Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings
April 8, 2004
by Terry Phillips, correspondent
Conservative group says network got it wrong in reporting on challenges to the exclusive teaching of Darwinian evolution in schools.
CNN has been accused of distorting a conservative think-tank's position on how children should be taught about the origins of life. At issue is a recent report suggesting there's a national movement under way to fire teachers who refuse to teach alternatives to Darwinian evolution.
A bill introduced in the Missouri Legislature, which initially proposed penalties for teachers who refused to present alternative theories to evolution, formed the basis of the CNN report, which also made reference to eight or nine states considering similar measures.
But Rob Crowther of the Discovery Institute, which proposes Intelligent Design as an alternative to the randomness of Darwin's evolution, said the cable network's assertion is "a pure fabrication."
Besides, he added, "the way we were quoted in the story and the way we were positioned, they implied we were supportive of that legislation, which we were not."
The bill's sponsor, Missouri Rep. Wayne Cooper, confirmed the Discovery Institute's position.
"In fact," he said, "they opposed the legislative approach from the very beginning."
By the time the report hit the air, Cooper had already removed penalties for teachers from the bill — but CNN didn't call him.
"Had they contacted me and asked me about the status of the bill," he said, "they could have got the correct information."
Cooper speculated that CNN may only have checked his bill through Missouri's legislative Web site, which doesn't immediately update changes. As for the charge that other states are planning to fire teachers who won't offer alternatives to Darwin, Cooper said he wasn't aware of any considering such a bill.
CNN, in a written statement, denied any inaccuracies in its report.
If you've ever wanted to contact the executives or reporters at CNN, you can do it with a few clicks of your mouse through the CitizenLink Action Center.
By Whitney Ellis
BUTLER COUNTY — The passing of the 10th grade lesson plan on evolution by the Ohio school board in Columbus Tuesday has sparked controversy between some local scientists and others in favor of a theory which challenges evolution.
Professors and others in favor of "intelligent design" — the idea that life is so complex a higher being must have had a hand in its creation — have drawn mixed reactions.
At least one religious leader in the area said he welcomes the possible entry of the theory.
"(Intelligent design) should be presented as an option in the schools," said Pastor Ken Ritz of the Hamilton Vineyard Church. "I believe we are intelligently designed."
Ritz said the move to intelligent design is a "healthy thing to consider" for the schools.
Some scientists agreed the theory should be considered.
Dan Ely, a University of Akron biologist, said the plan of intelligent design is scientifically sound and allows appropriate questioning of evolution.
"It's not intelligent design versus evolution. It's not religion versus science. It's what are the issues within evolution," Ely said. "This lesson doesn't throw out evolution."
Ely was a member of the team that helped write the lesson plan before the state board Tuesday.
The board voted 13-5 in favor of the plan, titled "Critical Analysis of Evolution." The lesson is an optional set of plans for schools to use in the teaching of science standards for the new 10th grade graduation test.
But for Miami University zoologists Tom Gregg and Susan Hoffman, the plan is a failed attempt to mix religion into the schools.
"There will almost certainly be a lawsuit resulting from this," Gregg said, adding that the passage of this is like "introducing religion into a science class."
Gregg said the claim that all evidence the intelligent design theorists found was scientific is false.
"This is going to make Ohio a laughing stock like Kansas was a few years ago before they reversed their decision on creationism," Gregg said.
Hoffman said the state board Tuesday cleared up some major points, but didn't change some of the underlying problems with the lesson plans.
"The way the classes are set up is modeled after a creationist book," Hoffman said, referring to "Icons of Evolution," by Jonathan Wells. Wells' book attempts to discredit many scientists who use evolution as a correct theory.
The state board removed a reference to Wells' book from an earlier draft. Any connection between the book and the plan "seems inconsequential at best," John West, associate director of the institute's Center for Science and Culture, said in a letter to Sheets last week.
Hoffman said nearly all practicing scientists use evolutionary theory as the basis for their understanding of life on Earth.
Before the board's passing, Hoffman sent a letter to the state board — as well as to Gov. Bob Taft — expressing her displeasure for the new lesson plan.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
E. Joseph Addison
On Tue-sday, the state school board of Ohio approved a new lesson plan that allows teaching elements of creation theory to students. Really, this isn't a joke. Dammit, Europe, stop laughing at us. Canada, don't you start.
Ok, so it was only last month that Georgia's Board of Education approved the use of the word "evolution" during science class. This decision came in response to a movement, largely led by morons, to replace the word "evolution" with the phrase "biological changes over time."
Ah nuts, now I'm laughing too.
But maybe I shouldn't be. This is, after all, very serious stuff.
I'm not so worried about this new "curriculum" actually surviving the Ohio courts - groups of educated people are lining up to challenge it - as I am that the renewed creation v. evolution debate might signal that something ugly is happening to America.
The Ohio board decision isn't really about science, just like the gay marriage debate isn't really about homosexuals and the abortion debate isn't really about murder of the unborn. These debates are about religion; specifically, the Ol' Tes'ment, angry God, fire and brimstone, wrath, humanity is wicked and the world is about to end variety that the Christian Reich preaches.
And don't even try to consider all the religious implications in our support of Israel and our ongoing crusade in the Middle East.
Members of the Christian Reich want us to honor their God in their way, and they're willing to go to any length to ensure we do.
Many of these people belief that we are inherently evil and our souls need saving. Science, the idea that women should control their own bodies, and the belief that consenting adults should be allowed the freedom to do whomever they want to do are merely tricks the devil uses to lead us astray.
Satan is a humanist, God is not. Never mind there is no evidence either one actually exists.
God knows what is good for us and he only shares this knowledge with men like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and George W. Bush, so we should trust them and have faith in their agenda.
But the liberal and progressive communities (read: people who can think) are gearing up for a fight.
It promises to be quite a battle - a culture war of Biblical proportions.
Problem is that nobody on the progressive side seems ready to admit that this debate is about more than clash between conservative and liberal philosophy. That's why we're losing.
Of course the cultural divide is about religion! It's more prominent than J-Lo's ass.
Conservatives are sneaky. Liberals are cowards.
Conservatives use euphemisms like Intelligent Design. Liberals are afraid to ask, "Designed by whom?"
Conservatives talk about the sanctity of marriage. Again, liberals don't ask, "Sanctified by whom?"
Conservatives say that the destruction of an embryo is synonymous with murder. Liberals don't ask, "Why?"
Asking these questions would force the Christian Reich to acknowledge that a very frightening, specific view of God is behind its every initiative.
Not asking these questions gives the conservative fringe a free pass to complicate policy debates by injecting religious dogma into the issues.
It's understandable why leftists are afraid to call the Christian fringe out and strip these issues down to their religious cores: The left is afraid that this would alienate the moderate Americans they're trying to win over.
But this fear is unjustified. Truth is, just like the vast majority of moderate Americans, most leftists also believe in God. Most leftists consider their spiritual beliefs to be central to how they lead their lives - that's why they oppose the Christian Reich's' consistent attempts to force its religious views on the rest of America.
If the left would merely ask the questions, America would quickly find itself in a debate about religion and the nature of God. The right would come off as paranoid religious fanatics. Moderate Americans would see this, flip, and side with the left. Soon, there would be no opposition to a woman's right to choose, gay marriage, or the theory of evolution.
Sadly, the left hasn't realized this, so its tactics remain as unintelligently designed as the curriculum of a science class in Ohio.
The views represented here reflect those of the individual writers, and not necessarily of The South End, The Student Newspaper Publication Board or Wayne State University. The South End welcomes letters to the editor, which can be sent via email or sent directly to our office.
Apr 8 2004
By Steve Bagnall Daily Post
ALIEN abductions are generally considered the stuff of legend, Hollywood, and conspiracy theories.
However new research by brewing giant Grolsch has named the Great Orme as one of Britain's top places for extra- terrestrial kidnappings.
As part of an out-of-this-world advertising campaign, the Dutch company points to a catalogue of reported sightings which make the Llandudno beauty spot the UK's third most likely spot to witness a close encounter of the space kind.
They included multiple UFO sightings in 1997 and a family which claimed to have lost five hours after being followed by a triangular shaped craft.
Conwy tourism bosses said they were delighted the beauty spot figured so highly.
They welcome everybody, they said, even those from beyond planet Earth.
"We have visitors from across the globe already and we would be happy to welcome those from further afield also," said Coun Eddie Woodward, cabinet member for economic development and regeneration, which includes tourism.
"Llandudno has something for everybody."
There have been hundreds of UFO sightings across North Wales stretching back decades.
One of the most famous cases was in the Berwyn mountains in 1974 when a huge explosion was heard. Some witnesses claimed a UFO had crash landed.
The Grolsch study, part of a company-produced booklet called "How To Be Abducted By Aliens" shows aliens and spaceships come in all shapes and sizes.
Although tongue in cheek, UFO researcher Nick Pope says there is a serious side to the mystery.
Nick, who works for the Ministry of Defence, said: "There are literally hundreds of sightings across the UK every year, not just North Wales.
