NTS LogoSkeptical News for 15 January 2005

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Saturday, January 15, 2005


by Jim Wilson

The Central Intelligence Agency says it has finally come clean about UFOs. To absolutely no one's surprise, it knew more than it ever let on. "Over half of all UFO reports from the late 1950s through the 1960s were accounted for by manned reconnaissance flights," says Gerald K. Haines, a historian for the National Reconnaissance Office who studied secret CIA UFO files for an internal CIA study that examined the spy agency's involvement in UFOs through the 1990s.

Why lie about UFOs? "The Soviets could use UFO reports to touch off mass hysteria and panic in the United States and overload the U.S. air warning system so that it could not distinguish real targets from phantom UFOs," Haines says.

If Cold War hysteria seems to be a less than satisfactory explanation, perhaps it is because there really is more to the story.

POPULAR MECHANICS has learned from nonclassified sources that the United States had a serious reason for wanting the public to keep believing that the strange lights in the sky were of unearthly origin. The government kept the UFO myth alive to disguise the embarrassing fact that during the hottest days of the Cold War, America's two most secret intelligence gathering assets–the A-12 and SR-71 spyplanes–flew toward hostile terrain with the equivalent of cow bells dangling from their necks.

The deception of the public began in the early 1950s. It involved the then highly secret, and to this day little-known, A-12. If you think you saw an SR-71 Blackbird at an air and space museum, the odds are you were actually looking at an A-12. The idea for the plane was conceived in 1954 by CIA director Allen Dulles. The objective of this secret program, according to aviation historian Paul F. Crickmore, was to build a spyplane capable of flying higher and faster than the U-2.

The secret development program, which was originally called Project Aquatone, and then Gusto and then Oxcart, led to the first A-12 mockup. It became connected with UFO lore in late 1959 when, according to Crickmore, it was trucked from the famous Lockheed Skunk Works, in Palmdale, California, to Groom Lake, Nevada. (Also known to UFO enthusiasts as Area 51, this formerly secret test site is located about 100 miles north of Las Vegas, Nevada.) Hidden in the desert and surrounded by then active Atomic Energy Commission testing grounds, the A-12 mockup underwent a series of tests to determine and then reduce its ability to deflect and absorb radar signals. The CIA liked what it saw and ordered a dozen.

Lockheed had built what to this day is considered the most amazing aircraft of all time. But before it could fly, it needed engines that could propel the plane to Mach 3.2 and an altitude of more than 97,600 ft. In February 1962, Pratt & Whitney announced its already overdue J58 engines could not be delivered anytime soon. As an interim solution, they offered less powerful J75 engines that, according to Crickmore, would take the A-12 to about 50,000 ft. and a speed of Mach 1.6. CIA engineers accepted the offer after calculating that an A-12 equipped with a pair of J75 engines should be able to fly faster than Mach 2. The radar-deflecting shapes of the F-117A (top) and SR-71 (above) lend themselves to misinterpretations as UFOs.

"In order to placate the directors who controlled the agency's purse strings, [Lockheed test pilot] Bill Park dived an A-12 to Mach 2," says Crickmore. "[It] relieved some of the high-level pressure on the design team." Without intending to, Park also opened a new chapter in UFO history.

One of the features about UFO sightings that has consistently baffled the experts is their apparent ability to swoop downward, hover and then soar into the sky at impossible speeds.

Viewed head on, this is exactly how an A-12 or an SR-71–its J58-powered successor–appears to move at times during a normal flight. The maneuver is called a "dipsy doodle."

Col. Richard H. Graham, who commanded the U.S. Air Force 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing and has written a history of the SR-71 titled SR-71 Revealed, recently explained the dipsy doodle to PM. The pilot begins by climbing to about 30,000 ft. with the afterburners glowing. At about 33,000 ft., with the plane at Mach .95, he noses the aircraft over. Heading down at a pitch as great as 30 degrees, the plane falls as fast as 3000 ft. per minute. After 10 to 20 seconds, the pilot pulls out of the dive, then accelerates skyward at more than twice the speed of sound.

There is one more very UFO-like characteristic of the SR-71: The glow of its exhaust periodically turns green.

The SR-71 burns fuel modified to withstand high temperatures. It doesn't light easily. "One early 'hiccup' was ignition," Crickmore recalls. "The [J58] engine would not start no matter what procedure was tried."

Eventually the problem was solved by the introduction of a chemical that explodes on contact with the atmosphere. Graham says it must be introduced into the engine when it is started, and it also kicks-in the afterburners. This happens after each aerial refueling, which, given the SR-71's enormous thirst, is quite often. Each time, it produces another image that could be misinterpreted as a UFO–flashing colored lights.

The green flash and distinctive dipsy doodle can be spotted from miles away. Observing the pattern created by these strange sights provides a map to the SR-71's target area, giving those on the ground enough time to hide whatever the spyplane has been sent to photograph.

Curiously, the ebb and flow of UFO sightings in the Southwest correspond with the comings and goings of secret aircraft. Some of the most intense UFO spottings coincided with the testing of the F-117A stealth fighter, which was stationed just west of Area 51. These may account for the yet unexplained sightings.

What better way to hide extraordinary aircraft than to wrap them in the compelling fiction of aliens?


Flawed Science


Posted on: Thursday, 13 January 2005, 12:00 CST

The Dover Area School District in Pennsylvania, which required science teachers to read a statement about "intelligent design," has decided teachers can choose not to read it.

Simply put, that means under the district's temporary exemption, administrators will read the statement when teachers refuse to do so.

Seven teachers protested reading the statement about intelligent design, a concept that holds the universe is so complex it must have been created by a higher power, because it violates the state's professional code for teachers. Besides, they pointed out, intelligent design "is not science."

A pending lawsuit filed by eight Dover families suggests intelligent design is just a revamped secular version of creationism that regards God as the creator of life. Therefore, Dover's new curriculum could be in violation of the constitutional separation of church and state.

And what of intelligent design supporters? They say there's no religious agenda behind the theory, it's just part of a reform calling for "better science teaching."

But the Discovery Institute in Seattle seems to have gone through a lot of trouble to cover some of its theological tracks, even changing the name of its headquarters to the Center for Science and Culture. Intelligent design proponents try to eliminate the mention of religion and God altogether. Science teachers who reject intelligent design are portrayed as being too stubborn to acknowledge the latest, cutting-edge research in their field.

Probelm is, there is no scientific study for intelligent design. No one can go to a major science journal or organization and find out about intelligent design research because there isn't any; there's only philosophical debate.

Last year an article on the topic written by a Discovery Institute Fellow appeared in the "Proceedings of the Biological Association of Washington," but the governing council of the journal almost immediately denounced the article after publication.

The Fellows at the Center for Science and Culture have an impressive array of degrees, but you won't find a leading biologist among them. True, one of their "researchers" does hold a Ph.D. in biological sciences, but he has also said that he intends to follow the commission he received from the Rev. Sun Myung Moon to root out the evil of evolution theory.

Could it be that intelligent design proponents are trying to revise statewide science standards so that evolution theory can be weakened or perhaps one day replaced?

For that matter, what kind of "scientific revolution" tries to establish itself in secondary school curricula before the research itself has been accomplished?

By mimicking science, intelligent design has managed to invade the classroom in the Dover Area School District.

Hopefully, the protests of teachers and parents who denounce this dishonest science will be heard loud and clear.

Source: Intelligencer Journal

PBS Station Pulls Intelligent Design Documentary


January 13, 2005

by Stuart Shepard, correspondent

An affiliate of PBS — not the first network that comes to mind when you think of fairness — has pulled a program saying it's "unfair."

A public television station in New Mexico recently took a program that challenges evolution off its schedule — supposedly in the name of "fairness" and "impartiality." Though you might wonder when PBS became worried about fairness, it seems they are now so concerned because the "problem" — as they say — is that the video was funded by Christians.

In the documentary, "Unlocking the Mystery of Life," a group of scientists argue that certain aspects of biology are too complex to be explained by evolution. They say everything points to a designer.

KNME-TV, the Albuquerque, N.M., PBS station, had scheduled the show, then abruptly cut it. Though no one from KNME responded to a Family News in Focus interview request, they did tell the Associated Press the problem was that five Christian groups had funded its production.

Marshal Berman, a former New Mexico Board of Education vice president, believes the show would have a place on a religious station, but should not be aired on PBS.

"Certainly in many cases you need to present two points of view, but not always," Berman said, "and certainly not if there's not a scientific basis for a science show."

But Joe Renick with Intelligent Design Net-New Mexico, said the real problem is not the content, which is scientifically based, but rather those scientists who don't want anyone to hear an opposing view to Darwinian evolution.

"Any time there's going to be something that might cast favorable light upon the ideas of intelligent design or might cast unfavorable light on evolution," Renick said, "then they'll jump in and exert their influence; and that was the case here."

He says evidence in nature clearly points to a designer, and the science supports a Christian worldview.

In full disclosure, Focus on the Family actually provided funding for the creation of "Unlocking the Mystery of Life." The documentary has, however, aired on many other PBS stations, and the DVD has been sold on the National PBS Web site.


To learn more about the documentary — and the science behind it — please see the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture Web site.

(NOTE: Referral to Web sites not produced by Focus on the Family is for informational purposes only and does not constitute an endorsement of the sites' content.)



Pa. school board at the center of evolution debate


January 14, 2005

DOVER, Pa. -- Steve Farrell believes in God, with huge enthusiasm and little doubt.

He says he was "born again" several years ago when God helped him get through the death of a 4-day-old daughter with multiple birth defects. Then Farrell prayed again and God cured a hernia. Then, God cured his mother of breast cancer. Then, in answer to his prayers, God ended a drought in this rural York County township south of Harrisburg, rescuing the nursery business he runs just north of the village from a sharp decline.

So Farrell has taken to praying all the time. He asks God to change lives in the shopping malls, in the bars, on the Internet. And now, he figures the decision of the school board in Dover to become the first in the nation to incorporate the possibility of an "intelligent designer" in its biology curriculum as an alternative to Charles Darwin's theory of evolution is just another one of God's answers to his prayers.

"I see it as a tiny incremental change that is opening the door to let God back into the schools," says Farrell, beaming broadly amid aisles of anti-tick spray and aquarium chemicals at his store. "They [school board members] want the information to go out that 95 percent of us believe - that God created the Earth. Why can't the teacher say that?"

For almost two decades, the answer to that question has been the U.S. Constitution and its prohibition on government-mandated religion. But with the decision this fall to insert alternatives to Darwin into high school biology classes, Dover's schools have jumped with both feet into the center of a growing national debate over the role of religion in public life.

The broader debate has featured recent legal skirmishes over Ten Commandments displays and the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, and political battles over government support for faith-based social services. No issue, however, has been more durable than the Darwin vs. God struggle in the public schools, with a pedigree dating to the famous Scopes monkey trial in Tennessee in 1925, in which a school teacher was fined $100 for teaching evolution in violation of state law.

And Dover is not the only place where that fight continues. In Georgia, a federal court just yesterday struck down a recent move by Cobb County to put a sticker on textbooks warning that evolution is "a theory, not a fact," concluding that the sticker implicitly endorsed religion-based alternatives. State boards in Ohio and Kansas, among others, have faced calls to revise biology standards.

While teaching of evolution in public schools is the norm, public opinion polls show that a majority of Americans - 55 percent, and 67 percent of those who voted for President George W. Bush, according to a recent CBS poll - believe God created humans in their present form. Only 13 percent think humans evolved from unguided biological processes, and the rest think both God and biology were involved.

Groups tracking the evolution battles say those beliefs have been harnessed by some of the same forces that have helped catapult Bush into the White House.

"We've seen an increase in the organization and activity of conservative evangelicals in politics in general, and this is one evidence of it," says Nick Matzke, a spokesman for the National Center for Science Education, which supports evolution teaching. "That's the common source of these different phenomenon."

Proponents of "intelligent design" argue there are gaps in the fossil record used to prove Darwin's theory, and that the very complexity of living organisms is evidence they are the work of an intelligent being. But they avoid calling the being God, as opposed to, for example, an alien. But it is an intellectual movement with little support in the mainstream biology community, and critics contend it is an intellectual fraud designed to sneak religion back into the schools in the guise of science.

That is the view of the American Civil Liberties Union, which sued Dover in federal court in Harrisburg in mid-December, on behalf of eight Dover parents whose differences with Farrell reflect the depth of the divide among the township's 18,000 residents.

"This is not science," said Tammy Kitzmiller, a mother of two Dover students and a plaintiff in the suit, after a late December court hearing. "How are they going to teach what they are mandated to teach by bringing another matter into the classroom?"

"All the 'alternatives' to evolution are religion- or creation-based," added Steve Stough, a science teacher in a nearby school district and another plaintiff. "It's as if you're a math teacher teaching that four plus four equals nine, just because you think it should."

