NTS LogoSkeptical News for 8 February 2005

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Evolution education update: Mayr dies, Mooney on ID, and Zimmer on Avida

A melancholy occasion for a Monday evolution education update: Ernst Mayr dies. Meanwhile, Chris C. Mooney offers his update on "intelligent design" in The American Prospect, and Carl Zimmer discovers digital evolution in East Lansing, Michigan.


Ernst Mayr, a towering figure in twentieth-century biology, died on February 3, 2005, in Bedford, Massachusetts, at the age of 100. In more than twenty books and hundred of scientific papers, Mayr made fundamental empirical and conceptual contributions, not only to evolutionary biology but also to its history and philosophy. As a principal architect of the Modern Evolutionary Synthesis, he played a pivotal role in integrating seemingly divergent research traditions, helping to bring a new coherence to evolutionary theory based on genetics, systematics, and biogeography. His classic works Systematics and the Origin of Species (1942) and Animal Species and Evolution (1963) introduced the biological species concept and offered detailed explanations of the mechanisms of speciation. Born in 1904 in Bavaria, Mayr earned his Ph.D. in 1926 and joined the American Museum of Natural History in New York in 1932. In 1953, he was appointed Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology at Harvard University, where he was also a curator in the Museum of Comparative Zoology. During his career, he received numerous awards and honors, including election to the National Academy of Sciences (1954) and the National Medal of Science (1970). Prolific to the last, in his retirement he wrote such books as What Evolution Is (2002) and What Makes Biology Unique? (2004). Mayr was a long-time member of NCSE: we were honored by his support and are saddened by his death.

Obituaries and eulogies for Ernst Mayr:

The Scientist:

The New York Times (registration required):


Science (subscription required):

Michael Ruse on the Philosophy of Biology blog:


Writing in The American Prospect, Chris C. Mooney takes a look at the recent spate of media coverage of antievolutionism: "It's official," his article begins: "With recent news of lawsuits over the teaching of evolution in both Georgia and Pennsylvania, even Time magazine now considers the fight over Charles Darwin's theory a live issue again." (In a nice aside, he remarks, "Today's journalists, however, are on a steep learning curve, laboring to understand a struggle that groups like the National Center for Science Education, in Oakland, California, have monitored ceaselessly for years with or without major media attention.") Observing that "[t]here are few issues where a knowledge of history matters more than the debate over the teaching of evolution," Mooney traces the history of the creationist movement in the United States, noting that all along antievolutionists have sought to portray themselves as scientific, while increasingly trying to disavow their narrow sectarian motivations. The press and the courts will catch on, he predicts, adding "[i]n the meantime, however, a lot of people are going to be confused about the theory of evolution."

To read "Discovery phase" in The American Prospect, visit:

And if you like "Discovery phase," check out Mooney's blog:


Carl Zimmer's cover story for the February 2005 issue of Discover, "Testing Darwin," opens with a piece of travel advice: "If you want to find alien life-forms, hold off on booking that trip to the moons of Saturn. You may only need to catch a plane to East Lansing, Michigan." For it is in East Lansing that a team of researchers -- including Michigan State University philosophy professor Robert T. Pennock, author of Tower of Babel: The Evidence against the New Creationism (MIT, 1999), editor of Intelligent Design Creationism and its Critics (MIT, 2001), and recipient of NCSE's Friend of Darwin award -- is using a computer program called Avida to investigate evolution in the digital realm. "Avida makes it possible to watch the random mutation and natural selection of digital organisms unfold over millions of generations," Zimmer writes. "In the process, it is beginning to shed light on some of the biggest questions of evolution." Of particular interest are the repercussions for favorite creationist arguments: discussing the team's work, Chris Adami points out that "[w]hat we show is that there are irreducibly complex things and they can evolve."

To read "Testing Darwin" on Zimmer's web site, visit:

And if you like "Testing Darwin," check out Zimmer's blog:

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


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

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

Teach science, not belief


In his letter ("The facts of intelligent design," Feb. 4), Casey Chalk shows how easy it is to fall victim to the pseudoscience of intelligent design. While it has gained recent popularity in some circles, this belief has been refuted by most of the scientific community in a vast number of past and present scientific works that support evolution or dismiss the claims of intelligent design.

Chalk claims that in his Jan. 31 column "Unintelligent design" Anthony Dick "misrepresents intelligent design as a movement of Christian fundamentalists designed to debunk Darwinism. He hasn't done his homework." However, it is Chalk who has not done his homework.

For example, William A. Dembski and Michael J. Behe, cited as experts in the field by Chalk, are fellows of the Discovery Institute, a Seattle research institute that is funded by Christian foundations and viewed by many as dedicated in part to promoting intelligent design. Dembski, one of the "intellectual heavyweights" he mentions, has claimed that "the conceptual soundness of a scientific theory cannot be maintained apart from Christ." This hardly seems like an unbiased view upon which to base any valid scientific query or assertion.

Chalk makes a last statement before ending his letter: "And it [intelligent design] is indeed a theory, just like evolution." Scientific American (July, 2002) explains why this gross fallacy Chalk perpetuates is incorrect: "According to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), a scientific theory is 'a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses.' No amount of validation changes a theory into a law, which is a descriptive generalization about nature. So when scientists talk about the theory of evolution ... they are not expressing reservations about its truth."

In science, facts are used as evidence to support theories. Evolution is well supported. However, where is the scientifically tested evidence to support intelligent design? While many intelligent design proponents try to poke holes in the theory of evolution, they have yet to provide enough valid proof to scientifically support their own belief. Intelligent design has not yet been proven a valid scientific theory and, therefore, does not belong in a classroom or science textbook. We should not allow this undeserving intrusion into the teaching of science.

Greg Nielsen

Is Evolution Next?



They have succeeded in getting a gay marriage ban before Kansas voters.

Could the teaching of evolution in public schools be the next target for conservative clergy activists?

It could.

The Reverend Terry Fox is the pastor of Wichita's Emmanuel Baptist Church, and a leader of successful lobbying efforts to get lawmakers to pass the proposed marriage amendment to the state constitution.

With a statewide vote on that issue set for April, Fox says he and other clergy intend to weigh in on the creation-evolution debate.

The state board of education is expected to review revised state science standards in April. The board has a conservative majority, but evolution critics say they are not yet seeking equal status for creationism. They say they only want more criticism of evolution. The Reverend Jerry Johnston, pastor of First Family Church in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, calls the marriage amendment victory ``a new day for evangelicals.''

He says it proves that if conservative Christians band together, they can effect change in statewide politics.

Fox, Johnston and others say their agenda also includes restricting abortion and preventing the expansion of gambling.

The Reverend Bo Graves is the senior pastor of the First Baptist Church, in the Wichita suburb of Haysville. He says the evangelical agenda concentrates on social issues -- as opposed to tax or budget issues -- because congregations are more united on such issues as abortion and gay marriage.

But an attack on evolution runs the risk of political backlash.

In 1999, a conservative-led board removed most references to evolution in the science standards. Voters then elected less conservative members, resulting in the current, evolution-friendly standards.

Evolution cases expose Orthodox vs. liberal rifts


By: CHANAN TIGAY Jewish Telegraphic Agency

When a federal judge in Georgia ruled last week that a local school board's decision to put a small sticker on its science textbooks labeling evolution "a theory, not a fact" was unconstitutional, Jeffrey Selman said it was primarily an American issue.

Still, he said, he could not help but view it through the lens of his Jewishness.

"Look what happened in Germany," said Selman, one of a group of parents that sued the Cobb County school board to have the stickers removed.

"The German Jews said, 'We're Germans. We'll be fine.' The next thing you know, they were opening the oven doors for us."

But not all Jews see things Selman's way.

The Cobb County case, along with another related case now roiling a town in Pennsylvania, is the latest in a series of national issues that expose rifts between some Orthodox Jews and Judaism's more liberal branches.

In 2002, the Cobb County school district decided to place the evolution disclaimers on students' biology texts after parents complained that the book did not present alternate views on the origins of life.

The decision touched a nerve among some in the American Orthodox community who would like to see a greater discussion of God in American classrooms, and those in other movements who believe the stickers are a thinly veiled effort to reintroduce creationism into school science curricula.

"If one teaches that the human being is just an evolved ape and that our consciences and sense that we have a soul and free will are just phantasm - that road leads to amorality," said Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America, a rigorously Orthodox group.

"It leads to it being impossible to say that any particular way of living is right or wrong."

But Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said the case raises a red flag with regard to the separation of church and state, a barrier he said has allowed religion in the United States to flourish.

"The efforts of others to impose a theological discipline where it doesn't exist is unfortunate," Yoffie said. "It violates church-state separation. It's bad technique and not good for children."

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

On Monday, the Cobb County school board voted to appeal the court's decision, calling it an "unnecessary judicial intrusion into local control of schools." In a statement, the board further denied that its decision to use the disclaimer was an attempt to inject religion into the schools.

But Selman strongly disagreed.

There is "a small group of myopic people who want to gain power in this country by insisting that their religious beliefs are" paramount "and want the rest of the country to follow these beliefs," said Selman, a computer programming consultant who has a son in fifth grade.

The Cobb County ruling came as another related legal drama was unfolding.

In October, the Dover, Pa., school board decided that biology teachers must discuss with students an alternative to evolution known as Intelligent Design. Last month, several parents sued the school board. The plaintiffs, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, say that the board's decision imposes a religious viewpoint on their children.

Intelligent Design theory holds that the universe is so complex that its existence cannot be explained simply by an undirected process such as natural selection, but must be the product of some superintelligence.

The theory's proponents present it as a scientific alternative to evolution. Opponents, though, insist it is of dubious scientific value and simply is the latest effort by fundamentalist creationists to inject religion into science classes.

"Intelligent Design is just the newest variation of what used to be called creationism," said Steven Freeman, associate director for civil rights at the Anti-Defamation League. It "doesn't specifically mention God, but it's there with a wink and a nod. That's what its proponents are talking about."

In 1968, in Epperson v. Arkansas, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to restrict a teacher's right to teach evolution. In 1987, in Edwards v. Aguillard, the court said that a teacher cannot be compelled to teach creationism alongside evolution.

To creationism's opponents, the latest battles are a contemporary iteration of the infamous 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, with creationists, twice disappointed by the Supreme Court, again struggling to undermine evolution, this time through the back door.

"Efforts by people from the Christian right who have a real agenda, whether they couch it as Intelligent Design or creationism, is not only harmful for Jews, it fundamentally undermines American democracy," said Deborah Lauter, the director of the ADL's southeast region, who sat in on the Atlanta trial.

"Securing religious liberty in this country means preserving church-state separation."

Alan Mittleman, director of the Louis Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies of the Conservative movement's Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, says Intelligent Design simply is bad science.

"It doesn't seem to me that Intelligent Design theory really lives up to scientific standards. Having said that, I don't think science is the ultimate explanation of our world. Science is an elaborate conceptual game, but it's not the only game."

Still, Mittleman sees some middle ground.

"There are epistemological and methodological problems with the theory of evolution, and they ought to be explored in advanced science classes," he said. "But that's a different matter from presenting Intelligent Design as a full-fledged alternative."

Yoffie, of the Reform Movement, said that those in the Orthodox community who would support the teaching of Intelligent Design "seem to share the view that is prevalent among those in the Christian right, that somehow in modern society we are banishing God from the public square and this will have a disastrous result."

Yoffie called this notion "totally absurd. America is the most religious of the industrial countries," he said. "And that is attributable directly to the church-state separation that is embedded in the Constitution. Stronger religious life goes hand in hand with church- state separation."

Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union, said that it was "kind of silly" to put stickers on books warning students. But the focus of his assessment was on the bigger picture. Weinreb said that Jewish observance and evolution are not mutually exclusive.

"I don't think it's theologically necessary to debunk evolution," he said. An observant Jew, for example, can believe that "God's intelligence set in motion some kind of evolutionary process."

This is only the latest in a string of social issues on which the Orthodox and non-Orthodox movements have disagreed. Others include abortion and school vouchers.

Shafran agrees that science is important, but said that "once science has had its say, there remains a larger question of why are we here and what do our lives mean."

"We'd like to see a stress on the importance of moral values, which Judaism teaches are meant to underlie all of society, not just Jewish society," he said. "Without belief in God, I'm not sure there's much hope that morality will be given its due.''

Religious right fights science for the heart of America


Creationists take their challenge to evolution theory into the classroom

Suzanne Goldenberg in Kansas City
Monday February 7, 2005
The Guardian

Al Frisby has spent the better part of his life in rooms filled with rebellious teenagers, but the last years have been particularly trying for the high school biology teacher. He has met parents who want him to teach that God created Eve out of Adam's rib, and then then adjusted the chromosomes to make her a woman, and who insist that Noah invited dinosaurs aboard the ark. And it is getting more difficult to keep such talk out of the classroom.

"Somewhere along the line, the students have been told the theory of evolution is not valid," he said. "In the last few years, I've had students question my teaching about cell classification and genetics, and there have been a number of comments from students saying: 'Didn't God do that'?" In Kansas, the geographical centre of America, the heart of the American heartland, the state-approved answer might soon be Yes. In the coming weeks, state educators will decide on proposed curriculum changes for high school science put forward by subscribers to the notion of "intelligent design", a modern version of creationism. If the religious right has its way, and it is a powerful force in Kansas, high school science teachers could be teaching creationist material by next September, charting an important victory in America's modern-day revolt against evolutionary science.

Legal debate

Similar classroom confrontations between God and science are under way in 17 states, according to the National Centre for Science Education. In Missouri, state legislators are drafting a bill laying down that science texts contain a chapter on so-called alternative theories to evolution. Textbooks in Arkansas and Alabama contain disclaimers on evolution, and in a Wisconsin school district, teachers are required to instruct their students in the "scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory". Last month, a judge in Georgia ordered a school district to remove stickers on school textbooks that warned: "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things."

For the conservative forces engaged in the struggle for America's soul, the true battleground is public education, the laboratory of the next generation, and an opportunity for the religious right to effect lasting change on popular culture. Officially, the teaching of creationism has been outlawed since 1987 when the supreme court ruled that the inclusion of religious material in science classes in public teaching was unconstitutional. In recent years, however, opponents of evolution have regrouped, challenging science education with the doctrine of "intelligent design" which has been carefully stripped of all references to God and religion. Unlike traditional creationism, which posits that God created the earth in six days, proponents of intelligent design assert that the workings of this planet are too complex to be ascribed to evolution. There must have been a designer working to a plan - that is, a creator.

In their campaign to persuade parents in Kansas to welcome the new version of creationism into the classroom, subscribers to intelligent design have appealed to a sense of fair play, arguing that it would be in their children's interest to be exposed to all schools of thought on the earth's origins. "We are looking for science standards that would be more informative, that would open the discussion about origins, rather than close it," said John Calvert, founder of the Intelligent Design network, the prime mover in the campaign to discredit the teaching of evolution in Kansas.

Other supporters of intelligent design go further, saying evolution is as much an article of faith as creationism. "Certainly there are clear religious implications," said William Harris, a research biochemist and co-founder of the design network in Kansas. "There are creation myths on both sides. Which one do you teach?" For Mr. Harris, an expert on fish oils and prevention of heart disease at the premier teaching hospital in Kansas City, the very premise of evolution was intolerable. He describes his conversion as a graduate student many years ago almost as an epiphany. "It hit me that if monkeys are supposed to be so close to us as relatives then what explains the incredible gap between monkeys and humans. I had a realisation that there was a vast chasm between the two types of animals, and the standard explanation just didn't fit."

Other scientists on the school board's advisory committee see no clash in values between religion and science. "Prominent conservative Christians, evangelical Christians, have found no inherent conflict between an evolutionary understanding of the history of life, and an orthodox understanding of the theology of creation," said Keith Miller, a geologist at Kansas State University, who describes himself as a practising Christian.

But in Kansas, as in the rest of America, it would seem a slim majority continue to believe God created the heaven and the earth. During the past five years, subscribers to intelligent design have assembled a roster of influential supporters in the state, including a smattering of people with PhDs, such as Mr Harris, to lend their cause a veneer of scientific credibility. When conservative Republicans took control of the Kansas state school board last November, the creationists seized their chance, installing supporters on the committee reviewing the high school science curriculum.

The suggested changes under consideration seem innocuous at first. "A minor addition makes it clear that evolution is a theory and not a fact," says the proposed revision to the 8th grade science standard. However, Jack Krebs, a high school maths teacher on the committee drafting the new standards, argues that the campaign against evolution amounts to a stealth assault on the entire body of scientific thought. "There are two planes where they are attacking. One is evolution, and one is science itself," he said.

"They believe that the naturalistic bias of science is in fact atheistic, and that if we don't change science, we can't believe in God. And so this is really an attack on all of science. Evolution is just the weak link."

It would certainly seem so in Kansas. At the first of a series of public hearings on the new course material, the audience was equally split between the defenders of established science, and the anti-evolution rebels. The breakdown has educators worried. With the religious right now in control of the Kansas state school board, the circumstances favour the creationists.

In a crowded high school auditorium, biology teachers, mathematicians, a veterinarian, and a high school student made passionate speeches on the need for cold, scientific detachment, and the damage that would be done to the state's reputation and biotechnology industry if Kansas became known as a haven for creationists. They were countered by John James, who warned that the teaching of evolution led to nihilism, and to the gates of Auschwitz. "Are we producing little Kansas Nazis?" he asked. But the largest applause of the evening was reserved for a silver-haired gentleman in a navy blue blazer. "I have a question: if man comes from monkeys, why are there still monkeys? Why do you waste time teaching something in science class that is not scientific?" he thundered.

Science teachers believe that the genteel questioning of the intelligent design movements masks a larger project to discredit an entire body of rational thought. If the Kansas state school board allows science teachers to question evolution, where will it stop? Will religious teachers bring their beliefs into the classroom?

"They are trying to create a climate where anything an individual teacher wants to include in science class can be considered science," said Harry McDonald, a retired biology teacher and president of Kansas Citizens for Science Education. "They want to redefine science."

Religious right

Young Earth creationism

God created the Earth, and all the species on it, in six days, 6,000 years ago

Old Earth creationism

The Earth is 4.5bn years old, but God created each living organism on the planet, although not necessarily in six days

Intelligent design

Emerged as a theory in 1989. Maintains that evolution is a theory, not a fact, and that Earth's complexity can be explained only by the idea of an intelligent designer - or a creator

New Legislation Would Ban Urban Legends


By Brian Briggs

Tuesday, February 8 12:00 AM ET

Washington D.C. – A new law proposed by a bipartisan group of Representatives would outlaw the spread of "urban legends."

Representative Simon Heedsmore of West Virginia said, "We cannot allow these frauds to be perpetrated on the American public. If the right urban legend were to be created it could cause a panic which could have dangerous consequences to national security."

Kevin Sikes, staffer for Representative Lewis of South Carolina said, "It's ridiculous how many questions about the e-mail tax we get. There ought to be a law to stop that sort of thing, and soon there will be."

Publicly, Representatives are touting "national security" on the urban legend issue, but privately they say the real reason is preventing embarrassment. In January, a bill almost made it out of committee that would've forced Starbucks to sell coffee to the armed forces in Iraq. The bill was in response to a hoax circulating in e-mail that Starbucks was refusing to provide coffee to the army, because it did not support the war. Fortunately, a staffer found the hoax debunked on a web site, before the bill made it to the floor for a vote.

"It was embarrassing for the Representatives and they didn't want to go through that again," said one staffer who wished to remain anonymous.

The bill would punish individuals who create or spread this type of information. Penalties range from fines of $500 for sending an urban legend e-mail to 90 days in jail for creating and publishing one.

The ACLU contends that this law would violate free speech rights. "Congress cannot limit constitutionally guaranteed rights, just because they are too dumb to realize something is a piece of fiction. We are confident the law will be overturned," said Chief Counsel Elliott Spence.

An urban legend or urban myth is usually apocryphal story involving incidents of the recent past, often including elements of humor and horror, which spreads quickly and is popularly believed to be true.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Your Astrology Defense Kit


by Andrew Fraknoi, Ph.D.

Reprinted from the Oct-Dec, 2004 BASIS

It happens to all of us - astronomers, amateurs, and teachers. We tell someone about our interest in the heavens and quickly get drawn into a debate about astrology. For many of us it's hard to know how to respond politely to someone who takes this ancient superstition seriously.

The revelation that daily schedules in the Reagan White House were arranged and rearranged based on the predictions of a San Francisco astrologer focused new attention on astrology's widespread public acceptance. More than ever, we are likely to face questions about astrology, especially among young people. So here is a quick guide to some of the responses you can make to astrologers' claims. The Tenets of Astrology

The basis of astrology is disarmingly simple: a person's character and destiny can be understood from the positions of the Sun, Moon, and planets at the moment of his or her birth. Interpreting the location of these bodies using a chart called the horoscope, astrologers claim to predict and explain the course of life and to help people, companies, and nations with decisions of great import.

Implausible as such claims may sound to anyone who knows what and how distant the Sun, Moon, and planets really are, a 1984 Gallup Poll revealed that 55 percent of American teenagers believe in astrology. And every day thousands of people around the world base crucial medical, professional, and personal decisions on advice received from astrologers and astrological publications.

The details of its precise origins are lost in antiquity, but astrology is at least thousands of years old and appears in different forms in many cultures. It arose at a time when humankind's view of the world was dominated by magic and superstition, when the need to grasp the patterns of nature was often of life-and-death importance.

Celestial objects seemed in those days to be either gods, important spirits, or, at the very least, symbols or representatives of divine personages who spent their time tinkering with humans' daily lives. People eagerly searched for heavenly signs of what the gods would do next.

Seen in this context, a system that connected the bright planets and "important" constellations with meaningful life questions was appealing and reassuring. (Astrologers believe that the important constellations are the ones the Sun passes through during the course of a year; they call these the constellations of the zodiac.) And even today, despite so much effort at science education, astrology's appeal for many people has not diminished. For them, thinking of Venus as a cloud-covered desert world as hot as an oven is far less attractive than seeing it as an aid in deciding whom to marry.

Ten Embarrassing Questions

A good way to begin thinking about the astrological perspective is to take a skeptical but good-humored look at the logical consequences of some of its claims. Here are my 10 favorite questions to ask supporters of astrology:

1.What is the likelihood that one-twelfth of the world's population is having the same kind of day?

Proponents of newspaper astrology columns (which appear in more than 1,200 dailies in the United States alone) claim you can learn something about your day by reading one of 12 paragraphs in the morning paper. Simple division shows that this means 400 million people around the world will all have the same kind of day, every single day. Given the need to fill so many bills at once, it is clear why astrological predictions are couched in the vaguest and most general language possible.

2.Why is the moment of birth, rather than conception, crucial for astrology?

Astrology seems scientific to some people because the horoscope is based on an exact datum: the subject's time of birth. When astrology was set up long ago, the moment of birth was considered the magic creation point of life. But today we understand birth as the culmination of nine months of steady development inside the womb. Indeed, scientists now believe that many aspects of a child's personality are set long before birth.

