NTS LogoSkeptical News for 18 April 2004

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Owner: Virgin Mary statue weeps again


Monday, April 12, 2004 Posted: 8:56 AM EDT (1256 GMT)

PERTH, Australia (AP) -- A statue of the Virgin Mary that has been drawing crowds since 2002 when it apparently began weeping rose-scented tears has started crying again, in the week before Easter, its owner said Sunday.

Patty Powell, who bought the statue 10 years ago in Bangkok, said it started shedding tears again on Palm Sunday.

"I had no idea it was going to happen, but like all of this, I take whatever I am given," Powell said. "I just accept it for what it is, but yes, I am surprised."

Powell, from the Western Australia state capital, Perth, began displaying the statue at a local Catholic church in 2002.

However the city's Catholic Archbishop Barry Hickey ordered her to remove it from the church after an analysis of the "tears" found they were a mixture of vegetable oil and rose oil.

"It is therefore my rightful duty as Archbishop of Perth, for the correct guidance of the people of God, to say that the case for a miraculous happening has not been proved," he said.

That ruling did not stop thousands of people flocking to see the statue, which is now on display four days a week at Powell's home, renamed the Holy Family House of Prayer, where she has built a shrine for the weeping figurine.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press

Can we believe our memories?


Public release date: 31-Mar-2004

Contact: Dr. Stephen Lindsay
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council

The use of photographs by psychotherapists as memory cues for the "recovery" of patients' possible childhood sexual abuse has been called into question by a Canadian study. It found that a "staggering" two-out-of-three participants accepted a concocted false grade-school event as having really happened to them when suggestions regarding the event were supplemented with a class photo.

"I was flabbergasted to have attained such an exceptionally high rate of quite elaborate false memory reports," says University of Victoria psychology professor Dr. Stephen Lindsay. His NSERC-sponsored research is published in the March 2004 issue of Psychological Science.

Forty-five first year psychology students were told three stories about their grade-school experiences and asked about their memories of them. Two of the accounts were of real grade three to six events recounted to the researchers by the participant's parents. The third event was fictitious, but also attributed to the parents. It related how, in grade one, the subject and a friend got into trouble for putting Slime (a colourful gelatinous goo-like toy made by Mattel that came in a garbage can) in their teacher's desk.

The participants were encouraged to recall the events through a mix of guided imagery and "mental context re-instatement"--the mental equivalent of putting themselves back in their grade-school shoes. Half of the participants were also given their real grade one class photo, supplied by their parents.

The photo had a dramatic impact on the rate at which participants thought they had some memory of the imaginary Slime event.

About a quarter of the participants without a photo said they had some memory of the false event. But 67-per cent of those with a photo claimed to have a memory of the non-event--a rate that is double that found in any other study of false memory of autobiographical pseudoevents.

"The false memories were richly detailed," says Dr. Lindsay, whose research focuses on memory and who co-authored the paper with a team from the University of Victoria and the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.

Of those who claimed to remember the Slime event, most did so with just as much confidence as for the two real events.

When asked which of the events didn't really happen, all but three of the participants said it was the Slime event. Even so, the fact that it was concocted elicited surprised reactions, including the comment, "No way! I remembered it! That is so weird!"

Dr. Lindsay attributes the remarkably high rate of false memory to several factors. These include the plausibility of the Slime scenario (including that a friend was involved), the confidence inspired by the skilled and outgoing interviewee Lisa Hagen, a former student and co-author on the paper, and the role of the photo as both a memory prod and seemingly corroborating piece of evidence.

"The findings support the general theoretical perspective that memories aren't things that are stored somewhere in your head," says Dr. Lindsay. "Memories are experiences that we can have that arise through an interaction between things that really have happened to us in the past and our current expectations and beliefs."

He acknowledges that the use of suggestive memory "recovery" techniques by psychotherapists has declined since the late-1980s when it hit fad status. At the time, efforts to "recover" repressed childhood trauma memories were encouraged by such popular books as The Courage to Heal.

"But there still are people who use trauma-oriented memory approaches to therapy. And our results argue for caution in the use of any of these suggestive techniques," says Dr. Lindsay. "Results like these support the concern that these kinds of techniques increase the likelihood that people will experience false memories."


Contact: Dr. Stephen Lindsay 250-721-8593 or slindsay@uvic.ca

This story was issued simultaneously on EurekAlert!

A PDF version of the article "True Photographs and False Memories" can be found at http://web.uvic.ca/psyc/lindsay/cv/index.html#publications

The published article is:
Lindsay, D.S., Hagen, L., Read, J.D., Wade, K.A. & Garry, M. (2004). "True photographs and false memories." Psychological Science, Vol. 15, 149-154.

Journal Web link: http://www.blackwellpublishing.com/journals/psci/

OMB Modifies Peer-Review Proposal Guidelines Partly Retreat From Strict Control of Agencies' Information Process


By Rick Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 16, 2004; Page A19

Responding to a chorus of criticism from science advocacy and citizen groups, the White House Office of Management and Budget yesterday released a revised version of proposed guidelines aimed at standardizing the way federal agencies release and use scientific information.

The revisions mark a partial retreat in what proponents -- led by OMB chief of regulatory affairs John Graham -- have said was a central strategy in the war against "junk science." The "peer review" guidelines set strict criteria that must be met before scientific information may be released through agency Web sites or other channels, especially if that information is to be used in the crafting of significant regulations.

Industry had generally supported the initial version of the proposed guidelines, saying it would help keep shoddy science from shaping federal policies. Among the groups that had written in support were the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association and the American Chemistry Council.

But critics saw the guidelines as an attempt by the executive branch to gain control over the federal flow of scientific information and slow the implementation of regulations that would be costly to industry. Some advocacy groups and even the Department of Health and Human Services had said the proposal was so slanted against the public interest that it ought to be withdrawn and rethought from scratch.

"We listened to the scientific community and made revisions designed to make the peer-review policy more objective and workable," Graham said yesterday.

The new version, which is now open for an additional 30 days of outside comments, adopts several of the suggestions that were submitted to OMB by 187 outside individuals and groups and by various federal agencies during a comment period that closed in January.

Some who had expressed reservations about the earlier version said they were gratified that OMB had been responsive.

"Certainly, comparing it to the original draft, which was much more prescriptive and restrictive, this is significantly improved," said William Colglazier, executive officer of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Research Council, which advise the federal government on matters of science.

Among the improvements, he and others noted, was a change that would allow agencies to release information about an emerging public health or medical risks without waiting for permission from the OMB. Critics had feared that such bureaucratic delays could prove deadly if, say, the Department of Agriculture or the Food and Drug Administration got reliable information requiring a recall of tainted food or dangerous drugs.

Still, several science policy specialists said they remained strongly opposed to the guidelines as written, and some indicated they would press not only for significant changes but also for an extension beyond 30 days to make their cases.

"These are pretty complex federal rules, and you can't rush this through," said Gary Bass, executive director of OMB Watch, a Washington-based watchdog group.

Bass said the guidelines are misguided because they centralize scientific review in an executive office lacking any particular scientific expertise, thus undermining, he said, the federal agencies that have that expertise and subverting the oversight role of Congress.

The guidelines set minimum standards for how scientific information is to be "peer reviewed" before it is released by federal entities. They apply to all "influential" scientific information -- defined as information likely to have an impact on public policies or private industry decisions. And the guidelines insist on higher levels of review and scientific certainty for "highly influential scientific assessments," summaries of technical knowledge used to support regulations whose impact is expected to exceed $500 million a year.

The earlier version had been criticized for demanding especially high levels of review for any information relevant to an "administration policy priority," a broad category that one science organization president had said was "alarming" for its linkage of politics and science. It had also demanded extra layers of review for impacts of only $100 million.

The new version grants agencies far more leeway in deciding how to implement peer-review processes. It also lacks controversial language that had appeared to welcome industry representatives on peer-review panels while restricting participation by academic experts who had been recipients of federal grant money -- a provision that critics had seen as reflecting lopsided concerns about potential conflicts of interest.

Still, there is plenty to complain about in the new version, said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, a Washington advocacy group. For example, she said, the guidelines exempt information from peer review if that review would interfere with international trade or the approval or drugs or pesticides.

"They've exempted a lot of stuff that business would be irritated by if they were covered," she said.

David Korn, a senior vice president at the Association of American Medical Colleges, was one of several critics of the earlier version who said he was impressed with the changes.

"They've taken a top-heavy, rigid prescriptive, one-size-fits-all form and made it a much more realistic set of guidances that I think do reflect the different approaches to peer review that may be valid in various cases," he said.

Nonetheless, he and others said, the complicated guidelines' real impact on science, business and politics will not be clear until they are finalized and actually put into effect.

"These are words on paper," said Michael Taylor, a senior fellow at Resources for the Future and a former FDA deputy commissioner for policy. "How it's played out in practice is what's going to matter."

© 2004 The Washington Post Company

Scientist remains mum on other experimental quake predictions



Friday, April 16, 2004

(04-16) 00:19 PDT PALM SPRINGS, Calif. (AP) --

A scientist who predicts a magnitude-6.4 or larger quake will strike the Southern California desert by Sept. 5 said his group has made other similar forecasts but that he would not disclose them publicly.

Vladimir Keilis-Borok, of the University of California, Los Angeles, said Thursday doing so could trigger "disruptive behavior" while he and other scientists attempt to assess the validity of their largely untested prediction method.

"I would rather not talk about it," Keilis-Borok told a news conference at the annual meeting of the Seismological Society of America.

Other earthquake experts said the sort of predictions made by the group are of great scientific interest, but remain unproven.

"They have to understand the hypothetical nature of this research," Tom Jordan, director of the Southern California Earthquake Center, said of the public. "These types of predictions are made with tremendous amounts of uncertainty."

They also are of limited utility, whether disclosed or not, since they cover broad areas already known to be seismically active and large spans of time, experts added.

