Professor named to research post for integrative medicine

Andrew Newberg has been named director of research at the Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine, leaving the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, where he was a professor of psychiatry and radiology and widely known for his work in neuroscience focusing on religion and its impact on the brain.

At Jefferson, he will able to further his research work in areas such as meditation and alternative medicine and will look to ways of incorporating spirituality in the healing process. His new book, “Principles of Neurotheology” from Ashgate Publishing, focuses on establishing principles for future neurotheological discourse. The book proposes that the concept is an important topic in the broader study of how religious and theological ideas intersect with science; several books have been written addressing the relationship between the brain and religious experience, but ultimately a set of principles should be generally agreed upon and supported by theological or religious perspective and scientific one as well, according to Newberg.

Zygon Center welcomes mind-body scholar

The Zygon Center for Religion and Science is hosting Rev. Dr. Anne Benvenuti as a visiting scholar for 2010 and 2011. She is currently a professor of philosophy and psychology at Cerro Coso College in California, where she served as dean at three campuses, and has been a visiting scholar at the University of Southern California, the University of Chicago and Georgetown University Medical Center.

After earning a degree in theology at the University of San Francisco and a PhD in counseling psychology from the University of California at Los Angeles, Benvenuti did postgraduate work in mind-body medicine at UCLA Medical School, Harvard University Medical School and the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Besides being a licensed clinical psychologist, Anne is also a spiritual director and certified meditation teacher, on top of serving as an ordained Episcopal priest and as a priest associate at the Church of St. Paul and the Redeemer in Chicago. In teaching philosophy and psychology, she has written about the complimentarity of religion and science as ways of being human in the cosmos. Benvenuti is currently developing and forming a natural theory of religion that she plans to have published by University of Chicago Press in the spring in a book called A Field Guide to a New Meta-field: Bridging the Humanities-Neurosciences Divide.

The book looks at religion as a universal human adaptation to the level of complexity that modern humans exhibit in the inseparability of biological, psychological, social, spiritual and ecological realities. Specifically at the Zygon Center, Benvenuti said she is working to “more fully explicate the neuroscience-based natural theory of religion.”

Francisco Ayala tackles the big questions

Evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala makes the case that life is about more than just the science. In his latest book, Am I a Monkey? Six Big Questions about Evolution, Ayala takes on the notion that evolution and God are incompatible.

His argument runs counter to a number of high profile book releases as of late that question the source of morality being religious belief and the idea of whether God was necessary in creating the universe. Ayala is a professor of both the biological sciences and philosophy at the University of California at Irvine and has been the President of the Society for the Study of Evolution, a member of the Council of the US National Academy of Sciences, the National Advisory Council for the Human Genome Project and in 1981 served as an expert witness in the Arkansas trial on the teaching of evolution.

“Successful as it is, and universally encompassing as its subject is, a scientific view of the world is hopelessly incomplete,” writes Ayala in the introduction to Am I a Monkey? “In order to understand the purpose and meaning of life, as well as matters concerning moral and religious values, we need to look elsewhere.”

The cover of the book is provocative in that it is an illustration of a fork going through a banana. Through questioning a purely scientific view of evolution, Ayala seeks to educate non-scientists on evolutionary theory and how evolution is viewed within the scientific community. The work is one of more than a dozen books Ayala has authored related to biology.

Educating university students and the public on evolution has been Ayala’s lifelong pursuit and has earned him many accolades. This year, UC Irvine’s Science Library was formally renamed the Francisco J. Ayala Science Library. He also received the Templeton Prize and donated the $1.5 million award to scholarships for graduate students at the university. This summer, Ayala traveled to Madrid to receive the Federation of Scientific Societies of Spain’s first ever Prize for the Public Understanding of Science.

In a recent interview the Los Angeles Times, Ayala answered the question posed in the title of his book by saying that while humans are genetically and evolutionarily very close to a monkey, we are extremely different when it comes to intelligence. It’s that intelligence – displayed via our technology, literature, art, morality, religion, politics and government institutions – that actually affects the way we adapt to the environment.

Vatican condemns Nobel Prize for IVF

Catholic organizations and the Vatican have spoken out against the Nobel Prize committee’s decision to award the 2010 Nobel for Medicine to Robert Edwards for his research into in vitro fertilization (IVF).

The Vatican said in a statement that the ethical debate is not about prevention of infertility and says very little about how to prevent requests for euthanasia or abortion. At the same time the adoption of such practices depends on the choice of the person involved and that is a criterion that is itself a basis of abandonment and loneliness.

The Science and Life Association in Rome is reportedly said to have called the decision to award the prize a populist one that fails to take into account the ethical dimension. Catholic groups generally point to other research into other disorders as being more worthy of recognition rather than placing value on techniques that involve possible destruction of human embryos.

Science educators monitor Americans conflicting beliefs

Americans are often said to be lacking in scientific knowledge, but if you include questions regarding God’s role in creation there are even more puzzling findings.

The National Center for Science Education in a recent survey found that nearly 40% believe that God created the universe, the earth, the sun, moon, stars, plants, animals and the first two people within the past 10,000 years. Meanwhile, 35% would include dinosaurs being created by God over the last 10,000 years, which is the same percentage of those surveyed that do not believe the theory of evolution is supported by evidence, according to the September 2010 report released by the National Center for Science Education.

“Our first analysis of these data has revealed a remarkable diversity of religiously driven and scientifically informed (and uninformed) beliefs about human evolution, much of it seemingly contradictory,” the report states. What seems to be taking hold among the American public is a series of creationist articles of faith, such as among the 65% that said archaeological findings have confirmed the authenticity of the people and incidents recorded in the Old Testament of the Bible.

The survey focused mostly on evolution. Researchers found that large percentages of Americans adopt creationist beliefs alongside evolutionary scientific facts that are at odds with their religious beliefs. For example, 78% said that layers of rock containing fossils cover the earth’s surface and date back hundreds of millions of years. Another 75% said that humans share reflexes with other primates that are not shared with other animals and another nearly 70% said dinosaurs became extinct about 65 million years ago.

The National Center for Science Education’s Executive Director Eugenie Scott is well-known for publishing articles about science education and the problems posed by creationism.

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