NTS LogoSkeptical News for 17 March 2005

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Genes may contribute to religious inclination


17:38 16 March 2005

Genes may help determine how religious a person is, suggests a new study of US twins. And the effects of a religious upbringing may fade with time.

Until about 25 years ago, scientists assumed that religious behaviour was simply the product of a person's socialisation - or "nurture". But more recent studies, including those on adult twins who were raised apart, suggest genes contribute about 40% of the variability in a person's religiousness.

But it is not clear how that contribution changes with age. A few studies on children and teenagers - with biological or adoptive parents - show the children tend to mirror the religious beliefs and behaviours of the parents with whom they live. That suggests genes play a small role in religiousness at that age.

Now, researchers led by Laura Koenig, a psychology graduate student at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, US, have tried to tease apart how the effects of nature and nurture vary with time. Their study suggests that as adolescents grow into adults, genetic factors become more important in determining how religious a person is, while environmental factors wane.

Religious discussions

The team gave questionnaires to 169 pairs of identical twins - 100% genetically identical - and 104 pairs of fraternal twins - 50% genetically identical - born in Minnesota.

The twins, all male and in their early 30s, were asked how often they currently went to religious services, prayed, and discussed religious teachings. This was compared with when they were growing up and living with their families. Then, each participant answered the same questions regarding their mother, father, and their twin.

The twins believed that when they were younger, all of their family members - including themselves - shared similar religious behaviour. But in adulthood, however, only the identical twins reported maintaining that similarity. In contrast, fraternal twins were about a third less similar than they were as children.

"That would suggest genetic factors are becoming more important and growing up together less important," says team member Matt McGue, a psychologist at the University of Minnesota. Empty nests

Michael McCullough, a psychologist at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida, US, agrees. "To a great extent, you can't be who you are when you're living under your parents' roof. But once you leave the nest, you can begin to let your own preferences and dispositions shape your behaviour," he told New Scientist.

"Maybe, ultimately, we all decide what we're most comfortable with, and it may have more to do with our own makeup than how we were treated when we were adolescents," says McGue.

About a dozen studies have shown that religious people tend to share other personality traits, although it is not clear whether these arise from genetic or environmental factors. These include the ability to get along well with others and being conscientious, working hard, being punctual, and controlling one's impulses.

But McGue says the new work suggests that being raised in a religious household may affect a person's long-term psychological state less than previously thought. But he says the influence from this early socialisation may re-emerge later on, when the twins have families of their own. He also points out that the finding may not be universal because the research focused on a single population of US men.

Journal reference: Journal of Personality (vol 73, p 471)


The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News
Number 723 March 15, 2005 by Phillip F. Schewe, Ben Stein

DEGENERATE GAS STUCK IN OPTICAL LATTICE. The forces that govern the motions of macroscopic objects like planets and tennis balls are complicated enough. Forces among atoms at ultracold temperatures are even more complicated. In this regime atoms (pictured as being waves) spread out so much that they overlap with neighboring atoms. If the atoms are bosons (that is, if the total spin of each atom is an integer) then they all fall into a single quantum state, namely a Bose Einstein condensate (BEC). If, however, the atoms are fermions (the total spin is half-integral-valued), then quantum reality, in the form of the Pauli exclusion principle, also decrees a special status: not a single ensemble BEC state (all atoms having the same energy), but a state in which none of the atoms has the same energy. In this "Fermi degenerate" state the atoms fill up all possible quantum energy levels, one by one (or two by two, providing that the two atoms sharing a level have opposite spins), until the last atom is accounted for. (For the first demonstration of a Fermi degenerate state in atoms, see www.aip.org/pnu/1999/split/pnu447-1.htm.) Now, physicists at the ETH lab in Zurich have, for the first time, not only made a quantum degenerate Fermi gas but have been able to load the atoms into the criss-cross interstices of an optical lattice, an artificial 3D crystal in which atoms are held in place by the electric fields of well-aimed laser beams. Then, by adjusting an external magnetic field, the pairs of atoms lodged in their specified sites can be made to interact (courtesy of the "Feshbach resonance") with a varying strength. According to Tilman Esslinger (41-1-633-2340, esslinger@phys.ethz.ch), it is this ability to put atoms where you want them in a crystal-like scaffolding, and then to make them interact with a strength that you can control, that makes this setup so useful. It might be possible to test various condensed matter theories, such as those that strive to explain high-temperature superconductivity, on a real physical system. (Kohl et al., Physical Review Letters, March 4; lab site, www.quantumoptics.ethz.ch )

A PUZZLING SIGNAL IN RHIC EXPERIMENTS has now been explained by two researchers as evidence for a primordial state of nuclear matter believed to have accompanied a quark-gluon plasma or similarly exotic matter in the early universe. Colliding two beams of gold nuclei at Brookhaven's Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) in New York, physicists have been striving to make the quark-gluon plasma, a primordial soup of matter in which quarks and gluons circulate freely. However, the collision fireball has been smaller and shorter-lived than expected, according to two RHIC collaborations (STAR and PHENIX) of pions (the lightest form of quark-antiquark pairs) coming out of the fireball. The collaborations employ the Hanbury-Brown-Twiss method, originally used in astronomy to measure the size of stars. In the subatomic equivalent, spatially separated detectors record pairs of pions emerging from the collision to estimate the size of the fireball. Now an experimentalist and a theorist, both from the University of Washington, John G. Cramer (206-543-9194, cramer@phys.washington.edu) and Gerald A. Miller (206-543-2995, miller@phys.washington.edu), have teamed up for the first time to propose a solution to this puzzle. Reporting independently of the RHIC collaborations, they take into account the fact that the low-energy pions produced inside the fireball act more like waves than classical, billiard-ball-like particles; the pions' relatively long wavelengths tend to overlap with other particles in the crowded fireball environment. This new quantum-mechanical analysis leads the researchers to conclude that a primordial phenomenon has taken place inside the hot, dense RHIC fireballs. According to Miller and Cramer, the strong force is so powerful that the pions are overcome by the attractive forces exerted by neighboring quarks and anti-quarks. As a result, the pions act as nearly massless particles inside the medium. Such a situation is believed to have existed shortly after the big bang, when the universe was extremely hot and dense. As the pions work against the attraction to escape RHIC's primordial fireball, they must convert some of their kinetic energy into mass, restoring their lost weight. But the pions' experience in the hot, dense environment leaves its mark: the strong attractive force (and the absorption of some of the pions in the collision) would make the fireball appear reduced in size to the detectors that record the pions. According to Miller, looking at the fireball using pions is like looking through a distorted lens: the pions see the radius as about 7 fermi (fm), about the radius of an ordinary gold nucleus, while the researchers deduce the true radius of the fireball to be about 11.5 fm (Cramer, Miller, Wu and Yoon, Phys Rev Lett, tent. 18 March 2005).

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

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

'Trips himself up' . . .


The feeding center at La Chureca dump in Managua. Supported by Hand in Hand Ministries, it feeds 300 children five days a week. (BY GEOFF OLIVER BUGBEE, SPECIAL TO THE C-J)

William Dembski (Intelligent Design, Sunday, Feb. 20, Courier-Journal) has an impressive rιsumι and is brilliant at cloaking religious theory in the mantle of science, but he trips himself up at the end of the article. He says in conclusion, "This is really an opportunity to mobilize a new generation of scholars and pastors, not just to equip the saints, but also to engage the culture and reclaim it for Christ."

He is no different from those who are storming the schools with the Ten Commandments, those who want to turn our Constitution into a biblically based bill of bigotry against certain groups in our society, or those who want to censure our airwaves or take control of our most private decision-making. He wants to claim more souls for Christianity, period. And he wants to use the public schools to do it.

I don't mind if he and others in this movement want to believe in Intelligent Design or teach it in the Christian schools or colleges. Intelligent Design is a belief system and not science.

It wasn't a thorough study of the science of evolution that made Dembski question evolution; it was a conversion to fundamentalism. He should recognize that, and those who tout his writings should remember that and judge his assertions accordingly.


Shelbyville, Ky. 40065

. . . 'Tries to pass for science'

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary continues its devolution, which began in the 1990s when it started devaluing women students and the role of social programs in favor of biblical inerrancy. Now the seminary is bringing a leader of a movement against evolution to Louisville, to teach us what they are calling "intelligent design," an idea that tries to pass for science, but which is impossible to test. This concept is an attempt to push fundamentalist religious views into our schools.

If all of nature can be explained by this concept, then why have 99 percent of the species that have ever existed died out? Why do males have nipples? Why do we continue to have pain long after its use as a signal to seek medical attention has passed?

To paraphrase Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Romeo Dallaire (commander of the U.N. mission in Rwanda and Uganda), I wonder whether the religions of our times will be the instruments of reconciliation of humanity or the instruments of our division and of our conflict and be the source of the destruction of humanity in the future.


Louisville 40206

'Extraordinary' stories . . .

I read last Sunday's paper and was excited to see the special report on Managua, Nicaragua. The stories about the city dump, the residents and the volunteers from the Louisville area were extraordinary and moving.

It seems that so often our news focuses on the negatives of what people do, say or how it is perceived or interpreted by others. Hooray for this report!

Please continue to focus on the positive acts that happen in and around our community, and how people from our community are making a difference with their time and efforts.

The bridges we build in and outside our community, with individual and group efforts, deserve attention. It is refreshing to see the focus on the positive within and resulting from a sometimes-negative world. Please continue this type of reporting.


Louisville 40220

. . . Foreign competition

Thank you for the special report, "Mission to Managua" (Sunday, Feb. 20). What a wonderful experience for those who participated!

