Friday, 15 February 2013

What’s New about the New Atheism?



The New Atheism is the name that was attached, often pejoratively, to the series of six best-selling books by five authors including myself that appeared in the period 2004-2008. Since then many have joined the movement, with an upsurge in books, freethinker organizations and an exponential expansion on the blogosphere, spreading the word on atheism to thousands. The message of New Atheism is that it is time to take a far less accommodating attitude toward religion, including moderate religion, than has been exhibited in previous years by atheist authors and, in particular, by non-believing scientists.

In the United States science is locked in a battle with conservative Christians over the teaching of evolution and creationism in schools. So far, a series of court decisions going back to the mid-eighties has prevented attempts by some states to insinuate ‘creation science’ and its later version ‘intelligent design’ into the science curriculum of public schools as an alternative theory to Darwinian evolution. These decisions were all based on trial testimony that the proposals for inclusion were motivated by religion and thus in violation of the Establishment Clause of the US constitution, which states that "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion. Shaping up as the next stage of the battle is the attempt to permit the teaching of creationism in science classes as a matter of ‘academic freedom’.

While 87% of scientists accept evolution by unguided, purely natural processes, only 32% of the public does. Belief in unguided evolution among mainline Protestants and Catholics is about the same as among the general public, while only 10% of Evangelicals and 19% of fundamentalist Protestants acknowledge it. To maintain as much public support for science as they can, many science advocacy organizations, such as the National Center for Science Education, the National Academy of Sciences, and most professional scientific societies, have maintained a kid-gloves approach in their dealing with religion. Several have issued statements to the effect that no contradictions exist between science and religion and, in particular, that evolution and Christianity are compatible.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Happiness

Happiness is a mental or emotional state of well-being characterized by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy. A variety of biological, psychological, religious, and philosophical approaches have striven to define happiness and identify its sources. Various research groups, including Positive psychology, endeavor to apply the scientific method to answer questions about what "happiness" is, and how we might attain it.

Philosophers and religious thinkers often define happiness in terms of living a good life, or flourishing, rather than simply as an emotion. Happiness in this sense was used to translate the Greek Eudaimonia, and is still used in virtue ethics. Happiness economics suggests that measures of public happiness should be used to supplement more traditional economic measures when evaluating the success of public policy.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Yellow-breasted Chat

The Yellow-breasted Chat (Icteria virens) is a large songbird, formerly considered the most atypical member of the New World warbler family, though the long-standing suspicion is that it does not actually belong there. Its placement is not definitely resolved. It is the only member of the genus Icteria.

Found throughout North America, from southern-plains Canada to central Mexico during the summer, these birds mainly migrate to Mexico and Central America, although some of their number may overwinter in coastal areas. Yellow-breasted Chats are noticeably larger than all other warblers, reaching a length of 7.5 in (19 cm) and a wingspan of 9.75 in (24.8 cm). These birds have olive upperparts with white bellies and yellow throats and breasts; they also have long tails, thick heavy bills, large white eye-rings, and dark legs.

The breeding habitats of this species are dense, brushy areas and hedgerows. The nests of these birds are cup-shaped, and are placed in thick shrubs. These birds eat insects and berries, and will forage in dense vegetation, occasionally gripping food with their feet. The song of this bird is an odd, variable mixture of cackles, clucks, whistles and hoots.

Their calls are harsh chak's. Unlike most warblers, this species has been known to mimic the calls of other birds. This bird is somewhat secretive, but will usually sing from exposed locations. Yellow-breasted Chats are declining in eastern North America due to habitat loss, which is caused primarily from deforestation and urban development. This species is particularly vulnerable to brood parasitism from Brown-headed Cowbirds that have taken advantage of the fragmentation of Eastern forests to expand their range in the last century.