NTS LogoSkeptical News for 7 January 2005

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Friday, January 07, 2005

Review: 'White Noise' so much dead air


No scares, just boredom, in film starring Michael Keaton
By Christy Lemire
Associated Press
Friday, January 7, 2005 Posted: 8:55 AM EST (1355 GMT)

(AP) -- White noise is intended to help you fall asleep. "White Noise" would never let you do that, though.

It's far too interested in a cacophony of cheap scares: otherworldly screeches, deafening bursts from the radio and a nearly nonstop, buzzing din of television snow.

The title sequence, a harbinger of things to come, is one of those seizure-inducing, don't-adjust-your-TV-set montages of blips and blasts and zig-zaggy lines, possibly in preparation for the movie's arrival on cable, which should be happening right ... about ... now.

Michael Keaton stars as the recipient of these supernatural sounds after his wife, Anna (Chandra West) -- who has to be the hottest internationally renowned best-selling author, like, ever -- dies in a mysterious accident.

Keaton's character, architect Jonathan Rivers, had just learned that Anna was pregnant, and the couple already shared a fabulously comfortable waterfront existence with their young son.

Then Anna disappears and is replaced by sudden sounds, like the piercing ring of a cell phone and an indecipherable answering machine message. Soon afterward a portly man named Raymond (Ian McNeice) shows up at Jonathan's office and insists that Anna has been trying to communicate with him through the television.

Jonathan is naturally skeptical. His wife was a writer, not a broadcaster. How did she learn to master the airwaves from the great beyond? (And if she really wanted to be heard clearly, couldn't she have reached out using high-definition TV?)

That's a totally great question, one that the film's production notes try to answer in tremendous detail. Supposedly this electronic voice phenomena (or EVP) is a real thing that has inspired Web sites and organizations worldwide. You will be forgiven, however, if not outright applauded, for thinking this is nonsense.

After hearing Anna's voice at Raymond's audiovisual tech-geek lab, though, Jonathan not only becomes a believer, he becomes obsessed. He sits around the house all day in a robe, like Keaton's "Mr. Mom" character, recording hours of TV snow. Ultimately he gets that crazed look in his eyes, like the one Keaton used to such great comic effect in "Beetlejuice," only here he's unintentionally funny.

And for some strange reason, the script from Niall Johnson has Jonathan sending his son away to live with other grown-ups in order to spend more time sitting in front of the television. Shouldn't they, um, be together to comfort each other after experiencing the hugely traumatic event of Anna's death?

The kid probably would have been bored, anyway. "White Noise" is as tedious and repetitive as it sounds. Every once in a while, though, three shadowy figures show up on the screen -- sort of a troika of doom and gloom -- with cryptically menacing messages which invariably are followed by someone's death.

In his muddled quest to play superhero, Jonathan tries to save these people from the evildoers' wrath (including a new friend, played by Deborah Kara Unger, who also hears dead people), which leads him to such contrived scary places as a deserted road in the middle of the night and an abandoned warehouse in the pouring rain. He's Batman -- again -- only without the cape and the cool car.

Director Geoffrey Sax seems to want to embrace the romantic idea of reaching out to a long-lost loved one -- who wouldn't want to talk to a deceased parent or spouse one last time? -- yet he can't seem to resist going for the easy, gimmicky scares.

Besides, we've already seen this paranormal territory covered more effectively in the unusually successful American remake of "The Ring" and, long before that, in the truly scary "Poltergeist."

"White Noise," a Universal Pictures release, is rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and language.

And a little bit of nonsense: Ed.

Memory woes halt 'design' lesson curb


Article Last Updated: Thursday, January 06, 2005 - 11:12:16 AM EST

Board members can't recall reported remarks

By HEIDI BERNHARD-BUBB For The York Dispatch

Dover school district's controversial biology curriculum, which makes reference to "intelligent design" theory, will take effect next week as planned.

Lawyers representing 11 parents who sued the district in federal court over the presence of intelligent design in its curriculum, have decided not to seek a temporary restraining order to block the lessons.

Attorney Eric Rothschild of the Philadelphia-based law firm Pepper Hamilton said the decision not to seek the restraining order came because of what was said in depositions this week by school officials, who were questioned about the origin of the curriculum change and statements by board members that were religious in nature.

Rothschild said that during those depositions Monday, district officials said they either had no memory of statements that were reported in The York Dispatch and York Daily Record during June 2004, or flatly denied that they were made.

Those who disputed the statements were: board president Sheila Harkins, former board president Alan Bonsell, former curriculum committee chair William Buckingham and superintendent Richard Nilsen.

More research: Rothschild said that because the evidence is in dispute, the attorneys will have to conduct more research to confirm the reports, which could not be done before the new curriculum starts Monday in Dover biology classes.

"These reports are not the substance of our case, but they did go toward the school board's motive in changing the curriculum," Rothschild said.

The parents' legal action is believed the first in the country to challenge the teaching of intelligent design theory, which attributes the origin of life to an intelligent being. It counters the theory of evolution, which says that people evolved from less complex beings. The statements included references to creationism, the biblical account of the origin of life, and several statements made by board member William Buckingham.

For example, as reported on June 15, 2004, by The York Dispatch and by the York Daily Record, Buckingham said "Nearly 2,000 years ago someone died on a cross for us; shouldn't we have the courage to stand up for him?" at a June 14 school board meeting.

Buckingham's denial: Buckingham said he never made that statement in reference to the evolution debate, but in reference to a resolution the board passed to support the "under God" phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance in November 2003. His testimony was supported by that of Sheila Harkins.

However, the school officials also said that they had never asked the local papers to retract or correct any reports made.

Although audio recordings of the board's public meetings are made, the district destroys the tapes once ...

WHAT'S NEW Robert L. Park Friday, 31 Dec 04 Washington, DC


It's been 145 years since Darwin published Origin of Species, perhaps the world's greatest scientific discovery. No other idea has connected so many pieces of knowledge. It's now 80 years since the Scopes trial. If any doubts about evolution remain, you might suppose that DNA analysis would sweep them away. We can now measure how closely we are related to every creature on Earth. We share half our DNA with yeast. So genetically similar are bonobos to humans that, but for the inability of bonobos to talk, they might demand a seat in the UN. Yet, in Dover, PA, a town much like Dayton, TN, the school board voted to require that intelligent design be taught alongside evolution. The school board will lose in court, but we must ask ourselves why science has been so spectacularly unsuccessful in explaining such obvious truths to people.


A hundred-million miles or so from Dover, PA, two geologists are picking their way over the Martian surface. They've found what they were looking for: unmistakable evidence that in the distant past there were bodies of salty water on Mars that may have been nurseries of life. Science picked the exploration of Mars as the Breakthrough of the Year. It is now a year since Spirit bounced onto Mars, soon to be followed by Opportunity. Eating only sunlight, they survived the Martian winter, the intense radiation, and they're still going. The search for life to which we are not related is the most exciting quest in science. Spirit and Opportunity are wonderful instruments, but it's the scientists back on Earth who control the robots, having become virtual astronauts, who are the explorers. The real distance from Dover, PA can't be measured in miles.

Opinions are the author's and not necessarily shared by the University of Maryland, but they should be.

Archives of What's New can be found at http://www.aps.org/WN

Considering Acupuncture to Relieve Arthritis?


Doctors should not be surprised to hear their patients asking about alternative medicine at their next appointment and for those looking for natural remedies to reduce pain, here are helpful hints to take the myth out of alternative medicine.

Beverly Hills, CA (PRWEB) January 6, 2005 -- "I always ask my patients how they heard about our practice and it's always the same answer, word of mouth" states Shaheed K. Abdullah, a board certified orthopedic acupuncturist with Pro Sports Healing in Beverly Hills. The removal of Vioxx from the market and research concluding that acupuncture can reduce pain in arthritis patients by 40% has left physicians and many patients with interesting questions about alternative medicine. First things first, in order to find an acupuncturist you feel comfortable with make sure they can clearly explain their treatment plan and is willing to work as a team with your primary care physician.

Find what you're looking for with one call, Traditional Chinese Medical University professors and alumni specialize in many fields; they include orthopedics, gynecology, internal medicine, oncology, urology, dermatology, psychiatry, and hematology. Acupuncturist may specialize in one or several areas of medicine and most practitioners speak English fluently. Get info on their private practice or make an appointment at the school for half the price. If the school is not close then ask for alumni in your area, there contact information is generally listed with the clinic director or on the University website.

Patients are looking for answers not only on how to find an acupuncturist but also on specialties, qualifications, and what do all the letters behind acupuncturist name mean? Word of mouth is still the best way to find an acupuncturist and your doctor, friends, family members and colleagues may have someone they can recommend that has successfully helped them in the past. If your not getting much feed back, it may be time for the yellow pages.

