All You Need to Know About the Hobby Lobby Case

2014-03-31 Hobby Lobby

The Washington Post has a couple of great sources if you want to know more about the Hobby Lobby case the Supreme Court is considering right now. In a nutshell, Hobby Lobby is a Christian company that doesn’t want to provide access to certain kinds of birth control that can work as  abortifacients instead of as contraceptives.

To get even more of a background in the case, I recommend Jaime Fuller’s Here’s what you need to know about the Hobby Lobby case. For legal analysis of the constitutional issues, I recommend Prof. Michael McConnell’s post at Volokh Conspiracy (which now operates within the WaPo). These two articles will give you a solid understanding of this controversial and well-known court case.

Times And Seasons: As Much As I Know Anything

2014-03-31 Before the PulpitToday’s post for Times And Seasons is basically just my testimony. I’ve had lots of people ask me why I believe over the years, and usually I’ve been incapable of giving a simple, concise answer. When I got asked the question again the week before last, however, I finally had an answer. Along with it, I had an understanding of why I’d been unable to express my faith more easily in the past. Read the post at Times And Seasons for the rest. It’s called As Much As I Know Anything.

Incidentally: I neglected to link to my last Times And Seasons post when I posted it two weeks ago. That one was called Human Evolution: Problems and Possibilities.

Science and Seances

Image result for seances

Nathaniel posted this past week on the relationship between religious faith and scientific evidence in the wake of new evidence for cosmic inflation. I followed up with a brief post about religious scientists (including Big Bang discoverer Georges Lemaitre). To top it off, this month’s issue of Nautilus has an excellent article entitled “Why Physicists Make Up Stories in the Dark.” The author presents a fascinating history of modern science. Here are a few gems:

  • “Who now will stand up for the British physicist Edmund Fournier d’Albe, who in 1908 put forward the theory that the human soul is composed of invisible particles called “psychomeres” possessing a rudimentary kind of intelligence?”
  • “[W]hen science first began to fixate on invisible entities, many leading scientists saw no clear distinction between such occult concepts and hard science…Victorian physicists were particularly prone. Some conjectured that there exist intelligent, unseeable beings on the subatomic or the cosmic scale. Others speculated that high-frequency waves outside the visible range could transmit thoughts between minds, or that immortal souls were consistent with the laws of thermodynamics. Anything seemed possible, as it often does when we awaken to our ignorance.”
  • “It is no coincidence that these discoveries [e.g. radio waves] happened at the height of the Victorian enthusiasm for spiritualism, in which mediums claimed to be able to contact the souls of the dead. The two trends supported each other. The new physics hinted at explanations for thought transference, whether from other people or from spirits; and a widespread belief in invisible influences and intelligences created a receptive environment for ideas in physics that seemed scarcely less incredible. If radio waves could transmit invisibly between a broadcasting device and a receiver, it did not seem so hard to imagine that human brains—which are after all quickened by electrical nerve signals—could act as receivers.”

And so on. Check it out.

Scientist Priests

Georges Lemaitre: scientist priest
Georges Lemaitre: scientist priest

Nathaniel made an interesting observation the other day about physicist Andrei Linde’s reaction to the new evidence for cosmic inflation. The scientist worried, “What if I believe into this just because it is beautiful?” This led to a discussion about religious faith and scientific evidence. It might be worth remembering in light of the new discovery that Georges Lemaitre, the Father of the Big Bang, was a Catholic priest and a physicist at the Catholic University of Louvain. RealClearScience has a couple brief pieces on the history of scientific and religious thinkers:

Check them out.

What If I Believe This Just Because It Is Beautiful?

2014-03-25 Bicep2 Telescope

Just over a week ago reports with headlines like Big Bang’s Smoking Gun started to appear all across the Internet. Just yesterday the New York Times weighed in on the significance of the discovery, ranking it alongside the Higgs-Boson:

These gravitational waves are the long-sought markers for a theory called inflation, the force that put the bang in the Big Bang: an antigravitational swelling that began a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the cosmic clock started ticking. Scientists have long incorporated inflation into their standard model of the cosmos, but as with the existence of the Higgs, proving it had long been just a pipe dream.

