NTS LogoSkeptical News for 11 January 2005

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Faculty Opposes Evolution Curriculum


University of Pennsylvania scientists sent a letter to a local school board objecting to a decision to teach what critics call a form of creationism.

Last year the Dover Area School Board became the first in the country to mandate that intelligent design be taught in high school science classes as an alternative to evolution. ID asserts that life is so complex, an intelligent being must have created it.

We urge you to alter the misguided policy of teaching intelligent design creationism in your high school science curriculum, said an open letter to the school board signed by 33 professors of the University of Pennsylvania's biology and philosophy departments.

The professors said evolution is supported by a vast array of scientific evidence and is essential to understanding biology.

Science education should be based on ideas that are well supported by evidence. Intelligent design does not meet this criterion, the letter said.

York College biology professors wrote a similar letter last month. Eleven parents have sued the school board over its decision.

Source: United Press International

Saturn's moon reveals bulging equator


13:41 10 January 2005
NewScientist.com news service
Stephen Battersby

No other body in the solar system has a bulging equator such as that of Iapetus (NASA/JPL)Related Articles

A giant ridge girdles Saturn's satellite Iapetus - making the moon look like a walnut shell - reveal the latest images from the Cassini-Huygens mission. Scientists are at a loss to explain the feature, which is unique in the solar system.

The Cassini spacecraft flew past Iapetus on New Year's Day, approaching to within 123,400 kilometres of the moon's surface. Its camera captured the most detailed images of Iapetus yet, revealing wisps of dark material and two-tone craters. But the ridge is the greatest surprise to scientists.

It extends for at least 1300 km, following the equator exactly. In places the ridge breaks into mountains at least 13 km high - far taller than Mount Everest on Earth and among the highest known on any world.

But no one knows how the ridge formed. It might have been pushed up by compressive forces like fold mountains on Earth, or erupted from a crack in the crust like Earth's mid-ocean ridges.

This new mystery may have some connection with an old one, the two-faced nature of Iapetus.

The moon is unusual in that one half of Iapetus is bright white, presumably where the surface is clean ice, and the other half is pitch black. This dark side is the leading face of the moon - that is the half of the moon which leads in Iapetus's orbit around Saturn.

Dark materials

It is not clear where this dark, carbon-rich material came from. It might be soot blasted off an outer moon and then swept up by Iapetus, or it might have erupted from inside Iapetus itself.

Cassini's latest images offer details, but no clear solution. They show that the dark hemisphere has wispy edges. Images also reveal that craters on the dark side tend to have two-tone walls, with those facing the equator covered in dark material, while those facing the poles remain light. Both of these observations could fit either theory for the origin of the dark material.

The spectrum of the dark material is also inconclusive, showing features reminiscent of material from two different types of asteroid.

There is one new clue, however. The images show that the material lies in a very thin layer, which rules out one kind of eruption theory in which liquid from the interior may have filled up a vast basin on one side of the moon. So if the dark material did come from Iapetus, it must have erupted in plumes of dust or droplets that spray-painted the surface. It is quite possible that those plumes were spewed out in whatever cataclysm created the bizarre ridge

Cassini will return to Iapetus in 2007 for a much closer view, skimming just 1000 km above the surface. But its next job is to act as a relay station for the Huygens probe, which is on course to plunge into the atmosphere of the giant moon Titan on Friday. Huygens aims to analyse Titan's enigmatic surface, and sniff out complex organic chemistry that might shed light on the origin of life on Earth.

The great Kabbalah con exposed

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/arts/main.jhtml;sessionid=LB1AI0ME1KE1BQFIQMFSM5OAVCBQ0JVC?xml=/arts/2005/01/10/ftkab10.xml&pos=portal_puff2&_requestid=51205 (Filed: 10/01/2005)

What is Kabbalah and who believes in it?

Using a secret camera, cancer patient Tony Donnelly went inside the Kabbalah Centre in London to reveal an organisation that charges £860 for dinner, 'healing' water and some books in Aramaic

The surgeon at the Royal Marsden Hospital had warned me after I went under the knife for bladder cancer that the third month after the operation would be the most frustrating. I had got through the chemotherapy course and the good news was that I was still alive and kicking. But, while nowhere near my original fitness, I was desperate for something exciting, anything, to break me out of the boredom of convalescence.

Material girl goes 'spiritual': Madonna attends a Kabbalah talk in Tel Aviv

John Sweeney, the BBC reporter, who knows me of old, had visited me at the hospital and knew that I had done covert camera work before. His call was like a tonic. This job, he explained, concerned a curious religious outfit called the Kabbalah Centre, which claimed, among other things, that its Kabbalah water was blessed with "miraculous powers of restoration and healing" and that its Zohar books, the core texts of Kabbalah which they marketed, did you good, too.

They operated from a £3.65 million property off Bond Street in central London, and names such as Madonna and Britney Spears were mentioned as supporters. Some people said the centre helped people to understand ancient Jewish mysticism, but others who had been inside it called it a cult.

My task was to test its claim that the water and the books could help cure cancer. I was to play the wealthy businessman stricken with cancer, which was at least half true.

After picking up my secret camera, I headed off to the London Kabbalah Centre. On hearing of my cancer and that money was no problem, Miriam at reception filled me in: "We have the Kabbalah water, that has very strong healing powers."

Would it help my cells?

"It's a very good possibility," she said. "We have one girl, who works here, her mother used to have cancer and she doesn't have it any more… Because she drank the water. She comes here for Shabbat [the Sabbath]. There are a lot of connections you can do. The water is very, very good because it affects the cells, it cleanses the cells."

She arranged a meeting that day for me with Chagai Shouster, a senior figure in the centre. He told me he lived there and explained that his possessions would fit into one suitcase. He didn't have money to buy clothes, but received gifts. He also said that, for the last nine years, he had only been given what he needed. He struck me as an intelligent man who, but for his devotion to the Kabbalah Centre, would be holding down a worthwhile career in the outside world.

We talked about my cancer. Shouster was very careful to stress that he wasn't promising miracles, but he said there were tools that could help, including the water and the Zohar - the Kabbalah books in Aramaic and Hebrew.

"You need to let go of what the doctors told you," he said. "Drinking the water while meditating on the places that we have a problem with - the bladder, you say? - will clean and strengthen those places. Also, you can put the water on your stomach as well."

"How much water will I need?"

"In your situation right now? About three bottles a day to drink… and to meditate and to scan the Zohar… There are a few items that I'd like you to get right now in the bookstore, that I'd like you to have, if you want."

Expecting money might raise its ugly head, I asked: "The water is not a gift?"

"No, nothing is a gift, the water is not a gift, the Zohar is not a gift, as you know… There is the water cost. A case of 12 boxes costs £45 and the Zohar is £289. And the Shabbat meal is £26."

Shouster explained the importance of the Zohar books. No matter that they were written in Aramaic and, to me, indecipherable, I was told that I only had to run my fingers over the pages and scan the words for the "tools" to start working. Their tools, however, weren't cheap - the bill was £860, including dinner that night. And guess who was coming to dinner? Madonna!

Why does the material girl need Kabbalah?

"She wants to understand how she works with her kids better," Shouster told me. "She wants to understand how to control her mood better, how to be more happy. How to be more tolerant with her husband and to maintain the relationship."

That evening, I was back at the centre, complete with hidden camera. Looking forward to dinner, I was welcomed by Shouster. My first blunder was the dress code. Everyone else was dressed in white; I was dressed in black. Spot the undercover BBC investigator…

People were friendly, touchy-feely, shaking hands and cuddling each other. Shouster took my hand to shake it and embraced me, and, in doing so, touched the camera.

"What's that?" he asked. I fended him off by telling him that it was an electronic device delivering the chemotherapy drug. He looked embarrassed and nothing more was said.

Throughout the evening, I was introduced to people who told me how their lives had been changed by Kabbalah, the water and the Zohar.

I was seated at a table with a charming lady who told me that she'd had breast and lung cancer. She had undergone surgery at the Royal Brompton Hospital but, she told me, she had recovered from the operation quickly because of the Kabbalah water.

At one point, I noticed a striking blonde enter, in a trilby hat - Madonna. She was seated with her husband, Guy Ritchie, and their children on the next table. They seemed like a nice family, with Madonna a normal mum.

But then things turned crazy. A weird religious service started with prayer readings and chanting that culminated in everyone turning to the east, pushing the air with their hands, and crying out "Cher-er-er-er-nobyl" at the top of their voices. They thought they were curing Chernobyl of radiation, using the power of Kabbalah to drive away the evil - and one of the biggest rock stars on the planet was joining in the chanting.

The issue of how to pay the £860 came up a couple of days later. I didn't want to hand over a credit card, so I invented a cock-and-bull story about offshore riches and promised to deliver cash - £860 in total for the Kabbalah water and the Zohar books. I counted out the cash, then Shouster counted it out again.

Having paid £860, I was next offered a trip to celebrate a Kabbalah religious festival in Israel. Rabbi Philip Berg, the leader of the Kabbalah Centre movement, would be present. I was presented with an invoice for $6,232 (£3,331); flights were to be extra.

Then I had a session with Rabbi Eliyahu Yardeni, a Kabbalah Centre teacher. He told me about the meaning of life and the secrets of the universe, and volunteered a staggering piece of information: "Just to tell you another thing about the six million Jews that were killed in the Holocaust. The question was that the Light was blocked. They didn't use Kabbalah."

It sounded as though he was blaming the Holocaust on its victims. Then he made a vitriolic attack on mainstream rabbis, labelling them the enemy of the Kabbalah Centre. I'm not Jewish, but his unprovoked rantings about Hitler's victims left me questioning his sanity.

My encounter with the Kabbalah people still makes me angry. On the one hand, I have experienced first-class surgery and care at the Royal Marsden Hospital which has, at the very least, extended my life. Yet that hospital is struggling to raise money for essential equipment that saves lives.

On the other hand, you've got the Kabbalah Centre, this wacky outfit, where, for £860, I bought a few bottles of water and some books I can't read. The Kabbalah Centre is attracting the weak and those who are most vulnerable. I know, because I've been through cancer.

