NTS LogoSkeptical News for 30 March 2005

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Koran scholar: US will cease to exist in 2007


Khaled Abu Toameh, THE JERUSALEM POST Mar. 29, 2005

A thorough analysis of the Koran reveals that the US will cease to exist in the year 2007, according to research published by Palestinian scholar Ziad Silwadi.

The study, which has caught the attention of millions of Muslims worldwide, is based on in-depth interpretations of various verses in the Koran. It predicts that the US will be hit by a tsunami larger than that which recently struck southeast Asia.

"The tsunami waves are a minor rehearsal in comparison with what awaits the US in 2007," the researcher concluded in his study. "The Holy Koran warns against the Omnipotent Allah's force. A great sin will cause a huge flood in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans."

Silwadi, who is from the village of Silwad near Ramallah – the home of Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal – is not a world-renowned scholar. He said he decided to publish the findings of his research "out of a sense of responsibility because what is about to happen is extremely shocking and frightening."

His fear, he said, is that the world economy, which relies heavily on the US dollar, would be deeply affected by the collapse of the US.

"It would be fair to say that the world would be better off with a US that is not a superpower and that does not take advantage of weak nations than a world where this country does not exist at all," he added."The world will certainly lose a lot if and when this disaster occurs because of the great services that American society has rendered to the economy, industry and science."

Silwadi said his study of the Koran showed that the US would perish mainly because of its great sins against mankind, including the Native Americans and blacks.

"As soon as the Europeans started arriving in the new world discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492, they declared a war on the so-called Red Indians, the legitimate owners of the land," he wrote. "Then they began enslaving and humiliating Africans after kidnapping them from their countries and bringing them to America. Millions of blacks were brought to the US and treated with unprecedented harshness. Those who became ill during the journey were thrown overboard to feed the fish."

Silwadi pointed out that the US continued to commit war crimes and "ethnic cleansing" against humanity by becoming the first country to use nuclear weapons during World War II.

"International law penalizes such crimes," he said. "If these laws were not applied then, they are certainly implemented in heaven. If no one on earth is capable of punishing [the US], Allah was and remains able to do so. All these actions have been documented by Allah in a big archive called the Koran."

Silwadi said he reached the conclusion that several suras (chapters) in the Koran that talk about punishment for those who perpetrate heinous sins actually refer to the US.

As an example, he quotes in his study verse 40 of the Spider Sura, which states: "So each We [God] punished for his sin; of them was he on whom We sent down a violent storm, and of them was he whom the rumbling overtook, and of them was he whom We made to be swallowed up by the earth, and of them he whom We drowned; and it did not beseem Allah that He should be unjust to them, but they were unjust to their own souls."

Drawing parallels between Pharaoh and the US, who share the same "sin" of arrogance and excessive pride, Silwadi noted that the Koran mentions at least 12 times the fact that Pharaoh was punished by drowning for his evil deeds.

The Narrative Sura, he noted, clearly suggests that the US will drown in the sea: "And Firon [Pharaoh] said: O chiefs! I do not know of any god for you besides myself; therefore kindle a fire for me And he was unjustly proud in the land, he and his hosts, and they deemed that they would not be brought back to Us. So We caught hold of him and his hosts, then We cast them into the sea, and see how was the end of the unjust [verses 38-40]."

Explaining his theory about the approaching extinction of the US, the scholar went on to analyze many numbers and letters mentioned in the Koran. He said a careful reading and analysis of words appearing in the Opening and Yusuf suras show that the US will exist for only 231 years.

How did he reach that number? Silwadi said that by combing a number of suras hinting at US sins he reached the numbers 1776 (the year the US achieved independence) and 231. He added the two numbers and the result was 2007, the year when the US is expected to disappear.

In his lengthy study, which is being circulated in many Muslim countries, Silwadi noted that the US has often been compared to a tree that grows very quickly and bears fruit, but has no roots.

In an attempt to find a reference to this metaphor in the Koran, Silwadi said he counted 1776 verses from the beginning of the Koran until he reached verse 26 of the Ibrahim Sura, which states: "And the parable of an evil word is as an evil tree pulled up from the earth's surface; it has no stability."

This article can also be read at http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1111980180248

Copyright 1995-2005 The Jerusalem Post - http://www.jpost.com/

Faith Healer Will Not Lay Hands On Schiavo



Wife Says Doctor Has Previous Commitments

POSTED: 9:51 am EST March 28, 2005

CLEVELAND -- It may only be a matter of time for Terry Schiavo.

With options running out, the family turned to a local doctor who treats disease with prayer.

They offered to pay all of his expenses to come to Florida and perform his faith healing service for their daughter.

Dr. Nemeh's wife said he will not go to Florida because of previous commitments. She said the doctor will pray for Schiavo and her family.

Nemeh has held several local healing services in which many have claimed to have been healed.

Schiavo is in day 10 without her feeding tube. (Read More)

Copyright 2005 by NewsNet5.

Clarkston High fuels debate over origin of life


of the Tribune

Clarkston High School students may be among the few public students in the area who hear opposing theories in the classroom about the origins of life.

Clarkston science teacher Don Dotson says he sees a number of flaws in the Darwinian theory of evolution, which is commonly taught in public schools.

"I find it very difficult to espouse one theory that appears to have a number of flaws," Dotson said Tuesday.

"I do not exclusively teach evolution. I explain to (students) the basics for each of those theories (such as intelligent design, creationism, etc.) and I honestly do discuss the attributes and the weak points of each of those theories. And I believe it's up to the kids themselves to use the information available to make up their minds."

Most scientists define evolution as changes in genes that lead to the development of species. They see it as a fundamental insight in biology.

Creationism is the belief that species have divine origin.

Proponents of intelligent design believe some cellular structures are too complex to have evolved over time.

Other public school teachers in the area say there is no place for these alternative theories of life's origins in the classroom.

"One of the problems in all of this is a misunderstanding by the public on what a scientific theory is," said Donna Thomas, who has taught science at Deary High School for 20 years.

"It's not just an opinion. So that's why (opponents of evolution) often suggest that this is just a theory and so (they) should have the right to present opposing theories.

"But that is not the discussion at all. Science gathers information ... and it is an explanation based on evidence and it's not based on somebody's idea of how things fit together.

"I don't allow any discussion of religion (in the classroom). I tell them that is not what I teach."

Thomas said students don't necessarily have to believe the scientific theories, but they need to understand them.

Teaching opposing theories of life's origins in the classroom has not been a major public debate in this area. However, the National Science Teachers Association plans to release a survey this week showing nearly one-third of public school science teachers say they feel pressured to include creationism-related ideas in the classroom.

In a story published in Monday's USA Today, National Academy of Sciences chief Bruce Alberts called on academy members "to confront the increasing challenges to the teaching of evolution in public schools."

While no school boards have made an issue of it, some area science teachers say they have been approached by parents requesting that these alternative theories be taught.

Pullman High School science teacher Joe Thornton says he tells parents he will look at their material, but he makes it clear that he is not free to teach something other than the theory of evolution.

"Rarely do I have a kid ask those questions, but I think part of that is because I premise a discussion about evolutionary theory with the idea that evolution is a scientific fact," Thornton said.

"And then I go on to say that teaching evolution does not mean that you have to question anything you might feel spiritually or religiously. ... That being said, (students) also need to understand the currently accepted scientific ideas about the evolution of species."

Moscow High School Principal Bob Celebrezze said his staff also has been asked to include alternate theories in the curriculum.

"It's not part of the state curriculum currently and we don't see it being part of the state curriculum in the future," Celebrezze said.

"I think the place (to teach creation-related theories) would be in the home -- not in the public schools at this time."

At Logos Christian School in Moscow, intelligent design and creationism are the accepted explanations for the origins of life.

But that doesn't mean students don't hear all the theories, according to Wes Struble, who teaches science at the high school.

"We go through all the aspects (of evolution) and what the current views are. And then I say, 'All right, kids, you need to know this is the current accepted view.' I want them to be completely cognizant of the fact that this is what's out there," Struble said.

Students also are taught other minority interpretations, such as intelligent design and creationism.

Struble, who also has taught science for more than 20 years, says his school is not threatened by opposing views.

"We have nothing to be afraid of looking at all the facts and all the theories," Struble said. "Facts are facts. Most scientists, if they're being honest, admit that scientists interpret the facts, they don't make the facts."

Clarkston's Dotson said he believes it's his responsibility to present the various options to his students so they can make an informed choice.

"I feel we're doing a disservice if we don't leave the door open for alternative theories or methodologies on how the universe and life came about," Dotson said.

Hedberg may be contacted at khedberg@lmtribune.com

Not Intelligent, and Surely Not Science


By Michael Shermer, Michael Shermer is founding publisher of Skeptic magazine and the author of "Science Friction: Where the Known Meets the Unknown" (Times Books, 2005).

According to intelligent-design theory, life is too complex to have evolved by natural forces. Therefore life must have been created by a supernatural force — an intelligent designer. ID theorists argue that because such design can be inferred through the methods of science, IDT should be given equal time alongside evolutionary theory in public school science classes. Nine states have recently proposed legislation that would require just that.

The evolution-creation legal battle began in 1925 with the Scopes "monkey" trial, over the banning of the teaching of evolution in Tennessee. The controversy caused textbook publishers and state boards of education to cease teaching evolution — until the Soviets launched Sputnik in the late 1950s and the United States realized it was falling behind in the sciences.

Creationists responded by passing equal-time laws that required the teaching of both creationism and evolution, a strategy defeated in a 1968 Arkansas trial that found that such a law attempted to "establish religion" in a public school and was therefore unconstitutional. This led to new equal-time laws covering "creation science" and "evolution science." In 1987, the Supreme Court, by a vote of 7 to 2, said teaching creation science "impermissibly endorses religion by advancing the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind."