"The vast majority are simply mistaken sightings of aircraft, weather balloons, satellites, hoaxes and such like.
"But there is a small hardcore of really interesting cases, for example, which come from police officers, pilots and military personnel.
"With abduction cases, there are psychological explanations such as vivid dreams or sleep paralysis, but again there is a small hardcore of cases which are extremely interesting.
"The honest answer to what I think is going on is that I just don't know."
Researchers compiled the list after checking UFO sightings over many years.
Top of the alien list was Bonnybridge in Lanarkshire, Scotland, followed by Cley Hill in Wiltshire.
April 4, 2004, 9:49PM
Mexican healers offer hope to sick
By DUDLEY ALTHAUS
Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle
ESPINAZO, Mexico -- Frustrated with the failure of medical specialists to help them conceive, Tomas and Patricia Castilleja traveled from their home near Houston to this fly-speck village in northern Mexico, hoping for divine intervention.
They came seeking the aid of El Niño Fidencio, a faith healer who died more than 65 years ago, and of other long-departed saints who many are certain can work miracles.
"We've spent a lot of money, and nothing has worked," Tomas Castilleja, 25, said during a recent festival here that drew more than 20,000 believers. "So we thought we needed to come here.
"You have to have a lot of faith," the Texas-born Castilleja said in Spanish as he and his wife awaited a meeting with what they believed would be the spirit of El Niño. "It's something so unusual."
The lame and the sick, the faint of heart, mind and soul -- all travel to Espinazo, a parched community of fewer than 500 people, for El Niño Fidencio's healing blessing.
God's power is channeled here, the faithful hold, via the living people who lend the spirits of El Niño and other saints temporary flesh and voice.
"They call this place the Field of Pain, because those who come here have all these hurts, these pains, these anguishes," said Alberto Salinas, 53, a former sheriff's deputy from Edinburg who says he has been acting as a medium for El Niño's spirit for 25 years.
"People who don't find answers in modern medicine seek an alternative," said Salinas, who drove from his Texas border home in March to take part in a semi-annual celebration of Fidencio.
"We as Fidencista healers have dedicated ourselves to cure them," Salinas said. "We are at the service of the people."
His many followers say that El Niño, who was a grown man despite his nickname of "The Child," removed tumors with shards of glass, gave sight to the blind, restored sanity to the deranged, banished disease with the touch of a hand.
The healer, a semi-literate child of peasants whose real name was Jose Fidencio Sintora Constantino, became famous in the late 1920s after he reportedly fell into a trance beneath a pepper tree and began to cure in the name of God.
"These things don't happen by themselves. They don't happen by chance. They happen by instruction of the Holy Spirit," Salinas said. "We believe in El Niño Fidencio and that his gift is the manifestation of the spirit of Jesus."
At a time when Mexico's revolutionary government was persecuting those who practiced the Roman Catholic faith, El Niño Fidencio became a magnet for the desperate and the anxious, those with no access to, or faith in, regular medicine.
Like his faith-healing contemporaries in the Depression-era United States, El Niño's fame also was fueled in part by people's desire for an answer to their economic difficulties, academics say. And his following reflects the blend of Roman Catholic and pre-Hispanic faiths that many Mexicans practice.
As many as 500,000 Fidencista faithful worship at least occasionally at temples headed by about 2,000 spirit channelers across Mexico and in Texas, California and other states, estimated Tony Zavaleta, an anthropologist at the University of Texas-Brownsville who is a leading scholar of the movement.
Like those held here for many years, the recent festival for El Niño and other faith healers was a three-day marathon of equal parts quest, carnival and cosmic conclave.
"Visiting Espinazo at the height of the El Niño Fidencio festival is a real trip," said Zavaleta, who frequently attends. "It will affect your mind."
Clad in brilliantly colored capes and hats or in simple white gowns accented with pastel scarves and belts, the mediums began leading their followers into Espinazo several days before the actual festival opened.
Visitors camped on the edge of town or bunked in villagers' homes. Some slept in their cars or on the open ground.
Vendors flocked from Monterrey, Saltillo and other nearby cities, lining the streets with wooden booths and offering everything from herbal remedies to flashlights to old photographs of Fidencio, other saints and the revolutionary hero Pancho Villa. Bands wandered the streets, hiring out for a song or for the day, playing trumpet-accented ballads about El Niño and other icons.
When the actual festivities got under way, pilgrims lined up by the several thousands to parade past Fidencio's tomb, inside the house and clinic where he lived and worked. They bathed in the muddy, concrete-encased pool next to the clinic that many believe has curative powers. They gathered around the scores of faith healers plying their trade throughout the village.
Closing their eyes in concentration, the mediums called out to Fidencio and other spirits. Often their bodies jumped as if touched with a low voltage cattle prod, a sign that people said showed the spirits were with them.
And then, the healing begins.
Many mediums change clothes, voices and attitudes when adopting the personas of the spirits. Most of the faithful instantly recognize which spirit is being channeled. They call out to them as if to old friends, laughing at their jokes, reveling in their company.
"Do you want to know who I am, or whose body this belongs to?" said a middle-age woman with heavy-lidded eyes and a high-pitched voice, clad in sensible slacks and a red cape that reached to her ankles.
"I am Jose Fidencio, servant of God," she explained in Spanish. "You must ask someone else who this flesh is."
An assistant helpfully explained that the body belonged to Maria Garcia, a medium from Saltillo. While some mediums charge set fees for their services, many others, like Garcia, simply accept donations from the grateful.
Garcia moved down a hastily assembled line of the faithful, anointing each with holy water, rubbing a crucifix over chests, arms and bodies, embracing heads with both hands, grasping the backs of necks.
As she worked, a recorded sales pitch blasted from the loudspeaker of a nearby vendor's booth, running down a list of physical woes, offering antidotes.
"Ulcers, cancer of the skin, diabetes, high blood pressure," the electronic voice intoned, with a tinge of knowing lament. "We have the best herbs in the country. Direct from Mexico City."
Having driven from the border to Espinazo on the final morning of the festival, the Castillejas timidly approached Garcia, the medium from Saltillo, as she and a handful of other mediums worked the crowd on the edge of the mud pool.
First-time pilgrims, the couple had come with Salvador Vargas, a pipe fitter who works with Tomas Castilleja at a Pasadena refinery.
Vargas' mother, Sara Martinez, is a spirit channeler who has journeyed to Espinazo many times. The Castillejas were amazed as Martinez appeared to evoke the spirit of a long-dead indigenous man at Fidencio's grave within moments of arriving in the village.
Though novices, the Castillejas were hardly skeptics.
"I am very happy, certain of what I am doing," Tomas Castilleja said. "This will work, God willing.
"God willing," he repeated.
Tears sprung from Patricia Castilleja's eyes as she watched her husband whisper the couples's desire for a child to El Niño Fidencio through Garcia's ear.
"I was kind of scared, because I've been through a lot of stuff, a lot of doctors," Patricia Castilleja explained afterward, the tears returning. "I don't know what to do.
"I asked them to help me," she said, "and I feel much better now."
By DARLA CARTER
From acupuncture to aromatherapy, many people are looking beyond conventional medicine to improve themselves mentally and physically.
Use of CAM — shorthand for complementary and alternative medicine — has become popular in recent years and not just among celebrities and free thinkers on the West Coast or in large cities.
Health consumers in Kentucky's heartland also are using CAM and inquiring about it, said Dr. Maureen Flannery, a board-certified medical acupuncturist at WaysMeet in Berea who is also a family physician and researcher.
"We're not talking Berkeley (Calif.). We're not talking New Age. We're talking Pike County and Letcher County and Perry County and places like that as well as Central Kentucky," said Flannery, an assistant professor in family practice and community medicine at the University of Kentucky.
CAM, which comes in many forms and is constantly evolving, includes acupuncture for migraines; ginger to combat nausea and vomiting in early pregnancy; meditation to lower blood pressure; and tai chi, a martial-arts-inspired form of exercise, to improve balance and reduce arthritic pain. Mind-body connections, helping the body to heal itself and illness prevention often are emphasized.
When a non-conventional therapy is used alone, it's usually referred to as alternative medicine, but when it's used in addition to conventional medicine, it's often called complementary medicine, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), an arm of the National Institutes of Health.
You may in fact be doing CAM without knowing it since it includes common practices such as prayer and spiritual healing, chiropractic therapies, nutrition and taking herbs.
"If you take a vitamin supplement, that's considered to be alternative medicine; if you take a yoga class, you're doing alternative medicine. If you listen to a relaxation audio tape, that's considered alternative medicine," said Dr. Kenneth R. Pelletier, a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Maryland and author of "The Best Alternative Medicine."
Estimates of just how many people in the United States use CAM vary, partly because of inconsistent definitions of CAM and differing data collection methods in research studies. But major studies have estimated use at nearly 30 percent, as well as more than 42 percent, in recent years.
"It is very much a consumer-driven movement," said Pelletier, former director of the complementary and alternative medicine program at Stanford University School of Medicine. "It's the great American principle of freedom of choice."
