NTS LogoSkeptical News for 16 December 2004

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Roy Abraham Varghese: The supreme science


Academics viewing the universe through a narrow scope should rethink assumptions

07:33 PM CST on Wednesday, December 15, 2004


Last week, The Associated Press broke the news that the most famous atheist in the academic world over the last half-century, Professor Antony Flew of England's University of Reading, now accepts the existence of God.

Mr. Flew's best-known plaint for atheism, "Theology and Falsification," was delivered in 1950 to the Socratic Club, chaired by none other than C.S. Lewis. This paper went on to become the most widely reprinted philosophical publication of the last five decades and set the agenda for modern atheism.

Now, in a remarkable reversal, Mr. Flew holds that the universe was brought into being by an infinite intelligence.

"What I think the DNA material has done is show that intelligence must have been involved in getting these extraordinarily diverse elements together," he said. "The enormous complexity by which the results were achieved look to me like the work of intelligence."

Given the conventional wisdom of some psychologists that people rarely, if ever, change their worldview after the age of 30, this radical new position adopted by an 81-year-old thinker may seem startling.

But Mr. Flew's change was consistent with his career-long principle of following the evidence where it led him. And his newfound theism is the product neither of a Damascus road experience nor of fresh philosophical arguments, but by his sustained analysis of scientific data.

Mr. Flew's conclusion is consistent with the actual beliefs of most modern scientific pioneers, from Albert Einstein to quantum physicists like Max Planck and Werner Heisenberg. In their view, the intelligence of the universe – its laws – points to an intelligence that has no limitation – "a superior mind," as Einstein put it.

Not a few of our men and women of letters, it would seem, have been looking for God in all the wrong places. Those who dismiss God as a product of psychological conditioning or pre-scientific myth-making have not come to terms with the essential assumptions underlying the scientific enterprise.

Science assumes that the universe follows laws, which leads to the question of how the laws of nature came into being. How does the electron know what to do? In A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking asks what breathes fire into the equations of science and gives a universe for them to describe. The answer to the question of why the universe exists, he concluded, would reveal to us "the mind of God."

Last May, I helped organize a New York University symposium on religion and science, with the participation of Mr. Flew and others. Our starting point was science's new knowledge that the universe's history is a story of quantum leaps of intelligence, the sudden yet systematic appearance of intrinsically intelligent systems arranged in an ascending order.

Many people assume that the intelligence in the universe somehow evolved out of nonintelligence, given chance and enough time, and in the case of living beings, through natural selection and random mutation. But even in the most hardheadedly materialistic scenario, intelligence and intelligent systems come fully formed from day one.

Matter came with all its ingenious, mathematically precise laws from the time it first appeared. Life came fully formed with the incredibly intelligent symbol processing of DNA, the astonishing phenomenon of protein-folding and the marvel of replication from its very first appearance. Language, the incarnation of conceptual thought with its inexplicable structure of syntax, symbols and semantics, appeared out of the blue, again with its essential infrastructure as is from day one.

The evidence we have shows unmistakably that there was no progressive, gradual evolution of nonintelligence into intelligence in any of the fundamental categories of energy, life or mind. Each one of the three had intrinsically intelligent structures from the time each first appeared. Each, it would seem, proceeds from an infinitely intelligent mind in a precise sequence.

We can, if we want, declare that there is no reason why there are reasonable laws, no explanation for the fact there are explanations, no logic underlying logical processes. But this is manifestly not the conclusion adopted by Einstein, Heisenberg and, most recently, Antony Flew.

Roy Abraham Varghese of Garland is the author of The Wonder of the World: A Journey from Modern Science to the Mind of God (Tyr Publishing). He helped organize presentations by Antony Flew in Dallas on two occasions. Readers may contact Mr. Varghese through tyrpublishing.com.

An Atheist's Apostasy: Data won over professor; why shun it in class?


07:50 PM CST on Wednesday, December 15, 2004

An intellectual bombshell dropped last week when British professor Antony Flew, for decades one of the world's leading philosophers of atheism, publicly announced that he now affirms the existence of a deity.

To be sure, Mr. Flew has not become an adherent of any creed. He simply believes that science points to the existence of some sort of intelligent designer of the universe. He says evidence from DNA research convinces him that the genetic structure of biological life is too complex to have evolved entirely on its own. Though the 81-year-old philosopher believes Darwinian theory explains a lot, he contends that it cannot account for how life initially began.

We found this conversion interesting in light of last year's controversy regarding proposed revisions to the state's high school biology textbooks. Our view then was that while religion must be kept out of science classes, intellectual honesty demands that when science produces reliable data challenging the prevailing orthodoxies, students should be taught them.

We were bothered by Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin's statement that for scientists, materialism must be "absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door." That's called stacking the deck.

Mr. Flew may be dead wrong, but it's refreshing to see that an academic of his stature is unafraid to let new facts change his mind. The philosopher told The Associated Press that if admirers are upset with his about-face, then "that's too bad. My whole life has been guided by the principle of Plato's Socrates: Follow the evidence, wherever it leads."

If the scientific data are compelling enough to cause an atheist academic of Antony Flew's reputation to recant much of his life's work, why shouldn't Texas schoolchildren be taught the controversy?

Parents defend lawsuit


Daily Record/Sunday News
Wednesday, December 15, 2004

A year ago, Steven Stough would never have expected to be standing before a throng of television cameras announcing his involvement in a First Amendment lawsuit.

But that was before the Dover Area School District changed its science curriculum to require the teaching of intelligent design — the concept that life is too complex to have occurred randomly and therefore must have been created by a divine being.

A science teacher in southern York County, Stough doesn't want his daughter, who will be taking ninth-grade biology next year, to be taught in science class what he believes is a religious-based belief.

So Stough contacted the American Civil Liberties Union and, on Tuesday, he joined 10 other parents in suing the Dover district and Dover Area School Board.

The ACLU's Pennsylvania chapter, along with Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Philadelphia-based law firm of Pepper Hamilton, filed the lawsuit on the parents' behalf.

The lawsuit is the first one in the nation challenging the teaching of intelligent design in the public schools.

The parents in the lawsuit all have diverse religious beliefs, said Eric Rothschild, a lawyer with Pepper Hamilton. Several of the plaintiffs identify themselves as Christian and say they are active in their churches. But they are all "motivated by the desire for sound science in their childrens' class," Rothschild said.

In announcing the lawsuit, ACLU's state legal director Witold Walczak called the Dover Area board's decision the latest chapter in the ongoing battle against evolution science, which dates back almost 80 years to Tennessee's Scopes "Monkey Trial."

The concept of intelligent design emerged only two years after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down, in 1987, the teaching of "scientific creationism" in public schools, Walczak said.

The same people behind scientific creationism came up with the idea of intelligent design, which Walczak called "creationism stripped down of all references to God."

"Teaching students about religion's role in world history and culture is proper, but disguising a particular religious belief as science is not," Walczak said. "Intelligent design is a Trojan Horse for bringing religious creationism back into public school science classes."

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United Executive Director, said, "There is an evolving attack under way on sound science education, and the school board's action in Dover is part of that misguided crusade."

Supporters of the teaching of intelligent design say the concept is merely about presenting an alternative view to the theory of evolution.

But the lawsuit states the board's decision was religiously motivated.

"The leading proponent on the Board of the October 18 resolution (Bill Buckingham) stated during the Board's discussion of the biology curriculum, 'Two thousand years ago, someone died on a cross. Can't someone take a stand for him?'"

In the past two weeks, Buckingham has not returned calls for comment. Board President Sheila Harkins and former board president Alan Bonsell also did not return phone calls.

But Richard Thompson, president of the Ann Arbor-based Thomas More Law Center, which has offered to represent the district for free, said he would look forward to tearing apart in court the plaintiffs' argument of religious motivation.

"You cannot shackle the rest of the school board with that one statement," he said.

Thompson, whose law firm champions issues such as school prayer and "promoting public morality," said "there is nothing wrong with having a religious intent with legislation having a secular purpose."

Buckingham has a constitutional right to say what he wants "and he shouldn't back away from that," Thompson said, "but that doesn't make the legislation a violation of the (First Amendment) establishment clause."

Many of the other parents who filed suit were reluctant to discuss their children's feelings about the case, fearing repercussions against them.

Deb Fenimore, who has two children in the district, one in 12th grade and one in seventh, said she fears the board would do something vindictive against her family.

"The board has already ostracized other members of this community," she said. "But if they are as Christian as they say they are, nothing should happen to me or my child."

Stough said he is also concerned.

"Of course I'm worried," Stough said about how his daughter's school friends will react to the news.

But he has faith in his daughter.

"She knows when to turn and walk away," he said.

Even though his daughter is not yet 14, Stough said, when he first approached her about filing suit, she was already well informed about the case and had concerns regarding church and state issues.

"You can't be in Dover and can't not be talking about it," he said.

And after the press conference, Stough said he planned on picking up his daughter from school and taking her to dinner.

He said the two had a lot more to talk about.

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


The sides

The issue: Intelligent design is the idea that life is too complex to have occurred randomly — or through Darwin's theory of natural selection — and therefore must have been made by the hand of a divine creator.

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

Against ID: Critics say ID is not science but rather an attempt to introduce creationism through the back door and violates the separation of church and state.

Creationism in the courts: The U.S. Supreme Court last ruled on the subject in 1987, when it determined a Louisiana law requiring creationism be given equal time to evolution was unconstitutional "because (the law) lacks a clear secular purpose." The concept of intelligent design emerged after the 17-year-old ruling, and its teaching in the schools has not yet been addressed by the courts.


Aug. 2: The Dover Area School Board approved the book, "Biology" by Prentice Hall, for use in science classrooms after first deadlocking on the issue.

Board member William Buckingham said he did not want the text to be approved unless the board would also approve a second "companion" book called "Pandas and People," which is about Intelligent Design Theory.

Buckingham is the lead proponent of teaching intelligent design alongside evolution.

Early October: Dover Area Supt. Richard Nilsen approved the donation of 50 copies of "Of Pandas and People," published by the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, as a reference book for the classroom. Because the book was labeled as reference, its use in the classroom did not require an approval vote by the board.

Oct. 18: In a 6-3 school board vote, the Dover Area School District became the first school district in the country to require the teaching of intelligent design in high school biology class.


Eleven plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit against Dover Area School District are suing the district over its decision to make intelligent design part of the science curriculum. All send or, in the case of preschoolers, plan to send their children to district schools:

· Tammy J. Kitzmiller, parent of children in ninth and 11th grades;

· Bryan and Christy Rehm, parents of children in eighth and second grades and kindergarten, and parents of a preschooler;

· Deborah F. Fenimore and Joel A. Leib, parents of children in 12th and seventh grades;

· Steven Stough, parent of a child in eighth grade;

· Beth A. Eveland, parent of a first-grader and a preschooler;

· Cynthia Sneath, parent of a first-grader and a preschooler;

· Julie Smith, parent of a 10th-grader;

· Aralene "Barrie" D. and Frederick B. Callahan, parents of a 10th-grader; Barrie is a former Dover Area School Board member.

