09 December 2009

January 2010 Youth Leadership Report to UUA Board

The January 2010 report to the UUA Board on Youth Leadership and Ministry has been released on the UUA-updates email list ("News of the UUA, its board, staff, and committees, with links to information on UUA.org")

The report ("Report to the UUA Board of Trustees on Youth Leadership") covers the following topics:
  • Chronology of Major Youth Ministry Initiatives 2004 - Present
  • UUA Administration’s Vision for Youth Ministry
  • Where Are We Now on National and District Youth Leadership?
  • Trainings and Opportunities
  • Resources
  • What Are Models of Youth Leadership in Other Denominations?
  • United Church of Christ
  • Union for Reform Judaism
  • Presbyterian Church USA
  • Appendix A: Links to Relevant Documents
You can download a PDF copy of this report using this link. Thanks to Carol Agate for providing this report to the UUA-updates list subscribers.

24 November 2009

Ministerial Formation - why do we have a "one size fits all" approach?

There have been some recent blog coversations about Unitarian Universalist ministerial formation on PolityWonk ("How UU Ministry Got to Be So Expensive"), iMinister ("The Cost of Ministerial Formation," "The cost of Ministerial Formation II"), and Rev. Cyn ("Ministerial Formation").

I wonder if our current "one size fits all" ministerial formation process is part of the problem.

Currently, Unitarian Universalists who wish to become ministers must complete the following milestones:
  • bachelor's degree
  • graduate degree at seminary
  • clinical pastoral education
  • career assessment
  • internship
  • Regional Subcommittee approval
  • Ministerial Fellowship Committee approval
However, the "one size fits all" model isn't used with Unitarian Universalist religious educators in their professional development.

The "Religious Education Credentialing" program has three levels of religious educator credentialing with varying amounts of education and study.

Having multiple levels of credentialing would allow for Unitarian Universalist ministers to enter a ministry career with less student loan debt.

A ministerial formation path without the excessive student loan debt would allow for more entrepreneurial risk-taking with less economic risk. Greater entrepreneurial risk-taking would allow us to experiment more in how we plant congregations and how we grow congregations. Perhaps even "emergent" Unitarian Universalist congregations?

This multi-tier credentialing system is OK for the religious professionals who work with our children and youth.

What do you think?

17 November 2009

"Deepity" and Modern Theology

Does anyone think that a "Sokal Affair" experiment with modern theological scholarship is overdue?

I suggested a theological "Sokal Affair" experiment on my blog back in 2007 .

The section where Daniel Dennett talks about "deepity" in theological thought happens at 30:25 in his talk.

12 October 2009

Dogs, Altruism, and Morality

Francis Collins has argued that altruism isn't proof for God in the world but it is a strong indication for God in an essay contributed to the Templeton Foundation:

Do not get me wrong. I am not arguing that the existence of the moral law somehow proves God’s existence. Such proofs cannot be provided by the study of nature. And there is an inherent danger in arguing that the moral law points to some sort of supernatural intervention in the early days of human history; this has the flavor of a "God of the gaps" argument. After all, much still remains to be understood about evolution's influence on human nature. But even if radically altruistic human acts can ultimately be explained on the basis of evolutionary mechanisms, this would do nothing to exclude God’s hand. For if God chose the process of evolution in the beginning to create humans in imago Dei, it would also be perfectly reasonable for God to have used this same process to instill knowledge of the moral law.

However, it appears that altruism isn't uniquely human. Not only have we seen altruism and morality in our primate relatives.

We see morality in canines too.

01 October 2009

Unitarian Universalist History and Blasphemy Day

With the recent posts on MoxieLife and Chaliceblog about "Blasphemy Day" (30 September - remember to mark your calendars for next year's celebration), I thought it would be fun to point out a Unitarian Universalist historical connection with this celebration of blasphemy.

The last person to serve time in prison for blasphemy in the United States was Abner Kneeland.

He was found guilty of blasphemy by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1838 for saying the following blasphemous statements in violation of state law:
1. Universalists believe in a god which I do not; but believe that their god, with all his moral attributes (aside from nature itself) is nothing more than a mere chimera of their own imagination.

2. Universalists believe in Christ, which I do not; but believe that the whole story concerning him is as much a fable and a fiction as that of the god Prometheus, the tragedy of whose death is said to have been acted on the stage in the theatre at Athens, five hundred years before the Christian era.

3. Universalists believe in miracles, which I do not; but believe that every pretension to them can be accounted for on natural principles, or else is to be attributed to mere trick and imposture.

4. Universalists believe in the resurrection of the dead, in immortality and eternal life, which I do not; but believe that all life is mortal, that death is an eternal extinction of life to the individual who possesses it, and that no individual life is, ever was, or ever will be eternal.
Abner Kneeland was an ordained Universalist minister whose religious doubts and evolving theology challenged his ministerial colleagues.

And his pursuit of a free and responsible search for truth places his ideas firmly within the Unitarian Universalism as we know it today.

12 September 2009

Anti-Atheism Ad in UU World That Criticizes Bishop Spong

Goodwolve on her Moxielife blog mentioned the recent Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) ad complaints directed at the UU World staff for their decision to run their ad (you can see a PDF copy of the ad here).

In her blog article, she briefly mentioned an ad on page 13 for John Gibson's book In Defense of Religion. According to the ad copy, Gibson's book:
... makes a new case for religion at its best. It attacks head-on and in detail recent anti-religion books by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett, as well as the anti-faith theology of Bishop John Shelby Spong.
I'm pretty sure from reading two of the three "anti-religion" authors described above that they do have objections with religion as it is practiced by most persons. They may disagree with the Gibson's words but they wouldn't be too upset with the "anti-religion" label being applied to them by Gibson.

However, I'm surprised to see Bishop Spong labeled as an "anti-faith" theologian.

He's a very provocative theologian and many who are more traditional in their theology don't agree with his works. And I'm pretty sure that Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett, et al would find his theology a pointless exercise.

However, I have personally found the liberal theological writings of Spong and others such as Crossan, Funk, Pagels, and Borg to give me better understanding of the faith tradition I was raised in, allow me to make peace with it, and to keep those parts of it that I find useful as a Unitarian Universalist who is a humanist and atheist today. Part of my journey can be found in a sermon I presented in 1997. And surprisingly enough, I tested as a "Bishop Spong Christian" in Beliefnet's "What Kind of Christian Are You?" quiz.

