Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings
Source: Discovery Institute
Tuesday December 14, 6:02 am ET
SEATTLE, Dec. 14 /PRNewswire/ -- The policy on teaching evolution recently adopted by the Dover, PA School Board was called "misguided" today by Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, which advised that the policy should be withdrawn and rewritten.
"While the Dover board is to be commended for trying to teach Darwinian theory in a more open-minded manner, this is the wrong way to go about it," said Dr. John G. West, associate director of Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture (CSC). "Dover's current policy has a number of problems, not the least of which is its lack of clarity. At one point, it appears to prohibit Dover schools from teaching anything about 'the origins of life.' At another point, it appears to both mandate as well as prohibit the teaching of the scientific theory of intelligent design. The policy's incoherence raises serious problems from the standpoint of constitutional law. Thus, the policy should be withdrawn and rewritten."
Apart from questions about its constitutionality, West expressed reservations about the Dover School Board's directive on public policy grounds.
"When we first read about the Dover policy, we publicly criticized it because according to published reports the intent was to mandate the teaching of intelligent design," explained West. "Although we think discussion of intelligent design should not be prohibited, we don't think intelligent design should be required in public schools.
"What should be required is full disclosure of the scientific evidence for and against Darwin's theory," added West, "which is the approach supported by the overwhelming majority of the public."
Discovery Institute's Center for Science & Culture is the nation's leading think-tank exploring the scientific theory of intelligent design, which proposes that some features of the natural world are best explained as the product of an intelligent cause rather than an undirected cause such as natural selection. In recent years a growing number of scientists have presented the case for intelligent design theory in academic journal articles and books published by major academic presses such as Cambridge University Press and Michigan State University Press. For more information visit the Institute's website at www.discovery.org/csc/.
Sunday December 12, 2004
This is a story about believing too much. It's a story about losing sight of the boundary, the invisible line between believing in something and letting it take over your life. It's also a story about a man who has built his life and career on saving people who he thinks believe too much. It's December 2003 and I'm sitting in a room full of tanned, good-looking Californians, at the Kabbalah Center in Los Angeles, waiting for a rabbi to give us a free introductory lecture. I'm wearing a white name tag, my name scrawled across it. A few days earlier, in the Kabbalah Centershop, I nearly bought the 'red string' ($26 for a piece of thread that 'protects us from the influences of the Evil Eye'). Always on the lookout for a cure-all for my recurring anxiety/depression problems, here I am, ever hopeful, wondering if the Kabbalah Center will be the answer to my problems.
The lecture reminds me of some New Age, self-help nightmare, visions of Tom Cruise in Magnolia passing through my mind as the rabbi talks endlessly about how the Kabbalah could make our lives so much richer. Quite literally. We are told that financial wealth, career success, love, happiness - all these things are within reach.
The next day, at a Hanukkah party, I mention I've been to the Kabbalah Center. Clearly, this is not the thing to say. One woman says she's heard the Kabbalah Center is a 'cult'. Her partner says he's read that the Kabbalah Center lures you in and then tries to get its hands on your money. Another woman tells me about Rick Ross. She says he is America's top 'cult expert', that I should visit his website, rickross.com, and read the file on the Kabbalah Center.
I go home confused. What is so bad about the Kabbalah Center? Given that its ideas are a Deepak Chopra-style interpretation of basic Kabbalah ideas, re-cast to suit our rehab, Prozac, self-improvement times, I found what it teaches useful in the same way I find therapy useful.
Later, scrolling through the 'Group Information Database' on rickross.com, online home of the Rick A Ross Institute for the Study of Destructive Cults, Controversial Groups and Movements (RRI), a non-profit, tax-exempt archive, public-information service based in New Jersey, I find files on many different organisations, categorised both alphabetically and ideologically. There are files on 'Hate' groups (Aryan Nations, Stormfront and Westboro Baptist Church, whose web address is godhatesfags.com). There are 'Religious' groups (International Church of Christ, Order of Christ/Sophia, Children of God, Jesus People, the Jehovah's Witnesses, The Brethren), 'Neo Eastern' (Sai Baba, 3HO, Integral Yoga), 'Satanic' (First Church of Satan), 'Human Potential' (Scientology, Landmark Education), 'Bible Based' (The Holy Order of Mans, House of Yahweh, Jews for Jesus, Victory Church), 'Sci-Fi/UFO' (Chen-Tao/God's Salvation Church, Raelians, Beta Dominion Xenophilia) and so on.
Within these categories are individual files both surprising - Deepak Chopra, Nation of Islam, Patty Hearst, Kim Jong-il - and expected - al-Qaeda, the Manson family, Jim Jones, David Koresh/Waco Davidians, Reverend Sun Myung Moon. Although Ross keeps files on almost all of the estimated 5,000 active groups in the US (and on many of the estimated 500 groups in the UK), he is keen to stress that a group or individual's inclusion on his website does not necessarily mean they are harmful, or a cult. He also stresses that no religious, political or personal agenda motivates the opening of a file. He only opens a file if a group or individual's behaviour starts attracting controversy.
So who is Rick Ross, and why has he appointed himself both judge and jury?
Rick Ross was born to a Jewish family in November 1952. His father was a plumbing contractor and his mother a helper at the Jewish Community Center in Phoenix, Arizona. After high school, Ross worked for a finance company, then a bank, before falling into trouble with the law. In 1974, he was convicted for the attempted burglary of a vacant show house and sentenced to probation. The following year he was sentenced to five years' probation after he and a friend embezzled property from a jewellery company. Ross then went to work for his cousin's car-salvage business. In 1982, aged 30, he had his first introduction to the world of groups and cults when a Christian missionary group infiltrated his grandmother's nursing home.
After successfully campaigning to have the group removed, Ross immersed himself in the psychology and methodologies of group activity, working as a volunteer, researcher and lecturer for various Jewish organisations, before striking out in 1986 as a private consultant and deprogrammer (an Orwellian-sounding term for someone hired to 'unbrainwash' people). Today, deprogrammers are known as intervention specialists, thought-reform consultants or exit counsellors.
In 1992, his reputation was sealed when the FBI sought his advice on David Koresh and the Waco (or Branch) Davidians. A year later, as the Waco siege raged, CBS hired him as on-scene analyst. Meanwhile, he was in court again, after Jason Scott, the 18-year-old subject of an involuntary intervention, filed charges of 'unlawful imprisonment'. Scott's mother had authorised Ross to hold Scott against his will in a bid to deprogramme him from the Life Tabernacle Church, an intervention method no longer practised by professionals in Ross's field. After the court ruled in Ross's favour, Scott won a civil suit in 1995 and was awarded $3m damages. Out of the ashes of bankruptcy, Ross launched rickross.com and left Phoenix for Jersey City, where he founded the Rick A Ross Institute.
Looking over his career, his moral credentials seem shaky at best. But then, taking into account his claimed 75 per cent success rate for interventions (he has worked on more than 350 cases, at a typical cost of $5,000, everywhere from the US to the UK, Israel to Italy), he has rescued many people from harmful situations and has worked as an expert court witness in cases relating to controversial groups.
Fast-forward to July 2004 and Rick Ross is telling me, via phone from his office in Jersey City, about an intervention case he worked on the previous summer involving the Kabbalah Center. Like most intervention cases, it began with an inquiry from a family; this time, a British family concerned about their daughter's involvement with the centre in Los Angeles.
'Their daughter Sarah was becoming increasingly disconnected from her family,' Ross recalls. 'Her personality seemed to have dramatically changed. Her entire life revolved around the Kabbalah Center. She worked there, spent most of her after-work time there, lived with other members and apparently had no romantic life.'
Despite working long hours, Sarah did not receive 'meaningful compensation, nor benefits such as medical coverage. She appeared largely incapable of making her own decisions, or critically examining how her life had changed, or of considering the practical consequences of her involvement at the centre, such as her personal finances.' After years of her involvement with the Kabbalah Center, Sarah's family believed the situation was deteriorating. 'They called me, hoping to find a way to intervene and discuss their concerns without the centre's interference,' says Ross.
When Sarah told her parents she would be coming home to the UK for the first time in years, for the opening of the London Kabbalah Centre, Ross hatched a plan. The family would rent cottages in the Cotswolds - something they had done often when Sarah was a child - and invite her to take a mini-break. Sarah agreed. And when she arrived, Ross was waiting.
Initially, he explained who he was, why her family had hired him, and why he believed she was being exploited in her position of 'chevra' (a full-time volunteer worker at the centre). After three hours, she stormed off, telling Ross and her family, 'I understand what you're trying to do here. I'm very upset, I'm very angry at everybody. I'm going to pack my stuff and I'm going to go back to London. You've disappointed me, you've tricked me. I'm not going to continue with this.' This being a typical scenario, Ross had already appointed one of her brothers to handle any upsets. After several hours of discussions, Sarah's brother persuaded her to give Ross one more hour of her time.
'I told her that Philip Berg, the founder of the Kabbalah Center, once signed documents "Dr Philip Berg", but in fact he has no PhD, though he may have an honorary, unaccredited or mail-order doctorate. And Berg paid himself $2.5m for intellectual property rights regarding books and tapes - $2.5m out of the [organisation's] non-profit.' Ross also explained to her that the school Philip Berg claimed to be closely associated with in Israel had denounced him. 'Now, these would be things that I would not usually say to someone in the very beginning of an intervention,' Ross says, 'because they might become angry and walk out. I made these points quickly and she looked at me rather startled and said, "Can you prove that?" And I said, "Yes, I have all the documents with me."'
At this point, Sarah and Ross began talking. Three days later, their discussions came to a close. By then, she and her family were being bombarded with calls from the Kabbalah Center.
'They were sending urgent messages to her parents' London home, saying, "Where is she?",' Ross remembers. 'And Sarah was someone Madonna knew personally through the centre and who worked with her daughter as part of their programmes. Guy Ritchie was expecting to see her at the opening of the new centre. When the Kabbalah Center was sending her emails saying, "Where are you?" she was in a mental health facility, Wellspring Retreat, a rehab centre for ex-cult members in the US. Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center is 'a residential treatment facility specialising in the rehabilitation of victims of cultic abuse'. It was founded in Albany, Ohio, in 1986 by Dr Paul Martin and his wife Barbara. Like Sarah, Dr Martin crossed that line between a harmless belief in something and a faith that almost wrecked his life when he got involved with The Jesus People in 1971. At the time, he was a doctoral student at the University of Missouri, studying psychopharmacology (his specialist research field was hallucinogens).
