Monday, December 31, 2007

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Huckabee's Hat Trick: Foreign Policy Amateur Hour Suggests We Should Watch for Pakistanis Coming Into the Country

You would think someone on Mike Huckabee's staff would have the courage to tell him to stop demonstrating his foreign policy ignorance by making yet additional ill advised comments on the tragic assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

After first apologizing to the people of Pakistan for her death, Huckabee has poured fuel on the fire by insulting all Pakistanis.

This from O. Kay Henderson on the Radio Iowa website today:

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee says the assassination of Pakistani politician Benazir Bhutto underscores the need to secure the America's borders to prevent potential terror attacks here.

"We ought to have an immediate, very clear monitoring of our borders and particularly to make sure if there's any unusal activity of Pakistanis coming into the country. We just need to be very, very thorough in looking at every aspect of our own security internally because, again, we live in a very, very dangerous time," Huckabee said during a news conference Thursday night in West Des Moines.

Imagine how well this comment will be received by our allies in Pakistan ! Neither President Musharraf nor the leaders of the opposition can have much confidence that Mike Huckabee has any understanding of Pakistan.

Having succeeded in first falsely suggesting American responsibility for the tragic event, then insulting the Pakistani people, Huckabee completes his foreign policy amateur hour hat trick by implying Pakistani President Musharraf's improper use of U.S. aid is somehow related to the tragedy.

Huckabee also said it was time to put more pressure on Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's government. According to Huckabee, a "full accounting" of the $10 billion in U.S. aid sent to Pakistan since 9/11 is "more needful" now than ever.

I'ld say it's time for Governor Huckabee to return to the pulpit, where his foreign policy ignorance won't cause anybody harm.

Mike Huckabee's Reaction to Bhutto Assassination Continues to Reverberate

Mike Huckabee's botched reaction to the tragic assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan continues to reverberate around the world.

He first stumbled by "apologizing" to the people of Pakistan for her passing.

Later, his campaign's damage control spokes people offered an update in which he offered that he meant to "sympathize" with the people of Pakistan, not apologize to them.

Of course, it didn't help that he also got the current status of martial law in Pakistan wrong in the same press briefing today (It's been lifted, he called for it to be lifted. He apparently meant to say he didn't want it to be re-instated. At least, that's what we guess he meant to say. It's hard for the listener to understand the difference between what he says today and what he means tomorrow).

Here's how the blogosphere commented on his foreign policy performance today:
According to this report from CBS News , Mike Huckabee reacted to the assassination of Benazir Bhutto by expressing "our sincere concern and apologies for what has happened in Pakistan." I'm hoping that Huckabee simply misspoke because otherwise he'll need to explain what the U.S. has to apologize for. Nothing comes to mind unless one is prone, in the fashion of Jimmy Carter, mindlessly to "blame America first." Huckabee also said that the U.S. needs to consider "what impact does [the assassination have] on whether or not there's going to be martial law continuing in Pakistan.
I'm speaking of Mike Huckabee, who partially botched his response (speaking to a crowd that was 88 percent his supporers, 12 percent Ron Paul supporters): He made a bad choice of words when saying the U.S. needs to consider "what impact does it have on whether or not there's going to be martial law continuing in Pakistan." He should have said whether or not martial law will be reinstated - it was lifted nearly two weeks ago. A minor slip, maybe, but not a subject he wants to mess up on when he is already considered weak in the area of foreign policy.
MUCH MORE ON THE BENAZIR BHUTTO ASSASSINATION, including statements from various Presidential candidates, at The Corner. Plus, a questionable reaction from Bill Richardson. UPDATE: Dropping the ball at NBC. And Huckabee apologizes. Apologizes? Jeez, he is Jimmy Carter.
The Huckster : Mike Huckabee strode out to the strains of "Right Now" by Van Halen and immediately addressed the Bhutto situation, expressing "our sincere concern and apologies for what has happened in Pakistan." Apologies? I knew he was a no-good, tax-hiking, nanny-stater who raised his son to torture animals, but even I had no idea he was behind the Bhutto assassination. -- W.C. Varones
Huckabee Reaction to Bhutto Assassination - From The Road ORLANDO, FLA. -- With about 150 supporters crowded around a podium set up on the tarmac of Orlando Executive airport (and about 20 Ron Paul supporters waving signs outside) Mike Huckabee strode out to the strains of "Right Now" by Van Halen and immediately addressed the Bhutto situation, expressing "our sincere concern and apologies for what has happened in Pakistan." Apologies? Apologies???!!!
Everyone is having all kinds of fun talking about silly-ol' Huckabee apologizing for Bhutto's assassination, expressing "our sincere concern and apologies for what has happened in Pakistan."
Huckabee apologizes for al Qaeda

Mike Huckabee Blunders in Response to Bhutto Assassination

Nancy Cordes of CBS News reports that Mike Huckabee responded to the tragic assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan today by expressing:

"our sincere concern and apologies for what happened in Pakistan."

Perhaps no statement does more to undermine Huckabee's drive for the Presidency than this one. In it, he reveals himself as a rank amateur in foreign policy. Such an "apology" from a Presidential candidate can be used by our Islamist enemies to our national disadvantage. It creates a foreign policy problem today where none existed yesterday.

Clearly, Huckabee belongs to the Jimmy Carter School of American Foreign Policy. Both Carter and Huckabee appear to believe that whatever happens in the world, America is at fault.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Pipes Says Obama Raised as Muslim; Considers Implications

In an article in FrontPage Magazine, Islamic scholar Daniel Pipes concludes that "available evidence suggests" Barak Obama:

"was born a Muslim to a non-practicing Muslim father and for some years had a reasonably Muslim upbringing under the auspices of his Indonesian step-father. At some point, he converted to Christianity. It appears false to state, as Obama does, "I've always been a Christian" and "I've never practiced Islam." The campaign appears to be either ignorant or fabricating when it states that "Obama never prayed in a mosque."

Pipes goes on to analyze the possible implications of this personal history.

Obama's conversion to another faith, in short, makes him a murtadd. That said, the punishment for childhood apostasy is less severe than for the adult version. As Robert Spencer points out, "according to Islamic law an apostate male is not to be put to death if he has not reached puberty (cf. Umdat al-Salik o8.2; Hidayah vol. II p. 246). Some, however, hold that he should be imprisoned until he is of age and then invited' to accept Islam, but officially the death penalty for youthful apostates is ruled out."

On the positive side, were Obama prominently charged with apostasy, that would uniquely raise the issue of a Muslim's right to change religion, taking a topic on the perpetual back-burner and placing it front and center, perhaps to the great future benefit of those Muslims who seek to declare themselves atheists or to convert to another religion.

Pipes cites the following evidence as the "smoking gun" in Obama's early Muslim raising:

" In "Obama Debunks Claim About Islamic School," Nedra Pickler of the Associated Press wrote on January 24, 2007, that Obama's mother, divorced from Obama's father, married a man from Indonesia named Lolo Soetoro, and the family relocated to the country from 1967-71. At first, Obama attended the Catholic school, Fransiskus Assisis, where documents showed he enrolled as a Muslim, the religion of his stepfather. The document required that each student choose one of five state-sanctioned religions when registering Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Catholic or Protestant. "

Further evidence is found in statements made by his childhood friends:

Two months later, Paul Watson of the Los Angeles Times (available online in a Baltimore Sun reprint) reported that the Obama campaign had retreated from that absolute statement and instead issued a more nuanced one: "Obama has never been a practicing Muslim." The Times looked into the matter further and learned more about his Indonesian interlude:

His former Roman Catholic and Muslim teachers, along with two people who were identified by Obama's grade-school teacher as childhood friends, say Obama was registered by his family as a Muslim at both schools he attended. That registration meant that during the third and fourth grades, Obama learned about Islam for two hours each week in religion class.

The childhood friends say Obama sometimes went to Friday prayers at the local mosque. "We prayed but not really seriously, just following actions done by older people in the mosque," Zulfin Adi said. "But as kids, we loved to meet our friends and went to the mosque together and played." Obama's younger sister, Maya Soetoro, said in a statement released by the campaign that the family attended the mosque only "for big communal events," not every Friday.

Pipes argues that worldwide Muslim perceptions of Obama's arguable apostasy should at least be addressed by the Obama campaign.