"You can argue people should do earthquake preparedness anyway and this is another reason to do it," said Egill Hauksson, a California Institute of Technology geophysicist.

Keilis-Borok and his colleagues predict there is a 50-50 chance that an earthquake will occur within a 12,000-square-mile area east of Los Angeles by Sept. 5.

The zone includes a large swath of the Mojave Desert, the Coachella Valley, the Imperial Valley and eastern San Diego County. It has experienced nine magnitude-6.4 or larger quakes over the last 70 years.

Some of those quakes killed people and toppled buildings, while others passed almost unnoticed, said William Ellsworth, chief scientist of the U.S. Geological Survey's earthquake hazards team.

The new prediction gives quake scientists a bully pulpit to remind people of the very real seismic risk in the region, Ellsworth added.

"We know there will be earthquakes," he said. "The advice is out there and not always is it followed or taken seriously."

Keilis-Borok's team successfully forecast two earthquakes last year, the magnitude-6.5 San Simeon quake in Central California and the magnitude-8.1 quake off Japan's Hokkaido island. As with the current Southern California prediction, the group had set wide limits in place and time for both quakes.

It's "only two, which is emphatically not enough to justify the methodology," Keilis-Borok said.

Beyond California and Japan, Keilis-Borok said his group also focuses on Italy and the Middle East. He would not say what regions his other predictions touched upon.

However, Ellsworth, of the USGS, said he knew of no other predictions for California quakes made by the group.

Keilis-Borok has said previously that he believes the combination of pattern recognition, geodynamics, seismology, chaos theory and statistical physics allows earthquakes to be predicted as hitting within a nine-month window.

He said he would disclose his other predictions at the close of the window or after the predicted quake occurred.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

Textbook on Arabs removes blunder


By George Archibald

An Indian tribe has forced distributors of an Arab studies guide for U.S. teachers to remove an inaccurate passage that says Muslim explorers preceded Christopher Columbus to North America and became Algonquin chiefs.

Peter DiGangi, director of Canada's Algonquin Nation Secretariat in Quebec, called claims in the book, the "Arab World Studies Notebook," "preposterous" and "outlandish," saying nothing in the tribe's written or oral history support them.

The 540-page book says the Muslim explorers married into the Algonquin tribe, resulting in 17th-century tribal chiefs named Abdul-Rahim and Abdallah Ibn Malik.

Mr. DiGangi said the guide's author and editor, Audrey Shabbas, and the Middle East Policy Council (MEPC), a Washington advocacy group that promoted the curriculum to school districts in 155 U.S. cities, have been unresponsive to his concerns since November.

But Ms. Shabbas said this week the passage was removed immediately from subsequent copies, and that she was "giving careful and thoughtful attention" on how to notify the 1,200 teachers who have been given copies of the book in the past five years.

"As the editor of the 'Notebook,' when I heard from Mr. DiGangi that a citation in the work was not borne out by either Native American written records or by oral traditions, I was grateful that the statement could so easily be removed," she said.

She did not explain how the false information got into the curriculum. "There was no [scholarly] peer review," said Mr. DiGangi, who says he was never contacted after lodging his complaint. "It was so outlandish. It never should have gone to press."

Jon Roth, MEPC's program manager, yesterday said the group has decided to remove the two-page chapter called "Early Muslim Exploration Worldwide: Evidence of Muslims in the New World Before Columbus."

"It is not, nor has it ever been, our intention to spread lies or untruths," Mr. Roth said.

Meanwhile, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation this week issued a report that is critical of "Arab World Studies Notebook."

The study, titled "The Stealth Curriculum: Manipulating America's History Teachers," reviewed many curriculum supplements and "professional development" programs aimed at schoolteachers.

"It appeared that the creation and dissemination of these materials, often through professional development institutes and [teacher] in-service programs, had fallen into the eager hands of interest groups and ideologues yearning to use America's public school classrooms to shape the minds of tomorrow's citizens by manipulating what today's teachers are introducing into the lessons of today's children," the Fordham study concluded.

Mr. Roth said the "Arab World Studies Notebook" is the primary reference text used in the council's program of teacher workshops conducted by Ms. Shabbas, which have numbered more than 268 in 155 cities since 1987.

The book, offered at a markdown of $15 from $49.95, has 90 readings and lesson plans covering the history and culture of the Arab world, the broader Middle East and Islam worldwide. "A lot of teachers use it," Mr. Roth said.

Chester E. Finn Jr., Fordham Foundation president, said the new "cottage industry" of "predigested supplemental materials" and professional development for history and social studies teachers was intended to help teachers who had little or no background in certain areas, and because textbooks are often insufficient.

"How could we expect them to handle complicated and emotionally charged subjects like the Holocaust and figure out what lessons to learn about it? To escort youngsters safely through the thicket of political correctness and ethnic politics that now surrounds such benign holidays as Columbus Day and Thanksgiving?" he asks in the preface of the foundation's report.

The void in teachers' knowledge and instructional materials has been filled by publishers, universities, research groups and think tanks, advocacy groups, cable networks, film producers and itinerant teacher trainers, Mr. Finn said.

"We know staggeringly little about how good these materials and workshops are — how accurate they are, whether the information they present is balanced and accurate. We know even less about the efficacy, value or intellectual integrity of innumerable workshops, institutes and training programs in which teachers participate," he said. The report, written by Sandra Stotsky, former senior associate commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Education, described the "Arab World Studies Notebook" as "propaganda."

The chapter written by Ms. Shabbas and Abdallah Hakim Quick claims that Muslims from Europe were the first to sail across the Atlantic and land in the New World, starting in 889, the report says.

"The idea that English explorers met native Indian chiefs with Muslim names in the middle of the Northeast woodlands sounds almost like something a Hollywood film writer dreamed up for a spoof," the report says.

The current 1998 edition of the "Notebook" has "no evidence or documentation to support key historical 'facts' that serve to advance their political views or religious beliefs," the report says.

"One can only wonder if this has ever been questioned by the teachers who use its materials, or if they feel they must agree to any claim made by Muslims as an 'alternative perspective' or risk being labeled insensitive, Eurocentric, or racist."



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(04-15-2004) - Have you ever taken herbs to feel better or how about getting acupuncture to relieve pain? Americans are trying those therapies in record numbers. In fact, studies show that nearly half of us now use some form of complementary therapy. Some physicians used to shy away from the idea, but many doctors are now not only helping their patients find different therapies, they're also teaching young medical students about them as well.

Over the past few decades Doctor Glen Auckerman has seen a lot of changes in medicine. But the biggest change these days, he says, is in his patients, and their desire to find new ways to treat themselves.

"There were none of my patients I saw this morning that when I took their history of the medicine and vitamins and herbs that they were taking that were not taking some alternative treatment program," said Doctor Auckerman.

From taking daily supplements to using acupuncture to getting therapeutic massages, non-traditional therapies are booming. In fact, government funding for the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has nearly doubled in just the last 5 years to nearly $120 million a year.

That doesn't surprise Eriyah Flynn. She does everything from practice yoga to take daily supplements to stay healthy.

"The way I look at it - you can be preventative or you can end up paying for it in the long run," said Eriyah.

And even when she's not healthy, Eriyah prefers alternative options. Instead of writing a prescription for a sore back recently, Doctor Auckerman told Eriyah about an herbal remedy that might work just as well.

But he's not just telling his patients about those options, he's also teaching these medical students about them.

Auckerman says, for their patients' sake, young doctors need to embrace the idea of non-traditional therapies, not ignore them.

"Part of the value of being able to do that is you allow them to get by on a very cost-effective manner, but it's also available when I'm not available," Doctor Auckerman added.

And by choosing the therapies that work best for her, Eriyah says she feels like she's playing a vital role in her own health.

As complementary medicine becomes more accepted, more health insurance companies are covering the therapies. So be sure to check with your provider if you decide to try one.

In San Diego, several hospitals are building facilities that incorporate alternative and traditional medical care all under the same roof.

Textbook changes had approval of those now objecting


LAHORE The inclusion of all so-called objectionable and controversial material in various textbooks issued by the Sindh and Punjab Education boards happened with consensus, according to sources in the federal education ministry Friday.

The Curriculum Wing of the Education ministry approved the material, which is now under review, between 2000 and 2002. The matter in textbooks for grades 1-12 was introduced between late 2003 and early this year, said sources.

According to ministry sources, Quranic verses on the universe, creationism were ordered removed from government-issued textbooks on June 24, 2003, as per the decision of the National Review Committee, which also blocked the role of the rightwing Majlis-e-Aharar in deciding what is to be incorporated into textbooks.

Objections were not raised against the Shibli Nomani story on Hazrat Umar (Bahar-e-Urdu for Class X) listening to music and poetry during the review that took place prior to the general elections, said ministry sources. Nor was there any ruckus over halving from 12 the number of Quranic verses in biology textbooks for grades IX and X or replacing Surah Tobah with three shorter verses from the Holy Book.

"Nobody raised any objections and these decisions were taken unanimously," said sources, adding that the then review committee included Maulana Atta-ur-Rehman, now with the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, Wafaq-ul-Madaris representatives and a member from the Islamic International University of Islamabad.

The first curriculum review took place in 1986, during the military rule of Gen Zia-ul-Haq, who was heavily involved in providing cannon fodder for the US-backed jihad in Afghanistan. It was during this time that all government-issued textbooks were revamped to reflect the general's often rabid, Islamist views.

Zubaida Jalal was plucked from her job at a civil society organisation and appointed federal education minister by Gen Pervez Musharraf, a liberal, in October 1999. Under her stewardship, an update of all science textbooks took place in 2000 and of all arts and humanities textbooks two years later, according to official sources.

But the process was riddled with problems from the start. "The review process was choppy and took place in fits and starts," said one educationist requesting anonymity. "The people put in charge of this were not properly guided or trained. Red tape delayed publication of books by some two years, but that's another matter," he added.

