NTS LogoSkeptical News for 24 April 2005

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings


Sunday, April 24, 2005

Physics News Update 725

The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News
Number 725 April 1, 2005 by Phillip F. Schewe, Ben Stein

ZEPTOGRAM MASS DETECTION---WEIGHING MOLECULES. Michael Roukes and his Caltech colleagues produce some of the finest nanoscopic electromechanical systems (NEMS) devices in the world. His latest achievement is performing mass measurements with nearly zeptogram (zg) sensitivity, that is, with an uncertainty of only a few times 10^-21 grams. At this level you can start to weigh molecules one at a time. In experiments, the presence of xenon accretions of only about 30 atoms (7 zg, or about 4 kilodaltons, or the same as for a small protein) have been detected in real time. Minuscule masses are measured through their effect on an oscillating doubly clamped silicon carbide beam, which serves as the frequency-determining element in a tuned circuit. So, in practice, the beam would be set to vibrating at a rate of more than 100 MHz and then would be exposed to a faint puff of biomolecules. Each molecule would strike the beam, where its presence (and its mass) would show up as a changed resonant frequency. After a short sampling time, the molecule would be removed and another brought in. Through this kind of miniaturization and automation, the NEMS approach to mass spectroscopy could change the way bioengineering approaches its task, especially in the search for cancer and its causes. The Roukes (roukes@caltech.edu, 626-395-2916) group reported its findings at last week's meeting of the American Physical Society (APS) in Los Angeles.

LASER SCATTERING OF MITOCHONDRIA, the "power plants" of cells, can immediately identify early-stage liver cancer cells and potentially monitor stem cells as they undergo various stages of development. At the APS March Meeting, Paul Gourley of Sandia (plgourl@sandia.gov) reported the latest uses of the "biocavity laser," an aluminum-gallium-arsenide based design that continuously pumps in single human cells into a chamber for analysis. The laser's beams are altered in their passage through the cells. The 800-nanometer light in the experiments is not absorbed by most of the cell, except by its hundreds of mitochondria, which are responsible for scattering 90-95 percent of the light. By analyzing the scattering patterns, the researchers determined the distribution of mitochondria in the cell, and could instantly determine whether the cell was healthy (in which case the mitochondria cluster cooperatively around the cell nucleus) or cancerous (in which case they are apathetically sprawled across the cell). The process is highly accurate, works much more quickly than traditional techniques, and does not require the usual pre-treatment of cells with chemical reagents or fluorescent molecules. Co-author Bob Naviaux of UC-San Diego added the biocavity laser technique also has the potential to rapidly identify the in-between states of stem cells as they transform into their final identities. (Also see Sandia News release at http://www.sandia.gov/news-center)

NO SPLASH ON THE MOON. Sidney Nagel's lab at the University of Chicago has explored the behavior of liquid drops---how and when they fall from a faucet---granular materials, crumpling, and other everyday-but-difficult-to-explain phenomena. At the APS meeting, Nagel's graduate student, Lei Xu, revealed a surprising discovery concerning one of the commonest physical effects: the splash a liquid drop makes when it strikes a flat surface. Under ordinary atmospheric conditions a liquid drop will flatten out on impact, splay sideways, and also raise a tiara-like crown of splash droplets. Remove some of the ambient atmosphere, and surprisingly the splash becomes less. At about one-fifth atmosphere the splash disappears altogether, leaving the outward going splat but no upwards splash (see movie at kauzmann.uchicago.edu ). Apparently it is the presence of the air molecules that give the impacting liquid something to push off of; remove the surrounding atmosphere, and the splash stops

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.

None of the Above

April 24, 2005
By LISA GUERNSEY

TWO years ago, fifth graders taking Texas's annual standardized science test faced this multiple-choice question: "Which two planets are closest to Earth?" The four choices were "Mercury and Saturn," "Mars and Jupiter," "Mercury and Venus" and "Venus and Mars."

