NTS LogoSkeptical News for 17 April 2005

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Intelligent Design, Unintelligent Me


By Jay Mathews
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 5, 2005; 12:15 PM

I was one of those blissfully nerdy kids who fell in love with dinosaurs in the fourth grade and never outgrew it. In adulthood, people like me go to natural history museums, see Steven Spielberg movies and read the essays of the late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould. That is usually enough to keep us happy.

But a couple of weeks ago I saw a chance to take my amateurish grasp of the history of life a bit further. I persuaded the editor of The Post's editorial pages to publish an op-ed piece of mine called "Who's Afraid of Intelligent Design?"

My inspiration was a front-page story by The Post's Chicago bureau chief, Peter Slevin. He described the Intelligent Design movement, a group of apparently serious scientists who are doing research on what they see as flaws in standard evolutionary theory. They appear to think that some organisms are too complex to have been the result of random chance and natural selection, and they think they can prove it. I was surprised to learn that unlike the Creationists, the Bible fundamentalists who accept Genesis literally, the Intelligent Design (ID) folks agree with Darwin that the story of life is hundreds of millions of years long, and that chimpanzees and humans share an ancestor a few million years back. It is the earliest parts of the story, particularly the notion that life could emerge from non-living chemicals on an early, sterile earth, that the Intelligent Design folk think are on particularly shaky ground.

As I read Slevin's story I thought: what an exciting science lesson! The ID researchers seemed to be grasping at gaps in the fossil record, rather than seeing the irresistible Darwinist logic of what scientists have discovered. But comparing their arguments to Darwin's was, I thought, a wonderful way to teach Darwin. I could not understand why important educators and scientists were spending money on lawyers to keep ID out of the classroom. In my op-ed I said we ought to let ID be explained to students so that they could understand how it defied the scientific method, just as the flaws of perpetual motion theory, I said, should be a part of a physics course and the fallacies of the Steady-State theory should be part of an astronomy course.

For me and many other students, biology as it is usually taught, one complicated fact or term after another, is deadly dull. Introducing a little debate would excite teenagers, just as the attacks on conventional wisdom launched by my favorite high school history teacher, Al Ladendorff, always got me walking fast to that class so I wouldn't miss anything.

Well, the minute the op-ed appeared the e-mails started popping up on my computer, right under the coconut ape with a ball and bat that sits atop my IBM. At last count there were about 400 of them. Most said they had the unfortunate duty to tell me that I was an idiot.

Daniel Kohn of Mountain View, Calif., said he was "extremely disheartened by the ignorance you displayed in your commentary on Intelligent Design." Christian Iffrig of Arlington said, "Like most imbecilic do-gooders, you think it's about creating a forum for intellectual discussion -- give and take. You think they'd accord the same respect for diverse opinions? They have no such intentions."

Some readers were kinder, but equally convinced that I did not see the ramifications of what I was saying. Anthony Joern, professor of biology at Kansas State University, asked about "that poor high school teacher who must deal with the religious parents of the students who were subjected to such a debate. What happens if you do present a fair debate and religion loses? What does the teacher do in Kansas when the parents clamor for revenge?"

Elizabeth Lutwak said, "I would like to agree with your approach. I think many science teachers and their students could handle, and would benefit, from such a debate. Yet the ulterior motives of these groups scare me. They are already scaring a fair number of science teachers into not teaching evolution at all, making the material a mere reading assignment."

Jim Wilson of Louisville, Ky., said, "If I'm reading correctly then in order to make classrooms more 'fun' we should consider junk science or introduce false information. No we shouldn't. Would you encourage denying the Holocaust and giving that argument any credence just because it would get the students more involved? Just because you personally were bored by biology, I don't think we should 'jazz' it up to make it fun."

"Your central point is cute and democratic," said Scott Hayes, "but not particularly useful to a science teacher who is struggling to help overcome amazing data which suggests that more than half the people in this country believe that human beings walked the planet when dinosaurs were alive."

I anticipated those reactions. I surveyed many of the best biology teachers I knew before I wrote the piece. Not one of them thought my idea would work. I mentioned two of them in the op-ed. Based on that very negative reaction, I assumed that if the idea had any merit at all, it would only be in some future age, when our big-brained, metal-bodied descendants would celebrate my meager effort as an interesting example of early 21st century off-color humor. Or something like that.

But instead, I was stunned to discover that many e-mailers (a generous estimate would be about 30 percent) agreed with me, and they had had the same idea long before I did. "I, like you, am a strong believer in Darwinism and, also like you, think that critical debate should be injected into the classroom whenever possible," said Jennifer Skulte-Ouaiss, a Washington, D.C., senior research analyst who just earned a doctorate in political science.

Brian Arneson, who works in the Chemical Education Group at the University of Texas, said, "Our entire school curriculum is devoid of intelligent debate, especially in science. Our students lack the basic ideas of what makes a credible claim and how to defend their position with experimentally derived evidence."

"You are right," said Norman Ravitch of Savannah, Ga. "Nothing is taught in a more boring fashion than science. All is memorization. What you suggest, reading different theories, I did in college on my own in a biology class and it was wonderful."

So I felt better. There were so many e-mails that I was forced to respond to each with very terse comments, but I was grateful for each one. I don't think I will be making any more attempts to offer my ill-informed views on evolution, but there is something I am curious about.

I have received very few e-mails from actual high school biology teachers who have ever tried introducing the debate to their classes. I suspect some are doing this quietly to avoid the kind of religious eruption that readers told me was inevitable.

Is there anyone out there trusting their high school students to handle these contradictions and using them to better explain how science works? Tell me about it. I still have a lot to learn.

Jay Mathews, a Washington Post education reporter, writes a weekly Class Struggle column exclusively for washingtonpost.com. He also covers school issues in a quarterly column for The Post Magazine. He can be reached via e-mail at mathewsj@washpost.com.

The World Didn't Come to an End


LAST UPDATE: 4/6/2005 7:20:51 PM

As you know the world didn't come to end today.

Now for the third time, Warren Jeffs is wrong about his doomsday predictions.

2,500 of his most faithful followers gathered at a mysterious sprawling complex in Eldorado, Texas. Wednesday, Jeffs prophesied he and his followers would be caught up and sent to heaven, while the rest of world would come to an end. But you can see they are still there, and continue to work on their new temple.

We'll have more about the doomsday prediction out of Texas coming up tonight on ABC 4 News at 10.

Some people left behind by Jeffs in the twin towns of Hildale and Colorado City say that while there might not be violence Wednesday, they fear it will happen.

Many disaffected members of the FLDS church hope that with Jeffs gone they can get their homes back. Jeffs is the only trustee of the UEP, the group that owns most of the homes and businesses in Hildale and Colorado City.

There is also fear that warren Jeffs is stirring up racial hatred amongst his followers. A recent sermon by Jeffs was secretly recorded by a dissident member of his church. On the tape, Jeffs refers to the black race as "immoral, filthy, people"

Jeffs voice on tape:

"You see some classes of the human family that are black, uncouth, rude, and filthy... Uncomely, disagreeable, and loathe in their habits… Wild and seemingly depraved of nearly all the blessings of the intelligence that is generally bestowed upon mankind."

Jeffs also warned his followers of -quote- "relationships with blacks and of enjoying modern music".

One Hundred Years of Uncertainty

April 8, 2005

JUST about a hundred years ago, Albert Einstein began writing a paper that secured his place in the pantheon of humankind's greatest thinkers. With his discovery of special relativity, Einstein upended the familiar, thousands-year-old conception of space and time. To be sure, even a century later, not everyone has fully embraced Einstein's discovery. Nevertheless, say "Einstein" and most everyone thinks "relativity."

What is less widely appreciated, however, is that physicists call 1905 Einstein's "miracle year" not because of the discovery of relativity alone, but because in that year Einstein achieved the unimaginable, writing four papers that each resulted in deep and formative changes to our understanding of the universe. One of these papers - not on relativity - garnered him the 1921 Nobel Prize in physics. It also began a transformation in physics that Einstein found so disquieting that he spent the last 30 years of his life in a determined effort to repudiate it.

Two of the four 1905 papers were indeed on relativity. The first, completed in June, laid out the foundations of his new view of space and time, showing that distances and durations are not absolute, as everyone since Newton had thought, but instead are affected by one's motion. Clocks moving relative to one another tick off time at different rates; yardsticks moving relative to one another measure different lengths. You don't perceive this because the speeds of everyday life are too slow for the effects to be noticeable. If you could move near the speed of light, the effects would be obvious.

The second relativity paper, completed in September, is a three-page addendum to the first, which derived his most famous result, E = mc2, an equation as short as it is powerful. It told the world that matter can be converted into energy - and a lot of it - since the speed of light squared (c2) is a huge number. We've witnessed this equation's consequences in the devastating might of nuclear weapons and the tantalizing promise of nuclear energy.

The third paper, completed in May, conclusively established the existence of atoms - an idea discussed in various forms for millenniums - by showing that the numerous microscopic collisions they'd generate would account for the observed, though previously unexplained, jittery motion of impurities suspended in liquids.

With these three papers, our view of space, time and matter was permanently changed.

Yet, it is the remaining 1905 paper, written in March, whose legacy is arguably the most profound. In this work, Einstein went against the grain of conventional wisdom and argued that light, at its most elementary level, is not a wave, as everyone had thought, but actually a stream of tiny packets or bundles of energy that have since come to be known as photons.

This might sound like a largely technical advance, updating one description of light to another. But through subsequent research that amplified and extended Einstein's argument (see Figures 1 through 3), scientists revealed a mathematically precise and thoroughly startling picture of reality called quantum mechanics.

Before the discovery of quantum mechanics, the framework of physics was this: If you tell me how things are now, I can then use the laws of physics to calculate, and hence predict, how things will be later. You tell me the velocity of a baseball as it leaves Derek Jeter's bat, and I can use the laws of physics to calculate where it will land a handful of seconds later. You tell me the height of a building from which a flowerpot has fallen, and I can use the laws of physics to calculate the speed of impact when it hits the ground. You tell me the positions of the Earth and the Moon, and I can use the laws of physics to calculate the date of the first solar eclipse in the 25th century. What's important is that in these and all other examples, the accuracy of my predictions depends solely on the accuracy of the information you give me. Even laws that differ substantially in detail - from the classical laws of Newton to the relativistic laws of Einstein - fit squarely within this framework.

Quantum mechanics does not merely challenge the previous laws of physics. Quantum mechanics challenges this centuries-old framework of physics itself. According to quantum mechanics, physics cannot make definite predictions. Instead, even if you give me the most precise description possible of how things are now, we learn from quantum mechanics that the most physics can do is predict the probability that things will turn out one way, or another, or another way still.

The reason we have for so long been unaware that the universe evolves probabilistically is that for the relatively large, everyday objects we typically encounter - baseballs, flowerpots, the Moon - quantum mechanics shows that the probabilities become highly skewed, hugely favoring one outcome and effectively suppressing all others. A typical quantum calculation reveals that if you tell me the velocity of something as large as a baseball, there is more than a 99.99999999999999 (or so) percent likelihood that it will land at the location I can figure out using the laws of Newton or, for even better accuracy, the laws of Einstein. With such a skewed probability, the quantum reasoning goes, we have long overlooked the tiny chance that the baseball can (and, on extraordinarily rare occasions, will) land somewhere completely different.

