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December 22, 2004

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Religion in the News

In my college class in philosophy, Antony Flew was required reading. His writings tempted me to doubt the very existence of God. So I was shocked to learn that he now believes in God. Interview with him at Atheist Becomes Theist. See also Sorry, says atheist-in-chief, I do believe in God after all  and Famous Atheist Now Believes in God.

Is the holiday creche worth the fight?
Decades of debate haven't ended the church-and-state controversy over public holiday displays (The Providence Journal, R.I.)

Just leave Christmas alone
The attempts to de-Christianize Christmas are as absurd as they are relentless (Charles Krauthammer, The Washington Post)

Can We Talk?
A project sponsored by Gordon Colleges Center for Christian Studies offers models for constructive engagement across lines of division. By John Wilson

Stop Fraud Before It Starts
Barry Minkow says every investor should get the answer to four questions before investing. By Rob Moll

Bilking the Brethren
It may be one of the biggest untold stories on the religion beat. By Ted Olsen

The rapture debunked
One of the people doing the most to debunk the worldview of LaHaye and others who believe in the Rapture and Tribulation has been a woman who labels herself a conservative theologian: Barbara R. Rossing, an associate professor of New Testament studies at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago (Christopher Shea, The Boston Globe)

Mormon church disciplines author for book
Grant Palmer, 64, who wrote "An Insider's View of Mormon Origins," could have been excommunicated. Instead, he said the church "disfellowshipped" him at a hearing, which means he will retain his membership but lose certain privileges (Associated Press) See

Da Vinci Code Debunked?
The best-seller's author says its shocking twist is true. Humbug, say historians who've analyzed the evidence. See  

NZ author suing over Da Vinci bestseller
Authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail say Dan Brown lifted large tracts of their research without permission (The New Zealand Herald)

The Shroud's Second Image
New evidence reopens debate about the controversial relic. By Gordon Govier See

Science in the News

Google borrows books from leading libraries
Books from prestigious US universities, the New York Public Library and Oxford University will soon be instantly searchable online.


New Books:

  1. The Future of Biblical Archaeology: Reassessing Methodologies and Assumptions, ed. By James K. Hoffmeier and Alan Millard, 2004. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.385 pp.
  2. hifting Sands: The Rise and Fall of Biblical Archaeology, by Thomas W. Davis. 2004. Oxford: Oxford University Press.174 pp.

A crack in the theory
Will a couple of renegade archeologists make us rethink everything we know about Qumran? (The Jerusalem Post)

Mystery of 'chirping' pyramid decoded
Acoustic analysis shows how temple transforms echoes into sounds of nature. 14 December 2004

Ice-age musicians fashioned ivory flute
A 30,000-year-old instrument is uncovered in southern Germany. 17 December 2004


Spirit Finds Water-Signature Pasadena CA (JPL) Dec 17, 2004
Scientists have identified a water-signature mineral called goethite in bedrock that the NASA's Mars rover Spirit examined in the "Columbia Hills," one of the mission's surest indicators yet for a wet history on Spirit's side of Mars. See

Cassini sees changing weather on Titan
Huygens probe ready for dive through atmosphere. 17 December 2004.

New Evidence That Saturn's Outer Rings Could Be Disappearing Boulder CO (SPX) Dec 17, 2004
A massive eruption of atomic oxygen from Saturn's outer rings, seen by Cassini's ultraviolet camera as the spacecraft neared its destination, may be an indication that the planet's wispy E ring is eroding so fast that it could disappear within 100 million years if not replenished. See

Dusty discs girdle distant solar systems
The circling debris has been found around stars in other solar systems with planets for the first time.

Enigmatic Kuiper Object Quaoar Might Be Outgassing Moscow, Russia (UPI) Dec 08, 2004
A giant rock spotted on the fringes of the Solar System has frozen water crystals on its surface, an intriguing discovery that suggests it may harbour volcanic activity, a study says. See

Aging Universe May Still Be Spawning Massive Galaxies Pasadena CA (SPX) Dec 22, 2004
NASA's Galaxy Evolution Explorer has spotted what appear to be massive "baby" galaxies in our corner of the universe. Previously, astronomers thought the universe's birth rate had dramatically declined and only small galaxies were forming. See

'Ultrasound' May Explain Solar Weather Mystery
Astronomers have identified ultrasoundlike waves in our sun's atmosphere that could explain some strange aspects of solar weather. An analysis of data from NASA's TRACE spacecraft suggests that the waves could be responsible for the star's unexplained extra heat.


Herbal Remedies Found to Contain Toxic Heavy Metals
Some herbal remedies may do more harm than good. Researchers report that 20 percent of herbal medicine products sampled contained dangerous levels of heavy metals.

In Lieu of Vitamins
Who needs vitamin pills, when eating well will suffice, say nutrition experts at Duke University Medical Center. The best vitamins may be found in the produce aisle, they advise. See   

Stressful deadlines boost heart attack risk
The pressure of meeting a work deadline can mean a sixfold hike in the risk of suffering an attack the very next day, a new study finds.

No More Weight Control After Liposuction?
If you think fat removal via liposuction lets you off the hook when it comes to diet and exercise, think again. In fact, liposuction patients are three times more likely to gain weight if they stray from a proper diet, new research finds. See


Darwin v. 'Design' in Dover
11 parents, ACLU sue, alleging religion in curriculum (The York Dispatch, Pa.)