By happenstance, a letter from Presbyterian mission worker Doug Orbaker reached me the next day. He recently visited a Nicaraguan town where he had helped build eight houses after Hurricane Mitch (1998). He was stunned to find five of the houses empty. Where were the families?

One man, he was told, works on a farm 30 kilometers away. His wife is a domestic servant in Managua. The other four families are all in Honduras or Costa Rica, where Nicaraguans "get the lousy jobs that no one else wants."

He learned that small, Nicaraguan-owned factories that used to operate in the area have been forced out of business by the increasing competition of goods from the United States and China. Farming is less dependable as new free-trade agreements negatively impact the price of beans and other crops.

Are those of us who witness poverty in other countries paying enough attention to the ways in which the global economy is affecting local economies? Are we aware of the impact that U.S. economic and foreign policies have on the people we meet?

Thanks to The Courier-Journal for keeping the world before our eyes.


Louisville 40207

An 'affront to the truth'


Puleeze! With all of the things we have to be embarrassed about, it was entirely unnecessary for you to headline the coming of William Dembski to Louisville. Your quote of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president R. Albert Mohler Jr., without immediate qualification, saying that Dembski is "one of the most skilled philosophers of science in this generation" was a brief affront to the truth. Dembski is a scientist like Elmer Fudd is a hunter.

People of faith have no need for scientific confirmation -- faith being belief that requires no physical proof. At the same time, science is indifferent to matters of faith, it being concerned only with the physical "what" and "how" of matters, with no interest in the metaphysical "why." Dembski is one of that group that insists on mixing science and religion, which weakens both.

Deliver us from those Victorian Age thinkers who insist that all that is not fully explainable now must be supernatural. And smite their calculators for they are an insult both to Thee and to mathematical methods of statistical analysis. And protect the wascally wabbits. Amen.


Louisville 40220

'Scientifically illiterate'

The bad news is that William Dembski, a clever creationist, is coming to town. The good news is at least he landed a job where he belongs, at a Bible school instead of a real university.

But the real story should have been "American public fails to distinguish fact from fiction." The November 2004 Gallup Poll found that 35 percent of Americans believe that the theory of evolution is not supported by evidence, and 45 percent believe that humans were created in their present form by God about 10,000 years ago. This ignorance is an appalling indictment of the failure of science education.

Why are so many U.S citizens scientifically illiterate? First, religious fundamentalists constantly agitate to insert anti-evolution propaganda in textbooks and school curricula. Second, teachers practice self-censorship. Cornelia Dean, writing in the Feb. 5 New York Times, documented that teachers fail to teach evolution in order to avoid the wrath of anti-evolution zealots. The battle to keep religion out of our public schools is never-ending.

The struggle is, of course, much broader than the evolution controversy. This is a battle for the meaning of truth. Fundamentalism teaches that truth is determined by faith and the power of belief. The result has been creationism, inquisitions and holy wars -- from the Crusades to the attacks on 9/11. Science teaches that truth is determined by the power of observable evidence. The result has been electricity, space exploration and cures for disease.

Which truth to fight for? It doesn't seem difficult.


Louisville 40207

'Faith-based theory'

William Dembski says his work at the proposed Center for Science and Theology will be an opportunity to "engage the culture and reclaim it for Christ" (Feb. 20 Courier-Journal). This statement makes clear that the theory of Intelligent Design, a new name for creationism, is a comfortable, unscientific way of thinking.

A scientific theory, such as the germ theory of disease or the theory of evolution, is based on observation, logic and endless testing of hypotheses. It is always open to being proven wrong, and it can be modified as new evidence is discovered.

Not so, Intelligent Design. This faith-based theory has the answer before the question is asked. Those who hold this view can't admit the possibility that both of the two creation stories in Genesis are myth.

Considering earthquakes, tsunamis, geographical extremes of heat and cold, diseases and all the other kinds of misery humans and living things are heir to, it appears more likely that our world was cobbled together by a committee rather than an intelligent, or compassionate, designer.


Louisville 40243

'Schism instead of faith'

A central characteristic of organized religion is schism. Judaism split with Christianity in a disagreement over the status of Jesus Christ; within Christianity the split dates from the 16th Century, when Protestants broke away from the Roman Catholic Church. Protestantism has fractured into multiple components, as evidenced by numerous denominations. The Muslim faith's centuries-old split is illustrated by the Shia and Sunni sects. Now Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has decided to do its part in promoting schism by hiring William Dembski.

According to the article, Dembski, raised in the Catholic Church, experienced a conversion that led him to evangelical Protestantism and, subsequently, to an advanced study of mathematics, philosophy and theology. For the past few years, he has devoted his energy to an argument that undermines Darwin's theory of evolution and promotes a form of creationism known as Intelligent Design. This argument is all about mind control and nothing about faith.

A universal declaration of faith, whatever one's religious preference, is concisely and beautifully stated by the Jewish prophet Micah when, in answer to the question, "Lord, what would thou have us do?" he said, "To do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with thy God."

So long as we allow institutions, such as Southern Seminary, to think for us, we may expect emphasis on schism instead of faith.


Louisville 40242

The Skeptic's Guide To The Paranormal

Author: Lynne Kelly
Year: 2004
Publisher: Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest (Australia; US edition soon)
Misc: 260p.
Category: general
Keywords: critical-thinking, crop-circle, cryptozoology, fraud, prophecy, psi, shc, skepticism, survival, UFO

A fine book covering many matters of interest and concern to skeptics everywhere, but written to be readily accessible to likely consumers of paranormal offerings. Kelly lays out the claims for the whole range of paranormal claims: UFOs, psi phenomena, cryptozoology and more. She then explains how they might work or how they go wrong. This book is not a mere academic exercise; Kelly has even invented her own form of divination, and performed at psychic fairs with a "success" rate no different than those who pass themselves off as psychics. No skeptic can afford to be without it. It will give you the wherewithal to answer all those questions that crop up at dinner parties, meetings of the knitting circle or football club, and in terms that require no deeep understanding of quantum physics or abnormal psychology.

Reviewed by Barry Williams

16 medals given for science, technology work


By The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — President Bush presented 16 science and technology achievement medals yesterday, to recognize breakthroughs in various fields, including geology, computer software, genetics and neurology.

Recipients of the National Medals of Science and Technology, the nation's highest honor in those fields, included the inventor of the Ethernet networking standard for high-speed data transfer and scientists whose work led to the theory of plate tectonics and safer aircraft.

Medal recipients in science:

• J. Michael Bishop, University of California, San Francisco, for his discovery that the genes that determine the cancer-causing potential of certain viruses are counterparts of and derived from essential cellular genes.

• Carl de Boor, University of Wisconsin, Madison, for contributions to mathematics that assisted numerical computation in science and engineering.

• G. Brent Dalrymple, Oregon State University, Corvallis, for work that led to the theory of plate tectonics, involving the movement of the Earth's underlying plates, or structures.

• Riccardo Giacconi, The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, for research in X-ray astronomy and leadership of major astronomy facilities.

• R. Duncan Luce, University of California, Irvine, for advances in economics, psychology and sociology based on mathematical modeling of behavior.

• John Prausnitz, University of California, Berkeley, for work that provides a scientific method for the design, construction and operation of chemical-manufacturing plants.

• Solomon Snyder, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Md., for contributions to the understanding of neurotransmitters, their receptors in the nervous system, mechanisms of action of psychoactive drugs and pathways of signal transduction in the brain.

• Charles Yanofsky, Stanford University, Palo Alto, Calif., for contributions to the understanding of how genetic messages are read and translated into proteins.

Medal recipients in technology:

• Jan Achenbach, Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill., for contributions to engineering research and for pioneering ultrasonic methods for the detection of cracks and corrosion in aircraft.

• Rodney Bagley (retired), Irwin Lachman (retired), Ronald Lewis (former employee), of Corning Inc., for work that enabled auto manufacturers to develop commercially mass-produced automotive catalytic converter.

• Watts Humphrey, Software Engineering Institute in Pittsburgh, for his pursuit of a discipline for software engineering.

• Robert Metcalfe, Polaris Venture Partners, Waltham, Mass., for work on the Ethernet standard.

• UOP of Des Plaines, Ill., for leadership and innovation for the worldwide petroleum refining and petrochemical industries.

• Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation of Madison, Wis., for support of the cycle of innovation.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Furor breathes new life into aging 'Pandas'


Book used in Dover a dated look at intelligent design concept

Daily Record/Sunday News
Sunday, March 13, 2005

At bottom: · To get the book · Excerpts from 'Of Pandas and People' Until a group of residents donated 58 copies of "Of Pandas and People" to Dover Area High School, the controversial textbook had faded to the background of the national debate over intelligent design.

The first textbook on the subject, "Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins," hasn't been updated since 1993, and other publications have moved to the forefront of the intelligent-design movement.

The book's assertions have divided the Dover community and promise to be a central issue in the May primary. Last week, 18 people, evenly split on the subject, formally entered the race for Dover school board.

Intelligent design's supporters say they want to expose students to alternatives to the theory of evolution. But scientists, including the author of the textbook used in Dover biology classes, say "Pandas" is outdated, full of flaws and lacking a position on basic biological principals such as the age of the Earth.

At issue is whether the concept of intelligent design — the idea that life is too complex to have evolved solely through natural selection and therefore must have been created by an intelligent designer — is a legitimate scientific theory or simply the latest incarnation of creation science.

In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Louisiana's education requirement that "creation science" must be taught in science class. Because it is based on biblical texts, the court ruled, it does not have a "clear secular purpose" and therefore violates the First Amendment's establishment clause.