Recently, I saw on the Kabbalah Centre website pictures of a tsunami victim - a little boy with a red string around his wrist and a book in his hand - and I thought: how could they? The idea that they are sending their over-priced water and books you can't read to the tsunami victims makes me very angry indeed.

Sweeney Investigates: The Kabbalah Centre is on BBC2, Thursday, January 13, at 9.50pm. If you wish to donate money to the Royal Marsden, you can do so by contacting them at www.royalmarsden.org

What is Kabbalah and who believes in it?

Kabbalah is a branch of Jewish mysticism, which is thought to have originated in the 13th century. Its teachings come from an ancient 23-volume book called the Zohar, which offers interpretations of the inner meaning of the Torah. Traditionally, its practices were reserved for a select number of Jewish scholars who already had an advanced understanding of Jewish law, but for the past 500 years it has been followed more widely.

In 1969, a former insurance salesman, Rabbi Philip Berg, established the Kabbalah Centre International and appointed himself its leader. The centre markets Kabbalah as a "universal system for self-improvement" and attracts more than 3.5 million followers. Berg claims that Kabbalah answers the ultimate questions of human existence: who we are, where we come from and why we're here. Its followers claim that it can purify the soul and banish disease, depression and discontent using the spiritual light of the Zohar.

The Kabbalah Centre sells copies of its sacred texts and other "spiritual tools", such as Kabbalah Water. Among the best-selling items is the red string bracelet, said to protect the wearer from the evil eye. The Beckhams, Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Demi Moore and Madonna have all been seen sporting one.

Tsunami: Tibetans use touch to heal


January 9, 2005

NAGAPATTINAM: Tibetan refugees arrived here yesterday to counsel and treat villagers displaced by the tsunami.

These Buddhist monks have been trained by controversial US-based scientologists in a technique called 'Assist' that draws people's attention away from a particular event.

The Buddhists massage the hands, neck, heads and legs patients suffering from injuries. Dawa Dhondup, the head of a 15-member team doing the rounds in the worst hit Nagapattinam district where 6,035 people died, said the technique was meant to help fight trauma.

"At the moment, people are thinking too much about the disaster and their dead relatives," said Dhondup. "When you touch these people at various points of their body, you can take their thoughts away from the disaster," said the Tibetan monk, dressed in maroon robes wearing a green mouth and nose mask.

"I've been staying in India since 1959," said Dhondup who lives in a Tibetan settlement in Karnataka. "We owe it to India. The Indians have given us a temporary home. I know we are a little late as it is more than 10 days after the disaster but another 200 Tibetans will soon join us. When the disaster struck we conducted prayers in all our monasteries," he added.

J Jayarami, a 15-year-old girl who was treated by the Tibetan monks, said she felt immediate relief.

"They asked me to close my eyes and concentrate. Then they kept on asking me if I feel any pain when they touch me. It was a different experience from other doctors," she said.

Agnes Barton, a 'missionary' with the Church of Scientology, has been training volunteers in the Assist programme at Mysore, Karnataka.

"The aim is to enable villagers to bear the trauma and move on. The techniques of communication and touch have to be repeated many times. Basically, it is designed for the individual to get back on his feet," Barton said.

However, language is proving a problem in Tamil Nadu with a dearth of Tamil translators. The Assist technique is described by the group as "strictly and entirely in the field of the spirit."

Scientology, which boasts of followers among high-profile Hollywood stars as Tom Cruise and John Travolta, is based on the writings of late US science fiction writer Lafayette Ron Hubbard.

Germany has accused the group of masquerading as a religion to make money. France and Greece also consider it to be a sect.

2004 turned out to be a tough year for the predictors

Monday, Dec. 27, 2004

They are ubiquitous, operating in shabby storefronts, appearing on national TV shows, keeping tabloids in business, working with naïve police departments and even participating in ludicrous studies by DARPA, the Defense Department's Agency for Advanced Research Projects. They are the psychics, a motley collection of mystics, charlatans, hoaxers and smooth con artists who have successfully buffaloed a good portion of the public into believing that they have supernatural powers.

Among those supposed powers is the Nostradamus-like ability to prophesize, to foretell future events. Nowhere are these prophesies more promoted than in the tabloid press, and there is no one more familiar with them than Gene Emery, who has been tracking them for 26 years. Emery, to say the least, is not impressed. He has just completed his compilations of psychics' predictions for 2004 and reported the results ion the Website of CSICOP, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of the Paranormal. Among the 2004 headline-making events that psychics didn't predict, for example, Emery lists the Janet Jackson Superbowl breast flash, the prison torture in Iraq and the Boston Red Sox World Series win. And he reminds us that, in the past, psychics have missed out on foreseeing such major events as the death of their once-favorite subject, Princess Diana, as well as the 9/11 attacks.

According to psychic forecasts made in December, 2003, the next year would bring the discovery of giant animal fossils on Mars, the election of Colin Powell, who would switch parties and trounce George Bush, and the development by Americans of a taste for pressed bricks of dried plankton. The Sun, the tabloid that most heralds the psychics, claimed that its predictions for 2004 were "from the world's most brilliant psychics and seers." Among them were twins Terry and Linda Jamison, who vowed that "Saddam Hussein will be killed by U.S. troops early in the year," and that "Pope John Paul II will pass away in June."

Anthony Carr, "the world's most documented psychic," foresaw the accidental detonation of North Korean nuclear weapons and the resulting deaths of thousands, the shooting death of Saddam Hussein, which incidentally involved a woman, and scientists successfully bringing "the first-ever male pregnancy to term." The baby's gender, by the way, would be male. Psychic Martha Henstridge prophesized that 2004 would be the year an anti-gravity engine was developed and patented, and that Martha Stewart would "take the fashion world by storm with a new line of prison-themed designed clothing."

The prediction of the seer who came closest to reality was that Saddam Hussein would be captured in 2004. There was just one catch: that prophesy was published after the mid-December, 2003 apprehension of the Iraqi dictator.

Emery notes that the Sun, stung by its .000 psychic batting average, will make some changes in reporting the 2005 prognostications. The psychics whose visions are published will not be identified and their predictions will be interspersed with those made in the past by such equally inept, but now deceased, counterparts as Edgar Cayce, Nostradamus and Our Lady of Fatima.

"So a year from now," concludes Emery, "we won't be able to say who was responsible for predicting that a murder will take place on a flight to Mars, that Osama Bin Laden will be crushed by a comet, that a tidal wave will wipe out Tokyo and the Korean peninsula, and that newly-discovered writings from St. Paul will reveal that eating with a fork is a sin."

Leon Jaroff was the founding managing editor of DISCOVER, the newsmagazine of science, and was a longtime correspondent, writer and editor for TIME and LIFE.


Monday, January 10, 2005

District makes 'intelligent design' statement optional


By The Associated Press

HARRISBURG, Pa. — A school district that attracted national attention by requiring the reading of a statement about "intelligent design" as an alternative to the theory of evolution in high-school biology classes has made the mandate optional for teachers and students who object to it.

The Dover Area School District agreed on Jan. 7 to exempt science teachers temporarily from having to read the statement, after seven of them signed a letter objecting to the policy on grounds that it would violate Pennsylvania's professional standards and practices code for teachers.

Instead, administrators will read the statement on Jan. 13, when ninth-graders at Dover High School are expected to learn about evolution in their biology classes.

Students can also be excused from hearing the statement being read if their parents object, according to a letter to parents that the district posted on its Web site. It was unclear whether the letter was also mailed to individual families.

The Dover district is believed to be the only one in the nation to require teachers to mention intelligent design — a concept that holds that the universe is so complex, it had to be created by an unspecified guiding force — in the classroom.

Tom Scott, an attorney retained by the Pennsylvania State Education Association, said the teachers' union was "satisfied" with the decision. He said the teachers had objected to reading the statement because intelligent design "is not science."

"Unfortunately, the school board and the superintendent can put anything they want to in front of the students, but we are not going to be their messenger," Scott said.

School officials declined to comment on the science teachers' request, citing a pending federal lawsuit over Dover's science curriculum filed on behalf of eight families in the district.

Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., which is defending the school district, said that, although the district disagreed with the teachers' argument, it would exempt them from reading the statement during the course of the litigation.

"The Dover faculty have no right to opt out of a legal directive," Thompson said. "Having said that, because there is pending litigation ... we are going to accommodate their request."

Civil liberties groups who filed the suit allege intelligent design is merely a secular variation of creationism, the biblical-based view that regards God as the creator of life. They maintain that the Dover district's curriculum mandate may violate the constitutional separation of church and state.

The district has argued in court papers that the policy gives its students "an honest science education" by informing them about the controversy over evolution.

The district's letter to parents says they can have their children excused from class for a few minutes during the reading of the statement if they sign a permission slip.

Only one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Tammy Kitzmiller, is the parent of a ninth-grade student who would be affected by the policy. Kitzmiller did not return a call seeking comment on Jan. 7, but said in a deposition for the lawsuit that she did not want to have her daughter leave class.

"She shouldn't need to be singled out of the classroom," Kitzmiller said, according to a transcript of the proceeding.

The curriculum language originally approved by the school board in October 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 the statement on intelligent design.

Here is thet text of the statement on intelligent design that Dover Area High School administrators will read to students at the start of biology classes on Jan. 13:

"The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin's theory of evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part.

"Because Darwin's theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The theory is not a fact. Gaps in the theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.

"Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view. The reference book, 'Of Pandas and People,' is available for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what intelligent design actually involves.

"With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the origins of life to individual students and their families. As a standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on standards-based assessments."

China and India both know about underground UFO base in the Himalayan border area deep into the tectonic plates


Staff Reporter January 09, 2005

Kongka La is the low ridge pass in the Himalayas (the blue oval in the map). It is in the disputed India-China border area in Ladakh. In the map the red zone is the disputed area still under Chinese control in the Aksai Chin area. The Chinese held northeastern part is known as Aksai Chin and Indian South West is known as Ladakh. This is the area where Indian and Chinese armies fought major war in 1962. The area is one of the least accessed area in the world and by agreement the two countries do not patrol this part of the border. According to many tourists, Buddhist monks and the local people of Ladakh, the Indian Army and the Chinese Military maintain the line of control. But there is something much more serious happening in this area.

