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Recent and fast breaking news of interest to skeptics.

We scan the spectrum of news of interest to skeptics. We quote people literally, and a lot of what people write is absolute nonsense. We present nonsense along with legitimate thought in order to give skeptics a view of the world on the other side of reason.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Media Promoting Misinformation about the Santorum Amendment

Casey Luskin January 23, 2012 3:07 PM | Permalink

Since Rick Santorum has risen in popularity among Republican presidential candidates, multiple articles in the media have resurrected long-dead talking points about the Santorum Amendment. Probably the most commonly heard untruth holds that the Santorum Amendment pushed or encouraged the teaching of intelligent design.

Washington Post blogger Robert P. Jones claims the Amendment's purpose was "encouraging teachers to provide lessons on intelligent design alongside evolution." The U.K.'s Telegraph likewise states: "Mr Santorum pushed the 'Santorum amendment,' an amendment to the 2001 education funding bill which attempted to push the teaching of intelligent design in science classes." Similarly, the Nashua Telegraph wrongly states that Santorum "called for intelligent design to be part of school curricula under the No Child Left Behind Act."

But an article on by Dave Masko takes first prize for inaccuracy:

For example, the "Santorum Amendment" -- that was a proposed amendment to the 2001 education funding bill, and became known as the "No Child Left Behind Act" -- was backed by then-Republican Senator Santorum to "promote the teaching of intelligent design while questioning the academic standing of evolution in U.S. public schools, states the congressional record.
First of all, the Santorum Amendment didn't become "known as the No Child Left Behind Act." The Act was a much larger law that was passed by both houses of Congress to govern federal funding for public schools on a myriad of different issues.

More to the point, the amendment did not require, "promote," or "push" the teaching of intelligent design. From what I can tell, the phrase "promote the teaching of intelligent design while questioning the academic standing of evolution" doesn't come from the Congressional record, but rather, appears to come from RationalWiki, an atheist-oriented Wiki. The Santorum Amendment simply stated:

It is the sense of the Senate that -- (1) good science education should prepare students to distinguish the data or testable theories of science from philosophical or religious claims that are made in the name of science; and (2) where biological evolution is taught, the curriculum should help students to understand why this subject generates so much continuing controversy, and should prepare the students to be informed participants in public discussions regarding the subject.
Do you see anything about teaching intelligent design? I don't.

Masko's conspiracy theories continue:

In layman's terms, the Santorum Amendment attempted to edit out science in school text books in favor of a religious view of creation; while Democrats opposed the amendment because it cross the line in the "separation of church and state."
On many levels, nothing could be further from the truth.

Santorum's amendment passed the U.S. Senate by a vote of 91-8, with leading Democrats like Senators Joseph Biden, Barbara Boxer, Harry Reid, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and Ted Kennedy voting in support. As for the 8 no votes, these were not even Democrats, and they had nothing to do with concerns over violations of separation of church and state. As Discovery Institute senior fellow David K. DeWolf explained in his 2009 article "The 'Teach the Controversy' Controversy," "The only Senators who voted against the amendment were Republicans who were generally opposed to federal control over public education."

So why did Santorum's amendment enjoy support from a broad bipartisan coalition? Precisely because it did not advocate teaching religious views about creationism or taking science out of the classroom. The language of the Amendment (quoted above) aims to help students understand what is and isn't science, so they can distinguish testable science from "philosophical or religious claims that are made in the name of science." The point here is to help students understand why some concepts are scientific, and others aren't. It's effect would be the opposite of pushing religion under the guise of science.

The final language adopted into the Conference Report of the No Child Left Behind Act stated:

The Conferees recognize that a quality science education should prepare students to distinguish the data and testable theories of science from religious or philosophical claims that are made in the name of science. Where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society.
Again, there's nothing here about taking science out of the classroom. Nor is there anything about teaching intelligent design. Moreover, the language aims to prevent religion from being snuck in as science, and thus respects the First Amendment's prohibition of establishing religion in public schools.

In closing, the Huffington Post dutifully repeats the false talking point, but adds a new inaccurate twist, claiming: "In 2001 he [Santorum] tried to promote the teaching of intelligent design in his failed Santorum Amendment to the No Child Left Behind Act." But the Santorum Amendment did not "fail." Rather, it accomplished exactly what it set out to do: The Santorum Amendment represents a successful amendment where both Houses of U.S. Congress ultimately endorsed language which supported teaching students about the scientific controversy over biological evolution.

If Congress endorsed language that only protects the teaching of science, and would help students understand the difference between science and religious claims made in the name of science, why does the Darwin lobby object?

It's simple: the language also endorses teaching students about "the full range of scientific views that exist" surrounding the controversy over biological evolution. Since most evolution lobbyists want only the pro-Darwin view taught, they misconstrue the actual effect of the amendment in order to censor scientific views they disagree with.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Evolution education update: January 6, 2012

The eminent geneticist James F. Crow is dead. Plus the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette criticizes Indiana's creation science bill, and the Granite Geek revisits the antievolution bills in New Hampshire's legislature.


The eminent geneticist James F. Crow died on January 4, 2012, at the age of 95, according to the blog of his colleague John Hawks (January 4, 2012). Born on Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, on January 18, 1916, he received his A.B. in biology and chemistry from Friends University in 1937 and his Ph.D. in zoology from the University of Texas, Austin, in 1941. He taught at Dartmouth College from 1941 to 1948, and then spent the rest of his career at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, until his retirement in 1986. Among his honors were membership in the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine, the American Philosophical Society, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal from the Genetics Society of America. The J. F. Crow Institute for the Study of Evolution at the University of Wisconsin was named in his honor in 2010. He served as the president of the Genetics Society of America in 1960 and the American Society of Human Genetics in 1963, and was co-editor-in-chief of the journal Genetics from 1952 to 1957. In addition to a plethora of articles, he wrote Genetic Notes: An Introduction to Genetics (Burgess Publishing 1950), which saw eight editions, and Basic Concepts in Population, Quantitative, and Evolutionary Genetics (W. H. Freeman 1986). With Motoo Kimura he coauthored the classic An Introduction to Population Genetics Theory (Harper & Row 1970).

In his published work, Crow seems not to have mentioned the creationism/evolution controversy at all. But he was deeply concerned with the integrity of science education nevertheless. In a June 1-3, 2005, interview with the Oral History of Human Genetics Project, he was asked how he felt about the persistence of the antievolutionist movement despite the continued advances in understanding evolution. "I am puzzled by this," he answered, adding, "I'm especially puzzled by literate, intelligent, often scientifically trained people who are into intelligent design. ... The argument of so-called irreducible complexity that the intelligent design people make such a to-do over, I think that's a non-issue. ... That to me is a very, very old argument. I'd say the elephant trunk is complicated, too, and a lot more complicated than the bacterial flagellum. So what's new in this argument?" Reiterating "I am worried about creationism," he offered his view about science and religion: "My own views are atheistic, but I don't go around preaching atheism. You don't get very far trying to do this. And I do accept the fact that people can be religious and still be evolutionists. ... All the arguments among Muller, Fisher, Wright, the rest of these, none of them are changed one whit by whether the person's own views are religious or not. So I've decided I don't care whether a person is personally religious."