Spong's "12 Theses" or a "Call for a New Reformation" would make for an interesting starting point for a deeper Unitarian Universalist theological conversation grounded in our history from the Protestant Reformation:
1. Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead. So most theological God-talk is today meaningless. A new way to speak of God must be found.

2. Since God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms, it becomes nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity. So the Christology of the ages is bankrupt.

3. The biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense.

4. The virgin birth, understood as literal biology, makes Christ's divinity, as traditionally understood, impossible.

5. The miracle stories of the New Testament can no longer be interpreted in a post-Newtonian world as supernatural events performed by an incarnate deity.

6. The view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God and must be dismissed.

7. Resurrection is an action of God. Jesus was raised into the meaning of God. It therefore cannot be a physical resuscitation occurring inside human history.

8. The story of the Ascension assumed a three-tiered universe and is therefore not capable of being translated into the concepts of a post-Copernican space age.

9. There is no external, objective, revealed standard writ in scripture or on tablets of stone that will govern our ethical behavior for all time.

10. Prayer cannot be a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history in a particular way.

11. The hope for life after death must be separated forever from the behavior control mentality of reward and punishment. The Church must abandon, therefore, its reliance on guilt as a motivator of behavior.

12. All human beings bear God's image and must be respected for what each person is. Therefore, no external description of one's being, whether based on race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, can properly be used as the basis for either rejection or discrimination.
None of these statements are "we all agree, let's sit around the campfire and sing 'Kum-bah-yah' statements." It looks like Spong framed his statements to be intentionally provocative and to provoke discussion within Christianity.

I'm thinking it would be very interesting to use Spong's theses for a values-voting continuum activity in an adult religious education setting. With the theological diversity in found in Unitarian Universalist congregations, it would be an interesting discussion to have.

Of course, it's interesting that an ad perceived as "attacking religion" generates multiple complaints to the UU World staff while an ad promoting a book that attacks the ideas of non-theist philosophers and a leading liberal Christian theologian's work goes unnoticed by our readership (see here and here for links to criticisms of the FFRF ad).

Although we Unitarian Universalists are officially non-creedal and covenental (although the idea of what "covenant" actually means isn't the same for all of us), does the acceptance of the ad for Gibson's book in UU World imply that some non-theist theological and philosophical ideas are being pushed out the door in current-day Unitarian Universalism?

07 September 2009

An alternative to the idea that a parent cannot use body part names when discussing sexuality with their children ...

This link provided below is for a YouTube excerpt of Boston-area health/medical report Jeanne Blake's video Raising Healthy Kids: Families Talk About Sexual Health (I'm providing the link because the video cannot be embedded on this blog by request of the video owner):

Raising Healthy Kids: Families Talk About Sexual Health (YouTube)

If we as parents are teaching body part names like eye, nose, mouth, and ear, then we should also include penis, vulva, scrotum, and vagina.

In case you were wondering why Unitarian Universalists and the United Church of Christ provide sexuality education resources to help parents ...

The Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ jointly publish The Parent Guide to Our Whole Lives as part of their lifespan sexuality education series to assist parents with their role as the primary sexuality educator in their child's life. This book in many ways is the "Parent as Resident Sexuality Educator" book that accompanies "The Parent Trilogy" series (Being a UU Parent, Parents as Resident Theologians, Parents as Social Justice Educators)

The commercial from the US Government's Department of Health and Human Services shows just how much The Parent Guide to Our Whole Lives is needed. Apparently we are living in a country where many adults cannot use the scientific or medical names for body parts when talking with their children without embarrassment.

31 July 2009

JK Wedding Video Now Helping to Prevent Domestic Violence

I'm sure many of you have seen the "JK Wedding Entrance Dance" viral video that is on YouTube (and recently discussed on Chalicechick's blog).

The song used in the video is by Chris Brown who is awaiting sentencing for domestic violence.

Jill Peterson and Kevin Heinz (the wedding couple) have created a web site with their wedding dance video that is asking for donations to support the Sheila Wellstone Institute, an organization dedicated to ending domestic violence in our communities.

This seems like a very generous and responsible way for this couple to use their "accidental fame."

10 July 2009

Ministers and Professional Ethics

I'm writing this as a layperson in response to the recent blog criticisms from some Unitarian Universalist ministers who have been critical of the new UUA President Rev. Peter Morales and/or recent ceremonies at General Assembly.

I'm not providing links to these critical blogs.

But I will highlight the following guidelines from the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association's "Code of Professional Practice":

I will stand in a supportive relation to my colleagues and keep for them an open mind and heart.
I will not speak scornfully or in derogation of any colleague in public. In any private conversation critical of a colleague, I will speak responsibly and temperately.

So ... even if you think that Peter Morales was the worst possible choice for UUA President and you're still grieving over the the loss of Laurel Hallman, should you be expressing your concerns in a public blog setting for all of us to read?

Is expressing the very deep hurt that some of you are feeling the best way to embody the values in your ministerial code of ethics?

And if you think that a recent ritual at General Assembly was totally wrong for polity or other reasons, is a public blog the best setting for expressing these thoughts?

Again, does this embody the values in the ministerial ethics that all of you affirm?

I'm not telling anyone what to say, think, or feel. I'm simply asking if a public blog conversation about these issues is appropriate.

05 July 2009

Apparently the answer to "WWJD" is writing "The God Delusion"

Here's a quote from British philosopher AC Grayling from an interview in the Guardian news web site:
I would imagine Jesus was a kind of Jewish reformer. If you were looking for an equivalent to the figure you dimly perceive through the gospels it would probably be a Richard Dawkins.

Why pareidolia doesn't mean a goddamned thing

Good Samaritan

One gets the feeling this is the response that Jesus would have received if he told the famous parable to a Unitarian Universalist crowd.

03 July 2009

Richard Feynman on doubt, uncertainty, and religion

As a religious tradition, Unitarian Universalism has been very comfortable embracing doubt and uncertainty (and they share this with other liberal religious traditions).

And this may be one reason that we seem to have growth issues -- it's not easy to market uncertainty (at least that's what I've read on the UU-Leaders email list from UU church consultant Mike Durall).

23 May 2009

Science as a form of "faith"??