Founded in the early 1700s by German immigrants fleeing religious persecution, Dover is hundreds of miles from the Bible Belt, and on the surface there's no obvious reason it should be the focus of a grand debate over the forces driving the cosmos.

It has a small, sedate town center of sturdy old brick shops and churches, which quickly gives way to a nearby shopping mall and several new subdivisions serving commuters to York and Harrisburg. From that hub, undulating two-lane roads radiate through 40 square miles of sparsely populated hay and wheat fields.

But a bounty of road signs providing directions to an array of churches hint at deep religious traditions. Some are old-line denominations brought over by the firm-in-their-faith German settlers - Lutheran, Church of the Brethren - but many others are newer, Bible-based evangelical ministries with an energy that has attracted growing numbers of adherents in recent years.

The evangelicals have driven the intelligent-design initiative and probably support it in greater numbers, experts say, but both traditions have contributed to a deep conservatism in the town, and through much of York County. In November, 66 percent of Dover voted for Bush.

"A lot of the Lutherans have lived there for generations, primarily rural and blue collar, a very stable population that goes back to the 18th century, and it's a conservative group," says Annabelle Wenzke, a religious studies professor at nearby York College. "They think religion deals with facts and the here and now. And the evangelicals organize. They think politically."

Some locals trace the current battle to a school board election several years ago in which a slate of conservatives won on an anti-tax platform. They formed the core of a group that, earlier this year, began complaining about the pro-Darwin slant of a new Prentice Hall biology textbook. The board eventually approved the text, but also decided to accept an anonymous donation of 60 copies of "Of Pandas and People," a book advocating intelligent design, for placement in classrooms as a reference.

From there, the intelligent design battle took off. The board's policy, adopted in October, calls on teachers to tell students that while Pennsylvania state standards require knowledge of evolution, Darwin's theory has gaps "for which there is no evidence," and that "Intelligent Design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's." Interested students are to be referred to the "Pandas" book.

Advocates of the policy say the Supreme Court never banned scientific alternatives to evolution, and argue that it's educational to expose students to intellectual controversy.

"There is a difference between teaching science that happens to be harmonious with the Book of Genesis, as opposed to being purely motivated by teaching Genesis," says Richard Thompson of the Thomas More Law Center, a Michigan Christian-rights law group hired in December to represent Dover in court. "Intelligent design may have religious implications, but that does not make it religion."

But opponents like the ACLU contend the Dover debate is replete with evidence of religious, not academic, motives for putting intelligent design in the schools.

The ACLU suit, for example, contends that board member Bill Buckingham, a prominent member of the Harmony Grove Community Church and a leading proponent of the change, said during one meeting, "Two thousand years ago, someone died on a cross. Can't someone take a stand for him?" On another occasion, the suit says, he asserted that the United States "was founded on Christianity and our students should be taught as such." Buckingham did not return a call, and board members have stopped talking to the press since the suit was filed.

"The whole notion of intelligent design is predicated on the idea that there is some creator out there who explains evolution," says Witold Walczak, the legal director of the Pennsylvania ACLU. "That's inherently a religious view."

Here in Dover, the debate has fractured a previously homogeneous community. It has become a staple of letters to local newspapers. Residents say it comes up in pharmacies, grocery aisles, restaurants. Farrell says he takes plenty of flak for his stance at the nursery.

Teachers, who opposed the change, now complain that the board has given them no guidance on how to handle inevitable student questions about intelligent design without triggering a religion tripwire. Three school board members resigned in protest after the October vote, and some of the old members who resigned plan to run for election next year in an attempt to retake the board.

The board's membership now includes the pastor of an Assembly of God church, a man who home-schools his children, and two members of Buckingham's Harmony Grove church. A recent Sunday bulletin there called on members to pray for "the men from our own congregation ... on the front lines of this battle."

Some of the emotions were on display late last month, when the board met to hire a lawyer. Several speakers criticized it for risking taxpayer money by baiting the ACLU. Jeff Brown, a board member who resigned, said it didn't make sense to hire a Christian law group to try to prove the policy was not motivated by religion. A high school senior, Chaitanya Ayysola, told of being ridiculed for coming from a place that taught intelligent design.

But others stood with the board. "I'm a Christian," said Guy Stambaugh. "I'm behind them 100 percent." Donald Bonsell, the father of one of the board members, called the critics a "small group" and said the board was showing courage in standing up to "a lot of the hate that has been out there."

Clergy in the area say that not only are their congregations divided - even the clergy themselves are divided.

The Rev. Larry Dentler of the Bermudian Church of the Brethren, for example, says he's not an evangelical, but Internet research on intelligent design convinced him that it's a reasonable hypothesis to put before students. He doesn't want schools teaching religion, but compares the Dover debate to hypersensitive "silliness" like fights over Christmas carols in school.

"They're going to make students aware that there are other theories," Dentler says. "I don't understand why there's all the hubbub and fussing and fuming. It's just encouraging students to think broadly."

But Rev. Mike Loser of the Dover United Church of Christ, across from the high school, calls the board's action "a religious vendetta, not good biology," and is uncomfortable with the macho-style Christianity he thinks is driving it.

"I sort of get the sense from a lot of Christians, 'We're not going to get kicked around any more,'" Loser said. "Christians come off looking like we're going to bully our way whether you like it or not. That's not a very attractive way to present Christianity."

Broader view, SANDRA L. MORRISON, Concord - Letter


January 14. 2005 8:00AM

Re Cecilia Hohler's Jan. 8 letter, "Divine wrath?": The tsunami was a natural event because we live in a world ordered by natural laws. Planet earth is moving all the time. I do not believe any thinking person would discern otherwise. Could God cause it or stop it? Certainly, but that is not how our world works.

Relative to Ms. Hohler's comments on teaching creationism: Why not! My children learned both Darwin and Creationism. They also took comparative religion in college. Sunday school and church were part of their life.

The more one learns, the better his or her life choices. Teaching in schools, one secular viewpoint is not an education, it is indoctrination. We are never less by gaining a broader, more educated view of things.



Judge in Georgia Orders Anti-Evolution Stickers Removed From Textbooks



Published: January 14, 2005

ATLANTA, Jan. 13 - A federal judge in Georgia has ruled that schools in Cobb County must remove from science textbooks stickers that say "evolution is a theory, not a fact" that should be "approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered."

The judge, Clarence Cooper of Federal District Court, wrote that the stickers, perhaps inadvertently, "convey a message of endorsement of religion," violating the First Amendment's separation of church and state and the Georgia Constitution's prohibition against using public money to aid religion.

"I'm ecstatic," said Jeffrey Selman, one of five parents who won the suit against the school district. "Science is religion free, and it has to stay that way."

Mr. Selman said he thought the ruling would be a warning to fundamentalists nationwide, especially in Dover, Pa., where parents have sued their school board for telling teachers to read students a statement that suggests an alternative to evolution, intelligent design, which posits a creator.

A lawyer representing the Dover school board said Judge Cooper had explicitly said he was not ruling on whether public schools could teach intelligent design.

In his ruling, Judge Cooper applied the Lemon test, which was laid out by the Supreme Court in a 1971 case, Lemon v. Kurtzman. Under that test, the sticker would violate the Constitution if it did not have a secular purpose, if its primary effect advanced or inhibited religion, or if it created an excessive entanglement of the government with religion.

Judge Cooper upheld his earlier ruling that the sticker's purpose was secular enough, that it fostered critical thinking and presented evolution to students who oppose it in a "not unnecessarily hostile" way.

But he found that the effect of the sticker in singling out evolution, given the roots of the sticker and its language in religious challenges to evolution, was to convey a message of endorsement of religion. His 44-page order argued that any informed, reasonable person would know the religious controversy behind the sticker.

The Cobb County school system adopted the stickers in 2002 along with well-regarded textbooks that taught evolution. During the textbook adoption process, the school board realized it would have to change its policy, which for years had forbidden any teaching about the origin of humans in elementary and middle schools and in required high school classes, "in respect for the family teachings of a significant number of Cobb County citizens."

The school board argued that the sticker was a neutral gesture to parents who had lost the fight against evolution. "I was a little disappointed but not terribly surprised," said Linwood Gunn, a lawyer for the schools. "I think the court adopted the viewpoint that any potential disparagement of evolution is equivalent to promotion of religion."

The board said it would review the decision and decide whether to appeal.

Michael Manely, who represented the parents for the American Civil Liberties Union, said, "I am relieved."

Mr. Manely added that it was "a blow for folks who want to guarantee the separation of church and state and guarantee liberty for all."

Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, Calif., which advocates the teaching of evolution, praised Mr. Manely and his team, saying, "The rest of us thought that going after fact not theory was not going to work; we were not sure the judge would recognize the trend of historical relationship between 'theory not fact' wording and creationism."

Marjorie Rogers, a parent and creationist whose petition drive led to the sticker, said she was disappointed by the decision, but she "never was thrilled" with the sticker's wording, which she found weak. She said she was considering what to do next.

Evolution ruling gets cheers from scientists


Friday, January 14, 2005 Posted: 10:51 AM EST (1551 GMT)

ATLANTA, Georgia (AP) -- Since 2002, Dr. Kenneth Miller has been upset that biology textbooks he has written are slapped with a warning sticker by the time they appear in suburban Atlanta schools. Evolution, the stickers say, is "a theory, not a fact."

"What it tells students is that we're certain of everything else in this book except evolution," said Miller, a professor of biology at Brown University, who with Joseph S. Levine has authored three texts for high schoolers.

On Thursday, Miller -- along with fellow teachers and scientists -- cheered a federal judge's ruling that ordered the Cobb County school board to immediately remove the stickers and never again hand them out in any form.

"Obviously, this is quite a victory for good science education," said Benjamin Z. Freed, an anthropology professor at Atlanta's Emory University and chairman of Georgia Citizens for Integrity in Science Education.

But some parents and religious conservatives decried the ruling as another in a string of what opponents call activist judges overruling the wishes of elected officials -- often on matters of religion.

"It's another example of how the bench is dictating to people what symbols they can display, if they can pray or not pray or if they can teach a particular subject," said Sadie Fields, head of the Georgia chapter of the Christian Coalition.

The Georgia case is one of several battles waged in recent years throughout the nation over what role evolution should play in science books.

The school district just north of Atlanta approved the stickers after more than 2,000 parents complained the textbooks presented evolution as fact, without mentioning rival ideas about the beginnings of life.

During four days of testimony in federal court last November, the school system defended the warning stickers as a show of tolerance, not religious activism as some parents claimed. Its attorneys argued the school board had made a good-faith effort to address questions that inevitably arise during the teaching of evolution.

The stickers read, "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered."

Scientists, several of whom testified in the case, say the sticker confuses the scientific term "theory" with the word's common usage and inappropriately combines science with personal religious belief.

"Many of us hold deeply personal religious ideals as well," Freed said. "But for a science teacher in a public school to introduce religion into a science class would fall way outside the ideals of any organization of scientists or science educators."

A group of parents and the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the stickers in court, arguing they violate the Constitution's separation of church and state.

Jeffrey Selman, whose son was a second-grader in Cobb County schools at the time, called Thursday's ruling a "shot across the bow" of religious fundamentalists he says are attempting to introduce their beliefs in the classroom.

"I got what I wanted; I got the stickers removed," said Selman.

The school board issued a statement saying members are disappointed by the ruling and are meeting with lawyers to decide whether to appeal. The Cobb school system has 30 days to appeal.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press

Evolution education update: Victory in Cobb County; legislation in MS and MT

A major victory for evolution education in federal district court, while antievolution legislation appears in Mississippi and Montana.


"[T]he Sticker adopted by the Cobb County Board of Education violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment," declared U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper, in a forty-four-page ruling issued on January 13, 2005. Cooper's ruling requires the Cobb County, Georgia, School District to remove the disclaimers -- which read, "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered." -- from the biology textbooks used in the Cobb County Public Schools.

NCSE Executive Director Eugenie C. Scott commented, "This is another win for good science and good science education. Kudos to Michael Manely, Maggie Garrett, and the whole legal team for being confident and creative enough to take on a case that was not obviously easy to win, to the plaintiffs for being willing to stick their necks out, to the witnesses for their forbearance under fire and valuable expertise -- and to the judge for listening carefully to the legal team's excellent arguments connecting 'theory not fact' disclaimers to creationism."

In his ruling, Judge Cooper concluded that because of the history of antievolutionism both in the United States overall and in Cobb County in particular, "an informed, reasonable observer would understand the School Board to be endorsing the viewpoint of Christian fundamentalists and creationists that evolution is a problematic theory lacking an adequate foundation" and noted that "[b]y denigrating evolution, the School Board appears to be endorsing the well-known prevailing alternative theory, creationism or variations thereof, even though the Sticker does not specifically reference any alternative theories."