"There are certain times when it's extremely important that we seek medical care, advice and also medication; otherwise, people would die," said Vickie Harley, an alternative medicine user in Louisville and a life coach who helps people to achieve their personal goals and overcome obstacles. "But in general for me, looking for something natural, it's like the first thought. ... I'd much rather do that."
In some instances, "a massage might be just what we need rather than going to a back surgeon," Harley said.
But people need to do their homework to avoid dangerous and ineffective practices, experts caution. When dealing with unproven therapies, there is a risk of false hope as well as lost time and money.
"Some people waste a lot of time and energy searching for things that may not work," said Thomas J. Wheeler, an associate professor of biochemistry at the University of Louisville who leads the Kentucky Council Against Health Fraud.
Established by Congress in 1998, the national center funds CAM research to help separate the wheat from the chaff. It also works to integrate scientifically proven CAM practices into conventional medicine and educates the public about CAM through efforts such as conferences, a Web site and an information clearinghouse.
Consumers "need to know what is safe and effective, and there is a lot of research that's going on," said Dr. Brian Berman, director of the complementary medicine program at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and a professor of family medicine. "It's not all a placebo, but it's also not all a panacea," he said.
Some people turn to CAM because they're fed up with conventional medicine's shortcomings and want to do something to help themselves.
"They're tired of taking pills; they're sick and tired of being sick and tired; they drag themselves in here," said Dr. Robert Jeffrey Brown, a chiropractor who leads the Southern Indiana Center for Alternative Medicine and Acupuncture in Jeffersonville. "A lot of them come with 13-14 different pills they're taking. They're over-medicated."
But few people are rejecting conventional, mainstream medicine outright in favor of CAM, Flannery and Pelletier said.
"The vast majority use both conventional and alternative medicine in order to help themselves and their families," Pelletier said. "They're not making stupid decisions."
For instance, a cancer patient might get conventional treatment, such as chemotherapy, but use CAM therapies — such as supplements, acupuncture or Qigong, a form of Eastern movement meditation — to address side effects or symptoms, Flannery said.
"I think there's a real desire for improved health and wellness, and health consumers and patients perceive that they're better off going to the doctor and doing other things that may in their mind be outside of mainstream medical care," she said.
The users of alternative and complementary therapies tend to be middle-aged — part of the baby boomer generation in their late 40s to early 60s — and have higher socio-economic status, higher education levels and higher incomes, Pelletier said.
That means "they have the ability to seek out the best of conventional care but then have enough discretionary money to seek out additional influences," such as alternative and complementary medicine, Pelletier said. That may be through travel or through the Web.
The Internet has helped to spur CAM's popularity by making it possible to rapidly spread information about health options, Pelletier said. It's also helped to break down geographic boundaries, giving the public access to other cultures, where many alternative therapies flourish, he said.
Increased marketing also has been a factor in the popularity of CAM. "Companies perceive that offering vitamins, minerals, exercise equipment, books, tapes, etc. — all of the commercial products — (is) quite lucrative, and certainly the marketing and sales of those materials has fueled its interest," Pelletier said.
CAM tends to be more popular among women, research shows.
Harley, 50, said she has tried numerous alternative therapies, including homeopathy, Reiki (a method of natural healing based on the application of "universal life force energy"), herbs, massage, yoga, hypnotherapy and chiropractic health care, reaping various benefits. Massage helped her to become more comfortable with touch and to release stress, she said. Yoga brought her peace. Homeopathic remedies helped her with colds and muscle aches.
Harley said she doesn't see trying such therapies as risky to her health because she educates herself and knows her body well enough to know when to get something checked out by a mainstream doctor.
Janice Allen, 48, of Louisville began using alternative medicine 15 years ago by taking supplements. She had a job with no insurance and couldn't afford to go to the doctor, so she began frequenting health-food stores. She started with grapefruit seed extract for strep throat, then others, such as Echinacea for colds, St. John's wort for depression, ginkgo biloba for circulation and blessed thistle for period-related headaches.
Seeming to get relief from the supplements, Allen has continued using various supplements over the years, consulting resource books and the Internet to match her symptoms with given supplements and keeping her doctors informed about what she takes.
Allen said she has had ill effects from supplements twice. She got severe heartburn after taking a supplement for a heel problem and developed itchy skin after taking a supplement and then getting into a tanning bed.
But given problems that have occurred with some regular drugs in this country, "I don't think there's any more risk involved" in taking supplements, she said. "The potencies aren't always consistent, but you learn ... what brands are good and stick with those."
She also isn't swayed by the fact that supplements aren't regulated as strictly as drugs.
"I don't trust the pharmaceutical companies; I don't trust the FDA," she said, referring to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. "I just always felt natural is better. It's something God intended for this use. Why not use it?"
But Wheeler, who teaches an elective course on alternative medicine for second-year medical students at UofL, cautioned that "natural" doesn't mean a product is safe. Furthermore, he said, "It doesn't mean it works."
A person might attribute feeling better to a complementary or alternative therapy when it's just the natural cycle of the person's disease or condition.
"It's important to realize many things get better on their own or they come and go," Wheeler said.
People also need to realize that just because someone who has tried an alternative therapy says it works doesn't mean that it's so, even if the anecdotal report comes from a friend or relative.
"It's very easy to be fooled," Wheeler said. "Even doctors can be fooled. Doctors have done
treatments that they were sure worked and then when a controlled study was done, it turned out that
it didn't really do anything."
Tuesday, April 6, 2004 Posted: 2:43 PM EDT (1843 GMT)
ATLANTA, Georgia (AP) -- A federal judge refused to dismiss a lawsuit against a school district's practice of posting disclaimers inside science textbooks saying evolution is "a theory, not a fact."
The Cobb County schools' disclaimer, in the form of a sticker on the inside front cover of textbooks, could have the effect of advancing or inhibiting religion, U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper ruled in ordering the suit to go to trial.
"We're very excited about this," said attorney Michael Manely, who represents the six Cobb County parents who sued the system in August 2002.
The lawsuit argues that the disclaimer restricts the teaching of evolution, promotes and requires the teaching of creationism and discriminates against particular religions.
The sticker reads: "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered."
The judge weighed the constitutionality of the issue by applying a three-pronged test handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1971. In order to get the lawsuit dismissed, the school board had to show that the disclaimer was adopted with a secular purpose; that its primary effect neither advances nor inhibits religion; and that it does not result in an excessive entanglement of government with religion.
In his order signed last Wednesday, Cooper said the school board satisfied him on the first issue.
But he noted that while the disclaimer has no biblical reference, it encourages students to consider alternatives other than evolution. The judge found that the disclaimer could have the effect of advancing or inhibiting religion.
"Indeed, most of the board members concurred that they wanted students to consider other alternatives," Cooper wrote.
The theory of evolution, accepted by most scientists, says evidence shows current species of life evolved over time from earlier forms and that natural selection determines which species survive. Creationism credits the origin of species to God.
In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled creationism was a religious belief that could not be taught in public schools along with evolution.
Copyright 2004 The Associated Press
A conversation with biologist Ken Miller.
Interview by Karl W. Giberson
Ken Miller is professor of biology at Brown University. In addition to his specialized research, Millerâ€"a practicing Roman Catholicâ€"is the author of Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution (HarperCollins, 1999). He is also the coauthor of a series of high school and college texts and has frequently debated opponents of evolution (see www.millerandlevine.com/km/evol/). Karl Giberson spoke with Miller about his faith, his public role as a defender of evolution, and the integrity of science. Here we conclude the two-part conversation that began in the previous issue.
Why do you think that critics of Darwinism were so interested in debating you if you carried the day decisively in your first encounter with Henry Morris, the founder of the Institue for Creation Research?
What Morris wrote in his newsletter, Acts and Facts, was that I was the most effective evolutionist debater that he had encountered to date. The praise was from his own lips, and other people who read Acts and Facts interpreted that as they wanted to, but clearly they thought I'd given him a hard time! They immediately tried to set up a debate with Duane Gish, whom they regarded at the time--this was more than 20 years ago--as their most effective debater. I was very happy to do that, and I think I did reasonably well against Duane Gish as well.
But I think there is a reason why people from the ICR or from Ken Ham's Answers in Genesis or from another group called the Discovery Institute are eager to engage in debate. They would like very much to promote a sense of equivalence between their arguments and the scientific theory of evolution; they very much like to play to the American ideal of fair play and open-mindedness and hearing both sides of the story. They like to say that on one side we have evolution, on the other side we have Scientific Creationism, or Intelligent Design. "See, members of the general public, what you have here are two equivalent ideas." That's the conclusion that any debate fosters, that the ideas are equivalent.
Were you concerned that by participating in this debate you were, in a sense, playing along with their attempt to set up that juxtaposition?
Yes, I was concerned about that, but on the other hand, I was concerned about something else as well. I was concerned about an image of the scientific community in which the members of that community hold themselves aloof from criticism and are unresponsive to questions from the general public.