The issue of jaundiced textbooks came up when Gen Musharraf and Ms Jalal visited Washington. In a memo leaked in the latter part of last year, US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld spoke of Pakistan's lacking efforts in countering madrassa culture. The revamp, which has come under pressure from rightwing quarters, is part of efforts to promote liberalism.

The Curriculum Wing of the Education Ministry and the Punjab Textbook Board have been accusing each other for the changes in the textbooks, now deemed by some as aimed at diminishing the role of Islam in education.

A survey by the Punjab Publishers and Booksellers Association claims that there were no honorifics found attached with the names of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Allama Mohammad Iqbal, Fatima Jinnah, Imam Abu Hanifa, et al, in textbooks for grades 1-5.

A federal curriculum review committee has been formed and is expected to submit its findings within 14 days, said education ministry sources.

Meanwhile, the Muttahida Talaba Mahaz, an umbrella organisation of student activist groups, has joined in the chorus of rightwing organisations demanding the resignation of Federal Education Minister Ms Jalal.

Their press release yesterday demanded that a non-controversial person be made head of the national curricula review committee. Mahaz protestors made their voices heard outside mosques after Friday prayers. staff report

Friday, April 16, 2004

Complementary medicine web sites that endorse unproven cancer therapies attacked by clinicians


15 Apr 2004

Senior clinicians have attacked complementary and alternative medicine websites that endorse unproven and dangerous cancer therapies.

Writing in the Annals of Oncology (http://annonc.oupjournals.org), Professor Edzard Ernst and colleagues at the Plymouth Peninsula Medical School in the UK, say: 'Generally speaking, the "cancer cures" discussed on these websites are not supported by good scientific evidence. Other sites are outright dangerous as they advise patients against using conventional therapies.'

Their reserch found that some websites promote unproven treatments such as shark cartilage, laetrile and mistletoe.

Overall, 16% provided information that discouraged patients from using conventional treatment, 3% discouraged patients from adhering to clinicians' advice, 91% provided opinions, experiences and factual details, and 22% provided mainly commercial details.

Of the therapies advertised, 118 were for a cure, 88 were for palliative care and 59 were for prevention.

'Our analysis has shown that many Web sites are not as reliable as one would hope. In the interests of cancer patients we should find ways of minimising the potential harm such misinformation may cause,' Professor Ernst said.

Reference: Ann Oncol 2004;15:737-746

Evolution not a hot topic for students, teacher says


By Susie Gran
Tribune Reporter

Evolution might be a controversial subject in some circles, but it's not that touchy to teach in high school, a science teacher assured members of New Mexicans for Science and Reason.

"I've been teaching evolution for 13 years and never had a problem, not once," said Lisa Durkin, a Los Lunas teacher participating Wednesday in an Albuquerque workshop on New Mexico's new science standards.

She estimated only 2 percent to 15 percent of her high school students over the last seven years have indicated "they have a problem with evolution."

The theory of biological evolution, as propounded by Charles Darwin, says all plant and animal species developed from earlier forms. By contrast, creationists believe the biblical account of creation.

Durkin said she didn't ask students specifically about creationism but said a few brought it up to challenge her. She explained that there was no place for religion in the science classroom and that she was not teaching anyone's belief system.

One of her students wore a shirt with the words "Darwin Lied" during her evolution lessons. His protest was rare, she said.

"This will blow your mind. Most students don't really care," she told a group of 45 scientists and educators at the workshop on how new science standards affect the teaching of evolution.

"The apathy level drives you crazy," she said of her students, "but sometimes the apathy level is your friend."

When the lesson does spark debate, she said her approach is to "keep a calm, confident demeanor and allow the debate as long as it is productive."

The workshop was sponsored by the New Mexicans for Science and Reason and the Coalition for Excellence in Science and Math Education at the University of New Mexico Law School.

New Mexico adopted science standards last year to serve as a framework for science curriculum. In the standards, there are a number of references to the teaching of evolution, which must be taught, starting in third grade.

Richard Reif, science consultant to the state Public Education Department, also a presenter at the workshop, shared a memo he wrote to science teachers statewide to clarify any misunderstanding about teaching evolution.

"New Mexico schools are not permitted to endorse a particular religion, teach religion or teach 'creation science' or any of its variations that advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind," he said.

"Creationism must not be taught in New Mexico," he said.

God's own Genes


By: Mimin Vaiphei

The DNA - Universal Message form God?

"We are survival machines-robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes. This is a truth which still fills me with astonishment." - Richard Dawkins

"So unless God created life elsewhere, we are alone, and for the materialistic evolutionist, this is a frightening thought." - Raymond G Bohlin

The book of Genesis begins like this "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep and the spirit of god was hovering over the waters". The earth that we lived in was once a mass of formless, uninhibited and lifeless ball hanging loosely somewhere in a dark corner of the space. Then the sun appeared and emitted through its radiance enormous energy-loaded packets of life in the form of sunlight. The sun became the source of energy and survival kit for life forms ever since. Then a new era had just begun since the earth was now well equipped.

Professor Raymond G Bohlin had stated in one of his article that over the last two decades scientists have begun tabulating many characteristics of our universe, galaxy, solar system, and planet that appear to have been finely tuned for life to exist. Christian astronomer and apologist, Dr. Hugh Ross documents all these characteristics in his book Creator and the Cosmos and is constantly updating them.

Some examples include the size, temperature, and brightness of our sun, the size, chemical composition, and stable orbit of Earth. The fact that we have one moon and not none or two or three. The distance of the Earth from the sun, the tilt of the earth's axis, the speed of the earth's rotation, the time it takes Earth to orbit the sun. If any of these factors were different by even a few percent, the ability of Earth to sustain life would be severely comprised. Recently it has been noted that even the presence of Jupiter and Saturn serve to stabilize the orbit of Earth. Without these two large planets present exactly where they are, the Earth would be knocked out of its present near circular orbit into an elliptical one causing higher temperature differences between seasons and subjecting Earth to greater meteor interference. Neither condition is hospitable to the continuing presence of life.

Ross has further calculated the probabilities of all these factors coming together by natural processes alone to be 1 in 10-53; that's a decimal point followed by 52 zeroes and then a one. A very liberal estimate of how many planets there may be, though we have only documented 18, is 1022 or 10 billion trillion planets, one for every star in the universe. Combining these two probabilities tells us that there are 10-31 planets in the entire universe that could support life. Obviously this is far less than one; therefore, by natural processes alone, we shouldn't even be here--let alone some kind of alien life form. (As quoted by Dr. Bohlin)

The first two chapters from the book of genesis designated God as supreme manifestation of a master Designer: Architect/Physicist who constructed the entire blue print of the universe; and an exceptionally genuine and efficient Chemist/Biologist/Genetic engineer who invented and assembled strings of chemical components known as DNA or Deoxyribonucleic acids. Many well-known scientists ruled out the possibility that this remarkable mysterious entity could have appeared by chance. However, the bible says in Genesis 2:7 that "The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground….". Could 'dust' probably here refers to the basic constituents of several chemicals and certain molecules including nucleic acids consisting of nitrogenous bases, phosphates, and sugars - the building blocks of DNA? Remember that our genes are made up of DNA.

The discovery of the structure of DNA double helix by Watson and Crick more than four decades ago astounded many scientists. It's simplicity yet so profound and wonderfully made status revealed the uniqueness and perfectionist in its Creator.

According to the evolutionists' view, life started on this earth from non-living matters with no outside interference whereas the creationist view that life came into earth with the help of external intelligence. I rather agree with the evolutionists' view to a certain extent considering the fact that evolution did take place. But is the evolution of life from non-living chemicals really that impossible? The following is an excerpt from Dr. Bohlin's article: The difficulties fall into three categories, the Chemical Problem, the Thermodynamic Problem, and the Informational Problem. These issues are presented comprehensively in a book by Thaxton, Bradley, and Olsen titled The Mystery of Life's Origin and in a chapter in the edited volume by J. P. Moreland, The Creation Hypothesis.

Chemical Problems are illustrated by the difficulty in synthesizing even the simplest building block molecules necessary for life from inorganic precursors. Amino acids, sugars, and the bases for the important nucleotide molecules that make up DNA and RNA were all thought to be easily synthesized in an early Earth atmosphere of ammonia, methane, water vapor, and hydrogen. But further experiments showed this scenario to be unrealistic. Ammonia and methane would have been short-lived in this atmosphere; the multiple energy sources available would have destroyed the necessary molecules and water would have broken apart into hydrogen and oxygen. The oxygen was scrupulously avoided in all prebiotic scenarios because it would have poisoned all the necessary reactions.

Thermodynamic Problems arise from the difficulty in assembling all these complex molecules that would have been floating around in some prebiotic soup into a highly organized and complex cell. To accomplish the task of achieving specified complexity in life's molecules such as DNA and proteins, the availability of raw energy for millions of years is not enough. All systems where specified complexity is produced from simple components requires an energy conversion mechanism to channel the energy in the right direction to accomplish the necessary work. Without photosynthesis, there is no such mechanism in the prebiotic Earth.

The Informational Problem shows that there is no way to account for the origin of the genetic code, which is a language, without intelligent input. Informational codes require intelligent preprogramming. No evolutionary mechanism can accomplish this. Life requires intelligence.

Therefore, in the beginning God created the DNA and the rest is history.. The Bible says God created man but we don't know how long it took Him. ? Creation order pointed out clearly that there exists an ascending pattern in the occurrence of life forms on earth. This supports the theory that simpler life forms came first and then more complex forms and ultimately higher animals although I don't deny the fact that man was specially created by God in a special way.

But even today this very mission that God had initiated from the beginning hasn't been accomplished fully and is still waiting to be accomplished. It just happened that God is far beyond our time scale.