For a detailed story from NCSE, visit:

For The New York Times's story, visit:

For Judge Cooper's decision (a 2.5M PDF file), visit the ACLU's web site:


A bill calling for "balanced treatment to the theory of scientific creationism and the theory of evolution" was introduced in the Mississippi Senate and referred to the Committee on Education on January 10, 2005. Introduced by Senator Gary Jackson, who represents the 15th Senate District, SB 2286 defines "scientific creationism" as "the belief, based on scientific principles, that there was a time in the past when all matter, energy and life, and their processes and relationships, were created ex nihilo and fixed by creative and intelligent design," and would, if enacted, require "instruction in scientific theories of both evolution and scientific creationism if public schools choose to teach either." Only K-12 instruction would be affected by the bill. In both its title and in particular choices of phrasing, SB 2286 seems to be modeled on Lousiana's "Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science in Public School Instruction," which was held to be unconstitutional in the Supreme Court's decision in Edwards v. Aguillard.

For the text of SB 2886 as introduced, visit:


Following last year's debate over evolution education in the small Montana town of Darby, two bills have been proposed in the Montana legislature which take diametrically opposed stands on the place of evolution in the science classrooms of the state's public schools. On January 7, 2005, Senator Ken Toole (D-Helena) introduced Senate Joint Resolution 8. Citing the need for Montana to prepare students in its public schools to participate in today's technologically-driven society, and warning of pressure from "a number of national fundamentalist organizations" to promote, "creationism, creation science, and intelligent design theory," SJ 8, if enacted, would express the legislature's support for local science curricula based on sound science and its opposition to the imposition of "religious interpretations of events and phenomena on local schools under the guise of science curricula." The bill was referred to the Education and Cultural Resources Committee. Meanwhile, on November 11, 2004, Representative Roger Koopman (R-Bozeman) submitted a request for a bill to be drafted (LC 1199) with the title "Allow teaching competing theories of origin." The text of the bill is not yet available, but the Bozeman Daily Chronicle described it as giving "schools more leeway to teach 'intelligent design' in science classrooms" and reported Koopman as claiming that "few people realize that the scientific evidence disputing evolution is just as strong as the evidence supporting it."

For the Bozeman Daily Chronicle's story, 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.


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

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

WHAT'S NEW Robert L. Park Friday, 14 Dec 05 Washington, DC


Religions are busy explaining how we should view a disaster that claimed more than 150,000 innocent lives. "Innocent"? Buddhists explained that seemingly innocent victims could be paying for some really bad stuff they did in previous lives. A leading Moslem cleric in Southern California says it was, "a test from God to see how human beings respond." Columnist and pretentious theologian William Safire also saw the tsunami as a test, and compared it to God's test of Job. Sure Job is faithful, Satan had scoffed, God made him rich and powerful. Wagering that Job would remain faithful, God lets Satan take it all away: Job's sheep are stolen, his servants slain and a great wind kills his children. Whereupon Job falls to the ground and worships God, "the Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away." So Job passes the test. Never mind his sons and daughters who died, or his servants who were murdered, it's all about Job. Well, thank God for physics. The tsunami was caused by the release of elastic energy in a tectonic earthquake.


The constitutionality of a creationist message got a court test. You will recall that in Cobb County, GA, stickers were placed on high school biology texts warning that evolution is "a theory, not a fact" http://www.aps.org/WN/WN04/wn111204.cfm. Yesterday, in ordering the stickers removed, a federal judge said "the stickers convey an impermissible message of endorsement."


For a decade, WN has argued that the 1994 Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act is one of the worst pieces of legislation ever enacted http://www.aps.org/WN/WN98/wn091898.cfm . This week, an Institute of Medicine report, Complementary and Alternative Medicine in the United States, called for major revision of DSHEA. It went much further, recommending that the same principles and standards of evidence apply to all medical treatments whether labeled as alternative or conventional.

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

Friday, January 14, 2005

Judge Rejects Georgia School Board Evolution Stand


Thu Jan 13, 2005 02:32 PM ET

By Paul Simao

ATLANTA (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Thursday ordered a Georgia school district to remove stickers challenging the theory of evolution from its textbooks on the grounds that they violated the U.S. Constitution.

In a ruling issued in Atlanta, U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper said Cobb County's school board had violated the constitutional ban on the separation of church and state when it put the disclaimers on biology books in 2002.

The stickers read: "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered."

"We are pleased. The law was pretty clear," said Maggie Garrett, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, which sued the board on behalf of a group of parents who were opposed to the disclaimers.

The ACLU argued that the school board had demonstrated a clear bias about the material, effectively pushing the teaching of creationism and discriminating against non-Christians and followers of a number of other religions.

Creationism refers to the belief that life was created by God. Evolution, which is accepted by most scientists, contends that life developed from more primitive forms and was dictated by natural selection.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that creationism could not be taught in public schools alongside evolution.

The Georgia school board, which introduced the stickers at the behest of hundreds of parents, many of them religious conservatives, contended that the stickers only advised students to keep an open mind.

The board's lawyer was not immediately available for comment on Thursday.

The federal ruling came about two months after the re-election of President Bush, who won the overwhelming support of religious conservatives with his stands against gay marriage and abortion.

The Cobb County case also evoked memories of the 1925 "Monkey Trial" of John Scopes, a Tennessee biology teacher who was found guilty of illegally teaching evolution.

© Reuters 2005

High school at heart of creationism row


By Julian Borger
January 14, 2005

The battle over attempts to introduce a version of creationism into the curriculum of American schools has become focused on a small town in Pennsylvania.

Biology teachers at a high school in Dover rejected instructions by local officials to read a statement in class this week questioning the theory of evolution.

They had been ordered by the town's elected school board to preface their usual class on evolution with a statement saying: "Darwin's theory is a theory . . . not a fact. Gaps in the theory exist for which there is no evidence."

As an alternative, the statement mentions "intelligent design", an updated form of creationism that argues life on earth is too complex to have developed at random.

The teachers asked to opt out of making the statement and it will be read instead by a school administrator before a biology class early next week.

The school board's actions make Dover the first US town to promote "intelligent design" as opposed to evolution.

It is now the subject of a lawsuit by a group of parents that has pitted the Christian right against the American Civil Liberties Union.

"Intelligent design is more than an attack on evolution," the union's legal director in Pennsylvania, Witold Walczak, said. "What these folks are proposing is to allow faith and miracles and supernatural creators to be considered as science."

A US Supreme Court decision in 1987 banned the teaching of creationism on the grounds that it would violate the separation of church and state.

The Dover school board decision is one of a series of signs that the movement is making a comeback. Mr Walczak predicted it would gather steam as Christian conservatives drew inspiration from President George Bush's re-election.

A CBS/New York Times poll at the time of the election found 55 per cent of Americans believed God created humans in their present form, 27 per cent believed in evolution guided by God and 13 per cent believed God was not involved in human evolution. Teaching creationism alongside evolution was backed by 65 per cent.

Evolution Controversy Continues In Courts and Schools


American Civil Liberties Union abandoned its lawsuit challenging a Pennsylvania school district's decision to notify biology students of theories other than evolution

Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2005 Posted: 4:32:27PM EST

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the legal group that filed a lawsuit challenging the Pennsylvania Dover school district for their policy to allow students awareness of creation theories other than evolution, said it will not continue on with the case proceedings, according to a release by the Thomas Moore Law Center, January 6, 2004.

The ACLU lawyers notified the Pennsylvania court that it will drop the case, thus allowing the ninth graders in the district's biology classes a chance to hear a one minute briefing on theories other than evolution - such as intelligent design - before the start of the class.

According to the polls, Americans overwhelmingly desire to learn more about the scientific evidence for and against Darwin's theory of evolution.

On October 18, 2004, the Dover school board 6-3 to adopt a policy that requires teachers to read a one-minute statement that will allow students to know that theories other than evolution exist. This school board is the first in the entire nation to adopt such a policy, making students aware of the controversy surrounding evolution.

Although teachers will still teach and test students on the theory of evolution, the one-minute statement will increase awareness of alternate theories, specifically the theory of intelligent design. The policy accords with the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which encourages Congress to present a full range of scientific views when teaching controversial topics, explicitly citing biological evolution as one example.

In December, the ACLU and the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State challenged the Pennsylvania school board's new policy. They have since decided not to pursue this case.

The school was represented by the Thomas More Law Center, which supports students awareness of the "gaps and problems in Darwin's theory of evolution and of alternative theories, including the theory of intelligent design."

Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Law Center commented, "The ACLU pull back is clearly a good sign for the Dover School District. After several days of depositions it became clear that they simply did not have a strong enough case to ask that the policy be blocked. Clearly, if they thought they could have succeeded they would have asked the court to stop the policy before it was implemented."

Lilia Tse
lilia@christianpost.com Copyright © 2004 The Christian Post.



Education Supplement 2005
The CFI's campus crusade for common sense

by John Giuffo
January 11th, 2005 12:11 PM

It's a boom time for belief. Whether it's a virgin-strewn posthumous paradise, that "clairvoyant" ghost molester John Edward, or the idea that Jesus should play a role in foreign policy, there's a fantasy to which people can attach their dreams, hatreds, and fears. Almost half of all Americans believe that man was created in his present form about 10,000 years ago, and one-third are biblical literalists, according to a November 19 Gallup poll. Most Americans still cling to their baseless beliefs (81 percent profess a belief in God), and what's more, many of them want to silence or marginalize those who don't share their views. This struggle is at the center of our ongoing culture wars, and the front lines are our schools and universities.

Believers know: Get them while they're young. And they've sent their Christian soldiers onward to America's campuses to convert, cajole, and corral as many more troops as possible. These groups, with names such as the Campus Crusade for Christ, with thousands of campus ministries around the country, are well funded and omnipresent. New York University alone has more than 30 official religious groups on campus. Arrayed against this holy horde are a few stoic nonbelievers, skeptics, atheists, humanists, and agnostics, organized mainly under the banner of the SUNY Buffalo-based Center for Inquiry.

"We're a secular, pro-science alternative to groups like the Campus Crusade for Christ, or to paranormal clubs or groups of kids that are interested in psychics," says DJ Grothe, director of campus and community programs for the CFI. "We're not just seeking to criticize the prevailing movements of irrationalism on campuses, but looking to advance the scientific outlook, which encompasses the whole goal of the university itself." Toward that end, the CFI has helped to create approximately more than 500 campus chapters across the nation since it started its college efforts nine years ago; 160 are still active. "That's just the nature of campus organizing groups: Students come and go," Grothe tells the Voice. "It's like organizing at a bus stop."

Despite the challenges, the Center's popularity is growing. Fourteen new campus affiliates have been added to the CFI's roster since November, and it's set to begin construction on a $2.5 million expansion of its headquarters in upstate Amherst, located just outside the Buffalo campus. With an annual budget of approximately $5.5 million, the Center for Inquiry funds its education efforts, its campus outreach arm, affiliate groups such as the Council for Secular Humanism and the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, and the publication of Skeptical Inquirer and Free Inquiry magazines. Compare that to the Campus Crusade for Christ, which has an annual budget of $400 million, and that's not counting the other religious and spiritual groups that vie for the minds and souls of America's college students.

Even if the funding levels were more equitable, there's still the fact that the CFI doesn't try to convert students—conversion being the lifeblood of its so-called "cultural competitors."

"We're not an evangelical organization," says Grothe. "We're on the campus to defend this outlook from a very well-organized and well-funded minority who peddle quackery and ancient religious dogmas."

Take the book

Mind Siege, co-written by David A. Noebel and bestselling Rapture-porn author Tim LaHaye (co-doomsayer, with Jerry B. Jenkins, of America's most widely read fiction series, Left Behind): It purports to detail the ways in which secular humanism threatens the "moral fabric of America," and argues that Christians should be willing to fight humanists with "blood, sweat, and tears to defeat this very real enemy."

And these are the sorts of books Christian groups distribute to students as part of their campus outreach efforts, says Grothe. "They [Noebel and LaHaye] seek to advance the Christian biblical worldview and have it replace philosophy, law, history, psychology, and literature as they are now taught in the schools," says Grothe. "It sounds like I'm making it up—it's too ludicrous to believe." Nevertheless, it's the opinion underlying the Left Behind books, which have sold more than 62 million copies.

Grothe says that he has debated Noebel about secular humanism, and he takes pains to point out that his organization, while competing with groups like the Campus Crusade for Christ, isn't always at odds with them, often co-sponsoring debates on theological issues, as it did recently at Purdue University, where Grothe says almost 4,000 people attended a debate on whether or not God exists. It's the sort of discussion that is held far too rarely on television and in the mainstream media.

The Center for Inquiry is working to change that too. In coordination with SUNY Buffalo, it's planning to introduce a new master's degree program called Science and the Public, which will focus on "how the emerging scientific outlook intersects with basic cultural beliefs and values," beginning with the 2005-06 academic year, says Austin Dacey, CFI's director of education. The program's structure is still being discussed with administrators, but Dacey believes it will be the only degree of its kind, and will explore the intersection of science and religion from a rationalist point of view, rather than from a theological perspective. "It's designed to attract scholars in the sciences and humanities, but also policy makers and journalists."

