NTS LogoSkeptical News for 30 November 2004

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Poll: Americans support creationism but are skeptical on details


Tuesday, Nov 30, 2004

By Kevin Eckstrom

Religion News Service

A Gallup Poll suggests that Americans are divided over how the world was created - either through evolution or at the hand of God - but either way they appear skeptical that it happened exactly as described in the book of Genesis.

The poll found that Charles Darwin's theory of evolution remains controversial among Americans. About one-third say it is supported by evidence, one-third see it as bunk and one-third don't know enough to judge.

A plurality of Americans - 45 percent - says man was created by God in his present form, while 38 percent say man developed over time as God guided the process. Just 13 percent said God had no role in the process.

Yet a smaller percentage, 34 percent, said the Bible is the actual word of God and should be read literally. Pollsters said that discrepancy suggests that Americans believe man was created as-is, but not because the Bible says so.

Breaking down the numbers, Gallup officials said about one-quarter of Americans are "biblical literalists" who believe man was created 10,000 years ago in his present form. They tend to be women, conservatives, Republicans and attend a Protestant church at least once a week.

A slightly smaller number - one in five Americans - believe man was created in his present form 10,000 years ago, but not because they read the Bible literally. Just 9 percent of the country read the Bible literally but are open to the theory of evolution.

The largest group - 46 percent - do not read the Bible literally and believe humans may have evolved over time. This group tends to be male, urban, more educated, Catholic and seldom or never attend church.

"It is not surprising to find that the biblical literalists who believe that God created humans 10,000 years ago tend to be more religious and Protestant," said Frank Newport, Gallup's editor in chief. "Given the recent emphasis on the importance of religion in the Nov. 2 presidential election, it is of interest to note that this `true believer' group tends to be more Republican than (most Americans)."

The survey of 1,016 adults has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Anti-evolution teachings gain foothold in U.S. schools
Evangelicals see flaws in Darwinism


Anna Badkhen, Chronicle Staff Writer

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Dover, Pa. -- The way they used to teach the origin of the species to high school students in this sleepy town of 1,800 people in southern Pennsylvania, said local school board member Angie Yingling disapprovingly, was that "we come from chimpanzees and apes."

Not anymore.

The school board has ordered that biology teachers at Dover Area High School make students "aware of gaps/problems" in the theory of evolution. Their ninth-grade curriculum now must include the theory of "intelligent design," which posits that life is so complex and elaborate that some greater wisdom has to be behind it.

The decision, passed last month by a 6-to-3 vote, makes the 3,600-student school district about 20 miles south of Harrisburg the first in the United States to mandate the teaching of "intelligent design" in public schools, putting it on the front line of the growing national debate over the role of religion in public life.

The new curriculum, which prompted two school board members to resign, is expected to take effect in January. The school principal, Joel Riedel, and teachers contacted by The Chronicle refused to comment on the changes.

The idea of intelligent design was initiated by a small group of scientists to explain what they believe to be gaps in Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, which they say is "not adequate to explain all natural phenomena. "

On an intelligent-design Web site (www.intelligentdesignnetwork.org), the theory is described as "a scientific disagreement with the claim of evolutionary theory that natural phenomena are not designed.''

Critics such as Eugenie Scott, director of the Oakland-based National Center for Science Education, say the Dover school board's decision is part of a growing trend. Religious conservatives, critics say, have been waging a war against Darwin in classrooms since the Scopes "Monkey Trial" of 1925. Tennessee schoolteacher John Scopes was convicted of illegally teaching evolution, but his conviction later was thrown out on a technicality by the Tennessee Supreme Court.

"There's a constant impetus by conservative evangelical Christians to bring religion back into the public schools," said Witold Walczak, legal director of the Pennsylvania branch of the American Civil Liberties Union. "The end goal is to get rid of evolution. They view it as a threat to their religion."

The intelligent-design theory makes no reference to the Bible, and its proponents do not say who or what the greater force is behind the design. But Yingling, 46, who graduated from Dover High School in 1976, and other supporters of the new curriculum in this religiously conservative slice of rural Pennsylvania say they know exactly who the intelligent designer is.

"There's only one creator, and it has to be God," said Rebecca Cashman, 16, a sophomore at Dover High. She frowned when asked to recollect what she learned about evolution at school last year.

"Evolution -- is that the Darwin theory?" Cashman shook her head. "I don't know just what he was thinking!"

Patricia Nason at the Institute for Creation Research, the world leader in creation science, said her organization and other activist groups are encouraging people who share conservative religious beliefs to seek positions on local school boards.

"The movement is to get the truth out," Nason said by telephone from El Cajon (San Diego County). "We Christians have as much right to be involved in politics as evolutionists. We've been asleep for two generations, and it's time for us to come back."

Emboldened by their contribution to President Bush's re-election, conservative religious activists are using intelligent design as a new strategy of attacking evolution without mentioning God, Scott said.

"There is a new energy as a result of the last election, and I anticipate an even busier couple of years coming on," Scott said.

She called intelligent design "creationism lite" masquerading as science. The U.S. Supreme Court in 1987 banned the teaching of creationism -- which holds that God created the world about 6,000 years ago -- in public schools on the grounds of separation of church and state.

John West of the Discovery Institute in Seattle, the main sponsor and promoter of intelligent design, defended the theory he says addresses "evolution follies."

"Mainstream criticism should be raised in classrooms," West said.

The Dover school district's challenge to the primacy of evolution is not isolated. In Cobb County, Ga., parents sued a local school board for mandating that biology textbooks prominently display disclaimers stating that evolution is "not a fact." A federal court is expected to rule next month.

In Grantsburg, Wis., a school board revised its science curriculum to teach "various scientific models of theories of origin." In Charles County, Md. , the school board is considering a proposal to eliminate textbooks "biased toward evolution" from classrooms. Similar proposals have been considered this year in Missouri, Mississippi and Oklahoma.

"There is nothing random about this," said Barry Lynn, executive director of the Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "You might say it's a planned evolution of an attack on the science of evolution."

The drive to bring more religion and what have been labeled "moral values" into the classroom goes beyond challenges to Darwin's theory, Scott said. The Charles County school board also proposed to censor school reading lists of "immorality" or "foul language" and to allow the distribution of Bibles in schools. In Texas, the nation's second-biggest school textbook market, the State Board of Education approved health textbooks that defined abstinence as the only form of contraception and changed the description of marriage between "two people" to "a lifelong union between a husband and a wife."

"The religious right has a list of topics that it wants action on," Scott said. "Things like abortion, abstinence, gays are higher up in the food chain of their concern, but evolution is part of the package."

This drive has found fertile ground in this part of Pennsylvania, where billboards reading, "Many books inform but only the Bible transforms" line the road, and family restaurants offer free booklets titled "What the Bible says about moral purity" and "The Bible is God's word" at the door.

"These brochures give you an idea where some people in this community are coming from," said Jeff Brown, 54, who, along with his wife Carol, 57, resigned from the school board after they voted against changing the biology curriculum.

Yingling, who voted in favor, said she believes God created the world in six days and doesn't believe in evolution "at all." Another board member who supported the measure, William Buckingham, refused to say what he believes but has identified himself as a born-again Christian.

But religious beliefs or motivations should be beside the point, said Richard Thompson, an attorney who represents the board members. Thompson is the president of the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., a pro-bono firm whose Web site promises "the sword and shield for the people of faith."

The decision was "supportive of academic freedom more than anything else, " Thompson said.

While not talking about his own religious convictions, Thompson added, "When you look at cell structure and you see the intricacy of the cell, you can come to the conclusion that it doesn't happen by natural selection, there has to be intelligent design." Thompson said he is ready to represent the board in the Supreme Court if it comes to that. Some parents and teachers in Dover already have asked the Pennsylvania ACLU to sue the board on their behalf. Walczak said the organization's legal team is studying the case before deciding whether to go to court.

Brown, the former school board member, says he is not arguing with other people's religious beliefs.

"Don't get me wrong: I don't have a problem with having these booklets where people can pick them up. But I do have a problem with people shoving this down the throats of our children on taxpayers' dollars," Brown said.

"I happen to believe both in God and evolution," he said, and his wife nodded: "Hear, hear."

The Browns appear to be in the minority. Although public schools have been teaching evolution for decades, a national Gallup poll in November 2004 showed that only 35 percent of those asked believed confidently that Darwin's theory was "supported by the evidence.'' More than one-third of those polled by CBS News later in November said creationism should be taught instead of evolution.

"A guy came up to me and said, 'Wait a minute, you believe in God and evolution at the same time? Evolution isn't in the Bible!' " said Brown, nibbling on a deep-fried mozzarella stick at the Shiloh Family Restaurant on Route 74. As he became more agitated, his voice grew louder, and other customers -- mostly gray-haired women and elderly men in baseball hats -- turned their heads to look at the couple. Carol Brown kept putting her index finger to her lips, gesturing for her husband to be quieter.

After the Browns left the restaurant, a waitress in her 30s slipped a note to a Chronicle reporter.

"Beware," it read. "God wrote over 2,000 years ago that there would be false prophets and teachers. If you would like to know the truth read the Bible."

Recent actions in the teaching of evolution

Tennessee, April 2003: Blount County's Board of Education votes not to adopt three high school biology textbooks because they do not present creationism alongside evolution.

California, September 2003: The Board of Trustees of the Roseville Joint Union High School District (Placerville County) decide not to enact a district- wide policy on teaching evolution. Science teachers have told the district that they do not want to add anti-evolutionist materials that are not state- approved.

Oklahoma, April 2004: Textbook legislation passes after it is stripped of a provision that all textbooks include a disclaimer describing evolution as "a controversial theory which some scientists present as scientific explanation for the origin of living things" and "the unproven belief that random, undirected forces produced a world of living things."

Pennsylvania, October 2004: A Dover, Pa., school board votes to include intelligent design in the district's science curriculum, making it the first such school district in the country.

Georgia, November 2004: A lawsuit is filed against the Cobb County School District over this disclaimer inserted into textbooks: "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."

Source: National Center for Science Education; Chronicle research

National polls on the issue

In your opinion, is Darwin's theory supported by evidence?

