NTS LogoSkeptical News for 8 April 2005

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings


Friday, April 08, 2005

Evolution backers to boycott Kansas hearings

http://www.kansascity.com/mld/kansascity/news/local/11339782.htm

Posted on Fri, Apr. 08, 2005

By DIANE CARROLL

The Kansas City Star

"Intelligent design is not going to get its forum, at least not one in which they can say that scientists participated."

Harry McDonald, Kansas Citizens for Science

It looks as if the coming hearings on the Kansas science standards will be a one-sided event.

Proponents of intelligent design have lined up 23 witnesses — including one from Italy and another from Turkey — to support their point of view.

But scientists who defend evolution apparently are boycotting the hearings, said Alexa Posny, assistant commissioner for the state Department of Education.

As of Thursday, the state's deadline, only one scientist had agreed to testify and his appearance had not been confirmed, she said.

"We have contacted scientists from all over the world," Posny said. "There isn't anywhere else we can go."

The hearings, tentatively scheduled for May 5-7 and May 12-14, were set up by the conservative majority on the Kansas Board of Education.

Board members say they want the public to hear more about intelligent design, the theory that some aspects of life and its diversity are the result of planned processes, not chance or necessity.

The president of Kansas Citizens for Science, who had called for the boycott, said he was pleased Thursday to hear it was being honored. Intelligent design is the latest form of creationism, Harry McDonald said, and has no place in a science classroom.

In addition, he said, he thinks board conservatives have made up their minds to support a proposal from the intelligent design side that calls for students to learn about the weaknesses of evolution.

"Intelligent design is not going to get its forum, at least not one in which they can say that scientists participated," McDonald said. "We have learned too much to continue participating in this charade."

The board's conservative Republican chairman, Steve Abrams of Arkansas City, called the boycott and the assertion that the board had decided the issue "bull malarkey." The hearings will take place even if evolution's defenders choose not to show, he said.

"If they've got the guns on their side to defend it (evolution), then why not defend it? Instead, what they are going to do is take potshots, they are going to do the one-liners, they are going to do the 30-second sound bite instead of coming in and trying to testify and defend a position that they say is the only position in the world."

The state board voted 6-4 in February to set up a three-member subcommittee to oversee the May hearings. Abrams is the subcommittee's chairman.

The state board periodically updates the standards in each of its curriculum areas. A 26-member committee appointed by Education Commissioner Andy Tompkins has been working to revise the science standards since June. It will present its second draft to the board at its monthly meeting Wednesday.

The board also will receive a second draft that day from the eight members of the science-writing committee who are proposing ideas backed by intelligent design supporters. The board hopes to approve revised standards this summer.

The May hearings are in addition to public hearings earlier this year on the first draft from the 26-member committee. The first draft from the committee's minority group was not presented at that time, although members of the public did comment on it.

Posny said the state invited scientists from all of the state universities in Kansas as well as pro-evolution scientists from across the nation who have critiqued the intelligent design proposal. Also, she said, the state posted the invitation on the Internet list serve of the National Science Teachers Association.

She said she still was trying to reach several evolution-defenders whose names were provided Wednesday by John Calvert, the attorney for the eight on the science-writing committee who favor the intelligent design proposal. One of those scientists has agreed to come, she said.

Calvert said he was happy to hear that Abrams wanted the hearings to go forward.

"I think the public will be educated in a major way," he said.

To reach Diane Carroll,

call (816) 234-7704 or send e-mail to dcarroll@kcstar.com.

First glance

• Hearings on Kansas' proposed science standards are scheduled for May, but as of Thursday, it appeared that scientists were sticking to their promise to boycott the hearings.

Conference explores intelligent design

http://www.spokesmanreview.com/local/story.asp?ID=63325

Skeptics invited to discuss alternative to Darwinism

Pastor John Repsold helped organize Saturday's intelligent design conference at Fourth Memorial Church in Spokane. (Holly Pickett/The Spokesman-Review )

Virginia de Leon
Staff writer
April 8, 2005

As a microbiologist, Scott Minnich of the University of Idaho continues to be amazed by the complexity of organisms.

Take, for instance, bacterial flagellum, a focus of Minnich's numerous experiments and studies. Made up of 40 parts that self-assemble into a rotary engine, the microscopic organism is far more intricate than any motor a human can build, he said.

"The inference is that there's an engineer out there, a very ingenious one," Minnich said.

This has led Minnich and many others to reach a controversial conclusion: Nature points to an intelligent cause, they say.

And for some, that intelligent cause is God.

Intelligent design – a growing movement that teaches living things are too complex to have simply happened and must have been planned – recently has been a contentious issue among scientists, religious leaders, newspaper columnists and even public school districts. This Saturday, it's the topic of discussion during a conference at Fourth Memorial Church in Spokane.

Several hundred people from throughout the area are expected to attend this daylong event sponsored by four area churches – Fourth Memorial, Mt. Spokane Church in Mead, Life Center in Spokane and His Place in Post Falls. Much of the material will come from the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute, a Seattle think tank that is attempting to change the way evolution is taught.

Speakers for the conference will include Minnich, Stephen C. Meyer, a former Whitworth College professor and now the director and senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, and others involved in science and theology. Participants have been encouraged to bring along skeptical friends as they explore this controversial topic, according to organizers.

While intelligent design proponents say it's an alternative to Darwinism, critics have described it as creationism masquerading as science.

"The integrity of science education is best supported by presenting the successes of actual science rather than highlighting philosophical attempts to defend the boundaries of proper science," wrote Matt Young and Taner Edis, authors of a book titled "Why Intelligent Design Fails." "Intelligent design, like older versions of creationism, is not practiced as science. Its advocates act more like a political pressure group than like researchers entering an academic debate."

But intelligent design isn't creationism, proponents say.

"This is not trying to get Genesis back on the dialogue in schools," explained Minnich, one of 20 U.S. scientists who spent several months in Iraq last year searching for weapons of mass destruction. "It's about opening the dialogue."

The conference is being organized by several local pastors and members of a group called the Greater Northwest Apologetics Team. Founded by the Rev. John Repsold of Fourth Memorial, GNAT began about a year ago as a way to "stretch people intellectually while building their faith," he said. Apologetics – the branch of theology that deals with the defense and proof of Christianity – can be a tool for Christians who often encounter opposition in the secular world, Repsold said.

Unlike creationism, which begins with the premise that there is a God, intelligent design starts from scientific evidence and moves in the direction of belief in a creator, Repsold said. It's not necessarily anti-evolution, he stressed, since many members of the Intelligent Design camp also believe that organisms have changed over time.

The main difference between evolution and intelligent design, however, lies in the concept of randomness. Intelligent design proponents challenge Darwin's theory that natural selection was random and without a purpose.

"There are signs of intelligence in all aspects of our scientific endeavors," said Dan Croskrey, chairman of the intelligent design conference. "It points to the very intelligence that the Bible tells us about."

Croskrey, an engineer and member of Newman Lake Missionary Baptist Church, said he struggled for years between the apparent conflict between faith and science. Intelligent design, he said, helped him realize that the two can go hand in hand.

The Bible, after all, challenges people to test all things and hold fast that which is good, said Croskrey.

"If an intelligent being is going to send us a message like the ones in the Bible, he will give a separate source to verify this," he said. That's where nature comes in.

"God's word and God's world – they can't conflict," said Croskrey. "They're telling us the same basic story."

The problem with intelligent design, however, is that even though it may lead some to conclude that an intelligent being must be responsible for creation, there's no way it can verify there is such a thing as God. Repsold and others acknowledge that.

"Science cannot use scientific principles to prove metaphysical issues," the pastor said. "Science will never prove the existence of God, but it will hopefully point to his fingerprints all over the universe."

True science explores every possibility, said Minnich. But Darwinism automatically concludes evolution was a random process and that there is no intelligent being involved. An agnostic for many years, Minnich wasn't satisfied with Darwin's theories whenever he asked, "Is natural selection sufficiently creative to account for the cell? Can natural selection, undirected, have the creative power to produce these things?"

Drawn to the beauty and complexity of organisms, he continued to explore science. "As I got into the biology, I converted to theism," Minnich said.

For Repsold and others, being a true believer in God involves science.

"Faith is all about questions," said Repsold. "God welcomes questions and he's big enough for them."

Bill Would Allow Intelligent Design Teaching Requirement

http://www.thewgalchannel.com/learningmatters/4361853/detail.html

POSTED: 4:47 pm EDT April 8, 2005

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- School boards would be allowed to require the teaching of "intelligent design" as part of science lessons on evolution under a bill that has been introduced in the state House of Representatives.

Intelligent design holds that the universe must have been created by an unspecified guiding force because it is so complex.

Rep. Thomas Creighton, of Lancaster County, said his bill would encourage school boards to broaden the discussion of biological origins to include concepts besides the theory of evolution.

But opponents said intelligent design is merely a secular variation of creationism -- the biblical-based view that regards God as the creator of life.

A York County school district is facing a federal lawsuit over a policy it adopted last fall requiring students to hear a statement about intelligent design during biology class. The lawsuit against the Dover Area School District is scheduled for a trial in September.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press


Thursday, April 07, 2005

IMAX topic too hot for screens

http://www.tallahassee.com/mld/tallahassee/news/local/11329890.htm

Evolution references cause some theaters to avoid volcano film

Posted on Thu, Apr. 07, 2005

Several IMAX theaters are refusing a science film on volcanoes for fear references to evolution might offend those with fundamental religious beliefs.

"We've got to pick a film that's going to sell in our area. If it's not going to sell, we're not going to take it," said Lisa Buzzelli, director of the Charleston, S.C., theater. "Many people here believe in creationism, not evolution."

The film is "Volcanoes of the Deep Sea." It makes a connection between human DNA and microbes inside undersea volcanoes.

IMAX theaters in Texas, Georgia and the Carolinas have declined to show the film, said Pietro Serapiglia, who handles distribution for Stephen Low, the film's director and producer who is from Montreal.

"I find it's only in the South," Serapiglia said.

The publicity generated by the recent controversy over "Volcanoes" has given it new life in some places that previously rejected it. In Texas, the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History has said it will run the film because it now has stronger box-office potential.

And last week, the IMAX theater in Charlotte, N.C., also reversed its decision not to show the movie, saying public discussion and interest had caused the change.

Discovery Place president and chief executive John Mackay Jr. said "Volcanoes" will be shown three times April 14, with producer and director Low introducing one showing and taking questions afterward.

Starting Aug. 12, the film will enter the museum's regular IMAX rotation and run for six months.

"We were surprised at the amount of interest this issue has generated," Mackay said in a statement. "It appears that many people are interested in seeing this film, and we don't want to deny anyone this opportunity."

The museum decided two years ago to pass on the film. But recent stories about the film being rejected for showing in other Southern cities, including Charleston, brought attention to Discovery Place's decision.

