May 8: Food for thought

If people turn away from religion, it's our own fault for how we religious (mis)represent religion.

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May 7, 2009 21:52
2 minute read.
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Imagine Sir, - Picture the outrage, the consternation and the subsequent riots if a cartoon such as the one with a pig's snout superimposed on the face of our prime minister appeared in any newspaper, with the pig's snout on the face of an Arab head of state, or even an anonymous face wearing a keffiyeh ("ADL: Arab, Muslim cartoonists used swine flu to demonize Israel," May 6). MARCELLA WACHTEL Jerusalem Food for thought Sir, - I fully agree with Shmuley Boteach's "Atheists gain strength from religious intolerance" (May 5) that if people turn away from religion, it's our own fault for how we religious (mis)represent religion. The old slogan that they won't come because they are in the grip of sin, or the devil, was well rebutted by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach: When the restaurant is good, people will come and eat. M.M. VAN ZUIDEN Jerusalem 'Faulty' genes Sir, - Nothing much has changed, it seems, since students rioted in European capitals 50 years ago, incensed at the idea that intelligence is "genetic." Genes are fundamental to the evolution of intelligence, as they are for all biological characteristics. Yet from this incontestable premise emerges all too frequently a critical mistake: that it is possible simply to link complex characteristics such as intelligence, behavior and personality with small groups of, or even individual, genesand mutations. Any attempt to correlate genes with their functions depends on clear, unambiguous and accurate definitions of function. This is notoriously difficult with "intelligence." There are many types of intelligence - for example artistic and creative virtuosity, mathematical dexterity, topographical skill, problem-solving and linguistic ability and memory, to name a few. We all know people strong in one direction, weaker in another. Are they all "intelligent," or not? The conundrum is further complicated by misguided attempts to quantify intelligence. IQ tests are clearly highly culturally, educationally and socially dependent; they test the ability to score in an IQ test, not "intelligence," whatever that is. All these and other obstacles have made research in this area a minefield for reputations and a graveyard for careers. Yet for all this, it is an unwarranted and unjustified exaggeration to claim that research in this area is inherently mate or racist. That is patently absurd. Properly and rigorously conducted, it is as valid and potentially valuable as all other genetic inquiry. The public furore engendered by this topic, as summarized in "Do 'faulty' genes make Jews smarter?" (Karen Kaplan, May 3) shows the clear difference between the highly critical and justifiably skeptical but objective observer, on the one hand, and the irrational, politically correct platitude-peddler, on the other. I would urge your readers to join the ranks of the former, and not throw out the brainy baby with the biological bathwater. ANTHONY LUDER Chairman Israel Society for Metabolic Disease Director, Pediatrics and Genetics Ziv Medical Center Safed

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