NTS LogoSkeptical News for 29 August 2003

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Friday, August 29, 2003

Science In the News

The following roundup of science stories appearing each day in the general media is compiled by the Media Resource Service, Sigma Xi's referral service for journalists in need of sources of scientific expertise.

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In the News

Today's Headlines - August 28, 2003

from The New York Times

Intermittent breaks from drug treatment are not beneficial to certain people infected with the AIDS virus and can even worsen their condition, the largest study of the strategy has found.

The study involved people infected with strains of the virus, H.I.V., that are resistant to more than one drug and have significantly reduced the effectiveness of their therapy, leaving them few treatment options.

Among participants, taking "drug holidays" hastened the progression from infection with H.I.V. to illness with AIDS. Those who engaged in this on-again, off-again regimen, or structured intermittent therapy, experienced more AIDS-related complications and poorer immune response than did participants who took AIDS drugs continuously.

from The Boston Globe

In a potential breakthrough for heart transplant patients, an experimental drug appears to prevent or reduce a common, deadly side effect of the overgrowth of cells in the blood vessel walls of the new heart.

The condition, known as chronic rejection syndrome, or "transplant disease," occurs in at least half of all transplanted hearts. Muscle cells in the blood vessel walls proliferate, narrowing the vessels and squeezing the supply of blood to the new heart. Death or rejection of the new organ often results.

The new drug, called everolimus, was created to tamp down the immune system so the body does not reject a new organ. Because it was also known to slow cell growth, it was tested against a standard immune-system-suppressing drug in preventing transplant disease.

from The Miami Herald

BALTIMORE - (AP) -- The Hubble Space Telescope captured spectacular images of Mars during the planet's close pass by Earth, including astonishingly detailed pictures of a polar ice cap and a giant canyon wall.

"We've never seen this kind of resolution in Hubble images, that kind of detail," Cornell University astronomer Jim Bell said Wednesday, pointing to a wall of the Valles Marineris, a canyon that runs 2,800 miles across the Red Planet.

The Baltimore-based Space Telescope Science Institute, which operates the telescope, released some of the Hubble images, made late Tuesday and early Wednesday as the planet made its closest pass by Earth in 60,000 years.


Mars: The Solved and Unsolved Mysteries

By Robert Roy Britt
Senior Science Writer
posted: 07:00 am ET
25 August 2003

More eyes are glued to Mars this week than has probably been the case since Orson Welles and his Mercury Players scared folks with his radio rendition of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds.

This is a good week to take a look: Mars will be closer on Wednesday, Aug. 27 than ever in recorded history. The buzz has been elevated to mania as all manner of media -- from the New York Times to Entertainment Weekly -- have latched onto a story first reported last November by SPACE.com.

Telescopes are selling so fast there's a shortage at many stores. Great. Go out, gaze heavenward and soak up some red light from our planetary neighbor during this historical event.

But don't kid yourself. The dusty world you'll see remains more mysterious than a North American power grid.

A history of false impressions

Admittedly, a lot has been learned since the days when Mars was roundly feared by the masses. The idea that Mars was criss-crossed with canals, for example -- inaccurately popularized by astronomer Percival Lowell in the early 1900s -- turned out not to be true.

Lowell's assumptions built on observations during a close approach of Mars in 1877 -- similar to the one this year but not as close -- and a bogus language translation.

In late 1877, colorblind but sharp-eyed Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli studied Mars through an 8.75-inch (0.2-meters) telescope. Schiaparelli drew and wrote about canali, an Italian word meaning channels. The word was translated to "canals" in English. The goof was fueled, historians say, by excitement over the construction of the Suez Canal, an engineering marvel of the era completed in 1869.

Lowell later observed the same apparent streaks, which connected dark areas thought to be oases, and determined they were canals built by intelligent beings to irrigate the desert planet with water from the polar caps.

Lowell presented his first drawings in an 1895 book titled "Mars." He argued his full theory in a 1908 book, "Mars as the Abode of Life." Many newspaper editors of the time defended him, even though other astronomers withheld judgment.

In hindsight, Lowell's claims of intelligent life on Mars were outlandishly speculative. But his conclusions joined a chorus of false impressions about Mars that predated him by centuries and lasted well beyond his death in 1916.

As late as 1924, earthlings listened for radio signals from Mars -- at the request of the U.S. government. And in 1938 Orson Welles' radio antics frightened thousands of listeners into believing Martians had invaded, first targeting New Jersey.

Enduring tunnel vision

Nowadays we know the canals don't exist and that there are no invading forces, of course. Scholars say the canals were the product of a human tendency to see patterns. When looking at a group of dark smudges, the eye will tend to connect them with straight lines.

Mars harbors no oases, either.

Observations over the past two years have revealed, though, that Mars is loaded with frozen water, locked away at both polar caps and in the soil around much of the rest of the globe. But fresh observations of Mars have a habit of fueling new speculation and generating additional frustrating questions.

Hamstrung by robotic tunnel vision, scientists still don't understand the real Mars. They don't know if there is liquid water or life on the most Earth-like planet available for in situ scrutiny.

Despite an onslaught of up-close observations spanning nearly 40 years, the red planet hasn't given up its most coveted secrets.

Mariner 4 flew by Mars on July 14, 1965, snapping the first close-up photographs of another planet. Hopes of obvious plant or animal life on the surface endured. The Viking landers scooped soil and sent pictures from the surface starting in 1976, dispelling any notions of rampant biology on Mars. Hope turned to merely finding water and signs of microbial life.

Pathfinder landed on the red planet in 1997 and sent a high-tech rover, Sojourner, out scouting. The pictures were great. The mysteries remained.

There are two sophisticated automated probes orbiting Mars now. NASA's Odyssey and Mars Global Surveyor orbiters have clinched the case for widespread water ice, but all known sorts of organisms need the melted variety, and no amount of sleuthing has turned up a drop.

Experts say the most recent Odyssey data reveal there is more ice in the soil of Mars than they can explain given the best theories about the past and present climate of Mars.

"It's really a huge amount of ice," says William Boynton, a University of Arizona researcher on the Odyssey team.

The next round

The search will heat up later this year when Europe's initial foray to Mars -- the first of three landing craft now en route -- is due to arrive at Mars.

Early next year, arrival is planned for a pair of NASA rovers that would make George Jetson jealous, what with their full suite of geologists' tools, chemistry sniffers, navigation computers and panoramic cameras.

Even the Japanese are in the quest now, with an orbiting craft that is limping its way Marsward.

But will these remote eyes, alloy hands and computerized brains solve the greatest mystery in the human mind by discovering that terrestrial life is not unique in the cosmos?


Capable as these machines are, they're not designed to uncover anything that might pulse with life, because such a thing on Mars is surely tiny and likely buried under the surface, where things are warmer, radiation-free and perhaps wet.

Elusive water

The robots might detect liquid water in the months to come, but even that is far from a given.

A team led by Michael Malin of Malin Space Science Systems, using Mars Global Surveyor, announced in 2000 strong evidence for water flowing recently down Martian cliffs. Other scientists are not so sure what the pictures showed.

Malin himself was cautious. "This story, I don't believe, will be answered until someone goes to one of these cliffs with a pick and shovel and digs into it," he said in 2000. So far, no automaton has proved him wrong.

Any discovery of firm signs of biological activity will probably have to wait at least until the end of this decade, possibly much longer.

NASA's Phoenix mission, slated for to land in 2008, will dig into the soil, stick some in an onboard oven, and try to learn if Mars might be habitable.

"Periodic variations in the Martian orbit allow a warmer climate to develop every 50,000 years," explains Peter H. Smith of the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. "During these periods the ice can melt, dormant organisms could come back to life, (if there are indeed any), and evolution can proceed. Our mission will verify whether the northern plains are indeed a last viable habitat on Mars."

The mission is not expected to find actual organisms, but it could detect organic molecules that would hint at present or past life.

Many scientists believe the question of life on Mars won't be answered until humans are sent to investigate.

Other mysteries

Meanwhile, other intractable Martian enigmas are less widely discussed but just as puzzling to scientists in particular fields.

Arizona State University's Joshua Bandfield wonders about Mars from a geologist's perspective. Last week, he and some colleagues suggested Mars almost surely has had some liquid water, in the past at least, but it might never have had oceans. That would dash hopes of many scientists who've long banked on standing water in the past as an initial incubator for Martian life.

Asked last week what is the greatest Mars mystery, Bandfield tossed out a narrower issue: Why are the planet's two hemispheres so different, he wonders. The southern one is dominated by ancient highlands. The north contains a lot of younger, low-lying terrain. Rocks in each hemisphere seemed to have formed by different means.

"We really don't have any clue as to why that happened," Bandfield said.

We do know, at least, that irrigation canals had nothing to do with it.


Are Pets Psychic?


Rupert Sheldrake Explains His Pet Theory

September 28 — Do animals have a sixth sense? British biologist Rupert Sheldrake believes animals can actually read minds.

"Dogs can know when their owners are coming home from far away," says Sheldrake. "They can know when people need them and go and comfort them and give them help because they pick up people's needs."

His new book, Dogs Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home, explains his theory in full. Sheldrake chatted with us today about his research.

Moderator at 12:56pm ET
Welcome Dr. Sheldrake. Let's begin.

BillS. from da.nownetworks.net at 1:00pm ET
So how do you differentiate between a psychic ability and an animal's natural abilities? My dog comforts my wife when she cries, and knows when she's coming home, but how do we know she can't hear the distinct sound of her car, and know the sounds and actions of another "animal" in need?

Rupert Sheldrake at 1:02pm ET
The best way to test if the dog is responding to the car is for your wife to come home by taxi or in a friend's car that the dog is unfamiliar with. You could also ask her to come home at an unusual time. This should sort out whether it is a matter of routine or familiar sounds.