We wonder if this issue will be discussed in the public dialogue of the campaign, or if Pipes' article will be ignored.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Prayer for My Enemy

Open the eyes of my enemy, Lord,
that he might see,
Your wish for him,
Your wish for me.

Open the ears of my enemy, Lord,
that he might hear,
Your voice of love,
is always near.

Open the mind of my enemy, Lord,
that he might know,
the time for peace,
is now to show.

Open the heart of my enemy, Lord,
that he might feel,
Your fulsome love,
not false but real.

Open the soul of my enemy, Lord,
that he might learn,
Your wish for him,
to You return.

Like Paul before,
upon the ground,
it's time he hear,
My Lord's true sound.

Show the false word to him,
that he may know,
Damascus then,
is ever so.

Note to readers: This prayer was written before the author was aware of the 2007 theatrical play of the same name written by Craig Lucas.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Duty for Rational Discernment of Divine Revelation

The Duty for Rational Discernment of Divine Revelation is the first obligation we have towards God once we choose to believe in His existence. We were created as thinking, rational beings, and God expects us to use our intellect to attempt to understand and determine how He wants us to conduct our lives.

Rational discernment consists of study, reading, prayer, discussion, and fellowship. We cannot expect to know God's will in its entirety -- because we, as humans, are limited in our ability to comprehend Him. We can, however, understand parts of His will, and we must attempt to do so in good faith.

This duty is especially significant for believers in a 21st Century world of instant communications. Thomas Aquinas, writing in the 13th Century, felt that man was too limited in intellectual capability to undertake such a project, and must simply accept Divine Revelation as such. Eight centuries later, the ideas of Aquinas remain powerful, yet not sufficiently relevant to our current world.

The concept of The Duty for Rational Discernment of Divine Revelation has arisen in the context of the new book I am co-authoring with Dr. Rashid Ahmad, Abrahamic Small Groups.

Muslims, Christians, and Jews, for the most part, have little difficulty in agreeing that there is One True God. The Argument from Design is as powerful to Muslims as it is to Christians.

The problem comes in discerning what the will of that One True God is.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Syrian Government Bans Facebook !

In a classic example of how authoritian Middle East governments are disconnected from the march of progress, Syrian dictator Assad has banned Facebook !

The heavy handed ban on the free exchange of information and ideas took place on November 18, 2007, and there is no sign that Assad will relent. It seems the Syrian Government is fearful that Israeli citizens are actually joining Facebook Groups created by Syrians.

It will be interesting to see how long it will take Facebook techies to help Syrians evade this governmental ban. Equally interesting will be the official corporate response from Facebook.

Mitt Romney's Speech on Religion in America

If you missed Mitt Romney's historic speech on Religion in America, which he delivered yesterday at the George H. W. Bush Library in Texas, you can see the text of it here, courtesy of the New York Times.

For those of you who are still skeptical of the Red State/Blue State divide in this country today, just browse through the comments on the speech made by readers of the Times.

Did they read the same speech I did ?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Distribution of the Jewish Population in the United States

Here's an interesting map showing the distribution of the Jewish population of the United States, according to the 2000 US Census.

If you compare this map to the one I posted yesterday showing the distribution of the Muslim population of the United States, you will see that the population concentrations of the two faiths seem to coincide along the following areas:

* Along the Boston-Washington corridor

* Detroit, Michigan

* Los Angeles, Californian

* San Francisco, California

* Houston and Dallas, Texas

* Denver, Colorado

* South Florida

Monday, December 03, 2007

Teddy Bears and Terrorists

It's hard to find much in the way of good news to come out of the recent events in Sudan, in which a rather hapless middle aged English woman, Gillian Gibbons, was convicted and sentenced to be flogged for allowing her students to name their class teddy bear Muhammed.

Being a "glass half full" kind of guy by nature, I'll hazard two things that were marginally positive in an otherwise dreadfully surreal set of events.

1. It could have been much worse.

2. Muslim British Members of Parliament played a role in securing Ms. Gibbons' release. (Thankfully, she is reported to be out of the country now).

I'll grant the possibility that the entire Muslim MP intervention to save the day may have been suspiciously well choreographed. A conspiracy theorist might even suggest the entire matter was planned from Day One.

Putting aside the skepticism for the moment, if we posit that all the parties involved were authentic in their positions, the trial, protests, and negotiations for release of Ms. Gibbons all tend to confirm the basic premise behind Abrahamic Small Groups:

Western Muslims can and should play a leadership role in guiding their unhinged brethren back into a realm that is closer to the range of reason.

Fundamentally though, the cries of the out of control Sudanese Muslim crowds to put Ms. Gibbons to death for such an inadvertent and minor offense to Muslim sensibilities brings back all the bad memories of the long list of irrational and violent terrorist activities of Islamists around the world.

September 11, 2001 was, of course, the most memorable of such events, but by no means the first, nor will it be the last. And, the likelihood that it will stand out as the most violent event in the history of Islamist terrorism seems to be entirely problematic.

The suspicion from this armchair in North America is that the frenzied whipping up of this crowd is part of a localized political agenda in Sudan as much as it is of religious fervor.

The American Muslim scholar Muqtedahr Kahn, who has of late generated some controversy of his own, put the controversy in an interesting light with a recent comment on the topic:

Most Muslims have great fervor for Islam, but little knowledge of it.

The fear, of course, is that greater knowledge of Islam may do little to tone down the unhinged craziness of certain Muslim crowds in Sudan, or the suburbs of Paris for that matter. Critics such as Sam Harris and others argue that greater knowledge of Islam will only increase such craziness.

The hope of many of us non-Muslims is that greater knowledge of Islam will have exactly the opposite effect.

Distribution of the Muslim Population of the United States

Doing research for my new book Abrahamic Small Groups, which I am writing with Dr. Rashid Ahmad, I ran across this interesting map, which uses 2000 US Census Data to show the distribution of the American Muslim population.

Friday, November 30, 2007

A Common Word Between Us and You and Mona Charen

God Bless Mona Charen.

For years she's been a beacon of intelligence and honesty in an often confused world.

Her recent comments on the publicity surrounding the issuance of "A Common Word Between Us and You" by 138 Muslim intellectuals once again shows why she is so worth reading.

The letter, addressed to Pope Benedict and dozens of other Christian leaders, was released by the Royal Jordanian Institute of Islamic Thought on October 11, 2007, had some encouraging things to say.

"Muslims and Christians together make up well over half of the world’s population. Without peace and justice between these two religious communities, there can be no meaningful peace in the world. The future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians."


" The central creed of Islam consists of the two testimonies of faith or Shahadahsi, which state that: There is no god but God, Muhammad is the messenger of God. These Two Testimonies are the sine qua non of Islam. He or she who testifies to them is a Muslim; he or she who denies them is not a Muslim. Moreover, the Prophet Muhammad said: The best remembrance is: ‘There is no god but God’….ii "

Wonderful sentiments with which Christians, Muslims, and Jews can all agree.

But in an article in the Jewish World Review on October 18, 2007, Ms. Charen points out that one such letter does not a peaceful world make.

''You can read through this entire letter and never learn that there are Muslims all over the world currently interpreting their faith as a license to slaughter innocent human beings (very much including fellow Muslims). Moreover, the overall thrust of the document suggests that misunderstanding between Muslims and Christians (rather than problematic interpretations of Islam) is what threatens world peace.''

''If the Muslim clerics are sincere in wishing for peace and understanding, they should issue a document that:''

''(1) Denounces Islamists''

''(2) Rejects Islamists' violent interpretation of jihad''

''(3) Affirms the human dignity of non-Muslims''

''(4) Condemns Osama bin Laden, Aymin al-Zawahiri and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by name.''

''That would be historic. This letter is worse than a bromide, it's a dodge.''

Mark Tooley, in an article in FrontPage Magazine voices similar sentiments.

Both Charen and Tooley point out the limitations of this kind of interfaith dialogue, a theme that is echoed in my new book, Abrahamic Small Groups, co-authored with Dr. Rashid Ahmad.

In our book, we discuss the importance of supplementing interfaith dialogue at the academic and theological leader level with interfaith engagement at the individual and family level.

Dialogue is often just meaningless exchanges of platitudes. Engagement, on the other hand, is a bit more like "tough love."

Interfaith engagement allows me to ask my Muslim friends tough questions like this:

If Islam is a religion of peace, why don't you condemen the terrorist actions of Bin Laden ?