'This bunch of people came through campus in a VW van with a rock'n'roll band,' he tells me, 'proclaiming that Jesus was a better revolutionary than Marx or Che, and it was pretty impressive. They had better music and better-looking girls and I thought, "Maybe this is it," so I dropped out of grad school.'
Believing himself to have been increasingly indoctrinated, Martin left the group in 1978, in the throes of a nervous breakdown. 'I started having dissociative episodes. I couldn't tell if I was dreaming or awake. It was like a Fellini movie.'
As he recovered, he looked for answers as to how this had happened. 'I picked up a copy of Robert Jay Lifton's Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism and it gave me cold chills because the similarities were really uncanny. I said, "Oh my god, I was in a cult!" I always thought cults were something that only happened to the weirdos, and I wasn't a weirdo. The people in my group were the boy and girl next-door, the class valedictorian, a Vietnam war vet - a cross-section of regular people.'
After finishing his PhD and undergoing training in psychology and mental-health counselling, Dr Martin decided to focus on helping people put their lives back together after leaving groups and cults. Today, Wellspring has 15 full-time staff and nine beds. It's a kind of Betty Ford Clinic, where patients conquer their addiction to beliefs, groups and leaders.
There is a formal screening process. 'We make sure these people are really suitable for our programme,' Martin explains. 'Are they really cult victims or are they mentally ill? You have to make sure they're not so sick or suicidal or debilitated that they could not even participate in a programme where there's a lot of talk or dialogue.'
To verify Sarah's story, I email a transcript of what Ross told me to the Kabbalah Center in Los Angeles (earlier I had requested an interview with Philip Berg, which was declined), asking for their comment. In response, I receive a curt email from its publicist, Andy Behrman, informing me: 'Rick Ross has never met anybody at the Kabbalah Center and to the best of our knowledge this story and the facts are entirely false.' I forward the statement to Ross. 'Mr Behrman knows very well who I am speaking about,' he insists. 'The young woman was a full-time "chevra" worker at the LA centre and well known to everyone there.'
I mention to Ross that while Sarah's experiences with the Kabbalah Center sound troubling, her story is hardly comparable to the mass suicides of Waco or Jonestown, nor the killing sprees carried out in Charles Manson's name. He explains that he is always careful to distinguish between a cult and a destructive or controversial group.
'The Kabbalah Center is not stockpiling weapons,' he says. 'They don't have a compound. I've received no complaints of physical abuse. They seem to be focused on money: buy the Kabbalah water, buy the red string, buy this, buy that, give us 10 per cent of your income, and so on.'
To determine whether a group is benign or destructive, Ross - like most professionals in his field - uses Lifton's 1961 book as a diagnostic tool. Lifton details eight characteristics that typify a destructive group environment: dictating with whom members can communicate; convincing members they are a chosen people with a higher purpose; creating an us-versus-them mentality, whereby everything in the group is right and everything outside is wrong; encouraging members to share their innermost secrets and then purge whatever hinders their merging with the group; convincing members that their philosophical belief system is 'the absolute truth'; creating an 'in' language of buzzwords and groupspeak which becomes a substitute for critical thinking; reinterpreting human experience and emotion in terms of the group's doctrine; and reinforcing the idea that life within the group is good and worthy, and life outside evil and pointless. During an intervention, Ross brings out Lifton's book, usually having picked apart the group's own literature.
As a recovering alcoholic, I still think about where the line is between heavy drinking and alcoholism. In the same way, I ask myself when a life-enhancing involvement with a group, guru or individual becomes damaging? Ross explains that the process is gradual, insidious. 'When people typically join, they only see what the group wants them to see. Then they are gradually spoon-fed more on a need-to-know basis. So,' says Ross, 'there's this escalating involvement, a process of baby steps to deeper involvement in the group. You aren't told the more radical beliefs of a group until you've been so heavily indoctrinated that you're no longer able to critically evaluate those beliefs.'
According to Ross, the kind of person who typically becomes unhealthily involved with a group is looking for ideals and a sense of purpose. They're very altruistic, he says, 'because to be a good cult member you have to make a lot of sacrifices'. They may have been going through a difficult period in their lives. 'When people are lonely, depressed, experiencing a major setback and some group comes along and says, "Look, we've got the answers, we can give you whatever you want, just put the red string on, drink the Kabbalah water and everything will be OK," it's very appealing.'
Carol Giambalvo is now retired, but she was once America's leading thought-reform consultant. (She got into the profession when her stepdaughter became involved with Iskcon, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.) To her, it's less about a personality type than a matter of circumstance. 'People don't join cults,' she tells me. 'They simply join a group that seems to have answers for their life goals: getting closer to God, self-improvement, getting rich, getting power, getting a feeling of belonging to something real special. People are deceived and their best attributes are used against them.'
As Giambalvo points out, the one unifying factor, according to research, is that people who get involved in a cultic group are in a major transitional stage in life: 'A mid-life crisis, going to college, graduating college, loss of a loved one through death or divorce, moving to a new country or community - these are all normal transitional stages when we're just a little more vulnerable to undue influence.'
Marguerite Corvini, now 24 and studying for a masters in social work at New York University, fits this definition. 'A lot of people who get sucked into these groups are at a vulnerable point in their lives,' she says. 'That was certainly the case for me.'
>From a wealthy family, she fell in with mystical Christian group Order of Christ/Sophia after graduating from college in 2001. Unsure what to do with her life, she was taken to Order meetings by her brother Michael, then a doctor in residency at Yale University. He had been introduced to the group by his then-girlfriend Shanti, daughter of Father Peter Bowes, who co-founded the Order in early 2001 with fellow ex-Holy Order of Mans priest, Mother Clare Watts. Michael introduced Marguerite to Father Bowes.
'I was so freaked out by him,' Marguerite says, getting breathless, his power over her still evident. But her brother's devotion and reverence to Father Bowes caused her to cast those thoughts aside. Soon after, Michael moved into the Order house in Boston and asked her to do the same.
She was torn, but having always looked up to her brother, she moved into the house in February 2002 to become a 'Novice', a commitment that required her to take a vow of celibacy and obedience for a year.
'It was a very monastic life. I had to break up with my boyfriend. My teacher, Reverend Beatrice, would tell me not to be sexually involved with my boyfriend, because if you're having sex with somebody, you're releasing that sexual energy and that energy should be focused on God. And if we had any sexual thoughts about anyone, we were urged to confess to our teachers.'
Eventually, Marguerite was given a clear message. 'I was told that having a boyfriend was not right for my soul.' Marguerite 'cut off' from her boyfriend, group-speak for severing communication with non-members. 'He would call me, leave me messages, send emails.'
Finally, Reverend Beatrice put a stop to it. 'She called him and said: "She can't talk to you any more, she's made a commitment to the programme and is celibate."'
Didn't Marguerite find this strange?
'I was upset, I was angry, but all the time in my head I was like, "But if this is what God wants for me, I want to be good, I want to reach my potential as a human being."'
In early 2003, Mr and Mrs Corvini, having both been diagnosed with cancer within a matter of weeks of one another, contacted Rick Ross. They said their dying wish was to have their children free from the Order of Christ/Sophia. Ross began planning an intervention. Meanwhile, when Michael and Marguerite received the news of their parents' illness, they were encouraged not to react by Father Bowes.
'Michael didn't see them while they were sick,' Marguerite remembers. 'Whatever reason he had, it was probably a spiritual thing - "They want you to talk to them, that's why they're getting sick, they're trying to manipulate you with their illness."'
Michael's initial reaction was to sever ties. 'He sent them this letter and basically cut off my mom,' recalls Marguerite, who was by now training to be a deacon. 'And I sent a letter, too. That's something that Father Peter does, he has everybody send letters. It's almost like he wants the parents to be so mad they cut off their kids.'
Soon after, Marguerite was urged to cut off her friends. Father Peter, she says, explained that she was free to leave but added, 'When you meet Jesus, he's going to say, "What happened Marguerite? You were on the right track and you strayed." Then you are going to have to start all over again, and it's going to be even harder to get to where you are now.'
We were just happily doing our thing and then this whole smear campaign against us starts,' says Mother Clare Watts, mother of four (one is in the Order) and co-founder of the Order of Christ/Sophia, in her Southern drawl from the newest Order house, in Seattle. 'It's been so frustrating to us. Rick Ross goes after every single group he can because it's a money thing. Money and power and anger. He's such a slimy character, he's just a sleaze. We actually ended up talking to some Scientologists and they said, "Oh dear, poor you, we've been putting up with this for 30 years. You're just the latest victim." They ended up sending us a ton of stuff about Rick Ross and the whole deprogramming history. I had to start learning about all this stuff. The word "cult" meant very little. Scientology even had us get advice from their attorneys.'
I ask her to explain the Order's basic ideology. 'Our core ideology is the inner path, the mystical path, where we are teaching people how to go inside their being and connect with the God-self inside of them.'
During our conversation, she talks enthusiastically about Rumi, the Kabbalah, Sufism, St Teresa of Avila - all the great mystics. It all sounds harmless. So why does she think Marguerite Corvini is calling the Order a 'cult' and Rick Ross has a file about their activities on his website?
'Well,' she sighs, 'Father Peter and I are both psychotherapists, so we work with all of our students on the psychological and emotional pieces of their healing and their growth; we bump into people's family issues, where there are still wounds from childhood in the way of their spiritual growth, where they're holding anger and resentment and where they're still under the control of their families' emotional or life control. We put a high value on honesty. This is where we get in trouble.'
With the Corvinis' health failing, Ross had to invent an opportunity for an intervention. He coached Mr Corvini on how to call Marguerite and ask if she would come home and drive her mother to hospital. Mr Corvini put the favour to his daughter. Marguerite told him she first needed to speak with Mother Clare, who is revered within the Order for her ability to communicate with the Virgin Mary. (When I ask Mother Clare if that is true, she says, 'Yes, I have received revelations from Mother Mary, but we teach everyone to do that. The way Marguerite puts it, she makes us look like freaks. We teach everyone to make those connections with Master Jesus and Mother Mary.')