Simple, right? The Texas Education Agency thought so; every fifth grader should know that Venus and Mars orbit on either side of Earth's orbit (remember the mnemonic "My Very Excellent Mother Just Sent Us Nine Pizzas"?). "Venus and Mars," therefore, would have been a good pick.

But wait, said Mark Loewe, a Dallas physicist who was curious about what students are expected to know and so took the test. The question asked which planets - not which planets' orbits - were closest to Earth. So the correct answer depends on when the question is asked.

"Mercury, which orbits closest to the Sun, is closest to Earth most often," Dr. Loewe said, and sure enough, during that test week in spring 2003, Mercury and Mars were the planets closest to Earth, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Web site. That pair was not among the possible answers.

So is the question valid? Perhaps, since the problem was written for a typical 10-year-old, not someone with Dr. Loewe's understanding of science. On the other hand, the problem ignores the physical world woven into the question, and that might trip up brighter fifth graders.

Beware the perils of ambiguity. It is a mantra that is increasingly pertinent to tests in mathematics and science. The two fields might seem immune from imprecision. But in mathematics, for example, today's tests assess more than a student's ability to do "naked computation," as Cathy Seeley, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, puts it. In many places, calculators have rendered meaningless the testing of basic computational tasks. Instead, more questions test students' comprehension in real-world contexts. A triangle is a corner garden bed. A rectangular object intersected by a line is a juice box, with a straw. A sloped line on a graph represents a year's worth of payments to the power company.

With these scenarios come variables, and mathematicians and scientists from British Columbia to Boston spend much time picking apart the questions, particularly in online discussion groups. If students are asked how many seeds can be planted in the surface area of a triangular garden, do you put seeds in the corners where there isn't room for plants to take root? What about relevant considerations like seasonality of utility bills or position of the planets? Multiple-choice questions, with no place to show your work and thinking, make such realities more vexing.

"To the lay eye, it may appear that I am being picky, criticizing the minutest detail of the exam," wrote James A. Middleton, a mathematics education professor at Arizona State University, in an online critique of his state's high school exams. "I am being picky. Any first-semester student of psychometrics (the statistical study of test design, administration and analysis) could tell you that if a test is to provide reliable and valid data, its items must be designed well, reflect the standards of the content, and clearly allow students who understand the content to demonstrate that understanding."

Professor Middleton decided that a quarter of the questions he analyzed had mistakes in content or context (he has just completed an analysis of recently released questions and says there is improvement).

"It's an increasingly severe problem," says Walter M. Haney, a senior researcher at Boston College's Center for the Study of Testing, Evaluation and Educational Policy.

The process by which questions are vetted is long and costly. "On most of the tests that are created today, the people who write them and the people who review them do a conscientious and good job," says Gregory Cizek, an education professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who has been an elementary school teacher and a test writer for ACT Inc. But, he adds, "stuff always slips through."

Part of the challenge is writing appropriate questions for a particular grade level while not misleading a student who happens to know more. A 10th grader with a sibling in 12th grade may know some higher-level math; a 12th grader taking a physics course at a local college or online may look at a question differently than another student in the same grade.

Consider, for example, another question critiqued by Dr. Loewe on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills in 2003. Students in 11th grade were asked to calculate how much force a frog would exert against a river bank while leaping off. Dr. Loewe, who has co-written a textbook on quantum mechanics, says that when he worked out the problem, he included the frog's gravitational weight (its force during rest, which he determined by using the formula for acceleration due to gravity, which was provided at the beginning of the test). But the answer key made clear that the question writer did not expect students to consider that.

Dr. Loewe found several other problems and informed the Texas Education Agency. "Texans are ill-served by such incompetence or dishonesty," he wrote. The agency responded by hiring university professors to review exam questions, says Victoria Young, director of instructional coordination in the agency's testing office. The professors review tests that relate to their areas of expertise but are also familiar with what is taught in high school.