Education board leaves creationism out of science standards draft


Posted on Tue, Dec. 14, 2004


Associated Press

TOPEKA, Kan. - Conservative members of the State Board of Education on Tuesday attacked a committee it appointed to revise the state's science education standards and how evolution is taught, saying views about creationism weren't properly considered.

Board member John Bacon, of Olathe, said those who favor teaching creationism as another theory alongside evolution were ignored.

The co-chairman of the 26-member science standards committee, University of Kansas professor Steve Case, said all viewpoints were being considered but that deadlines for producing a first draft dictated that it include only evolution, which the state board has previously OK'd as a part of the science curriculum. Creationism and its related idea, "intelligent design," aren't currently a part of what Kansas students are taught.

Current standards treat evolution as central to the science curriculum - among a few key subjects students must grasp. State law requires regular updating of academic standards, and the board decided to review of science standards starting this year.

The board took no action on the draft Tuesday. It will be discussed at public hearings statewide in January. A second draft is due by mid-February.

Those who favor teaching creationism, which follows the biblical story of how the world was formed - hold five of the 10 seats on the state education board. But in January they become a majority on the 10-member board when Kathy Martin, a retired science teacher from Clay Center, takes office.

That board will receive a second draft of the standards in February and a final draft by summer.

Conservatives contend students should learn about areas of scientific disagreement, including how the Earth was formed and the development of humans.

Committee member William Harris, a University of Missouri-Kansas City research biochemist, said the draft science document denigrates religious beliefs by excluding other schools of thought. He argues the two can be taught in the classroom to give students well-rounded view of science.

"Public education can be kept free of religion by teaching origins of science objectively," Harris said.

Intelligent design is a secular form of creationism that argues that the Earth was created by a series of intelligent happenings, not random chance. Evolution, on the other hand, says that species change in response to environmental and genetic factor of the course of many generations.

Five years ago, a conservative-dominated board brought Kansas international criticism - and some ridicule - by removing most references to evolution from its science standards. Voters later elected new members, and the board approved evolution-friendly standards in 2001.

Kansas isn't alone in the evolution debate.

The Ohio Board of Education narrowly approved a lesson plan in March that some critics contended opens the door to teaching creationism. In Wisconsin, the Grantsburg school board recently voted to allow the teaching of creationism as an alternative theory.

The ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State sued a Pennsylvania school district that voted in October to require students learn intelligent design as an alternative to evolution. The groups argue the requirement violates the separation of church and state.


Kansas State Department of Education: http://www.ksbe.state.ks.us

CSICOP Online Feature: Psychic Predictions 2004

By Gene Emery

Time is running out.

Over the next few days, Osama bin Laden will die of kidney disease. Saddam Hussein will be shot to death. Fidel Castro will die. A live dinosaur thousands of years old will be captured. The Hoover Dam will collapse. And Rosie O'Donnell will adopt Siamese twin girls.

That's what the world's best psychics predicted for 2004. And with the year drawing to a close, the news is going to have to get pretty intense over the next few days if those forecasts are going to come true, according to Gene Emery, a contributor to Skeptical Inquirer magazine, who has been tracking tabloid forecasts for 26 years.

Actually, the truly unusual predictions of major news events almost never come true, and this year has been no exception, said Emery, who has been using the predictions to search for a psychic -- any psychic -- who can really predict the future.

Not only did the psychic forecasts fail to foretell what would happen in 2004, the psychics continued their tradition of missing the major events that did make the headlines.

To Read More of This Visit: http://www.csicop.org/specialarticles/predictions-2004.html

or visit www.csicop.org and click on "Special Articles"

2) Can You Really Name a Star

From Astronomer and CSICOP Fellow Andrew Fraknoi

Many years ago, when the International Star Registry first reared its head, and I was Executive Director of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (must have been late 70's or early 80's), we issued what was probably the first news release warning people to be skeptical of offers to name stars (since astronomers do not name stars in general, and certainly would not do so for money.)

Although that old news release (long before the web archived everything) is now lost in history, there are a number of good web sites to help people understand the situation, such as:

The International Astronomical Union http://www.iau.org/IAU/FAQ/starnames.html

The International Planetarium Society:

Buying a Star Informal FAQ:

Brief Statement by the Royal Observatory, Greenwich:

Climate Change Affecting Species, Study Shows


Assessment Says Rising Temperatures Are Altering Migration Routes, Breeding Patterns

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 15, 2004; Page A17

In Richmond, the golden orange prothonotary warbler has been coming back from its Caribbean and South American wintering grounds a day earlier each year for nearly two decades as local temperatures have risen.

During the same period, Alaska's porcupine caribou herd has declined as climate changes have made it more difficult for the reindeer to feed and migrate during the spring.

And warmer spring temperatures could dry up critical breeding habitat for waterfowl in the prairie pothole region, a stretch of land between northern Iowa and central Alberta.

These subtle shifts, documented in the first comprehensive assessment of climate change's impact on North American wildlife, indicate that warming has already altered migration routes, blooming cycles and breeding habits of animals and plants across the continent. The Wildlife Society's three-year study, being released today, adds a significant new dimension to the accumulating evidence that altered weather patterns, rising sea levels and hotter temperatures are already transforming regional ecosystems and having other observable effects.

"We are now looking at the consequences of warming on the areas where we recreate," said National Wildlife Federation senior science adviser Doug B. Inkley, a wildlife ecologist who supervised the eight scientists who wrote the report. "We are changing the environment and climate in which our wildlife live like never before. It is a huge experiment, of which the outcome is uncertain."

The 26-page assessment, which includes several species case studies as well as broad recommendations on how to accommodate changes in plant and animal behavior, comes from a nonpartisan group of wildlife experts. It follows a scientific study last month that found evidence that Arctic warming is threatening species in the northernmost latitudes. In another report yesterday, World Wildlife Fund researchers concluded that current climate change assessments probably underestimate the impact on many critical species.

The 9,000-member Wildlife Society, based in Bethesda, includes federal biologists, academics and wildlife refuge managers. It has yet to adopt a climate change policy, but it will vote in March on whether to endorse mandatory curbs on heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions. The Bush administration opposes this approach, but some advocates of greenhouse gas restrictions, such as Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), said the report "imparts even greater urgency to our efforts to prevent the worst of climate change."

"After over 30 years of efforts to protect our planet's biodiversity by conserving their essential habitat, we are facing the very real threat that the warming earth could shift those habitats right out from under the species," Lieberman added in a statement. "Coupled with the continued fragmentation of wildlife habitat, global warming could create a deadly combination for the plants and animals that are a precious and critical part of our world."

Some climate change critics, such as Patrick J. Michaels, a climatologist and a senior fellow in environmental studies at the conservative Cato Institute, questioned the study. Although Michael Anderson, a waterfowl ecologist who directs Ducks Unlimited, Canada's institute for wetland and waterfowl research, suggested in the report that future warming and shrinking wetlands in the Great Plains and southern Canada could damage waterfowl breeding, Michaels said the overall increase in precipitation in the prairie pothole region more than compensated for any drying effects caused by recent temperature rise there.

"The balance will remain," said Michaels, who gets most of his research funding from public sources but accepts some money from the oil and coal industry. "People don't think to check the data before they make assertions."

Much of the debate over climate change has focused on what could happen in the future: The Wildlife Society's report charted both how species have been moving to cooler areas and adjusting their life cycles in recent decades, and how they might adapt to a predicted acceleration of warming in the next 100 years.

In some cases species have gone separate ways, disrupting a natural balance that existed for decades. Several types of warblers have been moving north near the U.S-Canada border, for example, leaving the spruce budworms they used to consume freer to attack local balsam firs. The World Wildlife Fund study found that rapid spread of the mountain pine beetle in North America and the oak processionary caterpillar's northward move in the Netherlands have eroded some forests.

"The thing of concern is the decoupling of communities that we know of today," said Terry L. Root, an ecologist and senior fellow at Stanford University's Institute for International Studies and one of the Wildlife Society study's authors. "Species shift differentially. It could cause a lot of trouble."

Not all species suffer as a result of warming, according to the report's contributors. Brad Griffith, a research wildlife biologist for the U.S. Geological Survey, said rising Arctic temperatures had hurt the porcupine caribou since 1989, but the populations of three other Alaskan herds had expanded.

"I find it fascinating to find this variability in response to climate change," said Griffith, who has worked in Fairbanks, Alaska, since 1991. "I relish it, but if I was a subsistence [caribou] hunter, then I might be less amused."

Thomas M. Franklin, the Wildlife Society's acting executive director, said he hoped wildlife professionals and state and local officials will accommodate these northward and inland population shifts by setting aside more land for conservation.

"What we need to do is interconnect habitats so there aren't huge gaps and barriers to overcome," Franklin said, adding that species could be in jeopardy if they're "stuck in areas from which they can't escape."

© 2004 The Washington Post Company

Theories are not science


Leave creationism to religious institutions, parents

By Richard Larsen rlarsen@VenturaCountyStar.com
December 14, 2004

Choice is not an option in this vision because it arises from Bible-centric religious beliefs considered absolute truth not to be challenged. There is nothing inherently wrong in aligning oneself with such beliefs, but there is something wrong when people act to impose a code of conduct based on the truth they accept as the only code others must accept.

We have seen examples of this in the nearly hysterical effort to keep people who love each other from marrying simply because some consider same-sex unions a sin. We have seen this in the almost frenzied onslaught to rid entertainment of anything that does not fit the narrow definition of morality advanced by some. And we are seeing it again in the nearly possessed attempt to have the theory of creation given equal credence to the theory of evolution in Ventura County classrooms.

Unable to rationally prove their contention that a divine being ordained this universe into existence, creationists have taken to demeaning scientific inquiry and any knowledge gained from it. To challenge evolution, they claim that biological scientists cannot truly know what happened in the past because they cannot observe it, and if they can't observe it, how can their theories have any validity? If not valid, then room must be made in public schools, they argue, to teach a competing belief on the origins of life. In other words, don't let facts get in the way.

Scientific inquiry is a lengthy process. It begins with an idea. Facts are collected and, after appropriate study, a conclusion is reached. Because this is a fluid process, the conclusion is called a theory. What we know today might have to be altered based on the facts learned tomorrow. The inquiry into the origins of the universe, the formation of Earth and the development of life become, then, evolving fields of study.

Since the 1859 publication of Charles Darwin's "Origin of Species," rigorous study of evolution has not disproved the theory Darwin put forth. In fact, scientific inquiry has advanced it considerably. This does not sit well with those who believe God created all there is in one sitting at a time not that relatively long ago. They feel it challenges their religious beliefs, even though science does not, in any form, make any distinction about the existence of God or about people's spiritual beliefs. To give creationism the appearance of credibility, proponents of a God-ordained universe call their belief creation science.

