NTS LogoSkeptical News for 21 January 2005

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Friday, January 21, 2005

Non-traditional medicine is no fad


Posted 1/12/2005 8:57 PM

By Marilyn Elias, USA TODAY

So-called alternative medicine is in the mainstream: More than one-third of adults use it, but popularity has raced ahead of research on benefits and dangers, as well as action to protect consumers, says a federal report out Wednesday. There are many alternate health practices, from herbs and acupuncture to homeopathic products, chiropractic care and yoga.

Insurance usually won't cover them, so Americans are spending more than $30 billion a year out of pocket to get them, says Stuart Bondurant, a dean at Georgetown University Medical Center. He chaired the Institute of Medicine expert panel asked to report on key research and policy questions by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, which is part of the National Institutes of Health.

The Institute of Medicine is part of the National Academy of Sciences, an independent organization chartered by Congress to advise the government on scientific matters.

Overall use of alternative medicine has stayed about the same for 14 years, says panel member David Eisenberg of Harvard Medical School, who did the first large survey on the issue in 1990. But herbal product use jumped 50% from 1997 to 2002.

Nearly 1 in 5 adults use herbs for symptoms as diverse as menopausal hot flashes and memory problems. But consumers can't count on getting the product promised on the label, the IOM panel warns. These supplements, such as Saint-John's-wort and ginkgo, are regulated like foods, not drugs, and manufacturers don't have to prove safety and effectiveness.

A 1994 law authorized the Food and Drug Administration to set "good manufacturing practices" for supplement makers. The agency also can fine companies that don't meet standards, or even shut them down, says Mark Blumenthal of the American Botanical Council, an independent non-profit that promotes responsible use of herbs.

The FDA published proposed rules in 2003 but has not issued final guidelines.

Some herbs can be dangerous when taken with traditional medicines, and about two-thirds of Americans using alternative therapies don't tell their doctors, according to Eisenberg's studies.

"Most of our products are very safe," says Judy Blatman of the Council for Responsible Nutrition, a trade group for the vitamin and herb industry.

The IOM panel says the 1994 law needs to be amended to strengthen quality control and consumer protection. Even if the current law were fully enforced, it wouldn't yield enough information, Bondurant says. But Blumenthal says expecting the FDA to take on new responsibilities is unrealistic: "They lack the manpower, the expertise and the budget to deal with herbal safety issues."

Alternative therapies also should be held to the same standards for effectiveness as conventional medicine, the panel says. Lack of standardizing among products has made research difficult, Eisenberg says. "Our hands are tied in terms of advising the public on what should or should not be used."

Federal agencies should invest in more alternative medicine research, and incentives should be created for private firms to do research because they don't gain patents for their investments like drugmakers do, the panel says. More than 7,000 controlled trials on alternative therapies have been published. Quality varies but is improving.

Stephen Barrett, who runs quackwatch.org, a Web site aimed at identifying health fraud, says the panel's findings can't be trusted because many members are advocates of alternative medicine and stand to benefit financially from more research funds. "They gave an overly rosy view of this."

Sri Lanka Looks to Animals for Tsunami Warning


Jan 18, 10:15 AM (ET)

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lankan officials are looking to use animals in an early warning system for earthquakes and tsunamis, hoping to take advantage of the instincts that allowed wildlife to escape last month's giant waves virtually unscathed.

Game wardens at Sri Lanka's biggest national park believe animals fled to safety before the tsunami crashed ashore on Dec. 26, killing more than 38,000 people. No animal carcasses have been found in the park.

"Informally (local) authorities are discussing if animals can be used as an early warning system," Asoka Dangolla of the International Fund for Animal Welfare told a news conference.

"But the only problem is they would generally react in the same way in any disaster. So it is not easy to know what they are reacting to," Dangolla said.

Experts say elephants and other beasts in Yala national park had time to flee because keen senses such as hearing allowed them to detect the tsunami's approach long before humans could.

Mexicans Wooed by Church Promising Miracles for Cash


Wed Jan 19, 2005 9:46 AM ET
By Catherine Bremer

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Their eyes wet with tears and their ears ringing from the wails and piped music of a ritual blessing, a group of women hastens up to the altar, each clasping banknotes worth two days' wages for many Mexicans.

"Who can give 200 pesos or more? Come up now," a young, slick-suited bishop purrs into a microphone, as pastors in ill-fitting dark suits with the menacing look of nightclub bouncers hold out a crimson velvet bag for the green notes worth roughly $18.

"We want the best from God so we must give him the best. Come along, quickly," he says, in a strong Brazilian accent.

With Catholicism losing its lure for some, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG), a Brazil-based evangelical Christian group that promises miracles for cash, is spreading fast in Mexico, the second-biggest Catholic country after Brazil.

Its global annual income is now pegged at some $1 billion, raised by millions of followers in more than 50 countries from Angola to Venezuela, including the United States and Europe.

While it has survived probes in Brazil and sharp criticism elsewhere, Mexico is investigating whether the church adheres to its regulations for religious groups.

The church says it is being "persecuted like Jesus was." But critics claim it skillfully manipulates the poor.

"They are panic-mongers. They work on people's despair and their message is very effective in poor sectors," said Latin American religion specialist Elio Masferrer in Mexico City.

"It's an organization structured to make money. Its growth here has been meteoric."


The UCKG is classed as part of the neo-Pentacostal or charismatic movement -- a rebirth of Pentecostal beliefs with strong emphasis on physical manifestations of the Holy Spirit in individuals such as speaking in tongues and working miracles.

Since taking root here around 1992 and winning a license to preach in 2001, the UCKG has expanded its winning formula to 48 temples in Mexico. Some seat several thousand.

On top of regular donations, preachers urge followers to put as much as 50,000 pesos ($4,400) in envelopes with requests for God to be taken to holy sites in the Middle East.

Whereas most religions collect coins for church upkeep, the UCKG tells people desperate to save a dying loved-one, find a job or restore a broken marriage that a large donation could move God to help them.

"My boyfriend ran off and married another woman. Ever since, I suffer. I cry, I can't sleep. I want God to bring me peace," said Monica Priorio, 29, who has attended daily UCKG services in a grimy Mexico City district for a year.

"I'm unemployed but if I find a job I'll give a lot. A good service makes you want to give everything you have."

Flashy services take place several times a day in converted theaters across Mexico. Some include exorcisms.

To crescendos of sugary piano music, the boyish preacher peppers his sermon with snappy prompts like: "Do you feel Jesus?" Some in the congregation wail and flail their arms.

Followers queue up for a healing blessing, in which pastors with contorted faces press on their heads and chant before flinging their hands away dramatically. As the music peaks some people weep, and the donation bags are brought out.


Founded in 1977 by Edir Macedo, the UCKG -- Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus in Portuguese -- soon reaped enough cash to buy a leading Brazilian television network, a bank, newspapers and radio stations.

"It has the marketing strategy of a big multinational," said Paris-based anthropologist and UCKG expert Marion Aubree.

"The problem is people give (money) freely. This church has used the miracle fairy tale like no other," said Aubree.

The UCKG denies misconduct, and followers say it brings them hope.

Its publications are packed with tales like the one of a penniless family that sent money to God and soon found itself in a luxury villa with a fleet of new cars.

"If your objective is high then so too must be the price of the sacrifice you pay," an editorial reads.

In mainly Catholic Mexico, evangelicalism has lifted the number of Protestants to 12 percent from 10 percent in 2000.

Macedo, a multi-millionaire, was probed for tax fraud in 1992 and linked to illegal drugs money. In 1995 a video showed him teaching pastors how to raise cash, pulling faces as he counted donations and saying the stingy could "go to hell."

More recently the church was probed in Britain over its money flows and placed on a blacklist in France.

"Most evangelical pastors are decent, respectable people, but this church is about making money," said Masferrer.

Some ex-members have tried to sue the church but hit a wall as collecting voluntary donations is not illegal.

Inside the Mexico City church, a sparkling white sanctuary from the filthy streets outside, pastors seek to convince first-timers. One, called Carmen, told Reuters her terminal lung cancer vanished days after she made a large donation.

"I went for a test and the doctor said: 'why are you here? there's nothing wrong with you.' God can move mountains."

© Reuters 2005

The exorcist


In his new book, mega-selling self-help author M. Scott Peck asserts that demonic possession is real -- and tells the story of two exorcisms he conducted himself.

By Rebecca Traister

Jan. 18, 2005

In 1978, psychiatrist M. Scott Peck published "The Road Less Traveled," a book that melded his interests in psychotherapy and spirituality. A bracing snap-out-of-it call for individual responsibility, difficult decision-making and the abolishment of laziness as the keys to mental health and happiness, it sold over 7 million copies. It was also one of the building blocks of the nation's infatuation with the school of psycho-spiritual therapy commonly referred to as self-help.

Twenty-seven years and a dozen books later, Peck, who was baptized a nondenominational Christian at age 40, is publishing what he says will be his last book. And it's a doozy -- one that aims to scientifically examine and report on the rather radical notion that some people who appear to suffer from mental illness may in fact be possessed by demons, or by Satan himself. "Glimpses of the Devil: A Psychiatrist's Personal Account of Possession, Exorcism, and Redemption" chronicles Peck's work as an exorcist more than 20 years ago in two cases of satanic possession. He's written briefly about both cases before, in "People of the Lie," his book about the role of evil in human nature. But in "Glimpses of the Devil" Peck "comes out" as the actual exorcist in both examples -- the only two exorcisms he says he's ever performed.