The focus on science advocacy and away from atheistic horn-blowing is intentional, says Grothe. "Our strategy is to go into classrooms talking about the Center for Inquiry's issues," he says. "If we're out there as knee-jerk village atheists or skeptics, people aren't going to be receptive to that dialogue." With that philosophy in mind—and standing in stark contrast to some of the proselytizing campus religious groups—they are helping to fund an upcoming Darwin Day conference on February 10 and 11, at SUNY Stony Brook. The featured guest will be Daniel C. Dennett, Tufts University professor and author of Freedom Evolves. "It's kind of a science festival, kind of a secular celebration," says Grothe, with planned panel discussions on topics such as the pseudo-theory Intelligent Design, and perhaps the traditional Darwin Day fish fry.

And Grothe makes no bones about the social component of these secularist gatherings, considering that for many attendees, church-as-pickup-spot is out of the question. "Nonreligious people want community also," he says. "When you find someone that you like and who is attractive and shares your basic worldview—how rare is that when your worldview itself is rare?"

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Fossil is proof of mammal-eating dinosaur



January 12, 2005, 5:23 PM EST

The dual discoveries of a dino-munching mammal and its super-sized cousin are threatening to demolish the notion that mammals of the Mesozoic Era were little more than cowering dinosaur bait.

One of the 130 million-year-old skeletons, unearthed by fossil hunters from New York and China, represents an opossum-sized mammal that died with chunks of a young dinosaur still in its stomach, they conclude. The other skeleton, of its Tasmanian devil-like relative, represents the largest mammal yet found from an era dubbed the "Age of Dinosaurs."

The finds, from a trove of fossils in northeastern China, may add a large new wrinkle to the common story of dinosaur dominance, with the suggestion that predatory mammals of the day gave some of the smaller reptiles a run for their money.

"I don't think that anyone said that mammals ate dinosaurs before this," said lead author Hu Yaoming, a graduate student at the City University of New York studying with co-author Meng Jin, a curator of paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History.

Perhaps they preyed on dinosaur eggs, some researchers believed. But with only a few doubt-plagued suggestions that early mammals could outweigh a shrew, the image of them as rat-sized creatures living in the shadows of much larger dinosaurs has largely prevailed.

The new research, published Thursday in the journal Nature, may change all that.

In Meng's 10th-floor museum office earlier this week, the two co-authors discussed the finds with one of their two Chinese collaborators, Wang Yuanqing from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing.

On a table in front of them lay the plaster-encased bones of the dinosaur eater, with a picture of its even larger relative on a nearby computer screen.

"Given this large size and carnivorous nature," Meng said, nodding at each specimen in turn, "mammals could compete with dinosaurs. Previously, I don't think that anyone considered that they could compete."

Understanding how they did so will require more fortuitous finds in the fossil-rich region of China known as the Jehol Biota. But in the evolving story about how mammals and dinosaurs interacted, Meng said, "you have a bunch more positive input from the mammal side."

In a commentary accompanying the study, Duke University paleontologist Anne Weil compared the larger mammal's skeleton to that of a dog sleeping on its side. But in life, the 26 to 31-pound mammal was perhaps more akin to Australia's squat and powerful Tasmanian devil.

The fossil's strong and pointed front teeth, the researchers wrote, appeared well designed for "catching, holding, and ripping prey." In contrast, Hu noted, rare mammalian scavengers like the hyena have smaller incisors and larger molars designed for crushing meat.

Within the table-top skeleton of Repenomamus robustus, estimated to weigh between 9 and 13 pounds in life, a separate clump of fossilized bones prominently featured two arm bones and a partial set of worn teeth.

Judging from the disjointed nature of the bones, their confinement to a space where the mammal's stomach would have been, and their identification as those of a plant-eating Psittacosaurus, the scientists concluded that the clump represented an unlucky young dinosaur eaten by the larger mammal.

The victim, the researchers believe, was dismembered and swallowed in chunks.

Peter Makovicky, curator of dinosaurs at The Field Museum in Chicago, said the study's most interesting aspect was its discovery of a mammalian predator larger than the smallest dinosaurs of the time, about the size of chickens or turkeys.

"We've always viewed the mammals as being in a size class below the dinosaurs," he said. But with the new fossils, the boundaries may be blurring.

Neither of the mammals has yielded modern descendents, and the fossil beds entombing them and other ancient animals are still being excavated.

Nevertheless, their apparent taste for dinosaur meat has led Weil to pose a surprising flip on an old question: "how might mammals have influenced dinosaur evolution?"

Robertson Predicts 'Triumph' in Second Bush Term


Bob Allen

Pat Robertson, who began last year with a prediction that President Bush would win re-election in "a blowout," says he has another word from the Lord.

On the Jan. 3 broadcast of Christian Broadcasting Network's "The 700 Club," Robertson made predictions he said were based on what God told him during a recent prayer retreat. His forecast includes a second term of "triumph" for President Bush, whom Robertson predicted will get Social Security and tax reform passed and will put conservative judges on federal courts.

Spiritually speaking, Robertson said to look for "a tremendous incidence of miracles" in America and for revival in the Muslim world.

"I'm always reluctant to say, 'God said this,'" Robertson predicated his remarks. "There's some times it's unmistakable; the voice like shakes you. Otherwise you believe you're hearing [God's voice.] So I put that out with great trepidation, but I have some very encouraging news."

On the economy, Robertson said, "Again, 2005 is going to be a year of extraordinary prosperity for this nation and for CBN."

"And I think the American stock market is going to surge upward, if I heard from the Lord."

"Don't go out and buy stock on my recommendation," he said, "but that's what I feel in my heart. The Lord was saying it's going to be a super good year."

Robertson went on to say the Lord "has some very encouraging news for George Bush."

"What I heard is that Bush is now positioned to have victory after victory, and that his second term is going to be one of triumph, which is pretty strong stuff."

"He'll have Social Security reform passed. He'll have tax reform passed. He'll have conservative judges on the courts. And that basically he is positioned for a series of dramatic victories, which I hope will hearten him and his advisers. They don't have to be timid in this matter, because the winds are blowing at his back, and he can move forward boldly and get results."

Robertson predicted religious revivals both at home and abroad. "America, again, if I'm hearing God right, we will see a tremendous incidence of miracles in 2005," he said. "People are going to believe God for miracles."

"God's spirit is going to be moving in dramatic power around the world," he continued. "And his spirit is going to be touching the hearts of many in the Muslim world, and they will be turning to the gospel, to Jesus Christ. I think many of them already are, but this is going to be an acceleration that will really amaze the world."

Robertson said the tsunami tragedy in South Asia was "a warning to the world about how fragile life is" but does not—as some have suggested—signal the imminent end of the world.

"Now the earth knows my love and my mercy," Robertson said God told him. "The time will come when it will experience my wrath. That time is not yet. Multitudes are ready to come into my kingdom. Revival will break out throughout the Muslim world, my truth will penetrate their hearts. The hold of that falsehood that has gripped them will be broken."

Robertson said the threat of terrorism will be diminished, but, "The peril of Israel is greater now than it has ever been, for she will be seduced into a false peace that will leave her vulnerable."

Concerning the Supreme Court, Robertson predicted: "The vendetta against religion in America is about to end…. [God] will remove judges from the Supreme Court quickly, and their successors will refuse to sanction the attacks on religious faith."

Eighteen months ago, Robertson urged his followers to pray that God would remove three justices from the Supreme Court.

"One justice is 83 years old, another has cancer, and another has a heart condition," Robertson wrote in a letter on the CBN Web site. "Would it not be possible for God to put it in the minds of these three judges that the time has come to retire? With their retirement and the appointment of conservative judges, a massive change in federal jurisprudence can take place."

While disclaiming at several points that he believed but was not certain he was hearing God's voice, Robertson boasted in his 2005 predictions: "So far, my track record has been pretty good. Last year I said George Bush was going to win by what looked like a blowout, and indeed he did. And I spoke previously about other things that were going to happen."

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, a frequent critic of Robertson, noted in the February 2004 Church and State magazine that several of Robertson's earlier predictions turned out to be false. He said Russia would invade Israel in 1982, that there would be a worldwide economic collapse in 1985 and that U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller would be elected president in 1996.

Concerning Robertson's prediction of alterations on the Supreme Court, AU's Joe Conn said in a weblog: "Robertson's predictions have often been wrong in the past, as documented by Americans United. With church-state separation hanging in the balance at the high court, we can only hope he's wrong again this time."

The White House in October denied a statement by Robertson that President Bush told him he did not expect any casualties prior to invading Iraq.

"The Lord told me it was going to be A, a disaster, and B, messy," Robertson said, describing his supposed meeting with Bush. "I warned him about casualties."

The Bush administration quickly contradicted Robertson's story. "The president never made such a comment," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

Judge: Evolution stickers unconstitutional


Markers in science textbooks violated church-state separation
Thursday, January 13, 2005 Posted: 12:22 PM EST (1722 GMT)

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- A federal judge in Atlanta, Georgia, has ruled that a suburban county school district's textbook stickers referring to evolution as "a theory not a fact" are unconstitutional.

In ruling that the stickers violate the constitutionally mandated separation between church and state, U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper ruled that labeling evolution a "theory" played on the popular definition of the word as a "hunch" and could confuse students.

According to The Associated Press, the stickers read, "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered."

The disclaimers were put in the books by school officials in 2002.

"Due to the manner in which the sticker refers to evolution as a theory, the sticker also has the effect of undermining evolution education to the benefit of those Cobb County citizens who would prefer that students maintain their religious beliefs regarding the origin of life," Cooper wrote in his ruling.

Cooper said he was ruling on the "narrow issue" of the case, brought against the Cobb County School District and Board of Education by four parents of district students, was whether the district's stickers violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

His conclusion, he said, "is not that the school board should not have called evolution a theory or that the school board should have called evolution a fact."

"Rather, the distinction of evolution as a theory rather than a fact is the distinction that religiously motivated individuals have specifically asked school boards to make in the most recent anti-evolution movement, and that was exactly what parents in Cobb County did in this case," he wrote.

"By adopting this specific language, even if at the direction of counsel, the Cobb County School Board appears to have sided with these religiously motivated individuals."

The sticker, he said, sends "a message that the school board agrees with the beliefs of Christian fundamentalists and creationists."

"The school board has effectively improperly entangled itself with religion by appearing to take a position," Cooper wrote. "Therefore, the sticker must be removed from all of the textbooks into which it has been placed."

Five parents of students and the American Civil Liberties Union had challenged the stickers in court, arguing they violated the constitutional separation of church and state.

The case was heard in federal court last November. The school system defended the warning stickers as a show of tolerance, not religious activism as some parents claimed.

"The Cobb County school board is doing more than accommodating religion," Michael Manely, an attorney for the parents, argued during the trial, according to a report from The Associated Press. "They are promoting religious dogma to all students."

Lawyers for Cobb County, however, argued in court that the school board had made a good-faith effort to address questions that inevitably arise during the teaching of evolution.

"Science and religion are related and they're not mutually exclusive," school district attorney Linwood Gunn said in an AP report. "This sticker was an effort to get past that conflict and to teach good science."

According to the AP, the schools placed the stickers after more than 2,000 parents complained the textbooks presented evolution as fact, without mentioning rival ideas about the beginnings of life.

Copyright 2005 CNN

Physics News Update 715

The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News
Number 715 January 11, 2005 by Phillip F. Schewe, Ben Stein
UNCOVERING NEW SECRETS IN A DNA HELPER. The protein RecA performs some profoundly important functions in bacteria. Two independent papers shed light on how the bacterial protein helps (1) identify and (2) replace damaged DNA while making few mistakes. Error-correction mechanisms keep DNA fidelity during replication to within an average of one error per billion "letters" or base pairs. This research may provide insight on how damage to existing DNA from processes such as UV radiation can be detected and repaired efficiently in living organisms, including humans, who carry evolutionary cousins of RecA. By polymerizing (bonding) onto damaged DNA, RecA is able to detect DNA damage and send out an "SOS" message to the rest of the cell. When the double-helix DNA is seriously damaged, single-stranded DNA is exposed and RecA polymerizes onto it, activating a biochemical SOS signal. To do this, Tsvi Tlusty and his colleagues at the Weizmann Institute and Rockefeller University (Tsvi.Tlusty@weizmann.ac.il) suggest that RecA performs "kinetic proofreading" in which RecA can precisely identify a damaged strand and its length by using ATP (the energy-delivering molecule in cells) to inspect (proofread) the DNA's binding energy and to detach after a certain time delay (the "kinetic" part) if the DNA has the "wrong" binding energy. (For more on kinetic proofreading, see American Scientist, March-April 1978). The researchers argue that the RecA performs the precise binding and unbinding actions that are necessary for kinetic proofreading through "assembly fluctuations," a protein's structural changes brought about by constant bonding and dissociation of RecA from its target. According to the authors, this is the first known biological process in which kinetic proofreading and assembly fluctuations are combined (Tlusty et al., Physical Review Letters, 17 December 2004).