Be careful to choose an alternative care provider who is licensed by the state you live in or certified with the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). Here is a break down of the titles for alternative care providers courtesy of orientalhealthsolutions.com. L.Ac stands for state Licensed Acupuncturist, OMD means Oriental Medical Doctor, a degree granted to graduates before 1989. After 1989, M.Ac Master's in Acupuncture or MSOM, Master of Science in Oriental Medicine degrees were granted. Dipl Ac and Dipl CH are the designations given by the NCCAOM, National Certification Commission for Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine for passing the national acupuncture or Chinese herbology certification exam. DOM, Doctor of Oriental Medicine is the New Mexico licensure title, Florida designates their licensees as AP, Acupuncture Physicians and in Rhode Island acupuncturist are called D.Ac, Doctor of Acupuncture, QME stands for Qualified Medical Examiner and NBAO is a post graduate program and stands for National Board of Acupuncture Orthopedics.

Traditional Chinese medical colleges offer curricula anywhere from 2,500 to 3,200 hours of training. The training lasts three to four years, and practitioners graduate with a Master's level degree and are able to sit for the state license exam and the nation exam. Medical doctors and chiropractors may also practice acupuncture; most have taken a 300-hour course, others have considerably more training, as do medical doctors. DABMA stands for Diplomat American Board of Medical Acupuncture, a designation physician's use, about 5,000 MD's practice acupuncture in this country. To find a qualified acupuncturist or get more information on acupuncture in your area, check these websites, www.acupuncturetoday.com, www.acupuncture.com, www.acufinder.com, and www.nccaom.com will all help get you in front of the right physician.

Shaheed K. Abdullah, M.S., L.Ac., NBAO, is the CEO and founder of Pro Sports Healing Inc., a National Board Certified Acupuncturist of Orthopedics and California State Board Licensed Acupuncturist with offices in Beverly Hills California. He offers an integrative natural rehabilitation and rapid recovery system for occupational, personal and sports injuries. For more information or to book an initial consultation please contact Pro Sports Healing at 1.888.218.9041ext. 80 or www.prosportshealing.com.

School district defends intelligent design
It says alternative to Darwin isn't religious belief


Updated: 1:15 p.m. ET Jan. 6, 2005

PHILADELPHIA - A Pennsylvania school district on Wednesday rejected charges that plans to include references to an alternative to Charles Darwin's theory of evolution in high-school biology classes would be illegal.

The Dover Area School District near Harrisburg is the first in the United States to introduce "intelligent design," a concept proposing that the natural world is so complex it must have been made by an intelligent being, into a science curriculum. Such a concept is an alternative to the Darwinian theory of evolution, which sees biological change as a natural scientific process, not necessarily guided by an intelligent being.

The district was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State on Dec. 14 over plans to include intelligent-design theory starting next week. The lawsuit is the first to challenge the teaching, which the groups say violates the constitutional separation of church and state.

The civil rights groups argued that intelligent design is a thinly veiled version of creationism the belief that the earth was made by God. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the 1980s that teaching creationism in public-school science classes would violate the constitutional separation of church and state.

Policy 'does not advance religion'

The school district said in Wednesday's court filing that its "biology curriculum policy does not advance religion."

Instead, it informs "students about the existing scientific controversy surrounding Darwin's Theory of Evolution."

Christian conservatives, who played an important role in the re-election of President Bush, have been pressing for decades for creationism to be taught in schools. Intelligent design's proponents say their theory does not presuppose any particular supernatural being, and is not creationism.

Lawyers for the school board said that no religious beliefs would be taught, and that Darwinian evolution would continue to be taught as well.

Statement refers to book

On Jan. 13, teachers will be required to read a statement saying that intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view, and that if students want to read more about it, they can read a book called "Of Pandas and People" which they can find in the school library.

Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU in Pennsylvania, said the plaintiffs will not seek an order to stop the policy being implemented next week and hope the case will go to trial in the coming months.

"This is the first legal challenge to intelligent design, and that alone makes it important," Walczak said. "If we lose, we really fear that you will see school districts all across the country teaching intelligent design."

Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited.

Creationism creeps back into science class




Thursday, January 6, 2005 10:42 AM CST

"It is my supposition that the Universe is not only queerer than we imagine, it is queerer than we can imagine." - geneticist J.B.S. Haldane

In the popular imagination, influenced by a thousand Hollywood "sword and sandal" epics inspired by Edward Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," great nations perish through moral decay. (The more half-naked slave girls, muscular gladiators and lisping upper-class twits, the better the box office.) But there's such a thing as intellectual decadence, too. The role of sheer ignorance in determining the fate of civilizations cannot be overstated. Believe it or not, this insight struck me recently while watching a two-minute "debate" on CNN about the merits of teaching Darwinian evolution vs. something called "intelligent design" in high school biology classes.

The utter vacuousness of the anchor-creature refereeing this exhibition needn't be dwelt upon. Suffice it wasn't her reasoning skills that got her the job. Rather, it was the farcical nature of the whole enterprise that struck me: the central organizing principle of biological science as the shuttlecock in a "Crossfire"-style colloquy between an earnest young lawyer and a smug preacher who appeared to have borrowed Sen. Trent Lott's lacquered hair-helmet and dyed it orange.

Not long afterward, The Washington Post chronicled a dispute among parents and school board members in Dover, Pa., a suburb of Harrisburg. There, 11 parents, under the aegis of the ACLU, have sued to prevent "intelligent design" from being foisted upon their children in biology classes. They claim it's a smokescreen for teaching fundamentalist religious doctrine in place of science.

Judging by the newspaper's account, they're surely correct. The school board member who introduced the measure explained that he was taking a stand for Jesus. Another member, an Assemblies of God pastor, said, "If the Bible is right, God created us. If God did it, it's history and it's also science."

A local gift shop owner rather evocatively named Lark Myers summed it all up for the Post reporter: "I definitely would prefer to believe that God created me than that I'm 50th cousin to a silverback ape. What's wrong with wanting our children to hear about all the holes in the theory of evolution?"

Sigh. The single best answer I've seen to all this nonsense was given by Rev. C.O. Magee, a Presbyterian minister and member of the Little Rock (Ark.) School Board during a federal court test of an Arkansas "creation-science" law more than 20 years ago.

"Any time religion gets involved in science," he said, "religion comes off looking like a bunch of nerds. ... The Book of Genesis told who created the world and why it was created and science tells how it was done."

Can I get an amen? Frankly, I doubt the fair Lark would try to adjust her own satellite TV receiver without expert help or summon an Assemblies of God preacher to repair her dishwasher according to biblical principles. Yet she feels herself competent to pronounce upon the alleged holes in one of the most massively documented theoretical constructs in the history of science.

To anybody even faintly aware of what's going on in the visible world, biological science has made astonishing advances in recent decades. Biologists have discovered the structure of the DNA molecule, broken the genetic code, sequenced the entire genome of several species and documented with extraordinary specificity how a tiny, single-celled egg develops into an adult organism.

Paleontologists have unearthed so many so-called missing links in mammalian evolution that clever creationists now avoid the topic.

Suffice it to say that none of these discoveries would be conceivable absent the intellectual scaffolding provided by Charles Darwin's "Origin of Species" in 1859.

But while Darwin's insights have been elaborated upon, adjusted, amplified and corrected over the past century, the panicky response of his authoritarian-minded opponents has not. Properly understood, evolution no more mandates atheism than does the tax code, which also excludes supernatural explanations. Indeed, most "mainstream" religious denominations have long ago quit seeing science as an enemy, embracing its discoveries about the grandeur and complexity of the physical universe as an inducement to reverence and awe.

Unfortunately, TV news networks seeking conflict and melodrama to boost ratings are ill suited to explore such ideas and emotions. Instead, they peddle simplistic "controversies" well suited to suburbanites who have lost their way amid the moral and intellectual confusions of contemporary life and cling to biblical literalism like a life raft.

Sure, a proper curriculum should include lessons about how science both limits and lays claim to knowledge about the physical world. And yes, it's bad for democracy to have these arguments settled by court mandate instead of reasoned debate. But it's also not hard to see why scientists are reluctant to spend all their time rehashing 19th century misunderstandings on satellite TV.

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist Gene Lyons is a national magazine award winner and co-author of "The Hunting of the President."

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Evolution education update: A paleontologist on the Meyer affair

A special Thursday evolution education update, since the NCSE office will be closed tomorrow, December 31. Today: revisit the Meyer affair in the company of Ronald Jenner.


The publication of "intelligent design" advocate Stephen C. Meyer's review article "The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories" in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington (2004; 117 [2]: 213-239) caused a brief stir in August and September 2004, with articles about it appearing in both scientific and popular venues, and a lengthy detailed critique appearing at the Panda's Thumb web log. Now, in the Palaeontology Newsletter (2004; 57: 10-17), Ronald Jenner discusses "The tainting of Proc. Biol. Soc. Wash." Jenner, a newcomer to the United States and its vociferous public debates over evolution education, expresses bemusement at the furor over Meyer's article; in the end, he suggests, "I think that the only harm done to science is that PBSW published a paper that is evidently slipshod science, due to a flagrant failure of the reviewing process. However unfortunate that may be, it is nothing new, and it happens to the best. As a result, the only trophy that proponents of ID can really boast about at home is that ID is promoted in a paper that should never have passed the reviewing process, as was belatedly realized by the council of PBSW. In fact, that Meyer promotes ID in his article is, I think, largely beside the point."

