1. Washington Post: “‘Science vs. Religion’ Discovers What Scientists Really Think about Religion

An extensive new study of scientists reveals some surprising attitudes toward religion among scientists.

We’ve all heard various perspectives on the science “vs.” religion debate: Are the two incompatible? Can a scientist be religious? Can a religious individual travel by airplane without implicitly declaring faith “irrational”?

What has been missing, however, is comprehensive data on what scientists themselves think. Until now, that is. Rice University sociologist Elaine Ecklund has just published the results of a survey of 1,700 research scientists, a survey she followed up with 275 personal interviews with scientists. Together, the data reveal some surprising results.

Contrary to the expectations set by Richard Dawkins and other anti-religion activists, scientists are more religious or open to religion and less anti-religious than is generally caricatured. For example, of Ecklund’s 275 interviewees, only 5 consider themselves anti-religion. Ecklund explained further:

According to the scientists I interviewed, the academy seems to have a “strong culture” that suppresses discussion about religion in many areas. . . . Some religious scientists did talk about other scientists saying negative things about religion and religious people (i.e., that religion is to blame for low science education among the general public). I found, however, that atheist scientists were generally much more moderate than I had thought they would be. Many do want to be in dialogue with religious scientists. But there are several extraordinarily outspoken atheist scientists who have changed the climate to make it seem as if all atheist scientists are rabid religion-haters.

(More of Ecklund’s findings are discussed at beliefnet). Disappointingly, some religious scientists still harbor animosity toward other religious scientists—e.g., creationists, who were singled out by one scientist who said that we have “polarized the public opinion such that you’re either religious or you’re a scientist.” That’s a strange perspective, given that we’ve been as clear as we can be that creationists love science—but simply have concerns about some interpretations of scientific work.

But that scientist’s complaint reminds us that “religious” is a vague word, and that many religious scientists are not even Christians, let alone biblical creationists. For this reason, we must be cautious about interpreting this study. Scientists who believe in a recent, supernatural creation are still a distinct minority, although that doesn’t mean there aren’t many of them. Nonetheless, the study reveals something Richard Dawkins, et al., would like to obscure: that being a scientist doesn’t require die-hard atheism/agnosticism, and that faith and science can be complementary.

2. ScienceNOW: “Tracing the Roots of Jewishness

The history of the Jews—and, more broadly, the Hebrews—is wrapped up in the history of the Bible. For that reason alone, modern studies of those identifying as Jews often have interesting implications for biblical history.

Jewishness is a tricky concept. Depending on the context, it can refer to a particular ethnic/people group; the history, culture, language, and so forth of those people; or the religion of Judaism practiced by many of those individuals, along with converts. Further complicating the story is the tumultuous history of the Jews both in Bible times and ever since.

A new genetic study of those who consider themselves Jewish indicates a greater genetic—and, hence, historical—connection than some historians have suggested. For instance, a popular claim is that Ashkenazi Jews—a group of Jews with ancestry in Central Europe and who now represent the largest group of Jews worldwide—are not actually ethnic Jews. Rather, this claim suggests they are the descendants of a group of Central Europeans who converted to Judaism in the eleventh century. Others have suggested that rather than being traced back to Abraham around 4,000 years ago, the Jewish identity—and people group—was not actually formed until around 2,000 years ago.

Seeking to test some of the various historical claims against genetic data, researchers led by Harry Ostrer of the New York University examined genetic data from 237 Jewish individuals. The Jews were from a wide range of locations, including Greece, Israel, Italy, and the United States. Next, the team compared the results against a broader sample of 2,800 individuals (presumably not Jews) worldwide.

The results buttress the traditional view that Jews worldwide (at least, those represented by the 237 tested) do share a genetic link, indicating shared ancestry, and that their shared ancestry dates back beyond 2,000 years. Ostrer noted, “I would hope that these observations would put the idea that Jewishness is just a cultural construct to rest.”

Although other researchers agree that there may still be pockets of modern Jews who descended from converts, the work certainly overturns the view that the Jewish identity is far more recent than Scripture suggests. Besides, there is nothing anti-biblical about the view that some Jewish populations today may be descended from converts, or that (as we said above) the history of the Jews since biblical times is as complex, tumultuous, and mysterious as any part of human history.

For more information:

3. ScienceDaily: “Jumping Genes Provide Extensive ‘Raw Material’ for Evolution, Study Finds

Genetics is a key battleground in the war between evolution and creation models for the origin and diversity of life. So which side wins the latest battle on the genetics front?

Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania studied a particular group of so-called “jumping” genes, a.k.a. transposons, which are sequences of DNA that move to different spots on the genome within a single cell. The researchers wondered how much the locations these genes “jump” to varies among individuals. The greater the variation, the more genetic diversity caused by jumping genes.

