Thursday, October 25, 2007 View Comments
Article from the New York Times:
A few months ago, the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins received an e-mail message from a producer at Rampant Films inviting him to be interviewed for a documentary called “Crossroads.”
The film, with Ben Stein, the actor, economist and freelance columnist, as its host, is described on Rampant’s Web site as an examination of the intersection of science and religion. Dr. Dawkins was an obvious choice. An eminent scientist who teaches at Oxford University in England, he is also an outspoken atheist who has repeatedly likened religious faith to a mental defect.
But now, Dr. Dawkins and other scientists who agreed to be interviewed say they are surprised — and in some cases, angered — to find themselves not in “Crossroads” but in a film with a new name and one that makes the case for intelligent design, an ideological cousin of creationism. The film, “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,” also has a different producer, Premise Media.
The film is described in its online trailer as “a startling revelation that freedom of thought and freedom of inquiry have been expelled from publicly-funded high schools, universities and research institutions.” According to its Web site, the film asserts that people in academia who see evidence of a supernatural intelligence in biological processes have unfairly lost their jobs, been denied tenure or suffered other penalties as part of a scientific conspiracy to keep God out of the nation’s laboratories and classrooms.
Mr. Stein appears in the film’s trailer, backed by the rock anthem “Bad to the Bone,” declaring that he wants to unmask “people out there who want to keep science in a little box where it can’t possibly touch God.”
If he had known the film’s premise, Dr. Dawkins said in an e-mail message, he would never have appeared in it. “At no time was I given the slightest clue that these people were a creationist front,” he said.
Eugenie C. Scott, a physical anthropologist who heads the National Center for Science Education, said she agreed to be filmed after receiving what she described as a deceptive invitation.
“I have certainly been taped by people and appeared in productions where people’s views are different than mine, and that’s fine,” Dr. Scott said, adding that she would have appeared in the film anyway. “I just expect people to be honest with me, and they weren’t.”
The growing furor over the movie, visible in blogs, on Web sites and in conversations among scientists, is the latest episode in the long-running conflict between science and advocates of intelligent design, who assert that the theory of evolution has obvious scientific flaws and that students should learn that intelligent design, a creationist idea, is an alternative approach.
There is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution as an explanation for the complexity and diversity of life on earth. And while individual scientists may embrace religious faith, the scientific enterprise looks to nature to answer questions about nature. As scientists at Iowa State University put it last year, supernatural explanations are “not within the scope or abilities of science.”
Mr. Stein, a freelance columnist who writes Everybody’s Business for The New York Times, conducts the film’s on-camera interviews. The interviews were lined up for him by others, and he denied misleading anyone. “I don’t remember a single person asking me what the movie was about,” he said in a telephone interview.
Walt Ruloff, a producer and partner in Premise Media, also denied that there was any deception. Mr. Ruloff said in a telephone interview that Rampant Films was a Premise subsidiary, and that the movie’s title was changed on the advice of marketing experts, something he said was routine in filmmaking. He said the film would open in February and would not be available for previews until January.
Judging from material posted online and interviews with people who appear in the film, it cites several people as victims of persecution, including Richard Sternberg, a biologist and an unpaid research associate at the National Museum of Natural History, and Guillermo Gonzalez, an astrophysicist denied tenure at Iowa State University this year.
Dr. Sternberg was at the center of a controversy over a paper published in 2004 in Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, a peer-reviewed publication he edited at the time. The paper contended that an intelligent agent was a better explanation than evolution for the so-called Cambrian explosion, a great diversification of life forms that occurred hundreds of millions of years ago.
The paper’s appearance in a peer-reviewed journal was a coup for intelligent design advocates, but the Council of the Biological Society of Washington, which publishes the journal, almost immediately repudiated it, saying it had appeared without adequate review.
Dr. Gonzalez is an astrophysicist and co-author of “The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos Is Designed for Discovery” (Regnery, 2004). The book asserts that earth’s ability to support complex life is a result of supernatural intervention.
Dr. Gonzalez’s supporters say his views cost him tenure at Iowa State. University officials said their decision was based, among other things, on his record of scientific publications while he was at the university.
Mr. Stein, a prolific author who has acted in movies like “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and appeared on television programs including “Win Ben Stein’s Money” on Comedy Central, said in a telephone interview that he accepted the producers’ invitation to participate in the film not because he disavows the theory of evolution — he said there was a “very high likelihood” that Darwin was on to something — but because he does not accept that evolution alone can explain life on earth.
He said he also believed the theory of evolution leads to racism and ultimately genocide, an idea common among creationist thinkers. If it were up to him, he said, the film would be called “From Darwin to Hitler.”
On a blog on the “Expelled” Web site, one writer praised Mr. Stein as “a public-intellectual-freedom-fighter” who was taking on “a tough topic with a bit of humor.” Others rejected the film’s arguments as “stupid,” “fallacious” or “moronic,” or described intelligent design as the equivalent of suggesting that the markets moved “at the whim of a monetary fairy.”
Mr. Ruloff, a Canadian who lives in British Columbia, said he turned to filmmaking after selling his software company in the 1990s. He said he decided to make “Expelled,” his first project, after he became interested in genomics and biotechnology but discovered “there are certain questions you are just not allowed to ask and certain approaches you are just not allowed to take.”
He said he knew researchers, whom he would not name, who had studied cellular mechanisms and made findings “riddled with metaphysical implications” and suggestive of an intelligent designer. But they are afraid to report them, he said.
Mr. Ruloff also cited Dr. Francis S. Collins, a geneticist who directs the National Human Genome Research Institute and whose book, “The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief” (Simon & Schuster, 2006), explains how he came to embrace his Christian faith. Dr. Collins separates his religious beliefs from his scientific work only because “he is toeing the party line,” Mr. Ruloff said.
That’s “just ludicrous,” Dr. Collins said in a telephone interview. While many of his scientific colleagues are not religious and some are “a bit puzzled” by his faith, he said, “they are generally very respectful.” He said that if the problem Mr. Ruloff describes existed, he is certain he would know about it.
Dr. Collins was not asked to participate in the film.
Another scientist who was, P. Z. Myers, a biologist at the University of Minnesota, Morris, said the film’s producers had misrepresented its purpose, but said he would have agreed to an interview anyway. But, he said in a posting on The Panda’s Thumb Web site, he would have made a “more aggressive” attack on the claims of the movie.
Dr. Scott, whose organization advocates for the teaching of evolution and against what it calls the intrusion of creationism and other religious doctrines in science classes, said the filmmakers were exploiting Americans’ sense of fairness as a way to sell their religious views. She said she feared the film would depict “the scientific community as intolerant, as close-minded, and as persecuting those who disagree with them. And this is simply wrong.”
Wednesday, October 24, 2007 View Comments
According to the Incident Information System tracking the California wildfires, 12 of 25 tracked fires are 100% contained. The fires, ranging from the Simi Valley to the Mexican border, are responsible for about 5 deaths at the time of this writing. They have also displaced nearly 1 million people, with well over 1,000 homes consumed and nearly 70,000 still threatened. More than 400 square miles in seven counties have been ravaged by fire which, being fed by desert winds, has proven itself highly resistant to air attacks, hoses, and (of course) prayer.
The American Red Cross has mobilized, sending shelter workers, feeding vans, and other supplies to provide relief to those affected. Direct Relief International has also responded by sending emergency medical supplies and offering assistance to hospitals in the region. Another aid organization, AmeriCares, is also shipping emergency aid items such as water, hygiene products and other health related items.