Discovery Place estimated it received 100 calls, letters and e-mails in reaction to its decision to pass on "Volcanoes." Responses were mixed.

Mackay has said the film's take on evolution was a "minor consideration" in the museum's initial decision not to show the movie. He said surveys also showed the film might be disturbing to some young children, who make up a large portion of the viewing audience at the theater.

Low said his film makes no definitive statement about evolution and creationism, referring to the creation of the solar system without saying who or what might have been responsible. A reference to bacteria being discovered deep on the ocean floor makes no definitive statement, he said, only that "scientists believe that this is where life may have begun billions of years ago."

He's accused science centers of denigrating the appeal of his film to avoid admitting that they are not screening it because of religious concerns.

Some IMAX theaters are connected to science centers. Charleston's is next to the South Carolina Aquarium but has no formal relationship with the aquarium.

Buzzelli said while the Charleston theater doesn't rule out showing "Volcanoes of the Deep Sea" in the future, she considers people's religious views when showing films.

Whit McMillan, the aquarium's director of education, said that while evolution is taught there, he didn't see a problem with the IMAX decision.

"They're a for-profit theater," he said. "It's basically none of my business."

Some people worry screening out such films will discourage filmmakers from making others in the future.

"It's going to restrain the creative approach by directors who refer to evolution," said Joe DeAmicis, vice president for marketing at the California Science Center in Los Angeles and a former director of an IMAX theater. "References to evolution will be dropped."

Battle over evolution

http://www.pww.org/article/articleview/6779/1/263

Archive Recent Editions 2005 Editions Apr 9, 2005
Author: Nick Bart
People's Weekly World Newspaper, 04/07/05 14:15

"Scientific creationism" came on the scene when the Christian right reared its ugly head in the 1984 Reagan campaign. It was part of the effort by ultra-right ruling class elements to whip up a backlash against the people's movements.

The concept goes back to early 19th century figures like William Paley (1743-1805). He saw it this way: You are walking across a field and accidentally come upon a watch. You pick it up. Wouldn't you marvel at both its complexity and purpose? If one gear were off, wouldn't the watch grind to a halt? Wouldn't such an intricate design with an implicit purpose imply a designer? Paley answered "yes!" In the same way the complexity of organisms and how well they fitted their way of living — birds have wings, fish have fins, and so on — meant there has to be a designer.

A few decades later, Charles Darwin turned that idea on its head. The kernel of Darwin's theory is simple and powerful, and he supplied a mountain of evidence for it. Yes, the organisms best adapted to their environment survive and have offspring. This may be a thick beak to crack nuts or swift feet to avoid predators. But nature is doing the sculpting, not some mysterious outside force. A nut-eating bird whose inherited beak isn't thick enough to do the job might not get enough nourishment. It would be more susceptible to disease and bad weather. It might not be successful in mating and having young. So these genes wouldn't be passed to another generation. That's natural selection.

Fast forward to the 1990s and "intelligent design." It is the brainchild of lawyer Phillip E. Johnson. He initiated the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture, which promotes this latest creationist belief.

Intelligent design proponents simply give Paley's 19th century argumentation a modern twist. They say: look at the complexity and purpose of, for example, the DNA molecule. Doesn't it imply an intelligent designer?

No. Evolution on the cellular and molecular level is well documented. For example, hemoglobin is a very important complex molecule in many organisms. Yet data show this molecule in a simpler form in primitive jawless fish. Its evolution has been traced through all the vertebrate animals, gaining in complexity along the way. Complexity, even on the molecular level, is a product of natural selection and evolution.

Creationists attack Darwin as if there has been no further development of our understanding of evolution since his time. That's not the case. For example, Darwin thought evolution was too slow to observe. We now have seen bacteria change when their environment changes rapidly. Bathe bacteria with antibiotics and up pop strains resistant to those antibiotics. It doesn't take years, let alone millions of years. As in all good science, Darwin provided a theoretical foundation that is proving expansive.

Evolutionary facts and theory are central to the life sciences. Without them natural history would be just a jumble of labels and figures, in which causes and effects are disconnected.

Seeing cause and effect through the scientific method is important in economics and politics too. The ultra right aims to confuse and divide the working class, especially around causes and effects. You don't have health insurance? Blame the gay guy up the street. Your public school is falling apart and taxes are high? Blame teachers' salaries and the teachers' union. You don't have a job? Blame China. Drug dealers on the streets? Blame the nonbelievers. 9/11 attack? Invade Iraq. The list goes on. If a scientific cause-effect analysis is made, the role of class becomes clear, and the real enemies of the people come into focus, as well as real solutions.

The battle over evolution and science is an ideological battle that we must engage. When the Dover, Pa., school board recently mandated that a disclaimer about evolution be read in science classrooms, the science teachers, as one, refused to comply. These teachers put their jobs on the line. They are heroes in the struggle against this attempt to turn the clock back 150 years.

In the 17th century, a janitor named Anton van Leeuwenhoek recorded the first observations of microbes. He said, "On these observations I have spent more time than many will believe, but I have done them with joy….

"My determination is not to remain stubbornly with my ideas but … to use the little talent I have received to draw the world away from old heathenish superstitions and to go over to the truth and to stick to it."

His humility and dedication to science and the truth should inspire us. Like him, let's do it with joy.

The Science of Design

http://www.therealitycheck.org/GuestColumnist/mhartwig040705.htm

by Mark Hartwig

"Intelligent design." It's been in the news a lot lately. Lawsuits over textbook stickers, the presentation of evolution and the legality of presenting alternatives, have thrust the term into public awareness.

But just what is intelligent design? To hear some folks talk, you'd think it's a scam to sneak Genesis into science classrooms. Yet intelligent design has nothing to do with the six days of creation and everything to do with hard evidence and logic.

Intelligent design (ID) is grounded on the ancient observation that the world looks very much as if it had an intelligent source. Indeed, as early as the fifth century BC, the Greek philosopher and astronomer Anaxagoras concluded, "Mind set in order … all that ever was … and all that is now or ever will be."

After 2400 years, the appearance of design is as powerful as ever. That is especially true of the living world. Advances in biology have revealed that world to be one staggering complexity.

For example, consider the cell. Even the simplest cells bristle with high-tech machinery. On the outside, their surfaces are studded with sensors, gates, pumps and identification markers. Some bacteria even sport rotary outboard motors that they use to navigate their environment.

Inside, cells are jam-packed with power plants, assembly lines, recycling units and more. Miniature monorails whisk materials from one part of the cell to another.

Such sophistication has led even the most hard-bitten atheists to remark on the apparent design in living organisms. The late Nobel laureate Francis Crick, co-discoverer of DNA's structure and an outspoken critic of religion, has nonetheless remarked, "Biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed but rather evolved."

Clearly, Crick (and others like him) considers the appearance of design to be strictly an illusion, created by naturalistic evolution. Yet it's also clear that this impression is so compelling that an atheistic biologist must warn his colleagues against it.

In contrast, ID theorists contend that living organisms appear designed because they are designed. And unlike the design thinkers whom Darwin deposed, they've developed rigorous new concepts to test their idea.

In the past, detecting design was hampered by vague and subjective criteria, such as discerning an object's purpose. Moreover, design was entangled with natural theology--which seeks, in part, to infer God's character by studying nature rather than revelation. Natural theologians often painted such a rosy view of nature that they became an easy mark for Darwin when he proposed his theory of evolution. Where they saw a finely-balanced world attesting to a kind and just God, Darwin pointed to nature's imperfections and brutishness.

Since the 1980s, however, developments in several fields have made it possible to rigorously distinguish between things that "just happen" and those that happen "on purpose." This has helped design theory emerge as a distinct enterprise, aimed at detecting intelligence rather than speculating about God's character.

Dubbed "intelligent design" to distinguish it from old-school thinking, this new view is detailed in The Design Inference (Cambridge University Press, 1998), a peer-reviewed work by mathematician and philosopher William Dembski.

In contrast to what is called creation science, which parallels Biblical theology, ID rests on two basic assumptions: namely, that intelligent agents exist and that their effects are empirically detectable.

Its chief tool is specified complexity. That's a mouthful, and the math behind it is forbidding, but the basic idea is simple: An object displays specified complexity when it has lots of parts (is complex) arranged in a recognizable, delimited pattern (is specified).

For example, the article you're now reading has thousands of characters, which could have been arranged in zillions of ways. Yet it fits a recognizable pattern: It's not just a jumble of letters (which is also complex), but a magazine article written in English. Any rational person would conclude that it was designed.

The effectiveness of such thinking is confirmed by massive experience. As Dembski points out, "In every instance where we find specified complexity, and where [its] history is known, it turns out that design actually is present."

Thus, if we could trace the creation of a book, our investigation would lead us to the author. You could say, then, that specified complexity is a signature of design.

To see how this applies to biology, consider the little consider the outboard motor that bacteria such as E. coli use to navigate their environment. This water-cooled contraption, called a flagellum, comes equipped with a reversible engine, drive shaft, U-joint and a long whip-like propeller. It hums along at a cool 17,000 rpm.

Decades of research indicate that its complexity is enormous. It takes about 50 genes to create a working flagellum. Each of those genes is as complex as a sentence with hundreds of letters.

Moreover, the pattern--a working flagellum--is highly specified. Deviate from that pattern, knock out a single gene, and our bug is dead in the water (or whatever).

Such highly specified complexity, which demands the presence of every part, indicates an intelligent origin. It's also defies any explanation, such as contemporary Darwinism, that relies on the stepwise accumulation of random genetic change.

In fact, if you want to run the numbers, as Dembski does in his book No Free Lunch, it boils down to the following: If every elementary particle in the observed universe (about 1080) were cranking out mutation events at the cosmic speed limit (about 1045 times per second) for a billion times the estimated age of the universe, they still could not produce the genes for a working flagellum.

And that's just one system within multiple layers of systems. Thus the flagellum is integrated into a sensory/guidance system that maneuvers the bacterium toward nutrients and away from noxious chemicals--a system so complex that computer simulation is required to understand it in its entirety. That system is meshed with other systems. And so on.

Of course, what's important here is not what we conclude about the flagellum or the cell, but how we study it. Design theorists don't derive their conclusions from revelation, but by looking for reliable, rigorously defined indicators of design and by ruling out alternative explanations, such as Darwinism.

Calling their work religious is just a cheap way to dodge the issues. The public--and our students--deserve better than that.

Mark Hartwig has a Ph.D. in educational psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara, specializing in statistics and research design. He was an early organizer of the intelligent design movement and for 10 years was managing editor of the journal Origins Research, now published as Origins and Design.