But why life at all? Why do we exist in the first place? Is God simply trying to propagate His own/created DNA on this earth to generate a gene bank? If so, then this earth is but a genomic library with each individual corresponding to a single bacterial colony growing on a nutrient agar plate. Who are we is a difficult question to answer? But we do know our body - the overall product of our genes. All the information pertaining to our body functions, shapes, sizes, and even our body colors etc. are all written in our genes- the genetic code.. The central dogma of molecular biology explains that DNA is transcribed into messenger RNA (Ribonucleic acid), which in turn finally translated into proteins and enzymes functioning in our body.

James Watson who won the Nobel prize for the discovery of the DNA's double helix structure, once stated that "our children will more be seen, not as the expression of God's will, but as results of the uncontrollable throw of genetic dice".

In his famous book 'The selfish genes', Richard Dawkins mentioned that our body is only a container, which serves as a vehicle to propagate our genes from generations to generations. Our body can die and decay whereas our genes are invincible, immortal coils that pass on from forefathers to parents to offsprings and so on and on - by means of reproduction. There is no doubt, however, that our genes had to under go a series of modifications from time to time and eventual mutational changes resulting in dire consequences. But these genes have their own ways to thrive and survive even drastic conditions. Dawkins further elaborate his striking vision of human evolution from the first living, replicating cell:

"Replicators began not merely to exist, but to construct for themselves containers, vehicles for their continued existence. The replicators which survived were the ones which built survival machines for themselves to live in…..survival machines got bigger and more elaborate, and the process was cumulative and progressive…… Four thousand million years on, what was to be the fate of the ancient replicators? They did not died out, for they are past masters of the survival arts. But do not look for them floating loose in the sea: they gave up that cavalier freedom long ago. Now they swarm in huge colonies, safe inside gigantic lumbering robots, sealed with it by tortuous indirect routes, manipulating it by remote control. They are in you and me; they created us, body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence. They have come a long way, those replicators. Now they go by the name of genes, and we are their survival machines."

However, we know that DNA in every life form carries an encoded message unique to individual life. Robert and Patricia Mondore had remarkably expressed in one of their article 'The Code word' - Thanks to the research of Crick, Watson and Williams, we are now able to decode the message found in DNA. It is the message of life spoken in every creature of our planet. From this, one might be prompted to ask, "a message from where" or more specifically, "a message from whom? Is there anything found in the Scriptures that could back the claim that DNA is an encoded message sent by God?" "In the beginning was the word, the word was with God and the word was God…." (John 1:1)

Could this 'Word' possibly be the coded message from God? If so, how do we explain this apart from carrying all the genetic informations of life forms on earth?. Furthermore, the first chapter of John specifies in verse14 that "The word became flesh and dwells among us….."

Every Bible reader knows that this 'Word' represents the second person of the Godhead, Jesus Christ -who took the form of human and was borne in a virgin. Could this 'Word' from God manifest inside the womb of this virgin, and reproduced in the form of human (embryo)?. Perhaps, a highly advanced human cloning took place already. More interestingly, in the bible, the woman was not created out of dust just as the man, but she was created out of the man's body- yet another marvel of genetic engineering at its peak?

John 1:1 concludes, "the Word was with God and the Word was God." The following verses go on to declare that "Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men." How appropriate in a comparison of DNA to a spoken language, to realize that the name of the Creator of every living being in the Universe is "The Word."

Phillip Johnson, in describing DNA writes, "The Gospel of John begins with the memorable statement that 'in the beginning was the Word." That is exactly how we would describe the creation of a literary work or a computer program, or a building. In the beginning was the concept and the working out of the concept in the mind of the author or designer. Thereafter the concept was recorded, or realized, in matter." Jesus, the eternal Word is the expression, the language of God that spoke mankind into existence and them came to earth and spoke face to face in a language mankind could understand.

Mondores further exclaim that - There are those who consider DNA as evidence of evolution claiming that its ubiquitousness proves all life must have evolved from a single source. Using their own logic there is a far stronger case that the highly encoded messages found in DNA could only have come into existence through intelligent design. The fact that it is found in every life form is proof that all life was formed by a single Designer. Encoded messages can no more be attributed to nature than could the writings of Shakespeare. To create a great work of literature takes an intelligent life. To create life, takes God; the Logos; the Living Word. To those of us who know the Designer personally it seems clear. We wonder how others can miss it. The passage in John goes on to offer the explanation that, "He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God--."

Human beings as a whole reflect the God-like attributes, which we inherited from the moment we were created. It is still however, unclear how far we are short of the final 'form' that the Creator wants us to be according to His own design and master plan. But one thing we do know and sure about is that we bear the likeliness of our Creator, since we were made out of His image and probably genes (?). After all it is God's given genes- the gift from God.

"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them." (Genesis 1:27)

Everything we know of life leads to the opposite conclusion………Life is not a product of chance or necessity…………. Life is a product of intelligence. -(Bohlin).

Faithful board faces lawsuit


by Josh Mahan

Just when you thought things couldn't get stickier down in Darby, they did.

Many observers expected a lawsuit from parents in the district, who are concerned about the adoption of anti-evolutionary theory. But the first party to file suit, on Friday, was the local newspaper Ravalli Republic, over a series of closed meetings.

"We were concerned that the public's right to know was being violated and we had to take action to stop that," Republic editor Wayne Adair said.

The meetings stem from a superintendent search that went awry when the same three members of the school board who are pushing for Intelligent Design also became interested in recruiting a superintendent candidate with faith, though the board had already offered the job to someone else.

Current superintendent, 13-year Darby veteran Jack Eggensperger, is leaving because he has "a different philosophy" on Intelligent Design than the board.

"I felt we clearly had the best candidate in the state of Montana, Gerald Pease," board member Mary Lovejoy said. "We voted 4–1 to offer him the job. He accepted, and days later three members of the board moved to rescind the offer. They wanted to interview Clair Garrick. Throughout his portfolio is a sense of strong spirituality."

During the course of interviewing three candidates, the board closed parts of those meetings to executive session. One meeting was closed when the board directed the Montana School Board Association's Bob Vogel to rescind the offer to Pease. According to Lovejoy, no official motion was made, either.

Lovejoy feels that rescinding the offer to Pease, which allegedly occurred without proper process, was unethical, let alone the closing of that decision to public scrutiny.

"I want to choose the path of least resistance and open up the minutes from those meetings," Lovejoy said. "I believe the public has a right to know. We work for the taxpayers. Keeping secrets is not an option."

Ironically, faith-based candidate Garrick was passed over for claiming he had a Ph.D. when he didn't, and the search for a superintendent has been reopened.

Darby's Intelligent Design proposal has yet to pass a second reading, and the make-up of the board may be different by the time it does. Elections are May 4.

A weighty matter of mass


Scientists will soon launch a rocket to test unproven portions of Albert Einstein's theory of gravity


April 14, 2004

WASHINGTON - Nearly nine decades after Albert Einstein developed a radical new view on gravity, physicists are preparing a satellite- borne experiment, to be launched Monday, meant to verify two important predictions of that theory.

Einstein's general theory of relativity was published in 1916 and went beyond the classic physics of Isaac Newton in describing the gravitational forces at play between bodies large and small.

In Einstein's theory, gravity is not the result of some mysterious attraction between two objects but rather is a consequence of the fundamental structure of the cosmos.

A smaller mass is drawn toward a larger one because the larger one creates a bigger warp in the fabric of spacetime, the three dimensions of space and the fourth dimension of time treated as a single construct.

That fabric can be represented as a taut rubber sheet. Put a large object, such as the sun, on it and the sheet will sag deeply. Less massive objects, such as Earth, will tend to roll toward the larger mass.

As early as 1919, astronomers verified a key prediction of Einstein's theory by recording the bending of light from a distant star as it passed close to the massive presence of the sun. Another experiment in 1976, called Gravity Probe A, verified that the flow of time is slowed near a large body. A rocket carried an extremely precise atomic clock to an altitude of about 6,200 miles. As the Earth's pull weakened, the instrument showed that time speeded up almost imperceptibly - by about 1 part in 10 billion compared to the rate on Earth, according to Kip Thorne, a cosmologist at the California Institute of Technology.

The new satellite experiment, to be launched at 1:01 p.m. Monday aboard a Delta II rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, is called Gravity Probe B.

The warping of space

If all goes well, the experiment will verify not only the warping of space by the Earth's mass but also whether and how the rotating Earth drags space and time around with it, twisting it a bit like cotton candy spun around a stick.

That phenomenon is called frame dragging. At a recent NASA briefing on the upcoming experiment, Thorne said the Gravity Probe B will be the first instrument to directly measure frame dragging.

"We've never seen the dragging of space into motion by a sphere," Thorne said. It is the last major prediction of Einstein's theory that has not been experimentally verified, he said, though scientists have reported indirect evidence by precisely measuring shifts in the orbits of two laser-reflecting satellites in Earth orbit.

Major aspects of modern cosmology depend on the integrity of Einstein's theory, Thorne said, including the use of frame dragging in descriptions of the behavior of black holes, super-dense objects in space whose gravity is so intense that not even light can escape.

The principle behind the Gravity Probe B instrument is straightforward. Free of disturbing forces, a gyroscope pointed at a star should stay aligned indefinitely, according to Newtonian physics. But Einstein's theory says the spin axis and orientation of the gyroscope should change ever so slightly due to the warping and dragging effects of Earth's gravitational mass on local spacetime.

Perfectly round objects

The Gravity Probe B satellite has four small gyroscopes. The spheres, each about the size of a pingpong ball, are the most perfectly rounded objects ever manufactured, according to NASA. The quartz spheres are coated with niobium metal, which becomes superconducting when cooled by liquid helium to about 450 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. A spinning superconductor acts like a weak magnet, serving as a pointer for the spin axis of the gyroscope. Each gyroscope is more than a million times more accurate than the best inertial navigation gyroscopes used in aerospace applications, according to Francis Everitt, a Stanford University physicist and principal investigator for the experiment. Everitt has spent most of his career shepherding the oft-delayed, $700-million Gravity Probe B project to fruition.