For John Hawks's blog post, visit:

For Crow's interview with the Oral History of Human Genetics Project, visit:


The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette (January 3, 2012) editorially criticized Indiana's Senate Bill 89. Introduced by Dennis Kruse (R-District 14), the bill, if enacted, would amend the Indiana Code to provide that "[t]he governing body of a school corporation may require the teaching of various theories concerning the origin of life, including creation science, within the school corporation." Although Kruse introduced the same bill in the Indiana House of Representatives in 2000 and 2001 without success, the editorial observed, "Kruse now is chairman of the Senate Education Committee, and Republicans control both chambers. Democrats were powerless to stop any GOP education bill last year, including the voucher program under challenge in a Marion County court."

If SB 89 is successful, NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott told the Journal Gazette, a legal challenge is inevitable. Noting the precedent of the Supreme Court's 1987 decision in Edwards v. Aguillard, in which a Louisiana law requiring creation science to be taught in the state's public schools was ruled to have violated the Constitution, Scott explained, “The law is very, very clear on this ... If this bill is passed, it is going to be challenged, and they will lose. The case law is so strong against them.” The editorial concluded, "How refreshing it would be if the General Assembly avoided inevitable legal battles and limited its work to the intended use of a 30-day session." (The legislative session begins on January 4, 2012, and ends by March 14, 2012.)

For the Journal Gazette's editorial, visit:

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Indiana, visit:


The Nashua Telegraph's science columnist revisits the two antievolution bills recently prefiled in the New Hampshire legislature. David Brooks, who writes the "Granite Geek" column for the Telegraph, interviewed the sponsors of both bills in July 2011 before the bills were actually drafted, and then concluded (July 3, 2011), "My taxpayer dollars pay science teachers to teach science, not philosophy. Let's hope lawmakers don't try to get in the way." After examining the text of the bills as introduced, his conclusion is if anything firmer: "Both of these bills should die a quick and deserving death," he now writes (January 2, 2012).

Under examination are House Bill 1457 (which would charge the state board of education to "[r]equire science teachers to instruct pupils that proper scientific inquire [sic] results from not committing to any one theory or hypothesis, no matter how firmly it appears to be established, and that scientific and technological innovations based on new evidence can challenge accepted scientific theories or modes") and House Bill 1148 (which would charge the state board of education to "[r]equire evolution to be taught in the public schools of this state as a theory, including the theorists' political and ideological viewpoints and their position on the concept of atheism").

With regard to HB 1457, introduced by Gary Hopper (R-District 7) and John Burt (R-District 7), Brooks wrote, "At best, it seems to say 'instruct pupils that proper scientific inquiry results from proper scientific inquiry' -- which is true, if not exactly useful. At worst, though, it seems to say something like 'you can disregard any scientific theory if it is challenged.'” He observed that just as creationism challenges evolution, so astrology challenges physics, homeopathy challenges chemistry, the Hollow Earth theory challenges plate tectonics, and so on. "Ridiculous, of course. But if a law that vague got on the books, it's not out of the question."

With regard to HB 1148, introduced by Jerry Bergevin (R-District 17), Brooks observed that the idea of teaching evolution "as a theory" is "standard creationist fare," but the idea of requiring students to be told about the political and ideological viewpoints of scientists "seems downright ludicrous" -- "Who are 'the theorists' that Bergevin wants polled about politics, ideology and atheism? Every scientist in the world whose work touches on evolution -- all several million of them? Every biology teacher in New Hampshire? Anybody who has read [James D. Watson's memoir of the discovery of the structure of DNA] 'The Double Helix'?"

For Brooks's 7/3/2011 and 1/2/2012 columns in the Nashua Telegraph, visit:

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in New Hampshire, visit:

Thanks for reading. And don't forget to visit NCSE's website -- -- where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and threats to it.

Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x305
fax: 510-601-7204

Read Reports of the NCSE on-line:

Subscribe to NCSE's free weekly e-newsletter:

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NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today!

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Andrew Wakefield lashes out

Category: Skepticism
Posted on: January 6, 2012 10:45 AM, by PZ Myers

Poor Andy. Once upon a time, he had the power to kill children just by doing some very bad science and writing a few very bad papers, and now he's reduced to living in Texas and being supported by mobs of New Age cranks. He's powerless and bored, but his ego is still being inflated by sycophants…so what does he do? He decides to sue the British Medical Journal and journalist Brian Deer for defamation.

He has no medical career left. His entire life is now tied to his anti-vaccine crusade, and he's got nothing to contribute, other than his status as a martyr to the cause, so what he's done now is crawled up on a cross and is asking for more nails to be hammered in. He knows he can't lose in the grand scheme of things; if he wins the court case (which won't happen), he's a hero; if he loses (the inevitable result), he's a victim of the evil forces of Big Pharma, and his defeat proves that the bad guys are out to get him, so he must be right.

Orac explains why he's going to lose the court case.

I find it very amusing that Dr. Wakefield claims his "professional reputation" was damaged by Deer's most recent article The reason, of course, is that Dr. Wakefield's reputation was destroyed by his having done and publicized his bad science, by his having intentionally consorted with the antivaccine movement and continued (in my opinion) to crank out bad science in the service of smearing the MMR with the claim that it causes autism. Wakefield destroyed his own reputation by doing fraudulent science. That happened years before Brian Deer ever wrote that BMJ article a year ago. Wakefield had already been found guilty by the General Medical Council of "serious professional misconduct," which included acting in ways not in the clinical interests of disabled children. Shortly after that, he was struck off the medical register, and fired from Thoughtful House. All of this happened many months before Brian Deer wrote his article.

To but it bluntly, Andrew Wakefield no longer had any professional reputation to be trashed. This will be a major problem for him in any libel action, because one has to prove damage to one's reputation to be successful in a libel suit.

Just wait, though. When his case is thrown out, he'll throw himself into the arms of his sympathetic supporters, and they will respond with more affirmations and more money and more status in his movement.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Seriously? Indiana & New Hampshire Want to Teach Creationism

Submitted by AUSCS on Jan 4, 2012

By Rob Boston

It looks like opponents of creationism are going to have their hands full in 2012. The new year is just a few days old, and already we’ve seen several anti-evolution bills popping up in the states.

In Indiana, state Sen. Dennis Kruse has introduced S.B. 89, a bill that would allow public schools in the state to “require the teaching of various theories concerning the origin of life, including creation science, within the school corporation.”

