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Ahem…Islam is not a race.

Yesterday, Richard Dawkins set off another twitter frenzy with this factual but taunting tweet: “All the world’s Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.”

This is of course true, and astonishing when you consider the sheer number of the world’s Muslims, some 1.6 billion. Dawkins point was similar to that of Neil DeGrasse Tyson in this 2006 lecture: Something has set science back in the Muslim world from their once preeminent position (they named most of the stars, for instance), and it’s likely fundamentalist adherence to religious dogma and the rejection of facts that disagree with their holy book.

In any case, you can find Dawkins’ blog post here defending his tweet and further explaining his intentions. He also responds to the most frequent criticisms from the twittersphere, in which large masses of users seem not to understand that:

1. Islam is not a race (rule of thumb, if you can convert to it…)
2. “Your” and “You’re” mean two different things.

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Bart Ehrman – Making Biblical Scholarship Sexy

Bart Ehrman, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Bart Ehrman, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Biblical textual criticism probably doesn’t sound like the most interesting subject in the world, but Bart Ehrman, a historian and scholar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is somewhat of a rock-star at making it so.

In addition to his published scholarship on the Bible, Ehrman, currently the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor UNC, takes the time to write trade books for the rest of us. The most popular titles have been Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and WhyJesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them), and God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer, among others. If you have any interest in the Bible, no matter your religious affiliation or personal beliefs, then I couldn’t recommend these books highly enough. The titles are a bit controversial, but I think that is more or less an incentive to sex up a traditionally dry subject (see this blog post’s title) – Ehrman admits the majority of what he covers is consensus among Biblical scholars, and generally what has been taught in seminary for decades now (most ministers and pastors, however, fail to include these facts in their weekly sermons).

Ehrman’s personal trajectory is also of note, having moved from a Born-again fundamentalist Christian to a progressively more liberal Christian, renowned scholar, best-selling author (see interview on the Colbert Report here), and eventually agnostic. He is an expert on Greek and ancient languages, and, obviously, the Bible, which is why his debates are so interesting to watch (he also has somewhat of a temper).

Here he is debating Dinesh D’Souza, an intelligent but rather slimy and obnoxious apologist, who like most apologists, is great at rhetoric but not so great at logic. And unfortunately for D’Souza, he is up against someone who already knows all the arguments, and who knows the Bible much more intimately than he.

Finally, Ehrman’s personal website – – is notable for its philanthropic membership model. You pay a few bucks a month and you are provided access to his various blog postings during the week. All the money goes to charity. Quite novel, I think – at least I’ve not seen that anywhere else. I wonder if Joel Olsteen would do it?

Finding God In Arby’s – A Lesson in Self-Deception, Pattern Seeking, and Religious Tolerance on RadioLab

Ah, Radiolab. I just came across Season 11’s “Are You Sure?” episode themed, incidentally, around doubt and certainty. The first segment, which is what I’ll focus on here, is about religious doubt and leaves you feeling, as Radiolab often does, both fascinated and slightly melancholy. You should listen to the episode, because I’m going to comment on it below, and the summary won’t do it justice.

The gist is that this young guy named Jeff Viniard, who had been a devout believer all his life, found himself having a crisis of faith only a short while before he was to be married to his fiancé, Megan (also a devout believer – and I’m probably spelling her name wrong). Jeff was literally struck with the thought, “I don’t believe in God” while doing the dishes and was so shocked by it that his fiancé asked him what was wrong on the spot. He demurred, but a short while later explained what had happened, and, long story short, they postponed the wedding.

So Jeff took off on a bike trip across the Nevada desert, hoping to find some evidence for God. He couldn’t, and they called off the wedding (Megan was adamant she wanted her husband to share her faith). Another year goes by and Jeff finds himself still lost, still searching, having lost his faith and the girl he loved. Along the way he has a few encounters that he thinks could be divine evidence, like a minister talking to him at Arby’s and the wind pushing at his back as he walks up a mountain (really), but he still can’t make up his mind. Another year goes by and we find that…almost miraculously, all is well. Jeff had started attending church again, though still with doubts, and Megan began to cope with the fact that her husband’s beliefs would be different than hers. Jeff now says he does believe in God, though you can tell it’s not the kind of certain faith that Megan has (and you can also tell she still wants him to have her particular type of faith), but they make a choice to love each other and the wedding goes through.

It was quite a rollercoaster story, but I couldn’t help feeling sorry for Jeff, even though it did all work out in the end.. It’s painfully obvious that he was essentially forced to admit a belief in God because he loved Megan, and because that was the only way he could conceivably be with her. He admits to looking for signs, which in his desperate state was clearly priming his brain to recognize false patterns (see Michael Shermer’s TED talk below this post on the funny things our brains can do). He seems so desperate, in fact, that I’m actually surprised he didn’t have a better religious experience/hallucination during his search. A proselytizing minister at Arby’s was the best he could offer up. I think his journey is an example of the depths people will go through to be with the one they love, to not be alone – which in this case is both sweet and slightly sad since it seems Jeff has forced himself into a delusion.

I wish Megan, and other believers, could learn to be more understanding of someone like Jeff’s position. Why make him go through all that? Why call off the wedding immediately? The fact is there just isn’t any credible evidence for God. If He exists, as Bertrand Russell would say, He’s gone through great pains to hide himself. So I find it silly that someone would break off their marriage to an individual they presumably loved, just because they can’t believe in the thing you believe in for which there isn’t any reason to believe in in the first place (other than you were taught to as a child and it makes you feel good).

Perhaps I’m simplifying it too much, but it seems more reasonable to me that marriages and relationships should be built on loving the other person, and not on what you each think happens after you die.

Today at 4 EST: 20-year-old Zack Kopplin to Debate Discovery Institute ID Advocates

Evolution Defender, Zack Kopplin

You can catch 20-year-old champion of evolution Zack Kopplin debate two Discovery Institute ID-advocates, Michael Medved and Casey Luskin, today on Medved’s radio show beginning at 4pm EST by clicking here.

If you haven’t been following the story, Kopplin, a current undergraduate at Rice University in Houston, became something of a sensation in helping to lead a campaign against the Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA), which would allow public school teachers to use “supplementary materials” to criticize “evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”

The bill recently died in committee for the third year in a row, but these brush fires continue to sprout up, and I’m glad we have individuals like Kopplin standing up for scientific integrity and separation of church and state. Should be a fun interview – I’m not sure exactly of the context, but Medved and Luskin would need to start debating 10-year-old’s to have any shot at winning a debate on ID in public schools.