May 15, 2013, 1:30 pm
David Birnbaum believes he has unified the fields of religion and science. He told me so in an e-mail. A book he wrote, Summa Metaphysica, Volumes I and II, “unifies the two fields—elegantly—and seemlessly” (sic).
In April of last year, Bard College devoted a three-day* conference to the role of metaphysics in science and religion, prompted by the “reflections flowing” from Birnbaum’s books, according to a program e-mailed to participants from prestigious institutions including Dartmouth, Grinnell, and Oxford. “We are especially pleased to announce that David Birnbaum will be present during discussion,” the program enthused.
Left unmentioned was that Birnbaum helped finance the conference, that he has no academic affiliation, and that his works are published by an entity that he himself runs, called “Harvard Matrix” or “Harvard Yard Press” or, as sometimes printed on the…
May 1, 2013, 4:20 pm
My friend’s 8-year-old son had an interesting day at school recently. During science class, the teacher—who, it should be noted, was a substitute—asked the third graders to name the habitat of an animal of their choice: the sea for sharks, trees for squirrels, etc. My friend’s son picked a house because, as he explained to the teacher, human beings are animals too. The teacher corrected him. Humans, she said, are not animals. “Yeah, they are,” the boy replied. “No, they’re not,” she told him, as he recalled later in an interview. “I go by the Bible.”
I don’t think the Bible is clear on this classification, but that’s beside the point. The boy did not back down, continuing to insist that humans are, in fact, animals, a fact he learned years ago from his parents, who told him about evolution. Not content with dispensing inaccurate information, the teacher referred to him as “the…
January 4, 2013, 1:14 pm
In a recent podcast, the hosts of Philosophy Bites called up well-known philosophers—people like Martha Nussbaum, Patricia Churchland, Michael Sandel—and asked them to name their favorite philosopher.
Many laughed at first, perhaps because it’s odd to talk about philosophers as if they were football teams or pizza places. Others complained good-naturedly that they wished the question could have been submitted in advance so they would have had more time to think about it, which is exactly what you would expect from a philosopher.
Several named more than one. Others, like Peter Singer, came up with fairly obscure names (he picked the 19th-century British utilitarian Henry Sidgwick). The most surprising answer came from Catharine MacKinnon, who said her favorite philosopher is “the last woman I talked to, whoever she is.”
I tallied the results, which are below. I didn’t…
November 19, 2012, 4:56 pm
Chicago — The taxi driver who dropped me off at McCormick Place, the convention center where the annual joint conference of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature is being held, asked if it was a meeting of religious people—like nuns and priests.
There are nuns and priests in attendance, for sure, along with Baptists, Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims, but it’s a gathering of religious scholars, not a revival meeting, and plenty of the people here don’t subscribe to any faith tradition; they just spend their lives studying them.
Naturally, there is a lot of talk about the Bible. Here is a sampling of the Bible-related presentation titles:
- “You Shall Not Boil a Kid in Its Mother’s Milk: The Dietary Law That Wasn’t”
- “The Divine Unsub: Television Procedurals and Biblical Sexual Violence”
- “‘Dude Looks Like a Lady’: Queering Wisdom in…
November 18, 2012, 9:29 pm
Chicago — In an interview the week after Barack Obama’s re-election, Cornel West said he was glad Mitt Romney hadn’t won, but he also expressed his displeasure with the president, calling him a “Rockefeller Republican in blackface.”
West, who is a professor of philosophy and Christian practice at Union Theological Seminary and an emeritus professor in Princeton’s Center for African-American Studies, knows how to turn a loaded phrase, and here he was lambasting Obama for not doing enough to help poor people or, for that matter, to mention their plight during the campaign.
Nothing even close to that inflammatory was said at a session over the weekend on Obama and progressivism held here as part of the American Academy of Religion’s annual conference. In fact, most of the session was devoted to explanations of why the president had failed to live up to many of the…
November 7, 2012, 3:10 pm
Sam Wang did not eat a bug for breakfast.
Before Tuesday’s election, Wang, a Princeton neuroscientist and part-time election forecaster, promised to consume an insect if either Pennsylvania or Minnesota ended up going for Mitt Romney. If Ohio turned red, he pledged to eat “a really big bug.” (If you missed it, here’s Tuesday’s story about the rise of the poll quants.)
But he was right about those states and everything else. Wang was 50 for 50. (As I write this, Florida’s results are still being tallied. Wang had it in Obama’s column, but he also called the state a coin toss, correctly predicting that it would be the tightest race.) His prediction of the percentage of the popular vote going to each candidate was dead on: Obama 51.1, Romney 48.9. Oh, and he was also 10 for 10 in U.S. Senate races.
The poster boy for election forecasting, Nate Silver, who had been ridiculed by some…