To digress for a moment, in a letter to Nature (2004 Dec 23; 432: 949) entitled "Meyer publication worse than just bad science," however, Day B. Ligon and Matthew B. Lovern of the Department of Zoology at Oklahoma State University argue for a perhaps more realistic view of the influence of Meyer's paper. "We agree," they write, "that the paper presented no new arguments and appeared in a relatively obscure journal. For such reasons it is unlikely to influence scientists. However, this does little to diminish its usefulness to ID proponents, who wish to influence public rather than scientific opinion. The point is that, before it was withdrawn, this 'peer-reviewed publication' could be used by ID supporters in the United States to lend apparent legitimacy to their efforts to convince legislators and state and local education boards that ID is science and should be taught alongside darwinian evolution in public schools." And indeed NCSE is aware of Meyer's article so being used, despite the fact that the paper not only is devoid of original scientific research and laden with errors, omissions, and misrepresentations, but also has been repudiated by the Biological Society of Washington, the sponsor of the journal in which it was published.

In his Palaeontological Newsletter article, Jenner opines, "I think that Meyer's paper shouldn't have been published because it was an inadequate review. The blame for this lies wholly with the refereeing process, for which the editor is ultimately responsible," which gives him the excuse to launch into a delightful survey of baraminology, the young-earth creationist approach to systematics with which the former editor of PBSW, Richard von Sternberg, is involved. Moving from hilarity to seriousness, Jenner draws a sober moral: "Wherever science has not yet cast its illuminating light, the supernatural or metaphysical can and will always be unwrapped by some of us, to provide an explanation. Ironically, as we push back the limits of our ignorance, and increasingly difficult problems remain to be solved, it will exactly be there where 'we' will meet 'them.' There is no way around it. However, what we can and must do is to battle ignorance to prevent uninvited intrusions of faith into what I think is legitimately the domain of science. As long as we live in a world where State Superintendents of middle and high schools still consider evolution to be merely 'a buzz word that causes a lot of negative reaction,' as opined early this year by the inimitable Mrs Cox from the state of Georgia, then we have a lot of teaching to do."

To read "The tainting of Proc. Biol. Soc. Wash.," visit:

To read Ligon and Lovern's letter, visit the Nature web site (subscription required):


To read the Panda's Thumb's collection of commentaries on Meyer's article and the attendant controversy, visit:

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

With best wishes for the new year,

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

Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism is now available: http://www.ncseweb.org/evc

2 0 0 0 P R E D I C T I O N S


Highlighting the absurdity of "psychic" predictions, particularly Sylvia Browne. Ed. The Next 100 Years
2000 Predictions

1.Interest rates will rise very slowly until Spring and then will level off and begin to go downward.
2.Stocks stay pretty steady. The NASDAQ fluctuates up and down wildly in March, but the Dow stays pretty solid.
3.Building everywhere from all corners of the State (CA) is at an all-time high.
4.There will be a lot of purchasing of property in foreign countries by Americans and for the first time at such an all-time high.
5.There is going to be a shake-up at American Airlines during January and February. American will also merge with Alaska Airlines.
6.TWA is hanging on by a thread and will probably not last until the end of the year.
7.Unemployment will be very low. There will be another acceleration of the minimum hourly wage by mid-year.
8.New electronic companies are in the making now, but will really burst on the scene by late Fall. This is as a result of not only technical advances but also genetic research.
9.The beginnings of a surge for a flat tax will be bantered around and come to some conclusion before the next election that will take us into 2001.
10.Air travel reaches an all-time high, but because of overbookings and poor service, the airlines will need to revamp their scheduling practices.
11.As in the 1940's and 50's, we are going to see a lot of small businesses flourish like the old Mom and Pop operations.
12.There is a big upsurge in the population looking for more antiques and handmade articles than things that are mass-produced.
13.There will be extensive monitoring of the internet that will be imposed to govern and reduce indiscriminate pornography. This will be drastically different from the filtering software available now, along with harsh regulation.
14.There will be a definite crackdown by the Federal Government regarding frivolous lawsuits. This has been bantered around for a while, but now a definite crackdown is imposed.
15.Sorry to say there will be three hurricanes that hit in rapid succession in the Fall, again around the Bahamas, then Mexico, Florida, and the Carolinas.
16.Tornadoes touch down in Ohio in April and a devastating one touches down in Brownesville and San Antonio, Texas in the Spring.
17.An earthquake hits around the Niagara Falls area, small but significant because of where it is.
18.There will be small earthquakes that hit around the Northern California area in January and February, nothing of significance.
19.Los Angeles registers a 5.3 earthquake in and around the valley in late March.
20.Seattle area, around Olympia, gets a 4.9 earthquake around June. None of these earthquakes above are devastating.
21.The warming trend continues and climates begin to change drastically even more than we have seen in the last ten years. Temperatures along the East Coast become milder and along the West Coast colder and more damp and also due in part to the polar tilt.
22.NASA finally cuts back on the space program realizing that every time they send up a space vehicle they are tearing the ozone layer.
23.The midwestern U.S. has a big uprising because of some kind of polluted waste hazard. This has not been recognized at this point, but begins to surface around Branson.
24.There is going to be a very definite detection of mines and some bombs that have not been detonated off the coast of Hawaii.
25.Train wrecks will occur in France and England causing quite a bit of devastation in May.
26.In June a major airline disaster is averted.
27.An airline high-jacking is thwarted out of Florida in August.
28.Democrats will win the election with Bill Bradley, with close competition from the Reform Party.
29.New York crime continues to be at an all-time low, and crime across the country, including crime in schools seems to reach an all-time low.
30.The one thing that is very frightening as we go into the millennium, and even though spirituality is at an all-time high, is that we will see more occult groups arising and people professing to be the Messiah.
31.Organized religion becomes gentler and kinder and more liberal, which goes along with spirituality and in keeping with Christ's words.
32.We are approaching an age of innate goodness and acceptance and the philosophy of living and let live. People become more conscious of others like it was in the 1940's and 50's; e.g., when someone dies, people come together to help with a more community-like lifestyle. Families begin to band together as they once did.
33.Elizabeth Taylor ends up back at the Betty Ford Center.
34.Brad Pitt and Jennifer Anniston get married, but it lasts for only a short time.
35.Gwyneth Paltrow marries an older man who is in the entertainment business, but not as well known as she.
36.David Letterman decides to call it quits from his nightly late show after this year.
37.John Travolta has to be very careful flying his plane in February.
38.Donald Trump buys another large hotel and goes into partnership with someone very well known in a production company.
39.Neither Warren Beatty nor Donald Trump has any success in politics.
40.Courtney Cox will get pregnant this year and have a baby boy.

The Absence Of God In The Universe


By Keith Cantrell
Jan. 4, 2005

Actually this title is a bit misleading. This article really deals with the ongoing debate between creationism and science. In that ongoing debate, the scientists have conceded the territory of religious dogma. In other words they aren't interested in pointless debates with narrow-minded fundamentalists whose only motivation is to save the world from damnation. Scientists have work to do. Important work. They're trying to determine where the edge of the universe is and how life started and whether or not we can live in outer space. Creationists, on the other hand, are only interested in brainwashing the world in their own special brand of theology. They don't care about scientific truth.

I'd like to clarify this point. There is a huge difference between science and religion and creationists who pretend that they are scientists are simply proving their idiocy. Creationism is a religious idea. That's all. It proves nothing and openly rejects fact in favor of fiction. It is at best a myth trying to disguise itself as truth. By outlining the process of science I will attempt to illustrate this point coherently.

Modern physical science is built on fundamental laws which describe the behavior of natural systems. Where do these fundamental laws come from? They are discovered by two main processes. First is the inspection and observation process. This means that scientists compare data with mathematical models to look for evidence of natural characteristics.

The second process for discovering fundamental laws starts with a deduction. This doesn't mean the scientist makes a wild guess. A deduction starts with a theory which leads to a prediction. Then the scientist compares and contrasts this prediction with observational data and develops a model. This model becomes a fundamental law which describes natural phenomena. But the process isn't over yet. The models and fundamental laws are continuously scrutinized by other scientists to gain an explicit understanding about their limitations and weaknesses. This leads to consensus and then, finally, the model is accepted and used to describe as many phenomena as possible.

So, the most noble aspect of scientific inquiry is that it is self-correcting. In fact, in science skepticism is a virtue. In religion it's a vice. In other words science welcomes opposition, but religion avoids it. Religious institutions condemn those who disagree but science thrives on open debate.

This illustrates the major difference between scientific evolution and fundamentalist creationism. Creationists don't care about facts. They only want to convince the world that God exists, that the Bible is infallible and that they are right. Any attempt to point out the holes in their religious dogma are ignored and in some cases blamed on a non- existent Satan.