Kruse has been on this crusade for a number of years and has introduced versions of this bill before. They always died. But Republicans now control the state Senate, and Kruse is chairman of the Senate Education Committee. From this powerful perch, he can agitate for this misguided legislation.

There remains one huge problem with the bill: It is patently unconstitutional. Our good friend Genie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, told the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette that Kruse's bill would run afoul of Edwards v. Aguillard, a 1987 Supreme Court ruling that struck down a Louisiana law requiring “balanced treatment” between creation science and evolution.

“The law is very, very clear on this,” Scott said. “If this bill is passed, it is going to be challenged, and they will lose. The case law is so strong against them.”

Meanwhile, some New Hampshire legislators have introduced a pair of truly kooky bills. State Rep. Jerry Bergevin’s bill, H.B. 1148, would order the state board of education to “[r]equire evolution to be taught in the public schools of this state as a theory, including the theorists’ political and ideological viewpoints and their position on the concept of atheism.”

Bergevin believes that teaching evolution leads to Nazism and school shootings.

“I want the full portrait of evolution and the people who came up with the ideas to be presented,” he said. “It’s a worldview and it’s godless. Atheism has been tried in various societies, and they’ve been pretty criminal domestically and internationally. The Soviet Union, Cuba, the Nazis, China today: they don’t respect human rights…. [W]e should be concerned with criminal ideas like this and how we are teaching it... Columbine, remember that? They were believers in evolution. That’s evidence right there.”

A separate New Hampshire bill, H.B. 1457, introduced by Reps. Gary Hopper and John Burt, would mandate that the state board of education “[r]equire science teachers to instruct pupils that proper scientific inquire [sic] results from not committing to any one theory or hypothesis, no matter how firmly it appears to be established, and that scientific and technological innovations based on new evidence can challenge accepted scientific theories or modes.”

This bill is more of the tiresome “evolution is just a theory” stuff we’ve been seeing out of the creationists for years.

But science marches on, and those who labor to keep our young people in ignorance are powerless to stop it. Inconveniently for them, life forms keep evolving. For example, you might have seen this interesting story about a hybrid shark recently found off the coast of Australia. It is being called an example of evolution in action.

Call me old-fashioned, but I believe our children ought to learn accurate information, not biblical literalism pretending to be science. When we short-change our kids by downplaying instruction about evolution, we’re only hurting them. Unless they go to a Bible school or an institution run by Jerry Falwell’s sons, in college young people will be taught evolution upfront and without apology. They’ll do better in Biology 101 if they get some exposure to the idea in secondary school.

I’m sure we’ll see more dangerous bills like this in other states as the year goes on. Last year, anti-evolution bills were introduced in a spate of states. Thankfully, all were defeated. Advocates of good science education and church-state separation will have to work hard to achieve the same results this year.

Our children deserve nothing less.

Does Islam Forbid Even Studying Evolution?

Nidhal Guessoum

Professor of Physics and Astronomy at American University of Sharjah, UAE

Posted: 01/ 4/12 03:18 PM ET

A few weeks ago, a story broke in the media about British Muslim students "increasingly" refusing to attend biological evolution classes. Even medical students, it was reported, were part of that worrisome development. The story quickly went quasi-viral; even the BBC and Al-Jazeera International ran shows about it.

Before I discuss this, I must note that one should be careful not to take sensational stories for a general trend, thus one should ask how many Muslim students in the UK and elsewhere are opposing evolution classes.

Evolution, while largely rejected as a paradigm by Muslims, including highly educated ones, is nonetheless studied in countries like Egypt, Iran, Pakistan, and the UAE. No case of students boycotting evolution classes in those countries has ever been reported. There have been occasional reports of students "resisting" the study of evolution in some western universities (in Holland, more specifically), but nothing widespread to make it a general trend. Perhaps Muslim students elsewhere are also rejecting evolution but pragmatically "compartmentalizing" its study as simply part of the curriculum, without turning it into a political issue.

Secondly, one must keep in mind other cultural aspects of this attitude by Muslim students in the west, issues of identity, minority, and law, as in the case of the hijab and niqab debates, for example. Or perhaps Muslim students consider evolution as a purely western theory, one which embodies a materialistic, atheistic philosophy; they then target it as an expression of a very different worldview. The rejection of evolution can perhaps be seen as an insistence on the part of a minority to its right to abide by its religious decrees (assuming this is established) even in educational curricula.

Surveys have shown Muslims almost everywhere largely rejecting the main concepts and results of the theory of evolution, particularly when it applies to humans. Even educated Muslims - and this is where today's Muslim culture stands out - consider evolution as "only a theory" and refuse to accept that we humans share common ancestors with apes, and that all creatures (animals and plants) came from an original cell.

In my recent book, I reported on surveys that I conducted at my own university among students and professors, where not only did 60 % of the respondents state that "evolution is an unproven theory", some 80 % of them either did not wish to see it taught or accepted that it be taught "but only as a theory".

Among physicians, a survey was conducted in 2005, where 29 of the 40 Muslim doctors agreed more with Intelligent Design than with the evolution. Currently, Salman Hameed has been leading a project investigating the views of Muslim physicians and medical students Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan and Turkey; the preliminary results show that most Malaysian doctors reject the theory of evolution, particularly with regard to humans, though the picture is much more complex than one might infer from such stunning numbers.

Indeed, there is no uniform Islamic position on the theory of evolution. Ever since its earliest formulation by Darwin (and subsequent improvements on it), Muslim scholars have reacted to it with a variety of viewpoints, including sometimes a full acceptance of its scenario on the origin and history of humanity. In such cases, religious scholars insist on a theistic interpretation: God planned that whole evolution, by writing it in the laws of nature, and perhaps even "guided" it.

But there are also strongly creationist positions in today's Muslim culture, the clearest and strongest one being expressed by Harun Yahya and his group, who for the past decade or more have launched an aggressive campaign targeting Muslims throughout the world, including the UK and France, where lecture tours are organized and books (such as the infamous Atlas of Creation) are massively distributed either freely or in subsidized sales. A full review of the spectrum of Islamic positions can be found in my book, including a detailed critique of the claims made by Harun Yahya.

So if there is a large spectrum of Islamic position vis-a-vis evolution, why do those students claim that "it is against the teachings of the Qur'an"?

First, this attitude is a confusion of genres: the Qur'an should not be a reference against which any scientific theory or result is checked; the Qur'an is a book of spiritual, moral, and social guidance, and while it encourages people to explore the world and derive from it a worldview, one which conforms to its theistic teachings, it does not claim to present descriptions, much less explanations for how the world works.

Secondly, stating that evolution is "against the teachings of the Qur'an" stems from taking certain stories, particularly the creation story of Adam, literally and accepting the interpretations of the Holy Book by old scholars as the definitive meaning of those verses. As I've often told people, just as we do not reject the sun-centered model of the solar system just because the Qur'an says "the sun rises" and "the sun sets", we must not reject evolution just because the Book says "God created Adam from clay".

