NTS LogoSkeptical News for 13 December 2004

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Monday, December 13, 2004

Evolution debate is poised to reappear


Posted on Sun, Dec. 12, 2004

As the State Board of Education regains a conservative majority, science teaching standards come up for regular review.


The Wichita Eagle

Five years after evolution made Kansas the butt of late-night talk show jokes, debate over the issue will resume this week.

The subject touches deep chords in Kansans, reflecting how they see the world and each other. It divides along political, scientific and spiritual lines, spawning disagreements over the origins of mankind, what natural evidence reveals and government's role in the classroom.

Tuesday's discussion by the State Board of Education is preliminary. But the meeting may reveal whether the board's conservative members have the support needed to de-emphasize evolution, as it did in 1999, or to require schools to teach intelligent design alongside evolution.

Evolution holds that human and other life sprang from a common ancestor over millions of years.

"If conservative board members still feel as strongly as they did in the past, we'll have 6-4 in favor of including creation in the standards," chairwoman Janet Waugh said.

The state board approves standards for many subjects. Standards outline what students are expected to learn by certain grades and what they will be tested on.

Tuesday's meeting will mark the start of a regular review of revised science standards that will take at least six months and include public hearings and expert opinions.

As proposed by a committee, the revisions would not change the requirement that students know and understand the theory of evolution.

Conservative concerns

Conservatives will gain control of the 10-member board in January, when Kathy Martin of Clay Center joins. She beat Bruce Wyatt in the August primary to give conservatives a 6-4 edge.

The board's other conservative members are Steve Abrams, Ken Willard, John Bacon, Iris Van Meter and Connie Morris.

Conservatives say evolution is a flawed theory. Some board members think schools should teach alternative theories, such as intelligent design, along with evolution.

"Any theory needs to be presented along with all of its inconsistencies, so it can be evaluated," Willard said.

Abrams said parts of evolution aren't measurable, observable and repeatable, which he said makes the theory suspect.

He declined to say much about the new draft of the science standards until after he hears from the committee that wrote them. But he expects the evolution section to change.

"I suspect it will be addressed," he said. "I don't know what it will be changed to."

An alternate view

Waugh and other moderates on the board say the standards should continue to require students to know and understand evolution. A footnote to the current standard explains that understanding a theory does not mean students have to believe in it.

The other moderates on the board are Carol Rupe, Sue Gamble and Bill Wagnon.

Rupe said students need to learn about evolution because it is the leading theory in biology, but that doesn't have to conflict with their faith.

"I believe that God created the heavens and the Earth, and that he did it through evolution," Rupe said.

The two groups of board members disagree over whether the theory of intelligent design is a religious or scientific theory.

"We need to present it all," Willard said. "The science that supports both theories should be presented, and the holes in both should be presented."

Waugh said intelligent design belongs in a comparative religions class, not science.

"Creation and intelligent design are based on faith, and I don't see how that fits in science," she said.

But Rupe, Waugh and Willard all agree on one thing: They hope the board doesn't attract as much controversy as it did when it de-emphasized evolution from the standards.

Science teachers, like Maize High's Jay Super and East High's Barry Raugust, don't look forward to the debate.

"The general feeling is we've done this before," Super said. But he said he doesn't think everyone will ever be convinced evolution makes sense.

Raugust said no matter what the state board does, science teachers will continue teaching evolution because it is an integral part of biology.

"You can't understand biology without understanding evolution," he said.

Part of the problem, Super said, is that not everyone understands what scientists mean when they use the word theory to describe the best available explanation that evidence supports.

If new evidence contradicts the theory, then the theory has to be either changed or rejected, he said.

"There is no such thing as alternative theories," Super said. "You have one good theory, and in this case evolution is a very good theory."

Contentious history

In 1999, the board -- led by Abrams and other conservatives -- de-emphasized evolution in the state science standards, leaving the decision about whether to teach evolution in science classes to local school boards.

That decision attracted ridicule nationwide and prompted Kansas voters to give moderates a 6-4 edge in the 2000 election. Evolution was restored to science standards in 2001.

The 2002 election left the board a 5-5 split.

The new draft of science standards was written by an appointed committee of 26 people that includes active and retired teachers, college professors and a physician.

The state requires curriculum standards to be reviewed every three years, and science standards were last reviewed in 2001.

Diane DeBacker, who oversaw the standard writing for the state Department of Education, said the committee talked a lot about evolution but didn't find enough support to change the requirement.

The standards committee will also make revisions as needed based on feedback from board members, the public and science experts to be gathered over the next six months.

During November, the committee received about 120 comments on the standards through the state Web site, www.ksde.org, but did not make any changes because there wasn't enough time to review the comments.

Public hearings will be held in Wichita and several other cities statewide in January, but those have not been scheduled.

The online feedback, public comments and expert opinions will be incorporated in the second draft of the standards that will go back to the board in April.



Until public hearings are scheduled in January, the best way to register your opinion on state science curriculum standards is to call or write members of the State Board of Education.

• District 1: Chairwoman Janet Waugh, Kansas City, Kan., (913) 287-5165, JWaugh1052@aol.com

• District 2: Sue Gamble, Shawnee Mission, (913) 631-8663, MSGamble@swbell.net

• District 3: John W. Bacon, Olathe, (913) 829-4213, jwmsbacon@aol.com

• District 4: Bill Wagnon, Topeka, (785) 286-3254, bill.wagnon@washburn.edu

• District 5: Connie Morris, St. Francis, (785) 332-2424, conniemorris2010@yahoo.com

• District 6: Bruce Wyatt, leaves office in January, Salina, (785) 823-2806, wyattsalina@aol.com

Kathy Martin, takes office in January, Clay Center, (785) 463-5463,martinkathy@yahoo.com

• District 7: Kenneth Willard, Hutchinson, (620) 669-0498, krw@ourtownusa.net

• District 8: Carol Rupe, Wichita, (316) 636-5436, carolrupe@hotmail.com

• District 9: Iris Van Meter, Thayer, (620) 839-5612, vanmeter@terraworld.net

• District 10: Steve Abrams, Arkansas City, (620) 442-7960, sabrams@hit.net

Reach Josh Funk at 268-6573 or jfunk@wichitaeagle.com.

Teaching evolution as theory not fact
Intelligent design booster speaks out

Charles Burress, Chronicle Staff Writer

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Why isn't Phillip Johnson celebrating?

Followers of the battles over evolution know Johnson, an emeritus law professor at UC Berkeley, as an intellectual godfather of intelligent design. The movement, whose advocates dismiss Darwinism in favor of a guiding intelligence behind the complexity of life, seems to have won a landmark victory. In an apparent national first, the school board in the small town of Dover, Penn., mandated in October that intelligent design be taught in the classroom.

The board's action came 13 years after Johnson published his seminal "Darwin on Trial," a book that launched the intelligent-design movement and caused Nobel-winning physicist Steven Weinberg to label Johnson "the most respectable academic critic of evolution."

But sitting in his cozy North Berkeley bungalow on a sunny December morning, the avuncular 64-year-old legal scholar in an argyle sweater and glasses hardly resembled a gladiator savoring the fruit of long-sought vindication.

"What the Dover board did is not what I'd recommend," said Johnson. He thinks it was ill-advised to mandate teaching intelligent design, the idea to which he has dedicated a second career of writing and lecturing.

In fact, he does not oppose teaching evolution, but he says it should be presented as a theory not supported by scientific evidence.

"Just teach evolution with a recognition that it's controversial," he said. "A huge percentage of the American public is skeptical of it. This is a problem that education ought to address."

The best teaching guide, he said, is a resolution he drafted that was passed 91-to-8 in the U.S. Senate in 2001 called the "Santorum Amendment," sponsored by Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Rick Santorum. It said evolution instruction should prepare students to understand the controversy about it, to distinguish verifiable scientific theories, and "to be informed participants in public discussions regarding the subject."

Requiring intelligent design to be taught raises "the buzzword problem," he said. "It's the problem of stirring up the automatic reaction from the lobbies that exist to protect Darwinism and have great influence with the media. You get this 'religious fanatics are trying to censor science again' kind of coverage."

Johnson chuckled at "mandarins of science" who claim intelligent design is the camel of religion trying to stick its nose under the tent of public education and thereby violate the separation of church and state.

"It's the Darwinists who are religious dogmatists," he said. "The Darwinian revolution allowed the professional scientists to replace the clergy as the priesthood of society. Every society has a priesthood. The priesthood is the body of experts which has exclusive license to tell the creation story to that culture."

Believers in intelligent design acknowledge what is sometimes called "micro evolution," adaptations within a species to changes in environment, but they resolutely dispute "macro evolution" explanations of how new species are created. They engage in extensive debates with evolution scientists over missing intermediate forms and whether natural processes such as random mutation and natural selection could ever have produced so complex an organ as the human eye or even a single cell.

"The cell is a masterpiece of miniaturized complexity that makes a spaceship or super computer look rather low-tech by comparison," Johnson said. "From this we know it is not reasonable to believe that you can produce this quantity and quality of information from random means. Complex, specified information is something which in our experience is produced only by intelligence.

"You don't produce the front page of The Chronicle by taking Scrabble letters in a cup and spilling them out on this table."

Johnson's own university seems to endorse an opposing view in the "Understanding Evolution" Web site created by the campus Museum of Paleontology (evolution.berkeley.edu). Launched this year as a resource for teaching evolution as sound science, the Web site is dismissed by Johnson as part of the neo-Darwinist establishment.

The Web site's co-creator, Integrative Biology Professor Roy Caldwell, said, "As far as I'm concerned, evolution is a fact. We present it as a strongly supported theory, which is as close to a fact as you get in science."

Intelligent design is included in the vast amount of material on the Web site, but Caldwell doesn't believe it belongs as a required theory in school curriculum: "I just think it doesn't have a place in the classroom. It's not a testable hypothesis on how life has changed on this planet."

Johnson may be in the minority in his liberal home town, where he belongs to the 6 percent of voters who are registered as Republican, but he's evidently in sync with prevailing opinion in America. Polls show only 35 percent think Darwinism is supported by the evidence but 83 percent believe God played a role in creating humans.

Johnson readily acknowledges that he is "a Christian theist" and member of the First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley, but he says the teaching of evolution should not seek to identify who or what the intelligent designer is. That topic, he said, could be addressed in a class on religions or philosophy.

Johnson came to his beliefs relatively late in a life. He was a bright child who grew up in Aurora, Ill., entered Harvard at 17 and graduated first in his class at the University of Chicago law school. He clerked for liberal U. S. Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren and took active part in opposing the Vietnam War when he got to Berkeley.

He became a committed Christian in mid-life after a failed marriage, and the scales of Darwinism fell from his eyes during a 1987-88 sabbatical at University College in London. He wasn't a scientist, but with time to read and a desire to do something more meaningful with his life, he found that neo- Darwinist ideas didn't stand up to his logic.

He views his campaign as "The Wedge of Truth," the title of his 2000 book. Raising questions about evolution in the classroom is edge of a wedge aimed at what the book calls "splitting the foundations of naturalism."

Johnson's "Wedge" book quotes New Testament passages, attempts to foster an eventual "conversation between religion and science," and foresees confronting "the great question that Jesus posed" of who Jesus was and whether he is "the one who was to come, or should we look for another?"

But Johnson, while admitting that he has his own answers as a Christian, said his "Wedge philosophy" requires "that we invite any and all answers for a fair hearing."

E-mail Charles Burress at cburress@sfchronicle.com.

One Nation, Under the Designer


Mr. Terry alerts readers to a new, more insidious anti- evolutionist strategy. And the redefinition of science is only the first step.

IF YOU'RE not a high school biology teacher, you may be missing some of the current excitement in American education. There has been a sea change in the tactics of the anti-evolution forces, whose efforts have waxed and waned ever since the Scopes Trial. Before you dismiss this topic as of no interest to you as a history, English, or social studies teacher or as an administrator, watch out for the Wedge. For the Wedge is looking for you, too. Evolution is simply the initial target of opportunity, and there is a special emotional attachment to rooting it out. But make no mistake: if the first dangerous weed, modern science, can be removed from the garden, your area will be ripe for replanting as well.


The sea change is taking us back to mid-19th-century Europe, a period whose intellectual history I love but never expected to relive. Pre-Darwin, or one might better say pre-Huxley, English secondary and university education, with all of its advancements, was still in the hands of clerics. The Church of England provided the lion's share of instructors and professors, and the colleges were built physically and philosophically around religious centers, a logical extension of the origin of the universities in the Middle Ages.

But a rigid scholasticism had also been retained, and this became particularly obvious in the sciences. Geology and, in its very infancy, biology were busy discovering phenomena and hazarding theories that seemed to have no relationship to scripture. Yet most of the early researchers and thinkers were religious and would often base part of their teaching on religious texts. Tensions grew. And it began to appear that, for science and other educational enterprises to progress, to admit to unknowns and to explore those unknowns, references to Christian scriptures would have to take a back seat. It was not a question of abandoning Christianity itself, but rather any limiting hold it had over the study of the natural world.1

Enter T. H. Huxley. A commoner, Huxley was practical and down-to- earth, but he nonetheless remained somewhat idealistic and saw one arena in which change was essential: science teaching. A wonderfully complex fellow, he saw that the teaching of science was lagging far behind developments in science itself and even farther behind the promise and potential of science. Science had to be done. This meant schools had to have labs where students could gain direct experience. From direct experience, real learning would come; from real learning would spring new questions and, ultimately, greater progress. Scriptural limitations on the understanding of the natural world must be left behind. And for all of this to happen, new instructors, themselves practically trained scientists, not clerics, needed to be placed in charge of those new science classrooms.