Once the satellite is in orbit 400 miles above the Earth, the gyros will point a telescope at a guide star called IM Pegasi. They will remain locked on that star for about 13 months. Sensors will monitor the gyroscopes for evidence, as Einstein predicts, that they start to slowly point away from the guide star due to warping and dragging effects of Earth's mass.

"Gravity Probe B is one of the few space missions NASA has conducted with relevance to fundamental physics," said a 1995 review of the project by the Space Studies Board of the National Research Council. "If successful, it would assuredly join the ranks of the classical experiments of physics. By the same token, a confirmed result in disagreement with General Relativity would be revolutionary."

Copyright © 2004, Newsday, Inc.

Minister Dies From Snakebite During Easter Service At Church

Darwin award


Associated Press | April 14, 2004

The minister of a church in far southwest Virginia has died after being bitten by a snake during church services.

Authorities say the Reverend Dwayne Long of Rose Hill was bitten by a rattlesnake Sunday afternoon and refused to seek medical treatment. He died early Monday at his home.

Lee County Sheriff Gary Parsons says Long was a minister at a Pentecostal church where members practice serpent-handling.

Parsons says Long was holding a rattlesnake during an Easter service when the snake bit him on the back of a finger. He says the congregation prayed for the minister, but no one -- including Long -- sought medical treatment.

The sheriff says he doubts any charges will be filed, because, in his words, "it's their belief."

How did the stickleback lose its fins?


Single gene played key role in fish's evolution, Stanford scientists find

David Perlman, Chronicle Science Editor
Thursday, April 15, 2004

Stanford scientists studying the mysterious loss of spiny fins in a widespread species of small fish have discovered how a single gene played a crucial role in their rapid evolution.

The work sheds new light on a puzzle that has long intrigued researchers: How did whales, snakes and some lizards and fish lose their limbs through evolution?

Since the last ice age 15,000 years ago, isolated populations of a freshwater fish called threespine sticklebacks have lost their three sharp- pointed pelvic fins, probably to avoid predators that grabbed the fish by those fins. By contrast, their ocean-dwelling cousins still carry the fins.

An international research group headed by David M. Kingsley, a Stanford developmental biologist, has found evidence that a specific gene, already known to regulate body development in other animals, is responsible for the change.

Kingsley and his colleagues, including Michael D. Shapiro and Melissa Marks of Kingsley's Stanford lab, together with scientists in Iceland, British Columbia and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, are publishing their findings today in the scientific journal Nature. To pursue its research, Kingsley said in an interview last week, the laboratory team captured hundreds of the little fish, each only 3 to 4 inches long, using minnow traps in the Salinas River, Millerton Lake in Fresno County, and 30 other nearby sites. It was, as he said, "doing biology in your own backyard."

But the laboratory work was much more complicated.

To puzzle out the genetics of the varied forms of the fish, the researchers cross-bred freshwater California sticklebacks that lacked the pelvic spines with similar forms from lakes in British Columbia and Iceland, and also with saltwater marine species from Vancouver Island, which carry the full complement of three spiny pelvic fins.

Most of the hybrid descendants from those cross-bred fish proved fertile, and most had lost their pelvic fins, either fully or partially. In sticklebacks the fins are analogous to the hind limbs of four-legged animals, while the pectoral fins outside the chest cavity are analogous to forelegs.

Kingsley and his colleagues searched for the gene or genes that might be involved in the development or loss of the fins. They finally identified a single gene known as Pitx1.It is known to be involved in pituitary gland and skull development, and mutated forms of the gene cause mice to be born with missing or deformed limbs.

In the oceans of the world, the sharp bony fins of the sticklebacks apparently provide protection against saltwater predators whose mouths would be badly wounded if they encountered the spines, according to Kingsley and his colleagues.

When the last ice age ended, and sticklebacks rapidly multiplied in freshwaters far from the sea, the fish apparently no longer needed those pelvic spines. They lost them either because there was less calcium in freshwater to build bony tissue or because predatory insects like dragonfly nymphs -- which would normally try to feed by grabbing the sticklebacks' fins in their mouths -- would have much less to grab.

The process of change as organisms adapt from one environment to another is known in evolutionary terms as "adaptive radiation." For the sticklebacks it happened rapidly and widely -- all across the world from California to Iceland.

The Stanford scientists "might have discovered a smoking gun -- a real example of macroevolutionary change that is produced by genetic differences between populations," said biologists Neil Shubin and Randall Dahn, of the University of Chicago, in an independent commentary on the Stanford work also published today in Nature.

They suggested that even more widespread genetic changes than the ones that altered the sticklebacks might explain many "major evolutionary events" of the past -- like the great Cambrian explosion of 550 million years ago when incredible numbers of complex new animal families and species evolved within a geologically brief 15 million years.

"Sticklebacks are a great example of the rapidity of evolutionary change, " Kingsley said. "Evolution is repeatedly redesigning animals for new environments."

E-mail David Perlman at dperlman@sfchronicle.com

AT NEWS: Free Speech Alert to Activists

From: Linda Rosa rosa@ezlink.com

In an incredible set of moves before a Utah state judge, Attachment (Holding) Therapists have managed to get a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) shutting down the www.KidsComeFirst.info site -- a valuable website in the fight against abusive pseudopsychotherapy. What's more, they did it ex parte (without notifying the defendants they were even going after a TRO).

This is an incredible violation of First Amendment rights, and legal moves are being made to lift the order. To show damages, it would be valuable if any person or organization who has used the website -- and especially anyone who linked to any part of it, or planned to link to it -- wrote to complain about this outrageous prior restraint, emphasizing the inconvenience of losing the site.

There is to be a hearing on Monday where such complaints will be presented to the court. If by Sunday you could email your complaint to Alan Misbach (alan@misbach.org) you would be aiding the fight against Attachment Therapy and furthering the cause of Free Speech on the Internet.

If you need a reminder of what you'll be missing with the absent website, used the "cached" version of the front page on a Google search, such as:


AT NEWS sends the latest news to activists and allied organizations about the many abusive, pseudoscientific, and violent practices inflicted on children by the fringe psychotherapy known as Attachment Therapy, aka "holding therapy" and "therapeutic parenting." Attachment Therapists claim to work with our nation's most vulnerable of children, e.g. minority children, children in foster care, and adoptees. AT NEWS is the publication of newly formed *Advocates for Children in Therapy.* For more information on Attachment Therapy and a film clip demonstrating AT, go to the Utah activists' site at http://www.kidscomefirst.info and ACT's new website: http://www.childrenintherapy.org.

Contact: Linda Rosa, RN
Executive Director
Advocates for Children in Therapy
Loveland, CO
(970) 667-7313

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Scientists find new face on Turin shroud


Thursday, April 15, 2004 Posted: 1:55 PM EDT (1755 GMT)

MILAN, Italy (Reuters) -- Italian scientists have found a matching image of a man's face and possibly his hands on the back of the Turin shroud, believed by many to be the burial cloth of Jesus Christ, one of the researchers said on Thursday.

The discovery that the ghostly image on the back of the linen cloth matches the face that adorns the front is likely to reignite debate over whether the shroud is genuine or a skilful medieval fraud.

"The fact that the image is two-sided makes any forgery difficult," Professor Giulio Fanti of the University of Padua told Reuters.

The findings of Fanti and Roberto Maggiolo, both from the university's department of mechanical engineering, were published this week by a journal of the Institute of Physics in London.

Fanti said the discovery would support those who maintain the cloth is genuine.

The shroud, one of Christianity's most sacred but most disputed relics, is a piece of linen some 14 feet long and 3 feet 7 inches wide.

It first appeared in France in the 14th century and has been held in the Italian city of Turin since 1578.

For over 600 years the debate has raged over the origin of the image of a tall, bearded man bearing the marks of crucifixion that can be seen on the front of the shroud.

Experts over the years say they have found traces of blood, pollen or soil typical of Jerusalem, where Christians believe Jesus was crucified.

But 15 years ago three separate laboratories said carbon dating indicated the shroud was no older than the 13th or 14th century. Researchers concluded the shroud was a hoax created for the hugely profitable medieval pilgrimage business.

While the front of the shroud has been studied intensively over the years, the back had remained hidden under a piece of Holland cloth which was sewn by nuns to cover up damage caused by a fire.

That protective layer was removed in 2002 for restoration and the back of the cloth was photographed.

Some say the figure's hands bear the marks of crucifixion. The two scientists said they studied these photographs and used mathematical and optical techniques to process the images.

They found that the face that can be seen on the reverse of the shroud matches that of the front.

"We can detect the presence of a nose, eyes, hair, beard and moustache on the back surface that correspond in place, form, position and scale to those of the front," Fanti said.

Speculation has also grown over who created the image. One theory maintains it was the work of Leonardo da Vinci, who pioneered an early photograph technique and put his own face on the shroud.

Copyright 2004 Reuters

CNN Accused of Fabricating Controversy in Missouri Evolution Story


By Jim Brown and Jody Brown April 12, 2004

(AgapePress) - CNN is being asked to recant a story about a bill in the Missouri legislature that would allow teachers to be fired for not teaching alternatives to the theory of evolution, such as the Intelligent Design theory.

Recently on the program CNN Sunday Morning, correspondent Denise Belgrave stated that nine states were grappling with the debate over how evolution should or should not be taught in public schools. In the story, Belgrave encouraged viewers to "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."

CNN's viewers were then shown a U.S. map highlighting nine states as places where measures similar to that described in Missouri were under consideration. The CNN reporter identified "intelligent design" as the main alternative to evolution theory. Intelligent design, which some say reflects aspects of the biblical account of creation, proposes than some features of the world were created as the result of an intelligent cause instead of natural selection, a component of the evolution theory.