Supported by evidence, 35%

Not supported, 35%

Don't know enough to say, 29%

Which best describes your views of the origin of life?

Man developed with God guiding, 38%

Man developed with no help from God, 13%

God created man in present form, 45%

Source: Gallup Poll, conducted Nov. 7-10. The poll surveyed 1,016 adults; the margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Percentage favoring the teaching of creationism instead of evolution

Overall, 37%

Kerry voters, 24%

Bush voters, 45%

Self-described evangelical Christians, 60%

Source: CBS News poll, conducted Nov. 18-21. The poll surveyed 795 registered voters nationwide; the margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Recent actions in the teaching of evolution Tennessee, April 2003: Blount County's Board of Education votes not to adopt three high school biology textbooks because they do not present creationism alongside evolution..

California, September 2003: The Board of Trustees of the Roseville Joint Union High School District Placerville County) decide not to enact a district- wide policy on teaching evolution. Science teachers have told the district that they do not want to add nti-evolutionist materials that are not stateapproved..

Oklahoma, April 2004: Textbook legislation passes after it is stripped of a provision that all textbooks include a disclaimer describing evolution as "a controversial theory which some scientists present as scientific explanation for the origin of living things"and "the unproven belief that random, undirected forces produced a world of living things.".

Pennsylvania, October 2004: A Dover, Pa., school board votes to include intelligent design in the district's science curriculum, making it the first such school districtin the country..

Georgia, November 2004: A lawsuit is filed against the Cobb County School District over this disclaimer inserted into textbooks: "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 criticallyconsidered.".Source: National Center for Science Education; Chronicle research

E-mail Anna Badkhen at abadkhen@sfchronicle.com.

Memory researcher wins Grawemeyer

By Laura Ungar
The Courier-Journal

A researcher whose controversial work on false memory has been used to defend those accused of child molestation has won the 2005 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Psychology.

Elizabeth Loftus is the most controversial researcher ever to win the $200,000 prize and the most controversial Grawemeyer winner since former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev won the 1994 prize for improving world order, said Rich Lewine, a UofL professor who is chairman of the psychology award.

"We did this strictly on the basis of the quality of her work. ... She's really solid," Lewine said. "One always risks with potent ideas to have potent reaction."

Loftus' work on false recollections and the reliability of eyewitness reports, as well as her questioning of memories "recovered" through therapy, have affected the way police and the courts view such testimony. Her ideas have also stirred such hostility that she has received death threats and has been forced to bring armed guards to speaking engagements.

Full story at:

Water is not an essential ingredient for Life, scientists now claim


Date Released: Friday, November 26, 2004
Source: Current Opinion in Chemical Biology

Billions of dollars are pumped into extraterrestrial exploration each year in the search for the ultimate prize - the discovery of life on other planets. But are we looking in all the right places? Prof Steven A Benner, who is working with NASA on the design of the next generation of Mars probes, believes that life could flourish without any need for water. In the December issue of Current Opinion in Chemical Biology, he and his colleagues at the University of Florida describe how organisms could survive in exotic environments such as on Saturn's moon Titan.

Benner and colleagues identify just two absolute requirements for life to exist: a suitable temperature range to allow chemical bonding, and an energy source (for example, the sun or radioactive decay). This contrasts with the common belief that life absolutely requires liquid water. Indeed, the authors speculate on the possibilities of life emerging in cold, icy environments, just like that of Titan, which meets both requirements and many 'weaker' ones. "Life may even exist in more exotic environments, such as the supercritical dihydrogen-helium mixtures found on gas giants," speculates Prof Benner, referring to the large gaseous planets such as Jupiter and Saturn. He even wonders if we may have missed exotic forms of life here on Earth. "This question is not as absurd as it might seem," says Benner. "Just 50 years ago...life in the deep ocean was not known."

Titan, currently being studied by the Cassini space probe, is perhaps an ideal place to look for life. The stunning pictures and data already sent back from the moon suggest a world of yellow clouds and oily black methane lakes, an environment that is thought to resemble that of the Earth billions of years ago. This puzzling moon is too cold for large quantities of liquid water to exist, however, which for many probably rules out life. Humans and, indeed, simple bacteria are mostly made up of water, so it is difficult to envisage life without it. But Benner believes this focus on water can blinker the search. "Why not use the hydrocarbons that are naturally liquid on Titan as a solvent for life directly?," he muses. "In many senses, hydrocarbon solvents are better than water for managing complex organic chemical reactivity."

We will soon know more. Next month, the European-built Huygens probe will detach from Cassini and touch down, or perhaps splash down, on Titan's surface. "The Huygens mission will be the first real input into this field for some time. Its potential for providing an 'Aha!' experience with respect to weird life is enormous," says Benner.

All life on Earth is widely supposed to have descended from a common ancestor. One consequence of this is that every organism uses the same general biochemistry. For example, all forms of life make use of proteins made from the same set of building blocks. But this may not be the only way to do things. Could creatures exist elsewhere in the Universe with a completely different biochemistry? Experiments in recent years have partly addressed such questions by re-engineering protein and DNA systems. For example, alternative amino acids to those found in living systems are capable of standing in for their natural counterparts. Professor Benner and colleagues now provide a wide-ranging exploration of just how far the chemistry of life can be pushed. "Is water necessary? Is carbon essential? Why not silicon?," asks Benner. One of the leading theories on the origins of life supposes that the earliest organisms used RNA instead of DNA to pass on their genetic information and to catalyse reactions. If this is correct, it demonstrates that alternative biochemistries are indeed possible. Benner suggests that 'RNA organisms' might still exist. Because such life forms would not need the biochemical machinery to produce proteins, they would be much smaller than bacteria, hinting at possible environments we might look for them in. "Many minerals have pores that are smaller than one micron across. These might hold smaller RNA organisms," says Benner.

While more exotic worlds might well harbour life, Mars remains the best bet. "There was water on Mars when there was life on Earth," Benner points out. "This would not be particularly weird life, of course, in that it would be living in water, but it could easily be weird by Earth standards." However, Benner concedes that "a simple 'We don't know' is often the best answer for some questions. "Until life is encountered elsewhere, or aliens contact us, we will not have an independent second dataset. We may not even then, if the alien life itself shares an ancestor with life on Earth."


Contact details

Prof. Steven A Benner, Department of Chemistry, University of Florida,
Gainesville, FL 32611-7200, USA

Tel: 352 392 7773

e-mail: benner@chem.ufl.edu

Current Opinion in Chemical Biology is a review journal covering all aspects of the interface between chemistry and biology. Each issue contains articles themed around a particular subject of current interest. The article described above is from a section on the Molecular origins of life, edited by Nicholas V Hud and David G Lynn. For more information on the journal or to request the full text of the article, please contact the in-house editor Matt Brown at COChemBiol@elsevier.com. You can view the current issue at




Clinton's secret psychic spies ordered to contact monster
By Toby Mcdonald

BILL Clinton ordered a bizarre spy unit to contact the Loch Ness monster by telepathy.

The then-US president gave the go-ahead for his Psychic Spying Unit to find Nessie as part of a £15million operation. One of the leading lights in the hush-hush mission later claimed to have found a 'faint trace' of the elusive monster using his psychic powers. But in his report to the White House he admitted that the monster he 'saw' was only the ghost of a dinosaur.

Operation Nessie was launched to establish whether psychic contact could be made with alien life forms.

The spies' activities were kept secret from regular army top brass with reports going directly to Washington. The exercise has been revealed by author Jon Ronson in his new book The Men Who Stare at Goats about the US military's weirdest tactics and operations.

Ronson was given access to previously classified materials for the book. He said: 'It was an extremely serious operation, however crackpot it may sound. 'The Americans were convinced the Russians were ahead of them in the field of psychic study and had platoons of psychically-trained soldiers ready to launch a stealth attack on the US.'

The US Army worked on the project from a base at Fort Meade, Maryland. It was led by General Albert Stubblebine, Chief of Intelligence for the US Army, and Major Ed Dames. The unit had begun investigating UFOs and the possibility alien races - particularly Martians - were living among humans.

The major believed that Martians had been resettled on Earth thousands of years ago by leaders of the Galactic Federation - an ancient race who had been visiting the planet since the age of the dinosaurs.

Ronson said: 'Dames told me he had targeted the Loch Ness Monster for psychic contact. He spent a long time trying to reach the monster from his clapperboard hut in Maryland but he could only find a faint trace of her.

Based on his work he decided she must be the ghost of a dinosaur. His report went right up to President Clinton.'

Stubblebine was relieved of his position after he started to believe he could levitate and pass through walls.

He frequently sported black eyes and bruises because of his habit of running at walls full tilt - with no success.

Ronson will give readings from the book in Glasgow on December 7.

Monday, November 29, 2004

ACLU Endorses Ignorance in Pennsylvania


November 29, 2004

by Doug Patton

Seventy-nine years ago last summer, a legal carnival convened in the little town of Dayton, Tennessee, as the trial of John Scopes got under way. Banners and lemonade stands lined the streets. People joked that chimpanzees, brought to town to perform in sideshows, actually were in Dayton as witnesses for the trial.

On one side was the American Civil Liberties Union, which had offered to pay the legal expenses of anyone who would challenge a Tennessee law that banned the teaching of Darwin’s theory of evolution in public schools and universities. Twenty-four-year-old local science teacher John Scopes was recruited to be charged with violating the law, and Clarence Darrow, long known for his agnostic views and hostility to Christianity, was recruited to head Scopes defense team.

On the other side were traditionalists who supported the law. They were represented by William Jennings Bryan, a former Member of Congress and populist two-time Democrat presidential candidate from Nebraska. Bryan, whose followers had succeeded in getting similar anti-evolution laws introduced into law in fifteen states, said in his opening statement that “if evolution wins, Christianity goes.” Darrow argued, “Scopes isn’t on trial; civilization is on trial.”