I suspect the reason astrologers still adhere to the moment of birth has little to do with astrological theory. Almost every client knows when he or she was born, but it is difficult (and perhaps embarrassing) to identify a person's moment of conception. To make their predictions seem as personal as possible, astrologers stick with the more easily determined date.

3.If the mother's womb can keep out astrological influences until birth, can we do the same with a cubicle of steak?

If such powerful forces emanate from the heavens, why are they inhibited before birth by a thin shield of muscle, flesh, and skin? And if they really do and a baby's potential horoscope is unsatisfactory, could we delay the action of the astrological influences by immediately surrounding the newborn with a thin cubicle of steak until the celestial signs are more auspicious?

4.If astrologers are as good as they claim, why aren't they richer?

Some astrologers answer that they cannot predict specific events, only broad trends. Others claim to have the power to foresee large events, but not small ones. But either way astrologers could amass billions by forecasting general stock-market behavior or commodity futures, and thus not have to charge their clients high fees. In October, 1987, how many astrologers actually foresaw Black Monday when the stock market took such a large tumble and warned their clients about it?

5.Are all horoscopes done before the discovery of the three outermost planets incorrect?

Some astrologers claim that the Sun sign (the location of the Sun in the zodiac at the moment of birth), which most newspaper horoscopes use exclusively, is an inadequate guide to the effects of the cosmos. These serious practitioners (generally those who have missed out on the lucrative business of syndicated columns) insist that the influence of all major bodies in the solar system must be taken into account - including the outmost planets Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto, which were not discovered until 1781, 1846, and 1930, respectively.

If that's the case, what happens to the claim many astrologers make that their art has led to accurate predictions for many centuries? Weren't all horoscopes cast before 1930 wrong? And why didn't the inaccuracies in early horoscopes lead astrologers to deduce the presence of Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto long before astronomers discovered them?

6.Shouldn't we condemn astrology as a form of bigotry?

In a civilized society we deplore all systems that judge individuals by sex, skin color, religion, national origin, or other accidents of birth. Yet astrologers boast that they can evaluate people based on another accident of birth - the positions of celestial objects. Isn't refusing to date a Leo or hire a Virgo as bad as refusing to date a Catholic or hire a black person?

7.Why do different schools of astrology disagree so strongly with each other?

Astrologers seem to disagree on the most fundamental issues of their craft: whether to account for the precession of the Earth's axis (see the box below), how many planets and other celestial objects should be included, and - most importantly - which personality traits go with which cosmic phenomena. Read ten different astrology columns, or have a reading done by ten different astrologers, and you will probably get ten different interpretations.

If astrology is a science, as its proponents claim, why are its practitioners not converging on a consensus theory after thousands of years of gathering data and refining its interpretation? Scientific ideas generally converge over time as they are tested against laboratory or other evidence. In contrast, systems based on superstition or personal belief tend to diverge as their practitioners carve out separate niches while jockeying for power, income, or prestige.

8.If the astrological influence is carried by a known force, why do the planets dominate?

If the effects of astrology can be attributed to gravity, tidal forces, or magnetism (each is invoked by a different astrological school), even a beginning physics student can make the calculations necessary to see what really affects a newborn baby. These are worked out for many different cases in Roger Culver and Philip Ianna's book Astrology: True or False (1988, Prometheus Books). For example, the obstetrician who delivers the child turns out to have about six times the gravitational pull of Mars and about two thousand billion times its tidal force. The doctor may have a lot less mass than the red planet, but he or she is a lot closer to the baby!

9.If astrological influence is carried by an unknown force, why is it independent of distance?

All the long-range forces we know in the universe get weaker as objects get farther apart. But, as you might expect in an Earth-centered system made thousands of years ago, astrological influences do not depend on distance at all. The importance of Mars in your horoscope is identical whether the planet is on the same side of the Sun as the Earth or seven times farther away on the other side. A force not dependent on distance would be a revolutionary discovery for science, changing many of our fundamental notions.

10.If astrological influences don't depend on distance, why is there no astrology of stars, galaxies, and quasars?

French astronomer Jean-Claude Pecker has pointed out that it seems very small- minded of astrologers to limit their craft to our solar system. Billions of stupendous bodies all over the universe should add their influence to that of our tiny little Sun, Moon, and planets. Has a client whose horoscope omits the effects of Rigel, the Crab pulsar, and the Andromeda Galaxy really had a complete reading?

Testing Astrology

Even if we give astrologers the benefit of the doubt on all these questions - accepting that astrological influences may exist outside our current understanding of the universe - there is a devastating final point. Put simply, Astrology doesn't work. Many careful tests have now shown that, despite their claims, astrologers really can't predict anything.

After all, we don't need to know how something works to see whether it works. During the last two decades, while astrologers have somehow always been a little too busy to conduct statistically valid tests of their work, physical and social scientists have done it for them. Let's consider a few representative studies.

Psychologist Bernard Silverman of Michigan State University looked at the birth dates of 2,978 couples who were getting married and 478 who were getting divorced in the state of Michigan. Most astrologers claim they can at least predict which astrological signs will be compatible or incompatible when it comes to personal relationships. Silverman compared such predictions to the actual records and found no correlations. For example "incompatibly signed" men and women got married as frequently as "compatibly signed" ones.

Many astrologers insist that a person's Sun sign is strongly correlated with his or her choice of profession. Indeed, job counseling is an important function of modern astrology. Physicist John McGervey at Case Western Reserve University looked at biographies and birth dates of some 6,000 politicians and 17,000 scientists to see if members of these professions would cluster among certain signs, as astrologers predict. He found the signs of both groups to be distributed completely at random.

To overcome the objections of astrologers who feel that the Sun sign alone is not enough for a reading, physicist Shawn Carlson of the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory carried out an ingenious experiment. Groups of volunteers were asked to provide information necessary for casting a full horoscope and to fill out the California Personality Inventory, a standard psychologists' questionnaire that uses just the sorts of broad, general, descriptive terms astrologers use.

A "respected" astrological organization constructed horoscopes for the volunteers, and 28 professional astrologers who had approved the procedure in advance were each sent one horoscope and three personality profiles, one of which belonged to the subject of the horoscope. Their task was to interpret the horoscope and select which of the three profiles it matched.

Although the astrologers had predicted that they would score better than 50 percent correct, their actual score in 116 trials was only 34 percent correct - just what you would expect by guessing! Carlson published his results in the December 5, 1985, issue of Nature, much to the embarrassment of the astrological community.

Other tests show that it hardly matters what a horoscope says, as long as the subject feels the interpretations were done for him or her personally. A few years ago French statistician Michel Gauquelin sent the horoscope for one of the worst mass murderers in French history to 150 people and asked how well it fit them. Ninety-four percent of the subjects said they recognized themselves in the description.

Geoffrey Dean, an Australian researcher who has conducted extensive tests of astrology, reversed the astrological readings of 22 subjects, substituting phrases that were the opposite of what the horoscopes actually stated. Yet the subjects in this study said the readings applied to them just as often (95 percent of the time) as people to whom the correct phrases were given. Apparently, those who seek out astrologers just want guidance, any guidance.

Some time ago astronomers Culver and Ianna tracked the published predictions of well-known astrologers and astrological organizations for five years. Out of more than 3,000 specific predictions (including many about politicians, film stars, and other famous people), only about 10 percent came to pass. Veteran reporters - and probably many people who read or watch the news - could do a good deal better by educated guessing.

If the stars lead astrologers to incorrect predictions 9 times out of 10, they hardly seem like reliable guides for decisions of life and affairs of state. Yet millions of people, including the former First Lady, seem to swear by them.

Clearly, those of us who love astronomy cannot just hope that the public's infatuation with astrology will go away. We must speak out whenever it is useful or appropriate - to discuss the shortcomings of astrology and the shaky ground it is based on. Those of us working with youngsters can use these ideas to develop a healthy skepticism in the students and encourage an interest in the real cosmos - the one of remote worlds and suns that are mercifully unconcerned with the lives and desires of the creatures on planet Earth. Let's not allow another generation of young people to grow up tied to an ancient fantasy, left over from a time when we huddled by the firelight, afraid of the night.

[Andrew Fraknoi, Ph.D. heads the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. He is an Advisor to Bay Area Skeptics]

Creation museum gets a boost even from negative news

By Peggy Kreimer
Post staff reporter

It doesn't matter what you say; just spell my name right. That Hollywood maxim is getting a religious twist as developers of the Creation Museum in Northern Kentucky find themselves featured more and more in national and international media reports -- many of which mock the museum's contention that the Biblical version of creation is scientifically, as well as theologically, correct.

The latest mention of Answers in Genesis' Creation Museum project in Petersburg, Ky., came from nationally syndicated columnist Maureen Dowd this week. In a column titled "Inherit the Windbags" on the opinion page of Thursday's New York Times, she derided the Creation Museum and President George Bush's actions as signs America is regressing.

Dowd poked mild fun at the museum's contention that the Bible's version of creation is the absolute, literal truth, down to the exact number of 24-hour days that God used to create the earth; the belief that earth is much younger than mainstream scientists believe; and that Adam was not only alive to see dinosaurs, he named them.

"We've been blessed with a lot of publicity," said Answers in Genesis vice president Mark Looy.

It's frustrating, though, to see inaccurate information and to be mocked, he said, citing a London Telegraph story that he described as "a horrible bit of journalism."

The more Answers in Genesis has been mocked and openly attacked, however, the more people have rallied to the support of the organization, he said.

"Three years ago we got a phone call from a businessman who said, 'I really don't know who you are, but I've been watching the press accounts attacking the ministry.' He said, 'You must be doing something right to get all that opposition,' and he sent us a million dollars," Looy said.

That went into the ministry's Creation Museum fund.

The organization has raised more than $14 million toward the $25 million building project in Petersburg, four miles west of the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

The museum's staff moved last fall into a 95,000-square-foot headquarters, which includes offices for 100 staff on one side and a museum that will let visitors "walk through history from a Biblical perspective" on the other, Looy said. The full museum is scheduled to open in 2007, but a planetarium and special effects theater should open by summer, said Looy.

The international notoriety a full two years before the museum opens bodes well, even if the reports aren't all supportive.

Looy said the group's Web site, answersingenesis.org, gets up to 52,000 visits per day. "If you're talking about page views and hits, the number is probably 150,000," he said.

Looy noted that a recent court case about teaching evolution has helped spur interest in Answers in Genesis. "Even though we had nothing to do with that case, -- the media have been calling us," he said.

"BBC television flew a crew in last week. 'The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer' will be here next Thursday morning."

The list goes on and on.

The Australian version of "60 Minutes" is planning a feature, and organization officials have been quoted in a number of papers in Britain and Japan. ABC's "Nightline" program filmed a segment before Christmas that has yet to be aired.

Looy said that, more and more, the question of teaching creationism vs. evolution is being broached in courts, state legislatures and school boards.

Dowd mentioned in her column a sticker that was affixed to science books in Georgia noting that evolution is "a theory, not a fact."

"I think, after decades of a public education system that has, by and large, tried to indoctrinate young people with the evolution belief system and students' also being encouraged to use critical thinking skills, they are seeing the bankruptcy of the evolution world view," Looy said.

Answers in Genesis President Ken Ham called Dowd's column disjointed.

"I don't mind her mentioning the Creation Museum, but to try to connect it to, I guess, Bush's State of the Union address, well that's just weird," Ham said.

He said he wasn't surprised to find Dowd had misinterpreted some of the Creationist beliefs.

"I'm finding most of these people don't understand what we believe."

His organization is doing its best to spread the creationism world view. The 11-year-old Answers in Genesis plans to do 300 teaching seminars this year, each reaching up to 5,000 people on a weekend. Ham does 90-second radio spots daily. The group publishes two magazines and distributes information tapes.