His articles on science and science education have appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The Denver Post, The Houston Chronicle, and many other periodicals. He is the former author of The Wedge Update column, and author of The Intelligent Design FAQ. He also co-authored Invitation to Conflict: A Retrospective Look at the California Science Framework, which argued that the California Science Framework, far from being objective science education guidelines, was a polemical document aimed at silencing dissent in the science classroom—and was riddled with errors astonishing for a state with California's intellectual resources.

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


Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Conventional medicine 'would have saved man'

http://www.examiner.ie/pport/web/ireland/Full_Story/did-sgAx5-eNivMzYsglO-LCk0lQvU.asp

05/04/05

By Claire O'Sullivan

A CORONER yesterday said a 49-year-old father of one, who died of suffocation caused by a cancer tumour while receiving alternative therapies, would still be alive had he had received conventional medicine.

Paul Howie's wife claimed she had been subjected to "fear and terror" by Mulranny-based alternative therapist Mineke Kamper while Ms Kamper treated her husband, who died on April 22, 2003.

The jury returned a verdict of death by natural causes on Mr Howie, of 4 Lakelawns, Ballinrobe, Co Mayo, and recommended that anyone contemplating attending alternative health practitioners should first consult a registered medical practitioner.

The inquest in Castlebar was told by consultant pathologist Dr Iqdam Tobbia the dead man's tumour was localised and could have been removed, treated by radiotherapy or chemotherapy to provide a longer and better quality of life.

Last night, Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) president Dr Istaq Assam said there was need for regulation of complementary therapies and alternative medicine.

Ms Kamper, who did not attend the inquest, was also called to an inquest in 2002 when another of her patients died after an asthmatic attack.

At yesterday's hearing, South Mayo coroner John O'Dwyer said it was the second inquest he had conducted in which the deceased was persuaded to abandon conventional medicine. He said it was of great concern to him that unqualified practitioners in healthcare were not answerable to any regulatory authority.

"The Minister for Health needs to address this matter urgently so that more lives are not needlessly lost," said Mr O'Dwyer.

He described as "pitiful" that the only recourse available to him was the imposition of a fine of €6.35 on Ms Kamper for failing to answer the summons served on her.

Ms Kamper was unavailable for comment.

A quick evolution of ruffled feathers

http://www.newsday.com/news/health/ny-hssci064205304apr06,0,7457185.story

College presidents, Intel CEO challenged on Darwinism and the teaching of science at a media roundtable

BY BRYN NELSON
STAFF WRITER

April 6, 2005

How do you make a room of university presidents squirm?

Ply them with salmon and sirloin steak and then serve up the political hot potato of teaching evolution at the high school level.

In a wide-ranging and sometimes heated dinner discussion among media representatives, Intel chief executive Craig Barrett and the presidents of eight major research universities, nearly everyone agreed that science in the United States is losing ground to foreign competitors. Many in attendance at the Science Coalition's yearly media roundtable, held at The Penn Club in Manhattan on Monday, cited fast-charging China and India as important new players, and bemoaned a lack of funding for basic research at home. And several attendees blasted the nation's K-12 science education as woefully inadequate.

"It stinks," Barrett said. He and several university presidents, however, dismissed suggestions that efforts to push evolution out of high school classrooms or to label it unproven may be linked to science's declining fortunes. And a question asking whether the presidents would affirm their support of the scientific theory produced evident discomfort.

National Public Radio correspondent Ira Flatow told the group it was "the elephant in the room," but University of Kentucky president Lee T. Todd Jr. said the evolution question was a "red herring," a sentiment Barrett echoed.

"I can speak up for evolution, but that's because I'm the grateful resident of a blue state," said Stony Brook University president Shirley Strum Kenny. "I might feel differently if I lived in another part of the country where my funding was threatened."

Others bristled at suggestions that they were ducking the issue. "First of all, I am a practicing scientist," said University of Texas at Austin president Larry Faulkner, a chemist. "Secondly, I am a believer in the theory of evolution."

He decried the "near- absence" of science in K-6 education as the real issue behind the nation's scientific slide. Evolutionary theory, he said, has never come up for debate or entered into the university's discussions with other schools during his seven years at the helm. Arizona State University president Michael Crow said the issue hasn't appeared "at any time, at any level" during his nearly three-year tenure.

Eugenie Scott, of the pro- evolution National Center for Science Education, said in a phone interview that university presidents, like many politicians, often step gingerly in an area that crystallizes tension between religion and science.

"Universities are funded by legislatures and by alumni, and those are two constituencies that you want to keep happy," she said, adding, "They'd rather walk on hot coals than talk about something like this."

After Monday's dessert, though, Kenny expressed surprise at the unease: "If a university president doesn't speak out," she said, "who will?"


Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Quest for `academic freedom' could be anything but

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/columnists/sfl-phoward05apr05,0,7413927.column?coll=sfla-news-col

Howard Goodman

Published April 5, 2005

To hear Dennis K. Baxley tell it, Florida's college and university students are in terrible danger.

They are being subjected to "biased indoctrination." Their tormenters are professors, or as Baxley calls them, "dictators."

The Republican state representative from Ocala has come up with a solution: An "academic freedom bill of rights" meant to help any student who feels pushed around by the liberals and secular humanists who are turning our campuses into anti-capitalist re-education camps -- like the gulag, only with kegs and football.

You knew there was a reason they called it "liberal arts," didn't you?

Baxley's bill, which sailed through its first committee hearing in Tallahassee last week, would require that colleges present a "broad range of scholarly opinion." It would protect students from getting bad grades because their political or religious beliefs are out of sync with their professor's.

The bill is to get a hearing today before the House Education Council, which Baxley chairs. The scheduled star witness is David Horowitz, a noted conservative activist who wrote the model for Baxley's bill and similar ones in about a dozen other states.

Baxley says the bill is needed because students with conservative views are now made to feel like outcasts.

This all sounds eminently fair. Everybody wants universities to encourage a variety of ideas.

But this bill titled "academic freedom" would create anything but.

Biology professors who teach evolution might be forced to lecture on creationism. History profs who teach about the Holocaust might be compelled to present the arguments of those who deny that the genocide of 6 million Jews occurred.

With these "rights" codified in state law, an aggrieved student could take a complaint to the courts. Instead of a school's faculty deciding what's taught, the content of courses could be decided in lawsuits.

Faculty groups say the bill actually would limit free speech by intimidating professors. To keep from being sued, they'd make sure to avoid controversial topics -- or to include wacky alternative theories.

"Just imagine, if, in medical school you had a requirement to teach Scientology or the efficacy of prayer or any other alternative that some students thought was a valuable scholarly approach," said Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach. He and Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, cast the only "no" votes in last week's meeting of the House Choice and Innovation Committee. The six Republicans on the panel, including Susan Goldstein, of Sunrise, voted for it.

At the hearing, Gelber asked Baxley if it was true that his bill would give legal standing to students who wanted their courses to include Scientology or refute the Holocaust.

"Well, freedom is a dangerous thing, isn't it?" Baxley answered. "You might hear some things you didn't want to hear. You might get exposed to something you can't control ... [Academic freedom] is not just to protect leftist views."

Huh? Insisting on the reality of the Holocaust is leftist? It's leftist to want medical schools to actually teach medicine?

Given Baxley's influence, the House is expected to approve this backward bill.

Let's hope the Senate shows more sense.

Sure, college faculties are liberal. Just last week The Washington Post reported on a new survey of 1,643 full-time faculty at 183 four-year schools. In it, 72 percent of those teachers called themselves liberal; 15 percent called themselves conservative.

At the most elite schools, the disparity was even greater: 82 percent liberal, 13 percent conservative.

So yes, the situation is dire: Many bright people are liberal.

But where's the evidence these pernicious profs are having an impact on students? Everywhere you look, the country's politics and economic institutions seem more conservative all the time.

These professors must be lousy indoctrinators. Maybe the thing to investigate is their incompetence.

Howard Goodman's column is published Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He can be reached at hgoodman@sun-sentinel.com or 561-243-6638.

Copyright © 2005, South Florida Sun-Sentinel


Monday, April 04, 2005

Pediatric Use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine Libraries

http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/510810/

Medical News Keywords Source: American Medical Association (AMA) Released: Thu 31-Mar-2005, 16:00 ET
Embargo expired: Mon 04-Apr-2005, 16:00 ET

COMPLEMENTARY ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE CHILDREN INSURANCE
Contact Information

Insured pediatric and adolescent patients account for only a small part of total insurance expenditures for complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) but are more likely to use these therapies if their adult family members also use CAM professionals, according to an article.

Newswise — Insured pediatric and adolescent patients account for only a small part of total insurance expenditures for complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) but are more likely to use these therapies if their adult family members also use CAM professionals, according to an article in the April issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Forty-two percent of adults reported the use of complementary and alternative medicine in a 1997 study and the rate of use is increasing, according to background information in the article. But little is known about the use of complementary and alternative medicine by children and adolescents.

Allen Bellas, Ph.D., of Metropolitan State University, Minneapolis, and colleagues analyzed 2002 claims data from two large private health insurers in Washington state. Because Washington state requires private insurers to cover claims for services from CAM-licensed professionals, insurance claims provide a database for investigating the frequency, predictors and expenditures for the use of complementary and alternative medicine by children and adolescents, according to the authors.

Of 187,323 insured children, 156,689 (83.6 percent) had any insurance claims during 2002, the researchers report. For those with claims, 6.2 percent used an alternative professional during the year, accounting for 1.3 percent of the total expenditures and 3.6 percent of expenditures for all outpatient professionals. "Although use of chiropractic and massage was almost always for musculoskeletal complaints, acupuncture and naturopathic medicine filled a broader role," the researchers found.

"We found that CAM use was significantly less likely for males…and more likely for children with cancer, children with low back pain, and children with adult family members who use CAM," the authors write. "Not surprisingly, the most significant factor that determined whether a pediatric patient would use CAM is whether an adult in the family used CAM. The effect of this covariate on the likelihood of a child's use dwarfed all others. This fact may guide professionals obtaining medical histories in the pediatric setting."

"Insured pediatric patients used CAM professional services, but this use was a small part of total insurance expenditures," the authors conclude. "Future studies are warranted to determine the extent to which pediatric CAM use will expand as a result of having insurance coverage."

(Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2005; 159: 367-372. Available post-embargo at http://www.archpediatrics.com.)

Editor's Note: This work was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Md.

© 2005 Newswise.

A debate that won't evolve

http://www.skagitvalleyherald.com/articles/2005/04/04/news/news99.txt

By ISOLDE RAFTERY Staff Writer

BURLINGTON — The seven-year old battle over the attempts of biology teacher Roger DeHart to teach an alternative to evolution theory is gone, but not entirely forgotten.

At least not by Burlington-Edison School Board member Jerry Benson. At the board meeting on March 28, he offered a resolution directing biology teachers to discuss "intelligent design" with their students.