And so it went, until Darrow finally asked that his own client be found guilty, a tactic he hoped would lead to a reversal upon appeal and which denied Bryan the opportunity, under Tennessee law, to make a closing statement. The trial would have long range ramifications for the state of public education in America and, in the process, diminish the reputations of both Bryan, who came off as a fundamentalist zealot, and Darrow, whom even liberal law professor Alan Dershowitz today contends showed himself to be “an anti-religious cynic.”

Scopes was found guilty and fined $100 for teaching evolution, a penalty that was reversed on appeal (though on a legal technicality and not on constitutional grounds as Darrow had hoped).

Many a Christian fundamentalist has looked back on the Scopes trial as the beginning of a long slide toward the secularism that pervades American society today; and many an ACLU supporter has pointed to it as the beginning of enlightenment in American education. The truth lies somewhere in between.

I believe in creationism. I believe that God created the earth and everything on its face, including human beings. I think it takes a great deal more faith to believe in Darwin’s theory of random selection than it does to believe that an all-powerful Supreme Being created all this with a purpose in mind.

That said, I also believe in academic freedom, a concept foreign to many on both sides of this argument, even today. Charging Scopes with a crime in 1925 was a huge mistake on the part of those attempting to stand up for creationism. What could have been a debunked theory if taught side by side with the truth became a crusade for the teaching of evolution as a fact.

Today, the ACLU finds itself in the role of the traditionalists eight decades ago. They scoff at those who believe in anything other than the orthodoxy of the day, and they fight tenaciously to defend their beliefs in the face of growing opposition.

ACLU involvement in a Dover, Pennsylvania, case clearly shows their desperation. Last month, the school board in this rural south-central Pennsylvania community became the first in the nation to mandate the teaching of “intelligent design,” which holds that the universe is so complex that it must have been created by a higher power. The “higher power” is unspecified, but that does not matter to the zealots at the ACLU, who endorse ignorance because they believe that any mention or reference to anything remotely like a Supreme Being is “an establishment of religion” and therefore unconstitutional.

Imagine this as the beginning of a movement in American education, with frustrated parents and fed-up school board members taking matters into their own hands. If so, look for the panic to set in at the ACLU, with lawsuits galore as the 21 st Century version of Scopes gets under way. Call it Scopes II, only this time the battle could be fought on as many fronts as there are school boards in America.

Doug Patton is a freelance columnist who has served as a speechwriter and policy advisor for federal, state and local candidates, elected officials and public policy organizations. His weekly columns can be read in newspapers across the country, on MensNewsDaily.com, and on GOPUSA.com, where he serves as the Nebraska Editor. He also writes for Talon News Service. Readers can e-mail him at dpatton@neonramp.com.

School science debate has evolved


By Laura Parker, USA TODAY

The long-simmering battle over how evolution is taught in high school biology is boiling again.

Schools in Cobb County, Ga., outside Atlanta, placed this sticker in science textbooks. AP

Nearly 80 years after the famous "Monkey Trial," in which Tennessee teacher John Scopes was convicted of teaching evolution in violation of state law, 24 states this year have seen efforts to change the way evolution is taught.

And because of a requirement in the federal No Child Left Behind law that states must review science standards over the next two years, the debate is likely to intensify. That requirement provides an opportunity for critics of evolution to help reshape how it is taught in public schools.

The battlegrounds include small school districts as well as state school boards that write policy for every district in the state. Among them:

• In western Wisconsin, the small Grantsburg School District now requires that alternative theories of evolution be taught.

• In Ohio, the state school board passed a measure that encourages the teaching of evolution and "intelligent design," a hypothesis that says life is so complex that some intelligent force was responsible.

• In Kansas, the defeat this month of a "pro-science" incumbent on the state school board by a candidate who had questioned evolution has shifted the balance of power on the 10-member board and ensures that the issue will come up again. The board ended the teaching of evolution in 1999, then reversed that decision after a subsequent election. It has been deadlocked since.

Debates over religion, science and natural phenomena are not limited to schools and evolution. The bookstore at Grand Canyon National Park sells Grand Canyon: A Different View by Tom Vail, a Colorado River guide. The book says the Grand Canyon was created during Noah's flood, not through millennia of erosion by the Colorado River.

The fight over evolution is heating up as the country tries to come to terms with the role of religion in government. The American public remains divided. In a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll of 1,105 people conducted Nov. 19-21, 48% said religion has too much political influence in American life, and 40% said it has too little influence. Seven percent said religion has about the right amount of political influence. The poll's margin of error was +/—3 percentage points.

The debate over evolution has itself evolved. It is no longer a clear-cut argument between creationists who support the Bible's version of the origin of life and evolutionists who back Charles Darwin's theory that complex life forms, including humans, developed through genetic changes over millions of years. Now, those challenging Darwin want evolution taught as a theory whose validity is questioned. They also want alternative views taught so students are exposed to all views.

Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, says the new approach is politically smart.

"They have no science," Scott says. "But they can argue to the American public that it's only fair to teach alternative science theories or evidence against evolution. That resonates in American culture. We are a very fair people."

But giving equal time to alternative views, critics such as Scott say, suggests that they are on par scientifically with evolution, which is grounded in scientific fact.

"Part of the job of the public school system is to make professional judgments about what children ought to learn," says Jack Krebs, a teacher and vice president of Kansas Citizens for Science. "It doesn't make any sense to give equal time to all these other ideas that are vastly unsupported. It's misleading to kids."

The most popular alternative is "intelligent design." Proponents of intelligent design do not publicly identify the "intelligent force," although they privately say it is God.

The hypothesis has been promoted to school districts by the Center for Science & Culture, an arm of the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank that is involved in other issues, such as regional transportation, and boasts as its largest donor the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

"Some features of the natural universe are best explained as products of an intelligent cause rather than an undirected process like natural selection," says John West, the center's associate director. But identifying the cause, he says, is "outside the scope of science."

The Dover, Pa., school district recently became the first in the nation to require teaching intelligent design. Two school board members, Jeffrey Brown and his wife, Carol, resigned in protest.

"I don't think we should be teaching it. It is not a scientific theory, it is only a hypothesis," Brown says. Opponents call intelligent design "creationism in a tuxedo" that attempts to blur the line between religion and science in a way that will survive an inevitable court challenges. In 1987, the Supreme Court found that teaching creationism in public schools violates the constitutionally guaranteed separation of church and state.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Scopes in the Tennessee Monkey Trial in 1925 — and lost — is now involved in litigation in Georgia and is considering suing in Dover.

"We've been fighting this since 1925,"says Witold Walczak, a Pennsylvania ACLU lawyer. "Why aren't people questioning atomic theory? Why aren't they questioning the theory that the Earth revolves around the sun? That's because evolution conflicts with their religious beliefs."

The lawsuit in Georgia was filed on behalf of six parents who objected to a disclaimer sticker the Cobb County school board placed on ninth-grade biology textbooks. The case was tried earlier this month in federal court in Atlanta. The judge's ruling is expected soon.

The disclaimer sticker states: "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."

Ken Miller, a Brown University biologist and co-author of the textbook, testified at the trial. He says the sticker "gives the impression that it's a very shaky theory." He adds: "When you say theory, not a fact, you're confusing the word, that it's something that we are not certain of. Theories in science explain facts."

Georgia state science standards require that evolution be taught. But in 2002, the district decided to add the sticker after 2,100 parents complained that the text failed to present other views about the origins of life.

The lawsuit illuminates the problem educators face as they attempt to straddle the divide over religion.

"We're trying to ... improve our evolution instruction and at the same time acknowledge that religious beliefs do enter into it," says Linwood Gunn, the district's attorney. "It is permissible to acknowledge there might be a conflict. Otherwise, you are ignoring the real friction there."

Evolution of creationism Pseudoscience doesn't stand up to natural selection


Last update: November 29, 2004

In a poll released last week, two-thirds of Americans said they wanted to see creationism taught to public-school science pupils alongside evolution. Thirty-seven percent said they wanted to see creationism taught instead of evolution.

So why shouldn't majority rule? That's democracy, right?

Wrong. Science isn't a matter of votes -- or beliefs. It's a system of verifiable facts, an approach that must be preserved and fought for if American pupils are going to get the kind of education they need to complete in an increasingly global techno-economy.

Unfortunately, the debate over evolution and creationism is back, with a spiffy new look and a mass of plausible-sounding talking points, traveling under the seemingly secular name of "intelligent design."

This "theory" doesn't spend much time pondering which intelligence did the designing. Instead, it backwards-engineers its way into a complicated rationale, capitalizing on a few biological oddities to "prove" life could not have evolved by natural selection.

On the strength of this redesigned premise -- what Wired Magazine dubbed "creationism in a lab coat" -- school districts across the country are being bombarded by activists seeking to have their version given equal footing with established evolutionary theory in biology textbooks. School boards in Ohio, Georgia and most recently Dover, Pa., have all succumbed.

There's no problem with letting pupils know that debate exists over the origin of man, along with other animal and plant life. But peddling junk science in the name of "furthering the discussion" won't help their search for knowledge. Instead, pupils should be given a framework for understanding the gaps in evidence and credibility between the two camps.

A lot of the confusion springs from use of the word "theory" itself. Used in science, it signifies a maxim that is believed to be true, but has not been directly observed. Since evolution takes place over millions of years, it would be inaccurate to say that man has directly observed it -- but it is reasonable to say that evolution is thoroughly supported by a vast weight of scientific evidence and research.

That's not to say it's irrefutable. Some day, scientists may find enough evidence to mount a credible challenge to evolutionary theory -- in fact, some of Charles Darwin's original suppositions have been successfully challenged.

But that day has not come. As a theory, intelligent design is not ready to steal, or even share, the spotlight, and it's unfair to burden children with pseudoscience to further an agenda that is more political than academic.

SC for law to regulate alternative medicine system


UNI New Delhi Nov 25: The Supreme Court today directed the Centre to explore within eight weeks etching a draft legislation to regulate doctors practicing various streams of alternative system of medicine other than allopathy, ayurveda, homeopathy and unani.

A bench comprising Mr Justice Y K Sabharwal and Mr Justice D M Dharmadhikari passed the order on a special leave petition (SLP) seeking direction to the Centre and the states to implement a Delhi High Court judgment in this regard.