And my Muslim and Jewish friends should feel free to ask me equally direct questions.

Leading American Scholar of Islam to Review Pre-Publication Copy of Abrahamic Small Groups

A leading American scholar of Islam has agreed to review a pre-publication copy of the new book Abrahamic Small Groups, which Dr. Rashid Ahmad and I are in the process of completing. Look for Harpeth River Press to publish the book in March of 2008.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

More Speculation on Trent Lott's Resignation

Slate Magazine is running an ugly story today which carries their speculations on the real reasons for Senator Trent Lott's resignation.

It's not a pretty picture.

Suffice it to say, last week's FBI raid on the offices of Lott's Mississippi lawyer brother-in-law "Dickie" Scruggs, and today's indictment of Mr. Scruggs and his son, Lott's nephew, figure prominently in the story.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Author Stephen King Actually Said This !

Author Stephen King actually made the following statement in the November 23, 2007 online edition of Time Magazine:

So I said something to the Nightline guy about waterboarding, and if the Bush administration didn't think it was torture, they ought to do some personal investigation. Someone in the Bush family should actually be waterboarded so they could report on it to George. I said, I didn't think he would do it, but I suggested Jenna be waterboarded and then she could talk about whether or not she thought it was torture.

Come on now, Mr. King. Shouldn't you stick to fictional terror, and not try your hand at the real thing ?

Trent Lott Shows His True Colors

Little more than a year after persuading his fellow Republican Senators that he was better qualified than Tennessee's Lamar Alexander to serve as Minority Whip in the Senate for the long haul, Mississippi's Trent Lott has unexpectedly announced his retirement from the Senate, effective at the end of the year.

Re-elected to a full term only last year, Lott leaves his fellow Republicans in the lurch, for the apparent purpose of pursuing "other interests". It might have been more honest of the Senator to have revealed his intentions at the time he was politicking to become the Senate Minority Whip. Certainly, had they known he would leave his leadership post in less than a year, his supporters would not have voted for him them.

Lott's decision leaves his fellow Republicans scrambling to field a candidate for a special election to fill out the balance of his term (which ends in 2012), either in the next 90 days or in November of 2008 (depending on which expert you listen to) putting this 'safe' Republican seat up for grabs at worst, and diverting limited party resources at best.

One can only speculate as to Senator Lott's motives, but the most likely explanation is his desire to cash in on the K Street lobbying gravy train. Lott apparently wants to "get his while the getting is good."

Apparently, Profiles in Greed is a better description of the conduct of certain seasoned Senators these days than Profiles in Courage.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

We need you Ben Stein !

My co-author Rashid Ahmad and I have been discussing the need for a Jewish co-author. How, we wonder, can we write about the Abrahamic religions in our new book Abrahamic Small Groups, if we only have the Christian and Muslim point of view ?

We've sent the actor, writer, and professor Ben Stein and his literary agent an e-mail and invited him to be our co-author.

I spoke on the phone with his literary agent, who was polite but not encouraging.

If Ben declines our offer, do any blog readers have suggestions for us ?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A reader asks about Abrahamic Small Groups

A reader of Christian Faith and Reason recently asked several questions about an article I wrote for that magazine on Abrahamic Small Groups.

Readers of this blog may find his questions and my responses of interest.

1. Tell me more about the overall goal of Abrahamic Small Groups.

The goal is simply to promote understanding and peace between Christians, Muslims, and Jews in America at the family and individual level.

2. Tell me more about your mission and the organization behind it.

There is no organization behind it at present. A non-profit corporation, The Global Great Awakening, may be organized and incorporated to promote the development of Abrahamic Small Groups first throughout the United States, and then around the world. But for now, it's my family, a couple of other Christian families, a couple of Muslim families, and a Jewish family in Nashville.

There is also a Facebook Group you can join called Abrahamic Small Groups which has 26 members around the world as of this writing.

3. Tell me about some of the feed back you are getting from the groups currently meeting.

Only the Nashville group has met so far. And the feedback has been fabulous. All the families participating are enthusiastic and energetic about the next meeting. Every family had some great curriculum ideas for future meetings.

4. What are some of the issues that have come up due to differences in faith practice. Has there been unwanted proselytizing by any of the faiths involved?

Since The Nashville Agreement (the original organizing document of the Abrahamic Small Group movement) specifically prohibits proselytizing, it has not been an issue at all. Besides, there's so much to learn about the other religions, there's really no time for proselytizing.

5. What local support do these groups have? Are they endorsed by churches, mosques or synagogues? Or has the opposite been found to be the case?

We haven't sought any endorsement from churches, mosques, or synagogues, other than occasionally asking for an opportunity to speak about the existence of Abrahamic Small Groups. We have specifically avoided involving rabbis, imams, priests, and ministers in the organization of these groups, though we welcome their participation in group meetings.

An important point here is to emphasize that Abrahamic Small Groups are about interfaith ENGAGEMENT and not interfaith DIALOGUE. Dialogue per se tends to be overly intellectual, impersonal, and leads nowhere. ENGAGEMENT, on the other hand, is designed to touch the hearts of participants.

6. Anything else that you can think to tell me regarding these groups which you think I would find interesting.

Come to the January 13, 2008 Abrahamic Small Group meeting in Nashville from 3 pm to 5 pm. Send me a private message and I will tell you when and where !

Book on Abrahamic Small Groups pushes Civil War Novel back

Literary agents often advise writers that the best way to become a published novelistis to first finish the novel !

They are right of course, and I imagine that if I had an agent, he or she might suggest that I should finish writing Fort Desperate, my novel of the Battle of Port Hudson, before I take on another literary project.

And yet, I am not going to follow that advice.

I am being drawn forward by a compelling concept and an enthusiastic co-author into a follow up to my first book, Letter to an Atheist.
Dr. Rashid Ahmad and I are co-authoring Abrahamic Small Groups which will be published by Harpeth River Press in March of 2008.

Subtitled "Ten hours a year in the cause of world peace, that's all we ask !" (with a nod of the hat to talk show host Sean Hannity for inspiration on the phrasing), the book describes the process by which Christian, Jewish, and Muslim families in America can experience true inter-faith engagement. The idea is not to all sit around the campfire holding hands and sing "Kumbayah". Instead, the idea is to gain a true understanding of that which we have in common theologically and familially, as well as that on which we differ.

With 7 million Muslims, 3 million Jews, and 200 million Christians in America, it makes sense that we should try to learn more about getting along with each other, doesn't it ?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Letter to an Atheist finds more on line distribution

Letter to an Atheist apparently continues to find more on line distribution.

You can buy it online at Cokesbury Books, the retail arm of United Methodist Publishers.

And finally, it's landed on the Barnes and Noble online site. It's reached the high rank of 367,000 there !

Not sure how my book made it to Barnes and Noble, while RC Metcalf and Joel McDurmon's equally good responses to Sam Harris did not.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Abrahamic Small Group Meeting

We held the first Abrahamic Small Group meeting in our house last night.

The idea behind an Abrahamic Small Group is to duplicate the Evangelical Christian small group experience in a mixed group of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish families. This is not about inter-faith dialogue, but instead is about inter-faith engagement. We're not all sitting around a campfire holding hands and singing "Kum bay ah". Instead, we're getting to know each other on a personal basis, and we're learning those areas of faith in which we agree, and those areas in which we disagree.

We kicked off the grand experiment with a bit of trepidation all around. After all, Evangelical Christian small groups have high failure rates, and it's hard to tell how these things will evolve.

In what could have been an ominous foreshadowing of the evening, Middle Tennessee was hit with a severe thunderstorm last night. We prepared snacks for the invited families, but weren't sure if anyone would make the trek out to our neck of the far suburbs for the adventure.

The cell phone rang, however, about 15 minutes before the start time, and it was Rashid and his family en route.

Arriving just as the storm let up, Rashid, his wife Fatima, their children Ayesha and Ali joined our family and Marlin's family just as the storm let up. Setting a graciou tone, Rashid and Fatima brought a fabulous gift for my wife, a special perfume they had purchased when they had visited the holy city of Medina, Saudi Arabia.

We were fascinated to learn that Rashid, a medical doctor, and his wife Fatima, were both born in the same city in India, and had come together under a "quasi-arranged" marriage. Rashid came to the US as a young boy. Fatima came after their marriage.