Our world and our species cannot afford to blindly accept faulty religious ideas as if they are truth. If we are going to actively pursue the opportunities of the future we need to know the truth. The only way to discover truth is through open-minded pursuit of the hard evidence. Where did we come from? Only science can tell us. Where are we going? Only science can reveal our options.

It's time to lay religion to rest. It is only hampering our search for truth. In fact, as I said before and I will say again, it is nothing more than myth disguised as truth. This is a dangerous situation because what we don't know can kill us if it's true. But blindly following an irrational faith will lead us nowhere and that could be worse than death.

About the author: Keith Cantrell is a musician, artist and writer who lives in a small town in Oregon. He has worked at many different professions and currently is writing a book on the origins of the Bible entitled "The World's Most Dangerous Book." He has been a professing fundamentalist and is now struggling with atheism. His life has been spent searching for truth, and nothing but the truth. He loves comments, feedback and even verbal abuse if it is intelligent. He has 4 children and 4 grandchildren and loves everything about living in Oregon.
Email: kwcantrell@yahoo.com

The Face of Evolutionary Design: Evolution as a Religion


by Robert Meyer
05 January 2005

Both evolution and Intelligent Design are metaphysical theories. If academic freedom is paramount, where one treads, the other should be allowed to follow.

Recently I saw some news segments that featured debate on whether the teaching of Intelligent Design should be curriculum taught alongside 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 and notice 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 acting 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 Intelligent Design (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 progressive 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 topic 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 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.

Email Robert Meyer

Plaintiffs won't ask for immediate block of 'intelligent design' instruction


By MARTHA RAFFAELE, AP Education Writer

HARRISBURG -- Eight families who sued a school district over the presence of "intelligent design" in its curriculum will not ask a federal judge to block the lessons that are expected to start next week, an attorney said Wednesday.

Witold Walczak, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, said that during depositions this week, Dover Area School District officials "either denied or could not remember making statements at public school board meetings ... about a desire to find biology textbooks that discuss creationism," even though local newspapers reported their comments last summer.

Because the witnesses' statements raised questions about their credibility and because the case is so complex, the plaintiffs are asking a federal judge to schedule a trial in the spring instead of seeking an immediate court order that would prevent the lessons, Walczak said.

"While we believe the introduction of intelligent design next week is unconstitutional, we did not want to ask the court to decide the matter without a hearing," Walczak said.

Ronald A. Turo, a Carlisle lawyer representing the district, referred questions about the depositions to the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., which the school board has retained to defend the district. Thomas More officials did not immediately return a telephone call Wednesday.

The curriculum language originally approved by the school board said students must be "made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin's theory and other theories of evolution, including but not limited to intelligent design."

In November, the board sought to clarify the rule by saying that teachers would read a statement advising students that Darwin's theory "is not a fact" and that intelligent design "is an explanation of life that differs from Darwin's view."

In December, attorneys for the district argued that the court order the plaintiffs were considering was unnecessary because reading the statement to students does not constitute teaching the concept.

"What is going on is a one-minute statement that's being made in a 90-minute section in a multiple-month subject," Turo said.

Walczak disagreed.

"The parallel I would draw would be, if a social-studies teacher teaching World War II would talk about the Holocaust and make a statement -- just a couple paragraphs -- that there are gaps in the historical records of the Holocaust, and you should know an alternative theory that the Holocaust never happened," he said.

The fight over intelligent design -- a concept that holds that the universe is so complex it had to be created by a higher power -- is the latest skirmish in nearly eight decades of litigation over evolution.

Since the board voted Oct. 18 to require that intelligent design be taught in ninth-grade biology classes at Dover High School -- believed to be the first such requirement in the nation -- the case quickly evolved from a local dispute into a nationally watched showdown between civil libertarians and religious activists.

The ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State sued in December on behalf of parents who objected to the requirement. To defend itself, the school board hired the Thomas More Law Center, a nonprofit group that bills itself as a champion of Christian freedoms.

The plaintiffs argue that intelligent design is merely a secular variation of creationism, the biblical-based view that regard God as the creator of life, and maintain that the Dover district's curriculum mandate may violate the constitutional separation of church and state.

On the Net:

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

American Civil Liberties Unions: http://www.aclu.org

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

God (or Not), Physics and, of Course, Love: Scientists Take a Leap


January 4, 2005

What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?"

This was the question posed to scientists, futurists and other creative thinkers by John Brockman, a literary agent and publisher of Edge, a Web site devoted to science. The site asks a new question at the end of each year. Here are excerpts from the responses, to be posted Tuesday at www.edge.org.

Roger Schank
Psychologist and computer scientist; author, "Designing World-Class E-Learning"

Irrational choices.

I do not believe that people are capable of rational thought when it comes to making decisions in their own lives. People believe they are behaving rationally and have thought things out, of course, but when major decisions are made - who to marry, where to live, what career to pursue, what college to attend, people's minds simply cannot cope with the complexity. When they try to rationally analyze potential options, their unconscious, emotional thoughts take over and make the choice for them.

Richard Dawkins Evolutionary biologist, Oxford University; author, "The Ancestor's Tale"

I believe, but I cannot prove, that all life, all intelligence, all creativity and all "design" anywhere in the universe, is the direct or indirect product of Darwinian natural selection. It follows that design comes late in the universe, after a period of Darwinian evolution. Design cannot precede evolution and therefore cannot underlie the universe.

Judith Rich Harris
Writer and developmental psychologist; author, "The Nurture Assumption"

I believe, though I cannot prove it, that three - not two - selection processes were involved in human evolution.

The first two are familiar: natural selection, which selects for fitness, and sexual selection, which selects for sexiness.

The third process selects for beauty, but not sexual beauty - not adult beauty. The ones doing the selecting weren't potential mates: they were parents. Parental selection, I call it.

Kenneth Ford
Physicist; retired director, American Institute of Physics; author, "The Quantum World"

I believe that microbial life exists elsewhere in our galaxy.

I am not even saying "elsewhere in the universe." If the proposition I believe to be true is to be proved true within a generation or two, I had better limit it to our own galaxy. I will bet on its truth there.

I believe in the existence of life elsewhere because chemistry seems to be so life-striving and because life, once created, propagates itself in every possible direction. Earth's history suggests that chemicals get busy and create life given any old mix of substances that includes a bit of water, and given practically any old source of energy; further, that life, once created, spreads into every nook and cranny over a wide range of temperature, acidity, pressure, light level and so on.

Believing in the existence of intelligent life elsewhere in the galaxy is another matter.

Joseph LeDoux
Neuroscientist, New York University; author, "The Synaptic Self"

For me, this is an easy question. I believe that animals have feelings and other states of consciousness, but neither I nor anyone else has been able to prove it. We can't even prove that other people are conscious, much less other animals. In the case of other people, though, we at least can have a little confidence since all people have brains with the same basic configurations. But as soon as we turn to other species and start asking questions about feelings and consciousness in general we are in risky territory because the hardware is different.

Because I have reason to think that their feelings might be different than ours, I prefer to study emotional behavior in rats rather than emotional feelings.

There's lots to learn about emotion through rats that can help people with emotional disorders. And there's lots we can learn about feelings from studying humans, especially now that we have powerful function imaging techniques. I'm not a radical behaviorist. I'm just a practical emotionalist.

Lynn Margulis
Biologist, University of Massachusetts; author, "Symbiosis in Cell Evolution"

I feel that I know something that will turn out to be correct and eventually proved to be true beyond doubt.


That our ability to perceive signals in the environment evolved directly from our bacterial ancestors. That is, we, like all other mammals including our apish brothers detect odors, distinguish tastes, hear bird song and drumbeats and we too feel the vibrations of the drums. With our eyes closed we detect the light of the rising sun. These abilities to sense our surroundings are a heritage that preceded the evolution of all primates, all vertebrate animals, indeed all animals.

David Myers
Psychologist, Hope College; author, "Intuition"

As a Christian monotheist, I start with two unproven axioms:

1. There is a God.

2. It's not me (and it's also not you).

Together, these axioms imply my surest conviction: that some of my beliefs (and yours) contain error. We are, from dust to dust, finite and fallible. We have dignity but not deity.

And that is why I further believe that we should

a) hold all our unproven beliefs with a certain tentativeness (except for this one!),

b) assess others' ideas with open-minded skepticism, and

c) freely pursue truth aided by observation and experiment.

This mix of faith-based humility and skepticism helped fuel the beginnings of modern science, and it has informed my own research and science writing. The whole truth cannot be found merely by searching our own minds, for there is not enough there. So we also put our ideas to the test. If they survive, so much the better for them; if not, so much the worse.

Robert Sapolsky
Neuroscientist, Stanford University, author, "A Primate's Memoir"

Mine would be a fairly simple, straightforward case of an unjustifiable belief, namely that there is no god(s) or such a thing as a soul (whatever the religiously inclined of the right persuasion mean by that word). ...