Publication Date: 02-04-2005


Design for Living

By MICHAEL J. BEHE February 7, 2005

Bethlehem, Pa. ­ IN the wake of the recent lawsuits over the teaching of Darwinian evolution, there has been a rush to debate the merits of the rival theory of intelligent design. As one of the scientists who have proposed design as an explanation for biological systems, I have found widespread confusion about what intelligent design is and what it is not.

First, what it isn't: the theory of intelligent design is not a religiously based idea, even though devout people opposed to the teaching of evolution cite it in their arguments. For example, a critic recently caricatured intelligent design as the belief 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. That's misleading. Intelligent design proponents do question whether random mutation and natural selection completely explain the deep structure of life. But they do not doubt that evolution occurred. And intelligent design itself says nothing about the religious concept of a creator.

Rather, the contemporary argument for intelligent design is based on physical evidence and a straightforward application of logic. The argument for it consists of four linked claims. The first claim is uncontroversial: we can often recognize the effects of design in nature. For example, unintelligent physical forces like plate tectonics and erosion seem quite sufficient to account for the origin of the Rocky Mountains. Yet they are not enough to explain Mount Rushmore.

Of course, we know who is responsible for Mount Rushmore, but even someone who had never heard of the monument could recognize it as designed. Which leads to the second claim of the intelligent design argument: the physical marks of design are visible in aspects of biology. This is uncontroversial, too. The 18th-century clergyman William Paley likened living things to a watch, arguing that the workings of both point to intelligent design. Modern Darwinists disagree with Paley that the perceived design is real, but they do agree that life overwhelms us with the appearance of design.

For example, Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, once wrote that biologists must constantly remind themselves that what they see was not designed but evolved. (Imagine a scientist repeating through clenched teeth: "It wasn't really designed. Not really.")

The resemblance of parts of life to engineered mechanisms like a watch is enormously stronger than what Reverend Paley imagined. In the past 50 years modern science has shown that the cell, the very foundation of life, is run by machines made of molecules. There are little molecular trucks in the cell to ferry supplies, little outboard motors to push a cell through liquid.

In 1998 an issue of the journal Cell was devoted to molecular machines, with articles like "The Cell as a Collection of Protein Machines" and "Mechanical Devices of the Spliceosome: Motors, Clocks, Springs and Things." Referring to his student days in the 1960's, Bruce Alberts, president of the National Academy of Sciences, wrote that "the chemistry that makes life possible is much more elaborate and sophisticated than anything we students had ever considered." In fact, Dr. Alberts remarked, the entire cell can be viewed as a factory with an elaborate network of interlocking assembly lines, each of which is composed of a set of large protein machines. He emphasized that the term machine was not some fuzzy analogy; it was meant literally.

The next claim in the argument for design is that we have no good explanation for the foundation of life that doesn't involve intelligence. Here is where thoughtful people part company. Darwinists assert that their theory can explain the appearance of design in life as the result of random mutation and natural selection acting over immense stretches of time. Some scientists, however, think the Darwinists' confidence is unjustified. They note that although natural selection can explain some aspects of biology, there are no research studies indicating that Darwinian processes can make molecular machines of the complexity we find in the cell.

Scientists skeptical of Darwinian claims include many who have no truck with ideas of intelligent design, like those who advocate an idea called complexity theory, which envisions life self-organizing in roughly the same way that a hurricane does, and ones who think organisms in some sense can design themselves.

The fourth claim in the design argument is also controversial: in the absence of any convincing non-design explanation, we are justified in thinking that real intelligent design was involved in life. To evaluate this claim, it's important to keep in mind that it is the profound appearance of design in life that everyone is laboring to explain, not the appearance of natural selection or the appearance of self-organization.

The strong appearance of design allows a disarmingly simple argument: if it looks, walks and quacks like a duck, then, absent compelling evidence to the contrary, we have warrant to conclude it's a duck. Design should not be overlooked simply because it's so obvious.

Still, some critics claim that science by definition can't accept design, while others argue that science should keep looking for another explanation in case one is out there. But we can't settle questions about reality with definitions, nor does it seem useful to search relentlessly for a non-design explanation of Mount Rushmore. Besides, whatever special restrictions scientists adopt for themselves don't bind the public, which polls show, overwhelmingly, and sensibly, thinks that life was designed. And so do many scientists who see roles for both the messiness of evolution and the elegance of design.

Michael J. Behe, a professor of biological sciences at Lehigh University and a senior fellow with the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, is the author of "Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution."


Sunday, February 06, 2005

Full range of scientific views' includes theory of a creator



Legally speaking, intelligent design should be taught in Kansas schools to comply with the No Child Left Behind Act.

The report interpreting this legislation explains that on controversial issues like evolution, “the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist.”

Natural selection asserts that individual components evolve gradually over time. In The Origin of Species, Darwin stated, “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.” Scrutiny of the complexities of a molecular structure at a micro-biochemical level proves there are irreducible complexities that deny the validity of Darwin's theory.

In March 2002, 52 scientists called on the state of Ohio to allow its schools to teach arguments for and against evolutionary theory, including intelligent design.

Renowned professor Antony Flew, for decades a leading intellectual proponent of religious skepticism and atheism, has now concluded that evidence leads to intelligent design. He cited two flaws in evolution: no reasonable explanation of “the first emergence of living from nonliving matter” and the impossibility of reproduction by a living organism emerged from nothing.

Uncommon Dissent, by William Dembski, is a collection of essays by leading intellectuals who are not persuaded by Darwinism. These are only some scientists who recognize that evolutionism does not bear up under empirical evidence.

Intelligent design teaches the theory of a creator based on scientific observation and analysis, not the worship of one. By contrast, evolution has been propagated by those who believe in it despite mounting evidence against it. Francis Crick, who teamed with James Watson to identify the double helix of DNA, exhorted biologists “to constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but evolved.” Richard Dawkins, a leading evolutionary biologist at Oxford, has labeled critics of Darwinism “ignorant, stupid or insane.” Not only does this obfuscate the scientific process, it actually redefines evolution as religion.

Vicki Palatas is a stay-at-home mom. She lives in Kansas City.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

EPA Inspector Finds Mercury Proposal Tainted


Agency Staff Was Told to Set Limits Backing Bush's 'Clear Skies' Initiative, Report Says

By Shankar Vedantam
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 4, 2005; Page A04

The Environmental Protection Agency ignored scientific evidence and agency protocols in order to set limits on mercury pollution that would line up with the Bush administration's free-market approaches to power plant pollution, according to a report released yesterday by the agency's inspector general.

Staff at the EPA were instructed by administrators to set modest limits on mercury pollution, and then had to work backward from the predetermined goal to justify the proposal, according to a report by Inspector General Nikki Tinsley.

EPA Inspector General Nikki Tinsley said mercury proposal was political. (Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)

Mercury is a toxic metal released as a byproduct by coal-burning power plants and other industries, and it is known to have a range of harmful health effects, especially on young children and pregnant women.

The proposal in contention was issued by the agency in December 2003 to clamp down on pollution by mercury, which also occurs naturally in the environment. Tinsley called for an "unbiased" restructuring of the plan, even if it meant delaying the rule beyond next month, which was when it was to be finalized.

Agency officials said yesterday that Tinsley did not understand the science and limitations of mercury control, disputing her charges that the proposal was politically biased or scientifically unsound. Agency spokeswoman Cynthia Bergman said she expects the final mercury rule to be released next month on schedule.

Although industry scientists said Tinsley had exceeded both her mandate and her expertise, two staff members at the agency involved in the rule-making said the report accurately described the pressures placed on staff by political appointees.

"I don't think anyone has ever seen as much political influence in the development of a rule as we saw in this rule," said one EPA staff member, who attended meetings between administrators and staff. "Everything about this rule was decided at a political level. . . . The political level made the decisions, and the staff did what they were told."

This staff member and another, both of whom asked for anonymity because they feared the consequences of being identified, said that instead of considering a range of possibilities, staff members were told they had only one.

"Maybe we would have come to the same conclusion [anyway], but we didn't necessarily look at the other options," the second staff member said. "We were driven by one option."

The agency's plan made clear that the EPA preferred to regulate mercury in a manner similar to the proposals in President Bush's "Clear Skies" legislative initiative, which has been bogged down in Congress. This cap-and-trade approach calls for a system whereby polluters must meet collective pollution-control targets but can trade credits so that not all plants must meet the same standard. It aims for overall reductions in mercury of about 29 percent by 2010, and a total reduction of 70 percent by 2018.

Industry welcomed the proposal, which involved lower costs and less burdensome regulations.

The only alternative to the plan was the more conventional approach to pollutants -- a cap on the pollution emitted at every plant. This proposal called on power plants to reduce mercury emissions from about 48 tons a year to 34 tons by 2008 -- a reduction of about 25 percent.

The IG's report criticized both ideas. It said the free-market approach did not fully account for "hot spots" -- areas that could end up with higher levels of pollutants under the cap-and-trade system -- and several specific health concerns, including the impact on Native American tribes.

The 25 percent target in the other option was smaller than it should have been, the report said, and was obtained only after scientists were given the number and told to find ways to justify it.

Tinsley's report said EPA staff discussed various scenarios to justify the "predetermined target." "They didn't want to outperform their Clear Skies legislation," said John Walke, clean-air director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group. He argued that the flat reduction approach was deliberately designed to look worse than the cap-and-trade solution. If the flat reduction seemed "better than Clear Skies, the public would see it was being shortchanged by a decade."

EPA Inspector General Nikki Tinsley said mercury proposal was political. (Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)

In a back-and-forth rebuttal at the end of the report, the EPA's assistant administrator for air and radiation, Jeffrey R. Holmstead, disagreed sharply with Tinsley's conclusions, and described her report as inaccurate and flawed.

"The report characterizes the process as incomplete before it is even finished," said Bergman, the spokeswoman.

Bergman did not dispute that administrators settled early on the 34-ton mercury limit, but she said the target had been chosen after considerable work had been expended by the agency in developing the Clear Skies initiative.

"It's not biased," Bergman said. "It factors in the status of mercury control technologies, what works for specific coal types, and we don't want to trigger massive fuel switching. The Clean Air Act allows us to consider those things."

Scott H. Segal, a spokesman at the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, said that more ambitious targets would have prompted power plants to switch from coal to natural gas, "which is pretty hard on the elderly and those living on fixed incomes."

"This report from the IG is another in a long line of reports that office has done that go well beyond the expertise of the office in either legal or policymaking areas," he said.

Environmentalists, EPA officials and industry scientists agreed that in the short run, the best way for Americans to protect their health is to follow safety guidelines issued last year that call for reduced consumption of fish known to have high mercury levels. Women of childbearing age in particular should avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish, as well as larger tuna species such as albacore, health authorities said.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company

Lab movies show genes in action


Robert Cooke is a freelance writer.

February 3, 2005

The first real-time movies of genes in action - the process fundamental to life - are being used now at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory to watch Mother Nature at work in fine detail, scientists report.

The movie-making technique, invented at the laboratory, uses dyes, laser light and microscopes to sort out what happens as a gene gets activated - as it unwinds slightly, its message gets copied and then employed to make a protein, the building block of the body.

Biologist David Spector said his research team worked for years creating the movie method, and only in the past year has it become available for use by scientists worldwide.

"We can see the DNA opening up and unwinding," Spector said in a recent interview, to be read by the cell's internal machinery. DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is responsible for storing the hereditary information that is passed to offspring. RNA, or ribonucleic acid, is a single-strand copy of the two-stranded DNA helix that is sent out of the nucleus and tells the cell what to do, such as what protein to make.