The problem is that even though a bill was introduced in January in Missouri that would have penalized teachers for not teaching an evolution alternative, the measure was later revised and the teacher penalty was eliminated. In addition, the revised bill is no longer under active consideration by the Missouri Legislature, according to the bill's sponsor.

Dr. John West with the Seattle-based Discovery Institute says the whole report filed by Belgrave was false and amounted to "shoddy journalism."

"Denise Belgrave apparently got some information from a pro-evolution group and simply parroted it; she apparently didn't try to verify it herself. I was interviewed for the report and actually appeared briefly on screen, and the amazing thing to me is that she didn't even ever ask me about the Missouri bill -- or even about the subject of teachers being fired for not teaching alternatives to evolution. Even though that turned out to be what her whole report was about."

West notes that none of the nine states identified by CNN as considering such legislation are, in fact, doing so. The Institute spokesman also points out that CNN dropped the ball on another story, this one not fabricated.

"The really ironic thing here is that not only this story false, but CNN misses the real story -- which is that there is a problem about freedom of teachers, and teachers are being intimidated," he says. "It's not the teachers who teach evolution who are being intimidated, it's the teacher who try to teach scientific criticisms of evolution. In a number of cases they have lost their jobs already, or they have faced other penalties."

Belgrave would not comment on the accuracy of her report for this story. But CNN spokeswoman Megan Mahoney says West's allegations are "without merit," and claims the network "has no agenda on this or any other story" it reports. "Any suggestion to the contrary is just plan wrong," she says.

'Intelligent design' religion disguised as science


To the editor: I am adamantly opposed to teaching "intelligent design" in any science class.

This is not a scientific theory which can be verified or explained by a logical collection of facts, such as evolution is.

I highly suggest people read Richard Dawkin's "The Blind Watchmaker." One of the most famous arguments of the creationist theory of the universe is the 18th century theologian William Paley's (argument): "Just as a watch is too complicated and too functional to have sprung into existence by accident, so too must all living things, with their far greater complexity, be purposefully designed." But as Dawkins, professor of zoology at Oxford University, demonstrates in this brilliant and eloquent riposte to the "Argument from Design," the analogy is false. Natural selection, the unconscious, automatic, blind yet essentially non-random process that Darwin discovered, has no purpose in mind. If it can be said to play the role of watchmaker in nature, it is the blind watchmaker.

Patiently and lucidly, Dawkins - in this book, which has been acclaimed as perhaps the most influential work on evolution written in this century - identifies those aspects of the theory which people find hard to believe and removes the barrier to credibility one by one.

Not only that, but I find Susan Phillips' comments, as written in the Liberty Sun, that evolution theory is just that, a theory, to be not only totally lacking in understanding of what the word theory means in the scientific sense, but to be wrong.

The theory of evolution is as much a fact as Newton's theory of gravity or Einstein's theory of relativity.

I strongly hope (Phillips') bill does not pass.

I am extremely disappointed that Rep. Annie Reinhart would associate herself with such an effort. Here we are trying to build a bioscience initiative in Kansas City and attract scientists to the Stowers Institute and other local research facilities. She and Rep. Phillips are going to make them think that Midwest schools are some 18th century throwbacks.

What scientists are going to want to have their children educated in a school system which thinks that one of the main scientific body of knowledge of the 20th century is nothing more than just "an unproven theory."

Michael S. Cunningham, Kansas City-North
©Sun-News of the Northland 2004


The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News
Number 681 April 13, 2004 by Phillip F. Schewe, Ben Stein

FIRST EVIDENCE FOR SUPERFLUIDITY IN AN ATOM-BASED FERMI GAS has been observed by researchers at Duke University (including John Thomas, 919-660-2508, jet@phy.duke.edu, and Michael Gehm, mgehm@ee.duke.edu, 919-403-5003). In a Physical Review Letters paper published online today (http://link.aps.org/abstract/PRL/v92/e150402), the researchers have observed an ultracold gas of lithium-6 atoms acting as one big vibrating "jelly." While the jelly-like (or "hydrodynamic") behavior could arise in ordinary versions of ultracold lithium gases, the researchers found evidence that their gas was a superfluid, a "perfect" jelly which vibrates for a long time after being shaken. The properties of the atomic jelly can provide information on much smaller superfluid systems (such as a quark-gluon plasma) and much larger ones (neutron stars). The behavior of the jelly could even help determine whether it's physically possible to create superconductors which operate well above room temperature, which could lead to breakthroughs from widely available energy-saving power lines to magnetically levitated trains. What's shared by all these systems, from a quark-gluon plasma to neutrons in neutron stars, is that they are made of strongly interacting pairs of "spin-up" and "spin-down" particles (spin up/down is analogous to the atoms having bar magnets pointing in opposite directions).

To produce the observed behavior, the researchers believe that the interaction mechanism among their lithium-6 atoms is in a weird "cross-over regime" (see Update 671), a condition in which the atom pairs are neither molecules (in which case they would form a molecular Bose Einstein condensate, see Update 663) nor they type of weakly bound Cooper pairs found in conventional superconductors. In their experiment, the researchers cooled and trapped lithium-6 atoms with a focused laser beam, whose electric field confined the atoms. The researchers made sure the atoms were in a 50-50 mixture of spin-up and spin-down states. They then used their optical system to lower the temperature of atoms via "evaporative cooling" (i.e., allowing hotter atoms to escape to lower the overall temperature of the gas). Next, they tested the gas's ability to act like a vibrating "jelly." To start vibrations in the gas, they turned off the trapping laser for a short time, allowing the gas to expand, and then turned the laser back on again. At this point the gas cloud was quivering, and the researchers took a series of pictures to show these vibrations (see movie at www.aip.org/mgr/png). They measured the cloud's frequency of vibration, as well as how long the vibrations persist. In one case, they adjusted the magnetic field so that the atoms were strongly interacting. In this case, they found a frequency of vibration of 2837 Hz, in very close agreement with a theoretical prediction of 2830 Hz for a hydrodynamic Fermi gas. Lowering the temperature of the gas caused the vibrations or "oscillations" to last for a longer time, in contrast to an ordinary hydrodynamic gas, in which a lower temperature would cause the oscillations to "damp" or die out more quickly. The Duke physicists ruled out two non-superfluid scenarios for the behavior, namely that the oscillations were caused by (1) a high rate of atomic collisions (however, in this scenario, the oscillations would die out more quickly as the temperature is lowered) and (2) a collisionless gas that oscillates via mean-field interactions, the net effect of many atom-to-atom interactions (however, the predicted vibration frequency for this scenario differs by 500 Hz from the observations).

Still, the researchers do not have an iron-clad case for superfluidity yet, in large part because the theory for strongly interacting superfluid Fermi gases is incomplete. Namely, there is no prediction of how the damping times of the vibrations should increase with decreasing temperature, which would help to identify a "transition temperature" below which superfluidity would occur. (In their setup, the Duke team started seeing evidence for superfluidity at temperatures below 0.4 to 0.7 Microkelvin.)

In summary, the experiments constitute first evidence for what could plausibly be superfluid behavior based on pairs of fermion atoms in a gas. The photos provide macroscopic information (i.e., viewing the overall gas that's visible to the naked eye) that complement the "microscopic" information provided by other groups (Update 671), which probe the pairing of spin-up and spin-down atoms. (Kinast et al., Physical Review Letters, 16 April 2004)

GREATLY IMPROVED SOLAR CELLS might result from the use of a photophysical process in which for each incident solar photon not one but two excitons (electron-hole pairs) are created. As with photosynthesis what happens in a solar cell is the conversion of light energy into a small current of electrons; in plants the freed electrons helps to build glucose; in solar cells the currents are collected in the form of electricity. Victor Klimov and Richard Schaller at Los Alamos have enhanced the phenomenon called "impact ionization," which can significantly improve the efficiency of the conversion of solar energy to electrical current. Normally, an incident photon striking a semiconductor produces an electron-hole pair plus a bit of heat. By using sub-10-nm sized nanoparticles made of lead and selenium atoms, the Los Alamos scientists encourage the interaction to spawn a second exciton instead of the heat. Although they haven't yet built a working solar cell, they are the first to demonstrate the efficacy of getting the PbSe nanocrystals to render more photo-current. Implementing the new process might result in efficiency gains of more then 35% in the conversion of light to current. (Physical Review Letters, upcoming article; contact Victor Klimov, 505-699-7541, klimov@lanl.gov; http://quantumdot.lanl.gov)

PHYSICS NEWS UPDATE is a digest of physics news items arising from physics meetings, physics journals, newspapers and magazines, and other news sources. It is provided free of charge as a way of broadly disseminating information about physics and physicists. For that reason, you are free to post it, if you like, where others can read it, providing only that you credit AIP. Physics News Update appears approximately once a week.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

After the Double Helix: Unraveling the Mysteries of the State of Being


April 13, 2004

SAN DIEGO — Sitting at lunch on the patio of his home here one muggy day last June, Francis Crick was expounding on the mind-body problem and the thorny subject of the human "self."

Where is the line between mind and matter? he asked. Aside from the neurons in our brains, the human body contains tens of millions of neurons in the enteric nervous system, which extends into the stomach and intestines. "When you digest your lunch is that you?" Dr. Crick asked.

Body and mind are the twin problems around which Dr. Crick's life has spiraled, much like the double helix structure of DNA that he and Dr. James D. Watson are famous for discovering half a century ago. Though his research on "the molecule of life" is what he is best known for, in his 28 years at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, his work has focused on the mind, and in particular the question of consciousness.

Until recently, that subject was viewed with deep suspicion in scientific circles, but Dr. Crick has led a campaign to make it acceptable. These days it is even fashionable. While some philosophers claim that consciousness is a phenomenon outside the purview of material science, Dr. Crick dismisses such arguments with the imperious confidence that is part of his legend. "The mechanism is the important part; the rest is just playing with words," he said in a recent interview.