"Pandas," written by Percival Davis and Dean H. Kenyon, was released two years after the Supreme Court's blow to creation science. The book's copyright is held by the Texas-based Foundation for Thought and Ethics. Incorporated in 1980, the foundation states its purpose as both "religious and educational" and seeks to make "known the Christian gospel and understanding of the Bible and the light it sheds on the academic and social issues of our day."

But "Pandas" was in the works before the Supreme Court decision, said Jon Buell, the foundation's president, and he disputes the accusation that the book is revamped creationism.

The connection is merely a strategy mainstream scientists use to discredit intelligent design, Buell said.

The word "God" is never used in the book. Instead, "Pandas" suggests Earth is created by an "intelligent agent," a "personal agent" and a "master intellect."

Its critics say "Pandas" steers clear of almost all reference to the Earth's age in order to hold up to First Amendment challenges and to avoid alienating biblical creationists.

The book's only reference on Earth's age is this: "Some take the view that the earth's history can be compressed into a framework of thousands of years, while others adhere to the standard old earth chronology."

Michael Behe, a Lehigh University biochemist who wrote one of the chapters in "Pandas," said he is unconcerned that the age of the Earth is not covered because it is covered in students' primary biology books.

But Kenneth Miller, who co-authored with Joseph Levine "Biology," the best-selling biology textbook in the country and the one used in Dover, is one of the most vocal critics of "Pandas." He said the book's hedging on the age of Earth is like teaching U.S. history but refusing to tell students the dates of the Revolutionary War.

The debate that led to the Dover Area School Board's decision to insert intelligent design into its science curriculum started with a mother's concern that the 1998 version of the district's biology book was out of date.

As board members in June debated the merits of the teacher-recommended textbook "Biology," the board's curriculum chairman said he wanted a book that combined creationism with evolution.

"Two thousand years ago, someone died on a cross," Bill Buckingham said at a June public meeting. "Can't someone take a stand for him?"

Buckingham fought to have "Pandas" included in the curriculum as a "companion text" to the textbook "Biology," published by Prentice Hall. But before the board could vote on Buckingham's proposal to buy "Pandas," 58 copies were donated by residents — whose names the district will not release — and several copies are now housed in the high-school library on the reference shelf. The remaining books are kept in a storage room. As of Friday, 10 people had checked out copies from the library.

Eleven parents who filed suit in December over Dover's intelligent-design requirement have not asked "Pandas" to be banished from the school, but the federal lawsuit states the book should not be in the science classrooms.

Even Buell doesn't recommend the book.

"If they would have contacted me, I would not have encouraged the people in Dover to use it because of other tools that are more up-to-date," he said. "The idea of intelligent design and the evidence that supports it has gotten extraordinarily more strong than when it was originally printed."

As for the criticisms that the book misrepresents the theory of evolution, Buell disagreed. He said the main point is valid — that the theory of evolution's basic principal of life evolving through natural selection and genetic mutation isn't possible.

"The authors and we feel those are the most powerful arguments," he said.

John West of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which is now at the forefront of the intelligent-design movement, said his organization didn't have anything to do with "Pandas" and had little to say about it.

Behe, author of the pro-intelligent design book "Darwin's Black Box," thinks, for the most part, the book accomplishes what it sets out to do — namely, getting the message out "that there are other ways of approaching biology."

Behe wrote the book's chapter on blood clotting, in which he states that any one of the many components needed to stop bleeding on its own is like "a steering wheel that is not connected to the car."

He said the entire concept of intelligent design is essentially a debate over random versus directed processes.

"Darwin's idea of random mutations is, I think, at the heart of the big brouhaha," Behe said.

But Miller said it's not true, even though the book may try to make it look that way.

"The book is just a shambles," said Miller, a Brown University biology professor. He said to his knowledge, "Pandas" has never been used as part of any curriculum in the country.

While students in Dover are not required to use "Pandas," Miller said, it's a poor choice even as a voluntary reference manual. "One of the criticisms raised by educators is that this is simply not appropriate for the high-school level," Miller said.

Rather, Miller said he recommends "Pandas" to graduate students. "If they can recognize why this book is so wrong, they know their biology," he said. "If you're a high-school student, you're not going to be able to see the flaws in this."

The mainstream scientific community raises a list of complaints, such as:

The book includes a graphic listing examples of "living fossils," which includes the horseshoe crab, alligator and aardvark. It raises the question, "Why has an organism like the shark not changed for 150 million years?"

The obvious answer, scientists say, is that it didn't need to.

According to Darwin's theory, if a living organism possesses traits necessary to survive in its environment, it will pass on its genes to the next generation. If its environment changes and the living organism does not survive to sexual maturity, those genes will not get passed on.

Also, Miller said, while it is true that sharklike animals existed long ago, they are a different species than sharks today. It's disingenuous to say they have not evolved, he said.

"Pandas" misrepresents paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould's observations.

The book raises questions about whether punctuated equilibrium — the idea that evolution tends to be characterized by long periods of virtual standstill punctuated by episodes of very fast development — contradicts Darwin's theory of slow, gradual change.

But the idea that punctuated equilibrium is "an admission of weakness in evolutionary theory was always baffling to Stephen Gould," said Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education, which defends the teaching of evolution in public schools.

At issue is "Pandas'" argument that the fossil record is missing evidence of transitional organisms. It states, "... fossil forms first appear in the rock record with their distinctive features intact, and apparently fully functional, rather than gradually developing."

But the National Academy of Sciences, in its 1999 booklet, "Science and Creationism," states: "So many intermediate forms have been discovered between fish and amphibians, between amphibians and reptiles, between reptiles and mammals, and along the primate lines of descent that it often is difficult to identify categorically when the transition occurs from one to another particular species."

In the chapter on "Biochemical Similarities," the book points out that biochemical analysis of the bullfrog and the horse show that they are the same distance on the evolutionary ladder from the carp.

The book says this shows a flaw in Darwinism because the bullfrog should be more closely related to the fish.

But Miller said that's an inaccurate interpretation of Darwinism.

"Are these guys intentionally distorting this to mislead readers?" he said. "Or do they just not get it?"

He said present-day amphibians are as far removed from the ancestors of the carp as horses and humans.

"It's clear that the people who wrote 'Pandas' don't understand that evolution is branching through time," he said.

Perhaps the most glaring proof the book is outdated, scientists say, is on the subject of whales.

In "Pandas'" chapter on "Gaps and Groupings in the Fossil Record," the writer states, "the absence of unambiguous transitional fossils is illustrated by the fossil record of whales."

Scientists have long theorized that whales evolved from land mammals, but "Pandas" argues that mammals and whales are so different, there should be many transitional fossils. But none have been found, the book states.

But since the book came out in 1993, scientists have found three of those intermediate fossils or "missing links."

"We have whales with legs, we have whales with feet, we have amphibious forms that look like weird seals," Scott said. "We've got all these wonderful transitional morphologies, most of which were not described at the time even when the second version of 'Pandas' came out."

Another omission, Miller said, is on the subject of extinction.

Throughout evolutionary history, new organisms appear and disappear all the time in the fossil record. "If they were perfectly intricately designed organisms," Miller asks, "why do they die?"

For example, there have been 22 documented species of elephants that have roamed the Earth. "If all 22 species were intelligently designed, why does he need 22 tries for two successful elephants?" Miller asked.

Darwin's evolutionary theory explains it "quite nicely," Miller said: In the struggle for existence, some will perish.

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

To get the book

Members of the library may check out copies of "Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins" from Dover Area High School's library.

The library is open to the public from 7 to 7:30 a.m. and 3 to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

Copies of the book may also be purchased by the Foundation for Thought and Ethics for $24.95 at http://www.fteonline.com.

Excerpts from 'Of Pandas and People'

On the intelligent designer

From page 14: "Darwinian evolution locates the origin of new organisms in material causes, the accumulation of individual traits. That is akin to saying the origin of a palace is in the bits of marble added to the tool shed. Intelligent design, by contrast, locates the origin of new organisms in an immaterial cause: in a blueprint, a plan, a pattern, devised by an intelligent agent."

From page 58: ". . . the experimental work on the origin of life and the molecular biology of living cells is consistent with the hypothesis of intelligent design. What makes this interpretation so compelling is the amazing correlation between the structure of informational molecules (DNA, protein) and our universal experience that such sequences are the result of intelligent causes. This parallel strongly suggests that life itself owes its origin to a master intellect."

From page 150, "Intelligent design (cause) — Any theory that attributes an action, function, or the structure of an object to the creative mental capacities of a personal agent."

"Pandas" further defines intelligent design, on page 150, "In biology, the theory that biological organisms owe their origin to a preexistent intelligence."

On Earth's age

From page 92: "While design proponents are in agreement on these significant observations about the fossil record, they are divided on the issue of the earth's age. Some take the view that the earth's history can be compressed into a framework of thousands of years, while others adhere to the standard old earth chronology."

On transitional specimens in fossil record

From page 96: "The gaps result from the imperfect nature of the fossil record, only a small part of which was preserved, and it seems unlikely that future research will fill them. Support for the theory of evolution must come from other fields of study."

From page 99-100: "Darwinists object to the view of intelligent design because it does not give a natural cause explanation of how the various forms of life started in the first place. Intelligent design means that various forms of life began abruptly through an intelligent agency, with their distinctive features already intact — fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks, and wings, etc. Some scientists have arrived at this view since fossil forms first appear in the rock record with their distinctive features intact, and apparently fully functional, rather than gradually developing. No creatures with a partial wing or partial eye are known."

