NTS LogoSkeptical News for 2 November 2004

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

The universe didn't just happen but was made, Christian thinkers say


Saturday, October 2, 2004

cmeehan@kalamazoogazette.com 388-8412

More than 100 people came to Third Christian Reformed Church last weekend to watch a program that presented a scientific case for the existence of God.

Beamed by the Christian Communication Network to sites across the country, the show featured best-selling author Lee Strobel and science historian Stephen C. Meyer, director of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute in Seattle.

People of all ages filled the pews in the sanctuary of the local church to learn more about an increasingly popular theory known as Intelligent Design.

"The show wasn't about pitting science vs. faith," said the Rev. Kenneth Baker, pastor of the church, at 2400 Winchell Ave.

Rather, said Baker, the program presented some of the evidence that has led prominent scientists over the past 30 years to question "the materialistic approach to answering life's questions."

Essentially, Intelligent Design proponents are trying to debunk Darwin's theory of evolution, which teaches that living creatures evolve over time, with the strong surviving and the weak going extinct.

While Darwin's theory is still the one backed by many in the mainstream scientific community, more and more scientists are coming to adopt the Intelligent Design approach, Strobel said in a phone interview after the satellite-broadcast program.

"It is stepping onto center stage," said Strobel, whose recently released book "The Case for a Creator" has already sold more than 200,000 copies.

"The evidence points powerfully to a creator and intelligent design."

Battle of ideas

Strobel said evidence coming from cosmologists, chemists, biologists, physicists and others is alarming proponents of Darwinism.

"There is a pitched battle to eliminate Intelligent Design from the marketplace of ideas," he said.

Debates are going on in Kansas, Georgia, Alabama, Minnesota and here in Michigan over whether to include Intelligent Design in school curricula.

State Rep. Jack Hoogendyke, R-Portage, last year introduced a bill in Lansing that seeks to give science teachers the option of presenting the Intelligent Design theory in public schools.

Critics say that Intelligent Design is just creationism -- the teaching contained in Genesis that God created the world in seven days -- in disguise.

"The creationist viewpoint has evolved from a very fundamentalist position to the Intelligent Design theory, at which point they drop the argument that the Earth was created 5,000 years ago," said Jochanan Stenesh, a retired chemistry professor from Western Michigan University.

"Although the theory is clothed differently today, it is the same," Stenesh said. "How can you prove there is a God?"

Stenesh is author of "Rot on the Vine," a book that mixes nonfiction with fiction as it takes on the bad things done over time in the name of religion.

Commentary on the evolution debate is only part of the book, which Stenesh plans to self-publish on Oct. 7. He will be signing copies from 1 to 3 p.m. Oct. 16 at Athena Books on the Kalamazoo Mall.

The book sweeps across the centuries and delivers sharp criticism of all the major religions while hailing the hard-eyed approach taken by science in trying to understand the origins and working of the universe.

In the book, Stenesh says, "the theory of evolution has become the bedrock of all biological sciences ... Our increased knowledge has only served to entrench the theory of evolution among the sciences."

As for Intelligent Design, he said, it is a concept, not a scientific theory that can be tested.

On a personal level, he said, he finds it very difficult to believe there is an intelligent designer who created a world in which evil exists on a grand scale.

As a Jew whose family fled the horrors of Hitler, Stenesh says that he can't fathom a God who would create a world and then refuse to step in to stop the massacre of innocent people.

"If this God has any interplay with humanity, either he did not care to intervene, or he did not want to intervene, and neither explanation is complimentary," Stenesh said.

Strobel says Stenesh's point is philosophical and not scientific.

"The issue of pain and suffering is a legitimate question," he said.

"But the fact of pain and suffering is consistent with Christian theology," which Strobel said teaches that humankind introduced sin and evil into the world.

Can it be tested?

At stake in the debate over the origin of our species, say some scientists, is the sanctity and proven value of the scientific method.

While some scientists promote Intelligent Design, they are doing it at the risk of undermining the unbiased process that is at the core of scientific inquiry, said Elliott Sober, president of the Philosophy of Science Association.

Sober was in Kalamazoo this week to give a lecture titled "Is Creationism Logical?"

"There is nothing new in Intelligent Design that wasn't there before in Creationism," Sober said in an interview before his lecture. Sober is a professor of philosophy at the University of Wisconsin.

"You need to look critically at the evidence" Intelligent Design is using, he said.

With the scientific method, Sober said, a scientist makes a hypothesis then tests its validity. Once that scientist comes to a conclusion, other scientists follow steps similar to those of the initial researcher in examining the findings.

Intelligent Design, by contrast, uses bits and pieces from various disciplines to anecdotally argue its point, Sober said.

"Intelligent Design as a theory is untestable," he said. "If we have an intelligent designer, what would its goals be? What should we expect if the arguments made by Intelligent Design are true?"

Strobel strongly disagrees with Sober and wrote the new book to air his argument, he said.

Intelligent Design does not start with a hypothesis about God, because God is unknowable, Strobel said.

Nevertheless, the theory looks at the latest data on the subject and holds that certain features of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not as an undirected process of natural selection.

Modern tools such as the electron microscope and the Hubble space telescope, along with genetic findings and neurological research done on the makeup of the human mind, lend credence to the Intelligent Design perspective, said Meyer, a Seattle science historian who appeared on Sunday's satellite show with Strobel.

Meyer was among the handful of Ph.D.-level scientists and researchers whom Strobel interviewed for his new book.

"Information is the hallmark of the mind," Meyer says in the book. "And purely from the evidence of genetics and biology, we can infer the existence of a mind that's far greater than our own."

Strobel is former atheist who once worked as a legal-affairs correspondent for the Chicago Tribune.

In his new book, he talks to physicists who tell him that "the laws of physics unexpectedly conspire in an extraordinary way to make the universe habitable for life."

Woven throughout the universe in things big and small are discernible signs and details that reflect a creator who crafted the universe from a mind that is vast, loving and remains mysterious, Strobel says in his book.

Strobel takes readers through a look at the Big Bang theory, which teaches the universe burst into being millions of years ago in a powerful, instantaneous flash.

He quotes experts who back up the claim that this universe is still expanding and is filled with meaning, ingenuity and beauty.

"If the universe had not been made with the most exacting precision, we could never have come into existence," astrophysicist John A. O'Keefe told Strobel for the book.

As a way of furthering the discussion on Intelligent Design and similar topics, Strobel plans a new talk/debate show, "Faith Under Fire," on the PAX cable-television network.

The first program is tonight at 10 p.m. The series will address a range of subjects, including Islam, atheism, humanism and the role of movies in popular culture.

Intelligent Design will be the subject of an upcoming program, Strobel said. "Science continues to go deeper, but we're not going to find less complexity as we delve into such things as the cell," he said.

Could scientific discoveries persuade him to put aside Intelligent Design? Says Strobel, "I'm not afraid of future scientific advances."

© 2004 Kalamazoo

Monday, November 01, 2004



By Mark Perakh

In this essay I will discuss some of the devices intelligent design (ID) advocates and purveyors of other brands of creationism employ in what they refer to as the "cultural war" which they intend to "win" at any cost regardless of whose side the truth is on.

The term "cultural war" was, for example, used by one of the most prolific advocates of "intelligent design," theologian William Dembski in his lecture at the Fellowship Baptist Church in Waco, TX, on March 7, 2004.[1] The intention to win that war regardless of whose side the truth is on, was, for example, clearly stated by Dembski in his post. [2]

I will refer here mainly to the reviews posted to the Amazon.com website which serve as one of the devices creationists often employ to achieve their goals, in particular to denigrate the books critical of the ID literary production.

One example illustrating my thesis is how the ID advocates have reviewed my book, Unintelligent Design, as well as the anthology Why Intelligent Design Fails (edited by Matt Young and Taner Edis), the book Creationism's Trojan Horse by Barbara Forrest and Paul R. Gross, and the book God, the Devil and Darwin by Niall Shanks.

My book Unintelligent Design was released by the publisher, Prometheus Books, toward the end of November 2003, but it had become actually available (for example, from the Amazon.com online bookstore) closer to the third week of December 2003.

As of October 9, 2004, to my knowledge, besides the six blurbs written by respectable scientists and mathematicians and placed on the dust cover of my book, there are 50 other reviews of my book available. Among them, 8 reviews have appeared in print media, and 42 reviews online. I also received dozens of private messages responding to my book.

The printed reviews appeared in Fortean Times, 183, 2004 (by Tom Ruffles), in The Journal of Scientific Exploration , v. 17, No 4, 2004 (by Henry H. Bauer), in the Australian Humanist, Winter 2004 (by Ken Wright), in the Quarterly Review of Biology, v.79, September 2004 (unsigned), in Evolution and Development, 6:4, 2004 (by Rudolf A. Ruff), in The Skeptic, Summer 2004 (by Paul R. Gross), in the Skeptical Inquirer, July-August 2004 (by Matt Young); and in Today's Books, February 2004 (unsigned). As far as I know, one more review of my book (by Jason Rosenhouse) is scheduled to appear in the Reports of NCSE. All printed reviews are positive (although in some of them the reviewers have suggested certain critical comments).

Among the online reviews I am familiar with, one appeared on the Campus Inquirer website where my book was selected as the Book of the Month for January 2004[3] and, as of October 9, 2004, 41 reviews were posted to the Amazon.com website.

Among the 41 reviews on the Amazon.com website, 29 reviewers gave the book the highest possible mark – five stars. One reviewer gave it 4 stars, 2 reviewers gave it three stars, 2 reviewers gave it two stars and 7 reviewers gave it just one star, which is the lowest possible mark (there is no option of giving the reviewed book zero stars).

If we construe five and four stars as a definitely positive rating, three stars as a neutral rating and two or one star as a definitely negative rating, the summary of the Amazon readers' evaluation of my book, as of October 9, 2004, seems to be as follows: 30 reviewers evaluated the book definitely positively, 2 readers were neutral, and 9 reviewers evaluated the book definitely negatively. Of course, this picture may change at any time as more readers choose to post their reviews.

While the overall rating given to my book by all Amazon reviewers (the mean value is about 4.05 out of the maximum possible of 5) seems to be rather encouraging, I will discuss here only the nine negative reviews (from now on, the "one-star" or "two-star" reviews) because some of these attacks on my book illustrate the level of underhanded assaults employed by the advocates of both ID and their predecessors of the young-earth creationism category.

The elusive "reader" from Texas: William Dembski as a reviewer

The first one-star review of my book appeared on the Amazon.com website already on December 22, 2003, i.e. just a few days after Amazon started shipping the book.

When it appeared the first time, its author's name was given as "Reader from Waco, Tx." Soon, however, it was changed to "Reader from Riesel, Tx." As of today, it is just "Reader," although there is no assurance it will not change again in the future.

The reasons for these changes seem to be rather transparent. After this negative review appeared, another reviewer referred to it, disputing its negative attitude to my book.

By changing the author's appellation from "Reader from Waco" to "Reader from Riesel" and then to simply "Reader" its real author has dodged the critical comments that addressed his review. Indeed, if some other reviewer disputed the contents of the review by a "Reader from Waco" while a review signed by the "Reader from Waco" was not found any longer at the website in question (being replaced by the same review now signed differently) then the critical remarks addressing the reader from Waco became hanging in the air, addressing a seemingly non-existent review.

This simple trick has been employed by ID advocates more than once (for example, the same trick was used regarding the book by Barbara Forrest and Paul R. Gross (Creationism's Trojan Horse); a negative review of this book, when originally posted to Amazon.com, was signed by a "Reader from San Jose, CA"; a few days later the same review was already signed by a "Reader from Sunnyvale, CA", and now it is simply "a reader" without a reference to specific whereabouts).

The story about the review by the reader from Waco, a.k.a. reader from Riesel, a.k.a. simply a "reader," has, however, some other no less interesting and educational features.

It is known that at the time the reader from Waco posted his one-star review of my book, William Dembski was employed in a non-teaching position at Baylor University which is situated in Waco, Tx. It is also known that at the time the review in question was posted, as well as when its authorship was changed to "reader from Riesel," William Dembski resided in Riesel, Tx (where he co-owned a barbecue stand as a silent partner). And, of course, it is known that William Dembski's literary output has been critiqued in detail in my book. In view of the above, one feature of the review by the "reader from Waco" etc., seems to be of a special interest. The reader from Waco, Riesel, etc., while disdainfully dismissing my book, recommends instead a book by William Dembski, which, according to the "reader," would respond to most of my critique.

Here is the relevant quotation from the review in question: "Especially recommended here are John Campbell and Steve Meyer's Darwinism, Design, and Public Education as well as Dembski's _The Design Revolution_, which answers many of Perakh's concerns."

Of course, despite the strong indication that the reader from Waco (or from Riesel) was not anybody else but our friend William Dembski, I would not mention this reasonable guess unless I had decisive evidence to this effect. The evidence had come to light because of a glitch on the Canadian version of Amazon.com. For a whole week, the real names of the reviewers who chose to hide their names happened to be revealed on that website. And surprise! The real name of the reader from Waco (or Riesel?) turned out to be... William Dembski (as if there was any doubt about it until then).

With this knowledge at hand, we can judge with confidence the real merits of the one-star review in question.. Dembski's "review" consists of two parts, neither of which referring to any specific points in my book. This "review" creates the impression that its author has not read the book he purportedly reviews.

One part of the "review" maintains that my book is bad because it was published by Prometheus Books, which is allegedly a notoriously atheistic publishing enterprise.

Dembski writes: "Prometheus Press (sic) is one of the most militantly atheistic and ideologically driven presses around." In fact, Prometheus Books has in its list of publications a variety of books covering a wide spectrum of topics and philosophical-religious world views. Many of these books have been authored by highly respected scholars.[4] In any case, whatever the merits of my publisher, a review of a book is supposed to reflect the merits or faults of the reviewed book rather than of the publishing house. Moreover, such a reproach from Dembski sounds quite odd given the fact that a considerable portion of his own output has been published by InterVarsity Press which, unlike Prometheus Books, is indeed known for its narrow scope of publications, all reflecting only a specifically Christian religious world view (InterVarsity Press is self-defined as an outlet of the Christian Leadership Ministries). It seems that Dembski should have been more cautious in selecting his negative comments, as this particular remark is like a boomerang hitting him more than the author of the reviewed book.

The second part of Dembski's review is just a self-promotional acclaim of his and of his cohorts' books, allegedly coming from an impartial "reader" but in fact composed by the author of the acclaimed book himself, hiding behind anonymity. This self-promotion to which Dembski resorted under cover of a supposed "reader" allows us to conclude that Dembski has a peculiar concept of intellectual integrity.