Dr. Crick's career has been characterized by celebrated collaborations, and for the past decade he has been working with Dr. Christof Koch, a professor of computation and neural systems at the California Institute of Technology. Together they have developed a framework, which Dr. Koch has spelled out in his new book, "The Quest for Consciousness: A Neurobiological Approach."

In late March, Dr. Crick and Dr. Koch sat down in San Diego to discuss their recent work. Now 87 and suffering from the advanced stages of cancer, Dr. Crick has been put on a new regime of chemotherapy. Yet in spite of the toxic cocktail, he seems as sharp as ever, tossing out answers like perfectly aimed darts.

Almost from the start of his career, he was obsessed with two problems: "the borderline between the living and the nonliving and the nature of consciousness." In the late 1940's, after a notable career as a physicist in the British Admiralty, he began to investigate the first topic by studying the structure of proteins.

In 1951, he teamed up with Dr. Watson to determine the structure of DNA. Few scientists believed DNA carried the genetic code, but Mr. Crick — he did not get his doctorate until 1954 — and Dr. Watson were convinced that it did. Their epoch-making paper on the double helix was published in 1953, and in 1962 they won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, with their colleague Dr. Maurice Wilkins.

Dr. Crick next collaborated with Dr. Sydney Brenner, and together they worked on the problem of how the genetic code translated into proteins that build organisms. By the end of the 60's, the foundations of molecular biology were well understood, and Dr. Crick was eager to go to his next great question. In 1976, he moved to the Salk Institute, reinventing himself as a neuroscientist.

Since then, Dr. Crick has been a tireless champion of the brain. In a 1979 editorial in Scientific American, he argued that the time had come for science to take on the previously forbidden subject of consciousness. In his 1994 book "The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul," he went further. "You," he wrote, "your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules." He outlined an empirical approach focusing on visual consciousness.

His ideas have formed the inspiration for Dr. Koch's research at Caltech: the goal is to find "the neural correlates of consciousness," or N.C.C.'s — the neuronal states and processes associated with conscious awareness. Dr. Koch and his graduate students are finally gaining experimental evidence for what Dr. Crick had termed the "awareness neurons" that enable us to see.

Dr. Crick's ideas, along with those of another Nobelist, Dr. Gerald M. Edelman, helped shift the direction of neuroscience. These days, papers on the neural correlates of consciousness are increasingly commonplace, though Dr. Nancy Kanwisher, a neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, noted that still "very few neuroscientists directly discuss the N.C.C.'s."

But even Dr. David Chalmers, a philosopher at the University of Arizona and a leading critic of the materialist approach to mind, acknowledges the value of the work of Dr. Crick and Dr. Koch. "Everyone agrees now that there are systematic processes happening in the brain that must correlate with awareness," he said.

Many of Dr. Koch's experiments are aimed at teasing out what the brain is registering beneath the radar of conscious awareness. One tool for studying this is trace conditioning. Using it, a subject is presented with two consecutive stimuli — say an image and a mild electric shock — separated by a delay. After a period of training, subjects begin to anticipate the shock (measured by a rise in skin conductance on their palms) when they see the image.

Using M.R.I., Dr. Koch's team has shown that in trace conditioning, an area of the brain known as the anterior cingulate cortex is activated. They have found that when they remove this area from mice, the creatures cannot be trace conditioned, causing Dr Koch to speculate that this area of the brain is critical for consciousness.

Dr. Koch notes that the advent of M.R.I. has also made it possible to see which parts of the brain are active during a "percept" — as when someone sees a face. Dr. Kanwisher has shown that there are specific parts of the brain that register awareness of faces and objects.

A small group of patients with epilepsy are letting scientists get an even more intimate look at the brain. Working with Dr. Itzhak Fried, a neurosurgeon at the University of California, Los Angeles, graduate students of Dr. Koch's are exposing the patients to images and checking the activity of individual neurons as recorded by electrodes implanted in their brains.

Dr. Koch's team is looking for neuronal evidence of "change blindness" in these patients. An array of four photographs is flashed on a screen, followed about a second later by another array in which one of the images has changed. "It can be surprisingly difficult to consciously see such changes," Dr. Koch said, though evidence suggests that neurons may be registering them.

Not everyone is convinced that understanding the neural correlates will explain awareness. "There is a difference between correlation and explanation," Dr. Chalmers said. "The question is, once we have these neural correlates, What do we do with them? I don't think the N.C.C.'s is a final theory."

In tackling consciousness, Dr. Crick and Dr. Koch have reframed the central question. Traditionally the problem has been cast in terms of subjectivity. How is it, for example, that when someone sees red (which physically speaking is electromagnetic waves of a particular frequency) there is also a subjective feeling of redness?

The "redness" of red and the "painfulness" of pain are what philosophers refer to as qualia. The gap between the objectivity of material science (the electromagnetic waves) and the subjectivity of human experience (the qualia) has led some philosophers to conclude that this chasm cannot be bridged by any materialist explanation.

Rather than getting bogged down in the depthless ooze of qualia, Dr. Crick and Dr. Koch sidestep the issue. Instead of asking the philosophical question of what consciousness is, they have restricted themselves to trying to understand what is going on at the neurological level when consciousness is present.

While many scientists assume that consciousness is a global property of the brain — "a gestalt phenomenon" — Dr. Koch and Dr. Crick say they believe that only a few neurons are responsible at any given moment. Of the 50 billion or so neurons in the brain, Dr. Crick says that perhaps only tens of thousands, or even a few thousand, give rise to the feeling of conscious awareness. "We believe it is essentially a local phenomenon," he said.

That position is certainly contentious. "The idea that there is a special population of neurons that mediate awareness is a minority view," Dr. Kanwisher noted.

Dr. Crick says he is convinced that the origin of consciousness is a solvable problem, albeit complex.

He drew an analogy with another phenomenon once attributed to transcendent powers: "People think the brain is mysterious but not the weather. Why is that?" In some ways, he suggested, the brain may be less enigmatic than the weather, because "we don't yet have a clear understanding of how raindrops form but we do know how individual neurons and synapses work."

The elucidation of the double helix ushered in the age of molecular genetics, which has now given rise to the vast applications of genetic engineering. Elucidating consciousness could have similarly portentous results, Dr. Koch suggests.

One potential application, he says, is some kind of instrument for measuring its intensity, perhaps a "consciousometer." Anesthesiologists might use it to determine when a patient under sedation is truly out. But in his book, Dr. Koch also raises the possibility of more troubling uses, including measuring the awareness levels of severely retarded children and elderly patients with dementia.

Or, he asks, "How do we know that a newborn baby is conscious?" Perhaps consciousness is something that doesn't begin at birth, he said, but gradually emerges.

"This research is going to pose enormous legal and ethical questions," Dr. Koch acknowledged in the recent interview.

"I'm not convinced that people want to know how consciousness works," he said. "They feel cast out of the world of meaning."

Having solved one of the basic mysteries of life here on Earth, Dr. Crick seems happy to skewer any notions of a life beyond. For him, the most profound implication of an operational understanding of consciousness is that "it will lead to the death of the soul."

"The view of ourselves as `persons' is just as erroneous as the view that the Sun goes around the Earth," he said. He predicted that "this sort of language will disappear in a few hundred years."

"In the fullness of time," he continued, "educated people will believe there is no soul independent of the body, and hence no life after death."

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

BU advocate of sunlight draws ire


By Scott Allen, Globe Staff, 4/13/2004

To many dermatologists, tanning is a risky flirtation with deadly skin cancer. So Dr. Michael F. Holick, a professor at Boston University's medical school, knew he was courting controversy with his new book about "the exaggerated warnings on the peril of sun exposure," which he decided to unveil at an Indoor Tanning Association meeting in Nashville.

But Holick, a respected researcher on sunlight's role in boosting vitamin D levels, never expected to be pressured out of dermatology altogether. The chairwoman of the dermatology department at BU's School of Medicine requested his resignation in February after she bluntly criticized his conclusions and suggested his ties to the tanning industry may have influenced his research.

"I read better things in ladies' magazines," said Dr. Barbara Gilchrest, the department chairwoman and an authority on melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Holick's book "is an embarrassment for this institution and an embarrassment for him," she said in an interview.

Holick's resignation is largely symbolic because he will remain director of BU Medical Center's Vitamin D lab while continuing to teach with no loss in salary. But he said he believes he is being punished for challenging one of the dogmas of dermatology.

Holick contends that public health officials have been so insistent on painting sunshine as the enemy that they can't stand to hear about the substantial benefits of sunlight, including promoting strong bones and easing depression.

Gilchrest "is like many in the dermatology profession that are just hellbent on making sure people don't get any sun," Holick said.

Indeed, Holick's book, "The UV Advantage," has provoked an unusually harsh reaction even before it reaches bookstores next month. The backlash underscores how sensitive the tanning issue has become. The American Academy of Dermatology, which represents 14,000 dermatologists worldwide, calls Holick irresponsible, saying that going unprotected into the sun for health benefits is like "smoking to combat anxiety."

But some dermatologists say Holick's arguments shouldn't be dismissed so quickly.

The author of more than 100 published papers, Holick has helped develop treatments for the skin condition psoriasis in addition to his studies of the way sunlight spurs the body to produce vitamin D, a mineral key to strong bones and the prevention of osteoporosis. Though not originally trained as a dermatologist, he was invited to join the BU dermatology faculty because so much of his research focused on skin conditions.

"He's an incredibly creative person who's made some really fundamental observations and discoveries in several areas," said Jim Leyden, professor emeritus of dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, who has known Holick for 25 years. "He's very creative and ahead of his time."