The concept, considered by many to be a Trojan horse for creationism advocates, suggests that life is too complex to have merely evolved; it must have been created by some design.

The DeHart case is several years in the past, but for Benson, who was elected to the B-E school board four years ago as an intelligent design advocate, it is not forgotten.

"I wanted to establish the fact that I'm concerned about this and I think it's an ongoing discussion across the nation and around the world," Benson said. "Why shouldn't we be discussing this with our high school students?"

His question was met with silence.

"Everyone just sat and listened and maybe looked at their shoes," he said.

It was the first time Benson had introduced a resolution on the topic to the board.

In the past, he has brought it up during the board's public discussion period, a time when board members usually express pleasantries about the district or visits they made to a particular school.

But Benson said he felt it was time for a resolution, considering the attention currently being paid to intelligent design elsewhere in the country.

"I don't have to change the curriculum," he said. "I'd like to see the 'teach the controversy' — both sides of Darwinism."

Interest has waned

A recent visit to Burlington by a leading critic of evolution theory didn't attract the crowds that might have been drawn during the DeHart controversy.

On a rainy Saturday morning last month, Don Patton, a biologist known for his criticism of evolutionary theory, arrived at the Burlington-Edison High School cafeteria to make a speech lambasting Charles Darwin and his theory of human development.

About 20-30 people came to hear Patton — which might be considered a meager showing for a lecture about a subject that once engendered so much emotion.

Among those attending was David Leaf, a biology professor at Western Washington University who, seven years ago, monitored rallies in support of DeHart, who taught intelligent design at Burlington-Edison High School.

Leaf is an ardent supporter of evolution — he doesn't think the theory is up for debate, but rather fine-tuning. His interest in Patton's appearance had little to do with the speaker's theories.

"I was mostly curious to see whether 1,000 people would show up," he said.

Missing from Patton's appearance were the busloads of churchgoers from as far away as Lynden and Everett, who showed up in 1998 in support of DeHart.

Also absent, Leaf said, was the shine emanated from the eyes of those at the 1998 rallies as they listened to arguments against Darwin's theory. Those in attendance at Patton's recent speech seemed interested in the debate on more of an intellectual than an emotional level, he said.

School officials would say the lack of intensity reflects the fact that the evolution debate is over in Burlington.

"We had our time and did our thing," said Superintendent Rick Jones. "From our perspective, it's done."

But while the issue may have faded, Benson is making sure the evolution debate does not die completely.

The evolution debate lasted about four years in Burlington, though a small group of activists — including Benson — who meet regularly at Next Chapter Books in La Conner would argue that the debate is still very much alive.

The controversy began when two parents complained to the American Civil Liberties Union about DeHart's curriculum, which placed more emphasis on an intelligent design book called "Of Pandas and People" more than the chapter on evolution in the biology textbook.

The book purports to examine the pros and cons of evolutionary biology. It also sets forth design theory, which stipulates that evolution doesn't explain where high content information, such as DNA, comes from. Design proponents say that because of that gap, DNA must have come from a higher being, or "designer."

The book refutes evolution. One passage reads,

"Intelligent design means that various forms of life began abruptly through an intelligent agency, with their distinctive features already intact - fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks, and wings, etc. Some scientists have arrived at this view since fossil forms first appear in the rock record with their distinctive features intact, rather than gradually developing. "

The ACLU contacted the school district, but school officials at the time backed DeHart's argument that he was "teaching the debate." Later it would come out that Dehart was discrediting evolution in his teaching.

That's when Ken Atkins, a Burlington parent, got involved. He and several other parents scrutinized DeHart's curriculum, and they didn't like the extreme focus on intelligent design.

The district continued to support DeHart. But when Rick Jones, the current superintendent in Burlington, assumed leadership, DeHart was transferred from high school biology teacher to middle school earth sciences teacher.

DeHart eventually resigned. He now teaches at a Christian school in Los Angeles.

But he did not leave Burlington without a rallying cry. Before he left, DeHart asked that his supporters vote themselves onto the school board and work to change the science curriculum.

So nearly four years ago, Benson ran for the school board. He won. Benson is currently the only board member who says he is in favor of teaching intelligent design.

Alternatives to evolution

Intelligent design is not the only theory that criticizes evolution, but it is the most publicized and the one that has attracted the most attention recently.

Some, such as Burlington parent Atkins, argue that the theory is little more than "creationism in disguise."

But unlike design theory, creationism comes straight from Genesis. It supports the idea of Noah's flood and that the earth was created in six days.

While design also attempts to debunk the theory of evolution, it does so without Biblical references.

Western's Leaf, for example, discusses intelligent design and other criticisms of evolution with his college students, but he doesn't believe high school freshmen have the capacity of objectively debate the issue.

"They're very ill-prepared to see the nuances of the pros and cons of any scientific controversy," he said.

That doesn't mean Leaf believes evolutionary theory is perfect or beyond critique.

"Trying to come up with an accurate view with what's happened in the last four and half billion years is tough, and there are going to be a lot of wrong turns," he said. "But there are some fundamentals of evolutionary theories that have been validated over and over again."

But even Jerry Benson's resolution argued that the school district think critically about intelligent design, rather than scrap evolution entirely.

At Next Chapter Books one morning, Benson said he wants students to know about the political debate.

"I just want the kids to know what else is out there," he said.

Isolde Raftery can be reached at 360-416-2148 or by e-mail at iraftery@skagitvalleyherald.com

This document was modified last on Apr 04, 2005 - 11:03:44 PDT


Sunday, April 03, 2005

New entry for SKEPTIC Bibliography (Bunge)

http://www.csicop.org/bib/686

Philosophy In Crisis: The Need for Reconstruction
Mario Bunge

http://www.prometheusbooks.com/catalog/book_933.html
2001, Prometheus; 245p.
anti-science, psi, religion, science:philosophy, skepticism, skepticism:philosophy

A prominent philosopher presents his outline of a comprehensively materialist, pro-science view of the world. Much of the book concerns philosophical issues, and occasionally becomes boring or contains overly confident condemnations of disagreeing points of view. The chapter on pseudoscience will be of most interest to skeptics about the paranormal. Here, Bunge outlines a complex test for whether something is a pseudoscience; this test has a better chance of dealing with real-world complexities than the simpler, "falsifiability"-style notions too often favored by skeptics.

Visit the full bibliography at http://www.csicop.org/bibliography/
Please consider submitting an entry yourself.

Taner Edis, SKEPTIC bibliographer

Other views: 'Design' theory fails basic tests of good science

http://www.in-forum.com/articles/index.cfm?id=87529§ion=Opinion

By John J. Pexton, The Forum
Published Sunday, April 03, 2005

Spurious creationist arguments against the legitimacy of evolutionary biology apparently reappear with a depressing regularity in America. A thinly disguised re-working of these discredited ideas is the relatively new concept of "intelligent design theory," as championed by Tracy Sayler in The Forum (March 27 "Darwinism a religion in itself"). Sayler, in keeping with fellow "intelligent design theorists," commits a number of egregious errors in his reasoning and in his characterization of science.

Is science unfairly biased against the idea of an intelligent designer or the idea that supernatural phenomena could account for various aspects of the universe in which we live? Is neo-Darwinism only a philosophical posture? The answer to both those questions is a resounding no!

When scientists dismiss the idea of creationism it is not out of arrogance, but rather because of the nature of legitimate scientific discourse. Consider the difference between "X is unexplained by science" and "X is unexplainable by science." The former expresses the notion that science hasn't yet explained a particular phenomenon (but will with time and effort); whilst the latter asserts that under no circumstances could science offer a satisfactory explanation.

By definition, if genuinely supernatural phenomena exist they cannot be explained by natural processes. Science could not, in principle, offer us any insight about such "forces." This is because science distinguishes itself by the attempt to discover self-contained and coherent naturalistic explanations of empirically verifiable natural phenomena. Science is thus essentially naturalist.

I doubt that "intelligent design theorists" think that our "designer" is some type of X-files style aliens that genetically engineered us. Rather they wish to sneak a transcendental and thus supernatural designer, into the explanation for the origins of life on earth. Can you guess who this designer might be? That's right, it's a supreme being called God. Supernatural explanations cannot be scientific ones, as in considering them, we move beyond the limits of empirical science into the realm of metaphysics. That is why intellectually honest scientists cannot accept "intelligent design" as a serious scientific hypothesis.

Science, like all complex concepts, ultimately makes philosophical assumptions. The real question is; are those philosophical premises rational, rigorous and reasonable? Science presumes that there is an empirically based reality that exists independently of humans and we can achieve objective knowledge of that reality. Not all philosophers agree that this is a reasonable position; Descartes insisted that nothing beyond knowledge of the self ("I exist") could be truly known (this is known as solipsism).

Even today, in our modern scientific age, post-modern philosophers insist upon the relativity of all truth, because they assert that knowledge is "constructed" and is always subjective at some level. Science rejects such ideas.

The foundation of science is the idea of falsification. This idea is very simple. If I make a prediction about an empirical phenomenon (e.g. all swans are white), anyone can test my hypothesis by looking at the objects that we define as swans. If a blue swan were observed, clearly my initial hypothesis would be rejected. A new hypothesis (all swans are either blue or white) is formulated and it, in turn, can be tested by anyone. Thus science is about the production of non-personal and explicitly public knowledge.

Theological questions (e.g., is there only one God or many?) cannot be tested in the same way because at root such "knowledge" or belief systems are private and profoundly personal. Intelligent design is a theological position not a scientific hypothesis. It cannot be scientifically tested.

Sayler seems to think that direct evidence of a designer can be found in a test-tube or on a microscope slide, an idea that most Christians, I think, would find offensive as it implies that the only truths that humans can know are scientific. Logically if Sayler wants to turn God into a scientific hypothesis, he is actually venerating science above God. If no direct evidence of a designer could be found then does Sayler want those of faith to abandon their philosophical beliefs? What an absurd theological straitjacket he's got himself into!

Science is a determined effort to overcome our subjectivity. This is a taxing affair; it requires that our ideas are open to constant revision (demanding intellectual imagination, rigor and self-discipline). The systematic process of experimentation and observation rigorously tests our thoughts about the material world, eventually eliminating incorrect ideas and concepts.

Science, because it is public knowledge, contains within itself the device of self-correction. That is its crowning glory. Many endeavors contain no such device; one might cite psychoanalysis as an example. Equally there is no such thing as experimental theology. Science is not private dogma; it is not validated by appeals to authority, but rather by appeals to the publicly available evidence.

Public education exists to assure that no one is denied access to the basics of public knowledge and the necessary skills required to critically evaluate that knowledge. It does our children a great disservice if we deliberately avoid discussing ideas and concepts that may challenge some of the belief systems of students (or rather their parents). Would it really be acceptable to teach that earth could equally be round or flat because some kids have parents that believe in a flat earth? What about kids with a Marxist parent that insists historical materialism is given "equal" treatment during history lessons? To bring private beliefs into public education can only undermine any rational notion of what education is about and leave our schools in ruins.