When it comes to small objects like molecules, atoms and subatomic particles, though, the quantum probabilities are typically not skewed. For the motion of an electron zipping around the nucleus of an atom, for example, a quantum calculation lays out odds that are all roughly comparable that the electron will be in a variety of different locations - a 13 percent chance, say, that the electron will be here, a 19 percent chance that it will be there, an 11 percent chance that it will be in a third place, and so on. Crucially, these predictions can be tested. Take an enormous sample of identically prepared atoms, measure the electron's position in each, and tally up the number of times you find the electron at one location or another. According to the pre-quantum framework, identical starting conditions should yield identical outcomes; we should find the electron to be at the same place in each measurement. But if quantum mechanics is right, in 13 percent of our measurements we should find the electron here, in 19 percent we should find it there, in 11 percent we should find it in that third place. And, to fantastic precision, we do.

Faced with a mountain of supporting data, Einstein couldn't argue with the success of quantum mechanics. But to him, even though his own Nobel Prize-winning work was a catalyst for the quantum revolution, the theory was anathema. Commentators over the decades have focused on Einstein's refusal to accept the probabilistic framework of quantum mechanics, a position summarized in his frequent comment that "God does not play dice with the universe." Einstein, radical thinker that he was, still believed in the sanctity of a universe that evolved in a fully definite, fully predictable manner. If, as quantum mechanics asserted, the best you can ever do is predict probabilities, Einstein countered that he'd "rather be a cobbler, or even an employee in a gaming house, than a physicist."

This emphasis, however, partly obscures a larger point. It wasn't the mere reliance on probabilistic predictions that so troubled Einstein. Unlike many of his colleagues, Einstein believed that a fundamental physical theory was much more than the sum total of its predictions - it was a mathematical reflection of an underlying reality. And the reality entailed by quantum mechanics was a reality Einstein couldn't accept.

An example: Imagine you shoot an electron from here and a few seconds later it's detected by your equipment over there. What path did the electron follow during the passage from you to the detector? The answer according to quantum mechanics? There is no answer. The very idea that an electron, or a photon, or any other particle, travels along a single, definite trajectory from here to there is a quaint version of reality that quantum mechanics declares outmoded.

Instead, the proponents of quantum theory claimed, reality consists of a haze of all possibilities - all trajectories - mutually commingling and simultaneously unfolding. And why don't we see this? According to the quantum doctrine, when we make a measurement or perform an observation, we force the myriad possibilities to ante up, snap out of the haze and settle on a single outcome. But between observations - when we are not looking - reality consists entirely of jostling possibilities.

Quantum reality, in other words, remains ambiguous until measured. The reality of common perception is thus merely a definitive-looking veneer obscuring the internal workings of a highly uncertain cosmos. Which is where Einstein drew a line in the sand. A universe of this sort offended him; he could not accept, as he put it, that "the Old One" would so profoundly incorporate a hidden element of happenstance in the nature of reality. Einstein quipped to his quantum colleagues, "Do you really think the Moon is not there when you're not looking?" and set himself the Herculean task of reworking the laws of physics to resurrect conventional reality.

Einstein waged a two-front assault on the problem. He sought an internal chink in the quantum framework that would establish it as a mere steppingstone on the path to a deeper and more complete description of the universe. At the same time, he sought a grander synthesis of nature's laws - what he called a "unified theory" - that he believed would reveal the probabilities of quantum mechanics to be no more profound than the probabilities offered in weather forecasts, probabilities that simply reflect an incomplete knowledge of an underlying, definite reality.

In 1935, through a disarmingly simple mathematical analysis, Einstein (with two colleagues) established a beachhead on the first front. He proved that quantum mechanics is either an incomplete theory or, if it is complete, the universe is - in Einstein's words - "spooky." Why "spooky?" Because the theory would allow certain widely separated particles to correlate their behaviors perfectly (somewhat as if a pair of widely separated dice would always come up the same number when tossed at distant casinos). Since such "spooky" behavior would border on nuttiness, Einstein thought he'd made clear that quantum theory couldn't yet be considered a complete description of reality.

The nimble quantum proponents, however, would have nothing of it. They insisted that quantum theory made predictions - albeit statistical predictions - that were consistently born out by experiment. By the precepts of the scientific method, they argued, the theory was established. They maintained that searching beyond the theory's predictions for a glimpse of a reality behind the quantum equations betrayed a foolhardy intellectual greediness.

Nevertheless, for the remaining decades of his life, Einstein could not give up the quest, exclaiming at one point, "I have thought a hundred times more about quantum problems than I have about relativity." He turned exclusively to his second line of attack and became absorbed with the prospect of finding the unified theory, a preoccupation that resulted in his losing touch with mainstream physics. By the 1940's, the once dapper young iconoclast had grown into a wizened old man of science who was widely viewed as a revolutionary thinker of a bygone era.

By the early 1950's, Einstein realized he was losing the battle. But the memories of his earlier success with relativity - "the years of anxious searching in the dark, with their intense longing, their alternations of confidence and exhaustion and the final emergence into the light" - urged him onward. Maybe the intense light of discovery that had so brilliantly illuminated his path as a young man would shine once again. While lying in a bed in Princeton Hospital in mid-April 1955, Einstein asked for the pad of paper on which he had been scribbling equations in the desperate hope that in his final hours the truth would come to him. It didn't.

Was Einstein misguided? Must we accept that there is a fuzzy, probabilistic quantum arena lying just beneath the definitive experiences of everyday reality? As of today, we still don't have a final answer. Fifty years after Einstein's death, however, the scales have certainly tipped farther in this direction.

Decades of painstaking experimentation have confirmed quantum theory's predictions beyond the slightest doubt. Moreover, in a shocking scientific twist, some of the more recent of these experiments have shown that Einstein's "spooky" processes do in fact take place (particles many miles apart have been shown capable of correlating their behavior). It's a stunning finding, and one that reaffirms Einstein's uncanny ability to unearth features of nature so mind-boggling that even he couldn't accept what he'd found. Finally, there has been tremendous progress over the last 20 years toward a unified theory with the discovery and development of superstring theory. So far, though, superstring theory embraces quantum theory without change, and has thus not revealed the definitive reality Einstein so passionately sought.

With the passage of time and quantum mechanics' unassailable successes, debate about the theory's meaning has quieted. The majority of physicists have simply stopped worrying about quantum mechanics' meaning, even as they employ its mathematics to make the most precise predictions in the history of science. Others prefer reformulations of quantum mechanics that claim to restore some features of conventional reality at the expense of additional - and, some have argued, more troubling - deviations (like the notion that there are parallel universes). Yet others investigate hypothesized modifications to the theory's equations that don't spoil its successful predictions but try to bring it closer to common experience.

Over the 25 years since I first learned quantum mechanics, I've at various times subscribed to each of these perspectives. My shifting attitude, however, reflects that I'm still unsettled. Were Einstein to interrogate me today about quantum reality, I'd have to admit that deep inside I harbor many of the doubts that gnawed at him for decades. Can it really be that the solid world of experience and perception, in which a single, definite reality appears to unfold with dependable certainty, rests on the shifting sands of quantum probabilities?

Well, yes. Probably. The evidence is compelling and tangible. Although we have yet to fully lay bare quantum mechanics' grand lesson for the underlying nature of the universe, I like to think even Einstein would be impressed that in the 50 years since his death our facility with quantum mechanics has matured from a mathematical understanding of the subatomic realm to precision control. Today's technological wizardry (computers, M.R.I.'s, smart bombs) exists only because research in applied quantum physics has resulted in techniques for manipulating the motion of electrons - probabilities and all - through mazes of ultramicroscopic circuitry. Advances hovering on the horizon, like nanoscience and quantum computers, offer the promise of even more spectacular transformations.

So the next time you use your cellphone or laptop, pause for a moment. Recognize that even these commonplace devices rely on our greatest, yet most puzzling, scientific achievement and - as things now stand - tap into humankind's most supreme assault on the idea that reality is what we think it is.

Brian Greene, a professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia, is the author of "The Elegant Universe,'' and, most recently, "The Fabric of the Cosmos."


Evolution turns a page


More schools rethink approach

By Linda Shaw
Seattle Times
April 11, 2005

SEATTLE -- 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 said, 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," said Meyer. "And only a few to get them right."

Ohio got it right, he said, 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 said 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 said.

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 said 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 responded to requests for help, although it's working to become more proactive, too. Some critics suspect the ties are even closer.

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 and 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, Wash., 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.

Meyer, the center's director, 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.

Scientists consider Meyer a creationist because he maintains some unnamed intelligence -- and Meyer said 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, said 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.

That would be a major change for science, which limits itself to the natural world. Scott said 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 said.

A case for intelligent design


Monday, April 11, 2005

By Clifford W. Randall

When I read the "Evolution vs. creationism" headline in the March 27 Horizon section, I expected to read a comparison presentation of intelligent design principles versus evolutionary principles. Instead, I read a misrepresentative article about ID that made no pertinent points about it, and three articles written by fervent evolutionists who were neither forthcoming enough nor astute enough to deal with the troublesome issues of evolutionism.

For example, Steve Olson goes to great length to explain the difference between "hypothesis" and "theory" ("An argument's mutating term"), but doesn't seem to realize there is a term beyond theory, i.e. "law." Apparently he has not noticed, but physical scientists do not refer to the "theory of gravitation," they refer to the "law of gravity (or gravitation)."

When it was first proposed by Sir Isaac Newton, it was the theory of gravity. Since that time, the scientific community has developed a mathematical model that accurately describes the forces of gravity and is able to use the model combined with centrifugal force and other models to very accurately predict the escape velocities for rockets, the movement of spacecraft among planets, the presence of dwarf star companions of larger, more visible stars, and the presence of planets circling stars by the wobble of the stars.

That is why the theory has become a law. You can mathematically express it and you can use the relationship to accurately predict what will occur because of the existence of the gravitation and other forces.

None of the preceding is true for the theory of evolution. There is no mathematical model for it. Those who purport to understand it cannot study it conclusively in controlled experiments, cannot use it as a predictive tool, and it plays no important role in biochemistry. Even the remarkable finches of the Galapagos Islands, if removed to a mainland environment, do not continue to evolve to new genera or beyond, but, instead, revert back to ordinary finches. That is why evolution is still a theory and not a law.

As long as it is a theory, it is in the best interest of science to debate its veracity and other options for explaining what is being observed. It has become almost impossible to do that in academic settings because so many academicians uncritically accept all of the proposed principles of evolution and the teachings of the popular evolutionists, many of whom have a poor understanding of what the evolutionary principles are, and then they dismiss those who challenge the status quo rather than truly listen to what they say.

This approach discourages scientific breakthrough rather than encouraging it. This is similar to what happened with geophysical theory early in the 20th century. Geophysical scientists were so committed to the concept of stationary continents that they refused to accept the obviousness that the West African and Eastern South American coasts used to be joined together to form a larger land mass. Also, the "stationary continents" adherents actively belittled and ostracized those who insisted that drifting had occurred. Today, continental drift and plate tectonics are known to be geophysical laws.

It is time to expand the evolutionary debates, given the minimal progress that has been made in defining and explaining the fundamental mechanisms of evolution since the time of Darwin. This is the objective of the intelligent design scientists and why they should at least be given the opportunity to present their concepts and ideas within scientific forums.

Robert Boyd ("Science is neither good nor evil, just logical") emphasizes that science is based on logic. Yet he, and most evolutionists, verbalize that evolutionary forces were responsible for the development of life on planet Earth, even though the basic principle of evolution is "survival of the fittest." Note, however, that survival of the fittest is impossible unless you already have both life and death. Therefore, evolutionary forces could not have been responsible for the existence of life on Earth.

To overcome this obvious problem, evolutionists expand Darwin's theory to include chemical and biochemical evolution, without any logical support for this leap of faith. Darwin himself did this in later life.