Peck's path toward encountering what he believes to be demonic possession began with the publication of "The Road Less Traveled," which received a positive write-up from Malachi Martin, a priest and the nation's most public exorcist. Peck took a liking to Martin and dedicated "Glimpses of the Devil" to him. Peck expressed an interest in evaluating patients Martin considered possessed, anxious to scientifically prove, he writes, that there is no such thing as demonic possession.

But when Martin referred a young mother from the Southwest to Peck for evaluation, Peck's mind was gradually changed. In "Jersey," he encountered a woman who claimed to have been possessed by demons for 15 years. She is Peck's first case study, and her exorcism, as recounted in the first half of "Glimpses of the Devil," is a sedate and civilized affair, almost disappointingly free of the kind of bile-spitting, levitating, teeth-gnashing we know from movies like William Friedkin's "The Exorcist." Peck and his team gradually expunge each of Jersey's demons, finally arriving at Satan himself. But it's all pretty low-key; at one point, the exorcism team breaks for cocktails, inviting poor possessed Jersey to join them. At another, Peck and his patient go out together for a much needed smoke break.

But Peck's second possessed patient, a middle-aged, severely depressed, suicidal woman he calls "Beccah," yields substantially scarier narrative results. For large portions of her exorcisms, Peck writes that Beccah seemed to transform into a snub-nosed, coiled snake. She attempts to bite her exorcism team, has to be forcibly restrained, and bucks violently when touched with the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. She tries to escape, and puts her hand through a bathroom window. Beccah's exorcism is ultimately a failure; she becomes repossessed and several years later dies as a result of cancer, though her doctor admits that she may also have succeeded in killing herself.

Peck, now what he called "an old 68" and suffering from Parkinson's disease, spoke to Salon by phone from his home in Connecticut about why it was so important to write this book, the disapprobation he'll likely face from the scientific community, and about the devil in the Supreme Court.

As a devout religious person and a doctor, you write about how important you feel it is to make scientific inquiries about religious beliefs, and this book proposes that demonic possession is a condition psychiatrists should investigate. But how do you juggle other conflicts between theology and science, like the divide between creationists and those who believe in evolution?

Well the whole conflict between science and religion is ridiculous and shouldn't exist. I believe that psychiatry and religion, instead of the enemies they are and have been for 350 years, are natural friends and ought to work together. For example, psychiatry can tell you a great deal about how to get rid of obstacles in your path but doesn't say much about what path to take. Religion doesn't say much about removing obstacles but can say what path to take.

As for creationism vs. evolution, creationism is ridiculous if you're going to say that everything was created in six days and that it happened 7,000 years ago. On the other side of the coin, it is quite astonishing that in Genesis I the sequence of creation is exactly the sequence in which creation evolved; I see no conflict there. The problem scientists have is admitting that God had anything to do with creation. I believe God was deeply involved in the creation, but he was involved -- or she was involved -- over the course of millions of years.

So what were the symptoms of the two patients you treated for possession that convinced you that there was more than mental illness in play?

Possession is a rare phenomenon and is related to evil, but possessed people are not actually evil; they are doing battle with the forces of evil. I am getting old and this is my last book and I felt I had an obligation to record these two cases in which I was involved. I felt it would be a sin to go to my grave leaving them untold and wanted them told as scientifically as possible.

These were not cases of standard psychopathology. I stumbled on the first case not thinking I would find signs [of possession] because I wanted to scientifically prove that the devil did not exist. But the evidence I found defied my belief and I ended up being converted.

In the first case after talking with [Jersey] for three hours and talking with her family, I felt that she was a bit overly dramatic and naive, symptoms of hysteria. I found her pressured in speech and that she had some odd ideas, which would go along with schizophrenia. And so thinking that a combination of schizophrenia and hysteria fit a borderline personality disorder, I was already mentally packing my bags to leave. But after three hours of talking about her demons she said, "I feel sorry for them." That stopped me in my tracks. I said, "What do you mean?" And she said, "They're such weak and pathetic creatures." And this caused me to prick up my ears, because thinking in terms of standard psychodynamics, if someone wanted to make up demons they'd want to make up strong, hairy demons, not weak, pathetic ones. As I would later discover, within cases of possession, it's a common phenomenon [for demons] to try and lull their victim into thinking he or she doesn't have much to be afraid of.

Then, as in the later case with Beccah, as time went on there were other pieces that didn't fit, and I began to think they might be signs of possession and so explored it more. It's not a diagnosis one can make instantly or should make instantly. In one case it took about seven months and in the other it was about nine months from the time we first began to consider a diagnosis of possession until we felt sure enough to go ahead with an exorcism, which is a massive therapeutic onslaught equivalent to brain surgery or open-heart surgery.

Before the exorcisms for both Jersey and Beccah, you performed deliverances. What is the difference between deliverance and exorcism?

Deliverance is a brief procedure and a gentle one that can be done without restraints. It should be done with at least two people and can be done in the course of an afternoon. It's very quiet and peaceful, mostly people just praying, and as the delivery progresses it becomes obvious that there is a problem that sometimes can be taken care of, as it was temporarily in Beccah's case, by simply identifying some kind of demonic presence and ordering it out. It's all very peaceful and easy and simple. One authority, Dr. Francis MacNutt, who is very responsible in this area, makes a distinction between oppression and possession. Oppression is like a city where the enemy has gotten hold of a couple of suburbs but does not in any way control the whole city. As far as possession, he describes it as a city where the city center and the radio stations and roadways have all been captured by the enemy, and you need a massive onslaught to get the enemy out of there, and that's an exorcism.

In an exorcism the No. 1 exorcist ultimately is the patient himself or herself. The successful end of exorcism, the expulsion of the demon, occurs only when a patient chooses to sever his or her relation with the demonic. There are four levels of things going on in exorcism and the most important factor is the patient's choice. The second is, I believe, that God literally comes into the room and helps out. The kind of change the patient makes is so radical that I'm not sure it can be accomplished without the assistance of God. The third is the team [of assistants] that operates as a community, something which the patient and the demonic have perhaps never experienced. The fourth is the exorcist himself -- or hopefully herself, one of these days -- who is crucial to success since it is he who makes the diagnosis and gathers the team together.

So I gather from your last response that there are no female exorcists?

I do not know of one and do not know of any reason there should not be one.

You describe your difficult search for an exorcist for Jersey. How hard is it to find an exorcist these days?

Damn near impossible. As my mentor, Malachi Martin, who kind of tricked me into being an exorcist by saying he couldn't do it himself, told me when I asked him to please refer me to a good exorcist, [in Irish brogue] "Really, it's not exactly like there's a directory of them!" And we unfortunately are in the same place today. This was 25 years ago.

Before your first exorcism, you have Jersey sign papers acknowledging the risks -- including death -- of her upcoming exorcism. How are patients at risk for death during exorcisms?

In the hands of responsible clergy or medical people I don't think that there is any risk. You hear about exorcisms where a patient dies, but usually it's been conducted by delusional people who don't know what they're doing. They beat the patient and so forth. Exorcism should be as dignified and gentle a procedure as possible. On the other hand, when you get a case of thorough possession, I'm not sure there's ever an exorcism in which the patient doesn't require some restraint. Jersey, over the course of four days, required only gentle restraint for one hour. Fascinatingly that was when the demon who was the supposed spirit of love and gentleness was present, an irony typical of the demonic. In Beccah's case, in a three-day exorcism, for two and a half days she required continual and massive restraint and she demonstrated almost superhuman strength.

Which brings us to our ideas of what kinds of creepy, head-spinning things happen during an exorcism. You write that the Roman Catholic Church's criteria for the diagnosis of possession include phenomena like levitation, knowledge of future events, speaking fluently in languages the patient has never been exposed to before, and psychokinesis. You argue that these criteria are unrealistically strict. But have you heard evidence that events such as levitation and psychokinesis do take place in some cases?

I suspect they are possible. There's a book by a reporter who went over the case which [William Peter] Blatty based his book "The Exorcist" on. He went over that case so thoroughly that it became obvious to me that it was a genuine case of possession. There were a lot of truly paranormal dramatic happenings. But in that case, Father Bowdern, the exorcist, did not have available the literature and teaching that I did later. The whole thing took about five weeks and Father Bowdern was operating in the dark; he had to figure out how to go about doing an exorcism on his own. I think there were paranormal events, but I think only because it was so long and prolonged. The boy went through great suffering. I think that it probably could have been accomplished in three or four days, but he didn't have any guidance from anybody else.

There were paranormal phenomena in my two cases; they were just more subtle.

Like Beccah taking on the appearance of a large coiled serpent?

Yes, well, there was one snake during the exorcism and then after the exorcism she took on the appearance of a different amphibian. Beccah was an unsuccessful case.

Yes, Beccah's case does not end well. Do you blame yourself?

No, I do not. Though I begin the final discussion of the case with the sentence that if I had it to do all over again, I wouldn't have performed her exorcism. But I didn't know enough at the time. This is a real frontier that desperately needs to be scientifically investigated. People do not know much about it, so I didn't know what a patient needed. A patient needs a massive support system if they're going to do well after an exorcism. In a sense, if the demonic has been their friend for 20, 30, 40 years, you're not going to give up your relationship with such a friend that easily, unless you have a great deal of support from other sources, and Beccah did not. Beccah was alone in the world and for that reason alone, if I had it to do over again, I would have tried to work on getting her a support system. And if I couldn't, I wouldn't have attempted the exorcism.