The science classroom is not the place to argue out the legitimacy of our private, personal or political beliefs. To insist on "equal" treatment for a particularly narrow and rather unsophisticated brand of Christian theology in our biology lessons is to allow a covert form of religious bullying to take place.

When science and religion are properly understood there is no need for conflict between them. However, if people insist on interpreting religious texts as scientific textbooks, then conflicts are unavoidable. In the wider context, an attempt to justify faith (belief in the supernatural) with scientific evidence (or indeed philosophical proofs) contradicts the very notion of faith; how can it be faith if it is supported by direct evidence or rationally compelling arguments? Such exercises, including the sophistry of "intelligent design theory" offend both scientists and believers alike.

To quote the Christian theologian Kierkegaard, "Attempts to prove God's existence are an excellent subject for a comedy of the highest lunacy." I think that is something thoughtful people of faith and scientists can agree upon. If a supreme being does exist, the notion that we, as quite limited domesticated primates, could really comprehend the otherness and deeply mysterious nature of such a being is hubris on our part.

As Darwin, commenting on the idea of what is God's nature, suggested, "… the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton. Let each man hope and believe what he can."

Pexton, Ph.D., is a post-doctoral research fellow in the Department of Entomology at North Dakota State University. E-mail john.pexton@ndsu.edu


Saturday, April 02, 2005

Would you Adam and Eve it?

By Stephen Tomkins
Author

A teachers' union has said it is alarmed by an increase in lessons which teach that Adam and Eve was the literal truth, rather the fable which science believes it to be. The rise in creationism is not just an American phenomenon.

For many British people, belief in a six-day creation seems to be one of those incomprehensibly American quirks, like beef jerky and pledging allegiance to the flag. But a large and growing number of British Christians are defying Darwinist orthodoxy in favour of creationism - the belief that Adam and Eve are the mother and father of humanity.

They are less outspoken than in the US, where a new $25m museum of creationism is being built in Kentucky, but they quietly number hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions.

Dr Monty White tours churches throughout the UK, teaching "the biblical view" that the universe is about 6,000 years old.

Evolution is not compatible with Christianity
Dr Monty White

"People believe in evolution because they choose to do so," he says. "There is not a shred of real evidence for the evolution of life on earth."

Though he argues his case scientifically, it is fundamentally a religious commitment, a matter of faith in the Bible.

"Evolution is not compatible with Christianity," he insists. "Genesis tells us that death only came into the world because of Adam's sin. There was no death before then, and you can't have evolution without death."

There is a creationist museum in Portsmouth called Genesis Expo, run by the Creation Science Movement (CSM). Children can play with Boris the dinosaur and learn why evolution is scientifically impossible.

'Brainwashing'

Where do Boris and his fellow dinosaurs fit into this worldview?

Many were killed off in Noah's flood and became fossils. Others hung around to scare our ancestors who called them dragons. Bill Cooper, a council member of CSM, argues the 8th Century poem Beowulf records a genuine encounter with a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

The chairman, Dr David Rosevear, says even non-Christian visitors often accept their claims, "in spite of the brainwashing they get from the media".

"Typically," he says, in a statement that would make arch evolutionist Richard Dawkins' blood run cold, "a mother will bring her children round in the holidays and say to me 'Yes, that's pretty much what I always felt'."

How common are such beliefs among UK Christians?

So many evolutionists are incredibly arrogant and give the impression that only fools believe in creation
The Reverend William Gardner

Monty White feels he is in a growing minority, David Rosevear in a clear majority. More objectively, the Evangelical Alliance has polled its members, which number about a million.

One-third of those surveyed believe Adam and Eve were created within six days of the start of the universe. Of the other two-thirds, some would accept evolution while others see Adam and Eve being created after six "ages" of creation, rather than six literal days.

Reverend William Gardner of Devonshire Drive Baptist Church in Greenwich is one minister who endorses the creationist view. He says the world was created in six days, several thousand years ago, and he teaches this in church.

Is evolution incompatible with Christianity? "Yes," he says, "because ultimately evolution simply dismisses God."

He feels frustrated that the scientific evidence is not treated more seriously. "So many evolutionists are incredibly arrogant and give the impression that only fools believe in creation, when there are many eminent scientists who say there is some evidence of design there."

Most apologists for creationism share this frustration. One of CSM's leaflets rallies support for teaching creation in schools: "The hard-nosed humanism of evolutionism has become entrenched in the British educational system and in society at large. We need your dedicated support to topple it!"

Dr White is less gung-ho, but is saddened and mystified by schools' refusal to set Genesis alongside Darwin. In his university career, there was often open and heated debate on the subject, so why not in the classroom? "I simply don't understand what the problem is. Why can't evolution be criticised in schools?"

Bucking the trend

On the other side of the desk, Mel is 16 and goes to an Anglican church in Leeds. She respects people who don't take Genesis literally, but no one has yet convinced her that evolution is more than a theory.

"People think you're nuts if you don't believe in evolution," she says. "But maybe in 100 years there'll be some new discovery, and people living then will think that everyone today was nuts to believe we evolved from monkeys."

How, at this already sufficiently awkward age, does it feel to be so out of step with the world around you?

"If you're a Christian, you have to go against the flow on all kinds of things - sex, smoking and getting drunk. Evolution isn't a big deal really. It doesn't come up a lot."

Add your comments to this story using the form below:

Any philosopher of science will tell you that evolution is theory, not fact, but so is gravity and all other pieces of scientific knowledge. However, gravity being a theory (rather than irrefutable fact) doesn't stop us from putting astronauts on the moon. Creationists should really rethink what science is before criticising it. George, UK

I have no right to accuse a Christian of holding a false belief. Why should anyone have a right too deny my belief in evolution? If it is wrong, where is the proof? Ray Lashley, Bristol, UK

Neither evolution or creationism can be scientifically proven, in the sense that you can recreate the conditions that led to them. What we believe about our origins is therefore a matter of faith, not fact. I used to believe in evolution, and now I don't. It isn't just that I object to the teaching of evolution as fact or that there are proponents of evolution who use the theory to promote their atheistic views. It is because of the abuse of science and a belief in random chance that suspends belief more than the belief in a creator.
John Airey, Peterborough, UK

I remain deeply worried about any closed minded approach to teaching. While I personally believe in Darwinian evolution through natural selection, I'm happy for it to be held up against creationism since exploration of ideas is how we learn. However, why just use the Christian orthodoxy? To be truly fair, you have to look at all the major religions, at all major theories. Ian, UK

It's so refreshing to see the media actually producing an article that delivers the Christian creation account, rather than hindering it.
Joe Burrows, England

I really don't understand why these people try to say that evolution and Christianity are mutually exclusive. It seems self-defeating, because there's far more evidence for evolution than there is for the theological hurdles required to be a Christian.
Michael Hammond, UK

Believing in evolution takes just as much faith as believing in a six-day creation - it is all about interpretation of the evidence. Evolution is actually impossible, but the scientific community and the media (especially the BBC) seem so intent on indoctrinating the country that evolution is fact.
Stuart, UK

Creationism offers an explanation only if you have previously accepted the belief in a Christian god. So presumably then this invalidates any non Christian belief system including Hindus, Buddhists, etc. in one fell swoop. And creationist call evolutionists arrogant!
Stuart band, UK

Belief in the creation theory merely encourages man's belief in his importance over all other life on the planet. A view which has ultimately resulted in the environmental problems we now suffer.
Greg Miller, United Kingdom

If you believe Creationism, you are not just dismissing Darwin's theory of evolution as wrong, but by believing that the earth is only about 6,000 years old, you are contradicting theories of cosmology, hydrology, geology, glaciology, palaeontology, archaeology, radioactivity and linguistics, many of which were developed before Darwin's work was published.
Tim, Bath, England

If Adam & Eve (both white) were the parents of us all & there is no evolution how does the church explain the existence of non-white races? Evolution isn't simply a theory: you can watch it happen in a lab. Bacteria, viruses & even mice live short enough lives that you can physically see the changes at each generation. If there is no evolution how do bacteria become resistant to drugs? Did God say "on the 8th day I will make MRSA"?
Peter, Nottingham

Evolution is a theory, and should be taught as such along with the evidence to back it up. If Creationism is also taught as a theory, then all well and good (although what evidence there is for this other than one book I would love to know).
Angela Turner, The New Forest, England

You can be a committed Christian and believe in evolutionary theory. Not all scientists are in agreement about the specifics of evolution anyway. There are many unexplained gaps (has anyone ever produced an example of a real 'missing link' in process of evolving?) Somewhere in the middle lies the truth.
Jim McEvoy, England

I'm just interested to learn how many Christians in the UK believe in evolution. I'm a Christian, know hundreds others, yet have never met a creationist, including our vicar.
Matt Pointon, Vietnam

I'm an Anglican Christian and I think creationism is absolute nonsense. It's from the 'sticking your head in the sand' school of 'faith' which is coming out of America. The Book of Genesis is a mythical fable, behind which lie deeper meanings about the origin of humanity and life
Ed King, U.K.

Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/magazine/4398345.stm

Published: 2005/04/01 10:21:38 GMT

© BBC MMV

New find suggests more mammals lived among the dinosaurs

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/05091/481073.stm

Friday, April 01, 2005

By Byron Spice, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Wally Windscheffel doesn't recall whether he or his pal Charles Safris saw the gray, fist-sized rock first. It might have just been a rock, after all; only the black speck on one end suggested it was something more.

But once he got back to his home in Grand Junction, Colo., and began picking off the gray bentonite, Windscheffel, 78, realized that black speck was a fossil jaw. And a black speck on the other side of the rock turned out to be a tail bone.

As more of the rock gave way, he realized he had something very rare: an almost complete skeleton of a mammal that lived among the dinosaurs 150 million years ago during the Late Jurassic period.

And this mouse-size critter was a strange one. Its small head, tapered body and particularly its massive forearms reminded the retired Navy submariner of a favorite cartoon character. So he nicknamed it Popeye.

"We'd never seen anything like Popeye before," said John Wible, curator of mammals at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, recalling the day in 1999 when Windscheffel showed the fossil to him and his colleague Zhe-Xi Luo. "We were just totally blown away."

As he and Luo report in today's issue of the journal Science, this Popeye didn't use its mighty forearms to bust open cans of spinach, but likely used them to dig up colonies of termites to gobble up. Its arms and peg-like teeth are similar to those of the armadillo and the aardvark, but the now-extinct Popeye was a very different animal.

Scientists have previously found fossils of mammals that co-existed with dinosaurs -- the so-called Mesozoic Era -- but those mammals are more alike than not: small, insect-eating animals that lived on the ground or in trees. It was believed that a great diversity of mammals did not appear until the dinosaurs died off.