A who's who of players in the battle of biology class
In the long battle over the teaching of evolution in American public schools, activists Eugenie Scott and Bruce Chapman both like to claim the role of underdog (The Christian Science Monitor).

Review of Mark Perakh's "Unintelligent Design," by David J. Turell
"Atheists praise atheistic books and believers praise religious books. There is almost no middle ground, essentially no books for agnostics. In a sense, Unintelligent Design purports to be this book, according to Perakh, without being that book."

Jerky evolutionary change
Evidence that evolutionary change is not always a smooth process (The Economist, U.K.)

Research points to new theory driving evolutionary changes
Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas have used canine DNA to identify a genetic mutation mechanism they believe is responsible for rapid evolutionary changes in the physical appearance of many species. See

Keeping the faith in my doubt
My main objection to all these anti-religion, pro-science groups is that they aren't addressing our basic problem, which is ideological self-righteousness of any kind (John Horgan, The New York Times)

Greg Martinez's "Stupid Dino Tricks," originally published in the November 2004 article of Skeptical Inquirer, is now available on-line.  Martinez amusingly and incisively recounts his trip to Dinosaur Adventure Land, a creationist playground in Pensacola, Florida, operated by the flamboyant young-earth creationist Kent Hovind.  See

Spite: Evolution Finally Gets Nasty
Altruism's "neglected ugly sister" comes to the party (Stuart Blackman).

Darwin Meets Chomsky
Scientists converge in a multidisciplinary approach to understanding human language (Nick Atkinson).

Earth Science

Major Climate Change Occurred 5,200 Years Ago: History Could Repeat Itself Columbus OH (SPX) Dec 16, 2004
Glaciologist Lonnie Thompson worries that he may have found clues that show history repeating itself, and if he is right, the result could have important implications to modern society. See

Analysis: No Doubt Earth's Ice Is Melting San Francisco CA (UPI) Dec 15, 2004
For nearly 50 years, Greenland's Jakobshavn glacier inched inexorably toward the sea at a stable and non-threatening rate. During the same time period, glaciers in Alaska, in Patagonia and Antarctica proceeded steadily at well-established rates. The polar ice cap that lay over most of the Arctic Ocean during winter remained essentially unbroken. See

Catastrophic Flooding from Ancient Lake May Have Triggered Cold Period San Francisco CA (SPX) Dec 20, 2004
Imagine a lake three times the size of the present-day Lake Ontario breaking through a dam and flooding down the Hudson River Valley past New York City and into the North Atlantic. See

Shutdown Of Circulation Pattern Could Be Disastrous: Researchers Champaign IL (SPX) Dec 15, 2004
If global warming shuts down the thermohaline circulation in the North Atlantic Ocean, the result could be catastrophic climate change. The environmental effects, models indicate, depend upon whether the shutdown is reversible or irreversible. See

Greenland Ice Cores Offer Glimpse Of Weather System History

What Have Scientists Learned Since Mount St. Helens Erupted Portland OR (SPX) Dec 09, 2004
When Mount St. Helen's blew its top in 1980, Charlie Crisafulli was 22 years old and just beginning his career as a research ecologist. One of his first assignments: travel to Mount St. Helens 2 months after the historic eruption and study the aftermath. See

Study Resolves Doubt About Origin Of Earth's Oldest Rocks Chicago IL (SPX) Dec 17, 2004
Experiments led by Nicolas Dauphas of the University of Chicago and Chicago's Field Museum have validated some controversial rocks from Greenland as the potential site for the earliest evidence of life on Earth. See

50,000-year-old Plant May Warn Of The Death Of Tropical Ice Caps
A simple stroll after a full day of field research near a high Andean glacier in Peru led glaciologist Lonnie Thompson to discover a bed of previously hidden plants that date back at least 50,000 years.

Researchers Discover First Evidence Of Microbes Living In A Rock Glacier Arlington VA (SPX) Dec 15, 2004
Scientists have discovered evidence of microbial activity in a rock glacier high above tree line in the Rocky Mountains, a barren environment previously thought to be devoid of life. See


Snapshot of an electron orbital
New technique could watch electrons' movements during chemical reactions.


The behavior of genes
Recent genetic studies go a long way toward resolving the nature-versus-nurture debate (Gene Robinson, The New York Times). 


Nanoelectronics in 15 years New York (UPI) Dec 21, 2004
In order to keep computers advancing in power as they have for decades, a new U.S. research initiative partnering industry, academia and government has now launched to hunt in nanotechnology - science and engineering on a molecular scale - for a successor to today's dominant chipmaking method. See

The Future's Bright For Diamond Dust Bristol, UK (SPX) Dec 22, 2004
Expensive, bulky TV screens could be a thing of the past thanks to a collaboration between the University of Bristol and Advance Nanotech announced today to develop new display technology made from diamond dust. See


Discovered New Species: A 'Faithful' Guinea Pig. Dec. 10, 2004
German scientists on Thursday hailed the discovery of a new species of guinea pig in Bolivia, which differs from its cousins by remaining faithful to one partner. See  

New species of monkey discovered in India
First macaque species added to list in over 100 years. 17 December 2004.