Another good sign for the evening was that the children, who had never met before, connected easily.

Rashid, a fellow Ivy Leaguer, brought an enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity to the evening that matched my own. Both he and Fatima seemed to quickly "get" the structure of what a small group setting tries to accomplish, and the conversation flowed easily.

The evening had been in the works for over a year, since I had begun writing my book, Letter to an Atheist. My chapter on Islam there suggested that Sam Harris' dismissal of Islam as fundamentally and completely opposed yo intellectual and social compatibility with the West was simplistic and close minded. This evening, my criticism of Harris was put to the test, and based on how the evening went, I must say that my initial impression has been confirmed.

Monday, October 29, 2007

A Chip Off the Old Blockhead

And the Steinbrenner family seemed to have behaved so well for the past several years.

Now these comments from Hank Steinbrenner, son of George Steinbrenner, managing general partner of the group that owns the New York Yankees. Hank, apparently, is about to take over the reins from his father.

On Alex Rodriguez leaving the Yankees:

"It's clear he didn't want to be a Yankee. He doesn't understand the privilege of being a Yankee on a team where the owners are willing to pay $200 million to put a winning product on the field."

"I don't want anybody on my team that doesn't want to be a Yankee."

NY Daily News October 29, 2007

On Joe Torre:

"Where was Joe's career in '95 when my dad hired him? My dad was crucified for hiring him. Let's not forget what my dad did in giving him that opportunity — and the great team he was handed." October 21, 2007

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Is God Fair ?

A member of Sam Harris' Forum sent me a private message, asking if I thought God was fair.

His Question:

Do you believe that the Christian God is fair? Yes or no please. Back it up if you want. By the way, I believe in God.

My Answer:

My personal belief is that concepts of "fairness in life" are not God's primary concern.

Other Christians may not agree with this.

My sense is that God has set forth his will through the words of Jesus as recorded in the Bible. I view the rest of the Bible as "prequel" and "sequel" to the teachings of Jesus. When the words and actions of Jesus appear to conflict with other parts of the Bible, the words of Jesus are always to be chosen as the best indication of God's will.

As believing Christians, it is our duty to discern God's will, and then, having discerned it, to do our best to fulfill God's will.

I don't believe that God systematically intervenes in this world to make life "fair" for believers and non-believers, though I think there may be instances where he has done so.

This is my personal belief, and I offer no proof to support it, though I think it is not inconsistent with reason, faith, and logic.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Militant Atheist Comment Displays Lack of Critical Thinking

I received the following comment from a militant atheist. Note that it illustrates the lack of critical thinking skills displayed by most believers of that religious philosophy:

New polls show Sam Harris was right about Christian American's belief in a young earth, and Michael Leahy is wrong. Looks like Leahy owes Harris an apology:

If you look at the "poll" you will see that first it is not a statistically valid poll of the type conducted by Gallup or Harris or Zogby. Instead, it's simply a survey of visitors at a Christian portal. No provision to prevent multiple responses from the same person.

Sorting out the details of the response in the article is muddy, but the "results" when understood claim a higher than 18 percent support of Young Earth Creationism.

The apology, dear critic, that is required, is from you to me !

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Climate Expert Ridicules Al Gore and His Nobel Peace Prize

This report comes from the Sydney, Australia Morning Herald:

ONE of the world's foremost meteorologists has called the theory that helped Al Gore share the Nobel Peace Prize "ridiculous" and the product of "people who don't understand how the atmosphere works".

Dr. William Gray, a pioneer in the science of seasonal hurricane forecasts, told a packed lecture hall at the University of North Carolina that humans were not responsible for the warming of the earth. His comments came on the same day that the Nobel committee honoured Mr. Gore for his work in support of the link between humans and global warming.

"We're brainwashing our children," said Dr. Gray, 78, a long-time professor at Colorado State University. "They're going to the Gore movie [An Inconvenient Truth] and being fed all this. It's ridiculous."

At his first appearance since the award was announced in Oslo, Mr. Gore said: "We have to quickly find a way to change the world's consciousness about exactly what we're facing."

Mr Gore shared the Nobel prize with the United Nations climate panel for their work in helping to galvanise international action against global warming.

But Dr Gray, whose annual forecasts of the number of tropical storms and hurricanes are widely publicised, said a natural cycle of ocean water temperatures - related to the amount of salt in ocean water - was responsible for the global warming that he acknowledges has taken place.

However, he said, that same cycle meant a period of cooling would begin soon and last for several years.

"We'll look back on all of this in 10 or 15 years and realise how foolish it was," Dr Gray said.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Check out my article on Doctor Dobson

Check out my new article in the October edition of Christian Faith and Reason Magazine: Doctor Dobson Turns Peevish.

In it, I defend Senator Fred Thompson against Doctor Dobson's recent attacks.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Father Mitchell Pacwa asks "Are We at War with Islam ?"

Mitchell Pacwa is a Jesuit priest, Old Testament scholar, and a minor television personality. You can find him every night, Monday through Friday "live" hosting a prime time show on the EWTN cable network.

That's the "Global" Catholic network based just outside Birmingham, Alabama. Started by a fiesty nun a couple decades ago, EWTN claims to be in 130 million households worldwide.

This Sunday past, Father Pacwa addressed an audience of about 200 in Nashville on the topic: "Are We at War with Islam ?"

I found Father Pacwa to be a friendly and entertaining lecturer, the kind of guy who mixes "aw shucks" I'm just like you references to his love of the Polish sausages he grew up eating in Milwaukee with some very interesting details in the history of Islam.

I've written a fair amount lately on the topic of Muslim American relations, and am indeed in the process of launching an "Abrahamic Small Group" project, based on the Evangelical Christian small group model, designed to provide real inter-faith engagement at "the molecular level" between Christians, Muslims, and Jews. So I found myself very interested in Father Pacwa's engaging description of the origins of Islam, the life of the prophent Muhammed, and the meaning of the Koran.

Clearly a heavyweight in terms of his scholarly understanding of Islamic tradition, I was surprised to find that Father Pacwa was completely unfamiliar with Project Ijtihad and had never hear of Irshad Manji. He was, however, familiar with Dr. Mugtedar Khan, a scholar who supports the concept of ijtihad and is also broadly respected within the American Muslim community. He had also never heard of Facebook.

Father Pacwa never explicitly answered the question he posed--whether we are at war with Islam. I took from his general demeanor, however, that he was essentially of the same mind as I am with regards to Islam--that, just as in the Christian world there are a broad range of divergent views, some of which we in the West can live in harmony with, others which are steeped in such violence they seek nothing but our destruction.

His solution for the problem of Islamic terrorism and violence struck me as impractical.

First, he acknowledged that many Muslims are correct in pointing out that our Western culture is being undermined by what he referred to as "secular rot".

We as Christians, he argued, should first focus on converting these secularists to Christianity.

Second, he stated that we, as Christians, must take up "the Great Commission" of conversion to Christianity to all 1.2 billion Muslims in the world. In this way, we will eliminate the threat of Islamic terrorism.

6 million Muslims in Africa convert to Christianity each year, he said, implying that this was evidence of a pending tidal wave of conversions.

These two suggestions, seem completely impractical to me, and therefore of little help in solving the problem.

Sure, 6 million Muslims in Africa converted to Christianity last year. But Africa is a bit of a special case, I think, given its relatively low level of development. Muslims in Africa may continue to convert to Christianity, but overall, I see Islam continuing to grow at a fairly healthy pace.

Christians who insist on "The Great Commission" of conversion as the solution to the problem of Islamic terrorism are letting their desires to be servants of God override their observed common sense.

Another Christian friend of mine also believes conversion is the key, but I think just the opposite. In fact, the "Abrahamic Small Group" Project (details of which can be found on Facebook and at The Global Great Awakening web site) is based on the premise that the best way for Christians, Jews, and Muslims to achieve social and theological commonality is to explicity prohibit convesion attempts during discussions.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Power of Facebook

A couple weeks ago my friend Keith Raffel (author of the popular Silicon Valley murder myster Dot Dead) invited me to join Facebook. It's a fabulous social utility network that works at quite a high level.

There are 35 million members now, only about 300,000 of whom are 50 or older. 80% of the members are 25 or younger. The project started in 2004 when some Harvard undergrads decided to use the internet to do the old paper "facebook" of all the freshmen one better.