You write that one of the reasons you should have backed off of Beccah's case is that you had a sense that the devil -- Satan -- would be out to get you after your success driving him from Jersey. Do you feel that the devil knows who you are and is out to get you?

I feel that the devil knows who I am. The book is called "Glimpses of the Devil" after an early Christian theologian who was trying to tell people that god is spirit, and that the most we can hope for is to get glimpses of his footprints on the ramparts he has walked. The devil being spirit, although a lesser spirit, is even harder to get glimpses of. You can if you look for them, but there's a great deal we can't begin to know about the devil and we won't know unless this is scientifically investigated.

Does it scare you?

Yes, it scares me. It's very common for people involved with the demonic to think the devil is going to get you in some way. People will say the devil flattened all the tires on my car or this bad thing happened to me. Nothing of that sort has ever happened to me. When I look at the difficult events in my life I do not think they have been demonically caused. They have been caused sometimes by my own goofs and sometimes by the goofs of other people, but they have been natural phenomena.

In the book, Jersey is not a practicing Christian. Beccah, born Jewish, became a devout Episcopalian when she married. You use Christian ritual in both of their exorcisms. Is it possible for a non-Christian to become possessed by Satan?

Anybody can be possessed, though I must emphasize that genuine full-scale possession is a rare phenomenon. But nonetheless it is recorded throughout time, in every culture that I know of. But if there is a diagnosis of possession among the people in Borneo or something, that possession is going to look considerably different than it looks in America. Cases are very much colored by the society in which a patient lives and grows up.

But had you encountered, hypothetically, an American Buddhist possessed by Satan, would you have deployed Christian ritual and symbolism to rid that person of their demonic inhabitant?

I would have employed my Christian words, and begun by saying to the Buddhist, "Are you so-and-so, child of God? In the name of God who created you and Jesus Christ who dies for you ..." I would still use Christian rituals because they're the only ones I'm familiar with. But I expect that an exorcist working the same culture as the patient is more likely to be effective.

I gather from some things you've said about first recognizing evil in Joe McCarthy at age 14 that you may be a left-leaning political thinker. What are your thoughts about the political implications of your work?

Well, most people would say that I am left-leaning, but I have some trouble with left and right and simplistic labels. In some ways I am extremely conservative. But I certainly have considered the nature of group evil and in "People of the Lie" there was an analysis of group evil which did not seem to involve the devil. But we live in a society where the devil plays a great role in our institutions and the way that we are governed.

I think that the group of people around Hitler was probably likely a possessed group. And I have wondered specifically about the Supreme Court in the case of Bush vs. Gore where, astonishingly, I believe that the majority -- five out of nine justices -- were engaged in an evil act. And I wonder how that could happen without Satan hanging around. Specifically, I believe those five justices, each one of them, violated their oath of office. Each one of them failed to uphold the Constitution. They betrayed their own past record of decision-making or at least failed to represent any known tradition of American governance, despite the eloquent opposition of their colleagues. And then they lied about it.

You write about character flaws that become cracks through which the devil can get in. What kinds of people are susceptible to possession?

A great many people in this world have character flaws. Yet very few of them become possessed. The best explanation that I have been able to come up with in the cases of possession I've seen is that they were somewhat holy people to begin with. Satan is on the run, and has the energy to try and put out fires, and so I think Satan goes to where the fires are, where there are people who represent some kind of threat to it.

I do not believe possessed people are evil. I believe they are flirting with it or involved with it. There are a great many evil people -- I estimate 2 percent -- but most people do not need the devil to recruit them to evil. Given the dynamics of laziness and narcissism they are capable of recruiting themselves.

About the writer
Rebecca Traister is a staff writer for Salon Life.

Nitrogen-rich world near Saturn unveiled


Delta channels beneath an orange haze support a theory that this moon may be Earth's nearest kin in solar system.

By Mark Sappenfield | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

When the Huygens spacecraft dipped its golden nose beneath the clouds of a distant moon Friday, it at last drew back the curtain on perhaps the most mysterious and exotic object in the solar system. For more than 20 years, scientists have peered at pictures of Titan and untethered their imaginations. Here was an object unlike any other known to astronomy: A planet-size satellite with a thick atmosphere rich in the chemicals that once made up Earth's primordial ooze. Yet the very object of intrigue - the orange smog that cloaks the moon - made it impossible to see what was going on at the surface.

Now, Huygens's snapshots have begun to sketch fantasy into reality. In the half-light of a veiled world 886 million miles from the sun and 290 degrees F. below zero, Huygens has left little doubt that Titan was once - and could still be - covered in rivers and lakes of liquid or organic goo.

The pictures are so graphic they bewilder scientists, who see compelling evidence of shorelines and drainage channels where fluids once flowed, reshaping the landscape as water molds terrain on Earth.

Titan is too cold for any known form of life. But in a solar system where most of the solid objects fell dormant long ago - their complexions now changed only by the odd asteroid impact - Titan offers an intoxicating view of a world that might still be alive with processes at once Earth-like and incomprehensible.

"It would have been hard to expect too much more - except perhaps splashing into a lake," says Bruce Betts, a scientist at the Planetary Society in Pasadena, Calif. "But that was made up for by the fact that no one expected these landforms to be so fascinating."

In fact, no one was sure if the mission was going to work. No program had ever attempted to land on a planet or moon beyond Mars, and it was up to European Space Agency (ESA), a relative novice, to do it. While NASA's Cassini probe carried Huygens to the Saturn system, ESA had to manage the 2-1/2 hour descent to the surface - an anxious time for an organization that recently lost a Mars lander. They succeeded with few glitches. Huygens continued sending data for more than an hour after landing. "It's one of the harder missions one could conceive," says Dr. Betts. "It really shows that they're a major player."

By Friday evening, their efforts had begun to reveal the biggest piece of unexplored territory in the solar system. On a world where the atmosphere is thicker than the Earth's but has gravity similar to that on the Earth's moon, Huygens parachuted into Titan's deep orange pall.

At 10 miles above the surface, Huygens imaged light areas etched with dark threads snaking toward dark and featureless plains - strongly suggestive of drainage channels for liquids flowing to a reservoir.

At five miles up, it snapped pictures of the light highlands ending sharply at the dark areas, indicating a coastline with a necklace of islands. And when it eventually touched down, Huygens was surrounded by spherical rocks - again suggesting that they were smoothed by a liquid. "We're seeing a lot of evidence for the role of liquids," says Jonathan Lunine, a scientist with the Cassini mission who was at ESA mission control in Darmstadt, Germany.

Beyond that, however, the conclusions become much less certain. The new Titan now emerging is not the stuff of scientists' imagination, but rather a strange vision impressed on them pixel by pixel.

The liquid could have fallen as rain, but several scientists look at the photos and lean toward the idea that it seeped out of the hills. As to the question of where the liquid is now, some suggest it could still be there in dark seas. Others speak of seas of organic sludge or sodden flood plains with the consistency of crème brûlée.

According to Huygens's calculations, the probe sank six inches into the soil when it landed, suggesting a mushy mix - though scientists were not yet sure Monday if it landed in a light or a dark region.

Part of the reason for caution is that scientists have never before seen a world like this. At minus 290 degrees F., hydrocarbons like methane and ethane can act they way water does on Earth, while water is frozen solid, as a rock. Calculations suggest that as much as half of Titan might be water ice, meaning that the light-toned Titan highlands could well be hills of ice.

It makes Titan an odd analogue of Earth. Although Titan is less than half the size of Earth, its atmosphere is some 10 times as high; the lowest clouds on Titan are higher than the highest clouds on Earth. Titan and Earth are also the only objects in the solar system with nitrogen-based atmospheres. It was of the reasons for Titan's allure - the sense that it is a colder version Earth before life formed. And Huygens has done nothing to dispel that. "It is living up to its billing," says Dr. Lunine. "Titan is an exciting place."

Intelligent design' comes to science class


Students hear statement on evolution for first time

Paul Kuehnel / York Daily Record The Associated Press

Updated: 10:39 p.m. ET Jan. 18, 2005

HARRISBURG, Pa. - High school students heard about "intelligent design" for the first time Tuesday in a school district that attracted national attention by requiring students to be made aware of it as an alternative to the theory of evolution.

Administrators in the Dover Area School District read a statement to three biology classes Tuesday and were expected to read it to other classes on Wednesday, according to a statement from the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., which was speaking on the district's behalf.

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

'Revolution in evolution'

"The revolution in evolution has begun," said Richard Thompson, the law center's president and chief counsel. "This is the first step in which students will be given an honest scientific evaluation of the theory of evolution and its problems."

The case represents the newest chapter in a history of evolution lawsuits dating back to the Scopes Monkey Trial in Tennessee nearly 80 years ago. In Georgia, a suburban Atlanta school district plans to challenge a federal judge's order to remove stickers in science textbooks that call evolution "a theory, not a fact."

The law center is defending the Dover district against a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of eight families by the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The two groups allege intelligent design is merely a secular variation of creationism, the biblical-based view that regards God as the creator of life. They maintain that the Dover district's curriculum mandate may violate the constitutional separation of church and state.

"Students who sat in the classroom were taught material which is religious in content, not scientific, and I think it's unfortunate that has occurred," said Eric Rothschild, a Philadelphia attorney representing the plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit.

Some students upset

Biology teacher Jennifer Miller said although she was able to make a smooth transition to her evolution lesson after the statement was read, some students were upset that administrators would not entertain any questions about intelligent design.