The openness of the Qur'an to (re-)interpretation was recently underlined by Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, perhaps the most influential Muslim scholar of the past few decades, who stated that: "If Darwin's theory is proven, we can find Qur'anic verses that will fit with it..."

The rejection of evolution in today's Muslim culture is then a reflection of the dominance of the literalistic, fundamentalist conceptions of Islam in many parts of the world, including among Muslim minorities in the west. And campaigns by Harun Yahya and the like are counter-productive and do not bode well for Muslims, whether with regard to science or modernity, more generally.

Last but not least, it is very unfortunate that Muslims keep claiming that knowledge and science occupy a high place in Islam but then many of them turn dogmatic, close-minded, and selective when they must at least learn a theory which challenges their old conceptions. How can knowledge and science be upheld and promoted when one insists on sticking to pre-adopted, un-informed positions?

Muslims everywhere must open their minds to all new ideas. They must be confident that their faith and worldview are robust enough to deal with modernity in its various facets; indeed, new viewpoints can help fine-tune beliefs and worldviews. Islam not only does not forbid studying evolution or any other theory; it welcomes new knowledge and deals with it objectively. Muslims are called upon to engage with science, philosophy, and art with confidence and open minds.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Jerry Bergevin, New Hampshire Legislator, Links Evolution With Nazis And Columbine

John Celock

First Posted: 01/ 2/12 12:51 PM ET Updated: 01/ 2/12 05:57 PM ET

A Republican state lawmaker in New Hampshire who introduced legislation to stop the teaching of evolution in schools has claimed that the theory of evolution lead to the Columbine massacre.

Republican State Rep. Jerry Bergevin told the Concord Monitor last week | will teach evolution as a still tentative theory based on what he said is the political impact of the concept on society. Bergevin, author of one of two anti-evolution bills pending in the New Hampshire Legislature, linked the "worldview" of evolution to the rise of the Nazi Party, among other evils.

"I want the full portrait of evolution and the people who came up with the ideas to be presented. It's a worldview and it's godless. Atheism has been tried in various societies, and they've been pretty criminal domestically and internationally. The Soviet Union, Cuba, the Nazis, China today: they don't respect human rights," he said.

"As a general court we should be concerned with criminal ideas like this and how we are teaching it... Columbine, remember that? They were believers in evolution. That's evidence right there," he said.

Bergevin's bill was filed alongside a bill sponsored by two other Republican lawmakers that would broadly call for science teachers to emphasize that new scientific results can dispute established scientific theories. Both bills have been introduced for the 2012 legislative session, which begins this month in Concord. Under New Hampshire's legislative rules, both bills will receive a hearing before a relevant committee.

The bills come at the same time that Indiana legislators will also be wrestling with the subject of creationism, with a bill requiring the teaching of the concept in the state's public schools. The bill has gained the wrath of the National Center for Science Education, whose executive director said the legislation violated the Supreme Court's ruling on the issue.

"The obvious problem is that the Indiana legislature can't authorize a school district to violate the Constitution," NCSE executive director Eugenie Scott said in a statement. "And the Supreme Court held in its 1987 decision in Edwards v. Aguillard, that it's unconstitutional for creation science to be taught in public schools."

The NCSE has not returned a request for comment regarding Bergevin's comments.

Last year, seven states rejected bills designed to bring teach creationism in public schools. The bills were designed after a Louisiana law regarding the teaching of creationism. The Louisiana law, passed in 2008, allows for the teaching of any concept that challenges a scientific theory in order to promote thinking by students.

The New Hampshire bill comes as part of an increasingly conservative tilt in the New Hampshire Legislature, which is dominated by Tea Party affiliated Republicans who were elected in 2010. Bergevin, who was backed by the New Hampshire chapter of the Republican Liberty Caucus in his 2010 race, has introduced a series of conservative bills in his first year in office. Among the bills were proposals to make the killing of an unborn child a first degree murder offense and to allow churches to engage in political campaigning.

Harrell Kirstein, the spokesman for the state Democratic Party, declined to comment on Bergevin's statement.

How do we know evolution really_happens?

Monday, January 2, 2012

It's a common misconception that evolution is a matter of faith, because it happens too slowly to observe. Here's the way one reader sees it: "I don't see any fish walking around, nor do I see any other creature in mid-evolving mode. . . . Simply stated, both creationism and evolution should be taught as competing theories; both are not provable, and both cannot be duplicated in a lab."

But evolution does happen in the lab, in real time, and it's bad news for us because such rapid evolution allows organisms that can kill us by evading drugs, vaccines, and our own immune systems.

Viral evolution is in the news because scientists reportedly created a new strain of bird flu (H5N1) that's highly contagious, prompting a government advisory board to request that scientific journals not publish the details.

As I quizzed Penn bioterrorism expert Harvey Rubin about the situation, he continued to talk about evolution and "fitness" of flu viruses. Indeed, he said, the whole point of creating a newer, scarier H5N1 was to help anticipate the virus' future evolution.

It's not easily transmissible now. But thanks to evolution, that might change.

This conversation led me to biologist Eddie Holmes of Penn State's Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics. "Viruses give us the best, most precisely defined examples of evolution you could possibly think of," he said.

Flu viruses evolve particularly fast because they're based on RNA - the single-stranded relative of DNA. RNA doesn't have any mechanism by which to repair copying errors, the way DNA does, so these viruses mutate much faster than DNA viruses.

Working with viruses, Holmes said, "is like watching human evolution on fast-forward." In 10 years, a virus can undergo as much evolution as a human could in 10 million.

The fact that these viruses undergo mutations is just part of the story. Their mutated progeny are subject to the sorting effect of natural selection. Those that are best at surviving and reproducing themselves predominate.

Viruses have hit upon a number of survival strategies, said Holmes. Measles infects children, thus ensuring a constant crop of new potential hosts. Herpes viruses can lie low, going undetected by the immune system much of the time, so it can survive in a host and spread for decades.

For flu viruses, the strategy is to evade the host's immune system. People are immune to whatever flu viruses have made them sick in the past, but evolution leads to slightly different versions coming back each season.

Some mutations change the proteins, called antigens, that are the targets of the immune system. By natural selection, the viruses that acquire new antigens can infect a lot more people and will be much more successful than those that have the same old antigens.

Holmes said evolutionary ideas were guiding the quest for a universal flu vaccine - one that would protect us not only from evolving seasonal viruses, but also from new ones, such as H5N1, that jump from other species.

To get such universal protection, scientists need to attack something that's common to all flu viruses. They are using genetic sequencing to find stretches of common genetic code, hoping to find a common Achilles' heel. If viruses didn't evolve from a common ancestor, this wouldn't work.