On whales evolving

From page 101: "The absence of unambiguous transitional fossils is illustrated by the fossil record of whales. The earliest forms of whales occur in rocks of Eocene age, dated some 50 million years ago, but little is known of their possible ancestors. By and large, Darwinists believe that whales evolved from a land mammal. The problem is that there are no clear transitional fossils linking land mammals to whales."

On "living fossils"

From page 88: "Why has an organism like the shark not changed for 150 million years (by the conventional time scale)? W.H. Thorpe, director of Subdepartment of Animal Behavior at Cambridge University in England said: What is it that holds so many groups of animals to an astonishingly constant form over millions of years? This seems to me the problem now (for evolution) — the problem of constancy, rather than that of change."

On genetic variation and natural selection

From page 88: "There is a strong case based on experiment that there are limits to genetic variation, which diminishes the persuasive power of Darwin's argument. Moreover, a growing number of scientists accept natural selection as a reasonable explanation for the modification of traits but not for the origins of new structures."

Dover Biology Furor breathes new life into aging 'Pandas' (Mar 13, 2005)
Parents kept out of Dover suit (Mar 12, 2005)
18 vying for Dover spots (Mar 9, 2005)
Dover CARES about more than ID (Mar 9, 2005)
Dover board fills a seat (Mar 8, 2005)

Arguing our origins


Court battle takes shape after alternatives to evolution are introduced in classrooms
Sunday, March 13, 2005
Staff Reporter

As John Russell held up a caiman, a very small species of alligator, he told his biology students at Pioneer High School to note the animal's same-size teeth and small brain case. In millions of years, he said, the caiman hasn't evolved much at all: "Its mud puddle hasn't changed, so it didn't need to."

Eighteen years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court said that what Russell and instructors like him teach - scientific evolution - is entirely appropriate. Religion-oriented theories of evolution don't belong in science classrooms, the court said.

That ruling guides curriculum in all public schools in Washtenaw and Livingston counties, which follow state and national mandates to teach evolution via plant and animal genetics. Some teachers make room for classroom discussion on alternatives, but those theories aren't included in course syllabi. In area parochial schools, the teachings generally are guided by both scientific and religious beliefs.

But nationwide, the wrangling over what to teach continues, fueled by conservative religious belief. And once again, the courts will have the last word, particularly in the case of a Dover, Pa., school board represented by an Ann Arbor law firm. When that board ordered its teachers to tell students of alternatives to Darwin, a group of parents aided by the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit, arguing that those other theories, such as creation science and intelligent design, bring religion into the classroom.

The terms, the teaching

Scientists point to well-substantiated facts behind Darwin's theory of evolution: All organisms share common ancestry and evolve via natural selection.

Science also uses the word "theory" in a specific way: Evolutionary theory helps explain the fact of evolution, just as gravitational theory helps explain the fact of gravity.

"Evolution is as much a fact as the Earth's orbit around the sun," said David Mindell, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Michigan.

But religious beliefs sometimes trump what's taught in schools.

"I believe what the Bible says - Genesis, Chapter One," said Adriya Pressley, a 10th-grader at Community High School in Ann Arbor. Standing nearby in a school hallway one recent morning, her friend Aliya Amin agreed.

They were expressing creationism, also known as creation science, which holds to a literal, six-day, Genesis-based creation of the universe.

"This is what we believe," said Gladys Pressley, Adriya's mother. Scientific evolution is what her daughter is taught in school, acknowledged Pressley, "but it's not necessarily what she learns."

Some private schools teach what fits religious belief. At St. Paul Lutheran School in northeast Ann Arbor, middle school science teacher Tom Draves said that although he carefully explains Darwinian evolution, students are expected to believe that God created the universe in six 24-hour days.

At the Michigan Islamic Academy on Plymouth Road, students are taught Darwinian evolution, but also that Muslims disagree on whether God specially created humankind or allowed evolution from lower animals.

Catholic schools teach that God set evolution in motion, and that at some point, he differentiated between animals and humans by infusing a soul in humans.

And all around the country, recent discussions of evolution often include the newer concept of intelligent design, touted by a group at a Seattle think tank, the Discovery Institute. The universe is so marvelously designed, say believers in intelligent design, that there must be an intelligent creator - but they stop short of naming God.

Mindell said the debate over teaching evolution is in the news again because of conservative politics.

"It's about politics, not science. There are some who would like to change the findings of science; however, scientific findings are not changed even if unpopular among some groups."

The courts, the arguments

In the 1987 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that creationism advances religious doctrine, and that it can't be taught in public schools because it violates separation of church and state laid out in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In 1999, a Louisiana court ruled intelligent design similar enough to creationism that it has no place in public school teaching.

And now, The Thomas More Law Center, an Ann Arbor firm founded by conservative Catholic philanthropist Tom Monaghan, is representing the Dover, Pa., school board in an evolution case watched by school boards all over the country.

That board decided in October that students will be told there are gaps and problems in Darwin's theory, that it's still being tested and there are other theories such as intelligent design. But in mid-December a group of parents, joined by the American Civil Liberties Union, filed a lawsuit challenging the policy. The board answered that neither creationism nor intelligent design is actually taught. Instructors are merely directed to read a one-minute statement calling intelligent design an alternative to Darwin and that if students want to know more, the school library has copies of a book, "Of Pandas and People: the Central Question of Biological Origins" that explains the idea of intelligent design. The book, by Percival Davis and Dean H. Kenyon, was first published in 1989 by Haughton Publishing Co. in Dallas.

The case for intelligent design is gaining ground, and it belongs in classroom discussion, said Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel at Thomas More. Intelligent design has religious implications, he acknowledged, but so does Darwin's theory.

"What you have to look at is the content of the theory and not its religious implications," said Thompson, adding that including discussions of intelligent design can broaden students' understanding of evolution in general. And those discussions for important for learning, he said.

The teachers, the students

Peggy Liggit, a biology professor at Eastern Michigan University, prepares students to be biology teachers. Neither creationism nor intelligent design belong in science classes, she said, because they are not based on scientific evidence and thus aren't part of the curriculum. If a school would like them taught, she said, they could be included in social studies or language arts classes where multiple views of creation are discussed.

Some teachers, including Manchester science instructor Brad Grebe, a first-year teacher, decline to talk about creationism or intelligent design with their students. "That's something that has to come from home-supplied values," Grebe said.

Others welcome the debate, including Ron Bender, who has taught science in the Whitmore Lake Public Schools for 33 years. Each spring in his class, students who believe scientific evolution debate those who believe creationism or intelligent design. Most years, Bender said, students divide about 50-50.

John Russell, who has taught science 36 years, all of them at Pioneer, teaches scientific evolution but mentions other ways of considering development, including creationism, intelligent design and Native American legends. Sometimes the discussion gets heated, fueled by students' beliefs about religion.

"You see how passionately some kids feel," Russell said.

Public school teachers must manage classroom discussions of evolution very carefully, Liggett said, because they are trained to teach scientific evolution only; they don't have the same degree of information about alternatives.

At Community High recently, Adriya Pressley and Aliya Amin held to creationism while fellow student Nikki Unbehaun talked about Darwin: "No one really saw the origin of life, but I believe we did evolve from primates, monkeys."

Later on in a classroom, quiet, thoughtful ninth-grader Galaan Dafa simply wished for some certainty. "I'd like to think there's someone watching over us."

News staff reporters Casey Hans and Susan Oppat contributed to this story. Catherine O'Donnell can be reached at codonnell@annarbornews.com or (734) 994-6831.

© 2005 Ann Arbor News.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Journals and intelligent design

From Scott Evans

"We all think in terms of design, although not in terms of a hands-on designer."

Fine but use of the word "design" in any other context (besides biology) would likely connote a hands-on designer. Why assume that people aren't going to see this connotation when the word is used in biology? There are words other than "design" than can be used to the same end that carry no assumption of a hands-on designer. Why not evolved? Why couldn't Stephan Hetz and Timothy Bradley have stated that insects' respiratory systems have "evolved to function most efficiently at high levels of O2 consumption." Maybe Hetz and Bradley are lazy, don't care, or are closet ID proponents? Just because ID proponents will pilfer any quote they can find to allege support for ID doesn't mean authors ought to lazily introduce more ID fodder into their publications.

http://www.the-scientist.com/2005/2/28/12/1 (requires registration)

Upfront Volume 19 | Issue 4 | 12 | Feb. 28, 2005
Journals and intelligent design
By Graciela Flores

Biologists often get angry about the publication of studies defending "intelligent design," the notion that biochemical systems could not have been produced by evolution because they are "irreducibly complex," and as such, must have been "designed" by an unknown entity.

Biologists often get angry about the publication of studies defending "intelligent design," the notion that biochemical systems could not have been produced by evolution because they are "irreducibly complex," and as such, must have been "designed" by an unknown entity. But a careful reading of some recent studies suggests that researchers haven't been shying away from using the word "design" in a way that can only be described as teleological.

In the Feb. 3, 2005, issue of Nature, for example, Stephan Hetz and Timothy Bradley, of the University of California, Irvine, state that insects' respiratory systems have been "designed to function most efficiently at high levels of O2 consumption."1 And in the April 2, 2004, issue of Science, Neil Shubin of the University of Chicago and his colleagues discuss the role of several "appendage designs" in tetrapods.2

Hetz and Bradley are quick to point out that they did not intend to imply that the insects' tracheal system is the result of the work of a designer. "We are using design there as a shorthand for an awful lot of ideas, such as that the system has been shaped by selection pressures to have a certain functional consequence," says Bradley.

Similarly, Shubin notes: "I'm talking about the three-dimensional relations among structures of a bone. I'm saying that it's organized in such a way that it allows certain functions to happen. That doesn't mean that it was designed from a blueprint."