Rupert Sheldrake at 1:04pm ET
When people are in the same room it's hard to know if their response is psychic or just a matter of empathy. That's why we need to do experiments when the animal and person are separated and beyond the range of sensory communication.

Lila from tnt1.kcy2.da.uu.net at 1:04pm ET
I wondered if you found anything in your studies that might lead you to believe that dogs have the ability to distinguish between capable, independent people, and people (or children) who need more attention?

Rupert Sheldrake at 1:06pm ET
There are many stories that show that dogs can tell when they are needed. Some dogs work in hospitals and hospices as pet therapists, and are remarkably attuned to people's needs.

Ellie from dialsprint.net at 1:07pm ET
A fox terrier belonging to my grandmother became a seeing-eye dog without training when she was blinded by cataracts. It enabled her to make her way around the city of Chicago, stopping at red lights, crossing streets on the green.

Rupert Sheldrake at 1:09pm ET
Some dogs behave in appropriately protective and helpful ways spontaneously, even without training like your grandmother's dog. Some dogs give warnings of epileptic seizures even without training, but their behavior can be made even more helpful with training.

Anthony Hurley from [] at 1:10pm ET
Rupert, I'm not a dog or cat expert, but I don't believe they have a "psychic" ability. I do know that dogs have good hearing and that they can be trained to hear certain sounds and know how to react to them. My grandpa can say a certain word or words and the dog will react correctly every time.

Rupert Sheldrake at 1:12pm ET
Dogs do indeed have good hearing and can respond to particular words. But when dogs know when people are coming home they can even do it when the person is more than 10 miles away and travelling in an unfamiliar car. There's no way this could be due to hearing.

J'Anna Mann from proxy.aol.com at 1:13pm ET
I didn't get to see the show, so I am not sure you covered this or not but are cats as attuned with their owners feelings and emotions as dogs? I've always thought that my cat knows when I am sad or sick. I am buying the book this weekend. Thanks.

Rupert Sheldrake at 1:16pm ET
Cats can be very helpful in comforting people when they need it. Our own cat was called Remedy for that very reason. But fewer cats than dogs react to their owners coming home, not necessarily that they are less sensitive but perhaps just because they are less interested.

Jenny from [], at 1:17pm ET
We recently moved to a different state, but when we go home our dog perks up a lot just after we enter Ohio. Is it possible that the dog can know that we are not far from our parent's house while traveling?

Rupert Sheldrake at 1:18pm ET
In my book I have a whole chapter on this phenomenon. Many animals seem to know when they are nearing their destination and wake up.

seth from [], at 1:18pm ET
Do you have a web site?

Rupert Sheldrake at 1:19pm ET
Yes and it is www.sheldrake.org

Moderator at 1:20pm ET
How did you begin researching this topic?

Rupert Sheldrake at 1:24pm ET
I've been interested in animals all my life. Even as a young child I was intrigued by unexplained powers, such as the ability of pigeons to home. I'm convinced that institutional biology has too narrow a focus and when I kept hearing intriguing stories about unexplained abilities of animals, I decided to try and find out more. I started by collecting case studies and now have more than 2000 on my database. I then did systematic surveys of pet owners which showed that these abilities are common, and I then started conducting controlled experiments to find out what was really going on.

Jenny 1 from firstunion.com at 1:25pm ET
What about humans? Do they ever sense things with dogs? When I was in high school, I got violently sick at 12:20 one day. Then when I got home, it turns out that it was the exact time that my Dad had the dog put down. Is this unusual?

Rupert Sheldrake at 1:26pm ET
Yes. We have many stories of dogs responding to people at a distance when they are in need or even dying, and also more than 20 stories of people responding to animals knowing when they are dying or in danger.

Rupert Sheldrake at 1:27pm ET
These bonds allow communication to travel both ways, but generally people are less sensitive than their animals.

Kiuku from waterbury.albany.edu at 1:29pm ET
One time my friends and I were in the woods swimming in this river and my friend had a really bad asthma attack and started panicking and this dog came running out of no where..jumped in the river and started dragging her out! The owner came running a couple minutes later after their dog that had just picked up and left them apparently

Rupert Sheldrake at 1:31pm ET
This is a remarkable story. But dogs can certainly be trained to help and rescue strangers. Search and rescue dogs are widely used in mountainous and other wild terrain. In Switzerland, there are still a few St. Bernards who find people who are lost or sick in the snow and have saved lives.

Stefanie from lpcorp.com at 1:33pm ET
After listening to your talk this morning on NPR, I'm wondering: what (if anything) do you think will change with broader acceptance of "the sixth sense" in animals? will medical treatment of animals become more psychologically oriented, in the same way that it is (very slowly!) affecting human medical treatment?

Rupert Sheldrake at 1:37pm ET
Many vets are already well aware of these abilities in animals, but often feel they have to pretend that they don't exist because they don't want to seem unscientific. However I think there is now good scientific evidence for these abilities, and I hope more vets will feel able to acknowledge them and take them into account in their practice. I have just finished reading Larry Dossey's new book, Reinventing Medicine, and he discusses this question in relation to human patients and doctors.

Charlotte from chem.yorku.ca at 1:38pm ET
Have you done any research regarding dogs that sniff out cancer in their owners?

Rupert Sheldrake at 1:39pm ET
There are some cases described in my book where dogs have indeed sniffed out cancer, and in one case two British cancer specialists even suggested that sniffer dogs should be used in melanoma clinics. But as far as I know there is no systematic research on this subject.

Neil from [] at 1:40pm ET
I have two questions if I may. How many controlled studies have been conducted regarding this? How many have been done by neutral parties? While I loved my cats and can see their reacting to my body language, all the evidence I've ever read is anecdotal and not reliable.

Rupert Sheldrake at 1:43pm ET
I have done over 250 videotaped experiments involving several dogs and birds, cockatiels and parrots. I summarize my results in the book and in technical papers that I refer to in my book. It's important to design experiments so that communication through the known senses can be ruled out, and this is what I have tried to do. As far as I know no previous research of this kind has been done, but now this field is moving from the realm of anecdote to experimental research.

Kiuku from waterbury.albany.edu at 1:44pm ET
Have you theorized on how this is all possible? ( i.e. brain/anatomy/chemistry)

Rupert Sheldrake at 1:48pm ET
I think these phenomenon depend on morphic fields, a hypothesis that I describe in my book. These fields link together members of a social group, and permit non-local connections to exist between them. I suggest that such fields underlie both telepathy and some of animal's direction-finding abilities. But I can't go into detail here. Please look at my book for more information on this.

Neil from [] at 1:49pm ET
OK, I have another question... :-) What is your testing methodology? Meaning have you taken random samplings, screened out species differences, etc?

Rupert Sheldrake at 1:49pm ET
Please refer to my book for detailed answers.

Valeria from [], at 1:50pm ET
Do you find that dogs are more able to react to humans and our needs more so than other animals such as cats?

Rupert Sheldrake at 1:53pm ET
Dogs are generally the most sensitive, but cats are often good at picking up people's intentions when these intentions affect them directly, like planning a visit to the vet. Many cats show a remarkable sensitivity to people's needs. The other species which seem especially sensitive are horses and parrots. I have not found any signs of psychic powers in goldfish or stick insects.

Moderator at 1:53pm ET
Thank you Dr. Sheldrake for joining us today.

Rupert Sheldrake at 1:54pm ET
If you have any experiences you would like to share with me, please get in touch through my website, www.sheldrake.org.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Mars, not Islamic militants, to blame for Bombay blasts: astrologers


Tue Aug 26, 8:51 AM ET

NEW DELHI (AFP) - While Indian authorities blamed Islamic militants for car bombings in Bombay that killed 52 people, astrologers are convinced the culprit was Mars, which is dangerously close to Earth.

Astrologers believe the current positions of the moon, Mars, Saturn and Rahu -- an imaginary malefic planet in the horoscope -- bode ill for the near future, with the Indian government due to make wrong decisions and the public responding violently.

Astrologer R.L. Kanthan told The Times of India that the spell of misfortune will not ease until September 20 with the movement of Mars, the planet that "portends violence, wars, bloodshed and combat".

Satish Sharma, another astrologer, saw Thursday as a day of arson and rioting, as the Earth, Mars and the sun would be all in one line.

He said another example of the impending chaos was the political turmoil in India's most populous state Uttar Pradesh, whose leader, Mayawati, quit Tuesday.

Sharma noted that the symbol of Mayawati's party was the elephant -- associated with Rahu.

"Rahu is traditionally associated with fire and sudden explosions," added fellow astrologer Mahendra Mishra.

He was more pessimistic than his colleagues, saying the current danger would not be over until Mars enters Pisces on December 6 -- coincidentally the anniversary of the 1992 razing of a mosque in Ayodhya by Hindu fanatics which set off India's deadliest riots since independence.

At least 52 people were killed and 150 injured Monday in bombings outside the landmark Gateway of India monument and in a busy market near a Hindu temple.

Officials have blamed the attacks on local Islamic militants working with Lashkar-e-Taiba, an extremist group founded in Pakistan but banned there last year.

Earthlings revel in Mars close-up

Planetary approach is nearest in 60,000 years
By Richard Stenger and Jeordan Legon

(CNN) --The last time the red planet was this close to Earth 60,000 years ago, man lived in caves.

No wonder when Mars and Earth synchronized their orbits a few minutes before 6 a.m. EDT Wednesday -- bringing them closer to each other than at any time in recorded history -- thousands of people around the globe went outside to take a peek.

"Knowing that this is once in a lifetime that I can see another planet with the naked eye, yeah, it's great," said Rebecca Horton, a stargazer from Sydney, Australia.

Astronomers say Mars, five times closer now than six months ago, is about 34.6 million miles away, making it the brightest nighttime object except the moon.