There are already skeptics, but I want to focus on an odd, impromptu interview with Andrei Dmitriyevich Linde and what it says about the relationship between science and faith. Linde is one of the physicists who first proposed the theory of inflation decades ago, and in the video Professor Chao-Lin Kuo surprises him at his home with initial results confirming that Linde has been right all along. Something Linde said really struck me:

If this is true, this is a moment of understanding of nature of such a magnitude that it just overwhelms and… let’s see. Let’s just hope that it is not a trick. I always live with this feeling “What if I am tricked? What if I believe into this just because it is beautiful? What if…?” Yes, so this is really helpful, to have evidence like that. It’s really, really helpful.

Professor Linde’s question really struck me the first time I heard it. “What if I believe it just because it’s beautiful?” What that expresses to me is a much more nuanced and comprehensive understanding of human belief and faith than we are usually allowed to glimpse when the guardians of right and proper rationalism are busy trying to drive their wedges between religious faith and scientific evidence. Just so we’re clear: I’m not equivocating the two, nor am I in any way suggesting that this new discovery itself validates theism.

What I’m doing is just pointing out that belief is about more than just rationality and objective evidence. It’s about intuition and symmetry and beauty and value. I think it would be a terrible misrepresentation of Linde’s faith in his unverified theories to call it “wishful thinking,” or “blind belief,” although there are aspects of both wishing and blindness in it. Similarly, ugly dismissals of religious conviction using the same labels strike me as a fundamentally impoverished view of what it means to be a human being in a world of mystery and contradiction where questions always outnumber answers on any truly meaningful issue.

From where I’m standing, the kind of tentative, pioneering scientific faith that precedes (but dos not obviate) experimental validation is a close cousin of the kinds of thoughtful, humble religious conviction that have animated so many believers in so many traditions for thousands of years. Obviously we should never merely accept this kind of faith where there is the prospect of evidence at hand. But isn’t it just as clear that this kind of faith is intrinsically noble and important? Clearly there are important differences between religious and science inquiry, but this is one commonality: faith is the beginning and not the end of inquiry.

Young Boy Gets Life-Saving Experimental Drug, Now What?

Not long ago the Internet was aflame with the story of how a young, 7-year old boy and his family were desperately asking a pharmaceutical company to give him the drug he needed to survive, and were being denied. The company relented in the end, but to me it seemed that most of the Internet’s attention had already skipped on to new heart-wrenching, outraging, or hilarious stories.

This is not what a heartwarming story looks like.
This is not what a heartwarming story looks like.

Fast news stories of the Internet are the intellectual equivalent of fast food. We crave their artificial flavors with Pavlovian desire, but in the end they pass through us undigested. We are let empty and undernourished, our minds fat and heavy instead of lean and strong. Let me give just one gruesome example. Earlier this month, a woman drove her minivan into the ocean with three children inside. Luckily, they were rescued, but even the earliest stories that I read quoted the children as saying “Our mommy’s trying to kill us, please help.” Subsequent reporting included quotes from the woman’s sister that she had been talking about demons and eyewitness testimony that sh had intentionally driven the van into the ocean. That didn’t stop GodVine from publishing a video of the rescue with this description:

Beach patrol and Good Samaritans rushed to rescue a pregnant mom and her three children who were trapped inside. The heroes narrowly avoided being pulled under the water themselves!

2014-03-24 SOSI know we like to harp on about how bad it is to focus on only negative news, and I get that, but it’s also pretty repugnant to package a macabre story of woman attempting to murder her children as just more feel-good clickbait. Slow down, people, is all I’m saying. Those hoaxes you keep posting (the SOS / Google Earth one has been making the rounds) don’t just  make you look dumb. They are a symptom of vacuous thoughtlessness and emotion-craving that is worse than merely stupid.

So what happened to the young boy who needed the life-saving treatment? If you cared enough to read it the first time, maybe you ought to care enough to actually learn about it. CNN reports that, after getting the drug, he is starting to recover. The headline is cheerful and the first paragraph is upbeat (“After just three doses of an experimental drug, Josh Hardy — whose parents had to launch a media campaign to get him the medicine — is sitting up, doing homework and playing board games with his brothers, his mother said.”) but if you read to the end of the article the package of the feel good story start to unravel.