Science is first and foremost an open enterprise, and one of the things that I feel is very important when arguments against evolution are being promulgated, is for people in science to get the message across to the general public that we have the answers to those arguments. We, in fact, consider them ourselves. Part of the mission, I think, of members of the scientific community in a free and open society like ours, is to make sure that the general public understands exactly why and how scientists have accepted or rejected certain theoretical ideas and what the basis is for that acceptance or rejection.
Why do you think so many in the scientific community have no interest in doing what you just described?
One simple and practical reason is that people in the scientific community are very busy. Doing science well is really hard work. I have colleagues who work 60, 70, 80 hours a week, yet are not paid for that many hours. That's simply work they do because they have to and work they do, quite frankly, out of love.
Another reason is that not everybody in the scientific community is gifted in communication. There are many people who do absolutely brilliant scientific work but are not good at explaining that work to the general public. In fact that's almost the caricature of the scientistâ€"that he can't explain himself! So, scientists are not often seen in public in large measure because they're doing the work they love, and they're working hard at it. And some of them are not that good at communication. And others, quite frankly, simply cannot bring themselves to believe that the theory of evolution, which has been accepted as the unifying principle of biology for more than a century, is actually coming under serious attack. Without the realization that it is, they're inclined to just go on, doing their research, teaching their students, and trying to advance the frontiers of science as quickly as they can.
The Intelligent Design people who have moved to the cultural center-stage recently make a lot of hay out of the writings of Richard Dawkins, Peter Atkins, Steven Weinberg, and other scientists who are harshly critical of religion. How justified is that?
It is always the case, in any political debate, that the two extremes tend to justify and validate each other. I think the Intelligent Design movement has seized upon the most extreme views of the meaning of evolution to argue that this is an inherent aspect of evolutionary theory.
They recognize what is going on when Dawkins and others in that vein make the statements they do about the meaning and the purpose of life and the irrelevance of religion. What they are doing is essentially abandoning science and pushing a philosophical point of view. Now it is a philosophical viewpoint that these people have every right to hold. But what is important is that the philosophical viewpoint should not be confused with the science that is behind it.
What the Intelligent Design movement has done all too often is to conflate the science and philosophy, to argue that within evolutionary biology there is a philosophy of anti-theism and a pro-materialist or an absolute materialist philosophy. That is simply not true. The fact is that the philosophy and the science are separable. Evolutionary biology is very, very good science. The philosophy that one draws from that, however, depends upon one's own philosophical point of view, and not so much on the science itself.
An interesting thing occurs when you say, "ok, let's teach our children about Intelligent Design theory." What happens very quickly as you try to assemble a curriculum is you realize that there is nothing to teach. Intelligent Design theory is empty. Intelligent Design theory is really nothing more than a set of half-baked arguments against evolutionary biology. It has no coherent, theoretical or factual or scientific basis of its own, and once that is realized the air comes out of the blimp.
I'm sure that the unsettling conversations and disputes about evolution will go on, but I am equally sure that Intelligent Design theory, as it is critically examined by more and more people, is going to lose steam in a very big way.
When ordinary people who might be inclined to accept evolution think about it, they have to think about it as the way that God created us. But it doesn't look that way to them. How can we think about the role of God in evolution and still validate this concept that he is the creator?
I would ask people who are concerned about the issue of how God could have created us if our species arose by evolution to have a somewhat higher opinion of God. What I mean by that is that the God that we know through Christianity is not someone who acts like an ordinary human being, who simply happens to be endowed with supernatural powers. We are talking about a being whose intelligence is transcendent; we're talking about a being who brought the universe into existence, who set up the rules of existence, and uses those rules and that universe and the natural world in which we live to bring about his will.
The overwhelming scientific evidence shows very clearly that all species did not appear simultaneously. They appeared gradually over time and often appeared to take the places of other species that had been lost to the earth by extinction. We human beingsâ€"created from the dust of the earth, the Bible saysâ€"arose in exactly the same pattern. We are part of the natural world, and I think one aspect of God's message to us is that we have to look to the natural world to understand our relationship with God.
If someone says, "So, how did God create me?" I would ask them to raise their view and look instead at a Creator who brought an incredible evolutionary process into beingâ€"that he created not just me and not just you as individuals but he created us as part of the fabric of life that completely covers this planet. I think that's a bold and expansive vision and the one that I hold to.
What about those aspects of evolution that don't seem to be reflective of a God of power and majesty: the enormous suffering, the waste, and the bizarre cruelties that emerge?
There are all sorts of things in nature that at first glance seem to be hard to attribute to a powerful and majestic Creator. I live on a farm out in the country, and we have cats in our barn, and I can assure you those cats commit the most unspeakable cruelties to the vermin that you find in our hay loft and in our grain bin. But those cruelties and the things in nature of which you speak, those are observable facts. None of them were invented by Charles Darwin.
It is a fact that life is rough and that some organisms die so that other organisms may live. The meals that you and I and our readers ate this morning were composed almost exclusively of living organisms, sometimes animals, sometimes plants, but those living organisms gave up their lives for us, or to us, in one sense or another. So, the acts of cruelty of which you speak are not part of Darwinian theory. They are not part of evolutionary biology. Those are aspects of life itself.
Any religious person who is astounded by the cruelty that we see in the world has to find some way to account for the presence of a knowing and loving God alongside that cruelty. I actually think that evolutionary biology helps a Christian to account for that in a remarkable way. Evolutionary biology shows that all life is interrelated and that life, unfortunately, only comes at the expense of death. Therefore the cruelty and some of the death that we see in the world is inexplicably bound to our own emergence as living beings. I'm not convinced that the competing theories, such as Creation Science or Intelligent Design, do nearly as good a job as evolution does at explaining that.
Karl W. Giberson is professor of physics at Eastern Nazarene College, editor of Science & Theology News, and editor-in-chief of Science and Spirit. With Donald Yerxa, he is the author of Species of Origins: America's Search for a Creation Story (Rowman & Littlefield). This interview first appeared, in a slightly different form, in Science & Theology News.
Copyright © 2004 by the author or Christianity Today International/Books & Culture magazine.
March/April 2004, Vol. 10, No. 2, Page 40
By BOB ANEZ of the Associated Press
HELENA - A national organization that bills itself as a "religious liberty watchdog group" has asked Darby school officials for all documents related to the school board's recent decision to change its teaching of evolution in science classes.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State said Tuesday it is concerned that the mandate to teach "intelligent design" is an unconstitutional attempt to insert creationism into a public school curriculum.
Barry Lynn, executive director of the Washington, D.C.,-based group, said records connected to the board's preliminary vote earlier this year will help determine whether a lawsuit will be filed to challenge the action.
"There's some thought of possible litigation if the evidence warrants," he said in an interview. "We're interested in seeing whether the purpose behind the demand of the school board is based on religious teaching, which would be flatly unconstitutional."
The Darby school board has given preliminary approval to an "objective origins" science policy that would "encourage" teachers to instruct students about criticisms of evolutionary theory. One of those criticisms is Intelligent Design, which maintains that some life on Earth is so complex that it could not be the result of natural selection and is more likely the result of an intelligent designer.
The board took extensive public testimony before casting its initial 3-2 vote in favor of the policy. Although the policy proposal drew extensive criticism, it also had significant and vocal community support, including many who voiced religious reasons for backing the policy.
The board's regular attorney from the Montana School Boards Association advised members against passing the policy, noting the possibility that it runs afoul of the Constitution. And critics made it clear to board members that a lawsuit is a certainty if the policy gets final approval.
In a letter sent Tuesday to Darby Superintendent Jack Eggensperger, Americans United asked for copies of minutes, tapes or transcripts from board meetings where the issue was discussed. It also requested all related documents received or sent by board members and comments received by the trustees from people living in the school district.
Eggensperger said he had not yet seen the letter.
Bridgitt Erickson, a Lincoln attorney representing the board on the curriculum issue, said the letter clearly seeks public information and the organization "surely is entitled to access to it."
She said the letter was worded like a formal discovery request, which is used in court cases to obtain information from opposing sides.
Opponents of the change contend that "objective origins" is just religious creation theory under a different name and does not belong in science classes.
Darby minister Curtis Brickley, a leader in pushing for the change, and the three trustees voting for it say they have no religious motivations. They say "objective origins" is valid scientific criticism of evolutionary theory and encourages students to question what they are taught in science classes.
Lynn said his group has become involved because some of its 100 Montana members complained about the decision of the Darby board. Americans United's goal is to get the information needed to persuade board members they're making a mistake, without taking legal action, he said.
"The law is so clear, if you point out to school officials that they're on a dangerous constitutional path, very frequently they change their mind about what's initially contemplated," he said. "People don't have a bad motive; they just don't understand what the law is."
Eggensperger said he does not expect the board to consider a final vote on the curriculum change until after the May 4 trustee election. Two members, one on each side of the issue, face a challenger.
Missoulian reporter Michael Moore contributed to this story.
Website encourages teachers to use faith in defending theory
Posted: April 2, 2004
1:00 a.m. Eastern
© 2004 WorldNetDaily.com
A new website designed to help teachers teach evolution encourages the use of religion when arguing in favor of the theory and uses federal tax dollars to do so.