"It is possible to get some fairly close encounters every few years," said amateur astronomer Paul Shallow. "It does come around, but not this close."

But with the far-away planet getting so close, some hopeful watchers felt gypped by Mother Nature.

In Oakland, California, where hundreds of space fans paid $11 to attend the Chabot Space & Science Center's "Mars Mania Costume Party," clouds rolled in along with night sky Tuesday. Mars was fogged out, and there were no refunds.

But the good news is that Mars will remain a stunning nighttime attraction for weeks. Most sky watchers can see the planet, presently in the constellation Aquarius, in the southeastern sky soon after sunset, high overhead during the midnight hours and in the southwestern sky before sunrise.

Backyard telescopes may coax features out of the reddish, orange blur, including dark, mottled streaks, which inspired scientists of past centuries to envision intricate canals and advanced Martian civilizations.

The rare configuration of 2003 has stoked renewed, albeit not as fanciful, interest in Mars, which on average cruises 50 million miles farther from the sun than Earth does.

About every 26 months, the two planets pass relatively close to one another, during periods now known as opposition.

What makes this one noteworthy is that Mars, which follows an extremely elliptical or egg-shaped path, is currently at it closest point to the sun during its orbit.

Those two conditions, along with a few obscure celestial variables, have produced an astronomical chance of a lifetime, or several lifetimes actually.

Mars won't pass closer to Earth until 2287, according to astronomers.

Besides awing the curious, the alignment has motivated numerous governments to dispatch missions to the red planet.

Taking advantage of the shorter trip distance, two U.S. and two European probes set off earlier this year, all to arrive at the end of the year.

"Mars fever has caught, not only for amateur astronomers, who are getting their best look at the planet ever and that we'll ever have in our life, but also for professionals, as you know, with the [NASA] Mars Rovers and other spacecraft that are en route," said David Eicher, editor of Astronomy magazine.

Find this article at:

New entry for SKEPTIC Bibliography (Bondeson: Medical Marvels)


The Two-Headed Boy and Other Medical Marvels
Jan Bondeson
2000, Cornell University Press; 295p., illustrated folklore, fraud, geographical, geographical:history

This book is Bondeson's second volume about bizarre and persistent medical phenomena. Most of the examples he presents are genuine, i.e., not fraudulent. Bondeson examines the science of teratology, "the science of monstrous births." He examines historical cases of parasitic conjoined twins, hairy people, stone children, the egg-laying woman (fraud), the mouse tower (legend), pig-faced women (legend), horned people, dicephali, dwarves, giants, and frog-swallowers (hoaxers.) Bondeson describes the plight of the genuine medical oddities compassionately; most of them were condemned to lives of exhibitionism and ridicule. He also describes the various folks beliefs surrounding these mysterious maladies as well as modern medical explanations. This book is worth reading.

[ Reviewed by Saffron Monsoon, smonsoon@yahoo.com ]

Visit the full bibliography at http://www.csicop.org/bibliography/ Please consider submitting an entry yourself.

Taner Edis, SKEPTIC bibliographer

Mars Approach Will Spawn Record Number Of Alien Hybrid Babies


August 27, 2003 - Wireless Flash

LOS ANGELES (Wireless Flash) -- Mars is closer to the Earth than it has been in 60,000 years -- in more ways than one.

According to alien expert Andy Reiss, the Mars approach is going to lead to a record baby boom of half-Martian, half-human offspring.

Reiss claims the number of so-called "hybrid babies" always increases when Mars passes close by the Earth and predicts this time around, 5 to 7 percent of all births on Earth will be E.T. hybrids.

But don't go looking for little green men in your bedrooms, ladies. Reiss says although Martians are really attracted to Earth girls, they often impregnate them telepathically using their minds, not their bodies.

It's certainly not the same as procreation between humans, but Reiss says most hybrids are the result of this sort of "spiritual impregnation."

He says women may find themselves with a Martian bun in the oven after having vivid dreams of sex with an alien.

Mea Culpa


WASHINGTON, August 24, 2003

Weekly commentary by Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer.

Last Sunday I took a swipe at the political leaders who were playing the blame game over who was at fault for the blackout, while the people who were caught in the blackout were putting politics aside and just helping each other cope. I remarked that a long time ago someone said that in wartime, there are no atheists in foxholes. And I reckoned that there were no partisan Republican or partisan Democrats in a crowded subway car stalled underground in pitch-black darkness.

Well, I did not hear from any partisan politicians, but I did hear from scores of atheists, two of whom said they were in the military serving in Baghdad. In various and in no uncertain terms they reminded me that freedom of religion also means the right not to believe and they said my remark unfairly challenged the sincerity of their views.

I am a believer and that is central to my life, but they are correct. They have every right to their belief and I would never challenge their sincerity. On this one, we all come to the table with equal expertise. So to all of you who took offense, I can only say that none was intended and I regret a poor choice of words.

Well, let me amend that slightly. I direct those words to all who wrote, except the guy who capped his criticism by calling me a `doddering old retard.' He has my personal invitation to stuff it.

©MMIII, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Courthouse Bible sparks dispute


Aug. 27, 2003, 12:06AM

Pastor says fight over local display akin to Alabama struggle

Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle

The Bible in front of Harris County's courthouse downtown may be part of a monument to a long-dead Houston philanthropist, but to Houston pastor Aubrey Vaughan it's a religious symbol that's as much under siege as the Ten Commandments in Alabama.

"In principle, spiritually, it's the same fight," said Vaughn, who Tuesday joined members of his Grace Baptist Church congregation at the civil courthouse to pray for keeping the monument, which contains a King James Bible.

Vaughn was arrested and jailed Aug. 20 in Alabama, where he had gone to support Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore. The judge had challenged a court order to remove a monument bearing the Ten Commandments and spurred a national controversy over intermingling government and religion.

Vaughn called on all Houston churches Tuesday to pray in similar fashion for the right to keep God in government and for passage of a bill, co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, that seeks to defend the Ten Commandments.

Kay Staley of Houston, inspired by the uproar over the Ten Commandments, filed suit in federal court Monday to remove the Bible because she says it violates separation of church and state.

The monument's existence in front of the courthouse "is against the law," said Staley, a lawyer and real estate agent.

Vaughn views the separation of religion and government differently.

"Separation of church and state is not separation of God and state," he said.

County Judge Robert Eckels supports keeping the local monument -- which was built in 1956 for the industrialist William Mosher -- intact. The local case is about a monument that honors a citizen, which is different from the controversy in Alabama, Eckels said.

Staley's attorney, Randall Kallinen, a civil rights lawyer, said the monument containing the open Bible violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which says government cannot establish religion. He plans to file a temporary restraining order to expedite its removal.

"It (the Bible) is the actual holy book of Christianity," he said.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Martians Invade The Markets


Forbes Newsletter Watch
John Dobosz, 08.26.03, 2:40 PM ET

NEW YORK - Anyone gazing upward into the eastern midnight sky cannot miss the red planet's prominent stature on the astral canvas. Because of the new moon this week, Mars is the brightest object in the nighttime sky, and for good reason: On Wednesday night and early Thursday morning, Mars will be at its nearest distance from Earth since the year 57,617 B.C. It won't be this close again until the year 2287. Market strategists who put stock in financial astrology regard the Martian perigee--and several other traditionally bearish astrological phenomena--with trepidation, and say that deteriorating market fundamentals and technicals presage a pullback in September.

You can stop laughing now. Believe it or not, financial advisories that use astrology to time the market have performed exceptionally well over the last three years. One top-performing service is Crawford Perspectives, which according to Timer Digest is up 32% in the last 12 months. Says editor Arch Crawford, "The meanings for Mars are war, explosions, desire, anger, and also major revolution and economic warfare." Since Aug. 6, he's been 200% (fully margined) short the S&P 500 Index, based on ominous astrology and more traditional signs that the market is topping, including several indicators that haven't been so bearish since 1987, such as insider selling and extreme bullish adviser sentiment, as well as steeply rising bond yields. Crawford also cites a declining ratio of new highs to new lows, as well as a rising Volatility Index (VIX). A break above 24 or 25 on the VIX, says Crawford, would be the definitive signal that a sizable market decline is under way.

Mars' current proximity to Earth, says Crawford, makes violence and natural disasters more likely; as a hedge, he's buying gold and gold shares, and advises shorting exchange-traded funds like the Diamonds (amex: DIA), Spyders (amex: SPY) and the Qs (amex: QQQ). Since June, according to Crawford, Saturn has been in the sign of Cancer (zodiac symbol of the United States and President George W. Bush). This also implies constrictions on the U.S.--specifically more weakness in the dollar.

Dan Sullivan doesn't use astrology to time the market--but Timer Digest ranks him as a Top Ten market timer for the 12 months ended Aug. 1. He just added Stratasys to his portfolio of high-relative-strength stocks. Find out what else Dan's buying now. Besides the Martian influence, Bill Meridian of Cycles Research sees Jupiter opposing Pluto and Uranus as bearish formations. Jupiter-Pluto is associated with terrorism and mayhem (it occurred just before Sept. 11, 2001), and the Jupiter-Uranus opposition has coincided with an average Dow drop of 2% since 1915. Add in that Sept. 5 is the average high point for stocks during the year, and Meridian is forecasting a September decline in the Dow, S&P and Nasdaq--which is also traditionally weak in September. Look for lows in October, 6% to 8% off of the Sept. 5 high.

Financial stocks have already begun a downtrend, says Meridian, and he recommends bearish plays like buying puts on American Express (nyse: AXP - news - people ) or shorting J.P. Morgan Chase (nyse: JPM - news - people ) and Citigroup (nyse: C - news - people ). Like Crawford, Meridian is also buying gold stocks, Newmont Mining (nyse: NEM - news - people ) in particular.