According to the few local people on the Indian and Chinese sides, this is where the UFOs are seen coming out of the ground, According to many, the UFO underground bases are in this region and both the Indian and Chinese Government know this very well..

Recently, some Hindu pilgrims on their way to Mount Kailash from the Western pass, came across strange lights in the sky. The local guides while in the Chinese territory told them that this was nothing new and is a normal phenomenon from Kongka Pass area - the tensed border region between India and China. This strange lighted triangular silent crafts show up from underground and moves almost vertically up. Some of the adventurous pilgrims wanted to look into the site. They were first turned back by the Chinese guard posts as they were refused entry from the Chinese side. When they tried to approach the site from Indian side, the Indian border patrol also turned them down in spite of their permit to travel between the two countries.

The new Monkey Trial


By persuading the Dover, Pa., school board to teach creationism, Christian zealots have provoked a showdown over the status of not just evolutionary theory, but science itself.

By Michelle Goldberg

Jan. 10, 2005 | DOVER, Pa. -- It was an ordinary springtime school board meeting in the bedroom community of Dover, Pa. The high school needed new biology textbooks, and the science department had recommended Kenneth Miller and Joseph Levine's "Biology." "It was a fantastic text," said Carol "Casey" Brown, 57, a self-described Goldwater Republican and the board's senior member. "It just followed our curriculum so beautifully."

But Bill Buckingham, a new board member who'd recently become chair of the curriculum committee, had an objection. "Biology," he said, was "laced with Darwinism." He wanted a book that balanced theories of evolution with Christian creationism, and he was willing to turn his town into a cultural battlefield to get it. "This country wasn't founded on Muslim beliefs or evolution," Buckingham, a stocky, gray-haired man who wears a red, white and blue crucifix pin on his lapel, said at the meeting. "This country was founded on Christianity, and our students should be taught as such."

Intelligent design: Is it just creationism lite?


Sunday, January 09, 2005

By Bill Toland, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The flap over "intelligent design," the latest terminology behind the old theory that the universe and its organisms developed at the discretion of a supernatural creator, continues to unfold in York County's Dover Area School District, where school directors want teachers to talk about the theory in a ninth-grade biology course.

The school board wants its science teachers to mention intelligent design as a possible alternative to evolution, and to note that evolution, as Charles Darwin posited, is a controversial and incomplete theory.

A group of parents sued the district last year, saying intelligent design amounts to a religious belief and ought not be included in high school biology courses.

Since the full trial in federal court in Harrisburg probably won't come until spring, administrators and possibly some teachers in the meantime will be reading the four-paragraph statement to students. The biology lessons begin this week.

On Friday, the school district agreed to temporarily exempt teachers and students who object to it, after seven science teachers signed a letter saying the policy would violate Pennsylvania's professional standards and practices code for teachers.

Last week, the parents group opted against seeking an injunction to prevent implementation of the policy.

"They simply did not have a strong enough case to ask [for an injunction]," said Richard Thompson, chief counsel of Michigan's Thomas More Law Center, a firm that litigates for free on behalf of "Christians and time-honored family values."

Across the country, pro- and anti-evolution groups, scientists and clergy, teachers and principals, have their eyes on the case, which appears to be the first to question whether introducing the term "intelligent design" in public schools breaches the church-state wall that has been carefully erected by the courts over the years.

But even when this trial is over, it's a good bet that the controversy won't be, as proponents fight for the theory's inclusion in public school science courses, while critics fight to block it as simply biblical creationism dressed up in a colorful coat. Along the way, expect technical discussions among the educated class about the precise elements of science and faith, and whether believing in one requires the exclusion of -- or even a leap of -- the other.

Under the radar Revisionists might say the York County controversy was born of the blue-red values war now under way, with new battle lines being drawn by conservative Republicans emboldened by their recent election victories. But in fact, attempts to work the term "intelligent design" into public school science courses date back to the early 1990s.

"We've had an anti-evolution movement that extends back even before Darwin published 'The Origin of the Species,' " said Wesley R. Elsberry, a biologist with the California-based National Center For Science Education, as well as a practicing Methodist. The intelligent-design terminology "is just part of their PR packaging. They've been selling anti-evolution, and anti-science, for a long time."

In Dover, the case may hinge not only on the content of the statement, but also the intent of the school board directors who wrote it. Last year, two York newspapers reported that some district officials had publicly discussed a plan to introduce "creationism" in biology courses, with one official noting Jesus had died on a cross, and "someone has to take a stand."

For clarity: Creationism, in the Judeo-Christian sense, is not the identical twin of the latest incarnation of intelligent-design creationism. Strict creationists believe that the Old Testament and its Book of Genesis are not only a religious guide, but also scientific and historical texts offering the precise formula for the origins of the universe and man, created by a compassionate God.

Intelligent design attempts to use scientific evidence, rather than the Bible, to prove that living organisms are far too complex to have evolved mindlessly over billions of years. Its proponents say neither adaptive Darwinism, known as "natural selection," nor macro-evolutionary biology can explain how eyeballs developed or how the first organism was assembled. At the subcellular level, they say, there is an "irreducible complexity" -- condensed to its tiniest elements, life eventually reaches a point at which it can't be reduced, because the removal of any part kills it.

For those reasons and others, the world must have an intelligent designer, guiding the process not only at the beginning but along the way, with specific goals in mind.

In the eyes of opponents, however, that common denominator with religious creation means belief in "intelligent design" is no different than belief in any other supernatural designer, and such a theory has no place in a biology course, not only from a legal standpoint, but also as a matter of scientific honesty.

That's because the theory "misrepresents what scientists think, to the extreme," said Joel Cannon, a physics professor at Washington & Jefferson College, and also a member of the American Scientific Affiliation, a group of Christian scientists.

"In my opinion, it's bad science, and its theology is worse."

The great "watchmaker" As a broad theory, "intelligent design" has roots centuries old. William Paley, an 18th-century theologian, articulated it most simply with his "watchmaker" analogy, saying the universe is like a giant watch, and the living creatures are the gears.

The finished product is assembled, and wound, by the watchmaker. Living organisms, he continued, are far more complicated than watches by "a degree which exceeds all computation," and if watches have a maker, then so must life itself.

But Paley was offering his thoughts on an intelligent designer in support of a Christian god. Most modern intelligent-design subscribers generally try to avoid making such a narrow connection, at least outwardly.

Perhaps that's to evade the courts. In 1987, when the U.S. Supreme Court offered its "Edward v. Aguillard" decision, the theory at the heart of the case was "creation science." Louisiana had enacted a law forbidding the teaching of evolutionary theory in public schools unless accompanied by a separate lesson in "creation science," the so-called "equal time" statute.

The courts rejected that law, saying it violated the First Amendment because it "impermissibly endorses religion by advancing the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind." Because today's intelligent-design theory, at least at its base, says the same thing, it's fair to guess that courts might view suspiciously any policy requiring intelligent design in school science courses.

James Alexander, a political science and First Amendment law professor at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, said intelligent design would have a tough time surviving a court test, but added that the separation of church and state wasn't as cut-and-dried as you'd think.

"It's like the Ten Commandments at the courthouse," he said. "Once you put it in the courthouse, it's a violation of the establishment clause. Once you take it out, you're violating the freedom of religious expression .... You can't win either way."

Intelligent-design proponents invariably point to another line from the same 1987 decision. The justices wrote: "We do not imply that a legislature could never require that scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories be taught." Proponents argue that intelligent design is a scientific theory, not a religious one, and could be introduced in schools as a critique to evolution.

The 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, meanwhile, says: "Where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist." That opening also could allow for the inclusion of intelligent design.

So here's the chicken-egg question: Does intelligent-design theory, because it doesn't name its creator and isn't attached to a particular religion, just happen to slip through that Supreme Court loophole, possibly allowing it into public school classes?

Or is it the other way around -- are modern proponents of intelligent design refusing to associate with a particular religion or god with the express purpose of wedging into lesson plans, hoping that if a curriculum is worded the right way, it will be immune to a court challenge?

Resilient term, religious roots? The term "intelligent design" came into general usage following the publishing of a 1989 book called "Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins," written by Percival Davis and Dean Kenyon, both of whom are college professors. The pair suggested that Darwinism, more than a century old, had outlived its usefulness, primarily because it was unable to fully explain the biological complexities of which science is only recently becoming aware.

Davis' writing credit was dropped from the book after it became known that he co-wrote another book called "Case for Creation," published through Chicago's Moody Bible Institute. On writing "Pandas," Davis is quoted by The Wall Street Journal in a 1994 story: "Of course my motives were religious. There's no question about it."

The Dover school board was thought to be the first board in the country to mandate the introduction of the term "intelligent design" to students, which is why groups across the country are watching the case so closely. But other schools have tried to introduce the "Case for Creation" into the curriculum, or at least debated doing so, over the past 15 years.

In Ohio, parents from the Forest Hills School District wanted the book to be included in science courses. In Kansas' Pratt School District, parents asked for the same. In 2000, West Virginia's Kanawha County Board of Education thought about buying the book, but declined. In Plano, Texas, in 1995, school trustees were split on whether to adopt the book. In Idaho, a science teacher was reprimanded for using the text. A Virginia school board compromised, buying the book for its library, but not for science courses.

Critics call the book "creationism with some Wite-Out," devoid of scientific methodology, but the theory's surface neutrality is part of what makes it benignly attractive. Since the book was published, "intelligent design" has overtaken "creation science" as the en vogue term for creationism not superficially rooted in a religious dogma.

There is no denying that the intelligent-design theory -- not to mention the creation science theory and its predecessors -- has some following among serious scholars.

But there's also little doubt that America's growing intelligent-design movement has gained much of its steam by attracting Christians, including many who believe in a literal Genesis, who want to use the neutral terminology to undermine evolutionary theory.