Spector said the process shows the link-by-link assembly of the RNA molecule and "transit of the messenger RNA particle out of the nucleus" into the main body of the cell. "We can see the product of this whole reaction, the whole protein," as it gets constructed.

"What makes this exciting is that we can actually see it happening in real time," said molecular biologist Steve Henikoff, at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

This work was first announced by Spector's team in the journal Cell. The lead author was Susan Janicki, who ran the experiment and will soon move to the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia to open her own laboratory.

The researchers genetically engineered cells to carry 200 copies of a special gene that could be activated at will so it can be studied in action.

Hong Kong firm wards off evil spirits with feng shui underpants


Wed Feb 2, 7:16 AM ET Offbeat - AFP

HONG KONG (AFP) - If your horoscope is looking a bit worrying for the coming Lunar New Year, a Hong Kong company has just the thing to put it right: feng shui underpants.

The lucky smalls have been designed by Yeung Tin Ming, a master of the ancient Chinese craft of spirit manipulation, or feng shui, and will ward off evil spirits and bring harmony, claims Life Enhance, a company that seeks to bring the wisdom of ancient China to the mass market.

"Our feng shui master says that having something lucky in contact with your skin would bring spiritual balance, so we thought lucky underpants would be ideal -- they are as intimate as you get," said Amy Law, a spokeswoman for the company.

Feng shui advocates believe good fortune can be generated by arranging everyday objects in a way that guides invisible energies and "spirits" that emanate from all things.

It is a key part of the ritualism surrounding the Lunar New Year, as each 12-month cycle ushers a different set of spiritual forces and believers will spend time re-arranging furniture and schedules to optimise spirit flows.

On Wednesday millions of Chinese around the world will welcome the new year of the rooster, the next in a recurring 12-year horological cycle each of which is represented by a different animal of the zodiac.

Ancient belief has it that each year reflects the character of its associated beast and as roosters are considered unpredictable the coming 12 months are expected to volatile.

The underpants, which come in red, grey and white and in boxers for men and briefs for women, depict a dragon on the front in accordance with Chinese belief that the mythical creatures balance out the erratic nature of roosters.

"If you have a dragon on your underpants you will be protected," said Law.

Friday, February 04, 2005

William Murchison: When did evolution become untouchable for debate?


07:43 PM CST on Friday, February 4, 2005

Horrifying. The idea, I mean, that attempts are afoot to – wait, you'd better sit down for this one – smuggle a non-Darwinian view of creation into the public schools.

Around and around, for 1,400-plus words, The New York Times' editorial writers anxiously pace, warning of "crafty attacks on evolution" couched in "softer, more roundabout" terms than those employed by long-forgotten anthropoids in their flagellation of John Thomas Scopes.

Today, in one Georgia county, The Times notes astringently, many want to affix to biology textbooks an advisory notice; to wit, that "Evolution is a theory, not a fact" – one to be approached in an inquiring spirit.

Meanwhile a Pennsylvania school board wants to introduce into the science curriculum the study of "intelligent design" – "the notion," as The Times explains it, "that some things in nature, such as the workings of the cell and intricate organs like the eye, are so complex" they must be the work of a "higher intelligence."

The nerve, the nerve!

Anyway, be assured that The Times' ever-vigilant editorial staff is watching. Likewise the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, whose zoology department has undertaken the disciplining of a staff member who allowed a peer-reviewed article on intelligent design to be published in the museum's Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. The errant staff member, who holds two Ph.D. degrees in biology, has been called on the carpet and stripped of research space.

Naturally the Georgia and Pennsylvania gambits are under legal assault and may not survive.

Modern American high-schoolers may not learn as much as their parents did. One thing they learn with minimal exertion: Darwinian evolution is untouchable doctrine. It is, as The Times helpfully explains, "the most well-grounded theory in modern biology." As well-grounded, perchance, as theories that located the Earth at the center of the solar system, until ...

Yes, until. Science formerly had a habit of subjecting even the smoothest theories to challenge. Why the exemption for evolution? Or need we ask?

Attempts to deny intelligent design a serious hearing (as in the Smithsonian case) are the flip side of efforts to expunge from public life most, if not all, recognition of religion: even unto squeezing out of normal use at Christmas time the actual mention of "Christmas." Nativity scenes, prayers at commencements, display of the Ten Commandments on public property, conscientious study of scientific objections to Darwinism – uh-uh. No way.

The fly in the ointment, of course, is G-O-D – a supernatural being formerly rumored to have some connection with creation. As well as with human ends and means.

Intelligent design, though in no sense a religious theory – ask the design scientists if you don't believe me – can be connected to the Summa Theologica, where Aquinas posits (along with much else) that "There are design and government in the world. Hence there are ultimately a first designer and first governor [who] is the first and absolute intelligence." Mr. Darwin, meet Yaweh!

You'd rather not? Very modern, I must say. Modern secularism tolerates the God of the Bible and the Creeds as, at best, an Alternative Viewpoint. Though not a viewpoint worth much scientific attention.

A profound irony of The Times' perspective on evolution science is the specious claim that intelligent design doesn't rise to the level of science. How could it, there being "no body of research to support its claims..."? Why, no, indeed – no larger body than supported, say, the initial claims of Charles Darwin; except that, after Darwin, scientific materialism crowded supernaturalism off the stage and now reigns supreme. Or thinks it should.

Darwinian fascism and bigotry aren't fun to observe: least of all the snooty attempts to close off inquiry, to brush aside legitimate objections to the Darwinian account of origins. Twenty-first century science, it turns out, isn't about investigating and learning. It's about affirming. And, at appropriate moments, keeping your mouth shut, your mind closed securely.

Dallas-based writer William Murchison teaches at Baylor University. His e-mail address is wmurchison@dallasnews.com .

The following are from The Dallas Morning News on-line edition at http://www.dallasnews.com

The right perspective

Re: "Separate science and religion in teaching origins of life," Thursday Viewpoints.

Thank you to Lee Cullum for writing a thoughtful and lucid essay on the evolution/creationism controversy that continues to plague science education in this country.

As a science educator with more than 30 years of experience, I am familiar with this problem. I also know that evolutionary theory is as solidly supported by observations and evidence as any other theory in science. It is the foundation for all the biological sciences and serves an important role in the other sciences, as well.

Our goal as science educators should be to produce scientifically literate citizens who can make informed decisions on issues they may face in life. Further, and more currently relevant, there are no items on intelligent design on the TAKS science test; there are items that address evolutionary theory.

To include in a science class that which is not science does science education, in general, and our young people, in particular, a disservice.

Melinda Ludwig, Ennis

Order from chaos?

Re: "Separate science and religion in teaching origins of life," Thursday Viewpoints.

Lee Cullum says those of us who know science, but have serious problems with evolution, "are ignoring phenomena by which "sufficiently large numbers of molecules ... will catalyze each other into complex systems, "bringing natural order into chaos."

No, we have problems with order out of chaos. This violates the law of entropy, which dictates that entropy increases unless energy is introduced into the system from an outside source. Has there ever been an instance of decreasing entropy without an outside energy source?

Believing such is to believe in the fountain of youth or other fables.

Paraphrasing Ms. Cullum, "To be ignorant of physics is to be ignorant, period."

Roy Reinarz Jr., Lago Vista

Intelligent design

Lee Cullum's suggestion that intelligent design is not science is ridiculous. She is simply unaware of the current research.

Her implication that Darwin's theory is not a faith system is equally absurd. Leading evolutionists candidly admit that guessing at origins is not scientifically verifiable and that they accept Darwinism by faith, not because it has been proven. Indeed, they admit it is impossible to prove origins.

Darwinism is on its way out. Intelligent design is on its way in. The idea that what we see on earth came about by chance is beyond belief.

One need not go to the Bible to postulate the existence of an intelligent Creator. The vast majority of Americans believe God exists and is the Creator.

Lee Cullum is defending a dying tradition.

Bob Wilkin, Ph.D.,

Executive Director,

Grace Evangelical Society,


"Man Offers $10K for Pedro Mountain Mummy"

AP/Yahoo 2/3/05:

"A man is offering $10,000 for the Pedro Mountain Mummy, a tiny set of human remains that were found in Wyoming and have not been seen in public for 55 years.

John Adolfi, of Syracuse, N.Y., said he wants the mummy so it can undergo DNA testing, X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging.

Several photos and many descriptions of the artifact remain. In its seated position, the mummy stands 7 inches tall. If it were to stand up, it would only measure about 17 inches."


"Adolfi thinks Pedro could poke holes in the theory of evolution, though he acknowledges that the recent discovery of an ancient pygmy hominid species in Indonesia doesn't disprove it.

He also plans to offer rewards for pieces or photos of Noah's Ark and for evidence of giant humans who Adolfi says once roamed Earth."

http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&cid=624&ncid=753&e=5&u=/ap/20050 203/ap_on_sc/mysterious_mummy

Must be the water.

In the 19th c. the so-called Cardiff Giant was "found" south of Syracuse, NY down in the Tully Valley near, well, Cardiff. In fact, there's a state historical marker just a few miles from where I live on Tully Farms Rd. marking the spot.

For the easily distracted:




Ernst Mayr, 100, Premier Evolutionary Biologist


February 4, 2005

Dr. Ernst Mayr, the leading evolutionary biologist of the 20th century, died on Thursday in Bedford, Mass. He was 100.

Dr. Mayr's death, in a retirement community where he had lived since 1997, was announced by his family and Harvard, where he was a faculty member for many years.

He was known as an architect of the evolutionary or modern synthesis, an intellectual watershed when modern evolutionary biology was born. The synthesis, which has been described by Dr. Stephen Jay Gould of Harvard as "one of the half-dozen major scientific achievements in our century," revived Darwin's theories of evolution and reconciled them with new findings in laboratory genetics and in field work on animal populations and diversity.

One of Dr. Mayr's most significant contributions was his persuasive argument for the role of geography in the origin of new species, an idea that has won virtually universal acceptance among evolutionary theorists. He also established a philosophy of biology and founded the field of the history of biology.

"He was the Darwin of the 20th century, the defender of the faith," said Dr. Vassiliki Betty Smocovitis, a historian of science at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

In a career spanning eight decades, Dr. Mayr, the Alexander Agassiz Professor Emeritus of Zoology at Harvard, exerted a broad and powerful influence over the field of evolutionary biology. Prolific, opinionated and dynamic, Dr. Mayr had been a major figure and intellectual leader since the 1940's. Setting much of the conceptual agenda for the field, he put the focus just where Charles Darwin first placed it, on the question of how new species originate.

Though Dr. Mayr will be best remembered for his role as a synthesizer and promoter of evolutionary ideas, he was also an accomplished ornithologist. In fact, it was with the sighting of a pair of very unusual birds that Dr. Mayr's long career in biology began in 1923 at 19.

Born in Kempten, Germany, in 1904, Dr. Mayr, while still a boy, was instructed in natural history by his father, quickly becoming a skilled birdwatcher and naturalist. Intending to become a medical doctor like others in his family, Dr. Mayr altered the course of his own history when, shortly before leaving for medical school, he sighted a pair of red-crested pochards, a species of duck that had not been seen in Europe for 77 years.

Though he took detailed notes on the pair, he could not get anyone to believe his sighting. Finally, he met Dr. Erwin Stresemann, then the leading German ornithologist, who was at the Berlin Zoological Museum. Dr. Stresemann recognized the young man's talents and invited him to work at the museum during school holidays.

After two years of medical studies at the University of Greifswald (chosen because it was the most interesting region for birdwatching in Germany), Dr. Mayr, like Darwin before him, traded in a career as a medical doctor for the study of natural history. Quickly fulfilling the promise he had shown, he completed his doctorate at the University of Berlin in just 16 months.