If you are in a position to help, either by volunteering or by making a monetary contribution, please consider doing so. Through the above links, each aid organization provides instructions on how you can help. If you'd like to go straight to their donation pages, click one (or more) of the following:
- American Red Cross Donation page
- Direct Relief International Donation page
- AmeriCares U.S. Disaster Relief Fund
Last month, Michael Shermer shared the following insights from the 2006 book, Who Really Cares by Arthur Brooks:
"[Brooks' data shows] that religious conservatives donate 30 percent more money than liberals and nonreligious people (even when controlled for income), they give more blood and log more volunteer hours; religious people are four times more generous than secularists to all charities, 10 percent more munificent to non-religious charities, and 57 percent more likely than a secularist to help a homeless person. Those raised in intact and religious families are more charitable than those who are not. In terms of societal health, charitable givers are 43 percent more likely to say they are 'very happy' than nongivers, and 25 percent more likely than nongivers to say their health is 'excellent' or 'very good.'"
In a 2006 interview for the National Review Online, Mr. Brooks explains that his book explores four areas of culture that lead people to give or not, including attitudes about the government's role in people's lives, sources of income, family, and religious faith.
These are the big drivers of giving in America today, and the biggest is religion. Religious folks give far more than secularists in every way I’ve been able to measure. For example, people who attend a house of worship every week are 25 percentage points more likely to give to charity each year than people who never go to church, and give away about four times as much money. And this is not just a question of religious people giving to their churches, as meritorious as that might be: They also give and volunteer significantly more to explicitly nonreligious causes and charities.
Mr. Brooks goes on to say that the private charitable giving of conservatives in 2000 surpassed those of liberals even while earning 6% less income, apparently mythologizing the popular belief that "bleeding hearts" are more giving. Even more surprising, Brooks says, is that the least charitable group tends to be secular conservatives. In other words, the perception that conservatives are stingy when it comes to charity seemingly holds true only on the secular side of the theological fence.
Having not read the book and lacking the training to properly evaluate his claims, I'm forced to wonder if he may be right. The religious among us often hold forth on the superiority of their moral drive toward charity, a claim which many secularists reject. Of course, charitable giving is only one aspect of morality, and it may be argued that, in spite of the apparent charitable proclivities of the faithful, religious ideas are used to promote ethically dubious policies that may ironically contribute to at least some of the very problems they donate money to fix. Still, perhaps this is too abstract. While there's no doubt that many secularists do offer assistance to aid organizations, many more might want to consider putting their money where their mouth is, as it were.
So today, if you'll forgive my presumption I'd like to challenge you. If you haven't already, consider donating and/or offering your assistance in other ways to organizations that focus on humanitarian aid, not just those that support secular aims (e.g., Americans United, the Secular Coalition, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, etc.). In a more immediate context, again please consider directing a gift of time or money toward the California wildfire relief efforts.
There are, of course, some who have concerns that their donations might be used to inappropriately fund religious activities. Yet there are a host of secular aid organizations available (defined as those without explicit or implicit religious aims or bias), including not only those linked to above, but many more. You can find charities (and their ratings) by visiting Guidestar, Charity Navigator, and Charity Watch.
For the record, I've put my money where my mouth is before, and today have also made a one-time donation of $25 to each of the above aid organizations, specifically to support relief efforts in California when possible. If you also decide to make a donation to one or more charities, I'd love to hear about it. The aim is to compile a personalized list of trustworthy charities and to quantify the numbers (e.g., how many donated, how much, and how often). By the way, that still includes if you decide to donate to an organization that has goals other than those explicitly humanitarian. Send a note with details about your charitable activities by clicking here.
Stay tuned and keep in touch.
Last Saturday, J.K. Rowling, the author of the famous Harry Potter series of books, revealed that the Headmaster of Hogwarts is gay. The revelation provoked gasps and applause from those present to hear the revelation, which was prompted by a fan's question concerning whether Dumbledore would find true love in the final book, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows."
Explaining, Rowling said that Dumbledore's great love was rival wizard Gellert Grindelwald, whom he had defeated well before Harry Potter came to Hogwarts. Dumbledore's ill-fated and tragic infatuation developed in his youth, when he befriended the winsome wizard Grindelwald, who would ultimately become Dumbledore's enemy.
Many fans have long speculated about the sexuality of the famous wizard, and explicit scenes featuring Dumbledore have already appeared in fan fiction. However, not surprisingly, some are less than pleased by the announcement.
Laura Mallory, a long time advocate of banning the book series, had this to say:
"My prayer is that parents would wake up, that the subtle way this is presented as harmless fantasy would be exposed for what it really is - a subtle indoctrination into anti-Christian values," said Mallory. "The kids are being introduced to a cult and witchcraft practices." She added that "[A] homosexual lifestyle is a harmful one. That's proven, medically."
Mallory has previously gained headlines by arguing before the Gwinnett County Board of Education in Georgia that the books attempt to "indoctrinate children as Wiccans, or practitioners of religious witchcraft," and that they could be connected to last year's rash of school shootings.
But Rowling already knows that some Christian groups don't like her work, and takes such things in stride. The news about Dumbledore, she says, will just give them one more reason.
Speaking under the condition of anonymity, one official from rival school of magic, Liberty University, said that Dumbledore's "outing" came as no surpise to anyone at his school.
"We'd always known of the homo-erotic undertones of all that "wand" waving," he said. "'Swish and flick' indeed! God told us all about Dumbledore's wide stances and toe-tapping years ago."
(Note: In case anyone is wondering, only the last two paragraphs are satirical. The rest is quite true.)
Tuesday, October 23, 2007 View Comments
Just how did life begin? Were the compounds necessary for life present in the massive protoplanetary dust cloud that surrounded our young Sun? Did they then become a part of the planets of our solar system, including one that would eventually yield complex life? Did they arrive from some other source, such as a comet or meteor?
For as long as mankind has wondered, the question of life's origins (abiogenesis - literally "lifeless beginning") has remained among those most frequently asked - and answered. Every ancient society produced its own explanation for the phenomenon of life, nearly every one of them involving a god or cabal of gods and/or goddesses. Most of these have been discarded as myths. But whether one believes in gods or rejects them entirely, the question of life's origins remains an important one.
Today, science is the preferred tool for finding answers to questions like this one. Abiogenesis is a rich field of study, and though many solutions have been offered as explanations, only a few have held the interest of scientists. One of these that has recently gained a bit of ground is something called, panspermia.
Panspermia, simply put, is the hypothesis that life or its components existed (indeed, still exists) throughout the universe, and that meteors, comets, or cosmic dust clouds served as delivery systems, bringing simple organisms - or merely some of the elements necessary for life - to a young Earth. First proposed by Anaxagoras, it was later picked up by such luminaries as Lord Kelvin and (the oft cited by creationists) Sir Fred Hoyle. In the 1970's, Francis Crick and Leslie Origel even suggested a variant of the theory called "directed panspermia," which implied that the precursors for life were delivered by an intelligent agent. One can almost hear the refrain of skeptics like me here: "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." However, panspermia, whether directed or undirected, still lacked evidential support.
Then, in 1996, a team of NASA scientists examining meteorite ALH84001 - discovered in 1984 and believed to be of Martian origin - thought that several features appeared to be fossilized bacteria. After an initial wave of excitement, however, a controversy erupted over whether the structures could have been formed by non-biological processes instead. Following five years of rigorous scrutiny and debate, only one line of evidence was left - magnetite crystals arranged in a way suggestive of the presence of bacterium. Ten years after the controversial findings were presented, even this had been all but dismissed.
Still, scientists know that most (if not all) of the compounds necessary for life exist elsewhere in the universe, and efforts to determine if panspermia is viable continue. Dr. Rainer Glaser, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Missouri-Columbia, recently completed a research paper titled, "Adenine Synthesis in Interstellar Space: Mechanisms of Prebiotic Pyrimidine-Ring Formation of Monocyclic HCN-Pentamers," that suggests that one of the precursor elements necessary for life, adenine, exists in interstellar dust clouds which, in turn, may have delivered the molecules to Earth.
"The idea that certain molecules came from space is not outrageous," Glaser says. "You can find large molecules in meteorites, including adenine. We know that adenine can be made elsewhere in the solar system, so why should one consider it impossible to make the building blocks somewhere in interstellar dust?"