'I went to Mother Clare,' remembers Marguerite. 'And she said, "Let's ask guidance." So we sit down and ask God and she gets an answer and the answer is no, you shouldn't go.'
Mother Clare had been suspicious. 'I said to Marguerite, "You know, it feels like they're up to something, but your mom may be dying some time in the next few months, so why don't you go visit her? This may be goodbye."'
As soon as Marguerite got home, her father had her car taken to a garage for a service. Then, also on Ross's advice, Mr Corvini had the phone lines cut. In the morning, Marguerite stepped out of the bathroom to find Ross, her parents, her grandmother and her best friend, all waiting for her on the landing. The intervention had begun. She thought of her car - then remembered it wasn't there. The phone was dead. Trapped, she heard Ross out. He managed to win her over. The next day, she collected her belongings from the Order house and flew out to Ohio, where, like Sarah, she was admitted to the two-week treatment programme at Wellspring, which she credits with changing her life.
'They used a lot of cognitive behavioural therapy to help me work through the thoughts and the whole process of how this happened to me. I'm a smart person, I'm well educated, I had pretty high self-esteem when I walked into Order of Christ/ Sophia, but by the time I came out I didn't know who I was. Initially, I would just be driving in my car, chewing a piece of gum and listening to whatever radio station I wanted, and that was immense freedom.'
Marguerite could be talking here about drugs, sex, alcohol, gambling. It sounds like a typical 12-step recovery story. Now she's had time to get her life back together, I ask her how she managed to lose herself so completely.
'Well,' she says. 'You put a frog in boiling hot water, they're going to jump out. You put them in lukewarm water and turn up the heat. By the time they realise they're in a pot of boiling hot water, they're kind of used to it. That's what happened to me.'
And what did the Order make of her leaving? When she arrived home, there was a note waiting for her from Father Bowes. All it said was: 'Where the hell are you?'
Soon after Marguerite left the Order, Ross set up an intervention to get Michael out as well, but as soon as Ross introduced himself, Michael fled his grandmother's house. Today, he's still a priest within the Order. Since then, other exit counsellors have tried to 'free' other members of the Order. None has been successful.
'With Marguerite, we didn't know yet to warn them about these interventions,' Mother Clare tells me. 'Now we warn people and people are aware. And they haven't caught anybody again.'
Such is the impact of Ross's attentions that there is now an 'Open Letter to the Parents and Friends of Our Members' by Father Bowes on the Order of Christ/Sophia website, which begins: 'Families of some of our members in the Order of Christ/Sophia have expressed concern about whether we are a cult. The answer is simply, no we are not a cult.' He goes on to attack 'anti-cult experts' who 'attack legitimate spiritual communities simply because they are not mainstream. They select families that have money and charge high rates to help families force their adult children to leave.'
Two decades into his crusade, Ross has made a lot of enemies, ranging from groups anxious to protect their reputations, recruitment potential and profit margins, to group members fiercely loyal to their beliefs, such as Neo-Nazis who send Ross almost daily anti-Semitic messages. And then there's the litigation. Presently, he's facing three different lawsuits from groups who claim he has made slanderous, damaging statements about their activities.
'I don't think a day goes by when I'm not threatened by somebody,' he sighs. 'Whether it's the threat of a lawyer or maybe something a little more colourful about how my anatomy might be re-arranged ... I've had death threats. I've had people say they would not only kill me but would then wash my remains down the sewer personally. But if I wasn't being sued and I wasn't being harassed I'd honestly ask myself, "What difference am I really making? Am I really doing my job very well?" If Scientologists sent me a box of chocolates with a thank-you card, I'd think, "Boy, I must be in bad shape!"'
As he says this, it dawns on me that everybody in this story believes or has once believed too much. Everybody thinks they're right. Why did the Order of Christ/Sophia seemingly wreck Marguerite's life while her brother Michael clearly feels it's the best possible life path for him?
Why does Madonna credit the Kabbalah Center with enriching her life, while involvement with the very same centre appears to have resulted in Sarah being admitted to Wellspring?
Or is it less about the group and more about the individual? Maybe certain individuals, with pre-existing psychological problems, join one of these groups, have what they perceive to be a bad experience and end up blaming the group for everything wrong in their lives. For every Sarah or Marguerite, there are many others claiming that their lives have been enormously enriched by their affiliation with a particular group or organisation.
Why does Ross keep going? Is it really, as Mother Clare and many other critics and groups claim, a 'money thing'? After a summer's worth of correspondence with Ross, I believe his motives are genuine, even if there are many groups out there who claim he's driven by profiteering.
But he, too, believes in the rightness of his moral compass. Everybody in a position of power or authority in this story, from Mother Clare to Rick Ross, believes they're right. And then, lost somewhere in the gulf between them, are the people who don't know how to believe in something without that faith taking over their lives.
· Some individuals' names have been changed
South Asian herbal remedies sold next to curry powder and basmati rice in Boston-area ethnic food markets may contain harmful amounts of lead, mercury, and arsenic, according to researchers who have analyzed their contents.
The scientists, first alerted to the danger by reports of patients suffering seizures after taking herbs, discovered that one in five of the imported products they bought in local shops had levels of heavy metals sometimes hundreds of times higher than the daily amount considered safe for oral consumption. The same products are sold nationwide.
The herbal pills, powders, and liquids are a cornerstone in the practice of Ayurvedic medicine, an ancient holistic system of health that originated in India and that emphasizes the mind-body connection. It relies on herbs and oils to treat illness and prevent disease. An estimated 80 percent of India's 1 billion adults and children use the remedies as a routine part of health care.
The herbs are not regulated in India, and in this country, unlike prescription drugs or over-the-counter medicines, the imported products can be sold without rigorous scientific testing, subject only to the same standards that apply to food.
The authors of the report on Ayurvedic products called on the US Food and Drug Administration to test all imported herbal remedies for toxic metals. Critics of the agency said the Boston findings highlight the need for tighter regulation of dietary supplements, products containing natural ingredients that consumers take to enhance health, lose weight, sleep, and improve sexual performance.
''I absolutely think nothing should be sold without it being tested, and there should be active regulation of all products that are sold whether they're natural remedies, over-the-counter, or prescription drugs," said Dr. Michael Shlipak, a San Francisco researcher who authored a landmark study detailing the dangers of the herb ephedra. ''It's naive to think there aren't many dangerous products out there."
But users of the herbs in this country insist that the products are reliable and that safety concerns reflect bias by Western medical practitioners against treatments that started in the East.
The Boston study, published in today's Journal of the American Medical Association, comes amid an unprecedented boom in the use of herbal remedies -- along with other alternative medical practices -- and a campaign to validate the safety and effectiveness of those pills and treatments by government and academic researchers.
In national surveys, 14 to 18 percent of US adults report regularly taking herbs and other dietary supplements to address everything from flatulence to hemorrhoids to incontinence.
''We now have roughly one in five adults routinely using herbs and supplements in the context of their health care, and it's growing," said Dr. David M. Eisenberg, director of Harvard Medical School's Osher Institute, which is devoted to testing alternative medical techniques. ''We've also become increasingly aware that herbs and supplements have the capacity to do good as well as harm, and that they also have the capacity to interact with other herbs and drugs."
That has become increasingly evident to doctors, nurses, and disease trackers as reports have trickled in about cases of lead poisoning linked to Ayurvedic medications. In July, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a detailed account of such cases, reporting that a dozen bouts of lead poisoning had been blamed on Ayurvedic remedies from 2000 through 2003.
One of those cases was in Massachusetts.
A middle-age man showed up at a Boston hospital in 2002 suffering seizures. Doctors were baffled. After running a battery of tests, they concluded that he had lead poisoning.
''The next obvious question is, why does he have lead toxicity?" said Dr. Robert B. Saper, lead author of the study published today. ''They asked him: 'Do you work with paint?' Finally, it was posed to the person whether he was taking anything other than conventional medicine. Lo and behold, he was taking an Ayurvedic herbal medicine product for the last six years to treat arthritis."
The man, who had taken herbal tablets called Guglu, recovered. But in a textbook example of how clinical medicine can give birth to scientific research, Saper, then a fellow at the Osher Institute and now a Boston University researcher, heard about the case from colleagues and decided to study the presence of heavy metals in medicinal herbs. In high enough concentrations, such metals can result in serious complications -- including convulsions, nausea, and vomiting.
>From spring through fall 2003, Saper purchased 70 herbal medicine products imported from South Asia at 30 stores in the Boston area. The researchers did not examine Ayuverdic herbs made in this country.
Samples were tested at a lab run by the US Environmental Protection Agency, with scientists hunting for the presence of possibly harmful amounts of lead, mercury, and arsenic. The finding: Fourteen of the herbal treatments -- 20 percent -- contained at least one of these heavy metals in unsafe concentrations.
Researchers can't say for sure how the metals got there. Theories range from contamination during production to plants grown in tainted soil. But there also are suggestions in Ayurvedic textbooks that some metals may be added intentionally, valued for their reported healing potential.
That is a possibility that does not alarm Subhash Sehgal, a Newbury Street gallery owner who has taken Ayurvedic medicines for most of his 53 years and insists they do not contain toxic levels of metal.
To maintain his health, he eats bread each day that he coats with a gelatin called chayanprash, which is said to contain more than 12 herbs. ''It has been used for thousands of years, and we have never doubted it," he said. ''These are ancient ways to take care of your body."
A 1994 federal law prohibited the FDA from regulating dietary supplements like prescription drugs, setting a high standard before such a product can be taken off the market. An FDA official said the agency could not comment on the Boston study until it receives all the data, but added that regulators are already working to more aggressively target supplements that have been shown to pose serious risk to consumers. Nearly a year ago, the FDA moved to ban ephedra, an herb that had been used by elite athletes to enhance performance by strengthening their muscles and by dieters to speed weight loss. Studies blamed the herb for 155 deaths.
Saper advised patients taking imported Ayurvedic herbs to alert their doctors and consider testing for toxic substances.