The site, Understanding Evolution, was developed in part using a $450,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. According to a statement from the Discovery Institute, the website was put together jointly by the National Center for Science Education, or NCSE, a private group whose mission is "defending the teaching of evolution in the public school," and the University of California Museum of Paleontology. The purpose of the site is to help teachers teach evolution better.
The Discovery Institute claims taxpayer funding of the effort violates the Constitution.
"This is a scandalous misuse of federal tax dollars," said Dr. John West, associate director of the Center for Science and Culture at Discovery Institute. "It's clearly a violation of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. What business is it of the government to tell people what their religious beliefs about evolution should be? And what does this have to do with teaching science?"
Natural selection among topics on Understanding Evolution website
One part of the website explicitly uses religion to promote evolution. In that section, teachers are told that nearly all religious people, theologians and scientists who hold religious beliefs endorse modern evolutionary theory, and that such a view "actually enriches their faith." Teachers also are directed to a page on the NCSE's own website containing statements by religious groups endorsing evolution.
For example, teachers can read a statement from the United Church of Christ that "modern evolutionary theory ... is in no way at odds with our belief in a Creator God, or in the revelation and presence of that God in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit."
West notes what he sees as stark hypocrisy in what the website developers are doing.
Said West, "Darwinists have a lot of chutzpah. They go around the country attacking anyone who wants to present scientific criticisms of Darwin's theory as unconstitutionally promoting religion, but here they explicitly use religion to promote evolution in the schools, and that's supposed to be OK?"
The site assures teachers there are no alternative theories to evolution.
"There are no alternative scientific theories to account for the observations explained by evolutionary theory," the site states. "Alternative 'theories' that have been proposed for insertion into the science curriculum have not been supported by valid science and are often based on belief rather than science."
TV journalist does report on evolution bill, mischaracterizes what legislation would do
Posted: April 7, 2004
1:00 a.m. Eastern
© 2004 WorldNetDaily.com
CNN is being urged to run a correction after it aired a story about a piece of evolution-related legislation – a story that was full of inaccuracies.
The report, which was aired Sunday during "CNN Sunday Morning," said the state of Missouri is considering legislation reporter Denise Belgrave claimed "would fire teachers who refused to teach alternatives to evolution." The provision she mentioned, however, is no longer a part of the bill.
"Its whole story about legislation to fire teachers was bogus," said Dr. John West, associate director of the Center for Science and Culture at Discovery Institute, in a statement. "Unfortunately, CNN ran its story without checking the facts first. There is no such legislation currently under consideration in Missouri, let alone any other states as CNN reported."
West says CNN interviewed him for the story, but did not mention the Missouri legislation.
In the broadcast story, Belgrave urged viewers: "Imagine a law that would fire teachers who refused to teach alternatives to evolution theory, alternatives that have not yet been widely accepted by the scientific community. That's what Missouri's considering, but Missouri isn't alone."
According to Discovery Institute, viewers were then shown a map of the United States with nine states highlighted as places where measures similar to Missouri's were being considered. The main alternative to evolution Belgrave identified was "intelligent design," which proposes that some features of the natural world are best explained by an intelligent cause rather than an undirected process such as natural selection.
A bill that would have penalized teachers for not teaching an evolution alternative was introduced in Missouri in January, but the bill was later revised to eliminate the penalty on teachers.
Furthermore, the revised bill is no longer under active consideration by the Missouri Legislature. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Wayne Cooper, confirmed to Discovery Institute on Monday that he plans to let the bill die during the current session without a vote.
According to Rep. Cooper, CNN never contacted him about the current status of his bill.
CNN's contention that nine other states are considering legislation similar to Missouri's is also under question.
"None of the nine states identified by CNN are considering legislation that would punish teachers for failing to teach alternatives to evolution," said West. "Not one.
"This sort of shoddy journalism is inexcusable. CNN manufactured a controversy that doesn't in fact exist. There is no movement in America to fire teachers who won't teach 'alternatives to evolution.' The teachers who are really facing threats to their academic freedom today are those who want to present scientific criticisms of evolutionary theory."
WND and at least one other news outlet attempted unsuccessfully to
reach Belgrave. West says she hung up on a journalist from American
Family Radio who attempted to talk to her about the story.
Monday, April 5, 2004 Posted: 11:34 AM EDT (1534 GMT)
NEW YORK (AP) -- In response to an uproar caused by a History Channel documentary that claimed President Lyndon Johnson was involved in the Kennedy assassination, the network will air a challenge to that program by a panel of three historians.
The special, airing 8 p.m. EDT Wednesday, is called "The Guilty Men: An Historical Review."
The one-hour program is meant to rebut last November's broadcast of "The Guilty Men," which was based in part on a book published in 2003 by Barr McClellan, who claims the law firm he quit a quarter-century ago was involved in convoluted plots that link Johnson to at least 11 deaths, including President Kennedy's.
The historians re-examining the allegations are author Robert Dallek, considered an authority on the presidency; Stanley Kutler, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin and a leading authority on 20th century American political and constitutional history; and Thomas Sugrue, an author and teacher at the University of Pennsylvania.
Former CNN newsman Frank Sesno serves as moderator of the broadcast, which will air unedited by the History Channel, the network announced Friday.
No preview of the program would be available, the network said.
The Warren Commission concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald was the sole assassin involved in Kennedy's death in Dallas on November 22, 1963, but conspiracy theorists continue to advance alternative plots.
While the three historians acknowledge lingering public doubts about the Warren Commission's findings, they dispute as unfounded the theory that President Johnson was involved. Johnson was Kennedy's vice president at the time of the assassination.
The historians along with other scholars were highly critical of "The Guilty Men" last fall, and of the History Channel's decision to air it. Former aides to Johnson, along with former presidents Ford and Carter and President Johnson's widow, Lady Bird Johnson, sought an independent probe of the claims.
The network apologized on Friday to its viewers as well as Mrs. Johnson and her family for the program. It said will no longer be aired or made available on home video.
"We have a great responsibility and this time we did not live up to it," said Dan Davids, History Channel executive vice president. "We hold ourselves accountable. As we have said before, nothing is more important to us than the accuracy of our programming and the integrity of our network."
By Dmitri Pikman
DAILY BRUIN REPORTER
High school and middle school teachers teaching evolution in their classrooms may find their jobs somewhat easier with the creation of a new Web site by scientists at University of California, Berkeley aimed at aiding teachers in conducting evolution-related studies.
But the site, created by the University of California Museum of Paleontology at Berkeley, has already drawn its share of criticism from creationism-oriented groups.
John Rajca, museum director at the Institute for Creation Research, said the Web site is used to promote a particular point of view instead of showing the entire picture.
"It's useful in order to perpetuate some of the myths (about evolution), and the whole picture is not being put out there," Rajca said.
Creationist organizations, such as the ICR, advocate a creation theory based on religion, stating that a higher power was responsible for the creation of life on earth.
Evolution-related organizations believe life on earth came about as a result of the scientific evolution of particular biological species.
Ellen Simms, UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology and evolutionary ecologist, said it makes sense for the paleontology museum to advocate evolution on its Web site
"The UCMP is a scientific institution, and the fact of evolution and the theories associated with it are scientific, while creationism it not. So it was entirely appropriate for UCMP to focus solely on evolution," Simms said.
Rajca, though, said it is such an attitude that creates a negative view of creationism.
"We at the ICR are research scientists, and we put out useful information. We would basically like all the evidence that is out there to be taught, and we believe that if that were the case, creationism would have risen to the top," Rajca said.
"Currently it would be unthinkable for any university to have a Web site that supports creationism. A belief in anything that might entail a designer is thought to be a no-no," he added.
The Supreme Court has ruled in the past that a requirement that creation science be taught in public schools violates the Establishment Clause, which in effect validates the teaching of evolution in classrooms nationwide.
The Establishment Clause, known to many as the "separation of church and state," forbids the government from taking any part in the promotion of religion.
But certain school districts still have broad discretion in choosing topics to be covered in their schools, which keeps the debate over evolution versus creationism alive.
Judy Scotchmoor, director of education and public programs at the UCMP, said the purpose of the Web site is not to further ignite the debate.
"We were not focusing on the controversy. We strongly feel that if people knew what science is and what it isn't, there will not be any controversy," Scotchmoor said.
Some sections of the site deal with the pitfalls teachers might face in trying to teach evolution and ways in which educators might combat those roadblocks.
Some of the suggestions include not using the terms "design" or "creature," since both of these suggest a creator and might confuse students learning about evolution.
Scotchmoor said the roadblocks portion of the Web site is a minor part of the information provided, with the majority of the site dedicated to resources to help educators improve the study of evolution in their classrooms.
"We've noticed that evolution is often treated as a unit instead of as a backbone to biology, and often it is located at the end of the book, which means it might not be taught, or not taught well," Scotchmoor said.
"I myself was a teacher for a very long time, and students can be very curious asking questions. We simply give strategies and try to provide teachers with sufficient content to answer them," she added.