Meanwhile, researchers at L'Institut Curie in France (Kevin Dorfman, Kevin.Dorfman@curie.fr and Jean-Louis Viovy, Jean-Louis.Viovy@curie.fr) have studied how RecA exchanges a damaged strand with a similar copy. In bacteria, RecA protein catalyzes this process by binding to a healthy single DNA strand to form a filament that "searches" for damaged double-stranded DNA (dsDNA). At odds with the conventional view, they propose that the dsDNA which needs to be repaired is the more active partner in this mutual search. Unbound, it first diffuses towards the more rigid and thus less mobile filament. In a second step, local fluctuations in the structure of the dsDNA, caused only by thermal motion, allow the base pairs of the filament to align and pair with the strand of replacement DNA. (Dorfman et al, Phys. Rev. Lett., 31 December 2004)

STALACTITE: GEOMETRY AS DESTINY. Scientists at the University of Arizona, bringing together ideas and observational techniques from the physics and geophysics disciplines, have derived a mathematical theory to explain the morphology of cave formations such as stalactites (the carrot-like shapes hanging down from the roof) and stalagmites (growing up from the floor). The precipitative growth of speleotherms (the collective name for cave shapes) is important since features of weather from thousands of years ago can be unfolded from the layering in these underground repositories, much as tree rings or ice core samples render up clues to ancient climate. Stalactites are composed of calcium carbonate precipitated from water entering the cave after percolating through CO2-rich soil and rock Treating stalactite growth as a "free boundary problem" (meaning that no a priori assumptions were made as to the evolving shape of the speleothem), the researchers linked the fluid dynamics and precipitative growth to obtain a law for surface growth which produces a unique "attractor" in the space of shapes (that is, a recurrent favored shape or trajectory in the abstract space of possible morphologies), one which closely matches observed shapes. Raymond Goldstein (520-621-1065, gold@physics.arizona.edu) suggests that the new theory should be applicable to other speleothem formations, and highlights interesting related problems such as the growth of hydrothermal vents, chemical gardens, and mollusk shells. (Short et al., Physical Review Letters, 14 January 2005).

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

Kabbalah leader's Holocaust 'slur'


By John Sweeney
BBC News
January 9, 2004

A senior figure in the controversial Kabbalah Centre - the sect championed by stars including Madonna and Demi Moore - seems likely to spark a storm of protest by saying Jews killed in the Holocaust brought their downfall upon themselves.

Eliyahu Yardeni, of the London Kabbalah Centre, made the astonishing claim to an undercover reporter investigating high-pressure sales techniques employed by the group, which promotes its own brand of beliefs, part ancient Jewish mysticism and part pseudo-science.

The probe also revealed how Kabbalah Centre representatives claimed bottles of "healing" spring water sold by the group could help cure cancer - and how they sold a batch to a sufferer for hundreds of pounds.

Talking about the wartime massacre of the Jews, Mr Yardeni said: "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."

The claim provoked outrage from Kabbalah scholar Rabbi Imannual Schocket, from Ontario, Canada. He said: "To me this is one of the most obscene statements anybody could possibly make."

The Kabbalah Centre has not seen the BBC programme and is unable to comment accurately on its content.

Genuine scholars of Kabbalah, which is a respected branch of ancient Jewish mysticism, reject the Kabbalah Centre as an opportunist offshoot of the faith with charismatic leaders who try to attract the rich and the vulnerable with the promise of health, wealth and happiness.

The Holocaust claim comes in a secretly-filmed BBC documentary. One undercover reporter, who has suffered from cancer, went to the London Kabbalah Centre - a =A33.7million building off Oxford Street - seeking help, and was offered a package of remedies for the disease for =A3860.

The cost included nearly =A3400 for 10 cases of Kabbalah water, =A3150 for "extra-strength" water and =A3289 for Zohar books - the Kabbalah "bible".

The Zohar is also said to have special powers which followers can benefit from by running a finger over the text as if reading Braille.

A second investigator, who worked undercover as a Kabbalah Centre volunteer for four months, was told how the Kabbalah water worked, with a devotee explaining: "We start with the purest artesian water and then we do the various meditations, injecting energy into it."

The Kabbalah Centre website explained that a process called Quantum Resonance Technology "restructures the intermolecular binding of spring water".

The investigation discovered the water actually comes from CJC Bottling, a bottling plant in Ontario, Canada, which was the subject of a public health investigation in 2002 into how its water was tested.

CJC was ordered to improve manufacturing techniques, though there was no suggestion that they ever sold polluted water.

Lucrative market

The film also investigates the background of the sect's founder, "Dr" Philip Berg, who is known to followers as the Rav. He enjoys a millionaire's lifestyle in Los Angeles.

The source of Mr Berg's "doctorate" is not clear, but it is known that he was born Feivel Gruberger in New York, trained as a rabbi and worked as an insurance agent before deserting his first wife and seven children for second wife, Karen.

The couple then set up their first Kabbalah Centre in Tel Aviv. The lucrative marketing operation for the water, Zohar books, face-creams, candles, videos, and red string bracelets worn by followers came later.

The organisation claims to have Kabbalah Centres in 40 cities worldwide and to be a non-profit-making organisation.

The centre was asked about its views, including those on the Holocaust, and in a statement said: "The Kabbalah Centre has not seen the BBC programme and is unable to comment accurately on its content."

Regarding fundraising, the statement went on: "As a registered charity, the centre has to fund raise to cover administrative costs and outreach work, the effects of which are felt across the world on a daily basis."

The centre has launched a US$1m campaign asking followers to donate money so it can send its own brand of Zohar books and water to the victims of the Asian tsunami.

In Israel, the authorities have refused to give the charity a certificate of proper management for three years running because of accounting inadequacies, and in Britain the Charity Commissioners have criticised the centre's accounts for "significant shortcomings in transparency".

Dover to discuss 'design' next week


Teachers have not reached the chapter discussing evolution.

Daily Record/Sunday News
Wednesday, January 12, 2005

At bottom: · WILL BE TOLD TO CHILDREN Dover Area educators will not address the issue of intelligent design in biology class Thursday.

Biology teachers at Dover Area High School have not yet reached the chapter that deals with evolution, so the lecture will take place next week, an attorney for the district said Tuesday.

Richard Thompson, president of the Thomas More Law Center representing the district, said the subject of intelligent design will not come up until Monday and Tuesday.

In the meantime, Tammy Kitzmiller, who is one of 11 parents suing the district in federal court over the issue and who has a daughter taking the biology class, received a letter sent home by the district Tuesday permitting students to opt out from the class if they choose.

Kitzmiller said she has not made a decision whether she will sign the letter.

Last month, district officials had said they expected ninth-graders in the semester-long class would discuss evolution as early as Thursday.

In December, a group of parents filed a federal lawsuit against the district over the school board's decision to include the phrase "intelligent design" in its biology curriculum. Intelligent design is the concept that life is too complex to have evolved solely through natural selection and therefore must have been created by an intelligent designer.

Despite the specific mention of intelligent design in the curriculum, the district maintains that the only discussion of the concept will be in a one-minute statement read to students in the high school's three biology classes.

But last week, teachers in the high school's science department sent a letter to the administration requesting they be allowed to "opt out" of reading the four-paragraph statement, and administrators agreed to take over the job.

After the statement is read, teachers will continue with the lesson on evolution.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs had intended to seek a temporary injunction last week to keep intelligent design out of the biology classes.

However, they were thwarted when school board members denied, in depositions, statements attributed to them last summer by both The York Dispatch and the York Daily Record/York Sunday News.

An attorney for the plaintiffs, Eric Rothschild of Pepper Hamilton, said lawyers were surprised by the denials of what they thought was an "established set of events."

Rothschild said the inconsistencies would not have been easily resolved in a short hearing. However, he said, he expects the plaintiffs' attorneys will be successful in the long run when they take the case to court in the spring.


The following statement will be read in class to ninth-grade biology students on Monday and Tuesday:

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.

How Safe Are Herbal Supplements?


Some Critics Believe the Industry's Products Are Unregulated and Unsafe By MARC LALLANILLA

Jan. 12, 2005 — The shelves of your local supermarket and drugstore are probably brimming over with a bewildering array of dietary supplements and herbal remedies. Many are advertised to have benefits that will improve your sex life, your memory or your figure.

But how real are these claims? And how safe are the ingredients in these supplements?

"One out of four has some sort of problem," said Dr. Tod Cooperman, physician and president of ConsumerLab.com, an independent laboratory that tests dietary supplements. "People should keep that in mind."

Toxic Contaminants in 'Natural' Products

In many cases, Cooperman's group has found that some name-brand supplements contain only a fraction of the ingredient on their labels — if any at all.

"Some have none, some have 80 percent, some have 20 percent," Cooperman said.

Another problem with supplements involves contamination. In two separate cases last month, pesticide residue was found in a batch of ginseng at a distributor in New Jersey, and toxic heavy metals like mercury, lead and arsenic were discovered in herbal supplements on sale in stores in the Boston area.

Researchers have also found significant amounts of Viagra and Cialis, prescription medicines for treating erectile dysfunction, in "natural" sexual enhancement supplements. "There are increasing instances of them being spiked with pharmaceutical products to make them more effective," said Cooperman.

Worrisome Combinations of Medications

Besides the concerns over the safety of individual products, many doctors warn their patients about the way herbal medications can interact with prescription medication.

"Most of the risks aren't known," said Dr. Neil Brooks, a family physician in Vernon, Conn. "What they're doing is adding chemicals to their bodies and we don't know what the effects are, independently or in combination."

"I had a patient the other day who had at least 12 things she was taking," Brooks said.

But many patients choose not to reveal to their doctors the supplements they're taking. In a report released today, the Institute of Medicine states that fewer than 40 percent of patients fully disclose to their doctors what supplements they use.

The IOM report, entitled "Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) in the United States," also notes that users of alternative medicines like dietary supplements generally use more than one type and use them in combination with more conventional medical treatments.

About 40 percent of Americans routinely use one or more dietary supplements. By most estimates, sales of supplements in the United States alone have created a $19 billion industry.

Some Benefits Are Undisputed

Even the most hardened skeptics understand that many dietary supplements have benefits that are universally accepted.

"Vitamins and minerals at RDA [recommended dietary allowance] levels are needed to prevent deficiencies," said Cooperman. "Some of the greatest examples are calcium, folic acid and iron."

Those three supplements are used to prevent osteoporosis, pregnancy complications and blood deficiencies, respectively.

"For nutritional supplements, there are a wide variety of benefits," said Annette Dickinson, nutritionist and president of the Council for Responsible Nutrition, a trade association of dietary supplement manufacturers.

"Almost everybody's diet falls short somewhere," said Dickinson.

FDA Regulation Is Limited

Dickinson also agrees that some unscrupulous manufacturers have given the entire supplement industry a black eye. One egregious example, she says, occurred with the efforts to stop the sale of supplements containing ephedra, a compound linked to several deaths nationwide.

"The controversy over ephedra dragged on years longer than it should have," Dickinson said. "The most we can do is petition the [enforcement] agencies to take action."

In 2004, sales of the substance were banned by the Food and Drug Administration, following their review of ephedra's safety and effectiveness from clinical studies and numerous reports of the compound's adverse effects.

But the length of time it took before ephedra was removed from store shelves -- and the deaths that occurred before it was banned -- highlight the weaknesses in the regulatory environment under which the supplement industry operates.

The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, signed into law in 1994, determined that supplements should be regulated not like drugs, but like foods. By making this determination, according to today's IOM report, supplement manufacturers were exempt under DSHEA from conducting any safety or efficacy testing.

To many industry critics, the net effect of DSHEA has been to limit the FDA's role to a reactive, post-market role. Only after the FDA determines that a substance, when used as recommended, presents a risk to consumers can the agency remove it from the market.

And because manufacturers are not required to report adverse effects from a substance, the burden for proving that a substance is harmful falls to the FDA.

'The Body Rule'

But Dickinson and others believe the fallout from the ephedra controversy has made the regulatory framework for supplement manufacturers more robust.

"For the first six or eight years after DSHEA was passed, the FDA didn't do much to implement the law," Dickinson concedes. But then came the ephedra controversy.

"It used to be called the 'body rule,' " says ConsumerLab's Cooperman, referring to the number of deaths that were needed to prompt an investigation from the agency. "You needed to have a lot of adverse effects before you could go looking for a cause.... But ephedra has emboldened the FDA to act more quickly."

Now, Dickinson says, "the FDA is taking strong enforcement action to fully implement DSHEA" -- something she says her group welcomes. She believes criticisms that the supplement industry is unregulated are entirely unfair.

Advice to Consumers

But some critics are not mollified by these assurances.