But some scientists feel they ought to be more careful, in the wake of the publication of a New York Times op-ed by Michael Behe of the Discovery Institute3 – the most visible arm of the intelligent design movement – in which he supports his thesis by using comments by National Academy of Sciences president Bruce Alberts in the journal Cell.4 "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," Alberts wrote in 1998; Behe misrepresented this quote, according to a letter by Alberts published in the New York Times on Feb. 12, 2005.5

"I would be worried about being misquoted," says Bradley. "However, my guess is that creationists would find plenty of things to misquote anyway." Bradley concedes that in his paper the word design is subject to misinterpretation, and he says that "there is no reason for sloppy language."

Other scientists refuse to self-censor. "I wouldn't like to have to be aware that the enemies are looking over our shoulder, and to have to choose our words carefully," says Miller. "The language in Hetz's paper makes perfect sense to any scientist who reads it. But yes, the enemies could take that and say: 'See? Biologists recognize design."' Miller, who is also the coauthor of a widely used biology textbook, wouldn't use the word design with his students. "They are going to take the language too literally, and it will cause a misunderstanding."

Michael Ruse of Florida State University says scientists should feel free to use metaphors. "Scientists wouldn't even ask questions about function if it weren't for the design metaphor that they've got," says Ruse. He says the use of "design" in recent papers proves the point he has been making for years: "We all think in terms of design, although not in terms of a hands-on designer."


1. SK Hetz et al, "Insects breathe discontinuously to avoid oxygen toxicity," Nature 433: 516-9. [Publisher Full Text] Feb. 3, 2005

2. NH Shubin et al, "The early evolution of the tetrapod humerus," Science 2004, 304: 90-3. [PubMed Abstract][Publisher Full Text]

3. M Behe "Design for living," New York TimesA21. Feb. 7, 2005

4. B Alberts "The cell as a collection of protein machines: Preparing the next generation of molecular biologists," Cell 1998, 92: 291-4. [PubMed Abstract] [Publisher Full Text]

5. B Alberts "'Intelligent design,"' New York TimesA16. Feb. 12, 2005

US, German scientists sequence oldest fossil human protein ever


LOS ANGELES, March 8 (Xinhuanet) -- An international research team reported Tuesday that it has extracted and sequenced protein from a Neanderthal dating to approximately 75,000 years ago.

It is the oldest fossil human protein ever sequenced. The studyled by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and Washington University in St.Louis, is published in the latest on-line early edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This research opens up an exciting possibility of extracting and sequencing protein from other fossils, including earlier humans, as a means of determining the relationships between extinct and living species, and to better understand the phylogenetic relationships, scientists said.

"This research opens up the possibility of getting detailed protein information from past human populations, to make inferences about the evolution of human diet and physiology," saidErik Trinkaus, co-author of the paper and a professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

Trinkaus, an influential scholar of Neandertal, has conducted extensive field work to excavate the fossils from Shanidar Cave, Iraq. It is rare to recover a protein of this age and remarkable to be able to determine the amino acid sequence of this protein, he said.

Similar to the DNA sequences, protein sequences may be used to provide information on the genetic relationships between extinct and living species. As ancient DNA rarely survives, this new method opens up the possibility of determining these relationshipsin much older fossils which no longer contain DNA.

The research presents the sequence for the bone protein osteocalcin from a Neanderthal from Shandivar Cave as well as osteocalcin sequences from living primates (humans, chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans). The team found that the Neanderthal sequence was the same as modern humans.

The team also found a marked difference in the sequences of Neanderthals, humans, chimpanzees and orangutans from that of gorillas and most other mammals. This sequence difference is at position nine where the amino acid hydroxyproline is replaced by proline.

The authors suggest that this is a dietary response, as the formation of hydroxyproline requires vitamin C, which is ample in the diets of herbivores like gorillas, but may be absent from the diets of the omnivorous primates such as humans and Neanderthals, orangutans and chimpanzees. Therefore, the ability to form proteins without the presence of vitamin C may have been an advantage to these primates if this nutrient was missing from their diets regularly.

"We suggest that the absence of hydroxylation of Pro-9 in Pan, Pongo and Homo may reflect response to a selective pressure related to a decline in vitamin C in the diet during omnivorous dietary adaptation, either independently or through the common ancestor of these species," the researchers concluded in their paper.

Battle on Teaching Evolution Sharpens


By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 14, 2005; Page A01

WICHITA – Propelled by a polished strategy crafted by activists on America's political right, a battle is intensifying across the nation over how students are taught about the origins of life. Policymakers in 19 states are weighing proposals that question the science of evolution.

The proposals typically stop short of overturning evolution or introducing biblical accounts. Instead, they are calculated pleas to teach what advocates consider gaps in long-accepted Darwinian theory, with many relying on the idea of intelligent design, which posits the central role of a creator.

The growing trend has alarmed scientists and educators who consider it a masked effort to replace science with theology. But 80 years after the Scopes "monkey" trial -- in which a Tennessee man was prosecuted for violating state law by teaching evolution -- it is the anti-evolutionary scientists and Christian activists who say they are the ones being persecuted, by a liberal establishment.

They are acting now because they feel emboldened by the country's conservative currents and by President Bush, who angered many scientists and teachers by declaring that the jury is still out on evolution. Sharing strong convictions, deep pockets and impressive political credentials -- if not always the same goals -- the activists are building a sizable network.

In Seattle, the nonprofit Discovery Institute spends more than $1 million a year for research, polls and media pieces supporting intelligent design. In Fort Lauderdale, Christian evangelist James Kennedy established a Creation Studies Institute. In Virginia, Liberty University is sponsoring the Creation Mega Conference with a Kentucky group called Answers in Genesis, which raised $9 million in 2003.

At the state and local level, from South Carolina to California, these advocates are using lawsuits and school board debates to counter evolutionary theory. Alabama and Georgia legislators recently introduced bills to allow teachers to challenge evolutionary theory in the classroom. Ohio, Minnesota, New Mexico and Ohio have approved new rules allowing that. And a school board member in a Tennessee county wants stickers pasted on textbooks that say evolution remains unproven.

A prominent effort is underway in Kansas, where the state Board of Education intends to revise teaching standards. That would be progress, Southern Baptist minister Terry Fox said, because "most people in Kansas don't think we came from monkeys."

The movement is "steadily growing," said Eugenie C. Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, which defends the teaching of evolution. "The energy level is new. The religious right has had an effect nationally. Now, by golly, they want to call in the chits." Not Science, Politics

Polls show that a large majority of Americans believe God alone created man or had a guiding hand. Advocates invoke the First Amendment and say the current campaigns are partly about respect for those beliefs.

"It's an academic freedom proposal. What we would like to foment is a civil discussion about science. That falls right down the middle of the fairway of American pluralism," said the Discovery Institute's Stephen C. Meyer, who believes evolution alone cannot explain life's unfurling. "We are interested in seeing that spread state by state across the country."

Some evolution opponents are trying to use Bush's No Child Left Behind law, saying it creates an opening for states to set new teaching standards. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), a Christian who draws on Discovery Institute material, drafted language accompanying the law that said students should be exposed to "the full range of scientific views that exist."

"Anyone who expresses anything other than the dominant worldview is shunned and booted from the academy," Santorum said in an interview. "My reading of the science is there's a legitimate debate. My feeling is let the debate be had."

Although the new strategy speaks of "teaching the controversy" over evolution, opponents insist the controversy is not scientific, but political. They paint the approach as a disarming subterfuge designed to undermine solid evidence that all living things share a common ancestry.

"The movement is a veneer over a certain theological message. Every one of these groups is now actively engaged in trying to undercut sound science education by criticizing evolution," said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "It is all based on their religious ideology. Even the people who don't specifically mention religion are hard-pressed with a straight face to say who the intelligent designer is if it's not God."

Although many backers of intelligent design oppose the biblical account that God created the world in six days, the Christian right is increasingly mobilized, Baylor University scholar Barry G. Hankins said. He noted the recent hiring by the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary of Discovery Institute scholar and prominent intelligent design proponent William A. Dembski.

The seminary said the move, along with the creation of a Center for Science and Theology, was central to developing a "comprehensive Christian worldview."

"As the Christian right has success on a variety of issues, it emboldens them to expand their agenda," Hankins said. "When they have losses . . . it gives them fuel for their fire." Deferring the Debate

The efforts are not limited to schools. From offices overlooking Puget Sound, Meyer is waging a careful campaign to change the way Americans think about the natural world. The Discovery Institute devotes about 85 percent of its budget to funding scientists, with other money going to public action campaigns.

Discovery Institute raised money for "Unlocking the Mystery of Life," a DVD produced by Illustra Media and shown on PBS stations in major markets. The institute has sponsored opinion polls and underwrites research for books sold in secular and Christian bookstores. Its newest project is to establish a science laboratory.

Meyer said the institute accepts money from such wealthy conservatives as Howard Ahmanson Jr., who once said his goal is "the total integration of biblical law into our lives," and the Maclellan Foundation, which commits itself to "the infallibility of the Scripture."

"We'll take money from anyone who wants to give it to us," Meyer said. "Everyone has motives. Let's acknowledge that and get on with the interesting part."

Meyer said he and Discovery Institute President Bruce Chapman devised the compromise strategy in March 2002 when they realized a dispute over intelligent design was complicating efforts to challenge evolution in the classroom. They settled on the current approach that stresses open debate and evolution's ostensible weakness, but does not require students to study design.

The idea was to sow doubt about Darwin and buy time for the 40-plus scientists affiliated with the institute to perfect the theory, Meyer said. Also, by deferring a debate about whether God was the intelligent designer, the strategy avoids the defeats suffered by creationists who tried to oust evolution from the classroom and ran afoul of the Constitution.