This history explains why proponents of intelligent design are careful to never specify the true, religious nature of their theory and to insist that what they are doing is science. For example, leading ID scholar William Dembski wrote in his 2003 book, "The Design Revolution": "Intelligent design is a strictly scientific theory devoid of religious commitments. Whereas the creator underlying scientific creationism conforms to a strict, literalist interpretation of the Bible, the designer underlying intelligent design need not even be a deity."

But let's be clear: Intelligent-design theory is not science. The proof is in the pudding. Scientists, including scientists who are Christians, do not use IDT when they do science because it offers nothing in the way of testable hypotheses. Lee Anne Chaney, professor of biology at Whitworth College, a Christian institution, wrote in a 1995 article: "As a Christian, part of my belief system is that God is ultimately responsible. But as a biologist, I need to look at the evidence…. I don't think intelligent design is very helpful because it does not provide things that are refutable — there is no way in the world you can show it's not true. Drawing inferences about the deity does not seem to me to be the function of science because it's very subjective."

Intelligent-design theory lacks, for instance, a hypothesis of the mechanics of the design, something akin to natural selection in evolution. Natural selection can and has been observed and tested, and Charles Darwin's theory has been refined.

Intelligent-design theorists admit the difference, at least among themselves. Here is ID proponent Paul Nelson, writing last year in Touchstone, a Christian magazine: "Right now, we've got a bag of powerful intuitions, and a handful of notions such as 'irreducible complexity' and 'specified complexity' — but, as yet, no general theory of biological design."

If intelligent design is not science, then what is it? One of its originators, Phillip Johnson, a law professor at UC Berkeley, wrote in a 1999 article: "The objective is to convince people that Darwinism is inherently atheistic, thus shifting the debate from creationism versus evolution to the existence of God versus the nonexistence of God. From there people are introduced to 'the truth' of the Bible and then 'the question of sin' and finally 'introduced to Jesus.' "

On March 9, I debated ID scholar Stephen Meyer at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo. After two hours of debate over the scientific merits (or lack thereof) of IDT, Meyer admitted in the question-and-answer period that he thinks that the intelligent designer is the Judeo-Christian God and that suboptimal designs and deadly diseases are not examples of an unintelligent or malevolent designer, but instead were caused by "the fall" in the Garden of Eden. Dembski has also told me privately that he believes the intelligent designer is the God of Abraham.

The term "intelligent design" is nothing more than a linguistic place-filler for something unexplained by science. It is saying, in essence, that if there is no natural explanation for X, then the explanation must be a supernatural one. Proponents of intelligent design cannot imagine, for example, how the bacterial flagellum (such as the little tail that propels sperm cells) could have evolved; ergo, they conclude, it was intelligently designed. But saying "intelligent design did it" does not explain anything. Scientists would want to know how and when ID did it, and what forces ID used.

In fact, invoking intelligent design as God's place-filler can only result in the naturalization of the deity. God becomes just another part of the natural world, and thereby loses the transcendent mystery and divinity that define the boundary between religion and science.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Science Fiction and Science Fact



What the students of Caltech are reading could have an impact on us all.

By John Sutherland, John Sutherland is an emeritus professor at University College, London, and visiting professor of literature at Caltech.

Cowboys are, I suspect, astute critics of Westerns. And young scientists, I have discovered, having taught them at Caltech, are perceptive readers of science fiction.

Caltech is not thought of as a bookish place. You don't gain entrance by being well read. Near-genius proficiency in mathematics helps, as does a willingness to work 10 hours a day, seven days a week.

But Caltech undergraduates — a.k.a. Techers — do consume science fiction, lots of it. And what is the Techers' favorite text? Orson Scott Card's "Ender's Game." In a pre-course questionnaire last year, more than half of the students in my English class came up with that title as best ever. Google "Caltech + Ender's" and you'll get nearly 400 hits from student blogs and the mind-bending games that Techers relax with.

One doesn't need Freud to work out why Card's novel is popular. "Ender's Game" tells the story of an infant prodigy, Andrew Wiggin (nicknamed Ender), who is torn from the bosom of his family at 6 to be trained in "Battle School." Earth is under threat from aliens — the Buggers. Future war is waged as a computer game. And who are the virtuosos of the game console? Kids. Who are the best de-Buggers? Not Donald Rumsfeld's generation.

To gain entrance to Caltech, two things are necessary. You must be gifted. And you must sacrifice much of what makes childhood fun in the service of that gift. Moreover, you must compete — ferociously — to get to the top. Excellence is a harsh mistress.

On the admissions website is a revealing statement by Robin Deis (class of 2004), describing the school for prospective entrants: "Have you read/seen Harry Potter? Have you seen X-Men? That's what Caltech is — a school of (mentally) superpowered mutants." This, believe it or not, is posted to attract, not repel, would-be Techers.

Harry Potter, the bespectacled nerd with Merlin powers, and the supernaturally endowed X-Men (who should really be called X-Kids) can never quite join the human race out of which they evolved. Why? Because they are too different. With great power, to paraphrase another sad super-mutant, comes great loneliness.

Would Harry, for all the wonderful abracadabra of Hogwarts, not yearn to be a normal child? Would the X-Kids, for all their ability to hurl thunderbolts, not rather throw baseballs, watch bad TV and hang out at the Galleria? Card's novel is to Caltech students what "Catcher in the Rye" and "Huckleberry Finn" are in other establishments. It articulates the stress of coming of age in a world where you don't fit — not because you are lacking in something but because God gave you too much of it.

Runner-up to Card in the current science fiction favorites list is Caltech alumnus David Brin. An astrophysicist, Brin takes an Olympian view of the human condition. His fiction is permeated with an H.G. Wellsian optimism: If only mankind (as deaf as it is dumb) would open its ears and listen to the scientist (Brin, that is). If it does, a future as glorious as that prophesied in Isaac Asimov's "Foundation" tetralogy beckons. Brin, as it happens, has written a finale to Asimov's sequence, "Foundation's Triumph." For which read, "triumphant, if only."

Caltech students, as I observe them, dislike what they call "scientophobic" science fiction. Dystopian works like John Wyndham's "Day of the Triffids," in which Earth is ravaged by the inventions of irresponsible scientists, go down badly. Class discussions of science fiction invariably elicit the opinion that science can — if sufficiently funded by nonscientists — solve anything. Literally anything. AIDS, global warming, a meteor strike, bird flu, Third World poverty can all be dealt with if enough resources (i.e. Caltech brainpower + limitless tax dollars) are invested.

It's a big if. Society, on the whole, doesn't listen to scientists — unless they are bearing good news at minimal cost to the citizen and no risk to the politicians' reelection. This is the theme of Caltech professor David Goodstein's jeremiad, "Out of Gas," published last year. Goodstein argues that "civilization as we know it will come to an end sometime in this century unless we can find a way to live without fossil fuels." Science, as Goodstein explains, has a way. Several in fact. But "unfortunately, our present national and international leadership is reluctant to acknowledge that there is a problem." The crisis, Goodstein prophesies, "will occur, and it will be painful." Painful, like what happened to the dinosaurs.

It sounds like science fiction, but it's science fact. As in the Card and Brin fantasies beloved by the students, Goodstein conceives a scientific heroism that can save the planet. The difference is that Goodstein seems, in his adult wisdom, to have outgrown the idealism of youth. Salvation, he thinks, is improbable. Interestingly, when he offered a public debate at Caltech on his "Out of Gas" thesis, Goodstein encountered student opposition. Not because his science is bad (it isn't, his peers testify) nor because he makes his case badly (he is a brilliant lecturer) but because the students are — there is no other word for it — more hopeful than he is.

Goodstein's is another and quite different kind of loneliness that one encounters at Caltech — the loneliness of the (adult) voice in the wilderness. And, unless we learn to listen to what the lonely scientists, young and old, are saying, the wilderness is where we may all be sometime in this century.

Faith healer's popularity reflects belief in alternatives


Tuesday, March 29, 2005
Harlan Spector
Plain Dealer Reporter

Opinion polls about prayer and health should leave no one surprised at the growing popularity of local faith healer Dr. Issam Nemeh. Praying is by far the most popular form of alternative medicine in America.

While academics debate the influence of prayer on health, Nemeh's healing ceremonies throughout Greater Cleveland revive questions about whether miracle cures are possible or provable.

Despite testimonials of people who say they were cured of multiple sclerosis and other ailments by Nemeh and his healing team, several experts said not one case of miracle healing has ever been clinically proven.

Believers counter that science is not capable of measuring God's work.

"People in the hospital, 80 percent of them pray to get better," said Joan Fox, a researcher at the Center for Integrative Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic. "So why when we have a Dr. Nemeh who prays over us, are we amazed?"

Fox doesn't necessarily buy into miracle healing. But she believes the power of a person's thoughts and expectations can directly affect health. She is studying hands-on energy healing in prostate cancer patients, with a $300,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Christian faith healing in America began with 19th-century evangelists, and experienced a rebirth with Oral Roberts' radio broadcasts in the 1950s, according to a January report in CQ Researcher, a publication of Congressional Quarterly.

"Since then," wrote author Sarah Glazer, "healers and TV evangelists like Pat Robertson have found a durable following for their reputed ability to call on God to raise crippled congregates from their wheelchairs or let blind men see."

The only solid evidence that prayer benefits health, Glazer wrote, is studies that show regular churchgoers live longer. Even that finding may be tainted by the possibility that healthier people are more likely to make it to church.

"Prayer and healing studies are unreliable," said Nancy Berlinger of the Hastings Center, a bioethics research institute. "The only ones that seem to hold up are ones that demonstrate a correlation between longevity and churchgoing."

Yet psychiatry professor Dr. Harold Koenig of the Duke University Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health, says religious faith has a powerful effect on the body's healing process.

"There is no scientific evidence that faith healing actually occurs, but there is scientific reason it might be true, based on the mind-body relationship," Koenig said.

He added that science simply cannot prove whether God answers people's prayers.