None of these previous mammals have displayed the same degree of specialization as Popeye, said Luo, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the museum. "It's more than just 'gee whiz,'" he insisted; rather, the existence of Popeye suggests Mesozoic mammal life was highly diverse and that lots of mammal species remain to be discovered from that era.

"It's not the oldest example of a digging animal [that would be a reptile] but it may be the oldest digging mammal," said Kenneth Rose, a paleontologist and authority on digging mammals at Johns Hopkins University. He agreed that Popeye suggests that Mesozoic mammals were far more diverse than suspected. "It certainly adds a new dimension."

In addition to peg-like teeth and strong arms, Popeye even has a backbone similar to that of armadillos, with vertebrae joints that may help stabilize the back while digging. But Popeye predates the armadillo by about 100 million years. Despite the similarities, Luo said these specialized features evolved independently, an example of what scientists call "convergent adaptation."

Unlike aardvarks and armadillos, which are placental mammals, Popeye has features common to monotremes, or egg-laying mammals, Rose noted.

The quarry near Fruita, Colo., where Windscheffel and Safris found Popeye is part of the Morrison formation, the same geological formation as Dinosaur National Monument, the source of most of the Carnegie's world-famous dinosaur collection.

Windscheffel first visited the site two decades ago, as part of an expedition organized by the group called Earthwatch. He returned again and again, eventually moving from San Diego to Grand Junction. He now regularly visits the Fruita quarry as a volunteer on behalf of the Carnegie museum.

"This is something that's critical to museums in general," Wible said of volunteers such as Windscheffel.

Though nicknamed Popeye, the creature's formal name is Fruitafossor windscheffelia -- giving nods to the location of the find, the animal's propensity for digging (fossor is Latin for digger) and to Windscheffel.

(Post-Gazette science editor Byron Spice can be reached at bspice@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1578.)

MIOS MEETING

Metroplex Institute of Origin Science

See
In The Beginning
Catastrophic Plate Tectonics
And The Flood

How did the Genesis Flood happen? A radical new super-computer model of catastrophic plate tectonics, developed by Dr. John Baumgardner at Los Alamos National Laboratory shows how runaway thermal subduction may have caused the breakup and flooding of Pangea, the early supercontinent. Dr. Baumgardner is one of a group of six creation scientists, also including Dr. Andrew Snelling at the Creation Science Foundation in Brisbane, Dr. Russell Humphreys at Sandia National Laboratories, with Dr. Larry Vardiman and Dr. Steven Austin at the Institute for Creation Research. The group of six creationists combine a wide range of specialization's to show that the evidence does support the Genesis account of origins. This is a truly fascinating video. Do not miss it.

Bucky Auditorium
Medical Office Building
2126 Research Row, Dallas, TX

Tuesday, April 5th, 7:30 PM

Clearwater coming to terms with Scientologists

http://www.dfw.com/mld/dfw/living/religion/11285114.htm

Posted on Sat, Apr. 02, 2005

By Paul Nussbaum

Knight Ridder News Service

CLEARWATER, Fla. - After decades of lawsuits, secrecy and confrontation, Clearwater, Fla., is seeing the softer side of Scientology.

Clearwater is the religious headquarters of the Church of Scientology, much as Salt Lake City is for Mormons and Mecca is for Muslims.

Scientology, which made the city its "spiritual base" 30 years ago and now dominates downtown, is seeking broader acceptance as it continues to expand. In mainstream conversation, Scientology is often associated with celebrity adherents, such as Tom Cruise, Kirstie Alley and John Travolta.

Scientology, founded in 1954 by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, describes itself as the world's fastest-growing religion and says it has 8 million members worldwide.

Its adherents don't worship a deity or pray. They believe that people are immortal spirits and that a progression of self-improvement techniques and counseling sessions, known as "auditing," can help them live more productive, satisfying lives. The goal is to become "clear" -- free of mental blocks caused by painful subconscious memories.

Church officials estimate that 10,000 Scientologists live in the Tampa Bay, Fla., area, including 6,000 in Clearwater, and that 15,000 others visit annually for spiritual training.

Why Clearwater? It is close to the Caribbean, where the ships of the marine-based organization were before the move; it has a gentle climate, is near a major airport, and is "out of the hectic day-to-day grind" of a big city. (Scientology's top officials remain in Los Angeles, the church's administrative headquarters.)

Although some Clearwater neighbors still dismiss it as an unwanted cult, it is joining civic groups and opening its current headquarters -- the restored landmark Fort Harrison Hotel -- for tours, weddings and banquets. The new openness comes as the church is completing a huge new headquarters two blocks from City Hall.

Clearwater and Scientology have a long and sometimes contentious history. But while the organization's hundreds of uniformed staffers and blue-and-white buses are still much in evidence in the sleepy downtown, there is less friction now than in the past.

"They've made an effort to be more visible in the community," Mayor Frank Hibbard said. "They're active in everything from Boys and Girls Club to the aquarium to the downtown development board."

When Scientology arrived in 1975, it did so under an assumed name, and for years local police maintained "criminal intelligence" files on it.

Now, the church is a governor of the Tampa Bay Partnership, a regional economic development organization. Scientologists sit on boards of such organizations as the regional chamber of commerce, the Clearwater economic development committee and the arts foundation.

Not everyone agrees that the stigma is gone.

"Most people in Clearwater look at it in a cultlike fashion," said the Rev. William Rice, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church. "But the amount of money and the clout they have is a bit overwhelming. At some point, you wonder what the end-game is."

Mayor Hibbard said the shift from rejection to acceptance was by no means complete. On a scale of zero to 10, with 10 being full acceptance, he said community sentiment was 0 to 1 when Scientologists arrived.

"Now, I'd say it's 4 to 5," he said.


Friday, April 01, 2005

Evolution education update: "ID" legislation in PA, KS kangaroo court in crisis, creationism/evolution on NewsHour

"Intelligent design" legislation is introduced in the Pennsylvania legislature, while the boycott of the "kangaroo court" in Kansas seems to be working, and the creationism/evolution controversy arrives on PBS's NewsHour.

"INTELLIGENT DESIGN" LEGISLATION IN PENNSYLVANIA

On March 16, 2005, a bill -- HB 1007 -- promoting "intelligent design" creationism was introduced in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and referred to the Education Committee. If enacted, HB 1007 would add a section ("Teaching Theories on the Origin of Man and Earth") to the Public School Code of 1949. That new section would allow school boards to include "intelligent design" in any curriculum containing evolution and allow teachers to use, subject to the approval of the board, "supporting evidence deemed necessary for instruction on the theory of intelligent design." The term "intelligent design" is not defined in the bill. Presumably attempting to prevent a challenge to its constitutionality, HB 1007 explicitly states, "When providing supporting evidence on the theory of intelligent design, no teacher in a public school may stress any particular denominational, sectarian or religious belief."

Reaction from Pennsylvania scientists is so far uniformly negative. Colin Purrington, a biology professor at Swarthmore College, commented that the bill "would encourage local school districts to promote the teaching of intelligent design creationism alongside the well-accepted theory of evolution," and Randy Bennett, a biology professor at Juniata College, quipped, "Next we will be asked to teach the revolutionary idea that there are four elements in the universe: Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water." Looking on the bright side, Larry Frankel, the legislative director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, remarked, "While this bill seeks to advance an anti-science agenda, we should view the introduction of this legislation as a golden opportunity to remind our legislators why it is so important that all Pennsylvania's public school students learn good science." Pennsylvania citizens concerned about the bill are encouraged to get in touch with NCSE's Nick Matzke: matzke@ncseweb.org.

To read the text of HB 1007 (PDF format), visit:
http://www2.legis.state.pa.us/WU01/LI/BI/BT/2005/0/HB1007P1153.pdf

KANSAS KANGAROO COURT IN CRISIS

With the publication of "Biologists snub 'kangaroo court' for Darwin" in the March 31, 2005, issue of Nature, worldwide attention is on the controversial six days of hearings planned over the place of evolution in Kansas's science standards. The call of Kansas Citizens for Science for scientists to boycott the debates is evidently being heeded: Nature reports that no evolutionary biologists have agreed to participate in the hearings. "They say that the board has already decided to include language that is friendly to intelligent design in the new science standards." Although the chairman of the state school board describes the purpose of the hearings as educating the board members, KCFS president Harry McDonald charges that it is simply "a political smokescreen" to provide cover for the board to compromise the teaching of evolution in Kansas's public schools.

Meanwhile in Kansas, a forceful editorial in the March 30 issue of the Wichita Eagle reiterated the newspaper's opposition to the hearings, which, in its view, "have no credibility." A staffer at the Kansas Department of Education, which is helping to organize the hearings, told the Eagle that "[w]e're not getting any takers," despite having asked the scientists who reviewed the so-called minority report version of the science standards as well as scientists in Kansas and around the country to participate. "It's not hard to understand scientists' reluctance," the editorial remarked: "The format of the hearings -- 'experts' debating for and against evolution -- suggests a rough equivalence of legitimacy that simply doesn't exist. ... Besides, the three creationist BOE members presiding over the hearings appear to have already made up their minds. So what's the point?"

To read "Biologists snub 'kangaroo court' for Darwin" in Nature (subscription required), visit: http://www.nature.com/news/2005/050328/full/434550a.html

To read the editorial in the Wichita Eagle, visit: http://www.kansas.com/mld/eagle/news/editorial/11260641.htm

To read NCSE's extended coverage of the ongoing controversy in Kansas, visit: http://www.ncseweb.org/pressroom.asp?state=KS

CREATIONISM/EVOLUTION ON NEWSHOUR

PBS's NewsHour broadcast a segment entitled "Creation Conflict in Schools" on March 28, 2005. Among the people interviewed for the segment were Answers in Genesis's Ken Ham, the Discovery Institute's Stephen C. Meyer, the University of Georgia's Edward J. Larson, and NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott, during her recent visit to Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. Shown while conducting a teacher training session in Danville and in conversation with NewsHour's Jeffrey Brown, Scott deplored both attempts to introduce pseudoscientifc alternatives to evolution in the science classroom and attempts to discredit evolution by describing it as "just a theory." Addressing a recently revived antievolutionist tactic, Scott told Brown, "'Teach the controversy is a deliberately ambiguous phrase. It means 'pretend to students that scientists are arguing over whether evolution took place.' This is not happening. I mean you go to the scientific journals, you go to universities like this one and you ask the professors, is there an argument going on about whether living things had common ancestors? They'll look at you blankly. This is not a controversy." Also noteworthy were appearances by Danville high school biology teacher Matthew Lauer, whose classroom wall holds a copy of the state science standards with the word "evolution" substituted for the ersatz "change over time" and by Centre College biology professor Chris Barton, who explained, "Without evolution, it's very, very difficult to make any sense out of what we see in the biological realm."

