Century Marks

Century Marks

Pivotal days

Four church historians were asked: “After AD 70, what day most changed the course of Christian history?” Robert Louis Wilken, Univer­sity of Virginia, cited the mid-seventh-century Muslim invasion of the Middle East. George Marsden, University of Notre Dame, chose the day in the fourth century when Emperor Constantine was converted to Christianity. Philip Jenkins, Baylor University, chose May 29, 1453, when the Roman capital of Constan­tinople fell to the Ottoman Turks. Thomas S. Kidd, also from Baylor, opted for October 19, 1740, when the revivalist George Whitefield preached at Jonathan Edwards’s church, an event that signaled the beginning of evangelicalism (The Gospel Coalition, May 17).

Off course

A science course taught at Ball State University in Indiana has been critiqued by the Freedom from Religion Foundation and Jerry Coyne, a University of Chicago science professor. They charge that the syllabus and reading list of The Boundaries of Science include creationists and Christian apologists with no science credentials, while leading proponents of evolution are excluded. The course has generated debate on science blogs. Although Coyne and others argue a science course taught at a state university shouldn’t cross the line into religion, other pro-evolution professors support the course on academic freedom grounds (Inside Higher Ed, May 17).


Caltech physicist Sean Carroll says he will never accept funds from the Templeton Foun­da­tion because the organization blurs the line between science and religion and suggests that they are two different paths to the same ultimate truth. In a rebuttal, Connor Wood calls Sean Carroll’s view “a very nice textbook example of science chauvinism” that overlooks the variety of science projects Templeton funds, from the roots of human compassion to the fundamental nature of time. Templeton also funds research that helps us better understand religion itself. “Religion is the structure upon which culture rests,” says Wood. “If we fail to understand religion, we fail to understand ourselves” (Patheos, May 17).

Sufi comeback

Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam, is having a major comeback in war-torn Somalia since al-Shabab, an armed militant Islamic group, was pushed out of Somalia’s capital in August 2011. The Sunni insurgents had banned Sufis from gathering and worshiping. Sufis are known for spreading Islam across Somalia through peaceful teaching and for practicing tolerance toward other faiths. Al-Shabab, a group of al-Qaeda-linked militants that seeks to instill an ultraconservative brand of Islam across Somalia, controlled Moga­dishu from roughly 2007 to 2011. The group still dom­inates most of south central Somalia (AP).

For better or for worse

More national atheist and humanist agencies such as the Humanist Society and the Center for Inquiry are developing ordination programs to establish nontheist ministers in most states to perform weddings and funerals. CFI began its certification program in 2009. With the rise of the “nones”—the 20 percent of Americans without a religious affiliation—more couples are looking for wedding celebrants who don’t mind skipping God’s blessing of the ceremony. There are currently 138 celebrants ordained through the Humanist Society, and some perform weddings in multiple states. The Center for Inquiry has 23 celebrants (RNS).