Huxley is known as Darwin's bulldog because he was such a great popularizer of the idea of evolution. But perhaps his most important and lasting legacy was a revolution in science education. After publication of On the Origin of Species, while Darwin was at Down House quietly pursuing further evolutionary questions, Huxley was politicking on the London School Board. Great institutions, and great expectations, were initiated throughout British education in the pursuit of free and open inquiry into the processes of science and the study of history. The hold of the Church of England was loosened. Science was to be pursued for science's sake and for the sake of improving the lot of humankind, without constant reference to a deity or to scripture. And the same was to hold true for education in general.2

In the century and a half since Huxley, we have assumed that both science and education should be pursued in this way. Of course, it's fine if members of a religiously committed group wish to pursue science and education within the confines of their beliefs, doctrines, or scriptures in their own institutions. That's what religious schools are for. But, given the separation of church and state that Huxley promoted and that the U.S. is founded upon, public education and public science must be free of religious orientation.


I've been teaching biology for over 30 years, and I always used to enjoy the creationist/evolutionist tension. Each decade's version of the controversy allowed me to say to my biology students, "See, this topic is not buried on some 19th-century shelf. It's here, and it's vital to those folks in Arkansas or Louisiana." And each time, as the courts ruled against creationism - then against creation science - it all seemed instructive and worth discussing in the classroom. It was not in the least threatening.3 I used to think my colleagues who taught physics or chemistry must be jealous. What wouldn't they give for a headline-generating controversy to put an edge on, say, the periodic table or the wave-particle nature of light? But there are no religiopolitical factions - at least none that I'm aware of - willing to lobby state legislatures or to stack school boards with arguments either for or against the role of electrons or photons. Only in biology and earth science can we count on one of our core concepts being labeled controversial, even dangerous.

For most of my career I've been teaching about evolution in an integrated curriculum that joins biology and the humanities. It has been a delight to be able to place evolution in a historical and cultural context, while at the same time studying its scientific content and its current application. My colleagues and I have made sure that students see their humanities teachers grappling with the science and their biology teachers working to interpret the cultural scene. The history of the public's perception of evolution and the controversies that continue to swirl around it have themselves arrested our attention. Students and teachers of all sorts of religious or nonreligious persuasions have enjoyed and benefited from this study, which has never been aimed at challenging anyone's religious beliefs, though we have examined the fact that some people feel that their beliefs are challenged by the very idea of evolution itself.

These days, I teach in an independent school, where the freedom to develop and carry out such a curriculum is a tremendous asset. But I know of plenty of public school biology teachers who have also done excellent work over the years. Evolution became a strong component of a terrific group of high school textbooks in the 196Os, and there have been many fine additions to that list in the decades since."

But a couple of years ago I began to sense something new in the air. The school where I work is just a couple of blocks up the hill from downtown Seattle, and, in one of the nearby high-rises, a great searchlight seemed to be scanning the country. If only it had been a light designed to illumine and promote great science teaching! But no. I began to see that the search was for efforts to revise statewide science standards, so that the forces of the Discovery Institute might weigh in on the side of weakening or eliminating evolution and substituting something called "Intelligent Design." This was not restricted to Arkansas or Louisiana; this was a national campaign, directed from the home of Starbucks, Microsoft, and a highly sophisticated biomedical research complex.

Creation science always sounded a little foolish, trying to establish the scientific basis for religious writings that are thousands of years old. Intelligent Design (ID), however, is not about Biblical literalism. In fact, in their public battles ID proponents try to shift the entire discussion away from religion. Their claim is that science has discovered evidence of the work of a "designer" and that they have mathematical formulae and scientific- sounding "concepts" to back this up.5

Not only is ID not about Biblical literalism, but almost all talk of God has been carefully removed from the discussion. In an apparent nod to the failure of "scientific creationism," ID makes no reference to scripture and proudly proclaims that some of its advocates are nonbelievers. No proof of God's existence is offered - just that of an "Intelligent Designer." Students are not to be taught who this Designer is, just that the evidence shows that the Designer exists. Presumably, they can take it from there.

This gives the newspaper op-ed pieces and public forums a new twist. All the would-be reformers can now claim to be calling for nothing more than "better science teaching." Biology and earth science teachers are portrayed as just not knowing enough about what's going on in their own fields. If this is true, of course, then state standards must be redrafted to bring everybody up to speed with the latest "science," which is Intelligent Design.6

Of course, it's not true. There is no such scientific revolution under way.7 But if the public can be convinced that such a revolution exists, science teachers who object can be portrayed as the reactionary, closed-minded ones. It's as though they must answer the question, "Have you stopped teaching stale, incorrect science?" The ID proponents challenge with, "We only want you to teach more about \evolution, including this ultra-modern idea that is sweeping biology." The public is left to wonder what all the fuss is about. Why shouldn't our science teachers get on with teaching all this cutting-edge stuff?

The fuss, of course, is that it isn't science. The supposed "scientific revolution" is a creation of public relations. A science teacher cannot go to any major science journal or scientific organization and find out about all this new research - because there is none. In the fall of 2004 an ID article by a Discovery Institute Fellow appeared in the Proceedings of the Biological Association of Washington, a venerable but formerly obscure journal dealing with subtle taxonomic issues. The flurry of responses to the article gives a good picture of the current state of ID as science: the governing council of the journal almost immediately disavowed the article's publication. The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) and the Discovery Institute websites provide contrasting views of the publication and its retraction.8 Of course, there are several religious journals, such as the Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies, and journals created specifically to carry the work of the Intelligent Design movement's own authors. There is also a spate of books and articles outlining the philosophical positions that underlie Intelligent Design, and there are some buzz phrases that are meant to sound quantifiable and solidly scientific, such as "irreducible complexity."9 Finally, and undeniably, there is the Wedge Strategy.


The Wedge Strategy, which derives from the writings of Berkeley law professor Phillip Johnson, proposes nothing less than "the salvation of Western Civilization" by, among other things, the removal of evolution from science education and the institution of a Christian belief system throughout American society.10

In their more aggressive postures, the advocates of Intelligent Design have proposed a reestablishment of "proper science," science that will always take into account the work of a Supreme Being, an Intelligent Designer, or even, if you catch them in an unguarded moment, God.11 The restoration of the science that was being pursued in England prior to the Darwin/Huxley revolution - all to the greater glory of God and mindful of His great works - is central to the Wedge Strategy. And, of course, this very aim gives the lie to proclamations of a purely scientific revolution. Proponents need to have science itself redefined to include the supernatural if they are to conduct their revolution.

It's a strange scientific revolution that seeks to establish its position in secondary school curricula before the research itself has been accomplished. But this obvious impediment is removed if the revolution is based on a redefinition of science rather than on new research.

Additional evidence of the true purpose of this so-called scientific revolution may be found in the history of Seattle's Discovery Institute and the backgrounds of its major figures. The Discovery Institute used to feature the Wedge Strategy on its website, and Phillip Johnson was a founding advisor of its Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture. This center, the anti- evolution arm of the Discovery Institute, originally had a very apt logo: Michelangelo's magnificent representation of God passing the spark of life to Adam. When the Wedge Strategy document was removed from the website, so too were the logo and name of the center. Now, it is simply the Center for Science and Society, and the logo is a beautiful Hubble image that is also somewhat suggestive of an eye.12

The Fellows of the Center for Science and Society have an impressive array of degrees, but you won't find a leading biologist among them. Many have degrees in philosophy, divinity, mathematics, or the law. Most have some active connection to evangelical Christian institutions. One who does have a Ph.D. in biological sciences from the University of California, Berkeley, has proclaimed his intention to follow the commission he received from the Rev. Sun Myung Moon to root out the evil of evolution. In fact, that's why he worked to earn a Ph.D. in biology.13 But the publications and press releases of the Center for Science and Society are "designed" to look as if they are reporting on nothing but a dispute among scientists that any up-todate science teacher had better include in his or her teaching - or a great scientific revolution will leave the poor students behind.


Though the Wedge Strategy is no longer posted on the wcbsite of the Discovery Institute, its recommendations are clearly being followed. For example, the strategy details a simultaneous assault on state boards of education and on the print and broadcast media, which the Discovery Institute is carrying out. In some state battles, these Intelligent Design folks have been found out, and their efforts have been temporarily thwarted. But their tactics are sophisticated, and they understand that all publicity is good and that no defeat is real. They are more than willing to back off - even to cease advocating for the inclusion of ID - and just make sure that all science teachers are required to portray evolution as a "theory in crisis." The strategy is to move, relentlessly, from standards battles, to curriculum writing, to textbook adoption, and back again doing whatever it takes to undermine the central position of evolution in biology."

These people have money, political sophistication, experience, patience, and a wonderful user-friendly website.15 Their carefully orchestrated campaign is designed to leave the science establishment looking close-minded, as if it is attempting to hide some dirty linen. How likely is it, after all, that the public will consult the current scientific literature or contact major scientific organizations, which would inform them that evolution is alive and well - indeed, central to virtually all biology and medicine - and not in any crisis?

In 2002, during the flap that ID advocates created surrounding the revision of the Ohio state science standards, redefining science to include God was proposed to the Ohio legislature, so that the legislature would then be able to get behind a new set of standards that would, naturally, include Intelligent Design. Imagine a state legislature defining science! Imagine a state legislature mandating the inclusion of religious content in science classes!"' Behind the elaborate ID faade, this effort was simply an attempt to bring a religious orientation into the public schools via, of all places, the science classroom. And that was just a step in the overall plan to put the U.S. on a course toward the theocracy envisioned in the Wedge Strategy.


Intelligent Design was very much alive and well in Darwin's day, though it was then known as "natural theology." But science - through Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace, and others - discovered a naturalistic theory by which to work, evolution by natural selection (and other mechanisms discovered over time), and, ever since the Enlightenment, has pursued scientific research without reference to religion. Scientists, of course, may be religious people, but science itself is not a religious endeavor. Science says nothing against adopting the ID outlook as a personal philosophy, but that doesn't make ID science.17

Meanwhile, good science is hard to teach. A teacher needs a solid background in science, sufficient time, a measure of creativity, a supportive administration, decent equipment, and sound texts. Those were the very things that T. H. Huxley was arguing for in the late 19th century, as he tried to free British science education from control by the Church of England. And those are still the things that science teachers need to succeed in their work, not a stealth religious agenda resurrected from Huxley's time.

But the ID folks - especially those from the Discovery Institute - make headway almost everywhere they go, because not only students and parents but teachers themselves are so poorly educated about science in general and about religion, philosophy, the history of ideas, and evolution that they have no ready defenses against the attack. It sounds so good. The major proponents of ID have doctorates, possess great media savvy, and exhibit supreme confidence. What's an educator or concerned citizen to do? Here are a few possibilities.

1. As usual, there's no substitute for being informed. Regularly visit the Discovery Institute's website and follow the news updates posted on the website of the NCSE, an organization that has been dedicated for over 20 years to helping teachers, administrators, school districts, and communities deal intelligently, humanely, and effectively with assaults on the teaching of evolution.18 View the videos supported and inspired by the Discovery Institute, Icons of Evolution and Unlocking the Mystery of Life, preferably before they are shown in your area. Chances are that they are already in heavy demand at your local library, and several public broadcast stations have shown them around the country. They are excellent propaganda pieces, made up to look like NOVA-style science videos. Read the detailed critiques of these videos available through the NCSE journal and website.19 Read an account of the history of Intelligent Design and of the Discovery Institute. Barbara Forrest's summary article is the quickest way to learn important details, and if you want more background, you can find a gold mine in Creation ism's Trojan Horse, which she co-authored with John Cross.20

2. Consider some ideas to improve the teaching of evolution in your school(s). Make no mistake about it, the ID movement and the Discovery Institute, in particular, will seize the initiative wherever possible. To prevent being a ways in a posture of reaction and defense, you'll need to do the best job possi\ble of teaching real evolutionary science.21

3. Learn more about religions, history, and the humanities in general, and make use of that knowledge. One of the most significant opportunities to increase understanding of this issue is to be found in the humanities. Most students are woefully ignorant of the histories of the world's great religions, let alone the smaller ones. This makes meaningful discussions of the differences between scientific and religious thought next to impossible. Consider the example of the Scopes Trial. The fundamentalist movement is highly significant in American history and politics, and understanding its historical context helps to show how evolutionary biology, an activity of science, came to be such a target of fundamentalist ire. The "Trial of the Century" in little Dayton, Tennessee, makes all kinds of sense when the economics, politics, and Chamber of Commerce mentality of rural Tennessee are known. And William Jennings Bryan's role also makes sense in light of the struggles of the fundamentalist movement to gain the initiative in the pulpits of America. Public school science classrooms and evolution were seized upon as an attention-getting target for this denominational skirmish.22 The proper separation of church and state makes sense only if one is aware of the great variety of religions that exist today in our communities and have existed throughout the history of this country.

Oddly, if religion could be accorded a position of greater respect and importance in our humanities curricula, it could well be less threatening - even to fundamentalists - for students to learn in their science courses what scientists are up to. While scientists are undertaking all this evolution-based research, fundamentalists are clearly entitled to believe in a literal Biblical account. People should be strong in their faith. Meanwhile, they ought to learn what those modern biologists are doing, because it's exciting in its own right.

4. Examine the teaching of evolution at the introductory level in colleges, especially as manifested in teacher preparation programs. There needs to be better preparation at this level for all teachers, since this is likely to be the only background in the subject that they'll ever get. The genuine revolution in molecular biology that has taken place over the last four decades has squeezed aside such "whole organism" topics as evolution in many introductory college programs - to the delight of the anti-evolutionists.

5. Check out the so-called Santorum Amendment. This is believed to be a very big gun in the ID movement's arsenal, and it is easily portrayed as a federal mandate to "teach the controversy" and include Intelligent Design as a legitimate scientific theory. In reality, the "Santorum Amendment" is only some language tucked away in an obscure text that was part of the discussions during debate on the No Child Left Behind Act. Besides being emphatically ambiguous, it never became law.23

6. Prepare to be challenged if any standards writing or statewide curriculum development is about to go on. The Discovery Institute is on the lookout for all such activity, and some of their "Fellows" are likely to show up. Consult the NCSE for local resources to help in the battle as soon as you know that any aspect of science teaching will be on the table.