James Randi, author of the 1989 book "The Faith Healers," said he investigated 104 claims of miracle cures and found none of them were true.

"They belonged to three classes," he said in an interview from the James Randi Educational Foundation in Florida. "First, people who never had the disease in the first place. The second class are people who still had the disease but refused to acknowledge they had it. The third group are those who were already dead by the time we investigated them."

Hector Avalos, an assistant professor of religious studies at Iowa State University, is a former Pentecostal faith healer. He now dismisses the possibility that hands-on healing can cure illness.

"How many people have been followed up on from these services?" Avalos said in an interview. "People will say they are healed for a variety of social and psychological reasons. When people say they are healed, they mean they think they're healed."

Nemeh, a 50-year-old doctor from Bay Village, has drawn thousands of followers to healing services at Catholic churches. He is a licensed medical doctor who gave up anesthesiology to practice acupuncture. The home page of his Web site, www.drnemeh.com, features a schedule of healing services, a link to testimonials and promotion of an inspirational CD recorded by his 17-year-old daughter, Ashley.

Nemeh's wife, Cathy, who ministers with him, said his private practice in Rocky River does not profit from the popularity of the healing ceremonies. The practice charges $250 for an acupuncture session, which includes a prayer, she said.

She said recent TV coverage has generated "hundreds and hundreds" of phone calls.

"We have people come just for prayer. He doesn't charge them," she said. "It's not about the money, it's about God."

Asked if her husband would agree to an interview, Cathy Nemeh responded, "Do you believe in miracles?"

She then said Nemeh doesn't like to do interviews. "He doesn't want to focus on himself. He's a humble man."

Cathy Nemeh said God is working through a medical doctor to heal the sick.

Thomas Dilling, executive director of the Ohio State Medical Board, said he sees a potential problem if Nemeh holds himself up as a medical doctor and a spiritual healer.

"One of the issues here seems to be how he is viewed by the public that comes to the prayers," Dilling said. "Are they looking at him in a different light because he's a physician? Does that alter their relationship with their current treating physicians or with him?"

Stephen Post, a bioethicist and professor of religious studies at Case Western Reserve University, agrees. But it shouldn't be a problem if Nemeh makes it clear that his healing services are complementary, and not an alternative to conventional medicine, Post said.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:

hspector@plaind.com, 216-999-4543

© 2005 The Plain Dealer.

Creationism vs. Evolution: Learn from your ancestors


by Jim Smith
The Daily Barometer

Since the installation of Bush in 2000, there has been a movement steadily growing among the Christian right to once again put creationism on the same level as evolution in classrooms around the country. The most high-profile of these efforts was the recently ended practice in Georgia of placing stickers on science textbooks pointing out that evolution is simply theory and not fact. If we follow this logic, we should put disclaimers on texts warning children about the unproven "theory" of gravitation, which is no more a fact than evolution.

Currently there are 19 states considering legislation that would, in most cases, propose the "intelligent design" concept as an alternative to evolution. This, of course, is the notion favored by many religious people seeking to somehow reconcile their increasingly desperate and vague notions of God with observed evidence. It runs something like this: "Using our most advanced sciences, we cannot currently explain the origin of the universe, therefore we will not ever be able to do so, and this implies the existence of a divine creator."

The problem here is the same one that has crippled all supposed arguments for the existence of God. It assumes that our current state of understanding is the pinnacle of human achievement. The idea that we have reached an ultimate understanding is just as foolish today as it was when the Catholic Church was first offended by the notion of heliocentric astronomy. More disturbing, though, the reactions today are just as ignorant as the ones of church elders centuries ago. It made no sense, they claimed, for the Earth to orbit the Sun. As everybody knows, God created the universe for humanity, therefore the Earth must be the center of all creation, regardless of indisputable proof to the contrary.

Today, while you would be hard pressed to find a Catholic who believes in an Earth-centered astronomy, polls show that a majority of Americans still believe that God either created the human race outright or at least set in motion the factors that led to our creation. Refusing to learn from countless past generations, they still stubbornly insist that somewhere, just beyond the ever-expanding reach of science, lies God. This is because that which lies beyond the reach of our current science is, by its nature, unexplainable. But unexplainable things are notoriously problematic for people, as we fear the unknown. So we invoke superstition and myth to provide some sort of meaning.

As Arthur C. Clarke once said, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." If we can't explain it with our technology, it must be magic.

So, refusing to admit that physics has made great strides in the last few hundred years, and that there is no conceivable reason to suppose that it will fail to do so in the future, people fall ignorantly into their old habits and they claim that our current, temporary failure to explain the origin of the physical universe is "proof" of the existence of God.

The Washington Post ran an article recently on the growing debate between scientists and creationists, who insist on pretending they are scientists. In it, a mother from Kansas was quoted as saying that she believes teaching alternatives to evolution is "more inclusive." She goes on to say that she believes "the more options, the better." In addition to evolution, the Big Bang, and intelligent design, she believes that "any other belief a kid in class has. It should all be OK."

This mindset is typical of the dangerous trend in America to value everyone's beliefs equally. By this reasoning, if little Lamont in the back row insists that the universe was created by an evil wizard named Inviso Magnificus, then we cannot tell him he is wrong, for fear of "oppressing" his beliefs. And indeed, this view is not any more fantastic than Christianity or Judaism or any other religious system.

The concept of expertise has gone completely out the window when it comes to evolution. If you had cancer, you would certainly not ask your pastor or your soccer coach to operate on you to remove a tumor. You would go to a surgeon, because that is what surgeons study. They are experts.

So why is it that Americans insist on blatantly ignoring the overwhelming evidence offered by experts in the field of biology?

It doesn't matter if its name is Marduk, Yahweh, God, Allah, or anything else. It is the integrity of the argument that is in question, not the sincerity of faith on the part of the believers. An appeal to "sacredness" is not insulation from logical assault, and we need to stop allowing the religious to invoke and hide behind the specter of religious persecution every time some delusional non-argument of theirs is called into question.

The main reason that evolution is so violently protested by religious people is that if it were accepted, it would require abandoning the anthropocentrism inherent in religion. "I don't come from no monkey," says many a NASCAR fan bitterly, and here's why: If we are ultimately descended from some mutual ancestor of the great apes, theologians are confronted with the problem of the soul, and they are left with three alternatives.

First, there is the possibility that the "soul" suddenly flashed into being at some point in evolutionary history, at some arbitrary point between ape and human, which is ludicrous.

Second, there is the unnerving possibility that there is no qualitative difference between humanity and animals, that is that we all have souls.

But this is clearly unacceptable, as Jesus died for we humans and our sins specifically, and in addition, this would directly contradict the biblical proposition that we have and deserve Earthly dominion over all creatures.

There is only one other solution to the problem of the soul, and that is that there is no such thing as the soul, for humans or animals.

This is the one that is too hard to swallow for creationists; it's too humbling. The idea that we are not in any way special, unique, or wonderful, that we are not snowflakes and will not survive death to get our heavenly reward for a life of meaningless suffering.

Jim Smith is a senior in philosophy. The opinions expressed in his columns do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Barometer staff. Smith can be reached at forum@dailybarometer.com.

Monday, March 28, 2005

The evolutionary revolutionary

In the 1970s, Robert Trivers wrote a series of papers that transformed evolutionary biology. Then he all but disappeared. Now he's back—and ready to rumble.

By Drake Bennett | March 27, 2005


''WHAT I LIKE to do,'' the evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers said on a recent afternoon in his office in Harvard Square, ''and in retrospect what I'm good at, is going into a field, seeing an opportunity to do intellectual work that hasn't been done in it, do as much as I can and then move the [expletive] on, you know?''

Trivers has been teaching himself things and then growing bored with them his whole life. In 1956, when he was 13 and living in Berlin (his father was posted there by the State Department), he taught himself all of calculus in about three months. Around the same time, and with more modest success, Trivers-a skinny child picked on by bullies-tried to learn how to box, doing push-ups and covertly reading Joe Louis's ''How to Box'' in the school library.

Trivers would go on to join the boxing team at Phillips Academy, Andover. He would also go on to drop math his freshman year at Harvard, decide to become a lawyer, suffer a nervous breakdown that kept him from getting in to any law schools, enroll in Harvard's doctoral program in biology without having taken a single biology class as an undergraduate, and-while still a grad student-write the first in a series of papers that would revolutionize the field of evolutionary biology.

Then he dropped from sight. Rebuffed in his demand for early tenure, he left Harvard in 1978 to teach at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He befriended Huey Newton and joined the Black Panthers. He all but stopped publishing. As the literary agent John Brockman put it when introducing Trivers at a recent talk, ''Over the years there were rumors about a series of breakdowns; he was in Jamaica; in jail. He fell off the map.''

His ideas, however, seemed to do just fine without him. In the 1970s, Trivers published five immensely influential papers that braided genetics into behavioral biology, using a gene's-eye view of evolution to explain behaviors from bird warning calls to cuckoldry to sibling rivalry to revenge. According to David Haig, a Harvard professor of biology and a leading genetic theorist, each paper virtually founded a research field. ''Most of my career has been based on exploring the implications of one of them,'' says Haig. ''I don't know of any comparable set of papers.''

Trivers's ideas have rippled out into anthropology, psychology, sociology, medicine, even economics. His work provided the intellectual basis for the then-emergent field of sociobiology (now better known as evolutionary psychology), which sought to challenge our conceptions of family, sex, friendship, and ethics by arguing (controversially) that everything from rape to religion is bred in the bone through the process of evolution. The linguist and Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker calls Trivers ''one of the great thinkers in the history of Western thought.''