The High Court had directed the Centre and the states to consider making a law to regulate grant of licences to existing new institutes and to control and regulate various unrecognised streams of alternative system of medicine.

After the judgment the government had constituted a standing committee of experts under the director general of Indian Council of Medical Research to consider the matter and give recommendations on the efficacy and merit of various streams of alternative medicine and also examine the feasibility of enacting a legislation as suggested by the High Court.

The committee developed essential and desirable criteria for grant of recognition to new streams of medicine and analysed different streams of alternative system of medicine like ayurveda, siddha, unani, homeopathy, yoga, naturopathy, electropathy, electo-homeopathy, accupuncture and so on.

The government accepted the recommendation of the committee that no new system of medicine, other than those already recognised, should be granted recognition.

Later an intervention application was filed by Wing Commander (retd) H M Sethi to seek implementation of the High Court judgment. It was on this that the court asked the Centre to make a law dealing with all aspects of the matter including recognition and regulation.

Choosing Sides in Evolution vs. Genesis



Re "Genesis Through the Back Door," editorial, Nov. 20: May I suggest a new sticker for Cobb County science textbooks: "Evolution is a theory — arrived at through an exhaustive and diligent search for truth conducted by the brightest and most rational members of our species — not a fact, unlike creationism, which is a fact because men thousands of years ago wrote a story saying so, men who also thought the world was flat and the sun revolved around the Earth."

Pete Magill

South Pasadena

The Nov. 20 editorial states that creationists "ignore the overwhelming evidence supporting the widely accepted theory of evolution." At least you admit that it is a theory.

But you protest the creationists' move to come through the back door by using the term "intelligent design," which is their theory.

We'll call it intelligent design because that designation undergirds the claim that the order and design we find in our universe is certainly more logical than happenstance.

How anyone can observe the order and design in the heavens, or the nervous, digestive and reproductive systems in the animal kingdom and still believe in evolution is mystifying.

It did not require much intelligence to come up with your editorial, but it certainly required a lot of "intelligent design" to get it published and delivered to my door.

Robert H. Rowland


Your reference to "the overwhelming evidence supporting the theory of evolution" unwittingly supports evolution's critics.

If evidence for something is "overwhelming," it is a fact. Indeed, everything in the universe — from the mightiest galaxy to the tiniest subatomic particle — evolves. The process of evolution goes on all around us every day, e.g., the selective breeding of livestock, racehorses and show dogs is nothing but controlled evolution.

Creationism, on the other hand, is not even a theory. A theory is a proposition for which there is insufficient proof but which nonetheless has a functional scientific application. Creationism has none.

If it's going to be taught in schools, it belongs in a mythology class.

Forrest G. Wood


If the origins of Earth and life, and the process that produced today's world, are the results of intelligent design ("creationism" in two words), as the evangelicals in Dover, Pa., want to teach their children, they may want to pause and reconsider.

Maybe "divine design" (sort of catchy) or "magical design" (evangelicals believe in magic) would appeal more to kids. The word "intelligent" as used provokes contradiction, especially among intelligent people.

The notion that God created this world and everything in it through an intelligent design process in effect dumps responsibility into God's lap for the incredible disorder that the physical Earth has created for all life on it from the beginning.

The evangelicals would do better to tell the kids to question everything they are taught and demand credible answers.

John M. Freter

Yucca Valley

It is about time that the truth is being told: Evolution is a theory, not a fact. For too long our children have been taught evolution as the truth. There may very well be overwhelming evidence supporting evolution; however, there is also overwhelming scientific evidence to disprove the widely accepted theory.

If neither can be proved as cold, hard fact, why should they not be taught alongside each other? The students should be taught both evolution and creationism. They deserve the ability to choose what they want to believe.

Do we really want our children to believe that we came from lucky mud or primordial ooze, or that we were "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14)?

Blanca Lopez


Creator won't rest in bashing of Darwin


Nov. 28, 2004 12:00 AM

This would be a good time to rent Inherit the Wind, and get ready for the latest sequel in the Monkey Wars saga.

The dates have been changed to reflect the persistence of the Darwin haters, and the arguments have been punched up with some pseudo-scientific jargon. But the goal remains the same: Dumb down science and inject somebody's version of God into the classroom.

At risk are schoolchildren, who need a rigorous scientific education to compete in a world where knowledge is the currency of success. advertisement

The attacks on evolution have evolved in an effort to survive the 1987 Supreme Court decision that ejected "creationism science" from Louisiana classrooms.

Now the movement is called "intelligent design," which means this great, big old world of ours is just so dang complex that it couldn't have happened by accident.

I'm with 'em that far.

I believe in a creator of the universe. But that's faith, not science. It doesn't need empirical evidence to prop it up, and it isn't what I expect science classes to teach my child. Her father and I teach her what we believe. Navajo parents teach their children what they believe. That parental right also exists for fundamentalist Christians, Buddhists, Wiccans, Jews, Sikhs, atheists, etc.

It is none of government's business.

The newly evolved intelligent design advocates talk about concepts like "irreducible complexity" to try to make a scientific case against Darwin. And you know what? I don't have the scientific savvy to argue against them.

But 500-plus scientists named Steve do. The National Center for Science Education's Project Steve invited scientists with doctorates in biology, geology, paleontology or related fields to add their names to a list that endorses evolution and says, "It is scientifically inappropriate and pedagogically irresponsible for creationist pseudo-science, including but not limited to 'intelligent design,' to be introduced into the science curricula of our nation's public schools."

The list was limited to scientists with variants of the name Steve - Stephanie, Esteban, Etienne - partly to keep the list at a manageable size, says Nick Matzke of the National Center for Science Education. It was also done to parody lists of "Darwin doubters" that creationists compile.

But this isn't funny.

In October, a school board in Dover, Pa., voted to add intelligent design to high school biology classes. Two board members resigned in protest. Casey Brown, who had been on the board 10 years, said those who opposed the intelligent-design agenda were accused of lack of courage, patriotism and faith.

Her husband, Jeff, who resigned after five years on the board, said supporters of intelligent design "are at war with the concept of separation of church and state."

Meanwhile, the Grantsburg school board in Wisconsin is standing by its decision to require various theories of creation to be taught. More than 300 biology and religious studies professors signed a letter urging the board to reconsider, according to an article in the St. Paul Pioneer Press last week.

Earlier this month, arguments were heard in federal court against a Cobb County, Ga., school board policy requiring stickers on science textbooks that warn "Evolution is a theory, not a fact" that should be "critically considered." It doesn't specify which scientific theories should be uncritically considered.

The purpose, says Matzke, is "to mislead students so they don't think evolution is accepted science."

The goal is also to sneak religion into the classroom.

It is being euphemistically called an "accommodation" for families who don't believe in evolution.

But if not God, who is this "intelligent designer"? E.T.?

Well, there are popular books that suggest extraterrestrial visitors helped with the pyramids. Shall we accommodate these ideas in science class, too?

Better to firmly remind true believers that faith doesn't have to be proven, but science does. Our children's education can't be sacrificed on anybody's altar.

Reach the author at linda.valdez@arizonarepublic.com.

Ben Bova: Weak argument for 'Intelligent Design' can't refute Darwin


By BEN BOVA, Special to the Daily News
November 28, 2004

Over the years I've read a good many books that attempt to prove Darwin was wrong, evolution is false, and the human race was created by a supernatural agency: God, if you're a Christian; Intelligent Design if you want to avoid religion.

The latest such book was written by a friend of mine, James P. Hogan, a fellow writer of science fiction and an engineer by education and training.

In "Kicking the Sacred Cow" (Baen Books, $24.00), Hogan lambasts orthodox science in fields as diverse as evolutionary biology, cosmology, and AIDS research.

His first chapter deals with "The Rush to Embrace Darwinism." If there was ever an idea that was not embraced in a rush, it was Darwin's concept of the evolution of the species through natural selection.

Hogan's main line of attack against Darwin is to claim that "no concrete proof could be shown" that species actually evolve over time. His defense for that position is to ignore facts that contradict him. And his conclusion is that Intelligent Design is the true force behind the development of life on Earth.

Although Hogan is an engaging writer, his support of the Intelligent Design concept is no different from other attacks against Darwin. He offers no evidence for Intelligent Design, no proof that there is a deliberate, active force of some kind that is directing the development of life.

Instead, as so many earlier Bible-thumping opponents of Darwin have done, Hogan tries to find flaws in the Darwinian model. He insists that there is no evidence whatsoever of species evolving into different species, an insistence that is palpably wrong.

For example, biologists have observed cichlid fishes in African lakes evolving into different species. They've seen it with their own eyes. Not a word about this in Hogan's book.

Faced with the evidence of fossils that show the long evolution of the horse, he dismisses the earliest fossils of Eohippus as not belonging to the horse lineage and conveniently overlooks the rest of the evidence. Faced with Archeopteryx, whose fossils are intermediary between reptiles and birds, he claims that it was a feathered lizard and had nothing to do with the later development of birds.

Hogan completely ignores the more recent discoveries of fossils that clearly trace the evolution of modern whales from land-dwelling creatures, through intermediate forms that eventually became the fully aquatic leviathans of today.

When dealing with the observable mutation of bacteria that evolve into new strains resistant to antibiotics, Hogan comes to the conclusion that the resistant strains have lost some of their genetic information, and therefore cannot be counted as examples of natural selection.

Whether it's by losing genes or gaining new ones or mutating existing genes, organisms change in reaction to changes in their environment. That is the driving force of natural selection, the mainspring of evolution.

Yet Hogan persists with the idea of Intelligent Design, repeating the old argument that living organisms are simply too complex to have come about through blind chance. He cites statistics aplenty, as if that can prove anything.

Any high-school student who has suffered through first-year chemistry knows that chemical elements do not combine at random. That's what valences are all about. Gold will not combined with iron to form a gold-iron molecule. The chemical elements are very fussy about which elements they will mate with.

It isn't blind chance that directs evolution, any more than it's Intelligent Design. It is chemistry. In the 1960s Nobel laureate Melvin Calvin elucidated the concept of autocatalysis; he showed that certain molecules will combine under natural conditions to form more complex molecules. Today this concept is usually called chemical evolution.