In the end, shouldn't it to be possible for fundamentalists, mainstream believers, agnostics, and atheists to have a rich understanding of, let us say, Islam, Buddhism, or any religion? It is possible to understand a great deal about these religions without adopting their belief systems. Likewise, both believers and nonbelievers could have a rich understanding of what evolutionary researchers are up to. They can understand the processes and findings of the sciences, and they need not abandon their religious or philosophical positions. They could learn that many religions promote the notion that God is an active Designer, but that many others don't. They could learn that science is silent on the subject of God.

Where I teach, the Intelligent Design movement, as a 21st- century echo of the natural theology of the mid-19th century, adds one more interesting facet to our discussions of the cultural context in which the science of evolution continues to develop.24 But across the country, in the battles on the revision of state standards, in curriculum writing, and in textbook adoptions, Intelligent Design, especially as promoted by the Discovery Institute of Seattle, is causing great confusion. Those who care must not stand idly by. It is time for science educators and their colleagues in the humanities and in religious education to join with administrators and get into the discussions and on the appropriate committees.

And if readers who do not teach biology have gotten this far, sit back and think about the implications if the Wedge Strategy should succeed. What if science is redefined to make consistent reference to the supernatural? What if the "Intelligent Designer" becomes central to the biology curriculum in the lab down the hall? If this Designer could fabricate the basal complex of a bacterial flagellum, one of the ID supporters' favorite images, it would seem a trivial exercise for the Designer to influence the outcome of a war or a political campaign. If we apply ID to human history, will we not find that some societies are obviously chosen by the Designer over others because of their "correct" beliefs? And to ensure continuing favor with the Designer, will we not have to institute public displays of understanding so that the Designer will know that we're ready to work with Him? Her? It? A morning rendition of the Pledge of Allegiance will seem quaint and trivial compared to the dedication of public schools to the work of following the Designer's design.

1. John Heeley Brooke, Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991).

2. Adrian Desmond, Huxley: From Devil's Disciple to Evolution's High Priest (Reading, Mass.: Perseus Books, 1997); Adrian Desmond and James Moore, Darwin (New York: Norton, 1991); and William Irvine, Apes, Angels, and Victorians (New York: Time, Inc., 1963).

3. Edward J. Larson, Trial and Error: The American Controversy over Creation and Evolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003); and Dorothy Nelkin, The Creation Controversy: Science or Scripture in the Schools (Boston: Beacon Press, 1982).

4. BSCS Biology: A Molecular Approach, 8th ed. (Columbus, Ohio: Glencoe/McGrawHill, 2001); BSCS Biology: An Ecological Approach, 9th ed. (Dubuque, Ia.: Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, Kendall/ Hunt, 2002); Ken Miller and Joe Levine, Biology (Old Tappan, N.).: Prentice-Hall, 2004); and George B. Johnson, The Living World (New York: McGrawHill, 2003).

5. Robert T. Pennock, ed., Intelligent Design: Creationism and Its Critics (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2001 ).

6. Icons of Evolution: Dismantling the Myths (Colorado Springs, Colo.: Focus on the Family Films, 2002).

7. Barbara Forrest and Paul R. Gross, Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design (London: Oxford University Press, 2003).

8. Stephen C. Meyer, "The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories," Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, vol. 11 7, 2004, pp. 213-39. To read more about the controversy, visit NCSE's website at www.ncseweb.org, go to the News Room, and look for the ID articles under NCSE News for 2004. For the Discovery Institute's coverage, visit its website at www.discovery.org and look under News.

9. Michael J. Behe, Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (New York: Free Press, 1996); William A. Dembski, No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased Without Intelligence (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002); and John Angus Campbell and Stephen C. Meyer, eds., Darwinism, Design, and Public Education (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2003).

10. Barbara Forrest, "The Wedge at Work: How Intelligent Design Creationism Is Wedging Its Way into the Cultural and Academic Mainstream," in Pennock, pp. 5-53.

11. Phillip E. Johnson, The Wedge of Truth: Splitting the Foundations of Naturalism (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2000).

12. Glenn Branch, "Evolving Banners at the Discovery Institute," Reports of the National Center for Science Education, 12 September 2002; see www.discovery.org. Since this article was written, the layout and logo of the institute have changed again, and the Wedge Strategy is once more available on the website. The introductory article "The Wedge Document: So What?" asserts that the Wedge Strategy does not represent some behind-the-scenes conspiracy. But whether or not the effort is conspiratorial has little to do with whether Intelligent Design qualifies as science.

13. Jonathan Wells, "Darwinism: Why I Went for a Second Ph.D.," available at http://www.tparents.org/Library/Unification/Talks/ Wells/DARWIN.htm.

14. Mark Terry and Scott Linneman, "Watching the Wedge: How the Discovery Institute seeks to Change the Teaching of Science," Washington State Science Teachers' Journal, March 2003, pp. 12-15.

15. www.discovery.org.

16. Forrest and Gross, pp. 231-39.

17. Kenneth R. Miller, Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution (New York: HarperCollins, 1999); and Michael Ruse, Darwin and Design: Does Evolution Have a Purpose? (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2003).

18. See www.ncseweb.org.

19. Illustra Media, Unlocking the Mystery of Life: The case for Intelligent Design (Colorado Springs: Focus on the Family Films, 2002); critiques and other resources are available at www.ncseweb.org/article. asp?category=19. See also Icons of Evolution', and Mark Terry, "Icons of Deception," Reports of the National Center for Science Education (in press, 200\1).

20. Forrest, op. cit.; and Forrest and Gross, op. cit.

21. See, for example, Paul Farber, "Teaching Evolution and the Nature of Science," American Biology Teacher, May 2003, pp. 347-54; Brian J. Alters and Sandra M. Alters, Defending Evolution in the Classroom (Sudbury, Mass.: Jones and Bartlett, 2001); Mark Terry, "Art and Evolution," Science Teacher, 2005, in press; and visit http://evolution.berkeley.edu.

22. Edward Larson, Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate over Science and Religion (New York: Basic Books, 1997).

23. Glenn Branch, "Farewell to the Sanlorum Amendment," Reports of the National Center for Science Education, vol. 22, nos. 1 -2, 2002, pp. 12-14. This article is available at www.ncesweb.org/ resources/articies/ ID-activists-guide-v1.pdf.

24. Robert T. Pennock, Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Crentionism (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1999); and Ruse, op. cit. K

MARK TERRY, a teacher in public and independent schools for more than three decades, is chair of the Science Department at the Northwest School, Seattle, Wash.

Copyright Phi Delta Kappa Dec 2004

Source: Phi Delta Kappan

Bush's References to God Defended by Speechwriter

President Does Not Claim Divinity Is on His Side, Gerson Contends

By Alan Cooperman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 12, 2004; Page A06

KEY WEST, Fla. -- Like many evangelical Christians, President Bush believes that God is at work in his life. But he has avoided claiming that God is behind his presidency or U.S. foreign policy, his chief speechwriter said.

"The important theological principle here, I believe, is to avoid identifying the purposes of an individual or a nation with the purposes of God," Michael Gerson said. "That seems a presumption to me, and we've done our best to avoid the temptation."

At a meeting with reporters in Key West, Fla., on Monday and Tuesday, Gerson, who has crafted almost all of Bush's major speeches since 2000 but has rarely spoken to the media, defended the president's religious rhetoric. Although the session was off the record, Gerson subsequently agreed to allow some of his main points to appear in print.

Bush's references to God have drawn criticism both at home and abroad, particularly in the context of the war in Iraq. Boston Globe columnist James Carroll, for example, has argued on the basis of Bush's statements that "the war on which America has embarked is essentially religious," a contention often echoed by commentators in the Middle East.

Gerson acknowledged some rhetorical missteps, such as Bush's remark five days after Sept. 11, 2001, that the United States had begun a "crusade" against terrorism. Gerson said it was an unscripted comment that White House officials quickly realized would reverberate badly in the Arab world.

But on the whole, the speechwriter argued, Bush's references to the role of providence in human affairs have been carefully calibrated and fully within the tradition of American civic religion. He said that Bush, like other presidents from George Washington to Bill Clinton, has expressed trust in God without claiming to understand all of God's ways.

Some people, Gerson said, seem to think that all references to God should be banished from presidential speeches.

"As a writer, I think this attitude would flatten political rhetoric and make it less moving and interesting," he said. "But even more, I think the reality here is that scrubbing public discourse of religious ideas would remove one of the main sources of social justice in our history. Without an appeal to justice rooted in faith, there would be no abolition movement or civil rights movement or pro-life movement."

About 20 reporters from major newspapers, television and radio networks attended the session, part of a two-day conference on religion and politics organized by the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a Washington think tank. Some participants closely questioned Gerson on Bush's frequently repeated line that "freedom is not America's gift to the world, it's the almighty God's gift to all humanity."

Gerson said the president wrote those words. They are, he said, a repudiation of the kind of "American exceptionalism" that holds that God has chosen the United States as his special instrument, and an echo of Abraham Lincoln's assertion that Americans should strive to be on God's side rather than claiming that God is on their side.

Gerson, a former journalist who studied theology at Wheaton College in Illinois and worked as an aide on Capitol Hill, rejected the allegation that Bush's speeches contain "code words" understood only by evangelicals. He noted that some speeches have contained allusions to secular literature as well as to scripture and hymns.

"They're not code words; they're our culture," he said. "It's not a code word when I put a reference to T.S. Eliot's 'Four Quartets' in our Whitehall speech [in London on Nov. 19, 2003]; it's a literary reference. Just because some people don't get it doesn't mean it's a plot or a secret."

Gerson also caustically dismissed the idea that the invasion of Iraq or U.S. policy toward Israel were prompted by theories about the second coming of Jesus. "The president is not reading Tim LaHaye for his Middle East policy," he said, referring to the best-selling "Left Behind" series of apocalyptic novels.

Critics of Bush's religious rhetoric, contacted after the conference, remained skeptical.

Gerson's assertion that Bush does not identify "the purposes of an individual or a nation with the purposes of God" is "a beautiful statement," said the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, a Baptist minister and president of the Interfaith Alliance. "I would scream for joy if I thought that statement was the guiding principle behind the president's rhetoric."

Gaddy noted that three days after Sept. 11, 2001, Bush said the United States has a responsibility "to rid the world of evil," and that the president later told Congress that God is "not neutral" in the war on terrorism.

"I think he has slipped over the line on many occasions," Gaddy said.


Some good news

The following was posted to the Vertebrate Palaeontology elist by Greg Paul and I thought you might be interested.

Gallup has been sampling public opinion on evolution versus creationism for two decades and they just released the latest. Despite what may seem as a gloomy situation what with Bush getting another 4, the continuing educational battles at state and local levels and the publicity behind intelligent design, the long term data shows that creationism is not winning the culture war, and if anything evolution may be gaining a little ground.

Since 82 those who think God created humans in their present form has consistently been 44-47% with no trend, this time it is 45%. Those who think people developed from animals has been a wee higher at 46-49% (the consistent pattern suggests the higher rate is real despite being within the normal margin of error), but still a minority. For the first time it edged into the majority at 51%. This may be a fluke, but it parallels the results of the NSF Science and Enginneering Indicators survey which, like Gallup, found those who think humans evolved at just below the majority until the lastest survey which had it at 53%.

Gallup also asks whether humans developed without God's guiding the process. That used to be 9-11%, but edged up to 12 and 13% in the last two polls. This pattern hints that the growth in general acceptance of human evolution may be driven by increasing rejection of a creator, with the 35-40% who think God guided evolution (an intelligent designish belief) remaining constant.

In the last two surveys those who think evolution is not supported by the evidence or think it is each make up over a third, while those you don't know are a quarter.

According to Gallup those who think the Bible is the literal word of God since 1976 are 27-40%, those who think it is inspired are 41-52%, and those who think its a bunch of fables mixed with history are 10-20%. However, there is a trend with the literalists converging with the fableists at the expense of the former as the latter edges up a little.

So, despite a massive, well funded, multi-decade, "wedge" campaign by countle ss procreationist groups and churches (and with 40% of high school biotechers wanting to teach creationism) backed by a portion of the Republican party over many decades they have failed to make in roads on the American population. If anything they may be losing ground. This is compatible with general trends of Ameroreligiousity. The number of unchurched and nonreligious doubled in the last dozen years, church attendence is down a little, as are rates of prayer, those who support prayer in shool and so on. Therefore growing numbers are not exposed to creationist propaganda. As I've mentioned in prior postings, the higher the rates of religiousity are in a population the lower the rate of acceptance of evolution - when a country is nonreligious there obviously is no problem teaching evolution. At the same time the simple fact is that evolution continues to be an overwhelmingly dominant aspect of modern science, and is a fast growing factor in 21st industry. As a result the creationists have little in the way of options to convert more of the population against evolution, which tends to turn people towards nonreligion, which further promotes acceptance of evolution and so on. The proevolution forces in comparison can wait for the normal progress of secularization that has already occurred in every other prosperous democracy to render evolution noncontroversial.

G Paul

On the trail of Bigfoot in Santa Cruz Mountains


Posted on Sun, Dec. 12, 2004


By David L. Beck

Mercury News

To a nation fed on checkout-line tabloids, ``Bigfoot'' and ``hoax'' go together like chips and dip. Mike Rugg, the proprietor of a Bigfoot museum in Felton, respectfully -- well, somewhat respectfully -- disagrees.

``People are sent to death on less evidence than we have for Bigfoot,'' Rugg said.

His Felton museum opened its doors in July and is still in what Rugg calls ``the analog version'' of what he hopes it will be: a genuine old-fashioned roadside attraction, of the kind Rugg believes thrived before they were ``put down by the planning department.'' It's a little red-painted house and assorted outbuildings on Highway 9, just down the road from the entrance to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.