Now his decades-long absence-what Trivers's friends and colleagues refer to as his ''fallow period''-finally seems to be ending. In 1994 he left Santa Cruz (''the worst place in the country,'' he now calls it) for Rutgers, and this spring he's back at Harvard as a visiting professor of psychology. A major new book on genetic conflicts within individual organisms, coauthored with Austin Burt, a geneticist at Imperial College London, is due out next spring from Harvard University Press. And thanks to Brockman-agent to some of the biggest names in science-he's under contract with Viking Penguin to write a popular book on the evolutionary origins of deceit and self-deception, one that will argue that humans have evolved, in essence, to misunderstand the world around them. Trivers thinks it could be the most important topic he has yet studied.


In a recent guest lecture for a Harvard class called ''Human Nature,'' co-taught by Pinker and law school professor Roberto Mangabeira Unger, Trivers brought down the house. He was clear, sarcastic, funny, and theatrically profane. As in his everyday conversation, he spoke slowly and deliberately, in the syncopated, slurring drawl of a narcoleptic Beat poet. Sartorially unprofessional in a vintage Chicago Bears warm-up jacket over a black T-shirt, he dropped disdainful asides about everything from the Bush administration (''the crackheads in Washington'') to the leftist critics who had painted his ideas as biological determinism 30 years ago (the accusation ''was [b.s.] back then and I doubt it has improved in the meanwhile'') to ''the social so-called sciences.''

In a way, Trivers's rhetoric of maximum affront reflects his view of the natural world as a battlefield where unending struggles of varying intensity and subtlety play themselves out. Alliances and altruism can make evolutionary sense, he argues, but many relationships previously understood to be essentially cooperative-between mother and father, parents and offspring, brothers and sisters, even among the genes within a single organism-are instead rife with conflict. And only as conflicts can they be fully understood.

Trivers's work grew out of an insight made by the Oxford biologist William D. Hamilton, who died in 2000. In a 1964 paper, Hamilton proposed an elegant solution to a problem that had rankled evolutionary theorists for some time. In a battle of the fittest, why did organisms occasionally do things that benefited others at a cost to themselves? The answer, Hamilton wrote, emerged when one took evolution down to the level of the gene. Individuals were merely vessels for genes, which survived from generation to generation, and it made no difference to the gene which organism it survived in.

According to this logic, the degree to which an organism was likely to sacrifice for another should vary in direct proportion to the degree of relatedness: Humans, for example, would be more likely to share food with a son than a second cousin, and more likely to share with a second cousin than someone wholly unrelated. Hamilton called the concept ''inclusive fitness.''

In 1976, the Oxford zoologist Richard Dawkins would popularize Hamilton's ideas in his book ''The Selfish Gene.'' But more than anyone else, it was Trivers, then a graduate student, who grasped the profound implications of Hamilton's work. In a way, Trivers's legendary papers of the early 1970s were simply a series of startling applications of its logic.

In the most frequently cited of them, ''Parental Investment and Sexual Selection'' (1972), Trivers started from the basic observation that in most species females invest more time and energy in their offspring than males. If Hamilton was right, Trivers reasoned, this meant that females, who had more at stake in each of their offspring, would be more choosy about their mates, and that males, who had less, would compete with each other for the chance to inseminate as many females as possible. This simple idea, he argued, explained a raft of phenomena throughout the animal world, from cuckoldry to infanticide to differences in size and life span between males and females. (See sidebar.)

Two years later, in his paper ''Parent-offspring Conflict,'' Trivers explored the ways the interests of children almost inevitably come into conflict with those of their parents. Parents, equally related to all of their offspring, are equally interested in all of their survival. Their offspring, however, would have an interest in hoarding as much parental investment as possible for themselves, at least up to the point where the resulting damage to their siblings began to decrease their own inclusive fitness.

Thus offspring could be expected to evolve a range of tactics to prize more food and attention out of the parent. This, Trivers argued, is why human babies cry even when nothing is wrong with them and why some infant monkeys attack their mothers when they withhold breast milk. ''Once one imagines offspring as actors'' in their interactions with their parents, Trivers wrote, ''then conflict must be assumed to lie at the heart of sexual reproduction itself.''


Trivers's papers tend to be short, declarative, and frankly speculative-''logic plus fractions,'' as he has described his method. But they engendered huge new areas of research. For example, according to Irven DeVore, the eminent Harvard primatologist and a long-time friend and mentor to Trivers, Trivers's work opened up ''a spectacular new paradigm in primate studies.'' ''None of us had been collecting data on kinship because no one thought it was critical,'' DeVore says. ''A lot of people had to deep-six their notes and start over, because they hadn't collected the critical thing, which was kinship data.''

At the same time, DeVore says, ''One of the brilliant things about Trivers is that he predicted so many things, he gave researchers a brief to go out and check.'' Testing his theories, after all, could be as simple as measuring sex ratios in an ant colony or comparing the size of male lizards with their frequency of copulation or observing when weaning conflict is at its most intense. And in the intervening decades, as James Thomas Costa, a biologist and social insect specialist at Western Carolina University (and currently a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute), puts it, Trivers's major ideas ''have been tweaked, but they have been borne out.''

But Trivers has not limited his ideas to animals. The second half of his first major paper, ''The Evolution of Reciprocal Altruism'' (1971), was dedicated to hypothesizing that a large proportion of human emotion and experience-gratitude, sympathy, guilt, trust, friendship, and moral outrage among them-grew out of the same sort of simple tit-for-tat logic that governed the interactions between, say, certain fish and the species of shrimp that cleaned their gills. And in his work on parent-offspring conflict, Trivers suggested that disputes between children and their parents over everything from bedtimes to marriage partners might simply be a matter of competing calculations of inclusive fitness.

Over the years, there has been tremendous resistance to applying these ideas to our own species. Measuring the relative size of female and male lizards was one thing, but understanding the vagaries of human social rituals seemed quite another. According to Arthur Kleinman, chair of Harvard's social anthropology program, this sort of thinking ''made extraordinary leaps from scientific fact to generalizations about the relationship between behavior and evolution, and there was in fact very little data to support it.''

Trivers-for all his taste for combat-has largely been on the sidelines in the long war over sociobiology. While he insists he's perfectly happy to let others take the heat, there are traces of bitterness. In his lecture to Pinker and Unger's ''Human Nature'' class, he claimed that the contribution of E. O. Wilson, author of the popular 1975 book ''Sociobiology,'' to evolutionary theory was largely semantic: In inventing the term sociobiology, Trivers said, Wilson made himself into ''the father of the discipline, when he's really the father of the name of the discipline.'' And he still nurses a grudge at the removal, in later editions, of his foreword for the first edition of ''The Selfish Gene.'' By removing it, Trivers charges, Dawkins ''rewrote intellectual history.'' (In an email, Dawkins calls the deletion ''an unfortunate error of judgment,'' and adds that there are plans to include the original foreword in a forthcoming edition of the book.)


For Trivers, conflict is more than just an evolutionary principle-it's a kind of personal credo. As a young man, he freely recalls, he fought bitterly with his father. In Jamaica, where he is carrying out a long-running research project on the link between childhood growth patterns and personality, he has been charged and acquitted for assault over a fistfight in a bar, and he spent 10 days in jail after an angry dispute over a hotel bill. He has practiced arnis, a Filipino martial art involving a machete, since a Jamaican man threatened to kill him, in what he describes as an extortion attempt. And his politics tend toward a sort of revolutionary vigilantism, in part a reflection of his brief membership in the Black Panthers and his close friendship with Huey Newton, who was godfather to one of Trivers's daughters.

As Trivers put it to me, ''I think organisms require direct physical feedback sometimes.''

Trivers seems unable not to be forthcoming, yet he is leery of letting the more sensational aspects of his biography and personality overshadow his work. The morning after one of our last conversations, he left a message on my voicemail. He was at the airport on the way to Jamaica.

''I really hope you don't do the usual journalistic thing,'' he said, ''which is to try to dress up my life so that it's just some sort of freak show, or just some kind of 'Oh, he's brilliant and he also does these weird funny things.' I really hope you don't go that route. The most important thing in my life, and it has been for a few years, is that I'm extremely productive again, roughly back to the stage when I was doing my great work back at Harvard.''

He's certainly returning to the ideas generated by that work. The book on deceit and self-deception that he's now starting grows out of a brief but widely cited passage from his introduction to Dawkins's ''The Selfish Gene.'' If deceit, he wrote, ''is fundamental to animal communication, then there must be strong selection to spot deception and this ought, in turn, to select for a degree of self-deception, rendering some facts and motives unconscious so as not to betray-by the subtle signs of self-knowledge-the deception being practiced.'' Thus, the idea that the brain evolved to produce ''ever more accurate images of the world must be a very naive view of mental evolution.'' We've evolved, in other words, to delude ourselves so as better to fool others-all in the service of the great game of propagating our genes.

For Trivers, this isn't a mere technical question but the key to unlocking all sorts of deep human mysteries.

''I'm trying to take it every [expletive] place I can,'' Trivers told me. ''It's a critical topic. How many pretenders to the throne have there been? Marx had a theory of self-deception, Freud thought he had the topic knocked. So there've been a lot of major-domos in there. None of that [expletive] survived the test of time, so it's a huge opportunity.''

Drake Bennett is the staff writer for Ideas. Email drbennett@globe.com.

© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Special Acupuncture Lowers Blood Pressure


-- Study Mon Mar 28, 2005

5:36 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A specialized acupuncture treatment that uses low levels of electrical stimulation can lower blood pressure dramatically in rats, U.S. researchers reported on Monday.

"This study suggests that acupuncture can be an excellent complement to other medical treatments, especially for those treating the cardiac system," said Dr. John Longhurst of the University of California, Irvine, who led the study.

"The Western world is waiting for a clear scientific basis for using acupuncture, and we hope that this research ultimately will lead to the integration of ancient healing practices into modern medical treatment."

Writing in the March issue of the Journal of Applied Physiology, Longhurst and colleagues said they inserted acupuncture needles at specific points on the front legs of rats with artificially elevated blood pressure rates.

This is equivalent to the inside of the forearms, slightly above the wrists in people.