Adenine is a nucleotide base considered one of the most important organic molecules, since it bonds with other molecules to give DNA its signature double-helix structure and is one of the four bases of both RNA and DNA. In a variation of the famous Miller-Urey experiment, Juan Oro found that, in a reduced atmosphere, hydrogen cyanide (HCN) could produce not only amino acids, but also a large amount of adenine. Thus, Dr. Glaser intended to study the mechanisms for synthesizing adenine in interstellar dust clouds, which have been shown to contain high amounts of HCN. Dr. Glaser's research, which was published in the peer-reviewed journal Astrobiology, describes the fusion of adenine and other essential chemicals. He also suggests that astronomers take a closer look at those dust clouds with the intent of "narrowing the spectrum of where life could exist" in our galaxy.
"There is a lot of sky with a few areas that have dust clouds. In those dust clouds, a few of them have HCN. A few of those have enough HCN to support the synthesis of the molecules of life. Now, we have to look for the HCN concentrations, and that's where you want to look for adenine," he said. "Chemistry in space and 'normal chemistry' can be very different because the concentrations and energy-exchange processes are different. These features make the study of chemistry in space very exciting and academically challenging; one really must think without prejudice."
Whether this new research stands up to further scrutiny remains to be seen.
Though science has not yet answered the questions mankind continues to ask concerning the origins of life, with each tiny stride forward, a bit of information is added to fill the gaps left vacant as our myths are discarded. With continued research, we may eventually find answers to the burning question, where does life come from? One thing, for now, is certain. Myths fail to satiate our curiosity, and are a poor substitute for the invigorating, intriguing, and fascinating truths revealed through scientific discovery.
Adapted from: http://rcp.missouri.edu/articles/glaser-origins.html
All images courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech
Monday, October 22, 2007 View Comments
Former US vice president Al Gore delivers a speech before a screening of the film he helped make of his best-selling global warming book An Inconvenient Truth in Cannes, southern France.
While Al Gore supporters everywhere were thrilled with his win of the Nobel Peace Prize last week, a British judge stole some of Gore's thunder with his finding that Gore's movie, An Inconvenient Truth, is laced with inaccuracies.
Justice Michael Burton had been asked by school governor and father of two, Stuart Dimmock, to rule on whether showing Gore's Oscar-winning movie about global warming in British schools constituted education or indoctrination.
Burton said that while the points raised in the documentary are broadly accurate, they are made in "the context of alarmism and exaggeration," and the science in the film is used "in the hands of a talented politician and communicator, to make a political statement and to support a political program."
While Burton stopped short of banning the movie from classrooms, he said that written guidance to teachers must accompany screenings to ensure that Gore's views are not being promoted uncritically.
Meanwhile, the movie continues to be shown in many Canadian high schools, prompting complaints from some parents and school officials who are concerned that students are getting only one side of the "global warming is man-made" debate.
This is why Mike Chernoff, a Vancouver businessman, offered free copies of The Great Global Warming Swindle to B.C. schools following an announcement last April by the Tides Charitable Foundation that it was giving free copies of Gore's movie to every B.C. high school.
The Great Global Warming Swindle is a controversial British documentary that argues against and attempts to disprove the widely-held theory that global warming is due to carbon emissions caused by human activity.
Last June, the Surrey, B.C., school board passed a motion that a documentary with an opposing viewpoint, such as the The Great Global Warming Swindle, be screened for students along with An Inconvenient Truth.
Surrey school trustee Heather Stilwell says that when she proposed the motion she was met with a strong reaction and "very ugly" vitriol.
"I was called a right-wing fundamentalist [George] Bush lover. All I wanted was to bring balance to the classroom."
Victoria climatologist Dr. Tim Ball, who has been arguing against man-made global warming for 30 years, found that he too was on the receiving end of much derision when he began publicly airing his view that the climate changes all the time and global warming isn't man-made.
He says he has received death threats, in fact, and that he and other scientists with the same view have been labeled "deniers" by environmentalists.
"Initially we were called skeptics, and I can live with that because all scientists should be skeptics, but what's nasty about being called a 'denier' is the holocaust connotation," says Ball, who argues that Gore's movie "would fail as a Grade 10 students' project."
He says focusing on CO2 as the great culprit is wrong because human-produced carbon dioxide is only a very small fraction of the whole climate mechanism and doesn't drive climate change. In addition, the climate has always fluctuated between warm and cool periods.
"In the first part of the 19th century, from 1920 to 1940, the temperature rose more than it did from 1980 to now, yet human CO2 was virtually non-existent prior to the war. Then post-war, when we started to produce huge amounts of CO2, the temperature actually went down."
Judge Burton found nine scientific errors in Gore's movie, including the "distinctly alarmist" claim that sea level rises of seven metres could occur in the near future.
He also said there was insufficient evidence to back Gore's assertions that such events as Hurricane Katrina, species losses, and melting snows on Mount Kilimanjaro are a result of global warming.
But Dale Marshall, policy analyst with the Suzuki Foundation, is of the opinion that the judge is wrong on all counts except the one concerning rising sea levels, and that the movie itself "does largely reflect the science."
He also points out that the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), co-winner of the Nobel with Gore, as well as numerous national academies of science, has concluded that climate change is happening because of human activity.
"You have to look at the weight of evidence," says Marshall. "The scientists who say that climate change is not driven by carbon dioxide are in the tiniest of minorities compared to the scientific community as a whole."
While the nature of science is all about continually questioning, searching and discovering, the so-called skeptics complain the anti-climate-change movement has become a powerful, well-funded lobby which insists that the man-made global warming question is settled and isn't up for debate.
But debate is what Calgary-based Friends of Science is pushing for. As far as FOS is concerned—and scientists in The Great Global Warming Swindle take the same position—the Sun is the main direct and indirect driver of climate change.
Composed of group of climate scientists from around the world, FOS says it sees an "abuse of science" in the Kyoto Protocol. According to FOS, the seemingly exclusive focus on global warming has distracted attention from reducing air and water pollution.
In a bulletin Tuesday, FOS said awarding the Nobel to Gore and the IPCC has done "inconceivable damage" to the scientific discourse around the subject of climate change.
Director John Leeson says FOS has ongoing concerns with what he calls the manipulation of scientific data in the IPCC process.
"I'm not talking about the large number of scientists who contribute their research. What we object to, and what has been demonstrated, is the process with which the bureaucrats at the summit of the process selectively use information to bolster up or support what they've already decided," says Leeson.
The Great Global Warming Swindle tells of a letter published in the Wall Street Journal in which former president of the U.S. Academy of Sciences, Professor Frederick Seitz, states that IPCC officials censored the comments of scientists and deleted 15 key sections of chapter eight, the science chapter.
One of the deleted comments read: "No study to date has positively attributed all or part [of the climate change observed to date] to anthropogenic [man-made] causes."
In reply, the IPCC said the changes had been made in response to comments from governments, individual scientists, and NGOs.
Bell says the "climate change hysteria" gripping the world is a result of "the political exploitation of science and the hidden motives of environmental extremists." Environmentalism, he says, has become a religion, and is based more on belief than on hard science.
"Darwin was an atheist, and he got rid of God. I'm not here to argue for or against God, but once you've got rid of God you've got a vacuum. Environmentalism as a religion pre-dates Christianity and goes back to the primitive ideas of animism—worshiping nature, living in fear of nature."
In November 2006, 60 renowned scientists from around the world wrote an open letter to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper requesting a rational examination of the science of global warming. There was no response.
Leeson says there's a strong move afoot by economists and scientists in the U.K., Australia and New Zealand to involve a separate agency so that the IPCC doesn't have the monopoly on the information the public receives regarding climate change.
He wants the same thing for Canada. With the billions being pumped into lowering CO2 emissions, he believes there should be more than one body investigating and providing information.
"The debate on climate change is not over. We will continue to push to make sure it comes in front of the public as much as we can."
Meanwhile, a website called Junkscience.com is offering $125,000 to anyone who can prove that climate change is being caused by human activity. So far there have been no takers.