Although the evidence for Bigfoot's existence is almost exclusively anecdotal, believers, and even some who claim to be neutral on the issue, cite the sheer consistency of hundreds of sightings, eerie shrieks in the woods and casts of huge footprints. Even primatologist Jane Goodall has said she wouldn't be surprised if an undiscovered primate like Bigfoot exists.

Bigfoot is a Humboldt Times reporter's word, circa 1957, for the big hairy biped whose most frequent California sightings have been in that Northern California county. Sasquatch, the preferred name in some circles, is a North Coast Indian word for the barely glimpsed creature; Rugg says most American Indian languages have a word for such a creature.

An estimate

If it exists, it probably strode across the prehistoric land bridge between Siberia and Alaska about 13,000 years ago, said Arizona zoologist J. Richard Greenwell. An adult male is reckoned to be as tall as 8 feet and as heavy as 800 pounds, measurements deduced from strides and footprints, of which even Rugg's little museum has a few casts.

Rugg has collected enough facts to confirm his boyhood belief that Bigfoot exists, and roamed -- indeed, may still be roaming -- the Santa Cruz Mountains. But he understands the connection to Godzilla in the popular imagination.

Almost the first thing you see at Rugg's museum is a collection of tabloids, many of them from the gifted writers at the Weekly World News: ``I WAS BIGFOOT'S LOVE SLAVE,'' reads one.

``Anybody that's working on a documentary about Bigfoot goes out and buys a gorilla suit,'' Rugg said. ``That's what I'd do, too.''

If you somehow miss the big new sign -- CapriTaurus' Bigfoot Discovery Museum (ldot) Art Gallery (ldot) Gift Shop -- outside the museum, look for the little Bigfoot sculpture chained to the front railing, or the big one still in progress alongside.

Artist, musician, computer guy and lifelong Bigfoot buff, Rugg, 58, is a round, gray-bearded man who was laid off from his graphics job two years ago and is now happily devoted to his obsession.

He's got a digital copy of the 1967 Patterson-Gimlin film -- 60 seconds of Bigfoot bliss for aficionados, sheer hokum for non-believers; some books for sale and lots more just for research; a collection of taped sounds; plenty of stills from ``Harry and the Hendersons,'' a 1987 Bigfoot movie starring John Lithgow as Henderson; maps with colored pins representing local Bigfoot sightings; and a huge blurry blowup of the most famous still from the Patterson-Gimlin film, on which he defies visitors to find a zipper.

Rugg is an Oakland native whose family moved to Felton when he was 13. By then he'd been fascinated by Bigfoot for about eight years.

Stanford student

As an art major at Stanford, he crafted a course of study that would have led to a second major in paleoanthropology. But he dropped out in disgust after he wrote a paper, ``A History and Discussion of the American Sasquatch Question,'' for Professor Bert A. Gerow's anthropology class and got a C on it with the comment, ``This is still in the realm of UFO.''

He's still got the paper in its blue binder. ``My badge of courage,'' he calls it.

After Stanford, he set up an art studio on Highway 9 next to the woodworking studio of his brother Howard Rugg. They merged, forming CapriTaurus (Howard Rugg is the Capricorn) and began turning out a line of mountain dulcimers.

Rugg says ``Bigfoot'' is both singular and plural, like ``moose,'' although in conversation he uses ``Bigfoots,'' as in ``Bigfoots come in all sizes.''


The Bigfoot Museum is at 5497 Highway 9, just south of Felton. It's open 1 to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekends. Call (831) 335-4478 or see www.bigfoot discoveryproject.com.

Contact David L. Beck at dbeck@mercurynews.com or (831) 423-0960.

The thin red line


Kabbalah began thousands of years ago as a mystical form of Judaism. Now, revamped, rich, popularised, it attracts millions of devotees with a mix of new age paraphernalia and ancient texts. Is it a cult? What is its lure? In a major investigation around the world, Elena Lappin finds out

Saturday December 11, 2004
The Guardian

The city of Safed in northern Israel, high in the mountains above the Sea of Galilee, is a quiet, cobble-stoned town where ultra-orthodox synagogues coexist with offbeat artists' studios and galleries. Five centuries ago, when eminent Jewish mystics and scholars found refuge here after the Spanish Inquisition, Safed was considered the spiritual centre of the Jewish world. Jewish mysticism, also known as Kabbalah, flourished here in the 16th century, and the Kabbalistic writings of Safed rabbis on the meaning of Torah (Jewish law) remain influential to this day. One of the great Kabbalists of that period was Rabbi Isaac Luria, whose tomb is a revered landmark - visited by Madonna during her recent pilgrimage to holy Kabbalah sites in Israel.

Last July, thousands of devoted Jews travelled to Safed to visit and pray at Rabbi Luria's grave on the 429th anniversary of his death. But the followers of a contemporary Kabbalist, Rabbi Philip Berg, whose teaching is also based on Lurianic Kabbalah, have chosen to take their celebrations elsewhere: their 10 buses, arriving from Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Tiberias and Haifa, bypass Luria's grave and park near a vast semi-ruin of a 13th-century Mameluke building called the Red Mosque. What looks like a large wedding or bar mitzvah seems to be in progress inside, with 500 mostly secular Israeli men, women and children milling around, eating and drinking; they look ecstatically happy. Around midnight, the excited crowd spills over into a large roofless hall, settling into rows of folding chairs. A hush falls, the moment they have all been waiting for has arrived: under the starlit sky, on a wide video screen above their heads, the darkly bearded face of Rabbi Berg appears, speaking live from Los Angeles, or possibly New York. He is the reason they are here, and also the reason they are not at the grave with the ultra-orthodox believers: "They don't like us. There could be trouble," I had been told, a little apologetically, by the woman who signed me up for this "spiritual journey" a few days earlier in the fancy Tel Aviv branch of Berg's Kabbalah Research Centre, where I had posed as a prospective student.

Rabbi Berg, or the Rav, as he is respectfully called by members of his organisation, is wearing a white robe. His imposing video presence is greeted with awestruck applause, to which he responds, transatlantically, with a magnanimous wave of the hand. Then he begins to speak, in halting Hebrew. He says a few admiring words about the illustrious Rabbi Luria, but then he begins to rant, sometimes shouting, sometimes almost shouting, as he describes a medical miracle. The story goes like this: an anonymous neurosurgeon had removed a man's brain tumour and returned home after the successful operation, leaving the patient to convalesce. Later that night, he received a phone call from the hospital with the news that the man was about to die, having eaten something that was now making him choke. The doctor, being far away, could not do anything to help - except "scan" (ie, move his fingers along) a passage in the Zohar (Book of Splendour), a sacred book he had just begun to study in his Kabbalah classes. The patient recovered. For emphasis, Berg punctuates his speech by wielding the doctor's report like a weapon.

I can hear several enraptured couples quietly explaining, or maybe translating, the story to each other. Clearly, the Rav has reaffirmed their faith in Kabbalah, and given them yet another miracle to talk about. Then he raises his hand again in majestic salute and the screen goes blank. We return to the food and drink, and are encouraged to enrich our knowledge of Kabbalah by purchasing a few items from the nicely laid-out stalls.

My eye falls on the famous red string, as worn by Madonna and friends, here attractively presented with an instructional CD. I ask the friendly young volunteer for an explanation of the red string's protective powers against the so-called "evil eye". Those powers were guaranteed, he says, by virtue of the fact that the red string is wrapped seven times around Rachel's tomb in Bethlehem, and meditated upon, and tied around your wrist with a special prayer. I pick one up and see the price: 180 shekels, or around £20. I also see a sticker on the sealed package saying "Made in China".

On the long bus ride back to Tel Aviv, a teacher from the Kabbalah centre talks about how, many years ago, "only a small group of people went on these pilgrimages, and then slowly more and more, and now we have 10 buses, and all over the world there are thousands and thousands, in fact millions of people brought together by the Rav and his wife Karen, to whom we owe our connection to the Light. The Rav and Karen will be in Israel in September, for the new year. We will all connect with them here. We'll have amazing energy!" Those who are not asleep smile and nod in agreement. They feel safe and protected - from illness, from danger and, in this country, from war and terrorism - by the power of their red strings, their Zohars, and especially by "being one soul with the Rav and Karen". In fact, the rabbi, his wife and their two sons, Rabbis Michael and Yehuda Berg, are far away, and haven't visited Israel in a long time. A few years ago, the Rav said to a friend: "No point in visiting those graves. The tzaddikim [holy men] are no longer there."

Thirty years ago, however, when Philip Berg first settled in Israel, arriving from New York under his original name Feivel Shraga Gruberger, regular outings to such holy graves were a part of his initiation into the world of Kabbalah. He had come to it relatively late in life, having worked as an insurance agent in New York in his late 20s and 30s.

Versions of his biography, as presented on dustjackets of his books and on his organisation's website (kabbalah.com), have varied over the years. In a book he wrote and self-published in 1983, entitled The Kabbalah Connection, Berg is described as "an ordained rabbi who holds a doctorate in comparative religion". When travelling to Israel in 1962, he met his Kabbalistic master, Rabbi Yehuda Zvi Brandwein, then dean of the Research Centre of Kabbalah. Berg undertook research at the centre, wrote books and, following the death of his master in 1969, "assumed the position of dean of the centre". Berg then moved to Israel with his wife Karen in 1971, "where they began to feel deep stirrings for the majority of Jews alienated from their roots. They then opened the doors of the centre to all seekers of self-identity, establishing centres in all major cities throughout Israel."

On the dustjacket of a book published in 2000, Immortality: The Inevitability Of Eternal Life, there is no reference to "Jews alienated from their roots". Instead it says, "Along with his wife, Karen, Rav Berg opened the doors of the KC [as their organisation is now known] in 1971 to all persons interested in achieving self-improvement through spiritual realisation", and details his early life, his education and his "dedicated study of the doctrines of Rav Yehuda Ashlag, the first contemporary Kabbalist and founder of the KC". Under Berg's leadership, it says, the KC has provided instruction to more than 3.4 million students in 39 centres across the world, including sites in 17 US states.

The change in tone and terminology reveals the transformation the Bergs' enterprise had undergone in that 17-year period. In 1983, he was "Dr Philip Berg with a doctorate in comparative religion. In 2000, he is "Kabbalist Rav Berg": he has dropped the title of doctor in favour of the honorific "The Rav", which, even in personal discourse, is a way of referring to himself in the third person. In 2000, he no longer even speaks about Jewish religion. An entire chapter in Immortality is dedicated to the story of how Karen proposed, to the initially sceptical Rav, the idea of opening the doors of Kabbalah to "every man, woman and child". In breach of the rules of his traditionally orthodox upbringing, he is ultimately convinced of the wisdom of her inspiration, and decides: "My mission is to spread and disseminate this knowledge to every human being, in whatever language, in whatever country." Another difference between the two books is that the copyright of the latter is owned by Kabbalah Centre International, which has now become a wealthy, international non-profit organisation, its biggest centre being in Los Angeles. As its tax returns indicate, Berg sold a 10-year copyright to his books to his own organisation for more than $2.5m - thus, as head of the KC, literally writing himself a cheque.

A fuller version of his life would reveal that Feivel Shraga Gruberger was born on August 20 1929 in Brooklyn, New York (or 1927 as some documents have it). He was the son of Max Gruberger, a presser, and Ester (nιe Reis). The Gruberger family had come from Nadvorna in Galizia, which was then a part of Austria and is now Ukraine. Feivel lived and studied in Williamsburg, and graduated in 1951 from Yeshiva (Jewish religious seminary) Torah VaDaat, and was ordained a rabbi. He is remembered by a fellow student, Rabbi Yitzhak Kerzner of Toronto, as "dedicated to his studies" and very outgoing. An old teacher has a clear memory of him as a "fantasist, with an ambitious ego", who was also a bright scholar. During all his years as a religious student, Berg never studied Kabbalah, which was not a part of a mainstream orthodox curriculum. On the other hand, his high school was unusual for including secular scientific subjects. This may be the source of Berg's infatuation with science; he has filled his version of Kabbalah with scientific terminology (quantum physics, nanotechnology, electrons, atoms, cosmology), to the embarrassment of those around him. "He never knew what he was talking about, and I cringed and begged him to stop," says an old acquaintance.

He hasn't: he now uses "science" to explain the potency of the Kabbalah water sold by the KC (£3.95 for a 1.5 litre bottle). This water (two bottles of which have been tested by the Guardian and have been found by a lab to be completely ordinary when reasonably fresh, and to contain some bacteria and fungi when a year old) was declared by Berg to have miraculous antiradiation properties; large quantities, he said, had been emptied into a lake in Chernobyl to clear the area of contamination. At shabbat services, participants were told to chant the word "Chernobyl" to show their faith in this mission. It is now sold as a "cure" for cancer, ageing and other conditions. The water is said to come from a spring in Canada, and its miraculous properties are supposed to be due to a special meditation performed by the Rav.

The centre takes these claims extremely seriously. On its website, a Kabbalah member named Billy opens a discussion entitled, "The science of Kabbalistic healing: The cure for cancer and the end of disease". When asked for advice about "a grandfather in end-stage cancer", Billy replies: "Kabbalah water and Zohar volume 20 and 21 are the most effective ways to begin a healing treatment. I would suggest 2-3 bottles a day. I have seen cancer go into remission, and I have seen it disappear in many people who have used this initial approach." He also claims: "Researchers at Jefferson University in Philadelphia in rheumatology reported that patients after consumption of Kabbalah water had increased range in motion as well as reduced pain." But when I asked Dr Sergio A Jimenez of the university's rheumatology department to confirm this claim, he replied: "The physician who apparently was working with this left several years ago. I do not believe there is any publication that shows that anyone at JU participated in or performed these studies."

The water is a major source of income for the KC. For example, in one US city, many members have told me that they were pressed to buy large quantities, some of which was out of date, at $1,000 a pallet. I asked the KC to comment on these claims but they declined to respond.