Acupuncture alone had no effect on blood pressure in the rats, Longhurst's team found. But adding electrical stimulation at low frequencies lowered the blood pressure, although it did not bring it to normal.

The effects lasted for up to two hours.

"This type of electroacupuncture is only effective on elevated blood pressure levels, such as those present in hypertension, and the treatment has no impact on standing blood pressure rates," said Longhurst, a cardiologist .

"Our goal is to help establish a standard of acupuncture treatment that can benefit everyone who has hypertension and other cardiac ailments."

His team is now testing the technique on people.

High blood pressure is a major cause of heart disease, and can lead to heart failure, stroke, kidney failure and other conditions.

Curiosity Won't Kill Science Classes

http://www.the-scientist.com/2005/3/28/6/1 upfront Volume 19 | Issue 6 | 6 | Mar. 28, 2005

By Richard Gallagher, Editor

I'm concerned about the state of science teaching.

I'm concerned about the state of science teaching. Over the past few months, three quite separate accounts have made me nervous. The first was an opinion published last month in The Harvard Crimson, the university daily, in which student Irene Y. Sun detailed her wretched experience in a science class. Describing the erosion of her intellectual curiosity1 by the relentless pursuit of grades by teachers and students alike, Sun wrote:

"At what point did professors automatically expect that their students studied their subject matters because of career requirements rather than intellectual appeal? Why are so many of my fellow students so hell-bent on requirements instead of passion? What happened to that sense of academic adventure, excitement and curiosity?"

She asks good questions.

The second prod was provided by the summary of a Science Advisory Board poll of scientists on ways to improve "scientific literacy."2 Teaching teachers to teach topped the list, as it should have. But I'm not so sure about the conclusion that "preparing children for tomorrow depends upon a nation's willingness to invest – over the long term – in the training and tools teachers need to keep abreast with the leading technologies of today." What about imparting a sense of curiosity, excitement, and experimentation? Isn't this what teachers should be best at, even more so than staying abreast of the latest technologies?

My third encounter has been a little more personal. You'll notice that we've foregone the Opinion article in this issue. In its place is an expanded Letters section, largely given over to responses to the Editorial of a couple of issues ago,3 on beating off the challenge to evolution from intelligent design. I am criticized by a fair number of the responses from "our" side, some rather strident. Here's an example from a blog4:

"You know what I hate most about the evolution/creation debate? It isn't the ignorance peddlers of the Discovery Institute or the gibbering insanity of Answers in Genesis. It's not the semi-literate know-nothings who pollute the comment boards of blogs with their repetitive drivel. It isn't even the fawning press coverage these dangerous right-wing ideologues occasionally receive. No. What I really hate is the child-like naiveté of some scientists who really ought to know better."

That's me. But I think I got off lightly. Even though I'm "most-hated" – is that anything like being granted "most favored nation" status? – it's for being a hopeless naïf, not an ignorant, gibbering, dangerous, semiliterate no-nothing polluter of bandwidth. Phew! Still, the question must be asked: Is this sort of self-important bluster helpful in the battle against proponents of intelligent design? I certainly don't see it as putting the best face on the pro-evolution argument to an interested public.

But to get back to science teaching, worse still, some (nominally) pro-evolution correspondents harbor remarkable views of science teaching. Consider this missive from a blogger named "Desert Donkey"5:

"The impulse to compare and demolish is strong, but high school students are basically in a position where they are taught well-established truths in most subjects. Math classes don't spend time questioning the reality of prime numbers. Facts is facts. Some type of critical thinking class for inquisitive students might fly, but I still think it has no place in an actual science class."

Critical thinking has no place in science class? Really? That bodes incredibly poorly for the future of science teaching. We're shelving our best weapon against intelligent design, and I find it incredibly sad that scientists who support evolution so strongly would have us shield growing young minds from the "dangers" of critical thinking.

If that's not dogma, I don't know what is.

References 1. http://www.thecrimson.com/article.aspx?ref=505618

2. http://www.scienceboard.net/community/news/news.238.html

3. R Gallagher "Intelligent design and informed debate," The Scientist 19(4): 6. Feb. 28, 2005

4. http://evolutionblog.blogspot.com/2005/02/this-is-depressing.html

5. http://pharyngula.org/index/weblog/comments/what_was_he_thinking

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Teachers feel pressed to teach creationism


Published March 24, 2005

ARLINGTON, Virginia -- A new U.S. survey has found about one third of science teachers feel pressured to present creationism and other non-scientific alternatives to evolution.

Of the more than 1,050 teachers who participated in the National Science Teachers Association survey, 31 percent said they felt pressured by either students or parents when teaching evolution to include creationism, intelligent design and other concepts that are not supported as valid scientific theories. Only 5 percent or less said they felt the pressure was being exerted by school administrators or principals.

"Something is not right when science educators feel pressure to teach a variety of religious or non-science viewpoints. It's not fair to our students to give them anything less than good science," said Gerry Wheeler, NSTA executive director.

A debate over teaching evolution has sprung up in several localities recently, most notably in Dover, Pa., which last year became the first district in the nation to require presenting information about intelligent design -- the concept that life is so complicated an intelligent designer must have been involved.

The American Civil Liberties Union and several parents have filed a federal lawsuit challenging the curriculum and a hearing has been scheduled for September.

Evolution education update: evolution and IMAX, pressures on evolution educators, a call to arms

The latest on the IMAX controversy, the results of NSTA's survey about pressures on evolution educators, and USA Today's discussion of the most recent "'Call to arms' on evolution."


Writing in the March 19, 2005, issue of The New York Times, Cornelia Dean revealed that "the fight over evolution has reached the big, big screen." According to Dean's story, a handful of IMAX theaters have declined to screen several IMAX films -- including "Cosmic Voyage," "Galapagos," and "Volcanoes of the Deep Sea" -- due to their evolutionary content. Carol Murray, director of marketing for the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, told the Times that a test audience viewing "Volcanoes" offered such hostile responses as "I really hate it when the theory of evolution is presented as fact" and "I don't agree with their presentation of human existence." In part because of such responses, the museum decided not to screen the film. A distributor for "Volcanoes" added that other theater officials turned the film down "'for religious reasons,' because it had 'evolutionary overtones' or 'would not go well with the Christian community' or because 'the evolution stuff is a problem.'" The filmmakers expressed their firm intention not to compromise the scientific content of "Volcanoes," but there was worry about the chilling effect on future films: "It's going to be hard for our filmmakers to continue to make unfettered documentaries," commented Joe DeAmicis of the California Science Center.

In Fort Worth, the reaction to Dean's story was swift. The May 23 issue of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram contained no fewer than nineteen letters condemning the museum's decision not to screen "Volcanoes," ranging from the sarcastic ("What's next? The Flat Earth Society gets to pick films?") to the disappointed ("I was saddened to think that our community won't have the opportunity to increase our scientific knowledge with this film.") to the horrified ("As a practicing pastor at a local church ... I found the refusal of the museum to show the IMAX film appalling and dangerous."). Those writers were doubtless pleased to read in the following day's Star-Telegram that the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History reversed its decision. Director Van Romans told the newspaper, "We're going to show things that have scientific credibility, and people can make their own decisions ... That's a very personal choice. But we are a science and history institution. We have a responsibility to the public to share with them." It remains to be seen whether the other museums and science centers that declined to screen the film will reconsider.

To read "A new screen test for Imax" (registration required) in The New York Times, visit: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/19/national/19imax.html

To read "'Volcanoes' to be shown after outrage" (registration required) in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, visit: http://www.dfw.com/mld/dfw/news/11218459.htm


In a press release issued on March 24, 2005, the National Science Teachers Association unveiled the results of its recent informal survey about whether its members have experienced pressure regarding the teaching of evolution. Thirty percent of the respondents indicated that they felt pressure to omit or downplay evolution and related topics from their science curriculum; thirty-one percent indicated that they felt pressure to include creationism, intelligent design, or other nonscientific alternatives to evolution in their science classroom. In both cases, the pressure was most frequently exerted by students and parents; it was relatively rare for principals or administrators to do so. Gerry Wheeler, the executive director of NSTA, commented, "A teacher's job is to foster a deep understanding of science in students and help them better understand the natural world around us. But something is not right when science educators feel pressure to teach a variety of religious or nonscience viewpoints. It's not fair to our students to give them anything less than good science." According to the press release, "More than 1,050 teachers participated in the survey. The majority, 51%, are high school teachers, while 26% are from middle level; 12%, college/graduate level; and 6%, elementary." Because the survey's respondents were not selected randomly, the results ought to be considered only as suggestive, not as definitive.

To read NSTA's press release, visit: http://www.nsta.org/pressroom&news_story_ID=50377


The March 23, 2005, issue of USA Today featured Dan Vergano and Greg Toppo's "'Call to arms' on evolution," which described a letter circulated by Bruce Alberts, the president of the National Academy of Sciences, to members of the NAS, calling on them "to confront the increasing challenges to the teaching of evolution in public schools." The NAS, founded in 1863, is the nation's premiere body of scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, and is mandated by its charter to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Alberts told USA Today that "Teachers are under attack all the time and need more support from scientists," adding that "one of the foundations of modern science is being neglected or banished outright from science classrooms in many parts of the United States." As evidence for his contention, Vergana and Toppo cited the recent NSTA survey about pressure on teachers to downplay evolution (see above).

Although the focus of Albert's letter was not on "intelligent design" primarily, the USA Today article devoted a number of paragraphs to it. Noting the absence of "intelligent design" from the scientific research literature, Jeffrey Palmer, a biologist at Indiana University, explained that "If there were indeed deep flaws in parts of evolutionary biology, then scientists would be the first to charge in there." The Discovery Institute's Stephen C. Meyer replied by alluding to "powerful institutional and systematic conventions" that prevent "intelligent design" from scientific consideration, to which Barbara Forrest, the coauthor (with Paul R. Gross) of Creationism's Trojan Horse and a member of NCSE's board of directors, responded, "Oh, baloney," adding, "they aren't published because they don't have any scientific data." The last words of the article were given to NCSE's Susan Spath, who commented, "The silver lining may be that this is an opportunity to enhance public understanding of science."