"Our goal is to not remove evolution. Good lord, it's incredible how much this is misunderstood," said William Harris, a professor at the University of Missouri at Kansas City medical school. "Kids need to understand it, but they need to know the strengths and weaknesses of the data, how much of it is a guess, how much of it is extrapolation."

Harris does not favor teaching intelligent design, although he believes there is more to the story than evolution.

"To say God did not play a role is arrogant," Harris said. "It's far beyond the data."

Harris teamed up with John H. Calvert, a retired corporate lawyer who calls the debate over the origins of life "the most fundamental issue facing the culture." They formed Intelligent Design Network Inc., which draws interested legislators and activists to an annual Darwin, Design and Democracy conference.

The 2001 conference presented its Wedge of Truth award to members of the 1999 Kansas Board of Education that played down evolution and allowed local boards to decide what students would learn. A board elected in 2001 overturned that decision, but a fresh batch of conservatives won office in November, when Bush swamped his Democratic opponent, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), here by 62 to 37 percent.

"The thing that excites me is we really are in a revolution of scientific thought," Calvert said. He described offering advice in such places as Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio and Cobb County, Ga., where a federal court recently halted an attempt to affix a sticker to science textbooks saying evolution is theory, not fact. 'Liberalism Will Die'

Despite some disagreement, Calvert, Harris and the Discovery Institute collectively favor efforts to change state teaching standards. Bypassing the work of a 26-member science standards committee that rejected revisions, the Kansas board's conservative majority recently announced a series of "scientific hearings" to discuss evolution and its critics.

The board's chairman, Steve Abrams, said he is seeking space for students to "critically analyze" the evidence.

That approach appeals to Cindy Duckett, a Wichita mother who believes public school leaves many religious children feeling shut out. Teaching doubts about evolution, she said, is "more inclusive. I think the more options, the better."

"If students only have one thing to consider, one option, that's really more brainwashing," said Duckett, who sent her children to Christian schools because of her frustration. Students should be exposed to the Big Bang, evolution, intelligent design "and, beyond that, any other belief that a kid in class has. It should all be okay."

Fox -- pastor of the largest Southern Baptist church in the Midwest, drawing 6,000 worshipers a week to his Wichita church -- said the compromise is an important tactic. "The strategy this time is not to go for the whole enchilada. We're trying to be a little more subtle," he said.

To fundamentalist Christians, Fox said, the fight to teach God's role in creation is becoming the essential front in America's culture war. The issue is on the agenda at every meeting of pastors he attends. If evolution's boosters can be forced to back down, he said, the Christian right's agenda will advance.

"If you believe God created that baby, it makes it a whole lot harder to get rid of that baby," Fox said. "If you can cause enough doubt on evolution, liberalism will die."

Like Meyer, Fox is glad to make common cause with people who do not entirely agree.

"Creationism's going to be our big battle. We're hoping that Kansas will be the model, and we're in it for the long haul," Fox said. He added that it does not matter "who gets the credit, as long as we win."

Special correspondent Kari Lydersen in Chicago contributed to this report.


Sunday, March 13, 2005

The mystery flows on as the answers dry up

March 14, 2005

After a flood of publicity, Unique Water's creator has gone silent - and missing, writes Paul Sheehan.

Robyn Marie Beckett died at the age of 42. It may have been suicide, or misadventure, or foul play. The ACT Coroners Court, after examining the death in detail, returned an open verdict. Cause of death has never been determined.

This enigma would have gone unremarked beyond the coronial inquest in 1991 were it not for another mystery unfolding more recently over the behaviour of Beckett's husband, Dr Russell Beckett, following a media frenzy in 2002 over his mineralised water, Unique Water.

Beckett has since become elusive, leaving a trail of broken relationships. One casualty was Narelle Blewitt, who worked for him: "I put my heart and soul into the water ... I did consider Russell part of the family - we were always in contact. After the launch, I saw a lot less of him. Then it all stopped. Russell never returned a single call. Not to myself or any other member of NPHC [Non Pharmaceutical Health Care, Beckett's water company]."

I believe one reason for his invisibility was the speculation that surrounded his wife's death. Robyn Beckett was interviewed by police three times while she was dying. She said she had taken the drug methotrexate because she wanted to die. She also said her husband could have poisoned her.

The court heard she had told at least 10 people her husband had told her he could kill her slowly and painfully with a substance that could not be traced, which is why police went to the hospital. One of her friends told me: "She was afraid. I told all this to the police." Another friend said: "I spent quite a bit of time with her and physically she was OK, then about a month later she was dead." Had Robyn lived in fear? "Absolutely."

Dr Heather Johnston told the inquest she became concerned for Robyn's welfare: "I had a premonition that Robyn was not going to survive this situation." The inquiry heard extracts from a diary kept by Robyn after December 20, 1988, the day her application for a domestic violence order was dismissed, detailing alleged threats from her husband. Counsel assisting the inquiry, Peter Hastings, QC, suggested to Beckett he had engaged in "a campaign of cruelty", which Beckett strenuously denied. No finding was made against him by the court.

His name did not surface again until the ABC did a story about his research into long-lived sheep and cattle in the Monaro region of NSW. Beckett concluded the mineral-rich local water was the key. The first print story was by Peter Bowers, former chief political correspondent of the Herald, published as 'Herd about the cows that are calving 'em up?' in the Heraldof March 29, 1997. A follow-up by Bowers was published by the online Herald of April 6, 2002, together with a cover story in Good Weekend written by me under the headline "Miracle Water?" The story's introduction asked readers: "So, is it the latest in snake oil, a miracle cure, or just a thirst-quenching placebo?"

This question could only be answered by a clinical trial, which Beckett had repeatedly promised. Three years later, there is still no clinical trial. Instead, Beckett walked away from his relationships in Australia, including the Shelley family which owns Bert's Soft Drinks, bottlers of Unique Water. The Shelleys spent about $1.8 million building a new plant to produce Beckett's water, but with no clinical trial to provide momentum, sales have fallen away. "We haven't got the authority to do anything," co-owner Denis Shelley told me. "Word of mouth is the only thing keeping it alive." Had they made their money back? "Not by a long shot."

Dr Daniel Lewis in Melbourne had negotiated with Beckett over a clinical trial, even conducting a limited trial involving 50 patients, and was preparing for a full trial, funded by Beckett. Then contact stopped. "It's somewhat of an embarrassment," he told me. "He struck me as being less comfortable in the academic environment for a scientist."

Jack Fooks set up a distribution network for Unique Water using BP service stations, but the absence of follow-up saw sales dwindle. "I would have expected more from him [Beckett]. It bothers me that something as good as this is going to peter out."

Another casualty is a lecturer at the University of Canberra, who asked not to be named. Beckett had named her as working with him on an academic paper about the water. She told me: "There is no paper." She said she had a personal relationship with Beckett but he had moved on after the launch of the water.

She did not, however, disparage Unique Water. "It's not snake oil. I still use it. I'm worried that by writing about Beckett you are going to hurt the Shelleys. They produce a product that a lot of people believe in." Fooks agrees: "The diehards are still going because they feel the benefit of the water." He estimates their numbers are in the hundreds.

Some of those diehards (for the record, I still drink Unique Water daily), wrote to me after I criticised Beckett in January. Typical was John Kennedy: "My wife had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis a few months before the Good Weekend story was published [and] the Unique Water seems to have worked marvellously for her ... I don't care if it is a placebo, it works for her. We would be very upset if Unique Water was unavailable."

Beckett turned away from hundreds of such people, a new bottling facility in Sydney and a clinical trial in Melbourne, to start again in the US and Canada, taking Tanya Shelley, daughter of Denis Shelley, with him. Why? Two years ago - I have not been able to contact him since - Beckett told me he was concerned his US patent would expire before he could exploit this vastly bigger market. He had also expressed concern over speculation about his wife's death.

He did set up a bottling operation in Canada under the name Aqua Gilgamesh Inc, made by Iroquois Water, a Native American company supported by Canadian Government loans and grants. He worked with a group of Mohawks living around Cornwall Island, Ontario. I have not found evidence this venture is continuing. Janet Kelly, who sells health products in Canada, told me her supply of Aqua Gilgamesh water had stopped months ago. "Iroquois Water has not been responding to phone or email messages, so I suspect they've closed out." I had the same experience. Another dubious silence.


Teens & creation/evolution: Most see God's handiwork


Mar 9, 2005
By Michael Foust

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--America's public schools may be teaching evolution, but a significant number of teenagers aren't buying it, and an overwhelming majority of them believe that God one way or another was involved in the creation of humanity, according to a new Gallup poll.

The poll of 1,028 teenagers ages 13-17 found that 38 percent don't believe in evolution, believing instead that "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so." Another 43 percent believe that humans "developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided" the process. All total, 81 percent believe that God was somehow involved.

Only 18 percent believe that evolution took place without God playing a role.

Mark Hartwig, a social research analyst for Focus on the Family, said the poll underscores the fact that creation itself points to a creator. Hartwig also serves as a fellow for the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture.

"You have to be educated into not seeing the design around you in the natural world," he told Baptist Press. "... You have to be either bullied or ... socialized out of it."

The Gallup poll also asked teens their opinion about the evidence behind Darwin's theory of evolution. Only 37 percent said they thought Darwin's theory was "well supported by evidence." Thirty percent said it was "just one of many theories" and one that "has not been well supported by evidence." Thirty-three percent said they did not yet know enough about Darwin's theory to answer the question.