Some have gone so far as to develop what they call the Intelligent Design Theory, the belief that evolution is incapable of explaining life's complexities, that intelligent action had to be involved in the origins of life, and science should acknowledge the existence of an intelligent designer. To make IDT more palatable to the general public, proponents go out of their way to state they make no claims about the identify of such a designer. But that is a hollow assurance; IDT is merely creation science without using the word "God."

No amount of debate can elevate creationism or IDT to the realm of science. Courts already have ruled that creation science is not based on science and thus cannot be taught in schools. IDT, also cannot be called science because it has not been submitted to the rigors of scientific inquiry. And neither theory can be tested because both rely on an unprovable axiom: the existence of God or an intelligent designer.

The point here is not to demean those who believe in creationism or IDT, but to remind them that their ideas on the origins of life come from their religious faith. Faith can be a strong virtue, but not all faith is religious. I have faith that when night arrives, day will follow. This faith in morning arriving is based on observable events. Today is the 21,208th time in my life that day has followed night.

But not all people share the same faith and not all people believe in the same things. Belief in a divine being having created all that exists, whether that being is called God or an intelligent designer, comes from religious faith; evolution is scientific inquiry performed in the secular world.

To teach creation science or the Intelligent Design Theory in schools would be to suggest that each has been scientifically tested as rigorously as evolution. Neither has nor can be because they rely on metaphysical underpinnings.

The bottom line is that to teach creationism in any form is to teach the Bible. That is education best reserved for religious institutions and the home.

-- Richard Larsen is a deputy opinion page editor for The Star. His e-mail address is rlarsen@VenturaCountyStar.com.

Pennsylvania Schools Sued Over Creationism Plan


Tue Dec 14, 2004 05:06 PM ET

By Jon Hurdle

HARRISBURG, Pa. (Reuters) - Civil rights groups sued a Pennsylvania school district on Tuesday to block teaching of "intelligent design," an alternative to evolution that contends nature was created by an all-powerful being.

The American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed suit in federal court on behalf of parents of students in the Dover Area School District who object to the teaching of "intelligent design" alongside evolution in high school biology classes.

The suit claims the policy -- adopted by the board in October and to become part of the curriculum in January -- illegally promotes religious beliefs under the guise of science education.

"Intelligent design is a Trojan horse for bringing creationism into the public classroom," Witold Walczak, legal director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, told reporters.

In the 1980s, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the teaching of creationism in public schools for violating the separation of church and state mandated in the U.S. constitution. Creationists believe that the earth was made by God, as described in the Book of Genesis.

Proponents of "intelligent design" argue that nature is so complex that it could not have occurred by chance as held by Charles Darwin's 1859 theory of evolution. Nature, they maintain, must have been created by some all-powerful force although that force is not explicitly identified as God.

While other U.S. school boards have taken steps to introduce the theory, none has gone as far as the board in Dover, the ACLU said.

A school district spokesman declined comment. In November, the Dover school district -- about 100 miles west of Philadelphia -- defended its policy, saying Darwin's theory is "still being tested" and that there are "gaps" in it.

U.S. Christian conservatives, who played a significant role in President Bush's re-election, have been pushing for decades for the teaching of creationism in schools.

Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, urged the school board to reconsider its decision.

"Public schools are not Sunday schools and we must resist any effort to make them so," Lynn said. "There is an evolving attack under way on sound science education and the school board's action in Dover is part of that misguided crusade."

The news conference in the state capitol building was also attended by two protesters carrying signs that read, "Evolution: Unscientific and Untrue."

© Reuters 2004

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

School Board Sued on Mandate for Alternative to Evolution



Published: December 15, 2004

The American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a lawsuit yesterday in Federal District Court in Harrisburg, Pa., against the school board of Dover, Pa., saying the board violated the religious rights of several parents and students by requiring the teaching of an alternative theory to evolution in public schools.

Situated 20 miles south of Harrisburg, Dover is apparently the first school district in the United States to require high school biology teachers to introduce students to the alternate theory, known as intelligent design. The theory says the development of the universe and earth was guided at each step by an "intelligent agent."

Proponents say it provides scientific answers for gaps and inconsistencies in the theory of evolution.

Critics, including the groups suing, say intelligent design is a watered-down version of creationism, which the Supreme Court has repudiated in public school curriculums.

Initiatives to introduce intelligent design in curriculums are percolating nationally, and this case could test how far opponents of evolution can go in shaping the teaching of science, said advocates and critics of intelligent design.

"There is reason that the eyes of the nation will be on this," the assistant legal director at Americans United, Richard B. Katskee, said, "because these kind of efforts are going on in other places or are imminent there."

Recent surveys have shown that a majority of Americans favor teaching alternatives in school, and local boards have stepped up efforts to challenge the teaching of evolution. In Cobb County, Ga., the civil liberties group has sued the school district over a disclaimer about evolution inserted into textbooks. In Kansas, conservatives who favor challenging the teaching of evolution recently won a majority on the state school board, and they are generally expected to change the state science curriculum as early as the spring.

The two groups in Pennsylvania say teaching intelligent design violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which calls for the separation of church and state.

The Dover district said in a statement on its Web site that it was reviewing the case.

A major proponent of intelligent design, the Discovery Institute in Seattle, said that the Dover policy was misguided because it was unclear and that it should be withdrawn and rewritten.

Other proponents said the theory was not based on any religion's holdings about creation but on science.

"Students will be made aware of gaps and problems in evolution," said Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, a public interest law firm in Ann Arbor, Mich., that promotes Christian values. "What's wrong with that? What gets the A.C.L.U. and others all upset is that those alternatives to evolution might include intelligent design, which might lead to God."

New science standards may include intelligent design


State board revisits evolution

By Sarah Fox, Journal-World staff writer

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The smoldering embers of the evolution debate that brought international attention to the Kansas State Board of Education could be fanned back to flame as the panel takes up its triennial review of public school teaching standards.

The board is expected to vote today on standards for teaching history and government, and hear an update on the proposed science standards being written by a committee of teachers and scientists appointed by the board.

About a third of the committee writing the science standards released proposed revisions Friday that encourage critical analysis of evolution. If adopted, that might allow including intelligent design theory in the standards. And three of the six conservatives who will be on the school board in January have signaled they would initiate or support efforts to have intelligent design theory included in the science standards.

Question of legality

Whether it's permissible to teach intelligent design as part of a public school curriculum remains unresolved, said the board's attorney, Dan Biles.

A few federal courts in other states have ruled intelligent design is another way to try to teach creationism, which is a Bible-based explanation of the earth's origins. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the 1980s makes it difficult to teach creationism in a public school science class, Biles said.

Kansas standards for core subjects, including science and social studies, are reviewed every three years. The current science standards were written in 2001 after a moderate board majority took control and reversed a 1999 decision to delete most references to evolution. The 1999 decision sparked international attention.

A vote to pass the history and government standards failed at last month's meeting. Board members Connie Morris and Steve Abrams, both conservatives, took issue with some wording in standards for teaching U.S. Constitution and history of American settlement.

Other issues

On Friday, Morris said she had found another problem with wording in the proposed standards describing the U.S. Constitution as a "living document."

The term "living document" is used by people who believe the Constitution is archaic and should change each year, she said.

"That is liberal terminology, and it has no place in our standards," Morris said. "It's not our job to indoctrinate students."

Moderate board member Bill Wagnon said Morris and Abrams' efforts were a disservice to the social studies standards committee.

"There's a tendency to do some wordsmithing on the board that is ideologically driven," Wagnon said.

The committee is composed of more than 25 people, mostly teachers, professors and curriculum coordinators.

"They're the ones that have spent hours and hours and hours gathering all this information and have woven together elements of curriculum standards," Wagnon said.

The state's social studies and science standards do not dictate what public schools are required to teach. Instead, they describe what skills and knowledge children are expected to possess to perform well on state tests. They also are intended as guidelines for school districts.

Science standards

Since June, a 25-person committee has been developing the first draft of the science standards. The draft was posted on the Kansas State Department of Education's Web site in October.

The committee will give the third draft of the science standards to the board in May. It's unclear when the board will adopt the standards.

Starting next month, conservatives will outnumber moderates 6-4 on the board. Three of the six conservatives said they would either try to introduce intelligent design to the science standards or would support such efforts.

Nearly all the conservatives also said they thought evolution was important and should be taught in schools.

Members' views

Of the soon-to-be six conservatives on the board, Connie Morris of St. Francis said she would begin efforts to add intelligent design to the standards if necessary.

Kathy Martin of Clay Center, who joins the board in January, also said she would support efforts to do so.

John Bacon of Olathe said he would favor adding intelligent design to the standards, depending on advice from the board's attorney.

Board member Kenneth Willard of Hutchinson said he couldn't comment until a proposal about intelligent design was put forth. But he said discussion of alternative theories to evolution would be healthy.

Iris Van Meter of Thayer said she didn't want to comment before today's meeting about her views on evolution, intelligent design and the science standards.

"I have my very own opinions, but I don't care to discuss those until I discuss them with ... the other members on the board," she said.

Abrams said he wasn't sure if he would support intelligent design being added to the standards. He said he hadn't studied intelligent design enough to know if it fit into the definition of "good science."

© Copyright 2004 The Lawrence Journal-World.

ACLU files lawsuit over 'intelligent design' mandate


By MARTHA RAFFAELE, Associated Press Writer, The Associated Press
December 14, 2004

Two civil liberties groups representing 11 parents on Tuesday sued a school district that is requiring students to learn about alternatives to the theory of evolution.

The ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State said the lawsuit is the first in the nation to challenge whether public schools should teach "intelligent design," which holds that the universe is so complex that it must have been created by some higher power.

The Dover Area School District was believed to be the first in the nation to mandate the instruction of intelligent design when it voted 6-3 on Oct. 18 in favor of including the concept in the science curriculum.

The ACLU contends intelligent design is a more secular form of creationism, a biblical-based view that credits the origin of species to God, and may violate the constitutional separation of church and state.

"Intelligent design is a Trojan horse for bringing religious creationism back into the public science classroom," Witold Walczak, legal director for the state ACLU chapter, said during a news conference.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Harrisburg. The complaint alleges that the parents "perceive the district's action as conveying a governmental message that students should subscribe to the religious views reflected in the assertion or argument of intelligent design."

School district officials had no immediate comment on the lawsuit. Administrators have declined to discuss the mandate, which applies to ninth-grade biology classes at Dover High School.

School board member William Buckingham, who spearheaded the change as the leader of the board's curriculum committee, has said previously that he proposed the change as a way to balance evolution with competing theories that raise questions about its scientific validity.