Gore's movie: Sea levels could rise by up to seven metres, caused by the melting of either West Antarctica or Greenland in the near future.
Finding: This could only happen over millennia and is not in line with the scientific consensus.
Gore's movie: Rising sea levels because of man-made global warming have caused the evacuation of some Pacific islanders to New Zealand.
Finding: There is no evidence of any such evacuation having happened.
Gore's movie: Global warming could stop the Gulf Stream, triggering an ice age in Europe.
Finding: This is a scientific impossibility.
Gore's movie: The disappearance of snow on Mount Kilimanjaro is evidence of global warming.
Finding: The government's expert witness conceded this was not correct.
Gore's movie: Global warming was the cause of Hurricane Katrina.
Finding: There is insufficient evidence to show this.
Gore's movie: Global warming is causing Africa's Lake Chad to dry up.
Finding: The Government's expert conceded that this is not the case.
Gore's movie: Polar bears have drowned because of disappearing Arctic ice.
Finding: Only four polar bears drowned, and it was due to a storm.
Gore's movie: Species losses, including coral reef bleaching, are the result of global warming.
Finding: There is insufficient evidence to support this claim.
Gore's movie: Ice core samples prove that rising levels of CO2 have caused temperature increases over a period of 650,000 years.
Finding: The two graphs Gore uses to prove this do not establish what he claims.
On March 10th, 2006, seven members of the Westboro Baptist Church attended - and picketed - the funeral of Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, who had tragically been killed in Iraq. A few months later, Albert Snyder, the fallen Marine's father, brought suit against them alleging defamation, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The lawsuit is believed to be the first against the church by a fallen service member's family.
Having been denied two consecutive motions to dismiss the case, the church headed to trial today in Baltimore. The outcome may have implications for the group's future activities, which continue to raise hackles and provoked a group of people calling themselves the Patriot Riders to visit targeted funerals in order to help prevent the WBC from interfering.
For those who are unfamiliar with the Westboro Baptist Church, it is a small congregation in Topeka, Kansas that revolves around the group's patriarch, Fred Phelps. They claim to have conducted over 32,000 demonstrations at various events since 1991, the vast majority of which have centered around condemning homosexuality and preaching God's hatred for what they call, "fags" and "fag-enablers." Since 9/11, the group has been picketing the funerals of fallen soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen, carrying signs that read like a veritable smörgåsbord of hate. Some examples include "Thank God for IEDs," "Fag Troops," "You're Going to Hell," "Thank God for Dead Soldiers," and, of course, "God Hates Fags."
Mr. Phelps and many members of his family are also trained lawyers (though Mr. Phelps himself was disbarred in 1979), and are no strangers to lawsuits in other contexts. They are strictly Calvinistic, believing in the five pillars of Calvinism and the doctrine of predestination. Their narrow public focus on homosexuality stems from the increased acceptance of homosexuals in society, which they interpret as a violation of God's Law. According to their FAQ page, "God does not hate them because they are homosexuals; they are homosexuals because God hates them."
They've also picketed various churches (including one in Frederick, MD), the funerals for the victims of the Amish school shootings, those related to the Virginia Tech shootings, and the funerals of those who died in the 35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis, MN.
There is really no need to highlight the various inconsistencies in their position, and they are damned by their own words as apparently having no compassion for anyone but themselves. What is truly curious is that this group knows their Bible very well. Though others might disagree with their interpretation (or disregard the verses entirely), one remark on their website actually sums up many non-believers' perceptions about the Bible: "For every one verse about God's mercy, love, compassion, etc., there are two verses about His vengeance, hatred, wrath, etc." Those who've read the Bible carefully recognize the truth of this statement.
The attention paid to the group is disproportionate to their size, but as the saying goes, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. It will be interesting to see how this trial plays out, and whether the group will suffer any consequences that will proscribe their activities.
(Based on this news item in the Baltimore Sun)
Sunday, October 21, 2007 View Comments
How to shut up an atheist
The atheist’s days of running circles around the Christian with their darling questions are drawing to a close. Yes, the fat lady just wrenched herself off her humongous backside, has cleared her throat and now is fixin’ to sing the finale on the atheist’s ability to have fun with their specious little fairy tales at the Christians’ expense.
That is if the Christian will buy, devour, commit to memory and stand up and challenge the pouty anti-God cabal with the atheist-slaying facts found in two new books from Regnery namely, What's So Great About Christianity and The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Bible
Authors Dinesh D’Souza and Robert Hutchinson skillfully answer, once again, the atheist’s pet questions about the existence (or non-existence) of God and how Christianity has allegedly made the world suck. Suck, for you thick atheists, is a slang word which means to make or to be really, really crappy (kind of like how our culture becomes anytime you guys mess with it).
These books will be especially beneficial for high school and college students to draw upon when their secular anti-God fuming delirious instructors start railing against God and Christianity.
1. When the prissy anti-Christs tell you the Bible stands in the way of science, inform them that the greatest scientific geniuses in history were devout Christians—and scientists from Newton to Einstein insisted that biblical religion provided the key ideas from which experimental science could develop.
2. When the pissy God haters tell you the Bible condones slavery, you can remind them that slavery was abolished only when devout Christians, inspired by the Bible, launched a campaign in the early 1800s to abolish the slave trade.
3. When the screechin’ teachers tell you the Bible has been proven false by archaeology, hark back and show them that each year a new archaeological discovery substantiates the existence of people, places and events we once knew solely from biblical sources, including the discovery of the Moabite stone in 1868, which mentions numerous places in the Bible, and the discovery of an inscription in 1961 that proves the existence of the biblical figure Pontius Pilate, just to name a few.
4. When they get sweaty and tell you that the Bible breeds intolerance, refresh their memory with the fact that only those societies influenced by biblical teachings (in North and South America, Europe, and Australia) today guarantee freedom of speech and religion. Period.
5. When one of them queues up and quips that the Bible opposes freedom, smack ‘em with the fact that the Bible’s insistence that no one is above the law and all must answer to divine justice led to theories of universal human rights and…uh…limited government.
6. When they tell you that Christianity and the Bible justify war and genocide, unsympathetically remind them that societies which rejected biblical morality in favor of a more “rational” and “scientific” approach to politics murdered millions upon millions more than the Crusades or the Inquisition ever did. Hello. “Atheist regimes have caused the greatest mass murders in history,” says D’Souza. Inside D’Souza’s book you’ll find little gems like, “The Crusades, the Inquisition, the Galileo affair, and witch hunts together make up less than 1% of the murders that have occurred during modern atheist regimes like Stalin, Hitler, and Mao.”
This is just a smattering of the various 411 fun the Christian is going to get as they plow through What’s So Great about Christianity and The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Bible.
Senior pastor, college pastor and youth pastor: do yourself and your congregants a favor and teach this stuff to your church. Equip Christians to stand against the BS (belief system) of the atheists. The culture war is heating up, therefore make sure your people don’t stand intellectually naked and neutered before these no-God numb nuts.
Lastly, comfortable and cocky atheists, you had better brace yourselves. Hundreds of thousands of Christians and authors are about to read these books and, as stated, systematically dismember your old and haggard arguments.
In addition, everywhere I go and speak—be it in conferences, on the radio, on television or in print—I’m going to encourage the tens of thousands of Christians I address that every time and everywhere they get crapped on by an atheist with unfounded arguments to open their mouths and slam dance them with facts found in these two new brilliant books from Regnery.
The boy's mother was killed and his father, who is also a pastor, is in critical condition after being shot in their home on Peck-Wadsworth Road on Saturday.
Marc Petric, 45, was flown to MetroHealth Medical Center after the shooting at 7 p.m. Sue Petric died at the scene.
Marc is the pastor at New Life Assembly of God.
The couple's 16-year-old son, Daniel, is being questioned by the Lorain County Sheriff.
Officials said he was the sole person responsible for the crime.
Daniel was arrested after police spotted him driving his father's 1999 green Windstar.