From there Dr. Mayr went on to fulfill what he called "the greatest ambition of my youth," heading off to the tropics. In the South Pacific, principally New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, Dr. Mayr collected more than 3,000 birds from 1928 to 1930.

The experience, he once said, "had an impact on my thinking that cannot be exaggerated." For it was his detailed observations of the differences among geographically isolated populations that contributed to Dr. Mayr's conviction that geography played a crucial role in the origin of species.

Though Darwin titled his book "The Origin of Species," little in the book, in fact, addresses the question of how new species arise.

Today allopatric speciation (allo, from the Greek for other, and patric, from the Greek for fatherland) is accepted as the most common way in which new species arise: when populations of a single species are geographically isolated from one another, they slowly accumulate differences until they can no longer interbreed. It was Dr. Mayr who first convinced evolutionary biologists of the importance of allopatric speciation with the detailed arguments in his seminal book "Systematics and the Origin of Species."

"Organic diversity had at last received a convincing explanation," Dr. Jerry A. Coyne, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago, wrote of the arguments made in Dr. Mayr's book. Dr. Coyne called the work "one of the greatest achievements of evolutionary biology."

Similarly, the most commonly held view of what constitutes a species remains the one that Dr. Mayr promoted more than 50 years ago, known as the biological species concept. Simply put, the concept, first explicitly defined by Dr. Theodosius Dobzhansky, states that populations that can successfully interbreed are the same species and those that cannot are different species. While numerous other species concepts have been proposed and debated, this one continues to reign supreme.

Dr. Mayr's focus on species, both their nature and origins, appears to have derived from his experiences in the South Pacific.

When he went to New Guinea, Dr. Mayr once explained in an interview with Omni magazine, there was a popular school of thinking known as the nominalist school of philosophy that held that species did not, in reality, exist. They were merely arbitrary categories, little more than names.

"But I discovered that the very same aggregations or groupings of individuals that the trained zoologist called separate species were called species by the New Guinea natives," Dr. Mayr said. "I collected 137 species of birds. The natives had 136 names for these birds - they confused only two of them. The coincidence of what Western scientists called species and what the natives called species was so total that I realized the species was a very real thing in nature."

Beyond the importance of his work, Dr. Mayr himself eventually became a living symbol of the beginnings of the modern field of evolution, one of the last survivors of a handful of biologists, including Dr. Dobzhansky and Dr. George Gaylord Simpson, who came to be known as the architects of the evolutionary or modern synthesis.

In the evolutionary synthesis, neo-Darwinism took its place as today's dominant theory of evolution. Taking place between the 1920's and 50's, the synthesis is recognized as a period of conceptual unification, a time of "mutual education," as Dr. Mayr once described it. Laboratory geneticists, studying mutations and population genetics, began merging their views of evolution with those of field scientists, like Dr. Mayr, who studied the diversity and origins of different species. New findings, in genetics as well as other fields, were reconciled with Darwin's theories of evolution. Competing theories, including Lamarckism (the inheritance of acquired characteristics), were tossed aside, producing a much more unified view of evolution at work.

Before, during and after the synthesis, over the course of a remarkably productive career, Dr. Mayr wrote or edited 19 books and wrote more than 600 journal articles. In fact, he was more prolific after his official retirement in 1975 (publishing more than 200 of the articles) than many scientists are in their entire careers. He received numerous major awards, including the National Medal of Science, the Balzan Prize and the International Prize. He once noted that Nobel Prizes are not given in evolutionary biology, saying, "Darwin wouldn't have won it either."

In addition, Dr. Mayr was an ardent promoter of the academic discipline of evolutionary biology, perhaps its most energetic organizer, playing a critical role in founding the Society for the Study of Evolution in 1946 and serving as the first editor of its journal, Evolution, still the leading journal in the field. Yet throughout this work to define his field with broad conceptual brushstrokes and nitty-gritty organizational details, his birds were never forgotten.

As a collector, ornithologist and curator, first at the University of Berlin, then the American Museum of Natural History and finally at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, Dr. Mayr made his mark.

By the time he turned 90, in 1994, he had named more than 24 valid bird species, more than had any other living ornithologist at the time. He had named more than 400 subspecies and several new genera of birds as well.

Perhaps Dr. Mayr's most unusual ornithological accomplishment dates from his earliest work as a biologist. With his having to live off the land while on his New Guinea expeditions, every bird that was skinned for study went into the pot. As a result, Dr. Mayr is said to have eaten more birds of paradise than any other modern biologist.

Though he began his career with his binoculars focused on birds, Dr. Mayr took a serious interests in numerous organisms, resulting in a remarkable breadth of publications ranging from species delineations in plants to hybrids formed by snail species, courtship behavior in fruit flies and the evolution of human blood groups.

Of all his many achievements in the science of evolution, Dr. Mayr may have taken the greatest pride in his theory of what he called peripatric speciation and genetic revolutions, an idea he called "perhaps the most original theory I have ever proposed." It was also his least successful.

According to the still controversial theory, new species can be produced when very small populations are cut off from the rest of the species. Unlike the more general theory of allopatric speciation in which isolated populations slowly accumulate differences until they can no longer interbreed, in peripatric speciation, extremely small populations, isolated in unusual habitats, undergo what Dr. Mayr termed a "genetic revolution." Undergoing drastic changes in their genome, populations evolve quickly to become new species.

The theory has met with considerably less enthusiasm than other of his arguments. Some scientists have said that it is unlikely, unsupported and untestable. Others have defended the proposal of the theory, saying that while the idea itself may not stand the test of time, it remains significant as one of the first explicit theoretical models of speciation and its genetic consequences.

Dr. Gould has also credited Dr. Mayr with sowing the seeds for the "flowering of modern macroevolutionary theory."

While microevolutionary theory seeks to explain, for example, how species adapt to particular environments or how evolution among populations can give rise to new species, macroevolution encompasses a much bigger picture. Macroevolutionary theories examine, for example, how some species survive better than others and how likely or unlikely they are to give rise to other species. It was Dr. Mayr's concept of the species and its role in the evolutionary process, according to Dr. Gould of Harvard, that laid the foundations for many of the theories being tested by macroevolutionists today.

In addition to his several lifetimes worth of work in the science of evolution, Dr. Mayr also fathered an entirely new field of study.

"He created the field of history and philosophy of biology, almost single-handedly," said Dr. Smocovitis of the University of Florida. "By the 1960's there was a generation of historians of science but nobody doing history of biology. He argued for the autonomy and sovereignty of the biological sciences, and that's when philosophers began to rush in. His idea was, we have a brand new science here that doesn't behave like physics and chemistry."

As with the infant discipline of modern evolutionary biology, Dr. Mayr nurtured the new discipline of history and philosophy of biology as organizer, mover and shaker. His own contributions to the field are numerous, including the field-defining tome "The Growth of Biological Thought," as well as books on the philosophy of biology, Darwin and the evolutionary synthesis.

Dr. Mayr was also known as a man of definitive proclamations, a strong believer in the Hegelian dialectic as a way of advancing understanding. As a result, his pronouncements often inspired as many heated rebuttals as nods of vigorous agreement.

Dr. Mayr is survived by two daughters, Christa Menzel of Simsbury, Conn., and Susanne Harrison of Bedford, Mass., five grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren. His wife, Margarete Simon, died in 1990.

With so long to consider the great pageant of the history of life, Dr. Mayr, in his many papers and books, seems to have taken on every subject of interest in evolutionary biology. As a result his views were and still are an excellent and unavoidable point at which to begin nearly any argument of substance.

At the time of his 90th birthday in 1994, with Dr. Mayr as active and engaged in the field as ever, Dr. Douglas J. Futuyma, an evolutionary biologist at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, wrote, "No one will agree with all his positions, analyses, and opinions." But he added, "Anyone who has failed to read Mayr can hardly claim to be educated in evolutionary biology."


Thursday, February 3, 2005

Back to the Garden of Eden - but watch out for T. rex.

The New York Times
January 3, 2005
Maureen Dowd


Do male nipples prove evolution?

Not at all, according to a Web site for a planned Creation Museum devoted to showing that the Bible is literally true.

Nipples may be biologically de trop for men, an "expert" on the site notes, but that doesn't mean they resulted from natural selection. They could just as well be a decorating feature of the Creator's (like a hood ornament). Who are we to question His designs, since we cannot presume to comprehend His mind?

The virtual tour of the museum, to be built in rural Kentucky, says its exhibits will explain many such mysteries, like the claim that T. rex lurked around Adam and Eve - "That's the terror that Adam's sin unleashed!" - and how "Noah and his family survive 371 days alone on an animal-filled boat" ("a real 'Survivor' story").

The philosophy of the Creation Museum, part of the "Answers in Genesis" ministry, is summed up this way: "The imprint of the Creator is all around us. And the Bible's clear - heaven and earth in six 24-hour days, earth before sun, birds before lizards. Other surprises are just around the corner. Adam and apes share the same birthday. The first man walked with dinosaurs and named them all! God's Word is true, or evolution is true. No millions of years. There's no room for compromise."

Personally, I've decided to stop evolving. No point, really. Evolution is so 20th century.

As with Iraq, President Bush has applied his doctrine of pre-emption on evolution, cutting it off before it can pose a threat to our well-being.

Ever since he observed during his 2000 campaign that "on the issue of evolution, the verdict is still out on how God created the earth," Mr. Bush has been reeling backward as fast as he can toward the Garden of Eden, which, if creationists are to be believed, was really "Jurassic Park."

Seeing the powerful role of evangelicals in getting Mr. Bush re-elected, teachers across the country are quietly ignoring evolution, even when the subject is in their curriculums.

Many teachers take the hint on evolution even without overt pressure, Cornelia Dean wrote this week in Science Times: "Teachers themselves avoid the topic, fearing protests."

On eBay, you can even find replicas of the stickers that a Georgia county put on science textbooks to warn that evolution is "a theory, not a fact." Talk about sticker shock.

So much for the Tree of Knowledge. Mr. Bush gives us the Ficus of Faith.

I knew the president, Dick Cheney and Newt Gingrich wanted to wipe out the psychedelic "if it feels good do it" post-Vietnam 60's and go back to the black-and-white 50's - a meaner "Happy Days."

They wanted to yank us back in a time machine to a place before Vietnam was lost, free love was found, Roe v. Wade was enacted; they could roll back science to smother stem cells' promise. (Since it was reported last week that all human embryonic lines approved for federally financed research are tainted with a foreign molecule from mice, the administration can't even feign an interest in scientific progress. Who'd a-thunk that science's great hope would turn out to be Arnold Schwarzenegger?)

I misunderestimated this ambitious president. His social engineering schemes in the Middle East and America are breathtakingly brazen. He doesn't just want to dismantle the 60's. He wants to dismantle the whole century - from the Scopes trial to Social Security. He can shred one of the greatest achievements of the New Deal and then go after other big safety-net Democratic programs, reversing the prevailing philosophy of many decades that our tax and social welfare systems should equalize the distribution of wealth, just a little bit. Barry Goldwater wouldn't have had the brass to take a jackhammer to that edifice.

The White House seems to think Social Security was corrupt from the moment it was enacted in 1935. It wants to replace it with private accounts that will fatten the wallets of stockbrokers and put the savings of Americans who didn't inherit vast fortunes at risk.

Mr. Bush and his crew not only want to scrap the New Deal. By weakening environmental and safety protections and trying to flatten the progressive income tax, they're trying to eradicate not just one Roosevelt but two, going after the progressive legacy of Theodore.

With their brutal assault on history and their sanctimonious manner, they give a whole new meaning to Teddy's philosophy of the presidency. Bully pulpit, indeed.