I'm taken with religious folks who argue that you not only can, but should believe without requiring proof. Mine is to not believe without requiring proof. Mind you, it would be perfectly fine with me if there were a proof that there is no god. Some might view this as a potential public health problem, given the number of people who would then run damagingly amok. But it's obvious that there's no shortage of folks running amok thanks to their belief. So that wouldn't be a problem and, all things considered, such a proof would be a relief - many physicists, especially astrophysicists, seem weirdly willing to go on about their communing with god about the Big Bang, but in my world of biologists, the god concept gets mighty infuriating when you spend your time thinking about, say, untreatably aggressive childhood leukemia.

Donald Hoffman
Cognitive scientist, University of California, Irvine; author, "Visual Intelligence"

I believe that consciousness and its contents are all that exists. Space-time, matter and fields never were the fundamental denizens of the universe but have always been, from their beginning, among the humbler contents of consciousness, dependent on it for their very being.

The world of our daily experience - the world of tables, chairs, stars and people, with their attendant shapes, smells, feels and sounds - is a species-specific user interface to a realm far more complex, a realm whose essential character is conscious. It is unlikely that the contents of our interface in any way resemble that realm.

Indeed the usefulness of an interface requires, in general, that they do not. For the point of an interface, such as the Windows interface on a computer, is simplification and ease of use. We click icons because this is quicker and less prone to error than editing megabytes of software or toggling voltages in circuits.

Evolutionary pressures dictate that our species-specific interface, this world of our daily experience, should itself be a radical simplification, selected not for the exhaustive depiction of truth but for the mutable pragmatics of survival.

If this is right, if consciousness is fundamental, then we should not be surprised that, despite centuries of effort by the most brilliant of minds, there is as yet no physicalist theory of consciousness, no theory that explains how mindless matter or energy or fields could be, or cause, conscious experience.

Nicholas Humphrey
Psychologist, London School of Economics; author,"The Mind Made Flesh"

I believe that human consciousness is a conjuring trick, designed to fool us into thinking we are in the presence of an inexplicable mystery. Who is the conjuror and why is s/he doing it? The conjuror is natural selection, and the purpose has been to bolster human self-confidence and self-importance - so as to increase the value we each place on our own and others' lives.

Philip Zimbardo
Psychologist, emeritus professor, Stanford; author, "Shyness"

I believe that the prison guards at the Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq, who worked the night shift in Tier 1A, where prisoners were physically and psychologically abused, had surrendered their free will and personal responsibility during these episodes of mayhem.

But I could not prove it in a court of law. These eight Army reservists were trapped in a unique situation in which the behavioral context came to dominate individual dispositions, values and morality to such an extent that they were transformed into mindless actors alienated from their normal sense of personal accountability for their actions - at that time and place.

The "group mind" that developed among these soldiers was created by a set of known social psychological conditions, some of which are nicely featured in Golding's "Lord of the Flies." The same processes that I witnessed in my Stanford Prison Experiment were clearly operating in that remote place: deindividuation, dehumanization, boredom, groupthink, role-playing, rule control and more.

Philip W. Anderson
Physicist and Nobel laureate, Princeton

Is string theory a futile exercise as physics, as I believe it to be? It is an interesting mathematical specialty and has produced and will produce mathematics useful in other contexts, but it seems no more vital as mathematics than other areas of very abstract or specialized math, and doesn't on that basis justify the incredible amount of effort expended on it.

My belief is based on the fact that string theory is the first science in hundreds of years to be pursued in pre-Baconian fashion, without any adequate experimental guidance. It proposes that Nature is the way we would like it to be rather than the way we see it to be; and it is improbable that Nature thinks the same way we do.

The sad thing is that, as several young would-be theorists have explained to me, it is so highly developed that it is a full-time job just to keep up with it. That means that other avenues are not being explored by the bright, imaginative young people, and that alternative career paths are blocked.

Alison Gopnik
Psychologist, University of California, Berkeley; co-author, "The Scientist in the Crib"

I believe, but cannot prove, that babies and young children are actually more conscious, more vividly aware of their external world and internal life, than adults are. I believe this because there is strong evidence for a functional trade-off with development. Young children are much better than adults at learning new things and flexibly changing what they think about the world. On the other hand, they are much worse at using their knowledge to act in a swift, efficient and automatic way. They can learn three languages at once but they can't tie their shoelaces.

David Buss
Psychologist, University of Texas; author, "The Evolution of Desire"

True love.

I've spent two decades of my professional life studying human mating. In that time, I've documented phenomena ranging from what men and women desire in a mate to the most diabolical forms of sexual treachery. I've discovered the astonishingly creative ways in which men and women deceive and manipulate each other. I've studied mate poachers, obsessed stalkers, sexual predators and spouse murderers. But throughout this exploration of the dark dimensions of human mating, I've remained unwavering in my belief in true love.

While love is common, true love is rare, and I believe that few people are fortunate enough to experience it. The roads of regular love are well traveled and their markers are well understood by many - the mesmerizing attraction, the ideational obsession, the sexual afterglow, profound self-sacrifice and the desire to combine DNA. But true love takes its own course through uncharted territory. It knows no fences, has no barriers or boundaries. It's difficult to define, eludes modern measurement and seems scientifically woolly. But I know true love exists. I just can't prove it.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

PBS station cancels intelligent-design film


TV outlet charged with practicing 'politically correct censorship'

Posted: January 5, 2005 1:00 a.m. Eastern

By Ron Strom 2005 WorldNetDaily.com

The PBS station in Albuquerque, N.M., has canceled a scheduled showing of a documentary on the theory of intelligent design, eliciting charges of "politically correct censorship."

New Mexico teacher Phil Robinson says he worked with staff at KNME-TV to arrange for the documentary, "Unlocking the Mystery of Life," to air on Friday night. Robinson discovered Monday that the show had been pulled and newspaper advertising for it had been canceled.

The station says the scheduling of the program was a mistake caused by a miscommunication related to the transition to a new program manager and that there was concern about the fact that those who funded the film have religious ties.

Seattle-based Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture hammered KNME for the cancellation.

"It is simply astounding that a public television station would engage in this sort of politically correct censorship," said Rob Crowther, director of communications for the organization, in a statement. "Public television usually prides itself in exploring new ideas, not suppressing them. Doesn't anyone at KNME believe in free speech?"

Joan Rebecchi is the marketing manager for KNME.

"It wasn't suppose to be scheduled in the first place," she told WND. "It was a scheduling mistake.

"We're in transition between two program managers, and they were repeating 'NOVA' in that timeslot. There was confusion over the show title, and so that show was scheduled in [NOVA's] place. It was figured out last weekend that we had that scheduled and we weren't suppose to schedule it."

Rebecchi said Robinson contacted her about advertising for the show and that she helped him write a good ad for it, not realizing at the time the show was not suppose to have been scheduled.

"When I found out the show in fact wasn't going to air, I pulled the ads from the Albuquerque Journal because I didn't want him to lose any money," Rebecchi said. "We were able to pull them before he lost any money."

Rebecchi confirmed that a lot of Albuquerque residents are "very, very upset" that the station is not running it.

She said station personnel had concerns about the fact that those who funded the program "had some connection to a religious point of view."

Continued Rebecchi: "Our underwriting guidelines don't allow us to air programs that have a specific religious point of view," adding that PBS has to be "kind of biased" against programming with any religious connections.

"That's the reason they didn't want to schedule it in the first place," she told WND.

Crowther points out, however, that the film in question is currently for sale on PBS' national website and has aired in almost every top-20 media market in the country, including PBS stations in California, Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington state and Washington, D.C.

"The real losers here are New Mexico viewers who will be denied the chance to see a fascinating documentary that public television viewers in other states have already had the opportunity to see," Crowther added. "I guess if New Mexico viewers want to learn more about intelligent design, they will have to go the national PBS website."

"Unlocking the Mystery of Life" is a 58-minute program exploring what DNA reveals about the origin of life and documents how some scientists are skeptical about naturalistic explanations for the origin of genetic information and are looking to theories of design instead. According to the Discovery Institute, the documentary follows the development of intelligent design theory through interviews with key design scientists.

Related special offer:

"The Case Against Darwin"

If you'd like to sound off on this issue, please take part in the WorldNetDaily poll.

Ron Strom is a news editor for WorldNetDaily.com.

Acupuncture as Botox alternative


By Michael Hill
Associated Press
Originally published December 26, 2004

Paula Scardamalia has pins in her face - nine tiny ones angling out near her eyes, mouth and jaw.

The pins were poked in to tighten chin skin and erase lines on the 52-year-old woman's face. The practice, called facial acupuncture, is becoming popular as a sort of holistic alternative to trying to turn back time through toxins or surgery.

"This has got to be healthier than Botox or a surgical facelift," said Scardamalia, the little needles wagging slightly.

Interest in facial acupuncture might be connected to the rising popularity of alternative medicine, or to society's obsession with youth and beauty, or to the mass of aging baby boomers. Whatever the reason, acupuncturists report a wave of interest in the ancient Chinese practice.