One of the plaintiffs, Tammy Kitzmiller, expressed concern that the school board would mandate the teaching of "something that isn't accepted as science." Kitzmiller has two children who attend the high school, where teachers are expected to discuss evolution sometime next month.

"The school board has no business instructing children about religious matters," Kitzmiller said.

At least one other district has recently become embroiled in federal litigation over teaching evolution. A federal court judge in Georgia is considering the constitutionality of a suburban Atlanta district's decision to include a warning sticker about evolution in biology textbooks.

Last month, the Dover school district issued a statement saying that state academic standards require the teaching of evolution, which holds that Earth is billions of years old and that life forms developed over millions of years. The statement also said Charles Darwin's theory "is still being tested as new evidence is discovered," and that intelligent design "is an explanation of the origins of life that differs from Darwin's view."

Additionally, district officials said they would monitor the lessons "to make sure no one is promoting but also not inhibiting religion."

Two of the three dissenting board members have resigned in protest. Angie Yingling, a board member who originally voted for the policy, also announced during a Dec. 6 board meeting that she intended to resign after she was unable to get the board to reconsider its decision.

Yingling said Tuesday she had supported a provision of the policy that enables the high school to use an intelligent-design textbook as a reference book, but not the mandate to teach intelligent design.

"Anyone with half a brain should have known we were going to be sued," she said. "You can't do this."

On the Net:

Dover Area School District: http://www.dover.k12.pa.us

American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania: http://www.aclupa.org/

Americans United for Separation of Church and State: http://www.au.org

University of Florida Study: Bigfoot Myth Persists Because It Depicts Humans' Wild Side


Tue Dec 14 11:10:44 2004 Pacific Time

GAINESVILLE, Fla., Dec. 14 (AScribe Newswire) -- There's plenty to debunk about the Bigfoot myth, but people may not listen because they have a love-hate relationship with the gigantic hairy monster, says a University of Florida researcher.

"People express a reverence for the grandeur of the animal and derive meaning from Bigfoot because it represents where we came from," said UF anthropologist David Daegling. "I think Bigfoot depicts the wild and uncultured side of who we are, a side we are both attracted to and repulsed by."

Bigfoot has captured the popular imagination with tantalizing clues and alleged sightings since 1958, when mysterious giant footprints were found in the northern California wilderness and documented on the front page of a local newspaper in 1958. In his new book "Bigfoot Exposed: An Anthropologist Examines America's Enduring Legend," published this month by Altamira Press, Daegling examines some of the most celebrated Bigfoot claims regarding the number, size and frequency of footprints found deep in the forest, hair samples that defy description and famous film footage that some people hold up as the strongest proof of the creature's existence.

"The problem historically has been that investigators have been too quick to believe in Bigfoot rather than be critical about the evidence from the start," Daegling said.

Michael Dennett, scientific and technical consultant to Skeptical Inquirer, a magazine that tells what the scientific community knows about paranormal claims, said in his 20 years researching Bigfoot, Daegling's work is the "best book I've seen, way above anything previously available."

"In truth, many of the issues are far more complex than might seem, yet this book cuts through the fog to reveal the real as well as the unreal parts of the story," Dennett said.

Daegling became familiar with the legend as a child growing up in northern California. These days, because of his scientific background, he has been asked to speak publicly and review books on the subject, and he worked with a colleague who specializes in locomotion studies to analyze the 1967 Bigfoot film. The footage was shot by Roger Patterson, who reportedly was searching for Bigfoot with a friend and caught images of what he claims was the creature stomping through the wilderness.

While the film contains no "smoking gun," the possibility of a hoax can't be ruled out, Daegling said.

Bigfoot proponents claim the creature must be real because its ape-like walk differs from that of a human, but people could easily duplicate the gait by roughly imitating Groucho Marx's walk, he said. Daegling said what's seen on the film has been studied in biomechanics literature for years.

Some Bigfoot advocates insist it would be impossible for the character in the film to be a person in a bulky costume because it moves so fluidly, with muscles appearing to move as the animal moves, Daegling said. But that lifelike movement could be achieved by an old Hollywood trick of placing water bags underneath the costume, he said.

"The guys who took this movie did not go to the local costume shop and rent a gorilla outfit," he said. "It's definitely not a cheap carnival suit."

Adding to the confusion is that the film was shot with 16mm film under less-than-ideal conditions, giving it a jerky, fuzzy quality. "It's entirely possible that in 1967 a very convincing costume in conjunction with a rather poor-quality film could produce a series of images that people would find very compelling," he said.

Another Bigfoot clue, the presence of giant footprints, doesn't argue for the creature's existence either because someone could easily have put on a pair of fake feet or made such impressions with their hands or some sort of tool, Daegling said. In fact, when Bigfoot enthusiast Ray Wallace died recently, his family revealed in widely published reports that he had faked Bigfoot footprints by strapping on a pair of large wooden feet he had asked a friend to carve and stomping around in the wilderness near sites where he worked paving roads, he said.

If any of the footprints are real, it raises the question of why no bones have ever been found, Daegling said. "These so-called footprints belong to an uncataloged primate for whom we have not a single specimen," he said. "If there is something that exists that weighs a ton, is 8 feet tall and roams around the forest, how is it we've got museums full of bones from bears, squirrels and badgers, but we don't have a single Bigfoot bone?"

There was a report of a hunter saying he shot and killed Bigfoot, but as luck would have it he shot it at the edge of a canyon, it fell into the canyon and the body was never found, he said. "When you look at the evidence scientifically, it's far more likely that what's behind Bigfoot are people for whom the legend is meaningful and people who perpetuate the legend through hoaxes," he said.

Followers live in such hotbeds of reported Bigfoot activity as Ohio, Michigan or Texas. Perhaps the most important development in the hairy giant's recent history is the technological advance of the Internet infusing new life into the legend, Daegling said. "The Internet assures Bigfoot is saved from cultural extinction by allowing a diffuse group of people all over the country to share stories and information," he said.


Cathy Keen, UF News & Public Affairs, ckeen@ufl.edu

David Daegling, 352-392-2253, Ext. 245, daegling@anthro.ufl.edu

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Ironically, for them, the world now is coming to an end...


Mormons who banked on doomsday find the debt collector at the door
By David Usborne
11 December 2004

If the 9,000 members of a polygamous Mormon sect in south-west Utah felt comfortable borrowing from their local bank like there was no tomorrow, it was because, in their minds, that was precisely the case. The world, they had been told, was coming to an end.

The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gladly used high-interest funds to finance suspect business ventures. There was the water melon farm on which not a single water melon was planted, and plans to convert old military barracks into homes fell through when they found lead paint and asbestos inside. Now, though, the tap has been turned off. After years of obliging the sect, the local Bank of Ephraim has been forced to shut down after state regulators found it could no longer handle all the loans it had extended.

It was only after the crackdown in June that the bank's president, Keith Church, discovered the truth. Several years ago, the sect, led by a recluse named Warren Jeffs, rumoured to have 70 wives, made members take an oath to drain the bank as fast as possible because doomsday, just around the corner, would see the world and its financial system collapse.

How the Bank of Ephraim, the community's only financial institution, allowed itself to get in so deep is now the subject of several investigations. When closed, it had loans out to the sect valued at about $18m (£9.4m), or roughly 90 per cent of its total loan portfolio.

Mr Church blames the state regulators. He claims that for years they turned a blind eye and only began moving against the sect as part of a state-wide effort to hunt down polygamists in the run-up to the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.

What the sect's leader may have to say about the debacle is anyone's guess. Recent reports suggest that Mr Jeffs has left the area for a 1,600-acre compound El Dorado, Texas. Local officials predict an exodus of the flock from Utah.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Anti-Darwinians step up challenge in school crusade


Evangelicals take evolution fight to Supreme Court

Paul Harris in New York
Sunday December 12, 2004
The Observer

Jeff Brown is a passionate defender of the borough where he lives. Dover, tucked away in the rural hinterland of Pennsylvania, is a conservative place, he says.

It has never been the sort of place to attract attention. Until now. Dover is becoming famous, after its school board decided to introduce an alternative to evolution in parts of its biology curriculum. The furore caused Brown and his wife, Carol, to resign from the board. Extremist Christians, he believes, have taken it over with an agenda to undermine the teaching of evolution. Now he is angry. 'This community is going to rebel,' he said. 'People believe your religion is your own private business.'

Dover has been catapulted into the centre of a renewed battle over the teaching of evolution in schools. The religious right, emboldened by its spreading influence in the Republican party and an explosive growth in the number of evangelical Christians, has launched a major push to get an alternative to evolution - which they believe denies the biblical version of God's creation of the world - into the classroom. At least 40 US states have faced legal challenges in recent months.

At the forefront of the challenge is the concept of 'intelligent design', which stipulates that the universe is so complex it shows clear evidence of a 'designer'. Advocates say evolution is just another theory, not a scientific fact. Critics, however, say intelligent design is bringing religion into science. 'It is just creationism-lite,' said Nick Matzke, a spokesman for the National Centre for Science Education.

The move in Dover was led by William Buckingham, a born-again Christian. The decision has split the community and dominates conversation in diners, bars and churches.

The Browns say Buckingham and a group of evangelical Christians have hijacked the school board and imposed their views on a community, where creationism in the classroom had never been an issue. 'They are on a crusade,' Brown said. His wife added: 'Dover is just ahead of the curve. There will be a lot more things like this in other places.'

In fact, Dover is already just part of a growing phenomenon. In Cobb county, Georgia, textbooks have had stickers stuck inside them telling children that evolution is 'theory, not fact'. In Grantsburg, Wisconsin, new rules direct teachers to analyse the 'strengths and weaknesses' of evolution, as well as allow for the study of other theories. In Ohio the state school board has sought to open the way for the teaching of opposing theories to evolution. The Missouri legislature will consider bringing intelligent design into its classrooms last year.

Arguments over evolution - which has long been accepted as fact by the vast majority of scientists - arouse deep passions in America. Almost 80 years after the Scopes 'monkey trial', where Edward Scopes was tried and convicted for teaching evolu tion in Tennessee, many Americans still do not believe in it. A Gallup poll last month showed that 45 per cent believe God created humans in their present form within the past 10,000 years.

Now both sides are preparing to take the issue to the Supreme Court for the first time since the Eighties. A conservative law firm, the Thomas More Law Centre, has offered to represent the Dover school board members. Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union is looking for Dover complainants to take the case on from a pro-evolution view.

Conservatives are confident that they will prevail. 'We are going to win. It is a free speech right for students to receive alternative views,' said Richard Thompson, president of the law centre.

Thompson says intelligent design does not by its nature advocate a religious point of view, which would be against the US Constitution. 'It is based on science that shows the world is so complex it could not have happened by accident,' he said. Critics contend the very concept of a 'designer' implies a god.