To read "'Call to arms' on evolution" in USA Today, visit: http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2005-03-23-evolution_x.htm

To read the complete text of Albert's letter, visit: http://www4.nationalacademies.org/nas/nashome.nsf/urllinks/NAS-6AQJS4?OpenDocument

If you wish to subscribe, please send:

subscribe ncse-news your@email.com

in the body of an e-mail to majordomo2@ncseweb2.org.

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


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

Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism is now available: http://www.ncseweb.org/evc

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Who's Afraid of Intelligent Design?


By Jay Mathews
Wednesday, March 23, 2005; Page A15

My favorite high school teacher, Al Ladendorff, conducted his American history class like an extended version of "Meet the Press." Nothing, not even the textbooks other teachers treated as Holy Writ, was safe from attack. I looked forward to that class every day.

My biology class, sadly, was another story. I slogged joylessly through all the phyla and the principles of Darwinism, memorizing as best as I could. It never occurred to me that this class could have been as interesting as history until I recently started to read about "intelligent design," the latest assault on the teaching of evolution in our schools. Many education experts and important scientists say we have to keep this religious-based nonsense out of the classroom. But is that really such a good idea?

I am as devout a Darwinist as anybody. I read all the essays on evolution by the late Stephen Jay Gould, one of my favorite writers. The God I worship would, I think, be smart enough to create the universe without, as Genesis alleges, violating His own observable laws of conservation of matter and energy in a six-day construction binge. But after interviewing supporters and opponents of intelligent design, which argues among other things that today's organisms are too complex to have evolved from primordial chemicals by chance or necessity, I think critiques of modern biology, like Ladendorff's contrarian lessons, could be one of the best things to happen to high school science.

Drop in on an average biology class and you will find the same slow, deadening march of memorization that I endured at 15. Why not enliven this with a student debate on contrasting theories? Why not have an intelligent design advocate stop by to be interrogated? Many students, like me, find it hard to understand evolutionary theory, and the scientific method itself, until they are illuminated by contrasting points of view.

And why stop with biology? Physics teachers could ask students to explain why a perpetual-motion machine won't work. Earth science teachers could show why the steady-state theory of the universe lost out to the Big Bang -- just as Al Ladendorff exposed the genius of the U.S. Constitution by showing why the Articles of Confederation went bust.

Amazingly, neither pro- nor anti-intelligent design people like the idea of injecting their squabble into biology classes. John West, associate director of the Center for Science and Culture at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which promotes intelligent design, said that requiring its use in schools would turn their critique of evolution "into a political football." Eugenie C. Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education Inc. in Oakland, Calif., said it would distract from proven evolutionary research, crowd out other topics and create confusion.

Some fine biology teachers said the same thing. Sam Clifford in Georgetown, Tex., said that intelligent design is "a piecemeal, haphazard concoction" that he does not have time for. Dan Coast at Mount Vernon High School in Fairfax County said that a dissection of intelligent design in his class would be seen by some students as an attack on their religion. They all seemed to be saying that most U.S. high school students and teachers aren't smart enough to handle such an explosive topic. But how do we know if we keep paying expensive lawyers to make sure the experiment is never conducted?

The intelligent-design folks say theirs is not a religious doctrine. They may be lying, and are just softening up the teaching of evolution for an eventual pro-Genesis assault. But they passed one of my tests. They answered Gould's favorite question: If you are real scientists, then what evidence would disprove your hypothesis? West indicated that any discovery of precursors of the animal body plans that appeared in the Cambrian period 500 million years ago would cast doubt on the thesis that those plans, in defiance of Darwin, evolved without a universal common ancestor.

That is the start of a great class, and some teachers are doing this, albeit quietly. John Angus Campbell, who teaches the rhetoric of science and speech at the University of Memphis, has been trying to coax more of them into letting their students consider Darwin's critics. Like me, Campbell reveres the 19th-century philosopher John Stuart Mill, who said good ideas should be questioned lest they degenerate into dogma.

Turning Darwin into an unassailable god without blemishes, Campbell said, doesn't give student brains enough exercise. "If you don't see the risks, if you don't see the gaps," he said, "you don't see the genius of Darwin."

The writer covers schools for The Post. His e-mail address is mathewsj@washpost.com.

Tedious creationism tale fails to fully evolve


By Sandy MacDonald, Globe Correspondent | March 23, 2005

SOMERVILLE -- Few subjects are as ripe for parody as the kind of ''values-based education" sweeping America's red states. But ''Dead White Males," an attempt at schoolroom satire by William Missouri Downs, fizzles in a production at the Theatre Cooperative.

The script -- written in the late '90s when, briefly, Kansas proscribed teachers from presenting the theory of evolution -- dithers on for 2?xBC; hours in a state of schizophrenia. Does it want to be farce or tragedy? Are the characters caricatures, or are we meant to take them at face value? And if so, what are we to make of a protagonist, starry-eyed tyro middle school teacher Janet Greenberg (valiant Susan Gross), dressed up like ''Our Miss Brooks"?

The script takes a solid hour to get around to the core issue: the school board's requirement that a veteran science teacher (Maureen Adduci, in a performance of odds-defying depth and integrity) give equal time to creationism.

Meanwhile, we've endured a tedious pastiche of shtick: Master teacher Burns (one-note Cheryl D. Singleton) nattering on about the importance of heeding ''goldenrod" memos; a toady of a principal (Josh Pritchard) jovially emphasizing the ''pal" in his title; board president Dr. Ozy Mandias -- now there's a clever name! -- smoldering over secular-humanist affronts and moonlighting as an Amway huckster. (The latter role is played by Peter Brown, a real-life teacher whose resemblance to a louche Peter O'Toole doesn't lend itself to playing a rabid right-winger.) A subplot concerns the administration's efforts to bowdlerize Sondheim's ''Company" into fit fare for a middle school musical.

It's a sign of the play's essential wrongheadedness that the principal's pedophiliac extracurricular activities are initially presented as a laughing matter; later, ''Johnny" -- the generic (and only) student represented in these proceedings -- acts out the horrific consequences. Spencer S. Christie imbues this token role with a freshness and poignancy that the script, alas, lacks.

Thumbs Down: Fundamentalists, why shut out science films?


10:01 PM CST on Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The fierce opposition of many fundamentalist Christians to Darwinism is well known, especially in Texas. We were surprised, however, and dismayed to discover that this sentiment is having a surprising effect in a tiny corner of the film industry: the production of IMAX science films.

According to The New York Times, IMAX theaters throughout the South – including the one at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, though not at the Science Place in Dallas – report that significant numbers of their patrons pan science films that suggest that Darwinian evolution accounts for the origin of life. Though the anti-Darwinists are small in number, the relatively few IMAX screens nationwide means that they have a disproportionate impact on what science films get made.

It's hard to blame these exhibitors, who after all have a business to run. Still, what a shame that, given the realities of the specialized IMAX film market, all Americans may be denied access to basic scientific information because of the objections of some conservative Protestants. Many Christians have reconciled Darwinism with Christianity, among them Pope John Paul II, who in 1996 affirmed a half-century of papal teaching holding that Darwinian theory doesn't necessarily violate Christian revelation.

We certainly hope parents recognize that they cannot shield their children indefinitely from science. Isn't it better to see these films and talk the content over with one's children, rather than hiding out in a bunker?

But those opposed to the fundamentalist boycott of these films would do well not to waste time fulminating against parents who are only exercising their proper role as shepherds of their children's character. Rather than curse the darkness, why not show your support for scientific filmmaking by taking your kids this weekend to the IMAX movies? The power of the consumer dollar to influence the marketplace of ideas works both ways.

Woman Paid Invisible 'Mermaids' Airfare


HARARE, Zimbabwe -- A woman testified that she paid a popular local musician to fly four mermaids from London to Harare to help her recover a stolen car and cash.

Businesswoman Magrate Mapfumo said she paid $5,000 to fly the invisible mermaids to Harare on the advice of musician Edna Chizema, who is on trial for theft by false pretenses, the state-owned Herald newspaper reported Thursday.

Zimbabwe's Shona people believe mermaids are fearsome enchantresses capable of wreaking vengeance on wrongdoers.

Mapfumo testified that she sought Chizema's advice after her car and millions of Zimbabwean dollars (thousands of U.S. dollars) were stolen.

Mapfumo said she also paid for the mermaids to be housed at Harare's plush tourist resort, the Jameson Hotel, and supplied with mobile phones and electrical generators to cope with the Zimbabwean capital's numerous power cuts, the paper said.

"I asked about the names of the mermaids and I was told they were called Emma, Charmaine, Sharvine, Bella and a fifth one who was said to be an Arab mermaid," the Herald quoted Mapfumo as telling the court.

"All the time, she (Chizema) told me I could not see the mermaids as only spirit mediums could do so."

Two skeptics lead charge against evolution


Posted on Tue, Mar. 22, 2005

Designs for change


The Wichita Eagle

Two men rally support for intelligent design -- evolution's competition

The lawyer and the research scientist who are at the heart of Kansas' debate over how evolution should be taught say they are driven by logic and a love of science.

Both men are Christian, but they say faith is not why they want schools to take a more critical approach to evolution, the central tenet of biology. They want schools to encourage the debate they say scientists are reluctant to allow.

Both think intelligent design offers a better explanation of life than evolution. But both want evolution taught in schools.

Evolution is "the most important theory in biology," said Bill Harris, the research scientist. "It may be the most important theory of science because it affects your world view."

But students also should be taught the shortcomings of evolution and what it can't explain, they say. They don't think intelligent design should be required to be taught -- yet.