He has not been charged yet. Daniel is expected in court Monday morning.
Once again, we have Christians telling us what a holiday is or isn't about. Now they are threatened by Halloween, yet have no problem rubbing Christmas in the face of others and get offended if you use Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. Wow, the hypocrisy. The following is a letter that was sent in to the Dallas Morning News regarding the celebration of Halloween. Pathetic....
Halloween is a controversial holiday, as reflected in your columns. However, it's very easy to discover its origins, roots and current impact on our "Christian" society.
While we continue to say we're a Christian nation, how has the very demonic Halloween holiday become so popular that it is second only to Christmas in its profit and celebration?
Satanists practice sacrifices, mutilations, and many horrific religious rites on this, their high holy day. Why would any of us want to participate in celebrating a holiday that reflects demons (not sweet little imps and spirits of departed souls) who are very real?
One of the problems is our lack of knowledge of what the holiday is about, and the other is our lack of teaching our children the significance of any participation, i.e., carnivals, harvest festivals, all of which are our way of compromising our values.
Another problem is our inability to say no to our children when it comes to celebrating this holiday. Halloween isn't a "fun, simple and sweet" holiday, and we should not waver but "stay true to our values."
What do you think?
You are reading these words right now because 600 million years ago, an aquatic animal called a Hydra developed light-receptive genes—the origin of animal vision.
It wasn't exactly 20-20 vision back then though.
Hydras, a genus of freshwater animals that are kin to corals and jellyfish, measure only a few millimeters in diameter and have been around for hundreds of millions of years.
Scientists at the University of California, Santa Barbara studied the genes associated with vision (called opsins) in these tiny creatures and found opsin proteins all over their bodies.
Though they don't have eyes or any specific light-receptive organs, researchers think that the light-sensing proteins concentrated in the mouth area of the Hydras help them to use light sensitivity to search out prey.
Because studies of animals that evolved earlier, such as sponges, don't show the same light sensitivity, scientists were able to pinpoint the Precambrian date that animal vision first started to evolve.
"We now have a time frame for the evolution of animal light sensitivity," said study leader David Plachetzki, a UC Santa Barbara graduate student. "We know its precursors existed roughly 600 million years ago.
These findings, detailed in a recent issue of the online journal PLoS ONE, counter arguments by anti-evolutionists that evolution can only eliminate traits and cannot produce new features, the authors say.
“Our paper shows that such claims are simply wrong," said co-author Todd Oakley, also a UC Santa Barbara biologist. "We show very clearly that specific mutational changes in a particular duplicated gene (opsin) allowed the new genes to interact with different proteins in new ways. Today, these different interactions underlie the genetic machinery of vision, which is different in various animal groups.”
Saturday, October 20, 2007 View Comments
Oral Roberts University may lose Dick "Richard" Roberts, the current university president.
A THREE-RING CIRCUS
Three instructors have been fired, there are allegations that current ORU first lady Lindsey Roberts likes 'em young, that money has been misplaced, and that documents have been shredded. The University comptroller has been fired. In a faith-healing gone bad, three blind men were made lame.
Oral Roberts, the university's founder, started his career with small tent revivals and faith healings. This grew to a multi-media empire, including radio, TV programs, and Oral Roberts University. Because of a unique fund-raising vision of a massive Christ, Roberts also inspired one of the great rapper names: MC 900ft Jesus
My first exposure to these clowns was through my grandmother. She had been crippled by a severe stroke, and lived with us most of the time. I can remember her watching this charlatan's TV programs, and watching Roberts "heal" shills from the audience. "I just wish I had that kind of faith," she would say, after Roberts would shriek that her illness was still with her because of her unbelief.
This is from the Associated Press article that ran in the Startlegram:
Oral Roberts, who lives in California, said last week that the allegations against his family had blindsided him, "but we have been through some tough experiences in building Oral Roberts University in the 1960s, and we have surprised them all and have built a university that we believe is for the glory of God."
The Roberts family ministry grew from Southern tent revivals to one of the most successful evangelical empires in the country, hauling in tens of millions of dollars in contributions a year. The university reported nearly $76 million in revenue in 2005, according to the IRS.
The elder Roberts founded the school, known for its 60-foot-tall bronze sculpture of praying hands, in 1963. He famously told viewers in 1987 that God told him to raise $8 million for the university or he would be "called home."
There is a "Scandal Vulnerability Assessment" document tied to the lawsuit brought by the three dismissed instructors. Scandal Vulnerability? As if there's a side to these goobers that's remotely ethical? How would you go about looking for an Oral/Richard Roberts scandal? They're Faith-Healers, for heaven's sake. You couldn't throw a stick at ORU without hitting a scandal. If I'm a Whited Sepulchre, these guys are Gleaming Charnel Houses.
In a recent statement, Richard Roberts told a congregation that "God told him to deny the allegations." Would he have not done so otherwise?
Wednesday, October 17, 2007 View Comments
Portland police spokesman Brian Schmautz says pastor Sergio Alvarizares was arrested Monday at his home in Ridgefield, Washington, and is being held on on one count of Rape in the First Degree, two counts of Attempted Rape in the First Degree and ten counts of Sex Abuse in the First Degree, after a two week investigation involving the victims associated with the church known as -- “Father’s House” -- located at 1725 Northeast Alberta Street.
The investigation began on September 30th, when Northeast Precinct officers were called to the Father’s House on a disturbance call. Officers arrived and learned that several members of the church were arguing with the suspect about allegations of improper sexual contact Schmautz said.
Later that night six women, who did not live in Portland, called the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office to report a sexual assault. Schmautz said because the crimes occurred in Portland, the Portland Police Bureau Sexual Assault Detail conducted the investigation.
During the investigation, detectives identified two additional victims. Evidence was presented to a Multnomah County Grand Jury who returned an indictment.
The church, Father’s House, primarily focuses on serving Portland’s Spanish speaking population. The suspect also has a web site located at www.casadelpadre.com.
Detectives are currently seeking anyone with additional information in this ongoing investigation.
Anyone with information is asked to call Porltand police detective Jeff Sharp at (503) 823-0453.
Monday, October 15, 2007 View Comments
Minister died of asphyxiation
By Andre Coe
Their pastor was dead. The church members were still in shock.
Youth Minister Charlie Swain and one of the members of Thorington Road Baptist Church embraced. Another woman stood silently and wept.
The congregation's senior pastor, the Rev. Gary M. Aldridge, had been found dead at his home Sunday morning under unusual circumstances.
Aldridge died of asphyxiation, according to a preliminary report from the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences. The police went on to state that Aldridge evidently did not die from random criminal activity. Forensic Sciences also said there were no signs of injuries to Aldridge's body.
The autopsy was recently released, and apparently Pastor Aldrdige's death was caused by some autoerotic fooling around that didn't go well. He was found hogtied and wearing two complete wet suits, including a face mask, diving gloves and slippers, rubberized underwear, a head mask and a dildo firmly entrenched in his anus. Aldridge served as the church's pastor for 16 years. Immediately following his death, church officials issued a press release asking community members to "please refrain from speculation" about what led to Aldridge's demise, adding that, "we will begin the healing process under the strong arm of our Savior, Jesus Christ."
The autopsy report (below) is five pages long. Click on each image to enlarge.
Sunday, October 14, 2007 View Comments
These Young Preachers Say They Save Souls
Seven-year-old Samuel Boutwell is an outgoing and well-spoken second grader. He loves to play with his dogs and play soccer, but he loves something else even more.
Samuel is a Baptist preacher at a church in his home town of Brookhaven, a small town in southwestern Mississippi. He also preaches outside in front of the local Wal-Mart, and has preached on the road in Virginia, Louisiana, Tennessee, Washington D.C., and the streets of New York City.
Like many, Samuel said he became a preacher after he was "saved" by Jesus -- he just happened to be 3 years old at the time. "After I got saved, I knew I could try to reach more people to try to get saved," Samuel said. His sin against God? Disobeying his mom. And so the boy turned to Jesus.