"As I see it, the main effect of the DSHEA has been to allow supplement companies to run rampant and make claims that are not substantiated," said Dr. Kevin Scott Ferentz, residency director in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.

"They sell products that do not contain what they are supposed to. They do not have efficacy data, safety data, quality control data, or anything that any pharmaceutical product in American must have," he said. "There are few, if any, supplements that have a data base that is sufficient to recommend their use."

In almost all cases, experts advise consumers to approach dietary supplements with caution -- and with reliable information.

"Consult with your physician," said Brooks. "And use reliable sources for information. We have people come in with all sorts of Internet ads."

"Consumers need to inform themselves about what they're using," said Dickinson. "The primary risk is from their own ignorance."

This is especially true for patients taking prescription drugs. "If they're taking other medications, they should check with their primary care physician just in case there are contraindications," said Cooperman.

And Ferentz notes that no dietary supplement should be considered a panacea. "People want to think there is a magic pill out there for everything," he said. "They assume that because something is a 'natural supplement' that it has to be safe and effective. Nothing could be further from the truth."

Copyright © 2005 ABC News Internet Ventures

Panel urges U.S. standards for dietary supplements


WASHINGTON (AP) — With nearly one-fifth of Americans taking dietary supplements, the Institute of Medicine on Wednesday called for tougher regulations to make sure the products are safe and do what they claim.

The institute expressed concern about the quality of dietary supplements, saying "there is little product reliability."

This makes it difficult for health professionals to guide patients in use of supplements, the report said. The panel urged that Congress take steps to require improved quality control of supplements and to provide incentives to study the efficacy of the products.

"Reliable and standardized products are needed," Dr. Stuart Bondurant, chairman of the committee that prepared the report, said at a briefing Wednesday.

In a 327-page report, the institute also urged that complimentary and alternative medical procedures, such as herbal remedies and acupuncture, be required to meet the same standards of effectiveness as conventional medical treatments.

Dr. Stephen E. Straus, director of the government's National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine, said requiring the same research standards "will further the scientific investigation of this new field, increase its legitimacy as a research area and ultimately improve public health."

Unlike drugs, which must be proven safe before they can be sold, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act allows sale of supplements unless the Food and Drug Administration can prove them harmful. The law also does not require manufacturers to report adverse reactions, as drug companies must.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who has pressed for more FDA attention to supplements, believes that manufacturers should be required to report adverse events and continues to urge action against false or misleading claims, according to spokeswoman Allison Dobson.

The Institute of Medicine report said 18.9% of Americans reported in 2004 that they had taken a dietary supplement in the past year. The industry was responsible for $18.7 billion in sales in 2002.

A study by researchers at Harvard Medical School, also being released Wednesday, found that about 35% of Americans have used some form of alternative medicine

Dr. Hilary Tindle, lead author of that report, said such widespread use shows the necessity of studying the safety, efficacy and cost-effectiveness of these approaches.

The biggest change was an increase in use of herbal supplements over the five years, the study said. The practice of yoga also increased.

The Harvard report, published in the journal Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, said use of therapies such as acupuncture, biofeedback, energy healing and hypnosis remained essentially unchanged between 1997 and 2002, while the use of homeopathy, high-dose vitamins, chiropractic and massage therapy declined slightly.

Both the Harvard and IOM reports cited a failure of a majority of consumers using supplements to tell their doctors.

"This is especially critical as more becomes known about the adverse effects associated with individual dietary supplements as well as their interactions with prescription drugs," said Harvard's Tindle.

The Federal Trade Commission has reported a flurry of unfounded or exaggerated claims for supplements, the IOM report notes. It calls on Congress and federal agencies to set standards for manufacturing quality.

The Institute of Medicine is a part of the National Academy of Science, an independent organization chartered by Congress to advise the government on scientific matters. The National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine, which requested the IOM study, is part of the National Institutes of Health.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press

Public weighs in on science standards


Creationism supporters say teaching only evolution is censorship

By Sarah Fox, Journal-World staff writer

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Supporters of creationism being taught in public schools appeared before the Kansas State Board of Education on Tuesday and said it was censorship for their beliefs to not be taught.

Celtie Johnson, of Prairie Village, told the board that hundreds of scientists with Ph.D.s have scientific evidence of a creator.

But their "claims are as dogmatically and shamefully rejected as were the opposing views of Galileo's in the 1600s," said Johnson, a homemaker with a mortuary science degree. "Didn't we learn from Galileo that censorship is not progress?"

A committee of about 25 people, most of whom are professors or high school or middle school teachers, has been rewriting the state science education standards since June. The state board of education did not discuss evolution or the science standards Tuesday morning. But it did accept public comment about the proposed revisions. The earliest the board would adopt science standards would be May or June.

At a meeting in mid-December, conservative members of the board attacked the committee rewriting the standards. They said some committee members failed to properly consider views about creationism and intelligent design when working on rewriting the standards.

Creationists follow the biblical story of how the world was formed. Advocates of intelligent design believe an unspecified intelligent cause best explains how certain features of the universe came into being. Critics say intelligent design is another form of creationism.

At the board meeting Tuesday, five people testified in favor of increased scrutiny of evolution.

Students will be better informed if they learn about the strengths and weaknesses of different viewpoints, said biologist Chris Mammoliti, of Topeka.

"It will not mean students are less competitive in college or the job market," he said. "High-tech industries will not leave our state. The sky will not fall."

One person told board members she did not want intelligent design added to the standards, saying intelligent design was more aligned to faith than science.

"Around the world, people live in oppression under regimes where religion and government are dangerously connected," said Kathy Cook, executive director of Kansas Families United for Public Education. "Once we begin to mix religious beliefs with politics, it becomes a downward slippery slope into a theocracy."

Public hearings on state science education standards are scheduled next month in four cities around the state. The hearings were supposed to be this month, but the committee rewriting the standards postponed them after members of the state board of education raised concerns at their December meeting about teaching evolution.

The rescheduled public hearings will be Feb. 1 in Kansas City, Kan., Feb. 8 in Topeka, Feb. 10 in Derby and Feb. 15 in Hays.

The delay in the public hearings also gave the committee more time to consider comments from people who work in education.

The board had been split 5-5 between conservatives and members who were comfortable with the science committee's work. Conservatives gained a 6-4 majority in last year's general elections; that majority took office Tuesday.

Current standards treat evolution as central to the science curriculum, among a few key subjects students must grasp. State law requires regular updating of academic standards, and the board decided to review science standards starting in 2004.

-- Information for this article was contributed by The Associated Press.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

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."

Casey Brown and her husband, fellow board member Jeff Brown, were stunned. "I was picturing the headlines," Jeff said months later.

"And we got them," Casey added.

Indeed, by the end of 2004, journalists from across the country and from overseas had come to Dover to report on the latest outbreak of America's perennial war over evolution. By then, Buckingham had succeeded in making Dover the first school district in the country to mandate the teaching of "intelligent design" -- an updated version of creationism couched in modern biological terms. In doing so, he ushered in a legal challenge from outraged parents and the ACLU that could turn into a 21st century version of the infamous "Scopes Monkey Trial."

The Dover case is part of a renewed revolt against evolutionary science that's been gathering force in America for the past four years, a symptom of the same renascent fundamentalism that helped propel George Bush to victory. Since 2001, the National Center for Science Education, a group formed to defend the teaching of evolution, has tallied battles over evolution in 43 states, noting they're growing more frequent.

After 1987, when the Supreme Court declared the teaching of creationism in public school unconstitutional in Edwards vs. Aguillard, the doctrine seemed to be shut out of public schools once and for all. In the last few years, though, intelligent design has given evolution's opponents new hope. Now, emboldened by their growing political power, religious conservatives are once again storming the barricades of science education.

The same month Bush was reelected, the rural Grantsburg, Wis., school district revised its curriculum to allow the teaching of creationism and intelligent design. After a community outcry -- including a letter of protest from 200 Wisconsin clergy -- the district revised the policy but continued to mandate that students be taught "the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory," a common creationist tactic that fosters the illusion that evolution is a controversial theory among scientists.

Other anti-evolution initiatives have affected entire states. In the November election, creationists took over the Kansas Board of Education. The last time the board had a majority, in 1999, it voted to erase any mention of evolution from the state curriculum. Kansas became a laughingstock and the anti-evolutionists were defeated in the next Republican primary, leading to the policy's reversal. Now, newly victorious, the anti-evolutionists plan to introduce the teaching of intelligent design next year.

Similarly, this past December, the New York Times reported that Missouri legislators plan to introduce a bill that would require state biology textbooks to include at least one chapter dealing with "alternative theories to evolution." Speaking to the Times, state Rep. Cynthia Davis seemed to compare opponents of intelligent design to al-Qaida. "It's like when the hijackers took over those four planes on Sept. 11 and took people to a place where they didn't want to go," she said. "I think a lot of people feel that liberals have taken our country somewhere we don't want to go. I think a lot more people realize this is our country and we're going to take it back."

Right-wingers in Congress, on talk radio and on cable TV, are stoking the anti-evolution rebellion, insisting that academic freedom means the freedom to teach creationism. Having shown their strength in the election, cultural conservatives aren't in the mood to compromise. America is a democracy and they have the numbers. They see no reason why the principles of science shouldn't be up for popular vote.

On Dec. 14, the ACLU announced that it was representing 11 Dover parents in a lawsuit against the town. The school board's intelligent-design policy, their complaint said, had violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, "which prohibits the teaching or presentation of religious ideas in public school science classes."

That day, a few of the parents joined their attorneys for a press conference in the rotunda of Pennsylvania's capitol in Harrisburg. Reporters and cameramen crowded around the microphone as a succession of lawyers, liberal clergymen and scientists spoke. The Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, came from D.C. for the event. "We've been battling this from Hawaii to California to New Hampshire to Cobb County," he said, referring to the suburban Atlanta school district that had recently put warning stickers on its biology textbooks calling evolution "a theory, not a fact."

As the cameras rolled, a few protesters tried to edge their way into the frame. A man named Carl Jarboe, in a purple sport coat and a fur hat, stood near the parents holding a fluorescent green sign saying, "ACLU Censors Truth." His wife, wearing a kerchief on her head and small round glasses, held a similar sign saying "Evolution: Unscientific and Untrue. Why Does the ACLU Oppose Schools Giving All the Evidence?"

The parents ignored them. Most were hesitant in front of all the cameras. They weren't culture warriors and they didn't speak in ideological terms. Instead, they talked about what Buckingham and the other creationists were doing to their school and their community.

"We don't believe that intelligent design is science, and we have faith in ourselves as parents that we can do a good job teaching our children about religion," Christy Rehm, a 31-year-old mother of four, said after the conference. "We have faith in our pastor, we have faith in our community that our children are going to be raised to be decent people. So we don't feel that it's the school board's job to make that decision for our children."

Jarboe, who introduced himself as a former assistant professor of chemistry at Messiah College, a nearby Christian school, was convinced that the parents were being used by the ACLU to further its sinister agenda. Like a great many members of the Christian right, he sees the ACLU as a subversive, possibly demonic institution. Quoting James Kennedy, an influential Fort Lauderdale televangelist, he called the ACLU the "American Communist United League." "I maintain it's a communist front," he said.

He then pressed a flier into my hand from a two-day creation seminar he'd attended at the Faith Baptist Church in Lebanon, Pa. It was run by Dr. Kent Hovind, a young-Earth creationist who argues that, as the flier said, "it has been proven that man lived at the same time as dinosaurs." To underline this point, Hovind runs Dinosaur Adventure Land, a theme park in Pensacola, Fla., with rides and exhibits about the not-so-long-ago days when humans and dinosaurs roamed the planet together.

A few feet from Jarboe stood Robert Eckhardt, a professor of developmental genetics and evolutionary morphology at Penn State. Eckhardt had spoken at the press conference about the central role of evolution in biology. "The idea that intelligent design is a powerful upwelling of controversy within the scientific community is absolute nonsense," he said. Jarboe was unfazed by Eckhardt's expertise; he called him a "screaming leftist unbiblical liberal."

A wry man with a lined face, tweed jacket and owlish glasses, Eckhardt, like most other experts in his field, has been dealing with creationists throughout his career and finds it tiresome to try to reason with them. He divided his opponents into several categories. "There are people who just feel that the world is changing very rapidly around them. Their children are coming home from school with ideas that are taught to them in biology class, the parents find this to be challenging and upsetting, and by God they're going to do something about it," he said. "They don't understand the world and they're trying to get the world to slow down and accommodate their thinking."

The second group, he said, are people "who are formerly associated with the creationist movement, who purposely misrepresent issues of science when in fact they are issues of religion." He didn't want to name names but it seemed he was speaking of the fellows at the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, headquarters of the intelligent-design movement. The third, he said, rolling his eyes a tiny bit toward Jarboe, who was listening to our conversation, "are people who are mentally unbalanced and who are so threatened by this that they perceive things going on around them that never happened."

