Week in Review: Nobel Prize Edition

Our Week-in-Review feature has a new format. We know there’s way too much to read out there already, so we’re going to be highlighting the top five articles, books, websites, etc., that we’ve been reading or thinking about the past week. If you have items you’d like us to consider for the top five, add them in the comments or send them to Tom or Mike.

Academic Nobel News – The Nobel Prizes are being handed out this week, and, as usual, academic researchers did quite well. The prize for Medicine went to Elizabeth H. Blackburn of the University of California, San Francisco; Carol W. Greider of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine; and Jack W. Szostak of Massachusetts General Hospital for research on telomeres. Physics was awarded to Charles Kao (who did his prize-winning work at Britain’s Standard Telephones and Cables) and Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith of Bell Labs. Chemistry went to Venkatraman Ramakrishnan of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England; Thomas A. Steitz of Yale University; and Ada E. Yonath of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, for their work on the information structure of ribosomes. The two most famous Nobels – Literature and Peace – went to German poet Herta Müller and Barack Obama respectively. Economics will be awarded on Monday.

Economic Justice and the Spirit of Innovation (Edmund Phelps, First Things, October 2009) discussed by a campus group this past week.

The issue of morality in economics is neither the fairness of income distribution nor the stability of financial systems. It is how human institutions can be shaped to correspond to human nature — to man’s nature as an innovator. … Capitalism is the only economic system thus far discovered that allows human beings to realize their nature to innovate, discover, and take risks. Because human freedom is a good thing, capitalism is in this respect a good system. It is good apart from its instrumental function of presenting opportunities for income and consumption.

America Falling: Longtime Dominance in Education Erodes (Karin Fischer, Chronicle of Higher Education, October 5, 2009)

“China, Korea, Singapore—they’re going for broke because they’re hungry. They know they have to do it,” says Mr. Vest, who served on a national panel that produced a widely cited report, “Rising Above the Gathering Storm,” which warned that America was slipping behind other countries in science and technology. …

Are you hungry to learn how the world works and share that knowledge with others?  What provides the basis for such a passion when competition and survival no longer inspire it?

Numbers on Nones – The excellent blog GetReligion, which covers how the mainstream covers religion, has been looking at the recent American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS). ARIS has found that the number of Americans who report “no religion” has been rising steadily and now includes 34 million Americans. ARIS calls these people “Nones,” which the atheist biologist P. Z. Myers mistakenly equates with the “godless” (his term for atheists). ARIS finds that less than 10% of Nones are truly atheists; 35% are agnostics of one sort or another, while 51% believe in some sort of god.

New Book: Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults by Christian Smith and Patricia Snell – Smith’s previous book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (with Melina Lundquist Denton) has greatly influenced Tom and Mike’s thinking about religious education and the role of ministries like InterVarsity. In this sociological study of American teens, sponsored by the National Study of Youth and Religion, Smith and Denton found that almost all American teens believe in a kind of “civil religion” that Smith & Denton called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Now, Smith and his fellow researchers have continued to follow these teens into their 20′s, the time of life that Smith identifies as “emerging adulthood,” and their findings continue to challenge long-held assumptions about religious development. For example, they found that college no longer has a corrosive effect on religious faith. In a webinar with Christianity Today (not yet available for review), Smith explicitly credited campus ministries like InterVarsity and growing numbers of evangelical professors for this striking change. Praise God! [Note: this is an important new book, so I expect we'll be reviewing it soon.]

Naomi Schaefer Riley of the WSJ has reviewed Souls in Transition, and the WSJ has also published an excerpt from Chapter One.

Tom Grosh IV

Enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa, four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he hosts the Christian Scholar Series), on campus as part of InterVarsity Graduate & Faculty Ministry (serving fellowships such as the Christian Medical Society/CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine), online as the Associate Director of the Emerging Scholars Network, in the culture at large, and in God's creation.

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