"They were told that if you have any questions, to take it home," Miller said.

The district allowed students whose parents objected to the policy to be excused from hearing the statement at the beginning of class and science teachers who opposed the requirement to be exempted from reading the statement. About 15 of 170 ninth-graders asked to be excused from class, Thompson said.

A federal judge has scheduled a trial in the lawsuit for Sept. 26.

© 2005 The Associated Press.

Physics News Update 716

The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News
Number 716 January 19, 2005 by Phillip F. Schewe, Ben Stein

THE MOST DISTANT CRAFT LANDING IN THE SOLAR SYSTEM. The Huygens probe, given long passage by the Cassini spacecraft into the middle of Saturn's minor planetary system, has successfully parachuted onto the surface of Titan, the only moon with a considerable atmosphere. Pictures taken from miles above the surface during the descent and pictures taken on the surface itself suggest the presence of boulders or ice chunks and some kind of shoreline, perhaps of a hydrocarbon lake or sea. The data gained so far include a sort of acoustic sampling of the atmosphere during the descent and some color photographs. The Titan probe is named for Christaan Huygens, who first spotted Titan and who also was the first to provide the proper interpretation of Saturn's ring system. (http://www.esa.int/SPECIALS/Cassini-Huygens/)

THE SOUND OF THE EARLY UNIVERSE. New published surveys of distant galaxies are in accord with what you'd expect from standard big bang cosmology. Precise measurements of the cosmic microwave background provide in effect an image of the cosmos just as the first atoms were forming about 400,000 years after the big bang. The lumpiness of this background testifies to the shepherding role of gravity in establishing primitive structures. Statistical studies of the distribution of the tiny surpluses or deficits across the microwave sky suggest that at this point in the early universe (corresponding to a redshift of 1000) colossal sound waves were propagating through the primordial plasma. Evidence for these acoustic ripples moving through early matter has now been seen, again in a statistical analysis, in the distribution of galaxies occurring billions of years later. Two large astronomical collaborations, the Two Degree Field Galaxy Redshift Survey (2dF) and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), both using automated telescopes dedicated to measuring lots of galaxy redshifts, reported at last week's meeting of the American Astronomical Society in San Diego that the present population of observed galaxies seems to have grown steadily and consistently, through the agency of gravitational interactions, out of the lumpy terrain of the earlier microwave background era. The 2dF catalog contains 221,000 galaxies, while SDSS's catalog has almost 47,000. (Online papers, astro-ph/0501171, astro-ph/0501174; www.sdss.org, www.aao.gov.au/2df/ ) ELECTRON CLOUDS CAN FREEZE INTO AN "ORBITAL GLASS" at low temperatures. In the modern picture of quantum mechanics, electrons take the form of "clouds" within the atoms and molecules in which they inhabit. The clouds, which have various shapes such as spheres or dumbbells, represent the general boundaries within which one may find an electron at any one measurement in time. Typically, processes involving electron clouds (more formally known as "orbitals") are blazingly fast. In the order of a femtosecond (10^-15 s), for example, an electron orbital can make transitions between degenerate states (those containing the same amount of energy), transforming from a vertical dumbbell to a horizontal one with respect to some axis. Now, scientists have found evidence that these and other orbital processes can slow down dramatically--to as long as 0.1 seconds, a slowing by 14 orders of magnitude--for electrons in low-temperature FeCr2S4, a spinel (class of mineral) with a relatively simple crystalline structure. The researchers, who hail from the Center for Electronic Correlations and Magnetism at the University of Augsburg in Germany (Peter Lunkenheimer, Peter.Lunkenheimer@Physik.Uni-Augsburg.de) and the Academy of Sciences of Moldova (a former Soviet republic), consider these frozen electron orbitals in spinels to constitute a new class of material which they have dubbed an orbital glass. By measuring the response of the material to alternating-current electric fields in the audio- to radio-frequency range, they found that processes involving non-spherical orbitals dramatically slow down at low temperatures to form a glass-like state, in a manner very similar to the arrest of molecular motion that occurs when glass blowers perform their craft. It's not just the orbitals that slow down; the neighboring atomic nuclei that surround the electrons also distort more slowly in response to the glacially changing orbitals. In contrast to conventional glasses, a complete "freeze" of the electron clouds does not occur at the lowest temperatures. Completely frozen orbitals are prevented by quantum-mechanical tunneling: the clouds keep themselves moving by making transitions between different low-energy cloud configurations even without the energy they normally require. (Fichtl et al., Physical Review Letters, 21 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.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Op-Ed Contributor: Caught Between Church and State

January 19, 2005

SHORTLY after the 1925 Scopes "monkey trial," the usually astute historian Frederick Lewis Allen concluded that fundamentalism had been permanently discredited by the prosecution in Dayton, Tenn., of John T. Scopes, who had taught his biology students about Darwin's theory of evolution. "Legislators might go on passing anti-evolution laws," Allen wrote, "and in the hinterlands the pious might still keep their religion locked in a science-proof compartment of their minds; but civilized opinion everywhere had regarded the Dayton trial with amazement and amusement, and the slow drift away from fundamentalist certainty continued."

This was a serious historical misjudgment, as most recently demonstrated by the renewed determination of anti-evolution crusaders - buoyed by conservative gains in state and local elections - to force public school science classes to give equal time to religiously based speculation about the origins of life. These challenges to evolution range from old-time biblical literalism, insisting that the universe and man were created in seven days, to the newer "intelligent design," which maintains that if evolution occurred at all it could never be explained by Darwinian natural selection and could only have been directed at every stage by an omniscient creator.

Kansas, where evolution opponents regained control of the state board of education in November, is likely to be the first battleground. Proposals to modify the state's recommended science curriculum with alternatives to Darwinian evolution will be an issue at statewide public hearings scheduled in February. In Georgia last week, a federal judge ordered a suburban Atlanta school board to remove stickers labeling evolution "a theory, not a fact" from high school biology textbooks, but an appeal seems likely. Other states where the teaching of evolution is on the 2005 legislative or judicial calendar include Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania and South Carolina.

Many liberals mistakenly believe that these controversies are largely a product of the post-1980 politicization of the Christian right. In fact, the elected anti-evolutionists on local and state school boards today are the heirs of eight decades of fundamentalist campaigning against Darwinism through back-door pressure on textbook publishers and school officials. Even efforts to cloak creationism with the words "science" and "scientific" - as in "creation science" - is an old tactic, reminiscent of the Soviet Union's boasting about "scientific communism."

More sophisticated proponents of intelligent design, those who are religiously conservative but not insistent on literal adherence to the biblical creation story, use anti-Darwinist arguments from a tiny minority of scientists to bolster their case for a creator. Last month, a group of parents in Dover, Penn., filed the first lawsuit to address the issue, challenging the local school board's contention that "intelligent design" is a scientific rather than a religious theory and, therefore, does not violate the separation of church and state.

At the beginning of the 20th century, however, America was well on its way to an accommodation between science and mainstream religion, now a fait accompli in the rest of the developed world, that pleases neither atheists nor theocrats manqués but works for almost everyone else. A growing number of Americans accepted both evolution and religion but considered it the responsibility of the church, not public schools, to sort out the role of God. This view was expressed in 1904 by Maynard M. Metcalf, a zoologist and a liberal Christian, who praised the move to exclude religious speculation from the teaching of life sciences.

The Scopes trial changed all that. Instead of being the nail in the coffin of creationism as many believe, the trial undermined the emerging accommodation between religion and science by intensifying the fundamentalists' conviction that acceptance of evolution would inevitably weaken any type of faith.

When the 24-year-old Scopes was charged with violating a state law forbidding the teaching of evolution, his conviction by a jury (later overturned on a technicality) was a foregone conclusion. Clarence Darrow, the nation's most famous lawyer and most famous agnostic, turned a jury defeat into a public relations victory (at least among scientists and intellectuals) by goading William Jennings Bryan, who was assisting the prosecution, into taking the stand as an expert witness on the Bible.

Bryan, in the view of the Northern press, made a fool of himself. Opponents of evolution, however, lauded Bryan, and the press's ridicule of their hero helped to create the enduring fundamentalist resentment of secular science and secular government that has become such a conspicuous feature of our culture.

Between the Scopes trial and the early 1930's, "science-proof" fundamentalists pressured publishers into excising discussions of evolution - and often the word itself - from biology textbooks. The nature of that success is literally illustrated by a change between the 1921 first edition of "Biology for Beginners," a standard text by Truman Moon, and the second edition, published in 1926. The 1921 edition appeared with a portrait of Darwin on the frontispiece. Five years later, Darwin had been replaced by a drawing of the human digestive tract.

Texas, then as now one of the largest textbook purchasers, led the drive to extirpate evolution. "I am a Christian mother," said Gov. Miriam Ferguson of Texas." "And I am not going to let that kind of rot go into Texas textbooks." Mrs. Ferguson personally censored textbooks while presiding over the statehouse from 1924 to 1926. Censorship was soon institutionalized in a state commission that scrutinized all potential textbooks.

The caution inspired by such pressure extended beyond the Bible Belt and persisted for decades. In 1959, the Harvard University paleontologist George G. Simpson (a bête noire on creationist Web sites today) noted that most American high school science texts relegated evolution to a separate, optional section.

Perhaps the most insidious effect of the campaign against evolution has been avoidance of the subject by teachers, who, whatever their convictions, want to forestall trouble with fundamentalist parents. Recent surveys of high school biology teachers have found that avoidance of evolution is common among instructors throughout the nation.