It is this union of some serious scientists and religiously motivated advocates that creates a controversy more complicated than one that simply pits science against religion.

Some of the current backlash against evolution is aimed less at the theory itself than at what some see as the dogmatic way in which it's taught in public schools, said John West, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute. The Seattle-based organization, through its Center for Science and Culture, encourages researchers to challenge mutation-based evolution with intelligent design.

Neither West nor the institute believe the Dover schools, with 2,800 students, ought to be mandating that the term intelligent design be taught. But he added a personal caveat: "It's not unconstitutional, nor is it inappropriate, if a teacher at some point brings ID into a discussion."

Opponents, he said, "seem to be pretty intolerant of any sort of criticism of Neo-Darwinism, or any sort of open discussion."

But Elsberry, the biologist, said the current debate is a manufactured one, and doesn't exist among biologists, geneticists or anyone else in the "mainstream" scientific community.

"The problem is, what they want taught as a controversy is not a scientific controversy. It's a socio-political controversy. It belongs in a civics class."

Groups like the ACLU -- which, starting with its legal defense of a Tennessee teacher convicted of teaching evolution during the 1925 Scopes "monkey trial," has been the principal foe of those who wish to teach creation in science classes -- say they have no problem with introducing intelligent design to students. But the theory belongs in a comparative religion class, where that creation theory can be studied alongside the Judeo-Christian, Buddhist, Hindu and other religious creation stories.

"That would satisfy us. I'm pretty sure it wouldn't satisfy them," said Witold Walczak, legal director for the state ACLU.

And if the ACLU and the parents group lose the Dover case?

"You're going to see ID all over the country," he said.

(Bill Toland can be reached at btoland@post-gazette.com or 1-717-787-2141.)

Sunday, January 09, 2005

BS-promoting new movie


They're heeeaaaring things

The Daily Telegraph | January 9, 2005 |
by Robert Matthews, Science Correspondent.

Trailers for the new Hollywood film White Noise purport to contain genuine, unedited voices from beyond the grave. These so-called EVP do exist, writes Robert Matthews, Science Correspondent.

At one point in the new Hollywood chiller White Noise, Jonathan Rivers, a bereaved husband is told that he is not going about communing with the dead in the right way. "You shouldn't be trying to do this by yourself," the nervous psychic tells him. "EVP is not good."

The film's makers are certainly hoping that Electronic Voice Phenomena are very good - at least for business. They are doing everything they can to convince us that EVP are the disembodied voices of the dead and that anyone can tune in to them using just a tape recorder and an open mind.

Creating a spurious air of credibility for creepy films is a time-honoured marketing ploy; it worked wonders for the supposedly "factual" blockbusters The Amityville Horror and The Blair Witch Project.

But the makers of White Noise have taken the gimmick to new heights - or depths, depending on your view of Hollywood.

Even before the film went on general release in Britain last week, authoritative-sounding trailers were being screened that purportedly contained genuine, unedited recordings of the voices of dead people.

In one, made in 2003, a woman called Ruth Baxter can be heard saying "I will see you no more" - which may well be the case, since the trailer states that she died in 1987.

For those eager to know more, the movie's website carries a plethora of information about EVP: background history, case-studies, samples, a quote from Thomas Edison that seemingly supports the phenomena and even top tips about how to record the eerie voices.

All this could be seen as just good after-sales service, were it not for the fact that people who follow the advice could be in for a very nasty shock.

For the fact is that EVP do exist and can be picked up on a radio, tape-recorder, answering machine or television without too much trouble.

Scientists at well-respected universities, radio amateurs and even BBC engineers have all heard the spooky voices. Their experiences are truly disturbing - not because they back the claims made in the film but because they show how easily the unwitting could end up believing that the dead can talk.

Not that this appears to worry the movie's makers: throughout, they maintain the illusion that there are no rational explanations for the recordings.

None of the movie's characters tries to talk sense into the desperate husband, played by Michael Keaton, trying to contact his vanished wife. Even in its closing frames, the movie simply warns the audience that not all the messages they might hear will be nice ones.

If they are foolish enough to follow the website's instructions, what they will hear are effects first described in detail in the mid-1950s.

In experiments with a tape-recorder installed in a sound-proofed clothes closet, Raymond Bayless, an American psychic researcher, claimed that he could hear the phrase "This is G" in the apparently silent room.

Others reported having similar experiences, including a shady Latvian psychologist named Konstantin Raudive, who in 1971 published a book with the characteristically tentative title Breakthrough: An Amazing Experiment in Electronic Communication with the Dead.

Raudive claimed to have detected more than 70,000 "voice texts" simply by making tape-recordings of the hiss-like static of radios tuned between stations.

Even Raudive conceded that it was hard to make sense of the texts, claiming that it took several months for the ear to become suitably adjusted. Once tuned in, however, he insisted that the texts must be of paranormal origin, because of their staccato sound and bizarre use of many languages even within the same phrase.

Raudive's claims quickly achieved classic status in New Age circles, along with world-wide publicity when repeated in Lyall Watson's best-selling compendium of bizarre phenomena, Supernature.

Drowned out by all this were the sceptical voices of scientists who had heard what Raudive had heard, but reached rather different conclusions.

They pointed out that the voices sometimes sounded like snatches of conversation from foreign radio stations picked up by Raudive's tape recorder. One researcher found that one of the most impressive "voice texts" appeared to be a burst of 37 German words from an Easter Sunday radio broadcast.

In an experiment reported by the UK Society for Psychical Research, a panel of people was asked to make sense of some of Raudive's less-distinct messages. They came up with as many different interpretations as there were people on the panel - and none of them agreed with Raudive's.

Psychologists quickly recognised EVP - sometimes referred to as "Rorschach audio", after the test in which subjects read their own interpretation of inkblot images - as just another example of the brain's penchant for making sense even of the patently senseless.

Known as pareidolia, it lies behind such bizarre claims as the decade-old toasted cheese sandwich said to bear an image of the Virgin Mary, which sold for $28,000 on eBay in November. In its search for order, the brain simply cajoles random patterns into making sense - sometimes at the price of rationality.

Just how powerful the effect could be with sounds was made clear more than 60 years ago by BF Skinner, the Harvard psychologist who found that nonsensical sequences of syllables led people to hear "words" bearing no relation at all to the original sounds.

His findings were recently confirmed by Professor Imants Baruss, a psychologist at the University of Western Ontario, Canada. In an experiment designed to detect EVP under scientific conditions, Prof Baruss and his colleagues recorded the output from two radios tuned between stations while asking any "spirits" present to make their presence known.

When the 60 hours of recordings were played back, the team found a host of bizarre effects on their tapes. Some seemed to be radio stations breaking through the static. Sometimes there would be dramatic surges in the background noise - not unlike those used to scare audiences in White Noise.

And then there were the eerie voices, saying occasional words like "hello" and, in one case, informing the team to "Tell Peter".

Or at least that's what two of the researchers thought it said; Prof Baruss isn't so sure. "The phrase on the tape is not `Tell Peter' but noise - that just happens to be how our perceptions work," he told The Telegraph.

According to Prof Baruss, his experiment confirmed that weird voice-like effects can be picked up using just a radio and a tape-recorder. How they get there, though, he doesn't know: "I would not be surprised if some EVP turns out to be genuinely anomalous - although that is still a long way from evidence of life after death."

Psychologists may be able to explain how electromagnetic burps sound like words, if not why the credulous are willing to believe they are messages from the dead. But the heart of the EVP controversy is: how do the noises get there in the first place?

As a senior investigations engineer at BBC Radio, Ian Astbury is all too familiar with EVP. Sometimes it pops up on national radio - such as the now-famous incident in February last year when a ghostly, whispering voice was heard in the background of an interview Sandi Toksvig had conducted in a haunted castle, broadcast on Radio 4's Excess Baggage.

According to Astbury, they are more likely to be heard on amateur equipment, through an effect familiar to anyone who has built a "crystal radio".

Using a simple wire as an aerial, this can pick up radio transmissions, its crystal stripping off - or "demodulating" - the sound signals so they can be heard on an earpiece.

Tape-recorders can behave in the same way, explains Astbury: "The microphone cable acts as the aerial and you only have to have a dirty connection to act like the crystal, which demodulates the signal."

The result is a tape recorder that picks up mysterious "voices" from thin air. They could be anything from bursts of local taxi-cab chatter to stray signals from the other side of the world.

According to Vaughan Reynolds, a BBC radio reception expert, amateur radio enthusiasts sometimes hear startling sounds caused by broadcasts bouncing off meteor trails high in the atmosphere.

In a truly scary effect, radio waves also bounce off the shifting curtains of light known as the aurora. "You may be listening to a nice, clear voice, but when it hits the auroral curtain it sounds like a hoarse whisper," says Reynolds. "It's amazingly ghostly."

Picked up on a dodgy tape-recorder by those who don't know their RF from their elbow, the effect could be unnerving. For the bereaved conned by a Hollywood movie into believing that they are talking to their dead relatives, the result could be truly traumatic.

The psychic in White Noise was right about one thing: EVP isn't good - but it's not half as bad as trying to make a fast buck by claiming otherwise.

Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited

Tsunami caused by extraterrestrial event!


by Sorcha Faal

As more scientific information begins to become available relating to the events surrounding the 9.0 earthquake off of the Northern Coast of Sumatra on December 26th, it is being reported that the depth was 10km.

More importantly perhaps are the growing signs surrounding this event that rather than being caused by internal earth dynamics, as is being widely reported, it was instead caused by an extraterrestrial event, a meteorite strike into the ocean having come from the Southern Hemispheric skies.

Australian researcher Professor Ted Bryant had previously warned about just such an event happening in his book, 'Tsunami - The Underrated Hazard'. He also 'backed up his dire warning' with a time and a date: 8pm on February 22, 1491, when a meteorite strike caused tsunami waves in excess of 130 meters high.