Secularist evolution -- that is, the idea that the universe was created naturally and apart from God -- is a "minority position" among not only teens but also adults, Hartwig said.

Evolution, he noted, has been advocated for years in school textbooks, school classrooms and even in various TV specials -- such as PBS' "Evolution."

"And Americans are still saying, 'No, I don't believe it,'" Hartwig said.

Adults actually are somewhat more likely not to believe in evolution. In a Gallup poll of adults last November, 45 percent said they believed in creationism while 38 percent believed that God guided the process of evolution. Only 13 percent of adults said they believed that evolution occurred without God's guidance.

A CBS News poll in November found an even larger percentage of adults disagreeing with evolution. In that poll, a majority of adults, 55 percent, believed that God created humans in their present form. Twenty-seven percent believed that God guided the process of evolution, while 13 percent believed in a God-less evolution. Sixty-five percent of adults in the CBS poll favored schools teaching both creationism and evolution, while 37 percent said creationism should be taught instead of evolution.

"Education has changed considerably since the famous 'Scopes Monkey Trial,' but the debate about teaching evolution hasn't ended," Gallup's Heather Mason wrote in an online article. "... Data from Gallup Youth Surveys and adult surveys alike reinforce the notion that evolution is far from a foregone conclusion among large numbers of Americans."

Such polls, Hartwig said, are bad news for the academic world and for evolution supporters.

"They're frustrated by it," he said. "They're pulling out their hair over these polls."

The Gallup poll of teenagers, released March 8, was based on telephone interviews and was conducted Jan. 17 to Feb. 6. The Gallup poll of adults was based on telephone interviews with 1,016 adults Nov. 7-10.

The CBS News poll was conducted via telephone Nov. 18-21 among a sample of 885 adults.

Physicist Is Awarded the Templeton Prize in Spiritual Matters



Published: March 10, 2005

Dr. Charles Townes, a physicist who shared the Nobel Prize for helping to invent the laser, added another and most unusual prize to a lifelong storehouse of honors yesterday. In a news conference at the United Nations, he was announced as the winner of the $1.5 million Templeton Prize, awarded annually for progress or research in spiritual matters.

Dr. Townes, 89, a longtime professor at the University of California, Berkeley, has long argued that those old antagonists science and religion are more alike than different and are destined to merge.

"Understanding the order in the universe and understanding the purpose in the universe are not identical, but they are also not very far apart," he wrote in a seminal paper titled "The Convergence of Science and Religion," published in 1966 in the IBM journal "Think."

In a statement the Templeton Foundation described Dr. Townes as "a unique voice - especially among scientists - that sought commonality between the two disciplines."

The prize was established in 1972 by the investor and philanthropist Sir John Templeton, with a monetary value always to exceed that of the Nobel. Dr. Townes is to receive his prize at Buckingham Palace in May.

Dr. Townes often recalls that he came up with the idea that would become the laser while sitting on a Washington park bench in 1951. In his 1966 article, he said there was little difference between such epiphanies, when the subconscious hits on the solution to a problem, and the religious experience of revelation.

Dr. Townes, who described himself as a Protestant Christian, said there was no reason to expect that the Bible would be all correct. Asked about his beliefs, he said, "I have enormous respect and adoration for Christ and what he did," but he added that he did not know whether Christ actually was the son of God.

"He's closer to it than anybody else I know of," Dr. Townes said.

Arizona Meteorite Crater Mystery Solved


Mar 9, 2005 — LONDON (Reuters) - It's a mystery that has puzzled scientists for years but researchers said Wednesday they have discovered why there isn't much melted rock at the famous Meteor Crater in northern Arizona.

An iron meteorite traveling up to 12 miles per second was thought to have blasted out the huge hole measuring three-quarters of a mile across in the desert.

The impact of an object at that speed should have left large volumes of melted rock at the site. But British and American scientists said the reason it didn't was because the meteorite was traveling slower than previously estimated.

"We conclude that the fragmented iron projectile probably struck the surface at a velocity of about 12 km (7.5 miles) (per second)," said Professor H. Jay Melosh, of the University of Arizona, in a report in the science journal Nature.

Meteor Crater, which was formed about 50,000 years ago, was the first terrestrial crater identified as a meteorite impact scar.

Melosh and Gareth Collins, of Imperial College London, used a simple model to calculate the speed on impact. They showed the meteorite had slowed when it hit the Earth's atmosphere and broke into fragments before it struck the Earth.

They calculated the impact velocity was about 26,800 miles per hour.

"Even though iron is very strong, the meteorite had probably been cracked from collisions in space," Melosh said in a statement.

"The weakened pieces began to come apart and shower down from about 8.5 miles high. As they came apart, atmospheric drag slowed them down, increasing the forces that crushed them so that they crumbled and slowed more," he added.

The scientists said that at about 3 miles altitude, most of the meteorite was spread in a large cloud.

Copyright 2005 Reuters News Service

An Alternative Way of Doing It


Date Posted: Thursday 10th of March 2005
Author: Laura Cobb

Practitioners of Chinese medicine believe that a human is an organic whole. Removed from the values of Western medicine, they view the body as a system whose elements must connect and co-ordinate in order for it to function affectively. If disease and emotional distress disturb the fragile balance, the entire system will be disrupted. Alternative therapy treats the sufferer of the disease, rather than just the disease.

Although many argue that the potential placebo effects of therapy have not been subjected to clinical trials, 1 out of 3 cancer patients are now using alternative therapy in addition to the radiotherapy and chemotherapy they may receive. There are some devout believers that are opting out of conventional medicinal treatment altogether and accepting solutions which are completely complementary.

Alternative therapy is often met with opposition by some groups, most predominantly those involved in scientific professions. However many people unwittingly enjoy the benefits of complementary medicine without realising. Those who apply tea tree oil to spots, bathe in lavender scented water or treat colds with herbal balms, are all reaping the joys of alternative therapy.

The focused and personal approach to health which alternative therapy offers us has convinced many to abandon conventional Western attitudes to medicine and go alternative. But in the student world at UEA, does alternative medicine have anything to offer us? Acupuncture:

What is it?

Tiny, almost thread-thin needles are inserted into specific points across the body. The piercing of skin releases trapped energy and life force, called qi. The flow of qi can slow and even stop when the body is unwell or in a state of unhappiness. Once this flow is realigned the body can return to a harmonious state. If resting in a relaxed and peaceful state, the patient should not be able to feel the needles. Practitioners liken acupuncture to taking a deep breath and releasing old and stagnant air from the body.

What can it treat?

Acupuncture most commonly treats addiction, but sufferers of many other illnesses such arthritis and asthma claim that acupuncture has helped them as do those with blood pressure and digestive system disorders.

Does it work?

Opinion is divided over whether acupuncture works or not. Whilst some patients argue that its effects are far better than any conventional medicine, UEA student Alisha BIO 1 is more cynical. "I sought acupuncture after experiencing menstrual cramps and headaches quite severely every month. I wanted to see if I could overcome them, without anything more serious. Once the needles were inserted she left me, and directed a heat lamp, at my (uhum) womb area. She left the room and told me to relax, but this was pretty impossible with almost twenty needles sticking out of me. This was made even more horrible by the fact that every time I moved my hand or leg I could feel the needles through my skin. When she came back I asked her to remove the needle in my neck as it was hurting me. Eugh! She then gave me a rather weird and painful massage afterwards."

Initially my symptoms got worse, and on the bus home my head was throbbing. It did go eventually, but I think to get the best out of it you'd need a course of a few, and at £25 a time, I just couldn't afford it."

Herbal Medicine:

What is it?

Herbal remedies involve removing the goodness from an entire plant, and not just taking an extract, as done in traditional medicine. The extract can be combined with cream and applied in this way, or it can be ground to powder and diluted in water. Vitamin and mineral supplements can also be used in this manner.

What can it treat?

Experts believe it is possible to cure almost any minor ailment with a herbal remedy, from common skin afflictions and migraines to depression and insomnia. Does it work?

Jen, LAW 2, says it does: "I went to a Norwich Chinese Clinic when the local pharmacist couldn't treat my earache. I was extremely cynical at first, but was keen to try something that didn't involve filling my body with chemicals. The lady was lovely and from looking at my tongue she told me I had a variety of other complaints, such as poor circulation and constant thirst - she was right about all of them! After taking the prescribed herbal powder only once, my earache went instantly. I don't care if people say they're con artists, my earache has never bothered me again."


What is it?

Observing much the same rules as acupuncture, cupping is actually not an interesting sexual practise, but the ancient Chinese art of releasing toxins from the body. A glass jar is applied to certain areas of the back and through means of pressure and heat, poisons are said to be extracted from the system.

What can it treat?

It is thought to promote the circulation of blood through the body, diminish swelling and pain, and also diminish everyone's favourite party trick – trapped wind.

Does it work?

Unfortunately no UEA cupping fans were available at the time of going to press. Although weirdy celeb types such as Gwyneth Paltrow swear by the healing powers of this technique, she even attended an elusive bash with large circular bruises on the back – the marks of one who has been cupped. Not the sexiest thing in the world (see photo!).


What is it?

Sometimes described as listening to the silence between thoughts, meditation is said to stimulate creativity and empty the mind of everything, enjoying a sound and stable peacefulness. To meditate you should sit cross-legged on a flat surface with a straight back and closed eyes. A chosen mantra is then repeated until the mind is entirely blank.

What can it treat?

Meditation is said to bring serenity and calm to the stress of modern living. It is possible that it could therefore treat your mental well being and find a cure for things like depression, anxiety attacks and addiction.

Does it work?