The singular achievement of the fundamentalist minority has been to render evolution controversial enough to silence many teachers who know better. Only now, when the religious right is no longer satisfied with avoidance but is demanding that schools add anti-Darwinist intelligent design to the curriculum, are defenders of evolution fighting back against the intimidation that has worked so well since the premature declaration of the death of fundamentalism in the 1920's.

Susan Jacoby, director of the Center for Inquiry-Metro New York, is the author of "Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism."


Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

New Chemical Testing Points to Ancient Origin for Burial Shroud of Jesus; Los Alamos Scientist Proves 1988 Carbon-14 Dating of the Shroud of Turin Used Invalid Rewoven Sample


Wednesday January 19, 8:32 am ET

DALLAS, Jan. 19 /PRNewswire/ -- The American Shroud of Turin Association for Research (AMSTAR), a scientific organization dedicated to research on the enigmatic Shroud of Turin, thought by many to be the burial cloth of the crucified Jesus of Nazareth, announced today that the 1988 Carbon-14 test was not done on the original burial cloth, but rather on a rewoven shroud patch creating an erroneous date for the actual age of the Shroud. The Shroud of Turin is a large piece of linen cloth that shows the faint full-body image of a blood-covered man on its surface. Because many believe it to be the burial cloth of Jesus, researchers have tried to determine its origin though numerous modern scientific methods, including Carbon-14 tests done at three radiocarbon labs which set the age of the artifact at between AD 1260 and 1390.

"Now conclusive evidence, gathered over the past two years, proves that the sample used to date the Shroud was actually taken from an expertly-done rewoven patch," says AMSTAR President, Tom D'Muhala. "Chemical testing indicates that the linen Shroud is actually very old -- much older than the published 1988 radiocarbon date."

"As unlikely as it seems, the sample used to test the age of the Shroud of Turin in 1988 was taken from a rewoven area of the Shroud," reports chemist Raymond Rogers, a fellow of the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Rogers' new findings are published in the current issue of Thermochimica Acta, a chemistry peer reviewed scientific journal.

"Pyrolysis-mass-spectrometry results from the sample area coupled with microscopic and microchemical observations prove that the radiocarbon sample was not part of the original cloth of the Shroud of Turin which is currently housed at The Turin Cathedral in Italy," says Rogers.

"The radiocarbon sample has completely different chemical properties than the main part of the shroud relic," explains Rogers. "The sample tested was dyed using technology that began to appear in Italy about the time the Crusaders' last bastion fell to the Mameluke Turks in AD 1291. The radiocarbon sample cannot be older than about AD 1290, agreeing with the age determined in 1988. However, the Shroud itself is actually much older."

Rogers' new research clearly disproves the 1988 findings announced by British Museum spokesperson, Mike Tite, when he declared that the Shroud was of medieval origin and probably "a hoax." The British Museum coordinated the 1988 radiocarbon tests and acted as the official clearing house for all findings.

Almost immediately, Shroud analysts questioned the validity of the sample used for radiocarbon dating. Researchers using high-resolution photographs of the Shroud found indications of an "invisible" reweave in the area used for testing. However, belief tilted strongly toward the more "scientific" method of radiocarbon dating. Rogers' recent analysis of an authentic sample taken from the radiocarbon sample proves that the researchers were right to question the 1988 results.

As a result of his own research and chemical tests, Rogers concluded that the radiocarbon sample was cut from a medieval patch, and is totally different in composition from the main part of the Shroud of Turin.

Contact: Michael Minor (972) 932-5141

This release was issued through eReleases(TM). For more information, visit http://www.ereleases.com.

Michael Newton's Encyclopedia of Cryptozoology

I received Michael Newton's Encyclopedia of Cryptozoology, late yesterday. I will be writing a formal, published review, but I want to alert you to how good it is. You should go out of your way to highly recommend it for purchase by your local, school, or university library (the target audience of a reference work like this). And for those serious cryptozoologists who can afford it, for your personal research library, it, simply put, is a must buy.

Last night, I couldn't help myself, and stayed up until the wee hours of the night, reading, flipping, reading more, surfing, reading, and smiling. What a trip. Newton's got it down pat. Critical writing with a light hand and open-mindedness to looking at all facets, in presenting cases, cryptids, and evidence, as well as the overturning of media-driven hoax claims (Nessie Surgeon Photos, Ray Wallace fiasco, and others). Most surprising of all the entries I have read so far is Newton's reexamination of the supposed 1990 expose' of Three-Toes, with a fresh look again at "all" elements of those 1948 events. This volume quite correctly is as skeptical of blanket debunking claims as it is to the fast rush to specific cryptozoological hypotheses. Newton logically critiques the various theories of cryptozoologists who have ventured forth with their thoughts. His discussion of the Minnesota Iceman, for example, in its total fairness to several points of view, I found amazing.

There are 2,744 entries, including 112 individual biographies, 77 cryptozoology groups described, and, of course, lots of location data, cryptids detailed, and illustrations sprinkled throughout. It also has some fantastic appendices that are comprehensive listings of new animal discoveries, cryptofiction, cryptozoology in films, and cryptozoology on television. At 576 pages in one oversized volume, it is a rather user friendly reference work.

Encyclopedia Of Cryptozoology: A Global Guide To Hidden Animals And Their Pursuers by Michael Newton (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2005) ISBN: 0786420367 ($95.00)

Check this new book out,
Loren Coleman
Portland, Maine

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Onward the new Christian soldier


January 17, 2005

Hundreds of millions of people believe the Bible is the literal truth. God created the world in six days, 6000 years ago. Evolution is wrong. Soon these beliefs will be exhibited in a state-of-the-art, multimillion-dollar museum that portrays and honours the beliefs of creationists. It is called the Creation Museum.

Only in America, you might think. Yes, the first stage of the museum is nearing completion in northern Kentucky. Yet the vision and drive for the museum has come largely from an Australian, Ken Ham, a former high school teacher from Brisbane. Ham is president of Answers in Genesis, one of the largest evangelical congregations in the United States.

He is also a warrior. "It's a war, it's a real battle between world views," he says of the battle against secularism and for the hearts and minds of Christians. He describes the Answers in Genesis ministry as "a Christian apologetics ministry that equips the church to uphold the authority of the Bible from the very first verse".

There will be plenty of "apologetics" when the Creation Museum opens this year. It will be dominated by life-size dinosaurs and large movie screens depicting epics from the Old Testament. A planetarium will demonstrate how God made the Earth in six days. Inside a re-creation of Noah's Ark visitors will hear water lapping outside, and perhaps even people screaming. (That touch is still under consideration.)

Animated figures will re-create Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, with a Tyrannosaurus rex pursuing them after their fall from grace. Dinosaurs feature prominently in the museum, and will form the visual centrepiece and a marketing key for children.

Readers may ask how a modern museum could depict dinosaurs and humans cohabiting the Earth when the fossil and geological records show dinosaurs and humans missed each other by about 60 million years. In response to such yawning contradictions, Ham advises people (in one of the many video clips available on the Answers in Genesis website) to offer this omnibus retort: "Were you there?"

Creation Museum will provide the Biblical interpretation of the mass extinction of the dinosaurs in a display known as "The Fate of the Dinosaurs". The room will shake and rumble as a dinosaur walks by. Visitors may even feel the creature's warm breath on their necks. A display showing ancient Babylon will feature the Tower of Babel. Another exhibit will lay responsibility for AIDS on homosexuals. Disease and famine will be portrayed as the byproducts of mankind's fall from grace. The climax of the exhibitions will be the life of Christ with a three-dimensional depiction of the crucifixion. A "Bible Authority Room" will warn visitors: "Everyone who rejects His history - including six-day creation and Noah's flood - is 'wilfully ignorant.' "

All this will cost at least $US20 million ($26 million), with room for expansion. Answers in Genesis is seeking to raise the funds by selling 20,000 charter memberships of the museum at $US1000 apiece. The museum's site has been chosen for its strategic location. It is six kilometres from an airline hub, Greater Cincinnati International Airport, and near Florence, Kentucky, headquarters of the Answers in Genesis worldwide ministry. As Ham explains, "One of the main reasons we moved there was because we are within one hour's flight of 69 per cent of America's population."

Sixty-nine per cent of America is a very big market: 200 million of America's 290 million people, including the entire American south. The potential market for the Creation Museum is huge. In a Gallup poll in 2003, 46 per cent of Americans described themselves as evangelical or born-again Christians. Opinion polls have shown that more Americans believe in creationism than evolution. The President, George Bush, has been careful not to criticise creationism.

Even the huge evangelical population in the US is dwarfed by the numbers of evangelical, born-again, fundamentalist and conservative Christians in Latin America, which has almost 500 million Christians, Africa 360 million, and Asia more than 300 million. Evangelism is the boom area of global Christianity. In America, polls show two-thirds of Americans favour teaching both creationism and evolution in schools.

Not many people in Australia paid much attention to Ham before he moved to the US from Queensland in 1987, along with his wife, Mally. They have five children. After completing a bachelor's degree in applied science (biology) and a diploma of education, Ken Ham taught science in Queensland high schools before committing full-time to creationism. His ministry's website describes the journey: "Over 20 years ago, Dr Carl Wieland, Ken Ham and others saw that the church in their own country, Australia, was struggling and often compromising its biblical integrity in the face of the ever-increasing attacks from those hostile to Christianity. They realised that most Christians were not equipped to provide answers to a doubting world in a so-called age of science."