About one month ago, a Unitarian Universalist theologian on a UUA-sponsored email list claimed that modern science is a form of "faith" and a form of theism -- here's the first part of this claim:
Modern science presupposes confidence (or faith) that the same physical laws always apply throughout the universe.
Actually, the "confidence" that scientists have regarding physical laws applying to places beyond our local surroundings isn't a "faith" issue.

It's a result of empirical observations coupled with parsimony (aka "Occam's Razor").

That leads us to a very reasonable working assumption of the same physical laws applying throughout the universe.

The same laws of physics developed by Galileo, Newton, Einstein, etc to explain the motion of objects on our Earth also appear to work very well in space for predicting the paths of artificial satellites and space probes, planets, and stars.

The same spectrographic pattern that indicate the presence of chemical elements observed on the Earth are also observed in planets and stars far away from us.

One simple explanation to explain the commonality in physical and chemical observations on the Earth and in the heavens is that the same physical laws apply in both places.

A more complex explanation would be that there are different physical laws on Earth and in the heavens that appear to produce the same results in terms of motion and spectroscopic analysis.

However, the more complex explanation runs into problems due to "Occam's Razor" - a very useful principle for evaluating competing scientific explanations for phenomena.

One short definition of "Occam's Razor" is the following:
" ... that the explanation of any phenomenon should make as few assumptions as possible, eliminating those that make no difference in the observable predictions of the explanatory hypothesis or theory."
So ... the simplest explanation for the accumulated facts and observations that we have comparing chemistry and physics on Earth and the heavens is that the same physical laws apply both here and elsewhere. And so far, this assumption has worked very well for us.

Of course, this isn't written in stone and future exploration may change or modify the assumption of physical laws applying in all places.

Here's the rest of this theological claim about the sciences:
If scientific experiments produce contradictory evidence, scientists do not accept it, no matter, how many empirical tests may replicate it. The scientists' faith can be rightly called philosophical monotheism (even if they call themselves atheists).
The idea that scientists routinely reject evidence just because it contradicts existing theories is an astounding claim that borders on the outrageous. I would like some well-documented examples to back up this claim.

I'm not working as a scientist in my job today, but my college education was in the natural sciences (microbiology with a sprinkling of physics, chemistry, biochemistry, genetics, and applied mathematics). And my 1977-1981 education is a bit rusty.

Based on what I remember about the history and philosophy of the sciences, this is a very inaccurate depiction of how the sciences works.

It may be painfully slow to watch new results move from new and untested to established science but that's a safeguard to keep us from deceiving ourselves.

Remember that we are talking about a human-run enterprise and there are very human imperfections in how we do science.

A good example of the human imperfections affecting the work of science was difference in the acceptance of the results of the 1944 "Avery-MacLeod-McCarty" experiments and the 1952 "Hershey-Chase" experiments.

Both experiments were used to demonstrate that genetic information was contained in DNA and not proteins. The Avery-MacLeod-McCarty experiments were chemically much more "rigorous" than the Hershey-Chase experiments but the social climate among biologists in the 1940s was less accepting of the idea that DNA contained genetic information and was anything other than a dull and boring polymer.

Hershey and Chase built on Avery's work and their experiment was more "convincing" because the scientific audience was ready for the results. There was also the comfortable familiarity that the early molecular biologists had with the E. coli - T-2 bacteriophage virus experimental model that Alfred Hershey and Martha Chase used.

However, there are examples of rigorous experiments that changed how we view the world and how observations can change previously held ideas about creation:
  • Luria-Delbrück experiment (established that variation -- the raw material in natural selection -- arises through a random undirected process)
  • Michelson-Morley experiments ("the most famous failed experiment" -- this experiment helped disproved the theory that light required an invisible "luminiferous aether" to move across a vacuum and led to Einstein's theory of special relativity)
  • Evelyn Hooker's research (she establishing that homosexuals were as mentally healthy as heterosexuals -- her work led to changes in social attitudes and the eventual decision that homosexuality is not a mental illness)
There are safeguards built-in to ensure that we don't deceive ourselves when science is done properly:
  • Falsifiability -- Can a scientific claim tested and proven, in principle, false?
  • Reproducibility -- Can the results be verified independently? For historical sciences like paleontology and astronomy, are other researchers allowed access to the observations (e.g. fossils, raw astronomical data, etc)?
And many of the methods of science (double-blind experiments, statistical analysis, etc) are some of tools we do to keep from deceiving ourselves into "discovering" what we want to believe to be "true" when what we want to believe may not be an accurate description of creation.

Keep in mind that many of the "new atheist" writers like Daniel Dennett who are approaching religion with the same methodology that has been proven successful in the sciences are not trying to be jerks who want to piss off religious people.

It's just that the tools of science have been very useful for learning more about creation (and religions certainly are a part of creation).

And who would be against exploring the idea that religions are at least partially natural phenomena?

21 May 2009

So Religious Bigotry and Stereotyping is OK if Atheists are the Target? (Response to Charlotte Allen)

Here is my response to Charlotte Allen's recent column in the Los Angeles Times ("Atheists: No God, no reason, just whining," LA Times, 17 May 2009):
Dear Editors,

I was shocked to read Charlotte Allen's recent display of religious bigotry and stereotyping in your paper. Ms. Allen's essay is something that one would expect to find in the "Bible Belt" towns of Shreveport and Bossier City, Louisiana where I live.

But her bigotry wasn't something that I would expect in a major daily newspaper in California.

Instead of criticizing ideas connected to atheism, free-thinking, and naturalistic philosophy, Ms. Allen simply goes to the cheap stereotype ("crashing bores," "atheist victimology," etc).

Imagine if she had done this sort of stereotyping with any other group -- let's say Christians, Jews, Moslems, women, homosexuals, etc. Would the LA Times print unfounded smears about these groups like they did about atheists?

Atheists and other free-thinkers may sound angry but their anger is justified. Given the role that religion (as it is actually practiced and not as it's taught in seminary) has in promoting injustice, ignorance, hatred, war, and terrorism, we can't afford to be unquestioning about religious ideas anymore. Religion is too influential and has the power to hurt too many people to go unquestioned.

For example, Proposition 8 in your state was heavily supported by religious people -- the exit polling showed a strong correlation between church attendance and voting yes on 8. However, atheists and non-religious people didn't support treating some Californians as second-class citizens.