Many people insist on the calming benefits of meditation, one student Sarah, HIS3 says: "I once tried meditation as part of my yoga class. It's quite hard at first to make your body relax, especially in a room of strangers. But the hardest part was emptying my brain of all thoughts. I had to really concentrate on this part. But afterwards I did feel more relaxed and less stressed. I think I would definitely try meditation during revision."

The Face of Evolutionary Design: The Sequel


by Robert E. Meyer

I participate in reader forum with my local newspaper. The editor asks a question pertaining to current issues, and I am asked, along with others, to comment with a short piece on the particular issue. The most recent issue dealt with Intelligent Design. Should it be placed on par with evolution or not? Most of us, at least in some minimal way, said yes.

Two local professors from my state university system, wrote a letter in response, saying it was time to educate the public–that belief in Intelligent Design was religion, whereas evolution is science. I don't think anyone claims that ID "proves" God's existence as such, but that it implies the existence of an a designer. The real question is whether or not science confirms evolution, and that is the nature of the disagreement. A study of the ID perspective, would by default show the flaws in evolutionary theory.

The professors made some supportive comments, apparently inspired by the recent article about Darwin and evolution from the November issue of National Geographic. One statement was regarding micro evolution, and how we observe this phenomenon in the rapid mutations of bacteria strains. From there the discussion turned to the claim of abundant evidence proving macro evolution. But here is a simple observation. Does the bacteria mutate into other bacteria, or does it become, say, an earthworm?

Another statement equated the term "evolutionary theory" with the term "gravitational theory." The point being that we accept gravity as fact, though it is labeled a theory. Evolution thus deserves similar rubber stamping. But let's face it; if I jump off a building doubting gravity, I will quickly become a believer who is martyred at the point of conversion. If I say that I doubt evolution, do I become a Neanderthal? This points to the problem that evolution as they proscribe it, is neither observable or testable.

While one can barely hope to scratch the surface in a 300 word editorial letter, not to mention in the course of multiple lengthy columns, I certainly hope this was not an attempt to extrapolate macro evolution from micro evolution. After all, if a man can run 100 meters in 10 seconds, do we conclude that he can run the mile in about two minutes and 40 seconds? The whole "design" of micro evolution, is to allow an organism to adapt to a changing environment without changing into another species.

The letter is concluded with a kind overture of tolerance, a la the late S. J. Gould, saying that you can have your religion if you want it, but don't bring it into a classroom. If I remember right, Gould suggested that science didn't present any threat to religion, because science is about facts, religion is about morals–they address different issues. I thought that both dealt with the quest for truth. After all, early scientists said that their investigation of nature was like "thinking God's thoughts after him." The assumed antithesis between science and religion is a more recent phenomenon, brought on in part by the unfortunate withdrawal of Christians from many disciplines, chiefly in response to higher criticism beginning in the early 19th century.

If I'm going to play metaphysical poker, I want to be seated with players not afraid to call the other guy's bluff. Let's face the reality that Creationism and evolution can't both be true- one on the weekend in the pew, the other during the week as we go about our academic chores. This isn't one of those dichotomized situations, where there is scientific truth and religious truth, and both are equally correct in their own spheres. We can do without that sort of serendipity and surrealism.

One issue that needs to be resolved is the issue over transitional forms. Most who believe in ID, say there are no irrefutable "missing links", whereas evolutionists attempt to cite certain examples. Apparently there is disagreement over what constitutes a legitimate transitional form. This issue must be settled before any meaningful dialogue can take place. But there are troubling ramifications here. One would suspect most of the fossil evidence would consist of transitional forms, if man spent millennia upon millennia changing from an ape-like creature into his present form. Yet there are relatively few, and their discoveries are trumpeted with great fanfare. How many have been forgeries or falsely identified. It is also worth noting that others who doubt creation have developed theories that do away with the need for progressive intermediates altogether. Francis Crick's "Directed Panspermia", and Gould's "Punctuated Equilibria" come to mind. Why would these diverse, and in some cases, strange theories be presented if classic Darwinian evolution was a "lock"?

Call me a simpleton or make me the "fool of the month" on your blog, but I've got to call it the way I see it, not just conform to be thought of as "credible". Other objections will be presented in future editorials.

The opinions expressed in this column represent those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, views, or philosophy of TheRealityCheck.org, Inc.



Posted on Sat, Mar. 12, 2005

This is in response to John Calvert's commentary "Science, religion debate asking wrong question" (March 4 Opinion). Although Calvert implied that there is a conflict between science and religion in the area of "origins science," there is no debate.

Calvert is managing director of Intelligent Design Network Inc., and his agenda is to convince the public that ID arguments about the teaching of evolution in our public schools should be passed off as science. The problem is that the ID people are ignorant of true science.

Science is a discipline practiced by scientists whose only professional goal is to discover the truth about the physical world and try to understand it. There is no controversy about the theory of evolution in science, because the physical and experimental evidence overwhelmingly supports the simple fact that living species change over time (the definition of evolution).

In his convoluted argument, Calvert made a distinction between "objective science" and "biased science." Let there be no mistake about it: No qualified scientist would agree that these branches of science exist.

Perhaps what he means is that there is good science and bad science. Fortunately, scientists are unrelenting in seeking out and eliminating bad science wherever it exists by peer review, experimentation and challenging dogma until the truth is known. What continues to amaze me is that a small group of religious zealots still insist that their religious beliefs (ID, creation science, etc.) should be passed off as science.

No one is really fooled by these arguments. I have been teaching undergraduate nonscience majors for years, and none of them, including many who hold the same faith as Calvert, is fooled by the ID agenda.

Calvert should take a real science course, learn the scientific method, and apply it to his hypothesis of intelligent design. Would it hold up to scientific analysis? Of course not, because it is religion packaged as science.

Stop wasting our time. There are many serious problems in our world that need spiritual assistance and guidance. The teaching of evolution in our public schools is not one of them.

Biology professor
Wichita State University

'Intelligent design' shouldn't be taught



Posted on Sat, Mar. 12, 2005


School systems should examine the facts before giving intelligent design and similar creationisms time in science class.

Across the United States, the debate over evolution in public schools is again incendiary.

The new critics of evolution promote alternative "the ories" claimed to deserve the same study in science classes as the evidence-based modern science of evolution. However, the main current competitor, "intelligent design theory," is far from suitable for such a purpose. School systems should examine the facts before giving intelligent design and similar creationisms time in science class.

Any reading of the literature of intelligent design makes it immediately clear that it is just an argument from incredulity, not a theory in any ordinary sense. The claim is that Darwinian processes cannot account for the history and diversity of life because life shows evidence of complex design, and that Darwinian processes could not produce design without "intelligent" input. Ergo, presumably, there must be, or must have been, an intelligent designing agent. Nevermind who. For this claim there is, so far, zero evidence.

By contrast, the evidence for evolution is overwhelming. Modern biology, not just "Darwinian natural selection," is a vast body of interwoven observation, experiment and theory, the product of tens of thousands of scientists active over 150 years. Their product is, precisely, evidence: that the design in living things arises in the course of natural processes.

The description of those processes is not just a theory. There are hundreds of cases of evolutionary change observed in progress and dozens of observed speciations, with mechanisms perfectly clear. That the results of such changes over eons of time - at least 3.5 billion years - include complex molecular machinery is no surprise, except to those trying to manufacture belief in a world conspiracy of scientists against faith, or to scientific illiterates.

There is no scientific evidence for intelligent agency behind biological design. But evidence for the making of designs by natural processes is as strong as any scientific evidence we have - in any field of science.

Advocates of intelligent design, such as the Discovery Institute in Seattle, have been selling the same specious anti-evolution argument as if it were valid science for more than a decade. They have convinced not a single widely recognized evolutionary biologist. Yet they prate of "scientists" agreeing with them.

Only the naive, or those indifferent to the rules of serious scientific inquiry, are convinced. Children ought not to be misled about what is good science and what is not.

Contact Gross, professor of life sciences emeritus at the University of Virginia, at prg@Virginia.edu.

'Ghosts' scare off Malawi leader

Ghosts - some taking the form of rodents - have forced the president of Malawi to move out of his state mansion, officials have said. Bingu wa Mutharika has been sleeping away from the 300-room building in the capital, Lilongwe, and only comes there to work during the day, an aide said.

Christian clergy have been asked to help exorcise the "evil spirits" there.

Controversy has raged over the costly palace which housed parliament until Mr Mutharika's election last year.

"The president is no longer staying there and we have asked clerics from several Christian churches... to pray for the New State House to exorcise evil spirits," said Malani Mtonga, the presidential aide for religious affairs.

Another aide who did not want to be named told the Associated Press: "Sometimes the president feels rodents crawling all over his body but when lights are turned on he sees nothing."

Mr Mutharika is believed to be staying temporarily at another palace in Mtunthama, about 100km (60 miles) from Lilongwe.

'Obscene opulence'

Critics have accused him of going back on election promises to trim government spending in the impoverished state.

MPs are having to rent a venue for when parliament reconvenes at the end of March, after a gap of six months.

At one stage, it appeared they might have to meet in a sports stadium and parliamentary committees have met in a motel.

The president justified his decision to evict parliament by arguing that the New State House had originally been built as a presidential residence.

Kamuzu Banda, Malawi's founding president, spent only 90 days in the palace which took 20 years to build and cost $100m.

With its 300 air-conditioned rooms, it is set in 555 hectares (1,332 acres) of land outside the capital.

When Bakili Muluzi, Mr Mutharika's predecessor, came to power in 1994 he refused to live there, condemning its "obscene opulence".

Instead, he used the Sanjika Palace in Malawi's commercial capital, Blantyre.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2005/03/12 19:52:54 GMT

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