However, there is no supporting evidence for it on planet Earth. All efforts to accomplish generation-of-life-requirement chemicals (amino acids, proteins, DNA, RNA) in the laboratory have been recognized as failures, even by most of those who performed the experiments. Even the few amino acids formed were the wrong kind. In fact, most of the experiments were performed using very reduced environments, and it is now accepted that the early Earth environment was oxidized, not reduced.

Boyd refers to Pasteur to support his argument, yet Pasteur disproved spontaneous generation, the very force that evolutionists are relying on to explain life on this planet. Where is the logic? Based on existing published evidence, the evolutionist's belief that life on this planet was spontaneously generated is the equivalent of the creationist's belief that a supernatural force was involved. Why should one leap of faith be allowed into the classroom but another one excluded?

The evolutionists who wrote the articles you published appear to be confused about where the disagreement lies. No ID scientist disagrees with the adaptation of species, or that new species can be formed because of it. They do not dispute that so-called evolutionary forces can be used to explain the modification of whales from land to aquatic animals, or bats from nonflying mammals. They agree with Darwin's theories as long as they are consistent with the title of his book, "The Origin of the Species."

They do dispute that these same forces can be responsible for the development of conscious life, or for the development of complex mammals from single-celled organisms, within the time limits of suitable conditions on planet Earth. They dispute the random development of a flagella for a bacterium, or the random development of an eye for a vertebrate creature. For that matter, they dispute the spontaneous generation of DNA and RNA from random chemicals and environmental conditions based on the logic of statistical probability.

Boyd is correct in noting that the "Big Bang" theory, which states that the universe had a discrete beginning and will have an eventual end, i.e., will run out of usable energy, leaves us with only one logical conclusion. The universe was established by a force outside of it, and that force, whatever its form, is God. However, Professor Suchitra Samanta ("Why the argument?") would be wise to read the first chapter of Genesis in the Bible with careful attention to the use of the words translated as "created" and "made." Note that only three creation events occur, as recorded by the writer. The creation of the entire universe (heavens and earth, a phrase meant to mean the entire universe) and, logically, all of the physical, chemical, biological and biochemical laws that operate within it; the creation of conscious life; and the creation of the spirit of humans, because God is spirit. Everything else is made.

Clifford W. Randall, of Blacksburg, is the C.P. Lunsford emeritus professor in civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Author brings critique of Darwin to Amarillo


Web-posted Sunday, April 10, 2005

Intelligent Design theory questions evolution without relying on Biblical creation

Amarillo Globe-News

Life is complicated.

Too complicated, Phillip E. Johnson thinks, to be explained by Darwinian evolution.

The Darwinist claim, Johnson said, is that the mere fact species adapt - and that the most successful variations are the ones that leave offspring and pass their genes to the next generation - should be sufficient to account for all the species of plants and animals that Darwinists conclude came from one common single-celled ancestor. But Johnson disagrees when he looks around at single-celled organisms like algae and bacteria and compares them to the complexity of humans or even plants.

"All of a sudden, complex plants and animals and all the basic body plans of animals as they exist today?" he questions. "There is no mechanism that will account for the prodigious increase in complexity and in biological information that would be necessary to bring life to its present state of complexity and diversity."

The only explanation, he decided, is that someone or something had a hand in it - someone or something intelligent. And so he started the Intelligent Design movement.

Intelligent Design, as Johnson will explain in person tonight and Monday night at Trinity Baptist Church, was founded to dispute Darwinism and empower the many people who already doubt it by telling them they're not being unreasonable. It was a perfect fit for Trinity Baptist Church's second annual apologetics conference.

"Last year ... we did a conference that explained how to understand the Christian world view," said Jason Hudson, communications and college pastor at Trinity. "This year, we wanted to go beyond that and do one that was in defense of the Christian world view. We wanted to bring in some kind of an apologetics person who would help the congregation to be able to defend what they believe. Phillip Johnson is the premier spokesman for Intelligent Design - he's the one I think of first when it comes to the debate."

What Johnson won't do at the conference, however, is say that the Christian God - or any god in particular - created the world. Though he personally believes the designer in Intelligent Design was the God of the Bible, there's no evidence for that, he said. It could just as easily have been the God of the Quran or no god at all - something else entirely. That's how Intelligent Design differs from Creationist theories. Where Creationists might look for geological evidence of a six-day creation as described in Genesis, Intelligent Design only says that something must have intervened for the world as we know it to exist.

"The basic starting point here is quite independent of what one might think of the Bible or how one might interpret it or what opinion one might have on the age of the Earth or the cosmos," Johnson said. "We are referring just to the logical conclusions that one can draw from scientific evidence of biology. Our desire was to build a movement founded solely on a scientific analysis of the state of evolutionary theory."

In Hudson's opinion, that's perfect. He said Trinity Baptist wants to produce thinking Christians - you won't hear a lot of "just believe" or "have faith" at its services. So the idea that a Christian can look at the scientific evidence and find it supports their belief in God is a big deal.

"I think God gave us minds to think," Hudson said. "So our church has taken on the role as a church to provide thought-provoking material to bring to the table, to bring to discussions in our community about religion and current issues of today. Evolution is an opponent that needs to be contended with - especially if you're going to be a thinking Christian."

Scientists, however, are not convinced Intelligent Design is quite the solution Johnson believes it to be.

"One problem with Intelligent Design is that there is nothing you can test for," said Dr. Martha Hyde, assistant professor of biology at West Texas A&M University. "People like to put it forward as an alternative for evolution, but it's not. It's an interesting alternative for those who want religious guidance, but it is of really no use for those who want to understand the facts."

To be fair, Johnson isn't saying that all evolution is wrong. Parts of evolution, he said, are indisputable - even the most ardent creationist insisting on a literal interpretation of the six days in Genesis will agree that bacteria does "evolve" to become more resistant to antibiotics, Johnson said. And the beaks of those famous finches in the Galapagos Islands were shown to change over generations in response to environmental change.

What he had a problem with were the holes in what he called "Darwinist" logic that said because bacteria does evolve to become resistant, it's possible to believe that all life is the result of evolution from one single cell that came into being by accident. Or that from adaptation of beak size it was a short stretch to adaptation of arms.

Johnson is not a scientist, but as a lawyer - professor at the University of California at Berkley, to be specific - he found that to be faulty reasoning. He brushed up on the science and wrote his first - of many - books, "Darwin on Trial," to make the argument that a single cell couldn't have become a person on its own.

"It's not difficult to work up an understanding of the scientific evidence on the points that are really important and controversial," Johnson said. "In fact, the really interesting material about the most important controversial points is in the literature for the general reading, including Darwin's masterpiece, 'Origin of Species.' Darwin himself wrote for the general reader, and so have all the leaders of evolutionary science ... because they're proposing a world view and trying to persuade the public to believe it. So I thought of myself as a representative of all those readers, explaining to the authors of those books why we weren't persuaded."

For Johnson, it came down to a question of whether the evidence supported the logical connections scientists were making - he believed it did not. But Hyde said that leaves scientists in the difficult position of having to defend science from nonscientific arguments that aren't provable by scientific experiments.

As for proving common descent - that all living things on earth had one common ancestor - Hyde said in biology things aren't proven, they're strongly supported. And she and her colleagues believe the evidence strongly supports evolution. Dr. Robert Wright, professor of biology at WT, has read Johnson's book and said he still considers evolution - common descent and all - to be as proven as any scientific theory can be.

"Just because of the nature of fossils, not all organisms leave fossils, so there are big gaps in the record," Wright said. "But many of those gaps have filled in. It was a big argument when Darwin wrote it because (the record) was riddled with holes then. It's filled up a lot now. (But) it will never be complete, so, for Intelligent Design believers, you're never going to have hard core evidence."

Hyde admitted that, eventually, it all comes down to a belief of one sort or another.

"Everyone wants to find that magic link," she said. "It's not always possible to find that answer, so in the end, everyone grabs a belief of some sort. Evolutionary biologists believe evolution has given them the answer to similar questions in the past, so they expect this question to be answered as well."

But both scientists said that doesn't mean there isn't room for other beliefs. They'll teach the science they think the evidence supports in their classrooms, but Wright said he would plan to attend Johnson's lectures.

"Just like a lot of people in Intelligent Design want to know what biologists think, biologists want to know what Intelligent Design people thinking," he said. "You want to hear the other side. And it's not like just anybody talking about it who's read a little bit. This is someone who's studied."

And Hyde said she's encouraged students who have questions to research other ideas for themselves.

"It's not like I ignore what (Intelligent Design believers) say," she said. "It's interesting to look at. But anything they've ever said, I can't draw a judgment on because it's not based on science."

A Century Later, Einstein's Legacy, Like the Universe, Keeps on Expanding


By Joseph B. Verrengia The Associated Press
Published: Apr 16, 2005

He stopped traffic on Fifth Avenue like the Beatles or Marilyn Monroe. He could've been president of Israel or played violin at Carnegie Hall, but he was too busy thinking. His musings on God, love and the meaning of life grace our greeting cards and day-timers. Fifty years after his death, his shock of white hair and droopy mustache still symbolize genius.

Who else could it be but Albert Einstein?

Einstein remains the foremost scientist of the modern era. Looking back 2,400 years, only Newton, Galileo and Aristotle were his equals.

Around the world, universities and academies are celebrating the 100th anniversary of Einstein's "miracle year" when he published five scientific papers in 1905 that fundamentally changed our grasp of space, time, light and matter. Only he could top himself about a decade later with his theory of general relativity.

Born in the era of horse-drawn carriages, his ideas launched a dazzling technological revolution that has generated more change in a century than in the previous two millennia.

Computers, satellites, telecommunication, lasers, television and nuclear power all owe their invention to ways in which Einstein peeled back the veneer of the observable world to expose a stranger and more complicated reality underneath.

And, he launched an intellectual quest for a single coherent law that governs the universe. Einstein said such a unified super-theory of everything, still unwritten, would enable us to "read the mind of God."

"We are a different race of people than we were a century ago," says astrophysicist Michael Shara of the American Museum of Natural History, "utterly and completely different, because of Einstein."

Yet there is more, and it is why Einstein transcends mere genius and has become our culture's grandfatherly icon.

He escaped Hitler's Germany and devoted the rest of his life to humanitarian and pacifist causes with an authority unmatched by any scientist today, or even most politicians and religious leaders.

He used his celebrity to speak out against fascism, racial prejudice and the McCarthy hearings. By the time he died at age 76 on April 18, 1955, his FBI file ran 1,400 pages.

His letters reveal a tumultuous personal life - married twice and indifferent toward his children while obsessed with physics. Yet he charmed lovers and admirers with poetry and sailboat outings. Friends and neighbors fiercely protected his privacy.

And, yes, he was eccentric. With hair like that, how could he not be?

He famously stuck his tongue out at photographers - that is, when he wasn't wearing a Native American war bonnet or some other get-up. Cartoonists loved him.

He never learned to drive. He would walk home from his office at Princeton University, sockless and submerged in the pursuit of the "eternal riddle," letting his umbrella rattle against the bars of an iron fence. If his umbrella skipped a bar, he would go back to the beginning of the fence and start over.

In those solitary moments, he unconsciously demonstrated the traits - intense concentration, disregard for fashion and innate playfulness - that would rescue him when, inevitably, he would be interrupted by both presidents and passers-by to explain the universe.

"Once you can accept the universe as matter expanding into nothing that is something," Einstein once said, "wearing stripes with plaid comes easy."