As to Dembski's "review" of my book, the conclusion is obvious: it contains nothing about my book as such and therefore can be dismissed as a non-consequential and unsubstantiated assault aimed at undermining the critique of his work without responding to the critique's substance.

Not recommended?

The reviewer who posted his "review" of my book to Amazon.com on January 14, 2004 and signed as "A reader" seems to have some problems with logic. A funny feature of his very short "review" is that he gave my book a "two-star" rating but concluded his review with the words "not recommended." If the book is so bad as to be not recommended, why not give it just one star?

As to the validity of the "reader's" critique, here is his main argument: " ...he [i.e. Perakh; MP] tries to undermine the work of Dembski and Behe by not so subtley [sic] equivocating [sic] their work with the work of Bible Coders and preachers." Perhaps this "reader" wanted to say that I have "not so subtly" cast doubts on Dembski's and Behe's work by somehow equating (if that is what he means by "equivocating") their arguments to those by unnamed "Bible coders and preachers." Sorry, dear "reader." You got it wrong. Nowhere did I attribute to Dembski or Behe the arguments of the proponents of the Bible code, whose papers and books have been discussed in part 3 of my book on their own merits and quite independently of Dembski's and Behe's output (discussed in part 1). Likewise, the arguments of Dembski and Behe are discussed in my book without any connection to the Bible code. As to the unnamed "preachers" I can only guess who you refer to. If "preachers" are meant to be the authors of the books asserting the compatibility of the Genesis story with the data of science which I discussed in part 2 of my book (which is separate from part 1 where Dembski's and Behe's work is discussed) there was no attempt on my part to obscure the difference between the opuses of those defenders of Bible inerrancy and ID advocates. Quite the contrary, the arguments of the two breeds of creationists are discussed clearly as two distinctive brands, each on its own merits.

I would be embarrassed if this "reader" had recommended my book.

Neither fair nor balanced

The title of this section reproduces the title of the "two-star" review of my book which appeared on Amazon.com on January 18, 2004 (and which is perhaps a reference to the motto of Fox News). Like the latest version of Dembski's quasi-review discussed in the preceding section, this review is also signed by a "reader," without any elaboration.

One of the perhaps most interesting peculiarities of this review is that it is a copy, word for word, of a review posted on the same day and also signed by anonymous "reader" but "reviewing" another book!

The other book is Creationism's Trojan Horse by Barbara Forrest and Paul R. Gross. The anonymous "reader" writes: "In the book 'Design Revolution: Answering the Toughest Questions About Intelligent Design' by William Dembski, Charles Colson, Dembski, a philosopher/mathematician who has been an important theorist for the intelligent design movement, handles a wide range of questions and objections that should give both fans and detractors of ID plenty to chew on."

Does this not indicate that the real goal of the anonymous "reader" was not to review my book but rather to propagandize Dembski's production? Moreover, the quoted sentence seems to allege that Dembski's opponents have so far not paid enough attention to Dembski's arguments. Of course, nothing can be farther from the truth. Dembski's literary output has been discussed in minute detail in many papers, books, and web posts, including my book where a discussion of Dembski's books and articles occupies over 100 pages. The "reader's" review contains not a single specific counter-argument addressing my critique of Dembski or any other part of my book– and this makes ironic his suggestion to "chew" Dembski's arguments, which have already been "chewed" much more than they deserve.

Like Dembski's review of December 22, 2003, this "reader's" "review" of January 18, 2004 says nothing of substance about my book and therefore also looks like it was written by somebody who has not even read my book which he purports to review.

The quasi-review in question appeared on Amazon.com when Demsbki's book praised by the nameless "reader" had not yet been released. Hence, either the nameless "reader" is a clairvoyant or perhaps he is the same self-admiring Dembski we are familiar with from the preceding "review." If, though, this "reader" is not Dembski himself but rather one of his close colleagues in the intelligent design enterprise, his/her effort aimed at both denigrating my book (without saying a single word about it actual contents) and praising instead Dembski's forthcoming output, disguising his/her propagandizing subterfuge as a "review" of my book, is still a trick which hardly is more respectful.

No wonder Dembski and Co are so unnerved by both Forrest-Gross's and my books that they resort to posting more than once the same anonymous boilerplate pseudo-reviews in an attempt to mislead visitors to the Amazon website.

Again, the conclusion is inevitable: the pseudo-review of January 18, 2004 by an anonymous "reader" can to be ignored as an act by some partisans of intelligent design who seem to interpret the concept of intellectual honesty in a peculiar manner.

"Skeptical scientist" makes an appearance

After the pseudo-review of January 18 by a "reader" appeared, there seemed to be a hiatus in the assaults upon my book for about eight months. Then in September 2004 a series of "one-star" reviews of my book were posted to Amazon.com within just a few days. Almost simultaneously a series of similar "one-star" reviews were posted about the anthology Why Intelligent Design Fails (edited by Matt Young and Taner Edis) where, among its thirteen contributors, my name appears in the bylines of two chapters.

In particular, there seems to be an odd similarity between the "review" of my book signed by a "Skeptical Sciencist" (sic) and some "reviews" of the anthology in question. In both cases, the "reviewers" have resorted to the same device – they posted lengthy texts which have no relation to the contents of either my book or of the anthology in question. In both cases, the posted texts of the reviews are incoherent and seem to have been designed only to enable their authors to mark the "reviewed" books with only one star. In both cases, the "reviewers" seem to be not familiar with the actual contents of either my book or of the anthology, but have filled the texts of their "reviews" with extraneous ruminations without even trying to make their texts in any way relevant to the discussed books or logically coherent in itself.

Look, for example, at the following quotation from the "review" by the "Skeptical Sciencist":

"It's not the adjectives that are the problem with these theoried phrasings, such as intelligent vs. unintelligent, targeted vs. nontargeted, mindful vs. mindless, but the descriptor nouns themselves that are the irreducible, irremediable problem.

Selection mechanism. Unsearching-engine. Designation process. Choice harvester. Opting criteria. Voting ballot-booth-box-tabulator-winner/loser/tie declarer. Game referee. Trial & Error scientist/know-hower. Experimentation laboratory. Picking as in or out, good or bad, functional or non-functional, beneficial to the organism or harmful, utility or non-utility or mal-utility. It's all about the initialization, organization and energizing of complexity, information and purposiveness. It's all about ONGOING CORRECT DECISIONMAKING and somehow knowing the difference that makes a difference - eventually, individually, cumulatively. And all somehow better than unprogrammed, undirected, unaimed-for, happenstanced results could achieve. Nature is the acknowledged pan-ingenuity factor of scientific faith system."

What is the meaning of the above words? I submit that there is none. No wonder another reviewer felt desirable to post a rebuttal of the pseudo-review by "Skeptical Sciencist" wherein she referred to it as "mumbo-jumbo." I believe this is a fair evaluation of the pseudo-review in question, whose author seems to be neither "skeptical" nor a scientist. Moreover, what is the relation of the quoted passage to the contents of my book? Again, I submit that there is none. Why, then, has the pseudo-skeptical pseudo-scientist who so pusillanimously shied away from revealing his name posted the quoted abracadabra as a supposed "review" of my book? What other reason could he/she have besides using Amazon's tolerance to hurl mud at my book by giving it one star?

The ID advocates seem to be unable to find reasonable arguments against the critique, such as suggested in my book and in the anthology edited by Young and Edis, if they resort to such meaningless diatribes as the above quoted opus by the supposed "skeptical scientist."

Salma talks about oxymoronic tests

Salma Shapiro's "review" was posted on September 20, 2004. She wrote, "It is fascinating in looking at these reviews that it needs a whole family: David, Helena and Alexander to stand in support of it (and other anti-ID books), thus loading up 5-star ratings from one household."

Having read Salma Shapiro's review (if this indeed is her name), I checked all the reviews of my book, both on Amazon.com and elsewhere and still have no idea what she is talking about. What family of three – David, Helena, and Alexander - tried "loading up 5-star rating" of my book? There are on the Amazon.com reviews by Alexander Eterman and Helena Eterman, the first posted in December 2003 and the second in September 2004. There are also two Davids among the authors of the reviews of my book at Amazon.com. One is David Turell who gave my book three stars, hence Salma could not refer to this David as somebody trying to push up "5-star rating." The other David gave only the initial of his surname as F, so he hardly could be assumed to belong to the same family as the two Etermans mentioned above. So the closest to the "family" referred to by Salma seems to be the pair of reviews signed by Alexander Eterman and Helena Eterman. The name of Alexander Eterman is well known – in particular he is the author of several articles posted to the Talk Reason website (www.talkreason.org). These articles deal with problems related to Judaic theology and show Eterman's wide knowledge of theology, history, and philosophy. If Alexander Eterman wished to review my book, which in his opinion deserves 5 stars, and has done so under his own name, he certainly has the right to do so without asking for approval from those pseudo-reviewers who hid their names. As to Helena Eterman, how does Salma know that she is part of Alexander's family rather than just having the same surname? Even if she is, what is the significance of that fact? Can't she have her own opinion and the right to let it be known? Unlike some other "reviewers" she has not used a pseudonym or anonymity, so her review has to be judged on its merits rather than hinting at alleged conspiracy to "load up" the rating of my book.

If the "family" of the Etermans has indeed posted their reviews only to "load up 5-star rating" wouldn't they rather use pseudonyms or remain anonymous like many authors of "one-star" reviews chose to do?

The very fact that they signed their posts with their real names points to a lack of collusion on their part – and in that their reviews differ favorably from some of those anonymous and pseudonymous negative reviews which have not invoked any protests from Salma Shapiro.

Furthermore, Salma Shapiro reproaches Alexander and Helena for criticizing other reviews instead of reviewing my book. First of all, this is not true regarding the review by Alexander Eterman, who did not write in his post anything about any other reviews but only about my book. Second, even though Helena Eterman has indeed written about the "review" by "Skeptical Sciencist," what wrong was with her arguing against the "mumbo-jumbo" offered by that "sciencist?" Has Salma Shapiro herself not referred to the reviews by Alexander Eterman and Helena Eterman in a post supposedly reviewing my book? If this was allowed Salma, why was it wrong for Helena?

Besides the sniping remark about the alleged "family" trying to "load up" the five-star rating of my book, Salma's "review" contains no notions casting any light upon the contents of my book. She recommends, instead of my book, a book by Jonathan Sarfati. Recommending some other book is OK, except for one odd side to Salma's recommendation. Sarfati (whose name and literary production has not been mentioned either in my book or in any other of my publications because I am not interested in his writing) is a propagandist of the biblical literal inerrancy, of the young-earth creationism variety. In comparison to Sarfati's production, the books of Dembski or Behe which I criticized in my book look like pinnacles of a quality research (of course, everything is relative, as, in my opinion, both Behe's and Dembski's books are in fact unsatisfactory and contain poorly substantiated concepts and arguments). Sarfati represents a narrow, strictly evangelical literalism many tenets of which, in particular, are inimical to the tenets of Judaism. On the other hand, Shapiro is a typical Jewish surname. This gives rise to the suspicion that Salma Shapiro is a pseudonym selected because it sounds Jewish thus providing a false picture of a wide front of unbiased readers of varying persuasions, all dismayed by my book.

The absence of any reference in such "reviews" to the actual contents of the reviewed book is apparently of no consequence from the creationist's viewpoint, as long as he/she can give the offending book a low rating.

About faith and nonintelligence

The title of this section is based on the title of the next "one-star review of my book which was posted to Amazon.com the same day (September 20, 2004) as the review by Salma Shapiro discussed in the previous section. The author of this review signed his name as Abel H.

Perhaps the best way to start discussing this review is to quote it almost in its entirety. Here it is:

"In trying to follow the reasoning here, the following questions came to my intelligence:
How could there be the development of a Natural Select Process before processing even existed, before development existed, before 'existed' existed?
How could there be Time from non-Time, Space from non-Space, Natural from non-Nature, Origination from non-Origination,
Physics from non-Physics?
Where does the mechanism of Selection arise from non-mechanism?
How does Absolute Scratch itself originate Recipes like DNA, Physical Laws from scratch? We've heard of Intelligent Creative
Chef with necessary implements, equipment, ingredients using a Recipe to bake edibles from scratch, but never imagined unintelligence, non-creativity, non-Chef without necessities formulating a Recipe or any useful edibility. This book means to suggest to rational readers: Scratch itself baked the Chef, Ingredients, Recipe, Mixing Bowl, Oven, Appetite, Nutrition, Taste, etc.?
How do Evolution and Volition, Necessity and Chance arise from Absolute Vacuum?"

What can the expressions such as "Absolute Scratch itself originate Recipes... from scratch, " "Origination from non-Origination," "before 'existed' existed?" or "non-Chef without necessities," etc, possibly mean? And what all that gobbledygook has to do with the contents of my book which Abel H. purports to review? It looks as though Abel H, like some other authors of the one-star "reviews," offered the above pseudo-sophisticated claptrap with the sole purpose of giving my book one star. If we distill from the quoted piffle its apparent gist, shrugging off its quasi-philosophical verbiage, it boils down to Abel's preconceived disagreement with the thesis of my book. As in the case of some other reviews discussed in the preceding sections, such a disagreement is fine in itself, but it is not sufficient reason to evaluate the reviewed book as bad – such an evaluation has weight only if it is supported by specific argumentation. Abel H. provided none (unless we construe his rhetorical questions about "mixing bowls," "appetite" etc, as arguments).

Perhaps an example may be helpful. I have reviewed more than one book on Amazon, signing my reviews with my real name. Among my reviews was one of the book by Del Ratzsch.[5] Needless to say, I don't share Ratzsch's views – he is one of the prominent "design theorists" whereas I am an opponent of "intelligent design." I disagree with Ratzsch's views in many ways. However, in my review of his book (which still can be seen at Amazon.com website though it was first posted a couple of years ago) I gave Ratzsch's book five stars! I did so because the mark given to a reviewed book is not a device to argue against the reviewed author's thesis (although such argumentation may be included in a review) but a reflection of the reviewer's opinion regarding the quality of the reviewed book's arguments with which the reviewer may disagree without denigrating the reviewed writer's effort. If the reviewer wants to argue against the writer's views then, to give the critique legitimacy, the reviewer has to offer specific counter-arguments rather than resorting to "one-star" rating plus rhetorical questions in a hardly comprehensible "philosophical" jargon.

A "school teacher" wonders

The next "one-star" review of my book is signed by "James Rockwell." Like most of the rest of one-star reviews, clicking on the button "see all my reviews" reveals that there seem to be no more reviews on Amazon.com posted by James Rockwell. This suggests that here we again have a case of a pseudonym used to provide the "reviewer" a free hand in writing whatever his/her fancy may be, with impunity.