Ham's move to America has proved to be highly successful - he is one of the most influential creationists in the world - and in the American south and Midwest he is tilling some of the world's most fertile ground for adherence to the literal meaning of the Bible. The battle with secularism is ceaseless. Last Thursday, a US federal judge ordered schools in an Atlanta suburb to remove stickers placed in biology textbooks stating that "evolution is a theory, not a fact".

Judge Clarence Cooper concluded the stickers, although worded to avoid religious reference, amounted to an endorsement of "Christian fundamentalist or creationist" beliefs. The Cobb County School Board adopted the stickers in 2002 after parents protested against sections on evolution in a new biology textbook.

Creationism may be regarded as closed and dangerously regressive by secular liberals, who dominate the Western media, but it is the muscular intransigence of creationists and the zeal of evangelists who are reshaping Christianity at the beginning of the 21st century. "The era of Western Christianity has passed within our lifetimes, and the day of Southern Christianity is dawning," Professor Philip Jenkins wrote in his book The Next Christendom (2002). "The face of change is undeniable ... So little did we notice this momentous change that it was barely mentioned in all the media hoopla surrounding the end of the second millennium."

An Alternative to Evolution Splits a Pennsylvania Town


January 16, 2005

DOVER, Pa. - Ever since the school board here voted to make this town in Pennsylvania Dutch country the first in the nation to discuss an alternative to evolution in high school biology classes, students have been as sharply divided as the rest of this normally close-knit community.

"I think we should have a choice: They should teach you both," said Meagan Hass, 14, while eating pizza after school at KT's restaurant with her friend Abbi Hake. "Evolution to me is like we come from monkeys." At a nearby table, Jessika Moury, 14, said her mother supported the school board but she did not. "There are so many aspects of religion, so you have to teach what each of them says," Jessika said. "There's Bible Club in school for this, and that's where it should be taught."

With the new instruction on the origin of life set to begin, Dover has become a critical testing ground in a widening national debate about teaching evolution.

In early January, Dover High School's science teachers refused to read to ninth-graders a short statement written by the school board that criticizes evolution and cites a controversial approach called Intelligent Design as an alternative.

The teachers contend that such a change to the curriculum amounts to teaching Intelligent Design and that the approach is inherently religious, not scientific.

"Kids are smart enough to understand what Intelligent Design means," said Robert Eshbach, a science teacher who refused to read the statement. "The first question they will ask is, 'Well, who's the designer? Do you mean God?' "

Jen Miller, who teaches ninth-grade biology, said she saw no conflict between evolution and religion. "I've never had a problem in my classroom in the way I approach evolution," Ms. Miller said. "Just because I teach evolution doesn't mean that God's not there or that I'm going against the religious beliefs of my students." With the teachers balking, an administrator will read the statement instead, as early as next week. Students may opt out of the reading with their parents' permission.

Several states have issued disclaimers to students questioning the validity of evolution, claiming it is riddled with gaps. But the Dover school board went further on Oct. 18 when it voted to specifically identify an alternative to evolution and encourage students to learn more about it.

Proponents of Intelligent Design, which asserts that life is so intricately complex that an architect must be behind it, say it is a valid scientific theory. Critics argue that Intelligent Design has no basis in science and is another iteration of creationism. And while people are still polite to one another in Dover, those same arguments have split school board members, clergy, residents and students alike.

"It's been very polarizing," said the Rev. David F. Sproull, pastor of the Dover Assembly of God Church and a supporter of the board's decision. "I see very few people sitting in the middle of it. It evokes very strong feelings."

Some have already moved to stop the school board. In mid-December, 11 local parents represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State sued the school board, contending that discussing Intelligent Design is a way to foist religion on their children.

"The dispute here isn't between Christians versus non-Christians or non-believers," said Jeff Brown, a former school board member who voted against criticizing evolution. "It's between Christians who are comfortable with the Constitution and those who want special treatment."

Conservative Christians across the country say the re-election of President Bush has given them the momentum to achieve important local goals, including challenging the teaching of evolution, and they are watching developments in Dover closely. In a November 2004 CBS News Poll, nearly two-thirds of Americans said they favored teaching creationism alongside evolution in schools. In Grantsburg, Wis., the school board recently voted to teach a critical approach to evolution, without identifying alternatives. In South Carolina, legislation will be introduced to examine the state's curriculum on teaching the origin of species. In Kansas, conservatives who favor challenging the teaching of evolution recently won a majority on the state school board, and they are generally expected to change the state science curriculum as early as the spring. [A federal judge in Georgia ruled on Thursday that schools in Cobb County must remove from science textbooks stickers that criticize evolution, dealing a blow to local creationists.] Located 25 miles southwest of Harrisburg, Dover, population 25,000, is a cluster of modest churches, clapboard homes and weathered family restaurants hemmed by rolling farmland. It is in York County, which supported President Bush by a nearly 2-to-1 margin in the November election. The area was largely settled by the small Protestant denominations that grew among the Pennsylvania Dutch, and people learned to be tolerant of those with differing beliefs because of the patchwork of faiths that made up their town, Mr. Brown said.

But a growing number of conservative Christians in Dover, like many elsewhere, bridle at what they see as the marginalization of their faith in a country they believe was founded on biblical values. "I think we're coming to place where we're certainly not browbeating people with religion, but that it has just become a normal part of life now," Mr. Sproull, the pastor, said of introducing Intelligent Design to the local high school. "Everyone in the country seems to have freedom of speech but those who talk about religion and God."

To many in Dover, teaching students that the Earth is millions of years old or that man evolved in ways that contradict biblical accounts is akin to promulgating atheism. "If they can teach there is no God, then they can teach there is a God," said Jean Eisenhart, 72, as she left the Dover Diner after breakfast on a recent brisk morning.

The six people on the nine-member board who voted for the challenge to evolution have declined to talk to the news media because of the pending lawsuit. But the high school's science teachers said they were first approached by a board member about evolution in fall 2003. By last summer, some members tried to stop the purchase of a biology textbook recommended by teachers because it mentioned Charles Darwin. The York Dispatch quoted one board member, William Buckingham, as saying in that debate: "Nearly 2,000 years ago, someone died on the cross for us. Shouldn't we have the courage to stand up for him?" Richard Thompson, president of the Thomas More Law Center, a Christian legal defense group representing the six board members, said Mr. Buckingham made that statement in another context, a dispute about the Pledge of Allegiance in 2003. The textbooks were ultimately ordered, but the board voted to have teachers read the statement criticizing evolution. Mr. Brown and his wife, Carol, longtime board members, resigned in protest. Many people have supported them; others stopped talking to them.

"I got no joy out of it," Mrs. Brown said. "But people have to be aware: This is dividing the country. Who pays attention to school board meetings anyway?"

The Rev. Warren Eshbach, an adjunct professor at Lutheran Theological Seminary in nearby Gettysburg and the father of Robert Eshbach, the science teacher, warned at board meetings about how divisive the issue might prove. Like many fellow Dover residents, he said the biblical account of the origins of humanity should be taught in a comparative religion class, not a biology class. "Science is figuring out what God has already done," Mr. Eshbach said. "But I don't think Genesis 1 to 11 was ever meant to be a science textbook for the 21st century."

Noel Wenrich, an evangelical Christian board member who voted with the Browns against the measure, said he wanted approaches other than evolution explained in school. But given a 1987 Supreme Court decision against teaching creationism, he worried that the mention of Intelligent Design would embroil the district in losing lawsuits and drain it of badly needed funds. "I think that 80 percent of the community might support the measure, but not if taxes go up," Mr. Wenrich said. "Then it's 30 percent."

Ninth graders at Dover High have been following the ruckus, and some say they wish that it would stop, and that Dover might be known for something else, something more run-of-the-mill, like its academics.

Amy Mummerd, a ninth grader, put some of her classmates' frustrations directly. "I think it should be kept out of school," she said of Intelligent Design. "Because it goes against the separation of school and church, or whatever."

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Dover figures deny remarks on creationism


Their depositions contradict what others remember

Daily Record/Sunday News
Sunday, January 16, 2005

In sworn depositions, school board members deny charges that they were motivated by religion when they revamped the district science curriculum to include the phrase "intelligent design."

School board members Bill Buckingham, Sheila Harkins and Alan Bonsell and Supt. Richard Nilsen have, under oath, either said they have no memory of making the remarks related to creationism or denied making them.

But some residents and former district officials insist the board members made the statements they later denied making. Attorneys for 11 parents suing the district over the curriculum requirement that biology students must be told about the concept of intelligent design say the requirement is an attempt to get God into science class, something the U.S. Supreme Court has forbidden in a number of cases.

In the federal lawsuit's complaint, filed in December, attorneys point to several remarks concerning creationism reportedly made by some board members at school board meetings last summer. The statements were reported by both The York Dispatch and the York Daily Record/Sunday News.

"I was a part of the curriculum committee, and I've never had anyone ever talk about looking for a book of creationism and evolution," Harkins said in depositions.

When attorneys asked Buckingham whether he said at a school board meeting that all he wants is a book that offers balance between what he said are the "Christian view of creationism and evolution," Buckingham stated, "Never said it."

But a taped television interview at the time shows Buckingham, the board's chief proponent of intelligent design, talking about teaching creationism in science class.

