Upcoming talk at MIT

This Monday, February 27th, I will be giving a talk for the Secular Society of MIT as part of a lecture series they are starting called Course 0. This will be a part of helping people engage in critical thinking on the subjects of science, religion, secularism, and many intersecting cultural areas.

As is usual for me, this talk will highlight my research on the Star of Bethlehem, and because of that Christmas theme, that means people will be wearing the ugliest Christmas sweaters they can. I encourage it! This does appear to be a public event, so let’s see who all in the Greater Boston area wants to come. I’ll also have my book available. Details in the FB link here.



God’s Not Dead 2.0 — Star of Bethlehem Edition

Last year there was a lot of news about a small movie with a strong Christian bent, but apparently its marketing strategy worked and got plenty of people, including atheists, talking about it. With a premise that some compared to the sorts of chain emails that have been around for decades, God’s Not Dead was all about how one person, steadfast in their faith, takes on the odds to argues against his atheist philosophy professor and convinces everyone that God is really for real. There are several other subplots all running together, and it has unnecessary cameos by Ducky Dynasty folks and pop Christian music. More noteworthy, the actor playing the atheist/sad-rabid puppy professor was Kevin Sorbo, best known for playing Hercules in the 1990s TV series. Critically panned and philosophically dubious (as shown expertly by Daniel Finke), it made plenty at the bank as various evangelical groups came to it in droves, and at least some secular folks had to see it if just to say they know what message it was trying to get across.

With the basic idea that academia is trying to force secularism onto everyone that attends, the underdog story has great appeal for those that want to say they are being oppressed or persecuted (even if it’s not so), and the formula is now being repeated. And in particular, it looks like one variant has come to my area of specialty. While not yet produced, there is a screenplay for a movie about the Star of Bethlehem, which again will run the premise of underdog Christian protagonist against political correctness in schools, at least according to what news sources I can find. It has gotten attention because it has received a newly minted award designed to highlight promising Christian or evangelical films, the “Chronos Prize”. The Star of Bethlehem movie was a finalist for best screenplay, and apparently it won a significant cash prize of $50,000. That may not be enough to get such a movie project off the ground (I have no idea what budget it needs), but the attention will probably bring in the investors.

The writers of the film are not nobodies either. Joan Considine Johnson was a writer for two major cartoons on Nickelodeon, among other projects. Her husband, Dave Alan Johnson, has also worked in the TV business as a writer, director, and other high-level jobs. Among other things, they both worked on the show Doc with Billy Ray Cyrus, father of Miley Cyrus. It looks like this current film is a family project (for now), since all three writers (including Gary R. Johnson) have the same last name. There is nothing on IMDB about a Star of Bethlehem film project from these three, nor by anyone else as best as I can tell. But again, that’s probably because there is only a screenplay right now and is likely to be produced not so much by Hollywood but other, independent companies. As for the content, the tiniest bit of blurbing I have seen is about showing the science behind the story and proving it’s true even to a secular public school administrator or teacher. I would guess that the particular theory it would rely on is the one from the Star of Bethlehem documentary by lawyer Rick Larson, to which I have already provided an extensive critique. I could be wrong about that, but given the obvious evangelical bent of the film and this particular documentary I would probably win a bet. And even if not, I have a book on the subject that would address the proposals anyway.

But will the movie actually get made? I’m sure there are thousands of proposals and screenplays written every year that go nowhere, so even with the current publicity I have no idea how much of a chance it has. And there is the most important question: will Kevin Sorbo return as the angry atheist professor? Because I know another atheist professor that knows a lot about the subject… 😉

A good piece about Carl Sagan

The new COSMOS is coming, and there are some really great pieces reminiscing about the late Carl Sagan. We all await to see his legacy continue this Sunday.

Why Evolution Is True

With Neil deGrasse Tyson’s presentation of “Cosmos” (produced by Ann Druyan and Seth MacFarlane) set to premiere this Sunday, people are harking back to the original “Cosmos” of Carl Sagan. That original ran for 14 telvision episodes at the end of 1980, and I remember it well. Sagan was mesmerizing, and his excited presentation didn’t seem an affectation, like that of some science gurus, but a true reflection of his personality.

One of the best retrospectives I’ve read is a piece in the new Smithsonian by Joel Achenbach,  “Why Carl Sagan is truly irreplaceable“. Have a read when you have some leisure time and (preferably) a good libation.

There’s a lot of fascinating stuff: about Sagan’s meeting with Timothy Leary, in prison for LSD use, about Sagan’s habit of dictating his books, and about his own prolific use of marijuana (I didn’t know that he was…

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Chinese Third Graders Fall Behind U.S. Students (The Onion)*

Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice


CHESTNUT HILL, MA—According to an alarming new report published Wednesday by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, third-graders in China are beginning to lag behind U.S. high school students in math and science.