Did they ever !

Starting at Harvard, spreading to the Ivy League, Facebook soon became the doninant website at every campus in America. It then went to the high schools. In September of 2006 it opened up to us old fogeys (people over the age of 22 and not in college).

Ad revenues for this year alone are in excess of $50 million, and the founders reportedly turned down an offer to sell it for $1 billion.

Why the fuss ?

Here's a story that will illustrate the power of Facebook.

The idea is to expand your network of friends, by adding people you already know, and then adding people who have similar interests. You can find people with similar interests by checking the networks to which you belong.

Networks can be either Schools (colleges, high schools), Regions (Nashville, Boston), or Workplaces (IBM, Microsoft).

So I find that Michael Lemonick is a fellow Harvard grad who is also a Science writer (one of my interests). I ask to add Michael, whom I have never met, as a friend, and he accepts.

Then I find John Pomfret, who was at Stanford when I was a graduate student there. We've never met. But John is a writer, and the editor of the Outlook Section of the Washington Post. He recently wrote his first book, Chinese Lessons. This interests me, of course. I ask to add John as a friend, and he accepts.

Yesterday, Michael Lemonick posts a status message on his profile, saying that he will be on the Diane Rehm Radio Program today. This interests me, so I check out Diane's website to see if there is a station here that carries her program.

Here's what I find.

John Pomfret was a guest on her show yesterday !

He was there to talk about his book, Chinese Lessons.

Now both John and Michael are in a very exclusive club.

Facebook friends of Michael Patrick Leahy, who've never met me, who've never met each other, who've both been guests on the Diane Rehm show this week.

Six degrees of separation ?

Facebook makes it more like two !

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Christian Faith and Reason Poll on Evolution

Take the Christian Faith and Reason poll on the evolution by clicking here.

The results of the poll so far are:

Poll Question:

Which of the following schools of thought on evolution and creation best represents your view ?

71 % say Atheistic evolution, in which the earth is 4.5 billion years old, man evolved over millions of years, and God played no part in any of it.

21% say Theistic evolution, in which the earth is 4.5 billion years old, man evolved over millions of years, and God played a part in it.

6% say Intelligent design, in which the earth is 4.5 billion years old, and all species, including man, developed over time in a process that suggests the involvement of an intelligent agent, which may or may not be God.

0% say Old Earth Creationism, in which the earth is 4.5 billion years old, and man was created by God fully formed within the last 50,000 years.

3% say Young Earth Creationism, in which God created the universe, earth, man, and dinosaurs during a one week period 6,000 years ago.

0% say I don't know

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

A busy game plan for July

Here's the game plan for July. It's all very exciting but, as they say, "A lot to say grace over" !

Look for a second edition of Letter to an Atheist to be published August 1 by Harpeth River Press. This second edition will add new chapters on the rise of Militant Atheism, overviews and critiques of the arguments of well known atheists Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens, and a very important and quite possibly controversial chapter titled "How Christian Anti-Intellectualism is Helping Militant Atheism to Grow".

Those of you have purchased the first edition will be able to obtain copies of the second edition at half the retail price, so stay tuned !

Also look for 25,000 copies of the August edition of Christian Faith and Reason magazine to be available at bookstores, coffee shops, and grocery stores throughout the Nashville, Tennessee market during the first week of August. For those of you living outside of Nashville, a national edition of Christian Faith and Reason magazine should be available in most markets by October 1.

And finally, though there is no specific plan for a publication date yet, the third draft of Fort Desperate, my novel of the Civil War set in Louisiana, should be finished by September 1. A recent visit to Fort Desperate itself in the Louisiana State Historical Site at Port Hudson helped provide some needed inspiration to move that project along !

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Thirty Years Later

Thirty years after I last spoke with Harvard classmate David Blankenhorn, I discovered something amazing. We have both arrived at very similar conclusions about faith, our country, and the future.

David and I both majored in Social Studies, and were magna cum laude graduates of the 1977 class at Harvard. Though we didn't have many classes in common, the Social Studies program was a unique experience. Sophomore year we read "the great books" of history's leading social theorists -- Hegel, John Stuart Mill, Max Weber, Alexis de Toqueville, Sigmund Freud. Then Junior year we took a specialized tutorial ( I studied government regulatory policy ), and Senior year we wrote a thesis (mine was on the structure, conduct, and performance of the American automobile industry).

As I recall, David was a Christian even back then, making him quite remarkable within the Harvard community of the day. I, however, was not, though I could properly have been called a "seeker". It took me almost a decade after Harvard to come to faith, but I made it eventually.

In the 1990's David wrote a fantastic book about the need for fathers in American to behave more like fathers. This was shortly after he founded the non-profit think tank the Institute for American Values.

Now comes another great work from David: The Future of Marriage.

In it, David argues that the preservation and strengthening of the institution of marriage is the single most important thing that can be done to maintain American civilization. I couldn't agree with David more.

David also is a very big proponent of Islamic-Christian engagement, another theme that you will find in my recent book, Letter to an Atheist.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Los Angeles Times running my opinion piece on the Creation Museum

Check out today's Los Angeles Times.

They're running my opinion piece "The Trouble With Fred and Wilma", which is critical of both the Creation Museum and the mainstream media coverage of that facility's recent grand opening.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Letter to an Atheist Leads the Sam Harris Responses on Amazon !

Rising very early Monday morning to do some real business, I check on the book sales at Amazon.

For the first time, Letter to an Atheist is in the lead of the Sam Harris responses books ! Granted, it's not by much, and is likely to change again, but for now, it's one small victory to enjoy !

Sam Harris: #121
Michael Patrick Leahy: # 21,163
Douglas Wilson: # 22,375
Joel McDurmon: # 33,531
RC Metcalf: # 36,843

The good news is that all four of the Sam Harris responses seem to be gathering steam !

Take a snapshot of book sales in another 4 hours, however, and you could see Letter to an Atheist on its way down to 100,000.

My goal is to get it past the 1,000 mark . If you haven't purchased the book yet, you could certainly help me get there by purchasing it on Amazon now ! Or, you can purchase it direct from the Letter to an Atheist website.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Amazon Book Sales Heat Up !

Here are the numbers as of Sunday evening:

Sam Harris # 103
Douglas Wilson #12,168
RC Metcalfe #18,809
Michael Patrick Leahy #22,856
Joel McDurmon #34,885

The interesting phenomenon developing is that having four responses to Harris seems to be generating a critical mass of activity. Many readers who disagree with Harris are buying three, and in some cases all four of the responses.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Amazon Sam Harris Debunkers Book Race

As of 8:30 pm CST Today:

Sam Harris --#183
Doug Wilson -- #12,354
Michael Patrick Leahy -- #52,430
RC Metcalf -- #70,302
Joel McDurmon -- #102,435

Behind the scenes at the Creation Museum Grand Opening

Those of you who have followed this blog closely probably know already that as part of our overall plan for wider awareness of my work, we've launched a new online magazine, called Christian Faith and Reason.

We went live with the first edition of the magazine this past Sunday. Our feature story was on the Grand Opening of the Creation Museum, a Young Earth Creationists fantasyland where dinosaurs and humans co-exist. This facility was brought to life with $27 million in funds donated to a group called Answers in Genesis by 9,000 "charter members", three of whom gave $1 million each.

We've received quite a lot of attention for our cover story, which suggests that the Creation Museum, though it features a literal interpretion of the Genesis story, is bad for Christian faith and good for the growth of militant atheism. Can you say "easy target" ?

We also broke a story on the business practices of Answers in Genesis, and their CEO Ken Ham. This latter story has garnered a great deal of attention from Christians and secularists alike.

There's a story behind the story on this one, and we may develop it in greater detail shortly. It's a pretty lively story, but one that will take a fair amount of time to get right, so we may let it simmer for awhile.

As a tantalizing hint, I'll say this:

When we attended the Creation Museum Grand Opening event, we found that it was the Atheists and Muslims who were friendly and kind to us, and our fellow Christians were..... well let's just say they were less so.

Davis-Kidd Book signing set for August

Davis-Kidd Booksellers in Nashville just confirmed that I will be holding a book signing there sometime in August. They are planning a local authors day, and apparently will have several book signings for several authors.

We'll see how they want to structure it.