As Eckhardt spoke, Jim Grove, the pastor of Heritage Baptist Church, a small congregation near Dover, stepped forward to challenge him to a debate. Eckhardt refused with a derisive laugh, saying, "I value my time." Grove interpreted this as a sign of evolution's weakness. "If he has facts, what about a forum to present them in public?" he asked. "It would be a perfect opportunity. If he has the facts."

Of Eckhardt's three categories of anti-evolutionists, the second -- the proponents of intelligent design -- are currently the most influential. They've created the terms that now dominate the debate from the halls of Congress to local school boards like Dover. They're the reason that, after a decade when the consensus on evolution in education seemed secure, Darwin's enemies are on the move.

Although Buckingham first argued for teaching creationism in Dover biology classes, he soon started using the phrase "intelligent design" instead. The change in language was significant because intelligent design was created in part to circumvent the Supreme Court ruling that made it illegal for public schools to teach creationism. Masquerading as a science, it aims to convince the public that evolution is a theory under fire within the scientific community and doesn't deserve its preeminent place in the biology curriculum.

At Dover's June 14 school board meeting, Buckingham said he wanted the board to consider the intelligent-design textbook, "Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origin." According to Nick Matzke, a spokesman for the National Center for Science Education, the original version of "Of Pandas and People," published in 1989, contained one of the first uses of the phrase "intelligent design." Later, in the 1990s, the intelligent-design cause was taken up by the Center for Science and Culture.

Yet "Of Pandas and People" was never meant to be scientific. It was a strategic response to the Supreme Court's 1987 ruling in Edwards vs. Aguillard, which overturned a Louisiana law mandating that "creation science" be taught alongside evolution. Because the court ruled that "creation science" is a religious doctrine, savvy opponents of evolution sought to recast the central tenets of creationism in a way that hid their religious inspiration. Thus intelligent design was born.

Percival Davis, one of the coauthors of "Of Pandas and People," also co-wrote the old-school creationist text, "A Case for Creation." An online ad for "Pandas" on the Web site of the creationist group Answers in Genesis describes the text as a "superbly written" book for public schools that "has no Biblical content, yet contains creationists' interpretations and refutations for evidences [sic] usually found in standard textbooks supporting evolution!"

The core idea in "Pandas" -- and in the intelligent-design movement generally -- is that of "irreducible complexity," the theory that the structure of proteins and amino acids in cells -- the building blocks of life -- is so complex that only a supernatural force could have choreographed it. "Because of the high level of improbability that cells could be generated by the random mixing of chemicals, some scientists believe that the first cells were created from the design of some outside, intelligent force," the book says.

Indeed, some "scientists" do believe this -- the ones who work at the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture. Outside the precincts of the religious right, though, the scientific consensus about evolution is very close to unanimous. For decades, biologists at the world's major universities, and in esteemed peer-reviewed journals, have proven that cellular processes have indeed evolved in sync with Darwin's theories. In November 2004, National Geographic ran a cover story asking, "Was Darwin Wrong?" Its subhead provided the answer: "No. The Evidence for Evolution Is Overwhelming."

"Evolution by natural selection, the central concept of the life's work of Charles Darwin, is a theory," wrote award-winning science author David Quammen in National Geographic. "It's a theory about the origin of adaptation, complexity, and diversity among Earth's living creatures. If you are skeptical by nature, unfamiliar with the terminology of science, and unaware of the overwhelming evidence, you might even be tempted to say that it's 'just' a theory. In the same sense, relativity as described by Albert Einstein is 'just' a theory. The notion that Earth orbits around the sun rather than vice versa, offered by Copernicus in 1543, is a theory ... Each of these theories is an explanation that has been confirmed to such a degree, by observation and experiment, that knowledgeable experts accept it as fact."

A statuesque woman with a strawberry blond bob and crisply proper diction, Casey Brown isn't a scientist, but she prides herself on being well read, and after 10 years on the school board, she knows what a good biology textbook looks like. When she saw "Of Pandas and People," she was appalled. "It's poor science and worse theology," she said.

Brown said that by the school board's August meeting, Buckingham had given up on the idea of using "Pandas" as the main text, but he insisted that the board buy it as a supplement. Otherwise, he said, he wouldn't approve the purchase of "Biology."

One of Buckingham's supporters on the board was out sick that night, and without her, the vote deadlocked, 4-4. Finally, worried that the school would have to start the year without textbooks, one member switched her vote and "Biology" was approved. The town's little drama seemed to be at an end.

In fact, it was just beginning.

Shortly after the motion to have the school board buy "Of Pandas and People" was defeated, the Dover School District received an anonymous donation of 50 copies of the book, and Buckingham and his allies set about figuring out how to integrate them into the curriculum.

On Oct. 18, the board voted on a resolution written by Buckingham and his supporters on the board. It said, "Students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin's theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design. Note: Origins of Life is not taught." The "Pandas" books were to be kept in the science classroom, and teachers were instructed to read a statement referring students to them.

Casey and Jeff Brown argued against it. "We kept maintaining this is going to get us into legal trouble," Casey said. "It was a clear violation." As an alternative, she proposed offering a comparative world religions elective, which would teach the creation myths of various faiths.

But Buckingham was determined. "Two thousand years ago, someone died on a cross," he said at the meeting. "Can't someone take a stand for him?"

Jeff Brown spoke up in response, saying it was the wrong time and the wrong place for a religious debate. Buckingham called him a coward and said it was a good thing that he wasn't fighting the revolutionary war "because we would still have a queen."

Finally, they voted. The mandate to teach intelligent design passed 6-3. Casey and Jeff Brown quit the board in protest. The other dissenter, Noel Wenrich, turned to Buckingham and said, "We lost two good people because of you."

"And Mr. Buckingham said, with profanity, 'Good riddance to bad rubbish,'" Casey recalled. "And he called Mr. Wenrich every name in the book."

Buckingham may have started the Dover crusade himself, but the Center for Science and Culture laid the groundwork years before. The group provides the "scientific" and philosophical arguments to bolster the opponents of evolution in local political struggles.

CSC operates out of the Discovery Institute, a Seattle think tank that's funded in part by savings and loan heir Howard Ahmanson. As Max Blumenthal reported in a 2004 Salon article, Ahmanson spent 20 years on the board of R.J. Rushdoony's Chalcedon Foundation, a theocratic outfit that advocates the replacement of American civil law with biblical law.

The Center for Science and Culture also aims, in a far more elliptical way, to put God at the center of civic life. Originally called the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture, CSC usually purports to be motivated by science, not religion. At times, though, it's refreshingly candid about its true goal -- a grandiose scheme to undermine the secular legacy of the Enlightenment and rebuild society on religious foundations. As it said in a 1999 fundraising proposal that was later leaked online, "Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture seeks nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies."

The proposal was titled "The Wedge Strategy." It began: "The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western civilization was built ... Yet a little over a century ago, this cardinal idea came under wholesale attack by intellectuals drawing on the discoveries of modern science. Debunking the traditional conceptions of both God and man, thinkers such as Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud portrayed humans not as moral and spiritual beings, but as animals or machines who inhabited a universe ruled by purely impersonal forces and whose behavior and very thoughts were dictated by the unbending forces of biology, chemistry, and environment. This materialistic conception of reality eventually infected virtually every area of our culture, from politics and economics to literature and art."

As "The Wedge Strategy" suggests, many CSC fellows are troubled more by the philosophical consequences of evolutionary theory than by the fact that it contradicts a literal reading of the Bible's book of Genesis. Most of them -- though not all -- are too scientifically sophisticated to hew to a young-Earth creationist line like Hovind's. In mainstream forums, they eschew sectarian religious language. As seekers of mainstream credibility, they don't want to be associated with the medieval persecutors of Copernicus and Galileo. Instead, they try to present themselves as heirs to those very visionaries, insisting that dogmatic secularists desperate to deny God are thwarting their open-minded quest for truth.

Most CSC fellows even accept that evolution occurs within individual species. What they dispute is the idea that random mutation and natural selection led to the evolution of higher species from lower ones -- of man from apelike ancestors. Such a process seems to them incompatible with the belief that man was created in the image of God and that God takes a special interest in him.

Several CSC fellows come with impressive credentials from prestigious universities, and they know how to argue in mainstream forums. Philip Johnson, one of the fathers of the movement, is a law professor at UC-Berkeley. Jonathan Wells, author of the influential intelligent-design book, "Icons of Evolution," has a Ph.D. in molecular and cell biology from Berkeley and another in religious studies from Yale. A member of the Unification Church whose education was bankrolled by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, he's written that he sought his degrees specifically to fight the teaching of evolution. As he put it in an article on the Moonie Web site True Parents, "Father's words, my studies, and my prayers convinced me that I should devote my life to destroying Darwinism, just as many of my fellow Unificationists had already devoted their lives to destroying Marxism. When Father [Sun Myung Moon] chose me (along with about a dozen other seminary graduates) to enter a Ph.D. program in 1978, I welcomed the opportunity to prepare myself for battle."

Armed with advanced degrees, CSC fellows have secured invitations to testify before state boards of education. They've published opinion pieces in mainstream newspapers and are regularly consulted for "balance" in stories about evolution controversies.

They've also found important allies within the Republican Party, especially Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. Santorum tried to attach an amendment to the No Child Left Behind Act that would encourage the teaching of intelligent design. It said, "[W]here 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, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society." The statement was eventually adopted as part of a Conference Report on the law, which means it has advisory power only.

The language sounds innocuous, but Santorum's intent was clear. In 2002, Ohio debated adding intelligent design to its statewide science standards. In a Washington Times Op-Ed supporting the change, Santorum quoted his amendment and then wrote, "If the Education Board of Ohio does not include intelligent design in the new teaching standards, many students will be denied a first-rate science education. Many will be left behind."

Santorum has also come out in favor of Dover's policy. The school board, in turn, distributed copies of one of Santorum's pro-intelligent design Op-Eds along with the agenda at its Jan. 3 meeting.

Oddly enough, although Santorum is supporting the Dover school board's policy, the Center for Science and Culture isn't. On Dec. 14, CSC put out a statement calling Dover's policy "misguided" and saying it should be "withdrawn and rewritten." The statement quoted CSC's associate director John West as saying that discussion of intelligent design shouldn't be prohibited but it also shouldn't be required. "What should be required is full disclosure of the scientific evidence for and against Darwin's theory," said West, "which is the approach supported by the overwhelming majority of the public."

This, of course, is a departure from the position laid out in "The Wedge Strategy," which specifically calls for the integration of intelligent design into school curriculum.

Why the change? Matzke, from the National Center for Science Education, is convinced that the CSC wanted to wait for a better test case and a friendly Supreme Court, which they'll get if Bush is able to nominate a few new justices. The Dover policy, Matzke said, probably won't survive a court challenge right now, and if it's overturned, the precedent will be a setback for the missionaries of intelligent design.

"Their current strategy is not to have an intelligent-design policy passed," Matzke said. "They just want a policy that says students should analyze the strengths and weakness of evolution." CSC did not return calls for comment.

It's not hard for creationists to convince the public that the evidence for evolution is weak. Scientists accept evolution as something very close to fact, but Americans never have. In a November 2004 CBS News/New York Times poll, about evolution, 55 percent of the respondents said that God created humans in their present form. Twenty-seven percent believed in the evolution of man guided by God, and 13 percent believed in evolution without God.

So it should come as no surprise that the majority of Americans -- 65 percent, according to the poll cited above -- favor teaching creationism alongside evolution in public schools. Creationism is the perfect culture-war issue because it inevitably pits majorities in local communities against interloping lawyers and scientists. In a country gripped by right-wing populism, it's not hard to stoke resentment against scientists who have the gall to think that they know more than everybody else.

In fact, some historians date the start of our culture wars to 1925, the year of the "Scopes Monkey Trial" in Dayton, Tenn.

At the time, the battle over evolution had been raging throughout the country. It came to a head when 24-year-old teacher John Scopes challenged Tennessee's Butler Act, which prohibited the teaching of evolution in the state's public schools and universities. His persecution set the stage for a legendary courtroom showdown that pit celebrated Chicago defense attorney Clarence Darrow against Williams Jennings Bryan, the crusading populist, fundamentalist and three-time presidential candidate.

Bryan, the nation's leading anti-evolutionist, made his case in populist terms. In his 1993 book "The Creationists," historian Ronald Numbers wrote, "Throughout his political career, Bryan had placed his faith in the common people, and he resented the attempt of a few thousand elitist scientists 'to establish an oligarchy over the forty million American Christians' to dictate what should be taught in the schools."

Bryan and his fellow Scopes prosecutors won their trial, but the national mockery that followed it did much to alienate conservative Christians from secular society, setting the stage for the culture wars of later decades. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning history of the Scopes trial, "Summer for the Gods," Edward Larson wrote about the birth of the right-wing religious counterculture in the wake of the Pyrrhic victory in Tennessee:

"Indeed, fundamentalism became a byword in American culture as a result of the Scopes trial, and fundamentalists responded by withdrawing. They did not abandon their faith, however, but set about constructing a separate subculture with independent religious, educational and social institutions."