The evolution Web site can be found at http://evolution.berkeley.edu.
ID relies not on Genesis but on reliable scientific methods for discriminating designed from undesigned structures.
By William Dembski
Reprinted from The Design Revolution: Answering the Toughest Questions About Intelligent Design
Intelligent design needs to be distinguished from creation science, or scientific creationism. The most obvious difference is that scientific creationism has prior religious commitments whereas intelligent design does not. Scientific creationism is committed to two religious presuppositions and interprets the data of science to fit those presuppositions. Intelligent design, by contrast, has no prior religious commitments and interprets the data of science on generally accepted scientific principles. In particular, intelligent design does not depend on the biblical account of creation. The two presuppositions of scientific creationism are as follows:
There exists a supernatural agent who creates and orders the world. The biblical account of creation recorded in Genesis is scientifically accurate.
The supernatural agent presupposed by scientific creationism is usually understood as the transcendent, personal God of the well-known monotheistic religions, specifically Christianity. This God is said to create the world out of nothing (i.e., without the use of preexisting materials). Moreover, the sequence of events by which this God creates is said to parallel the biblical record. By contrast, intelligent design nowhere attempts to identify the intelligent cause responsible for the design in nature, nor does it prescribe in advance the sequence of events by which this intelligent cause had to act.
Besides differing in their presuppositions, intelligent design and scientific creationism differ in their propositional content and method of inquiry. Intelligent design begins with data that scientists observe in the laboratory and nature, identifies in them patterns known to signal intelligent causes and thereby ascertains whether a phenomenon was designed. For design theorists, the conclusion of design constitutes an inference from data, not a deduction from religious authority. In addition, the propositional content of intelligent design differs significantly from that of scientific creationism. Scientific creationism is committed to the following propositions:
SC1: There was a sudden creation of the universe, energy and life from nothing. SC2: Mutations and natural selection are insufficient to bring about the development of all living kinds from a single organism. SC3: Changes of the originally created kind s of plants and animals occur only within fixed limits. SC4: There is a separate ancestry for humans and apes. SC5: The earth's geology can be explained via catastrophism, primarily by the occurrence of a worldwide flood. SC6: The earth and living kinds had a relatively recent inception (on the order of thousands or tens of thousands of years).
Intelligent design, on the other hand, is committed to the following propositions: ID1: Specified complexity and irreducible complexity are reliable indicators or hallmarks of design.
Taken from The Design Revolution: Answering the
Toughest Questions About Intelligent Design by
William Dembski. Copyright 2004 by William A.
SHARON BEGLEY, The Wall Street Journal
Friday, April 2, 2004
(04-02) 05:47 PST (AP) --
As any geek who ever soldered together a circuit board from off-the-shelf parts can testify, if you truly want to understand how something works, you need to build it yourself.
That approach doesn't raise any eyebrows when applied to gizmos and gadgets, but now a loosely organized band of scientists is extending it in an audacious way. In hopes of answering the age-old question "what is life?" they are trying to assemble -- from off-the-shelf, nonliving molecules -- a living cell.
"Creating a cell from scratch is probably at least 10 years away, but it is going to happen," says Mark Bedau of Reed College, Portland, Ore. "We're in for some very interesting, very profound new ways of thinking about what life is, and about where you draw the boundary between life and nonlife."
One of the deepest mysteries in biology is how molecules that are no more alive than the tip of a pencil can form a reproducing, metabolizing, evolving organism. If you plop a droplet of any of the molecules that make up living cells (fats, amino acids, water, DNA, other organic molecules) onto a glass slide, it just sits there. No one would mistake it for a living thing. Yet when the right ingredients assemble in the right proportions, the result comes alive, as it did on Earth some 3.8 billion years ago.
The transformation is so profound that most scientists until the 19th century believed in the theory called vitalism. This holds that living things possess a mysterious "vital spark" that endows them with life, and that life cannot be explained by mere chemistry and physics. But today, harnessing no more than thermodynamics, electromagnetism and chemistry, scientists are taking steps toward creating a living cell.
The first step is to separate the would-be cell from the outside world, and this turns out to be startlingly simple. Several researchers have created little self-replicating vesicles, minuscule bubbles much like the membranes around living cells. In a special mixture of oil and water, Luigi Luisi of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich, has found, membranes form spontaneously, grow by incorporating small molecules from the outside world, and reproduce by pinching themselves in two, like amoebas.
Dr. Luisi's vesicles fulfill two of the main requirements for life, growing and reproducing. In addition, says David Deamer of the University of California, Santa Cruz, a living cell must transform raw materials and energy into more of itself (metabolize), and also evolve. Although no one has gotten a single vesicle to carry out all of these reactions, Prof. Deamer and his colleague Pierre-Alain Monnard are coming close.
"As they form, the vesicles capture a polymerase enzyme that strings together small molecular building blocks into more complicated molecules," says Prof. Deamer. "The vesicles take in molecules from the outside, and the polymerase uses them as nutrients and as an energy source to synthesize RNA," a cousin of DNA.
Other groups of scientists have gotten simple amino acids to link together into proteins, like beads linking into a biological necklace. The reaction occurs on the surface of the vesicle, which somehow jump-starts the assembly. The vesicles created in the lab are not just dumb containers; they support biological reactions.
Last fall, molecular biologist Jack Szostak of Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, and colleagues reported that common clay particles have an unsuspected talent. They can speed up the conversion of little clusters of molecules into vesicles, making the formation of a cell membrane even easier. Inside the vesicle, the clay particles grab hold of short bits of RNA and assemble them into a long strand. Voila: a little sphere containing genetic material able to grow and copy itself.
The missing ingredient in this cell wannabe is metabolism, but Steen Rasmussen of Los Alamos National Lab thinks he can provide it. He and Liaohai Chen of Argonne National Lab have designed a microscopic container with metabolic molecules and genes whose electrical properties drive metabolic reactions. The scientists have demonstrated experimentally that this micrometabolism can produce exactly the molecules the container is made of (so the system would be able to grow).
"All the pieces are there -- self-assembling container, genes and metabolism that captures energy from the outside world," says Dr. Rasmussen. "The question is, how do we get it to reproduce? If we do, then most people would say it is alive."
If researchers manage to create living cells from scratch, their mastery of the machinery of life could blur the line between alive and not-alive. Combining the traits of artificial cells with nanotechnology, Dr. Rasmussen and colleagues wrote in a recent issue of Science, could produce machines that "would literally form the basis of a living technology possessing powerful capabilities and raising important social and ethical" questions. Adds Prof. Bedau, "It will be crossing a threshold, enabling technologies we can't even imagine now."
Scientists are close enough to creating life in the lab that it is time to start a public debate about what that would mean -- for traditional views of the sanctity of life as well as for whether the creators will be able to control their creations.
©2004 Associated Press
Tetrapod: An ancient arm bone from a salamander-like animal could help answer a longstanding question: Did limbs develop on land or in water?
By Dennis O'Brien
Originally published April 2, 2004
Researchers digging along a rural Pennsylvania highway have unearthed what they say is the world's oldest known arm bone, once used by a slithery creature to raise itself up out of a prehistoric swamp.
"We're looking at our very distant ancestor," said Neil Shubin, a professor of organismal biology at the University of Chicago who worked on the discovery.
The bone formed the upper arm of an animal about 3 feet long that looked like a flat-headed salamander and lurked in swamps and shallow waters 365 million years ago.
Lodged in a geological formation exposed by highway construction a decade ago, the bone will help scientists determine what kinds of aquatic creatures first ventured out of the primordial ooze to form the roots of our family tree.
The discovery, reported in today's issue of Science, might also help determine when amphibians first emerged from the swamps and when they formed limbs.
The size and shape of the thumb-sized bone indicate that the animal was a four-limbed creature - a tetrapod - and used its arms to raise the front end of its body, push-up style.
"I guess it's like the Rosetta stone. It helps us understand a little more about the fin in the fish and the limb in the land-based creatures that came after them," said Edward B. Daeschler, an assistant curator at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia and a co-author of the report.
Daeschler and Shubin dug up the bone about 10 years ago when they unearthed a slab of red sandstone at a geological site known as Red Hill, a treasure-trove of fossils uncovered in the 1980s when Pennsylvania highway crews widened Route 120 near Hyner, about 90 miles northeast of Altoona. But the bone remained boxed and undetected at the Academy for about eight years before Daeschler began a serious examination.
"Like everybody, everywhere, you have a list of priorities and new things are always coming in, so we didn't get to it right away," Daeschler said. "Believe it or not, eight years isn't so bad."
Experts say such delays aren't unusual among fossil hunters.
"Some of these collections are very large and you may have things that sit on shelves for decades, even a century or so," said Robert Carroll, a paleontologist at McGill University and a curator at the school's museum.
The Pennsylvania creature thrived in the Devonian period, an era about 400 million years ago when swimming animals emerged from the water. The transition to land was gradual, taking 15 million years, researchers say.