Further research for the Australian Spaceguard Survey by Michael Paine, and titled "Tsunami from Asteroid/Comet Impacts", shows that an asteroid having a diameter of 2 km would be equal to 1,000,000 MT. Mr. Paine states, "When an asteroid hits the ocean at 70 000km/h there is a gigantic explosion. The asteroid and water vaporize and leave a huge crater - typically 20 times the diameter of the asteroid (that is, a 100m asteroid will create a 2 kilometre diameter crater). The water rushes back in, overshoots to create a mountain of water at the middle and this spreads out as a massive wave - a tsunami. The centre of the "crater" oscillates up and down several times and a series of waves radiate out."

Lending credence to the suspicions of a meteorite strike causing this event have been a number of world reports relating to fireballs, mysterious lights in the sky around the world and exploding meteorites turning 'night into day' in both Indonesia and China over these past few weeks.

Coinciding with these events was the December 22nd report that scientists had identified a small asteroid 'after' it had passed earth orbit, "below the orbits of some satellites" and with no prior warnings as to its passage.

Independent Australian researcher Rob Kanen, the author of "Plate Tectonics and The Expanding Earth - A Discounted Theory", states: "Criticism can be fired at all the theories expounded to explain the mechanism of plate tectonics."

David Pratt, author of the research paper titled, "Plate Tectonics: A Paradigm Under Threat", and published in the Journal of Scientific Exploration, states: "Plate tectonics -- the reigning paradigm in the earth sciences -- faces some very severe and apparently fatal problems. Far from being a simple, elegant, all-embracing global theory, it is confronted with a multitude of observational anomalies, and has had to be patched up with a complex variety of ad-hoc modifications and auxiliary hypotheses."

Whatever theory is closest to being correct though, and whatever geological explanations the Western scientific community will offer about this event, yet to be explained to the public are how the great oceanic waves associated with this event, and the major killer of life, are more similar to a meteorite hitting the ocean than to a sub induction event of a 'theorized' continental plate.

What we are left with at this point in time, and relating to this event, are that the parametric equations of these seismic waves do not correspond to well with an earthquake but do so almost exactly with a meteorite strike hitting the ocean waters off of Sumatra with a force equal to 1,000,00MT. Seismic waves, or tsunamis, have periods typically from 10 minutes to one hour, wavelengths of several hundreds of kilometers, and mid-ocean heights usually less than half a meter. Because of their long wavelengths, tsunamis often satisfy the criterion for shallow-water waves. The waves that caused such horrific loss of life cannot be described within these parameters.

Almost a year to the date of these present events, 30,000 human lives were lost in the great earthquake that struck the ancient city of Bam in Iran. How many in the world remember this? As of this writing the loss of human life from this present event is reaching over 60,000 human lives. Will they be remembered in a year?

But most importantly is the question of if the Western nations peoples will begin to rise from their mental slumber, their self induced ignorance of the great global changes presently occurring, and begin to seek the truth of these matters. Their failure to do so will lead to the unnecessary loss of life of millions that will pale in comparison to these past days events. This should not be allowed to happen.

Need I even mention that this event, and as described by Western scientists and media violates Newton's First Law, which states: "Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it."

Dowsing rods zero in on burial sites


Web Posted: 01/03/2005 12:00 AM CST

Jeorge Zarazua
Express-News Staff Writer

PILGRIM — Marjorie Lee Burnett is the first to admit she doesn't know how a couple of old metal rods allow her to find unmarked graves.

They simply do, she says.

Marjorie Lee Burnett of Pilgrim holds a headstone she made for a friend who has an unmarked grave on her property.

The 68-year-old woman claims she is able to detect where someone is buried using the ancient art of dowsing. She simply walks around a suspected graveyard with two L-shaped rods, one in each hand, until they slowly begin to wiggle.

If the rods pull apart from each other, she's stumbled upon something.

"I don't think there's a scientific explanation for it at all," Burnett said. "They just move. You don't hold them. You don't grasp them. You just let them rest in your hands until they move."

She said that when she stands on top of a grave, the two rods will point in opposite directions.

Burnett also said she can determine the sex of the corpse in the grave using a single rod. If the rod pulls to the right, it's a female; to the left, a male.

Burnett, of Pilgrim, near Gonzales, has been using her skill to locate old family graves whose tombstones have been destroyed or moved over time. As word has spread of her unusual ability, demand for her services has increased.

She has accumulated a short waiting list with names of people wanting help locating long-forgotten family burial plots. Most of the time, the only clues she has to go by are family tales passed on through generations of an ancestor being buried near a large rock, under a tall tree or on top of a rolling hill.

A history enthusiast, Burnett said she's sure to locate a grave if one exists and will even research genealogical and census records to help support her findings. Her services are free "because I do feel it's a gift."

Of course, she also will admit that no one has ever tested her claims.

"I'm not really going to question it," she said. "I'm just too happy that it can happen."

Burnett learned how to use the witching rods, as some people call them, from a funeral director in Gonzales County about 10 years ago. She said Jim Connally taught her after she expressed an interest in learning the technique in a column she wrote for a local paper.

Connally still uses the dowsing rods.

"It does work," he said, adding the rods detect where the ground has been disturbed. "It's enough reliability on it that you don't want to take a chance."

Connally, who picked up the skill as a teenager from another funeral director in East Texas, said the rods are important to his job at Seydler-Hill Funeral Home in Gonzales. He said cemetery workers have found caskets where his rods have indicated they are.

"It's a very strange feeling to have that rod move on its own," he said.

Of course, not everyone agrees the dowsing rods work.

One of Burnett's biggest critics is her own brother.

"To me, there has to be some other explanation," said Fred Donaldson, a San Antonio schoolteacher. "The notion that she can find graves and determine what gender they are, I'm not prepared to believe in all that."

Donaldson, 53, said he has tried the rods and has felt them move in his hands. But, he said, "I'm not sure that I can say positively that I didn't cause them to move in some way."

At a recent meeting of the La Vernia Historical Association, the group's president, Elaine Stephens, said Burnett was able to use the rods to identify correctly the gender of several members in attendance by moving the sticks over them.

"It's just amazing how accurate they were," Stephens said.

Burnett then taught others how to do it.

"Ten different people in the room tried it, and it always worked, just like she said," Stephens said.

She said others were too skeptical to try and some said they were afraid the practice could be demonic.

"It does scare some people," Burnett said. "But there's nothing scary about it. It's a skill anyone can learn."

She encourages anyone to try it using any metal rod, even coat hangers.

"There's no telling what you find when you start digging."


Deadly Tsunami Resurrects the Old Question of Why


Leaders of various faith traditions have different interpretations of how such human suffering can occur under a benevolent God.

By Teresa Watanabe and Larry B. Stammer, Times Staff Writers

A Sri Lankan Buddhist blames it on bad karma. A Muslim imam sees it as a test from God. A Wiccan high priestess sees only Mother Nature's natural cycles, while a Catholic bishop and Jewish rabbi stress the charitable response to disaster.

South Asia's devastating earthquake and tsunami have again raised timeless questions of why bad things happen to good people; why a benevolent God would allow such suffering. But different faith traditions offer varying answers from Southern California's religious centers and classrooms.

To Ananda Guruge, former Sri Lankan ambassador to the United States who teaches at the Buddhist-affiliated University of the West in Rosemead, the Buddhist doctrine of karmic law, not random chance, determines who lives and dies in any disaster. The region suffered collective bad karma, he says, perhaps prompted by oppression, unjust war or other negative actions that invited the calamity.

In Sri Lanka and Thailand, both majority Buddhist countries hit by the tsunami, people tend to believe that those who perished were paying the price of accumulated demerits in this life or past ones, Guruge said, while the survivors were reaping rewards.

"Buddhist doctrine makes people responsible for their own fate," said Guruge, whose own family in Sri Lanka largely survived. (Some Buddhist sects, however, believe in an external power that can influence human affairs, unlike those in the Theravada school of Buddhism prevalent in Sri Lanka, Thailand and other countries in southern Asia.)

But he said such doctrines of cause and effect provide solace by empowering people to take corrective action. By doing good deeds, he said, people can improve their own futures and transfer their merits to deceased loved ones to help bring them a better rebirth.

Such beliefs, Guruge said, have prompted Sri Lankan Buddhists in Southern California to launch a $2.5-million fundraising drive to build at least 1,000 homes for those displaced by the tsunami. Last weekend, followers also held ceremonies to transfer their acts of merit to their departed ones, offering symbolic healing drinks to the Buddha.

Hindus, who dominate the tsunami-stricken country of India, also believe in karma. But unlike Buddhists, they also believe in God, and say the tsunami was a divine response to the negative actions of humans.

"We all believe too many people were doing too many bad things," said Nadadur Vardhan, president of the Hindu Temple Society of Southern California. "People have not lived up to what they are supposed to do — not helping people, not treating their parents well, not caring for the poor, going to war for unethical reasons."

Vardhan said many Hindus believe the world is experiencing the most degenerate age of a four-stage cycle of time. In this age, known as Kali Yuga and marked by extensive violence and immorality, the divine response to human actions is immediate, Vardhan said. (Other organizations, such as the yoga-based Self-Realization Fellowship, believe the Kali Yuga has passed and the world is in an upward cycle, however.)

Last weekend, Vardhan's temple society in Calabasas converted annual New Year's Day ceremonies into penance, purification and prayers for tsunami victims.

The idea of collective punishment is rejected, however, by Muslims, who comprise 88% of people in Indonesia, the hardest-hit nation.

At a recent meeting at the Indonesian Consulate in Los Angeles, Imam Muzammil Siddiqi explained that Muslims believe that God ended collective punishments when sending to the world the Prophet Muhammad.

"We have no right to say that these people were destroyed because of their sins," said Siddiqi, who heads the umbrella organization of mosques known as the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California. "We should take it as a test from God to see how human beings respond."

Muslims are rising to the test, Siddiqi said. He and others met this week with Indonesian Consul General Handriyo Kusumo Priyo to present plans for a major fundraiser Sunday at the Hilton Anaheim Hotel sponsored by the Shura Council and Islamic Relief, a charitable organization based in Burbank.