Nonetheless, Ms. Young disputes Dr. Loewe's specific complaints. Asked whether the planets question might have led students to Dr. Loewe's answer, she responded, "Not a realistic viewpoint, in my opinion." And of the leaping frog, she says that physics educators have told her that "only if you brought a very advanced level of college physics to the table would you know enough to know that the answer could be arrived at differently."

Not so, says Dr. Haney of Boston College. Students should have known to take the frog's gravitational weight into account, and so argued a few Texans in letters to The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, which reported on the dispute. Dr. Haney says one reason for the problem is that "a lot of the people who may be writing the math and science questions may not have a deep understanding of the math and science that they are trying to test."

In most cases, the people who write the questions are or have been teachers. Often, they are paid to attend summer workshops led by companies that have contracted with the states to develop the tests.

Marilyn Rindfuss, national senior mathematics consultant at Harcourt Assessment, which creates standardized tests for dozens of states, emphasizes a process she calls "tightening up." Ms. Rindfuss asks every question writer to go through a checklist that includes such questions as "Is the fictional information realistic? (no 75-pound housecats)" and "Is there one, and only one, clearly correct answer?" She also rejects questions that ask test takers to extrapolate patterns, because some people see a pattern that a question writer does not, leading the scorer to start "counting answers wrong that are, in fact, correct."

(To get a sense of such patterns, try this question, which has been kicking around New York City high schools for decades: What comes next in this sequence: 28, 23, 18, 14, __? Read on to find the answer.)

Once questions are written, they are typically reviewed by multiple groups that include test writers, teachers, editors, statisticians and content specialists. And then most developers test the questions on real students in real exam settings. In field testing, statisticians may discover that most top-scoring students selected answer "d" when answer "c" was deemed correct. What made "d" so appealing to the advanced students? Could a flaw in the question have led them to arrive at an equally correct answer? In most cases, the incongruity is a red flag, prompting developers to discard the question.

Insufficient field testing was blamed in part for the controversy in New York high schools in 2003, when two-thirds of test takers failed the Math A exam, which is required for a diploma. As a result, the state Board of Regents overhauled the math curriculum, and last month announced that the state would abandon its approach of integrated mathematics in favor of the old-fashioned curriculum of algebra for freshmen, geometry for sophomores and algebra II and trigonometry for juniors. The first revised exam based on those standards will be given in 2007.

Daniel Jaye, an assistant principal at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, served on the panel charged with investigating the troubled exam. He recalls a telling moment during the administration of the test at his school. "One of the kids raised his hand and the proctor called me into the room," Dr. Jaye says. The student was puzzled by a question about a straw that rested diagonally in a rectangular box, 3 by 4 by 8 inches. The question asked for the length of the straw to the nearest 10th of an inch. The answer, according to the Board of Regents, was 9.4 inches.

But, the student asserted, there was not enough information to answer the question correctly. If the question asked about the length of a line, he figured he could solve the problem. But because it asked about the length of a straw, he needed the radius of the straw to determine where it would touch the corner of the juice box.

"How am I expected to come up with an accurate answer?" the student asked.

"I started laughing because he was right," Dr. Jaye recalls. "I said, 'I don't know. I really don't know.' "

Jerry P. Becker, a professor of curriculum and instruction at Southern Illinois University, wrote this in an online discussion about ambiguous math questions: "We're talking about kids who are desperately trying to penetrate the minds of adults and figure out what is 'really' being asked and what 'the trick' is."

Professor Becker particularly dislikes multiple-choice questions. They are inexpensive to score, because they can be run through machines, but they include plausible incorrect choices, he says. Worse yet, many educators and scientists say, the multiple-choice format does not allow for creative, unexpected solutions.

Which brings us to the pattern question posed earlier: What comes next after 28, 23, 18 and 14? Actually, it's a math teacher's idea of a joke.

The answer is Christopher Street, the next stop downtown on the 1 and 9 lines in the New York City subway system.

