Alabama authorities say a home burglary suspect has died after police used a stun gun on the man.  Birmingham police say he resisted officers who found him in a house wrapped in what looked like material from the air conditioner duct work.  The Lewisburg Road homeowner called police Tuesday about glass breaking and someone yelling and growling in his basement.  Police reportedly entered the dwelling and used a stun gun several times on a white suspect before handcuffing him.  Investigators say the man was "extremely irritated" throughout and didn't obey verbal commands.

Montgomery Education Foundation's Brain Forest Summer Learning Academy was spotlighted Wednesday at Carver High School.  The academic-enrichment program is for rising 4th, 5th, and 6th graders in the Montgomery Public School system.  Community Program Director Dillion Nettles, says the program aims to prevent learning loss during summer months.  To find out how your child can participate in next summer's program visit

A police officer is free on bond after being arrested following a rash of road-sign thefts in southeast Alabama.  Brantley Police Chief Titus Averett says officer Jeremy Ray Walker of Glenwood is on paid leave following his arrest in Pike County.  The 30-year-old Walker is charged with receiving stolen property.  Lt. Troy Johnson of the Pike County Sheriff's Office says an investigation began after someone reported that Walker was selling road signs from Crenshaw County.  Investigators contacted the county engineer and learned signs had been reported stolen from several roads.

NPR Politics presents the Lunchbox List: our favorite campaign news and stories curated from NPR and around the Web in digestible bites (100 words or less!). Look for it every weekday afternoon from now until the conventions.

Convention Countdown

The Republican National Convention is in 4 days in Cleveland.

The Democratic National Convention is in 11 days in Philadelphia.

NASA has released the first picture of Jupiter taken since the Juno spacecraft went into orbit around the planet on July 4.

The picture was taken on July 10. Juno was 2.7 million miles from Jupiter at the time. The color image shows some of the atmospheric features of the planet, including the giant red spot. You can also see three of Jupiter's moons in the picture: Io, Europa and Ganymede.

The Senate is set to approve a bill intended to change the way police and health care workers treat people struggling with opioid addictions.

My husband and I once took great pleasure in preparing meals from scratch. We made pizza dough and sauce. We baked bread. We churned ice cream.

Then we became parents.

Now there are some weeks when pre-chopped vegetables and a rotisserie chicken are the only things between us and five nights of Chipotle.

Parents are busy. For some of us, figuring out how to get dinner on the table is a daily struggle. So I reached out to food experts, parents and nutritionists for help. Here is some of their (and my) best advice for making weeknight meals happen.

"O Canada," the national anthem of our neighbors up north, comes in two official versions — English and French. They share a melody, but differ in meaning.

Let the record show: neither version of those lyrics contains the phrase "all lives matter."

But at the 2016 All-Star Game, the song got an unexpected edit.

At Petco Park in San Diego, one member of the Canadian singing group The Tenors — by himself, according to the other members of the group — revised the anthem.

School's out, and a lot of parents are getting through the long summer days with extra helpings of digital devices.

How should we feel about that?

Police in Baton Rouge say they have arrested three people who stole guns with the goal of killing police officers. They are still looking for a fourth suspect in the alleged plot, NPR's Greg Allen reports.

"Police say the thefts were at a Baton Rouge pawn shop early Saturday morning," Greg says. "One person was arrested at the scene. Since then, two others have been arrested and six of the eight stolen handguns have been recovered. Police are still looking for one other man."

A 13-year-old boy is among those arrested, Greg says.


Is It Silly To Seek Purpose In The Natural World?

Oct 29, 2012
Originally published on April 8, 2013 11:45 am

Science and religion alike grapple with some of our deepest questions: What is the purpose of life? Why is the natural world just so? Why does the biological world strike us as so exquisitely designed?

But do all questions deserve an answer? In a 2008 lecture, Richard Dawkins argued that they don't (you can hear his lecture on "The Purpose of Purpose" here). In particular, we can't always answer purpose-seeking "why" questions. Sure, science can explain why birds have wings in evolutionary terms, or how mountains form by appeal to geological processes. But can science answer a question like, "What is the purpose of a mountain?" According to Dawkins, this is a silly question that doesn't deserve an answer.

But not everyone finds questions about the purpose of mountains so silly. In a 1999 paper, developmental psychologist Deborah Kelemen asked 4- and 5-year-old children a variety of questions about the living and nonliving natural world, including "What's the mountain [in this picture] for?" Over half the children provided purpose-based answers, suggesting, for example, that the mountain was "to climb" or "to drive around." When asked to agree with a character who claimed that "mountains are made for something," or another who claimed, like Dawkins, that "this is silly," the majority of children judged the call for purpose sensible, not silly.

Perhaps more surprising, most adults aren't so different from these purpose-minded preschoolers. In a study released earlier this month (press release here), Kelemen and colleagues presented college students and college graduates with a series of explanations, some of which involved scientifically-unwarranted appeals to purpose. For example, one explanation was that "mountains fold inwards in order to maintain mass," another that "germs mutate in order to become drug resistant." Students accepted these explanations almost half the time, with an acceptance rate of 45 percent. College graduates were close behind at 40 percent and even science and humanities PhDs accepted them some of the time (15-21 percent), especially when forced to respond quickly (29-32 percent).

Is it silly to seek purpose in the natural world?

The authors of the study argue that ascribing purpose to the natural world is a "lifelong cognitive default" that can be "masked rather than replaced" by education. So even if it is silly, it may be part of the human condition, as suggested by Gary Robertson in response to Dawkins' dismissive remarks. (Dawkins conceded: "It may well be part of the human condition to ask silly questions.")

Another response is that it isn't silly, it simply isn't science. After all, purpose has traditionally fallen under the purview of religion. Kelemen sums up the findings from her research by suggesting that "our minds may be naturally more geared to religion than science." Religion may be compelling in part because it ascribes purpose, picking up where science typically leaves off.

Here's a third response, and the one I favor: there are no silly questions in science. Once we define what we mean by "mountains" and "purpose," it's an empirical question whether or not mountains are the sorts of things that have purposes, just as it's an empirical question whether zebra's stripes have a purpose (in the sense of a biological adaptation: camouflage), or whether chairs have a function (the result of intentional design: supporting sitting).

It could be that a species of super-smart aliens set up the geological conditions for mountains precisely so that humans would have somewhere to climb. If this were the case, the preschoolers would be right to say that mountains are "for climbing." Of course, this is a silly answer to the question, "What is the purpose of mountains?" But it's silly because centuries of science give us very good reasons to reject it, not because the question itself is nonsensical.

Other questions may be "silly" in the sense that they rest on a conceptual confusion ("Are mountains divisible by zero?"), or because they aren't fruitful to pursue ("Are there any mountains exactly 1,942 feet high?"), but we typically make conceptual and empirical progress by asking questions, evaluating possible answers, testing them empirically when it's possible to do so and analyzing our successes and failures – not by delimiting the set of questions considered fair game. It matters that we ask the right questions, but we learn which those are as we go.

I'm tempted to misquote Mr. Garrison from South Park, who famously quipped that "there are no stupid questions, only stupid people."

There are no silly questions, only answers that strike us as more or less silly based on our current understanding of the world.

Guest blogger Tania Lombrozo is an assistant professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. You can keep up with more of what Tania Lombrozo is thinking on Twitter: @TaniaLombrozo

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