E-mail: liberties@nytimes.com

Wednesday, February 2, 2005

Doubting Darwin

How did life, in its infinite complexity, come to be? A controversial new theory called 'intelligent design' asserts a supernatural agent was at work

By Jerry Adler

Feb. 7 issue - When Joshua Rowand, an 11th grader in Dover, Pa., looks out from his high school, he can see the United Church of Christ across the street and the hills beyond it, reminding him of what he's been taught from childhood: that God's perfect creation culminated on the sixth day with the making of man in his image. Inside the school, he is taught that Homo sapiens evolved over millions of years from a series of predecessor species in an unbroken line of descent stretching back to the origins of life. The apparent contradiction between that message and the one he hopes someday to spread as a Christian missionary doesn't trouble him. The entire subject of evolution by natural selection is covered in two lessons in high-school biology. What kind of Christian would he be if his faith couldn't survive 90 minutes of exposure to Darwin?

But many Americans would rather not put their children to that test, including a majority on the Dover School Board, which last month voted to inform students of the existence of alternatives to Darwin's theory. Eighty years after the Scopes trial, in which a Tennessee high-school teacher was convicted of violating a state law against teaching evolution, Americans are still fighting the slur that they share an ancestry with apes. This time, though, the battle is being waged under a new banner—not the Book of Genesis, but "intelligent design," a critique of evolution couched in the language of science. And in this debate, both sides claim to be upholding the principle of free inquiry. Proponents of I.D., clustered around a Seattle think tank called the Discovery Institute, regard it as an overdue challenge to Darwinism's monopoly over scientific discourse. "To say, as Darwinians do, that everything has to be reduced to a chemical reaction is more ideology than science," asserts Discovery's John West. Opponents, led by the Oakland, Calif.-based National Center for Science Education, regard I.D. as an assault on a basic principle of the Enlightenment, that science must explain nature through natural causes. "Intelligent design is predicated on a supernatural creator," says Vic Walczak, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, which is challenging Dover's introduction of the concept into biology classes. "That's not science, it's religion."

Walczak calls the Dover case, which has not yet come to trial, "Scopes Redux 25"—the latest episode in the never-ending struggle to reconcile the Bible, Charles Darwin's "Origin of Species" and the First Amendment. The last round was touched off when the school board in suburban Cobb County, Ga., added stickers to its new biology textbooks warning students that "evolution is a theory, not a fact ... [and] should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered." "If you see that out of any context, you'd think it sounds reasonable," observes law professor Edward Larson, the leading historian of the Scopes trial and its aftermath. But the wording, he says, encourages confusion over the everyday meaning of "theory"—akin to "hunch"—with the scientific meaning, a systematic framework to explain observations. Evolution, which deals with events that no one was around to witness, will always be a "theory."

The other salient point about the sticker, Larson says, is that it singles out evolution for critical analysis, among all the potentially controversial views to which students might be exposed. Marjorie Rogers, the parent who led the campaign for the sticker, says her motives were purely to "expand the teaching of science in this area, and to correct bias and inaccuracy in the textbooks." But five other parents who didn't see it that way sued the board to remove the stickers. On Jan. 13, after a three-day trial, federal district court Judge Clarence Cooper ruled for the parents and ordered the stickers removed. Noting that Rogers "identifies herself as a six-day Biblical creationist," Cooper concluded that any "informed, reasonable observer" would know why the sticker was there, and "interpret [it] to convey a message of endorsement of religion." The board plans to appeal.

Ironically, this battle was touched off when Cobb County bought new textbooks that actually covered evolution, after years in which the subject was largely ignored. The same kinds of struggles are cropping up in towns in Wisconsin, Arkansas and elsewhere, as school boards try to implement state curriculum standards mandated by Congress. All sides are keeping a close eye on Ohio, which last year adopted standards including an incendiary phrase about "critically analyz[ing] aspects of evolutionary theory." Kansas, which in the November election handed the anti-evolution forces a 6-4 majority on the state school board, is due to review its standards in February; five years ago, the state was widely ridiculed for eliminating evolution from the required curriculum entirely. The only thing lacking for a full-scale culture war is involvement by the national conservative movement, which has treated it as a local issue. That could change, though. Republican Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who wrote an op-ed article supporting the Dover School Board, says he regards evolution as one of the "big social issues of our time," along with abortion and gay marriage.

The Cobb County decision was a blow to the new tactic of attacking evolution with objective, scientific language. The Discovery Institute, which sent materials and offers of help to Cobb County but was not involved in drafting the sticker, takes pains to distinguish its critique of Darwinism from the Biblical fundamentalism espoused at the Institute for Creation Research, near San Diego. The view that the Earth was created by God within the past 12,000 years is thriving at the institute's museum, where school groups study murals of men cavorting with dinosaurs, before the beasts were wiped out by Noah's flood. The institute's vice president, Duane Gish, a biochemist, has managed to fit every observation from paleontology, astronomy and nuclear physics into a theory derived entirely from the Book of Genesis. The problem for Gish is that, although polls consistently show that nearly half of all Americans believe in the Biblical account, it has been a loser in the courts since 1987, when the Supreme Court (with Justice Antonin Scalia and Chief Justice William Rehnquist dissenting) struck down a Louisiana law calling for equal treatment of evolution and "creation science."

Soon thereafter, I.D. burst into public awareness with the publication of "Darwin on Trial" by Phillip Johnson, a Berkeley law professor who underwent a midlife conversion to evangelical Christianity. As a scientific theory, I.D. is making only slow progress in overcoming evolution's 150-year head start. Johnson and his followers seek to overturn two of the central precepts of evolution. The first is universal common descent, the idea that every living creature can trace an unbroken lineage back to the same primitive life forms, which arose billions of years ago from nonliving matter. Biologists, armed with the powerful tool of molecular genetics, overwhelmingly accept this view. Nevertheless, I.D. proponents are seeking to undermine it, mostly through popular books like "Icons of Evolution" by Jonathan Wells. Wells dissects some of the most famous textbook examples of evolution, such as the way peppered moths adapted a new color pattern for better camouflage after pollution killed the lichens on tree trunks. "There is a lot of ambiguity and dissent about the lines of evidence," insists Stephen Meyer, director of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture. "It's in the scientific literature, and we think students should know about it."

The second concept is natural selection, which holds that the entire complexity and ingenuity of life has evolved by the accumulation of small random mutations. Changes that help the organism survive in its environment, like the different shapes of the beaks Darwin observed on the birds of the Galapagos, are more likely to be passed on. Repeated over many generations, the process produces not just finches but naturalists to watch them. Many people have struggled with the philosophical implications of this theory, and entire disciplines of science are dedicated to working out its details. I.D. proposes an intuitively appealing alternative, that the living world reflects the design of a conscious, rational intelligence.

The classic illustration is the eye, which seems to depend on all its manifold parts working in concert. How, then, could it have arisen by a series of discrete steps? Evolutionary biologists respond that even a primitive light-sensitive spot has survival value, and have tried to show how a series of small improvements could eventually build the complete organ. With the publication of "Darwin's Black Box" in 1996, biochemist Michael Behe moved the argument to the cellular level, using examples such as the immune-system response. They exhibit what he calls "irreducible complexity," meaning that all their parts are necessary for them to function at all. This, he says, is the hallmark of intelligent design.

But I.D. has nothing to say on the identity of the designer or how he gets inside the cell to do his work. Does he create new species directly, or meddle with the DNA of living creatures? Behe envisions as one possibility something akin to a computer virus inserted in the genome of the first organism, emerging full-blown millions of generations later. Meyer's view is simply that "we don't know." He declines even to offer an opinion on whether people are descended from apes, on the ground that it's not his specialty. The diversity of life, in his view, is a "mystery" we may never solve.

For Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, there's no mystery about what I.D. proponents believe: "It's another way of saying God did it. It isn't a model of change; it isn't a theory that makes testable claims." A 2002 resolution by the American Association for the Advancement of Science called I.D. "an interesting philosophical or theological concept," but not one that should be taught in science classes. In fact, the Discovery Institute doesn't call for teaching I.D. in school either, only the "controversy" over Darwinism. But most scientists don't believe there is one. The institute's "Scientific Dissent From Darwinism," whose operative sentence reads "We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life," has been signed by about 350 scientists. (AAAS has 120,000 members.) Scott's organization has circulated a countermanifesto asserting that "there is no serious scientific doubt that evolution occurred or that natural selection is [the] major mechanism ... " As a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, they signed up only scientists named Steve. At last count they had 528.

The real stakes, though, go beyond what high-school students are taught about Galapagos finches. To accept I.D. is to admit a supernatural process into the realm of science. In fact, that's just what I.D. proponents want to see happen, a revolution—or counterrevolution—against what Johnson calls "methodological naturalism." "Is it the obligation of the scientist to come up with a materialist explanation of phenomena, choosing among an artificially limited set of options," Meyer asks rhetorically, "or just the best explanation?"

Behe points out that while most Christians accept a God who set the universe in motion according to natural laws, evolution raises more difficult existential questions. People want to feel that God cares for them personally. British biologist Richard Dawkins has written that Darwin's theory "made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist." But that's not what most Americans want for their children. Margaret Evans, a psychologist at the University of Michigan, has studied religious beliefs in children and seen the appeal of creationism. "We are biased toward seeing the world as stable and purposeful," she says. "I don't know what to believe," one parent told her. "I just want my child to go to heaven."

Well, so does the pope, but the Vatican has said it finds no conflict between Christian faith and evolution. Neither does Francis Collins, the director of the Human Genome Institute at the National Institutes of Health and an outspoken evangelical. He wrote recently of his view that God, "who created the universe, chose the remarkable mechanism of evolution to create plants and animals of all sorts." It may require some metaphysical juggling, but if more people could take that view, there would be fewer conflicts like the one in Dover. In the debate over I.D., both sides acknowledge that most scientists accept evolution, but they agree that scientific disputes are not settled by majority vote. School-board elections, however, are.


Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Evolution Takes a Back Seat in U.S. Classes

February 1, 2005



Dr. John Frandsen, a retired zoologist, was at a dinner for teachers in Birmingham, Ala., recently when he met a young woman who had just begun work as a biology teacher in a small school district in the state. Their conversation turned to evolution.

"She confided that she simply ignored evolution because she knew she'd get in trouble with the principal if word got about that she was teaching it," he recalled. "She told me other teachers were doing the same thing."

Though the teaching of evolution makes the news when officials propose, as they did in Georgia, that evolution disclaimers be affixed to science textbooks, or that creationism be taught along with evolution in biology classes, stories like the one Dr. Frandsen tells are more common.

In districts around the country, even when evolution is in the curriculum it may not be in the classroom, according to researchers who follow the issue.

Teaching guides and textbooks may meet the approval of biologists, but superintendents or principals discourage teachers from discussing it. Or teachers themselves avoid the topic, fearing protests from fundamentalists in their communities.

"The most common remark I've heard from teachers was that the chapter on evolution was assigned as reading but that virtually no discussion in class was taken," said Dr. John R. Christy, a climatologist at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, an evangelical Christian and a member of Alabama's curriculum review board who advocates the teaching of evolution. Teachers are afraid to raise the issue, he said in an e-mail message, and they are afraid to discuss the issue in public.

Dr. Frandsen, former chairman of the committee on science and public policy of the Alabama Academy of Science, said in an interview that this fear made it impossible to say precisely how many teachers avoid the topic.

"You're not going to hear about it," he said. "And for political reasons nobody will do a survey among randomly selected public school children and parents to ask just what is being taught in science classes."

But he said he believed the practice of avoiding the topic was widespread, particularly in districts where many people adhere to fundamentalist faiths.