"Raise cash, be cautious, and buy gold if you don't already own some," counsels Henry Weingarten, editor of Wall Street Next Week, who has short positions on all three major stock indexes. Wednesday's new moon combined with Mars' historic proximity, says Weingarten, indicates that a swing toward bearishness is in the works. He recommends shorting Nasdaq tech stocks with price-to-earnings ratios greater than 100, such as eBay (nadaq: EBAY - news - people ) and Yahoo! (nasdaq: YHOO - news - people ). Also, he points out, Cancer is the sign of the home--meaning that real estate will suffer along with the U.S. and President Bush. Weingarten calls it a "crash," and says the stars and rising rates are conspiring to bring it on.

When it comes to market timing, Dow Theory Forecast's 20-year record remains one of the best performers among those The Hulbert Financial Digest tracks. Editor Rich Moroney is still bullish. To find out his new buys, such as Charles River Labs, click here. Even if you don't buy these planetary predictions, a look up into the night sky will showcase Mars shining bright, just as it does every August. It's a visible reminder of the presence of cycles in nature. Markets also tend to move in cycles. These bears are merely predicting that the intense rally since March will at some point run its course, too.

Summary of the Kurtz-Craig Debate


Jeffery Jay Lowder

Note: Although Lowder attempted to be as accurate and complete as possible, Lowder wrote this report without the benefit of a recording of the debate. Instead, Lowder wrote this summary during the debate itself by typing as fast as possible.

On Wednesday, October 24, 2001, Paul Kurtz debated William Lane Craig at Franklin & Marshall College. In contrast to the majority of Craig's debates which adopt a question as the debate topic, the topic for the Kurtz-Craig debate was the resolution, "Resolved: Goodness without God is Good Enough." Kurtz defended the affirmative side; Craig took the negative.

Dr. Laurence Bonchek briefly spoke on behalf of the Boncheck Institute, the organization sponsoring the debate. Stanley Michalak, the moderator of the debate, then introduced both of the debaters.

Kurtz's Opening Statement

Kurtz began by saying that for many individuals goodness without God is not only good enough, but better than a religious morality. Furthermore, belief in God is not sufficient to guarantee morality.

Kurtz noted that millions of Americans believe in morality but do not believe in God. "God and patriotism are not synonymous."

Kurtz then listed off a number of nontheistic intellectuals who lived moral lives. 60% of American scientists are unbelievers; 93% of the National Academy Sciences are unbelievers. 39% of Americans are unchurched.

Kurtz then noted that America's religiosity is an anomaly among Western democracies. Nonreligious people constitute hundreds of millions of people worldwide. Many of these countries have less crime and less violence than in the United States.

Kurtz then suggested that religion could be an impediment to society. Kurtz noted that belief in God is compatible with a variety of contradictory ethical beliefs, including monogamy, divorce, homosexuality, birth control, etc.

Humanists believe that happiness here and now is the basic good; this life is not simply the preparation for an afterlife. For secular humanists, life is meaningful. The meaning of life is what we invest; we are in control of our own destiny. The moral consciousness is autonomous.

The nature of human beings is such that they are capable of moral behavior. Moral behavior depends upon social conditions, moral education, etc. Under these conditions, it is possible to develop a sense of empathy for other human beings. There are moral dilemmas in which we cannot depend upon moral absolutes. There is a developed moral sensibility that does not depend upon authority and mere commandment. Morality is basic to the human condition.

Kurtz then suggested that religious texts are too outdated to be useful in deciding contemporary ethical problems. Instead, he argued, humans need to use their intelligence to identify common moral principles according to which ethical dilemmas can be resolved.

Craig's Opening Statement

Craig agrees that a person can be moral without belief in God. We're not talking about goodness without belief in God, but goodness without God. Craig then talked about the basis for moral values. Kurtz distinguishes three options: theism (moral values are grounded in God), humanism (moral values are grounded in humans?), and nihilism (moral values are groundless).

Humanism is not the default position. If theism is wrong, humanism does not win by default. Perhaps nihilism is right. In particular, Kurtz must show that in the absence of God, nihilism is not true.

I. If theism is true, we have a sound foundation for morality.

(1) If theism is true, we have a basis for objective moral values. To say that moral values are objective means they are true independently of whether anyone thinks so. On a theistic view, objective moral values are rooted in God.

(2) If theism is true, then we have a sound basis for objective moral duties. We have certain moral obligations, regardless of whether we think so or not. If theism is true, God's commands constitute our moral duties. God's commands flow necessarily from his moral nature.

(3) If theism is true, we have a sound basis for moral accountability. On the theistic view, God holds all persons accountable for their actions. We can even take acts of extreme self-sacrifice and yet know they are not meaningless.

II. If theism is false, we do not have a sound foundation for morality.

(1) If theism is false, why think human beings are the basis of objective moral values? If there is no God, what reason is there to regard human flourishing as objectively good? Humanists refuse to accept the full implications of reducing human beings to just mere animals. Humans treat humans as morally different from other animals. On an atheistic view, human beings are the byproducts of naturalistic evolution. Uses standard Ruse quotation. On the atheistic view, there is no reason to believe that the morality evolved by human beings is objectively true. Humanists are guilty of specie-ism. If atheism is true, there is nothing objective morally wrong about rape. Such behavior goes on all the time in the animal kingdom. If theism is false, it is far from obvious that humans have objective value.

(2) If theism is false, then what is the basis for objective moral duties? On the atheistic view, human beings are just animals. Animals have no moral duties. Quotes Richard Taylor. Who or what imposes these moral duties on us? Quotes Taylor again. One can neither morally condemn nor morally praise anything. If theism were false, why wouldn't nihilism be true?

(3) If theism is false, what is the basis for moral accountability? Even if there were objective moral values and duties under atheism, they would be irrelevant. If life ends at the grave, it makes no difference how one lives. If there is no immortality, then all things are permitted. Acts of self-sacrifice are particularly inept on an atheistic view. On an atheistic view, heroic acts like rescuing people from a fire is "stupid."

Kurtz's Rebuttal

Kurtz accused Craig of conceding Kurtz's main point by admitting that one can be moral without belief in God.

The alternatives are not theism vs. humanism vs. nihilism. Quotes Woody Allen. Kurtz referenced the Islamic martyrs who flew airplanes into their targets praising their God. Even if everyone believed in God, there would still be moral disagreements.

Would Hindu, Moslem, Jew, the Buddhist, and the nonbeliever be saved if Christianity is true? Do they have meaningless lives? The events of 9/11 provide evidence against the existence of God.

Why should we favor human beings? Yes, this is specie-ism. Altruism, empathy, and compassion is basic to the human species. There are objective standards that are relative to human interests and human needs. The theist does not have a monopoly on moral virtues. Craig has libeled so many people who believe in doing good, who believe that life is intrinsically worthwhile, and who do not believe in God.

If the reason why you are moral is because you believe in God, then you have not developed the full dimensions of the human personality. Moral development is autonomous.

Craig's Rebuttal

Belief in God is not necessary to living a moral life. But if God does not exist, then there are no objective values, duties, and accountability. Quotes Kurtz's Forbidden Fruit about the ontological foundation of morality. Kurtz must show that in the absence of God, human beings would have intrinsic value, moral accountability, etc.

It is not obvious that if God does not exist, secular humanism would be true. On the contrary, it seems that if God does not exist, nihilism would be true.

Kurtz raised several red herrings. Kurtz raised the problem of evil, but this debate is not a debate on the existence of God. So even if the problem of evil showed that God does not exist, this would be irrelevant.

It is also a red herring to raise the questions about moral epistemology, about which God exists, and how we would know that the moral duties are. Not all gods are the same. It is important to discover which theism is true, but that is a secondary question to the topic of the debate. Kurtz has not refuted Craig's first contention.

What is the basis for objective moral values, if atheism is true? They're relative to human needs and desires. They are not categorical and universal. Why think that human beings and their values are special on an atheistic view? Quotes Pigliucci about lion infanticide.

Kurtz's Second Rebuttal

There is a great tradition showing there is autonomy of moral judgments. There is a field known as practical wisdom.

Craig says theism is an adequate foundation, but he has not answered Kurtz's question, "whose theism?" There are various conflicts around the world and yet their belief in God does not enable them to solve moral problems. God does not provide an adequate foundation for morality.

Why should we prefer the human species to other species? We are humans and we love one another. Morality is human. Theism is created in the image of man. Humans create gods.

There is no evidence for salvation, no evidence for a soul. Those beliefs are an article of faith. It is important to go beyond faith and work out moral disagreements on rational grounds. Reason, not faith, is how we should resolve our moral differences.

Craig's Second Rebuttal

Craig's appeal has been to reason, not to faith. First contention undisputed. Kurtz just brings up red herrings. Of course we can bring moral judgments without religion. But what is the ontological foundation for moral duties? That is the central question. Why is it wrong for Johnny to hit Mary? Why is it objectively wrong for homo sapiens to behave in this way? Whose theism? That's not the question here tonight. Christian theism is an adequate basis for morality.

The second contention stands. What is the basis on atheism for objective moral values? Why is this primate species special? Imagine if superior alien beings came to earth, what could the atheist say to show that humans have intrinsic value. Prejudice in favor of humans is not justified.

Claim is conditional: if theism is true, we have a sound foundation for morality. Where do moral duties come from? In short, humanism is utterly intellectually bankrupt. It has no basis for the affirmation of moral values. It has the right values. What the theist can offer the humanist is a secure foundation for the affirmation of those values. Therefore, Craig would like to challenge Kurtz to becoming a believer in God.

Question and Answer Period

Question: What is the difference between humanism and self-interest (ethical egoism)?
Kurtz: Humanism is more than self-interest. Humanism involves the flourishing of humans.
Craig: The problem with altruism on an atheistic view is that altruism is simply the result of evolutionary conditioning. No basis for altruistic view. Rational thing to do on atheism is to look out for oneself.