"It's very hot," said Mary Elizabeth Wakefield, a New York City practitioner whose facial work now consumes about three-quarters of her practice.

Acupuncturists typically stimulate selected points on the body with hair-thin pins to promote good health and alleviate pain. They view it as correcting energy imbalances along the body's "meridians," which carry an energy flow called Qi (pronounced "chee") - a concept many mainstream physicians say lacks scientific evidence.

In facial acupuncture, needles are usually stuck in wrinkles and sags to bring more blood, Qi and muscle tone to an area. The theory is that a healthy face is a better-looking face.

"As you might imagine, facial acupuncture for, shall we say, cosmetic purposes, was not one of the core issues in ancient Chinese medicine," said Michael McCoy, executive director of the Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Alliance. "It just turns out to be an interesting application that fits a lot of cultural values of the present."

Some practitioners advertise the process as an "acupuncture facelift," though more tradition-minded practitioners blanch at the term. Wakefield says that's an improper label for what amounts to an organic healing process.

Marion Bergan, the licensed acupuncturist who treated Scardamalia for a demonstration, offers "facial rejuvenation acupuncture" in addition to her medical acupuncture. The 90-minute procedure includes an herbal face mask, a massage and a mild electrical stimulation. But the underpinning, so to speak, remains acupuncture.

Most of Bergan's facial customers are women in their 50s and 60s. But Wakefield said her practice gets a fair share of men, too.

"They realize in order to keep their jobs and to get jobs, they need to look younger," Wakefield said.

Patients who get over any aversion to having needles stuck in their face find out it doesn't hurt, at least not much.

Mary O'Connell, a 60-year-old treated by Bergan last year, said she noticed a tighter face after her sixth of 10 weekly treatments.

"It didn't put me back to age 16," she said. "What it did do is take out the heavy, deep, deep lines around my cheeks and mouth, and has sort of eliminated the drawn, tired look."

Ten treatments ran O'Connell about $1,300. That's cheaper than a facelift. A treatment with Botox, the wrinkle-smoothing agent derived from the toxin that causes botulism, can cost around $400.

While millions of Americans have had acupuncture treatments, the nation's medical establishment has never fully embraced the practice.

The American Medical Association has no position on it. On its Web site, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health, cites research that found evidence that acupuncture is useful for managing pain, depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Copyright 2005, The Baltimore Sun

ACLU won't put Darwin on trial


Sunday, December 26, 2004

So the Dover Area school board's decision to challenge evolution by requiring the teaching of intelligent design has as many people warned provoked a lawsuit, one that the district is not likely to win.

By ruling in other cases that theories contrary to Darwin's theory of how life developed "lacks a clear secular purpose" in regards to public education, the Supreme Court has established a legal doctrine that American Civil Liberties Union lawyers are sure to seize upon in the Dover case.

It's a pity, really, because instead of addressing the facts about science, all the ACLU has to do is show how Darwinism conforms to the prevailing secular dogma and argue that intelligent design is likely to stir up trouble in public schools by invoking the divine and the miraculous.

The irony is that some of the parents who sued the Dover Area School District said they were worried that under the proposed curriculum students would not be taught "sound science." And yet, in a trial focusing on science and which theory best fit the facts, it's the Darwinists who would be put on the defensive.

Indeed, for some scientists (albeit what Time magazine characterizes as "tiny pockets" within the scientific community), the basic arguments supporting the theory that life arose by a happy accident in a cosmos ruled by chaos simply don't stand up. What's more, when building a case for intelligent design, its supporters draw from discoveries across a range of scientific disciplines.

These scientists point to cosmology and the Big Bang theory, which holds that the universe suddenly burst forth, in the beginning, from what can only be described as some unfathomable source of creative energy. They point to physics, which declare that the basic forces that hold the universe together (and make it suitable for life) are fine-tuned with a mathematical precision that defies belief. They gape at the massive amounts of genetic information filed away inside every single living cell, then take a closer look and ask how anything so complex and perfectly ordered could be formed by a gradual, random process.

Now, it's not as though Darwinists are unaware of these grand enigmas or that they fail to feel a sense of awe when confronted with the mysteries of the universe. In fact, many people who believe in evolution have found a way to reconcile the theory with their own religious faith.

But when it comes down to it, the usual response of present-day science to extraordinary phenomena that some would say point to God, is either to relegate it to the "soft" disciplines of philosophy and theology, or simply to ignore it.

After all, science as it is currently defined deals only with material things and processes. Anything that smacks of the miraculous, then, is of no scientific consequence. It doesn't exist.

So denial serves as a useful tool for many Darwinists. When confronted with the reality of human consciousness, for instance, they vaguely assert that it must be something that emerges when brains reach a certain size, or they pretend it isn't there.

One school of thought among Darwinists holds that what we perceive as consciousness, that yearning to understand why we are here and how we should live, is just an illusion, a byproduct of an organ whose only function is to make sure our physical bodies survive long enough to reproduce. As MIT's Marvin Minsky famously put it, the human mind is nothing more than "a computer made of meat."

Other glaring flaws in Darwinism follow a similar strain. Its adherents can't produce all the facts they need to bolster their case, so they trot out absurd assertions that they trust can't really be disproved. So in the end Darwinism draws its strength not from rigid scientific truth, but by offering a rather vague philosophical catch-all.

This may seem a rather blatant accusation, but it is echoed even by Darwinists themselves.

Consider the late Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould. A popular champion of modern Darwinism and a pop-culture icon (he was depicted on an episode of "The Simpsons"), he also came to criticize some of the orthodoxies of the theory.

This is not to suggest that he rejected evolution. His reflections are more like those of an aging bishop who candidly confesses to problems within the faith.

But in an article published this year by Scientific American, Gould seems to be stating that he believes in Darwinism despite what he knows about the facts.

Gould's criticisms are actually quite damaging. He can offer no explanation of how life first emerged, other than to say that geology seems to hint at its "inevitability." He declares the fossil record woefully inadequate for showing how various species developed, and that fossils for higher life forms "do not even constitute an evolutionary series." He suggests that evolution is not a constant, gradual process but instead occurs in "quick and quirky episodes." He argues that there is no reason to believe that evolution moves automatically toward more complex life forms, and that natural selection often is overrated and misused as an explanation for how or why evolution occurs. He says the truth is that evolution is so random that there is no way to predict how life forms ultimately will develop.

Gould feels free to make these statements and then insist that Darwinism holds true. And yet he knew full well, as various York College instructors pointed out in denouncing Dover's proposed intelligent design curriculum, that science is supposed to concern itself with facts that are "testable, reproducible and observable."

But if life is nothing more than a cosmic lottery, it's hard to see how it can be studied as science. And how does one conduct a controlled experiment for randomness?

Gould ended his article by calling for a rethinking of what he labeled the icons of evolution. Prominent intelligent design advocate Jonathan Wells of the Discovery Institute in Seattle uses similar language in his criticism of Darwinism.

Does that mean there's common ground here? Not really, because what's at issue isn't the scientific method, or even fossils, field studies and ancient rocks. No, the debate in Dover (and in some 40 other states around the country where Darwinism is being challenged) ultimately has to do with picking an official philosophy of origins.

The science of life, it seems, can't be taught without making some references to design and purpose or the lack thereof. And if it's one particular philosophy that earns teachers their paychecks and gets scientists grant renewal, then there really isn't much incentive to explore the others no matter how much religious dissenters might complain. Scientific materialism wins.

Still, it's worthwhile to consider what law professor Phillip Johnson had to say on the subject. Johnson wrote: "Any true metaphysical theory must account for two essential truths which materialism cannot accommodate: first, that mind is more than matter; and second, that such things as truth, beauty and goodness really do exist even if most people do not know how to recognize them."

Just don't expect these essentials to be addressed in science class.

Dave Dentel is a copy editor for the York Daily Record/Sunday News, E-mail: ddentel@ydr.com.

Georgia Textbook Sticker Defended Weakly, Says Analyst


Jim Brown / Agape Press

"This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered." (Sticker placed inside Cobb Co., GA, biology texts)

A federal trial wrapped up on Friday in a case that will determine whether a warning sticker in public school textbooks calling evolution "a theory, not a fact" violates the so-called separation of church and state.

Schools in Cobb County, Georgia, put the disclaimers in biology texts after thousands of parents complained that the books presented evolution as truth without mentioning rival ideas about life's origin, such as intelligent design. (See Earlier Article) Parent Marjorie Rogers testified that while she does not want the Bible taught in school, intelligent design theory should be taught in addition to evolution.

"That's the whole thing," Rogers says. "I am not at all proposing that we exclude any information from the classroom. I want to open up the floodgates."

Legal analyst Seth Cooper with the Seattle-based Discovery Institute says Cobb County School District attorney Linwood Gunn has put on a weak defense by choosing to focus on parents' religious aversions to evolution and by arguing that the issue is about religious sensibilities and parents' free exercise of religion.