Meanwhile, at Penn, biologist/computer scientist Joshua Plotkin is learning about evolution by studying both flu and HIV.

Viruses disprove the common misconception that random mutations can't lead to improvements in an organism, he said. Unfortunately for us, random mutations lead to flu viruses that can escape our immune systems and vaccines.

"That's proof positive that some mutations are of adaptive utility," Plotkin said. "I can't think of a more straightforward example than that."

Understanding evolution helps scientists stay a step ahead of flu.

There are patterns, he said, that can be discerned from the last 30 years of flu evolution. Sometimes, two mutations act in concert, for example, so if scientists see one, they can anticipate the other and base a vaccine on an educated guess about its future course.

In his work, Plotkin also studies the way natural selection acts along with the laws of physics to lend some order and predictability to evolution.

The physics comes in because some mutations lead to new proteins whose physical structure may or may not be stable.

Success breeds more success for flu. The more virus gets out there, the more possible new mutants. "Flu is the most successful organism on the planet," said Plotkin. The better it does, the more opportunities it gets to do even better.

Another type of evolution leads to pandemic strains such as the H5N1, which jumped from birds in the late 1990s. Such a jump was also responsible for the 1918 pandemic, and the more recent swine flu outbreak.

In this kind of evolution, viruses of different types exchange pieces of genetic code to produce something new. H5N1 has pieces of a virus that infects waterfowl and pieces of a human seasonal flu.

Penn State's Holmes said the evolutionary relationships among hosts could help us understand these rare events. Viruses have an easier time jumping between closely related species, such as humans and chimps. That's because the virus uses a lock-and-key-type system to infiltrate cells, and chimp cells are similar to our own. Luckily for us so far, bird flu has a hard time getting into human cells.

But now we know that it could mutate to gain access, thanks to those researchers who've created the new lab-altered, super-infective version that started this tale.

Some readers have said they accepted microbial or viral evolution, but felt that scientists still hadn't shown enough evidence it could happen in more complex organisms - especially us. Complex species like us evolve slowly. But we know microbes evolve through the same mechanism. They share with us the same types of molecules - RNA and DNA - that transmit the genetic code.

"The same laws of physics that operate on microbes also operate on large organisms," said Plotkin. "We have no reason to believe protein evolution will be substantially different."

Contact staff writer Faye Flam at 215-854-4977,,

on her blog at,

or @fayeflam on Twitter.

Posted by Faye Flam @ 8:15 AM Permalink

Creation science?

Published: January 3, 2012 3:00 a.m.

A football game might be the headline event in Indianapolis this winter, but don’t count out the Indiana General Assembly for entertainment. Legislation already filed promises to command attention when lawmakers convene Wednesday, including a bill to allow schools to teach creationism.

Indiana’s part-time legislature has been meeting annually since 1972, with even-numbered years reserved for emergency issues and tweaking laws. For 2012, Sen. Dennis Kruse has identified local school boards’ right to require the teaching of creationism as one of those pressing issues.

Kruse, a Republican from Auburn, filed a creationism bill as a state representative in 2000. It died in committee in the Democratic-controlled House, but Kruse now is chairman of the Senate Education Committee, and Republicans control both chambers. Democrats were powerless to stop any GOP education bill last year, including the voucher program under challenge in a Marion County court.

If Kruse’s “creation science” bill is approved, a legal challenge is inevitable, according to Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education.

The U.S. Supreme found Louisiana’s creation-science law unconstitutional. Since the 1987 decision, efforts to chip away at the teaching of evolution have taken different approaches, but none have revived the creation-science approach offered in Kruse’s bill.

“The law is very, very clear on this,” Scott said. “If this bill is passed, it is going to be challenged, and they will lose. The case law is so strong against them.”

Aside from a bill with troublesome legal implications, others on the agenda include:

•A bill to eliminate Indiana high school class basketball.

•Legislation requiring public schools and universities to enter into a performance contract with any person or group performing the national anthem at a school-sponsored event.

•A bill that makes it legal to manufacture or possess a switchblade.

Granted, the legislature is set to address some of the clean-up issues intended for its short sessions. One proposed bill would overturn legislation approved last year to leave the names of unopposed candidates off the ballot. Another allows county auditors to require additional proof before granting a homestead deduction.

How refreshing it would be if the General Assembly avoided inevitable legal battles and limited its work to the intended use of a 30-day session.

© Copyright 2012 The Journal Gazette.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Society Calls For More Details On Proposed TCM Act

January 02, 2012 17:27 PM

SHAH ALAM, Jan 2 (Bernama) -- The Malaysian Society for Complementary Medicine (MSCM) has urged the Health Ministry to provide a clear explanation of the proposed Traditional and Complementary Medicine (TCM) Act to ensure that it will truly benefit more than 15,000 practitioners in the country.

Society president Lee Chee Pheng said many practitioners have voiced concern over the ambiguity of the act, saying it should not restrict and weaken TCM as an alternative medicine.

"The practitioners want to know whether specific rules will be created to ensure that the TCM remains competitive. Who's going to instruct and train new practitioners, or decide who's scientific and who's not?

"These issues should be addressed in the act and must be explained continuously to the relevant stakeholders before it comes into force," he told Bernama.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai said the ministry has submitted the TCM Bill to the Attorney-General, and hopes to table it in parliament early this year.

The main objective of the act is to provide guidelines to better regulate TCM practices in Malaysia. Once implemented, all TCM practitioners will have to register with the ministry before they can offer their services.

Lee said the government should not delay enforcing the TCM Act as it is necessary to instill confidence in traditional medicine among the public.

He said the ministry should assist practitioners in getting their practices documented before the act is enforced.

Lee pointed out that proper organisation is needed in TCM as it involves many different schools of thought, practice and belief.

"This is to ensure that any rules and guidelines set forth will not be seen as a burden to practitioners," Lee said.

Lee said the government should look into establishing Traditional Indian Medicine research centres in collaboration with local and foreign bodies, as well as such facilities for Traditional Chinese Medicine.

He said the government has accepted TCM as an alternative to conventional medicine, with more than 17 hospitals in Malaysia equipped with TCM facilities and practitioners.

Lee, who is chairman of the International, Scientific and Research Council for Complementary Medicine, also said that he is working hard to set up the council's head office in Malaysia this year.


Bills seek to dilute the teaching of evolution in public schools

Monday, January 2, 2012
David Brooks

Opponents of the science of evolution usually take one of two approaches: using word games to dismiss it as “just a theory,” or claiming there’s some sort of controversy that must be taught, allowing non-scientific ideas to sneak into class.

This year, however, the Legislature will ponder a third option: Creating a law so vague that it means nothing or maybe everything, so creationists can reinterpret it at will.

The bill (HB 1457) is a modification of a proposal I wrote about in July.