Many experts agree that fins on fish evolved into legs as primitive amphibians began to move from one waterway to another during dry seasons. But researchers say this discovery could help resolve a longstanding question among evolutionary biologists: Did limbs develop on land or in the water.
"These debates rage back and forth in the biological community: How did animals develop the ability to move on land?" said Duncan Irschik, an evolutionary biologist at Tulane University.
The discovery of an aquatic creature that could lift itself with arms bolsters the water view. "They provide very solid evidence that these changes occurred in water and not on land," said David Skelly, a Yale University expert on amphibians who reviewed the findings.
Support for the aquatic limb theory developed in 1990, when English researchers showed that a skeleton found in Greenland belonged to one of the earliest known tetrapods.
"It was an aquatic beast with paddle-like limbs," said Jennifer Clack, a paleontologist at Cambridge University who made the discovery. Its limbs could not support all its weight, but it did use them to navigate swamps.
Clack believes the skeleton she found is older than the bone from Pennsylvania. But she acknowledged that dating such finds is difficult, and she credited the American team for shedding light into how amphibians evolved.
"It gives us a clue into what sort of sequence these creatures went through," she said.
Other experts cautioned that much is still unknown about the Pennsylvania creature and the role it played in the emergence of terrestrial life. "On the basis of one bone, you can't even say this was a tetrapod," said McGill's Carroll, who also reviewed the findings.
Speculation based on fossil finds has led to mistakes. For example, researchers once used fossil evidence to conclude that Tyrannosaurus rex was a swift runner - a theory that has since been discounted. "One has to be cautious when you're talking about limb functions. It's all speculation," Irschik said. "We don't know what these animals actually did."
But the study's authors say the bone's shape and size say a lot about the creature.
The bone shows a heavy muscle pattern where it meets the shoulder, evidence that the arm could support considerable weight, researchers say.
They note that the way the bone apparently fit with adjoining bones shows a downward thrust to the limb, evidence the creature had the same broad stance as a crocodile.
"Though this is a single bone, it's loaded with information," said Michael I. Coates, a University of Chicago researcher and another co-author.
Copyright © 2004, The Baltimore Sun
March 29, 2004
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
Like Christian booksellers across the country, Bob Fillingane is doing everything he can to prepare the way for "Glorious Appearing," the climactic installment in the "Left Behind" series of apocalyptic thrillers that goes on sale tomorrow.
Mr. Fillingane, owner of Lemstone Books in Hattiesburg, Miss., has arranged television, radio and newspaper advertisements and even a marquee over the front of his local mall, and next week he will hold a book signing by the authors, Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, on a Bible Belt bus tour from Spartanburg, S.C., to Plano, Tex.
Not that "Glorious Appearing" needs his help, Mr. Fillingane said.
"I really believe that there is a blessing on this series from the Lord," he said. "Just like with the `Passion' movie, it is all part of the warning we get before Christ returns." He added, "Many people have asked me, Do you think they will finish the series before Christ comes?"
Over the last nine years, the "Left Behind" series, which is based on Dr. LaHaye's literal, bloody interpretation of the Book of Revelation, has become one of the biggest surprise hits in American popular culture. The first 11 novels have sold more than 40 million copies. The authors have unseated John Grisham as the best-selling novelists for adults and, in some places where evangelical Christians are common, the books rival the Harry Potter series in sales. Along the way, the "Left Behind" books have drawn sharp criticism for elements like their emphasis on the conversion of Jews and their focus on the brutal rule of the Antichrist, who happens to head the United Nations.
"Glorious Appearing" is the most anticipated and potentially most controversial "Left Behind" novel yet: it is the installment in which Jesus himself finally returns.
"There is not going to be anything bigger than that," said Chuck Wallington, president of the Christian Supply store in Spartanburg. He said he expected 1,000 buyers to turn up tomorrow for a book signing.
Secular stores like Books-a-Million, Barnes & Noble and Wal-Mart are planning major promotions as well. Wal-Mart has been giving away copies of the first chapter. Retailers ordered more than two million copies, more than Hillary Rodham Clinton's fast-selling memoir sold in its first six months on the market.
Tyndale House, the evangelical Christian publisher of the series, says it plans to spend $2 million marketing "Glorious Appearing." More than 20,000 people have volunteered for a "Left Behind" "street team," promising to disseminate messages about the books to their family, friends and neighbors.
Some theologians call the novels a dangerous distortion of Scripture. In an interview, Joseph C. Hough Jr., president of Union Theological Seminary in New York, warned that the novels' preoccupation with the suffering that many evangelical Christians foresee for unbelievers "leads people to think that Christianity is about cosmic fire insurance."
Dr. Hough argues that the novels misconstrue Revelation to mean that there are only two sides to every question, God's and the Devil's.
"It's the same sort of vision of the world that is reflected in some of our recent presidential administrations, that there is the world of good and the world of evil, like `the axis of evil' and `the evil empire,' " he said. "The enemies of America are the enemies of God. It is very dangerous, because it leads you to do things in the expectation that everyone who is against you is evil."
In an interview last week at his home in Palm Springs, Calif., however, Dr. LaHaye, 77, said that his only agenda was spreading the Gospel, by illustrating both the gruesome perdition ahead for unbelievers and the merciful salvation awaiting faithful Christians. What's more, he said, he was merely relying on what he considers the literal meaning of the words of the Bible.
"If I invented the story, you're right, I'd be terribly arrogant," he said, "but I didn't invent the story."
Still, he acknowledged the novels reflected the conservative Christian ideology that made him a political activist earlier in his career. As a pastor in San Diego 40 years ago, he became convinced of a brewing "battle for the mind" pitting atheists on the one side against evangelical Christians on the other, he said.
To fight the battle, he founded a system of Christian schools and a Christian college in California and later joined Jerry Falwell in the Moral Majority. His wife, Beverly LaHaye, is founder of a conservative Christian organization, Concerned Women for America. But by the early 1990's, Dr. LaHaye said, he had stepped back from politics for full-time study of Biblical prophecy.
He came up with the idea of turning prophecy into fiction about 18 years ago, and he eventually teamed with Mr. Jenkins, a prolific and best-selling Christian author, to spin Bible verses into fast-paced, futuristic thrillers. Their first novel, "Left Behind," opens with a vivid description of the Rapture, the moment when many evangelical Christians believe all the born-again will abruptly disappear to heaven. In a nod to the authors' views on abortion, they describe an unborn fetus ascending from the womb to heaven as well.
The succeeding novels tick off the pivotal steps Dr. LaHaye foresees during the ensuing "tribulation," a seven-year period of turmoil and cataclysm when unbelievers have a last chance to see the light. The fictional Antichrist, a Romanian named Nicolae Carpathia, rises to power as head of the United Nations. He signs a peace treaty with Israel, setting off a seven-year countdown to the Second Coming, and he ultimately establishes a worldwide government, a brutal dictatorship and a false religion with himself at its head. Meanwhile, 144,000 Jews convert to evangelical Christianity, including one rabbi whose conversion takes place live on global television, and lead an underground "remnant" of believers who periodically recite passages of Scripture that Dr. LaHaye relies on as a road map to their future.
Dr. LaHaye said he believed that over all the series reflected the biblical truth.
"That's the way it's going to be during the tribulation period, according to Revelation, and if it happens to parallel what the seculars are trying to do today, so be it," he said.
"The Bible clearly teaches there's going to be a one-world government in the last days. And after the Rapture of the church, then that one-world government will coalesce, bringing together all the governments of the world and also bringing together all the religions of the world." He added, "The fact that we're seeing some of those things happen right now must be a wake-up call to some people to say, `Hey, we may be closer than we think.' "
To those unfamiliar with Dr. LaHaye's views of Revelation, the most striking aspect of the novels may be the bloody massacre Jesus wreaks on the Antichrist's unbelieving armies.
"Tens of thousands of foot soldiers dropped their weapons, grabbed their heads or their chests, fell to their knees, and writhed as they were invisibly sliced asunder," the authors write. "Their innards and entrails gushed to the desert floor, and as those around them turned to run, they too were slain, their blood pooling and rising in the unforgiving brightness of God."
That might seem like the end of the end, but Dr. LaHaye and Mr. Jenkins say they are not quite finished. They plan a postscript to the series, describing one last battle between God and Satan at the close of Jesus' 1,000-year rule on Earth, and a prequel, filling in the early history of the Antichrist.
But it may be hard to top "Glorious Appearing."
"For believers, we really are looking forward to the glorious appearing," said Steve Nelson, a Southern Baptist minister in Gallatin, Tenn., and fan of the series. "We know from reading the Word that we win in the end, and this is the winning round coming up."
Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company
Jim Bronskill and Sean Myers
The Canadian Press; Calgary Herald
Monday, March 29, 2004
What fate the stars hold for Paul Martin may be unclear.
But one thing is certain: Canada's prime minister recently had a high-flying close encounter with a UFO.
Martin and his entourage were cruising above Alberta when their Challenger jet came within a whisker of a luminous object streaking through the night sky.
In a report to Edmonton air traffic controllers, the pilot of Martin's plane noted seeing a "very bright light falling" through the air, with smoke trailing, while the aircraft passed over Suffield, on March 21.