Also as in the other one-star reviews, Rockwell shows no signs of having in fact read my book as he does not refer to any specific points discussed in it.

While short on argumentation, Rockwell's review is quite categorical. He writes, "In all my years as a high school teacher, I never thought I would encounter such lack of higher-critical thinking outside of a room full of students. But this book makes one wonder...."

I would rather say Rockwell's review makes one wonder what kind of a teacher he is as he seems not to realize that his opus is utterly irrelevant to the book he pretends to review. In the quoted sentence Rockwell hints at the author of the reviewed book being an incompetent fool incapable of a "higher-critical thinking" in which the high school teacher Rockwell (if he indeed is such) is supposedly much better versed. If this is so, Rockwell has succeeded in keeping his own expertise in "high-critical thinking" well concealed. His review contains no cogent arguments in any way related to the contents of my book, suggesting instead some nebulous notions about "micro vs. macro investigator in the ID search for the source of intelligibility in our universe." As to the substance of Rockwell's own notions, it is expressed as follows:

"My view is: as much as the details, math, explanations, ideology and illustrations the author uses, it's magnifying glass sort of data and evaluation on the forest floor. What's needed is a Big Picture Sweep of the canopy with focused binoculars to see if we're in the right jungle according to the maps. As the old saying goes: "What good are maps drawn from not being there? Get up and scope things out from Higher Air."

Well, I leave it to Mr. Rockwell to write a book wherein he would offer the "Big Picture Sweep" he favors. Perhaps he will even find a publisher interested in the virtues of Rockwell's eloquence and in comic values of his attitude. What, though, does it say about the contents of my book? Nothing. I can myself suggest a long list of points I have not discussed in my book, but listing them hardly says much about what in fact my book talks about.

Are anti-IDers on the defensive?

The "one-star" review" posted on September 27, 2004 and signed by "T.S.E." makes an odd impression. This reviewer writes, for example, that my "writing was well done and the arguments were quite lucid." He also states that my book is "valiantly" trying to make its points; if this is so, and if writing is well done and arguments lucid, it seems to suggest that my goal was successfully achieved - at least this is the conventional logic. Then why has T.S.E. gave the book just one star?

Contradicting himself, T.S.E. tries, using his own words, "to prove the improvable, establish the disestablished, demonstrate the undemonstrative, conclude the inconclusive" whatever these words may imply.

He also says, "the book is recommended," but adds a condition – "only as companion to Johnson's 'Darwin on Trial', and Dembski's 'Intelligent Design' and Behe's 'Darwin's Black Box' and other recent publications showing anti-IDers on the defensive trying to shore up Blind and Unintelligent forces at work to no purposeful end developing all that is thought to have purpose at this end of the spectrum of life."

Well, the books recommended by T.S.E, "as companion" to my book are exactly those subjected to a critical analysis in my book. Naturally, if I offered a critique of these books, readers were invited to check them on their own and therefore T.S.E.'s condition seems to be utterly superfluous. The question still remains: why one star? It is hard to avoid the conclusion that T.S.E. in all probability has not read my book and the sole purpose of his/her review was to push down the rating of my book by giving it one star. As to alleged "defensive" position of "anti-IDers," it exists only in T.S.E.'s imagination and betrays his being a member of the ID crowd whose sweet dream is to gain respectable status in the mainstream science. So far there are no signs of that happening any time soon.

Once again about oxymorons

This one-star review signed by "Max" is a rather lengthy discourse about many things except for the contents of my book. This reviewer writes first about probability; his notions are not related in any discernable way to those parts of my book where I discuss probability, hence there is nothing for me to argue about as far as that part of Max's review is concerned. Then he deviates into abstract ruminations about such concepts as "metaphoring" whatever this term means, and again, his remarks do not address any parts of my book but are just general notions which I see no reason to discuss, as they have little relation to any part of my discourse.

Max writes that my book "implodes just from the title and premises: UNintelligent Design. It acknowledges appearance tantamount to Design, equivalent to Design, intelligible as Design and labeled Design, but of course not the dictionary definition of Design. It's all a metaphor. A more accurate term for the theory would be Spontaneous Generation in Vacuo." All this is Max's own notion as none of it appears in my book. Max concludes, "UNintelligent Design is the ultimate Oxymoron of the 21st Century. What hath nonGod wrought?"

Whether my book "implodes" just by virtue of its title regardless of its contents, or, regardless of its title its contents are meaningful (as scores of other reviewers, many of them scientists of high stature, not to mention the authors of private messages I have received, seem to think) is an interesting point for discussion; in such a discussion the term "oxymoron" could perhaps indeed emerge, but more plausibly in regard to some statements by Max.

Are the nine reviewed posts unique?

Although in the preceding sections I discussed only the "one-star" and "two-star" reviews of my book, a similar picture emerges if we look up the reviews of some other books critical of the intelligent design '"theory," such as the already mentioned anthology Why Intelligent Design Fails (edited by Young and Edis), Creationism's Trojan Horse (by Forrest and Gross), and God, the Devil, and Darwin (by Niall Shanks).

I will briefly discuss now the negative reviews on the Amazon.com web site of the three books in question.


As of October 9, 2004, there are on the Amazon.com website 27 reviews of the anthology Why Intelligent Design Fails (edited by Matt Young and Taner Edis). Out of 27 reviews, 15 gave it five stars, and 12 – one star.

One of the "five-star" reviewers, Al Exvol, wrote, among other things, that "While a positive review may legitimately be of a general type without delving into a book's specifics, a negative review carries no weight unless it critically addresses specific notions in the discussed publication." This statement has invoked a sharp rebuttal by one of the "one-star" reviewers, who signed his post as A. Mollison Jr. I would like to comment on this point.

I share Exvol's opinion. Here is why. If a reader has a positive view of a book and wishes to announce it to other potential readers, he/she may not necessarily suggest new, additional arguments to those offered by the author of the recommended book. By expressing his/her positive opinion of a book, the reviewer asserts that he/she accepts the arguments of the reviewed author. These arguments have been already offered in the reviewed book and therefore need not be repeated in the review – every potential reader may turn to the source and see what these arguments are. This does not mean that a positive review must not contain argumentation. It may, but not necessarily so, and if it does not, it does not make the review illegitimate or meaningless – it states for the record that the reviewer shares the opinions of the reviewed author, while the argumentation favoring these opinions is already known and available for all to see.

Negative reviews have to meet different criteria. The "negative" reviewer rejects the reviewed author's opinion and finds his arguments faulty, either in their entirety or partially. Of course the reviewer may simply state his disagreement with the reviewed author, for the record. However, without specific counter-arguments a negative review carries little weight being nothing more than simply a statement of disagreement with the reviewed author, and such a disagreement is not convincing unless it is substantiated by a specific analysis of the reviewed work.

Therefore I find Mollison's rebuttal of Exvol's position lacking merit.

Since this essay seems to become rather long, I will discuss only one example of a negative review of the anthology in question.

The review by A. Mollison, Jr. seems a suitable example for my purpose. Mollison starts his review with an odd accusation of some of the readers who posted positive reviews of the anthology. He asserts that there are among the positive "five-star" reviews four reviews written by the same "guy" under four different pseudonyms. He does not point out which four reviews he has in mind, so there is no way to verify his accusation. Anyway, I don't know how one "guy" can post more than one review using different pseudonyms. When I open the Amazon.com website, it recognizes me as the visitor. When I post a review, Amazon knows which email address it comes from. I may not know all the tricks available to ingenious reviewers, so perhaps Mollison (which, according to Amazon, is a pseudonym as well) knows something I don't. If this is the case, perhaps he also knows who the "guy" is who used four pseudonyms, and if so, why does he not name that resourceful "guy"? I can imagine, though, that several reviews written by the same "guy" or "gal" may be posted with different signatures if this "guy" or "gal" asks his/her friends to post the reviews he/she has composed.

However, if this is the case, there is nothing illegitimate in it unless the "guy" or "gal" is in a position of superiority – like a professor asking his/her students, or a supervisor in a company asking his subordinates, to post the reviews he composed. As a professor myself, I can't imagine any professor risking his reputation and position in such a blatant manner. If, though, a reviewer has written several reviews and asked his friends and colleagues to post them, and the colleagues do it because they share the reviewer's views, and have the complete freedom to reject the suggested text, or to alter it to fit own views, or to post it as it is, there is little to complain about, and Mollison's lamentations about the alleged four "personas" all being the same reviewer, even it is correct (which is by no means clear) are immaterial. Moreover, even if some reviewer has indeed managed to post four positive reviews under different names (which is just Mollison's unsupported allegation) it does not even come close to the documented tricks employed by ID advocates. A good example is the "review" of my book by Dembski who used the review of my book on Amazon to propagandize his own book, hiding behind anonymity. Another example is the use of boilerplate reviews applied to different books. One such boilerplate review was posted by an anonymous "reader" twice – once "reviewing" my book and once again "reviewing" the book by Forrest and Gross (both examples discussed elsewhere in this essay). Obviously, if the same review is posted for two different books this points to a "reviewer" who has not read either of the two books and posted his "reviews" only to throw mud on the books he is scared by. The level of integrity of such reviewers and of the ID crowd they represent and defend seems to be perfectly exposed by such invidious tricks as using boilerplate reviews.

Anyway, if there is anybody to blame for tricks used by reviewers, it is Amazon which employs no filters, thus enabling anybody to post as reviews any drivel with impunity. Amazon's position is understandable. They are in the business of selling books. They are not concerned about the contents of the books they sell. From their standpoint, every device increasing sales is legitimate. The larger the number of reviews of a book, the more copies may be sold - as simple as that. Amazon has little concern about the reviews being positive. Negative reviews serve the same purpose, and when the "Readers' reviews" section holds a mix of both positive and negative reviews, it is, generally speaking, even better for sales than a bunch of only highly positive reviews. Perhaps that is why the appeals to Amazon to stop posting anonymous reviews fell on deaf ears.

Let us see what Mollison's arguments against the anthology under review are. He starts the substantive part of his review by the following unexpected admission, "The book itself admittedly is well done. No complaint there. Then why the lone star rating, you ask?" Indeed, this is a natural question. If the book is "well done" (hopefully Mollison does not mean it in the sense applied to steaks in eateries), why is it rated as low as giving it just one star?

Here we have two competing explanations. One, given by Mollison himself, is hardly convincing and not quite logical.

Explaining the one-star rating, Mollison writes, "Because it [the anthology. MP] assumes its points of contention - some valid, some invalid - are under its terms and conditions unanswerable and unassailable. But that is simply far from the case."

To anybody who has read the anthology in question, is clear that its 13 contributors made no such assumption in any shape, form, or manner. First of all, each of the 13 chapters has its own topic, approach, and sets of arguments, independent of other chapters. To paint all 13 chapters with one brush could only mean the reviewer either has not bother to read the anthology or had a goal quite separate from an unbiased evaluation of its merits.

Second, Mollison's explanation lacks logic. If the assumption attributed by Mollison to the authors of the anthology were indeed present in it, the book hardly could be referred to as "well done." If, though, the anthology was indeed "well done," it certainly must have offered better notions than the ridiculous assumption ascribed by Mollison to the 13 scientists who contributed to the anthology. Mollison has erected a straw man and then attacked it.

The alternative explanation of why the book that is "well done" was given by Mollison just one star is more plausible. It assumes that Mollison's very goal in posting a review was to give the anthology just one star, thus pushing down its overall rating. In pursuing that goal the contents of his review mattered little but rather served as a filler whose gist was irrelevant to the goal except for providing a more or less credible maquillage covering the real purpose of the post.

To fill the review with a semblance of real discussion, Mollison chooses just one paper in the collection as his target, wherein he assaults Matt Young's critique of analogies employed by Behe and Dembski. Mollison's arguments regurgitate the same worn out and often repeated references to "astronomically" small probabilities of spontaneous emergence of complex biological structures – arguments refuted many times before. He does not refer, though, to any specific arguments against intelligent design suggested in the reviewed anthology, as if these arguments do not exist. Perhaps Mollison's arguments sound convincing to himself and to other members of the ID crowd, but they do nothing to rebut the specific, detailed, and fact-based arguments by the 13 authors of the anthology in question.

A very telling point in Mollison's review is the following statement, "Just wait for Behe's and Dembski's next books." I believe this statement cinches the matter – how familiar is this promise to answer all questions and solve all problems in the next opus by Dembski – the "Isaac Newton of information theory" (as ID defender Rob Koons referred to Dembski) resorts to such promises each time he deigns to react to a critique of his latest publication. This habit of Dembski and Co. has been documented in Forrest and Gross's book Creationism's Trojan Horse. We know, however, that when the promised next book appears we find there little new, but rather the same endlessly recycled mantras about astronomical improbabilities, complex specified information, the Explanatory Filter, mousetraps, the NFL theorems allegedly prohibiting evolution, the non-existing "low of the conservation of information," and all that panoply of crank science familiar from the preceding opuses by the ID proponents.

Since Mollison took the liberty of accusing four "personas" of being the same "guy," I feel entitled to my own guess. The promise "to get" the critics in the next books by Dembski and Johnson makes it seem plausible that he is closely connected to the denizens of the Discovery Institute's amusingly named Center for Culture and Science.

Quasi-reviews of Forrest and Gross's book

As of October 9, 2004, there are on the Amazon.com website 22 reviews of the book Creationism's Trojan Horse by Barbara Forrest and Paul R. Gross. Among them 12 reviews give the book 5 stars, 3 reviews give it 4 stars, 2 reviews give it 3 stars, 1 review gives it 2 stars and 4 reviews give it 1 star.

Perhaps the most interesting item in that list of reviews is a "review" posted on January 18, 2004 and signed by an anonymous "reader." The interest here is not in the gist of that "review" since it is irrelevant to the contents of the book. It is interesting and telltale because it is an exact copy, word for word, of a review of my book, discussed previously in this essay. The title of these two indistinguishable "reviews" is in both cases "Neither Fair Nor Balanced," and both were posted on the same date. Needless to say, a boilerplate review which is applied to two different books does not require reading the supposedly "reviewed" books. The only purpose of posting such boilerplate pieces of mud is to push down the rating of the "reviewed" books thus possibly sabotaging their sale. Apparently Amazon sees it differently, adhering to the principle that there is no bad publicity, so the larger the number of reviews, the better for sales, regardless of whether the reviews are positive or negative. Anyway, having these two boilerplate copies of the same piece posted is quite educational, as it testifies to the underhanded methods the ID crowd resorts to in their feverish fight against science.