In 1953, Berg, 24, decided to leave the religious world and turn to business (although he remained an orthodox Jew). He became a life insurance agent for New York Life. He married Rivkah Brandwein in 1953 and they had eight children. One died in early infancy, and a daughter died of leukaemia in the 1970s. A close friend at the time, Morrie Yochai, remembers Berg coming to his office to read a part from a religious book to help his daughter get better, and indeed she did go into remission for a while. Berg met Karen when she worked as a secretary in his business. By his own account, they have known each other since 1959, though they became involved only years later, and married in July 1971. She had two daughters from a previous marriage. Their sons Yehuda and Michael were born in Israel, in 1972 and 1973.

Berg's first wife was descended from a great rabbinic dynasty, with famous roots in eastern Europe. His wedding to Karen caused a scandal; he had left his ex-wife to raise a large family on her own, which she managed by doing babysitting and other jobs.

Berg's interest in Kabbalah was awakened in Israel in 1962 when he met his first wife's uncle, Rabbi Brandwein, who had been a student of Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag (at whose graveside Madonna was much photographed during her recent trip). Their original connection had to do with the dissemination of religious books, but Berg soon became interested in studying Kabbalah. He made several trips to Israel and, at one point, lived with Brandwein on and off for up to six months. The rabbi was dean of Yeshiva Kol Yehuda, and Berg claims to have been appointed his successor after his death in 1969, under the terms of a letter he received in 1967.

Thus began Berg's new life as publisher and distributor of Kabbalah books, and as the head of a Kabbalah Research Centre, which he combined with the name of Yeshiva Kol Yehuda. Under Berg's deanship, this yeshiva had no premises of its own but a PO box in the old city in Jerusalem. Berg published books to which he did not always own the copyright, among them several titles by Rabbi Ashlag, including his famous translation of the 22 volumes of the Zohar from Aramaic into Hebrew. (Ashlag's descendants are very upset about Berg's unauthorised printing of this translation, but have not taken any legal action.) The letter from Brandwein, I found, was simply a form letter confirming Berg's ordination from his US yeshiva, without mention of Berg becoming a legal successor.

Nevertheless, he quickly began to attract followers, as his open, undogmatic approach drew a circle of dedicated students, some of whom quickly became teachers. He and Karen lived in near-poverty in Jerusalem, in a flat supplied by the Israeli absorption ministry (they had officially immigrated in September 1971). In 1973, they abruptly left the country, returning a few years later, at which point they changed their name from Gruberger to Berg. They moved to Tel Aviv, and as their following grew, so did their ambition. During another stay in the US, Berg's students in Israel began to study with Rabbi Baruch Ashlag, the son of the great Kabbalist. "This made us realise how little real Kabbalah Berg knew, and how commercial he had become," says one of the students, Jordan Lightman (not his real name). Ten of his teachers left in 1984, disillusioned with the "less than spiritual" direction the Bergs were now taking. Israel was becoming too small for their plans; they made their final move back to the US in 1984.

Nadine and her husband Sebastian (not their real names) attended one of the Bergs' first organised Jewish new year weekends in the early 1980s, at a hotel in the Catskills, near New York. "It had cost us a lot of money, but it was a decrepit, rundown place. There were many derelicts among the guests, lost souls, people who didn't seem to belong anywhere. The food was horrible, it was complete chaos, the room numbers got all mixed up ... Karen and the Rav were an odd couple: he had a straggly beard, didn't seem to care about his appearance. She, on the other hand, was attractive, thin, blond hair, very well kept, in a classic business suit. People were frantically buying all their merchandise - T-shirts, baseball caps."

Today, such mass events take place in luxury hotels, attract thousands of Kabbalah devotees and cost thousands of dollars. Lucie (not her real name), a former Kabbalah student from Miami, paid $2,000 to attend Passover with the Rav and Karen in LA, but it became the trigger for her final disillusionment: "There were masses of people, you can't hear a thing, and your spiritual leader is having a conversation with Demi Moore for hours. For me, that was the beginning of the end."

The KC is a highly successful enterprise. As I could see at every centre I visited - in New York, LA, Miami, Tel Aviv, London - their services and classes are packed. A month before the event in Safed, I saw Berg at the KC in New York, at his Shabbat services. As he spoke, he sounded less tentative in his native Brooklyn English, but no less angry. He liked to end most sentences with an aggressive/defensive question mark: "The angel of death I should be afraid of?" His sermon lasted a long time. A little boy eventually fell asleep under his pulpit. Otherwise, Berg was by far the most subdued member of his congregation. While others chanted, screamed, jumped, swayed, howled and punched the air, shouting various catchwords (one was "Immortality!"), the Rav seemed almost out of place in the tumult. Yet his presence infused the service with a special energy. When they weren't chanting, the men, all dressed in white, hugged each other. The women were more subdued but no less ecstatic. The mood seemed to alternate between a drug-like high and affectionate warmth. I could see how one could become hooked on the experience. Madonna, along with her children and Guy Ritchie, was also at this service, and while no one stood up for her, there was an undeniable buzz in the room because of her presence. She chatted to one of the Bergs' daughters-in-law, but also scanned the prayers in her book with someone's help.

I was given transcripts of several of Berg's sermons. In January 2004, he said: "I refuse to recognise this as a synagogue, but refer to it as a War Room ... within this War Room, we are going to defeat the enemy, and that is Satan." He then talks about sharing, which, in KC parlance, is a way of asking for donations: "Why would we not want to share? I've heard people say, 'I've worked so hard all my life and now I have to give it away?' You want to be God? To become God you've got to act like God, and then you are in total control. And what is the character of the Lightforce of God? The idea of sharing." Former member Joanna (not her real name) said: "We were always told that giving charity outside doesn't count, you only 'connect to the Light' when you give to KC. We were never to talk about God, only about the Light and being one soul with the Rav and Karen."

The personality cult around the Bergs evolved gradually. Everyone credits Karen with being the creative business brain behind the original success of the KC. As profits from the massive sales and donations increased and the organisation expanded, it relied more and more on volunteers, so-called "chevre" (friends in Hebrew). This trend began in the 1980s with the use of young people going door to door selling Zohars and other books. They lived in shared lodgings in Tel Aviv, were paid almost nothing and spent entire days on their feet. Later, the pattern was reproduced in New York, Paris and other centres.

Young former KC members claim that they became separated from their families, in thrall to "the Light". They undertook jobs like cleaning and cooking for the Rav and Karen, though they were discouraged from spending any money on food for themselves. Vera (not her real name), a middle-aged woman who left her husband and sons in Israel to cook for the Rav in New York, enjoyed the experience at first. "My family were suffering without me, but I was in a trance. To be allowed to cook for the Rav - what an honour!" Today, every KC has a sophisticated volunteer force. They are paid $35 a month in cash, as expenses, and, as a non-profit organisation, the KC is not required to pay taxes on their labour. The centre has in the past argued that the devotional work done by KC followers is not so different from other religions where young people devote a year to missionary work and lead very ascetic lives.

A new development is so-called "student support" - people paid a commission (20%-25%) to phone every person on a list of automatically dialled numbers and sell Zohars. Shlomo (not his real name), who tried this for a few weeks, left in disgust: "The manager verbally abused anyone who didn't sell enough Zohars that day," he says. "We were supposed to follow a script, a sales pitch, which went something like this: 'You don't want to buy a set of Zohars? OK, so you don't want to be healed? And your family? You don't care about them? Don't come to me when something awful happens to you, just because you weren't smart enough to protect yourself.' It was awful. And as a sales technique, it didn't really work!"

David Alexander (not his real name), a long-time member in London, describes the KC as "life stealers". I spoke to a whole group of former KC members in a large US city, all of whom told similar stories. Their charismatic and initially much admired teacher would focus on each student's personal situation - illness, drug problem, seriously ill child, dying partner or dead parent - and then raise the question of donations. The amounts range from a few thousand dollars to hundreds of thousands, and in some cases (especially among wealthy celebrities and business people), millions.

Dreams are one point of entry: Donna (not her real name), a struggling single mother who was in great distress, says she confided to her teacher a dream about her grandfather, who had just passed away. "He said: 'I have to meditate on this.' The next day, he called me and said it meant I had to give $20,000 to the centre. I did. I trusted him." Often, those who later come to feel they were exploited blame themselves. "No one told us to do it. No one forced us. We gave them the power they had over us," says Lucie. According to David Alexander, the KC "controls people by exploiting their fears and their loneliness. They look for our most vulnerable points." A large group of former KC members have formed a support group, and hope to help others across the world (their website is kabbalahsupportgroup.com).

One of Karen's new projects is the Spirituality For Kids programme. Madonna is on the board of SFK, and donates the proceeds of her children's books to it. Karen told me that in this free programme, "We talk about the opponent, which is the dark side, and then we call the angel the other side, and we explain to them how we know when the opponent is there." As every KC member knows, the "opponent" is the Bergs' name for Satan. And the programme is not free, as Karen claims: a glossy leaflet I have publicises both the activities and the prices ($180 for four weeks).

Many couples claim they have been urged by Karen either to marry or to divorce. Sandy (not her real name), who fell deeply in love with a boy when they were both volunteers in New York, was very hurt when Karen discouraged them from marrying each other. Ultimately, they married other partners (Sandy left the KC, while Jon, her former boyfriend, stayed), and later both divorced and remarried. "Karen loves to play matchmaker," says Sandy, "and she has uncanny powers over people. I am still scared of her." When I spoke to Karen, she scoffed at the idea that she should have such influence, but it is a persistent theme among former KC members.

Ziva Chaski was Karen's assistant and close friend for 15 years. She joined the group around Berg in Israel, and she and her husband also spent much time with them in New York. She now feels that she lost many years serving their needs, rather than focusing on her own family. One of her daughters became equally committed. Her son does not understand what he saw as an enslavement that his parents agreed to over many years, and is still hurt by it. Almost everyone I interviewed does not recognise himself or herself in the person who gave up everything of personal importance, just to be close to and to please the Bergs. Today, Ziva has a grievance: "I don't wish her anything bad. Only that one of her children abandons her, the way she separated so many children from their parents, and parents from children."

There are claims that KC is a dangerous cult. Two KC members, both young women in their 20s, have had formal professional intervention by Steven Alan Hassan, a Boston therapist specialising in cults. His own experience as a member of the Moonies in the 1970s, he says, has taught him to identify and understand the patterns of cults, which "are distinguished by their use of deception and mind control techniques to undermine a person's free will and make him dependent on the group's leader". Among these techniques, he counts authoritarian behaviour, deception in recruitment and controlling information. I spoke to both women he helped, and their personalities seemed rather similar: they were very bright, attractive, energetic, outgoing, and interested in exploring a new set of spiritual and religious values. Neither was Jewish.

Lindsey Roberts, a born-again Christian, says she was encouraged by her teacher, Rabbi Chaim Solomon (who now teaches at the London KC), to have a Jewish wedding with a Muslim KC member in LA. (They are now divorced.) She says she was made to work in the centre's bookstore from early morning until 1am, and became isolated from her parents. Now that she has left the centre, she admits, "I was certainly excited to see Madonna there, but she does get special treatment - she sits at the table with the Rav and Karen, which is only for the privileged few." Lindsey was drawn to Kabbalah because of her earlier work with Professor David Patterson at the University of Memphis, with whom she took a course in Holocaust studies. "My own religion taught me that every single Jewish person who died in the Holocaust is in hell - I could not believe that. I was struggling with my own faith." Although most people at the centre were not Jewish, she did feel like an outsider, especially at shabbat services. Ultimately, her parents became alarmed and asked Hassan to help. The carefully planned intervention took three days, and involved not only Lindsey's family but also Patterson and Emma, another former Kabbalah member.

"It took some time to decide that Kabbalah was a cult," says Lindsey. "Finally, my decision came down to not believing the people who run it. I am absolutely convinced it is a cult. I am a rational person, but while I was there I did things I would now consider ridiculous." Patterson found that "everything we were telling Lindsey was news to her: that real Kabbalah is not about 'me', about making money, about sex or power. The term used by KC, 'the Power of Kabbalah', is counterfeit already. Kabbalah is basically about the Torah - how do we understand the 10 commandments, how do we understand the story of creation. Not about getting lucky, looking out for one's own interests. There was a tremendous change in Lindsey: she had become much less self-assertive, much more docile. She found it reasonable to scan the Zohar as a way of dealing with an argument with her husband." Today, Lindsey is divorced and successfully pursuing an acting career in Memphis.

Emma (not her real name) is from Florida, where she grew up in a Jewish neighbourhood, though she is not Jewish herself. Her dream was to study medicine, but an early encounter with Kabbalah caused her to diverge from her plan: "I became involved, through a friend, and started volunteering more and more. My schoolwork went down the drain and my fights with my mother became worse and worse. After two years, I joined as chevre and moved to LA, basically to get away from home." She lived, she says, with five other girls in a one-bedroom apartment. "I was depressed. The KC discouraged me from going to medical school. They said, 'You can be a spiritual doctor.'" According to Emma, when her mother came to take her home a week after her arrival in LA, she was sent away by a KC rabbi, and when her father became ill, she was told that, rather than visit him, she should "work harder and send him blessings through her hard work". Emma was very interested in converting to Judaism, and encouraged by Yehuda Berg to do so: "We were getting very close through email. He said we were brother and sister from a past life." Finally, Emma was told that in order to convert, she would have to first go through a purifying immersion in the mikve (ritual bath) - one on one, just the young rabbi and her.

With the intervention of Steve Hassan, Emma had to work on "believing that I could survive in the outside world". She has succeeded: today, she has finished medical school and is in a happy relationship.

The KC, rejecting the notion that it is a cult, has questioned whether former followers seek counselling because of experiences with the KC, or because of prior conditions. Perhaps, the KC says, they were already alienated from their families.

I meet 32-year-old Yehuda, the elder of the two Berg brothers, in a small office at the Manhattan KC. Outside is an attractive, hotel-lobby-like area, with soft, jazzy music playing and merchandise on display. It seems relaxed. Yehuda, at over six feet, looks like an overgrown teenager. He is personable, approachable and, by his own admission, a bit hyperactive. He interests me as the man who is running much of the Kabbalah empire. A few months later, when the KC lets me know it is no longer willing to cooperate with me in my research, I will be told that it was Yehuda's decision. But today, we are chatting amicably.