Michael McGuffin, president of the American Herbal Products Association, urged consumers not to lump domestically produced Ayurvedic herbs with imported products. ''And it's certainly too broad," McGuffin said, ''if it's read as a condemnation of all herbal products."
Stephen Smith can be reached at email@example.com.
EMBARGOED FOR RELEASE
Monday, December 20, 2004
5:00 p.m. ET
NCCAM Press Office
Acupuncture provides pain relief and improves function for people with osteoarthritis of the knee and serves as an effective complement to standard care. This landmark study was funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), both components of the National Institutes of Health. The findings of the study the longest and largest randomized, controlled phase III clinical trial of acupuncture ever conducted were published in the December 21, 2004, issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine *.
The multi-site study team, including rheumatologists and licensed acupuncturists, enrolled 570 patients, aged 50 or older with osteoarthritis of the knee. Participants had significant pain in their knee the month before joining the study, but had never experienced acupuncture, had not had knee surgery in the previous 6 months, and had not used steroid or similar injections. Participants were randomly assigned to receive one of three treatments: acupuncture, sham acupuncture, or participation in a control group that followed the Arthritis Foundation's self-help course for managing their condition. Patients continued to receive standard medical care from their primary physicians, including anti-inflammatory medications, such as COX-2 selective inhibitors, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and opioid pain relievers.
"For the first time, a clinical trial with sufficient rigor, size, and duration has shown that acupuncture reduces the pain and functional impairment of osteoarthritis of the knee," said Stephen E. Straus, M.D., NCCAM Director. "These results also indicate that acupuncture can serve as an effective addition to a standard regimen of care and improve quality of life for knee osteoarthritis sufferers. NCCAM has been building a portfolio of basic and clinical research that is now revealing the power and promise of applying stringent research methods to ancient practices like acupuncture."
"More than 20 million Americans have osteoarthritis. This disease is one of the most frequent causes of physical disability among adults," said Stephen I. Katz, M.D., Ph.D., NIAMS Director. "Thus, seeking an effective means of decreasing osteoarthritis pain and increasing function is of critical importance."
During the course of the study, led by Brian M. Berman, M.D., Director of the Center for Integrative Medicine and Professor of Family Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland, 190 patients received true acupuncture and 191 patients received sham acupuncture for 24 treatment sessions over 26 weeks. Sham acupuncture is a procedure designed to prevent patients from being able to detect if needles are actually inserted at treatment points. In both the sham and true acupuncture procedures, a screen prevented patients from seeing the knee treatment area and learning which treatment they received. In the education control group, 189 participants attended six, 2-hour group sessions over 12 weeks based on the Arthritis Foundation's Arthritis Self-Help Course a proven, effective model.
On joining the study, patients' pain and knee function were assessed using standard arthritis research survey instruments and measurement tools, such as the Western Ontario McMasters Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC). Patients' progress was assessed at 4, 8, 14, and 26 weeks. By week 8, participants receiving acupuncture were showing a significant increase in function and by week 14 a significant decrease in pain, compared with the sham and control groups. These results, shown by declining scores on the WOMAC index, held through week 26. Overall, those who received acupuncture had a 40 percent decrease in pain and a nearly 40 percent improvement in function compared to baseline assessments.
"This trial, which builds upon our previous NCCAM-funded research, establishes that acupuncture is an effective complement to conventional arthritis treatment and can be successfully employed as part of a multidisciplinary approach to treating the symptoms of osteoarthritis," said Dr. Berman.
Acupuncture the practice of inserting thin needles into specific body points to improve health and well-being originated in China more than 2,000 years ago. In 2002, acupuncture was used by an estimated 2.1 million U.S. adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 2002 National Health Interview Survey **. The acupuncture technique that has been most studied scientifically involves penetrating the skin with thin, solid, metallic needles that are manipulated by the hands or by electrical stimulation. In recent years, scientific inquiry has begun to shed more light on acupuncture's possible mechanisms and potential benefits, especially in treating painful conditions such as arthritis.
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) is dedicated to exploring complementary and alternative medical (CAM) practices in the context of rigorous science, training CAM researchers, and disseminating authoritative information to the public and professionals. For additional information, call NCCAM's Clearinghouse toll free at 1-888-644-6226, or visit the NCCAM Web site at nccam.nih.gov.
The mission of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) is to support research into the causes, treatment, and prevention of arthritis and musculoskeletal and skin diseases, the training of basic and clinical scientists to carry out this research, and the dissemination of information on research progress in these diseases. For additional information, call NIAMS's Clearinghouse toll free at 1-877-22-NIAMS, or visit the NIAMS Web site at www.niams.nih.gov.
For credentialed media: B-roll of acupuncture of the knee will be available through NCCAM. To request B-roll, call NCCAM's press office at 301-496-7790. A video news release (VNR) will also be available from the American College of Physicians, publishers of Annals of Internal Medicine. For VNR information, please contact Leigh Fazzina at 1-800-523-1546, ext. 2514. Interviews with the principal investigator, Dr. Brian Berman, may be arranged through Sharon Boston of the University of Maryland School of Medicine public affairs office at 410-328-8919. The Web site for the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine is www.compmed.umm.edu.
* Berman BM, Lao L, Langenberg P, Lee WL, Gilpin AMK, Hochberg MC. Effectiveness of Acupuncture as Adjunctive Therapy in Osteoarthritis of the Knee: A Randomized, Controlled Trial. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2004; 141(12):901-910.
** Barnes P, Powell-Griner E, McFann K, Nahin R. CDC Advance Data Report #343. Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use Among Adults: United States, 2002. May 27, 2004.
Thu Dec 16,10:02 AM ET Oddly Enough - Reuters
By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Jimmy Walter has spent more than $3 million promoting a conspiracy theory the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States were "an inside job" and he is offering more cash to anyone who proves him wrong.
The millionaire activist is so convinced of a government cover-up he is offering a $100,000 reward to any engineering student who can prove the World Trade Center buildings crashed the way the government says.
"Of course, we expect no winners," Walter, 57, heir to an $11 million fortune from his father's home building business, said in a telephone interview from California on Wednesday.
He said a panel of expert engineers would judge submissions from the students.
Next month, he also launches a nationwide contest seeking alternative theories from college and high school students about why New York's World Trade Center collapsed. The contest offers $10,000 to the best alternative theory, with 100 runner-up awards of $1,000. Winners will be chosen next June.
The World Trade Center's twin towers were destroyed after hijackers slammed two commercial airliners into them. The attack in New York killed 2,749 people.
Various official investigations give no credence to Walter's theory. A Sept. 11 commission spokesman did not return calls seeking comment.
Walter insists there had to be explosives planted in the twin towers to cause them to fall as they did, and also rejects the official explanation for the damage done at the Pentagon (news - web sites).
"We have all the proof," said Walter, citing videotapes and testimony from witnesses.
"It wasn't 19 screw-ups from Saudi Arabia who couldn't pass flight school who defeated the United States with a set of box cutters," he said. He dismissed the official Sept. 11 commission report, saying, "I don't trust any of these 'facts.'"
Walter has spent millions of dollars to bolster support for his case, running full-page ads in The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker and Newsweek, as well as alternative newspapers and 30-second TV spots.
He points to a Zogby poll he commissioned last summer that showed 66 percent of New Yorkers wanted the 9/11 investigation reopened.
Walter has spent about 30 percent of his net worth on his efforts.
"I am a patriot fighting the real traitors who are destroying our democracy. I resent it when they call me delusional," he said.
25 December 2004
Magazine issue 2479
Calling creationists irrational will get you nowhere. Far better to understand how their beliefs arose and how they're being exploited, says Mary Midgley GOD is back - at least in the science classrooms of rural America. The controversy over whether children should learn theological alternatives to the theory of evolution has reached feverish levels. Thirteen states are facing legal challenges over the issue. High-school biology textbooks in suburban Atlanta now carry stickers declaring "evolution is a theory not a fact". The school board in Dover, a town in Pennsylvania, has made the creationist theory of "intelligent design" mandatory in the biology curriculum.
The flare-up stems partly from the re-election of America's God-friendly president, but also from a provision in the No Child Left Behind Act, which requires the review of the science curriculum in every state over the next two years. Moreover, an amendment to that act recommends that schools should "teach the controversy" - in other words, teach all sides of the debate. Of course, the anti-evolution protesters are not seeking a ...
The complete article is 936 words long.
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Michael A. Lucido
Posted December 22 2004
The writer of the Dec. 14 letter, "Creationism is not a science," states: "The teaching of creationism is a religious belief, adopted by masses of people who could not conceive of any other possibility."
The writer must be unaware that these "masses of people" include scientists with doctorates from universities throughout the world, in various disciplines. These scientists, as well as many others, reach their conclusions based on examining the empirical evidence in support of their beliefs.
The writer goes on to state: "Evolution ... today is an established fact borne out by hard evidence." Again, the writer must be unaware of the fact that there exists no empirical evidence in support of the theory of macroevolution. It remains today as it has always been -- a theory.
The observable "changes that are taking place today" can be described as microevolution. That is, these changes happen within a group, but the descendants are clearly of the same type as the ancestor. This might better be called variation, or adaptation. Such changes might be accomplished by natural selection, or by artificial selection.
Macroevolution refers to major evolutionary changes over time, the origin of new types of organisms from previously existing, but different, ancestral types.
Today's evolutionists believe that random genetic mutations and natural selection are the mechanisms for macroevolution. They assume that the small microevolutionary changes lead to large macroevolutionary changes. The problem with this theory is that though science can and has observed microevolutionary changes, macroevolutionary changes have never been observed.
The scientific method requires the gathering of empirical evidence in
order to evaluate the merits of a theory. Evolutionists have had about
150 years for science to provide them with the supporting evidence
to back their claims. To date, science has not been able to provide
such evidence. Perhaps it is the evolutionists who remain faithful to a
theory without support because they cannot "conceive of any other
Mysore, Dec. 21 (MA)- Mrs. Agnes Barton, a Scientologist from the United States, has spent a great deal of time in Mysore, Bylakuppe and Hunsur this year to help Tibetans. Mrs. Agnes, along with her friends from Scientology, has conducted a series of workshops in Bylakuppe and Hunsur, teaching Tibetan Buddhist monks easy techniques developed by Mr. L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology, on how to help the body heal from injuries and accidents. "It was an amazing experience" says Mrs. Agnes. "Thousands of monks came to learn these simple but powerful techniques.