The rest of the negative reviews of Forrest & Gross's book are the familiar attempts to smear the authors' well documented exposure of the ID movement and its "Wedge" strategy by accusing them of promoting "conspiracy" theories. These accusations are substantiated about as credibly as in the boilerplate review discussed above, which is not at all.

Niall Shanks under fire

Although Niall Shank's book God, the Devil, and Darwin was published almost simultaneously with my book and with that by Forrest and Gross, only 14 readers have so far (October 9, 2004) chosen to review it on Amazon.com website. Out of 14 reviews, 6 give the book 5 stars, 1 gives it 3 stars and 7 reviews give it just one star.

However, the sheer arithmetic tells little about the impact of that book upon the readership. To explain what I mean, I will present here copies of just two "one-star" reviews which speak for themselves.

Here is one of the reviews in question:
"Evolution Gone Bad
, October 6, 2004

(EASTON, PA United States) - See all my reviews

This truly mean-spirited book illustrates the evolution of Darwin's theory into Darwin's dogma."

The only commendable feature of this "review" is that its author, unlike most other detractors of the anti-ID books, signed his post by his real name. Otherwise, it is just an expression of a personal belief not supported by any quotations or specific arguments. For anybody who has at least briefly perused Shanks's book is obvious that the epithet "mean-spirited" is a deliberate distortion of the book's contents.

Shanks offers a multitude of data from science, which testify against the tenets of intelligent design. What is mean-spirited in describing Bθnard cells and Belousov-Zhabotinski reaction which demonstrate the spontaneous self-organization observed in nature? What is mean-spirited in the analysis of the role of the 2nd law of thermodynamics in evolution? Shanks book is written in calm and restrained language throughout, is void of personal attacks or insinuations, so the term "mean-spirited" seems to fit much better the meaningless epistle by Reese.

As to the alleged evolution of Darwin's theory into Darwin's dogma, obviously Mr. Reese is uninformed about the lively discussions among evolutionary biologists reflected in thousands of papers in biological journals where the only criterion for coming to a conclusion is factual evidence. With such an obviously meager ken of the actual situation in biology, for "reviewers" like Reese the only chance to be heard is to use the omnivorous character of the Amazon.com website.

The other "review" of Shanks's book which I will quote is, however, even more remarkable. Here it is:

"Give it a rest Perakh, June 3, 2004
"obrienr10" (Santa Barbara, CA) - See all my reviews

Perakh's itch for disputation and vituperative opining is matched only by his unfounded arrogance and his unhealthy fixation with William Dembski (I recommend more time outdoors; it might ease the choleric disposition).

Regarding the reviewer from Ann Arbor, the demands that he append his identity are pure pedantry. These are amazon blurbs, not formal literature."

This review is a real pearl. Remember that it is supposed to be a review of Shanks's book! Isn't it funny that this supposed review does not even mention Shanks's book or is in any way related to it. Instead it is a spiteful personal assault on me. Since this post has nothing to do with Shanks's book, its purpose, besides insulting me, was obviously only to push down the rating of Shanks's book. Therefore there seems to be a good reason not to attach any significance to the set of negative reviews of Shanks's book – they do not reflect the book's actual merits but are rather expressions of their authors' visceral animosity to Shank's thesis, an animosity which is probably even more spurred by Dawkins's eloquent foreword to that book.

As to the quoted "review," the full name of this reviewer became known after he posted a long series of comments to Panda's Thumb (PT) weblog,[6] where he used the same email address but openly signed his posts as Robert O'Brien. Like the quoted "review," O'Brien's comments on Panda's Thumb were of the same type – full of personal insults and short on substance.

There was once on the PT blog a discussion of certain mathematical concepts including the so called Kantorovich metrics. In his usual disdainful style, using quite rude language, O'Brien claimed that all the contributors to PT were fools with a low status in science and/or mathematics, while he was a student of the prominent mathematician Rachev who, in turn, was a student of a Nobel laureate, the famous Soviet mathematician Kantorovich, the author of the Kantorovich metrics. One of the contributors to PT suggested to O'Brien, as to a supposed specialist in this matter, that he post to PT an explanation of the Kantorovich metrics. The effect was amusing – soon the name of O'Brien whose numerous vituperative comments until then were emerging on PT day in and day out, ceased appearing on the PT blog.

It is good that Amazon is so omnivorous and keeps on its website O'Brien's spiteful assault on me in the form of a supposed review of Shanks's book - it is a testimony to what kind of defenders are found in the ranks of the ID's fighting force.


The authors of the negative reviews are entitled to their opinions and I'd happily appreciate their input. The "one-star" and "two-star" reviews of my book, however, clearly belong in a special category. These nine "reviewers" as well as many of those "reviewers" who pounced upon the other three books discussed in this essay, most probably have not read the reviewed books since their 'reviews" contain no specific references to any points discussed in the books in question. Some of them – as the review by Dembski and by another anonymous "reader" – were obviously posted with a two-fold goal. First, to hurl mud at my book thus undermining its possible impact, and second, to propagandize instead their own output, in the case of Dembski's "review" doing that under disguise of a supposedly impartial disinterested observer.

I must stress that I tend to dismiss the "one-star" or "two-star" reviews not because they gave my book just one or only two stars. I would gladly appreciate any reviews regardless of the number of stars if they contained at least a brief discussion of substance relevant to my thesis. In fact most of the negative reviews in question are useless as they do not at all relate to the contents of the reviewed books. Why then have many readers asserted on Amazon that they found the reviews in question helpful? The answer seems to be obvious – Amazon allows complete freedom and anonymity to whoever chooses to click the button asserting this or that opinion. There is little doubt that the ID crew has organized a concerted effort urging their cohorts and admirers to write "one-star" reviews of the books they feel threatened by, and the qualifications required for posting such a review do not entail having actually read the attacked books. If, though, a particular ID crew member or an admirer had difficulties writing a review, he/she was invited to at least click the button asserting that a review of his/her colleague is helpful. In a "cultural war" where, as Dembski has put it, the "Glory of God" is at stake,[1] all means are acceptable, regardless of the norms of intellectual decency.


[1]On March 7, 2004 Dembski gave a talk at the Baptist Fellowship Church in Waco, TX. The lecture was taped and the tape is available on request. Among other things, Dembski said in that lecture, "When you are attributing the wonders of nature to these mindless material mechanisms, God's glory is getting robbed." He continued, "And so there is a cultural war here. Ultimately I want to see God get the credit for what he's done -- and he's not getting it."

[2]The intention of "winning" the "cultural war" regardless of means was, for example implied by Dembski's assertion that the ID proponents will "never capitulate" to their opponents, which could be seen in his untitled post at www.arn.org/cgi-bin/ubb/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic;f13;t=000483 accessed December 26, 2002. It has since then been removed and seems not to be available any longer unless it is re-posted elsewhere.

[3] The review of my book of January 21, 2004, on Campus Inquirer can be seen at (www.campusfreethought.org/inquirer/2004.01.21.htm#a10; accessed on October 8, 2004.

[4] Prometheus Books is a publishing house located in Amherst, NY. Since its founding in 1969 it has published over 3,000 books and continues to do so at the rate of about 110 new titles annually. The categories of books it publishes include popular science, science and the paranormal, contemporary issues, social science and current events, children's fiction and non-fiction, history, religion and politics, philosophy, humanism, Islamic studies, Jewish studies, biblical criticism, psychology, women's issues, health, self-help, sexuality, reference, and more. Here are some randomly selected titles of books from its most recent (Fall 2004 – Winter 2005) catalog: Barry Parker, Albert Einstein's Vision (page 3); Warren Ashby, A Comprehensive History of Western Ethics (page 9); Michael R. King and Gregory M. Cooper, Who Killed King Tut? (page 13); Isaac Asimov, It's Been a Good Life (page 17); Andrew R. Thomas, Aviation Insecurity (page 25); Anwar Hekmat, Women and the Koran (page 33); Milton D. Heifetz, Ethics in Medicine (page 38); Steve Allen, Meeting of Minds (page 42); Aristotle, The Metaphysics (page 50); Rene Descartes, Discourse on Method and The Meditations (page 50); Siegfried Mandel, Nietzsche and the Jews (page 66); Raye Linne Dippel and J. Thomas Hutton, Caring For the Alzheimer Patient (page 74); James Christopher, Escape From Nicotine Country (page 80), etc. I challenge Dembski to provide a similar random selection of titles from the catalog of InterVarsity Press which has published most of his books. Unlike Prometheus Books, with its wide range of topics, authors, and philosophical attitudes, InterVarsity Press is indeed a very parochial publisher with an ideologically restricted scope of publications all expounding the narrow evangelical world view. This shows the abject fallacy of Dembski's disdainful reference to Prometheus "Press" (sic). As a devout Christian, Dembski should be familiar with the parable about noticing a straw in a neighbor's eye but missing a log in one's own eye. I feel quite comfortable with being published by the same publisher that also published books by Aristotle, Hegel, Descartes, Gardner, and Asimov.

[5] Del Ratzsch, Nature, Design and Science. NY: State University of New York Press, 2001.

[6] Panda's Thumb (PT) is very popular weblog at www.pandasthumb.org/ . While its title is in a reference to the well known book by Steven Jay Gould and, accordingly, its main goal is defending evolutionary biology against pseudo-scientific attacks from creationists and their allies of various brands, in fact the material on that blog covers a wide range of topics. It consists, first, of essays posted by the members of a group of contributors which includes biologists, physicists, mathematicians, philosophers, lawyers, etc., and, second, of comments to the posted essays which can be posted by every visitor. According to the data by Alexa, PT is one of the most visited blogs on the web, and the number of comments accompanying its essays sometimes is in hundreds. These comments include many from creationists who obviously watch PT closely. While the administrators of PT display a considerable tolerance allowing the writers of comments sometimes quite sharp assaults on the posted essay, in those cases when the comments become too malicious, off-color, or immaterial, they may be transferred to the special subdivision of this blog named Bathroom Wall.

URL: http://www.talkreason.org/articles/reviews.cfm

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Trial date set in evolution textbook case


Posted on Wed, Oct. 27, 2004

Associated Press

ATLANTA - A trial date has been set for a lawsuit seeking to have Cobb County remove disclaimers about evolution from its science textbooks.

The case will be heard in U.S. District Court in Atlanta on Nov. 8, attorneys who sued the system to have the stickers removed announced Wednesday.

In the suit, Selman vs. Cobb County Board of Education, the lawyers claim that the placement of the stickers restricts the teaching of evolution, promotes and requires the teaching of creationism and discriminates against particular religions.

The disputed sticker, placed on the inside front cover of Cobb County science books in 2002, says: "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered."

A federal judge ruled in April that the case should go to trial.

The suburban Atlanta district became the center of national attention last September when its school board unanimously approved a policy on evolution that allowed science teachers to include "disputed views" on the origin of man.

Local PA School Board Votes to Teach Intelligent Design

Take Action!

School Board of the Dover Area School District in Pennsylvania Votes to Include Intelligent Design in the Science Curriculum

Chris Mooney discusses the further encroachments of anti-evolution pseudoscience in the science classroom in his latest "Doubt and About" column for CSICOP (October 26, 2004, see http://www.csicop.org/doubtandabout/anti-evolution/).

Last week, the Dover Area School Board, with responsibility for a school district in southern Pennsylvania, did something extraordinary. By a six to three vote, the board added the following to the district's biology curriculum:

"Students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin's Theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design. Note: Origins of life will not be taught."

Both sides in the interminable dispute over the teaching of evolution in our nation's public schools agree that this language appears to represent the first time that any state or locality has specifically mandated the teaching of "intelligent design," or ID, alongside evolution. In fact, the Dover Area has gone farther than even ID proponents at Seattle's Discovery Institute recommend, and could well face a First Amendment lawsuit as a consequence.

The focus of the evolution battle now shifts to Dover, for obvious reasons. But developments in Pennsylvania merely represent the leading front in the ever-expanding fight over the teaching of evolution today. Thanks largely to the growing influence of the Intelligent Design movement, we seem on the verge of a flare-up not seen since the "creation science" conflagration of the 1970s and 1980s.

Speak up now and tell the Dover School Board that Intelligent Design pseudoscience has no place in the science classroom.

Send a letter to the following decision maker(s):
Dover Area School District Board President Alan Bonsell

Below is the sample letter:

Subject: Intelligent Design Has No Place in Science Curriculum

Dear [decision maker name inserted here],

The school board of the Dover Area School District should reverse its decision to include "Intelligent Design" (ID) in its biology curriculum as soon as possible.

Intelligent Design is not a scientific theory. It fails the criteria for a real scientific theory laid out in the 1982 Supreme Court decision, McLean vs. Arkansas Board of Education, namely that real science is: (1) guided by natural - physical or biological - law; (2) explanatory by reference to natural law; (3) testable against the empirical world; (4) tentative in its conclusions; and (5) falsifiable, i.e., makes predictions that can be tested by observation.

Intelligent Design is a philosophical and theological position based on the misrepresentation of evolution as a "contested" theory. In fact, the theory of evolution is accepted with the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community.

Teaching ID to the students of the Dover Area School District and giving them the impression that the theory of evolution through natural selection is somehow "controversial" in the scientific community is preparing them for a lifetime of uninformed ignorance.

The Dover Area School Board members should be ashamed of themselves for jeopardizing the education of the students in their care.


[Your Name]



Promised Legal Review on Creationist Book Is Shelved

Washington, DC — The Bush Administration has decided that it will stand by its approval for a book claiming the Grand Canyon was created by Noah's flood rather than by geologic forces, according to internal documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

Despite telling members of Congress and the public that the legality and appropriateness of the National Park Service offering a creationist book for sale at Grand Canyon museums and bookstores was "under review at the national level by several offices," no such review took place, according to materials obtained by PEER under the Freedom of Information Act. Instead, the real agency position was expressed by NPS spokesperson Elaine Sevy as quoted in the Baptist Press News:

"Now that the book has become quite popular, we don't want to remove it."

In August of 2003, Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent Joe Alston attempted to block the sale of Grand Canyon: A Different View, by Tom Vail, a book explaining how the park's central feature developed on a biblical rather than an evolutionary time scale. NPS Headquarters, however, intervened and overruled Alston. To quiet the resulting furor, NPS Chief of Communications David Barna told reporters that there would be a high-level policy review, distributing talking points stating: "We hope to have a final decision in February [2004]." In fact, the promised review never occurred –

"Promoting creationism in our national parks is just as wrong as promoting it in our public schools," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, "If the Bush Administration is using public resources for pandering to Christian fundamentalists, it should at least have the decency to tell the truth about it."