With Charlotte Allen's column in your paper and the recent Proposition 8 vote, it appears that California isn't really that different from a "Bible Belt" state like Louisiana, Texas, or Oklahoma.

You may have better museums, restaurant choices, and entertainment options than we do. But you also appear to have the same religious prejudices that we have in the "Bible Belt." Welcome to the club.

Steve Caldwell
Bossier City, Louisiana

13 May 2009

Children's religious education is tougher than it looks ...

... and I'm sure that this sort of probing questioning has happened at least once to every minister or DRE during the worship moment for all ages.

08 May 2009

Neil deGrasse Tyson on Astrology

And here's an explanation from an interview with Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson (American astrophysicist and Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City) on the Scholastic News web site about the debunking described in the video:

People come in here [Hayden Planetarium] assuming that they'll get their horoscope. They don't know that astrology has been [disproven] for centuries, but it's a billion-dollar industry, so it's not going away soon.

I did this experiment in a college class. I found some widely read horoscope column, and I said, "Pick one at random, and put it on the wall. Is this your horoscope, or not? Type yes, no, or maybe." Eighty percent of the people thought it was their horoscope!

Some sleepless, creative person 5,000 years ago invented the constellations. If we were to make constellations today, there'd be no serpents. There'd be a cell phone and an SUV and a microwave oven and a baseball field. There would be things that are in our modern culture, expressed in the legends of the sky.

23 April 2009

"Weathering the Storm" (A Response to the National Organization for Marriage)

This comes from "Love, not Laws" -- a grassroots group dedicated to marriage and other equal rights issues for gay and lesbian folks.

Hat tip to Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge for forwarding this video to me. Candace is a UCC minister and Associate Pastor at Garden of Grace UCC - Columbia SC, editor of whosoever.org (an online magazine for BGLT Christians), and author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians.

03 April 2009

The universe took 13.7 billion years to create this blog ...

The following jacket blurb is used for promoting Michael Dowd's book Thank God for Evolution:
"The universe took 13.7 billion years to produce this amazing book. I heartily recommend it. I am often asked how science and religion can co-exist. This is a wonderful answer." — John Mather (NASA Senior Astrophysicist - 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics)
The funny thing about this book blurb is that it took the universe 13.7 billion years to create everything that we see and experience around us today -- Facebook, reality TV, Adam Sandler's movies, gonzo porn, the Grand Theft Auto video games -- even my blog.

I suppose realizing this cuts down on the "wow" or "woo" factor behind the 13.7 billion year book blurb.

05 March 2009

Shakers and Unitarian Universalists -- Can We Adapt to Change?

This post is based on a reply that I posted on Chalicechick's Chaliceblog about her explanation for her decision about who she would support in the 2009 UUA President Election.

In a reply to her original blog post, Chalicechick wrote the following in response to Rev. Peter Morales' use of the Shaker historical example as a cautionary tale for Unitarian Universalism.
"who actually thinks that 'no fucking' was a bigger problem for the shakers than lack of diversity. But again, my impression is that Morales isn't one for complexities."
And this is my expanded response based on my original comment.

The lack of biological reproduction wasn't a problem for the Shakers for many years.

Before state-run orphanages and adoption agencies were available, religious groups like Shaker communities were the "social safety net" for orphans and others who were destitute and needy.

As long as there were a ready supply of orphans and other needy persons, Shaker communities were able to survive.

The philosopher Daniel Dennett mentioned this during his TED ("Technology, Entertainment, Design) talk in 2002 -- the Shaker tradition was a religious meme that caused sterility in its human hosts but was able to survive for many years due to the ready supply of orphans, widows, and other new hosts for the Shaker meme in the environment:
Remember the Shakers? "Gift to Be Simple?" Simple furniture? And of course they're basically extinct now. And one of the reasons is that, among the creed of Shakerdom is that one should be celibate. Not just the priests -- everybody.

Well, it's not so surprising that they've gone extinct. But in fact that's not why they went extinct. They survived as long as they did at a time when the social safety nets weren't there and there were lots of widows and orphans, people like that, who needed a foster home. And so they had a ready supply of converts. And they could keep it going. And, in principle, it could've gone on forever. With perfect celibacy on the part of the hosts. The idea being passed on through proselytizing, instead of through the gene line.

So the ideas can live on in spite of the fact that they're not being passed on genetically. A meme can flourish in spite of having a negative impact on genetic fitness. After all, the meme for Shakerdom was essentially a sterilizing parasite.

There are other parasites which do this -- which render the host sterile. It's part of their plan. They don't have to have minds to have a plan.
Wikipedia has some information on why the Shaker movement died off:
Membership in the Shakers dwindled in the late 1800s for several reasons. People were attracted to cities and away from the farms. Shaker products could not compete with mass-produced products that became available at a much lower cost. Shakers could not have children, so adoption was a major source of new members. This continued until the states gained control of adoption homes.
I suspect the best parallel that one could draw from the Shakers is the need to be agile in response to changing demographic, economic, and cultural trends.

As Unitarian Universalists, our post-World War II trend has been one of using suburban congregations as a major focus of our growth strategy -- both Rev. Hallman's church (in the Park Cities suburbs of Dallas TX) and Rev. Morales' church (in the Denver suburb of Golden CO) fit the suburban church growth strategy. The failed "Pathways" experiment in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area also involved a suburban focus. Will this suburban growth strategy continue to work for us?

Unlike the Shakers, we do plenty of fucking but our reproductive fucking may not lead to growth. If our churches are good at attracting adult seekers but repel adult who were our former children, that could be one very big reason that we have growth concerns.

Finally, our current growth strategy has one similarity to the Shaker's "orphan" strategy. There is no guarantee that we will always have a ready supply of adult seekers looking for a religious community. Christianity as a demographic group is shrinking the US and most of our adult coverts come from a Christian background. The "atheist - agnostic - unchurched" demographic has doubled over the past decade so they are around 15% of the population. And this appears to be a demographic group that has very little interest for what Unitarian Universalism offers (in part because we're perceived as being "too religious" by some non-theists).

Our traditional recruiting pool for adult converts is shrinking.

We reproduce but drive off many of our offspring who were raised in our churches.

And we may be currently ineffective at attracting growing demographic groups.

