Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Climate change and Christianity?

A friend recently sent me this call for papers, and it reminded me of something that I don't understand. Why do people think that their religious beliefs gives them a unique insight into climate change? I was reading a book earlier this year that described Jerry Falwell and other Evangelical leaders advocating a certain position about the causes of climate change. Now, I have no problems with religious people having opinions about all sorts of things, but what I don't get is how it's tied to religion. Yes I am a Christian, and that informs a lot about how I see the world. For example, here. However, it doesn't give me a lot of insight into the effect of different chemicals in the atmosphere and their sources. Personally, I think that climate change probably results from humans activities, but that's not at all a faith statement.

Still, as long as people are bring religion into the debate about climate change, I suppose that it makes sense to study it....


Expressions of interest are requested by 15 February, 2011; Papers July 2011

Papers are requested for a special issue of the Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature & Culture (JSRNC) on “Religion and Climate Change” and a possible book. Anthropogenic climate change is among the most significant and far-reaching social issues of our time. Although climate scientists are near unanimous about potentially catastrophic consequences, mobilizing a meaningful response has proven to be a real challenge. Numerous statements on climate change by faith-based actors and institutionalized religious groups have occurred in recent years. However, far less research has been published about actually existing faith-shaped action by religious institutions, groups and individuals.


Thanks Mike!

Monday, December 27, 2010

A good example of using statistics in the pulpit

One of the fun things with writing a book is hearing how people respond to it. This week a pastor in St. Joseph, MI posted a thoughtful review of my book here. What impressed me in his review were his own thoughts about how to use statistics in his preaching. He describes well, so I'll just quote the relevant sections:

"One example in which Dr. Wright challenges Barna’s writing is in the off repeated statistic that Christians get divorced as often as non-Christians. I’ve bored my friends and colleagues for years telling them this is simply not true! When I ask, “Is this true among the Christians you know?” they admit it isn’t, but they assume the statistic is true because someone wrote it down. As you can imagine, that does not make it true.


I’m a preacher myself, but I refuse to use statistics unless they both make sense and can be validated—otherwise I make it clear to my hearers that I am aware statistics are only as valid as the research on which they are based."

I appreciate his thoughtfulness in using data in his teaching, and I think it's a good example for other preachers as well.

Thanks Rick!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Misinformation about Evangelicals... again

Newsweek magazine recently had an article about Amish fiction. In the midst of it, the author threw in these statistics about American Evangelical Christianity:

"The most ardent fans of the Amish romances are evangelical Christian women who buy the books at Walmart. To them, the Amish represent more than simplicity. Evangelical Christians have among the highest divorce rates in the country; single Christian mothers are often their families’ main breadwinners. For these moms the Amish books are, literally, a fantasy: a picture of the perfect environment in which to raise Christian children." [Emphasis added].

I assume the writer read them on-line somewhere or maybe heard them from someone somewhere. I was thinking of posting a comment linking to data, but I can't imagine it would make a difference.

Thanks Andy.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Religion and crime... today's ecological fallacy

This post on the website cites a study that finds that crime rates in less religious countries are lower than those in more religious countries. Okay, I can accept that as plausible.

But then the post veers off-course by exclaiming that: "Atheists don't commit as much crime as the religious do."

This is an ecological fallacy. Correlations at the group level don't necessarily hold at the individual level. In fact, at least here in the United States, religion is associated with less crime rather than more crime.

How do I know? I coauthored a meta-analysis of 60+ articles on the topic.

The abstract:

Do religious beliefs and behaviors deter criminal behavior? The existing evidence surrounding the effect of religion on crime is varied, contested, and inconclusive, and currently no persuasive answer exists as to the empirical relationship between religion and crime. In this article, the authors address this controversial issue with a meta-analysis of 60 previous studies based on two questions: (1) What is the direction and magnitude of the effect of religion on crime? (2) Why have previous studies varied in their estimation of this effect? The results of the meta-analysis show that religious beliefs and behaviors exert a moderate deterrent effect on individuals' criminal behavior. Furthermore, previous studies have systematically varied in their estimation of the religion-on-crime effect due to differences in both their conceptual and methodological approaches.

I posted this on the atheism resources website, but I'm cynical enough to think that they won't correct their post. It's too consistent with what they might expect and too juicy to change. I expect this not because they are atheists, but rather because they are advocates of a particular position... and advocates often don't like data that disagrees with them.

I hope to be pleasantly surprised, though.

(Thanks Edward)

Friday, December 17, 2010

How to ask for a better grade

It's that time of year, when I'm calculating grades and students are hoping to get good grades. Each semester I get several requests asking for better grades because either the student needs it or the student really, really wants it. I suppose that in some sense these requests are silly, since all students want and see themselves as needing good grades, but I can understand the sentiment behind them.

Sometimes I want to ask the same things in my own life. Could I please have more merit pay? I really want it and need it. Could you please accept my article? I really....

I did get one request, however, that made me chuckle. Somewhere in these messages is usually a compliment of the course, which I suppose isn't a bad idea, since they are asking for something. in this request, though, the student launched right into the asking and then signed his name. Then, apparently realizing that he forgot the key compliment-component of the request, he added a postscript:

PS: Your class is nothing short of awesome!

I guess that having been late in compliment, he went all out with it. Does anyone ever say something is short of awesome? "Your class was good, maybe really good, but it fell short of awesome." Now that's a compliment that could get a better grade!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The inadvertent Christmas fan

I'm not much for the Christmas season, at least how it's celebrated in the US. In fact, about my only Christmas tradition is posting the lyrics to this song. You can understand, then, why I wasn't too pleased with this event in the past week.

The other day I took the dog for a long walk, part of it in the woods. It was a cold day, so I got one of her little sweaters (she's a miniature poodle), and since it's hunting season, I got a bright red one (who knows what hunters will shoot at). Halfway through the walk, I realized that I had dressed her up in the most Christmas-y outfit imaginable. Bright red, with green sparkle hearts, white tassels, and "seasons greetings" written all over it. I tried to glare at passer-byers who fawned over her, just to let them know that I didn't mean it.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

My boring celebrations

Earlier this week I sent off the last few chapters of my next book to my editor. Now, there's still plenty of proofreading to do, and it's far from done, but it is certainly a milestone in the project... one that I have been working toward since early Spring.

So, what did I do to celebrate? Took one day off to walk in the woods with the dog, cook a nice supper, and clean my office. Today I spent answering the three weeks worth of e-mail that I hadn't gotten to in the final, big push. When I was writing, I thought that getting the book off would be followed by a big, fun celebration, but when the time came, I was too tired to do much of anything.

Hopefully the book will be better than my celebrations of it.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

A Church doing the right thing

A church that I am familiar with has had a tough couple of years. Their lead pastor stepped down amidst moral impropriety and financial mismanagement. What's surprised me the most in this difficult situation is the congregation's response to the situation. As I've heard members of that church talk about the situation, they've intentionally sought to show love and mercy to the previous pastor, his victims, and the church as a whole. Several people even made it their goal to support him personally as he transitioned to a new life situation--despite the considerable hurt they felt. Wow.

I'm sure that that church wasn't perfect in it's love, but compare it to how other organizations might respond. Imagine a bank CEO embezzling funds or a childcare worker somehow putting children at risk or a physician withholding treatment. In any of these situations the organizations response would probably be rather severe, and I can't imagine a lot of concern and support for the offending individual.

Once again, I appreciate the good work of the church.