Yehuda and Michael, his brother, were born in Jerusalem and lived in Israel until their early teens; they moved to America in 1984. "Me and my brother wanted to leave, because there was a lot of intolerance towards us. We both thought that we were a bit strange because my parents were involved in Kabbalah. A lot of people would not be my friend at school. Teachers always had a negative slant towards us." The isolation was harder on Yehuda than on Michael, who had at least one friend.

Financially, Yehuda thinks the family's life in Israel was extremely hard: "We always bought our clothes in secondhand shops. I didn't sense it was a hardship at the time. Till I started realising - OK, every kid in my class has a new pair of Jordans. When I asked my mom, she said, 'Just get something else.'" The boys had a very close relationship with Karen's mother, who died in 1992: "She was great. We were at her house in Queens a couple of times a week. She was funny. A Gemini, like me - we had this really cool relationship. She always wanted to take care of us. She wasn't religious at all. We never judge that."

Yehuda has lived in the US since he was 12. His experience of school was better than in Israel - "I started playing basketball!" - but there were some problems: "After the first year of what was meant to be several years of intense studying at Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim, they asked us not to come back. The head of the yeshiva said, 'We don't really like you, and you don't really like us.' So we moved to another one, called Shaar HaTorah, which was a bit more open." He and Michael are very different, he says: "He's deeper into one thing at a time, I'm into five things at once. I wrote a book on the red string, I'm writing a book on dreams, and then another two."

Yehuda says he never really considered doing anything else except become involved in Kabbalah: "In high school, I realised that all my friends were miserable - taking drugs, being depressed, not knowing what to do with their lives. I had this path, and I felt fulfilled." He graduated in 1994, and about a year later he and Michael travelled to Jerusalem to be ordained by a rabbi. "He calls up the places where you studied before, and then examines your knowledge, for about five hours. With this orthodox ordination, I can be a rabbi anywhere, do conversions, anything." An orthodox rabbi told me this procedure was "most definitely not regular. No yeshiva I ever heard of would do such a thing. Proper testing would take more than a day."

Things changed in a big way in 1989: "We opened our second branch in LA; the first one was in our house in Queens. It really took off, because California is a very laid-back environment. People always have time to do things, even when they're busy." A period of growth followed, which has continued to this day. How do they manage to run it all? "Overseeing all this is a big job. My parents did it initially, but now it's done long-distance. All the teachers come here once a year - they have a four-day intensive retreat to make sure we keep moving everyone in the same direction. We have about 60,000 physical students, another 110,000 by long-distance learning, and 3.4 million altogether." Meanwhile,Michael focuses on writing books,most recently,Becoming Like God.

Yehuda exudes both self-confidence and insecurity, and it is hard to guess what he is really thinking. His books and email missives are small masterpieces of commercial minimalism: they are quick,satisfying fixes that have the depth of Kabbalistically couched Hallmark cards - mostly about feeling good and attaining success. Yet his attractive-looking The 72 Names Of God:Technology For The Soul (TM) contradicts thousands of years of Jewish wisdom. The sages, if Yehuda and his father, who wrote the preface, are to be believed, were wrong to guard the spiritual power of divine names against misuse by people with impure intentions. The Bergs' method is as follows: if the Jewish religion forbids something, circumvent it by declaring that what you are practising is spirituality, not religion, of benefit to all, not to one group. Their "Names Of God" adorn all their centres, Madonna wears them on T-shirts and dances against their projections on the stage, Sandra Bernhard declares: "Stop spinning your wheels. Tap into The 72 Names Of God immediately!" You can buy cards with the Names and aromatic candles, all of which promise a direct connection to the Light.

According to Kabbalist Rabbi Yaakov Hillel, "using the Names to acquire fame or money is an extremely serious violation. The early Sages, who knew how and when to use the Names, deliberately broke the chain of oral tradition by not teaching this wisdom to their disciples."

For Yehuda, Jewishness has become secondary: "When I grew up I thought I was Jewish. Now I don't consider myself Jewish. I consider myself a Kabbalist," he says. I want to know why he thinks the KC has had so much criticism, and how he feels about it. "I never get affected by it. You should have certainty in what you do. Anyone who has done anything in this world was hated. If you're not hated, you've done nothing."

Just before he leaves the office to make way for his mother, I ask about the red string. Why is it so expensive? Why not just hand it out to people? Yehuda gets a little testy: "There are things we do for free. We have free membership. But there is a Kabbalistic concept of bread of shame: you don't get something for nothing. For us to get the red string, we have to get an armoured car to Rachel's Tomb; they get shot at every time they go, it's a dangerous situation. We have to pay a private security firm. So there's a lot of money that's laid out by the centre. Other people who wear it from elsewhere don't necessarily get the benefit. We give them the whole technology of special wrapping and prayers. The minimum people should do is appreciate that and pay for it."

Later, when I ask the rabbis who have a permanent presence at Rachel's Tomb and have been there for the past 10 years whether they have ever seen this going on, the answer is a definite no: no armoured vehicles under the protection of a private security firm, no shootings of this description, no one observed arriving with large quantities of red string and wrapping it around the tomb. The area is under heavy military protection. A spokeswoman for the ministry of tourism and also for religious affairs stated that no special permits had been given to the Kabbalah Centre to enter Rachel's Tomb with large quantities of red string.

Not long ago, Karen Berg tried to patent the red string in the US as a trademark. While the final decision is still pending, the application has been provisionally rejected: the KC could not persuade the US patent office that its red string is distinguishable from other red strings worn for "protection". And while the KC sells its own for $26 (without CD), you can buy similar ones on eBay for 99 cents. The red string was introduced by the KC quite a while after the Bergs moved to the US; in their early years, it was worn occasionally, but wasn 't considered important.

When Karen enters the little office, there is a lively, friendly commotion and Yehuda quickly disappears. She is wearing a smart blond wig, in orthodox Jewish woman fashion, but it doesn't really suit her. Nor does she look comfortable in her expensive-looking clothes. I later hear that she used to wear leather jackets and ride motorcycles in her youth (when her name was Kathy Mulnick).

She talks, in a wonderful Brooklyn voice, about her nomadic beginnings. She didn't know her real father, who died during the war. She grew up in a secular family, she says, moving around quite a few times. Didn't learn to read until seventh grade but learned to hide that fact. She had been "pretty wild", and interested in anything spiritual or esoteric. With her first husband, a carpenter and "a very nice man ", she had two daughters. She met Philip Berg when she worked as a secretary in the same insurance office. He was much older, and "I didn't like him. He was very cold." Years later they were put in touch again, quite by chance. Berg told her he was now studying Kabbalah and spending some time in Israel. Karen found that interesting because he didn't seem to be "the type to leave all material things behind". "So I offered him a deal: if he would agree to teach me Kabbalah, I would work for him for free. And then from that day to this day we weren't separated."

"Wait," I said to Karen, "as an orthodox Jew, didn't he have a problem teaching a woman?"

"That's another story," she laughs. Of course he wouldn't teach her. Until, that is, his beloved Kabbalah teacher appeared to Karen in her dream and blessed her, which Philip took as a convincing - and convenient - sign that he was allowed to do so.

How does she feel about accusations that Kabbalah is a cult? She replies sharply: "How can it possibly be a cult if we all live in a fish bowl? It's open. What you see is what you get. What's a cult? Is it a place where the doors are closed and journalists can't walk in and is there an inner sanctum that you can't get to? That's a cult. The answer is no. What is a cult? By definition, if you ask the question, don't listen to what I'm telling you. Usually the connotation is negative. Sort of like, 'I'm gonna take your mind kind of thing.'"

They call it mind control, I say.

"Mind control. OK. Is it mind control? Well, in order to do mind control with you, I would have to sit and we would have to discuss. There are thousands and thousands of people learning Kabbalah, so I really haven't got the time to do mind control." At the end of the hour-long interview, I asked who had benefited the most from the KC's teachings. "Me," she says.

At a free introductory lecture in Miami, a classroom of young, middle-aged and elderly people are delighted to be told that what they want is total fulfilment, and that this is what Kabbalah will give them. But in another part of town,another group assemble. About 20 deeply hurt and disillusioned former KC members sit around a table and go over a list they downloaded from a Cult Watch website, Mind-Manipulating Groups: Are You A Victim? There are 14 identifying characteristics, and they all agree that the KC has them all.They giggle, but it's an uneasy, embarrassed giggle.

One of the KC's weirdest techniques is the idea of "scanning the Zohar [book of Splendour ]".Using the notion that it is not necessary to read even a translation of the holy words "to receive their energy", but simply to move one's eyes over the Hebrew letters, the KC has created an enormous non-Jewish market, selling this text to millions who can "scan" or simply possess it. There is also the "Zohar Project", whereby donations are collected to pay for the distribution of Zohars to trouble spots in the world, "to bring peace". The latest of these is supposedly in Gaza.

In the US, and in the UK, too, the organisation has two facets: one non-profit (here, a charity) and one for-profit. Different sections have different names - kabbalah.com, Kabbalah Enterprises, Kabbalah Research Centre, Kabbalah Property Foundation, Kabbalah Learning Centre. According to KC accounts, the Bergs and their sons pay themselves no salaries, yet they have lavish lifestyles, travelling in luxury, staying in the best hotels and living in properties registered to the KC. Their real estate assets are vast. Karen Berg's name appears on numerous private addresses in the US.

The Bergs like to be partners with successful KC members. The deal is that the Rav offers his blessings in return for a 20%-25% cut of the profits. David Alexander, about to buy shares that he believed might net him millions in profit, was approached by Berg, offering a partnership. Alexander's reply was: "If you bless my shares to go up from $6 to $40, I will give you 5%." Berg agreed. The shares promptly fell to $1, and then to nothing.

According to one reliable insider who has had access to its accounting, the KC generates an average income of $1m a month: from sales of books, the water, scented candles, red string, jewellery, baby blankets, and even cosmetics, course fees and donations. Events celebrating major Jewish holidays are big money-spinners.

In some countries, such as Mexico and France, KC's non-profit status has been challenged. According to tax records, the New York branch alone had net assets last year of more than $24m. The most recent records (2000) for the Los Angeles branch list assets of $11m. There is no rule against a charitable organisation being profitable, but,according to IRS guidelines, "the assets of an organisation cannot inure to the benefit of private shareholders or individuals. If an organisation pays or distributes assets to insiders in excess of the fair market values of the services rendered, the organisation can lose its tax exempt status." The Berg family don't seem to feel they fall foul of this stipulation.

According to KC believers, Berg can not only influence market shares and business deals, but change the course of hurricanes, too. I was in Miami during a recent hurricane, and was present at a shabbat service when Rabbi Shimon Sarfati calmly informed the congregation that there was nothing to worry about, because the Rav had made sure the hurricane would miss them. It did, though it did not miss other areas, including Boca Raton, which has a large Kabbalah centre.

Faith in Berg 's supernatural powers is a key characteristic of KC members. This is another deviation from the basic tenets of Judaism, which prohibits sorcery, consulting astrology, necromancy, palm readings, and any other ways and forms of trying to circumvent the "divine system" by supernatural means. Rabbi Immanuel Schochet, an orthodox rabbi and Kabbalist I consulted about Berg's claims regarding hurricanes and other forces of nature, described them as "preposterous" and said, "If you claim that ability,why don't you use it to save human lives instead of making empty boasts? At no time throughout Jewish history has any Kabbalist or saint ever claimed such things - even those who are empowered - and those that did were always proven to be charlatans who came to bad ends."

Visit a KC anywhere and you will be greeted warmly and will feel at home. You'll be invited to sign up for classes offering spirituality and insights into the workings of the universe. You will be promised tools to improve your life: "Money is nothing more than energy," teaches Rabbi Solomon. You will be told to search for Satan everywhere and in everyone, to trust no one but your Kabbalah teachers. After your fifth class, you may be asked to donate some time. After another five classes, you will be asked to donate money. To solve all your problems, you will be told to scan the Zohar (the entire 22-volume set of which you will be asked to buy as soon as possible)."You don't need to read it," explains Karen on a video. "It's like scanning the price in the supermarket - same principle. All you need is the energy from the letters."

Many are happy. Alex Bizet, a successful, very charming businessman, based in New York but originally from Odessa, who works with Damon Dash, owner of rap fashion label Rockawear, met me in his office overlooking Manhattan and spoke, ecstatically, for two hours about how Kabbalah has changed his life: "I used to be a womaniser, now I know how to live in harmony with the one woman I love. Have you ever had a multiple orgasm?" he asks with the seriousness of a true missionary. "No," I confess. "See," he beams, "Kabbalah would teach you how." Then he talks about how his involvement with Kabbalah has also drawn him closer to orthodox Judaism.

Alison Cohen, a glamorous volunteer at the LA centre, says she feels very fulfilled and does not regret giving up her career in music. Jamie Greene, a British expat in LA who has had a successful career as a therapist, turned to Kabbalah after a breakdown and is now a teacher at the centre.

On last Rosh Hashana (Jewish new year) in New York, Madonna announced in front of the entire congregation that she would now like to be called by the biblical name of Esther. All applauded, the Rav gave her a hug and then announced, "I've had a revelation. The Torah was not given to the Jews. It's for everybody!" In other words, Madonna - and the non-Jewish majority filling Berg's services almost everywhere - was welcome at the KC. But that day, the KC lost hundreds of Jewish members across the world, who were shocked by this statement. In the UK, this distinction is of some consequence. According to the Charity Commission, when KC applied for registration as a charity in 1988, "We rejected their application on the grounds that they were promoting a specific way of life involving self-improvement rather than advancing the Jewish faith. The former isn't charitable, while the latter is." The KC was registered in 2000 as a Jewish charity.

