge to make room for faith.” The French physicist Bernard d’Espagnat hasn’t denied knowledge in his long career developing the philosophy that won him this year’s $1.42 million Templeton Prize. He was pursuing knowledge to better understand what we can know about the ultimate reality of the world. But just like his philosophy echoes that of Kant’s with its conviction that there are limits on knowing reality, his work leaves some room — he would say for spirituality — by saying that human intuitions like art, music and spirituality can help us go further when science searching to understand the world reaches the end of its tether.

D’Espagnat’s prize was announced at UNESCO in Paris on Monday. The quantum physics at the core of his work presents baffling insights about reality, but his philosophical conclusions from them sound like common sense. Science is an amazing discipline that opens vast areas of knowledge but cannot go all the way to explaining ultimate reality. There’s a mystery at the core of our existence that we can get a little closer to through the untestable but undeniable intuitions we have. That “little closer” still leaves a large black hole in our knowledge, but it is more than we have if we only rely on empirical science.

As often happens in cases like this, d’Espagnat was available for embargoed interviews several days before the prize was announced. I had the pleasure of meeting him on Friday at the Lutetia, a five-star hotel only a short bike ride from my more modest digs in Paris. Now 87 years old, d’Espagnat can look back on a long and illustrious career as a senior physicist at the CERN laboratory in Geneva, professor at the University of Paris (at its science hub in the suburb of Orsay) and guest lecturer at universities and conferences abroad. His latest book in English, On Physics and Philosophy, came out in the United States in 2006.

Anti-Darwin speaker gagged at Vatican evolution conference

Pontifical Gregorian University in RomeThe start of a high-powered Vatican-sponsored acadmeic conference on evolution was anything but fossilized.The third STOQ International Conference, called Biological Evolution, Facts and Theories, began on Tuesday at the Pontifical Gregorian University (picture right) under the patronage of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture.The conference, which has been organised together with the University of Notre Dame to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, had barely gotten underway when charges of censorship and undemocratic and unacademic behaviour began flying.At the end of the first session Oktar Babuna, a Turkish doctor and collaborator of prominent Turkish anti-Darwin campaigner Harun Yahya,asked for the floor to put forward a question. Babuna, a proponent of the Islamic creationist campaign against evolution, spoke about his view that there were insufficient transitional forms from species to species to support the theory of evolution.After he began speaking two professors on the dias, Francisco J. Ayala of the University of California at Irvine and Douglas Futuyma of the State University of New York were visibly irritated. Someone in the hall can be heard saying “turn the microphone off” and seconds later two organisers approached Babuna. One of them abruptly took the microphone away from Babuna and another ordered him to go back to his seat. Watch it all here“After I walked back to my seat someone said “only evolutionists can ask questions,” Babuna told Reuters afterwards. “This is very anti-democratic and very unacademic. If this is a scientific meeting … if you have scientific questions to ask, they should be responded to scientifically, everybody accepts that … if you force people to shut up and don’t let them ask any question … then it is not a scientific theory but an ideology.” The spat was filmed by Babuna’s associate Dr Cihat Gundogdu, who put Atlas of Creationan edited version on the Harun Yahya website.Both men attended the conference with English and Italian versions of Harun Yahya’s super-slick mega-book Atlas of Creation (picture left) in hand. We have done numerous blogs on Islamic creationism, its proponents and its opponents. Some of the links are listed below. But what do you think about the debate and, more importantly, do you think officials at the Gregorian University were right or wrong to yank the microphone from Babuna at a scientific conference?

Richard Dawkins rips into Harun Yahya and Muslim creationism

This blog has given Harun Yahya a platform to defend his Islamic version of creationism, so it’s time to show Richard Dawkins tearing him apart. I noticed this video because it’s about the Atlas of Creation, a book that has fascinated me ever since I first saw it in Turkey two years ago. My blog posts on this have sparked amazed reactions from Westerners hearing about it for the first time, and indignant expressions of support from Muslims who agree with Harun Yahya (aka Adnan Oktar).

FaithWorld is interested in following issues of science and atheism, although I have to say I think Dawkins makes a sloppy case for the latter. His book The God Delusion uses parody views of faith like strawmen to knock down. For someone with his intelligence and eloquence, that’s like shooting fish in a barrel. His approach to Islamic creationism also shows a few holes. Two Pakistanis in the audience mentioned Pervez Hoodbhoy, a Pakistani physicist who is a leading critic of Muslim anti-Darwinism, and he didn’t have the slightest idea who they were talking about.

Hat tip to Salman Hameed and his blog Science and Religion News for this.

from Ask...:

Will the collider prove that God does not exist?

collider.jpgThe Large Hadron Collider aims to reproduce conditions just after the "Big Bang" 14 billion years ago in an attempt to gain new insights into how the universe was formed.

It may prove the existence of the so-called "God particle," the mysterious theoretical atomic fragment that lies at the heart of matter.

It may even point to the possible reality of a number of new dimensions.

But by going so close to the origin of the universe it is, some believe, "staring in the face of God." If it manages to explain the mysteries of creation, does that then mean there is no God?

Is “God Particle” the right term for massive mystery in physics?

Peter Higgs at CERN, 7 April 2008/poolOne of the most brilliant simplifications I’ve ever come across is the term “the God Particle.” Physicists think this subatomic speck of matter, if it is ever found, could explain the mysterious code at the origin of the physical world. To know this would be to “know the mind of God,” as Einstein wanted to do. The Nobel Prize winning physicist Leon Lederman wrote a book with that name 15 years ago that was so interesting that even a physics klutz like myself (I almost failed it in high school…) read and enjoyed it.