So far, Islamic Relief reports it has raised $1.5 million toward a $10-million goal for disaster relief, and sent 160,000 pounds of medical supplies to the affected region in a program with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Many Christians, too, dwell on God's compassion rather than destructive powers in trying to make sense of the tragedy.

It is natural to question God — even Jesus did so in his suffering on the cross, said the Rev. Douglas McConnell, an ordained Baptist minister and former missionary in Indonesia, Thailand and India who now serves as dean of the school of intercultural studies at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. But believing that God deliberately caused the destruction is a difficult leap for those who believe God was revealed in the compassionate Jesus, he said.

The Most Rev. Gabino Zavala, auxiliary bishop of the Los Angeles Roman Catholic Archdiocese's San Gabriel region, said the most pertinent question was not whether God forsook the tsunami victims, but where was God now in the aftermath? His answer, he said, was that God is present in the outpouring of the good works pouring forth to aid the victims.

"My God is a God of life and love …. You can see God in the people's response — how they're reaching out," he said.

To followers of Wicca and other traditions that celebrate the divine in nature, the earthquake and tidal wave were simply a case of "Mother Nature stretching — she had a kink in her back and stretched," according to Ruth Barrett, a Wiccan high priestess who formerly led a group in Los Angeles and now heads a Wisconsin temple dedicated to the Roman goddess Diana. Though the resulting casualties were horrendous, she said, dwelling on why people suffered was narcissistic when nature constantly reshapes itself.

"We're so self-centered and think we are the be-all and end-all of the universe," she said.

Ultimately, however, many faith leaders said that the tsunami's metaphysical cause, like much of life, is simply a mystery.

Rabbi Elliot Dorff, rector and philosophy professor at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, said some Jewish thinkers, such as Maimonides, would see such disasters as a natural consequence of God's decision to make a finite world.

"If God has made a finite world, then it has to suffer from the kinds of things finitude suffers from … things like life is not forever, there is illness as well as health, and there are earthquakes and rain," he said.

"The real issue is not so much how we make sense of [the tsunami], because it's quite possible we can't make sense of it," Dorff added. "The real issue is how we respond and try to ameliorate the suffering of the people who have suffered."

On EBay, new meaning for 'spirited' bidding


January 8, 2005

Talking teddy bears, a possessed wedding dress. More sellers are hawking the haunted.

By Gina Piccalo, Times Staff Writer

There was a time when EBay was just an Internet yard sale frequented by obsessive-compulsives and their enablers, a benign but unstoppable engine of dot-com success. Today, 430,000 Americans earn all or most of their living from EBay sales. Yet, in this, the company's 10th year, EBay is still most infamous as a repository for humankind's most shameless hucksterism.

EBay's auction list is now the stuff of legend — a human kidney, a moist towelette from the 1970s, an atheist's soul, Justin Timberlake's half-eaten French toast, even "absolutely nothing," which sold for $1.03.

Having exhausted bad taste and banality, it appears EBay sellers have moved on to a new marketing strategy — the paranormal. Everything "haunted" is so hot, EBay could launch a new category. Last month, Mary Anderson of Hobart, Ind., sold her father's haunted walking cane for $65,000 to GoldenPalace.com, the publicity-hungry online gambling site that in November paid $28,000 for a grilled cheese sandwich that featured the image of the Virgin Mary.

Last July, a Missouri college student inspired 140,000 hits and interest from five authors, a screenwriter and a documentary crew after listing a wooden cabinet haunted by a spirit in Jewish folklore known as a dybbuk. The box sold for $280 to a university museum curator.

Now dozens of EBay sellers are looking to cash in on the spirit world. According to this week's listings, restless souls inhabit a wedding dress, a football jersey, an adding machine, a candy dish, even a potato chip and a pair of roller skates. EBay has no problem with these sales as long as the seller is offering something tangible. "It's really up to the buyer whether they believe it's haunted or not," says EBay spokesman Hani Durzy.

Clearly, these sellers know their audience, folks who crave the adrenaline rush of a good scare or maybe skeptics who want to test fate. These listings are rich, vivid and earnest. They plead with the reader to believe. Descriptions are peppered with ALL CAPITAL LETTERS and flocks of exclamation points. Yet each one follows a strikingly similar plot line. The seller is typically at wit's end. The haunted object, albeit rare and valuable, has made life a living hell.

Sometimes there's a creepy story from childhood explaining how the object was owned by a witch, dead relative, Civil War soldier, insane person or doll lover who cherished or cursed the possession. Often, the object was acquired at an estate sale or a murder scene. Occasionally, ex-husbands and ex-boyfriends are somehow to blame. The item itself is independently mobile with wandering eyes, the ability to talk or infuse its owner with "strange feelings." The family dog and cat steer clear of it. Children are made sleepless by it.

And so, these weary folks turn to their last resort: EBay, where $1,000 is spent every second.

This week's auctions also offered a haunted tuning fork, haunted milking stool, haunted gravestone rubbing, haunted blanket, haunted bathtub and haunted Kendrell Bell Pittsburgh Steelers jersey. Entities also "inhabit" several music boxes, paintings and some teddy bears. "I hear cute little voices in my head and I think they are talking to me," the teddy bear seller writes. "They do talk friendly [in my head]."

Dolls are the most popular ghost vessels. There's a crying doll from Massapequa Park, N.Y. A doll from Red Bluff, Calif., that roams the house, once popping up in the refrigerator. A doll in Fort Myers, Fla., possessed by runaway slaves that scared the bejesus out of its seller.

"This doll was on a rocking chair, the chair rocked back and forth and the doll turned her eyes toward me and leaned forward," the seller writes. The doll's owner, the seller explains, lost her house to the Florida hurricanes last fall and needs the money to retire. (Initial offer: $100,000. Highest bid with six hours to go: $0.)

The Virgin Mary is indiscriminately possessing food. Topping November's grilled cheese sandwich manifestation, she has now appeared with the baby Jesus in a Lay's Smokey Bacon Chip in Geraldton, Ontario. "I'm really, really freaked out right now about this, especially after the Tsunami Tragedy after Christmas," the seller writes. "I am beginning to think that the creaking in the kitchen may have been a warning."

Other spirits have opted for more mundane possessions. There's an adding machine in Abingdon, Md., that spits out an infinite number of nines. A pair of skates in Pendleton, Ind., take off at the sound of "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy." A liquor bottle in Bono, Ark., that may or may not have been owned by the Marquis de Sade gives its owner strange "sensuous" feelings.

And then there's the 23-year-old indestructible painted egg in Avon Lake, Ohio. "I keep hearing strange whispering noises ever since I got this egg," the seller writes.

For Angel Hall of Verona, Ky., it's a wedding dress that plagues her. She bought the size 10, floor-length silk and crinoline confection in September 1993 for $200 from a shop that was going out of business. While wearing it to marry "Dick," her second husband, she says, "I sort of had a sense like being able to conquer anything. I felt very confident. I felt very aggressive, like I was in somebody else's body. I felt emotions that I don't normally feel."

The couple divorced six years later and Hall has since remarried. But she kept the dress, despite its bizarre behavior over the years.

It moved from rack to rack in the closet after Hall hung it up. A mysterious brown stain in the shape of Africa appeared on it after it was cleaned. Several photographs of the dress are marred by a "bright, light blob."

One night, she knotted the bottom of the plastic bag that was covering the dress. "The next morning … the bottom of the bag was unloosened and the ribbon was on the floor," she says. That's when Hall decided to sell the dress.

She doesn't know what's inhabiting the dress, but she hopes to make enough money from the sale to buy her two teenagers new instruments to play in their high school marching band. The highest bid as of Friday morning was just $34.33; her sale ends Sunday.

All this conjecture leads to parapsychologist Larry Montz, founder of Los Angeles-based International Society for Paranormal Research. He's a firm believer in "entities." But, he says, they rarely inhabit objects. Ghosts haunt for a reason, he says, to tell the story of their death, protect their families or extend their "life."

Sure, Montz says, there was a Corvette haunted by the guy who never got to drive it. And a woman's portrait haunted by her dead husband. But typically, Montz says, "possessions are not really relevant once you're dead."

But they sure can pay off for the living.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

New Book From Michael Shermer

"Science Friction: Where the Known Meets the Unknown"

We are pleased to announce the release this week of Michael Shermer's new book:

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Science Friction: Where the Known Meets the Unknown by Michael Shermer. Times Books/Henry Holt. 336 pages. $26.00. ISBN: 0-8050-7708-1. Publication date: January 5, 2005. Available at all bookstores (Barnes & Noble, Borders, etc.), www.amazon.com, and, of course, www.skeptic.com

A scientist pretends to be a psychic for a day--and fools everyone.

An athlete discovers that good-luck rituals and getting into "the zone" may, or may not, improve his performance.

A historian decides to analyze the data to see who was truly responsible for the Bounty mutiny.

A son explores the possibilities of alternative and experimental medicine for his cancer-ravaged mother.

And a skeptic realizes that it is time to turn the skeptical lens onto science itself.

In each of the fourteen essays in Science Friction, psychologist and science historian Michael Shermer explores the very personal barriers and biases that plague and propel science, especially when scientists push against the unknown. What do we know and what do we not know? How does science respond to controversy, attack, and uncertainty? When does theory become accepted fact? As always, Shermer delivers a thought-provoking, fascinating, and entertaining view of life in the scientific age.