Like the Shakers, we may be facing demographic, economic, and cultural changes.

Are we agile enough to adapt and change in response to these changes?

16 February 2009

Biological Origins of the Soul Pushed Back to 30 Million Years Ago ...

The molecular biologist Francis Collins has suggested that the human soul with its capacity for ethical decision-making is evidence for the existence of God:
Ultimately, Collins offered his own way to reconcile faith and science: Theistic Evolution. In this vein, God created the universe 13.7 billion years ago with its “parameters tuned to allow the development of complexity over time,” meaning that God planned to include evolution, including the evolution of human beings. After evolution had “prepared a sufficiently advanced ‘house’” in the human being (the human brain), God gifted humanity with the knowledge of free will, good and evil, and a soul. God used DNA as an information molecule; thus DNA is the language of God. (as quoted from The Stanford Review)
A recent paper presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science convention documents the appearance of ethical behavior in chimps and monkeys.

Chimps and humans last common ancestor was approximately 5 to 7 million years ago. The last common ancestor for chimps, monkeys, and humans was approximately 35 million years ago.

These non-human primates are demonstrating a wide range of ethical behaviors:

Here's an excerpt from the news coverage on this research in the Irish Times:
A session of the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting debated the evolutionary origins of morality yesterday, the closing day of the event. While many held that morality was invented by human society, it was far more likely that it emerged as a result of natural selection, Prof Frans de Waal, professor of primate behaviour at Emory University, Atlanta said.

Altruism had long been assumed to exist only amongst humans, but many apes, monkeys and even birds displayed what could be taken to be altruism. This suggested that there was a natural selection pressure towards the behaviour that today we view as moral.

Prof de Waal has done extensive work with primates. “We have evidence for empathy, we have evidence for reciprocity, we have evidence for pro-social tendencies and we have evidence for fairness principals,” he said.

He described a range of studies involving chimps and monkeys that demonstrated these tendencies. One of two monkeys was offered the option of receiving a treat for itself or a treat that could be shared with the second, with sharing almost always the option chosen.

“They actually have a preference for choosing the pro-social option that rewards both,” he said, although there was no immediate benefit to the monkey that chooses to be generous.

In a trial that demonstrates a sense of fairness, two chimps are taught a task and rewarded with pieces of cucumber which they readily accept. The task is repeated, but the reward for one chimp is upgraded to grapes. This chimp continues to perform the task, but the second, receiving only cucumber will throw away its reward and stop performing the task, Prof de Waal said.

“I can equate it to the bonuses being given on Wall Street,” and the strong negative public response to them, he quipped.
If the human soul (the source of free will and knowing the difference between good and evil) has biological roots extending back up to 35 million years ago among our primate cousins, perhaps we should entertain the possibility that what we call ethics, morality, and free will all have their roots in natural selection.

As reported in The Times:
Some researchers believe we could owe our consciences to climate change and, in particular, to a period of intense global warming between 50,000 and 800,000 years ago. The proto-humans living in the forests had to adapt to living on hostile open plains, where they would have been easy prey for formidable predators such as big cats.

This would have forced them to devise rules for hunting in groups and sharing food.

Christopher Boehm, director of the Jane Goodall Research Center, part of the University of Southern California’s anthropology department, believes such humans devised codes to stop bigger, stronger males hogging all the food.

“To ensure fair meat distribution, hunting bands had to gang up physically against alpha males,” he said. This theory has been borne out by studies of contemporary hunter-gatherer tribes.

In research released at the AAAS he argued that under such a system those who broke the rules would have been killed, their “amoral” genes lost to posterity. By contrast, those who abided by the rules would have had many more children.

And the biologist PZ Myers makes the following observation about these findings:

It's a little glib and speculative, but it's enough to shut down the claim that morality couldn't have evolved.

And now we can say that being ethical is an all-natural additive-free organic behavior that we share with some animals.

15 February 2009

Rejection of Evolutionary Biology in a Unitarian Universalist Congregation?

During the brief post-DVD discussion today, one of our congregation's leaders said that she had wished that people from both ends of the evolutionary biology debate spectrum had been at today's Thank God for Evolution DVD screening.

I asked if the folks who were rejecting evolution were members of our congregation or members of the wider community (we had a brief announcement about the DVD screening in the local paper).

I learned that we have some members of our congregation who reject evolution.

I was surprised. I would not be surprised that some members of our community outside All Souls would reject evolution - conservative religion is prevalent in our town.

But I was surprised that members of my congregation would reject evolution.

I know that we are a non-creedal faith tradition - but seriously?

A free and responsible search for truth doesn't mean one can believe anything one wants to believe. Responsibility would suggest that one should not reject settled scientific matters like the theory of evolution, the germ theory of disease, or the heliocentric theory of the solar system.

It's possible that some ideas may be nonsensical.

In a 1973 essay that criticized creationism and espousing theistic evolution, evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky wrote:
Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution.
The entire essay can be read here.

Perhaps we can need an adult religious education class using the book Your Inner Fish? There's a catchy and fun music video associated with this book.

Thoughts After Viewing "Thank God for Evolution" DVD at Church

On Sunday afternoon after our morning worship and religious education class time, our church screened a portion of the companion DVD for Rev. Michael Dowd's book Thank God for Evolution. A description of the DVD can be found here.

You can download a free excerpt of Dowd's book using this web page.

After seeing part of the DVD today, it still seems like a very cleaver way to reframe religion so it's compatible with modern-day evolutionary biology - an example of memetic religious adaptation happening right before our eyes.

However, I was puzzled by something that Michael said in on the DVD.

Here's a quote in his book that is identical or nearly identical to an idea that he presented in his DVD:
Religious believers can hardly be expected to embrace evolution if the only version they've been exposed to portrays the processes at work as merely competitive and pointless, even cruel, and thus godless. Is it any wonder that many on the conservative side of the theological spectrum find such a view repulsive, and that many on the liberal side accept evolution begrudgingly?
[Source - Thank God for Evolution, page 7]
The troubling thing about this idea is that it justifies a rejection of a scientific theory if it appears to contradict one's religious beliefs.

First, some very basic evolutionary biology before we explore the theological issues with Dowd's suggestion.

One of Darwin's contributions to evolutionary biology was natural selection.