The most remarkable experience was that of an elderly Buddhist monk in Hunsur whose blood pressure dropped from 138/88 to 120/70 in just 40 minutes of applying one of the techniques and without medication," Mrs. Agnes explains. In collaboration with the Indo-Tibetan Friendship Society (ITFS) of Mysore, Mrs. Agnes has been conducting a series of lectures on Human Rights and on Mr. L. Ron Hubbard's The Way to Happiness, a commonsense guide to better living, to hundreds of students of different colleges and Universities in Mysore. The Indo Tibetan Friendship Society includes members who are Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Scientologists and other beliefs. The Society has worked hard this year to promote awareness of the Tibetan tragedy and on Dec. 19, they received an acknowledgment of their excellent work from His Holiness, the Dalai Lama in Hunsur.
December 21, 2004 ::
Scientology must be getting pretty desperate for recruits. The organization that boasts celebrity supporters such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta has literally gone underground in an apparent effort to dig up new members.
Devotees of the controversial church, which has been called a "cult," set up shop working shifts with their E-meters shilling "stress tests" to passer-byes in New York's Grand Central Station.
A concerned passenger also told CultNews that Scientologists could be seen doing the same around access points to the PATH trains, which links New Jersey residents to Manhattan.
Scientology's "stress test" often utilizes an "E-meter." This contraption involves holding metal cans connected to a box with a moving needle that supposedly measures the mind, or at least that what Scientologists believe as an article of faith.
The founder of Scientology L. Ron Hubbard reportedly claimed that the E-meter could register mental aberrations or "engrams" caused by traumas.
Counseling or "auditing" sessions within Scientology use the E-meter to help knock out those nasty engrams.
Hubbard once reportedly claimed this process could cure blindness and even improve a person's intelligence and appearance.
Maybe that's what makes Tom Cruise so smart and gave John Travolta his good looks?
However, it doesn't seem to be working so well for Kirstie Alley lately. The star of the new show "Fat Actress" now weighs in at over 200.
For more details about Scientology and its wares see Time Magazine's "Scientology the Cult of Greed."
But now back to the Scientologists working NYC subways for fresh recruits.
A concerned passenger told CultNews that the MTA transit authority was contacted to find out if it's legal for these religious recruiters to go underground in Manhattan.
It turns out that Scientology may be breaking some rules.
"We regret if you experienced difficulty while using our subway system," MTA responded. "Please be aware that the Transit Bureau of the New York City Police Department is vigilant in thwarting illegal activity in the subway system, and maintains an extensive police presence with officers patrolling our facilities at all times, both in uniform and undercover," the official advised.
MTA also said, "Supervision in the Transit Bureau has been alerted to the conditions you reported at the 42nd Street-Grand Central Station, and will take steps to deploy their officers accordingly. In addition, personnel in our Division of Station Operations will monitor the location in question and any illegal activity observed will be reported immediately to field supervision."
But why is Scientology so desperate that its devotees are working underground?
Can it be that its aging stars are no longer the draw they once were?
Maybe Madonna and her Kabbalah Centre "cult," which includes Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, Ashton Kutcher and other younger stars, has effectively bumped the old Hollywood "cult" favorite.
Perhaps the subways may soon replace Scientology's "Celebrity Centers" and the tabloids as the most common venue to learn about the controversial church.
[Posted by Rick Ross at 01:48 PM][Link]
By MICHAEL C. DORF
Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2004
Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the Dover, Pennsylvania School Board. The ACLU argues that the School Board violated the Constitution's Establishment Clause by mandating that students in public school biology classes be taught the theory of "intelligent design" as an alternative to evolution.
Proponents of intelligent design--which is closely related to what is sometimes called "creationism"--point to gaps in the fossil record and other uncertainties to argue that evolution by natural selection cannot explain the emergence of new species. They contend instead that an intelligent agent must have been guiding the course of life on Earth.
Evolution opponents have recently scored political victories outside Dover, Pennsylvania as well. In Cobb County, Georgia, public school textbooks discussing evolution must now contain a disclaimer warning that evolution is "a theory, not a fact." That policy, too, is the subject of pending litigation.
And the November election returns in Kansas have given critics of evolution a majority on that state's school board. It is only a matter of time until Kansas mandates the teaching of alternatives to evolution.
Yet Supreme Court precedent holds that state-sponsored attacks on evolution in the public schools are unconstitutional. Why, then, are evolution opponents in Dover, Cobb County and Kansas, trying to change curricula? Aren't these efforts doomed to fail once they are challenged in court? Are the evolution opponents engaging in mere symbolic protest?
The surprising answer is: Perhaps not. That is because the leading Supreme Court decision, in the 1987 case of Edwards v. Aguillard, contains an apparent loophole that evolution's critics may hope to exploit.
Aguillard appears to rest on the Justices' finding that the proponents of theories like intelligent design were subjectively motivated by religion. Accordingly, by keeping their religious motivation secret, proponents of the policies in Dover, Cobb County, and elsewhere may hope to evade the Aguillard decision.
However, as I argue below, this evasion should not succeed. Instead, the First Amendment should be construed to bar the mandatory teaching of intelligent design regardless of the purposes expressed by those imposing the mandate.
The Aguillard Decision: Barring Teaching of Creation Science in Public Schools
In the Dover case, the ACLU contends that the "intelligent agent" in intelligent design theory is simply God in disguise, and that the Dover policy therefore amounts to an unconstitutional establishment of religion. At first blush, the Supreme Court's Aguillard decision would appear to support the ACLU's position.
In Aguillard, the high court invalidated a Louisiana law that forbade the teaching of evolution in public school unless "creation science" was taught alongside it as an alternative. There, as in Dover, the law made no express reference to God or to any religion. Yet the Justices nonetheless found that its purpose "was to restructure the science curriculum to conform with a particular religious viewpoint."
How did the Court know that was the purpose of the Louisiana law? Justice Brennan's opinion looked at two sorts of evidence. First, and unproblematically, it examined the law's actual requirements, to show that the law did not further "academic freedom," as the law itself stated it was meant to do.
Nothing in Louisiana law had previously barred critical analysis of evolution, the Court observed, and so the actual impact of the law was to narrow, rather than broaden, the curriculum.
But the Court went beyond the objective evidence of what the Louisiana law did, invoking its legislative history as further proof that it was impermissibly designed to advance religion. In particular, Justice Brennan's opinion focused attention on the expressed views of the law's principal sponsor.
The Potential Loophole in Aguillard: The Role of Subjective Motive
Justice Scalia, joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist, dissented from the Aguillard ruling. These Justices took special exception to the majority's reliance on evidence of the subjective motives of the legislators who enacted the Louisiana law. In their view, the "purpose" of the Louisiana legislature in enacting the challenged law was necessarily a fiction--a composite of the multiple and mixed motives of the many people composing the legislature.
Justice Scalia's seemingly categorical criticism of any constitutional inquiry into subjective purpose was somewhat overstated. There are other areas of the law in which even Justice Scalia himself accepts that subjective legislative purpose holds the key to a law's constitutionality. For example, under the Court's Equal Protection doctrine, a law that has a disproportionate negative impact on a racial group will be held invalid if, but only if, the law was adopted for the subjective purpose of disadvantaging members of the racial group. To my knowledge, neither Justice Scalia nor Chief Justice Rehnquist has disavowed or even criticized this principle.
Nonetheless, the broader point of Justice Scalia's Aguillard dissent is valid. Legislative purpose is something that courts construct, rather than simply find.
Furthermore, clever legislators can readily evade a constitutional rule that depends on finding evidence of an illicit purpose. The legislators merely need to watch what they say in favor of the bill, expressly relying only on permissible factors.
Whether the members of the Dover School Board were sufficiently disciplined to survive scrutiny of their motives remains to be seen. But the broader lesson that foes of evolution should take from Aguillard is clear: Strictly avoid any reference to religion in your arguments for the laws you seek to enact, even if you secretly favor these laws on religious grounds.
How to Close the Aguillard Loophole
Nonetheless, if Aguillard is interpreted sensibly, even such a strategy of referring only to secular arguments should fail. After all, Justice Brennan's opinion in Aguillard does not state that the Louisiana law would have been valid if only its sponsor had not slipped in acknowledging a religious motive.
Indeed, as Justice Scalia noted, the law's sponsor "repeatedly and vehemently denied that his purpose was to advance a particular religious doctrine." The sponsor's statements quoted by Justice Brennan merely showed that his true aim was not to increase the diversity of biological viewpoints taught in the Louisiana schools.
Thus, the better reading of the Aguillard opinion makes the constitutionality of a law challenged on Establishment Clause grounds depend on its objective purpose--the purpose or purposes that a reasonable person would attribute to the legislature, in light of what the law actually requires. Justice Brennan's opinion saw through the sponsor's stated aim, to his true aim. In the Dover case and other litigation involving intelligent design, the courts ought to be able to do the same.
Discerning the Objective Purpose of the Dover Policy: Why it Matters Whether Intelligent Design is a Scientific Theory
But how should courts go about attributing a purpose to the proponents of laws mandating the teaching of intelligent design? The obvious answer is to ask whether intelligent design is a valid scientific theory.
To be clear, there is no general constitutional requirement that public school students be taught the truth. For example, suppose a school board mandates that high school American history courses emphasize inspiring moments from our past--entirely omitting the shameful treatment of Native Americans, the enslavement of millions of African Americans, and the internment of Japanese Americans. Certainly, the school board would thereby do its students and the community a disservice, but it would not violate any provision of the Constitution with its highly selective history classes.
Nor is science, or even evolution, different. In the old Soviet Union, children were taught Lamarck's view that acquired characteristics are inherited by the next generation--long after that view, as a matter of science, had been discredited. Why? For a political reason: That biological theory fit nicely with Communist ideology about the malleability of man and the natural world. Suppose, for whatever reason, that a contemporary American school board wished to handicap its students by teaching them Lamarckian rather than Darwinian evolution. The Constitution would be no obstacle to such a foolish policy.