Now that Josh is taking brincidofovir, he’s no longer taking the other drug that hurt his kidneys, but the damage was done: His kidneys still aren’t working and he has to undergo dialysis three times a week. His mother worries he might be on dialysis the rest of his life… As recently as last month, Josh had a “go get ’em” attitude about fighting his illness, his mother says. But now, even though he’s getting better, she says he seems to be exhausted after months of being sick and lacks motivation.

My heart goes out to Josh Hardy and his family. I’ll be saying prayers for them tonight, and it’s literally the least I can do. But that’s just my point: his family’s struggle to keep their son alive deserves to be treated better than  just the attention-point-of-the-minute for our ADHD culture. First we read the story of the evil pharma company and we’re angry. Then we read that the evil corporation caves to humanity and we expect or even demand that a happy ending follow. And so, if you don’t read between the lines of the CNN coverage, that’s what we get.

Of course, the first half of the story was also a complete invention. Far from being some nefarious big corporation, the company that is making the drug has 50 employees and has never made a profit. They were overwhelmed by requests for compassionate care to the point where they worried that they would be delayed getting the drug to market, a drug that could help 50,000 people in the US and another 55,000 in the EU. Furthermore, compassionate care cases run the risk of skewing the results of the trial, meaning that a potentially life-saving drug could be delayed or even rejected by too many compassionate care cases. Forbes covered the story in more detail (here and here) explaining the very real ethical quandary and the risk of setting a precedent by giving the drug. What’s the solution? Well, no one knows and–frankly–no one cares. Folks were only interested in the story of Josh Hardy’s struggle to stay alive in the same way that they are interested in who wins The Voice or American Idol or whatever.

Look, I think The Bachelor and Real Housewives and most reality TV is stupid and at least a little sick, but at least that stuff is designed as entertainment. You want to get into Survivor? Whatever, that’s your thing. But I just think people ought not to contribute to spreading stories that trigger outrage on social media if they don’t actually take the time to do basic research first. It’s not harmless. It’s delusional and divisive. And we can’t blame this nonsense on Big Media or politicians or anything like that. This is something we do to ourselves. And we need to stop.

So here’s the rule I recommend folks to try to live up to on their own: if you didn’t spend 5 minutes on Google learning about it, don’t share it.

Unless it’s about kittens or other cute animals. I am human, after all.


My Pops in a Web Comic

Garden of Enid is a fun, Mormon web-comic that I read regularly. (You should too!) So imagine my surprise and delight when it turns out that Friday’s comic was about my very own dad! Yup, pretty much the finest hour for the Givens Clan, I’d say.

In all seriousness, and at the risk of sounding sappy, I am extremely proud of the work that both my mum and dad do. They are the best. (And I generalize from a comic about my dad to both of my parents because I know how much my mum has been there every step of the way, even if she didn’t come out and coauthor a book until quite recently.)

Real Clear Religion Runs My Article on OW

2014-03-24 RCR Article

Real Clear Religion is running an article I wrote about Ordain Women and the letter they received from the Church Public Affairs Department. They titled it The Mormon War on Feminism. I asked them to change it on the grounds that there are plenty of Mormon feminists who do not support the goals of OW, but they liked the headline they’d picked. I’m not too bothered, because at least I really like the lead in they wrote for it: “Ordain Women risks losing their current position as a standard bearer for reform.” That’s pretty accurate. So it’s not the same as the article I published on DR last week, but there are some similarities. In any case, it’s definitely exciting for me to be reaching new venues. (This is my first article at RCR.)

The Symbol of a Lie

Kevin Williamson at National Review has an article on the “coat hanger” mythology surrounding the abortion debate. Quoting the DC Abortion Fund, Williamson writes,

“The coat hanger is a symbol of the reproductive justice movement because lack of access to abortion causes women to go to desperate lengths to terminate a pregnancy, similar to those undertaken in the pre–Roe vs. Wade era. At that time, consuming Lysol and household poisons was not uncommon to instigate abortion. Nor was inserting knitting needles, Coke bottles, and — yes — wire coat hangers into their cervices.”

As Williamson explains, “That is untrue. It has long been known to be untrue. The wire hanger is indeed a powerful symbol — the symbol of a lie engineered with malice aforethought.”

See why in the full article.