Question: If God exists, how do we know he is not evil? Just because Craig says so?
Craig: The ontological argument shows that God is not evil. St. Anselm showed the very concept of God is the greatest possible being, which includes moral perfection. By definition, to be a being worthy of worship, God would have to be the source of moral goodness.
Kurtz: Craig assumes what he needs to prove. Craig's god is all-good. Does Craig's god permit only some people to be saved? What about non-Christians? What about the god of the Old Testament who is vindictive and hateful? Craig has not answered the problem of evil, including the problem of why the events of 9/11 occurred.

Question: Does human morality differ from culture to culture?
Kurtz: Yes. There are common human needs, interests. We are all members of the same species facing similar problems. Common values develop. In Forbidden Fruit, Kurtz defends common moral decencies. Talked about liberation of women, slaves, etc, things which were condoned by the Bible.
Craig: On a theistic view, as we grow morally, we can discover new moral insights. On atheism, this moral evolution cannot be called an improvement because there is no objective standard by which we can judge the later standard against the earlier standard. All evolution shows is change. It doesn't give you objective values.

Question: Isn't it true that throughout history, religious morality was an outgrowth of the conditions of the era?
Craig: On theism, moral values are discovered, not invented. Thus, moral growth is possible. Craig has come to recognize the equal value of women because of his theism. There's no objective basis for talking about moral progress as opposed to moral change if atheism is true.
Kurtz: Morality is evolving. Kurtz has been defending humanistic ethics. Atheism is incidental to that. Craig is anti-human. What is special about human beings is that we find them special, that we are human. "Ontological foundation" is gobbledy-gook. Under theism, women were suppressed.

Question: Why is rape wrong?
Kurtz: Rape is wrong because it violates the consciousness of human beings. Craig is morally insensitive. We learn by living together that sexual coercion has bad consequences. It is a crime in virtually every society. Rape would be wrong regardless of whether God says it is wrong. Is morality objective? Yes. Is it relative to human needs? Yes. It is objectively relative. But relative does not mean subjective. You can make a rational case to show that rape is morally wrong.
Craig: "Objectively relative" is an oxymoron. Why privilege human beings on an atheistic worldview, when atheism reduces humans to relatively advanced primates? What's wrong on atheism with violating conscience? Humanism has got the right ethics. What Craig disputes is the ontological foundation of humanistic ethics. Kurtz has not even showed that there would be goodness without God.

Question: Both sides of armed conflicts invoke God. How is a fair and impartial observer decide which God or which good is valid?
Craig: This is a question of moral epistemology, not ontology, and so is secondary to the debate. But you would determine whether an action violates the intrinsic value of human beings. Also, you could look at the evidence to see which God exists. Regarding the problem of evil, the question of God's existence is not on the table. IF God exists, that provides a sound foundation for morality. Kurtz has the burden of proof to show there is a sound foundation for morality without God. If there is no God, why is Homo Sapiens invested with intrinsic moral value and moral obligations?
Kurtz: [Answer not recorded]

Question: Would scientific observations showing the equality of humans support the Golden Rule?
Kurtz: We have obligations in rooted in who and what we are as humans. Craig is anti-human. Humans are special because we are special; we live the full life here and now. Craig has no confidence at all in the human species. Can we create a planetary humanism? The principle of equality is crucial. To ask, "What is the basis of that," is to be morally insensitive. Ethics is autonomous.
Craig: Atheism is anti-human because it reduces humans to just another species and robs humans of moral dignity. It is specie-ism to regard humans as special. What does the atheist do with the mentally retarded? On an atheistic view, such persons are just defective animals.

Question: If you act morally just to go to Heaven, isn't this just self-interest?
Craig: Yes, but that's not my argument. The Christian's motivation for acting morally is love of God, gratitude to God. Moral accountability means moral choices make a difference for all eternity. Ethic of compassion is incompatible with self-interest and survival of the fittest.
Kurtz: It does matter on an atheistic view how we choose to behave. It matters to us. We feel accountable to others. Craig has undermined morality. What about non-Christians and the ethics of the Qu'ran?

Kurtz's Closing Statement

Craig says the existence of God is not at issue in this debate, but he spends all of his time attacking atheism. Religion can play a role in moral life, but morality does not need religion. Humanist morality is concerned with the common moral decencies. We have a sense of responsibility to human beings. We should rely on reason, not faith in an ancient god. Millions of Americans are nonbelievers but are committed to morality.

Craig's Closing Statement

This debate is really about nihilism. If theism is false, why wouldn't nihilism be true? Kurtz has not disputed any of Craig's ontological points. Kurtz, and atheism, regards humans as mere animals. L.D. Rue advocated we deceive ourselves into believing some noble lie. Humanism is a noble lie and a delusion. If God is dead, mean is dead, too.

A Classic Debate on the Existence of God


November 1994
University of Colorado at Boulder

Dr. William Lane Craig & Dr. Michael Tooley



In November of 1994 Dr. Michael Tooley and Dr. William Lane Craig debated on the campus of the University of Colorado at Boulder. At the invitation of Campus Crusade for Christ, these scholars discussed the evidence for and against the existence of God, presenting some of the most current thinking on the issues. The speakers followed a diverse range of materials, from the most recent scientific findings and theories to the most ancient philosophical arguments to some of the most novel insights imaginable.

From the philosophy department at the University of Colorado, Dr. Tooley represented the atheist's point of view. Dr. Tooley received a Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University and is a noted author. He is a fellow at the Australian Academy of the Humanities, a member of the American Philosophical Association, and he has served on the faculties of numerous universities both here and abroad.

Representing the theist's position was Dr. William Craig. He has a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Birmingham, England, and a doctorate in theology from the University of Munich, where he was a fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. The author of numerous books and articles, he is currently a Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology.

Notable works by the speakers are cited at the close of the debate.

Dr. Tooley requested an alteration in the length of his presentations by transferring time from his second to his first presentation, but Dr. Craig refused that request.

Science In the News

The following roundup of science stories appearing each day in the general media is compiled by the Media Resource Service, Sigma Xi's referral service for journalists in need of sources of scientific expertise.

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In the News

Today's Headlines - August 26, 2003

from The New York Times

WASHINGTON, Aug. 25 - Unlike a report on a plane crash or a nuclear meltdown, the report of the board investigating the loss of the space shuttle Columbia, due to be released on Tuesday morning, is likely to hold few revelations about the physical details of the disaster.

But for sociologists, students of management and people who wonder how a group of rocket scientists could be less competent collectively than they are individually, it may prove illuminating.

The physical details will not make the report a page turner or, perhaps, a page clicker, because most readers will find it on the Web. The 13-member board, which began work just after the shuttle broke apart on Feb. 1, has already laid out many of the points.

Facility Will Be Able to Detect Objects Too Cold to Cast Light
from The Washington Post

CAPE CANAVERAL, Aug. 25 -- A new NASA infrared observatory designed to see objects either too cold to cast their own light or obscured by interstellar dust was launched into space early today from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Liftoff of the Boeing Delta II rocket carrying the $700 million satellite came at 1:35 a.m. EDT. "The expectation is to really revolutionize our understanding of our universe by looking in a completely new low-length spectrum," said Dave Gallagher, NASA's mission project manager.

From stars that never turned on, to the galaxy's own dust-shrouded heart, the Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF) will look into the dark, cold corners of the universe, making itself sensitive to the faintest heat signatures by cooling its own instruments to just a degree or two above absolute zero.

from The New York Times

You can be truly smart and still struggle in life if you lack the ability to plan, organize time and space, initiate projects and see them through to completion, and you cannot resist immediate temptations in favor of later better rewards.

When those capacities are damaged or underdeveloped, even people with intelligence and talent may flounder. They are often misunderstood as being willfully disorganized or lazy, possessing a bad attitude or, from a parental viewpoint, "doing this on purpose to drive me crazy."

More and more, however, neuroscientists are saying such puzzling underachievers may suffer from neurological abnormalities affecting "the brain's C.E.O." This control center, really an array of "executive functions," orchestrates resources like memory, language and attention to achieve a goal, be it a fraction of a second or five years from now.

Narrow focus on breast cancer not confirmed as fully effective
from The Miami Herald

WASHINGTON - Thousands of breast cancer patients are opting for a week of radiation instead of the usual six weeks, thanks to new methods that target cancer-killing beams at the tumor site instead of the whole breast.

Although early research is promising, nobody has proved that the faster treatment keeps women cancer-free as long as the old-fashioned kind -- or has identified who are the best candidates to try it.

Now the National Cancer Institute is racing to start a massive study this fall to test those questions, seeking answers before patient demand for the easier therapy becomes overwhelming.

from The Philadelphia Inquirer

WASHINGTON - Grains the size of dust that can respond to their environment, orient themselves, and assemble in groups have been developed by a team of California chemists who want to build miniature robots.

The particles can identify and surround drops of oil or other pollutants in water, according to researchers at the University of California, San Diego.

The chemists hope the research could be a first step to developing minute robots for use in medicine, pollution monitoring, and even bioterrorism surveillance.

from The Chicago Tribune

It's an out-of-this-world moment for stargazers, as the closest view of the Red Planet in almost 60,000 years will be visible Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.

After months of inching closer, Mars, the fourth planet from the sun, will come within 35 million miles of Earth and shine about 75 times brighter than last year. And planetariums and astronomical societies across the Chicago area are planning Mars-madness parties to mark the occasion.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Science In the News

The following roundup of science stories appearing each day in the general media is compiled by the Media Resource Service, Sigma Xi's referral service for journalists in need of sources of scientific expertise.

For accurate instructions on how to subscribe or unsubscribe to the listserv, follow this link: http://www.mediaresource.org/instruct.htm

If you experience any problems with the URLs (page not found, page expired, etc.), we suggest you proceed to the home page of "Science In the News" http://www.mediaresource.org/news.shtml which mirrors the daily e-mail update.