A University of Calgary professor says that would have placed the aircraft about 100 kilometres away from the end of a fireball that lit up the night sky.
"They would've had a nice view," said Alan Hildebrand, a geologist at the U of C and co-ordinator of the Canadian Fireball Reporting Centre. "They would've seen a nice light show."
People aboard at least two other planes also saw the plummeting object, which was travelling "at a very fast rate of speed" from a high altitude, says the report.
A copy of the one-page form, titled UFO Procedures, was provided to The Canadian Press by Chris Rutkowski of the Winnipeg-based group Ufology Research of Manitoba.
Rutkowski, a longtime tracker of UFO sightings, obtained the report from the federal Transport Department, which routinely forwards to him data on unidentified flying objects.
Martin travelled to a farm near Picture Butte to announce an aid package for farmers last Monday.
So was an extraterrestrial envoy trying to convey a message to Canada's new leader? Unlikely, says Rutkowski. What the prime minister's plane and many others saw that night was almost certainly a chunk of a comet or an asteroid that entered the atmosphere and burned up into fragments.
Amateur Calgary astronomer Don Hladiuk captured the blazing streak on videotape. And it appears one or more such fireballs were seen by people across the Prairies. There has never been a recorded incident of an aircraft being hit by a meteorite, says Hildebrand, who is attempting to determine where the fragments of the March 21 meteorite landed.
On Sunday, Hildebrand determined the end point of the fireball -- the last position of the meteorite in the sky before it broke up into fragments -- as being 20 kilometres southwest of Kindersley, Sask. It's unclear if Martin or his aides glimpsed the object that crossed the plane's path.
"I'm not sure of whether the prime minister himself was apprised of what the pilot had seen at the time," Rutkowski said.
Justin Kingsley, a spokesman for the Prime Minister's Office, could not shed light on the question of whether Martin was aware of the celestial sighting. "I don't have any other information than what was provided through the protocol of the pilots," said Kingsley.
Ufology Research of Manitoba publishes an annual study on UFO sightings in Canada, including many cases involving meteors. The group's recently released 2003 survey found that a record 673 reports of unidentified objects were made to various organizations and investigators in Canada.
© The Calgary Herald 2004
An end to 'free' acupuncture sessions? No wonder doctors and patients got the needle
Tuesday March 16, 2004
It is reported by the British Medical Journal this week that a study in the UK has indicated that acupuncture could be helpful for migraine sufferers. In Germany, however, where researchers have conducted the largest clinical trials of acupuncture ever undertaken, the results are not so clear cut. About 500,000 patients were included in these ambitious projects which are sponsored by four large health insurance companies. Previously, acupuncture research suffered from the fact that clinical studies were small, often too small to allow meaningful conclusions. A typical trial would include 50 patients and anything bigger than 100 was already seen as remarkable.
Even the background of these mega-studies is fascinating. In October 2000, the German authorities decided that the evidence for acupuncture was not sufficiently convincing for inclusion in the list of interventions qualifying for reimbursement from health insurance companies. Henceforward Germans would have to pay for acupuncture out of their own pockets, as do most people in Britain.
This announcement created uproar - German doctors who had previously used acupuncture, and received money from health insurers for it, feared that their income would decrease. After intense lobbying it was agreed that acupuncture would be put to the test, and that German doctors experienced in acupuncture could participate in these trials. Crucially, they would be paid for doing so. So doctors were happy to take part and patients thought this was a good way of continuing to enjoy "free" acupuncture treatments.
Several "cohort studies" were started as part of the overall project. These are investigations where all patients receive treatment and the results are monitored and compared to their respective baseline values. Lacking a comparison or control group, such results have to be interpreted with the greatest of caution. But the researchers from Munich, Berlin and Bochum were also keen to embark on more rigorous tests. So they initiated four large controlled clinical trials to determine the usefulness of acupuncture for four conditions: chronic back pain; chronic arthritis of the knees; tension headache; and migraine. These trials also involved univer sity departments at Marburg, Heidelberg, Bochum and Mainz.
Patients were allocated at random to one of three treatment groups: real acupuncture plus standard medical care; sham acupuncture (needles were simply stuck into non-acupuncture points) plus standard medical care; or standard medical care alone. The trials are not yet finished - they were due to end about now, but recruitment was slow and recently it was announced that the deadline has been extended until the end of this year. Preliminary results were leaked nevertheless. They are intriguing: adjunctive acupuncture turned out to be better than standard care but sham acupuncture yields the same benefit as "real" acupuncture.
This is perplexing because it could be interpreted in two dramatically different ways. The optimist (or acupuncturist) would say that the results demonstrate the effectiveness of acupuncture - adding it to standard care improves the outcome compared to standard care alone. Hence acupuncture must be a good thing. On the other hand, the pessimist (or scientist) would insist that these results prove that acupuncture is merely a placebo therapy with no "real" effects of its own. It doesn't matter where we stick the acupuncture needle, the patient improves in any case, and this can only be due to a placebo response. Hence acupuncture has no "real" value.
So do the German mega-studies suggest effectiveness or ineffectiveness? Apparently, there is less room for interpretation than one might think. One of the German investigators, Professor H J Trampisch from Bochum University, recently provided the answer. When asked whether these results demonstrate the success of acupuncture his response was decisive: "No, this cannot be. In our studies, we clearly determined that acupuncture will be deemed effective only if it is significantly superior to sham acupuncture".
If this is true, the biggest trials in the history of acupuncture might be the beginning of the end of this therapy.
Edzard Ernst is professor of complementary medicine at the
Peninsula Medical School at the universities of Exeter and
By Justin McIntosh, firstname.lastname@example.org
Nancy Hamilton says God's eyes see things far beyond her own.
How else could she explain the subject of her new book, "Satan's Deadly Deception, Evolution - Simply Put."
The fact that Hamilton's book, which deals with the issues separating creationism and evolution, was released in the midst of a statewide debate on teaching those subjects in schools isn't lost on the author.
"With it being so prominent in Ohio with the intelligent design studies in the high schools, it's kind of appropriate," said Hamilton, 60, of 6050 Sandhill Road, Marietta. "I strongly believe in the Lord and in the Lord's leading."
The Ohio School Board approved optional lesson plans March 9 for schools, around the same time Hamilton's book was released.
The optional plans give schools the option to include elements of "intelligent design," the theory that a non-specified higher power designed life because of its complexity.
When Hamilton began writing her book nearly eight months ago, she had no intentions of going that route.
The book was meant to be about the women of the Bible and would begin with Eve, the first woman in the Bible.
The more Hamilton researched Eve, the more she was drawn to creation, which led her to evolution.
Now she says she's happy she was led this way because she gets to play a small part in presenting God's truth to those who may be seeking, Christians and non-Christians alike.
"Evolution is something that has confused people for as long as it's been there," Hamilton said. "I just felt if I could break those down into easy terms, then people could at least consider that evolution is wrong and the Bible is correct."
The more Hamilton researched the Bible on the subject, the more she became convinced herself that creation made more sense than evolution, and God's Word does not lie.
Some of those truths about creation, Hamilton points out in her book, were in the Bible before the scientific community discovered them.
For example, a section in the book of Isaiah proved the Earth is round almost 800 years before science said so.
Isaiah 40:22 says, "it is he (God) that sitteth upon the circle (roundness) of the Earth."
Hamilton also said a section in the gospel of Luke shows Jesus talking about his second coming, but also shows that the Earth revolves on its own axis.
Luke 17:34-36 says some men will be sleeping at night while others are in the field working during the day.
Hamilton said this shows people experiencing the same event at the same time on opposite sides of the Earth.
Hamilton's pastor at Faith Bible Church in Williamstown, Ray Witmer, edited the book for biblical accuracy.
Witmer said the subject and timing of Hamilton's book is no accident and is another tool God is using to present the factual account of the six-day creation in an understandable way.
"I think our society's come full circle that now they understand evolution is as much faith-based as creationism," Witmer said. "For the first time in our country's history we're questioning evolution and its dogma, so I think it's very timely. Bottom line."
Hamilton said being a part of that discussion is important, but the goal behind both of her books is to lead people to Jesus.
Her first book, "Beyond the Fairy Tale, Simply Put," was released last year.
Both books are available at Sugden Book Store, 282 Front St.; Barnes & Noble bookstores; and the Web site www.amazon.com. "Satan's Deadly Deception" sells for about $10.39.
"My purpose in all these books is simply to perhaps make people, if nothing else, start to question what they believe and find salvation through the Lord," Hamilton said.
About the book
Title: "Satan's Deadly Deception, Evolution - Simply Put."
Author: Nancy Hamilton.
Retail cost: Anywhere from $10.39 to $12.97.
Where to purchase: Sugden Book Store, 282 Front St.; Barnes & Noble; America Online.
About the author
Name: Nancy Hamilton.
Address: 6050 Sandhill Road.
Church home: Faith Bible Church, Williamstown.
Family: Husband, Gary Hamilton; two adult children; three grandchildren.