But given the social reality, "intelligent design" is different. It is an allegedly scientific theory that bears a striking resemblance to religious views. When the government mandates that students be taught such a theory, courts are rightly suspicious.
At that point, a court should ask whether intelligent design is, in fact, a scientific theory at all. It should do so, not because of any general obligation on the part of schools to teach science correctly, but simply because if intelligent design is not science, then the inference is almost inescapable that the state is impermissibly acting for the purpose of fostering a religious viewpoint.
Is Intelligent Design a Scientific Theory?
Thus we come to the crucial question: Is intelligent design a scientific theory? If by intelligent design, one means the Biblical account of God's creation of the world in six days, the answer is clearly no. Science is based on empirical observation rather than acceptance of divinely revealed truth.
However, most versions of intelligent design offered as alternatives to Darwinian evolution do not insist on the literal truth of the book of Genesis. Rather, they contend that gaps in evolutionary theory can only be plugged by the assumption that an intelligent agent has guided the development of life on Earth.
Some proponents of intelligent design do raise real objections to current understandings of Darwinian evolution. Based on my own reading of the intelligent design literature, it appears that its two strongest arguments point to the general absence of intermediate forms in the fossil record, and to unanswered questions about how certain new, complex patterns of animal bodies could have arisen through random mutation and natural selection.
Nonetheless, for two reasons, it appears that intelligent design is not a scientific theory.
The First Reason Intelligent Design Is Not a Scientific Theory: Conflating Uncertainty with Error
First, insofar as it offers itself as a critique of standard Darwinian evolution, intelligent design cherry-picks uncertainties at the edge of our knowledge, and asserts that these undermine our core understandings. But the fact that some phenomena remain unexplained by natural selection hardly shows that natural selection--which provides a powerful organizing principle for vast swaths of biological data--will not eventually provide the best account of these phenomena.
Consider an analogy. Our best current understanding of gravity remains mysterious because the most ambitious efforts to unify gravity with other forces in the universe--comprising so-called superstring theories or M-theory--have not been empirically tested. Yet that hardly calls into question the principal analytical tools of modern physics.
If the intelligent designers were to apply the same criticisms to physics that they apply to evolution, they would have to say that gravity, too, is "just a theory." However, the fact of Darwinian evolution is as real as the fact of gravity. To be sure, our understanding of each phenomenon is incomplete, but the scientific approach to plugging gaps in our knowledge is not to create a new-anti-theory that dismisses the underlying phenomenon.
The Second Reason Intelligent Design Is Not a Scientific Theory: It Isn't an Explanation
The second problem with intelligent design is even more fundamental: It does not actually explain anything.
Darwinian evolution by natural selection posits a mechanism that explains how species change over time: As environmental conditions change, individual members of a species with traits suited to the new environment survive and reproduce in greater numbers than those lacking the traits. And so, over time, and aided by randomly occurring occasionally adaptive mutations, the species evolves to adapt to the new conditions.
By contrast, what does it mean to say that species arise or change through "intelligent design?" Certainly the term connotes intervention by some intelligent agent. But are the intelligent agent's interventions themselves subject to the laws of the natural world, or are they supernatural?
Even if one is prepared to accept the possibility that science could, without sacrificing its essential premises, include accounts of supernatural phenomena, the concept of "intelligent design," standing alone, is simply a label, not an account.
To press the physics analogy, in classical mechanics, Newton's law of gravity--according to which the attraction between two bodies increases in proportion to the product of their masses and decreases in proportion to the square of their distance--was for many years viewed as problematic, because it described action at a distance. Scientists wondered: How did distant celestial bodies transmit their masses and positions to one another across space, such that they moved instantaneously in reaction?
To a substantial extent, Einstein's theory of general relativity solved the action-at-a-distance puzzle, but suppose that prior to Einstein someone had proposed that gravity worked through the operation of an "intelligent agent." It would have been a perfectly valid objection to this proposal that it isn't an explanation at all, but merely a restatement of the problem. For now, we must ask how the intelligent agent accomplishes action at a distance.
In both biology and physics, in other words, supernatural phenomena may be conceivable. But for an account of such phenomena to qualify as science, it must do more than simply posit an intervention from outside the ordinary natural order. It must also explain how the intervening agent interacts with the natural world. Otherwise, it is simply an article of faith rather than a scientific explanation.
Will Courts Have the Confidence to Declare That Intelligent Design is Not Science?
Accordingly, absent either radical changes in nearly everything we know about biology, or a wholesale reformulation of the tenets of intelligent design, the latter should not be deemed a legitimate scientific theory. And if intelligent design is not science, then it follows that the objective purpose of those who would have it taught alongside evolution in the public schools is to advance a religious view.
Nonetheless, I worry that courts may lack the confidence to declare the mandatory teaching of intelligent design in public schools unconstitutional on the grounds that it is unscientific. As lawyers, most judges lack any serious training in science, and thus may not be comfortable saying what is, and what is not, science.
But the alternative suggested by the Aguillard opinion--of relying simply on the subjective purpose of those who mandate the teaching of so-called alternatives to evolution--is far worse. For while judges can learn enough science to distinguish the real from the fake, they can only ever guess at what legislators are thinking.
Michael C. Dorf is the Michael I. Sovern Professor of Law at Columbia University in New York City. His book, Constitutional Law Stories, is published by Foundation Press, and tells the stories behind fifteen leading constitutional cases.
December 20, 2004
Recently I saw some news segments that featured debate on whether the teaching of Intelligent Design, should be curriculum taught along side of evolution in public school science classes. The individual taking the side of evolution was cornered at one point, regarding the origin of matter itself. He repeated the often heard mantra that the universe and corresponding matter composing it simply have always existed. What a classic example of "blind religious faith," I thought, particularly for someone who persists in characterizing the issue as science versus faith.
The first time that I heard the concept of evolution presented as a religion or philosophy, I snickered at the audacity of such a proposition. But the more I have taken notice of how the arguments are made, the more I see the religious aspects of the evolutionary position.
Let's draw an imperfect, but illustrative analogy to the position of the atheist above. Suppose I come home from work one day noticing that my neighbor's long grass has been cut. I say to my wife that my neighbor must have cut the grass with his lawnmower. My wife demurs, saying that the grass cut itself. Are these equivalently sufficient explanations as to how the lawn was cut? In one case we have a purposeful and intelligent agent, using a specific means to accomplish a goal. In the other case, you have an inanimate object acted upon itself without purpose. And notice that the explanation of the neighbor cutting the grass with his lawnmower is meaningful, without any discussion of where the neighbor, lawnmower or the grass came from. In like manner, saying that matter has always existed, is not an equivalent argument to saying that the universe was created by God.
Another canard employed in this debate, is that evolution is "scientific," whereas ID is religious mythology. But does evolution itself qualify as a scientific theory, or like Creationism, is it a metaphysical theory? Anyone who has taken an introductory class in the Philosophy of Science, knows a few basic tenets regarding scientific inquiry. First of all, only observational or naturalistic evidence is accepted. If the inquirer asks a how or why question, then develops a hypothesis, it must be testable, and thus subject to falsification before it can move beyond that point. In which respects can any evolutionary theory meet this test? The evolutionist who says that the "fact"of evolution proves the non-existence of God, must derive such information outside the parameters of empirical scientific methods a realm that he claims contains no meaningful truth. Thus, such a claim is that of religious dogmatism. Any masonry regardless of its ornate design or quality composition cannot be stacked four feet in mid air without a solid foundation. Those who claim evolutionary theories can do away with the need for God are attempting to do just that philosophically speaking.
There is also a question of evidence. No evidence is neutral in the sense that it requires no interpretations. Interpretations themselves depend on the assumptions of the interpreter. This, at least in part, accounts for discrepancies of opinion in those who say there are no transitional forms in the fossil record, and those who claim there are many. It seems curious though, that some evolutionists and non-theists, such as Stephen J. Gould and Francis Crick, were not comfortable with the classical Darwinian paradigm of gradual changes via natural selection. Both came up with theories of origin, which made the need for intermediate types a non factor. Why would that be expedient if it were not essential?
But there are logical dilemmas that must be accounted for in any cogent philosophical analysis of theory formation. In Gould's model of "punctuated equilibrium," we see evolution happening in fits and starts, rather than more gradually. But if adaptations of the species by natural selection (survival of the fittest), to environmental changes, are the catalyst of classic Darwinian theory, what mechanism propels change in Gould's paradigm? Imagine a group of engineers with the task of making motor vehicles more fuel efficient. They agree that by removing the engine, they will make the vehicle lighter and more aerodynamic, thus accomplishing the objective. But do you suppose that by closing the hood, they can hide the fact, or convince anyone, that the vehicle can be propelled with the energy source removed?
In Crick's theory, we see the formation of intelligence on earth as a function of a more progression race from outer space (directed panspermia). But this assertion results in an infinite regress that does nothing to eliminate the need for God as the initial uncaused cause. How can Crick's hypothesis be seen as anything more than a non-theistic version of blind religious faith? Here we see brilliant men willing to run a fool's errand on a treadmill suspended over a quicksand pit. And for what reason to rationalize away the existence of God?
Of course I will get many angry replies to what I have said so far. I will be told that I misrepresented these ideas; that I am an idiot; or that my ignorance is neglecting the details and the technical nomenclature of these propositions. And that is generally the way the argument is debated. Either you believe in evolution by default, or else there is no place for you at the table of credibility. There is no objective forum to convey honest skepticism without banishment.
We must also denounce the farce of objectivity. Science is supposed to take you where the evidence leads, and must have a patina of skepticism about it. Yet how many evolutionists are rooting for the universe to be a specific way, namely without an ultimate purpose or meaning. I have noted in previous editorials, statements by either Gould, professor Nagel, and Aldous Huxley, that are steeped in this sort of bias. That is religion and not science.
I don't believe ID is necessarily science, in the way science has been defined in this piece. ID simply asks the question of whether the data can be best understood according to the presumption that the universe was generated through spontaneous creation. We ought to conduct an investigation to find out. Both evolution and ID are metaphysical theories. If academic freedom is paramount, where one treads, the other should be allowed to follow.