Religious groups have been galvanised by the re-election of President George Bush, a born-again Christian who stated: 'On the issue of evolution, the verdict is still out on how God created the Earth.'

Christians are being encouraged to join school boards and lobby to get intelligent design on the curriculum. 'We have as much right as the evolutionists to be on our school boards,' said Dr Patricia Nason, of the Institute for Creation Research.

She and fellow creationists believe Bush's victory gave them a chance to get their agenda into schools. 'I feel that if we don't make progress in the next four years that window of opportunity will close,' she said.

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Broward minister fights secular values


Posted on Sun, Dec. 12, 2004


A Broward County evangelical Christian minister is on a mission to change our values and how we govern.



The Rev. D. James Kennedy wants more than souls. He's looking to reshape American culture and politics: restore prayer to public schools, rewrite the nation's laws to abolish abortion and ban gay marriage and elect leaders who share his views.

But political power, says the founder of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, is not high on his agenda.

''My interest is not in politics,'' said Kennedy, dressed in a navy suit, his slate-gray hair combed neatly to one side. ``My interest is in the kingdom of God and the eternal salvation of human beings. And government can become a great obstacle to preaching the gospel.''

From his headquarters at his church -- which had 45 congregants when he founded it in 1959 -- Kennedy, 74, has challenged those obstacles by building a $37 million evangelical empire that includes:

• A 10,000-member church.

• A multimedia arm that broadcasts Kennedy's message to 165 countries.

• A political center that lobbies members of Congress, distributes voter guides and registers voters.

• An institute that promotes teaching creationism, the doctrine that God established all that exists.

• An office on Capitol Hill to convert lawmakers to evangelical Christianity.

''God, in his providence, has given us a Christian nation, and it behooves us as Christians to prefer and select Christians to rule over us,'' Kennedy said. He was borrowing from John Jay, the first chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

''I do believe that Christian rulers are more likely to rule in the fear of God and not ride roughshod over God's commandments,'' he added.

The notion of the United States as a historically Christian nation that has fallen into sin infuses Kennedy's sermons, books and broadcasts. Church-state separationists have attacked this concept, saying it excludes nonevangelicals.

''When Dr. Kennedy talks about a Christian government, he means a very narrow definition of a Christian government. He means a fundamentalist, conservative Christian government that would exclude millions of liberal Christians,'' said Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Kennedy has also drawn criticism for preaching that homosexuality is a sin and a sickness. In particular, his Worthy Creations, an organization that ministers to ''ex-homosexuals,'' has outraged gay rights activists.

''This is an organization that has taken homophobia to an almost new level,'' Boston said.

Kennedy says he opposes the homosexuals' ''agenda,'' not the people themselves.

''I'm a homophobe because I don't agree with their agenda that first graders should be taught it's OK for men to marry men?'' he said.

His followers say Kennedy is restoring Christian values.

Before becoming a minister, Kennedy was a ballroom dancer in Tampa. He says he was born again at 23, when he woke up after a late night of partying to a voice on a Christian radio broadcast, asking him what right he had to enter heaven.

After struggling to answer, Kennedy turned to the Bible.

He then dedicated his life to spreading the Gospel, training to become a Presbyterian minister at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga., before moving to Fort Lauderdale to start his church.

Now he's using his stature to spread the message. His Coral Ridge Hour, a one-hour show on Sundays, airs in 165 countries and in 40,000 cities and towns across the country.

His Evangelism Explosion, which trains pastors and lay people around the world, has reached four million.

Some 30,000 people have attended the Creation Studies Institute, which is trying to develop a creationism curriculum for schools.

The Center for Reclaiming America mobilizes conservative Christians to oppose judges who support abortion and gay rights.

''He is one of the leading giants in America among religious leaders and certainly social conservatives,'' said Mathew Staver, president of Liberty Counsel, a conservative Christian legal defense fund in Orlando.

``He certainly will make a big impact in an outreach effort whenever the next Supreme Court appointment comes up.''

Creationism Might Deserve to Be Taught - in Religion Class


Posted on: Saturday, 11 December 2004, 03:00 CST

Lost among November's electoral post-mortems was one of the more dispiriting items to come across the news wires in recent months. According to Gallup, the segment of Americans who believe Darwin's theory of evolution is "well-supported by evidence" stands at a mere 35 percent. Another 35 percent say it is not; 29 percent say they do not know enough to say one way or the other.

Not long after that report came another, carried in this newspaper Sunday, that roughly 40 states face some kind of challenge to the teaching of evolution. Such is the case just up the road in Charles County, Maryland, where a majority on the board of education supports teaching creationism alongside evolution. In the words of one board member, "I believe that if we are teaching evolution, we should have a section on creationism as well, and any other theory. Let's motivate our kids to be creative thinkers."

Such creativity, alas, would lead children to the conclusion that two plus two equals five and that when it rains, it does so because angels are crying. There is, in fact, a place for creationism in the classroom - the religious-studies classroom, that is. It does not belong in the science classroom any more than astrology or exorcism does. Yet more than a century after the publication of Darwin's Origin of the Species, many Americans seem intent on putting it there.

When they cannot they are trying - as in Cobb County, Georgia - to require disclaimers on textbooks reading, "Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered."

WELL. EVOLUTION is indeed a theory, in the scientific meaning of the term: an explanation of phenomena based upon proven hypotheses and independently verified multiple times. Yet creationists confuse this sense of the word with its more common meaning - mere conjecture - to suggest evolution is just one among several explanations for the state of life on Earth, any one of which could be valid.

To buttress their case, they marshal various arguments, from questions about transitional species and macroevolution vs. microevolution to more dubious ones, such as the line that no one ever has seen evolution take place. There is not sufficient space here to examine the finer debating points of the matter. For that, readers should visit www.religioustolerance.org, a Website that fairly and impartially discusses not only this matter but a vast array of others, from agnosticism through Zoroastrianism.

Religioustolerance.org covers the controversy exhaustively (look up, for example, polyploidy). Yet despite its objectivity and bend- over-backwards attempts at fairness - it concedes, for instance, the impossibility of proving God did not, in fact, create the Earth a few thousand years ago in such a way as to make it merely appear to be billions of years old - readers who approach the discussion with an open mind, study it carefully, and consider it critically will have a hard time discounting evolution's facticity. For example, the site notes:

DEEP ROCK layers generally contain the remains of simple creatures; the upper layers have evidence of more complex animals. By studying the entire fossil record, one can determine in what order various species first appeared and when they apparently became extinct.

The sorting of fossils is complete. Dinosaurs have never been found in the same layer as trilobites; trilobites have never been seen together with human remains; dinosaur remains have not been found with human remains. And so on for perhaps a million other combinations . . . . One simple example may clarify this. There is a thin layer of clay containing a high concentration of iridium which was laid down between the Cretaceous and Tertiary rock layers - apparently about 65 million years ago. Because it is found in so many places around the world, it is a very useful date marker.

There are thousands of species whose fossils are only found lower in the fossil record than this layer; there are thousands of species which are only found higher. This is overwhelming proof that the rock layers, and the species they contain, were laid down over long periods of time. In order to disprove evolution, it would be necessary for creation scientists to prove that all species co- existed together, and were somehow precisely sorted into layers by species. We are unaware of any efforts by young-Earth creation scientists working in this area.

Evolution does not contradict theism - God could have directed the process, and Darwin himself concluded his magnum opus with the comment that "there is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one."

But perhaps the strongest argument against the view that evolution and creationism are merely two different faiths is this: Were someone to collect sufficient objective evidence to disprove evolution, science would be radically changed - and the disprover would be hailed as a genius of our age. In short evolutionists, like all scientists, are open to the possibility that they might one day be proved wrong. Is there a committed creationist willing to say the same?

Source: Richmond Times - Dispatch

Bucking the trend


Woman sheds most prescription drugs for alternative remedies

By Cynthia T. Pegram / Lynchburg News & Advance
December 13, 2004

By Mark L. Thompson

At 78, Renee Rucker is going natural.

She's shed many of her prescription drugs and is deep into things like noni juice and grape seed extract.

Over the past three months, she's pared her long list of prescription medications to three - two for a heart problem and one for osteoporosis. And that last one is going to go soon, she said.

Rucker is among a growing number of people who are looking for alternatives in medical choices. According to a nationwide survey by the federal National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, some 36 percent of the nation's adults use some form of medicine other than the conventional forms. About 19 percent use natural products.

Rucker's interest in alternative medicine started about a year ago with her satellite dish system that gave her access to programs on naturopathic and homeopathic medicines.

"People would call in, they would give the information and have doctors and different people who made these herbs," she said.

Rucker has had many health problems - she's been in two serious auto accidents and has had other health conditions, including polio as a young adult. She's had several surgeries, including spinal surgery, and over the years has come under the care of several specialists.

Natural supplements and philosophy appeals to her now, said the petite white-haired Gladys resident. She has quit taking estrogen, cholesterol-lowering drugs and anti-inflammatories.

"You don't have to have a lot of these drugs with side effects," she said. "The things I hear on these broadcasts - they sound a lot like me."

Actually, Rucker is a lot more independent than most women her age. She loves to watch world class tennis and just came back from a solo trip to the Davis Cup finals in Spain. She took many of her own healthy foods and supplements with her.

Rucker and her longtime physician have locked horns over the issue of her medications.

"I said I'd like to try to go natural and see what happens with my cholesterol. He wasn't interested," she said.

Rucker's committed to the new direction, although it has some pitfalls. One time she misread dosage instructions for a vitamin and mistakenly took four a day instead of the recommended 4-7 per week.

She's still under a specialist's care for heart problems and continues to take prescription medications related to that condition. He told her how to safely reduce one medication, and instead of seeing her in six months, has scheduled her next visit within three months.

Doctors do get patients who are interested in alternative medications, said Dr. Charles Driscoll, director of the Lynchburg Family Practice Residency. The three-year program, for physicians specializing in family medicine, is affiliated with Centra Health and the University of Virginia School of Medicine.

The residency has a large practice at its offices on Langhorne Road. None of the physicians are involved in Rucker's care.

For the patients who want to try natural medications, a doctor-supervised trial of the alternative medicine is a good idea, Driscoll said.

"If it is absolutely unsafe or a scam, we'll try to tell them that," he said.

Dropping some medications that control high blood pressure, or are used for heart conditions, would not meet with much favor from a doctor, said Driscoll.

But, he said, "If she had low risk factors, and wanted to do a supervised trial, most wouldn't react in a hostile way."

Rucker, who is now a convert to a number of naturopathic products, said they're working for her, particularly the noni juice, a tropical plant product.

"It has helped my arthritis," said Rucker.

One of Rucker's favorite shows is a health program on the satellite package Sky Angel, a satellite system that specializes in Christian and family entertainment. The show features Dr. Richard Becker, a Texas-based physician and guest experts. The call-in program opens with news including science- and health-related information about prevention, dietary issues and lifestyle measures that have what Becker calls "a profound effect on well-being."