It is impossible to ignore Madonna's role in the KC. When I interviewed Karen, she was preoccupied with thoughts about what to get Madonna for her birthday: "What do you buy someone who has it all? A diamond E, for Esther? What do you think?" It was clear that this was a gift intended to demonstrate the importance of Madonna's presence. Madonna is widely rumoured to have purchased a great deal of real estate for the KC, but this is not the case. When asked about the extent and nature of her support, Madonna's spokeswoman, Liz Rosenberg, replied, "Madonna has confirmed that she has donated approximately $5m to the Spirituality For Kids Foundation. This would include her portion of the proceeds from her children's books. She did not donate money to the Kaballah buildings in London or New York or to anyone's residence. The money was donated to the foundation with no strings on how it is being spent." Madonna has often said, rather defensively, that she is very serious about her study of Kabbalah and does not want to be perceived as following a "fad ". She attracts large numbers of celebrities (and non-celebrities) to the KC, and one wonders: what will happen if or when she changes her mind? Or will she, on the contrary, assume a more prominent role?

In a video interview, the Rav and Karen come across as an ordinary couple. Yet they are far from ordinary. On another video, Karen delivers a speech on her own, about "the woman behind the man" and the clear gist of it is that the woman controls the man, and should - without appearing to do so. In her own life,she has certainly followed this method; by Berg's own admission, he would never have undertaken the major transformation of his limited Kabbalah circle into a vast enterprise without her. Karen's manner hides a brilliance; she is the driving force behind the move away from Judaism and towards a more relaxed, "spiritual" version that perhaps draws on other sources, too. I looked at a website about white magic and found a great number of exact replicas of products sold on Kabbalah.com, described in the same way and promising the same results.

Berg's original approach had been rather simple: to bring lost Jews back to Judaism, via the back door of Kabbalah, as he liked to put it. Many are still grateful to him for this: Jordan Lightman, who lives in Tel Aviv, and Saul Kaminski, who lives in Jerusalem (neither their real names), were both secular Jews when they met Berg about 30 years ago, and were drawn to religion via his enthusiasm and charisma. Today, both are orthodox and serious Kabbalah scholars and now take a dim view of Berg's approach to Kabbalah. Says Lightman: "There is a letter from Rabbi Ashlag from about 70 years ago warning one of his students not to stray even a hair's breadth from the correct path of Kabbalah as taught by him. He drew an arrow in the letter showing that even if he would move the tiniest bit at the beginning, it would cause a greater and greater distance from the original path and goal over periods of time. The Bergs did it very fast! At the beginning there was just a slight straying. The goal was to learn and deal with Kabbalah and develop spiritually. It is now just a new-age cult using Kabbalistic terminology and some perversion of its rites and rituals." And Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, one of the greatest contemporary authorities on the Talmud and Kabbalah, has said that Berg's Kabbalah is to the real thing what pornography is to love.

In carrying out this investigation, I have spoken to about a hundred present and past Kabbalah members in various countries. As well as talking to Karen and Yehuda Berg, I have been in touch with their press people over a period of months. Finally, I summarised all the allegations that have been made about the KC for their comments. They chose not to respond. Their press spokesman emailed me: "I don't want to hold you up any longer. I'd go ahead with what you have." Not long ago, Philip Berg suffered a stroke, and he is said to be recovering. This illness has been shrouded in secrecy. The KC believes in immortality, and explains illness as being caused by some unresolved guilt from a past life. I had asked Karen and Yehuda what would happen if the Rav were no longer able to carry on. Yehuda was confident: "We're not dependent on anyone personally. I can disappear, my brother can disappear, I can decide to be a Buddhist on a mountain, and they can decide to play golf all day, and the centre will still continue." But does he see himself as his father's follower? "Yes,I do, but ... Part of the whole system is you try to avoid that day will happen."

Those former followers who have been relieved of money are, surprisingly, not bitter but disappointed: "It was so exciting to be a part of something we believed in. It feels like losing your family." But they do wonder about the Bergs' apparent greed. "It all ballooned five years ago," says Janine (not her real name). "That's when it started to really grow."

Why, I ask her. "I think they know it won't last."

Skeptic: Principles not based on science 'nonsense'

Monday, December 6, 2004 Posted: 12:30 PM EST (1730 GMT)

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (Reuters) -- A sworn enemy of superstition, Canadian-born magician James Randi has thrown down the gauntlet to mystics, promising $1 million to anyone who can prove supernatural powers or a phenomenon beyond the reach of science.

An arch-skeptic who demonstrates with his own sleight of hand how easily it is to dupe the gullible into mistaking trickery for the supernatural, the bearded 76-year-old has written nine books and lectured at the White House, NASA and several top universities.

The million-dollar "paranormal challenge" lends publicity to Randi's life-long mission.

His pursuit of skepticism was sparked by a visit to a spiritualist church in his native Toronto when he was just 15.

Already an amateur magician, he was upset at seeing "common tricks" pass for divine intervention. But his attempts at enlightening the churchgoers cost him four hours questioning at the police station.

Sixty years on, Randi is still trying to persuade people to give up their belief in mystic forces beyond their control.

"It's a very dangerous thing to believe in nonsense. You're giving away your money to the charlatans, you're giving away your emotional security, and sometimes your life," he explained in an interview before giving a lecture in Stockholm.

A man obsessed

Deeply concerned with the spread of beliefs not based on the principles of science, Randi is especially worried about the growing popularity of exotic cures and therapies catering to sick people who are then lured away from effective treatments.

"It's a mission, and also an obsession," he said.

The challenge also serves to dent the image of professional psychics, as they so far have balked at the chance to win the million.

"They offer all kinds of strange excuses," he said.

On a European tour of Germany, Italy, Ireland, Belgium and Sweden, Randi tested people who wanted to go for his million. Most applicants sincerely believe they have supernatural gifts, the vast majority claiming to possess the power of dowsing -- the ability to detect water with the help of a cleft stick.

Dowsing has never been proved to work in a controlled setting, said Randi.

"But no one ever changes their mind," he said, recalling only one single case throughout the years where a man backed down from his claim after being tested.

At a lecture to promote critical thinking, a Swedish audience of about 300 applauded and laughed as Randi blasted away at astrologers, homeopathists, faith healers and psychic mediums, accusing them of defrauding the sick and the desperate.

Riddling his performance with tricks -- divining the symbols on cards put in an envelope by an apparently randomly chosen audience member -- Randi says his own expertise at "magic" helps him expose fraudsters.

"As a magician I know two things -- how to deceive people and how people deceive themselves."

Offending the spoon benders On one particular night Randi was in the company of hundreds of cheering fellow skeptics, but not everyone appreciated seeing their beliefs shattered.

"I get threats all the time. I don't answer the door unless I know who's there," he said.

His most famous adversary is Uri Geller, the Israeli psychic who became a celebrity in the '70s for bending spoons. Geller sued him for libel for his book "The Truth About Uri Geller." It has cost Randi a fortune in legal fees, but he has not yet been able to get the book removed from the shelves.

Randi demonstrated to a reporter how he too is capable of mystically mistreating cutlery, but as a magic trick.

He carefully pointed out that he does not deny Geller might have supernatural talent -- just as he does not rule out the existence of supernatural phenomena.

"If Geller does it by divine power, he does it the hard way," he said.

Randi said he would be happy to hand over the prize if presented with solid evidence.

"That would be such an advance for our knowledge of the universe that it would be well worth $1 million," he said. "The possibility is very, very small, but it's there."

The prospects for the mystically minded don't look too rosy, though. The James Randi Educational Foundation, based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has tested hundreds of applicants. But no one has ever passed even the preliminary tests.

On the lapel of his jacket, Randi wears a pin with the mascot of the organization, a winged pig called Pigasus.

"We say that we will give away the million dollars when pigs can fly."


Sunday, December 12, 2004

Letter criticizing Dover board has own critics


One affiliate of York College said the attack on the 'intelligent design' decision is off base.

By LAURI LEBO Daily Record/Sunday News
Saturday, December 11, 2004

When two members of York College's biology department distributed the e-mail to faculty colleagues, not everyone agreed with its message.

The e-mail was about a proposed letter criticizing the Dover Area School Board's decision to require the teaching of "intelligent design" in high-school biology class.

Twelve members of the biology department faculty signed the letter, which was printed in Wednesday's Daily Record. The letter contended the Dover board's decision "reflects a genuine lack of knowledge about the data supporting evolution by natural selection."

But Mark Simmons, one of the recipients of e-mail, didn't sign the letter.

He didn't see anything wrong with Dover's new science curriculum.

"I see this discussion centered on the 'Theory of Beginnings,' " he wrote to Brad Rehnberg and Karl Kleiner, the York College biologists who initiated the letter. "The Evolutionary Theory as a theory of chance and the Intelligent Design Theory as a theory of design."

Simmons, program director at York Hospital's School of Respiratory Therapy, isn't a physician and isn't a member of York College's biology faculty — points he makes clear — but he works closely with the department. Many of his students at the hospital are from York College and he sits in on many faculty meetings, he said.

Simmons wanted to point out that not everyone connected shares the views espoused in the letter. Two members of the college's biology faculty also declined to sign it.

"I believe that only through Christ that we are going to enter heaven. I believe in a literal heaven, I believe in a literal hell," Simmons said.

Still, he said, he doesn't think teaching intelligent design constitutes religion. Rather, he said, he believes there is room for the concept in science class.

"Why shouldn't students be presented with both sides?" he asked.

Simmons would like to contact members of the Dover school board to tell them he agrees with their decision to include intelligent design in the school district's high school science curriculum. The decision has garnered attention from both supporters of the concept and those who argue that the move violates the First Amendment clause prohibiting the establishment of religion.

Even though he said he doesn't know Simmons well, Rehnberg said he wasn't surprised by his reaction.

But he disputes Simmons' desire to equate intelligent design as a theory comparable to evolution.

"Creationism/ID is nothing more than a perspective that involves supernatural phenomenon," he wrote in his response to Simmons.

Intelligent design proponents don't really contribute as scientists, Rehnberg said, contending "they are really looking in from the outside." To gain legitimacy, he said, they push the theory in public school districts.

Simmons disagrees. As a "Young Earth" creationist — he believes in the literal interpretation of Genesis — he said he still keeps an open mind on competing ideas.

When he was an undergraduate at Messiah College, a Christian school in Grantham, his professors were able to teach both sides of the issue, Simmons said.

"But they weren't shoving their faith onto their students," he added.

Ted Davis, a professor of religion and science at Messiah, acknowledges the private school is not hampered by the First Amendment prohibiting the teaching of religion.

But even with the First Amendment, Davis thinks there is room for teaching intelligent design — at least in a philosophical way.

He said state education standards permit the discussion of issues of controversy in high school science classes, he said.

"It's one thing to advocate intelligent design," he said. "It's another thing to discuss what the controversy is about."

For instance, he said, the controversy surrounding abortion could be discussed in the classroom, as long as the teacher doesn't advocate either side.

"In same sense, the ID movement could be discussed in class," Davis said.

Reach Lauri Lebo at 771-2092 or llebo@ydr.com.


On Oct. 18, when its school board voted 6-3 to approve science curriculum changes, the Dover Area School District became the first school district in the country to require the teaching of the theory of "intelligent design" in high school biology class.

Intelligent design is the idea that life is too complex to have occurred randomly through evolution and therefore must have been created by a divine being.

Supporters of teaching ID say the issue is fairness — giving time to alternative views.

Critics say ID is not science but merely a way of forcing religion into biology class.

Officials on both sides of the issue are bracing for a lawsuit on the grounds that the policy violates the separation of church and state.

Creationism is not a science


John C. Hassall
Cooper city
Posted December 11 2004

Regarding the recent letter writer's suggestion that creationism be taught beside evolution in science class, one must remember that creationism is a religious belief and not science. It should not be taught in a science class but should be in comparative religion class.

Evolution based on natural selection has been proven using a variety of scientific methods. Paleoanthropologists have been working to fill in the gaps in the fossil record with new discoveries around the world. Using geology and chemistry to carbon-date fossils has provided an accurate timeline of hominid development. Advances in genetics based on DNA analyses have also been used to solve questions regarding our species development.

Creationism on the other hand has zero credible science to back it up. Creationism was created by Christians who believe that the Bible must be taken literally. In order to continue in these beliefs (like the world is only 10,000 years old instead of 13 billion years old) they have created a new mythology, namely creationism.

In the increasingly high tech world our children need a good science education. To achieve this, we must keep mythology out of the science classroom.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Controversy over life's origins Students should learn to assess competing theories



Stephen C. Meyer, John Angus Campbell

Friday, December 10, 2004

What should public schools teach about life's origins? Should science educators teach only contemporary Darwinian theory, or not even mention it? Should school boards mandate that students learn about alternative theories? If so, which ones? Or should schools forbid discussion of all theories except neo-Darwinism?

These questions are now arising frequently as districts around the country consider how to respond to the growing controversy over biological origins. A school district in Dover, Pa., for example, has attracted national media attention by mandating that its students learn about the new theory of intelligent design.

Of course, many educators wish such controversies would simply go away. If, on the one hand, science teachers teach only Darwinian evolution, many parents and religious activists will protest. On the other, if teachers present creationism, they run afoul of U.S. Supreme Court rulings. Either way, it seems educators face a no-win situation.

So what should they do? Is there any approach that will satisfy -- if not everybody -- at least most reasonable people?

Rather than ignoring the controversy or teaching ideas based in religion, teachers should teach about the scientific debate over Darwinian evolution.

A good education presents students with competing perspectives held by credible experts, and offers them the skills to judge these views themselves.

In such cases, teachers should not teach only one view as true. Instead, teachers should describe differing views to students and explain the arguments for and against these views as made by their chief proponents. We call this "teaching the controversy."

But is there really a scientific, as opposed to just a cultural or religious controversy, over evolution?

In fact, there are several significant scientific controversies about key aspects of evolutionary theory.