Robert Meyer is a hardy soul who hails from the Cheesehead country of the upper midwest. Robert is known by his opponents as a "clever rhetorician" who often exposes the fallacies of knee-jerk arguments presented in local papers. Seeking to develop precepts for every aspect of life based on a conservative Christian worldview Robert often gleans inspiration from looking off his back deck, over the scenic Fox river and recalling the wise counsel of those who mentored him. To bark about this editorial, contact Robert at Junkyarddog58@msn.com.
© Copyright 2004 by Robert Meyer
According to Subhra Jain, a freelance reporter in New Delhi, she bumped into a very senior Indian Military official in a nightclub in New Delhi. While talking what she came to know will make the rest of the world sit up all night. According to her, Extra Terrestrials have been visiting India and the rest of the world for thousands of years. In recent days most of the super powers have been formally contacted. India is no exception in recent days.
'They always contact through the ground radar stations of the military', she says. Indian Himalayas and Ladakh (China-India) border is where they first made their recent contact. They want to let India know the laws and regulation of the multidimensional Universe.
India is planning an un-manned moon and later an unmanned Mars expedition. India's premier Space Research Organization (ISRO) has been told "dos and don'ts".
Almost in the same week, a Flight Commodore who just retired from Indian Air Force, was requested in Bangalore, India, to provide a little talk on any topic to his youngest son's class mates in the school environment. Guess what he picked as the topic yes you got it right it was the underground landing base for UFO crafts in Ladakh. He first started by saying new technology is evolving and new achievements are being made in Aerospace. The students stared questioning him on different aspects of this new technologies and where this technology came from! Then the students started challenging him if he was really joking at that moment he started providing vivid descriptions of the landing base.
Ladakh is a land like no other. Bounded by two of the world's mightiest mountain ranges, the Great Himalaya and the Karakoram, it lies athwart two other, the Ladakh range and the Zanskar range. Ladakh lies at altitudes ranging from about 9,000 feet (2750m) at Kargil to 25,170 feet (7,672m) at Saser Kangri in the Karakoram. Thus summer temperatures rarely exceed about 27 degree Celsius in the shade, while in winter they may plummet to minus 20 degree Celsius even in Leh. Surprisingly, though, the thin air makes the heat of the sun even more intense than at lower altitudes; it is said that only in Ladakh can a man sitting in the sun with his feet in the shade suffer from sunstroke and frostbite at the same time!
In Leh, Ladakh, according to Tsering Spalzang, a senior official, any paranormal activities are happening with the knowledge of the Indian Army. There are zones that Indian Army and Air Force block for security reasons. The Ladakh valley is heavily secured by the Indian Government. It is a sensitive area and no one is lowed in these sensitive areas neither from Indian side nor from Chinese side. The terrain is such that it is impossible to find hidden underground structures under massive mountains you are looking at core Himalayas.
The Petroleum Ministry when asked about recent high oil price, said that India is developing alternative energy sources with advanced technologies. When asked about, what kind of alternative technologies, the spokesperson hurried brought the press conference to a quick end by saying those are really classified information.
Indian Government has decided to spend enormous amount of money to develop the Kashmir and Ladakh road infrastructure. Even they plan to use the Foreign Exchange Reserves for this.
According to rumors in New Delhi, UFOs made formal contact with Indian Government. The Government was initially baffled without knowing how to react. Later things became quiet and it seems all understand that these Extra Terrestrials are friendly.
Kargil and Ladakh are hotspots in Kashmir India, which will probably see first Nuke exchange if that ever happens. Three countries face each other there with Nuke capabilities - India, China and Pakistan.
In 1999, Pakistan and India almost went head to head exchanging Nukes for a war on Kargil. Indian Army fought will full vigor against an enemy holding higher grounds. Pakistan planned to go all out on Kargil. India at that moment has no choice but to apply the nuclear arsenal.
At the insistence of US President Bill Clinton, Pakistan at the last moment backed out and the Nuke war was avoided.
From that time onwards, according local residents and Indian Army personnel, that area has seen the maximum numbers of UFOs and Extra Terrestrial presence.
An unexplained phenomenon akin to a space-borne car wash has boosted the performance of one of the two US rovers probing the surface of Mars, New Scientist magazine said.
It said something - or someone - had regularly cleaned layers of dust from the solar panels of the Mars Opportunity vehicle while it was closed down during the Martian night.
The cleaning had boosted the panels' power output close to their maximum 900 watt-hours per day after at one stage dropping to 500 watt-hours because of the heavy Martian dirt.
By contrast, the power output of the solar panels of Mars Spirit - on a different part of the Red Planet - had dropped to just 400 watt-hours a day, clogged by the heavy dust.
"These exciting and unexplained cleaning events have kept Opportunity in really great shape," the magazine quoted NASA rover team leader Jim Erickson as saying.
By LAURIE COPANS
Associated Press Writer
CANA, Israel (AP) -- Among the roots of ancient olive trees, archaeologists have found pieces of large stone jars of the type the Gospel says Jesus used when he turned water into wine at a Jewish wedding in the Galilee village of Cana.
They believe these could have been the same kind of vessels the Bible says Jesus used in his first miracle, and that the site where they were found could be the location of biblical Cana. But Bible scholars caution it'll be hard to obtain conclusive proof - especially since experts disagree on exactly where Cana was located.
Christian theologians attach great significance to the water-to-wine miracle at Cana. The act was not only Jesus' first miracle, but it also came at a crucial point in the early days of his public ministry - when his reputation was growing, he had just selected his disciples and was under pressure to demonstrate his divinity.
The shards were found during a salvage dig in modern-day Cana, between Nazareth and Capernaum. Israeli archaeologist Yardena Alexander believes the Arab town was built near the ancient village. The jar pieces date to the Roman period, when Jesus traveled in the Galilee.
"All indications from the archaeological excavations suggest that the site of the wedding was (modern-day) Cana, the site that we have been investigating," said Alexander, as she cleaned the site of mud from winter rains.
However, American archaeologists excavating a rival site several miles to the north have also found pieces of stone jars from the time of Jesus, and believe they have found biblical Cana.
Another expert, archaeologist Shimon Gibson, cast doubt on the find at modern Cana, since such vessels are not rare and it would be impossible to link a particular set of vessels to the miracle.
"Just the existence of stone vessels is not enough to prove that this is a biblical site," and more excavations are needed, he said.
Based on the shards, Alexander believes the vessels found at her site were 12 to 16 inches in diameter - or large enough to be the same type of jars described in the Gospel of John.
Other evidence that might link the site to the biblical account includes the presence of a Jewish ritual bath at the house, which shows it was a Jewish community. Locally produced pottery was used at the simple house, showing it could have been from the poor village described in the Scriptures.
Stephen Pfann, a Bible scholar in Jerusalem, said that while the American dig has generally been accepted by scholars as the true site, the shards found in modern-day Cana raise new questions.
"I think there is ample evidence that both sites are from the first century, and we need more information to correctly identify either site," Pfann said.
Alexander has been digging in modern Cana since 1999.
The current find came in a last-ditch "salvage dig" before a house is built on the site. A Christian Arab family financed part of the excavation, in accordance with Israeli law, before construction can begin.
Alexander believes that with more substantial investment, the site could became a major tourist attraction and pilgrimage destination.
"We're really working very hard to save some of this site because what we do have here is a village of Jesus," she said. "And it was here that he carried out the first miracle."
Dec. 21, 2004, 11:36AM
LONGVIEW Mel Gabler, who reviewed public school textbooks for more than 40 years and testified before state regulators on their contents, has died. He was 89.
Funeral services were scheduled for Wednesday afternoon at Mobberly Baptist Church, with burial to follow in Memory Park Cemetery.
Gabler, who died Sunday, was a conservative who emphasized accuracy and a Christian perspective in his critiques of children's schoolbooks. With wife Norma, he started reviewing classroom textbooks for accuracy and content after finding errors in one of their son's texts in 1961.
The Gablers founded a nonprofit Christian-focused group, Educational Research Analysts, to examine textbooks under consideration for adoption by the Texas State Board of Education.
"There's no way of knowing a total impact of it, but certainly publishers have had to exercise a lot more editorial responsibility than they would have if Mr. Gabler had not done the work he did," Neal Frey, a senior textbook analyst for the Gablers' group, said.
The Gablers met repeatedly with state board members and textbook publishers. They tallied an annual roll sheet of the number of factual errors found in history, math, science and other books each year.
The state in 1992 fined textbooks publishers about $1 million for hundreds of errors the Gablers found in 10 U.S. history books after publishers and the state had approved them. The couple had earlier questioned why, in one history book, movie star Marilyn Monroe received six pages while the United States' first president George Washington had only a few paragraphs.
Grace Shore of Longview, a former education state board member, said she didn't always agree with the couple, but "I think all of us looked at things more carefully because of the Gablers."
"They were the first, as far as I know, to try to get the textbooks to be better," she said.
Mel Gabler, an Air Force veteran, worked at Exxon for 39 years before co-founding the Longview-based analyst group with his wife of 62
years. She survives him along with sons James Gabler of Phoenix and Paul Gabler of Houston.
[World News]: New York, Dec 20 : Evangelical Christians, credited with having significantly helped President George W. Bush win his re-election, have a new agenda - include Creationism instead of Evolution in biology text books.
Such Christians, driven by their religious convictions, believe the world was created in a specified time period and are now dividing Dover, a small rural town in Pennsylvania, where a public school runs the risk of being taken over by such beliefs.
Those who support Evolution as the basis of the way life developed on earth fear that extremist Christians want to undermine that scientific theory.
But those who support Creationism say Evolution is just another theory and there should be place in schools for different beliefs, including the one that god created the universe.
To couch the starkly religious language, such advocates have been arguing the case of "intelligent design" which holds that the universe and life are so complex they ought to have been conceived by a designer.
Some 40 of the 52 states in the US are witnessing debate on the issue as well as some legal challenges.
Media reports say that with their new-found political clout, evangelical Christians want to impose religious beliefs, including about abortion and a woman's right to choose, on people.
School textbooks in many states carry a sticker that says "theory, not fact" while talking about Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.
The Evolution versus Creationism debate has exercised public passion in the US for decades. Some 80 years ago, Edward Scopes, a schoolteacher in Tennessee, was convicted for teaching Evolution in what became known as the Scope "monkey trial.