The creationist book is not the only religious controversy at Grand Canyon National Park. One week prior to the approved sale of Grand Canyon: A Different View, NPS Deputy Director Donald Murphy ordered that bronze plaques bearing Psalm verses be returned and reinstalled at canyon overlooks. Superintendent Alston had removed the bronze plaques on legal advice from Interior Department solicitors. Murphy also wrote a letter of apology to the plaques' sponsors, the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary. PEER has collected other instances of what it calls the Bush Administration's "Faith-Based Parks" agenda.

The Planets Have Made Up Their Mind: Kerry Wins


Fri Oct 29,11:05 AM ET

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Surveys in the United States may be showing the race for president as too close to call but top Indian astrologers say the planets have clearly made up their mind: John Kerry (news - web sites) will win.

Planets governing President Bush (news - web sites) are eclipsed and in an uncomfortable position, making his tenure controversial and his re-election bid unsuccessful, the soothsayers said on Friday, four days before the vote.

On the other hand, the planets of Democratic challenger Senator John Kerry were in the ascendant, ensuring him success in competitions.

"Saturn, which is the lord of health and fortune for President Bush, has been eclipsed by the Sun, which is unfortunate and gives him a clear defeat," Lachhman Das Madan, editor of a popular astrology magazine, told Reuters.

"Kerry will win," said Madan, who is also known as "the emperor of astrologers." "It is cosmic writ that George W. Bush cannot become president of United States again."

Ajai Bhambi, a senior astrologer and author of several books on the science of predictions, agreed.

"Kerry is likely to beat Bush in the final verdict," he told the New Indian Express newspaper.

Bejan Daruwalla, another top astrologer, told Reuters he had yet to calculate who would win Tuesday's election. But Bush, even if he won, would not be allowed by his planets to complete a full term, he said.

Astrology is extremely popular in India and many top politicians, businessmen and movie stars consult astrologers before taking important decisions.

Tuesday's vote is forecast to be one of the closest in American history. A Reuters/Zogby poll showed on Thursday that Bush was leading Kerry by 48 to 46 percent but the lead was well within the poll's margin of error.

Retired Professor Hunts Ghosts in Tenn.


JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. - Halloween isn't the only time ghosts and spirits haunt parts of Tennessee. Nancy Acuff should know. The retired East Tennessee State University professor has investigated many sightings in the region and helped people understand why places might be haunted.

In time for the spooky holiday, Acuff recalled some of her most interesting hunts for haunts.

A Jonesborough man called Acuff once and told her his house was haunted. "He woke up one morning to find the image of a dead, bloody child on the floor beside his bed; very traumatic," Acuff said.

"Sometime later, while watching television one night, he said he saw the image of two turn-of-the-century-dressed families walk through his house." Acuff told the man to set up a video camera in the hallway to try to capture the image. Acuff and the man reviewed the video and saw what appeared to be a globe of light at first, followed by the shadows of a man, a woman and two children.

Then out of nowhere a voice shouted, "What are all these ghosts doing here?"

"The gentleman almost fainted when we heard that voice," she said. "The voice, he said, was the voice of his late wife, who had died of cancer a while back."

Acuff found evidence that a small child had been killed on a road near the house to explain the image the man saw.

Acuff said a church was once located near the man's house, and she believes the ghosts were walking to the church.

After Acuff found some explanations, the man told her the ghostly images stopped appearing.

There have been other ghostly sightings reported in Jonesborough. The image of "Parson" Brownlow, a Methodist minister, founder of a newspaper in Jonesborough, governor of Tennessee immediately after the Civil War and later a U.S. Senator, has been seen walking the Jonesborough cemetery on some nights.

"He was a real fire-and-brimstone type of minister," Acuff said. "The thing that is puzzling is why his ghostly image has been seen here. He is buried in Knoxville."

Some believe one of his wives is buried there. Others think Brownlow buried five to six people at a time in graves at the cemetery after they died of typhoid or cholera.

Ghosts and spirits of dead people are not to blame for all hauntings. Acuff investigated another freaky episode she attributed to a doppelganger, a German word that means "double walker" and refers to an image or action of a person still alive.

A Johnson City woman, who Acuff described as intelligent and well-informed, told her that on certain holidays, birthdays or family gatherings she would come home and find her normally neat closet in disarray.

Acuff delved into the relationships in the woman's family to find an answer to the disturbance.

The woman's mother-in-law had Alzheimer's disease (news - web sites) and was living in a nursing home. The woman's husband never went to see his mother or call her because he regarded her as dead.

As Acuff tells it, after the family visited the nursing home and told the mother how concerned they were about her, the closet disturbances stopped.

Information from: Johnson City Press, http://www.johnsoncitypress.com

Saturday, October 30, 2004


Metroplex Institute of Origin Science

Hear Brian Thomas Present:

Which Worldview?
How to discern which underlying assumptions are correct

Brian Thomas has a Master of Science degree in Biotechnology from Stephen F. Austin State University. He teaches high school and college Biology at Ovilla Christian School located about 20 miles south of Dallas in Ovilla, Texas. He also serves as Research Assistant and staff writer for the Creation Evidence Museum.

Mr. Thomas will answer questions like these: How do you really know something is true? What effects do worldviews have on science or origin science? Which bias is the best bias with which to be biased? He will also explore how to refute common arguments like, "That's true for you, but not for me." This presentation will help provide you with a more solid philosophical foundation for life.

Vote First, Then We'll See You At MIOS!

Bunky Auditorium
Medical Office Building
2126 Research Row, Dallas, TX

Tuesday, November 2nd, 7:30 PM

Evolution education update: National Geographic, Grand Canyon again, and Steve 500

The new issue of National Geographic asks, "Was Darwin Wrong?"; a former director of the NPS expresses concern about the sale of a creationist book in Grand Canyon National Park bookstores; and the Steveometer reachs the 500 mark.


The cover story in the November 2004 issue of National Geographic, by the acclaimed science writer David Quammen, is entitled "Was Darwin Wrong?" And, of course, the answer is no. In his thirty-three-page essay, accompanied by the sort of splendid photography for which National Geographic is famous, Quammen argues, "Evolution is both a beautiful concept and an important one, more crucial nowadays to human welfare, medical science, and to our understanding of the world than ever before. It's also deeply persuasive -- a theory you can take to the bank. The essential points are slightly more complicated than most people assume, but not so complicated that they can't be comprehended by any attentive person. Furthermore, the supporting evidence is abundant, various, ever increasing, solidly interconnected, and easily available in museums, popular books, textbooks, and a mountainous accumulation of peer-reviewed scientific studies. No one needs to, and no one should, accept evolution merely as a matter of faith."

For excerpts, as well as extra features such as field notes, links, and a bibliography, visit:


Interviewed by The New York Times, Roger Kennedy, a former director of the National Park Service, expressed concern about the presence of the young-earth creationist anthology Grand Canyon: A Different View in the NPS-supervised bookstores in Grand Canyon National Park. Referring to the fact that many visitors to the park will assume that any book sold in the bookstores are approved by the NPS, he remarked: "That's the problem ... and we need to pay attention to it." Grand Canyon: A Different View continues to be sold at the park's bookstores, pending the completion of a legal policy review. According to a report in the Washington Post, the review was originally expected to be completed by February 2004, but there is now no deadline. Asked by the Times to describe the review process and explain the delay, a NPS spokesperson said only, "It's resting with the solicitor's office."

To read the story in the Times (registration required), visit:

For a story on the controversy from a recent issue of Reports of the NCSE, visit:



Project Steve -- NCSE's exercise in poking fun at the lists of "scientists who doubt evolution" promulgated by antievolutionist groups -- continues apace, with the recent addition of the 508th scientist named Steve who agrees that:

Evolution is a vital, well-supported, unifying principle of the biological sciences, and the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the idea that all living things share a common ancestry. Although there are legitimate debates about the patterns and processes of evolution, there is no serious scientific doubt that evolution occurred or that natural selection is a major mechanism in its occurrence. It is scientifically inappropriate and pedagogically irresponsible for creationist pseudoscience, including but not limited to "intelligent design," to be introduced into the science curricula of our nation's public schools.

Like their predecessors, the 288 Steves to join since the initial announcement of Project Steve are a distinguished group whose public support for evolution education we are honored to be able to announce.

If you're not familiar with Project Steve already, or if you want to relive the memories, visit the Project Steve section of NCSE's web site:

Thanks for reading! And as always, be sure to consult NCSE's web site: http://www.ncseweb.org where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and threats to it.


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

Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism is now available.

Evolve This


Is there an alternative to the theory of evolution? (Or: Why people who think so are wrong, misguided and dangerous.)

by Steven Novella, M.D - October 28, 2004

There are different versions of the dangerous error known as creationism. "Young earth" creationists believe the world was created ten thousand years ago in six days; others gallantly admit the earth is older. But all creationists deny one scientific fact: Life on earth is the product of evolution, slow change over time brought about primarily by natural selection acting on variation.

There are a lot of these people. According to a 2001 Gallup poll, 47 percent of all Americans accept a strict creationist view, and only 12 percent accept a strict scientific view of evolution. And the creationists have tried--with some success--to get their views inserted in school curricula across the country, in states like Kansas and Georgia. This despite the fact that nearly all scientists with a specialty in the natural sciences--about 98 percent of them--accept evolution as an established fact.

Two questions, then: Why the difference between public and scientific opinion? And why should we care?

There is an ongoing creationism vs. evolution controversy--but on school committees, not among scientists. Almost all scientists agree that there is an overwhelming consilience of evidence for evolution--from fossils, genetics, developmental biology, population studies, biochemistry, and anatomy. There is also evidence that makes sense only in light of evolution, like fossilized early whales with legs and the latent ability of chickens to grow teeth.

The controversy goes back over a century. After Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species in 1859, most scientists were soon convinced, but there was strong religious opposition. States wrote laws against the teaching of evolution, and some of the laws remained on the books as late as the 1960s. But in the '70s and '80s, fearing that they were losing the battle with science, creationists changed their tactics: They would not try to outlaw evolution, just try to win "equal time" for creationism. Under the banner of "fairness" they argued that both "models" (they did not use the term "theory") of origins should be taught to students, who could then make up their own minds.

To make their religious faith seem more scientific, creationists came up with

Intelligent Design

. The central argument of ID is that life displays structures that are "irreducibly complex," which means structures that could not carry out their current function if they were any simpler--and since evolution requires that they have passed through simpler stages, they could not have evolved.

For example, ID proponent Michael Behe argues that the flagella of the single-celled paramecium--the tail-like motor that it uses to propel itself through water--could not function if any of its pieces were missing. This "irreducibly complex" argument, however, was shot down long ago by evolutionists who noted that a complex structure could have evolved from a simpler structure that served a function different from and simpler than its current purpose. A flagellum did not have to evolve to function as a motor; it could have evolved from a simple food gathering appendage. Intelligent Design proponents have no answer to this fatal criticism of their core claim.

But back to the real controversy: Why should we care about what our children are taught about science? In a world increasingly ruled by science and technology, the benefits of having a scientifically literate voting population and workforce should be obvious. Furthermore, more important than teaching the current findings of science--what scientists currently think is true--is teaching how science works. Intelligent Design should not be taught as science in the public schools because it is not science. For example, ID cannot state its hypotheses in a way that can be tested by observation and proven false. The wizards of ID distort the process of science.

The sad fact is, creationists have been successful in making evolution publicly controversial even though no scientific controversy exists. They have spooked textbook companies into removing the "e" word from their texts, or watering down the treatment of evolution. It is no wonder that public opinion differs so much from scientific opinion: Creationists have been successful in destroying good science education. They have created the public ignorance they now exploit to further their cause.

But here's a useful principle: The scientific community, not politicians, should determine what is proper science. People trained in laboratories, not seminaries, should be trusted on questions of the origin of species. Especially in a world where technology is a matter of national security, a world in which education is the key to defeating poverty and terrorism alike, we owe it to ourselves to heed scientists, not snake-oil salesmen.

Matthew's naked ghost chase


Matthew McConaughey says he chased a ghost around his Hollywood home naked.

The actor, who is rumoured to be romancing his Sahara co-star Penelope Cruz, freaked out when he saw what he thought was the spirit of a woman in his new Hollywood Hills home.

Matthew, who chased the ghost with a baseball bat, claims he has now made friends with the phantom, who he has named Madame Blue, reports Femalefirst.com.

He explained: "She's a cool ghost. Maybe being nude all the time is why we get along."

Matthew is renowned for his love of stripping off - in 1999, police raided the actor's home after noise complaints from neighbours and discovered him playing bongos in the nude.

Scientology Urges Defeat of Prop. 63


By Evan Halper and Nancy Vogel, Times Staff Writers

As election campaigns head into the last weekend and candidates crisscross the state, activists of all stripes are busy.

The proposition that would tax Californians who earn more than $1 million per year to pay for mental-health programs has come under attack from the Church of Scientology. Democrats accused the Republican Party of launching a racist attack campaign against an Assembly candidate from the Central Valley. And campaign analysts reported that more money has been spent on ballot measure campaigns in this election than in any other in California history.

In a mass mailing that reached voters across the state, the Scientologists painted Proposition 63 as a boondoggle for the "same psycho-pharma racket whose proliferation of mind-altering, violence-inducing drugs on our schoolchildren in recent decades has fueled the explosion of school violence fatalities."

It was the first major campaign attack on the initiative. Supporters of the measure suggested the Scientologists' mailing was a blatant violation of campaign law. The Scientology organization did not report the production and mailing of the eight-page Freedom newsletter to campaign finance authorities.

"Clearly this publication was sent to more than just their membership," said Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), who is leading the campaign for Proposition 63 and received one of the mailers himself. "We think the public has a right to know who paid for it."

The newsletter includes a photograph of a funeral of a victim from the Columbine school shooting along with warnings that passage of Proposition 63 could result in more school shootings. It also states that criminal behavior among psychiatrists has spiked 1700% over the last 20 years.

Tom Paquette, the newsletter's editor, said the report was consistent with what his newsletter has been publishing for years. He said the newsletter, which has a circulation of 200,000, was no different from any other newspaper or magazine that expresses opinions about an issue in its pages.

"Our constitutional rights stand just like those of the Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor or any other newspaper," he said.

Ghost hunters reach a higher plane with the help of technology


05:54 PM CDT on Friday, October 29, 2004

By ALINE McKENZIE / The Dallas Morning News

Respectable ghosts used to be content to float around in a diaphanous shroud or to rattle a few chains.

Tools of the trade

Digital electromagnetic field recorder (above), about $270.

Advantage: Accurate and good for background readings.

Disadvantages: Hard to read in the dark and can miss quick spikes in the field.