Chemical evolution took place on the early Earth until a molecule arose that could exactly reproduce itself out of simpler chemicals. That is when life started and biology began. Biological evolution took over from that point and has been running the show ever since.

Is there any evidence for Intelligent Design?

Hogan presents none; he merely falls back on the justification that something as complex as the human eye could not have evolved without some intelligent source directing its development. Like others before him, he argues that all the myriad parts of the eye must all be there, in the correct order, for the eye to work. Otherwise you have nothing but useless tissue.

Not true. The evolution of vision is well documented. Vision gives an organism so much information (thousands of times more than smell or touch) that eyes have developed independently in many different lines of organisms, from eagles to barnacles, from insects and squid to mammals.

Vision began with light-sensitive pigments, such as those in the eye spots of flat worms. Over the course of eons organisms added reflecting tissue, protective transparent covers, focusing lenses and exquisitely sensitive retinas. The result is today's eyes — in mammals, birds, fish, insects, arachnids, even shellfish.

Poking complaints at Darwin does not prove Intelligent Design. And although biologists have argued over some of the details of Darwin's work, the concept of evolution through natural selection is as solidly founded as any bit of scientific thinking can be.

As Richard Dawkins says in his latest book, "The Ancestor's Tale" (Houghton Mifflin, $28.00), "biology, unlike human history or even physics, already has its grand unifying theory, accepted by all informed practioners, though in varying versions and interpretations." That grand unifying theory is Darwin's concept of evolution through natural selection.

If you want a clear, comprehensive explanation of Darwin's ideas, written in language that anyone can understand, get yourself a copy of the November issue of National Geographic magazine. The cover asks, in bold letters: "Was Darwin Wrong?"

The article shows clearly that no, he was not. "The evidence for evolution is overwhelming," says author David Quammen. The next 31 pages of text and pictures shows why.

The evidence for Intelligent Design is nonexistent.

Naples resident Ben Bova is the author of more than 100 futuristic books. His latest nonfiction work is "Faint Echoes, Distant Stars: The Science and Politics of Finding Life Beyond Earth." Dr. Bova's Web site address is www.benbova.net.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Footie team told to wear red underpants


Bottom of the league Norwich City have been urged to wear red underpants to help them win a game.

The Canaries have not won in 13 Premiership matches this season reports The Sun.

But top psychic Samanda Chambers insists crimson drawers will help the club, who earned promotion last season thanks to stars like Darren Huckerby.

Norwich fan Samanda said: "Red is the colour of positivity. The groin is where emotions are held. Wearing red here increases feelings of inner worth."

Samanda and her pals will attend Saturday's game against Southampton at Carrow Road wearing red knickers.

Five teams have beaten the Norfolk club this season - and four of them wear a red strip. Norwich play in yellow and green.

Ex-goalie Bryan Gunn, who still works at the club, said many players are superstitious, but added:

"I'm not sure they'll be convinced to change their pants."

Defender Craig Fleming added: "On Saturday, I'll have James Beattie breathing down my neck - I don't see how red pants will help."

Physics News Update 700

The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News
Number 700 September 10, 2004 by Phillip F. Schewe and Ben Stein

MAKING STELLAR MAGNETIC FIELDS IN A JAR. An experiment at the University of Maryland reports the first experimental observation of a magnetorotational instability---essentially the creation of an induced magnetic field amid the turbulence of a rotating electrically conducting fluid immersed in a separate magnetic field. In the Maryland experiment a baseball-sized copper ball is rotated within a vessel containing liquid sodium. With this setup, the researchers try to simulate the ingredients shared in common by Earth's core, the outer envelopes of stars, and the accretion disk surrounding black holes. In each case a conducting fluid, differential rotation (inner parts of the fluid rotating faster than outer parts), and potent magnetism add up to interesting physics. Until now there had been only theories and simulations of this physical environment. Now, the Maryland experiment actually demonstrates that an organized magnetic field (see figures at complex.umd.edu) can arise even from a hydrodynamic turbulent fluid. According to Daniel Lathrop, one of the scientists involved, the new test allows researchers to study the interplay between moving fluids, the ways in which turbulence can occur, and how the fluid rotation can be braked. (Sisan et al., Physical Review Letters, 10 September; contact Lathrop at dpl@complex.umd.edu, 301-405-1594)

CAN CHEMICAL ENVIRONMENT AFFECT NUCLEAR PROPERTIES? A new experiment shows that the decay lifetime of radioactive beryllium-7 changes by almost 1% when placed inside a carbon-60 molecule. This is perhaps the largest shift yet seen in a chemically induced modification of a nuclear lifetime. The Be-7 is unstable and one way for it to decay is for the nucleus to capture one of its own electrons, process in which a proton is turned into a neutron. Now if the Be atom lies in the cavity within a C60 molecule (in which case it is referred to as endohedral Be, or abbreviated further, Be@C60) the surrounding halo of carbon-based electrons apparently modifies the wave-functions of the beryllium-associated electrons and the associated "phase space" so that the rate at which electrons are captured by the Be nucleus is speeded up.

Previous attempts to modify nuclear lifetimes through chemical means have resulted in shifts that were at the 0.15% level. The researchers from Tohoku University and Yokohama National University (Japan) doing the present experiment believe that it would be premature to suggest that this approach can be used to mitigate the problems of storing radioactive materials, but, in the near term the use of endohedral fullerenes (cargo-carrying C60 molecules) might lead to specialized radio-therapies or tracers for tagging metabolic pathways in the body. (Ohtsuki et al., Physical Review Letters, 10 September 2004; Ohtsuki@LNS.tohoku.ac.jp)

ATOM-HOLE BECs, condensates of atom-hole pairs held in an "optical lattice" made of crossed laser beams, might contribute to the now-popular program of putting quantum weirdness to use in information processing and to the study of superfluids through the use of tailored interactions. Chaohong Lee, a physicist at the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems in Dresden, has suggested his model of atom-hole condensates in analogy with electron-hole clouds in semiconductors. When an electron is sprung from its niche in a semiconductor crystal, the hole remaining behind can itself move around and act as if it were a positively charged object. Indeed, a nearby electron and hole can behave as a sort of pair. These pairs, or "excitons," can condense into a single quantum state. In light emitting diodes (LEDs) the coalescence of holes and electrons results in light emission.

Lee believes the same can happen to supercold Fermi atoms (those with a half-integral amount of spin) lodged in all, or nearly all, the interstices of an optical lattice. In his model two species---with different magnetic polarizations---of the same element would be loaded in the trap. Then, by altering an applied magnetic field, interactions among the trapped atoms, and the potential depth of the optical lattice could be manipulated so as to favor atom-hole pair formation and even condensation. Like the electron-hole partners meeting to create light, the atom-hole mates might also be made to render light in novel ways.(Physical Review Letters, upcoming article; 49-871-2124, chlee@mpipks-dresden.mpg.de)

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

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Langdon Gilkey, 85, Theorist on Nexus of Faith and Science, Dies



November 26, 2004

Langdon Gilkey, a prominent Protestant theologian who argued for a rational, even satisfying, coexistence between science and faith in the modern, secular age, died on Nov. 19 in Charlottesville, Va. He was 85.

The cause was meningitis, according to the University of Chicago, where Dr. Gilkey taught at the divinity school from 1963 until his retirement in 1989.

The author of more than a dozen books, Dr. Gilkey was considered a pre-eminent interpreter of the work of the theologians Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich. In his own writing, his concerns were ecumenical, ranging from interpretations of post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism to explorations of Protestant belief through the lens of autobiography.

Throughout his career, Dr. Gilkey explored the often slippery terrain where religion, technology and culture converge.

A Protestant of liberal social conscience, he often argued publicly against the initiatives of Christian fundamentalists, including school prayer and creationism. As an expert witness for the American Civil Liberties Union, he testified in a highly publicized 1981 case in which an Arkansas law requiring the teaching of creationism in public schools was struck down.

"He was a leader in the generation that followed the 20th-century titans: Reinhold Niebuhr; H. Richard Niebuhr, his brother; and Paul Tillich," said Martin E. Marty, an emeritus professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School. "The generation after them had a good, heavy dose of realism. They were the first American Protestant generation that could be really at home with Catholicism, and they had a more open embrace of popular culture."

While some theologians approached faith as a rarefied abstraction, Dr. Gilkey tried to situate it in a going world that also contained science, secularism and an abundance of other faiths. Christian thought, he maintained, could profitably inform, and be informed by, all of the above.

"The scientific community is as vulnerable as any other community to a spiritual takeover," he told The Chicago Tribune in 1986. "The history of science getting taken over and transformed by ideology in the 20th century is appalling. They've ended up as the handmaiden of every damn ideology around."

Langdon Brown Gilkey was born on Feb. 9, 1919, in Chicago, where his father was the University of Chicago chaplain. He earned a bachelor's degree from Harvard in 1940, and a Ph.D., in 1954, from Union Theological Seminary, where he was a student of Reinhold Niebuhr.

Dr. Gilkey's first marriage ended in divorce. He is survived by his wife, the former Sonja Weber, whom he married in 1963; their son, Amos Welcome Gilkey, and daughter, Frouwkje Gilkey Pagani; a grandson; and a son from his first marriage, Mark Whitney Gilkey.

After graduating from Harvard, Dr. Gilkey traveled to China to teach English at Yenching University. China was then under Japanese occupation, and after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, he was interned with other Allied civilians in a camp at Shantung, where he remained until the end of the war.

In his memoir "Shantung Compound: The Story of Men and Women Under Pressure" (1966), Dr. Gilkey discussed the effect of his captivity, during which he was crowded in with almost 2,000 other prisoners, on his later beliefs. "This internment camp reduced society, ordinarily large and complex, to viewable sizes," he wrote, "and by subjecting life to greatly increased tension laid bare its essential structures."

It was a view of the human condition that would shape much of his later work, as he tried to root Christian belief in a deeply flawed, even barbarous world. His other books include "Naming the Whirlwind" (1969), "Reaping the Whirlwind" (1976), "Message and Existence" (1979), "On Niebuhr" (2001) and "Catholicism Confronts Modernity" (1975).