Lisa Guernsey contributes articles on education and technology for The Times.

http://query.nytimes.com/mem/tnt.html?tntget=2005/04/24/education/edlife/guernsey24.html


Saturday, April 23, 2005

Blowback from cult critics regarding Tom Cruise's efforts for Scientology

http://www.cultnews.com/archives/000811.html April 23, 2005

Scientology critics have given $1,000 to an anti-cult organization in the name of Tom Cruise and sent the actor a certificate denoting this and citing the criteria for a destructive cult, which they apparently think, applies to his religion.

The certificate and corresponding letter of explanation were just posted on the Web site Holy Smoke.

This effort represents some belated blowback regarding Cruise's seemingly cynical effort directed towards journalists who perhaps had less than glowing things to say about his church.

The former "Top Gun" previously sent out cards notifying reporters that he had made donations in their name to Scientology and he enclosed a plaque listing the "12 rules" of the controversial organization, once called the "Cult of Greed" by Time Magazine.

The recent contribution given in Cruise's name and the corresponding certificate is a reciprocating gesture. And his detractors labeled the actor's previous mailing to journalists "intrusive and presumptuous."

Apparently mocking him the Scientology critics said, "We've read of your recent donations to charity on behalf of others and felt you would appreciate our effort."

Tom Cruise has become something of a middle aged poster boy for Scientology, known for constantly promoting the churches programs and its founder L. Ron Hubbard.

However, a thousand-dollar donation is really a pittance when compared to the millions the star has spent on and/or gifted to Scientology, about 10% of his net worth to date according to the London Express.

And the certificate isn't much either when compared to the so-called "Freedom Medal of Valor" cast in gold and encrusted with diamonds presented to the actor by Scientology's leader David Miscavige, followed by a stiff staged salute.

But after all, isn't it the thought that counts?

[Posted by Rick Ross at 10:43 AM]

Local conference on 'creationism' for all ages

http://www.lacrossetribune.com/articles/2005/04/23/news/z02creationism.txt

Published - Saturday, April 23, 2005

By GAYDA HOLLNAGEL / La Crosse Tribune

Answers in Genesis, a two-day conference for all ages on the biblical book of Genesis and creationism, will be held Friday and Saturday, April 29 and 30, in the La Crosse Center.

Ken Ham, president and founder of Answers in Genesis-US, will be the featured speaker. Ham, a native Australian who lives near Cincinnati, is the author of numerous books on Genesis, the accuracy of the Bible, dinosaurs, evolution and racism.

Also featured will be Buddy Davis, a country gospel singer, dinosaur sculptor and creationist.

The conference is sponsored by First Evangelical Free Church of Onalaska. As many as 2,000 people are expected to attend the event, including some classes of school children, said the Rev. David Holt, First Free church pastor.

The event will begin at 9:30 to 11 a.m. Friday with Ham leading a talk for school children through sixth-graders, "Dinosaurs, Genesis and the Gospel."

Ham will speak from 1 to 2:30 p.m. on "Teaching Students to Defend the Christian Faith Beginning with Genesis" for students grades seven to 12.

Registration for the evening session begins at 5:30 p.m., with Davis performing a concert for all ages from 6:30 to 6:50 p.m.

The concert will be followed from 6:55 to 8:15 p.m. by a presentation from Ham on "Genesis: Key to Reaching the Culture" for ages 11 and up. The evening schedule also will include a "Creation Adventure Workshop" led by Davis for students ages 7 to 10; "Answers for Kids," featuring Stacia McKeever, for ages 4 to 6; and from 8:35 to 9:35 p.m., "Fearfully and Wonderfully Made," with Dr. David Menton, for ages 11 and up.

On Saturday, the sessions will begin with a video at 8:25 a.m., followed at 9 a.m. by Ham, speaking on "One Blood - the Biblical Answer to Racism" for ages 11 and up.