That proposal urged “requiring instruction in intelligent design in the public schools.” Pretty straightforward, even if (in my humble opinion) a very, very bad idea.

The sponsor, Rep. Gary Hopper, R-Weare, told me at the time he thought “Darwin’s theory is basically antiquated” because it can’t explain how life began. Science classes, he said, need to be taught creationism or intelligent design, which argues that life is so complicated it simply must have been created at some point, somewhere, by some unknown (and unknowable), all-powerful, intelligent being or beings. Very scientific.

Hopper also admitted to philosophical concerns with evolutionary science, which he feels has led to an empty, nihilist feeling in society because “the conclusion is that we’re a bunch of accidents … you really have no purpose for existence.”

When it came time to file his bill, however, Hopper altered the wording – not unusual, since proposed bills often morph as time goes on.

His bill says this: “Require science teachers to instruct pupils that proper scientific inquire (sic) results from not committing to any one theory or hypothesis, no matter how firmly it appears to be established, and that scientific and technological innovations based on new evidence can challenge accepted scientific theories or modes.”

I’m not sure what that means, frankly.

At best, it seems to say “instruct pupils that proper scientific inquiry results from proper scientific inquiry” – which is true, if not exactly useful.

At worst, though, it seems to say something like “you can disregard any scientific theory if it is challenged.”

If a parent shows up at a school board meeting and mentions some Web site that claims the fossil record is flawed and can be ignored, I guess that is a challenge based on “new evidence,” which means biology class must “not commit” to evolution. Creationists, take the podium.

Let’s not stop there. Mention of astrology, claiming evidence about an instantaneous universal force unknown to science, means physics class should “not commit” to Newton’s ideas about gravity. Homeopathy means classes should “not commit” to basic chemistry. The Hollow Earth Theory means earth science should “not commit” to plate tectonics. Brouwer’s Intituitionism (to dredge up memories from college days) means math class should “not commit” to irrational numbers. And so on.

Ridiculous, of course. But if a law that vague got on the books, it’s not out of the question.

The other anti-evolution bill is much less circuitous but produces just as much head-scratching.

House Bill 1148, sponsored by Rep. Jerry Bergevin, R-Manchester, wants to “require evolution to be taught in the public schools of this state as a theory, including the theorists’ political and ideological viewpoints and their position on the concept of atheism.”

The first half of that bill is standard creationist fare. It commits the usual error of thinking that the term “theory” in science – which refers to findings built up by years of evidence and study, accepted by hundreds or thousands of researchers – is the same as the term “theory” in everyday usage, where it refers to a guess or hunch.

“Hypothesis” is the term science uses for what most of us mean by “theory.”

Gravity, for example, is a scientific theory – a shaky one, really, since we don’t know the underlying cause – although nobody ever seems to get upset about lack of gravity alternatives in science class.

To me, the second half of Bergevin’s bill seems downright ludicrous.

Who are “the theorists” that Bergevin wants polled about politics, ideology and atheism? Every scientist in the world whose work touches on evolution – all several million of them? Every biology teacher in New Hampshire? Anybody who has read “The Double Helix”?

It really makes no sense.

In a July e-mail to me, Bergevin said he “is not anti-evolution, I am anti-indoctrination.”

Me, too – which is why I don’t want lawmakers to force science classes to indoctrinate students with non-science, merely out of political correctness.

Both of these bills should die a quick and deserving death. Science education has enough difficulties as it is.

Granite Geek appears Mondays in the Telegraph, and online at David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or

New Year Brings New Attacks on Evolution in Schools

Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer
Date: 01 January 2012 Time: 08:38 AM ET

The new year is bringing new controversy over teaching evolution in public schools, with two bills in New Hampshire seeking to require teachers to teach the theory more as philosophy than science.

Meanwhile, an Indiana state senator has introduced a bill that would allow school boards to require the teaching of creationism.

New Hampshire House Bill 1148 would "require evolution to be taught in the public schools of this state as a theory, including the theorists' political and ideological viewpoints and their position on the concept of atheism."

The second proposal in the New Hampshire House, HB 1457, does not mention evolution specifically but would "require science teachers to instruct pupils that proper scientific inquire [sic] results from not committing to any one theory or hypothesis, no matter how firmly it appears to be established, and that scientific and technological innovations based on new evidence can challenge accepted scientific theories or modes."

Innovation can indeed overturn old ideas, but the theory of evolution is too well-established to be tossed out like yesterday's garbage, scientists say.

"Bill 1457 turns skepticism into bewilderment," said Zen Faulkes, a biology professor at the University of Texas, Pan America. "It would ask teachers to say to students, 'Don't commit to the hypothesis that uranium has more protons than carbon,' or 'Remember, kids, tomorrow we might find out that DNA is not the main molecule that carries genetic information.' Evolution is as much a fact as either of those things, so it should be taught with the same confidence."

Religion and science

The theory of evolution has become a flashpoint for religious conservatives, many of whom argue that the idea of life evolving over billions of years clashes with Biblical beliefs. Republican State Rep. Gary Hopper, who with his Republican district mate John Burt introduced HB 1457, told the Concord Monitor that the theory of evolution teaches students that life is nothing but an accident.

"I want to introduce children to the idea that they have a purpose for being here," Hopper told the newspaper.

Hopper said he would like to see intelligent design, or the idea that a creator sparked life's development, taught in schools, but that he did not write the requirement into his bill because similar attempts have failed around the country.

Jerry Bergevin, a Republican who introduced HB 1148, went further, telling the Concord Monitor that atheism was linked to Nazism and the 1999 Columbine school shooting.

"I want the full portrait of evolution and the people who came up with the idea to be presented," Bergevin said. "It's a worldview and it's godless."

New Hampshire isn't the only state where battle lines have been drawn over evolution. In 2011, at least seven states considered bills that would limit the teaching of evolution in public schools. Anti-evolution bills in the last several years have failed except in Louisiana. That 2008 law gives teachers the right to bring in supplemental classroom materials that teach ideas contrary to established science in fields including evolution, climate change and the origin of life.

Doomed to failure?

New Hampshire's two bills are set for hearings in the state's House Education Committee in February. Nashua Telegraph columnist David Brooks, who has been following their course, said bills related to evolution in public schools are rare in the state. The last time evolution was an issue was in 1994.

Brooks added that New Hampshire, with 1.3 million people, has 400 state representatives, each of whom gets paid $100 a year to serve. "Most of them are volunteers, many of them are retirees, so a lot of unusual bills get proposed," Brooks told LiveScience. "So the fact that an unusual bill gets proposed in New Hampshire is not always as big a deal as it would be in other states."

Indiana's proposal, state Senate Bill 89, would require that "the governing body of a school corporation may require the teaching of various theories concerning the origin of life, including creation science, within the school corporation." [7 Theories on the Origin of Life]

"This is a bill that directly promotes that teaching of creation science," said Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, a nonprofit organization in Oakland, Calif., that defends the teaching of evolution and climate change in public schools.