"It's not ready," said John Calvert, the lawyer. "We think it will be one day."

Calvert is a former agnostic who chose early retirement in 2000 to spend more time pressing this fight.

Harris started questioning evolution as graduate student because of what he saw as the huge differences between man and his closest relatives, apes.

Together the two run the Intelligent Design Network --based in Calvert's suburban Johnson County home -- that has helped spread the argument for intelligent design nationwide.

They have influenced discussions in Ohio, New Mexico, North Carolina, Minnesota, Georgia, Montana and California.

In Kansas, Harris influences the debate by serving on a state committee proposing changes to science standards.

But Calvert has the higher profile, serving as the network's public face and frequenting public meetings where evolution is likely to come up.

Their aim is to convince politicians to do what they think scientists won't.

"People say we're trying to make an end run around the scientific community," Calvert said. "And, to some extent, that's true because the institutions of science won't allow the debate."

'It just makes sense'

Both Calvert and Harris acknowledge that the concept of intelligent design fits well with Christianity and other religions, but they said logic and scientific evidence convinced them of its validity.

Intelligent design is an inference that certain features of living things, such as DNA, are best explained by an intelligent cause because they are too complicated to have occurred naturally and because no scientific law explains them.

"The more I see of the intricacy and inner life of cells, that's greater evidence for a designer," Harris said.

While he was in graduate school in the late 1970s, Harris started to question evolution and its idea that humans and other life developed from a common ancestor over millions of years through gradual changes.

But after completing his doctorate in nutrition and biochemistry, he didn't give evolution much thought because it didn't affect his research into how diet related to heart disease.

His questions about evolution remained dormant until the mid-1990s, when he read "Darwin on Trial" by Phillip Johnson and other books.

"I'd never heard the term intelligent design until I read Johnson's book, and it made a lot of sense," Harris said.

Calvert said he read some of the same books written by scientists affiliated with the Discovery Institute in Seattle, a think tank that has promoted intelligent design and criticism of evolution since 1996.

But long before the Discovery Institute got involved, Calvert kept track of developments in DNA research and legal fights over evolution during the 1980s and 1990s. That reading was part of his lifelong fascination with science.

When he read about the detailed code embedded in DNA, he said, he was reminded of the Morse code he learned in the Army.

"I thought, 'How can this not be designed?' " Calvert said.

He earned a bachelor's degree in geology and planned to pursue a doctorate in the sciences later.

But after prosecuting discipline cases as a battalion adjutant during a two-year stint in the Army, he was drawn to law instead.

In his youth and early adulthood, Calvert had been an agnostic and a fan of Ayn Rand's objectivism philosophy. But after his first marriage ended in divorce in 1978, he turned to religion for answers.

Before converting to Christianity, he read the Bible and the Koran and researched other faiths.

"The Bible really made the most sense," Calvert said. "I'm a logical guy, and it just makes sense."

The bigger picture

The Intelligent Design Network has satellite chapters in New Mexico and Minnesota and is part of a larger national movement.

Joe Renick, executive director of the New Mexico chapter, said he liked Calvert's approach to the topic and his willingness to acknowledge his faith and the religious implications of the debate.

So Renick borrowed from Calvert's playbook to combat the perception that this is a covert religious attack on science.

"Part of why this is so exciting to me is that it's complementary to my Christian beliefs, but that's no reason not to talk about it," Renick said.

John West, associate director of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute, commended what Calvert and Harris have done to advance the cause.

"We know John and we know Bill Harris, and we think they're doing good work," West said.

Jack Krebs, who serves on the Kansas standards committee, said Calvert uses his legal skills to build a strong case for his point of view.

But Krebs, who is vice president of pro-evolution Kansas Citizens for Science, said Calvert refuses to answer some questions about the evidence for intelligent design or about Christians who accept evolution.

"There's some really fatal flaws in his talk, but being a lawyer, he is used to building a case and won't answer questions," Krebs said.

Calvert denied dodging questions.

"If you can show me a question I refused to answer, I'd be happy to answer it," Calvert said.

Krebs said the Intelligent Design Network is trying to use science to validate a religious belief and weaken the theory of evolution.

"There is no doubt about it -- though they will deny it -- that the motive is to include a certain religious point of view in the classroom," Krebs said.

Calvert does deny that his motives are religious, and he said all he is trying to do is persuade schools to be objective.

"We think science can't be constitutionally objective unless (intelligent design) is allowed," he said.

Kansas debate

Harris said scientists and most science standards won't allow discussion of anything besides evolution.

"I have no question that evolution should be taught," he said. "But we need to have all the evidence for and against."

He and Calvert hope the State Board of Education will agree with them when science standards are approved later this summer.

Conservative Republicans control Kansas' 10-member State Board of Education. They plan to hold six days of hearings on the evidence for and against evolution in May.

Those hearings may resemble the annual "Darwin, Design and Democracy" conferences the Intelligent Design Network has held.

Those conferences, featuring 20-25 researchers, have been important to the growth of the network and its influence in other states.

Five of the conferences have been held since 2000, each time attracting several hundred people from several states and helping spread the network's message.

But the format of the hearings the state board plans and the final content of the standards remain uncertain.

Harris volunteered to recruit experts to argue the intelligent design side at the hearings, but the state board has so far been unable to attract anyone to speak for mainstream science.

For the lawyer and the scientist, this will be one more step along what they acknowledge is a long road. But they hold logic and science on their side, they say. And they won't give up.

"We're fighting for objectivity," Calvert said. "It's going to happen. It's just going to take persistence."

Reach Josh Funk at 268-6573 or jfunk@wichitaeagle.com.

Plants Fix Genes With Copies From Ancestors


By Rick Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer

Wednesday, March 23, 2005; Page A01

Plants inherit secret stashes of genetic information from their long-dead ancestors and can use them to correct errors in their own genes -- a startling capacity for DNA editing and self-repair wholly unanticipated by modern genetics, researchers said yesterday.

The newly discovered phenomenon, which resembles the caching of early versions of a computer document for viewing later, allows plants to archive copies of genes from generations ago, long assumed to be lost forever.

Then, in a move akin to choosing their parents, plants can apparently retrieve selected bits of code from that archive and use them to overwrite the genes they have inherited directly. The process could offer survival advantages to plants suddenly burdened with new mutations or facing environmental threats for which the older genes were better adapted.

Scientists predicted that by harnessing the still-mysterious mechanism they would be able to control plant diseases and create novel varieties of crops. If the mechanism can be invoked in animals -- as some tantalized scientists venture may be possible -- it could also offer a revolutionary way to correct the genetic flaws that lead to cancer and other diseases.

"We think this demonstrates that there's this parallel path of inheritance that we've overlooked for 100 years, and that's pretty cool," said Robert E. Pruitt, a professor of botany and plant pathology at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., who oversaw the studies with co-worker Susan Lolle.

The finding represents a "spectacular discovery," wrote German molecular biologists Detlef Weigel and Gerd Jurgens in a commentary accompanying the research in tomorrow's issue of the journal Nature, released yesterday. The existence of an unorthodox inheritance system does not overturn the basic rules of genetics worked out by Austrian monk Gregor Mendel in the 1800s, they noted. But like a newly discovered room in a mansion of treasures, it opens up a mind-boggling world of possibilities and proves that genetics is still a young science.

"It adds a level of biological complexity and flexibility we hadn't appreciated," said Lolle, who is on a leave from Purdue to serve at the National Science Foundation, which funded the work.

The Purdue team began to suspect that something strange was afoot while studying a mutation in the mustard family weed Arabidopsis thaliana, a popular workhorse of plant genetics.

The mutation was in a gene known as hothead -- one of many related genes, including fiddlehead, airhead, pothead and deadhead, that when mutated cause abnormalities in stems and flowers.

Arabidopsis plants typically self-fertilize. So when both copies of a gene are mutated in a plant, its offspring is bound to be similarly flawed -- in hothead's case, exhibiting the parent's mutant flowers.

Yet in the Pruitt-Lolle lab, a small but steady percentage of hothead offspring had normal flowers, like their grandparents'. Somehow the mutation -- a single misspelled "letter" of genetic code in a gene made of 1,782 molecular letters -- was being repaired.

"At first, we assumed there had to be a simple explanation," Pruitt said. But a series of tests over more than a year eliminated every easy explanation, such as known DNA repair mechanisms or windblown pollen from normal plants.

Instead, molecular studies indicated that the plants harbored molecular "memories" of versions of their genetic code going back at least four generations -- versions that the plant can somehow use as templates to correct the spelling of mutated stretches of DNA.

The team has not found the templates, but evidence suggests they are pieces of RNA, a molecular cousin of DNA that can be inherited separately from the chromosomes that carry the primary genetic code in cells.

Pruitt said others have occasionally noted the appearance of "revertant" plants but ignored them, assuming they were the result of sloppy technique or other errors. By contrast, Pruitt and Lolle took the observation seriously, said Elliot Meyerowitz, a pioneering arabidopsis researcher at California Institute of Technology.

"There are different sorts of scientists. Some like to ignore the exceptions, and others like to concentrate on them," Meyerowitz said, adding that he suspects the novel gene-fixing mechanism is present in a wide variety of organisms, including animals. He suspects the trick has been overlooked because it operates only some of the time and because scientists have been predisposed to write off the evidence as random events.

The discovery, he said, seems on par with a few others that have significantly modified scientists' understanding of genetics since Mendel. Studies in corn led to the discovery of an important gene-shuffling mechanism that has since been found in other plants and animals, including people. Studies in insects found a new mechanism for gene regulation that has since been found throughout the biological world. And a mechanism for turning off genes, first identified in soil-dwelling roundworms and since found in humans, too, is now one of the hottest topics in medical genetics because of its potential to shut down disease-causing genes.

"I won't be surprised," Meyerowitz said, if the new DNA editing mechanism is present in people, too.