Right or wrong, "The UV Advantage" is likely to get a good deal of attention, in part because the Indoor Tanning Association has hired a publicist to promote it. The owners of tanning salons, whose service has faced many of the same health criticisms as traditional tanning, are so pleased with Holick's pro-sun arguments that the association is donating $150,000 for his research over the next three years.

Perhaps just as important, Holick's pro-sun message is more appealing to consumers than the dermatologists' "always wear sunscreen" mantra, and that may be the dermatologists' biggest fear.

"At the end of the day, the position he is putting forward is irresponsible and could potentially set back years and years of work" in skin cancer prevention, said Alan Geller, a researcher in the BU medical school's dermatology department.

For years, dermatologists have preached that there is no such thing as a "safe tan," arguing that the browning of the skin is the body's attempt to defend itself against the sun's ultraviolet rays that can cause cancer. That simple message has made gradual inroads: Today, roughly one-third of teenagers say they regularly use sunscreen when they go out in the sun for extended periods, Geller said.

Holick argues that the link between tanning and skin cancer is not nearly so clear. Although sunburns make skin cancer more likely, Holick contends that moderate sun exposure could actually reduce the risk of prostate and breast cancers, based on epidemiological studies suggesting a lower incidence of those cancers in sunnier climates.

His studies also indicate that a few minutes of sun exposure to bare skin several times a week can help reduce a widespread vitamin D deficiency in northern cities, where people are indoors or bundled up for large portions of the year. During the summer in Boston, he calculates, a fair-skinned person would generate enough vitamin D from spending 5 to 10 minutes in the midday sun three times a week.

But Holick said dermatologists consistently reject his advice. "It's easier for them to say just don't be exposed to sunlight instead of providing the thoughtful, intelligent recommendation that maybe a little sun is good for you," he said.

BU's Gilchrest acknowledges that many people are vitamin D deficient, but she said the risk is very small compared with the danger of melanoma, which is expected to strike 55,000 Americans this year. Vitamin D deficiency "is hardly an epidemic. What I see every single week is people with skin cancer," she said. Moreover, she said, people can get all the vitamin D they need from eating fish or drinking more milk.

Once Holick gets out of his research speciality concerning vitamin D, Gilchrest said, his science verges on "silly,", including his contention in his book that the evidence linking melanoma and ultraviolet light exposure is uncertain. "The melanoma capital of the world is Australia, which is a very sunny area with a large number of" fair-skinned people who are most at risk, she said.

She said she was troubled that Holick was not more forthcoming with her about the tanning industry's financial support for "The UV Advantage." She said the industry connections could have biased his book, which includes a section titled "Guidelines for Indoor Tanning."

After several discussions with Holick about her problems with the book, including a formal debate last winter, Gilchrest requested he leave the dermatology department.

"I would ask anyone to resign his appointment in the department if I felt that person was conducting himself in a way that was professionally irresponsible, potentially dangerous to the public, [and] not conforming to what I think are very high standards for reporting of scientific information," Gilchrest explained.

Holick, who has faculty appointments in several other departments at the medical school, says he had no desire to stay in a department where he wasn't wanted. He strongly denies any financial conflict in his research and says the tanning association did not directly support the book. Still, he did not appeal Gilchrest's request; he simply removed the references to being a dermatology professor from the final version of his book.

But he said the crush of interview requests from media outlets suggests he will get a chance to make his case to the public anyway. In fact, he said, the dermatologists' criticism "is doing me a great favor because they are now raising this to a level that I hadn't expected."

Scott Allen can be reached by e-mail at allen@globe.com.

© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company

Scientology Awarded USD $500,000


April 12, 2004

A few days ago I reported on how the Church of Scientology is suing Gerry Armstrong, once a researcher and archivist for Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, who left the group in 1981 and become one of Scientology's most outspoken critics. According to a court settlement, Armstrong is not allowed to release secret information he acquired while still a church leader. Scientology accused him of breaching the agreement and a court has agreed, awarding them a USD $500,000 judgment that Armstrong has to pay.

Nancy Isles Nation writes for the Marin Independent Journal:

Armstrong, 57, continued to speak out in media interviews and Internet postings, even after Marin Superior Court Judge Gary Thomas issued a 1995 injunction ordering him to stop. In 2002, the church sued Armstrong for $10,050,000, or $50,000 for each of 201 instances in which he allegedly breached his settlement agreement by publicly discussing the church.

When asked if he intends to turn over the money to the church, Armstrong responded: "The short answer is never. I will outlast them." Armstrong said the goal of the Church of Scientology is to silence him. "When you can silence someone about a religion, just imagine," Armstrong said.

The Church of Scientology is really scared about what people might learn about their genuine teachings and practices. Most of those who learn the truth keep their mouths shut, but a few have decided to speak out - and they have been sued for their troubles. What don't they want people to hear? What are they trying to hide?

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

From aphrodisiacs to snake venom, this alternative medicine store is for you


By Paul Cochrane
Special to The Daily Star
Saturday, April 10, 2004

Before even entering the store, it is immediately clear that this is no ordinary pharmacy. Green colored Arabic script in linear rows list medicines, ingredients and ailments on the outside walls, and stuffed animals hang from the ceiling inside. A hyena, a small sized shark, a puffer fish, snakes, birds, turtle shells and jawbones all compete for space amid the boxes of herbs, spices, flowers and seashells.

Youssef Alama, 50, and his two sons, Hamoud and Ali, run an alternative medicine store, more akin to the type found in China or Southeast Asia than in Bourj al-Barajneh, in Beirut's southern suburbs.

"I have been in this business for 30 years, and started after gaining experience in another shop ... in this work, experience is even more important than being a doctor to figure out the mixes, the required ingredients and how to use them. This is a science with ancient roots, dating back to the time of Ibn Sina and Al-Razi," Alama said.

"I have 7,000 kinds of ingredients, more than any other shop of this kind in Beirut, or Lebanon. From these ingredients I typically make around 150 types of medicine, but I am able to make over 400 different medicines. This can be for every medical disorder, for the heart, head, stomach, skin, even aphrodisiacs ... but not very rare or dangerous diseases," he said.

Modern medicine does not seem to be affecting Alama's business, even though most of his customers are older people. "But young people come if prescribed medicine doesn't work," he added confidently.

"Usually, we start on a low dosage and increase or change the prescription accordingly. There is a degree of experimentation in this method," he said. Some of his medicines rely on snake venom, he added, getting his son Hamoud to bring out a small red snake from a glass tank. "We take the venom every two or three weeks, and recite prayers over the snake's head to be able to use the poison ... snakes are like people, there are good and bad ones," he said.

Customers do not only frequent his store for medicine, Alama said, pointing to the mummified animals.

"They are not just decorations, but serve a magical purpose," he added.

"People come for special objects to ward off kareena, malicious spirits that follow them around, or in their sleep. Some of the objects are for the well-being of people's souls, not their health, as well as religious items," he said opening a briefcase. Inside were miniature Korans, crucifixes and Hindu paintings, "for whatever someone believes in."

Between God, books


A creationist's view of evolution

As a science major I found myself balancing between the two worlds of creationism and evolution, so I began a journey of self-discovery.

My logic was if there is a creator God, then He would have to convince me that He created the world and that it did not evolve. I knew I could not expect 100 percent proof or there would be no basis for faith.

The one idea I couldn't escape, however, is the fact that only life can come from life, and there are irreducible complexities in the world that can't be explained with evolution.

I found that most "creation science" was written for the non-scientific reader.

While interesting in concept, it did not satisfy my desire to see evidence verified with reproducible tests. Ironically, when it came to proving evolutionary theory (e.g. long ages, macro evolution) the wording was more technical, but it still lacked reproducible scientific tests.

In everything I read I found there was always a bias that bent evidences toward their own theory. Only when I read criticisms of each theory did I start to weed out unconfirmed information.

When one looks at biology, archeology or geology we draw conclusions, but there are no nametags available to make sure we are correct.

We make an educated guess about the arrangement of some bones in the sand.

We assume a rock is a certain age by measuring the amount of daughter product left by a radioactive material (isotope dating), but we don't know for sure what amount of the parent or daughter product was there originally.

Wherever we start our theory we have to first make a reasonable guess, but it's still a guess.

We know that animals have genetic variation to adapt to selective pressure, but we have to guess where that original variation came from.

Was it accidental mutation, which is fatal over 99 percent of the time, or from some intelligent designer? What we guess tends to lean towards our bias of whether we want a God/Creator in our life or not.

The more I studied the more I realized that ultimately no one can prove or disprove anyone's theory of our origins.

We can make reasonable guesses loaded with many rational arguments but these are still heavily influenced by our bias or presumptions. Ultimately one has to decide first if there is a Creator/God or not to start learning where we came from. I have professors who explain that God can be a non-issue in the field of science because He cannot be analyzed with the scientific method.

To be consistent then they would not be able to discuss the theory of macro-evolution or the "big bang" because these don't fit the scientific method and can't be falsified.

The definition of macro-evolution is the transition of one animal to another completely different animal (e.g. a reptile to a bird). I am not talking about natural selection (micro-evolution) for which Darwin is credited for observing.

I have only touched broadly on actual scientific issues because I have found that these are only details. People are only interested in what they know will follow their bias, so to convince you with my "evidences" would be pointless.

Coming full circle again I am still a creationist. I know there are other ideas out there, but I chose what made sense to me and my experiences.

The theory of self-originating life and spontaneous new variation from one organism to another is purely theoretical and places faith in mutations and accidents.

Here my road diverges; I place my faith in a designer.

To me the miracle of life does not resemble an accident, but a design that is efficient and flexible. This is based on my bias that I need a God to make sense of this world.

Here my Christian faith is perfectly harmonious with what I understand in science.

Life comes from Life. I do not have all the details worked out, but I have found peace. I believe that if there is a God He can be found, and I found Him all over again through Jesus Christ.

He had to prove Himself to me.

Updated Monday, April 12, 2004 Written by Melissa Kreye - Science Major

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