It will be very good if several authors are scheduled to do unique book signings at different intervals throughout the day.

On the other hand, if half a dozen of us are thrown in to the same room, each with a desk and a pile of books to sign.... well, that sounds not quite so promising.

Stay tuned.

I'll let you know what Davis-Kidd has in mind.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Davis Kidd Bookstore in Nashville now carrying Letter to an Atheist !

The Davis Kidd Bookstore in Nashville (located in the Green Hills Mall) is now carrying Letter to an Atheist.

Stay tuned for details of a book signing there !

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Amazon Battle of the Books: Sam Harris Debunkers

Sales rankings at Amazon are notoriously hard to fathom. But for the entertainment of our blog reading audience, I thought I would post the current rankings on Amazon for Sam Harris Letter to a Christian Nation, and the 4 debunkers out in print now:

Sam Harris Letter to a Christian Nation is #144

Doug Wilson's Letter from a Christian Citizen is #16,220

RC Metcalf's Letter to a Christian Nation: Counterpoint is #37,459

My Letter to an Atheist is #83,968

Joel McDurmon's Return of the Village Atheist is # 183,189

What do Google Books and Borders have in Common ?


A lack of speed.

Google Books received the digital version of Letter to an Atheist on April 14... so far, it's not up !

And Borders committed to carrying Letter to an Atheist in their Cool Springs (Franklin, Tennessee) store back on April 12. It's not on the shelves yet.

Ah the trials of the small publisher !

Friday, May 11, 2007

Monday, April 30, 2007

Amazon has right book, wrong author

Letter to an Atheist is now available on We hit the best sellers list--if you define that list as any book in the top 99,000 !

Amazon lists me as Michael, Patrick Leahy rather than Leahy, Michael Patrick.

That glitch should be fixed soon.

Don't be shy about writing a glowing review on Amazon !

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Writer Deborah Brannan at April 15 book signing

Annette Dixon, local writer Deborah Brannan, and software marketing guru John Moss look on as I sign another book.

Photo courtesy of Anne Rogers

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Authors Robert Hicks and Michael Patrick Leahy

Robert Hicks, best selling author of The Widow of the South, and Michael Patrick Leahy chat about slavery, the Civil War, and Christian faith.

Mr. Hicks is currently working on a novel set during the last week in the life of Confederate General John Bell Hood.

photography courtesy of Anne Rogers

The Williamson County Public Library Writers Group

from left to right: Anne Rogers, Michael Patrick Leahy, Nancy Reece, and Sara Hamill

photograph courtesy of Anne Rogers

The author talks about his book

photograph courtesy of Anne Rogers

First Book Signing, April 15 in Franklin, Tennessee

photograph courtesy of Anne Rogers

Sunday, April 15, 2007

First Book Signing a Great Success !

I had my first book signing today at Landmark Booksellers in Franklin.

It was a great success !

We had a crowd of about 25, and sold 20 books !

Definitely exceeded my expectations.

Pictures to come....

Friday, April 13, 2007

Letter to an Atheist now in Borders and Barnes and Noble

You can now purchase Letter to an Atheist at the Franklin, Tennessee Cool Springs Borders Bookstore, and the Franklin, Tennessee Barnes and Noble Bookstores.

I walked in with Letter to an Atheist in hand. Just showing the book to the two store managers, each manager each said immediately --

"Oh, you've written an answer to Sam Harris' Letter to a Christian Nation. Great, we'll take it."

Borders is thinking of an end of aisle placement of the Harris book and my book.

Turns out both store managers knew the Harris book well because it sold well. Their thoughts are turning to selling more of Harris' book and mine by pairing them together.

I like that idea !

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Other responses to Sam Harris

I am aware of two other recently published responses to Sam Harris.

Dr. R.C. Metcalfe has written Letter to a Christian Nation: Counterpoint, which was published last month.

Douglas Wilson, the famous originator of Classical Christian education, has written Letter from a Christian Citizen, which is being published this month.

All three of us respond to Sam Harris with vigor and intellectual rigor.

It's interesting to note that though we all debunk his approach, we all seem to be taking him to task in different areas. I'm thinking Harpeth River Press may want to combine all three books into a Response to Sam Harris sampler !

On first blush, you might think that this removes any "first actor advantage" that Letter to an Atheist has.

On the contrary, the existence and success of both these other books will do nothing but grow the market and awareness of the vigorous Christian response to Mr. Harris.

First Edition of Letter to an Atheist

We now have all copies of the first edition of Letter to an Atheist in hand !

And, they look fabulous if I do say so myself.

Look for Letter to an Atheist to show up on Google Books and shortly !

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Galley due tomorrow, book website up

The galley for Letter to an Atheist is due tomorrow.

And, the Letter to an Atheist website is now up and running.

Thinking about setting up a separate blog for an ongoing dialogue between Christians, Muslims, Jews, and atheists on the topics discussed in the book.

Thoughts out there ?

Friday, March 30, 2007

Even More Praise for Letter to an Atheist

"Michael Patrick Leahy's book is a substantive critique of the work of Sam Harris in Letter to a Christian Nation. Leahy shows how wrong minded and frankly lopsided Harris' view of reality ends up being. Good intellectual stuff."

Dr. Bob Harrington
Lead Pastor of Harpeth Community Church, Franklin, Tennessee

Letter to an Atheist now on sale !

The book cover is done, the text is in the last stage of polishing. It's off to the printers Monday, and we're taking pre-publication orders now !

Pre-publication orders will ship to you on Thursday, April 12.

To order online now, go to the online store of Harpeth River Press

What a great Easter present ! (OK, it won't arrive until a week or so after, but you get the idea.)

The perfect gift for the graduating high school or college senior !

Even More Advance Praise for Letter to an Atheist

"Michael Patrick Leahy skillfully debunks Harris' charge that serious Christians and Islamic radicals should be equally feared; He also exposes the bigotry and distortion typically shown by secularists when addressing Intelligent Design. More importantly, Leahy shows that Harris' proposed utopia, in which religion is caged and tamed by the secularists, has already been shown to produce a world that most do not care to inhabit."

Ralph Seelke, Ph.D.
Professor, Biology
University of Wisconsin-Superior

Thursday, March 29, 2007

First Pre-Publication Sale of Letter to an Atheist

The Williamson County, Tennessee Public Library System has just purchased 3 copies of Letter to an Atheist !

More Advance Praise for Letter to an Atheist

"Finally, a strong Christian voice addresses the intellectual dishonesty of atheistic evangelism."

Christine Schaub
Best selling author of The Longing Season, the story of John Newton and Amazing Grace.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Advance Praise for Letter to an Atheist

"Mr. Leahy has used a logical, step-by-step, reasoned, and well-referenced approach to engage and refute an attack on Christian positions and principles. The material is well worth reading and debating. I was especially impressed by the defense of Christians' track record in opposing slavery. With the recent public attention to the life and contribution of William Wilberforce, this chapter could not be more timely.

In addition, Mr. Leahy's description of my own position regarding vaccines is accurate. I appreciate his clarification of the issues for discerning readers.

Though many of the details in Mr. Leahy's book, and their implications, can and should be debated, Mr. Leahy must be commended for bringing so many important issues into the open, giving us the historical background, and setting a healthy, positive tone for the debate.

A must-read for Christians and non-Christians who truly seek the truth about the toughest long-standing issues confronting humanity."

Reginald Finger, MD, MPH
Independent medical researcher

One of several back jacket book blurbs for Letter to an Atheist. Publication Date: Thursday, April 12, 2007

Friday, March 23, 2007

New English translation of the Koran supports moderate view of feminists

Hot off the presses from Reuters, as found through the Drudge Report ! Excellent timing to see that this new version of the Koran will be published the same month as Letter to an Atheist.

NEW YORK (Reuters)
- A new English-language interpretation of the Muslim Holy book the Koran challenges the use of words that feminists say have been used to justify the abuse of Islamic women.

The new version, translated by an Iranian-American, will be published in April and comes after Muslim feminists from around the world gathered in New York last November and vowed to create the first women's council to interpret the Koran and make the religion more friendly toward women.

In the new book, Dr. Laleh Bakhtiar, a former lecturer on Islam at the University of Chicago, challenges the translation of the Arab word "idrib," traditionally translated as "beat," which feminists say has been used to justify abuse of women.