In the News

Today's Headlines - August 25, 2003

Cause of Death Related to Lack Of Accessibility
from The Washington Post

When a system of writing begins to die, people probably don't even notice at first. Maybe the culture that spawned it loses its vitality, and the script decays along with it. Maybe the scribes or priests decide that most ordinary people aren't able to learn it, so they don't teach it.

Or a new, simpler system may show up -- an alphabet, perhaps -- that can be easily learned by aggressive upstarts who don't speak the old language and don't care to learn its fancy pictographic forms.

Or perhaps invaders take over. They decide the old language is an inconvenience, the old culture is mumbo jumbo and the script that serves it is subversive. The scribes are shunned, discredited and, if they persist, obliterated.

In the first study of its kind, three experts in the study of written language have described the common characteristics that caused three famous scripts -- ancient Egyptian, Middle Eastern cuneiform and pre-Columbian Mayan -- to disappear.

Cows aren't just for milking anymore.
from The Chicago Tribune

SIOUX CENTER, Iowa -- Staring sullenly at passing cars and shaking off flies, the cows at Trans Ova Genetics are indistinguishable from the thousands of others in this remote corner of northwest Iowa. But a red sign near an entrance hints that Trans Ova's cows are not exactly normal. It reads: "For Bio Security. Authorized Personnel Only."

In a scenario worthy of a science-fiction story, the cows at Trans Ova are on the cutting edge of the nation's efforts to defend itself against a potential bioterrorism attack. Trans Ova's cows have been bred with human genes, cloned and inoculated with such biological agents as anthrax, smallpox and botulism in the hope that they eventually will produce human antibodies that could be administered as an antidote after a biological attack.

"What these animals will make will be the first defense against an anthrax attack," said Todd Stahl, operations director at Trans Ova's Genetics Advancement Center.

from The New York Times

Biologists have found a class of chemicals that they hope will make people live longer by activating an ancient survival reflex. One chemical, a natural substance known as resveratrol, is found in red wines, particularly those made in cooler climates like that of New York State.

The finding could help explain the so-called French paradox - the fact that the French consume fatty foods considered threatening to the heart but live as long as anyone else.

Besides the wine connection, the finding has the attraction of stemming from fundamental research in the biology of aging. However, the new chemicals have not yet been tested even in mice, let alone people, and even if they work in humans it will be many years before any drug based on the new findings becomes available.

from The New York Times

Three drugs commonly prescribed for schizophrenia and other psychotic illnesses increased patients' risk of developing diabetes when compared with older antipsychotic medications, researchers said yesterday, presenting the results from a long-awaited study of patients treated at veterans hospitals and clinics across the country.

The drugs - Zyprexa, made by Eli Lilly, Risperdal, made by Jannsen Pharmaceutica, and Seroquel, made by AstraZeneca - were associated with higher rates of diabetes than older generation drugs for schizophrenia like Haldol, the study found. But the increased risk was statistically significant only for Zyprexa and Risperdal, the researchers said, possibly because of the smaller number of subjects who took Seroquel.

Forget Martians; how will we handle a 'new' truth?


From Sunday, August 24, 2003, Iowa City Press-Citizen

Sunday, August 24, 2003

The Martians are coming! The Martians are coming!

Or at least Mars is getting very close to Earth - on Wednesday, the closest it's been for almost 60,000 years. In H.G. Wells' "The War of the Worlds," the Martians wisely selected such proximity during their orbit to invade Earth.

A few decades later, Orson Welles adopted the novel into a radio play that frightened a whole lot of Easterners far more than did the recent blackout.

These days, we know Mars probably wasn't inhabited by anything more dangerous than bacteria. The little green men of yesterday now are the Greys, allegedly of the star system Zeta Reticuli.

And they scare the be-jeezus out of a whole lot of people, too - even right here in Iowa.

. . .

Just two summers ago, Ed Williams was combining his wheat near Iowa City when he discovered a crop circle. The stems lay clockwise with a herringbone weave. A 60-foot diameter ring surrounded this circle.

At first, Williams and his brother, an airline pilot, thought it was caused by the weather, perhaps micro-bursts, or strong winds that sometimes crash planes. But 60 feet is way too large for a microburst.

TSOP adds its Voice for Evolution

NCSE is pleased to announce a further addition to Voices for Evolution: a statement from The Society for Organic Petrology in support of the American Geological Institute's position statement on evolution, reading in part, "The Society for Organic Petrology supports teaching evolution and the nature of science in our nation's classrooms, museums, and informal science centers."

For the full statement, go to http://www.ncseweb.org/article.asp?category=2, click on Statements from Scientific and Scholarly Organizations, and then click on The Society of Organic Petrology. And be sure to visit TSOP's web site at http://www.tsop.org.


Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x 305
fax: 510-601-7204

What's next step in our evolution? Stay tuned

Humans likely to adapt, experts say, but how?

By Nicholas Wade
Sunday, August 24, 2003

The most improbable item in science fiction movies is not the hardware -- the faster-than-light travel, the tractor beams, the levitation -- but the people. Strangely, they always look and behave just as we do. Yet the one safe prediction about the far future is that humans will be a lot further along in their evolution.

Last week population geneticists, rummaging in DNA's ever-fascinating attic, set dates on two important changes in the human form.

Alan Rogers of the University of Utah figured out that the ancestral human population acquired black skin, as a protection against the sun, at least 1.2 million years ago, and therefore that it must have shed its fur some time before this date.

Clothing came long after we were naked. Mark Stoneking of the Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig managed to address this question by calculating when the human body louse, which lives only in clothing, not hair, evolved from the human head louse.

That proud event in human history dates to between 72,000 and 42,000 years ago, Stoneking reported.

So where do we go from here? Have we attained perfection and ceased to evolve?

Many geneticists think that is very unlikely, though few find it easy to say where we are headed or how fast. Until the agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago, people used to live in small populations with little gene flow between them.

That is the best situation for rapid evolution, said Sewall Wright, one of the founders of population genetics. But Ronald Fisher, another founder of the discipline, argued that large populations with random mating, just what globalization and air travel are helping to bring about, were the best fodder for rapid evolution.

"Which of them is right? No one really knows," Rogers said.

Seeking equilibrium

Considering that the common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees lived only 5 million to 6 million years ago, human evolution seems to have been quite rapid. The chimp, our closest living relative, is still a standard ape, whereas we have become a truly weird one. And our evolution put on an extra spurt just 50,000 years ago, the date when we may have perfected language, made our first objets d'art and dispersed from our ancestral homeland some place in northeast Africa.

Despite the medical advances and creature comforts that shelter people in rich countries, natural selection is still hard at work.

Microbes and parasites still nip at our heels, forcing the human genome to stay in constant motion. It is clearly in the throes of adapting to malaria, a disease that seems to have struck only in the past 8,000 years, and the protective gene that has sickle cell anemia as a side effect is a sign of a hasty patch.

It seems reasonable to predict that the human physical form will stay in equilibrium with its surroundings. If the ozone layer thins, pale skins will be out and dark skins de rigueur. If climate heats up, the adaptations for living in hot places will spread, though it could take tens or hundreds of generations for a new gene to become widespread.

Sexual selection, too, is busily at work. This powerful process, first recognized by Darwin, works on traits that are attractive to the other sex, and help the owner's genes spread into the next generation. The peacock's tail, a wonder of the natural world, has been created by the sexual preference of generations of peahens.

Human skin color and hair distribution may be pale echoes of the same process. Recent social changes may have accelerated the pace of sexual selection.

"You used to marry a lass from your local village; now it's anyone you can track down on the Internet," said Mark Pagel, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Reading in England.

Though features such as the peacock's tail are chosen for aesthetic, or arbitrary, reasons, they often seem to be correlated with health, and indeed their owners are chosen as mates because these features subliminally advertise a good immune system or freedom from parasites. So if sexual selection in people becomes more intense as people have a wider choice of mates, that suggests a terribly Panglossian forecast: We will become more healthy and ever more beautiful.

Urban jungle survival

Most animals struggle to survive in a harsh environment, beset by accidents and predators. Humans got that problem largely under control long ago but live in a fiercer jungle -- that of a human society.

Indeed, social intelligence, the ability to keep track of a society's hierarchy and what chits an individual owed to others or had due, may have been a factor in the increase of human brain size. As the prevalence of Caesareans suggests, the circumference of babies' brains seems to have gotten as large as circumstances permit. Will requirements for extra neural circuitry make our descendants into coneheads? Doubtless, sexual selection will maintain a decorative swatch of hair on top.

Society, and the knowledge needed to survive in it, seems to get ever more complex, suggesting that human social behavior will continue to evolve.

Unfortunately, evolution has no concept of progress, so behavioral change is not always for the better. "I suspect that our social behavior evolves rapidly but that much of it changes direction over time," said Henry Harpending, an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of Utah.

Warrior societies such as the Yanomamo of South America give reproductive success to the man who is "violent, scary and effective at male-male conflict," whereas among peasant farmers, the successful male would be one who feeds his children and passes on an estate to them, Harpending said.

A dramatic instance of the former process came to light earlier this year with the discovery that no less than 8 percent of men who live today in the former domains of the Mongol empire carry the Y chromosome of Genghis Khan and the Mongol royal house. It is hard to see a Genghis having much reproductive success in modern societies. Perhaps another Panglossian prediction is called for: In a more ordered society, evolution will favor the fostering type of male over the Yanomamo-style brutes.

Not everything is roses in evolution's garden. Ronald Fisher, the British biologist, pointed out in 1930 that the genes for mental ability tend to move upward through the social classes but that fertility is higher in the lower social classes. He concluded that selection constantly opposes genes that favor creativity and intelligence.