Today, there are curiously few statues of the man. The most notable is a 12-foot bronze at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington depicting the wrinkled old sage gazing at his famous E mc2 formula. Tourists climb into his lap for snapshots.

Rolf Sinclair despises it. "It's one of the worst pieces of public sculpture," says the retired National Science Foundation physics program officer. "It makes him look like one of the Three Stooges reading his horoscope."

The Einstein that Sinclair and others would prefer immortalized is circa 1905, when he was 26 and about to rock the world.

By day, he worked in the Swiss patent office in Bern. He called it his "cobbler's job," but for seven years he analyzed a stream of inventions dealing with railroad timekeeping and other matters of precision that raised cosmic possibilities in his fertile mind.

After hours, he would work furiously on his "thought experiments," that smashed through the limits of established physics.

"Imagination is more important than knowledge," Einstein said. "The important thing is to not stop questioning."

In 1905, he published five landmark papers without footnotes or citations. It marked the beginning of an unrivaled, two-decade intellectual burst.

Here is a brief chronology of his miracle year:

March, 1905: Conventional physics described light as a wave and could not explain how light can knock electrons off metal. Einstein showed that light is made of tiny packets of energy, or quanta, that can behave like individual particles, too.

This duality is the basis of quantum theory, a pillar of modern physics so paradoxical that even Einstein didn't entirely buy into it. His explanation of this "photoelectric effect" won him the Nobel prize in 1921.

April: Based on cafe conversations over tea, Einstein submits a paper that determined the size of sugar molecules by calculating their diffusion in the liquid.

May: He shows how particles (like pollen) that appear to be independently moving in water are being jostled by atoms in water that are moving chaotically. Known as Brownian motion, Einstein's calculations confirmed the atom's existence and by extension, the makeup of chemical elements.

June: Einstein's paper on "special relativity" separates him from the mainstream physics crowd. Newton considered gravity to be absolute - mass attracts mass. It's what makes gas and dust form stars and debris form planets.

But Einstein sought to explain anomalies in this rule. Scientists had concluded that light was just one of many kinds of electromagnetic waves moving through an unseen medium they called ether, and the speed of light is always the same.

Einstein said the speed of light is constant at 186,282 miles per second. But it will appear different depending on where you are and how fast you are traveling.

For example, clocks on orbiting satellites run a bit slower because the satellites are orbiting at 17,000 mph. They have programs that help them align with clocks on Earth.

November: Einstein publishes an extension of special relativity regarding the conversion of mass into energy, noting that the "mass of a body is a measure of its energy content." In 1907, he abbreviated it to what would become science's most famous equation: The amount of energy equals mass times the speed of light squared, or E mc2 .

C2 is such a huge number that even small amounts of mass pack big power.

This became the theoretical basis for both atomic explosions and atomic energy.

"Each of these papers is a landmark in physics," said University of Maryland physicist S. James Gates. "And yet all of his work in 1905 is a prelude to his greatest composition - the theory of general relativity."

General relativity laid the foundation for all kinds of discoveries, such as the Big Bang, the expansion of the universe and black holes.

Einstein described relativity this way: "Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. That's relativity."

AP-ES-04-16-05 1225EDT

Jon Ronson, The Men Who Stare at Goats

From: "James J. Lippard" lippard-skeptic@discord.org

I've only read the first 88 pages, but it's a hoot. At least, until you think about the fact that several of the nuts he's describing hold or have held senior positions in the U.S. military...

Like in his book Them, Ronson writes in a matter-of-fact, nonjudgmental manner, letting his subjects hang themselves.

The book starts with the story of General Albert Stubblebine III attempting to walk through walls, and giving a seemingly very poorly received talk to the heads of the Special Forces at Fort Bragg about the need to train the troops to perform psychic healing, levitation, invisibility, and bursting the hearts of animals with their minds. Shortly after the talk, Stubblebine resigned in humiliation.


There was something about the general's trip to Fort Bragg that neither of us knew the day we met. It was a piece of information that would soon lead me into what must be among the most whacked-out corners of George W. Bush's War on Terror.

What the general didn't know--what Special Forces kept secret from him--was that they actually considered his ideas to be excellent ones. Furthermore, as he proposed his clandestine animal-heart-bursting program and they told him that they didn't have access to animals, they were concealing the fact that there were a hundred goats in a shed just a few yards down the road.

The existence of these hundred goats was known only to a select few Special Forces insiders. The covert nature of the goats was helped by the fact that they had been de-bleated; they were just standing there, their mouths opening and closing, with no bleat coming out. Many of them also had their legs bandaged in plaster.

This is the story of those goats.

(pp. 6-7)

Some of these stories it's hard to judge the veracity of--especially when their only sources are the nutjobs Ronson has interviewed. But clearly a lot of it is accurate--the remote viewing group at Fort Meade, for example (about which Ronson recounts a hilarious story about Joe McMoneagle "psychically" drawing up a missing key and having it made by a locksmith... Ronson reports straight from McMoneagle what the real story was, how McMoneagle wanted to improve morale of his poor fellow remote viewers).

Uri Geller makes an appearance early on, along with Shipi Strang.

Highly recommended...

Jim Lippard lippard-skeptic@discord.org

Fossils of Apelike Creature Still Stir Lineage Debate



Published: April 12, 2005

Three years ago, a French-led team of paleoanthropologists reported finding in central Africa a skull and other bones of a possible human ancestor that lived seven million years ago, close to the fateful time when the human and chimpanzee lineages diverged.

The discoverers described the fossils as belonging to the earliest known humanlike primate, or hominid. They named the new species Sahelanthropus tchadensis and commonly call it Toumai, meaning "hope of life" in the local language of Chad. But several other researchers disputed the interpretation, contending that the skull was too apelike to be a hominid.

So the discoverers went back to Chad and found additional evidence, particularly two jawbones and an upper premolar tooth, that they say confirms their original conclusion. Another science group has produced a computer-generated reconstruction of what Toumai looked like.

In a report in the current issue of the journal Nature, Dr. Michel Brunet of the University of Poitiers in France and his colleagues said the new fossils established critical differences between Toumai and African apes, features consistent with a species "close to the last common ancestor of chimpanzees and humans."

The size of Toumai's brain and the shape of its skull were similar to a chimp's, but its face, teeth and brow ridge were more like a hominid's. Another group, led by Dr. Christoph P. E. Zollikofer of the University of Zurich, said the reconstruction of the badly damaged and fragmented skull confirmed that Toumai "is a hominid and is not more closely related to the African great apes."

In a separate report in Nature, Dr. Zollikofer's team said the fossils and the three-dimensional reconstruction indicated that Toumai might have walked upright.

One of the skeptics, Dr. Martin Pickford of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, has not changed his mind. "What we're saying is that it is an apelike animal," he told the BBC. "It may well have given rise to bipedal hominids, but it's not yet a bipedal hominid."

Other scientists said the new research, particularly the digital restoration of the skull, strengthened Toumai's hominid credentials.

Dr. Ian Tattersall, a paleoanthropologist at the American Museum of Natural History, said the poor condition of the fossils would continue to raise questions about the new species. He said he supported the hominid status for Toumai but was "eager to make further finds in Chad, perhaps something in better condition."

Intelligent-Design Addressed at Southern Baptist Seminary


''These issues of Intelligent Design and creation really cut to the heart of worldviews, what we are about''

Friday, Apr. 15, 2005 Posted: 5:45:06AM EST

A controversial Intelligent-Design advocate William A. Dembski addressed a forum on ID theory on the campus of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), on March 23.

The forum, entitled "Darwinism and the Church: a Conversation on Intelligent Design and Cultural Engagement," taught that some features of the natural world are best explained as the products of an intelligent cause rather than naturalistic evolution.

"These issues of Intelligent Design and creation really cut to the heart of worldviews, what we are about, how we're putting life together and what's ultimately meaningful, what morality is based on," Dembski said, according to Towers Online.

Dembski, who currently serves as associate research professor in the conceptual foundations of science at Baylor University, is expected to take a new post at the new Center of Science and Theology at SBTS this coming June as Carl F.H. Henry Professor of Science and Theology.

Dembski said he looks forward to serving at Southern because of the seminary's willingness to sponsor Intelligent Design research as a legitimate scientific enterprise—an attitude that some Christian colleges and universities do not share because they believe embracing intelligent design will compromise their status in the academic world, according to Towers.

Dembski has formerly served as the director of the Michael Polanyi Center for Complexity, Information, and Design at Baylor until October 2000, shortly after a controversy reportedly caused by his promotion of intelligent-design.

"Even many Christians who have been raised and indoctrinated in a secular mindset … will say, 'Look, we're just going to have to accept the science of the day and try to make our peace with it theologically,'" he said. "And there is no peace theologically … ultimately with this view (Darwinian evolution). But they accept it, and so this idea of Intelligent Design becomes very threatening."

Dembski contends that the first goal of ID is to "demonstrate the inadequacy of Darwinian evolution as an explanation of the origin of the universe."

He sugested that one of the chief methods disproving darwinism is to demonstrate the weakness of the scientific evidence that is presented in support of Darwinian evolution in many school classrooms.

"Evolutionary theory is in such a weak position that it shouldn't be taught at all … in this grand global sense," Dembski said. "If you want to say natural selection operates in accounting for antibiotic resistance in bacteria you can make a case there. But if you are going to try to say that's how you get bacteria, insects, all this in the first place, that's a huge extrapolation. The theory doesn't support that."

In addition to offering a critique of Darwinian evolution, Intelligent Design proposes alternative theories about the origin of the universe, according to Dembski. These alternative theories argue that a designer must have fashioned the complex biological and physical mechanisms humans observe in the world, he said.

Although much of the scientific community views Intelligent Design with disdain, according to Dembski, as many as 90 percent of Americans "are favorably disposed" to the idea.

He continued saying that because naturalism has influenced a variety of fields such as science, philosophy, business, and economics, Christians must be prepared to combat the naturalistic worldview in every arena of life.

One of the most effective ways to battle naturalism is to use Intelligent Design to challenge the basic assumptions of Darwinian evolution, he said.

"Intelligent Design is pressing that you can't get [the design of the universe] without intelligence."

Marion Kim

Mysteries of the magic water man


April 16, 2005

Unique water seemed too good to be true to begin with - and the story just keeps getting stranger. Ben Hills reports.

Cristina Marcon says her eczema has cleared up. Mark Fitzharris believes his multiple sclerosis is much better. Milton (Mickey) Macdonald declares that his arthritis pain has gone away.

Three people scattered across the mid-Canadian province of Ontario with one thing in common: their belief that a brand of bottled mineral water invented by an Australian can cure all manner of ailments, and their use of the internet to promote it.

Their emails can be accessed from the websites of Aqua Gilgamesh - named after the mythological Babylonian god-king of Uruk, slayer of Humbaba the Terrible and the Bull of Heaven - whose properties, if one believes the publicity, are equally awesome.

For $C50 ($52) a carton, one can obtain a supply of this water. The website - which notes it has no scientific trials on which to base any therapeutic or nutritional claims - lists dozens of conditions for which the water should be of benefit, from Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases to diabetes, arthritis and psoriasis.

Ring a bell?

It should, because in April 2002 the same water featured on the cover of the Herald's Good Weekend magazine (claimed readership 1.8 million) under the headline "Miracle Water? Can something as simple as this mineral-rich water really combat arthritis, fatigue and osteoporosis ... help you live longer?"

That article, by Paul Sheehan, a devotee of the water who believes it helped him to health after suffering from a "constellation of auto-immune diseases", still features prominently on the Aqua Gilgamesh website.