"We think that really misses the mark. What's most important and at stake here is not textbook stickers," Cooper states. "What's important is the continued academic freedom of teachers and students to discuss the growing scientific controversy surrounding neo-Darwinian and chemical evolution."

The Discovery Institute analyst says the one witness Gunn put on the stand was not even a scientist. He adds that, in his opinion, Gunn "either threw the case on purpose, or he simply doesn't know what he was doing."

The lawsuit against the sticker disclaimer was brought originally by the American Civil Liberties Union. Cooper wonders why the ACLU does not want children to learn with an open mind. "Careful study and open-mindedness are part of good science education," he says. "The ACLU is wrong -- academic freedom should be protected."

But Cooper remains hopeful that even though the sticker did not receive a strong defense, the judge's decision in the case will align with a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court decision that found it is permissible to teach "scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories."

Physics News Update 714

The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News
Number 714 January 3, 2005 by Phillip F. Schewe, Ben Stein

NEUTRINO SUPERFLUIDS aren't going to be observed any time soon, but the mathematical proof that they could exist helps to augment the catalog of possible physical reality. Superfluids are closely related to superconductors. In both phenomena numerous particles---whether boson particles such as helium-4 atoms or pairs of fermion particles such as electrons or helium-3 atoms---can coalesce into a single, all-encompassing quantum state; examples include supercurrents, superfluids, and Bose-Einstein condensates (BEC). Joe Kapusta, a physicist at the University of Minnesota, has shown that neutrinos too can become a superfluid. First they must pair up, as electrons do in superconductors. Two electrons with opposite spins can form pairs by the exchange of slight disturbances in the underlying matrix of atoms in the solid sample. Analogously, neutrinos with opposite helicity (for a "left-handed" neutrino, its intrinsic spin is oriented opposite to its direction of motion; for "right-handed" neutrinos it's the other way around) could pair up by exchanging a disturbance in the all-pervasive sea of Higgs bosons in the universe. (The Higgs boson, in turn, is the much-sought cornerstone of the current standard model of particle physics; it is the particle whose presence confers mass on many of the other known particles.) After pairing up, the nu pairs could then form a superfluid condensate. Kapusta admits that the chances of observing his superfluid are slim since, first, right-handed neutrinos have never been observed (and might be even more elusive or ghostly than their left-handed partners) and, second, because the superfluid would only occur at temperatures far colder than the 2.7-K average-temperature of the current universe. Kapusta points out that a superfluid of heavy neutrinos would make a great medium for advanced civilizations to send messages over intergalactic distances since the scattering length of pulses (the average distance they go before scattering) moving through the neutrino fluid would be much greater than for electromagnetic pulses. (Physical Review Letters, 17 December 2004; kapusta@physics.umn.edu)

ANTI-HYDROGEN PRODUCTION UNDER LASER CONTROL has been achieved in an experiment conducted at the CERN lab in Geneva. Cold anti-hydrogen (Hbar) atoms are the antimatter counterparts of hydrogen atoms. Previously antihydrogen was formed when positrons cooled antiprotons within the carefully designed electric and magnetic fields of a nested Penning trap. That the anti-atoms had formed at all was verified, but they're not yet cold enough to be held in place. The ultimate goal is to make a goodly supply of anti-atoms, store them, and then probe their internal structure with laser light to determine whether they have the same quantum behavior as ordinary hydrogen.

An incremental step would be not just to make the anti-atoms but to see to it that they are in specific internal energy states, and this is what the ATRAP (http://hussle.harvard.edu/~atrap/ ) collaboration has now done. To gain some extra control over anti-H production, they have to make the production process a bit more complicated. Where the lasers come into the picture is to initiate a three-step process. First, laser light selectively excites cesium atoms into special "Rydberg" states. Second, positrons collide with the Cs atoms, an encounter which cedes one of the atom's electrons to the positron; the positron-electron pair, which constitutes a sort of atom-like entity of its own, known as positronium (abbreviated Ps), inherits the cesium atom's excitation. (By the way, this excited Ps is a thousand times bigger than plain Ps). Third, the positron part of the Ps can occasionally be captured by an antiproton moving in the same direction. In the process the anti-hydrogen atoms assumes the same binding energy as the former Ps. The rate for producing anti-H this way is still lower than with the older methods, but the use of the intermediate cesium process and laser excitation offers an extra measure of control over atomic conditions within the trap (useful in experiments yet to come) and, furthermore, may have resulted, in this case, in the coldest anti-atoms ever created in a lab. (Storry et al., Physical Review Letters, 31 December 2004; contact Gerald Gabrielse, 617-495-4381, gabrielse@physics.harvard.edu)

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

Dover board mum on intelligent design


Article Last Updated: Tuesday, January 04, 2005 - 11:41:18 AM EST

Rejects public comments on issue as deadline in court case nears
By HEIDI BERNHARD-BUBB For The York Dispatch

Dover Area School Board members last night refused to address the pending federal lawsuit over intelligent design, strictly enforcing their stringent rules restricting public comment at monthly meetings to agenda items only.

Meanwhile, the plaintiffs in that lawsuit, including 11 parents, have until tomorrow to seek a temporary restraining order barring the district from referencing the intelligent design concept in biology classes. Those classes begin next week.

The suit was filed last month on behalf of the parents by the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and attorneys from the Harrisburg-based Pepper Hamilton law firm.

Angie Zeigler-Yingling, who last month said she would resign because of the refusal to revisit the intelligent design issue, did not attend last night's meeting due to illness. She remains a board member and had been expected to ask the board to alter the curriculum and to make her resignation official.

Superintendent Richard Nilsen said the board has not been asked to officially accept her resignation. Zeigler-Yingling could not be reached for comment, but is expected to attend the board's next meeting at 7 p.m. Monday at North Salem Elementary School.

Zeigler-Yingling voted in favor of the curriculum in October, but later changed her mind, saying she felt coerced by fellow board members.

Former board members Jeff and Casey Brown -- who opposed the board's decision -- resigned earlier this year, saying they feared a lawsuit.

The legal action is believed to be the first in the country to challenge the teaching of intelligent design theory, which attributes the origin of life to an intelligent being. It counters the theory of evolution, which says that people evolved from less complex beings.

The district contends that it will not be teaching intelligent design and that teachers will only read a statement raising questions about the theory of evolution, mentioning intelligent design and referring students to a book, "Of Pandas and People," in the library.

Four depositions: Yesterday, the plaintiffs' attorneys deposed board president Sheila Harkins, former board president Alan Bonsell, former curriculum committee chair William Buckingham, and superintendent Nilsen to determine if the restraining order is necessary.

One plaintiff, Beth Eveland said no decision had yet been made regarding the restraining order.

In the meantime, Nilsen said the district plans to move forward with its biology curriculum as currently written.

Dover biology teacher Jen Miller said that she is still not sure how to handle student questions that may arise when she reads the statement on intelligent design to her students next week. Miller said she has been told to direct students back to the statement if they raise questions about religion or the origin of life.

She also said a discussion has been scheduled tomorrow between the district's top administrators and science department.

The science department released a statement last month that said it was "by no means giving their consent or agreement to the development of" the district statement on intelligent design.

Comment disallowed: An effort to raise the subject before the school board last night was rejected, however.

Gina Myers was told that she could not comment on intelligent design because public comment is now limited to agenda items only.

New board president Sheila Harkins changed the rules last month, saying she wanted to keep meetings running smoothly and avoid contention.

More than 50 residents on both sides of the issue came to the meeting. Myers said she wanted to tell the board she supported their decision.

"It's good for the students' learning process to make them aware of other scientific theories and to make another textbook available," Myers said.

With public comment limited, others made their opinions known without words. Andy Langione, a Dover High School graduate and freshman at Penn State University, wore a button he made with a slash through a panda.

"It's an anti-'Of Pandas and People' button," said Langione, "Sometimes buttons speak louder than words."

-- Reach Heidi Bernhard-Bubb at 854-1575 or news@yorkdispatch.com.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Evolution debate spawns bills


By the Associated Press

BOZEMAN - Two state lawmakers have drafted bills tackling the debate over teaching evolution, one giving schools more authority to teach alternatives and the other reaffirming the state's support for the Darwinian theory.

Both were driven by proposed curriculum changes in Darby schools last year that mandated the discussion of "intelligent design" theory in science classes.

Sen. Ken Toole, D-Helena, is sponsoring a resolution that would reaffirm the state's commitment to separation of church and state and to teaching valid scientific principles, which in his mind would rule out creationism.

On the other side of the spectrum, Rep. Roger Koopman, R-Bozeman, has introduced a bill that would give schools more leeway to teach intelligent design and other alternatives to evolution in the classroom.

In an e-mail response to a request for an interview, Koopman said few people realize that the scientific evidence disputing evolution is just as strong as the evidence supporting it.

"The only time religious bias becomes a factor is when people try to ban scientific data that supports intelligent design, because they insist that only an atheistic model of origins should be taught," he wrote.

