Archives for March 2009


They say that everything here in Texas is bigger. One thing that sure is bigger here is right-wing Christian hypocrisy. A rider to a finance bill in the Texas State Senate would outlaw any procedure that would result in the destruction of an embryo, effectively reinstating the Bush ban on stem cell research for Texas scientists. This is bad enough, but to really savor the irony, you have to consider that here in Texas we lead the nation in the number of citizens with no health insurance, … [Read more...]

Fake diversity

[ Some notes based on a book I'm reading. I want to see how much any of this makes sense, and writing it out might help. ]In America, belonging to a religion—a community of worship, defined by individual faith commitments—is the only acceptable way to be different. We have, especially in the past, been eager to look for racial differences, but we have also seen race as a matter of inferiority and superiority. We pretend class does not exist. We tend to think of gender differences as … [Read more...]

Is it possible to be a Muslim atheist?

It's possible to be a Christian atheist, a Jewish atheist, a Buddhist atheist—in the sense of identifying with a religious tradition while disagreeing with its supernatural doctrines.It's especially possible to be a Jewish atheist. My wife is Jewish, and I'm a physicist, both which mean I get to hang around secular Jews a lot. More than half of the Jews of my acquaintance have no supernatural beliefs. Now, that is certainly not a representative sample, but nontheistic Jews are still common … [Read more...]


Last night I was on a panel discussing religion, as the token skeptic. For me, such events often highlight differences in mentality and temperament, as much as differences in ways of describing the world.There was a Hindu and a Buddhist on the panel, both Westerners following Westernized versions of their traditions. So predictably enough, their views of spirituality came across as a form of therapy mixed in with magical beliefs about minds. Their pronouncements on peace and happiness weren't … [Read more...]

Talks at McGill, Montréal, March 30 and 31

This seems to be my month for speaking on science and religion in Islam. Here's another occasion that is open to the public, the McGill Symposium on Islam and Evolution, where I am one of the panelists. It should be interesting. … [Read more...]

Only a theory

Another talk about science and religion in contemporary Islam to an audience with a high percentage of Muslims, another encounter with the "evolution is only a theory" meme. Sigh.This time it was a hijab-wearing Iranian student. She asked what the problem would be if Muslim scientists were to favor alternatives to evolution. After all, it's only a theory, isn't it? As I understood it, the implication of the question was that disputes about theory shouldn't matter too much, and that scientists … [Read more...]

Talk at the University of Michigan, March 16

Just in case anyone wants to know: I'll be giving a lecture on Science and Religion in Islam at the Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies, University of Michigan, Monday the 16th. The talk will be 3-4 pm, 1636 International Institute/Social Work Building, 1080 S. University. … [Read more...]

Divine certainty

Usually I don't have a huge interest in philosophical wrangling over divine attributes. It's easy to find all kinds of paradoxes concerning omni-whatsit attributes of God, but then again, I figure a determined philosopher can always fix these by restricting the omni-whatsitness of God in appropriate ways.For example, omniscience is a hard idea to make sense of. There is no such thing as a set of all truths, so "knowing absolutely everything" has to be understood differently. And by the time we … [Read more...]