Although it did caution that no medical trials had been conducted to test the efficacy of the water, that endorsement by Sheehan - and the five other people, one dog and one cat (deceased) whom he cited in the article as having benefited from the water - was picked up by the TV networks and triggered a gold rush for the manufacturer of what was then called Unique Water.

Queues of up to 600 sick people - some of them in wheelchairs, some using walking-sticks - formed outside the premises of Bert's Soft Drinks in the southern Sydney bayside suburb of Taren Point, then the only place the water could be obtained.

In the hysteria, people drove from Melbourne to obtain supplies. Customers were rationed to three cases each (a case, then costing $30, contains 24 600ml plastic bottles). Dennis Shelley, a director of the family-owned bottling company, was quoted in the St George and Sutherland Shire Leader as saying that 10,000 cases had been sold in a single day, $300,000 worth.

The success of the water must have brought a smile to the face of its inventor, a 54-year-old veterinarian named Russell John Beckett, who was quoted copiously, largely uncritically, throughout the article. Sheehan says he spent two months fact-checking the article, producing an 8000-word commentary containing 42 sources, to satisfy his editors on the credibility of Beckett's claims.

However, much appears to have been overlooked.

Beckett told interviewers he had stumbled over the "miracle water" as a result of decades of research he had conducted into long-lived sheep and cattle on properties in the Monaro region of NSW.

He somehow concluded that they lived longer because there was naturally occurring magnesium carbonate (a chemical commonly used in medicine for upset stomachs) in the creek water, rather than because of their genes or good husbandry.

What made his views more credible were the scientific qualifications Beckett said he had. Beckett was described as "a former practising vet with an honours degree in veterinary science and a doctorate in biochemical pathology from Sydney University".

Sydney University does not offer such a doctorate. It says that Beckett's PhD is in veterinary science.

Nor does his claim that he had spent most of his life researching how life may be prolonged bear scrutiny. His master's and PhD theses are both available from the university's Fisher Library.

They show he was more interested in the dead than the living. He was awarded his doctorate in 1985 for experiments in which he poisoned sheep and cattle with dried, ground-up rock ferns, autopsied them and published gory pictures of their dissected organs.

As another boost to his believability, Beckett claimed the CSIRO had also been studying the phenomenon of "supersheep" in the Monaro region since 1955. However, the research was on identifying a gene associated with fecundity, the number of offspring a sheep can have, not the number of years it will live, said a spokesperson.

Beckett also said that he was working with the University of Canberra on a scientific paper on the water to be submitted to New Scientist magazine.

No such research had been done, and no paper was ever published, said a university spokesperson - its only contact with Beckett had been providing him with geological data on the Monaro region.

The magazine also reported that the amount of "actual clinical trialling" had been "limited". In fact there has been none at all, as Aqua Gilgamesh's latest websites make clear: "Conducting high-quality, professional clinical trials for the treatment of specific diseases is a very expensive and time-consuming process. Aqua G [another name for the water] is currently negotiating and researching [this]."

Beckett has been talking almost since the day his water was launched on an unsuspecting public about conducting proper "double-blind" trials (in which neither the patient nor the researcher knows who is getting the real thing, and who is getting the placebo) to be peer-reviewed and published in a reputable scientific journal - the only kind of science the regulatory authorities will accept or the public should believe.

Dr Daniel Lewis, an expert in rheumatoid arthritis and director of the Lewis Institute for Health and Wellbeing in Melbourne wishes he would hurry up. Lewis has been waiting for two years for $200,000 Beckett led him to believe would be forthcoming for clinical trials to be conducted in conjunction with Royal Melbourne Hospital.

Lewis conducted a pilot study with the water on 50 arthritis patients, and found that about one-third of them reported feeling better.

However, he says this could be because when patients are paying for their own treatment, up to half of them report their condition has improved even when they have been taking the useless placebo.

Lewis is angry because some of his patients are still spending a small fortune on Unique Water (the recommended "dose" is two litres a day, about $5 worth) eating up their budget for other treatments that may be effective. "I believe it is garbage, but we need clinical trials to show that it is garbage - that is a fabulous and important health message that needs to get out," Lewis said.

Beckett told Sheehan that rather than pay for clinical trials he had chosen to pay for his water to be patented in Australasia and the US.

Although Sheehan acknowledged that the patent process did not involve testing the product, much was made in the article about how the patenting process involved "scientific review" and "peer review" and how this was the first patent granted in the world for "slowing the ageing process and increasing our length of life".

If any media had contacted IP Australia (the patent-granting body) they would have been told, as this reporter was, by Malcolm Royal, president of the Institute of Patent and Trade Mark Attorneys of Australia, that "patents are generally granted without any examination of whether or not the invention works - the only exception I am aware of is perpetual motion machines".

He said patents had been granted for preposterous products such as cheese which it was claimed would never go rotten and a vacuum cleaner which was operated by the motion of a rocking-chair. "Particularly with pharmaceutical drugs there is frequently charlatan-type behaviour in patenting products that don't work as a selling point," Royal said.

It's not as if Beckett does not have the money to fund proper clinical trials.

A month after the Good Weekend article was published, a company was formed, Unique Water Australia Pty Ltd, one of six companies with which Beckett is associated. The directors and shareholders are Beckett and his son Lachlan, and Dennis Shelley and his brother Arthur - however, there is no record of its income, or how it was split.

Since those first few heady weeks, sales of Unique Water appear to have slowed - some BP service stations have stopped stocking it. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that the product came under a three-pronged investigation - by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, Food Standards Australia New Zealand, and finally the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission which forced Beckett to remove the more outrageous therapeutic claims from his website.

(The water is now, incidentally, marketed under the slogan "Too Good to be True" - the same marketing spiel used by Christopher Skase to sell his Mirage resorts at Port Douglas and the Gold Coast before his empire imploded in a billion dollars' worth of debt).

Whatever the current sales, the water is fabulously profitable, if nothing else. A box of 24 600 millilitre bottles (14.4 litres) costs $30 from Bert's today - $2.08 a litre. 15 litres of a brand of spring water such as JustPure costs $9, or 60 cents a litre. So for the addition of a few cents' worth of magnesium bicarbonate there should be nearly $1.50 a litre pure profit in Unique Water - about $200,000 for that single day when 10,000 cases were sold.

It is therefore curious that Dennis Shelley should have told the Herald after the original article appeared (he would not comment for this article) that he had spent more than $1 million on a new bottling plant for the water and had not recouped his money. Perhaps he was unhappy that his daughter, Tanya, had departed with Beckett for North America - and that Sheehan recently resurrected unproven allegations about the suspected suicide of Beckett's first wife, Robyn.

In fact, the whereabouts of Russell Beckett is as mysterious as the miracles wrought by his water. Neither phone calls to the house in Red Hill, Canberra, where he has been living - which appears to be empty - nor emails to an address shared by him and his son, were answered.

His friend, Jim Watts, ran into him in Canberra last October and got the impression he was moving to Canada - and, indeed, that is where he had launched Unique Water in its new incarnation as Aqua Gilgamesh.

The Aqua G website turned out to be registered to Tanya Shelley, of Unique Global Possibilities, who gave an address care of a law firm in Sacramento, California. She did not respond to telephone calls, emails, or a request passed on through the law firm to discuss the water.

Gilgamesh gives an address in the small town of Cornwall, Ontario, where Beckett's miracle water was being produced by a company called Iroquois Water on a Mohawk reserve - the company is jointly owned by native Canadians and the large Canadian bottling company, Cott Corporation.

However, the company has been closed for some time, and the only stocks seem to be owned by a Toronto distribution company called HanTech. A man who identified himself as Jay You (Gilgamesh has a Korean-language option on its website) said he owned the company but had not received fresh supplies for six months. He had been trying with no success to locate Beckett.

Beckett's last media romp was early last year when he did an interview with a local indigenous TV station in which he again said that clinical trials were to be conducted - this time at "Berkley". Needless to say, the University of California's Berkeley campus had never heard of Dr Beckett.

And there the trail grows cold.

There is one final curiosity. In the 4000-word article, Good Weekend did not quote one independent scientist as either endorsing or cautioning against Unique Water. The closest it got was Beckett's friend Watts, who is also a disciple of the water.

Paul Sheehan says this was because in two months' research he could not find a scientist who was willing to be quoted.

Well, here are three:

Dr Hayden Lloyd Davies, former dean of the faculty of veterinary science at Sydney University, who knew Beckett as an undergraduate: "It's pure, unqualified bullshit. The man is genuinely self-deluded."

Dr Richard Gordon, medical spokesman for Australian Skeptics, which shortlisted Unique Water for its Bent Spoon award, named after the Israeli illusionist Uri Geller: "There is a well-known saying: the plural of anecdote is not evidence. All journalists should be required to read two books, How We Know What Isn't So by Thomas Gilovich and Why People Believe Weird Things - Pseudoscience, Superstition and other Confusions of Our Time by Michael Shermer. If they did there would not be so many funny articles [written]."

Dr Mark Wahlquist, world-renowned nutritionist at Monash University, interviewed on ABC TV's Catalyst program: "My first instinct on reading about the work of Russell Beckett was it's another silly story. (but now) I think that it's worth pursuing further."

But perhaps the last word should go to Beckett, speaking on the same program: "Because I didn't go through conventional gateways, therefore I could be put into the category of being a snake oil salesman."

With additional research by Richard Reynolds de La Rochelle in Toronto.

Riding the dinosaur


Posted on Sun, Apr. 10, 2005

Forced to choose between biblical creationism and "intelligent design," I'd rather ride the dinosaur.

A saddled triceratops is the mascot for a Kentucky creationism museum set up by Answers in Genesis, www.answersingenesis.org. It's a Christian ministry that does not hide behind some fancy scientific-sounding name.

Herding dinosaurs and humans into the same era fits biblical creationism into America's big old bone collection. No one wants to deny dinosaurs existed, with all those fossils consistently sprinkled across geologic layers. Besides, kids love dinosaurs, and wouldn't care for any natural history that cut out the critters they saw in "Jurassic Park."

So saddle up the dinosaur and ride it into the Cenozoic Era. The kids will love that, and so will biblical literalists. As the AIG Web site says, "God's Word is true, or evolution is true. No millions of years. There is no room for compromise."

Except in intelligent design, which is creationism compromised, renamed and made to sound more scientific with hypotheses such as "irreducible complexity." It holds that an organism's smallest parts can be too complex to have occurred naturally. Someone must have designed them.

Either that, or we haven't figured out how to reduce them yet, much like other complexities we once would have thought irreducible if we gave up trying and assumed some supernatural power assembled them.

"It's based on a false premise, that complexity cannot self-organize, which is in fact not true," says geology professor David Schwimmer of Columbus State University.

How do we know this?

"Well, all you have to do is pick up a snowflake," he says. "Complexity is spontaneous. Crystals form naturally, or molecules arrange themselves spontaneously."

Intelligent design is the lab coat creationism wears to sneak into a science class. The courts won't let it ride in on a dinosaur. Judges say no matter what you call it, belief in a deity is a religion, not a science. So there'll be no dinosaur rides in biology class, and that's a shame. The kids would love that.

You can find a good debate on irreducible complexity from "Natural History" magazine at www.actionbioscience.org/evolution/nhmag.html. That Web link's offered by the National Center for Science Education, at www.ncseweb.org. The NCSE fights to keep creationism out of science classes. Its director, Eugenie C. Scott, will give a lecture April 21 in CSU's Davidson Student Center auditorium.