Those stories are items "that get buried or are not on the front page," said Becker in a telephone interview. Becker, an author and physician, founded a company that markets a line of natural products and supplements.

Becker stressed that he does not have a doctor-patient relationship with the people who call in. He does not tell them to start or stop medications.

"That would be violating state law," he said. What he does do is ask callers "to think about alternatives and discuss stopping (medications) with their doctor."

He considers the relationship between the pharmaceutical industry and physicians to be too close. Becker says that lifestyle factors are extremely important and that brings into play vitamins, supplements, herbs, and alternative medical treatments.

It's not that medical experts are totally wrong, said Becker, "They're not always right."

Rucker is continuing on the changes she started. She uses very little sugar now, she said. She eats lots of salads. Oatmeal is a favorite, sweetened with dark honey.

At first, she said oatmeal didn't look tasty. "The next day it wasn't as bad. Now it's good."

Contact Cynthia Pegram at cpegram@newsadvance.com or (434) 385-5541.

Kansas board again taking up evolution


Posted on Mon, Dec. 13, 2004

By DIANE CARROLL The Kansas City Star

The debate over evolution will be revived formally in Kansas on Tuesday. That's when the state Board of Education begins discussing a committee's first draft of proposed changes to science standards.

Also before the board will be a recommendation from some committee members that the theory of evolution be held up to more rigorous analysis.

A committee of 26 educators spent six months reviewing the standards and prepared the first draft. Members agreed on all changes except those regarding evolution, said committee co-chairman Steve Case, an assistant research professor who directs the University of Kansas Center for Science Education.

A minority report on evolution was issued Friday to the education board. Case said he was surprised that the report was issued but not surprised by its concerns.

"They are the well-known areas that we need to finish discussions on," Case said.

Updating the standards is expected to take months. Public hearings are to be scheduled in January. After they are held, the committee will prepare a second draft, which will be submitted to a review outside the department. Case expects a third draft in April and board action sometime after that.

Kansas received international attention in 1999 when a conservative-led board succeeded in downplaying the teaching of evolution. In 2001, moderates regained control of the board and reversed the earlier vote.

The state board establishes standards for every area of the curriculum and updates them periodically, usually every four years. The standards represent the basic tenets of what every student should know.

In this year's elections, the balance of power on the board swung back to the conservatives. They will have a 6-4 majority in January when the new board is sworn in.

Board Chairwoman Janet Waugh, a Democrat from Kansas City, Kan., said she would be interested to hear from conservative members of the board on Tuesday. One of them, Steve Abrams, a Republican from Arkansas City, declined to comment Friday. Another, Republican John Bacon of Olathe, did not return a telephone call.

In 1999, the debate was influenced by advocates of young-earth creationism, the idea that God created the universe in six days. This time it is expected to center more on intelligent design, the idea that life and its diversity are the result of planned processes and not chance and necessity. It runs counter to evolution — the theory most scientists accept — which holds that living things share common ancestors but have changed over time.

Case said that most committee members think that "the intelligent design theory is not ready as a developed science theory to be included in the science standards."

He said he thought those who signed the minority report were pushing for the eventual inclusion of the theory.

The report includes a three-page cover letter to the board signed by committee member William Harris, a medical school professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and 23 pages of proposed revisions. Harris referred questions to John Calvert, a founder of Intelligent Design Network Inc., a nonprofit group that seeks objectivity in origins science.

Calvert issued a statement Friday that said the proposed revisions in the minority report "encourage the teaching of origins science consistent with the nature of scientific inquiry."

The minority report supports the teaching of evolution and does not advocate the teaching of intelligent design. However, it suggests that teachers be allowed to address scientific alternatives.

Case said that those who signed the minority report "are trying to take little bitty steps to change the nature of science so that their philosophy can be introduced" and that that philosophy is intelligent design.

To reach Diane Carroll, call (816) 234-7704 or send e-mail to dcarroll@kcstar.com

More information

• The first draft of a committee's proposed revisions to the state science standards is available on the Kansas Department of Education's Web site. It can be found at www.ksde.org/outcomes/sciencestd.html.

• A copy of the committee's minority report is online at www.kansasscience2005.com.

ACLU, church-state group plan lawsuit over 'intelligent design' mandate


By MARTHA RAFFAELE, Associated Press Writer, The Associated Press
December 13, 2004

The state American Civil Liberties Union plans to file a federal lawsuit Tuesday against a school district that is requiring students to learn about alternatives to the theory of evolution.

The ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State have scheduled a Tuesday afternoon news conference to discuss the lawsuit against the Dover Area School District, which will be filed in U.S. District Court in Harrisburg, ACLU spokesman Paul Silva said Monday.

Neither Silva nor Joe Conn, a spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, would comment on the specifics of the complaint.

The Dover school board voted 6-3 on Oct. 18 to mandate the teaching of "intelligent design," which holds that the universe is so complex that it must have been created by some higher power. The district is believed to be the first in the nation to adopt such a policy.

School superintendent Richard Nilsen had no comment Monday. Administrators have declined to comment on the mandate, which applies to ninth-grade biology classes at Dover High School.

Neither school board president Sheila Harkin nor school board member William Buckingham, who spearheaded the change as the leader of the board's curriculum committee, returned telephone calls seeking comment Monday.

Buckingham has said previously that he proposed the change as a way of balancing evolution with competing theories that raised questions about its scientific validity.

Last month, the district issued a statement saying that state academic standards require the teaching of evolution, which holds that Earth is billions of years old and that life forms developed over millions of years. The statement also said Charles Darwin's theory "is still being tested as new evidence is discovered," and that intelligent design "is an explanation of the origins of life that differs from Darwin's view."

Additionally, district officials said they would monitor the lessons "to make sure no one is promoting but also not inhibiting religion."

In reviewing the matter, the ACLU has said intelligent design is a more secular form of creationism, a Biblical-based view that credits the origin of species to God, and may violate the constitutional separation of church and state.

Two of the three dissenting board members have resigned in protest. Angie Yingling, a board member who originally voted for the policy, also announced during a Dec. 6 board meeting that she intended to resign after she was unable to get the board to reconsider its decision.

But Yingling, who did not return a telephone call seeking comment Monday, has not submitted a written resignation to the board.

On the Net:

Dover Area School District: http://www.dover.k12.pa.us

American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania: http://www.aclupa.org/

Americans United for Separation of Church and State: http://www.au.org

Ventura County Creationism letters


December 13, 2004

Give both sides their say

Re: George Vye's Dec. 8 letter, "The Bible's role":

Vye rightfully credits modern science with making possible the remarkable advances in medicine and knowledge. But science has a philosophical foundation straight from the Bible, which he denigrates. The laws of chemistry and physics were pursued and discovered because it was believed a law giver (God) established them for man to discover. Empirical science was born on the heels of the Reformation.

How interesting Vye uses the term "contemporary evolutionary theory." The qualifier has been added precisely because so many pet theories of Darwinism have been withdrawn or revised as our knowledge of the ordered universe and the intricately complicated function of cellular life has advanced.

Rivaling Christians in the publication of books and articles technically critical of Darwin mechanisms are atheists and biochemists Michael Denton and non-Christian Michael Behe. Random processes and natural laws do not assemble complicated nano-machinery in living systems. Their irreducible complexity leaves little doubt intelligence, not random chance, is the more reasonable explanation for them.

Creationist Ron Matthews would not mind having both theories presented in the public schools.

Evolutionist Vye wants only evolution presented, which he thinks is "scientific" as opposed to "biblical superstition." If the latter were true, wouldn't it be quite a simple matter for science-minded evolutionists to quickly dispel creationist objections? In 160 years of Darwinism supremacy, they have been unable to do so. Today, the "intelligent design" and "biblical creationist" movements have Darwinian advocates screaming for exclusive representation of their views, no matter the preponderance of the evidence against them.

Why shouldn't both sides have their say?

-- John Gentry, Ventura

Let students decide

Re: Ken and Sally Hibbert's Dec. 6 letter, "Appalled at school board":

The Hibberts' letter on "creationism" is an interesting study in irony. They have an admirable zeal to protect the Ventura County citizens from religious dogmatism. Their solution, however, is not to examine the issue rationally, but to substitute one dogmatism for another. The Hibberts' faith has been known by various philosophical names: materialism, naturalism, positivism, scientism, etc. All are variations on the same tired theme: The universe is the purposeless product of matter-energy, a great length of time and a mechanism by which change can be explained.

For Darwinists, the mechanism is called "natural selection." The underlying materialist premise of neo-Darwinism is not scientific, but philosophical. Empirical science is obviously unable to demonstrate the truth of materialism or naturalism. Intellectually honest Darwinists have openly questioned the coherency of their own theory.

Why not engage in a rational exploration of the topic? This would result in at least two clarifications:

First, a more rational approach would avoid the fallacy of the false dilemma, upon which the Hibberts rely. The choice is not creationism or science. There is a third alternative, called intelligent design theory. IDT came from the work of scientists who had previously been trained in the neo-Darwinist paradigm.

Second, it would dispel the rather silly revisionist history surrounding the "Scopes Monkey Trial." The received version of this fable is promoted in the film "Inherit the Wind" and is accepted as the faith of millions. The work of Phillip Johnson and others has corrected the record.

Hopefully, Ventura County educators will perceive themselves as neither religious nor secular. Their job is to help students follow wherever the evidence leads -- no matter how uncomfortable for teachers this may be.

-- Ron Irving, Simi Valley

Put creationism in religion class


Monday, December 13, 2004

Regarding the Living section article, "Battle over creationism evolves into a big-bucks business" (Dec. 7), yes, evolution and creationism/intelligent design are all theories about the origin and diversity of life on Earth. Creationism/intelligent design may even be true.

But creationism/intelligent design does not belong in the science classroom for the same reason that the home economics teacher doesn't teach wood shop.

When any subject, be it art, history, math or science, is taught in the classroom, the subject needs to be taught as it is endorsed and practiced by the majority of its professional practitioners.

Evolution is the only scientific theory of the origin of life recommended for teaching in the science classroom by the major scientific societies in this country, such as the National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Creationism/intelligent design are origin-of-life theories that are based primarily on Judeo-Christian texts and thus belong in the comparative religion class.

ROGER D. CONE Senior scientist, Vollum Institute Oregon Health & Science University Southwest Portland

Other areas of science vulnerable

Regarding "Battle over creationism evolves into a big-bucks business" (Dec. 7), I agree that there are bigger issues at stake in this battle than the teaching of evolution vs. "intelligent design."

Many other areas of science will be targeted once evolution science is effectively censored in order to further religious teachings in the public schools.