A Gallup poll last month found 45 percent of Americans believed the universe and life were created by god in the last 10,000 years.
The debate is now expected to go to the Supreme Court.
The pro-Creationism advocates have lately cast the issue as a matter of free speech, saying they have as much right to propagate it as those who believe in Evolution.
With conservatism gaining ground in America and a government in Washington well disposed towards the politics of religion, many say it may not be surprising if the pro-Creationism lobby gains ground.
Arguing in support of Creationism from the standpoints of free speech and "intelligent design" takes away some of the openly religious rationale. However, pro-Evolution activists say it is a "hidden agenda" for Christianity.
--Indo-Asian News Service
Children in a Pennsylvania town will be taught that God made the world, igniting a debate which splits the US. Andrew Buncombe reports from Dover
20 December 2004
Was the landscape around the small town of Dover in Pennsylvania created in just six days? Were the gently curving hills perfected, the streams formed and finished, the wide, empty skies fixed in place beneath the firmament and the narrow wooded valleys completed? Was it all really done in less than a week?
It was, at least according to the creationist beliefs of much of the town's population of 1,800, who have little time for Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. And their fundamental beliefs are set to gain further currency.
As of next month, in a hugely controversial move, the town's high school will become the first in the US for several generations to teach a form of creationism as part of its curriculum.
But the controversy that has split the town of Dover, an hour's drive north of Baltimore, is not simply some local squabble. Rather it is a debate that is taking place in communities across the US.
Classrooms, courtrooms, public places, even the very pledges that officials swear when taking office have become the focus of a bitterly contested and growing dispute about whether Christianity should be officially incorporated into civic life or if there should be a real and meaningful separation of church and state.
It is a row that has pitched Christian against Christian, scientist against scientist. It has led to accusations of lies and deliberate misrepresentation and even claims that America is turning its back on its traditions. And now that President George Bush, a bornagain evangelical, has won a second term in office with the assistance of a large turnout by evangelicals at the polls, the dispute is likely to get even more heated.
At the eye of this storm is Dover, where a legal battle that could end up costing local taxpayers very dear has been launched.
"I was very surprised. I would not have thought it [would come to this]," said Steven Sough, one of 11 parents who last week filed a lawsuit with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to try to prevent the change to the curriculum, arguing it would breach the US Constitution. "I have a daughter, Ashley, who will be 14 in two-weeks time. This is a personal issue. I want her learning science at school. I want her learning religion at home with me or at church."
The dispute in Dover blew up in October when the elected members of the district school board voted 6-3 that the biology course for 15-year-olds should be amended to include a theory about the origins of life known as intelligent design or ID.
The proponents of ID claim life is so complex that its origins must in some way have been directed by a supernatural actor. The Seattle-based Discovery Institute, a leading proponent of ID theory, says "certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection".
In addition to ordering that pupils be taught about ID and "made aware in the gaps or problems in Darwin's theory", the board arranged for the donation to the school of 60 copies of a controversial biology book, Of Pandas and People. Copies of the text, which is critical of Darwin's "natural selection", were placed in the classrooms for pupils to browse.
After a meeting of the board on 18 October, two members, Carol and Jeff Brown, resigned in protest. The Browns, both Christians, said they believed religion had no place in science. "This country was founded on the belief of freedom of religion and freedom from religion," said Mrs Brown, sitting at her kitchen table, knitting with a ball of electric-blue wool. Her husband said he also had practical concerns. "It is going to get shot-down in court. We cannot afford it."
The lawsuit filed last week by the ACLU, accuses the school board of breaching the First Amendment of the US Constitution which prohibits the establishment of an official religion.
In its lawsuit it argued: "ID is a non-scientific argument or assertion, made in opposition to the scientific theory of evolution that an intelligent, supernatural actor has intervened in the history of life and that life 'owes its origin to a master intellect'." It also noted that in 1987 the US Supreme Court ruled that creationism was a religious belief that could not be taught alongside evolution.
The school board has insisted it is not trying to force religion into the classroom. Vice-president Heather Geesey said its aim was simply to make information about ID available. "All I want to do is have anything the kids [could] learn, there for them to learn. That is our job, to teach children everything we can. "I think [the row] has been [ the result of] a misconception. Most of the people I know are in favour of it, or else are once I explain it."
But what of intelligent design? Is it, as critics claim, simply creationsim-lite? Glenn Branch, vice-president of the National Centre for Science Education, which promotes Darwinism, said: "There is nothing wrong with the idea of a creator but teaching it as [a part of science] leads to detriment of both religion and science. There is a blurring of the two and it involves a lot of misrepresentation of science."
The Discovery Institute's Centre for Science and Culture counters that labelling creationism and ID together is simply an attempt by Darwinists to limit scientific debate. Rob Crowther, a spokesman for the group, said: "We advocate that schools teach more about evolution, not less. We think that the scientific challenges to Darwinian evolution should be discussed in the classroom, but that is much different from teaching any alternative theory."
And what about Of Pandas and People? Now more than 15 years old, the book is considered one of the seminal texts of ID. One of its co-authors, Dean Kenyon, a controversial academic, is a fellow of the right-leaning Discovery Institute.
But Professor Kenneth Miller of Brown University's biology department, who wrote a stinging critique of the text during an earlier creationism row in Kansas, said: "It's an awful book. It's filled with scientific mistakes and misrepresentations. It is also out of date."
It is clear from even a day in the quiet town of Dover that behind the rather academic argument about the strengths and weaknesses of Darwinism and about its alleged gaps, the debate that is taking place here, as elsewhere across the US, is really about two fundamentally different views of the world. One says that America has for too long been in retreat from its Christian traditions while the other argues that America's very traditions include a separation of church and state.
In Dover, for instance, while the proponents of ID insist they do not wish to put religion in the classroom, they readily admit their own fundamentalist beliefs. The move to change the curriculum was initiated by a school board member, William Buckingham, who at one public meeting declared: "Two thousand years ago, someone died on a cross. Can't someone take a stand for him?"
Mr Buckingham has declined to speak to reporters but his wife, Charlotte, who works at one of the town's evangelical churches, told The Independent: "All ID is saying is that the origin of life is so complex that it had to be created by a higher power. That is all it says. It gives the students a chance of going to think about that."
Asked whether she believed schools ought to be allowed to teach religion, she said: "There are many people who homeschool their children because they cannot get what want they want elsewhere, the truth about what we believe about our creator."
Rumours suggest that the 60 copies of Pandas were donated to the school by Irene and Don Bonsell, whose son is a board member. Mrs Bonsell, who described herself as a creationist, refused to confirm or deny whether they had donated the books. She said she approved of the books being available to the students even though she also denied religion was being placed in the classroom. "I think it's a good idea that students should learn this theory," she said. "I'm a creationist. I don't understand what the problem is [with ID]. It's another theory. Darwinism has never been proved, it's just a theory. They are trying to take God out of everything, out of the pledge, off our money."
Pandas also has evangelical links. The book is published by the Texas-based Foundation for Truth and Ethics, a small conservative think-tank which has published two other books, one promoting abstinence before marriage and another which disputes that America's founding principles came from Greek, Roman and Enlightenment traditions but rather from Christianity.
The foundation's president, John Buell, who formerly worked to promote Christianity on university campuses, said Pandas was not a religious book even though he conceded that ID implied a "supernatural power". In Dover, the school board will meet lawyers this week to discuss its options and decide whether to go ahead with the changes to the curriculum and fight the lawsuit. The members' decision will be carefully scrutinised not just by the townsfolk of Dover but by school boards across the US which are considering similar measures.
In Grantsburg, Wisconsin, for instance, a school board has revised its curriculum to teach "various scientific models of theories of origin" though it has since argued that it will only be teaching students "about the controversy surrounding evolution" and not ID.
In Charles County, Maryland, the school board is considering a proposal to eliminate textbooks "biased toward evolution" from classrooms. Similar proposals have been considered this year in Missouri, Mississippi and Oklahoma. In Cobb County, Georgia, school textbooks have for the last two years contained a sticker which informs students: "Evolution is a theory, not a fact."
Indeed, if recent polls are accurate, the Dover school board members may not be lacking in support. A poll last month by Gallup suggested that 45 per cent of Americans believe that humans were created by God in their current form within the past 10,000 years.
It is less clear what the students in Dover think about the proposed changes. On a freezing afternoon last week, Melissa Owen, 16, and 18-year-old Alex Jones, were waiting for a lift home. They both believed that the teaching of ID should be allowed in classes that were elective rather than mandatory.
Melissa confirmed that all the students were talking about the controversy. "It was freezing today, there was no heat," she said. "People were joking that the school was saving money to pay for the lawsuit."
21 December 2004 05:30
Posted on Mon, Dec. 20, 2004
DOVER, Pa. - A school board that is requiring students to learn about alternatives to the theory of evolution was expected to discuss its defense against a federal lawsuit filed by eight families who oppose a new "intelligent design" mandate.
The Dover Area School District board was scheduled to meet Monday night to consider retaining a nonprofit law center that describes itself as a defender of Christians' religious beliefs, the Thomas More Law Center of Ann Arbor, Mich., as its legal counsel.
The meeting comes nearly a week after two civil-liberties groups filed a lawsuit against the south-central Pennsylvania district on behalf of families who objected to the teaching of "intelligent design," which holds that the universe is so complex that it must have been created by some higher power.
The ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State have said the lawsuit is the first to challenge whether public schools should teach intelligent design.
The groups contend 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.
So far, no response has been filed on the district's behalf, and district officials and school board members have declined to comment on the lawsuit.
The school board voted 6-3 on Oct. 18 to include intelligent design in the ninth-grade science curriculum, in what is believed to be the first such requirement in the country.
Thomas More Law Center spokesman Brian Burch said the organization was offering to defend the school district against the lawsuit.
"Our attorneys ... believe what Dover has decided to do is defensible," Burch said.
Founded in 1999, the center is involved in 120 legal matters in 27 different states, according to a statement on its Web site.
Its most recent activities include filing a federal lawsuit on behalf of a woman challenging a policy that banned the display of Christian-themed decorations in a public display in Bay Harbor Island, Fla. A federal judge ruled in favor of the plaintiff last week.
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
Thomas More Law Center: http://www.thomasmore.org