The study, based on exam scores from thousands of students in 63 participating countries, confirmed that in mathematical and scientific literacy, American students from the ages of 14 to 18 have now actually pulled slightly ahead of their 8-year-old Chinese counterparts.

“This is certainly a wake-up call for China,” said Dr. Michael Fornasier, an IEA senior fellow and coauthor of the report. “The test results unfortunately indicate that education standards in China have slipped to the extent that pre-teens are struggling to rank among even the average American high school student.”

“Simply put, how can these third-graders be expected to eventually compete in the global marketplace if they’re only receiving the equivalent of a…

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Upcoming Writing Projects

In less than a month, I will need to have gotten a lot done. The big thing that has been absorbing of time has by the work on my dissertation. It needs to be finished, defended, edited, and then submitted before the next semester starts. I think I’m on track, but the deadline looms.

A little less stressful is my book on the Star of Bethlehem should be getting ready to become a final draft and then shared with the world. I’m hoping for release in September or October at the latest. Fortunately my editor has been making it into the best draft it can be, and once published it should be the best book on the subject out there, IMHO.

Lastly, I have a book chapter that will be going into a response to the 1001 Inventions exhibit I talked about in the past (here and here and here). I will talk about the pedagogy of a good museum exhibit based on education theory, and I have my own idea on how to make something that teaches the history of science and better contextualizes and demonstrates medieval Arab or Islamic contributions to science.

But right now, time to focus on that dissertation. I’m supposed to write 100 pages to get one particular sheet of paper when I’m done.

Today, July 1st, Marks the 150th Anniversary of the First Day of Fighting at Gettysburg

Today until July 3rd marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, the battle that effectively forced the Confederacy to no longer take the offensive in the American Civil War.

And it started about 7:30 in the morning, as our friends over at the blog of the Gettysburg National Military Park tell us:

It is described in the 2004 Gettysburg National Military Park National Register of Historic Places listing this way: “The building’s location on the crest of a ridge overlooking the Chambersburg Pike and Marsh Creek west of Gettysburg made it an excellent point of observation for Union pickets in the early morning hours of July 1, 1863. It was from the yard of the house that some of the opening shots of the battle were fired against advancing artillery and infantry of Heth’s Confederate Division. In 1886, Lieutenant Marcellus Jones and two other members of the 8th Illinois Cavalry came back to Gettysburg and placed the first shot marker in the front yard of the old Wisler house.”

via Off the Beaten Track – Gettysburg’s “First Shot” House…

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Are We Slaves to Socrates?

Are some of the newest innovations in teaching new, or is there some precedent in classical literature? Here is an interesting look at the teaching done in Plato’s dialogue, Meno. However, was this the standard sort of education done in antiquity? From what I understand, no. Should we do something like this today? I think so.

...to the real.


In the previous three posts I looked at a perceived over-obsession with ‘understanding,’ ‘thinking’ and questioning in modern education; not that any of these three things were not desirable, but that their obsessive and blinkered pursuit was perhaps not yielding the gains we would expect.

In this final post in the series, I would like to speculate as to from where this obsession might originate, by looking at Socrates’ thoughts on education, as outlined by Plato.

Let’s start by looking at an excellent example of ‘the Socratic method’ as given by Plato in The Meno:

Socrates asks that Meno bring a slave to them.  His being a slave is important, since being born and raised in Meno’s household, Meno can attest that the slave was never taught any geometry, though the slave does understand what a square is, and can count and multiply.  The following is paraphrased, since the…

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TED revokes license for TEDx West Hollywood event!

Oh boy, things are going to get crazy now. At least TED is protecting their brand.

Why Evolution Is True

Oh boy, get ready for an explosion of wrath from Sheldrake-ians, woomeisters, and other pseudoscience boosters who are ready at a moment’s notice to cry “censorship.” My inbox is yearning for the hate mail!

Alert reader Jay just informed me that TED has revoked the license for the entire upcoming TEDx West Hollywood event, that is, the execrable parade of self-help and numinosity called “Brother can you spare a paradigm?” (See my posts on it here, here, and here.)

The official notice is on this site, and is announced as follows (note the new name and plea for dosh):ExTEDAn angry pro-PSI blog has published excerpts of an email from a representative of TED to organizer Suzanne Taylor, explaining their decision (Taylor’s credentials included making a video about how aliens produce crop circles):

…) And when we look at your speaker line-up, we see several people…

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