Natural selection operates through a simple algorithmic mechanism that follows from the following facts:
  1. Heritable variation exists within populations of organisms.
  2. Organisms produce more offspring than can survive.
  3. These offspring vary in their ability to survive and reproduce.
Given enough time and this simple process, one ends up with both great beauty and great cruelty in the natural world. The three steps are mindless but they have produced both mindfulness and awareness in our world - perhaps the ultimate demonstration of evolutionary biologist Leslie Orgel's "Second Rule" that he coined in response to anti-evolutionary appeals to irreducible complexity:
"Evolution is cleverer than you are."
Natural selection was not advanced as a theory because biologists wanted to promote a "competitive, pointless, cruel, and godless" theory like natural selection.

As a theory, it was proposed because it:
  1. Fit known facts
  2. Provided opportunities for making future predictions (testing and falsifiability) along with further refinement through discovery of new facts (which has done extensively since 1859)
  3. Was an excellent example of parsimony (parsimony in science is the "preference for the least complex explanation for an observation")
I find it puzzling that one would entertain the suggestion to reject a theory that simply because it appears to be "pointless" or "godless" from a human perspective.

Although we have removed ourselves from the center of universe in 1543, many of us still need to accept or reject scientific theories not on the basis of evidence but rather on the basis of how well they serve human aesthetic or psychological needs.

Perhaps we need to face the possibility that creation may be indifferent to our aesthetic or psychological needs?

On the DVD, Dowd talks extensively about the evolutionary trend towards greater cooperation and he suggests that evolution is a directional process.

Unfortunately, there is nothing in the simple evolutionary algorithmic process that requires cooperation in all instances.

Cooperation is an adaptive response in some circumstances and that is why we see examples of it in nature.

However, there are instances where competition is very successful biologically.

However, that doesn't make ruthless self-interested competition the most ethical choice for us today. Given the cultural tools that we have, we can predict the future negative outcomes that come from individual self-interest.

As humans with culture and communication, we can explore cooperative options through the cultural adaptation options available to us.

14 February 2009

Shreveport Area Darwin Day Events

Update - Rev. Michael Dowd (author of Thank God for Evolution) will be at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in Shreveport on 26 February 2009. See the updated information below for details.

Here's information on four upcoming events for this year's celebration of "Darwin Day" in the Shreveport-Bossier City area:

Tuesday, 10 February 2009, 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM -- Re-broadcast of Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial on KLTS (local PBS affiliate) -- This documentary is about the Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District trial that ruled against the teaching of intelligent design in public schools due to church-state separation issues. This documentary features excellent interviews including Dr. Barbara Forrest who spoke at Darwin Day in Shreveport in 2008.

Saturday, 14 February 2009 from 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM -- Darwin Day Bicentennial at LSU-Shreveport Science Lecture Auditorium -- Thanks to Dr. Cran Lucas and the LSU-Shreveport Biology Department, the following program is being offered in our community:

1:00-1:10 PM -- Introduction by Dr. Stephen Banks, Professor of Biological Sciences, LSU-Shreveport.

1:10-2:00 PM -- "Why Intelligent Design Is a Protestant Theory of Creation" By Dr. Holly Wilson, Professor of Philosophy, University of Louisiana - Monroe.

2:00-2:50 PM -- “The Influence of Charles Darwin on British and American Literature” by Dr. Helen Taylor and Dr. Stephen Brennan, Professors of English, LSU-Shreveport.

2:50-3:40 PM -- “The Evolution of Charles Darwin: A Brief Biography” by Dr. Cran Lucas, Professor of Biological Sciences, LSU-Shreveport.

3:40-4:00 PM -- Birthday cake and refreshments.

Sunday, 15 February 2009, 11:00 AM - 12:15 PM - At All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, Chaplain Barbara Jarrell is in the pulpit for our celebration of Evolution Sunday.

Sunday, 15 February 2009, 12:30 PM - 2:30 PM - At All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, we will be showing the DVD Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World. This book is by Rev. Reverend Michael Dowd, a United Church of Christ minister. After watching the DVD, we will have a brief discussion about the movie and the ideas presented in it.

Thursday, 26 February 2009, 6:30 PM - 9:00 PM - Rev. Michael Dowd (Author of Thank God for Evolution) -- All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church is proud to present the Rev. Michael Dowd, who will be here with us to share his live presentation based on his book.

Known as "America's Evolutionary Evangelists," Michael Dowd and his wife Connie Barlow live on the road sharing the "Good News" of the 14-billion -year epic of cosmic, biological and human experience. Michael's' book has been endorsed by Nobel Prize winning scientists and religious leaders across the spectrum as a work that builds bridges, provides guidance and offers realistic hope for people of any religion or belief system. This event is free and open to the public. Please bring your friends and help us spread the word. An offering will be collected, and books and DVD's will be available for sale.

01 February 2009

Free Ubuntu Pocket Guide

In case you need a free "how to" book on Ubuntu Linux for use in your congregation or other non-profit organization. Here's the description from the book's web site:
The ultimate Ubuntu book!
Written by award-winning author Keir Thomas, Ubuntu Pocket Guide and Reference is a totally unique and concise guide for everyday Ubuntu use. It's the world's most popular Ubuntu book, with over 150,000 people already having read it!
  • Focuses on core competencies and background knowledge needed to be an expert Ubuntu user;
  • Readable, accessible, and easy to understand—even if you've never used Linux before;
  • 100% new and original! Written from the ground-up to cover Ubuntu 8.04 and 8.10.
You can download the book as an Adobe Acrobat PDF document using this link here.

"Thank God for Evolution" - An Example of Memetic Evolution

I'm still waiting for Susan to lend me her copy of Thank God for Evolution by Rev. Michael Dowd.

While I'm waiting, I downloaded the sample free chapter from the authors' web site today. The excert covers the first 44 pages of the book (plus some promotional "book blurb" info for the book).

The first thing that struck me here was that Rev. Dowd's message is an example of memetic evolution in action -- an attempt to reframe both religious views about evolutionary biology and evolutionary biology itself in such a way that religion and evolutionary biology are not viewed as incompatible.