Fisher's idea has not been proved wrong in theory, although many biologists, besides detesting it for the support it gave to eugenic policies, believe it has proven false in practice. "It hasn't been formally refuted in the sense that we could never test it," Pagel said.

Although people with fewer resources tend to have more children, that may be for lack of education, not intelligence.

"Education is the best contraceptive. If you brought these people up in the middle class, they would have fewer children," Pagel said. "Fisher's empirical observation is correct, that the lower orders have more babies, but that doesn't mean their genotypes are inferior."

Given all the possibilities for human evolutionary change, it is hard to know which path our distant descendants will be constrained to tread.

From a New York perspective, however, it is hard to ignore a certain foreboding: that under the joint power of sexual selection and Fisher's gloomy prognosis, we will become ever more beautiful and less acute. The future, in a word, is Californian.

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Fears of regent fundamentalism strike Baylor supporters


By MIKE COPELAND and BRIAN GAAR Tribune-Herald staff writers

As if Baylor University didn't have enough controversy, administrators, alumni and supporters are wrestling over a rumored move to install a fundamentalist pastor from Houston on the university's board of regents.

Word that Houston evangelist Ed Young may be tapped for Baylor's board of regents has generated enough steam that one of Baylor's biggest benefactors — 87-year-old John Baugh, also of Houston — has written a letter to regent chairman Drayton McLane Jr. expressing deep concern.

In his letter, Baugh mentions he has heard that "one or more prominent" fundamentalist preachers are being considered for membership on Baylor's board of regents. He goes on to say he considers such a move "exceedingly ill-advised."

Asked if Young was one of those agitating Baugh's concern about Baylor, Baugh on Friday told the Tribune-Herald : "He could be, but I would not want to specify any individual. There are plenty to go around."

Young, 67, pastor of Second Baptist Church of Houston and long identified as a proponent of fundamentalist tendencies in the Southern Baptist Convention, could not be reached by the Tribune-Herald for comment. Young's secretary said he was on vacation.

Baylor President Robert B. Sloan Jr., asked about Young during a press conference concerning Baylor's new basketball coach Friday, called Young's possible appointment to the board of regents a rumor.

"I don't know how some of these rumors get started," Sloan said. "I'm kind of amazed at these things."

Baylor spokesman Larry Brumley went even further, vehemently denying Young was joining the board.

"There is nothing to that at all," Brumley said. "Nothing, underline nothing."

Baylor regent Jim Turner said Friday he hadn't heard Young mentioned as a possible regent. The board meets next month and Turner says he doesn't believe any new regents will be appointed at that time.

On the other hand, regent Jaclanel McFarland, also of Houston, a critic of the Sloan administration in recent years, acknowledged she had heard reports of a move to install Young among Baylor regents.

She cited several sources, including Baylor officials and fellow regents.

"I've heard the rumor," she said. "It's very hard to believe the Baylor board would even contemplate such a devastating action for Baylor."

McFarland, a regent for 11 of the last 12 years who called for Sloan's ouster this summer, said she found it unlikely that Young could be placed among Baylor regents because of his criticism of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, with which Baylor is affiliated.

"It is so hard for me to put much credence in it," she said, "because it would be such an absurd thing to do."

Young, who has pastored at the mammoth Houston church since 1978, is a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Author of several books, he is heard throughout the nation through a radio and TV ministry.

A former Baylor regent, who wished to remain anonymous, said Young's success at Second Baptist Church of Houston has been phenomenal and that he is a "lightning rod" among followers, though likely all wrong for the more moderate Baylor.

"If he is elected to the board of regents of Baylor University, there will be so many people who will be infuriated," the former regent said, referring to ongoing friction between conservative and moderate Baptists in Texas. "You can expect screams in protest. It would open Pandora's box."

Former Baylor president Herbert H. Reynolds, of Waco, told the Tribune-Herald this week that Young has identified with the fundamentalist element in Baptist life for many years.

"His election to the Baylor board, and anyone else of his ilk, would, in my opinion, be nothing less than a politico-religious move to Baylor's ultimate detriment," Reynolds said.

Baugh's letter represents a significant epistle for McLane and Baylor regents, each of whom received a copy. A resident of Houston, Baugh is the founder of SYSCO, which has become a giant in the food-service industry with $23.4 billion in sales for fiscal year 2002.

Sources say he has given at least $15 million to Baylor's George W. Truett Theological Seminary. He also endowed the John F. Baugh Center for Entrepreneurship in Baylor's Hankamer School of Business.

Asked if his giving might be affected if the board of regents became dominated by fundamentalists, he said: "I couldn't continue giving to something unless I had a deep and abiding belief in what it stood for and that it would continue to stand for those things."

The Sloan administration has troubled other big donors in recent months. A foundation headed by Paul Piper has withdrawn its support of the university, citing that Baylor has become too costly.

Several months ago, Piper's Christ Is Our Salvation (CIOS) foundation pulled $2.6 million in loans for middle-income students. Last month, CIOS officials announced they wouldn't renew a $5 million loan to the Truett Theological Seminary, though Baylor officials say the loan had matured and they expected to pay it back anyway.

Piper's foundation also took back a $5 million Beechjet aircraft last fall that it had leased to Baylor.

The school also filed suit last year against Gov. Bill Daniel, one of its most visible donors, requesting a full accounting of the assets his father left the school more than 60 years ago. Baylor attorneys asked that Daniel provide records pertaining to various land tracts in Liberty County and some $3 million in cash from a scholarship endowment.

While the suit enraged Daniel, he has said he will continue to support Baylor.

Baugh said Friday he not only continues to believe in Baylor, he does not believe any of Baylor's current administrators or regents are fundamentalists.

"I think you can see in my letter that I cherish my great-grandchildren being able to attend a fundamentalist-free Baylor University," he said. "I'm an old man and I've seen a lot. I saw the fundamentalists seize control of the Southern Baptist Convention. I see no compatibility between fundamentalist objectives and those of us who cherish religious freedom, personal liberty and individual rights."

Bedeviled by suspicions of fundamentalist impulses in his administration and criticized for intense questioning of job applicants concerning their personal spirituality, Sloan has vigorously refuted the notion Baylor is evolving into an evangelically oriented university.

On Friday, Baugh described Sloan as "a fine man," then went on to praise his predecessor, Reynolds, who in an interview to be published in Sunday's Tribune-Herald warns against Baylor's succumbing to Baptist fundamentalism.

"If I had to name the five greatest men I ever knew, Dr. Reynolds would be on the list," Baugh said.

He added: "There are a lot of good things about Baylor. It just has to get its problems behind it. I don't know of any institution that has a greater history, and therefore a legacy, of people doing the right thing simply because it is right."

Imaeyen Ibanga and Terri Jo Ryan contributed to this story. Mike Copeland can be reached at mcopeland@wacotrib.com or 757-5736. Brian Gaar can be reached at bgaar@wacotrib.com or 757-5741.

How the world was fooled into an alien alert by this balloon

By Nick Webster

THIS is the "UFO" that got the world asking if aliens were about to land in Britain.

But those pictured beneath it are hardly the little green men many had feared were on board.

They are the hoaxers who ran the stunt in a bizarre TV experiment.

The 25ft "flying saucer" stunned villagers on Saturday as it spun across the sky 200ft above their heads.

The outlandish sighting made the headlines as far away as Australia.

But the down-to-earth truth behind the "space craft" emerged yesterday.

TV firm Chrysalis had it built for a Channel 4 documentary with working title How To Build a Spaceship.

Danny Cohen, of Channel 4, said: "We were trying to see whether we could build a convincing looking spaceship and in that regard undoubtedly we succeeded.

"Dozens of people saw it and couldn't quite understand what they had seen. So I think it did work.

"It stayed quite high in the sky and looked harmless, so it frightened nobody. I think people were more bewildered by what they were seeing.

"People were left rubbing their heads, wondering what was going on." It took eight months to research, design and build the £50,000 aircraft.

Model flight specialists Cutting Edge Effects - veterans of four Bond films - built it using a carbon fibre hoop as the skeleton.

This was set in a reflective-plastic balloon filled with helium.

After a US military engine was ditched as too heavy, electric fan engines from Germany proved the key to making the "saucer" fly at just the right speed - 20mph.

It was tested in the aircraft hangar shown above at a secret location.

The out-of-this-world con included using seven pilots to fly the aircraft by remote control for three miles.

Suspicion for the hoax first fell on UFO buffs holding their annual Skywatch in the village, Avebury, Wilts.

But producer Mark Raphael said they weren't fooled - despite the eerie setting of a stone circle.

He said they spent the rest of the night "looking at nothing, and yet when the craft flew over they hardly got out of their seats".


Irish minister links incense to cancer

By James Helm
BBC Dublin correspondent

An Irish Government minister has warned that burning incense in churches could be harmful to the altar boys and girls who help Roman Catholic priests celebrate mass.

Jim McDade, who is a former family doctor,said the children were at risk because they inhaled the carcinogenic smoke produced when incense is burnt close by.

"Here you have quite a thick billowing type of smoke. Sometimes you see the children with this instrument which is down normally around their ankles, and the smoke just keeps coming up," Dr McDade said.

"And sometimes I cringe when I see them literally inhaling this, because sometimes there is an aroma of it and all I was trying to do was making people aware."

A spokeswoman for the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland said she was not aware of a study about the effects of incense, but that she would be looking into the matter.

Incense has a ceremonial use in a number of churches.

The burning of incense is an age-old element of religious tradition. Its wafting scent adds a mystical dimension to proceedings.

In Ireland's Roman Catholic churches today, it is mainly burnt at funerals.

There is widespread debate in Ireland about the health effects of inhaling smoke.

The government is proposing a ban on smoking in the workplace, including pubs, from January.