"What a dinosaur. Bills specifically saying 'Thou shalt teach creation science' haven't been around for a couple of decades," Scott told LiveScience.

That's because a 1987 Supreme Court decision in the case Edwards v. Aguillard found that teaching creationism as science in public schools is unconstitutional. Any laws passed requiring the teaching of creationism would thus be thrown out by the courts.

Nevertheless, Scott said, the NCSE is keeping a close eye on state legislatures around the country. The organization helps local groups oppose anti-evolution legislation.

"Teaching students that scientific explanations that are not controversial are controversial is mis-educating them," Scott said. "And that's why these bills are bad."

You can follow LiveScience senior writer Stephanie Pappas on Twitter @sipappas. Follow LiveScience for the latest in science news and discoveries on Twitter @livescience and on Facebook.

On teaching evolution: New year, old fight

2 bills want it taught as theory

By Ben Wolfgang

The Washington Times

Sunday, January 1, 2012

It's a new year, but familiar debates continue to rage over God, evolution and exactly what the nation's students should learn about each.

At least two states in 2012 will consider bills that downplay the notion man evolved from animals and call for Charles Darwin's famous theory to be taught as just that - one possible explanation, not the definitive answer.

Legislators in New Hampshire have introduced a pair of anti-evolution bills, one of which calls for intelligent design to be taught as a hypothesis for how life began. The measure's co-author, state Rep. Gary Hopper, told the Concord Monitor newspaper last week that he wants "to introduce children to the idea they have a purpose for being here."

"I want the problems with current theories to be presented so that kids understand that science doesn't really have all the answers. They are just guessing," Mr. Hopper said.

A companion bill, introduced by Rep. Jerry Bergevin, would require that evolution be taught as a theory, and that students be presented with the "godless" worldview that he believes accompanies the idea.

Tennessee is also expected to resurrect its so-called "monkey bill," which would mandate that teachers fully divulge the "scientific weakness" of existing theories, including evolution, global warming and others. The measure cleared the state House last year, and Senate leaders have vowed to bring it to the floor soon.

In 2011, at least 11 anti-evolution bills in eight state legislatures were introduced. With the exception of those in Tennessee and New Hampshire, each measure died in committee.

"It was one of the busiest years we've ever seen. A lot of these bills get introduced, then keep getting reintroduced, and reintroduced and reintroduced," said Robert Luhn, spokesman for the National Center for Science Education, which touts itself as a defender of "the teaching of evolution in public schools."

Mr. Luhn and many others reject the concept that the belief in a supernatural creator is incompatible with the belief in evolution. Scientists, he said, also freely acknowledge that evolution is a theory, but one that outlines the most likely explanation for the dawn of mankind.

"That's what we've always been doing. It is a theory. Gravity, too, is a theory, and if you don't believe that, try jumping off of a building," Mr. Luhn said.

The debate, formerly confined to classrooms, school board meetings and high-profile court cases, has now spilled into the arena of presidential politics. In June, Rep. Michele Bachmann, Minnesota Republican and White House hopeful, told reporters that she supports the concept of intelligent design, and would like to see it taught alongside evolution in American classrooms.

"What I support is putting all science on the table and then letting students decide," she said. "I don't think it's a good idea for government to come down on one side of a scientific issue or another, when there is reasonable doubt on both sides."

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, also seeking the GOP presidential nomination, told supporters last summer that evolution is "a theory that's out there," and that he firmly believes the hand of an omnipotent creator is responsible for life.

Those statements and others prompted a rival Republican candidate, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., to warn his colleagues that the party is in danger of compromising its credibility.

"When we take a position that isn't willing to embrace evolution ... I think we find ourselves on the wrong side of science, and therefore, in a losing position," he said in August.

Efforts to push intelligent design into the classroom have also been losers. School leaders in Dover, Pa., mandated in 2004 that intelligent design be taught alongside evolution, a move struck down a year later by federal Judge John Jones III.

In his decision, Judge Jones, a 2002 appointee of President Bush, wrote that intelligent-design proponents weren't trying to encourage critical thinking, but were instead trying to boot evolution from schools and replace it with the biblical account of creation. He ruled that intelligent design, by its very nature, is a religious belief, not a scientific fact or theory, and therefore should not be taught in schools.

Regardless of that decision, the battle is guaranteed to continue. The New Hampshire bills are set for hearings before the House Education Committee in February.

© Copyright 2012 The Washington Times, LLC.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

This week in crazy: Oller sues UL

Written by Walter Pierce
Thursday, 29 December 2011

UL linguistics professor John Oller attended a conference at the Creation Museum in Kentucky, which includes depictions of dinosaurs and humans coexisting. Oller has also served as an invited speaker at a conference of the Society for the Advancement of Creation Science at Mississippi State University, and is a regular article contributor for the Institute for Creation Research.

Professor John Oller, a champion of creationism and its lab coat-clad cousin, Intelligent Design, who also trumpets discredited theories about the link between autism and childhood vaccines, has filed suit against UL alleging that fellow members of the Communicative Disorders Department have marginalized him.

As first reported in The Advocate, Oller claims in the federal civil-rights suit that his daffy positions on evolution and autism have led to reductions in his class sizes, the banning of his self-authored textbooks, a lack of lecture opportunities and a general ostracizing by his fellow professors, some of whom Oller claims have urged him to leave the university.

Oller writes a blog in which he pushes his theory about autism. A 2010 book authored by Oller, The Autism Epidemic and Related Issues, was graced with a forward written by Andrew Wakefield, the British (former) physician who first began disseminating the idea that the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine causes autism. It was later discovered and reported early this year in the British Medical Journal that Wakefield was being paid by a law firm that was suing the maker of the MMR vaccine and at the same time Wakefield hoped to introduce his own measles vaccine. The British medical journal Lancet later retracted Wakefield’s original article after Wakefield was found guilty of professional misconduct and had his medical license revoked.

A linguist by education, Oller has no expertise in immunology or biological sciences, yet he continues to press his various causes.

He has also become a regular “expert” speaker before the state Legislature on the behalf of the Louisiana Family Forum in its attempts to insert Intelligent Design inTO the high school biology curriculum — again, with no expertise in biology.

Read more about Oller’s lawsuit against UL here.

For more on his discredited theories on subjects about which he has no academic or scientific expertise, read this take down from January by

“No credible academic institution should support a theory that is so widely discredited, especially one that has already resulted in the resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases and deaths.”

— Brie Cadman, health editor,

Yellow Cat Attempts to Debunk Creationist Misconceptions

Thursday, December 29, 2011

I occasionally post feedback to my column, partly to stimulate discussion but also to shed light on America’s peculiar resistance to evolution. The issues expressed by these readers sometimes suggest science illiteracy, but it’s not so much a lack of the right facts and figures as a misunderstanding of the nature of the scientific method.