In "Creationism on Trial: Evolution and God at Little Rock" (1985), Dr. Gilkey recounted his experience in the Arkansas case, which successfully challenged a state law requiring schools that taught evolution to give "creation science" equal time. The authors of the law had been careful not to couch their intent in religious terms, but Dr. Gilkey remained unpersuaded.

"A creator is certainly a god," he said in court, "if he brings the universe into existence from nothing."

When he was asked to testify, Dr. Gilkey, whose interests by this time took in tantric yoga, Sikhism and Buddhism, did not quite look the part of the distinguished academic theologian. This concerned his colleagues.

"Before he left, we made him cut his hair, put on a tie and get rid of the beads and earrings," Dr. Marty said. "Because there was no way he could have survived in an Arkansas courtroom."

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

Conmen swarm to Beslan


Nov 27, 2004

The southern Russian town of Beslan has been inundated by conmen, self-proclaimed missionaries and fringe churches as charitable funds are released to families of the victims of September's hostage tragedy, the Izvestia newspaper has reported.

As authorities disburse amounts of up to 1 million roubles, parents of children who died have been offered the chance to "resurrect" them for the equivalent of $US1,367.

Aides of a professed Russian spiritualist based in Moscow advertise his miraculous powers and tout equally expensive "do-it-yourself resurrection" book and video courses in the grieving community, the paper wrote.

A number of marginal religious groups and churches also sent people to the North Ossetian town in recent weeks, with reported cases of relatives passing the funds on after receipt.

Local officials said they expelled members of the Church of Scientology who had moved into premises in the school where the hostage crisis unfolded to afford "psychological assistance" to the population.

At least 330 children, parents and teachers died after a group of mainly Chechen and Ingush gunmen seized the school with around 1,200 people on September 1.

The stand-off ended in a bloodbath three days later when the terrorists detonated bombs and opened fire on the hostages, prompting a chaotic assault operation by Russian security forces and local men.

The never-ending search

By Brendan O'Neill

Fascination with the Holy Grail has lasted for centuries, and now the Bletchley Park code-breakers have joined the hunt. But what is it that's made the grail the definition of something humans are always searching for but never actually finding?

Could an obscure inscription on a 250-year-old monument in a Staffordshire garden point the way to the Holy Grail - the jewelled chalice reportedly used by Jesus and his disciples at the Last Supper?

That is one theory entertained by Richard Kemp, the general manager of Lord Lichfield's Shugborough estate in Staffs.

Kemp has called in world-renowned code-breakers to try to decipher a cryptic message carved into the Shepherd's Monument on the Lichfield estate.

The monument, built around 1748, features an image of one of Nicholas Poussin's paintings, and beneath it the letters "D.O.U.O.S.V.A.V.V.M."

It has long been rumoured that these letters - which have baffled some of the greatest minds over the past 250 years, including Charles Darwin's and Josiah Wedgwood's - provide clues to the whereabouts of Christ's elusive cup.

Spot of bother

Poussin was said by some to have been a Grand Master of the Knights Templar, named after the order that captured Jerusalem during the Crusades and who were known as the "keepers of the Holy Grail".

Yet Oliver and Sheila Lawn, a couple in their 80s who were based at the code-breaking Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire during World War II, have had a spot of bother with the Shepherd's Monument. Mr Lawn said yesterday that deciphering the letters was "much more difficult" than cracking the Enigma code in WWII. He thinks it's a message from an obscure Christian sect, declaring their belief that Jesus was an Earthly prophet, not a divinity - while his wife Sheila thinks it could be a coded tribute from a widowed earl to his wife.

So yet another trail to the Grail seems to have run dry. What is it about the Holy Grail that so excites the popular imagination? And why are so many willing to believe that such an item exists, when there is a dearth of evidence?

Renewed interest

The Holy Grail is believed by some to have been the chalice used at the Last Supper, by others to have been a cup used by Joseph of Arimathea to catch the blood of the crucified Christ, and by others still to have been both. Some claim that Joseph may have brought the cup to Britain in the first century CE.

Stories about the Grail have been told for centuries. There has been a renewed interest since the publication of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail in 1982, which claims, in a nutshell, that Jesus survived the crucifixion and together with Mary Magdalene founded a bloodline in France, the Merovingians, who were protected by the Knights Templar and later by the Freemasons. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, that book has been denounced as mad conspiracy-mongering by some.)

The Holy Grail has even turned up in Hollywood. In Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the eponymous hero both fights off the Nazis and finds the Grail. Now Ron Howard, the Happy Days actor turned film director, is making a big-screen version of The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown's novel about how clues in Da Vinci paintings could lead to the discovery of a religious mystery, including the Grail, and shake the foundations of Christianity. Brown's novel has become a publishing phenomenon over the past two years, feted and hated in equal measure.

Purely legendary

According to experts, this is precisely where the Grail belongs - in fiction and films. Eric Eve is a tutor in theology and a New Testament scholar at Oxford University. He says he is unaware of any evidence for the existence of a Holy Grail.

"In the version of the legend I know, the Grail is meant to be the chalice Jesus used at the Last Supper, subsequently brought to England by Joseph of Arimathea. But there is no 1st Century evidence about what happened either to the chalice or to Joseph - assuming he's even an historical character. "The probability that the cup found its ways to Joseph and that he travelled with it to Britain is as near as nil as makes no difference. I would say it is purely legendary."

Richard Barber, author of The Holy Grail: The History of a Legend, published by Penguin next month, says the Grail legend came into being more than a thousand years after Christ's death.

"It is pure literature. It was imagined by a French writer, Chretien de Troyes, at the end of the 12th Century, in the romance of Perceval. His vision is at the root of all the Grail stories."

Conspiracy theories

Barber believes that 20th Century fascination with the Grail stems from "the revival of interest in medieval literature in the 19th Century, when Tennyson, Wagner and the Pre-Raphaelite artists were all enthusiasts for the Grail legends" - and that our fascination today has been boosted by the contemporary penchant for conspiracy theories and cover-ups.

"The Grail - because it is mysterious and has always belonged in the realms of the imagination - is a marvellous focus for the new genre of 'imagined history', the idea that all history as taught and recorded is a vast cover-up. Once this kind of idea becomes current, particularly with the internet, it acquires a life of its own - regardless of whether it has any basis in reality.

Even some of those who have written of the Grail as having some "basis in reality" admit that it is difficult to say what the Grail is, never mind where it is. Erling Haagensen is co-author (with Henry Lincoln) of The Templars' Secret Island: The Knights, The Priest and The Treasure, which claims that "something" is hidden on the tiny island of Bornholm in the Baltic Sea.

"I do not know what the Holy Grail is," says Haagensen. "Something very important and with strong connections to the Holy Grail is hidden on the island of Bornholm. The Ark of the Covenant might theoretically be hidden there.

"But there is something even more important, which always followed the Ark of the Covenant, and which we can now prove is found at Bornholm. This will be revealed in our coming book," he adds, mysteriously.

Yet while some authors - and a host of conspiracy websites - believe that "something" will one day be found, even men of the cloth have little faith in the existence of the Holy Grail.

"It's all good fun but absolute nonsense", says Richard Holloway, former Bishop of Edinburgh. "The quest for the Holy Grail belongs with the quest for the ark Noah left on Mount Ararat or the fabled Ark of the Covenant Indiana Jones is always chasing. There ain't any objective truth in any of it - but of course it's a dream for publishers, who know the world is full of gullible people looking for miracles and they keep on promising that this time the miracle's going to come true.

"Only it isn't - but the money keeps rolling in."

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2004/11/26 11:07:07 GMT

Friday, November 26, 2004

Voices from beyond (Electronic contact with the dead)


Atlanta Journal-Constitution | 11/22/04 | BILL OSINSKI

Voices from beyond Proponents say Electronic Voice Phenomena help people cope with death, loss, grief

Like many empty-nest mothers, Martha Copeland must get by with only sporadic contact with her grown children.

She thinks her daughter is better about staying in touch than her son.

Her son is in the military.

Her daughter, Cathy Amiss, has been dead for almost three years.

Cathy calls home frequently, Copeland says, communicating via a method labeled Electronic Voice Phenomena. This means that Cathy sends brief, mostly reassuring, messages from "the other side" by means of electronic devices, most often digital tape recorders.

"Mom, I'm right here," was the first message. Copeland almost fainted when she heard it, she said.

When she told others that Cathy was communicating with her "people thought we were nuts, or talking to the devil," she said. Cathy was killed in an automobile accident in December 2001; she was 20 at the time.

Nevertheless, Copeland has persisted. The basement of her Lawrenceville home has been turned into a center where she and her friends believe they can receive and record messages from the spirit world. She has a computer with noise-filtering software on which she has recorded hundreds of snippets of sound she believes are messages from Cathy.

One of those messages has been used to help promote "White Noise," an upcoming Hollywood thriller starring Michael Keaton that explores the world of EVP. Copeland said she also is writing a book about her experiences.

On a recent evening, Copeland led an EVP workshop for six other people at her home. After prayers, relaxation exercises, and meditation, the members of the group simultaneously hit the record buttons on their tape recorders.

"Cathy, please come through," Copeland asked. Others sought practical advice from the departed; still others simply called for any kind of a greeting.

After the five-minute recording period, the devices were plugged into a speaker and played back. The people searched through the static to find a message.

There were no "Class A," or very clear, sound bites. On several of the recorders, however, there were bursts of scraping noises that definitely did not come from the room during the recording period. Those bursts would later be analyzed on the computer.

Simply making the effort to contact the spirit world was comforting to some of the participants.

"We feel the workshops are healthy," said Kathy Malone, of Snellville. "Other people may not, but we do."

Judy Quillen, of Lawrenceville, said it bothers her when people tell her to "get over it," meaning the death of her daughter, 20-year-old Jamie Ann, in a 1997 car wreck. Quillen said she has gone through years of counseling and still participates in a bereavement support group.

"My life is a journey," she said. "I live in two worlds now — the real world and the spiritual world of grief." It lifts her spirit to get an EVP message from her daughter, she said.