When asked to describe God, Samuel said, "Can you show me a building that didn't have a builder, could you show me a painting that didn't have a painter? Because nobody made God. He just exists." Samuel is home-schooled and fed a steady diet of Scripture, but his father, Kendall Boutwell, a born-again lay preacher himself, said the idea of preaching was all Samuel's.
'The Power of God'
Soon after he was saved, Samuel said God spoke to him by helping him come up with things to preach about. "When I asked to preach, right when I think I can preach, God gives me something right there," he said.
Randall Balmer, an Episcopal priest and preacher and a professor of religion at Barnard College, wondered if Samuel's words truly come from divine inspiration. "Is he merely parroting some line&that he gets from a parent, or from a minister, or is it something that comes from the wellspring of the soul?" Balmer asked.
Balmer is the author of a dozen books on religion (his next book, "God in the White House: A History -- 1960-2004," will be published in spring 2008). He said that kids simply don't have the life experience to preach. "I believe that one's calling as a minister arises out of the crucible of one's experience∧ there's a certain maturity that comes with that, a certain understanding of the faith that comes with that."
But Samuel's father believes his son gets his understanding from God. "I know he's divinely inspired&if you listen to the messages, the different ones on the different subjects, yes, he's definitely divinely inspired," said TK. He also believes that his son is not too young to preach.
Another child minister, 9-year-old Terry Durham bills himself as the "little man of God." He's a travel-worn veteran compared to Samuel Boutwell. Terry has preached in cities around the country since he was only 4 years old. But he doesn't stop at just preaching. His grandmother, Pastor Sharone Monroe, said that "ever since he was a baby he was layin' hands and praying for people."
Monroe raised Terry and taught him much of what he knows about preaching and touching people to take away their pain. "When I touch the people, I feel God's hands come into my hands," said Terry, "and it's so exciting to see God move in the midst of their problems."
Terry calls himself a prophet, not a healer, and adults seem to flock to him. He disagrees with the idea that he might be too young for preaching, saying "people say Jesus started at the age of 12. And they say that my grandmother is pushing me, but it's not my grandmother, it's the power of God that's pushing me."
Too Young for Some Topics?
Samuel Boutwell has been taught to take the Bible at its word. When it comes to the after-life, he takes a hard line. He believes that anyone who is not saved by Jesus Christ will go to hell -- no exceptions. "I wish he had taken his Bible and read Matthew 7:1, where Jesus calls on his followers not to judge, lest they be judged," Balmer said.
Balmer objects to such a young boy preaching and finds it "offensive to the faith."
"This Christian faith is for me, and for millions of other people, a source of meaning, a source of truth, and to have it reduced to a kind of circus sideshow, I find deeply offensive."
Samuel often preaches outside abortion clinics. He said he knows what an abortion is and that he's seen pictures of abortions. "Women going in and they kill their child. I'll tell you the same thing I told my daddy one time: If they don't want to have their child they can give it to someone else," he said.
When asked if he knows how babies are made, Samuel said that he doesn't.
Balmer believes that no matter what ones view of abortion, it's wrong to have a child preaching about a topic he couldn't possibly understand fully. "It seems to me that the child is being used as a kind of political prop, for a particular political ideology." But Samuel's father argues that the boy is simply preaching the law of the Bible. Samuel is clearly articulate and mature beyond his years. Which is why it's surprising when, in a candid moment, the fact that he is just a child becomes obvious.
When asked what makes him want to preach, Samuel replied, "You're gonna have to ask my daddy that, I don't know."
Thursday, October 11, 2007 View Comments
Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor lifted off Wednesday in a Soyuz spacecraft from Kazakhstan, en route to the international space station where he will spend about 10 days.
The spacecraft — which also carried an American and a Russian — will take two days to reach the station, a period coinciding with the last days of Ramadan, the month when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. Sheikh Muszaphar has said he will fast and pray in space, even though clerics said he could delay the fast.
"I am not sure how it would be done but I will share my experiences (with) all the Muslims all over the world when I get back," the 35-year-old Sheikh Muszaphar wrote in his Web journal. "After all, Islam is a way of life and I am quite sure I would not face much difficulties."
Sheikh Muszaphar is taking vacuum-packed Malaysian food, including skewered chicken, banana rolls, fermented soybean cakes and ginger jelly to mark the end of Ramadan.
A bachelor who has become a national heartthrob, the orthopedic surgeon will not be the first Muslim in space — Saudi Prince Sultan bin Salman joined the crew of the shuttle Discovery in 1985 and there have been several others since.
Still, the mission initially presented a dilemma about fulfilling religious duties such as fasting, kneeling for prayers in zero gravity or facing Mecca to pray.
After all, praying five times daily on a craft that goes around Earth 16 times a day would have meant praying 80 times in 24 hours. Also, it is virtually impossible to face Mecca continuously in a craft traveling at such high speed.
Muslims are required to wash their hands, feet, face and hair before prayers — a luxury on the Soyuz where water is so precious that even sweat and urine are recycled.
To get around these problems, 150 Malaysian scholars, scientists, and astronauts brainstormed and published an 18-page booklet of guidelines for Muslim astronauts.
If he follows the guidelines, Sheikh Muszaphar can forgo fasting in space and make up for it when he returns to Earth. He can pray three times a day instead of five, facing any direction, and he can do without the ritual washing.
On Tuesday, Sheikh Muszaphar told reporters his trip will be an inspiration for his Southeast Asian homeland as well as to other Muslims worldwide.
"It's a small step for me, but a great leap for the Malaysian people," he said, rephrasing Neil Armstrong's words after the 1969 moon landing.
The following is from GamePolitics.Com:
And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger…
(Ezekiel 25:17 …and, of course, Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction)
Numerous reports have surfaced on the web over the last few days regarding legal threats made against blog sites by Left Behind Games, publishers of a controversial real-time strategy title based upon the mega-selling Christian book series.
You’ve probably seen that we’ve posted some rather critical remarks on the game Left Behind: Eternal Forces… we’re apparently on [CEO] Troy Lyndon’s radar… On Monday, they escalated their response by sending me a nastygram threatening me with legal action unless I remove “false and misleading” comments from this website.
…The goal of this letter is apparently to intimidate me… On free-speech grounds, then, I feel obligated to stand by my comments and not be intimidated by a frivolous threat intended to chill legitimate criticism.
I got a letter today from… [an] attorney representing Left Behind Games warning me that if I did not remove all of the false and misleading information about their product that I would face legal action.
The Left Behind folks, still reeling from their disastrous launch last year, are gearing up for the release of their expansion pack next month… As an offensive strategy, they are trying to intimidate the Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders in the blogosphere who led the charge against this awful game…
…Christians should not sit silently while corporate money-grubbers make a buck out of perverting the Christian faith. Nor should we sit silently when a game is marketed to children promoting religious violence while American soldiers are dying overseas in the middle of a religious and ethnic civil war.
GP: Suing the blogosphere? Good luck. Such bully tactics are likely to bring the wrath of bloggers - and their readers - down up Left Behind Games.
Come to think if it, Left Behind has a history of watching the blogs. We’ve had a few comments placed here on GP by a company employee. I wonder if The Daily Show and Jack Thompson got nastygrams as well?
Monday, October 08, 2007 View Comments
A Christian former camp leader robbed boys of their innocence and grossly abused his position of trust when he sexually abused them over a 14-year period, a court has heard.
Neville Cyril Collins, 44, was yesterday sentenced to 11 years in prison for abuse of six boys between 1984 and 1998.
Trusted by the boys' parents and considered a "father figure" to some of the victims, he also abused them in their homes and his home.
Three of the victims were at the High Court at Rotorua for the sentencing and excerpts of their victim impact statements were read out.
"He took from me my innocence, my trust and confidence in all areas of my life," one victim wrote. "I have lived with this for 21 years - the pain, the guilt, feeling dirty, the anger and embarrassment - all this time."