For streaming video or RealAudio versions of the segment, or to read a transcript, visit: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/education/jan-june05/creation_3-28.html

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.

Sincerely,

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
800-290-6006
branch@ncseweb.org
http://www.ncseweb.org

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

Academic Extinction

http://www.dailycal.org/article.php?id=18178

More and More, Evolutionary Theory is Becoming Nothing More than Darwinian Mantra

By DAVID BERLINSKI
Friday, April 1, 2005

Wearing pink tasseled slippers and conical hats covered in polka dots, Darwinian biologists are persuaded that a plot is afoot to make them look silly. At Internet web sites such as The Panda's Thumb or Talk Reason, where various eminences repair to assure one another that all is well, it is considered clever beyond measure to attack critics of Darwin's theory such as William Dembski by misspelling his name as William Dumbski. Publishing his work with the Cambridge University Press, hardly a venue known for its slack intellectual standards, Dembski has proposed that designed structures in nature might be detected by means of a rigorous analytical test. The idea of design is a staple of the social, anthropological and forensic sciences. It is the crucial metaphor in Noam Chomsky's minimalist theory. Dembski holds two PhD's, the first from the University of Chicago in mathematics, and the second from the University of Illinois in philosophy.

Dumbski indeed. Elsewhere, rhetoric is more measured, even if it conveys arguments no more compelling. After alluding to Intelligent Design at a faculty cocktail party—Je m'imagine cela—the dean of undergraduate education at the University of Calfornia at Berkeley was amazed and remarked "that colleagues indicated a great deal of sympathy for this alternative to 'Darwinism.'"

His amazement notwithstanding, the dean's defense was a model of evasive circumspection.

"Although I told them that few, if any, reputable biologists in the country subscribe to intelligent design, I could tell that they were not persuaded. Somewhat dismayed, I turned to other, more congenial issues."

Now these are remarkable words, if only because they reveal that a prominent academic regards it as quite natural to be dismayed on those occasions when his views are disputed. They are remarkable as well because they indicate that the dean is persuaded that dissent might in the case of Darwin's theory be ended by an appeal to what "reputable biologists believe."

My dear dean. Allow me to set you straight. It is precisely the reputable biologists who are under attack. For the first time, they are being asked to defend the thesis that biological design is more apparent rather than real. The effort has left them breathless. They are, of course, not about to surrender their ideological allegiances. Their rhetoric fills the op-ed columns of every liberal newspaper and is conveyed additionally by academic allies whose welfare is contingent on theirs —analytic philosophers, pop psychologists, and even newspaper columnists eager beyond measure to do anything but attentively study the evidence.

But what is at issue, of course, is not what reputable biologists believe, but whether it is true.

A great many ordinary men and women are persuaded that it is not. And even at Berkeley. Their dissatisfaction has traveled as far a field as Paris. Expertise is hardly at issue. Darwin's theory of evolution is not protected by the twelve doors mentioned in Revelation 21:21. It is right there in plain sight.

The unfathomable complexity of living systems, Darwin's theory affirms, is the result of random variation and natural selection. Is it indeed? Of these concepts, the second is hopelessly confused and the first is of no intellectual interest. Darwin's theory, when the thing is plainly considered, is no more than a form of behaviorism written on the level of the species. Like those endless psychological experiments, all of them conducted apparently at Harvard, in which some undergraduates were trained to say ouch after being stuck with a pin, and others to say ooh, species, on Darwin's view, are trained to say ouch or ooh when stuck by the environment.

B.F. Skinner is long dead, and among the dinosaurs, behaviorism in psychology has been the first to descend, honking sadly, into the tar pits.

What reputable biologists believe is one thing; what they fear is there in plain sight.

"Everyone on the Berkeley campus should be exposed to the arguments supporting real science and to the fallacies of views based on guesswork and unfounded hypotheses."

Ah, yes, Everyone should. Even at Berkeley.

David Berlinski is a fellow of the Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture.


Thursday, March 31, 2005

Intelligent design belongs — but not in our schools

http://www.kaimin.org/viewarticle.php?id=4220

Austin Modine
Montana Kaimin

Everything has its place — birds in the air, fish in the sea, science in the textbooks and religion in the church.

People can dress religion up and call it Intelligent Design, but America must see through the sheep's clothing and recognize it for the wolf that it is.

Christian activists are eager to take credit for a Republican victory in the 2004 elections, and the GOP has been more than willing to comply with its demands of greater political consequence. The party has shrugged off long-standing GOP principles of supporting state court decisions and promising a less-intrusive federal government in order to appease the Christian right.

New-founded controversy surrounds one of the long-standing thorns wedged deep in the paw of fundamentalist Christian activists: the notorious "chapter one" in America's biology textbooks — evolution.

A new campaign against teaching science in schools that does not conform to Judeo-Christian interpretations of the book of Revelations has been growing. Nine states have recently proposed legislation that would require that Intelligent Design, a Trojan horse of Christian teachings, be taught in public schools with equal weight as evolution.

In modern times, when the argument for teaching divine creation in public schools is taken to court, the decision almost always falls against it. The Constitutional hurdle that religious activists must clear to get inside our schools still stands — battered and weatherworn — but solid. The separation of church and state will not allow for public schools to favor and teach religious beliefs as science.

But Christian activists have a political sleight-of-hand to use against this barrier, called Intelligent Design. This belief is that the biology on our planet is too complex to have been formed by chance or circumstance and therefore must have a divine origin.

Proponents will argue that Intelligent Design is non-denominational, as it does not specify a Christian God. Such statements are hard to swallow when you consider that the creator of ID, Phillip Johnson, has publicly admitted:

"The objective is to convince people that Darwinism is inherently atheistic, thus shifting the debate from creationism vs. evolution to the existence of God vs. the non-existence of God. From there people are introduced to the truth of the Bible and then the question of sin and finally introduced to Jesus."

But more importantly, Intelligent Design fails to meet the guidelines to be considered an actual science by law established by the 1982 court decision of McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education.

The ruling stated that science is guided by natural (physical or biological) law, explanatory by reference to natural law, testable against the empirical world, has conclusions that are tentative, and makes predictions that can be tested by observation.

Intelligent Design is based on a supernatural presupposition that cannot be tested. And taken as science, ID's application is shaky, at best. Since its conception, there hasn't been a peer-reviewed paper in a scientific journal that uses ID as a scientific platform for a new experimental result or observation.

Still, ID is being pushed as a scientific alternative to evolution — a science that, contrary to the former, is applicable in scientific discovery.

Christianity has brought immense good to this world, but it does not belong in our schools taught as a science. We cannot ignore the precedent letting ID in our schools will set if we let one denomination into our science books over all others.

-Austin Modine, arts editor

New battle over evolution erupts in nation's schools

http://www.kansascity.com/mld/kansascity/news/nation/11270305.htm

Posted on Wed, Mar. 30, 2005

BY ALEXANDRA WITZE

The Dallas Morning News

DALLAS - (KRT) - Even teachers call it the E-word.

Evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology, yet many teachers face disapproval and even anger for teaching it, more so than for any other lesson plan. Nearly one-third of science teachers say they feel pressured to teach creationism or other nonscience-based alternatives along with evolution in their classrooms, according to a new study by the National Science Teachers Association.

How to face that pressure - and defuse it - is the topic of several major lectures at the group's annual convention, which starts Thursday at the Dallas Convention Center and downtown hotels.

Among the 12,000 attendees will be Luciana Lang, a biology teacher at Lake Highlands High School in the Richardson school district. One student recently called her un-Christian for trying to teach evolution.

"I get a lot of, `Why are we learning this, that's not what my pastor told me, this is wrong, this is of the devil,'" says Lang. "You hear it all before you actually get into the topic."

Her classes are a microcosm of daily discussions - and a few battles - that take place in classrooms nationwide. Like many teachers, Lang doesn't fear talking about evolution but knows she has to prepare herself for potential confrontations with students or parents who question the topic.

Surveys indicate that many teachers give short shrift to evolution because they worry about provoking such reactions. But the state science curriculum, as required by the Texas Education Agency, includes direct reference to evolution, and students must learn it in order to pass the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.

"Whether or not you use the E-word, you're inevitably teaching evolution if you teach biology," says Kimberly Bilica, a science education specialist at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Bilica is one of the few researchers to study the factors that affect teachers' attitudes toward evolution. For her 2001 doctoral dissertation at Texas Tech University, she surveyed 175 high school biology teachers in the state.

More than half of the teachers reported substituting the words "change over time" - an incomplete description of evolution - in the classroom to lessen conflicts. One-quarter reported that parents pressured them to avoid some evolution topics.

Teachers also said they devoted less time to each of the seven concepts about evolution than they would have done if they had unlimited freedom to teach.

"In every single category, we found that teachers would prefer to teach evolution to a greater extent but they can't," says Bilica.

The pressure to downplay evolution generally came from parents, her survey found. Strong support from principals and other teachers helped counteract that pressure.

The National Science Teachers Association survey also found that 30 percent of teachers said they felt "pushed to de-emphasize or omit evolution or evolution-related topics from their curriculum." Again, the teachers felt most of the pressure coming from students or parents, not administrators or principals.

In general, teachers say, evolution suffers from a stigma that no other aspect of biology does.

"There is considerable evidence that evolution often is not emphasized in a manner commensurate with its importance in explaining the natural world," says Gerald Skoog, a noted Texas Tech expert on science education.

The most successful teachers address the controversy head-on, says Leslie Jones, a science education researcher at Valdosta State University in Georgia. They begin by clarifying what evolution is and what it is not.

At its most basic, evolution is descent with modification - the notion that new species emerge over generations as their genetic makeup changes, so that all life forms on Earth share a common ancestor. Many different lines of evidence support biological evolution.

But students often enter the classroom with powerful misconceptions about evolution - that Charles Darwin said that man comes from monkeys, or that evolution is a pitch to deny God, says Jones. Experts sometimes advise teachers to begin by talking about these misperceptions.

One commonly heard idea is that evolution is "just a theory." In popular terms, "theory" is used to describe a hunch, or something someone suspects might be true. In science, a theory is a well-developed, well-tested explanation that describes observations of the natural world. Evolution may be "just a theory," but so is gravity.

Evolution's newest challenge comes in the form of "intelligent design," which holds that certain features of living organisms are best explained by the existence of an intelligent designer rather than by the process of natural selection. Proponents stop short of naming who or what that designer might be, but say that intelligent design provides an alternative explanation for the diversity of life on Earth.

Although intelligent design is not scientific, it has staked new ground in the long-simmering feud between scientists and creationists.

In 1925, Tennessee teacher John Scopes was convicted in the famous "monkey trial" of teaching evolution against state law. Not until 1987 did the U.S. Supreme Court rule that teaching creationism was a violation of the separation between church and state.