Why? Geology proves the earth is more than 6,000 years old. Archaeology proves there were human societies established more than 6,000 years ago. Paleontology proves there were animals on Earth well before the biblical earth could have existed.

Astrophysics proves that the universe is older than anything conceivable by the fundamentalist faithful. Most troubling, evidence exists for an astronomical Big Bang. Such evidence credited with creation of the universe would have to be destroyed.


Everything That Rises Must Converge


The "inevitable and preordained trajectories" of evolution.
by William Dembski

Simon Conway Morris is a distinguished scientist with a professorship in evolutionary paleobiology at Cambridge University. In Life's Solution, he enters the debate on the direction of evolution. Is it indeed a random affair that might well have turned out differently, as many orthodox Darwinians argue, or was the emergence of intelligent, self-reflective beings built into the process from the start? Conway Morris' answer is suggested by his subtitle: "Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe."

The central theme of Life's Solution is biological convergence. "Convergence" here refers to a counterintuitive result from evolutionary biology. When organisms share some feature, the first impulse of evolutionary biologists is to attribute the similarity to evolution from a common ancestor. Similarity is thus explained as a common inheritance.

Not every feature of biological similarity, however, can be attributed to descent from a common evolutionary ancestor. Indeed, biologists have shown that organisms can share a feature of similarity and yet have no common ancestor that exhibited that feature. This means that in the evolution of organisms sharing such a feature, the feature had to be reinvented separately on a number of occasions. This is biological convergence, and Conway Morris documents many fascinating examples of it (in addition to a general index, Life's Solution includes a five-page, double-columned index devoted strictly to convergences).

Biological convergence becomes downright astonishing when the similarity verges on identity. One of the best-known examples of striking convergence is the evolution of the camera-eye in vertebrates and cephalopods (e.g., human and octopus eyes respectively). These eyes are highly complex and almost point-for-point identical (the only obvious difference is the neural wiring—in vertebrates it is backwards, the nuclear layer being in front of the retina, which results in a blind spot). Yet, according to evolutionary theory, humans and octopuses had separate evolutionary precursors of which neither possessed eyes at all. Thus, in the evolution of humans and octopuses, evolution required the reinvention of virtually identical camera-eyes from scratch twice.

This is remarkable. Nor is convergence an isolated, anomalous fact of biology. Rather, it is the norm. Virtually identical biological structures and functions keep getting reinvented, and in ways that cannot be attributed to a common inheritance from a common evolutionary ancestor. Conway Morris documents this fact at length and with awe. It's no accident that "eerie" is one of the most used words in Life's Solution.

But what does this all mean? Why is biological convergence important in the wider scheme of things? Conway Morris belongs to that growing circle of thinkers—others include Paul Davies, Stuart Kauffman, and Michael Denton—who reject the claim that evolution is haphazard. Conway Morris' foil throughout Life's Solution is the late Stephen Jay Gould. If we were to rerun the tape of life, Gould argued in one of his memorable images, nothing need be the same. Not only might humans not exist, but neither organisms with our intelligence nor even organisms as we know them might exist.

Conway Morris, as a Christian theist, resists this view of evolution. The Christian faith teaches that humanity has a privileged place in creation. Even if that creation occurred via evolution, humans are the fully intended product of the divine will.

According to Conway Morris, biological convergence provides clear and decisive evidence that evolution is limited in its possible trajectories and is therefore not haphazard. Here Conway Morris has the better argument than Gould. Nevertheless, Conway Morris is not content to stop there. He wants to use biological convergence also to argue that evolution follows "inevitable and preordained trajectories." This is a much stronger claim, and it brings him into conflict with the adaptationists, such as Richard Dawkins.

Adaptationists—who, unlike Gould, give pride of place to natural selection—have no difficulty accepting that evolution exhibits the very trends that Conway Morris argues for on the basis of biological convergence. Where Conway Morris and the adaptationists diverge is over the claim that these trends are value-laden and goal-directed. Adaptationists are perfectly content to say that evolution reinvents certain structures because those happened to be the structures with the best selective advantage.

What is Conway Morris' response? Not to offer a scientific argument, but to denounce ultra-Darwinists like Dawkins for suggesting that evolution is incompatible with religious faith. Indeed, Conway Morris turns the tables, charging that Dawkins' brand of Darwinism has itself become a religious faith:

The pronouncements of the ultra-Darwinists can shake with a religious fervour. Richard Dawkins is arguably England's most pious atheist. Their texts ring with high-minded rhetoric and dire warnings—not least of the unmitigated evils of religion—all to reveal the path of simplicity and straight thinking. More than one commentator has noted that ultra-Darwinism has pretensions to a secular religion.

Such prose is likely to score points with traditional religious believers, whom Dawkins has gone out of his way to antagonize over the years. Nevertheless, it does nothing to address the point at issue, which is whether evolution is indeed goal-directed or follows certain trends merely because it is constrained by natural selection. Here Conway Morris offers not an argument but an existential choice:

The complexity and beauty of 'Life's Solution' can never cease to astound. None of it presupposes, let along proves, the existence of God, but all is congruent. For some it will remain as the pointless activity of the Blind Watchmaker, but others may prefer to remove their dark glasses. The choice, of course, is yours.

Leaving aside whether the choice actually is ours (surely God's grace has something to do with it), this appeal to "congruence" is inherently unsatisfying. As Conway Morris leaves it, evolution is as congruent with his own religious faith as with Richard Dawkins's Blind Watchmaker. Indeed, despite having some traction against Gould's extreme contingency view, Conway Morris' argument from biological convergence has no traction whatsoever against Dawkins.

The reason is that Conway Morris' argument from biological convergence is inherently metaphysical rather than scientific. Indeed, it constitutes a marriage of teleology and Darwinism, and an uneasy marriage at that. Conway Morris' picture of evolution is this: evolution is a process (created by God) to achieve certain goals, not least the formation of humanity. To achieve those goals, evolution is limited to a fixed set of paths. Moreover, the mechanism for driving evolution along those paths is natural selection. (Note that in this picture, natural selection is not a creative agent but rather an engine that powers the evolutionary process.)

According to Conway Morris, biological convergence suggests that evolution is a goal-directed process limited to fixed paths. But this suggestion is not a scientific proposal. Biological convergence, as Conway Morris employs it, merely points to a metaphysical possibility, to wit, the possibility that evolution is teleological. The actual scientific evidence that he employs from biological convergence, however, at best shows that evolution is limited to fixed paths, not that it has goals.

As a consequence, Conway Morris spends too much of Life's Solution merely asserting and repeating that evolution is teleological. His preferred mode of stating this is through the metaphor of navigation. Thus, on page after page, the reader is informed, to the point of tedium, that life has an uncanny knack for navigating through hyperspace to reach precise end-points. Navigating through hyperspace? Indeed, what won't that explain?

It is the familiar trap of theoretical biology: problems get converted into their own solutions. Conway Morris falls into this trap in the very title of his book: Life's Solution. Accordingly, life is an agent that acts purposively to solve the problems that must be solved for evolution to take the form it does, replete with biological convergences. This is fine as far as it goes. But where is the experimental support? Where are the theoretical principles? Where is the biological insight that matches up the facts of biological convergence with Conway Morris's broader claims?

How, for instance, do we establish scientifically that evolution is limited to only certain paths? Biological convergence can suggest as much, but to really nail this down requires examining biological systems and showing experimentally that their evolvability is indeed as limited as biological convergence suggests. But this research does not exist save with regard to isolated microevolutionary changes (e.g., bacteria developing antibiotic resistance).

In focusing on biological convergence, Conway Morris is looking at the end-points of evolution. But evolution is a process, and to determine what that process can and can't do requires investigating the actual process and not limiting one's investigation merely to its end-points. A similar problem recurs when we ask what principles and insights underwrite biological convergence.

Ultimately, the problem here is a fundamental tension inherent in theistic evolution. As is characteristic of theistic evolution, Life's Solution challenges materialism as a metaphysical position but not as a regulative principle for science. In bringing teleology into biology, Conway Morris therefore assumes the role of philosopher and theologian, not of scientist. Thus, however metaphysically pleasing it may be otherwise, the teleology for which Conway Morris argues is not scientifically tractable (if it were, he would be a proponent of intelligent design, which he is not).

Life's Solution will no doubt comfort theistic evolutionists. But those without a stake in integrating faith and learning will see its theological project as an exercise in irrelevance, a view duly underwritten by Occam's razor. More importantly, those with a stake in integrating faith and learning should be asking themselves why, in the dialogue between science and religion, Life's Solution is yet another example of religion getting the short end of the stick.

William A. Dembski is an associate research professor in the conceptual foundations of science at Baylor University as well as a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute. Most recently, he is the editor, with Michael Ruse, of Debating Design: From Darwin to DNA (Cambridge Univ. Press).

Copyright © 2004 by the author or Christianity Today International/Books & Culture magazine.
November/December 2004, Vol. 10, No. 6, Page 42

Faith vs. Fossils: Christians Debate Origins of Life


Bob Allen 12-13-04

Otis Kline hopes to build Montana's second-largest dinosaur and fossil museum, complete with 13 full-size dinosaur replicas, but it won't be an ordinary museum.

Kline, a Southern Baptist, wants to use fossils to teach a literal biblical account of creation and to debunk what he calls "evolutionism's nonsense."

According to the Billings Gazette, Kline believes the earth is 6,500 to 7,000 years old and that dinosaurs lived alongside humans and are mentioned in Job 40:15, which speaks of the "behemoth" that "feeds on grass like an ox." He believes there were dinosaurs on Noah's Ark, though perhaps young and not adult specimens, which were unable to survive in a new environment altered by the Flood.

Nearly eight decades after the famous Scopes trial over teaching evolution in schools, Darwin is still on trial in many circles.

A recent Gallup Poll found that 35 percent of adults believe evolution is well-supported by the evidence and 35 percent say it is not, while 29 percent said they didn't know enough to reply. Forty-five percent said God created man in his present form, and about a quarter of Americans believe it occurred in the last 10,000 years.

School boards like the one in Cobb County, Georgia, are battling over textbooks labeling evolution as "just" a theory and giving creation equal time as an opposing view.

The gift shop at the Grand Canyon sells a book titled Grand Canyon: A Different View, which claims the geographical wonder was created suddenly during Noah's Flood and not by millennia of erosion by the Colorado River.

While "young earth" creationists like Kline are in the minority, attacks on Darwin have gained new credibility among many evangelicals with the rise of a theory called "Intelligent Design."

Championed by scholars like William Dembski, a mathematician who recently moved from Baylor University to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, "ID" maintains that life forms are too complex to have evolved by chance, inferring an intelligent creator.

"Any biology teacher must deal with the changes that occur in organisms over time," said Hal Poe, a religion professor at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. "We experience these changes in everyday life each fall when the health officials begin encouraging the elderly to get their flu vaccination to protect them against the new strains of influenza virus that have emerged."