"Why choose to interpret the word as 'to beat' when it can also mean 'to go away'," she writes in the introduction to the new book.

The passage is generally translated: "And as for those women whose illwill you have reason to fear, admonish them; then leave them alone in bed; then beat them; and if thereupon they pay you heed, do not seek to harm them. Behold, God is indeed most high, great!"

Instead, Bakhtiar suggests "Husbands at that point should submit to God, let God handle it -- go away from them and let God work His Will instead of a human being inflicting pain and suffering on another human being in the Name of God."

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Encouraging comments

We're on target for an April 13, 2007 publication date for Letter to an Atheist.

The folks at Lightning Source (the local "Publisher on Demand") have been very helpful, and we're putting the finishing touches on the proofing, editing, and book design. Looks like it will all be uploaded by April 1, which will get the first 50 to us by Friday the 13th (lucky day, yes ?). The joint book signing with Christine Schaub at Landmark Booksellers on Main Street in Franklin, Tennessee will be on April 15th at 3 PM.

Initial feedback from readers for book jacket blurb have been very positive.

Bonnie Calhoun of the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance encouragingly suggests "this could be big !" and counsels finding an agent and a more established publisher. If the first edition from Harpeth River Press does well, we may get an agent and a new publisher for the second edition.

A best selling novelist has read most of it, and likes it.... As the topic is a bit controversial, we probably want be seeing a blurb from this novelist, but the vibe is excellent.

Awaiting word from several academics and theologians.

You should be able to buy Letter to an Atheist at around May 1.

The key focus now is to generate a crowd for the April 15 book signing. We'll be sending out about 300 postcard invitations around April 1. If you want to get on the list, drop us a note here in the comments section and we will add you to our database.

A corresponding article -- Ten Factual Errors and Misrepresenations in Letter to a Christian Nation Sam Harris Will Never Acknoweldge or Refute -- will also be sent to major publications around April 1. Turns out there are more than two dozen of these errors, but in the interest of brevity I pared the article down to the top ten !

The total page count (including appendices) has jumped up to 176, so we've decided to increase the price point from $12.95 to $14.95. I don't think the extra $2 will be the deciding factor on how well the book sells. That will hinge on publicity and marketing, I think.

Thanks to all the friends and supporters who have been so encouraging throughout this process. Apologies if I have not been as quick to respond as usual. This finishing a book thing -- well, it's not like giving birth exactly, but there are some similarities in the processes. Focused, intense, painful, and ultimately (we hope) rewarding !

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Oh Happy Day !

The first draft of Letter to an Atheist is done and out for review !

What a relief.

Though the schedule for editing and printing is still fairly tight, it looks like we will make our publication date of April 15 with a few days to spare !

It's 117 pages of text (26 more than Letter to a Christian Nation), with another 33 pages of appendices. While it could always be better, I feel fairly comfortable saying that with some additional editing, it should be a pretty interesting little read by April 15 !

Monday, March 19, 2007

Lewis asked What Went Wrong ?

In his 2002 masterpiece of the same name, Middle Eastern scholar Bernard Lewis (1916 - present) asked the question What Went Wrong ?

By that he meant why did the Muslim world, which dominated military, economic, scientific, and technological affairs during the Golden Age of Islam (750-1250 A.D.) find itself behind other major civilizations in all these areas in the subsequent seven and a half centuries ?

Lewis argues that Muslims have been preoccupied with answering the question -- Who did this to us ? They have, he says, offered a series of outside groups to blame for the overall decline -- from the Mongol hordes, to imperialistic Europeans, to Jews, to Americans.

Lewis rejects this explanation, as well as explanations that offer the dramatic rise of the West while Islam failed to advance at the same pace.

He also rejects the argument that the decline is inherent to the Islamic faith.

The medieval Islamic world offered only limited freedom in comparison with modern ideals and even with modern practice in the more advanced democracies, but if offered vastly more freedom than any of its predecessors, its contemporaries, and most of its successors.

What caused the decline then ?

Some indeed have posed the question in a different form -- not "What has Islam done to the Muslims?" but " What have the Muslims done to Islam ?, " and have answered by laying the blame on specific teachers and doctrines and groups.

For those nowadays known as [Islamic fundamentalists] the failures and shortcomings of the modern Islamic lands afflicted them because they adopted alien notions and practices. They fell away from authentic Islam, and thus lost their former greatness.

Those known as modernists or reformers take the opposite view, and see the cause of this loss not in the abandonment but retention of old ways, and especially in the inflexibility and ubiquity of the Islamic clergy...

A more usual approach to this theme is to discuss not religion in general, but a specific problem: the place of religion and its professional exponents in the political order. For these, a principal cause of Western progress is the separation of church and state and the creation of a civil society governed by secular laws...

To a Western observer, schooled in the theory and practice of Western freedom, it is precisely the lack of freedom--freedom of the mind from constraint and indoctrination, to question and inquire and speak; freedom of the economy from corrupt and pervasive mismanagement; freedom of women from male oppression; freedom of citizens from tyranny--that underlies so many of the troubles of the Muslim world.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Controversial Professor Leuba

James H. Leuba (1867-1946) was a native of Switzerland who emigrated to the United States. From 1898 until 1933 he was a Professor of Psychology at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania.

An admirer of William James, he became one of the founders of the academic study of the psychology of religion. An atheist, he believed that religious phenomenon could be studied as physiological events, and spent a great deal of time making a connection between drug use and religious mysticism.

He generally attempted to show in his research that the more educated a person was, the less they were inclined to believe in God.

Leuba figures prominently in two major controversies, both resulting from his famous 1916 study The Belief in God and Immortality.

One conclusion of this work was that college students were less likely to believe in God after leaving college than upon beginning college. William Jennings Bryant apparently read this study, and became so incensed by the "indoctrination" students were receiving from atheist professors he began looking for an opportunity to defend the faith in an educational setting. He was prepared, therefore, when he was called to prosecute the Scopes "monkey trial" in 1925 held in Dayton, Tennessee.

Of more immediate relevance to my book, Letter to an Atheist, is Leuba's survey of American scientists. Using the 5,500 names in the publication American Men of Science (apparently Leuba could not find any American Women of Science in 1914 when the survey was conducted), Leuba sent surveys to 1,000 randomly selected members. He received 750 responses. The results showed that 41.8% of the responding scientists believed in God. Such a response rate suggests a 95% confidence level that the results are correct, plus or minus 4 per cent.

Leuba tried to break down these results even further, separating the scientists into two different groupings: (1) physical scientists and biological scientists and (2) greater and lesser scientists by subjective estimates of the quality of their work.

Leuba claimed that biological scientists showed less belief in God than physical scientists.

He also claimed that "Greater" scientists showed less belief in God than "Lesser" scientists.

A closer look at his methodology suggests that his sample sizes for these different groupings were probably not large enough to make any conclusions with a high degree of confidence.

His sample size for physical scientists was 450, and biological scientists 300.

His sample size for "Lesser" scientists was 450, and "Greater" scientists was 300.

Leuba further complicated his findings by breaking up his study into two divisions of 500 each, each of which received approximately 375 responses. Division 1, for instance, consisted of 375 responses -- 150 from "Greater" Scientists and 225 from "Lesser" scientists. By area of functional expertise, Division 1 broke down approximately as follows: 202 physical scientists, 150 biological scientists, and 23 psychologists, philosophers, and sociologists. Leuba acknowledged that it was an error to include psychologists, philosophers, and sociologists in Division 1, and they were excluded from Division 2. In the same survey, psychologists had significantly lower rates of belief in God, but Leuba did not remove their contaminating influence from the results of Division 1.

The results of his study have been misreported as a consequence.

For instance, Nature Magazine reported in 1998 that Leuba concluded in his 1916 study that only 27% of the "Greater" scientists were believers. This is not accurate.

27% of the respondents to Division 1 reported a belief in God.

35% of the respondents to Division 2 reported a belief in God.

Nature Magazine failed to account for the inherent corruption of the Division 1 sample by psychologists, nor did it address the sample size problem.

The "margin of error" for a sample size of 150 is approximately 9 per cent.

Even if we were to accept the subjective breakdown of "greater" and "lesser" scientists that Leuba performed, the supposed difference between "greater" scientists and the population of scientists as a whole lies within the margin of error, and therefore, cannot be claimed.

One final comment on Leuba.