Now, in Kansas, the state board of education is considering revising the state's science standards to include intelligent design. In Dover, Pa., teachers were told to read an evolution disclaimer in their biology classes; they refused. In Cobb County, Ga., biology textbooks were labeled with stickers questioning evolution until a U.S. district judge recently ordered them removed.

Many activists from the "creation science" movement of the 1980s have now rallied under the banner of intelligent design, led mainly by the Seattle-based Discovery Institute.

William Dembski, a leading proponent of intelligent design, recently said at a seminar at the University of Texas at Dallas that the idea was treated unfairly in public discussions.

"Usually what happens in these debates is that design is ruled out of court," said Dembski, of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

But not in the classroom. Data suggest that about one-third of biology teachers give class time to discussing creationism and/or intelligent design, says Skoog of Texas Tech. Most of them do so because of student interest, because they want to be perceived as fair, or because of the historical significance of creationism.

Many students are reassured to discover that learning evolution doesn't mean they have to deny their faith, says Lang, the Lake Highlands teacher. Her students usually leave the classroom more relieved than when they started.

That idea is borne out, time after time, by leading scientists and science educators who are also deeply religious.

"Belief is not the issue - understanding is the issue," says John Staver, a professor of science education at Kansas State University and a key player in the Kansas debate.

Beyond the classroom, other public arenas face their own challenges with evolution. The Fort Worth Museum of Science and History drew criticism this month over media reports that it had chosen not to show the IMAX movie "Volcanoes of the Deep Sea" because of brief references to evolution.

Charlie Walter, the museum's chief operating officer, says the decision was based on the film not rating well in audience tests, not on any controversy over evolution. The museum has since decided to take advantage of the public attention and is showing the film for a month this spring and for a longer period in the fall.

Teachers hope that their students will come to the same kind of understanding.

"The most important thing is to teach evolution," says Jones, "and teach it well."

© 2005, The Dallas Morning News.

Visit The Dallas Morning News on the World Wide Web at http://www.dallasnews.com

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services

Copeland's Cure: Homeopathy and the War between Conventional and Alternative Medicine

http://www.csicop.org/bib/685

Natalie Robins

http://www.randomhouse.com/knopf/catalog/display.pperl?0375410902

2005, Knopf; 352p.
quackery:history

These days, there is standard medical practice, the usual thing that graduates of medical schools are engaged in, and there are many alternatives: acupuncture, chiropractic, herbal remedies, naturopathy, aromatherapy, and many more. Alternative medicine, to the disgust of many doctors and skeptics, has gotten some official level of approval; there's the Office of Complementary and Alternative Medicine in the National Institutes of Health, and financial approval shown by coverage from many insurance companies. Among the most famous of such therapies is homeopathy, so it is timely to read this book. It is mostly a biography of Royal Samuel Copeland, a homeopath, conventional doctor, eye surgeon, Health Commissioner of New York City, and U.S. Senator, but Copeland's constant efforts for his beloved homeopathy encompassed the practice's heyday. The controversies he battled are the same ones that alternative medicines are experiencing today, making Robins's detailed look at Copeland's life useful background for current clashes. Robins says that she has tried to give both sides of the argument about homeopathy, but admits that "scientific proof is only a distant possibility." Even one of the modern homeopaths profiled here says, "I find myself in agreement with those editors of the New England Journal of Medicine who wrote that there is not alternative and conventional medicine, there is just good and bad medicine." The bustling, energetic, platitudinous, and self-serving Royal Copeland revealed in these entertaining pages would certainly agree; but evidence that homeopathy goes into the "good medicine" category is lacking.

[ Reviewed by Rob Hardy, robhardy@earthlink.net ]

Visit the full bibliography at http://www.csicop.org/bibliography/
Please consider submitting an entry yourself.

Taner Edis, SKEPTIC bibliographer

Does Seattle group "teach controversy" or contribute to it?

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2002225932_design31m.html

Thursday, March 31, 2005, 12:00 A.M. Pacific

By Linda Shaw
Seattle Times staff reporter

Three years ago, the Ohio Board of Education invited a small but influential Seattle think tank to debate the way evolution is taught in Ohio schools.

It was an opportunity for the Discovery Institute to promote its notion of intelligent design, the controversial idea that parts of life are so complex, they must have been designed by some intelligent agent.

Instead, leaders of the institute's Center for Science and Culture decided on what they consider a compromise. Forget intelligent design, they argued, with its theological implications. Just require teachers to discuss evidence that refutes Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, as well as what supports it.

They called it "teach the controversy," and that's become the institute's rallying cry as a leader in the latest efforts to raise doubts about Darwin in school. Evolution controversies are brewing in eight school districts, half a dozen state legislatures, and three state boards of education, including the one in Kansas, which wrestled with the issue in 1999 as well.

"Why fight when you can have a fun discussion?" asks Stephen Meyer, the center's director. The teach-the-controversy approach, he says, avoids "unnecessary constitutional fights" over the separation of church and state, yet also avoids teaching Darwin's theories as dogma.

But what the center calls a compromise, most scientists call a creationist agenda that's couched in the language of science.

There is no significant controversy to teach, they say.

"You're lying to students if you tell them that scientists are debating whether evolution took place," said Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education, a nonprofit group that defends teaching of evolution in school.

The Discovery Institute, she said, is leading a public-relations campaign, not a scientific endeavor.

The Discovery Institute is one of the leading organizations working nationally to change how evolution is taught. It works as an adviser, resource and sometimes a critic with those who have similar views.

"There are a hundred ways to get this wrong," says Meyer. "And only a few to get them right."

Ohio got it right, he says, when its state Board of Education voted in 2002 to require students to learn that scientists "continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory."

Scott says it was a small victory at most for intelligent-design supporters, but Meyer considers it a significant one — a model other states should follow. Minnesota has adopted similar language.

The School Board in Dover, Pa., however, got it wrong, Meyer said, when it required instruction in intelligent design. (The matter is now in court.) Intelligent design isn't established enough yet for that, Meyer says.

He also criticizes the Georgia school board that put stickers on biology textbooks with a surgeon-general-like warning that evolution is "a theory not a fact." The stickers were a "dumb idea," he says bluntly. (A Georgia court ruled they were illegal, and the case is under appeal.)

In Wisconsin, the institute hopes it helped the School Board in the small town of Grantsburg switch to a teach-the-controversy approach.

In each place, the institute says it responds to requests for help, although it's working to become more proactive, too. Some critics suspect the ties are even closer.

Center's beginnings

The Center for Science and Culture opened in 1996 as a part of the already-established Discovery Institute, which also studies more earthbound topics such as transportation, economics, technology, bioethics. Founder Bruce Chapman — who has worked as an official in the Reagan administration, head of the U.S. Census Bureau and Washington's secretary of state — became interested in intelligent design after reading a piece Meyer wrote for The Wall Street Journal.

Meyer, then a philosophy professor at Whitworth College in Spokane, was defending a California professor in trouble for talking about intelligent design in biology class. To Chapman, it was an issue of academic freedom. He invited Meyer to come speak at the institute. The more they talked, the more Chapman and others at the institute became interested in offering a home to Meyer and others interested in intelligent design.

Intelligent design appealed to their view that life isn't really as unplanned or unguided as Darwin's theories can make it seem.

"It interested me because it seemed so different than the reductionist science that came out of the 19th century ... that everything could be reduced to chemistry," said John West, a political scientist and center associate director.

The private institute has an annual budget of about $3.2 million, and plans to spend about $1.3 million on the intelligent-design work, Chapman says, mostly to support the work of about three dozen fellows. The Fieldstead Charitable Trust, run by Christian conservative Henry Ahmanson and his wife, is one of the largest donors to that effort. Chapman declines to name more.

Meyer, the center's director, is a tall, friendly man who has undergraduate degrees in geology and physics and a Ph.D. in the philosophy of science from Cambridge, where he wrote his doctorate on the origins of life.

He says he's no creationist. He doesn't, for example, believe in a literal reading of the Bible, which would mean the Earth is about 6,000 years old.

He doesn't dispute that natural selection played a role in evolution, he just doesn't think it explains everything.

He often points to the Cambrian Period, a time more than 500 million years ago when most of the major groups of animals first appear in the fossil record. Meyer and other Discovery Institute fellows say those groups show up too fast, geologically speaking, to have come about through natural selection. That's one of what they see as controversies they want taught in school.

Scientists, however, say the Cambrian Period may not be completely understood, but that doesn't mean the theory of evolution is in trouble.

"They harp and harp on natural selection, as if natural selection is the only thing that evolutionary biologists deal with," says Scott. "Who knows whether natural selection explains the Cambrian body plans. ... So what?"

Scientists consider Meyer a creationist because he maintains that some unnamed intelligence — and Meyer says he personally thinks it is God — has an active hand in creating some complex parts of life.

"I don't know what else to call it other than creationism," said Michael Zimmerman, a critic and dean at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.

Meyer, however, says he's a scientist, who starts with scientific evidence, not the Bible. His goal — a big one — is to change the very definition of science so that it doesn't rule out the possibility that an intelligent designer is actively at work.

"Science should be open to whatever cause ... can best explain the data," Meyer says.

That would be a major change for science, which limits itself to the natural world. Scott says it would be a "science stopper."

"Once you allow yourself to say God did it, you stop looking for naturalistic explanations. If you stop looking, you won't find them," she says.

Scott says science isn't an atheistic world view. In science, she says, "It is equally inappropriate to say God did it, or God had nothing to do with it."

The institute's call to "teach the controversy" meets strong resistance.

"There's no controversy about whether living things have common ancestors," Scott said. "There's no controversy about whether natural selection is very important in creating the variety of organisms we have today."

While the institute touts its list of 370 scientists who've signed a statement saying they have some doubts about Darwin's theory of natural selection, Scott's organization, in a parody of that effort, has a list of 500 names limited to scientists named Steve or Stephanie, in honor of the late Stephen Jay Gould, a well-known biologist who once wrote that evolution is "one of the best documented, most compelling and exciting concepts in all of science."

Public opinion is mixed. Many Christian denominations, including Catholics, see no contradiction between evolution and their faith, but a Gallup Poll last November found that only about a third of the respondents think Darwin's theory of evolution is well supported by scientific evidence.

Meyer hopes the Kansas Board of Education will invite the center to speak at its hearings in May. Speakers will be asked to address the issue the center wants to highlight: whether Kansas' science curriculum helps students understand debate over controversial topics such as evolution.

Kansas Citizens for Science, however, has urged a boycott of the hearings, saying the proposals have been "rejected by the science community at large."

Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or lshaw@seattletimes.com


Current News  News Back Issues


What's New | Search | Newsletter | Fact Sheets
NTS Home Page
Copyright (C) 1987 - 2008 by the North Texas Skeptics.