Another victim said Collins had taken away his dignity.
"When he sodomised me, I simply had no say in the matter. It was forced on me. I was violated [and] the physical pain I endured was excruciating."
Collins was earlier found guilty of 37 charges, including six counts of sexual violation and 25 of indecent assault. Some of the charges were representative, meaning they covered at least one incident of abuse in a specified period.
The married father of two, who the court heard was a committed Christian, faced a maximum of 20 years in prison and wept as Justice Pamela Andrews delivered his sentence.
Earlier, Collins had written the judge a letter, saying he had been in denial about his actions but now accepted his offending and was remorseful. He offered his apologies to the victims and his family, and expressed a desire to change.
But Justice Andrews said the admission came at the "12th or 13th" hour and only after his victims had to testify in court and endure "the ultimate insult" of being called liars by Collins.
She said the harm caused by the abuse was significant, and Collins used his position as a leader and someone the boys looked up to for premeditated offending.
"You abused the trust imposed on you very grossly ... Yours was serious, prolonged, and predatory sexual offending involving six vulnerable victims."
The judge found no mitigating factors, although Collins' lawyer, Matthew Ward-Johnson, argued his client was of otherwise good character and had given much time to the community.
He said Collins had been sexually abused as a child and had not offended since 1998.
But Crown prosecutor Rob Ronayne said that coincided with the date the first victim went to police and, in the years since, Collins had continually denied any wrongdoing.
"He has secured his freedom for nine years, leaving the victims to ponder their blighted lives without any form of justice to them."Story Link
Sunday, October 07, 2007 View Comments
Now, his son, Oral Roberts University President Richard Roberts, says God is speaking again, telling him to deny lurid allegations in a lawsuit that threatens to engulf this 44-year-old Bible Belt college in scandal.
Richard Roberts is accused of illegal involvement in a local political campaign and lavish spending at donors' expense, including numerous home remodeling projects, use of the university jet for his daughter's senior trip to the Bahamas, and a red Mercedes convertible and a Lexus SUV for his wife, Lindsay.
She is accused of dropping tens of thousands of dollars on clothes, awarding nonacademic scholarships to friends of her children and sending scores of text messages on university-issued cell phones to people described in the lawsuit as "underage males."
At a chapel service this week on the 5,300-student campus known for its 60-foot-tall bronze sculpture of praying hands, Roberts said God told him: "We live in a litigious society. Anyone can get mad and file a lawsuit against another person whether they have a legitimate case or not. This lawsuit ... is about intimidation, blackmail and extortion."
San Antonio televangelist John Hagee, a member of the ORU board of regents, said the university's executive board "is conducting a full and thorough investigation."
Colleagues fear for the reputation of the university and the future of the Roberts' ministry, which grew from Southern tent revivals to one of the most successful evangelical empires in the country, hauling in tens of millions of dollars in contributions a year. The university reported nearly $76 million in revenue in 2005, according to the IRS.
Oral Roberts is 89 and lives in California. He holds the title of chancellor, but the university describes him as semi-retired, and his son presides over day-to-day operations on the campus, which had a modern, space-age design when it was built in the early 1960s but now looks dated, like Disney's Tomorrowland.
Cornell Cross II, a senior from Burlington, Vt., said he is looking to transfer to another school because the scandal has "severely devalued and hurt the reputation of my degree."
"We have asked and asked and asked to see the finances of our school and what they're doing with our money, and we've been told no," said, Cross who is majoring in government. "Now we know why. As a student, I'm not going to stand for it any longer."
The allegations are contained in a lawsuit filed Tuesday by three former professors. They sued ORU and Roberts, alleging they were wrongfully dismissed after reporting the school's involvement in a local political race.
Richard Roberts, according to the suit, asked a professor in 2005 to use his students and university resources to aid a county commissioner's bid for Tulsa mayor. Such involvement would violate state and federal law because of the university's nonprofit status. Up to 50 students are alleged to have worked on the campaign.
The professors also said their dismissals came after they turned over to the board of regents a copy of a report documenting moral and ethical lapses on the part of Roberts and his family. The internal document was prepared by Stephanie Cantese, Richard Roberts' sister-in-law, according to the lawsuit.
An ORU student repairing Cantese's laptop discovered the document and later provided a copy to one of the professors.
It details dozens of alleged instances of misconduct. Among them:
• A longtime maintenance employee was fired so that an underage male friend of Mrs. Roberts could have his position.
• Mrs. Roberts — who is a member of the board of regents and is referred to as ORU's "first lady" on the university's Web site — frequently had cell-phone bills of more than $800 per month, with hundreds of text messages sent between 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. to "underage males who had been provided phones at university expense."
• The university jet was used to take one daughter and several friends on a senior trip to Orlando, Fla., and the Bahamas. The $29,411 trip was billed to the ministry as an "evangelistic function of the president."
• Mrs. Roberts spent more than $39,000 at one Chico's clothing store alone in less than a year, and had other accounts in Texas and California. She also repeatedly said, "As long as I wear it once on TV, we can charge it off." The document cites inconsistencies in clothing purchases and actual usage on TV.
• Mrs. Roberts was given a white Lexus SUV and a red Mercedes convertible by ministry donors.
• University and ministry employees are regularly summoned to the Roberts' home to do the daughters' homework.
• The university and ministry maintain a stable of horses for exclusive use by the Roberts' children.
• The Roberts' home has been remodeled 11 times in the past 14 years.
Tim Brooker, one of the professors who sued, said he fears for the university's survival if certain changes aren't made.
"All over that campus, there are signs up that say, `And God said, build me a university, build it on my authority, and build it on the Holy Spirit,'" Brooker said. "Unfortunately, ownership has shifted."
By Matt Cherry
Celebrating the major transitions in life is as old as humanity. Even before there was organized religion, people marked key moments in their lives with ceremony and music, with solemn commitments and joyful celebrations.
The birth of a child is one of the most significant of these rites of passage. It is a time for family, friends and community to come together to offer love, support and encouragement. It’s a time for a party.
Rites of passage are also a time for reflection. They are moments when we step back from our daily concerns and look at our lives in a broader context. And when we think about the span of our whole life -- the arc of its development through key moments of birth, adulthood, love, parenthood, and death – we try to make sense it of it all. We explore the beliefs and values that give shape and meaning to our lives.
For many people these values – and their underlying existential beliefs – are spiritual. Every religion has ceremonies for welcoming new children.
But there is nothing intrinsically religious about celebrating rites of passage. Atheists like me also have values and aspirations, family and friends. So after my twin daughters Lyra and Sophia were born, my wife Shannon and I decided to create a humanist “Welcome to the World” ceremony for them. We were delighted to hold the ceremony at the Atheist Alliance International annual convention, in Washington, D.C., Sept. 30.
The ceremony focused on our commitment to raise our daughters to be creative, compassionate, critical thinkers. There was no commitment to encourage them to be atheists or humanists: while they will be raised in an openly humanist family, we want them to work out their beliefs and values for themselves. A central purpose of the ceremony was to appoint Mentors. These supporting adults, from outside the family circle, promised to take a special interest in our daughters’ welfare and happiness.
While few religious ceremonies include a passage from Richard Dawkins, author of “The God Delusion”, our ceremony actually had Professor Dawkins taking part! Yet, I think our celebration had much in common with the infant naming ceremonies of the world’s religions.
It wasn’t just the inclusion of music and poetry, family and friends. Our ceremony welcomed our children to the world, and more specifically to the community of believers our family belongs to. It explained the children’s names and expressed our aspirations for their lives. And it appointed supporting adults, who promised to mentor these children as they grow into adulthood.
Above all, the ceremony touched something very deep inside all of us. It celebrated our humanity, as expressed through our love for our children and our desire for community. While expressing these values in our different ways, we should remember that they are shared by both the religious and the nonreligious alike, as members of the same family -- the human family.