It turns out, though, that the physicist who launched the hunt for this elusive particle doesn’t like its nickname. “It embarrasses me,” Peter Higgs said in Geneva this week at a news conference our correspondent Robert Evans attended. “Although I am not a believer myself, it’s a misuse of terminology that might offend some people.”

Higgs, now 78, first proposed a theory of the particle officially knows as the Higgs boson 40 years ago. CERN, the giant nuclear research centre at the French-Swiss border near Geneva, is building a vast underground particle collider to try to find it. “The likelihood is that the particle will show up pretty quickly … I’m more than 90 percent certain that it will,” Higgs said after visiting the collider due to start working early next year.

The papal speech not heard around the world

Students accuse Pope Benedict of homophobia, 15 Jan 2008/Dario Pignatelli For the first time since Pope Benedict’s election in 2005, the Vatican has issued a speech he did not read. The Pope was to have visited Rome’s La Sapienza University on January 17 but student demonstrations (the kind that would have made anyone who was alive in the 1960s nostalgic) forced him to change his plans.

A small number of students and professors accused the Pope of being against science, citing a speech he made in 1990 when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. The students and professors argued that that speech showed he would have supported the church’s heresy trial against the astronomer Galileo in the 17th century. The speech did not, in fact, state that and the Vatican promptly said the protesters had misunderstood it.

As pictures from the university showed, the protest appeared to be more against a man accused by some Italians of interfering in politics with his positions against gay marriage and abortion, and his opposition to proposed legislation that would give unmarried couples more rights. While many Italian students do not like Benedict, Italian media reports said most believed he had a right to speak, even if he would be booed. A large group of students turned up at the Pope’s weekly audience on Students hold up banners supporting Pope Benedict, 16 Jan 2008/Dario PignatelliWednesday with banners saying “If Benedict doesn’t come to La Sapienza, La Sapienza will come to Benedict” and “Students with the Pope.” One held up an Italian flag with the slogan “Viva il Papa.”

Pope Benedict stumbles again over someone else’s quote

Students protest against Pope Benedict at La Sapienza University in Rome, 15 Jan 2008/Dario PignatelliPope Benedict’s decision to scrap his planned speech to Rome’s La Sapienza University after protests by professors and students there is the second time he has stumbled publicly because of his old professor’s habit of enlivening lectures with quotes from other sources that function as rhetorical straw men to be knocked down.

In this case, the protesters branded Benedict as anti-science because of comments he made in 1990 about Galileo. Discussing the famous case, he quoted a passage in which the unconventional philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend defended the Church for forcing the legendary Italian scientist to recant his view that Earth circled the sun. Benedict described Feyerabend as “agnostic-sceptic” (certainly not a compliment from the Vatican’s former doctrinal watchdog!). He characterised Feyerabend’s stand as “much more drastic” than another defence of the Church’s view offered by the “Romantic MarxistErnst Bloch. In fact, Benedict said he cited these two views to illustrate “the extent to which modernity’s doubts about itself have grown today in science and technology”.

Pope Benedict lectures at the University of Regensburg, 21 Sept 2006In his ill-fated speech in September 2006 at the University of Regensburg in Germany, Benedict quoted Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus (1350-1425) as saying that Islam was a violent and irrational religion that had been spread by the sword. In this case, he did not make clear right away whether he agreed with these words or not. Many Muslims assumed he did and rioting — sometimes bloody — broke out in the Islamic world. The Pope later distanced himself from the quote, without apologising for using it.

Science helps religion in stem cell debates

A microscopic view of undifferentiated human embryonic stem cells.Science and religion are sometimes portrayed as adversaries, especially by the “new atheists“, but the real picture has always been more complex. The latest breakthrough in stem cell research shows how quickly opposing sides can become allies. On Nov. 20, two research teams announced they had transformed ordinary skin cells into stem cells without destroying human embryos in the process. That meant that scientists could solve an ethical dilemma they had effectively created when they began using human embryos to produce stem cells.

Religious groups critical of embryonic stem cell research immediately hailed the breakthrough as an advance that opened the door to ethnical use of these potential wonder cells. They have now begun to use it as a welcome argument to bolster their positions in disputes on the issue. This must be happening in quite a few places, but here are two examples that show how science is helping religion in this case.

In Germany, the Roman Catholic Church has severely criticised the governing Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party for agreeing to loosen tight restrictions on embryonic stem cell research there. The law bars German scientists from working on stem cell lines developed after January 1, 2002. Researchers say this is hampering their work and want the cut-off date to be moved up to 2007.

Creationists claim the Giant’s Causeway

causeway-vert.jpgUntil now, there have been two explanations for the origin of the Giant’s Causeway, that magnificent collection of interlocking rock formations on the County Antrim coast in Northern Ireland. Geology tells us it is made of columns of basalt that formed after intense volcanic activity millions of years ago. Irish folklore tells us that it was a bridge that the giant Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn McCool) built to cross over to Scotland to fight another giant. The geologists are right, of course, but the old Irish tale is harmless fun.

Now Biblical creationists are trying to add a third interpretation. The Belfast Telegraph reports that a new group called the Causeway Creation Committee wants to add a creationist explanation to a tourist centre project being discussed.

The newspaper writes:

Their belief is that the causeway was created by a huge watery catastrophe – Noah’s flood… The committee has been set up to lobby for information on their theories to be included in any future visitors’ centre at the causeway. They say more than 1,000 people have so far signed the petition.