At issue are discussions that took place at the June 7 and June 14 meetings on whether to approve a teacher-recommended biology book. In deposition hearings Jan. 3, the parents' attorneys attempted to show the discussions were about whether students in the ninth-grade biology class should be taught creationism in addition to evolution. Teaching two theories?

In June, Buckingham voiced concerns that the biology book included references to Darwinism. But in their depositions, three school board members said they don't remember any discussion of creationism at board meetings.

One week after the June 14 meeting, Buckingham, in a taped interview with a Fox television reporter regarding the biology textbook, said, "My opinion, it's OK to teach Darwin, but you have to balance it with something else such as creationism."

He also said in the WPMT-TV (Ch. 43) interview that he opposed the biology textbook because "the book that was presented to me was laced with Darwinism from beginning to end."

In his deposition, Buckingham said he didn't recall uttering the phrase "laced with Darwinism," although he admitted to having concerns with the mention of evolutionary theorist Charles Darwin in the textbook.

Richard Thompson, president of Thomas More Law Center, which is providing legal representation to the district in the suit, did not return calls for comment regarding the television interview.

Eric Rothschild, an attorney for Pepper Hamilton, which is representing the 11 parents suing the district, also declined to comment, saying he first wanted to view the tape himself.

When board members in their depositions disputed published accounts of the meetings, parents' attorneys decided they could not prove their case in time to meet a court deadline to request an emergency injunction that would have prevented intelligent design from being mentioned in class this week.

But while plaintiffs were temporarily thwarted by the denials in the depositions, they say the battle is far from over. No court date has yet been scheduled.

The parents' case had been hindered because there is believed to be no recorded documentation of the meetings. According to practice, the school board recorded the two June meetings. However, after the official minutes are typed, all tapes are recorded over. The official minutes, available online at http://www.dover.k12.pa.us, include motions and votes but do not record the discussions or statements made by board members or others.

Also, there has been little discussion of the issue since the board changed its public comment policy last month and prohibited residents from discussing items not on the printed agenda without first submitting a request in writing.

'Died on a cross'

One of the most controversial statements, which was quoted in the lawsuit and by both local newspapers, was reportedly made by Buckingham at the June 14 meeting: "Two thousand years ago, someone died on a cross. Can't someone take a stand for him?"

In depositions, both Harkins and Buckingham said the remark had been made only at a meeting in November 2003 during a debate over the Pledge of Allegiance.

"He never said that again," Harkins said.

Christie Rehm, one of the 11 plaintiffs in the case, said she remembers Buckingham making the remark, and said she didn't start coming to board meetings until June 2004 — after the controversy over the biology textbook arose.

"I genuinely recall what I heard," Rehm said. "In part because I was so appalled by that meeting."

Former board members Jeff and Casey Brown said they recall Buckingham's statement from the June meeting, as well as an ongoing discussion of creationism.

The Browns resigned from the school board in October 2004 after the board voted to add the phrase "intelligent design" to the biology curriculum. When asked if the "died on a cross" statement could have been made only in November 2003, Casey Brown said, "Absolutely not."

Her husband said he remembers the specifics because "It kind of made me want to crawl under the table."

Former board member Larry Snook, who left the board in 2003, also recalls Buckingham's remark. He said board members were discussing creationism during the textbook debate.

However, Noel Wenrich, who stepped down from the board in October 2004, said he thinks the remark might have been made in November 2003 by Buckingham's wife, Charlotte. While Wenrich supports teaching the concept of intelligent design, he said he disagrees with the way the board handled it and was one of three board members who voted against the curriculum change Oct. 18.

Warren Eshbach, a retired pastor who has on several occasions appealed to the school board to drop the intelligent design requirement, also said he recalls creationism being discussed at the meeting.

He himself used the word when he addressed board members on June 14. He said he remembers asking them, "Are you sure you want to mandate the teaching of creationism?"

He said he remembers cautioning them that to do so would violate U.S. Supreme Court decisions forbidding the teaching of creationism in public school science classes.

Proponents of intelligent design — the idea that life is too complex to have evolved solely through natural selection and therefore must have been created by an intelligent designer — say that the concept is not related to the biblical account of creation.

Despite board members' assertions that intelligent design is not about religion, in court depositions, Bonsell, Buckingham and Harkins struggled to define it.

"It's a scientific theory because a lot of scientists back it," Buckingham said.

Bonsell declined comment last week. Harkins and Buckingham did not return phone calls. Pastor Edward Rowand, who joined the board in December, would not talk to a reporter because the reporter declined to discuss her religious beliefs.

"If you won't talk to me, I'm not going to talk to you," he said.

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

Statements from depositions

On Jan. 3 three Dover Area School District board members — Bill Buckingham, Sheila Harkins, Alan Bonsell — and Supt. Richard Nilsen gave depositions that dispute many of the remarks from school board meetings attributed to them by the York Daily Record/Sunday News and The York Dispatch.

The following are some of the statements and their responses to them in the depositions.

Regarding statements that board members said creationism should be taught in addition to evolution at June 7 and June 14 board meetings, school board President Sheila Harkins said, "We never looked for a book that included both creationism and evolution, never."

Board member Alan Bonsell said, "All this debate about creationism, yes, that never did happen. It was not a debate about creationism."

Regarding an article that said Buckingham objected to the proposed high school book because it was laced with Darwinism, plaintiffs' attorney Stephen G. Harvey asked, "Did you say that?"

"Not to my knowledge," Buckingham said. "I expressed a concern."

Regarding the statement attributed to board member Bill Buckingham after the June 7 school board meeting: "This country wasn't founded on Muslim beliefs or evolution. This country was founded on Christianity, and our students should be taught as such."

Board President Sheila Harkins said, "It wasn't said then."

Harvey asked, "How do you know that?

"He only said it once. Once was too much," Harkins said.

"You did hear him say that in or around November of 2003, correct?" Harvey asked.

"You better believe it," Harkins said.

"To the best of your knowledge, he didn't make this statement again on June 8th?" Harvey asked.

Harkins: "That's correct."

Board member Alan Bonsell said, ". . . before this, there was another discussion on the Pledge of Allegiance, but this was the year before.

Plaintiffs' attorney Eric Rothschild asked, "You think he did make a statement along those lines regarding the pledge?"

"To be honest," Bonsell said. "I'm not sure when he said it or if it — if this is exactly what he said, I'm just not sure."

When Nilsen was asked whether he recalled any of the board members "speaking in favor of a biology book that includes theories of creationism as part of the text," the superindentent said, "No."

Later in the deposition, Nilsen was asked, "You have no recollection of the subject of creationism at any School Board meeting?"

"That's correct."

Have the School Board members expressed to you in any other setting their desire to have creationism taught in the public school?

"No. Exact opposite."

What do you mean by exact opposite?

"They don't want the origins of life taught at all."

Regarding statements attributed to Bonsell at the June 7 school board meeting that there were only two theories that could be taught (evolution and creationism), Bonsell said, "I didn't say that."

A Statement on the 'Intelligent Design' of Life


Published: January 16, 2005

Following is a statement on evolution and an alternative that a school administrator in Dover, Pa., is expected to read to high school biology students this week:

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

Dover lawyers look to Santorum


Senator's proposed amendment to education bill may affect Dover's ID controversy.

Medill News Service
Monday, January 17, 2005

WASHINGTON, D. C. — Attorneys for the Dover Area School District have cited a position espoused by U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., in their defense of the district's proposal to include the concept of intelligent design in high school biology classes.

Representing the parents of 11 Dover students, the American Civil Liberties Union has claimed that the district's decision to include intelligent design in its curriculum is fundamentally about religion and is therefore unconstitutional.

This week, the subject of intelligent design is expected to be addressed in ninth grade biology classes. In three classes administrators are expected to read a four-paragraph statement on the concept.

Intelligent design is the concept that life is too complicated to have evolved randomly through natural selection and therefore must have been created by a supremely intelligent being. It does not claim any religious theory as an answer.

The language of the so-called "Santorum Amendment" was adopted into the conference committee report of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act. The amendment says, "Where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society."

Santorum's amendment is not part of the final language of the No Child Left Behind Act and does not mandate the teaching of alternate theories regarding the origins of life.

But according to a September 2003 letter to a major proponent of intelligent design, Santorum and two other congressional Republicans said the amendment's inclusion in the conference committee report "therefore represents the official view not only of the Conference Committee but of the United States Congress as a whole about how science instruction should proceed under the No Child Left Behind Act."

"We take that language in the fact that it was part of the final conference report, regarded on par with the authority of law," said Richard Thompson, President of the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., and lead counsel for the Dover school district. "Courts go to the reports to discover the intent of legislation. Report language has historically been considered."

But that, according to ACLU attorney Vic Walczak, does not pass constitutional scrutiny. The Establishment Clause of the Constitution states that, "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Neither the Santorum language nor the theory of intelligent design make mention of religion.

"Even if this required the teaching of intelligent design it still wouldn't be a defense to the court saying it's unconstitutional," Walczak said. "This should not even come into the legal calculus of this case."

The Santorum language was approved in the Senate by a bipartisan vote of 91 to 8 and was supported by such staunch Democrats as Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who once spoke to the conferees on behalf of Santorum's amendment.

"We want children to be able to speak and examine various scientific theories on the basis of all of the information that is available to them so they can talk about different concepts and do it intelligently with the best information that is before them," Kennedy said in a June 13 statement. "I think the senator has expressed his views in support of the amendment and the reasons for it. I think they make eminently good sense."