"You may disagree with Michael Shermer, but you'd better have a good reason and you'll have your work cut out finding it. He describes skepticism as a virtue, but I think that understates his own unique contribution to contemporary intellectual discourse. Worldly-wise sounds wearily cynical so I'd call Shermer universe-wise. I'd call him shrewd, but it doesn't do justice to the breadth and depth of his inspired scientific vision. I'd call him a spirited controversialist, but that doesn't do justice to his urbane good humor. Oh just read the book. Once you start, you won't stop."
-Richard Dawkins, author of The Ancestor's Tale, A Devil's Chaplain, Climbing Mount Improbable, The Blind Watchmaker, and The Selfish Gene

"It is both an art and a discipline to rise above our inevitable human biases and look in the eye truths about how the world works that conflict with the way we would like it to be. Michael Shermer reminds me of the guy in the dorm in college who made a career of standing his ground for the truth in the face of everyone else on the hallway who insisted on prattling the cozy wisdoms. In SCIENCE FRICTION he shines his beacon on a delicious range of subjects, often showing that the truth is more interesting and awe-inspiring than the common consensus. Bravo.
-John McWhorter, author of The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language and Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America

" Michael Shermer challenges us all to candidly confront what we believe and why. In each of the varied essays in Science Friction, he warns how the fundamentally human pursuit of meaning can lead us astray into a fog of empty illusions and vacuous idols. He implores us to stare honestly at our beliefs and he shows how, through adherence to bare reason, the profound pursuit of meaning can instead lead us to truth-and how, in turn, truth can lead us to meaning."
-Janna Levin, author of How the Universe Got Its Spots

"Whether the subject is ultra-marathon cycling or evolutionary science, Michael Shermer-who has excelled at the former and become one of our leading defenders of the latter-never writes with anything less than full throttled engagement. Incisive, penetrating, and mercifully witty, Shermer throws himself with brio into some of the most serious and disturbing topics of our times-the intellectual tyranny of religious fundamentalism, the logical absurdity of "scientific creationism," and the tragedies that befall a society when its people are not free to think for themselves. Like the best passionate thinkers, Shermer has the power to enrage his opponents. That's because he's so damn good at putting his side of the argument. Even those who don't agree with him will be sharpened by the encounter with this feisty book."
- Margaret Wertheim, author of Pythagoras' Trousers, a history of the relationship between physics and religion

"From breast implants to Captain Bligh, Michael Shermer examines the way we humans perceive news and history. He's given a lot of things a lot of thought. If your perceptions have ever rubbed you the wrong way, you'll find Science Friction fascinating."
-Bill Nye, The Science Guy

Publisher's Weekly Review of Science Friction

Shermer, a skeptic by nature and trade (he founded Skeptic magazine), reveals how scientific reasoning can remove blinders in any field of study and why some biases are, nevertheless, unavoidable. The book's first essays are highly engaging and will have readers re-examining their own ways of thinking about the world. The introduction, for instance, demonstrates with optical illusions and anecdotes how the mind can be tricked into believing the untrue. "Psychic for a Day" has the author using psychology and statistics to become a medium. "The New New Creationism" refutes the claim that intelligent-design theory is a bona fide scientific theory. When Shermer (Why People Believe Weird Things) makes his essays personal, as in "Shadowlands," in which he describes trying unproven treatments to help his dying mother, he draws readers in. Unfortunately, data often take precedence over prose, as in "History's Heretics," which includes 25 lists of the most and least influential people and events of the past, including the author's top 100. Shermer furthers the cause of skepticism and makes a great case for its role in all aspects of human endeavor, but he'll lose many readers in a bog of details.

Why Math Always Counts


It can open our minds to logic and beauty.

December 26, 2004

By Arthur Michelson

American middle school students don't much care that they're worse at math than their counterparts in Hong Kong or Finland. "I don't need it," my students say. "I'm gonna be a basketball star." Or a beautician, or a car mechanic, or a singer.

It's also hard to get much of a rise out of adults over the fact, released earlier this year, that the United States ranked 28th out of 41 countries whose middle school students' math skills were tested by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. So what if we're tied with Latvia, while nations like Japan and South Korea leave us in the dust? After all, when was the last time you used algebra?

But math is not just about computing quadratic equations, knowing geometric proofs or balancing a checkbook. And it's not just about training Americans to become scientists.

It has implicit value. It is about discipline, precision, thoroughness and meticulous analysis. It helps you see patterns, develops your logic skills, teaches you to concentrate and to separate truth from falsehood. These are abilities and qualities that distinguish successful people.

Math helps you make wise financial decisions, but also informs you so you can avoid false claims from advertisers, politicians and others. It helps you determine risk. Some examples:

• If a fair coin is tossed and eight heads come up in a row, most adults would gamble that the next toss would come up tails. But a coin has no memory. There is always a 50-50 chance. See you at the casino?

• If you have no sense of big numbers, you can't evaluate the consequences of how government spends your money. Why should we worry? Let our kids deal with it….

• Enormous amounts of money are spent on quack medicine. Many people will reject sound scientific studies on drugs or nutrition if the results don't fit their preconceived notions, yet they might leap to action after reading news stories on the results of small, inconclusive or poorly run studies.

• After an airplane crash, studies show that people are more likely to drive than take a plane despite the fact that they are much more likely to be killed or injured while driving. Planes are not like copycat criminals. A plane is not more likely to crash just because another recently did. In fact, the most dangerous time to drive is probably right after a plane crash because so many more people are on the road.

The precision of math, like poetry, gets to the heart of things. It can increase our awareness.

Consider the Fibonacci series, in which each number is the sum of the preceding two, (0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13 … ). Comparing each successive pair yields a relationship known as the Golden Ratio, which often shows up in nature and art. It's the mathematical underpinning of what we consider beautiful. You'll find it in the design of the Parthenon and the Mona Lisa, as well as in human proportion; for instance, in the size of the hand compared to the forearm and the forearm to the entire arm. Stephen Hawking's editor warned him that for every mathematical formula he wrote in a book, he would lose a big part of his audience. Yet more than a little is lost by dumbing things down.

It is not possible to really understand science and the scientific method without understanding math. A rainbow is even more beautiful and amazing when we understand it. So is a lightning bolt, an ant or ourselves.

Math gives us a powerful tool to understand our universe. I don't wish to overstate: Poetry, music, literature and the fine and performing arts are also gateways to beauty. Nothing we study is a waste. But the precision of math helps refine how we think in a very special way.

How do we revitalize the learning of math? I don't have the big answer. I teach middle school and try to find an answer one child at a time. When I can get one to say, "Wow, that's tight," I feel the joy of a small victory.

Arthur Michelson teaches at the Beechwood School in Menlo Park, Calif.

Religion in film pushes boundaries, finds receptive market


Posted: 1/07/05

By David Briggs

Religion News Service

WASHINGTON (RNS)--2004 was an extraordinary year for religion in film because:

A. A film about the last hours of Jesus made in two dead languages--Aramaic and Latin--is the third-highest grossing movie of the year.

B. Religious filmmakers broke traditional artistic boundaries to tell their stories in R-rated movies that pushed the Jesus-film envelope in depictions of violence, drug use and sexuality.

C. In some markets, filmgoers could walk into a commercial movie theater this past year and view a retelling of the Passion by a major Hollywood filmmaker, a drama centered on an evangelical revival, and biographies of the Catholic saint Therese of Lisieux and the Islamic prophet Mohammed.

The answer most longtime observers of religion and film would give, of course, is D: All of the above.

And with the Hollywood Hills alive with the sound of box-office registers ringing to the tune of $370 million for "The Passion of the Christ" in domestic release alone, many people expect to see a lot more movies with explicit religious themes in 2005.

The 2004 movies raised numerous concerns--that "The Passion" would promote anti-Semitism, that the films would be either too reverent or not reverent enough and that religious movies would have no staying power at the box office. Yet one point of consensus emerged: The movies got people talking in Los Angeles and around the country about questions of art and faith.

In the end, the film did not provoke riots in the streets. But it did make for an unusual twist in the culture wars, with liberals talking about the moral limits of artistic freedom and conservatives saying it would be unfair to censor films because they have the potential to inflame anti-Semitism by sticking close to biblical texts.

"There is a sense people of faith feel under attack, under assault," said William Blizek, editor of the journal Religion and Film at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

So even if the film recently was snubbed by the Golden Globes, the breakout box-office success of "The Passion" was an important affirmation in the marketplace, Blizek said.

Movies such as "The Passion" and "Woman, Thou Art Loosed" also showed filmmakers could break out of the

G-rated costume drama approach and be embraced by religious audiences even as they pushed back artistic boundaries.

One immediate beneficiary of Gibson's groundbreaking effort was the television evangelist T.D. Jakes, who promoted the movie "Woman, Thou Art Loosed" based on his best-selling book in private showings for pastors across the country.

The gritty screen adaptation included scenes of child rape, drug use, domestic violence and murder in telling the story of a young woman searching for hope after a lifetime of abuse, poverty and addiction.

His pitch was that while "The Passion" told how Jesus was crucified, his film told why Jesus was crucified, to offer hope to people suffering today. The low-budget film has taken in $7 million.

Evangelicals were not the only group in this breakout year for religion and film to emerge from church, synagogue or mosque halls or basements to see religious films. "Therese," a film about the life of St. Therese of Lisieux, and the animated film "Mohammed: The Last Prophet" also drew audiences.

What about the future for religion in film?

"Next year is going to be even more interesting," Blizek said. "It really is going to open up a lot of things.

"If this is making money, you've got to figure lots of people are going to be making movies of this sort."

News of religion, faith, missions, Bible study and Christian ministry among Texas Baptist churches, in the BGCT, the Southern Baptist Convention ( SBC ) and around the world.

Billions for Pork as Science Is Slashed


Damn the future, the GOP wants to buy votes today.


Does cutting taxes force Congress to spend less money? So far under President Bush, the answer has been a resounding no. Now there's some evidence that Congress actually may be tightening the purse strings. Unfortunately, what it has done so far doesn't exactly prove the conservative case.

The new evidence is that Congress voted last month to cut the budget for the National Science Foundation, or NSF, which supports basic scientific research. This means that next year the NSF will have about 1,000 fewer research grants. This comes at a time when scientific experts worry that the United States is losing its worldwide primacy in science and technology.

Now, some of you righties may be saying to yourselves, "Great! We scaled back another big government program." But, remember, Republicans over at least the last decade have flaunted their support of science and technology. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich used to go on about dinosaur research and giving poor people laptop computers. Bush grandly promised a new mission to land humans on Mars in his last State of the Union address.