Digital Geiger counter (below), about $370:

Advantage: Sensitive to radiation, which generally doesn't change from man-made phenomena.

Disadvantages: Very rarely get changes in reading; still experimental for use in ghost hunting.

Digital camera, about $450:

Advantages: Can see pictures right away; pictures can be downloaded to computer; easy to see in dark.

Disadvantages: Can't easily add filters or adapters to see, for example, into infrared region.

Digital tape recorder, about $120:

Advantage: Can download data to computer for analysis.

Disadvantages: Files take up large amounts of computer storage space; analysis requires good knowledge of audio technology.

Multi-detector probe (above), hand-held unit for measuring electromagnetic fields, about $110:

Advantage: Sensitive; uses lights rather than digital reading, so easy to see in the dark.

Disadvantages: Difficult to learn to use; data can't be downloaded to computer.

Motion detector, about $50:

Advantages: Measures how far away a moving object is; data can be downloaded to computer.

Disadvantages: Limited range; susceptible to false readings from wind.

Interface, takes data from measuring probes and feeds them to computer, about $300.

Advantage: Allows multiple readings to be sent to computer.

Disadvantage: Unwieldy.

SPECTRE, program for recording and analyzing data, about $130:

Advantage: Shows simultaneous readings for many different types of data.

Disadvantage: Takes time to learn to use properly.

SOURCE: Joel-Anthony Gray These days, they manifest themselves on television screens or rotate dials on a video camera.

The spirit world has gone high-tech.

So if you want to be a ghost hunter, it's easier than it's ever been – an array of electronic gadgets will get you in on the ground floor of the astral plane.

"I have a lot of toys here," says Joel-Anthony Gray, director of the Society for Paranormal Investigation in Dallas, a semiprofessional group dedicated to studying spirits.

There's the Geiger counter, the tape recorder, the laptop computer, the motion detector.

And don't forget the cameras (still and video).

"The theory is they borrow energy or project energy," says Jackie LaRocca, the group's assistant director, who has just moved to Washington. That can mean light, heat, sound or radiation.

"The more coverage you have, the better the chance that if something happens, you'll be able to catch it," says Ms. LaRocca, 42, a human-resources consultant.

The laptop – less dramatic, unfortunately, than all the great mad-scientist gizmos of the old movies – absorbs all the info for later analysis.

There's only one problem: You hardly ever come up with any data.

"Most hauntings aren't," Mr. Gray advises on the group's Web site, which includes a Ghost Hunting 101 primer (www.vorpral.net).

You can spend thousands of dollars on equipment, and head out for hours and hours of recording dust specks in the flash of your camera, breezes on your motion detector and other unspiritual phenomena.

"That's not hundreds of ghosts congregating around you," says Mr. Gray, 35, a computer consultant who lives in Dallas.

An electromagnetic field detector can pick up readings from fluorescent lights, circuit breakers, aquariums or just about anything that runs on electricity.

"I've even traced sprinkler systems underground that weren't grounded properly," he says.

Kira Connally of Mystic Ghost, another local investigative team (www.mysticghost.com), says her group also uses some heavy-duty equipment, but a disposable camera and a tape recorder can be enough to start with.

"Some of the creepiest things I've seen are recordings of ghost voices," says Ms. Connally, 27, an optician who lives in Weatherford.

Mr. Gray's advice to newbies: Chill.

"They want to feel they can go out to a graveyard, take a picture, and, look! There's a ghost!" he says. "It's a quick thrill, a quick high."

And behave yourself.

"Don't be someone who's very nervous and excitable and will faint at the least provocation, and we'll have to carry you out of the cemetery," he says. "I do say on the Web site that those of dramatic temperament need not apply."

Know your trespassing laws, says Billy York of North Texas Paranormal Investigation and Research Studies.

Nothing puts the kibosh on a supernaturally oriented night like an all-too-real encounter with police who want to know why you're there. Ideally, get permission from the landowner in writing, or have him or her with you.

And don't litter. "You've got to be respectful of where you are," he says.

It's important to go out with a group, the hunters warn. An entity doesn't have to be dead to be dangerous – live people in secluded areas may not be very nice.

Read, read, read, they advise. And through www.meetup.com, you can begin to hook up with like-minded folks by searching for ghosts.

So you've got your equipment, your team and your mature, open mind, and, Bingo! Someone who thinks they're being haunted gives you a call.

Do you race out there, ready to commune with the spirits?

Not so fast, O skeptical one. Step 1 is to figure out whether the potential client is stable.

"Some people are just going through a lot of physical or emotional stress, in which case they can have visual or auditory hallucinations," Mr. Gray says. "The most important thing we do when we do the interview is listen to the personality or general functionality."

"We rule out the 'Really, you need to see a psychiatrist and not a ghost hunter' scenario," Ms. Connally says.

If more than one person has experienced the haunting, or if pets have reacted, that's stronger evidence that an investigation may be called for, the hunters say.

Searches by Mystic Ghost or North Texas Paranormal Investigation and Research Studies are free, while SPI charges $50 to $75 for an investigation. Mr. Gray says this is partly to defray the costs of gasoline, tapes and other expenses, but also because it keeps the client from taking the group for granted. Considering the hundreds and hundreds of dollars spent on equipment, this is hardly a profitable field.

They're skeptical about people who advertise themselves as psychics, and warn against paying hundreds of dollars for a service.

Some hunters start an investigation with a ritual to protect themselves from any spirits that might be there. The actual form of the ritual – a prayer, a candle, a chant – doesn't matter, Mr. Gray says. What's important is to establish yourself as powerful, in the same way you'd walk confidently on the street so you don't look like a victim.

At the end of a session, they pause to thank the spirits for letting them visit but ask them not to follow the investigators home.

Member Michelle DePaul, a 36-year-old nanny from Keller, didn't do that once, and she says the spirit of a small girl followed her. The ghost now haunts her own home, she says – harmlessly. "I brought something back with me."

SPI recently investigated a house in Grand Prairie that members believe was haunted. Several residents in the house, and apparently the pets, had sensed presences.

"Strange things just started happening," says Loran Rose, 24, who rents the house with her husband. She'd hear her name called when she was alone in the house, and strange shadows would move during the daytime.

What finally made them decide to call the investigators was a night when a human-shaped shadow inexplicably appeared. "My dogs were just going nuts," she says.

She asked a then-roommate whether she'd seen anything odd, and the roommate said that, while she took a short bathroom break, her cat's scattered food was put into its bowl and its toys were neatly arranged in a circle surrounding it.

During their investigation, the hunters asked the ghost to make itself known, and a switch on the video camera clicked through several positions, Mr. Gray says. "It doesn't strike me as something that can just be jostled like that," he says. "I'm pretty skeptical, but I have no explanation for that. Maybe the camera got scared – I don't know."

And a picture of a turned-off television shows what appears to be a grotesque face.

"That creeped me out," Ms. Rose says. "Our television was off when they came. I made sure to turn off the TV. ... To me, it looks like a clown, and I'm terrified of clowns."

Her father, an elder in the Mormon Church, blessed the house, and the problems ceased, she says.

It's usually as easy as that, Mr. Gray says. Many times, clients simply want to have their experiences validated.

"Some people are perfectly happy and comfortable with their ghost, and they want to show it off," he says. "I'm perfectly serious. They say, 'This is part of our family. We call him Bob.' "

Others may want the ghost to go. That power is within their reach, Mr. Gray says. All it may take is to firmly tell the spirit that it's not welcome and that it should leave.

"In most cases, it's not something very malicious and dangerous, and we tell them so," Mr. Gray says.

He says the measure of the group's success is that people who have called on them say that they're glad they did.

"That's the satisfaction," he says. "It's not getting a full-body apparition on film. That's virtually never going to happen."

E-mail texasliving@dallasnews.com

What's New by Bob Park


Making the rounds in Washington this week is a 75-page Air Force Research Laboratory report, Teleportation Physics Study (my spell checker balks on "teleportation," and well it should). This is not the IBM entangled photon stuff; this is transporting people across space. The subway does that, but it's not included in the report. Instead it describes "conveyance of persons by psychic means," and "transport through extra space dimensions or parallel universes." The contractor for the study was Warp Drive Metrics in Las Vegas, and the author was Eric W. Davis, PhD, FBIS. We couldn't find Dr. Davis in American Men and Women of Science, so we googled him and Warp Drive Metrics. Warp Drive Metrics has no website. We did find an article by Dr. Davis, Wormhole Induction Propulsion, prepared for the 1997 NASA Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Workshop, which NASA had refused to allow me to attend http://www.aps.org/WN/WN97/wn081597.cfm . His affiliation then was the National Institute for Discovery Science, Las Vegas. The NIDS website displays an Oct 15, 04 notice from its president that the Institute is on an "inactive status." Desperate for information, we contacted the Project Manager of the study, Dr. Franklin Mead, Senior Scientist of the Advanced Concepts Office. He's not listed in American Men and Women of Science either, but he has a 1996 Patent (5,590,031) for a system to convert zero point energy to electrical energy. Apparently it's not available yet. He could not give me the exact cost of the teleportation report, but said the subcontractor, ERC Inc., would know. We called ERC, but teleportation is just one small part of a huge contract. Two weeks ago we learned of the Air Force positron bomb (WN 15 Oct 04). How many fantasy weapons are taxpayers buying?

The Raelians have been pretty quiet since they announced that baby Eve had been cloned http://www.aps.org/WN/WN02/wn122702.cfm That was two years ago. Now the Raelian Scientists Association is urging that "supercolliders" be turned off "to protect life at every level of existence in the universe." The Raelians believe all life on Earth is the result of intelligent design, and so do a lot of fundamentalist Christians, but that's where similarities end. Raelians think our creators were scientific space aliens. (Have you ever noticed how silly everyone else's religion is?) Raelians also believe the universe is fractal, with an infinite number of fractal levels of life. Thus, supercolliders might be destroying life in infinitely small worlds. WN does not believe there is much supporting evidence, but we'll watch where we step.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Articles Highlight Different Views on Genetic Basis of Race


October 27, 2004
A difference of opinion about the genetic basis of race has emerged between scientists at the National Human Genome Center at Howard University and some other geneticists. At issue is whether race is a useful signpost to tracking down the genes that cause disease, given that certain diseases are more common in some populations than others.

In articles in the current issue of the journal Nature Genetics, scientists at Howard, a center of African-American scholarship, generally favor the view that there is no biological or genetic basis for race. "Observed patterns of geographical differences in genetic information do not correspond to our notion of social identities, including 'race' and 'ethnicity,' '' writes Dr. Charles N. Rotimi, acting director of the university's genome center.

But several other geneticists writing in the same issue of the journal say the human family tree is divided into branches that correspond to the ancestral populations of each major continent, and that these branches coincide with the popular notion of race. "The emerging picture is that populations do, generally, cluster by broad geographic regions that correspond with common racial classification (Africa, Europe, Asia, Oceania, Americas)," say Dr. Sarah A. Tishkoff of the University of Maryland and Dr. Kenneth K. Kidd of Yale.

Although there is not much genetic variation between the populations of each continent, write Dr. Joanna L. Mountain and Dr. Neil Risch of Stanford University, new data "coincide closely with groups defined by self-identified race or continental ancestry." The data is based on DNA elements outside the genes with no bearing on the body's physical form.

The pattern reflects the fact that once humans dispersed from Africa, the populations on each continent started breeding in isolation and developing their own set of genetic variations.

Two years ago Dr. Risch, a population geneticist, plunged into the long-taboo subject of race and said that these geographic patterns correlated with the popular conception of continental-based races - principally Africans, East Asians, American Indians and Caucasians (a group that includes Europeans, Middle Easterners, and people of the Indian subcontinent).

These categories were useful in understanding the genetic roots of disease, many of which follow the same geographic pattern, Dr. Risch said. His article was provoked by editorials in medical journals suggesting there was no biological basis for race.

The articles in today's issue of Nature Genetics represent a second round of the debate. The Howard scientists agree that there is a geographic pattern in human genetic variation but favor the approach of going directly to the underlying genetic causes of disease without taking into account any possible correlation with race.

"We don't have to use race as a surrogate for the biology when we can identify the underlying biology," said Dr. Georgia M. Dunston, founding director of the Howard genome center. "By removing the barriers implied by the racial classifications we can more effectively study population differences in disease distribution."

Geneticists generally agree that the underlying genetic variations, not race itself, are the key to understanding disease. But short of being able to sequence everyone's genome, many contend that race is often a useful, if imperfect, way of identifying the disease-causing variations.

"Race still remains a proxy that has some potential value," said Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute of the National Institutes of Health. "I would love to see that ended, but we are not there yet." Supporters of the genome project say gene-based remedies should be tailored to genetically identifiable groups, to make sure no one is denied the benefits of genetic medicine. But linking diseases to race is an "explosive issue," said Dr. Troy Duster, a sociologist at New York University. "Once you enter this realm of saying some diseases are more common in this or that group, the popular imagination will ask what else is more common," like behavioral differences, Dr. Duster suggested.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

Creationism and Science Clash at Grand Canyon Bookstores

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/26/science/26cany.html October 26, 2004
Correction Appended

Roger Kennedy, former director of the National Park Service, is hardly a practitioner of secular humanism.

Meals at his house begin with grace, and in a recent talk on environmental politics he chided his audience for not paying enough attention to the way the wonders of nature inspire wonder at their creator.

But when it comes to selling, in stores at a national park, a book propounding the idea that God created Grand Canyon in Noah's flood, he pauses. "If there were a person, which I doubt, qualified in geological science, who said it is perfectly plausible, that would be one thing," said Mr. Kennedy, who led the park service from 1993 to 1996. But, he said, such a book would have to have "a respectable scholarly basis."

Mr. Kennedy has not seen "Grand Canyon: A Different View," but others who have, including geologists on the Park Service staff, say it does not meet that test. A compilation of photographs, biblical quotations and essays published last year by Master Books, the book says God created the heavens and the earth in six days, 6,000 years ago, and that the canyon formed in a flood God caused in order to wipe out "the wickedness of man." The geology of the canyon proves it, the books' contributors say.

Actually, the universe formed billions of years ago, Earth formed billions of years later and the Grand Canyon was shaped by millions and millions of years of hydrology, chiefly the action of the Colorado River. Other ideas, however dearly held, are myths. Or, as the Geologic Resources Division of the Park Service put it in a memo, "The book purports to be science when it is not. The book repudiates science."

Nevertheless, it is for sale at the six bookstores at Grand Canyon National Park.

Brad Wallis, executive director of the Grand Canyon Association, the nonprofit group that runs the stores, said the association did not market the book as science. The association decided to stock it, he said, because it is a professionally produced presentation of "a divergent viewpoint." In the main store, the only one large enough to have separate sections for different kinds of books, "the book was placed in the inspiration section, and we never moved," Mr. Wallis said. "It was never in the science section."