Kennedy's office declined to comment on whether he currently supports the language as applied to the Dover case.

Santorum proposed the amendment to educators to help students learn to distinguish philosophy from science, but has stated repeatedly that this does not involve creationism.

"I am not an advocate for intelligent design and I do not believe that public schools should be teaching biblical creationism in the science classroom," Santorum said. "However, I do believe that evolution should be taught as a theory — not fact. It's important to teach the controversy of evolution so that students fully understand the depth of discrepancies regarding Darwin's evolution theory and the increasing number of respected scientists beginning to question evolution."

Thompson too contended that the argument in Dover is not over creationism but balanced educational opportunities in schools.

"[Intelligent design] may have net implications, so does evolutionary theory and that does not in and of itself make it unconstitutional," Thompson said.

Bible vs. science war rages on in classrooms


Jan. 17, 2005. 06:52 AM


MARIETTA, Ga. - Jeff Selman is a self-described "loud mouth," a little guy from the South Bronx who made a lot of noise in the Deep South.

He made enough noise that even his elderly mother called him to tell him to stop making so much trouble.

But this balding, innocuous-looking computer programmer who arrived in Georgia 12 years ago for work and stayed to marry and raise a family, took on the religious right in one of the nation's most conservative counties. And he won.

"I guess I just had to draw the line," says the 58-year-old Selman, picking at a muffin in a Marietta coffee shop. "I felt personally threatened and I have a son and I worry about the country he will grow up in.

"I've never been out in front leading before. But I feel our freedoms are being threatened in this country."

So Selman, backed by his lawyer, Michael Manely, a liberal in a county that doesn't much cotton to liberals, waded into battle with the Cobb County creationists and the school board.

Selman challenged the board's right to place stickers in science texts challenging the theory of evolution, claiming it was an unconstitutional intrusion by organized religion on Georgia's education system. A federal judge agreed last week and ordered the stickers removed.

But both Selman and Manely know that was just one battle in a fight that, in some parts of the United States, has been raging for 80 years, since the 1925 trial of Tennessee teacher John Scopes who was charged with illegally teaching evolution.

And perhaps it's fitting that this latest skirmish played out in historic Marietta, in the shadow of the Confederate cemetery:

This is America's new civil war.

In the classroom, the Christian right is advancing on two fronts: Fighting for lessons in creationism over evolution in science classes and abstinence over birth control in sex education classes. The ferocity of the battle against Darwinism has intensified since Bush's re-election because school boards are attracting more evangelicals who expect conservative judges to side with them as they try to write evolution out of the science books.

Abstinence education in the U.S. is fuelled directly by the Bush White House, which spent $154 million (U.S.) on such programs last year, and has requested $270 million this year.

Opponents say the Bush White House is turning its back on the need to teach adolescents basic birth control in its zeal to create a generation which will remain chaste until marriage.

Both fights have put American parents on the front line.

In Cobb County, north of Atlanta, the battle raged over a sticker placed in every middle-school and high-school science book in 2002:

"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."

Selman was shocked when he read about the move in the newspaper. His son, now 10, was not affected by the move, but would be if he stayed in the Cobb County school system. Selman went to the American Civil Liberties Union to complain and ended up becoming the lead plaintiff in a court case that was resolved last week.

In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that creationism — the belief that God created the world as described in the Bible — could not be presented as viable science in public schools, deciding against a move by Louisiana to put it on the curriculum.

But the wall between church and state is crumbling under Bush and last week, a school board in tiny Dover, Pa., ordered its high-school science teachers to tell students Darwin's theory is not a fact. When they refused, administrators made the announcement. The case is headed to court.

American evangelicals are confident more conservative judges in the Bush era will be sympathetic to creationism, a theory that has been given a 21st century makeover. It is now known in some circles as "intelligent design" and it postulates that there are intelligent causes for some features of the natural world.

It does not specify the intelligent cause, arguing human biology and evolution could not have evolved as Charles Darwin wrote and must include the design of a supernatural being.

Some believe the creationists are winning.

"They're thinking they got the vote out for Bush and got him re-elected, so why not change the school curriculum?" says John Green, an expert on evangelicals and politics at the University of Akron in Ohio.

School boards in Kansas, Wisconsin, Missouri, Ohio, Texas and Montana are fighting against evolution being taught in the classrooms. All of them are red Republican states, except Wisconsin, which narrowly backed Democrat John Kerry in November.

In all, anti-evolution movements are afoot, in some form, in some 40 U.S. states.

"The evangelicals infiltrate the local school boards," says Manely, "and they're doing it all across the country."

In affluent, conservative Cobb County — where Bush won 61 per cent of the vote in the last election —finding enough support to get the school board to affix the stickers was easy.

This is a state where the superintendent of schools tried to remove the word "evolution" from the state's science teaching standards. She had to retreat when she was pounded by criticism, including harsh words from former U.S. president Jimmy Carter.

Marjorie Rogers, a Cobb County lawyer, is a longtime resident and a six-day creationist. She says for years she has studied the purported holes in evolution theory and when she heard the county was buying new science textbooks, she swung into action. She gathered 2,300 signatures from fellow county residents, most of whom went to her church, on a petition demanding warning stickers on the textbooks.

`I feel our freedoms are being threatened in this country.'

Jeff Selman, of Marietta, Ga.

Wes McCoy, the chair of the science department at North Cobb High School, says he worries his graduates will be viewed with suspicion by university admissions officials because of the publicity surrounding his school board.

"This is driven by evangelicals and just plain conservatives who just don't like evolution," says McCoy.

And evangelicals are not just taking their agendas to the classrooms.

A television station in New Mexico last week pulled a documentary touting intelligent design because it was funded by evangelical Christian groups.

This spring, in Kentucky, the new $25 million Museum of Creation hopes to lure Americans interested in learning how dinosaurs and man co-existed millions of years ago and how God created the Earth in six days. A Gallup poll conducted just after the November election showed Americans are split on evolution: 35 per cent said Darwin's 1859 theory was well-supported by evidence and another 35 per cent said it was not; 29 per cent said they did not know enough to form an opinion.

The California-based International Center for Creation Research, a leading proponent of creationism, maintains the physical universe has not always existed, "but was supernaturally created by a transcendent personal Creator who has existed from eternity."

Man was specially created in its fully human form from the start, according to the group.

John Morris, president of the institute, says he is fighting an organized religion — the religion of evolution.

Legal challenges are often fruitless, he says, because judges have long been indoctrinated in the religion of evolution at law school and journalists have also been taught the same beliefs in university.

"The real key here is education," says Morris. "We have to educate judges, teachers and legislators."

Intelligent designers are doing what they can against hostile judges, Morris says, but they are espousing creationism without naming the creator.

Both groups believe the biology of the world is too complex to have evolved.

Not far from Marietta, in suburban Atlanta, Bruce Cook is on the frontline of another controversy roiling U.S. school boards.

Cook is the co-founder of Choosing the Best, the nation's largest sex abstinence educator and publisher, reaching one million American teachers, parents and children in 50 states.

Other groups have names that are variations on the same theme. In New Mexico, it's called Best Choice; in Texas, a major program is known as Worth the Wait; and in Illinois, it is Project Reality.

Abstinence teaching has been decried as dangerous, deceitful propaganda by Planned Parenthood and a Democratic congressman released a report last month showing children were being taught false failure rates for condoms, that masturbation can lead to pregnancy and that AIDS can be contracted through sweat and tears.

"Abstinence-only sex education has no positive effect on the behaviour of teens," said Gloria Feldt, the national president of Planned Parenthood.

Her organization maintains the majority of American parents want their children to be taught comprehensive birth control, not one-dimensional abstinence.

Cook dismisses the criticism and asks, incredulously, why anyone would question the teaching of abstinence, the only fool-proof way to eliminate teen pregnancies and abortions, sexually-transmitted diseases and the psychological ramifications that come with teen sex.

"We're talking about risk elimination, not risk reduction," he says.

One U.S. study shows those who pledge abstinence are less likely to use condoms once that pledge is broken, but Cook is adamant about the success of his program. He said there were 15,000 fewer teen pregnancies in Georgia since his program began in 1994, a 41 per cent decrease.

There is no benefit to pre-marital sex, he tells teens. His course is heavy on warnings about sexually-transmitted disease, the emotional depression which can follow a teen's first sexual encounter and the ineffectiveness of contraception.

"You're showing there is a failure associated with everything except abstinence," says Cook. "We talk about contraception usage, but we're putting it in the context of failure rates."

His course relies heavily on teens talking to other teens and includes field trips to AIDS clinics where students hear a first-hand testimonial about the anguish of the disease.

Next year, the Texas board of education will begin to use textbooks that advocate traditional marriage and abstinence as the only method for preventing pregnancy and disease.

"This is good news," says Janice Crouse, of the right-wing Concerned Women for America.

"As Texas goes, so goes much of public education, because so many of the nation's school textbooks are published in Texas."

Cook's Choosing the Best will receive $2.4 million over three years from the Bush White House and will reach about 125,000 students during that time. Despite the increase in funding, Cook maintains, there is still $7 being spent on condoms for every dollar spent on abstinence teaching in America.

His organization has no religious ties and its teachings are based on health research, says Cook.

But he says religious beliefs can help, because kids involved with their church are going to have a lower rate of alcohol or drug abuse, sex or truancy.

According to Cook, 4 million American teens contract a sexually transmitted disease every year.

"That's an epidemic," he says. "I'm going to scare the hell out of them."

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