The study determined that “there is much more diversity in our genome due to insertions by this family of transposons than previously thought,” said team member Haig Kazazian. “This movement of genetic material provides the raw material of genetic evolution, and it doesn’t take into account the insertions that we believe occur outside of the sperm and egg cells studied in this project.”

Kazazian’s reference to the “raw material of genetic evolution” is a reminder that, according to evolutionists, it is just these sorts of genetic accidents that occasionally lead to useful new functions, eventually leading to new types of organisms over millions of years. A news release on the research notes, “slight changes in genes help organisms adapt and survive in new environments” but adds “[i]nsertions into certain spots in the genome can also cause cell function to go awry.”

Notable is that the release also provides a list of specific disorders linked to mutations, but does not name specific benefits associated with genetic “accidents” such as jumping genes. While there are indeed some known benefits, these benefits are still linked with a corruption (a reduction) of genetic information—just ones that disable a function that is useless in a given environment. Thus, despite the research specifying one source of genetic diversity, evolutionists still lack empirical links between such genetic accidents and the hypothesized process that could turn fish into philosophers.

4. BBC News: “Mars Minerals Point to Warmer and Wetter Past

Yet another discovery suggests that the history of Mars was a wet one.

NASA’s Spirit rover has already discovered possible evidence of water on Mars, as we reported in November 2008. And although the rover is all but lost now—see our January mention—scientists have at last cleaned up data collected by Spirit back in 2005. According to the team, the data shows more evidence of a once-wet Mars.

The data comes from Spirit’s time in the Columbia Hills of Mars’s Gusev Crater. Dust from the Red Planet had obstructed one of the rover’s instruments, so the data Spirit gathered was, in a way, contaminated. Since then, however, a research team led by NASA’s Richard Morris has carefully calibrated the data to account for the dust, revealing that what Spirit saw were rocks rich in carbonate minerals. Morris explains that the mineral most likely formed as carbonate-rich water interacted with the rocks.

“It looks like Mars had a dense carbon dioxide atmosphere, so there was some kind of greenhouse effect,” he said. “The atmosphere now is very thin—it could have blown into space or it could have interacted with water and is now present in the rocks.” Morris also noted that although some carbonate minerals have been found on Mars before, this was a “significant jump.” Further, the “neutral” chemistry of the rocks is a positive sign for how habitable Mars once may have been.

Although all scientific evidence is subject to interpretation, research on Mars continues to suggest that the planet was once watery—a conclusion that is not incompatible with the biblical worldview. That a watery, habitable Mars (if that was truly the case) bore life is an evolutionary leap of logic, however.

5. New York Times: “A New Clue to Explain Existence

“[W]e exist, and [secular] physicists (among others) would dearly like to know why.” Of course, all they have to do is open to Genesis!

That line frames part of the discussion in a recent New York Times article on research at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. Although we mentioned the research two weeks back, the Times article has a more blatant evolutionary spin we wanted to analyze.

The big-bang–based “mystery” is why the universe consists almost exclusively of matter. Astrophysics models predict the big bang should have produced an equal amount of matter and antimatter, which would have immediately detonated one another and thereby destroyed the universe immediately after it began. To a scientist who believes all existence traces back to the big bang, that’s one big puzzle.

The research in the news concerns particle accelerator collisions of protons and antiprotons that produced matter slightly more often than antimatter—about a one percent difference. While that doesn’t solve physicists’ problem, it gives them a lead to follow.

What we find puzzling is these physicists’ tacit faith. Until now, the big bang model has predicted that we—life, earth, the universe—shouldn’t exist at all. Yet physicists embraced and continue to embrace the big bang model, seemingly obviating the scientific demand for theories to survive falsification. Further (and something we’ve noted before), it’s interesting how these “difficulties” in evolutionary and big bang models usually come to light in the news only after some breakthrough has been made that provides a modicum of hope in the model.

6. And Don’t Miss . . .

  • Does the secret behind the evolution of all life on earth lie in the genes of brown algae (in connection with the genes of other organisms)? Apparently so, according to some scientists.
  • We’ve reported on the incredible migratory ability of the bar-tailed godwit before, and now there’s more information about just how the birds sustain themselves on their incredible journeys.
  • A cave painting of an animal thought long extinct shows that humans did live alongside them. Are we talking about dinosaurs? Afraid not; the news this week is about a giant flightless bird called Genyornis.
  • Is a T-shirt promoting virginity too “offensive” for public school?
  • When you think of venomous animals, does the solenodon ever come to mind? The world’s only mammal that can inject venom through its teeth, the solenodon should be a puzzle for evolutionists: another example of “convergent” evolution, since its clear this creature didn’t descend from a snake. (For more information on venomous creatures, see How Did Defense/Attack Structures Come About?)
  • ScienceNOW reports on the latest research into spiders’ incredible silk-weaving abilities, a great example of design in nature.

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