Published: 2003/08/22 00:25:38 GMT


Monday, August 25, 2003

Louis Jacobs: Don't let state hurt evolution

05:34 PM CDT on Sunday, August 24, 2003

It is school time again. And as certain as the changing seasons are the disputes over curriculum and textbook content.

The State Board of Education will be taking up the issue of evolution yet again on Sept. 10.

I recently was asked to give a keynote address to science teachers in a certain Texas school district as part of its back-to-school activities because (I presume) I wrote the book Lone Star Dinosaurs. Teachers and students like dinosaurs and use them in science education.

There are, arguably, three great unifying concepts in the natural sciences.

The first removed Earth from the center of the solar system and replaced it with the sun. The second is plate tectonics, which explains the functioning of Earth, the distribution of earthquakes and volcanoes, and the placement of economic deposits. And the third is evolution, which recognizes that all life on Earth is related, each species to the other, and that life changes through geologic time.

Those concepts don't profess all knowledge of all things, but they haven't been contradicted by subsequent observations.

If the argument about evolution in textbooks were simply about science, it no longer would come up, just as the celestial position of the sun doesn't, because the scientific community accepts evolution as well tested.

But since Texas is the second-largest market for textbooks, an anti-evolution campaign is waged here, complete with so-called experts from out of state coming to push their agenda. It takes the form of "intelligent design."

Even so, what a strong scientific community we have in Texas!

Look at the research power of our universities and industry.

Look at our hospitals.

Look at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Indeed, look at our energy companies.

The wealth of Texas was built in large measure on oil, the distilled guts of past life, and Texas boasts one of the most highly qualified groups of earth scientists anywhere.

Still, for some, there really is no immediate practical concern about where Earth is in the solar system. It doesn't affect their lives on a daily basis to know that continents drift atop sliding tectonic plates. Nor is the reality of evolution a factor in day-to-day decision making.

So, they are free not to worry about unifying concepts, even though everyone benefits from and utilizes the results of that knowledge.

In fact, the major objective of knowledge is to understand the big picture, how observations fit together, to satisfy curiosity and to use broader knowledge for the good of humanity.

In that sense, there seems to be no limit as to how excellent a textbook or a curriculum can be. But there is a limit as to how bad a textbook can be and still be chosen for use in public classrooms.

Texas, because of its large market share of textbook sales, is positioned to lead the country in educational quality. If we don't do that, if we opt for an agenda-driven curriculum, the question becomes: How many extra hurdles do we wish to place in a student's path?

A top-notch science curriculum would leave out the misrepresentations and misunderstandings of intelligent design, emphasize chemistry, physics and biology, and include earth sciences equally.

An understanding of those subjects makes for a scientifically literate public in a rapidly advancing technical age and prepares our students for their role in it.

Louis L. Jacobs is a professor of geological sciences at Southern Methodist University, president of the Institute for the Study of Earth and Man at SMU and author of Lone Star Dinosaurs. His e-mail address is jacobs@smu.edu.

Online at: http://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/viewpoints/stories/082503dnedijacobs.9cbe1.html

Welcome to Mystery Park


The most unique theme park in the world!

"People should learn the meaning of astonishment."
Erich von Däniken

Opening hours:
Daily from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Mystery Park remains closed on December 25 and January 1.

Mystery Park...
...is a one of a kind adventure park, which presents the unexplained and yet very real mysteries of the world.

Mystery Park...
...is a year-round attraction for young and old that can be visited in any weather.

Mystery Park...
...is a completely different holiday and leisure experience in a breathtakingly beautiful landscape in Interlaken between two lakes and at the foot of the snow-covered Alps of the Bernese Oberland.

Leaders were trying to heal boy who died during prayer, pastor says

Sunday, August 24, 2003 Posted: 7:45 PM EDT (2345 GMT)


An 8-year-old autistic boy died at the Faith Temple Church of Apostolic Faith Friday night.

MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin (AP) -- A pastor said Saturday that church leaders were trying to heal an autistic 8-year-old boy when he inexplicably stopped breathing and died during a prayer service Friday night.

During the hourlong session, the boy's feet and hands were restrained by his mother and other church members who prayed intensely for his violent tendencies to cease, the pastor's wife said.

"He just passed away," Pastor David Hemphill said of the boy. "God is a mysterious person, and if he wants to call a life back, he does."

Milwaukee police officers arrested a man Friday night at Faith Temple Church of Apostolic Faith, a small storefront in a strip mall that houses a pizza restaurant and a dry cleaner.

Milwaukee County Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Kim Brooks confirmed Saturday night that Ray Hemphill, the pastor's brother and also a minister at the church, was being held at the Milwaukee County Jail on suspicion of physical abuse of a child, a felony.

The medical examiner's office declined to release results of an autopsy done on the boy, Torrance Cantrell, citing a police request for non-disclosure.

Denise Allison, 25, said she had become close friends with the boy and his mother, Patricia Cooper, during two years living in the duplex above the family.

Allison said Torrance, called "Junior" by family and friends, was brilliant with his hands, and could craft complex kites from newspaper. Though hardly able to speak, Torrance would knock on her door and shout with a smile, "Tickle," asking Allison to play with and tickle him.

The boy often initiated play or communication by punching at people and laughing, though neighborhood kids had learned to not feel threatened, Allison said.

"He was really fun to be around, but you had to relax, get to know him and understand his ways," Allison said. "He just wanted love and attention like any other kid."

Milwaukee Police Capt. Linda Haynes said there was "no striking or anything like that," when asked whether Torrance had been disciplined during the prayer service, but said police were still investigating.

"Circumstances are suspicious because most 8-year-olds don't just die. Unless there's a medical condition -- which we're unaware of at this time."

Haynes added that the boy "did not die of natural causes."

No officials would say if they thought the use of restraints was related to the boy's death, or to Ray Hemphill's arrest.

David Hemphill and his church were investigated in 1998 after a mother struck her 12-year-old daughter with a stick during a church service. The girl suffered bruises and cuts.

No charges were filed after authorities talked to the mother and Hemphill, who both defended the physical discipline as necessary for the unruly girl.

David and his wife Pamela said that they did not attend Friday's service, but rushed to church after people there called to tell them the boy was not breathing and 911 had been called.

The Hemphills said they talked to the four people who had been at the service: Ray Hemphill, Patricia Cooper and two women they would not name.

Pamela Hemphill said Ray Hemphill led the service and directed the women to restrain the boy.

The women put some sheets and cloth over the boy's outstretched hands, and "one lady held one hand and the other lady held the other, and his mother held his feet," Pamela Hemphill said.

The boy's leather sneakers were removed so he wouldn't hurt anyone if he kicked, she added.

The Hemphills said the boy's mother came to the church seeking help about three months ago and said her son was in danger of being institutionalized because he was violent toward himself and his 2-year-old sister.

"His mother couldn't get any rest, any sleep because he (her son) was just sick," David Hemphill said. "It had really gotten worse."

Some church members began holding prayer sessions with the boy three times a week, he said.

"We were just trying to pray and see if God gave him a miracle," he said.

Pamela Hemphill said the sessions would usually last about two hours with a break halfway.

"Sometimes he kicks and scratches and throws himself to the ground," she said. "They hold his hand or maybe his feet and maybe take his shoes off."

But at Friday's session, Pamela Hemphill said, the boy was "unusually quiet."

"He seemed to be extremely tired," she said. "He just wiggled and moved a little but not as much as usual."

She said the boy was sitting on the floor with others sitting around him. But at one point he lay down and closed his eyes, she said.

"After they got through praying, one of the ladies said, 'He doesn't look too good today,' " David Hemphill said.

Ray Hemphill checked the boy's pulse and found none, she said. Paramedics arrived but couldn't revive the boy, she said, and pronounced him dead.

David Hemphill said he had no explanation for the sudden death, but said the boy was taking medications.

"I said, 'Well, God just took him,' " he said.

Hemphill said Cooper, who could not be reached Saturday, said "'My baby's got rest now.' "

Allison and other neighbors said they'd seen radical changes in Cooper's behavior since she joined the church this spring. Once gregarious and energetic, the single mother getting by mostly on Social Security checks began to live in near-seclusion, appearing dazed, exhausted and increasingly worried.

"They completely brainwashed Pat," Allison said.

Allison said a church member approached Cooper one day when she was struggling to control Torrance outside their home. The person told Cooper that if she brought her son to the church, he could be "spiritually healed."

Church members began to take Cooper and Torrance to the church in a van three and four times a day for prayer, Allison said. A woman and her daughter moved in with Cooper early this summer and recently moved out, she said. Other church members were in and out of Cooper's apartment, helping her clean and cook. Allison said Cooper told her that during prayer sessions -- both at home and at church -- church members would forcibly hold down Torrance and strike him in attempts to heal him of his autism.

Allison said Friday's session sounded like one Cooper told her about earlier in the summer.

"She called it an exorcism," Allison said. "She said they held him down for almost two hours. He couldn't hardly breathe, and that shocked (Cooper). Then she said the devil started to speak through Junior's voice -- though he can't really speak -- saying, 'Kill me. Take me.' "

Allison began to notice that each time the group gathered in the apartment, Torrance would screech, wail and cry. She and other neighbors noticed Torrance had a fattened lip and black eye the days after at-home prayer sessions, she said.

Once, Allison said, she looked through her friend's window and saw church members taking turns striking the boy with a belt as Cooper watched.

"I told Pat that it was wrong, but she said the Bible told her you're supposed to chastise your children," Allison said. "I told her to stop, told her what could a little kid ever do that was so wrong to beat him like that? She said the church told her it was the only way to heal him."

Allison said she confronted her friend several more times about her concerns, but never contacted authorities because she thought she could counsel her friend away from the church without causing her legal problems.

Now, Allison said, she is filled with remorse that she didn't.

"All I can do now is tell what happened, and maybe this won't happen again to someone else," Allison said.

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