First, some scientists doubt the idea that all organisms have evolved from a single common ancestor. Why? Fossil studies reveal "a biological big bang" near the beginning of the Cambrian period (530 million years ago) when many major, separate groups of organisms or "phyla" (including most animal body plans) emerged suddenly without clear precursors. Fossil finds repeatedly have confirmed a pattern of explosive appearance and prolonged stability in living forms -- not the gradual "branching-tree" pattern implied by Darwin's common ancestry thesis. Discoveries in molecular genetics and embryology have also challenged universal common ancestry.

Other scientists doubt the creative power of the Darwinian mechanism. While many scientists accept that natural selection can produce small-scale "micro-evolutionary" variations, many biologists now doubt that natural selection and random mutations can generate the large-scale changes necessary to produce fundamentally new structures and forms of life. For example, more than 330 scientists, including professors from institutions such as M.I.T, Yale and Rice universities, along with the Smithsonian Institution, have signed a statement authored by the Discovery Institute in Seattle that questions the creative power of the selection/mutation mechanism.

Finally, some scientists doubt the Darwinian idea that living things merely "appear" designed. Instead, they think that living systems display telltale signs of actual or "intelligent" design. Prominent scientists, such as Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe and Dean Kenyon, the emeritus San Francisco State University biophysicist, have cited intriguing evidence in support of this theory, such as the presence of digital information, complex circuits and miniature motors in living cells.

Recently, mainstream academic publishers, notably Cambridge University Press, have published books and articles that present the scientific case for, and the debate over, intelligent design.

Since intelligent design is a new theory of biological origins, we recommend that students not be required to learn about it. Nevertheless, we think they should learn about the scientific strengths and weaknesses of Darwinism. Clearly, teachers should also be free to tell their students about alternative new theories such as Behe's design theory, provided these theories are based (as Behe's is) upon scientific evidence, not biblical passages.

There are many reasons to adopt this "teach the controversy" approach.

First, constitutional law permits it. In Edwards vs. Aguillard, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that state legislatures (and by extension state boards) already have the right to mandate teaching scientific critiques of prevailing theories. Interestingly, the court also determined that teachers have the right to teach students about "a variety of scientific theories about origins . .. with the clear secular intent of enhancing science education."

Second, federal education policy calls for it. The authoritative report accompanying the No Child Left Behind Act states that "where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of views that exist."

Third, polls show that more than 70 percent of the electorate (both in California and nationally) favors teaching both the evidence for and against Darwin's theory of evolution.

Finally, teaching scientific controversies engages student interest and encourages them to do what scientists must do -- deliberate about how best to interpret evidence. As Charles Darwin wrote in the "On the Origin of Species," "A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question."

Stephen C. Meyer and John Angus Campbell are the editors of the recently released book "Darwinism, Design, and Public Education" from Michigan State University Press. Meyer earned his Ph.D. in philosophy of science from Cambridge University. Campbell is a professor of communications at the University of Memphis and an expert on the argument of Darwin's "On the Origin of Species." Both are senior fellows at the Discovery Institute in Seattle (www.discovery.org).

Page B - 9

Creation/evolution debate deserves full hearing in classrooms


Posted on Fri, Dec. 10, 2004

Some controversies never seem to die - they just keep coming back like that stray cat you never should have fed. Nearly 80 years after John Scopes stood trial in Tennessee for teaching evolution, the issue is being debated once again in a north Georgia courtroom.

A group of parents in affluent Cobb County convinced the local school board to place a sticker in all science textbooks that cover evolution explaining that it is "a theory, not fact" and that it should be critically considered as such. Six parents are now suing the school system in federal court, arguing that the stickers amount to an expression of religious sentiment that has no place in a public school setting.

Actually this issue has never really gone away. Ever since the effort to ban the teaching of evolution failed, creationists have been counter-punching by arguing that evolution and creationism should be taught side-by-side, so that children can make up their own minds about which theory seems correct to them.

I think that idea has merit, although I understand why some people fear that teaching Bible-based creation theory would cross the line into state sponsorship of a particular religious viewpoint. Perhaps we could address that concern by opening up the classroom discussion to include a multitude of viewpoints on how life came into existence.

Students could spend an entire semester learning about creation stories from around the world.

In such a class, children could learn the Hindu story of how life originated from the universal Self. According to this story, the world began as a single essence, which eventually split itself into male and female parts that mated and began the human race with their offspring. The female half of the Self, apparently not enamored of the whole procreative process, then disguised herself as a cow to avoid experiencing it again. Unfortunately for her, the male was persistent (as males tend to be in these matters) and changed himself into a bull, and shortly thereafter the line of cattle was started. The female continued her vain attempt to dodge the male's advances by transforming herself into a succession of different animal forms and the male continued to follow suit until all life forms presently on earth had been established.

They could also learn about the Chinese story of Pan Gu and Nu Wa. This story teaches that in the beginning the universe consisted of only an egg-shaped cloud which contained all matter in a chaotic, unstable form. A giant named Pan Gu gradually formed in the midst of this egg, growing larger and larger until, fully formed, he stood and stretched, breaking the egg and forming the universe as it now exists. Much later, a lonely goddess named Nu Wa walked the lifeless surface of the earth and, to stave off her loneliness, created humanity from mud scooped up from the edge of a pond.

There are many other creation stories that could fill a seminar on the subject for enquiring student minds. As long as the various stories were presented even-handedly and put into cultural context, I don't think it would amount to a government establishment of religion.

Of course, if someone's goal was to indoctrinate students into one way of thinking (whether it was evolutionism or creationism or whatever) they night have a problem with this approach. But if the goal is truly to put all the facts before our young scholars so that they can make an informed choice on what to believe, this wide-open method of introducing them to creation theory should meet with widespread acceptance.

Bill Ferguson, a resident of Centerville, can be reached by e-mail at fergcolumn@hotmail.com

Controversy over life's origins


Regardless of how it works, evolution is for real

Robert M. Sapolsky

Friday, December 10, 2004

WELL, NOV. 2 confirmed that we are a vastly dichotomized country. This red-state/blue-state divide has various flashpoints: abortion, stem cells, same-sex marriage, the legality of a war based on lies -- all that stuff. But another flash point increasingly looms -- the teaching of evolution. A number of states and cities allow intelligent design, typically considered a code-phrase for creationism, to be taught alongside evolutionary biology. And, as an even more extreme event, last month a school board in rural Pennsylvania voted to require the teaching of intelligent design alongside evolution.

Sitting here safely in the bluest of cities, it strikes me that there are some key questions whose answers may help to counter this rising tide.

1. OK, evolution is about bones, or just-so stories about how the giraffe got its long neck, or about how our ancestors once were some brine shrimpy sorts of things. Has anyone actually shown evolution to occur as an ongoing process?

Plenty have. Evolution is the process by which the patterns of heritable, genetically influenced traits in a population change over time in response to changing environmental demands, and where the traits that are more adaptive in that environment are the ones becoming more prevalent. By that weighty definition, here are some examples of evolutionary change that have occurred in our lifetimes: the increasing prevalence of people who are genetically HIV- resistant in certain high-risk populations; changes in wing color in moths in England as soot-belching factories changed the color of tree trunks and thus of what color afforded camouflage; changes in the shape of beaks on Darwin's famed finches in the Galapagos Islands in response to shifts in food resources; changes in the prevalence of some Pacific Islanders with a certain physiology of food storage in response to the introduction of Westernized diets; adaptive changes in the prevalence of certain genes in populations of rats caught in American cities over the last century, or in populations of snakes. And, as a bit of evolution that may doom us all, the resistance of bacteria to the antibiotics we fling at them. Evolution is for real, in the present tense.

2. So what's with this "theory" of evolution business? How can scientists spend careers arguing with each other about evolution, if it's supposed to be a fact?

That's because scientists don't argue about whether evolution is for real; that's proven. They argue about how exactly it works. Contemporary evolutionary biology deals with such questions as: Do new species only evolve out of isolated populations? Or: Is evolutionary change mostly gradual, or can it occur in big, dramatic leaps? Or: Does natural selection mostly work at the level of the gene, the individual or the population? Scientists happily come close to blows at conferences over those questions. But the factuality of evolution is a given in all those debates. If I remotely understand what astrophysicists do, some spend time trying to figure out how radio waves can paradoxically escape the inescapable gravitational pull of black holes. But that doesn't mean that gravity is just a theory, and that physics teachers should be mandated to give equal time to Siegfried-and-Roy levitation tricks.

3. In the face of such science, who are the folks pushing for intelligent design?

Undeniably, some are scientists (although it is rare that their expertise is in the realm of evolutionary biology). Others are educated nonscientists. But the rank and file of intelligent design supporters is most likely to come from the parts of the country with the lowest literacy rates, the lowest percentages of high-school graduates and the lowest rates of government investments in education. Much has been made of the, er, Jed-Clampett profile of the typical intelligent-design supporter, but I'm not sure if the education factor is the most meaningful correlate of being opposed to evolution. I suspect that of greater significance, those parts of the country are also among the poorest, where jobs are most likely to be outsourced overseas, the farthest out in the sticks from the proverbial information highway, the most inequitable in income and the unhealthiest with the shortest life expectancies. These are people who, for many generations, have tended to get some of the worst deals amid our culture's mythologies that everyone is born equal and anyone can become president or maybe even Bill Gates.

This downtrodden status can cause some bizarre, twitchy forms of ire -- say, deciding that the liberal media is the enemy, rather than, say, our country's robber barons, whose interests they keep being convinced to vote for. Or to be skittish about technological and cultural innovations, not because these folks don't understand them, but because they understand all too well how the newest new is going to marginalize them even more in the boondocks of America.com. And to dislike evolution, because of a side branch of evolutionary thinking that has metastasized ever since Darwin, which has a sordid record of doing bad things to folks like these. This is Social Darwinism, the pseudoscience that evolution is about "should be" rather than "is," that folks on the lower rungs of society are peopled with individuals who are evolutionarily meant to be there, and that all is biologically just in this stratified world. Add in the potentially incorrect belief that accepting evolution is incompatible with one of the more common sources of solace in that corner of the country, namely fundamentalist religion, and you've got some unhappy campers.

Ultimately, I think that making sense of the anti-evolution movement requires understanding and empathy for the emotional core that fuels the rejection of 19th-century science, let alone 21st-century science. And despite that nice blue-ish sentiment, nevertheless, we should not give an inch in fighting to make sure our children are not taught nonsense.

Stanford neurology professor Robert M. Sapolsky is the author of "A Primate's Memoir," among other works.

What's New



The Bush Administration announced Wednesday it intends to buy 1.2 million doses of flu vaccine from Germany. If you can't wait, the WSJ gave its list of options last week. FluMist was their top pick, but you gotta be under 50 to get it. I don't remember ever being under 50. After hand washing, WSJ lists Oscillococcinum. WSJ checked with a "research methodologist" at Sloan-Kettering. He said it probably doesn't prevent flu but may cut its duration by 6 hours. Six hours! They can tell that? WN bought a 6-dose carton, a three-day supply. Of what? Boiron, the maker, says it's from duck livers, but the homeopathic dilution is listed as 200C. That's gotta be a record. It's also impossible. Maybe they could help Balco with a homeopathic performance enhancer.


Several cold-fusion proponents took the trouble this week to send WN the announcement of a new book, The Rebirth of Cold Fusion: Real Science, Real Hope, Real Energy by Steven Krivit and Nadine Winocur. It was clearly timed to coincide with release of the DOE report. The book drew praise from Arthur C. Clarke, Brian Josephson, and Martin Fleischmann, among others. It's not in the bookstores here yet, but Amazon lists it. The authors are editors of New Energy Times, which calls itself "Your best source for cold fusion news and information." Krivit has a bachelor's degree in business management, Winocur maintains a private psychotherapy practice. They've got the right qualifications.

How to build a bomb in the public school system


by David Catchpoole

How could they shoot and kill their fellow students? That was the question asked following the shooting deaths of 15 people at Columbine High School in Colorado, USA, last April. Why would young people kill, destroy and bomb in a suicide attack?

Their clothes may give a clue to the thinking of these teenage murderers. The autopsy report for one of the killers documents that on the day of the tragedy he was wearing black combat boots, a black glove on his right hand, and a white T-shirt with the inscription 'Natural Selection' on the front.1

What was meant by 'Natural Selection'? One newspaper reporter has linked the T-shirt's inscription to a video game of the same name, which is promoted as 'a place where survival of the fittest takes a very literal meaning … it's the natural way, it's Natural Selection.'1 Since the Columbine massacre, it has become widely known that the killers were obsessed with blood-drenched video games and violent death. They were also fascinated by the German Nazi belief, fueled by ideas of Darwinian struggle, in a 'master race.'2

In groping for answers to this and other tragedies, more and more people are expressing surprise and concern at the increasing glee with which many teenagers approach depictions of violence. However, this fixation with death is hardly surprising given that most public schools in Western nations now teach that violence and death are 'natural' evolutionary mechanisms that have operated with chance processes to produce man over millions of years.

Having been told since childhood that man is just an animal, that death and violence are a natural part of evolution, and that 'only the fittest survive,' it is no wonder that this generation of young people are wallowing in utter hopelessness. Even when they hear 'Jesus loves you,' many either do not understand what this can possibly mean in a 'world of death and randomness,' or it makes them more angry and bitter that such a beautiful possibility seems denied by the 'facts' of science. Many of these people are 'walking time-bombs,' without fear of any judgment after death, and primed to explode in anger and hatred at any time.

How can we Christians help defuse these 'bombs'? Christ is indeed the answer, but in our 'evolutionized' society, reaching these young people requires that the church understands and utilizes the truth about our origins.

The true and accurate Genesis account of history enables young and old to understand why this is a groaning and violence-filled world—that death, bloodshed, disease, and suffering are a consequence of sin—but that God so loved the world that He provided His Son as a sacrifice for our sin. Our young people need to know that they are made in the image of God, are sinners separated from their Creator, but can be saved for eternity, and know purpose and meaning in life, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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