Christian theologians must also grapple with whether God was involved only in the beginning of creation or is still involved in the creative process. For Poe, who has taught and written jointly with chemistry professor Jimmy Davis on relating science and faith, God is either involved at all levels or not at all.

"Any theology that does not believe in God's continuing involvement is not orthodox Christian theology," he told EthicsDaily.com.

Poe said Christians who view science as being hostile to faith often fall prey to two fallacies of modern thinking. One is to interpret the Bible literally instead of figuratively. The other is "reductionism," the tendency to explain everything with one simple explanation—such as Darwin's explanation of the origin of the species as natural selection and Freud's explanation of human behavior through sex.

Christians who reject figurative language in the Bible in favor of scientific language, Poe said, may not realize they are elevating science above the Bible.

"The Bible says that God is responsible for all life," Poe said. "What it does not tell us is how God did it."

Poe said the Bible says God called light into being by direct creation, "Let there be light," but did not create life with a similar command. Instead God said let the earth and the waters bring forth life.

Poe said no English translation he is aware of accurately translates the proper tense of verbs in Genesis 1. All suggest incomplete and ongoing action, like "and God began to say 'Let the earth begin to bring forth vegetation.'" Poe said.

Other Christians also affirm God as creator but reject Intelligent Design. Critics call is a "pseudoscience," which parallels but is not identical to creation science, the view that there is scientific evidence to support the Genesis account of the creation of life.

A Web site opposing Intelligent Design said it has no quarrel with people who believe that an intelligent being was involved in evolution of organisms, but only those who claim that empirical evidence exists to prove it scientifically.

While there are scientists who support Intelligent Design, the vast majority accept evolution as the best explanation for the origin of species. As a result, critics say, ID advocates have turned to the public sphere, seeking to advance their views through the media, schools and politicians.

The arguments for Intelligent Design are largely "arguments from ignorance," the critics say, also known as "god-of-the-gaps" arguments. Biochemist Michael Behe, for example, claims that "irreducibly complex" systems could not have occurred naturally.

Behe's model is a mousetrap. Composed of a wooden base, a spring and a trigger, a mousetrap isn't more effective in catching mice than the individual components; it doesn't work unless all are present. Similarly, even the simplest organisms have interacting parts that would not work alone, begging the question of how the components could have evolved without a previous function.

Evolutionists counter that lack of knowledge doesn't necessarily imply intelligent cause. Most scientists would prefer "we don't yet know" to invoking a cause outside of nature.

"I am convinced that God created the world," said Argey Hillis, a member of Seventh & James Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, with a Ph.D. in statistics from Johns Hopkins, "but the statistical arguments are rubbish."

"If you're given enough time anything can be accomplished with a random process."

Others counter the popular argument that evolution ought to be presented as "just a theory."

The notion that Earth orbits around the sun is a theory, and even electricity is a theoretical construct, according to an article defending Darwin in National Geographic. Other examples are Einstein's theory of relativity and the makeup of atoms.

"Each of these theories is an explanation that has been confirmed to such a degree, by observation and experiment, that knowledgeable experts accept it as fact," the article says. "That's what scientists mean when they talk about theory; not a dreamy and unreliable speculation, but an explanatory statement that fits the evidence."

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

Physics News Update 712

The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News
Number 712 December 13, 2004 by Phillip F. Schewe, Ben Stein

IS SPECIAL RELATIVITY WRONG? The centennial of Albert Einstein's miracle year of 1905 has arrived and so it is pertinent to ask how one of his most famous theories is doing. Physicists don't necessarily believe that Einstein's rules about the nature of spacetime are mistaken, but as part of the continual scientific effort to extend what is known about the universe physicists search for subtle hints of a departure from expected behavior. Special relativity predicts that clocks traveling in various directions and with various fixed speeds relative to each other will tell time differently, but in such a way that spacetime has no preferred or distinguishable direction, a proposition known as Lorentz invariance. Physicists, always on the lookout for departures from received opinion, and also motivated by theoretical suggestions that such effects might be expected, take this as an invitation precisely to search for such a special direction or to find that the variation of clock rates does not adhere to Einstein's equations. Such effects are described by the "Standard-Model Extension" (SME) and they can come in several forms. One disproof of special relativity would be the finding that matter and antimatter behaved differently. Another would be a birefringence violation: observing that light with different polarizations travels at different velocities through vacuum. Still another disruption of the Einsteinian view would occur if the universe were pervaded by an underlying oriented energy field, one that interacted weakly with known particles so as to favor one direction over another.

A new experiment puts this latter violation to its most stringent test yet. As so often happens when searching for extremely subtle effects, no departure from known physics was found but a new upper bound could be established. Ronald Walsworth and his Harvard-Smithsonian colleagues, in conjunction with theorist Alan Kostelecky at Indiana University, look at how atoms prepared in special magnetic states (the precision of their light emissions allow them to serve as "clocks") vary in their timekeeping when moving at certain velocities (or "boosts") relative to the hypothetical Lorentz-symmetry-violating fields that may permeate the universe. In this case the two clocks consist of a sample of helium-3 atoms and a sample of xenon-129 atoms held in a container within a fixed magnetic field. The clock rate in each case is the rate at which the atomic nuclei precess in the magnetic field. The emissions from one atomic species were fed into a feedback mechanism for controlling the magnetic field, so in effect the one set of atoms (or, to be more precise, their nuclear spins) acted as a reference clock while the other species served as the test clock.

The whole apparatus, and the absolute orientation of the applied magnetic field in spacetime (and along with it the orientation of the atoms and their emissions) change as the Earth rotates daily and as the Earth takes its annual course around the sun. Furthermore, to achieve the necessary level of precision (based on the light let loose by the atoms), the Harvard researchers achieved the difficult experimental feat of having the two atom samples operate in a maser mode (that is, they performed like a laser) within the same container. The existence of a Lorentz-violating field, one that like a magnetic field favors a particular orientation in an otherwise isotropic spacetime, could cause the two clocks to become more out of synch as they move relative to the Lorentz-violating field. The main result of the experiment was to put a stringent new limit on a coupling of material particles (primarily the neutron) to such fields. The upshot: no Lorentz "boost" violations are seen at a level of one part in 10^-27. (Cane et al., Physical Review Letters, 3 December 2004; previous relativity test summarized at http://www.aip.org/pnu/2003/split/623-2.html; contact Ron Walsworth at 617-495-7274, rwalsworth@cfa.harvard.edu; background articles in Physics Today, July 2004, Scientific American, Sept 04; Harvard website at www.cfa-www.harvard.eduWalsworth/Activities/DNGM/DNGM2.html; Kosetlecky site, http://www.physics.indiana.edu/~kostelec/faq.html#30 )

LASER LIGHTNING ROD. Lightning on demand, drawing down a bolt of lightning for performing scientific studies, is usually done by firing a rocket into an overhead cloud. The rocket spools out a long wire, providing a conducting path between the charged-up cloud and the earth below. Soon this might be done using laser pulses. A team of French and German scientists has performed experiments in the lab in which a laser beam ionizes air molecules between an artificial thunderhead (a high voltage electrode) with another electrode, the equivalent of "earth" (a grounded electrode), several meters away. The experiment is unique in that it can trigger megavolt discharges across self-guided plasma filaments in air generated by laser pulses. (Here are the potent characteristics of natural lightning: peak power of ten megawatts, peak voltage of 100 MV, peak currents of tens of kilo-amps.) One of the lab results is the surprising discovery that rain does not much perturb the triggering or guiding of the discharge process. Next the team will perform open-air lightning experiments. The aim of this work will be to obtain the ability to trigger lightning before it occurs naturally at sensitive sites such as airports or electrical substations. (Ackermann et al., Applied Physics Letters, 6 December 2004; contact Jerome Kasparian, Universite Lyon, jkaspari@lasim.univ-lyon1.fr)

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

UFO 'explodes' in China


Beijing - An unidentified flying object, or UFO, passed across the large north-western Chinese city of Lanzhou and apparently exploded in the suburbs, state media said on Monday.

The unusual sighting of two bright trails of light, reported by several witnesses, took place on Saturday shortly before midnight, the China Times reported.

Police, working on the theory that it was a meteorite, went to investigate the matter, but as of early Monday they had found no evidence of what caused the nightly phenomenon, an officer said by telephone. A taxi driver told the paper he was in his car when everything suddenly became "as bright as day."

When he pulled over, he saw a fireball with a tail of about three metres darting across the sky, he said.

One witness who was on the late shift at his company reported the courtyard outside his office was suddenly bathed in a ghostly red light as the object passed overhead, the paper said.

Others said they heard a huge explosion and felt as if an earthquake had struck.

China has been hit by several waves of UFO sighting in recent years, and the country has a research association devoted to the study of possible extraterrestrial visits.

Journalistic wisdom


The following was posted by editorialist Rod Dreher on The Dallas Morning News blog. It illustrates what passes for journalistic wisdom in some places:

Atheist big recants

I think I blogged last week on the news that Prof. Antony Flew, one of the world's leading philosophers of atheism, is now saying that the irreducible complexity of biological life strongly suggests the existence of an intelligent designer. From the Times of London story:

Flew, the son of a Methodist minister, is keen to repent. "As people have certainly been influenced by me, I want to try and correct the enormous damage I may have done," he said yesterday.

The reason I'm re-blogging this today is that this turn of events gives a big shot in the arm to the intelligent design movement. Last year, we went through a big debate on our editorial board when the Texas Freedom Network tried to get us to oppose efforts, led in part by The Discovery Institute, to point out flaws in Darwinian theory in Texas school biology textbooks. As I recall, the TFN folks kept trying to say that the Discovery Institute people were pushing creationism -- which is a total canard. Discovery doesn't even discuss creationism, only scientific evidence for intelligent design, which is a different thing.

Flew's "apostasy" from pure atheism is an endorsement of the ID movement, insofar as he accepts its basic premise. Flew has not become a Christian, a Jew or any stripe of religious person. He only says that the scientific evidence leads him to believe that the universe is the product of an intelligent mind. Which is all the ID movement claims. If their claims are taken seriously and even endorsed by one of the world's leading philosophical atheists, why are they too silly for Texas schoolchildren even to be asked to consider?

posted by Rod Dreher @ Dec 13, 1:09 PM

Re: Atheist big

A reader writes:

I saw this Flew item last week and didn't know who to show it to. I have a BS in Physics an Astronomy and started out as a big Atheist after college but then started thinking about what I learned in school and couldn't square the complexity of the world with atheism (note little "a" indicative of the narrowness of its "ism"). I think the ID movement has legs. Too much of what it's about is lumped with Creationism which couldn't be further from the ID creed.

God is smiling; it's his turn to laugh.

posted by Rod Dreher @ Dec 13, 2:15 PM

Contacting the North Texas Skeptics
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