Last December, a few months after the book appeared in Grand Canyon shops, the presidents of seven geological and paleontological organizations wrote to Joseph Alston, superintendent of the canyon, to urge that the book be removed from stores there, lest visitors get the impression that the park endorsed its contents.

Now the issue rests with the solicitor's office of the Interior Department, which has been reviewing the issue for almost a year, said Elaine Sevy, a spokeswoman for the Park Service.

Asked what the review consists of and why it is taking so long, she said, "It's resting with the solicitor's office."

Until its ruling, the book remains on sale.

"Grand Canyon: A Different View" was put together by Tom Vail, who in his own contribution says he was working as a rafting guide in the canyon in 1994, "telling folks that the exquisite and varied rock layers came about through completely natural processes," when a woman on one of his trips introduced him to the Bible. Within a few months, he relates, "I had made a conscious decision to believe in the Gospel." Soon, he and his passenger were married and now he and his wife, Paula Vail, operate Canyon Ministries, leading river tours with a creationist bent.

Some have argued that because the store offers books about the culture and legends of the Navajo and Hopi tribes it is appropriate for it to sell books on the legends of creationists as well.

Rob Arnberger, who was superintendent of the park from 1996 to 2000, will have none of that.

"At Grand Canyon it is appropriate to present the culture of the Navajo and the Hopi, tribes that live in and around the canyon," he said. "But there are no books that present the culture of the Plains Indians, for example, because their culture was not associated with the Grand Canyon. To present one view does not obligate us to present another, especially when the science is so wrong."

And the fact that the book is selling well also cuts no ice with him. The store could probably make money selling Superman cartoons, he said, but that is not a reason to stock them.

Mr. Wallis said the book was not a particularly big seller, though it had been doing better lately. "People are curious about it now," he said.

Mr. Kennedy says collisions between ideology and scholarship are nothing new at the Park Service. "There are still recurring editorials in Civil War buff journals decrying any discussion of causes of the war, particularly slavery."

And he differentiates between what people learn from materials sold in Park Service bookstores and what they learn from the service's professional staff, "around the campfire," he said. Still, he worries that the Park Service may be relying too much on outsiders to research and explain its wonders - "outsourcing professional services," as he put it.

And of course, he says, many people will assume any book sold in a Grand Canyon bookstore has the imprimatur of the Park Service.

"That's the problem," Mr. Kennedy said. It is an important issue, he said, "and we need to pay attention to it."

Correction: Oct. 28, 2004, Thursday

An article in Science Times on Tuesday about a debate over the sale of a book offering a creationist view of the formation of Grand Canyon in bookstores at the national park referred incorrectly to a letter written by the presidents of seven scientific organizations to the park superintendent. The letter asked that the book be clearly separated from materials offering scientific information about Grand Canyon geology, not that it be removed from the stores. As the article reported, only the main store is large enough to have separate sections; there, the operators say, the book is shelved with "inspirational" materials rather than scientific ones.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

Saturn moon has scientists howling


Close-ups of Titan seen for first time in photos from Cassini

David Perlman, Chronicle Science Editor

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Sophisticated cameras aboard the spacecraft Cassini gave Earth-bound watchers the world's first close-up view of Saturn's mysterious, largest moon Titan Tuesday night, as scientists processed striking images from the spacecraft's brief fly-by less than 745 miles from the moon's surface.

As Cassini sped past haze-shrouded Titan at more than 140,000 miles an hour, the scientists were enthralled at what they saw in the images during the night, as they witnessed clouds blowing by Titan's surface and peered at the surface itself -- a vision never seen before in the history of astronomy.

"We're looking at the one of the last great mysteries of the solar system, " exclaimed Carolyn Porco, Cassini's imaging team leader from the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.

Porco and her colleagues watched the images building up one at a time on the screens of Mission Control at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, and they marveled at what they saw and what they couldn't yet understand.

As Titan's clouds parted in the images and the moon's darker surface revealed itself, Porco wondered at what that surface might hold.

"Look at that! Look at that!" she cried out at one image partly cloud- bright and irregularly dark. "Maybe it's a dark slushy area," she speculated. "Maybe it's a lava flow of some kind, or maybe it's a shoreline -- we just don't know. It's like nothing anyone has ever seen before."

One thing the early images didn't show, however, was any sparkle on the moon's surface from reflected sunlight that might be evidence of liquid -- a lake of the hydrocarbons methane or ethane, for example -- but these were only the very first of the images taken at medium resolution, and higher resolution pictures were being processed all through the night.

Much of what those first images showed were views of Titan's southern region, where a continent-sized white area dubbed Xanadu was a feature already known from pictures taken while Cassini was approaching its orbit around Saturn in July, after a voyage from Earth of 2.2 billion miles.

But now Xanadu was showing up in far more detail, with brilliant white meandering patches of cloud near Titan's south pole, and streaks of white and blotches of gray haze that the Cassini mission's scientists will be trying to interpret for possibly months to come.

And even these images, as Porco said, are only the result of a reconnaissance mission to prepare the way for the European Space Agency's Huygens probe, which Cassini has carried from Earth and will launch for a parachute landing on the surface of Titan in January.

The medium-resolution pictures are focusing more closely on the precise area where the Huygens probe is scheduled to land -- "And God only knows what we'll find there," Porco said.

As the newly processed images flashed onto the screens, scientists were particularly enthralled by edge-on pictures of Titan's cloud tops shining like a crescent moon under the glare of the sun.

"It's glorious," Porco said. "We're looking at a body that's active, and we have puzzle after puzzle after puzzle."

Before dawn today, data from Cassini's radar instruments will be downloaded from the spacecraft, and then the scientists will have their first idea of the surface features -- its mountains and craters and perhaps its lakes and river channels, said Charles Elachi, director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and chief of Cassini's radar team.

"I don't know what we'll find," Elachi said, "but I've no doubt we'll be surprised."

E-mail David Perlman at dperlman@sfchronicle.com

Bible belt puts squeeze on evolution


By Mark Coultan
October 28, 2004

More than a quarter of Australians believe the Bible offers a more likely explanation of the origins of life than evolution, an opinion poll says.

More people - 43 per cent compared with 28 per cent - preferred science to religion, another 12 per cent were inclined towards a combination of both, while 17 per cent were undecided whether the earth was made in six days or billions of years.

The poll, by UMR research for Hawker Britton, found that women, older people, Liberal voters and Queenslanders were less inclined to believe in evolution. People from NSW, people living in the inner cities and those earning over $80,000 preferred evolution as an explanation of how we got here.

Asked where they thought they would go when they died, 46 per cent of respondents answered heaven, while 16 per cent said "somewhere else", and 11 per cent said nowhere. Only 3 per cent said hell and 2 per cent said purgatory.

Reflecting the excesses of youth, or perhaps the possibilities of redemption in old age, 7 per cent of people under 30 thought they were headed for purgatory.

People earning over $80,000 were less inclined to believe they were headed for heaven, but this group registered the biggest score for "somewhere else".

Dr Tom Hubble, a lecturer at the University of Sydney's school of geoscience, who tackled Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen on creationism earlier this year, said he was slightly surprised and gratified by the survey. He expected that there would be more believers in creationism.

Hawker Britton's managing director, Bruce Hawker, contrasted the results with the United States, where one poll had showed 50 per cent of people believed in the biblical account and only 15 per cent in evolution.

He said that might be because the US had more religious intrusion in education and politics. "There have even been times when the mention of evolutionary theory has been banned in schools in the United States," he said.

Intelligent design religion, not science


Wednesday, October 27, 2004

"Intelligent design" theory doesn't belong in public school. It's not science. What piece of evidence would prove that an organism was designed? That's only an opinion. If it can't be proven, it's not science.

Questions arise when I think about "intelligent design." Who's the intelligent designer? Is it a god? Aliens? The Village People? How can we know if it's one designer or 50? We can see evolution's survival of the fittest at work both in our modern world and in the fossil record, but where can we see "intelligent designer" mechanisms at work? If we can't see them, how can we scientifically prove their existence? If "intelligent design" can't be tested, it can't be proven. Therefore, it's not a scientific theory.

"Intelligent design" theory is a religious theory. It's based solely on the religious notion that God molds life forms through some kind of holy intervention. That's fine and dandy, but that's preaching in the classroom. I seem to remember that being illegal.

I wholeheartedly endorse pointing out flaws in evolution. That's what science is about, not preaching creationist mumbo-jumbo. As a science, "intelligent design" is a colossal flop. Since its inception, it hasn't contributed a single scientific discovery worth noting. A gentleman by the name of Lenny Flank (whose Web site I researched for this letter) summed up thusly:

We don't understand how evolution works, therefore it doesn't. We believe in an "intelligent designer." We don't know what it is. We don't know what it does. We don't know how it does it. We don't know how to answer these questions. We demand it be taught it science class.

No, seriously.


Dover board went too far


The board's evolving position on teaching intelligent design has divided the community.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Why couldn't they just leave well enough alone?

A few weeks ago, it looked like the Dover Area School Board had reached the perfect compromise on the creationism/evolution curriculum controversy.

Biology classes would continue to cover evolution — the overwhelmingly predominant theory in the scientific community.

But a book espousing intelligent design, "Of Pandas and People," would be available to students as a reference or resource book.

Great idea. Schools and libraries should be filled with different ideas, hopefully provoking thought and questions for students.

But the board's position has, shall we say, evolved.

Last week, a majority mandated the teaching of intelligent design in science class. A vaguely worded curriculum change reads as follows: "Students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin's Theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to intelligent design. Note: Origins of life will not be taught."

Is the board suggesting teachers should instruct students on the gaps/problems with intelligent design — as well as with evolution?

Hard to say for sure.

The statement seems open to various interpretations.

Which, of course, leaves the district open to litigation.

And that seems to be the point of all this — a new "test case" involving church/state separation.

The curriculum change appears to be the most radical in the country — Dover may be the first to mandate intelligent design instruction. Even the pro-ID group Discovery Institute in Seattle says the board may have overstepped its bounds.

The majority of board members pushing the curriculum changes appear to be spoiling for a court fight. Board member William Buckingham said that if a suit arises, he's lined up a Michigan law firm to defend the district.

This just seems like an unnecessary and divisive distraction for a district that has other, more pressing educational issues to deal with.

The board has lost two solid members who resigned in protest of the curriculum change.

Teachers say they have no training in intelligent design instruction — which will necessitate costly seminars.

And many teachers feel betrayed by the board's not honoring the previous compromise — driving a wedge into teacher/district relations.

It's a mess.

This curriculum change may have been Mr. Buckingham and company's design all along.

But it sure wasn't an intelligent way to go about it.

Wisconsin Man Claims Wife's Near-Death Experience Meant to Save Marriage


The Associated Press
Published: Oct 27, 2004

LA CROSSE, Wis. (AP) - A man who said he threw a live electrical wire into his wife's bath hoping a near-death experience would save their marriage was convicted of attempted first-degree intentional homicide Wednesday. William Dahlby said in court he was only trying to scare his wife the evening of May 9. He told jurors the wire was hooked to a "ground fault interrupter" designed to cut the electricity when the cord encountered water. His wife was not hurt.

Prosecutors said Dahlby was trying to kill his wife to start a new life with another woman.

Dahlby's wife, Mary, testified Tuesday her husband drew her bath after they spent the day taking a walk and a long motorcycle ride.

While she took her bath, her husband came into the bathroom and dropped the cord into the bath, she said.

She jumped out of the bath, but her husband tried to push her back in the tub, Mary Dahlby said. She got free and ran out of the bathroom.

Her husband, who also was convicted of intimidation of a victim, was scheduled for sentencing Dec. 10.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Unintelligent design: Worst of both theories


Sunday, October 24, 2004

The Dover Area School Board is onto something.

The board has mandated the teaching of something called "intelligent design" as an alternative to teaching evolution.

Of course, critics will say that it's merely a way for religious fanatics to sneak creationism into the schools and a back-door way of getting around the separation of church and state. Those pushing "intelligent design" say it's simply a matter of fairness, a matter of giving equal time to competing theories.

That's a good idea.

We can all benefit from hearing different theories about how things work. Just because "intelligent design" seems to be a politically motivated theory cobbled together to sneak creationism into public schools and has no basis in science and has not stood up to the rigors of the scientific method doesn't seem to matter.

It's an alternative theory.

And alternative theories are good.

So, in addition to "intelligent design," perhaps the school should teach alternative theories about, say, gravity. Gravity exists. We know it exists. But how does it work? Sure, "scientists" and "physicists" say it has something to do with mass and stuff like that. Newton has one theory. Einstein has another. One of my colleagues has yet a third — that the earth sucks — which he says he learned in the fourth grade.

Which one is true?

According to the "intelligent design" people, the earth sucks should be taught alongside Einstein's Theory of Relativity — a theory, by the way, that posits the likelihood of a relative being willing to loan you money is proportional to the Christmas gifts you've given said relative over the years as expressed by the following formula: Number of ties x number of ounces of Aqua Velva = the amount of money you need – the mass in grams of fruitcake.

Of course, the Dover school board's curriculum would allow that. The language of the policy, as written by board member Bill Buckingham, states, in part, that students will be instructed in other theories of evolution, "including, but not limited to, intelligent design."

Those other theories are not specified. They could be anything, including the lessons from Star Trek. A book called "The Biology of Star Trek."

According to Amazon.com, the book explores a lot of questions regarding evolution, such as how did Klingons develop those ridges on their foreheads between the original series and "The Next Generation" and "why do all the planets look like California?"

Valid questions, to be sure, and I'm sure that kids in Dover will soon be exploring them.

And there's another theory I found on the Internet called "unintelligent design." The Unintelligent Design Network Web site states: "We at UDN, Inc. have found a theory that effectively merges the strengths of the two theories without the weaknesses. The intelligent design people say there are too many holes in the fossil record, and that evolution is only a theory; the scientists say there's not enough evidence of intelligent design. So we say, instead, that life has indeed been designed, just not very well."

As evidence, the unintelligent design people offer the elephant: "There have been 23 elephant-like animals in history, and yet only two survive today (and, we add, they're not doing very well). Clearly, this is the mark of an all-powerful creator who is stuck on the same stupid idea and can't figure out why the hell they keep dying off. Hmm, perhaps it's because giant, big-eared mammals with huge, prehensile noses are ridiculous? . . . It looks like something a preschooler would make up."

In its frequently asked questions section of the Web site, the unintelligent design people answer the question: "How do you answer people who say Unintelligent Design is a philosophy, not a scientific theory, and so it doesn't belong in high school science class?"