Gerald Fink, a professor of genetics at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Mass., said it would be important to identify exactly how the mechanism operates and whether it works in all kinds of genes. But he said he was convinced that "something weird is definitely going on." The work serves as a good reminder, he added, that the central genetic code by itself is only part of the mystery of how inheritance works.

"This gives the lie to the idea that you know everything once you sequence the genome. You don't."

Lolle said the trick is probably a lifesaver for plants, which cannot run away from radiation, environmental extremes and other insults to their DNA. It is probably especially important for self-pollinating plants such as arabidopsis, she said, which are constantly at risk of becoming seriously mutated as a result of inbreeding.

She described the mechanism as one that allows a plant to reach back in time for a version of a gene "that's already been road-tested."

Lolle said she foresees medical benefits as scientists learn to control the molecular counterpart she suspects is in humans.

"I'm very optimistic," she said. "Once the scientific community takes hold of this, it's going to work forward at a very rapid pace."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company

Friday, March 25, 2005

NCSE's Scott in Dallas 4/1

NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott will be a featured speaker at the National Science Teachers Association national convention in Dallas. Her talk, entitled "Just Do It! Teaching Evolution and Avoiding the Minefields," will be given at 12:30 p.m. on April 1, 2005.

For more information, please visit the NSTA web page for the convention: http://www.nsta.org/conventiondetail&Meeting_Code=2005DAL


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

Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism is now available: http://www.ncseweb.org/evc

Scientology Religious Recognition in Tanzania and Zimbabwe


The recognition of the Scientology religion in these countries marks a new era both for churches of Scientology in Africa and for the peoples of these African nations who benefit from the tools for living that this practical religion provides.

The governments of Tanzania and Zimbabwe have officially recognized Scientology as a religion, while the Zimbabwean government has additionally confirmed Scientology churches to be tax–exempt.

Tanzania, home to the world famous Serengeti wildlife reserve, is made up of a predominantly Bantu population of 130 different tribes. At the foot of Africa's highest mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro, is the city of Moshi, where the Church of Scientology Mission of Kilimanjaro was established in March 2002. The Tanzanian Ministry of Home Affairs has now registered the mission as a religious organization.

In his books Self–Analysis and Dianetics 55!, L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the Scientology religion, tells how natives on Lake Tanganyika, which borders Tanzania, use the equatorial sun to create shadows that penetrate the depth of the lake and drive fish onto the rocks and beach where they are easily caught. "Yet there was nothing to be afraid of but shadows," Mr. Hubbard writes, drawing an analogy to the mental and spiritual fears of individuals that are resolved through Dianetics procedures.

It was through seminars in Dianetics techniques that many Tanzanians were first introduced to the Scientology religion. With the assistance of Scientologists from Churches of Scientology in South Africa, where Scientology has been officially recognized since March 2000, the staff of the Scientology mission has introduced Dianetics and Scientology to parliamentarians, religious leaders and members of the general public throughout the country.

While Scientology was recognized as a religion by the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe as early as 1975 and received approval for its ministers to perform marriages in 1988, it was only recently that the government fully confirmed religious recognition and tax exemption.

In 1966, Mr. Hubbard visited Zimbabwe, then called Rhodesia and ruled by a white minority. Consistent with his belief that the majority black populations of southern Africa had a right to a government for all the people, Mr. Hubbard drafted and proposed a new constitution based on the principle of equal rights for all southern Africans. He also spoke in favor of empowering blacks with education. Needless to say, this did not endear him to the all-white government at that time. When officials discovered that he was also teaching native students the tools for literacy he had developed, the government decided he had gone too far and refused to renew his visa. In point of fact, their fears were justified. What he stood and fought for was, indeed, nothing less than the awakening of the African people to education and freedom. Thus he was thoroughly gratified when, a decade later, his educational tools were introduced into native schools for the benefit of some two million Black African children.

1. Dianetics The word Dianetics comes from the Greek words dia, meaning "through", and Inous, meaning "soul," and is defined as what the soul is doing to the body. Dianetics addresses and handles the effects of the spirit on the body. Dianetics thus helps provide relief from unwanted sensations and emotions, accidents and psychosomatic illnesses (ailments caused or aggravated by mental stress).

For more information visit www.dianetics.org.

WHAT'S NEW Robert L. Park Friday, 25 Mar 05 Washington, DC


In his 2003 State-of-the-Union address, President Bush called for building a Freedom Car, "powered by hydrogen and pollution free" http://www.aps.org/WN/WN03/wn013103.cfm. Baloney, but people didn't ask where the hydrogen will come from. They asked if it's safe. Hey, it's fuel -- fuel burns. However, Dr. Addison Bain insists that in the 1937 Hindenburg disaster, it was the paint that burned, and compared it to rocket fuel. More baloney, but guess who bought it http://www.aps.org/apsnews/0700/070004.cfm? However, A.J. Dessler, D.E. Overs and W.H. Appleby found the burn rate of an actual piece of Hindenburg fabric to be thousands of times too slow. The fire consumed the Hindenburg in 34 seconds. If the 800 foot-long craft was painted with solid rocket fuel, it would have taken 12 hours to burn end to end. Dessler is a PhD physicist (Duke), 26 years as Professor of Space Physics and Astronomy at Rice (15 years as Dept Chair), directed the NASA Marshall Space Sciences Lab (4 years), and is Sr. Scientist at Univ of Arizona, Lunar and Planetary Lab. What about Dr. Bain?


In his memoir, The Freedom Element: Living with Hydrogen, Doctor Bain says he is a former manager of hydrogen programs at Kennedy Space Center, but what is he a "doctor" of? He writes of being "teary-eyed" at finally becoming a PhD, but nowhere mentions his alma mater. Even the bio on the jacket of his book gave no clue. A Google search turned up nothing after Flathead High School in Montana. Someone suggested we try California Coast University, a "distance-learning" university in Santa Ana. That's where Lynn Ianni, the therapist for "The Swan" on Fox Television, became Doctor Ianni in 1998. Although CCU has no campus, that's not a problem; it has no courses. There, in the same graduating class with Dr. Ianni, getting a Management PhD, was Dr. Addison Bain. Now look at me, would you? Here I am getting all teary-eyed too.


The 2003 IMAX film "Volcanoes of the Deep Sea," sponsored by NSF and Rutgers, would seem to be just the sort of documentary that science centers thrive on. Not exactly. It was turned down by a dozen Science Centers, mostly in the South, because of a few brief references to evolution. There goes the profit margin. The result is that IMAX films just aren't made if the science might offend the religious right. It's worse in schools. Even if there is no prohibition on teaching evolution, teachers leave it out rather than listen to all the complaints. In the 1925 Scopes trial, Clarence Darrow said, "John Scopes isn't on trial, civilization is on trial." It still is. And it's losing.


Opinions are the author's and not necessarily shared by the University of Maryland, but they should be.

Archives of What's New can be found at http://www.aps.org/WN You are currently subscribed to whatsnew as: skeptix@efn.org To unsubscribe send a blank email to leave-whatsnew-60567A@lists.apsmsgs.org To subscribe, send a blank e-mail to: join-whatsnew@lists.apsmsgs.org

'Call to arms' on evolution


By Dan Vergano and Greg Toppo, USA TODAY

Nearly one-third of science teachers who participated in a national survey say they feel pressured to include creationism-related ideas in the classroom.

And an alarmed science establishment is striking back in defense of teaching evolution.

"I write to you now because of a growing threat to the teaching of science," National Academy of Sciences chief Bruce Alberts says in a letter to colleagues March 4. He calls on academy members "to confront the increasing challenges to the teaching of evolution in public schools." The nation's top scientists belong to the congressionally chartered academy.

Albert's plea comes as the National Science Teachers Association prepares to release the survey at the group's meeting March 31. "Teachers are under attack all the time and need more support from scientists," he says.

Gerry Wheeler, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, calls the letter "a good call to arms" to scientists. "I'm hoping it will give teachers the energy to make sure they stand for high-quality science teaching."

To most scientists, evolution is defined as changes in genes that lead to the development of species. They see it as a fundamental insight in biology.

Creationism is the belief that species have divine origin.

Another alternative to evolution is called "intelligent design." Proponents believe some cellular structures are too complex to have evolved over time.

Alberts complains that creationists, under the guise of intelligent design, have attempted to push evolution out of textbooks and classrooms in 40 states. The latest flashpoint is in Kansas, where an local school board contest April 5 features a candidate who supports teaching intelligent design in science classes.

The academy has only rarely strayed into school fights over evolution so it does not appear to be "meddling" in local affairs, Alberts says. But now, he says, "one of the foundations of modern science is being neglected or banished outright from science classrooms in many parts of the United States."

Says Stephen Meyer of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which promotes intelligent design: "My first reaction is we're seeing evidence of some panic among the official spokesmen for science." He says Alberts is wrong — that intelligent design is not creationism but a scientific approach more open-minded than Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

Biologists retort that any reproducible data validating intelligent design would be welcome in science journals. "If there were indeed deep flaws in parts of evolutionary biology, then scientists would be the first to charge in there," says Jeffrey Palmer of Indiana University in Bloomington.

Meyer counters that scientific leaders such as Alberts block a fair hearing of evolution alternatives. "There are powerful institutional and systematic conventions in science that keep (intelligent) design from being considered a scientific process," he says.

"Oh, baloney; they aren't published because they don't have any scientific data," says Barbara Forrest of Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, co-author ofCreationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design.

In his letter, Alberts criticizes Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe, a leading proponent of intelligent design, as being representative of the "common tactic" of misrepresenting scientists' comments to cast doubts on evolution.

Behe calls this "outrageous," saying he simply points out that even establishment scientists note the complexity of biological structures.

Susan Spath, of the National Center for Science Education, a non-profit group that defends evolution, says proponents "need to work together more proactively in educating the public about these issues. The silver lining may be that this is an opportunity to enhance public understanding of science."

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