"You can imagine how difficult it would be to teach evolution as the standards prescribe in ever so many little towns, not only in Alabama but in the rest of the South, the Midwest - all over," Dr. Frandsen said.

Dr. Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, said she heard "all the time" from teachers who did not teach evolution "because it's just too much trouble."

"Or their principals tell them, 'We just don't have time to teach everything so let's leave out the things that will cause us problems,' " she said.

Sometimes, Dr. Scott said, parents will ask that their children be allowed to "opt out" of any discussion of evolution and principals lean on teachers to agree.

Even where evolution is taught, teachers may be hesitant to give it full weight. Ron Bier, a biology teacher at Oberlin High School in Oberlin, Ohio, said that evolution underlies many of the central ideas of biology and that it is crucial for students to understand it. But he avoids controversy, he said, by teaching it not as "a unit," but by introducing the concept here and there throughout the year. "I put out my little bits and pieces wherever I can," he said.

He noted that his high school, in a college town, has many students whose parents are professors who have no problem with the teaching of evolution. But many other students come from families that may not accept the idea, he said, "and that holds me back to some extent."

"I don't force things," Mr. Bier added. "I don't argue with students about it."

In this, he is typical of many science teachers, according to a report by the Fordham Foundation, which studies educational issues and backs programs like charter schools and vouchers.

Some teachers avoid the subject altogether, Dr. Lawrence S. Lerner, a physicist and historian of science, wrote in the report. Others give it very short shrift or discuss it without using "the E word," relying instead on what Dr. Lerner characterized as incorrect or misleading phrases, like "change over time."

Dr. Gerald Wheeler, a physicist who heads the National Science Teachers Association, said many members of his organization "fly under the radar" of fundamentalists by introducing evolution as controversial, which scientifically it is not, or by noting that many people do not accept it, caveats not normally offered for other parts of the science curriculum.

Dr. Wheeler said the science teachers' organization hears "constantly" from science teachers who want the organization's backing. "What they are asking for is 'Can you support me?' " he said, and the help they seek "is more political; it's not pedagogical."

There is no credible scientific challenge to the idea that all living things evolved from common ancestors, that evolution on earth has been going on for billions of years and that evolution can be and has been tested and confirmed by the methods of science. But in a 2001 survey, the National Science Foundation found that only 53 percent of Americans agreed with the statement "human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals."

And this was good news to the foundation. It was the first time one of its regular surveys showed a majority of Americans had accepted the idea. According to the foundation report, polls consistently show that a plurality of Americans believe that God created humans in their present form about 10,000 years ago, and about two-thirds believe that this belief should be taught along with evolution in public schools.

These findings set the United States apart from all other industrialized nations, said Dr. Jon Miller, director of the Center for Biomedical Communications at Northwestern University, who has studied public attitudes toward science. Americans, he said, have been evenly divided for years on the question of evolution, with about 45 percent accepting it, 45 percent rejecting it and the rest undecided.

In other industrialized countries, Dr. Miller said, 80 percent or more typically accept evolution, most of the others say they are not sure and very few people reject the idea outright.

"In Japan, something like 96 percent accept evolution," he said. Even in socially conservative, predominantly Catholic countries like Poland, perhaps 75 percent of people surveyed accept evolution, he said. "It has not been a Catholic issue or an Asian issue," he said.

Indeed, two popes, Pius XII in 1950 and John Paul II in 1996, have endorsed the idea that evolution and religion can coexist. "I have yet to meet a Catholic school teacher who skips evolution," Dr. Scott said.

Dr. Gerald D. Skoog, a former dean of the College of Education at Texas Tech University and a former president of the science teachers' organization, said that in some classrooms, the teaching of evolution was hampered by the beliefs of the teachers themselves, who are creationists or supporters of the teaching of creationism.

"Data from various studies in various states over an extended period of time indicate that about one-third of biology teachers support the teaching of creationism or 'intelligent design,' " Dr. Skoog said.

Advocates for the teaching of evolution provide teachers or school officials who are challenged on it with information to help them make the case that evolution is completely accepted as a bedrock idea of science. Organizations like the science teachers' association, the National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science provide position papers and other information on the subject. The National Association of Biology Teachers devoted a two-day meeting to the subject last summer, Dr. Skoog said.

Other advocates of teaching evolution are making the case that a person can believe both in God and the scientific method. "People have been told by some evangelical Christians and by some scientists, that you have to choose." Dr. Scott said. "That is just wrong."

While plenty of scientists reject religion - the eminent evolutionary theorist Richard Dawkins famously likens it to a disease - many others do not. In fact, when a researcher from the University of Georgia surveyed scientists' attitudes toward religion several years ago, he found their positions virtually unchanged from an identical survey in the early years of the 20th century. About 40 percent of scientists said not just that they believed in God, but in a God who communicates with people and to whom one may pray "in expectation of receiving an answer."

Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, said he thought the great variety of religious groups in the United States led to competition for congregants. This marketplace environment, he said, contributes to the politicization of issues like evolution among religious groups.

He said the teaching of evolution was portrayed not as scientific instruction but as "an assault of the secular elite on the values of God-fearing people." As a result, he said, politicians don't want to touch it. "Everybody discovers the wisdom of federalism here very quickly," he said. "Leave it at the state or the local level."

But several experts say scientists are feeling increasing pressure to make their case, in part, Dr. Miller said, because scriptural literalists are moving beyond evolution to challenge the teaching of geology and physics on issues like the age of the earth and the origin of the universe.

"They have now decided the Big Bang has to be wrong," he said. "There are now a lot of people who are insisting that that be called only a theory without evidence and so on, and now the physicists are getting mad about this."

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Saturday, January 29, 2005


By Bob Park

Manufactures are required to include warnings on labels. Why not text book publishers? Besides, the stickers Cobb County wanted on biology texts weren't exactly wrong evolution really is "just a theory." http://www.aps.org/WN/WN05/wn011405.cfm Science is open. If someone comes up with a better theory, the textbooks will be rewritten. Although requiring warning labels on medicine bottles is vital, on books they become official doctrine. Several readers suggested stickers for bibles in Cobb County:

"This book contains religious stories regarding the origin of living things. The stories are theories, not facts. They are unproven, unprovable and in some cases totally impossible. This material should be approached with an open mind, and a critical eye towards logic and believability."
Archives of What's New can be found at http://www.aps.org/WN

Editorial: The Crafty Attacks on Evolution

January 23, 2005

Critics of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution become more wily with each passing year. Creationists who believe that God made the world and everything in it pretty much as described in the Bible were frustrated when their efforts to ban the teaching of evolution in the public schools or inject the teaching of creationism were judged unconstitutional by the courts. But over the past decade or more a new generation of critics has emerged with a softer, more roundabout approach that they hope can pass constitutional muster.

One line of attack - on display in Cobb County, Ga., in recent weeks - is to discredit evolution as little more than a theory that is open to question. Another strategy - now playing out in Dover, Pa. - is to make students aware of an alternative theory called "intelligent design," which infers the existence of an intelligent agent without any specific reference to God. These new approaches may seem harmless to a casual observer, but they still constitute an improper effort by religious advocates to impose their own slant on the teaching of evolution. .

The Cobb County fight centers on a sticker that the board inserted into a new biology textbook to placate opponents of evolution. The school board, to its credit, was trying to strengthen the teaching of evolution after years in which it banned study of human origins in the elementary and middle schools and sidelined the topic as an elective in high school, in apparent violation of state curriculum standards. When the new course of study raised hackles among parents and citizens (more than 2,300 signed a petition), the board sought to quiet the controversy by placing a three-sentence sticker in the textbooks:

"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."

Although the board clearly thought this was a reasonable compromise, and many readers might think it unexceptional, it is actually an insidious effort to undermine the science curriculum. The first sentence sounds like a warning to parents that the film they are about to watch with their children contains pornography. Evolution is so awful that the reader must be warned that it is discussed inside the textbook. The second sentence makes it sound as though evolution is little more than a hunch, the popular understanding of the word "theory," whereas theories in science are carefully constructed frameworks for understanding a vast array of facts. The National Academy of Sciences, the nation's most prestigious scientific organization, has declared evolution "one of the strongest and most useful scientific theories we have" and says it is supported by an overwhelming scientific consensus.

The third sentence, urging that evolution be studied carefully and critically, seems like a fine idea. The only problem is, it singles out evolution as the only subject so shaky it needs critical judgment. Every subject in the curriculum should be studied carefully and critically. Indeed, the interpretations taught in history, economics, sociology, political science, literature and other fields of study are far less grounded in fact and professional consensus than is evolutionary biology.

A more honest sticker would describe evolution as the dominant theory in the field and an extremely fruitful scientific tool. The sad fact is, the school board, in its zeal to be accommodating, swallowed the language of the anti-evolution crowd. Although the sticker makes no mention of religion and the school board as a whole was not trying to advance religion, a federal judge in Georgia ruled that the sticker amounted to an unconstitutional endorsement of religion because it was rooted in long-running religious challenges to evolution. In particular, the sticker's assertion that "evolution is a theory, not a fact" adopted the latest tactical language used by anti-evolutionists to dilute Darwinism, thereby putting the school board on the side of religious critics of evolution. That court decision is being appealed. Supporters of sound science education can only hope that the courts, and school districts, find a way to repel this latest assault on the most well-grounded theory in modern biology. .

In the Pennsylvania case, the school board went further and became the first in the nation to require, albeit somewhat circuitously, that attention be paid in school to "intelligent design." This is the notion that some things in nature, such as the workings of the cell and intricate organs like the eye, are so complex that they could not have developed gradually through the force of Darwinian natural selection acting on genetic variations. Instead, it is argued, they must have been designed by some sort of higher intelligence. Leading expositors of intelligent design accept that the theory of evolution can explain what they consider small changes in a species over time, but they infer a designer's hand at work in what they consider big evolutionary jumps.

The Dover Area School District in Pennsylvania became the first in the country to place intelligent design before its students, albeit mostly one step removed from the classroom. Last week school administrators read a brief statement to ninth-grade biology classes (the teachers refused to do it) asserting that evolution was a theory, not a fact, that it had gaps for which there was no evidence, that intelligent design was a differing explanation of the origin of life, and that a book on intelligent design was available for interested students, who were, of course, encouraged to keep an open mind. That policy, which is being challenged in the courts, suffers from some of the same defects found in the Georgia sticker. It denigrates evolution as a theory, not a fact, and adds weight to that message by having administrators deliver it aloud. .

Districts around the country are pondering whether to inject intelligent design into science classes, and the constitutional problems are underscored by practical issues. There is little enough time to discuss mainstream evolution in most schools; the Dover students get two 90-minute classes devoted to the subject. Before installing intelligent design in the already jam-packed science curriculum, school boards and citizens need to be aware that it is not a recognized field of science. There is no body of research to support its claims nor even a real plan to conduct such research. In 2002, more than a decade after the movement began, a pioneer of intelligent design lamented that the movement had many sympathizers but few research workers, no biology texts and no sustained curriculum to offer educators. Another leading expositor told a Christian magazine last year that the field had no theory of biological design to guide research, just "a bag of powerful intuitions, and a handful of notions." If evolution is derided as "only a theory," intelligent design needs to be recognized as "not even a theory" or "not yet a theory." It should not be taught or even described as a scientific alternative to one of the crowning theories of modern science.

That said, in districts where evolution is a burning issue, there ought to be some place in school where the religious and cultural criticisms of evolution can be discussed, perhaps in a comparative religion class or a history or current events course. But school boards need to recognize that neither creationism nor intelligent design is an alternative to Darwinism as a scientific explanation of the evolution of life.


Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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