Other highlights on Saturday morning include Davis with his Creation Adventure Workshop and McKeever with her Answers for Kids.

Menton will speak from 10:30 to 11:35 a.m. Saturday on "The Hearing Ear and the Seeing Eye" for ages 11 and up; Ham will speak from 1:15 to 2:10 p.m. on "Why Won`t They Listen? How to Evangelize an Increasingly Secular World" for ages 11 and up; and Davis will perform a concert from 2:30 to 2:50 p.m. for all ages.

The conference will conclude with Menton speaking from 2:50 to 4 p.m. on "Inherently Wind - Hollywood History of the Scopes Trial" for ages 11 and up.

Even without push from teachers, evolution debate reaches students

http://www.kansascity.com/mld/kansascity/news/local/11468281.htm

Posted on Sat, Apr. 23, 2005

JOHN HANNA

Associated Press

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. - Jeremy Mohn's freshman biology classes spent a month this spring talking about evolution, including why peacocks have long tails.

The Blue Valley Northwest High School teacher did discuss alternatives, including "flat-Earth" creationism and intelligent design, but not as science. He told students they could believe in God and evolution.

Mohn, his classroom in the Kansas City-area suburbs and others across the state are at the center of a public battle over evolution likely to bring Kansas national attention this summer.

And teenagers know about the debate swirling around them. Matt Zappulla, a 14-year-old in Mohn's honors biology class, said he discussed evolution with his rabbi and was told he could believe what he wanted about the science.

As for faith and science, Zappulla said, "I try to keep them separate."

Local school boards in Michigan and Pennsylvania are under fire for decisions on whether intelligent design must be taught. In Michigan, a local district told teachers they couldn't discuss intelligent design; in Pennsylvania, a district required teachers to discuss it. Ohio's state school board wrestled with the issue for two years, adopting lesson plans last year praised by intelligent design supporters.

In Kansas, intelligent design advocates say their goal is to expose students to more criticism of evolution.

"We don't think any textbook is good in presenting the scientific weaknesses," said John West, a senior fellow at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which supports research on intelligent design. "The idea that it's only religious people who are critical of Darwinian theory is false."

Kansas' State Board of Education expects in June to revise science testing standards.

In 1999, a conservative board majority deleted most references to evolution in the standards, something many scientists saw as a step toward teaching creationism. International ridicule followed.

Elections the next year made the board less conservative, resulting in current standards describing evolution as a key concept for students to learn.

Last year, split 5-5, the board started a review of those standards. Last year's elections gave conservatives a majority again.

A three-member subcommittee plans six days of hearings in May, and intelligent design advocates expect 23 witnesses to critique evolution. National and state science groups are boycotting, viewing the hearings as rigged against evolution.

Evolution, often described by conservative clergy as advocating atheism, says species change in response to environmental and genetic factors over the course of many generations.

Intelligent design - viewed by many scientists as merely repackaged creationism - holds there is evidence of an intelligent design behind the universe's origin, the Earth's formation and biological change.

The state board's standards determine what's on statewide tests, but local school boards decide what's taught and which textbooks are used in classrooms.

Richard Schrock, an Emporia State University biology teacher, surveyed more than 300 Kansas biology teachers in the 1990s and found only about a quarter saw any scientific validity in creationism.

"In science, we don't vote," Schrock said. "In school boards, we do vote, and that's how it has to be to make these kinds of issues."

At White Rock High School, with 50 students in Jewell County, teacher Monty Webster says he's presenting science in teaching evolution.

But he added, "I always give kids the option in believing what they want to believe."

At Topeka West High School, biology teacher Lisa Volland doesn't mention creationism or intelligent design, but students still debate them.

Stephanie Bailey, a 14-year-old freshman, is skeptical of evolution, particularly in pondering a common ancestor for man and other animals. She previously attended a Lutheran school and says she's likely to always question the theory.

"Scientists don't have all the answers," she said.