Schwimmer knows inviting Scott to Columbus may stir the simmering creationism controversy, but it's already pretty hot here in Georgia because Cobb County put evolution disclaimers on its science texts. "Down here, we're always debating it. It's not a question of bringing it up," he says.

He confesses real scientists are "flummoxed" when it comes to dealing with creationism in America's anti-intellectual culture. It seems people will believe anything now: "You just wonder if they have french-fried their minds completely."

Meanwhile, evolution-based research continues, as reported in some of the mass media and in journals on genetics, geology, astronomy, anthropology, paleontology and biology. Examples cited by the Evolution Research Center for Students and Teachers of Biology are online at http://users.mstar2.net/spencersa/evolutus.

As long as that research carries on, what's it matter if some people keep riding the dinosaur or confounding themselves with irreducible complexity?

"It's costing us money and time and effort," Schwimmer says. "Enough students actually believe this stuff that we have to do some untraining before we can do training. We're wasting a lot of time that could be used for actual science education in getting rid of non-science. And to be perfectly honest, a lot of scientists are getting to be afraid that we are losing the battle for the public intellect."

Evolution is not an easy sell, these days. Recently some IMAX theaters in the South rejected "Volcanoes of the Deep Sea" and other films that mentioned evolution. The marketing director for the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History told the New York Times: "If it is not going to draw a crowd and it is going to create controversy, from a marketing point of view, I cannot make a recommendation."

Unlike that Texas facility, the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum outside Cincinnati can't claim it's a science museum. If it tries, at least folks will know where it's coming from.

Telling the difference between religion and science shouldn't be irreducibly complex.

Contact Tim Chitwood at (706) 571-8508 or tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.com

Intelligent Design Based On Evidence


I believe that your recent (article) from Paul R. Gross on the creation/evolution debate deserves a response. First, intelligent design is no less "evidence-based" than is evolution since intelligent design uses exactly the same evidence. The disagreement is over the interpretation of the evidence, not the evidence itself.

When Gross makes the claim that there is "zero evidence" for intelligent design, he must define the fault-tolerant, error-correcting DNA code as mere serendipity. The diploid chromosome structure of higher organisms (including humans) combined with sexual reproduction is additional evidence of fault-tolerant, error-correcting construction that is designed to prevent existing genetic information from deteriorating into nonsense. Life is not designed to be evolution-friendly. Quite the opposite. Life is based on mechanisms that are designed to conserve existing genetic information and resist decay, yet allow flexibility to ever-changing environmental pressures. Is this merely lucky coincidence or evidence of design?

Take some time to review the evidence of bacterial flagella that are constructed like rotary motors, beetles with binary chemical weapons and other irreducibly complex systems. These systems hold no promise of evolutionary development other than an a priori assumption that they did evolve somehow. Aren't evolutionists merely begging the question and then pretending that the evidence uniquely supports evolution? The truth is that there is no evidence that uniquely supports evolution or Gross would have pointed to it. There are only evolutionary interpretations of evidence which are no more scientific than a creationist interpretation of the same evidence.

Gross holds the Discovery Institute up for making "specious anti-evolutionary arguments" and claims that "only the naive, or those indifferent to the rules of serious scientific inquiry, are convinced." I invite all interested parties to visit the Discovery Institute (website) and decide for yourself whether these scientists are "naive" or "indifferent to the rules of serious scientific inquiry."

Science, by definition, cannot allow an intelligent designer and is limited to naturalistic explanations. If what you are observing is, in reality, a supernatural creation and you limit the acceptable explanations to naturalistic theories, you are guaranteed to get the wrong answer. This is exactly what we have done.

As a result, we have naturalistic theories that violate the laws of thermodynamics (Big Bang) and propose that complex specified information at the level of the Encyclopedia Britannica arose spontaneously (evolution). Do we then insist that we teach such absurdities to our children in the name of science? Unfortunately, the current consensus is, yes. All supposedly done in the name of science.

In reality, there is no such thing as a scientific origins theory since the primary assumptions are not observable, but are interpretations and extrapolations of other observations. Evolutionists cannot admit that the theory of evolution is not scientific because it is only the claim to scientific credibility that prevents the theory from collapsing into the absurdity that it is.

Dan Hughes


Promises, Promises: The Art of Selling Snake Oil

April 11, 2005



PHILADELPHIA - Visitors to great museums of art are liable to be moved in any number of ways by what they see there, but almost never to laughter. This seems a pity; museums regard themselves as educational institutions, and the human condition, after all, is often as funny as it is noble or tragic.

A small exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art subverts high art's often relentless sobriety. "Quack, Quack, Quack: The Sellers of Nostrums in Prints, Posters, Ephemera and Books" is a funny and instructive look at four centuries of greed and folly, seen though artistic depictions of medical fraud.

"The quack has always been a popular subject for artists," said John Ittmann, the museum's curator of prints, who helped organized the 75 works in the show, which is on view through June 26. "Back to the Middle Ages, when they showed up at a country fair, everybody came. After all, they were salesmen, pitchmen, who brought their own music makers and clowns and rode in their own caravans. "

"Fair at Impruneta," a large etching from 1620, is by Jacques Callot, whom Mr. Ittmann calls an etcher and engraver of genius. It shows a crowd of perhaps 1,000 people at a town near Florence, Italy. But the viewer's eye is directed to a raised platform in the lower right-hand corner, where a quack ballyhoos his cure-alls assisted by a motley fool holding out a large snake to attract the gullible.

There are works by other famous names on display - William Hogarth, Honoré Daumier and Maxfield Parrish - but the exhibition's strength lies in the ephemera: advertisements, song sheets, political broadsides and other works on paper that were part of the disposable popular culture of the moment.

For example, there is an anonymous 1803 portrait etching, "The Famous Mr. Martin Van Butchell," of a celebrated London quack. A squat little man with a bowlerlike hat, bushy beard and long hair sits astride an equally squat white pony covered with painted purple spots and outfitted with artificial teeth (Van Butchell's specialty). He also had his wife embalmed and placed in a case with a glass lid in his sitting room.

A Dutch print from around 1600, the earliest in the show, depicts a popular cure for mental illness. The quack would make an incision in the scalp and, using sleight of hand, seem to remove disease-causing rocks from the patient's head.

By the 19th century, "Quack, Quack, Quack" demonstrates, the itinerant fraud was giving way to the mass marketer, who used posters, newspapers and other advertising to sell products. Morison's Pills, a powerful vegetable-based laxative, was among the most successful of these enterprises. Customers were told to take as many as they felt necessary - potentially deadly advice - and one satirist showed a man turning into a hybrid vegetable because of them.

With industrialization, quacks also modernized, hawking electrical and mechanical contraptions. The Genuine German Electro Galvanic Belt, for men, promised to cure "liver, stomach and kidney diseases, diseases of the blood, catarrh, skin diseases, lung troubles, rheumatism, female complaints, paralysis, nervous debility, etc."

The quack was such a ubiquitous figure, in Europe and the United States, that he was often used as a stand-in for corrupt politicians. For instance, a lithograph, "The Travelling Quack," mocks William Gladstone, the four-time prime minister of England, for proposing "An Infallible Home Rule Ointment" to resolve the nation's problems with Ireland.

Most of the work in "Quack, Quack, Quack" was donated to the museum by William H. Helfand, a retired pharmaceutical executive, or is owned by him. Mr. Helfand, 78, is a New Yorker who has been collecting medical prints and ephemera for almost a half century and, as he says, "I'm still finding new things."

"Until the mid-19th century," Mr. Helfand said, "if you were sick you stood no better chance of improving by seeing a regular physician instead of a quack."

In fact, the British medical journal The Lancet has noted that quacks, because they often used natural ingredients in their nostrums, may have done less harm than physicians, who tended to favor harsh chemicals. That may be why, in "The Company of Undertakers," a 1736 Hogarth print in the show, three London quacks are literally placed above 12 of its celebrated physicians. Still, the piece carries the Latin phrase meaning, "And many are the faces of death."

Before the rise of scientific medicine, Mr. Helfand noted, people commonly moved back and forth between quacks and physicians. "Boswell," he said, "went to a regular doctor and to a quack for venereal disease. Venereal disease was a big business for these people."

Ultimately, Mr. Helfand said, "Quacks will always be with us." He takes a reasonably broad-minded view of that fact, adding: "These are my ancestors, after all. If it were the 16th century, I would probably have become one myself."

The exhibition continues through June 26 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 26th Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Friday, April 15, 2005




Bill Pullman (Independence Day ) stars as a scientist faced with the toughest personal, professional and philosophical challenges of his life.

Dr. Richard Massey is searching for reasonable explanations - to explain signs that seem to indicate the apocalyptic end as foretold in Scriptures is in motion. To save humanity, Massey will have to let go of scientific facts and embrace faith. His first step in his quest to conquer the impending evil is to align himself with a nun whose devout beliefs are unshakeable. Despite many obstacles, including their own fears and doubts, the two remain determined to prove that Man can regain control of fate. Time is running out, quite literally, in their thrilling, fast-paced race around the globe to thwart Armageddon-and restore hope.

Premieres 9/8PM Wednesday April 13 on NBC.

Lack of creationism in biology books concerns board


PORTER COUNTY: East Porter officials delays textbook approval to further review contents


This story ran on nwitimes.com on Wednesday, April 13, 2005 12:58 AM CDT

KOUTS | Concerned board members delayed the approval of biology textbooks for East Porter County Schools on Monday evening because the books contained only material on evolution and excluded other theories.

"I personally believe that creationism" -- the belief in the literal interpretation of the Biblical story of creation -- "ought to be, I think that ought to be out there as something that's taught," board Vice President Tim Bucher said. "I think our students oughtta be aware of it."

The textbooks were presented to the board after a two-month review process by a committee of parents, teachers and students. The group, formed each year to review books from one of the six state subjects, looked at all of the state-approved selections, none of which included creationism, and selected the titles they felt would best serve the students.

Despite their efforts, Board President Bob Martin requested that the board defer the vote until he and other board members could review the books themselves.

"It's an important issue for me also," Martin said. "I'm not going to vote for something I haven't seen."

Board member Jill Bibler was the only one to voice opposition to deferring the vote.

"I understand their concerns for their beliefs," Bibler said on Tuesday. "But I think that the state of Indiana has set up the standards and that's what we need to follow in terms of our textbook adoptions."

The school board discussion came as a surprise to Andrea Clinkenbeard, a Kouts High School biology and chemistry teacher who served on the textbook committee.

"It was not an issue when we were choosing a book," Clinkenbeard said. "We were just looking for a book that met the standards."

Those standards -- which include evolution but not creationism -- were developed five years ago by a 60-person committee, comprised of teachers, scientists, administrators and parents. They are based on the national benchmarks from the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Science Education Standards, said Karen Rogers, science consultant for the Indiana Department of Education.

Because evolution is a state science standard, schools must teach it, Roger said. But, she added, they do have the option of discussing other theories in addition to evolution so long as they do not push or emphasize a specific belief or faith.

Although the teaching of other theories is allowed, Rogers said it is in the best academic interest of the students to only discuss those with scientific roots.

"Not to dismiss other explanations for how the world works," Rogers said, "but, within the realm of science, we would be doing students a bit of a disservice to not stick to the scientific part of science and get into other realms."

Martin and Bucher made arrangements to review the committee's top three books, which includes the text that was initially recommended.

"I think once the board views the texts that they'll be fine with it," Superintendent Roger Luekens said.

The board must notify the state with its chosen title by July 1.