And the GOP commitment to science, at least until recently, very much included the NSF. Two years ago, the Republican Congress voted to double the foundation's budget by 2007. At the time, Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard wrote that the White House considered the NSF to be one of the few "programs that work." Its grants go out on a competitive basis.

Mitch Daniels, then Bush's budget director, told Barnes that the NSF "has supported eight of the 12 most recent Nobel Prize awards earned by Americans at some point in their careers."

Still, you say, don't we face a huge deficit now? Indeed we do, but cutting support for scientific research is an incredibly mindless way to solve that problem. Deficits are bad because they represent a form of borrowing against the future. Every dollar we spend beyond our means today is one less dollar that we'll have to spend someday down the road. But scientific research is an investment in future prosperity. Cutting the NSF budget is like a family in debt pulling its children out of college but keeping its country club membership.

And this turns out to be utterly typical of the way conservatives practice fiscal restraint. Their strategy of "starving the beast" — trimming down government by depriving it of revenue — is not supposed to chop down spending per se; it's supposed to get rid of waste. As it happens, though, waste has flourished while Washington has sacrificed lots of necessary spending.

The former category includes big programs such as the $180 billion in agricultural subsidies Bush approved in 2001, or last year's Medicare bill featuring tens of billions in subsidies for healthcare industries. It also includes garden variety pork, such as money for the Punxsutawney (Pa.) Weather Museum or the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. (Both projects were deemed vital in the same budget that trims the NSF.)

The NSF is not the only worthwhile project that has gotten stiffed. It's not even the only project that conservatives consider worthwhile that has gotten stiffed.

Crucial aspects of homeland security — such as inspecting incoming ships for nuclear material and hiring enough immigration agents to track down illegal immigrants from the Middle East — are getting far less than needed to ensure that Americans are protected from terrorism. Even the denizens of the conservative Heritage Foundation have complained about the Bush administration's stinginess on homeland security.

Why are bad programs driving out the good? Because budget pressure, the pressure of the deficit by itself, does not guarantee that Congress will make good choices. The Republicans' preferred plan, which we've seen through Bush's first four years, is to say yes to everybody: tax cuts and spending programs can buy a lot of votes. If they must cut back, they'll keep the programs that help Republicans win election, including the home-state pork, and cut out virtuous programs that don't have the same political muscle. Like the NSF.

Of course, this isn't an unalterable law of nature. If the governing party has some sense of responsibility, it will fund programs on the basis of the national interest rather than on the basis of which ones have the most powerful lobby.

That's what President Reagan's budget director, David Stockman, said he was doing when he promised to go after "weak claims, not weak clients." By that he meant he would try to cut out programs with a shaky rationale, not those that merely lacked powerful backers in Washington. The GOP's operating principle today is just the other way around.

Evolution education update: Developments in Dover; legislation in SC; NCSE and the Grand Canyon

Developments in Dover, Pennsylvania, again, while antievolution legislation is afoot in South Carolina. And it's not too late to sign up for NCSE's summer excursion to the Grand Canyon.


The news continues to come fast and furious from Dover, Pennsylvania, where the Dover Area School Board's policy mandating that "[s]tudents will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin's Theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design" is under legal challenge. Citing the destruction of tapes of the relevant board meetings and what they characterized as an apparent attempt of board members to "whitewash" the record during depositions, the plaintiffs have decided not to ask the court for an injunction prohibiting implementation of the policy. Eric Rothschild of the Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton told the York Daily Record that during their depositions, board members Alan Bonsell, Bill Buckingham, and Sheila Harkins, as well as Superintendent Richard Nilsen, denied press reports or claimed not to remember earlier statements about why the board wanted to include intelligent design in the district's science curriculum. According to the Record, "While [the plaintiffs] believe they have the evidence to convince a judge of their position, Rothschild said, it is in dispute, and it wasn't possible to present a whole record in time to request an injunction. So they will work on finding witnesses, taking more depositions and calling experts in preparation for a spring hearing. Rothschild said he believes they will find that the statements, reported in two separate newspapers, were accurate."

In order to implement the disputed policy, the district instructed teachers to read a prepared statement, which describes "Darwin's Theory" as "a theory ... not a fact," asserts that "Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is is no evidence," describes "intelligent design" as "an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view," and refers students to "the reference book" Of Pandas and People. The statement is to be read on January 13, during the week when evolution is scheduled to be discussed in the biology classes. But now the Dover High School teachers have publicly stated that it would be pedagogically and professionally irresponsible for them to read the statement. In a letter signed on January 6, 2005 and addressed to Superintendent Nilsen, all but one of the school's science teachers (the non-signer does not teach biology) requested to be excused from the requirement of reading the statement. Science teacher Jen Miller told the York Daily Record, "Students are allowed to opt out from hearing the statement. We should be allowed to opt out from reading it," adding, "We believe that reading the ['intelligent design'] statement violates our responsibility as educators as set forth in the code [i.e., Pennsylvania's Code of Professional Practice and Conduct for Educators]." The district has declined to comment on the teachers' letter.

For the York Daily Record's story about the depositions, visit:

For the York Daily Record's story about the teachers' letter, visit:


On December 15, 2004, S 114 was introduced (by prefiling) in the South Carolina Senate and referred to the Committee on Education. In addition to revising two aspects of the system whereby the state selects textbooks, S 114 would, if enacted, establish a nineteen-member South Carolina Standards Committee, charged to "study standards regarding the teaching of the origin of species; determine whether there is a consensus on the definition of science; [and] determine whether alternatives to evolution as the origin of species should be offered in schools." The idea of such a committee was broached in the last legislative session, in a context that amply revealed its antievolutionist motivations: Senator Michael L. Fair, who proposed such a committee during the last legislative session, told the Greenville News that "his intention is to show that Intelligent Design is a viable scientific alternative that should be taught in the public schools" (May 1, 2003). The legislature reconvenes on January 11, 2005.

For the text of S 114, visit:

For the Greenville News story, visit:


Seats are still available for NCSE's next excursion! In the summer of 2005, NCSE will again explore the wonders of creation and evolution on a Grand Canyon river run conducted by NCSE's Genie Scott and Alan ("Gish") Gishlick. Because this is an NCSE trip, we offer more than just the typically grand float down the Canyon, the spectacular scenery, fascinating natural history, brilliant night skies, exciting rapids, delicious meals, and good company. It is, in fact, a unique "two-model" raft trip, on which we provide both the creationist view of Grand Canyon and the evolutionist view -- and let you make up your own mind.

For further information on the Grand Canyon trip, 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
branch@ncseweb.org http://www.ncseweb.org

Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism is now available:

WHAT'S NEW Robert L. Park Friday, 07 Jan 04 Washington, DC

At WN we're still trying to figure out why superstitious nonsense persists in an age of science. Last night we sought clues in the NBC prime-time program Medium, based on the exploits of "Research Medium and Criminal Profiler" Allison Dubois. She solves murders by chatting with dead victims. In this episode, she takes a Texas Ranger to a spot in the middle of a field where a boy is buried. Before they can get back with a search warrant to dig him up, a hurricane hits Texas and he washed away. Sigh. Some silly programs are fun; Spiderman's super powers come from being bitten by a radioactive spider. But there's a huge difference -- Medium takes itself seriously. There really is an Allison Dubois who thinks she's a medium, and she's an NBC consultant; NBC should be ashamed. The James Randi million-dollar prize for proof of the supernatural was pointed out to Dubois. "He'll never give the money to anyone," she sensed. Amazing! So we are offering the WN Challenge. She sensed where the boy was buried; if she can sense where his body floated to, she gets WN free for life, and beyond.

There is a faculty revolt brewing at FSU. Both of FSU's two Nobel laureates, Bob Schreiffer in physics and chemist Harold Kroto are opposed, fearing the impact on FSU's academic reputation. A map of the campus parodies the planned chiropractic school with a Bigfoot Institute, Astrology School and Crop Circle simulation Laboratory. The Legislature has appropriated $9M annually for the school. Chiropractic was founded in Davenport, Iowa by Daniel Palmer. It actually began as Palmer's School of Magnetic Cure, but Palmer discovered, as Mesmer had discovered in Paris, that it worked just as well if you left the magnets out, and the name was changed to Palmer's School of Chiropractic.

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

Pa. District Says Biology Teachers Can Choose Not to Read 'Intelligent Design' Statement


By Martha Raffaele Associated Press Writer
Published: Jan 7, 2005

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - A school district that required science teachers to read a statement about alternatives to the theory of evolution decided Friday that teachers can choose not to read it, but their classes will still hear it.

Under the Dover Area School District's temporary exemption, administrators will read the statement when science teachers object to doing so. Students can be excused from having to listen if their parents object, according to a letter posted on the school district's Web site.

The district is believed to be the only one in the nation that required science teachers to mention "intelligent design" - a concept that holds the universe is so complex it must have been created by some higher power.

The curriculum language originally approved by the school board in October said biology 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, however, the board said teachers would read a statement on intelligent design. Seven teachers had protested the required reading, saying it would violate the state's professional code for teachers.

Tom Scott, an attorney representing the Pennsylvania State Education Association, said the teachers' union was satisfied with the decision. He said teachers had objected because intelligent design "is not science."

"Unfortunately, the school board and the superintendent can put anything they want to in front of the students, but we are not going to be their messenger," Scott said.

School officials declined to comment, citing a pending federal lawsuit filed by eight families over the science curriculum.

"The Dover faculty have no right to opt out of a legal directive," said Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., which is defending the school district. "Having said that, because there is pending litigation ... we are going to accommodate their request."

Only one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Tammy Kitzmiller, is the parent of a ninth-grade student who would be affected by the policy. Kitzmiller did not return a call seeking comment Friday, but in a deposition for the lawsuit, she said she didn't want her daughter to have to leave class.

"She shouldn't need to be singled out of the classroom," Kitzmiller said.

Civil-liberties groups allege intelligent design is merely a secular variation of creationism, the biblical-based view that regards God as the creator of life. They maintain the Dover district's curriculum mandate violates the constitutional separation of church and state.

AP-ES-01-07-05 1928EST

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