Martha Copeland is a member of the American Association of Electronic Voice Phenomena, based in Reno, Nev. Tom and Lisa Butler, the co-directors of the association, said their group has about 300 members, most of whom have been able to use technology to receive reassuring messages from deceased loved ones.

"This is the most powerful thing in the world," Lisa Butler said, in a recent phone interview. "It's evidence that there's something past physical life."

Tom Butler said that while some people find affirmation for their religious beliefs in EVP messages, his association's approach is more technical than spiritual.

"It's all about evidence and fact, not religion," Tom Butler said.

Some people use EVP techniques for "ghost-hunting" expeditions, such as trying to communicate with the spirits in a house they believe to be haunted, he said.

However, the "most important and profound" use of EVP is to help people cope with death, loss and grief, he said.

Copeland said some of her relatives believed they had psychic gifts, but she never explored the subject until after Cathy died.

Cathy had, however. Copeland said her daughter and a cousin had made a pact that if one were to die, the other would try to communicate through the computer.

About a month after the fatal accident, the cousin called and said, "Aunt M, you have to come to my house. I have Cathy's voice."

Copeland said she was skeptical and a bit angry, but she went to her niece's house. The niece played a recording of a voice filtered out of background noise. It seemed to be saying, "I'm still here," Copeland said. To her, the voice was unmistakably Cathy's.

After that, Copeland launched herself into the world of EVP. Her husband helped transform their basement into a recording center, including an all-black "Spirit Room" where she and her friends go for meditation and distraction-free communication.

Sometimes, Cathy responds when they ask her to communicate, she said. Other times, the messages come unbidden, she said. Copeland said she always carries a tape recorder with her, to be ready to receive a message.

One year around Halloween, she got a message that said "Trick or treat. Cathy's here." Another time, she left the house and left the tape recorder on. When she got back, she saw that Cathy's dog had chewed up some furniture; on the recorder, she could hear Cathy scolding the dog.

"To hear her voice again gives me comfort," Copeland said. "I didn't ask for this; it just happened."

To her, the messages are Cathy's way of saying she's still present in the world she has left physically, Copeland said.

The dead have always been around us, but we can't see them," she said. "We've just never been able to pick up their voices like this before."

• For more information, go to www.aaevp.com.

Evolution education update: the latest polls on evolution, Gilkey dies, evolution on NPR

There are new public opinion surveys about evolution and creationism from Gallup and CBS News; Langdon Gilkey dies; and the Science Friday show for November 19 is now available on-line.


A recent article from the Gallup News Service reports on the pollster's latest results concerning public opinion on the evidence for evolution, creationism, and biblical literalism. On the question of whether evolution is well-supported by the evidence, 35% of the respondents said that it is, 35% said that it is not, 29% said that they didn't know enough about it to reply, and 1% expressed no opinion. On the question of the origin and development of human beings, 38% of the respondents agreed with "human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process," 13% agreed with "human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process," 45% agreed with "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so," and 4% offered a different or no opinion. On the question of biblical literalism, 34% of respondents regarded the Bible as to be taken literally, 48% regarded it as divinely inspired but not always to be taken literally, 15% regarded it as a collection of fables, etc., and 3% expressed no opinion. All of these results are consistent with earlier Gallup polls, which extend as far back as 1982 (for the origin and development of human beings question).

A recent poll conducted by CBS News also investigated public opinion about evolution and creationism. One question (the exact wording of which was not given in the story) was apparently similar to Gallup's question about the origin and development of human beings. Compared to the Gallup poll, the results showed more support (55%) for "God created humans in present form" and less support (27%) for "humans evolved, God guided the process)," with the same level of support (13%) for "Humans evolved, God did not guide process." The CBS News poll also asked whether creationism should be taught alongside or instead of evolution in the public schools: 65% of the respondents said alongside; 37% said instead of. In a 2000 poll commissioned by People for the American Way, however, only 16% of respondents said that creationism should be taught instead of evolution, and only 13% said that creationism should be taught as a "scientific theory" alongside evolution. Since the PFAW poll offered a finer-grained set of choices for its respondents, comparisons between the CBS News poll and the PFAW poll may not be entirely meaningful.

For the Gallup News Service article (subscription required), visit:

For the CBS News poll, visit:

For the PFAW poll (in PDF form), visit:


Theologian Langdon Gilkey died on November 19, 2004, at the age of 85, in Charlottesville, Virginia. Gilkey testified for the plaintiffs in McLean v. Arkansas, the case that challenged the constitutionality of Arkansas's "Balanced treatment for creation-science and evolution-science act" of 1981. In his account of his experiences, Creationism on Trial: Evolution and God at Little Rock (1985), he explained his antipathy to the law: "I came to the conclusion that this law and ones similar to it are ... in fact dangerous to the health of our society; and that through its wide enactment it would represent a disaster to our common life, especially our religious life. ... This law, I was convinced -- and this was my subsequent argument -- would serve to establish a particular form of the Christian religion in the teaching program of the public schools; therefore, it presented a grave threat to the free religious life of our country."

For the Washington Post's obituary of Gilkey, visit:

To purchase Creationism on Trial from Amazon.com (and benefit NCSE in the process), visit:


In the first hour of NPR's show Science Friday for November 19, 2004, host Ira Flatow and his guests discussed the recent decision by the Dover (Pennsylvania) Area School District to require the teaching of "intelligent design" in its science classrooms, as well as other recent battles over evolution education. Appearing on the show were NCSE's Nicholas J. Matzke and NCSE Supporter Kenneth R. Miller, as well as Charles Haynes of the First Amendment Center, law professor and Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture David K. DeWolf, and two former members of the Dover Area School Board who resigned to protest the "intelligent design" decision.

For the archived version of the show, look under the "Archived Audio" section of:

For NCSE's report on the situation in Dover, visit:

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.

Best wishes for the Thanksgiving holiday,

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

Public Opinion: Creationism Tops Evolution


By Joseph Grant Swank

And the latest report poll comes from none other than CBS! The question: Can we believe it? Can we believe anything coming out of CBS with the recent "document scandal"?


Now the thought comes to mind. Is this a Hillary parallel or is this poll fact?

Just days ago Hillary told that she is an "evangelical conservative" particularly in her daily devotions. Well, do tell. If that's so, then Putin just became President of the United States.

But if Hillary can try to get in on the winning RED STATES side, why should not CBS? What's good for a New York Senator salivating for the Oval Office should also be good enough for a CBS that deems to redeem itself from The Fall.

With that, CBS reports that those in the US simply don't buy into homo sapiens having sprung from a long line of amoebae-to-mortals string-along. They don't. And they've told the pollsters so.

Most Americans tell media that God is in charge when it comes to bringing something out of nothing. They hold to a Creator master minding Earth's whereabouts and howabouts.

What should not be a surprise is that those holding to creationism find themselves worshiping that God more than those who tenaciously cling to evolution, the latter not frequently worship places.

The lines are drawn also in regard to the loyalists for John F. Kerry and the loyalists for George W. Bush. Forty-seven percent of Kerry's clones come across as professing a God-created sphere. Sixty-seven percent of Bush's company believe in Creator God starting and managing.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

A design for life

Article24 November 2004

America's latest creationist theory relies less on Biblical absolutes than on appeals to today's cultural relativism.

by Anthony Stavrianakis

Anti-Bush column inches over the past few weeks have employed well-worn clichιs about the 'deep' south and redneck fundamentalist Christianity. Yet what is interesting is that one of the latest manifestations of this political movement seeks recourse not to the Book of Genesis, but to the value relativism characteristic of twenty-first century political debate.

A story in Wired magazine last month potted the spread of 'intelligent design', which suggests that the theory of evolution is wrong, in public school science classes (1). Intelligent Design (ID) is the product of a 1991 text by Berkeley law professor Philip Johnson called 'Darwin on Trial', and is sponsored and promoted by the Discovery Institute in Seattle (2). The theory essentially claims that because natural selection cannot explain everything, evolution is wrong. Given the complexity of the human organism, proponents argue, and given that evolution as we understand it is not a sufficient explanation, human beings must be the product of an intelligent designer (or a Creator, for the more theistically inclined). Natural phenomena that are neither explainable by law nor chance, Johnson suggests, leave open a third possibility - design.

But the Discovery Institute, a scientific moniker if ever there was one, is wary of using the G-word. It prefers not to speculate what may be the cause of the design that it claims to identify scientifically as the product of intelligence. With this strategic move, ID has hoped to bypass the accusations of creationism. Indeed ID distances itself from the claims of 'young Earth' radicals and rejects the literal creationist interpretation of Genesis.

Stephen Meyer, director of the Discovery Institute's Centre for the Renewal of Science and Culture, says that evolution is 'a controversial subject and when two groups of experts disagree about a controversial subject that intersects with the public school science curriculum, the students should be permitted to learn about both perspectives' (3).

The insinuation is that the rejection of a theory because of insufficient evidence ('evolution cannot explain everything, therefore it is wrong') is as valid as a theory that is based on evidence but which cannot explain everything. ID supporters, however, would say that their theory is based on evidence, or what is known in ID jargon as 'specified complexity'. Examples of 'specified complexity' are biological phenomena that are apparently too complex to be the product of chance or law, and so are posed as scientific examples of a non-material source of creation.

Meyer calls this the 'teach the controversy' approach - and 'teach the controversy' has become something of a political slogan for the ID movement.

But how can ID claim to be a critical analytical theory worthy of study in a science classroom? Many will be familiar with the philosopher William Paley's example in his 1802 text Natural Theology, where he suggests that if someone in a field came across both a watch and a rock, the complexity of the watch would lead them to infer that there was a watchmaker - a designer. Secondary school students learn about William Paley in religious studies not in biology, and there is a good reason for this. To conflate design and intelligence is a faith position, whereas evolution explains design not by a non-material or non-earthly source, but rather by the internal mechanism of natural selection.

ID is a not-so sophisticated reworking of Paley's argument, which by usurping scientific language seeks to move from religious studies to science classes.