The theory of creationism states that life and the Earth were created by God from nothing, while intelligent design, a secular form of creationism, argues the Earth was created by a series of intelligent events, not random chance. Evolution says that species change in response to environmental and genetic factors over the course of many generations.

Critics contend intelligent design is nothing more than creationism in disguise, but proponents say the theory isn't religious because it doesn't state who or what the intelligent designer is.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that creationism is religion and cannot be taught as science in public schools.

Toole sees intelligent design as the latest version of creationism.

"It is, I think, a rather clever way to try to get around the fact that they're promoting a biblical interpretation of history," he said.

Koopman is worried the state is forcing its standards on local school boards, saying he wants "to put an end to the kind of heavy-handed bureaucratic meddling that recently occurred at the Darby schools."

Group thrives on skepticism


By Mark Hansel
Post staff reporter

The Cincinnati Skeptics Society is more than just a group that challenges claims of UFOs and psychic phenomena. The group also discusses political issues, literature and current events.

"We ran out of ghosts to investigate a long time ago," said Bryan Sellers, the group's secretary.

Instead the group prefers to focus on using critical thinking and scientific methods to investigate things that happen in all aspects of society.

"We are not closed-minded people who want to dismiss any unusual ideas," said Skeptics President Rick Davis. "We simply think the scientific method is the best way to prove, or disprove, beliefs."

On a recent evening, six members of the group sat in a coffee shop in Pleasant Ridge discussing a range of topics.

"Hardly anything is off-limits but we do try to stay away from religious issues," said Clifton resident Gary Weiss. "About the closest we come is discussing the teaching of creationism in schools, which most of us oppose."

Weiss, a professor of mathematics at the University of Cincinnati and a group member, compared teaching creationism to teaching a math class where the formulas do not result in a correct answer.

"I don't think people should be able to teach what they want regardless of the truth," he said. "The facts should support our teaching and that's not the case with creationism."

While the group discusses political issues it does not endorse candidates.

"We will occasionally have speakers with a political background, but only if they are pertinent to the topic we are discussing," said Davis.

For example, the group's guest speaker at its October meeting was former Cincinnati mayor Roxanne Qualls, who spoke on the subject of political advertising.

Davis said the group does not have any membership criteria, but admits some people are a better fit than others.

"We want to provoke open and honest discussion that looks at all points of view and some people are just too close-minded to participate in that type of discussion," he said.

The group is made up of mostly middle-aged, college-educated men, according to Davis. Most members are from Greater Cincinnati but there are a few from outside the area.

The group organizes outings throughout the year and also has a science book club that meets once a month at the downtown library.

The Skeptics align themselves with people such as James Randi and Penn and Teller. Randi, known as the Amazing Randi, has offered a $1 million prize to anyone who can show proof of paranormal activity. The prize has never been claimed.

Penn and Teller, best known for their Las Vegas magic act, have a program on the Showtime network that focuses on debunking paranormal claims.

Recently the Skeptics have paired up with the University of Cincinnati Skeptics to try to broaden their appeal and recruit new members. "We would like to see more young people get involved in our discussions," said Davis.

The group also participated in a debate at the Mercantile Library as part of a documentary for the BBC that focused on Charles Dickens' 1842 visit to America.

"We chose the Cincinnati Skeptics because Dickens was such a fan of critical thinkers," said Susie Samant of Lion TV, the company that produced the documentary.

Davis said the group is grateful for the exposure it will gain from the documentary, but it prefers more freewheeling discussions. That was obvious during the coffee shop meeting, as the discussion that started out about creationism floated through several topics, including education and politics.

"We generally just go where the topic takes us," said Davis. "Sometimes its rational things like the way civilizations develop or it could be something way out there like the ghosts at the Golden Lamb Inn in Lebanon. That's what makes the group so much fun."

Publication Date: 01-04-2005

Humanists, atheists look to higher global profile


By Robert Evans

HUMANIST and atheist groups around the world are looking to boost their profile in 2005 to counter religious fundamentalism and efforts by some Western leaders to relaunch faith as a keystone of national life.

Under pressure from the rise of militant Islam, Vatican activism in the European Union and the re-election of a "born-again" Christian to the White House, they feel they must resist to ensure the ideas of secularism survive and spread.

"In the face of the religious onslaught on Humanist values, we have to speak out and get our message over," says Roy Brown, Swiss-based president of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) which links groups totalling millions of members. Two central events will be a World Atheist Conference at Vijayawada in India in early January and the IHEU's World Congress in July at the Paris headquarters of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

Atheists, who see no evidence for the existence of a deity, and Humanists, who are mainly atheists but include some believers, share that core concern: to keep religion out of politics and limit it to the private sphere. They draw their inspiration from freethinkers down the ages, from ancient Greek and Indian philosophers through the 18th century Enlightenment that shaped much of modern political thinking in Europe and North America. The re-election in November of George W Bush, US Humanists fear, strengthened the influence of Christian fundamentalists dedicated to restoring the Bible, "God's word," to a central role in public life and foreign policy.

Bush's triumph has also boosted opponents of abortion and homosexuality, as well as supporters of Intelligent Design (ID) which rejects evolution - the development of all life on earth from lower forms through natural selection of the fittest - as elaborated by 19th century British naturalist Charles Darwin. The ID movement emerged from the ranks of US creationists, who believe the Bible is literally correct and that their God created the world and all in it. ID limits itself to arguing that an intelligence must have shaped life.

In many US states, fundamentalists on school boards ensure that creationism - taught widely until the late 1960s - is still present in some form. ID supporters are now demanding that their beliefs be taught alongside evolution.

Last month British philosopher Anthony Flew, long a champion of unbelief, announced to the dismay of some fellow atheists that he was now convinced an intelligence must have provided the spark of life and perhaps even done some designing.

Atheist scientist-thinkers, like British biologist Richard Dawkins, said Flew had simply come to "the god of the gaps" - a view held by some philosophers but few scientists that some "force" must have been at play because science has not pinned down how life could have begun otherwise. In Britain, many Humanists feel that Prime Minister Tony Blair - a strong religious believer - and members of his government are undermining secular traditions.

They point to his promotion of faith schools run by various religious communities, including two financed by a fundamentalist businessman where creationism is taught as science. Blair's push for a new law that would protect all believers from "incitement to hate" on the grounds of their faith - a key demand of Muslim activists - is bound to restrict criticism of religion as such, Humanists argue.

His readiness to bend government policies to the views of "faith" leaders, they say, has led religious hard-liners to demand ever more concessions on social and cultural issues such as limiting the right to stage plays that might offend religion. However Humanists see some advances over the past year in Europe, Asia and even in Africa where atheists have begun to organise. In Europe, Vatican efforts to have the EU constitution include a reference to the continent's Christian heritage were blocked. The European Parliament voted to bar a traditionalist Italian Catholic from becoming the new justice commissioner.

France's ban on Muslim headscarves in state schools was imposed in September with few problems, despite warnings that it would unleash protests and alienate many in Europe's largest Islamic minority.

In Spain, the Socialists replaced the Catholic-inspired Popular Party after its decade in power and began a series of secular reforms angering the Church hierarchy, including a move to allow gay marriage. The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party lost power in India's general elections to the firmly secular Congress Party. Even at the United Nations there was good news from for Humanists.

Bangladeshi writer and medical doctor Taslima Nasrin, living in exile after criticising Islam and an active campaigner for the rights of women and the non-religious, was awarded a UNESCO prize for promoting cultural tolerance. But at the same time a Vatican campaign led to the world body adding "Christianophobia" to "Islamophobia" and anti-Semitism as issues its human rights bodies report on - a sign for many that religious forces are reinforcing their grip. reuters

Religion not science


Tuesday, January 4, 2005

In response to Floyd Eyler's letter to the editor Dec. 26 stating, "Gravity shows God's design," allow me to tell you what we taxpayers are sick of. We taxpayers are sick of the evangelical right making a mockery of the scientific process (an actual process, mind you, quite unlike the hodgepodge of misconceived ideas and bad logical conclusions that is "intelligent design") by insisting that sophisticated, well-educated, thinking Americans are trying to stifle "alternatives" to science.

Floyd himself explained that his problem was that those of us who care about the U.S. Constitution and its principles are attempting "to do away with (his) beliefs." Is it beliefs or science that concern the proponents of the Dover school board decision? If it's their beliefs that concern them, such beliefs have no place in a classroom of science.

For your edification, just because our physicists do not completely understand everything about gravity does not mean that gravity is the result of an intelligent design. It merely means that we have not yet reached the end of human knowledge. We nonetheless continue to plug the gaps in our understanding of the phenomenon of gravity and other scientifically established principles, such as evolution and natural section, through proven scientific processes not by proposing new, completely unproven ideas in an attempt to push an evangelical curriculum of creationism. Sorry, but the whole of human knowledge already disproves intelligent design. You're wrong.

To the "oppressed" Christian right, science is a process, not a democracy. We will continue teaching evolution over creationism, so get off your pews, close your Bibles, and read a physics book for once.


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