The answer: "We usually reply with colorful charts showing that a majority of voters believe in teaching alternative theories, and that although popular opinion isn't historically the best measure of science, it is the best measure of who gets reelected."

And then, there is my own theory of evolution of the species. It's an idea I've been toying with for some time now — if you define some time as the past five minutes — and I think it meets the requirements of the Dover Area School Board.

My theory is that life on this planet evolved with the aid of tequila.

Think about it: The intelligent design people say Darwin's theory of evolution leaves too many things to accident. And what's caused more accidents, particularly in the area of spreading the gene pool, than tequila?

Of course, there are some gaps in the theory — elephants don't drink tequila; they're beer drinkers — but hey, nothing's perfect. In its defense, it probably has as much scientific proof as intelligent design.

Mike Argento, whose column appears Mondays and Thursdays in Living and Sundays in Viewpoints, can be reached at 771-2046 or at mike@ydr.com.

Teacher/preacher: ID lessons belong in church


Sunday, October 24, 2004

Along with Richard Cleary (Sunday News, Oct. 3), I also believe in intelligent design. Only I refer to that intelligence as God, the creator of the ends of the earth who designed the universe that fills me with wonder, from the microscopic amoebae to the macroscopic constellation of Andromeda. I have spent nearly 50 years as an ordained Presbyterian minister attempting to persuade others to believe in a particular version of that intelligent design: the God I believe in, who for me is revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I was, however, educated and trained to be a secondary school biology teacher, in part because the wonder of the natural world gently led me to believe that there was little about the world I knew that was random. Human life in particular had a purpose and so I decided to do what I could to help that purpose evolve.

I agree that there is "faith" involved in scientific discovery, research and exploration. In fact, I'm convinced that in spite of the church's historic conflict with Galileo and Copernicus, faith in a God has been behind the scientists' "faith-full" search for order and the truth. However, for nearly all the reasons Mr. Cleary asserts that intelligent design should be taught alongside evolution, I believe the discussion of intelligent design belongs to the mosque, the temple, the church and the home so that each can particularize it with his or her own definition.

I am convinced that if science is taught well, whether in terms of astronomy, physics, chemistry or biology, the pure wonder of evolution will do its own leading. The rules of discovery, revelation and faith in religion, as well as in science, are much the same but they are also much different. If for no other reason, let parents and the religious leaders and institutions put a particular face on that design that is behind the marvelous process of evolving life, not the public school teacher.

Any attempt to teach science from the perspective of intelligent design will inevitably result in teaching with a religious character. Those most aggressive in teaching intelligent design or creation science or creationism or any similar approach are inspired to do so for religious reasons. The Creation Research Society, one of the most aggressive organizations seeking to include intelligent design in the school curriculum along with evolution, requires all of its scientist-applicants for membership to sign a form affirming that they believe that the Bible is the written word of God and that all of its assertions are historically and scientifically true — and that "salvation can come only through accepting Jesus Christ as Savior."

An agenda that specific, as with any similar specific agenda, does not belong in the public school. Let the wonder of evolution speak for itself. Have "faith" that the children will see it and understand. I did.

Charles W. Holsinger lives in Seven Valleys.

What you don't know about 'intelligent design'


Monday, October 25, 2004

If the Dover Area School Board's decision to teach "intelligent design," a form of creationism, winds up in court, you know where it's heading. We're going to be treated to the Dover Monkey Trial.

So it would behoove us, at this point in time, to review the record of jurisprudence regarding the teaching of creationism. Specifically, it would behoove us to review the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial.

Now, you might think you know the story of the Scopes Monkey Trial. It was made into a movie, "Inherit The Wind," and it's a part of history. The tale goes that a young Dayton, Tenn., biology teacher named John T. Scopes was arrested in 1925 for violating the Tennessee law that forbade the teaching of evolution.

His arrest set the stage for what was called, in pre- O.J.-Kobe-Martha Stewart-Laci Peterson America, the trial of the century, involving big ideas and the two most famous lawyers in the nation at the time. The trial has been portrayed as high drama and one of the turning points in American history.

Turns out, that's all nonsense.

It was a scam.

"This was a publicity stunt," said Dr. Richard Cornelius, a retired English professor at Dayton's Bryan College, who has spent a good part of his life researching the real story.

Cornelius has reviewed documents, including Scopes' memoirs and diaries, and interviewed people who had first-hand knowledge of the Scopes Trial. And the real story, as it turns out, according to Cornelius, is a lot more interesting, and a lot funnier, than "Inherit The Wind."

It starts with George Rappelyea, owner of the struggling Cumberland Coal and Iron Co. in Dayton. Rappelyea's company was slumping toward bankruptcy and he was searching for a way to save his business when he saw a notice in the newspaper that the newly formed American Civil Liberties Union was seeking a test case to challenge Tennessee's Butler Act, which forbade the teaching of evolution in public schools.

Rappelyea thought that if Dayton hosted the test case, the ensuing publicity would call attention to the sleepy little town and help save his business.

He thought any publicity would be good publicity.

He spoke to the head of the school board, and they hatched a plan to get the case in Dayton. At the time, other Tennessee cities were interested in the trial and the competition was fierce to host the test case. It was seen as a civil bonanza, not as a clash of ideas or a pivotal moment in American jurisprudence. The men approached the science teacher at the local high school and asked him whether he'd like to serve as the guinea pig for this test case.

The teacher was assured that he wouldn't lose his job and was told that he would be doing his community a great service by being arrested. The teacher, who had a family, declined. He didn't want to go through that.

So they settled on their second choice — John T. Scopes. Scopes, fresh out of the University of Tennessee, had been hired to coach football. Sometimes, he covered for the science teacher, and Rappelyea and the city fathers thought that, perhaps, he might have mentioned evolution in the classroom.

He hadn't. He told the men he hadn't really done much teaching at all, that when he substituted for the regular teacher for 10 days that school year, he mostly spent the class time diagramming football plays and trying to prevent the kids from killing one another.

That didn't matter. The powers that be figured he had presided over a class that had used a textbook that mentioned evolution, and that was enough for them.

Scopes agreed to be arrested. The wheels were in motion. The case was certain to generate national attention.

William Jennings Bryan, sometime presidential candidate and fundamentalist Christian, was in Memphis when Scopes was arrested. Reporters asked him whether he was going to volunteer to prosecute the case. Bryan said he hadn't been invited, so reporters contacted people in Dayton and asked them to invite Bryan, which they did, over the objections of the local prosecutor who, to be honest, wasn't too crazy about participating in this charade in the first place.

After Bryan was aboard, famed Baltimore newspaper columnist H.L. Mencken, who hated Bryan, convinced Clarence Darrow, the Johnnie Cochran of his time, to defend Scopes. Darrow agreed, over the objection of the ACLU, which wanted the case for itself to generate publicity. The trial was a huge deal. Chattanooga tried to poach it, suggesting that the judge move it to that city so it could reap the benefits of hosting the trial of the century.

The judge refused, because moving it would mean he'd have to step down, which he didn't want to do because he was up for re-election and thought presiding over the trial would guarantee his return to the bench.

Hundreds of newspaper reporters descended on Dayton in mid-July 1925. The trial was broadcast live over the radio. Everything seemed to be going according to Rappelyea's plan.

Except one thing. He didn't count on the newspaper reporters portraying Dayton as a podunk backwater populated by yahoos, imbeciles and rednecks. Rappelyea and the town fathers soon learned there was such a thing as bad publicity. Dayton became the stereotypical southern town, sort of like Mayberry without the charm. At one point, the president of Columbia University in New York announced the school would no longer accept students from Tennessee because, according to the newspapers, they were obviously poorly educated morons.

The trial itself was mockery of jurisprudence. At one point, Bryan volunteered himself as an expert witness — he wasn't really an expert, and besides, he was the principle defense lawyer — and submitted himself to questioning by Darrow. Fictional accounts portray the encounter as high drama, when the truth is the transcript reveals that Darrow and Bryan spent much of the time calling each other names and bickering like an old married couple.

By that point, anyway, the reporters had lost interest in the trial and had wandered off. One of the reporters, before leaving, had asked Scopes to write up what transpired in court and send it into the newspaper under the reporter's name. Thus, Scopes wound up covering his own trial.

Darrow didn't put up any defense, and the trial ended with Scopes being convicted. The judge asked the jury to set the fine. The jury, composed of Dayton citizens who acquired the task by lobbying for it, didn't want to set the fine because by that point, they were either bored or disgusted by the whole enterprise and just wanted to go home. So after some wrangling, the judge set the fine at $100, and that was that.

The Tennessee Supreme Court later set aside the verdict, ruling that the judge overstepped his bounds by setting the fine. The case was sent back for re-trial, but the people of Dayton had had enough and let it drop. Scopes went back to coaching football. Bryan died shortly after the trial.

And what became of Rappelyea's Cumberland Iron and Coal Co.? "It went down the tubes," Cornelius said.

Not all was lost, though.

To this day, every July, Dayton, a town of 6,800 that is home to the factory that makes La-Z-Boy recliners, puts on the Scopes Trial Play and Festival with food, crafts and a dramatic re-enactment of the trial.

Mike Argento, whose column appears Mondays and Thursdays in Living and Sundays in Viewpoints, can be reached at 771-2046 or at mike@ydr.com. Read more Argento columns at ydr.com/mike.

Finder of 'Iceman' Found Dead in Austrian Alps


Sat Oct 23,11:05 AM ET

VIENNA (Reuters) - The man who 13 years ago discovered the frozen remains of a prehistoric iceman in an Alpine glacier was found dead in the Austrian Alps on Saturday, eight days after he went missing, rescue authorities said.

Helmut Simon, the German who found the 5,300-year-old mummified body while hiking on the border of Austria and Italy in 1991, disappeared on Oct. 15 after setting off alone on an expedition in the Bad Hofgastein region in southwestern Austria.

"He was found at an altitude of around 2,200 meters (7,220 ft), apparently having fallen around 100 meters," a member of the Bad Hofgastein mountain rescue team told Reuters.

Rescue officials found and recovered the body of the experienced 67-year-old mountaineer after a local hunter notified them of a mysterious red spot high up on the 2,300-meter Gaiskarkogel mountain.

Simon, 67, and his wife, Erika, from Nuremberg in Germany found the neolithic iceman on the 3,000-meter (9,000-feet) high Similaun glacier in the Tyrolean Oetz Valley. The mummy was named "Oetzi" after the valley.

Creationism and Science Clash at Grand Canyon Bookstores

October 26, 2004

Roger Kennedy, former director of the National Park Service, is hardly a practitioner of secular humanism.

Meals at his house begin with grace, and in a recent talk on environmental politics he chided his audience for not paying enough attention to the way the wonders of nature inspire wonder at their creator.

But when it comes to selling, in stores at a national park, a book propounding the idea that God created Grand Canyon in Noah's flood, he pauses. "If there were a person, which I doubt, qualified in geological science, who said it is perfectly plausible, that would be one thing," said Mr. Kennedy, who led the park service from 1993 to 1996. But, he said, such a book would have to have "a respectable scholarly basis."

Mr. Kennedy has not seen "Grand Canyon: A Different View," but others who have, including geologists on the Park Service staff, say it does not meet that test. A compilation of photographs, biblical quotations and essays published last year by Master Books, the book says God created the heavens and the earth in six days, 6,000 years ago, and that the canyon formed in a flood God caused in order to wipe out "the wickedness of man." The geology of the canyon proves it, the books' contributors say.

Actually, the universe formed billions of years ago, Earth formed billions of years later and the Grand Canyon was shaped by millions and millions of years of hydrology, chiefly the action of the Colorado River. Other ideas, however dearly held, are myths. Or, as the Geologic Resources Division of the Park Service put it in a memo, "The book purports to be science when it is not. The book repudiates science."

Nevertheless, it is for sale at the six bookstores at Grand Canyon National Park.

Brad Wallis, executive director of the Grand Canyon Association, the nonprofit group that runs the stores, said the association did not market the book as science. The association decided to stock it, he said, because it is a professionally produced presentation of "a divergent viewpoint." In the main store, the only one large enough to have separate sections for different kinds of books, "the book was placed in the inspiration section, and we never moved," Mr. Wallis said. "It was never in the science section."

Last December, a few months after the book appeared in Grand Canyon shops, the presidents of seven geological and paleontological organizations wrote to Joseph Alston, superintendent of the canyon, to urge that the book be removed from stores there, lest visitors get the impression that the park endorsed its contents.

Now the issue rests with the solicitor's office of the Interior Department, which has been reviewing the issue for almost a year, said Elaine Sevy, a spokeswoman for the Park Service.

Asked what the review consists of and why it is taking so long, she said, "It's resting with the solicitor's office."

Until its ruling, the book remains on sale.

"Grand Canyon: A Different View" was put together by Tom Vail, who in his own contribution says he was working as a rafting guide in the canyon in 1994, "telling folks that the exquisite and varied rock layers came about through completely natural processes," when a woman on one of his trips introduced him to the Bible. Within a few months, he relates, "I had made a conscious decision to believe in the Gospel." Soon, he and his passenger were married and now he and his wife, Paula Vail, operate Canyon Ministries, leading river tours with a creationist bent.

Some have argued that because the store offers books about the culture and legends of the Navajo and Hopi tribes it is appropriate for it to sell books on the legends of creationists as well.

Rob Arnberger, who was superintendent of the park from 1996 to 2000, will have none of that.

"At Grand Canyon it is appropriate to present the culture of the Navajo and the Hopi, tribes that live in and around the canyon," he said. "But there are no books that present the culture of the Plains Indians, for example, because their culture was not associated with the Grand Canyon. To present one view does not obligate us to present another, especially when the science is so wrong."

And the fact that the book is selling well also cuts no ice with him. The store could probably make money selling Superman cartoons, he said, but that is not a reason to stock them.

Mr. Wallis said the book was not a particularly big seller, though it had been doing better lately. "People are curious about it now," he said.

Mr. Kennedy says collisions between ideology and scholarship are nothing new at the Park Service. "There are still recurring editorials in Civil War buff journals decrying any discussion of causes of the war, particularly slavery."

And he differentiates between what people learn from materials sold in Park Service bookstores and what they learn from the service's professional staff, "around the campfire," he said. Still, he worries that the Park Service may be relying too much on outsiders to research and explain its wonders - "outsourcing professional services," as he put it.

And of course, he says, many people will assume any book sold in a Grand Canyon bookstore has the imprimatur of the Park Service.

"That's the problem," Mr. Kennedy said. It is an important issue, he said, "and we need to pay attention to it."


Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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