Here's a short description of memetics from Wikipedia:
Memetics is an approach to evolutionary models of cultural information transfer based on the concept of the meme. Starting from a metaphor used in the writings of Richard Dawkins, it has since turned into a new area of study, one that looks at the self-replicating units of culture. It has been proposed that just as memes are analogous to genes, memetics is analogous to genetics.
In the preface of the book, Rev. Dowd is reaching out to the following groups of readers:
To those of you who have rejected evolution . . .
I promise that the secular version of evolution you have rejected is not the version of evolution presented in these pages. Indeed, if the understanding of our collective past and the vision of our common destiny outlined here do not inspire you to be more faithful in all your relationships, to find new ways to bless others and the world, and to awaken eagerly each morning to a life filled with meaning and purpose, then please continue to reject evolution!

To those who accept evolution begrudgingly (like death and taxes) . . .
I promise that this book will provide you with an experience of science, and evolution specifically, that will fire your imagination, touch your heart, and lead you to a place of deep gratitude, awe, and reverence. You will also find here effective ways to talk about evolution to any friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors who are biblical literalists or young earth creationists.

To devoutly committed Christians . . .
Whether you are Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Evangelical, Anabaptist, or New Thought, and whether you consider yourself conservative, moderate, or liberal, my promise to you is that the sacred evolutionary perspective offered here will enrich your faith and inspire you in ways that believers in the past could only dream of.

To Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and other non-Christians . . .
I promise that it will be easy to apply most of what you find here to your own life and faith. I also promise that if you explore the meaning of your tradition’s insights within an evolutionary context, as I attempt to do with Christian doctrine, you will provide an invaluable service to your religion and our world.

To agnostics, humanists, atheists, and freethinkers . . .
I promise that you will find nothing here that you cannot wholeheartedly embrace as being grounded in a rationally sound, mainstream scientific understanding of the Universe. I also promise that the vision of “evolutionary spirituality” presented here will benefit you and your loved ones without your needing to believe in anything otherworldly.

To those who embrace an eclectic spirituality . . .
I promise that this perspective will enrich your appreciation of the traditions and practices that nourish you most deeply, while helping you find new excitement in each. It will also help you communicate and relate to others who hold very different religious or philosophical worldviews.
Making evolutionary biology more appealing to the traditionally religious is an idea full of good intentions. On the surface, greater acceptance of evolutionary biology will help evolutionary biology gain greater acceptance in North America if the popular perception is that evolution is compatible with religion.

However, a change in popular perception may also benefit those religions that are perceived as being pro-evolution and pro-science. By retooling religion, we may be seeing an adaptive change in religion.

None of this reframing of evolutionary biology and religion has anything to do with the truthfulness or usefulness of evolutionary biology theory. The truthfulness and utility of a theory are determined through scientific methods.

However, the reframing of religion so it's perceived as being compatible with science may be useful for the long-term survival of religion.

28 January 2009

Latest Revision to UUA "Principles and Purposes" Document Now Available

Update: There is no provision for absenstee voting on the proposed Article II revision. Here's the info that UUA Pacific Southwest District Trustee Tom Loughrey sent to me:
Well, after some research by the UUA Secretary, Paul Rickter, he has determined that there is no provision in the by-laws for an absentee vote on Article II. Everyone seems to acknowledge that the logic of an unamendable by-law would allow it but it is not the case and would itself take a by-law amendment.
Note: I have added the changed text from the January 2008 UUA Board of Trustees Meeting to the latest draft of Article II.

The changed text can be found in Section C-2.2 and is written in blue bold italic text to distinguish it from the Commission on Appraisal's December 2008 draft.

According to Tom Loughrey (Pacific Southwest District UUA Board Representative), the type of motion from the UUA Board to put this on the 2009 General Assembly Agenda is a motion that doesn't allow for General Assembly delegates to amend the Article II text. All they can do is vote for or against it.

This seems reasonable to me given that their process allowed individuals and groups from across the nation to provide their inputs to the Commission on Appraisal and the UUA Board.

The UUA Commission on Appraisal has released their latest proposed revision to the UUA "Principles and Purposes" section of the UUA Bylaws.

Below is the text of the latest revision (copied from the COA's 15 page report to the UUA Board and pasted into this blog post for easy reading):
Proposed Revision of Article II
ARTICLE II: Covenant
Section C-2.1 Purposes.
This association of free yet interdependent congregations devotes its resources to and exercises its corporate powers for religious, educational, and humanitarian purposes. It supports the creation, vitality, and growth of congregations that aspire to live out the Unitarian Universalist Principles. Through public witness and advocacy, it advances the Principles in the world.

Section C 2.2. Sources.
Unitarian Universalism is rooted in two religious heritages. Both are grounded on thousands of years of Jewish and Christian teachings, traditions, and experiences. The Unitarian heritage has affirmed that we need not think alike to love alike and that God is one. The Universalist heritage has preached not hell but hope and courage, and the kindness and love of God. Contemporary Unitarian Universalists have reaped the benefits of a legacy of prophetic words and deeds.

Unitarian Universalism is not contained in any single book or creed. Its religious authority lies in the individual, nurtured and tested in the congregation and the wider world. As an evolving religion, it draws from the teachings, practices, and wisdom of the world’s religions. Humanism, earth-centered spiritual traditions, and Eastern religions have served as vital sources. Unitarian Universalism has been influenced by mysticism, theism, skepticism, naturalism, and process thought as well as feminist and liberation theologies. It is informed by direct experiences of mystery and wonder, beauty and joy. It is enriched by the creative power of the arts, the guidance of reason, and the lessons of the sciences.

Grateful for the traditions that have strengthened our own, we seek to engage cultural and religious practices in ways that call us into right relationship with all.

Section C-2.3 Principles.
Grateful for the gift of life, we commit ourselves as member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association to embody together the transforming power of love as we covenant to honor and uphold:
  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations;
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement of spiritual growth;
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  • The right of conscience and the use of democratic processes;
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
  • Reverence for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
As free yet interdependent congregations, we enter into this covenant, pledging to one another our mutual trust and support. Capable of both good and evil, at times we are in need of forgiveness and reconciliation. When we fall short of living up to this covenant, we will begin again in love, repair the relationship, and recommit to the promises we have made.

Section C-2.4 Inclusion.
Systems of power, privilege, and oppression have traditionally created barriers for persons and groups with particular identities, ages, abilities, and histories. We pledge to do all we can to replace such barriers with ever-widening circles of solidarity and mutual respect. We strive to be an association of congregations that truly welcome all persons and commit to structuring congregational and associational life in ways that empower and enhance everyone’s participation.