The Indiana Department of Education has posted its stance on the teaching of evolution on its Web site. The statement can be read by visiting: http://www.doe.state.in.us/opd/science/evolution.html]]

Districts stand pat on religious materials


So far, none has plans to follow Plano's change on handouts

12:26 AM CDT on Friday, April 15, 2005

By KIM BREEN / The Dallas Morning News

PLANO – Plano students now have more freedom to pass out religious messages to their classmates at school, but their peers in other districts likely will not anytime soon.

The Plano school board last week changed a policy that is at the center ofa federal lawsuit. Now students have several times and places during the school day to hand out materials.

Area districts with policies similar to the one Plano changed – as well as the state organization that distributes suggested school board policies throughout Texas – aren't planning to follow suit.

That could leave them vulnerable to relive Plano's legal challenge, said an attorney representing parents in the Plano case as well as a national expert on religious expression in public schools.

"Any district that waits for conflict to act is setting itself up for a lawsuit," said Charles Haynes, senior scholar at the First Amendment Center in Arlington, Va.

But the Texas Association of School Boards has deemed changes unnecessary.

"We're not recommending all districts change their policies because of this unusual incident in Plano," said Catherine Clark, an associate executive director for TASB. She said the association continually reviews policies, and districts are encouraged to consult their own attorneys.

Plano is trying to settle a lawsuit filed in December by students and their parents who claim the district violated students' First Amendment rights. The suit stems from a school party in December 2003, when an elementary student was not allowed to hand out candy cane pens with Christian messages.

Plano's policy had required Jonathan Morgan to leave his pens on a table at his school rather than distribute them. With the new policy, students have opportunities each day to exchange materials face-to-face in school, such as during recess in elementary schools.

Districts throughout the area have policies nearly identical to the one Plano has relaxed. Districts contacted this week – including Dallas – are sticking with them.

"We do not believe that any of our policies violate the law in this area and likely won't move any policy changes forward unless we can be shown otherwise," said Dallas school district spokesman Donald Claxton.

Allen's policy

Ken Helvey, assistant superintendent for administrative services in the Allen school district, said the district has reviewed its policy in light of Plano's news and has also checked in with principals to see whether it should be tweaked.

"We still feel we represent the community's expectations," with the existing policy, he said. Dr. Clark said TASB won't likely make any changes to its suggested policy on the subject anytime soon, but it could come up for review in 12 to 14 months.

Mari McGowan, an attorney for the Plano school district, said her firm, Abernathy, Roeder, Boyd and Joplin, will send the policy it drafted to the more than a dozen Texas school districts it represents.

"Obviously we feel it's a good policy. It's a definitive policy."

Still, she said, she believes the policy still on the books in most districts is legal and districts will have to decide whether to change it.

Plano school board Vice President Duncan Webb agreed.

"I think without agreeing that our old policy was illegal, I think other school districts should at least consider it, and whether or not it's appropriate for their districts and what their parents and voters want."

Kelly Shackelford, chief counsel for Liberty Legal Institute, which is representing parents in the Plano suit, said he is not surprised TASB is not recommending districts change their policies. Doing so might compromise the case in court by admitting that Plano's old policy was flawed, he said.

Not far enough?

Mr. Shackelford said even Plano's newest policy doesn't go far enough to protect First Amendment rights and should, for instance, allow students to exchange items in classrooms. Plano's current policy for elementary students provides opportunities before and after school, during recess and a few parties each year.

He said districts that hold onto the old policies run the risk of violating students' rights and could be next on his law firm's list.

"We're going to have to go after that one, too."

Dr. Haynes said that while Plano's old policy may have been legal, it was impractical because students exchange items in school and class parties, and religious items wind up being singled out and disallowed.

"School districts should do what they can to create a welcoming climate to people of all faiths or no faith," he said.

Email kbreen@dallasnews.com

Evolution education update: kudos for Quammen, the latest on the KS kangaroo court, a chance to support the Talk.Origins Archive


On April 13, 2005, the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME) and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism presented the 2005 National Magazine Awards, the industry's most prestigious editorial honor. Among the awardees were science journalist David Quammen and National Geographic's editor-in-chief, William L. Allen, who jointly won the Award in Essays for the November 2004 National Geographic article that asked and answered (in the negative) the question, "Was Darwin Wrong?" The citation for the award reads, "Much of the American public still fails to accept the truth of the theory of evolution. Nevertheless, National Geographic's courageous cover story dared readers to shake off their prejudices. Firmly but tactfully, David Quammen marshals genetic data, antibiotic-resistant germs, and the anklebone of a fossil whale to build the case for Charles Darwin's great insight, concluding that 'the evidence for evolution is overwhelming.'" In celebration of the award, NCSE will send a free copy of the November 2004 issue of National Geographic to the first ten teachers who request a copy for use in their classrooms: e-mail branch@ncseweb.org with your request.

To read ASME's press release on the National Magazine Awards, visit:

For excerpts from Quammen's article, as well as extra features such as field notes, links, and a bibliography, visit:


The American Association for the Advancement of Science -- the world's largest general science organization and the publisher of the journal Science -- announced on April 12, 2005, that it declined to participate in the scheduled six days of hearings in Kansas on the place of evolution in the state science standards, hearings that have been widely described as a "kangaroo court" on evolution. AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner wrote, "The fundamental structure of the hearing suggests that the theory of evolution may be debated. ... The consensus view of the scientific community on evolution is well-established and presented clearly in the AAAS's Benchmarks for Scientific Literacy and in the National Academy's National Science Education Standards. Although scientists may debate details of the mechanisms of evolution, there is no argument among scientists as to whether evolution is taking place. We do not believe that any useful purpose would be served by our participation in this event."

In a column published on April 12, the Wichita Eagle's editorial board reflected on the success of the boycott: "This resounding rejection of the hearings speaks volumes about how the mainstream scientific community sees the Kansas evolution 'controversy.' It has no credibility." Quoting Steve Abrams -- the chairman of the Kansas State Board of Education, a member of the subcommittee responsible for the hearings, and a creationist himself -- as saying, "It's almost like they're saying, 'We can't defend what's put out there, so we're not going to participate,'" the Eagle replied, "Well, no. It's almost like they're saying, 'This rigged forum, with a predetermined outcome, has no credibility whatsoever in the scientific community. So what's the point?' Baiting scientists won't get them to appear. Because as they rightly perceive, the hearings are a political effort to legitimize ID by parading a small number of 'experts' before the public."

The six days of hearings were foreshadowed at a meeting of the Kansas State Board of Education on April 13, when a discussion of the latest draft of the revised science standards, scheduled to run for one hour, stretched to over three hours. The discussion reportedly centered, unsurprisingly, on the place of evolution in the standards, with proponents and opponents of the hearings taking the opportunity to voice their views. While the six conservatives "used their turns in the discussion to reiterate their support for the hearings as a way to help resolve the dispute," wrote the Wichita Eagle's Josh Funk, the four moderates on the board -- Carol Rupe, Bill Wagnon, Janet Waugh and Sue Gamble -- "reiterated their opposition to the hearings as unnecessary and a waste of time." Interviewed by the Johnson County Sun, Harry McDonald, the president of Kansas Citizens for Science, cited a further reason for concern about the hearings: "We will not be a party to spending tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars," McDonald said, "on a political stunt."

Finally, on April 15, a coalition of organizations supporting quality science education in Kansas -- Kansas Citizens for Science, the Kansas Academy of Science, Families United for Public Education, and the MAINstream Coalition -- issued a position statement on the hearings, reading in part, "The Science Standards Writing Committee, appointed last year by the Kansas State Board of Education, has developed a superb set of standards for teaching science at all levels in public schools. But instead of accepting these standards, the Board of Education has subverted the process. They are now planning on spending tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars to stage a series of hearings intended to showcase a theology known as Intelligent Design creationism as a substitute for science. We support the adoption of the standards written by the science standards writing committee. We reject the show-trial hearings, whose purpose is to make it appear that Intelligent Design creationism and the well-established science of evolution are on equal footing." The coalition urges all Kansans to endorse its position statement.

To read the AAAS's press release, visit:

To read the Wichita Eagle's editorial, visit:

To read the Wichita Eagle's story on the latest board meeting, visit:

To read the coalition's position statement, visit: http://www.kcfs.org/cgi-bin/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic;f=1;t=000026


The Talk.Origins Archive is a collection of articles and essays, most of which appeared originally in the talk.origins Usenet group, which is intended to provide mainstream scientific responses to frequently asked questions about evolution and frequently posed challenges to it. For over a decade, the Archive -- maintained by volunteers and operated on a shoestring budget -- has been a truly invaluable resource for those wishing to promote and defend the teaching of evolution in the public schools. The TalkOrigins Foundation, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charitable organization, was recently formed to "provide a mechanism to cover the cost of hosting and maintaining the Talk.Origins Archive through grants, contributions, and other revenues [and to] create an entity that can hold the copyrights to Archive articles, thereby simplifying the process of reprinting and updating those articles." And it is now accepting donations. NCSE encourages anyone who finds the Archive's resources to be helpful to consider making a donation to the Foundation.

For information about the Talk.Origins Foundation, visit:

For information about donating to the Talk.Origins Foundation, visit:

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


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

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

2 Eggs, Fossilized, Help Science Unscramble Dino Reproduction


By Robert Lee Hotz, Times Staff Writer

Offering a rare insight into sex and the single dinosaur, researchers announced Thursday the discovery of two unlaid fossilized eggs inside a female dinosaur unearthed in China.

The unusual find of a single pair of intact eggs within a dinosaur's body cavity — remains of a mother who died before she could lay the eggs — shows that in matters of reproduction, these extinct creatures had as much in common with modern birds as with more primitive reptiles, the scientists reported.

"It gives direct evidence of dinosaur reproduction," said paleontologist Tamaki Sato at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, who led the study. "Now we have the evidence that the dinosaur laid two eggs at once."

Since dinosaur diggers first ventured into the bleak deserts of Inner Mongolia in the 1920s, scientists have known that dinosaurs reproduced by laying eggs.

Fossilized dinosaur eggs and egg-filled dinosaur nests are not uncommon. In 1993, researchers in the Gobi desert even discovered the skeleton of a dinosaur that died brooding its clutch of eggs.

Until now, however, paleontologists had only indirect evidence of dinosaurs' egg-laying habits and their reproductive biology.

The researchers found the potato-sized eggs nestled within the fossilized pelvis of a dinosaur called Oviraptor — the egg thief — excavated near the city of Ganzhou in Jiangxi province. They published their findings today in the journal Science.

The 12-foot-long, beaked dinosaur belonged to a group called the theropods, from which the Tyrannosaurus rex and modern birds are thought to be descended. It is 65 million to 100 million years old, Sato said.

Researchers knew from other fossils that these dinosaurs laid clutches of up to 15 eggs, but they did not know how many eggs were produced at once or how long it took the dinosaurs to fill their nests.

It takes a modern chicken about 26 hours to produce a single egg. A crocodile might take three weeks or more to produce one. Whereas chickens usually lay their eggs one at a time, crocodiles lay from 20 to 60 at once. Turtles lay 80 to 180 eggs at a time.

Like a bird, but unlike a crocodile, this dinosaur could not lay all its eggs at once.

The fossil suggests that the dinosaur had two ovaries and oviducts, a primitive anatomical feature found in crocodiles and other reptiles. Modern birds have only one set.

Like birds, but unlike crocodiles, however, each of the dinosaur's oviducts produced only one large, shelled egg at a time. The researchers believe that the dinosaur made two eggs at once, laid them, and then repeated the process until her nest was full.

"This fits right into what we know," UC Berkeley paleontologist Kevin Padian said.