Matt Cherry is executive director of the Institute for Humanist Studies and president of the United Nations NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief. Matt and his wife, Shannon Cherry, contributed a chapter to the 2007 book “Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion."
Saturday, October 06, 2007 View Comments
Beginning today, the 14 percent of Americans who label themselves as nonreligious will be able to turn on the radio once a week and hear a show that caters to their specific beliefs — or lack thereof.
The first national broadcast of a Freethought Radio program will be aired over Air America Radio out of Madison, Wis., with such guests as Christopher Hitchens, author of the best-selling book "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything."
Mr. Hitchens will be aired today on XM Satellite channel 167 and over WWRL-AM (1600) in New York City from 7 to 8 p.m., the show's regularly scheduled time.
"Our radio show is one with heritage," co-host Dan Barker said. "We vote, serve in the military and sit on juries."
Mr. Barker, who is co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation along with Annie Laurie Gaylor, said atheists, agnostics and nonreligious are "rejecting the illness" of religion.
"We don't need what religion provides," he said. "If salvation is a cure, then atheism is a prevention."
The goal of the new atheist radio program is to serve "the rest of us," he said. Mr. Barker pointed out that religious preaching can be heard on the radio or television round-the-clock seven days a week and that the free-thought radio show offers an alternative for one hour every week.
"How often do nonreligious voices get heard?" he asked.
The show will include a regular segment called "Theocracy Alert," interviews and music.
Mr. Barker said future interviewees could include Ron Reagan, son of former President Ronald Reagan.
Air America Radio is a radio network and program syndication service that generally features discussion and information programs with hosts reflecting liberal and progressive points of view.
Friday, October 05, 2007 View Comments
Timothy Dane Tillman, 43, was in the Shelby County Jail this evening with bond set at $500,000 after being returned from central Florida earlier in the day. He is charged with intentional murder, said Shelby County Chief Assistant District Attorney Bill Bostick.
Tillman is accused of deliberately shooting his wife, Janet Lorita Tillman, 40, at the couple's Vincent home on Oct. 26, 2005. The death was investigated by Vincent police and the Alabama Bureau of Investigation.
Tillman had contended the shooting was accidental and occurred when his shotgun accidentally fired while he was cleaning it, striking his wife in the back.
Thursday, October 04, 2007 View Comments
A case study shows what this could mean for America. Norway has embraced secularism at the expense of its Christian roots. A 2005 survey conducted by Gallup International rated Norway the least religious country in Western Europe.
In Norway, 82.9 percent of the population are members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (they are automatically registered at birth and few bother to be unregistered). However, only approximately 10 percent regularly attend church services and identify themselves as being personally Christian.
A 2006 survey found: 29 percent believe in a god or deity; 23 percent believe in a higher power without being certain of what; 26 percent don't believe in God or higher powers; 22 percent have doubts.
Depending on the definition of atheism, Norway thus has between 26 percent and 71 percent atheists. The Norwegian Humanist Association is the world's largest humanist association per capita.
And what has secularism done to Norway? The Global Peace Index rates Norway the most peaceful country in the world. The Human Development Index, a comparative measure of life expectancy, literacy, education and standard of living, has ranked Norway No. 1 every year for the last five years.
Norway has the second highest GDP per capita in the world, an unemployment rate below 2 percent, and average hourly wages among the world's highest.
Wednesday, October 03, 2007 View Comments
The defense will present its witnesses Wednesday. Many of those are expected to either be character witnesses or witnesses who will testify that the alleged victim was not telling the truth.
The day ended on an emotional note as several members of the jury, made up of nine women and three men, appeared moved as a father tried to explain the blow to his life as he tried to sort out details of sexual abuse allegations his daughter aimed at his father.
One female juror on the front row pulled a Kleenex from her purse and another made a quick swipe to her eye as Dusty Warren admitted he initially dismissed his daughter’s allegations because there wasn’t a question in his mind that his father, Burcham Paul Warren, could have done such a thing.
Paul Warren was more than Dusty Warren’s father but also his pastor.
The former pastor of South Oak Grove Assembly of God Church is charged with aggravated rape in connection with sexual abuse accusations reported on Sept. 29, 2006. The alleged victim said the sexual contact started after she turned 11 in March 2006 and continued until she reported it to Stanley High teacher Sissy Williams.
If convicted, Paul Warren, 51, faces a mandatory life sentence in prison. He has pleaded not guilty.
Dusty Warren searched for words as he described the agony his family faced and the ripple effect to his father’s ministry. Paul Warren had been pastor of the church since Dusty Warren was in the second grade. Dusty Warren said he loved his father and told of the thousands he has ministered to over the years.
Assistant District Attorney Anna Garcie asked Dusty Warren about his reaction when he first heard of the allegations.
“It ain’t true … There wasn’t a question in my mind something like this happened,” he answered.
Dusty Warren said he questioned his daughter over and over “to try to catch her in a lie.” He told jurors he never did.
“She never changed her story,” Dusty Warren said.
He said he explained the consequences of the allegations to his daughter. He told of the impact it had to his extended family and church members.
Still, Dusty Warren said he tried to maintain a relationship with his father and mother because of his other younger child who was not aware of what was going on. He said he and a brother agreed it would be best if everybody could get along “until this is all over with.”
Until “the two stories meet up,” the conflict will never be resolved, he said.
“For me personally, I can only pray the truth will set us free,” said Dusty Warren, who is a youth pastor.
His daughter took the stand earlier in the day but only court officials and jurors were allowed to hear testimony first-hand. District Judge Robert Burgess on Monday granted an oral motion from the defense and a separate request from the state to close the courtroom to spectators.
However, from a small window opening in the courtroom door, the 12-year-old girl, who is identified by name in the courtroom but not by The Times because of her age, could be seen nodding slightly and at times gesturing as she answered questions. She sat at an angle and appeared to not look directly at Paul Warren. A Kleenex was clutched in her right hand.
A state social services employee set the stage Tuesday morning for the girl’s testimony. Mary Bagley, an 18-year investigator with the child protection office, said the girl exhibited the classic behavior for sexual abuse when questioned about allegations of molestation.
Bagley said she conducted her interview with the girl on Sept. 29, 2006, as a courtesy to the DeSoto sheriff’s office, which was leading the investigation. Bagley deduced by the girl’s tone of voice, body language, eye contact and details provided that she was being truthful.
The alleged sexual contact began with Warren tickling the girl with his mustache and his tongue. The girl indicated it included contact with her “private area,” Bagley said. And she also said he touched her anal area with his penis.
Defense attorney Rick Fayard, of Shreveport, hammered DeSoto sheriff’s Cpl. Bobby Simone about his investigation, the lack of additional interviews and absence of DNA evidence linking Paul Warren to the sexual abuse allegations.
Simone said he observed Bagley’s interview with the girl and he noted she was “obviously upset. She was crying.” And she tried to cover herself while talking about the alleged abuse.
Simone explained that he did what he thought was needed to corroborate the girl’s statement. He seized a pair of shorts described by the girl as being worn by Paul Warren on their last sexual contact in September 2006, a laptop computer upon which the girl said she was shown pornography and a white towel that the girl said Paul Warren used to wipe himself after sex.
The towel was positive for Paul Warren’s semen and the DNA of an unknown female, Simone testified.
The laptop, which was purchased by the church, was turned over to Mark Fargerson, a Caddo district attorney’s investigator who specializes in computer-related sex crimes. Fargerson testified that he found 16 pornographic photos dating from May 2006 through July 9, 2006. The photographs of adults engaged in sex are considered legal.
Dusty Warren said it was the pornographic photos and the towel, which he found while searching his father’s office, that confirmed for him that his daughter was telling the truth.
His wife, Heather Warren took the stand before him and told jurors she believed her daughter from the start. “When I saw the look in her face and she started crying, I believed her then. … It was hard to believe because of who it was. It was my father-in-law and that’s something you don’t want to believe.”
“Do you believe her,” asked Garcie.
Answered Heather Warren: “100 percent.”