Normally when I post feedback I offer some counterpoint from a scientist. But it’s the holiday season, and most scientists are on vacation, so I thought I’d make a special exception this week and let Higgs the cat take a stab at this job. Let’s see how he does.

And here’s one I’ll transcribe from my voice mail on Dec. 26:

Q. Good evening this is ####. (leaves his number) You don’t have to call me, really I don’t want you to call me. Being an atheist you are wasting your time with the articles you are reading. You think we came from an animal? You have to study about our brains and how complicated we are and if you think we came from an animal you’d better go back to school or see a psychiatrist because you are a sick person . Happy New Year.

A. Happy New Year backatcha! Humans are so amusing when they talk about animals as a grouping in which they are not included. To which kingdom do you humans aspire to belong? Plants? Fungi? I employ several humans as servants to bring me my meals and clean my toilet and I can tell you they are animals with a capital A. It is much easier to understand why some cats object to evolutionary theory. We obviously exist on a higher plane. Nevertheless we have come to accept our humble evolutionary roots and family ties with lesser beings. Thank you for letting me express my opinion – Higgs.

This next letter came via email and refers to one of the columns written about scientists trying to understand the origin of life:

Q. I, too, found the article interesting, largely because of the huge assumption of naturalism that underlies the entire endeavor. The idea that the difference between life and non-life may be defined in purely scientific terms rests on a naturalistic worldview that basically assumes its conclusions.

A. This seems quite tail-end backwards. It’s those who want to attribute the origin of life to God who are confusing assumptions with conclusions. Scientists are still working hard trying to replicate parts of the process in their labs. They don’t have a complete conclusion yet, and those they have are the direct result of experiments. I think scientists would take notice if their experiments showed life was first assembled by angels. That just hasn’t happened.

By breaking down the origin of life into smaller pieces, science has made great progress. Some say all that’s required is a membrane and some kind of self-replicating molecule. People such as Jack Szostak have shown how membrane-like structures can assemble themselves. They are also making strides in showing how self-replicating molecules such as RNA and DNA might come about from simpler precursors. RNA is more independent – more catlike that is – than DNA. So scientists think RNA predated DNA during an early phase called the RNA world.

Scientists aren’t making assumptions that God wasn’t involved. They just don’t see any evidence. Quite frankly, supernatural phenomena have an abysmal track record in science. In the past, scientific inquiry has always pointed to natural causes for things – never supernatural ones.

And seriously, if you were deathly ill or in pain, would you want your doctor to start looking for some kind of natural cause first, or would you want him to spend several days looking for signs of possession? The physicist David Bohm is thought to have said that intelligence is knowing not to fight for an assumption. Thank you for letting me express my opinion. - Higgs

Okay, but those were relatively easy. Let’s see how Higgs handles this more difficult one:

Q. Much of science today is accepted because it is or seems logical, and the scientists themselves decide what is the proof. Logically the sun rotates the earth every day and it has been proven by Ptolymy. His math definitely showed that the sun and planets make a daily spin around us. It took 1400 years to disprove his proof and Copernicus risked censure to publish it.

Certainly Evolution is very logical and I certainly believe it but nobody, nobody, can ever prove it.

A. The concept of proof is useful in mathematics, but in science, not so much. Scientists can make much more progress by focusing on evidence. If you read On the Origin of Species, you’ll see Darwin doesn’t so much try to prove evolution as to show it works better than creationism. He gives examples of dozens of observations from nature that are easily explained by natural selection and not explained at all by the then-current theory of independent creation of each species.

Darwin’s idea caught on because it blew the previous paradigms out of the water. Others had considered the possibility of evolution, but he figured out the mechanism. His evidence was in the apparent relatedness of living things, their distribution, the fossil record, and his observations of dramatic changes in domestic animals. Since then, DNA has provided powerful conformation that all living things are related through common ancestry. Scientists have also had a chance to observe natural selection in action by studying viruses and bacteria. You could call this proof or evidence – that’s just semantics - but it’s every bit as good as the evidence/proof for Einstein’s relativity. From the get-go special relativity explained how the speed of light could be a constant in Maxwell’s equations. It really is a constant! Extending the idea to incorporate gravity, general relativity predicted the bending of starlight around the sun, which astronomers were able to demonstrate during an eclipse.

The fact that you use the word “believe” as if it you were talking about a belief in Santa Claus is interesting. People don’t talk about believing in relativity. The same issue came up in the last Miss USA Pageant, in which many contestants talked about believing or not believing in evolution. Thank you for letting me express my opinion - Higgs. Can I get my treat now?

Posted by Faye Flam @ 8:59 AM Permalink

What's next: Creationists in the classroom

Last updated: December 29, 2011 4:21 p.m.
Karen Francisco | The Journal Gazette

After the 2011 session, it's tough to imagine what education issue GOP lawmakers could possibly offer to push Indiana schools further behind. Now we know – creationism in the classroom.

Sen. Dennis Kruse, chairman of the Senate education committee, has filed SB 89, providing that "the governing body of a school corporation may require the teaching of various theories concerning the origin of life, including creation science, within the school corporation."

If Indiana didn't attract national attention for approving the most expansive voucher entitlement program in the country last year, this bill will surely do it.

Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, told me that attempts to pass creation science legislation are practically unheard of given the decisive 1987 Supreme Court ruling. By a 7-2 vote, the court ruled that Louisiana's Creationism Act, which allowed the instruction of evolution only if it was taught alongside creationism, was unconstitutional.

"The Louisiana Creationism Act," wrote Justice Brennan, "advances a religious doctrine by requiring either the banishment of the theory of evolution from public school classrooms or the presentation of a religious viewpoint that rejects evolution. Because the primary purpose of the Creationism Act is to advance a particular religious belief, the Act endorses religion in violation of the First Amendment."

Kruse filed a creation science bill in 2000, when he was a first-term state representative. It died in committee in the Democratic-controlled House. Today, he's an influential committee chairman in a GOP-controlled General Assembly.

It would be nice to believe that Tony Bennett, the state superintendent of public instruction, would reference his experience as a science teacher to discourage the bill's approval. But when candidate Bennett was asked in 2008 by The Journal Gazette editorial board what he would do if he learned that an Indiana school district was teaching creationism, he hesitated and finally said that he would have to consider local authority. After he took office, he accepted an invitation to speak at a creationist conference, but backed out when it was reported that he was the featured speaker for the event. Bennett said he didn't know the topic and that he supported Indiana's current science curriculum.

One thing is certain: If Kruse wants the bill approved in this short session, it will happen. If the legislation reaches the full Senate and House, Republicans there will have a difficult time rejecting it.

© Copyright 2011 The Journal Gazette

Karen Francisco, senior editorial writer for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at