The dinosaur was designated the egg thief because the first of its skeletons to be discovered was found near a fossilized nest of eggs. Researchers assumed that the creature, with its large hands and slender fingers, had died while trying to steal another animal's eggs for food.

Subsequent fossil finds, however, revealed that these dinosaurs were the mothers of such eggs. Scientists had to alter their assessment of the animal's behavior.

"We are sorry," Sato said, "that [scientists] named this dinosaur Oviraptor."


Robert L. Park Friday, 15 Apr 05 Washington, DC


Last Friday, the Kansas State Department of Education invited the American Association for the Advancement of Science "to provide expert opinion regarding the mainstream scientific view of the nature of science," at a hearing on evolution. Drawing from the Santorum report language accompanying the No Child left Behind Act, the invitation says the curriculum "should help students understand the full range of scientific views that exist." Of course. The problem is that there is only one scientific view of the origin of species: Darwin's "natural selection." The hearing will be nothing but elaborately staged theater, with intelligent designers portrayed as scientists. The AAAS CEO, Alan Leshner, quite properly declined, "We see no purpose in debating a matter of faith." Neither does WN. But wait, isn't this the same Alan Leshner who defends the AAAS Dialog on Science, Ethics and Religion? In an editorial in the 11 Feb 05 issue of Science, Leshner argued that getting together with religious leaders to discuss the relation of scientific advances to other belief systems is helpful http://www.aps.org/WN/WN05/wn021105.cfm.


In 1998 WN exposed "Vitamin O" as ordinary salt water. The FDA was barred from taking action because salt water is a "natural" supplement. Later that year a UCSF study reported serious side effects from ephedra http://www.aps.org/WN/WN98/wn112798.cfm. Sold on the web as "herbal ecstacy," the FDA said ephedra, was also protected by the Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act (DSHEA). It's estimated that there are more adverse reactions to ephedra than all other herbal supplements combined, but not until a young major league pitcher became a victim did the FDA ban it http://www.aps.org/WN/WN04/wn010204.cfm. Ephedra was the only supplement banned since passage of DSHEA. Now there are none. The judge lifted the ban because the FDA had not determined a safe level. The FDA had not determined a safe level because it would be unethical to test a substance on people if it's known to be harmful. Once again there are calls to change DSHEA.


My mail box has been crammed full of homeopathy stuff all week. Sunday was the 250th birthday of Samuel Hahnemann, the German physician who founded homeopathy in an age of purging and blood- letting. Hahnemann's "law of similars" would be a disaster, had he not come up with his "law of infinitesimals." His diaper rash cure, for example, is rhus toxicodendron (poison ivy). Lucky for baby, the law of infinitesimals says to dilute it 200C, i.e. there isn't any. We excuse Hahnemann, who didn't have Avogadro's number (neither did Avogadro, it was determined 50 years later), but homeopaths know it, which goes beyond stupid. And homeopathy has its own DSHEA. In 1938 Senator Royal Copeland, a homeopath, exempted homeopathy from the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act. After all, it would be like trying to show holy water had been blessed.


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

Archives of What's New can be found at http://www.aps.org/WN

Physics News Update 727

The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News
Number 727 April 14, 2005 by Phillip F. Schewe, Ben Stein
A NEW KIND OF EQUILIBRIUM. Normally heat will flow from a hot place to a neighboring cold place. In a new form of thermoelectric refrigerator, proposed by Tammy Humphrey (University of Wollongong, Australia) and Heiner Linke (University of Oregon), temperature imbalances can be held at bay by electrochemical imbalances. The implications? Possibly much more efficient forms of no-moving-parts electric refrigerators.

Heat and electricity are two forms of energy, and in a special circuit, made from thermoelectric materials, a temperature difference can generate electricity and, conversely, a voltage difference can bring about a temperature difference. A thermoelectric circuit usually consists of two semiconductors joined at two junctions. One of the semiconductors is of the p type with a surplus of holes, the other of the n type with a surplus of electrons. Here's how you can generate heat or electricity in contrary phenomena. In the Peltier effect, a voltage imbalance will pull electrons and holes out of one of the junctions, thus cooling that junction and warming the other junction. In the Seebeck effect, things work in reverse: a temperature imbalance between the junctions will set electrons and holes in motion, thus constituting an electric current. The Peltier effect is at work, for example, in on-chip cooling of critical microcircuitry. The Seebeck effect is used in powering spacecraft (too far from the sun for photocells to be of use), where the heat from a radioactive source is used to make electricity. What keeps thermoelectric devices from greater applicability is the poor efficiency, typically 10%. One of the main problems is that some of the heat (applied at one junction) used to drive a current through the circuit is carried by electrons to the other junction, reducing the thermal gradient and therefore sapping the process of generating electricity. What one needs is a circuit good for electric conduction but poor for thermal conduction by electrons. And this is what Humphrey (tammy.humphrey@unsw.edu.au ) and Linke's proposed circuit would do (see figure at www.aip.org/png ). The p-leg and n-leg parts of the circuits would consist not of bulk matter but of quantum dots, nanoscopic pieces of matter in which only select electron energies are allowed. Engineer the dots to discourage the higher-energy electrons carrying thermal energy, heat leakage will drop, and the overall efficiency will go up. The best thermoelectric efficiencies are about 10%. If efficiencies could be pushed to 50%, the thermoelectric approach (silent, less bulky, no refrigerant, long lived) would compete to take over even bulk household refrigeration, Humphrey says. (Physical Review Letters, 11 March 2005; lab website www.humphrey.id.au, http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~linke/ )

COOLING OF BULK MATERIAL has been achieved with a solid-state refrigerator. At the heart of the NIST-Boulder device is a tiny sandwich-shaped diode whose layers are successively a normal metal, an insulator, and a superconductor. The stack has the effect of pulling the hottest electrons out of the normal-metal layer. This no-moving-parts refrigerator is not the first to achieve 100 mK temperatures but it is the first to do so with technologically useful cooling powers. The NIST micro-fridge chilled a cube of germanium about 250 microns on a side and with a mass of 80 micrograms. This sounds like a small speck of matter, but it was enormous compared to the size of the refrigerating junctions (see figure at www.aip.org/png ). Indeed, the ratio of the volume of the cube to the volume of the junctions is 11,000. This is equivalent to a refrigerator the size of a person chilling something the size of the Statue of Liberty. In preliminary tests, the cube was cooled from 320 mK down to 240 mK. Future improvements should lower the base temperature to near 100 mK. According to NIST physicist Joel Ullom (ullom@boulder.nist.gov), their refrigerator works best at temperatures below 1 K, so it won't be used to cool foods. But it will be very useful for chilling circuitry on chips and maybe samples as large as the centimeter size. (Clark et al., Applied Physics Letters, upcoming article)

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

Cacioppo directing study on health benefits derived from spiritual beliefs


By William Harms News Office

A belief in God may improve a person's physical health, according to University researchers who are launching the first comprehensive study to examine the relationship between religious attitudes and health.

The Pennsylvania-based John Templeton Foundation has given the University $1.8 million to launch the study, which will be coupled with current University work on aging that is supported with $7.5 million from the National Institute on Aging of the Department of Health and Human Services. The NIA-funded work is an interdisciplinary effort to understand the connections between longevity and loneliness. Religious belief, like social connections, could have beneficial effects on people's health, scholars contend.

Because the research is multidisciplinary, including researchers in the departments of Medicine, Psychology, Sociology, Psychiatry, History, Human Development and the Divinity School, it provides a useful framework to study scientifically the connections between religious belief and health, said John Cacioppo, the Tiffany and Margaret Blake Distinguished Service Professor in Psychology and the leader of both studies. Cacioppo is one of the nation's leading experts on social relations and aging.

"The study is based on an evolutionary model of humans as social beings in which the motive to form and maintain attachments and interpersonal relationships is in part genetically determined," Cacioppo said. As a result, people are born with the capacity for sociality and spirituality, he said. The work will explore how this inclination to form personal connections with others and with God varies among individuals because of social and environmental influences.

Among the initial findings of the study is that a strong belief in God can have an impact on reducing depression, particularly among African Americans.

Measurable effects of strong spirituality, regardless of religion, can include improved physiological functioning, health and well-being, especially in difficult times, Cacioppo said. Those benefits of belief in God accrue over time and are an important aspect of dealing with aging, he said.

Subjects in the current study on longevity and loneliness­which is called the Chicago Health, Aging and Social Relations Study­have been asked a battery of questions related to their health, exercise habits and emotions, as well as church attendance and religiosity.

For that project, the researchers began a series of daylong interviews and medical tests that began in 2002 and will continue through 2006. The study includes 230 African Americans, Latinos and whites between the ages of 50 and 67 from Chicago and the suburbs. The researchers are gathering extensive medical histories, health assessments, health care utilization measures, health behavior measures, sleep quality indices, personality measures and life events assessments.

The Templeton grant will permit researchers to work on these additional research projects:

A study of young adults, using functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine the neural substrates of sociality and spirituality.

A study of young adults to explore their mental representation of God. They will be asked a range of questions, including whether they communicate with a higher being, feel inner peace through a relationship with a higher being or do not have an awareness at all of God's presence.

A study of the older adults, which will look at the way belief promotes good mental health and reduces feelings of loneliness and depression.

A study called "Something to Live For" that examines whether religious belief diminishes social conflicts, improves sleep and provides for successful aging.

A study to determine the relationship between cardiovascular health and belief in God, based on the religion-related questions that have been asked of older adults since the beginning of the study.

Evolution flap riles East Porter


April 15, 2005

By Carole Carlson / Post-Tribune staff writer

The East Porter County School Board has delayed the adoption of biology textbooks because they don't mention creationism, a theory that a divine being is responsible for the creation of life.

A committee of teachers, parents and students recommended two textbooks to the board for approval recently as part of the adoption process, which occurs every six years.

The board delayed approval until members have a chance to review the books. Each explains the theory of evolution in conformance with Indiana state standards for science. Evolution maintains that all life forms are descended from common ancestors.

The books selected were on a state-approved list of texts that met state science standards.

The Indiana Department of Education began testing students in science last year.

Board member Tim Bucher said he wished the books were more balanced and mentioned there were other theories besides evolution.

"I believe it's a theory of evolution, not a fact of evolution."

Bucher, who described himself as a fundamentalist Christian who believes the Bible literally, said he hasn't seen the recommended texts from Prentice Hall and Holt yet. "I'm trying to be a realist along with my Christian faith. At least let the kids know about it," he said of creationism.

"We have people on the committee who we respect. Once in awhile, we ought to look at the books we approve anyway."

Superintendent Roger Luekens said the book would likely be adopted once the board looks at it.

"I am concerned with textbooks teaching to the state standards and not trying to dictate someone's faith."

The board again could consider the textbook adoption at its April 25 meeting.

School boards don't have to select books from the state list, said Mary Tiede Wilhelmus, a spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Education. To select a book not on the list, districts must request a waiver asking to deviate from the state standards. "They can do anything they want," she said.

Robert Rivers, dean of the School of Education at Purdue University Calumet in Hammond, said creationism is not a scientific theory.

Rivers was part of the statewide committee that developed the state's science standards.

"It's a faith-based approach," he said of creationism. "It would be appropriate in a philosophy or social studies class that examines various religious approaches for explanations of the conditions of man."

Rivers, a former high school biology teacher and evangelical Christian, said the teaching of evolution and natural selection has been a cornerstone of modern biology.

In 2000, Indiana received an "A" from the American Association for the Advancement of Science in its teaching of the scientific theory.

Contact Carole Carlson

at 648-3085 or ccarlson@post-trib.com

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