“Do You Really Want to Know?” From Pope Francis & Kim Davis to Copernicus, Darwin, & Marx


The singer-songwriter Peter Mayer’s tune, “Do You Really Want to Know” traces two monumental paradigm shifts in how we humans understand ourselves. The first was the Copernican Revolution in the wake of astronomer Nicolai Copernicus’ 1543 book, On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres, which demonstrated that our planet is not the center of the universe. The sun, moon, and stars do not revolve around us; we are merely the third rock from the sun. And I love Mayer's lyrically imagined conversa … [Read more...]

“Unsanctifying Human Life”: Wrestling with Peter Singer’s Ethics


Our human population has septupled (increased sevenfold) in a mere two centuries — from approximately 1 billion in 1800 to more than 7 billion today. The resulting environmental impact of our species is jeopardizing the entire planet’s climate. We have not, however, always been aware of our potential to have a cataclysmic effect on Earth. As Elizabeth Kolbert wrote about in her Pulitzer Prize winning book The Sixth Extinction, prior to fossil discoveries in the 1700s, we humans didn’t know that a … [Read more...]

Betting on Earth’s Future


Before the 16th-century Scientific Revolution, it used to be more reasonable to hold the worldview that we humans were at the center of “life, the universe, and everything.” According to the ancient Ptolemaic model of the universe, our planet was stationary, and the sun, moon, and stars revolved around us. But after Copernicus’s 1543 book On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres, our planet was shown to be merely the “third rock from the sun.”  And we have come to see in the centuries since — … [Read more...]

“A God That Could Be Real”


After Copernicus, we know that Earth is not at the center of the universe. Our planet is merely the "third rock from the sun" on the edge of one spiral galaxy, which in turn is merely one among more than a billion galaxies in the universe. After Darwin, we know that we humans are not "a little lower than the angels," but merely "a little higher than the apes." These are but two of the paradigm-shifting ways that science has de-centered traditional religious claims.In her new book from Beacon … [Read more...]

An Honest Heretic: Religion, Science, & Dr. Joseph Priestley


The future free-thinking minister-scientist Joseph Priestley was born in 1733 to a strict Calvinist family, but by his early twenties he was already experimenting boldly with both theology and science.  For the purposes of this post, I will be drawing from the an excellent, accessible, and lively introduction to Priestley, Steven Johnson’s 200-page book The Invention of Air. (If that book leaves you interested in learning more, there is also a recent two-volume biography by Robert Schofield from … [Read more...]

Winter Solstice Spirituality: “Learning to Walk in the Dark”


My favorite season is summer, but I aspire to love the winter. Winter and I are on better terms we used to be, there’s still work to do. As with many other people, when the seasons change, I can feel a difference in how I relate to the world. For the past few years, I’ve kept an exercise log. And I noticed recently that, starting around mid-November — as the days started growing darker and colder —  I stopped exercising for almost a month while hardly noticing. I’m now back in the game, but the … [Read more...]