In Volland's advanced placement class, Emily Hane, a 17-year-old junior, acknowledges having questions but added, "If you don't understand evolution, you don't really understand biology."

Hane said she discussed creationism in an advanced history class, dealing with the 1925 trial of a Dayton, Tenn., teacher over his lessons on evolution.

"We're being exposed to ideas other than evolution," Hane said. "We even talk about them at social events."

Meanwhile, Blue Valley Northwest's Mohn is frustrated the debate is cast as religion versus science.

In a recent classroom review, he touched upon the peacock's tail feathers, the result of selection by generations of females. Long feathers show a male is healthy and has extra energy to display his plumage.

Mohn wears a green plastic bracelet from his Methodist church. It cites Isaiah 40:31: "But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength."

On the Net:

Mohn's biology class: http://www.bv229.k12.ks.us/bvnwbiology/biology/

American Association for the Advancement of Science: http://www.aaas.org

Discovery Institute: http://www.discovery.org

Textbook bill aimed at teaching creationism, too

http://www.dfw.com/mld/dfw/news/legislature/11466091.htm

Posted on Fri, Apr. 22, 2005

By R.A. Dyer

Star-Telegram Austin Bureau

AUSTIN - Biblical creationism could be taught side-by-side with evolution in science textbooks under legislation pending in the Texas House, according to the bill's sponsor.

State Rep. Charlie Howard, R-Sugar Land, said his House Bill 220 would give the elected State Board of Education more control over the content of school textbooks. Students should get information about creationism if they are being taught about evolution, and he said his legislation could lead the way.

"I don't believe in evolution. I believe in creation," he said. "Some of our books right now only teach evolution, [but] if you're going to teach one, you ought to teach both."

The Houston-area lawmaker also said the State Board of Education, a Republican-controlled body with strong representation by social conservatives, should have the discretion to remove evolution segments from science textbooks.

"Evolution is a theory," he said. "It is a theory, it's not a fact. There is no fact for evolution, none. ... Why are we teaching a theory, when we have [another] position -- creation -- that the majority of the people in this country believe?"

Howard's legislation would give the State Board of Education authority to "adopt guidelines that define general textbook content standards," including standards related to curriculum requirements.

HB 220 also calls for textbooks to remain free from "errors of commission or omission related to viewpoint discrimination or special interest advocacy on major issues, as determined by the State Board of Education."

Don't be bamboozled, said Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller: HB 220 represents a step backward for Texas education.

"There will be diluting of history, a narrowing of perspectives and a removal of factual information if it doesn't fit with the personal and religious beliefs of whatever majority controls the board," said Miller, whose group opposes the religious right in state politics.

State board member Terri Leo, a social conservative Republican from Houston, said the legislation would simply restore to the state board its authority over textbooks.

"Without SBOE authority to establish general textbook content standards, books with viewpoint discrimination, bias, a negative portrayal of the free enterprise system and U.S. citizenship and extremely objectionable or inappropriate content can be and have been approved," Leo said.

The board had greater control over textbook content until the passage of Senate Bill 1 in 1995. Now, state board members can reject only textbooks that fail to meet physical specifications, those that contain factual errors or those that do not cover the state's education curriculum.

However, the state board can indirectly control textbook content because it has authority over the state's curriculum. The last time the board revamped curriculum was in 1996, according to information from the Texas Education Agency.

Legislation similar to Howard's includes House Bill 973 by state Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, and House Bill 2534 by state Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa. Chisum's bill also states that textbooks cannot "encourage lifestyles that deviate from generally accepted standards of society."

R.A. Dyer, (512) 476-4294 rdyer@star-telegram.com

Rare bacteria clusters
Yellowstone find could unlock clues to early Mars life

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/04/21/MNGBCCCDD21.DTL

David Perlman, Chronicle Science Editor

Thursday, April 21, 2005

A bizarre community of microbes has been discovered inside rocks in Yellowstone National Park, thriving in pores filled with water so acidic it can dissolve steel nails.