ID is less a critique of evolution than a political agenda - and it feeds off a trait in political and scientific debate today whereby differing opinions are considered equally valid. The aim for ID proponents has been to boost the conservative Christian political agenda by taking advantage of the malaise that characterises public debate on scientific issues.

Meyer often cites Big Bang theory as one of the great scientific theories with much non-material basis - the difference is that astrophysicists are working on the mathematics behind the theory, but it is impossible to reach the conclusion of a Divine Creator through numbers. As scientist Richard Dawkins writes in the The Blind Watchmaker, 'to explain the origin of the DNA/protein machine by invoking a supernatural designer is to explain precisely nothing, for it leaves unexplained the origin of the designer'.

Politically conservative Christianity is nothing to be concerned about in and of itself, but when it comes masked as a progressive scientific theory questions must be asked.

What is worrying is that politically conservative Christianity has leapt on the contemporary idea that criticism means disagreement, rather than evidence-based critique. A faith position is being accepted as a legitimate 'choice' in the question of evolution. We saw an example of this in the UK, with the case of creationist teaching at the secondary school in Gateshead two years ago (4). When prime minister Tony Blair was asked in the House of Commons whether he was concerned that a state-funded school was teaching creationism, he replied: 'In the end, it is a more diverse school system that will deliver better results for our children and if you look at the actual results of this school, I think you will find they are very good.'

The evidence cited by ID proponents is taken completely out of context, and in fact proves the opposite of what they claim. They argue that advances in molecular biology suggest that natural selection is wrong. In fact, molecular biology has since the late 1960s been changing how we understand the mechanism of natural selection - fully in support of the theory of evolution.

Unfortunately, the 'teach the controversy' line seems to have stuck. It is endemic of our times that a differing opinion is immediately regarded as a valid opinion. There is a place for arguments based on design - in religious studies, not in science classes.

Anthony Stavrianakis recently graduated from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), and has worked as an intern at spiked.

(1) The crusade against evolution, Evan Ratliff, Wired, October 2004

(2) Discovery Institute website

(3) 'Teach the controversy', Stephen C Meyer, Cincinnati Enquirer, 30 March 2002

(4) Creationism teaching: who started it?, by Josie Appleton

Reprinted from : http://www.spiked-online.com/Articles/0000000CA7D6.htm

The Hoax Detective

November 23, 2004
By JOHN JURGENSEN, Courant Staff Writer

Have you heard?

The lost land of Atlantis has been discovered. Again.

In a press conference last week, a U.S. researcher named Robert Sarmast announced that his six-day expedition had detected evidence of man-made structures on the Mediterranean seabed off Cyprus. Not only had sonar scanners picked up the ghostly contours of walls and trenches on a rectangular landmass, he said, but these features matched the descriptions in the original account of Atlantis.

In the years before he died in 347 B.C., the Greek philosopher Plato wrote about Atlantis as a wildly advanced civilization that was wiped out in a flash 9,000 years before his time.

"We cannot yet provide tangible proof in the form of bricks and mortar, as the artifacts are still buried under several meters of sediment," Sarmast said in an accompanying press release, "but the circumstantial and other evidence is now irrefutable."

When he read about this declaration on the BBC's website, Kenneth Feder didn't even have to get out of his desk chair to dispute it.

An archaeologist who has taught at Central Connecticut State University for more than 25 years, Feder rejects Sarmast's claim and the countless others that have come before it with the same simple argument - namely, that Atlantis' only location was in the imagination of the man who first described it.

But that rationale hasn't prevented Feder from using the myth for his own purposes.

"My agenda is to use this stuff to teach what we really know about the past," he says.

Feder, who lives in West Simsbury, focuses most of his own field work along the Farmington River, unearthing evidence of the Indians and settlers who subsisted there. But through the years, Feder has nurtured an expertise in historical hooey on the side.

First published in 1990, his book "Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology" is about to go into its fifth edition. Last month he lectured on Atlantis at a gathering of skeptics in Italy. And he holds forth on the watery mystery in a documentary scheduled for broadcast at 10 p.m. Wednesday on the National Geographic Channel program "Naked Science."

Tucked in his stuffed campus office where the "Donner Party Cookbook" sits on a shelf below a cartoon of a pre-human Homer Simpson, Feder says he makes one demand of Atlantis enthusiasts.

"My rule is you can't even use the word Atlantis in a sentence unless you can tell me you've read Plato."

The legend of the lost continent emerges in dialogues between Socrates and his students that Plato wrote down. The point that many people miss, Feder says, is that most of these instructive dialogues were fictional, like conversations between characters in a play.

"Atlantis is a plot device. Plato has a very specific agenda in his mind, and he needs Atlantis to prove what he's trying to say," Feder says.

The student Critias tells his teacher the "true" story of the powerful but morally corrupt land of Atlantis, which goes to war with the weak but noble Athens. The evil empire gets whipped in battle by its worthier opponent before eventually getting swallowed in a cataclysm of floods and eruptions,

"That is the Atlantis story told by Plato," Feder says. "It's `Star Wars' circa 350 B.C."

That's the line that a producer wanted Feder to use in a documentary a few years ago. But there was a catch. Would Feder be willing to tailor his yarn to make Atlantis seem real? Or at least leave its existence open-ended?

Feder refused and soon discovered that the "documentary film" was in fact a glorified advertisement for the 2001 animated Disney movie "Atlantis: The Lost Empire." Feder says several of his colleagues who had signed on unwittingly later watched in horror as their drastically edited words were spliced with cartoon scenes of underwater action.

But maybe that kind of appropriation explains why the legend still lingers. Severed long ago from the context that a famous Greek gave it, Atlantis becomes a ghost story, a lost treasure, a mysterious monster.

"For a lot of people, this would just be really cool if it were true," Feder says. "It would be really cool if Bigfoot were real. I don't really know that it is or isn't, but it's cool to tell stories about it at 2 in the morning."

The big legends wax and wane with the years. The Bermuda Triangle. Ancient astronauts. The UFO encounters at Roswell. But Feder thinks he's seen an increase in people's belief in the unbelievable.

The professor often starts new classes with a survey, asking students about their take on certain aspects of history. Twenty years ago, about 30 percent of his students said that Atlantis existed. But by 2000, almost half of the surveyed students were believers.

"I think that pattern directly reflects how many documentaries on [pseudoscientific subjects] show up on television, especially cable TV," Feder says.

Whether the media drives public interest or vice versa, it's obvious that legends like Atlantis will always hold cultural currency.

Perhaps that's why Robert Sarmast, who gave up a career in architecture to pursue Atlantis, rushed to announce his findings to the international press instead of trying to publish them in a peer-reviewed journal, the only way to secure credibility in the scientific community.

"I'm going to assume that the guy's honest and sincere and he really thinks there's this connection," Feder says of Sarmast. "But for anyone looking at it from the outside, there just isn't enough information."

But the mere mention of Atlantis is enough to tingle the curiosity of even the staunchest skeptics.

"If this guy simply said, `Oh, we found some interesting artifacts and features off the coast of Cyprus,' you wouldn't be here asking me about it."


Chills but nothing paranormal at seance


Fri Sep 24,12:42 PM ET
By Patricia Reaney

LONDON (Reuters) - Suddenly the darkened room seemed intensely cold, some people felt a sense of presence and others were so terrified they had to leave.

But then, nothing.

Four reconstructions of Victorian era seances, with people sitting around a table holding hands in the dark, at the Dana Centre of the Science Museum failed to produce a single paranormal experience, a leading psychologist said on Friday.

"I think we are looking at stuff which is more to do with suggestion and psychology than the paranormal," Professor Richard Wiseman, of the University of Hertfordshire, told Reuters.

"A lot of it is due to the psychology of suggestion, a little bit to trickery, but we are filming in infrared to see if anything genuine occurs."

Wiseman tried to produce the same conditions which made seances, in which participants tried to get spirits to produce physical phenomena, so popular in 19th century Britain.

Some of the 80 people who participated in the 30-minute seances thought an object did move across the table, a popular feat in Victorian seances and taken as a sure sign of a connection with the "other" side.

But Wiseman said the objects had luminous markers on them. In a dark room there is no frame of reference, so the suggestion that an object moved could be enough for people to think it did.

"For some people, that is a very convincing experience. It can also be a very terrifying experience. We had some people drop out yesterday because it was getting too scary for them. It is quite edgy," said Wiseman.

Thursday's seances at the Dana Centre, an adults-only cafe at the museum where visitors debate and discuss contemporary science, are part of an on-going experiment Wiseman is conducting into unusual experiences and the power of suggestion.

"We have all this testimony from Victorian times saying these amazing things happened. The question is, can we give people those sorts of experiences nowadays," he said.

He plans to conduct more seances in London and other areas of the country in his search for paranormal experiences.

"I think it is possible to get people, very quickly, into some strange states of mind, some of which might be akin to a light form of hypnosis, where they see and experience and feel things which are not actually happening. But they are actually convinced that they are," he said.

The overwhelming reaction of most participants was disappointment that each seance lasted only a half hour.

"People love doing this stuff. It was a complete blast. I can see why it was very popular before television," Wiseman said. "From watching television at the moment, it may become popular again."

'Intelligent design' theory threatens evolution in US schools


In the boldest strike against the teaching of evolution in more than a decade, the school board of a small farming town in the US has made the teaching of creationism compulsory in Year 9.

The version of creationism that has been mandated is called "intelligent design", which suggests that only the action of a higher intelligence can explain the complexities of evolution.

A Christian Science Monitor report reproduced in the Pew Forum says observers are predicting that while the move is unprecedented, it is "a sign of what's to come".

Religious conservatives have battled against evolution theory in classrooms since the Scopes trial of 1925. Now, they are finding fresh purpose in the conservative resurgence so evident on Election Day, as well as in a new strategy of attacking evolution without mentioning God. The result is a handful of high-profile cases nationwide that challenge Darwin's place in the curriculum and presage a new offensive in America's culture war.

"We're seeing a growing number of these cases," says Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, Calif., a group that seeks to protect evolution education. "Certainly, with the greater confidence given to the religious right in the last election, we see no end in sight."

God or Science? (Christian Science Monitor/Pew Forum 23/11/04)

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