Though it is of no relevance to this argument, it turns out that he is remembered fondly by one of his students. The actress Katharine Hepburn (Bryn Mawr Class of 1928) recalls Professor Leuba in her memoirs for his kind and avuncular advice to her.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Beaten to the punch on The Dawkins Delusion

Christian theologian Alister McGrath has beaten me to the punch on The Dawkins Delusion. Can't wait to read it !

Yockey on Science and Faith

Science, religion and literature are all legitimate paths to truth. Literature and religion have belief systems which are different, and in a sense opposite from those of science. The truth in literature lies outside the methods of science. The poet says: "the bird of time has but a little way to flutter and the bird is on the wing." The scientist says: "Time is not a bird and the wing is an appendage on the bird, not the other way around."

Scientific beliefs are never absolute. Doubt is a virtue in science and many theories, thought to have been well established, were replaced because tiny discrepancies led to the unraveling of the whole structure of the theory. Faith, on the other hand, plays a central role in religion. The conflict between literature and religion, on one hand, and science on the other, would be resolved if proponents of both realized this difference in belief systems. The new journal, Truth, can play a useful role in establishing a dialogue. We may be surprised how many scientists are really talking religion and how many theologians are talking science.

Hubert P. Yockey 1993

Author of Information Theory and Molecular Biology Cambridge University Press (1992)

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Thoughts on Stephen Jay Gould

Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002) was a funny looking fellow, a combination of Fred Flintstone and John Goodman in appearance. The cartoon like image that his droopy moustache, rumpled academic clothing, and sleepy looking eyes created, however, disappeared the moment he opened his mouth. Anyone who listened to him speak more than two consecutive sentences knew immediately -- this guy was a genius.

I first met Professor Gould in the fall of 1973. I was a freshman at Harvard and had signed up for his introductory Geology course, Natural Sciences 10, or, as it was affectionately known "Rocks for Jocks".

Gould was one of the most interesting and engaging professors I ever had. A scientist who studied all sorts of odd sounding, ancient creatures, he was extremely familiar with a broad range of literature. He sprinkled his lectures with numerous references to the Bible, both the Old Testament and New Testament, leading me to conclude that he was fascinated by that book.

Later in life, of course, he would become known as an opponent to the Creationist movement popular within the "Religious Right." His relationship with the Intelligent Design movement was equally uncomfortable. Phillip E. Johnson quoted his reservations about classical Darwinism liberally in his famous book Darwin on Trial, but Gould vigorously protested that Johnson had not gotten his position right.

New York City born and bred, Gould's father was an avowed Marxist, and that philosophy must have had some influence on his son, though he would often deny that it was a political philosophy with which he had much in common.

Working on the Science, Faith, and Atheangelism chapter of Letter to an Atheist, I am thrilled to be revisiting Gould's work. Looking at his work afresh, especially in the context of the atheangelism of many of his fellow evolutionary biologists, I find myself increasingly drawn to Gould's views in a couple areas, especially in his view that science and religion are separate realms of inquiry. In this he differs from his enemy Richard Dawkins, who sees the two realms intertwined. Science, Dawkins might argue, exists to destroy religion.

Gould and Dawkins also disagreed significantly on evolutionary theory. Gould argued that Darwin's gradualism of speciation was not really reflected in the fossil record. Rather, life evolved in a sort of punctuated equilibrium, in which there would be long periods of relative "stasis" among species, followed by sudden and dramatic changes -- many existing species becoming extinct, many new species springing up.

For Dawkins, evolution is completely explained by natural selection. For Gould other developmental factors played a role.

Janet Browne on Huxley

Janet Browne, now a Professor of the History of Science at Harvard, seems to lend some support to my view of Thomas Huxley as the father of atheangelism in her masterful two volume biography of Charles Darwin.

When [Harvard botanist and Darwin's Dove Asa] Gray went to dine at the X Club he found England's other Darwinists were much more men of the world. Warily, he distanced himself from what he called "the English-materialistic-positivistic line of thought," by which he probably meant Huxley . . . Huxley was rampaging on miracles and the existence of the soul. A few months later, he was to coin the word "agnostic" to describe his own position as neither a believer nor a disbeliever, but one who considered himself free to inquire rationally into the basis of knowledge. . .

The term fitted him well . . . and it caught the attention of the other free thinking, rational doubters in Huxley's ambit, and came to signify a particularly active form of scientific rationalism during the final decades of the 19th century...

In his hands, agnosticism became as doctrinaire as anything else--a religion of skepticism. Huxley used it as a creed that would place him on a higher moral plane than even bishops and archbishops. All the evidence would nevertheless suggest that Huxley was sincere in his rejection of the charge of outright atheism against himself.

To inquire rigorously into the spiritual domain, he asserted, was a more elevated undertaking than slavishly to believe or disbelieve. "A deep sense of religion is compatible with the entire absence of theology," he had told [Anglican clergyman] Charles Kingsley back in 1860. "Pope Huxley", the [magazine] Spectator dubbed him. The label stuck.

(Source: Browne, Janet, Charles Darwin, The Power of Place, pages 309-310)

Professor Browne clearly saw Huxley's belief structure as a religion. She does, however, seem to accept Huxley's claim that he was not an atheist, a claim of which I am dubious. Judging by Huxley's rabid anti-clericism, the antipathy he expressed for organized religion, and the complete body of his work on the topic, my view is different. I suspect that Huxley's decision to claim agnosticism's distinction as not being atheistic was really part of his on going public relations battle to gain public acceptance for his views. Certainly his tactics were consistent with my description of atheangelism.

Consider for a moment the conversation between English atheist Edward Aveling and Charles Darwin at Darwin's residence in September, 1881:

Aveling urgently asked Darwin if he was an atheist. He preferred the word "agnostic" he replied. "Agnostic was but Atheist writ respectable," responded Aveling, "and Atheist was only Agnostic writ aggressive."

(Source: Browne, page 484)

What Asa Gray called "the English-materialistic-positivistic line of thought", I call atheangelism when it is combined with the aggressive deliverance of that message to the public in a way that claims moral superiority and ridicules the intellectual integrity of opposing viewpoints.

I spoke with Professor Browne via phone today and asked if she might consider reviewing Letter to an Atheist. She politely declined, citing a heavy academic workload. I described my theory of Huxley as the father of "atheangelism" and Professor Browne had no comment on that term one way or the other.

It would be interesting to see her thoughts on "atheangelism" if she had time to review my chapter on "Science, Faith, and Atheangelism."

Monday, March 05, 2007

Huxley on Abiogenesis

Here are the words of Thomas Huxley, scientist, Darwin's Bulldog, the father of Atheangelism, and coiner of the word "agnosticism" on the concept of abiogenesis -- the creation of life from inanimate matter.

But though I cannot express this conviction of mine too strongly, I must carefully guard myself against the supposition that I intend to suggest that no such thing as Abiogenesis ever has taken place in the past, or ever will take place in the future.

With organic chemistry, molecular physics, and physiology yet in their infancy, and every day making prodigious strides, I think it would be the height of presumption for any man to say that the conditions under which matter assumes the properties we call "vital" may not, some day, be artificially brought together. All I feel justified in affirming is, that I see no reason for believing that the feat has been performed yet. . .

But expectation is permissible where belief is not; and if it were given me to look beyond the abyss of geologically recorded time to the still more remote period when the earth was passing through physical and chemical conditions, which it can no more see again than a man can recall his infancy, I should expect to be a witness of the evolution of living protoplasm from not living matter.

I should expect to see it appear under forms of great simplicity, endowed, like existing fungi, with the power of determining the formation of new protoplasm from such matters as ammonium carbonates, oxalates and tartrates, alkaline and earthy phosphates, and water, without the aid of light. That is the expectation to which analogical reasoning leads me; but I beg you once more to recollect that I have no right to call my opinion anything but an act of philosophical faith.

Thomas Huxley

Deja Vu

As that great philosopher Yogi Berra once said, it's deja vu all over again.

Extinguished theologians lie about the cradle of every science as the strangled snake beside that of Hercules, and history records that whenever science and dogmatism have been fairly opposed, the latter have been forced to retire from the lists, bleeding and crushed, if not annihilated, scotched if not slain.

Thomas Huxley

The success of science often comes at the expense of religious dogma; the maintenance of religious dogma always comes at the expense of science.

Sam Harris