Eventually, of course, the religious right emerged from its subculture to renew its attack on secularism. Today, cultural conservatives are mustering almost exactly the same arguments that Bryan made in Dayton 80 years ago.

This past December, Republican strategist Jack Burkman appeared on MSNBC's "Scarborough Country" to back creationism in terms of populist democracy. "Why should the state and the federal government have a monopoly on defining what constitutes science?" he asked. "I see no problem with presenting a creationist view in the schools, given that 70 percent of Americans want that. The law should reflect democratic desires. It should reflect public desires."

Of course, public desires don't determine the physical facts of the world. "The best argument that the creationists have got is that it's only fair to teach both sides," Matzke said. "The problem with that argument is that science is not a democracy and a lot of times there aren't two correct sides. There are people who believe that the sun goes around the earth. They're called geocentrists. That doesn't mean we should teach that."

In Dover, though, people tend to interpret positions like Matzke's as elitism. Much of the public seems to desire schools that teach creationism, although many balk at the cost of a lawsuit. For defenders of Darwin, the most troubling thing isn't that the Dover school board is dominated by extremists -- it's that the board is, in a local context, fairly mainstream. Supporters of evolution are the ones who stand out. Resentment of the ACLU runs high even among some who opposed the school board's intelligent-design policy. Most opposition to the policy comes from worry over the cost of the lawsuit.

Most people in Dover say that the town is split fairly evenly over the school board's intelligent-design policy. The division isn't one of principle, though. People know that the ACLU's lawsuit is going to be expensive and are worried that defending the policy in court will drain the school budget and force a tax increase.

"I would say that people who are against what the school board is doing in principle are a minority, a great minority," former school board member Noel Wenrich told me. "However, when it comes to spending money on it, it's a whole other issue. When you ask people, Do you support the board's decision on this? they say yes." Ask them if they're willing to pay more taxes to finance a court case, though, and they'll give you a resounding no, he said. "It's a money issue."

The school board doesn't need to worry about most of its legal fees, however. It's being represented pro bono by the Thomas More Law Center, a right-wing Catholic firm that describes itself as "the sword and shield for people of faith." Wenrich told me that Thomas More lawyers had been advising Buckingham for months.

Despite the law firm's help, though, the lawsuit will likely be financially devastating to the district, the second poorest in the county. Dover would have to pay for lost wages of people called to testify, and it would have to provide outside counsel for some witnesses, like the Browns, who don't want Thomas More representing them. Jeff Brown guessed that depositions alone would cost the district $30,000. Then, if Dover loses, federal civil rights law would make it liable for the ACLU's legal fees. "It won't be cheap," said Witold Walczak, the ACLU's Pennsylvania legal director.

"It will kill us," said Casey Brown. In fact, Dover is already broke. The board had just been forced to cut its library budget almost in half, from $68,000 to $38,000, and to eliminate all field trips.

Wenrich himself, a 36-year-old Army veteran and father of two, doesn't believe in evolution. But he felt honor-bound to put his duty to the school above his personal politics. "If it were my money, I'd have no problem," he said. "I'd go out and fight it. But to use the public's money that's supposed to be educating our kids is absolutely irresponsible. They're already looking at putting off buying textbooks, not buying library books, not updating computer equipment. When we're looking at those budget cuts, it's irresponsible to go out and pick a fight with the Supreme Court."

If Wenrich is angry with Buckingham, though, he's even angrier at the outside forces that are challenging the school district. "It is going full circle now from the religious community ruling what can be thought -- that's what they tried to do in the Middle Ages," he said. "We've come down to the scientific community trying to tell us what we can think. Basically what the scientific community currently is doing is saying, 'You'll have no god before mine. Mine happens to be Darwin.' Any other thought will not be tolerated."

Evolution's allies might win the battle for Dover's biology classes, but they're losing America.

About the writer
Michelle Goldberg is a contributing writer for Salon. She is working on a book about America's culture wars.

Locals claim healer cures, but some are skeptical

By Christiana Sciaudone
Staff Writer

January 8, 2005

The bleach fumes from a public toilet sent Mary Burch to the hospital with heart failure. Soon after, she returned to the hospital after inhaling exhaust while loading the back seat of her car.

Burch said she suffered for 16 years, since she was 50, with asthma and bronchitis set off by chemicals. Things got so bad she wouldn't leave the house without a charcoal mask.

After two visits to a man in Brazil who, some say, is a miracle healer, Burch says she is cured.

According to Burch, she has not been to the hospital since her first trip in 2000 to Abadiânia, a town near the Brazilian capital of Brasilia, where the man, who calls himself Joao de Deus -- John of God -- practices. Now, she says, she can wear perfume or hair spray, even hang out in a room full of smokers.

The Florida woman is one of many who claim they have been cured and touched by John of God.

Burch was brought there by a Florida guide. In southern Connecticut, Heather Cumming of Westport offers five trips a year to Abadiânia. She brings 10 to 20 people at a time, and often they are repeat visitors.

Not everyone who goes is a believer, and some people call John of God a charlatan who preys on sick, desperate people. Tour guides listed online have also sprouted up in such places as San Jose, Calif., Burnsville, N.C., and White Oaks, Ill.

The average cost charged by the guides, without airfare, is $1,500. Airfare from New York is about $900.

John of God charges nothing for his services, but accepts donations. According to her Web site, Cumming charges $1,485 for the hotel, of which she is a part owner, and food and her translating services.

She takes the ailing, the curious and skeptical. In addition to being a guide, Cumming says she is also a "medium" of the Casa de Dom Inácio de Loyola, as the place where John of God practices is known.

With crystals from the casa, she said she administers crystal therapy in her healing room in Westport.

Cumming was born to Scottish parents in Brazil, speaks with a vaguely British accent, and has blond hair and blue eyes. She considers herself Brazilian.

Cumming grew up on a farm there surrounded by shamanism and farm workers who would rather go to a healer than a doctor. Shamans mediate between the visible and spirit worlds.

Cumming, who has lived in Westport for 20 years, began a shamanic practice in her home in 1996.

Five years ago, Cumming decided to reconnect with her South American roots. At about the same time, Cumming -- acting as translator -- accompanied a friend to see John of God.

"I know it's difficult for people to understand," she said, but it's a state of mind.

Cumming warns that healing is not guaranteed and many ailments require multiple visits.

In Cumming's healing room in Westport, John of God is everywhere in photos.

João de Teixeira de Faria, as he was born in 1942 in Brazil, does not remember the "surgeries" he performs, Cumming said. He is a medium and channels spirit entities, including saints and dead doctors, to do his work, his supporters say.

On his Web site, the claims are sweeping: "He will scrape away cataracts and eye tumors with a knife, remove breast cancers with a small incision and cause the crippled to walk with just the touch of his hand."

He also does "internal" surgeries where there are no cuts. He does surgeries with kitchen knives, digging them into breasts, thighs and eyes without anesthesia or gloves. He does it in a room filled with people eager for his touch or doubtful of his powers.

James Randi heads the James Randi Educational Foundation, a Florida-based nonprofit organization, which aims to refute supernatural claims.

Randi hasn't been to Abadiânia, he has seen videos of John of God at work.

"All we see in the videotape is pure sleight of hand," said Randi, 76. "It's carnival stuff."

Pictures of John of God show him poking around people's eyes with a knife, which Randi, a former magician, called "standard magic used since the Middle Ages."

Randi said he gets calls from concerned family members about relatives going to Brazil. He tells them to let them go, that there is no way to convince them that going is foolish and a waste of money.

Randi said the healer tricks people into thinking they are healed for the donations. He has asked for evidence of healing from John of God but has not received a response.

Those who have been to Abadiânia want to believe they've been healed; after all, they've spent so much money, Randi said.

"The deceived are the greatest endorsers of it," he said.

Dr. Alina Enista, a New Jersey psychoanalyst, has been to Abadiânia twice with Cumming. She said she went out of curiosity with the skepticism of a scientific mind.

In November 2003, she saw John of God doing his surgeries, cutting into people without anesthetic. She said she was as close as she could get, even holding his scissors and knife for him.

Enista was "flabbergasted," she said. "I left with a very confused, I would say, feeling, trying to understand what was going on."

On her first visit, Enista said she met a wheelchair-bound German woman whom she helped get around the compound.

When Enista returned the following year, the same woman approached her, walking this time, and said to come and watch her ride a bicycle.

"I was absolutely stunned," Enista said. The German woman said she had left her life in Europe and spent her time meditating and praying at the casa. At different times, entities appeared to her and gradually told her to progress from the wheelchair to a cane and eventually to walking, Enista said the woman told her.

"I insisted to know, What did she think was happening?" Enista said. But "she never needed or looked for an explanation."

The experience erased much of the skepticism Enista had entered with, though she still could not explain what happens at the casa and with John of God.

"It's such a profound human experience, which should not necessarily be explained," she said. The German woman's recovery seems to have stemmed from determination, prayers and the energy of the people around her, Enista said.

But she is not yet a full believer, though. "I assume there is a certain amount of skepticism still there because I still need to go."

Burch wants to return, though she is not skeptical. Curing her asthma and bronchitis is proof enough, she said.

Burch is 70 and works as a receptionist at Gilda's Club in South Florida, a nonprofit organization that provides support for cancer patients and their families. The club is in Fort Lauderdale around the corner from Randi's organization.

Burch first arrived in Abadiânia in 2000. She had noninvasive surgery, in which John of God sat her down and told her to put a hand over her heart. He said the "Our Father" prayer and touched her.

"I felt like there was a mild electrical current going through my chest, like whizzing around my chest," she said.

She felt as though someone was tapping her carotid artery in her neck from the inside out, Burch said.

When it was over he said she could leave, but she could not get up. She crawled over benches and collapsed and was carried into a bed in the infirmary. She slept for a day and had visions of people from her past, she said.

A few days later, she returned to the casa still uncertain of whether she'd been cured. Burch prayed, and while she did started to smell and taste bleach.

"And here comes this little lady with a mop and a bucket of bleach," she said. "I didn't move. I just kept on praying. I could smell the bleach and taste the bleach and I was fine."

Her husband, Gerry, 72, said he was "truly amazed" at his wife's recovery.

He has had multiple sclerosis for years and is wheelchair-bound. Mary Burch is taking him to see John of God in the next few months.

"I just know that when I take him there he will be fine," Burch said.


Intelligent design foes frustrated


The issue was not discussed at a Dover school board meeting.

For the Daily Record/Sunday News
Tuesday, January 11, 2005

As Monday evening's meeting of the Dover Area School Board progressed, board member Angie Yingling looked distracted. Every now and then she would pick up her pen, bow her head and write.

She was writing was her letter of resignation.

At the end of the agenda, the board went into an executive session to talk about personnel and legal issues. Before Yingling went into the session, she said she wrote the letter with the intention of reading it after the executive session.

She said she wanted to be placed on the agenda so she could make a motion — a motion to have two words, "intelligent design" removed from the ninth-grade biology curriculum and a correlating statement.

Before the executive session, Yingling said she had made a request to be on the evening's agenda but was denied by the board's president, Sheila Harkins.

"I'm going to ask again during executive session," she said.

She said if she were again denied, she would resign.

But after the nearly one-hour session ended, the board returned to its seats, hired a new district employee and adjourned.

Immediately afterward, Yingling was surrounded by members of the local and national media.

A little later, as she walked to her car, she asked herself, "Why won't they let me speak?"

She then said she was told she wasn't allowed to speak at the meeting because Richard Thompson of the Thomas More Law Center advised Harkins not to allow it.

So why didn't Yingling resign?

"I keep telling myself that if I can round up some people to run for election, a new board can resolve these issues in an instant," she said. "So I keep telling myself to hold on."

During the break for executive session, Bryan Rehm echoed those sentiments. Rehm is one of the 11 parents suing the district and board over an Oct. 18 decision to include "intelligent design theory" in ninth-grade biology.

Like Yingling, he is frustrated with board's control over discussion of the intelligent design issue. In early December, Harkins, the new board president, issued a new rule saying the public could no longer comment on issues not on the agenda unless a request was submitted in writing.

Rehm sent a written request, but he opted against speaking Monday night because, he said, "The board isn't listening anyway."

Next month, Rehm will submit the necessary paperwork to run for a seat on the school board. The deadline is Feb. 28.

"I've talked with 30 to 50 different individuals," he said. "And people overwhelmingly don't like what's going on."

Before the meeting, someone in attendance handed out a flier citing an example of the council in Plum Borough, near Pittsburgh, trying to limit public speech and being rejected in court.

"The attachment will be submitted to our solicitor for a review," said Richard Nilsen, the school superintendent. "We'll have a report on that by next meeting."

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