Section C-2.5 Freedom of Belief.
Congregational freedom is central to the Unitarian Universalist heritage.

Congregations may establish statements of purpose, covenants, and bonds of union so long as they do not require a statement of belief as a creedal test for membership; nor may the Association employ such a test for congregational affiliation.
Source document for this draft revision:
January 2009 Report From the UUA Commission on Appraisal to the UUA Board

The UUA Board met on 14-19 January 2009 and made one minor change to the COA's draft.

The full report provides background information on the decisions made by the COA in gathering and using inputs from Unitarian Universalist across the country.

02 January 2009

How Can Atheists Be Good Allies?

Greta Christina asks on her blog "How can atheists be good allies?"

Here's a brief quote from her blog explaining why this is important:
I think it behooves the atheist movement to make alliances with other groups that we have affinities with: groups that aren't atheist- specific and that are made up of both believers and non-believers, but that have goals we support ... and in some cases, progressive ecumenical religious groups who recognize the validity of atheism.

I think it behooves us for a number of reasons. Partly because our movement is too small and too stigmatized right now to accomplish what we want on our own: we'll get more visibility and more work done if we have other people speaking for us and working with us. Partly because it shows the world that we don't just care about how we want to be treated and what we think we deserve: we care about what we have to offer and how we want to participate in the world.

And partly because it's, you know, the right thing to do. Because we're not just atheists, but people, citizens of our communities and our countries and our world. Because we do care about what we have to offer and how we want to participate in the world.

So how can we be good allies? I've already written about what atheists are asking for from people who want to support us. What should we be doing to be good allies with people we want to support?
A brief outline of her suggestions is listed below:
  1. Treat other groups the way you want to be treated.
  2. Don't assume that religious believers are stupid -- and don't talk to them or treat them as if they're stupid.
  3. Don't be quick to assume malice or willful ignorance.
  4. If you're going to talk about religion, tread carefully.
  5. Be careful about making analogies.
  6. Remember that it's not always about us.
  7. Support other atheists whose methods are different from yours.
The expanded explanation of Greta's suggestions can be found online here.

Not only are these suggestions useful for atheists -- they would also be useful for Unitarian Universalists (of all theological stripes) as well when working with others.

01 January 2009

The end of Hillary's campaign and "PUMA" meet "Godwin's Law"

Playing with Wubi and Improved Broadcom Wireless Support in Ubuntu Linux

Since I had didn't have to work for most of New Year's Eve, I got a chance to install Ubuntu Linux using Wubi on my April 2004-vintage Dell Windows XP desktop PC (which is now a dual-boot system with Windows XP and Ubuntu 8.10 on it).

Wubi comes with Ubuntu Linux as a built-in feature on the Live CD installation disk since Ubuntu 8.04 and is useful for anyone who wants to try out Ubuntu Linux while also using Windows for the following reasons:
  1. Current Windows setup remains unchanged (Wubi only adds an extra option to boot into Ubuntu during system startup and Windows remains the default operating system).
  2. Wubi does not require you to modify the partitions of your PC or to use a different bootloader. It does not install special drivers.
  3. Wubi installs from the Ubunti "Live CD" disk just like any other Windows-based application.
  4. Wubi is spyware and malware free, and being open source, anyone can verify that.
  5. Wubi keeps most of the files in one folder (doesn't clutter the hard drive with software "debris") and can be easily uninstalled like any other Windows-based application.
This means that Wubi is a very easy way for a Windows user to experiment with Ubuntu Linux with very little risk. All one needs to do is log into Windows, insert the Ubuntu Live CD, and following the on-screen instructions for installing Wubi and Ubuntu Linux.

All you need is to run Ubuntu with Wubi is 256 megs of RAM, 5 gigabytes of available hard drive space, and a computer currently running Windows (Windows 98, Windows 2000, Windows XP, and Windows Vista supported). Additionally, you have total access to your Windows-created documents -- the rest of the "C" hard drive is available in the "/host" directory for browsing. User documents are available in the "/host/Documents and Settings" folder.

If you don't like using Ubuntu Linux through Wubi, just reboot into Windows and uninstall Wubi. Everything is back to normal.

Here's a brief description of what Wubi is from Wikipedia:
Wubi (Windows-based Ubuntu Installer) is an official Windows-based free software installer for Ubuntu.
The goal of the project is to assist a Windows user unacquainted with Linux in trying Ubuntu without risking any loss of information due to disk formatting or partitioning. Wubi can also uninstall Ubuntu from within Windows.
Since my wireless card was an Linksys 802.11b/g card (Linksys WMP 54G PCI card) with a Broadcom chip set, I knew that the wireless internet on this computer would not work initially and I would need to connect this PC to the internet using a wired connection to get the Ubuntu side of this PC on the internet.

Broadcom has been reluctant to assist the open-source community with hardware drivers and this can make setting up wireless internet a real chore on a Linux PC. This has changed with the recent release of linux drivers for Broadcom wireless chipsets.

Borrowing 50 feet of 10/100Base-T ethernet cable from work (left in my office from a co-worker's project), I was able to install Ubuntu Linux through Wubi, patch my system with the latest updates, and (most importantly) install the restricted drivers for using my wireless card with very little effort. Getting wireless working was easier than installing multimedia drivers during this installation.

Given the large number of laptop and desktop PCs using Broadcom wireless chipsets, this improved Broadcom wireless support is very useful. This means that churches and other non-profits will be able to better use older computer hardware donated to them - the old laptop that was donated may now be usable for a staff person or volunteer who needs a laptop for word processing, email, web surfing, etc using wi-fi.

The only hardware hiccup that I had to deal with was the Dell OEM Soundblaster Live audio card. I couldn't get this sound card to work using Ubuntu Linux but I can get sound out of the integrated audio on the computer motherboard which is good enough sound for my purposes.

Update: After rebooting into Windows XP, I discovered that I was getting no sound in Windows. To fix this, I downloaded the integrated audio hardware driver from Dell's web site, installed this software, removed the Soundblaster software, and disabled the Dell OEM Soundblaster hardware.

Since the integrated audio hardware works for both Ubuntu Linux and Windows XP, I will use the integrated audio hardware instead of the Soundblaster hardware.