The clusters, interwoven with flourishing green algae, comprise at least 40 different new species of bacteria, according to Jeffrey Walker, a University of Colorado microbiologist -- and he and his colleagues say the microbes' fossil forms could provide powerful clues to the nature of early life on Earth and life that may have existed billions of years ago on Mars.

Walker is a graduate student in the laboratory of Norman Pace, a leader in the emerging field of "astrobiology," whose scientists are seeking the most promising earthly models for life on other planets. Walker, Pace and John Spear, another scientist in Pace's laboratory, are reporting on the new microbes today in the journal Nature.

"Spear and I were examining some gray rocks that looked very much like sandstone in the park's Norris Geyser Basin," Walker said, "and when we broke them up, we saw this beautiful, vibrant band of green inside. It turned out that the extremely acidic water in the pores of the rocks held networks of algae and bacteria, and the organisms we identified were varied species of Mycobacteria."

Aside from discovering the microbes and noting their extraordinary ability to live in the highly acidic water-filled pores, Walker said in an interview Wednesday that he also found clusters of bacteria already encrusted with silica and other minerals -- microorganisms in the early stages of becoming fossils that will one day bear evidence of what they were like when they were alive.

Therein, the scientists said, lies the major significance of the discovery: the potential of the microbes to become fossils and serve as "biosignatures" for researchers seeking signs of early life in the remnants of ancient volcanism and hydrothermal activity on Earth -- and, particularly, on Mars.

"The prevalence of this type of microbial life in Yellowstone means that Martian rocks associated with former hydrothermal systems may be the best hope for finding evidence of past life there," Walker said.

The Norris basin is one of Yellowstone's most spectacular areas, filled with geysers, salty hot springs and volcanic activity amid forests and bare rock outcrops. In their report in Nature, Walker and his colleagues wrote: "The stark, weathered surfaces of these exposed rocks show no evidence of the rich life hidden beneath the surface."

Mycobacteria are unknown in the kind of extremely acidic hydrothermal environment that marks the geysers and volcanism of Yellowstone, so it was a surprise to find them there. But they are common elsewhere, and some virulent species are known to cause tuberculosis, leprosy and many of the opportunistic infections that can develop in people with AIDS.

In Pace's lab, Walker sequenced the genes of the Mycobacteria and determined how their DNA molecules varied -- and concluded that the bacterial communities he and Spear found represented an unusually wide variety of previously unidentified species.

(For chemistry enthusiasts, the water in which Walker's bacteria thrive has a pH of 1 -- the most strongly acidic there is, as measured on a scale where a pH of 7 is neutral and everything higher, up to pH14, is more and more alkaline.)

Bruce Jakosky, a University of Colorado geologist who studies the geology of Mars and its ancient volcanoes -- and is not involved in the work by Pace, Walker and Spear -- said Wednesday he is delighted by their discovery.

"The most exciting thing about it is that we're seeing life in a place and in an environment where it hasn't ever been known to exist -- and not just life in the form of isolated organisms, but in an entire ecosystem," he said in an interview.

Jakosky was on a National Aeronautics and Space Administration team two years ago that analyzed instrument findings by the Mars Odyssey spacecraft, which reached the planet in 2001 and is still in orbit there. The orbiter's infra-red images of the Martian surface found clear evidence of ancient volcanism and hydrothermal activity as well as surface rocks containing the mineral olivine -- a magnesium iron silicate that forms in water and is often found in fossil beds on Earth.

Back in 1997, the Mars Pathfinder mission, which sent the first wheeled vehicle on a brief exploration of rocks on the planet's surface, also detected olivine and silicate rocks there.

When NASA sends up its long-postponed first "Mars Sample Return Mission" some time between 2011 and 2014, its roving robot vehicles are likely to hunt for fossils of just the kind of life that Walker, Pace and Spear have found in the rocks of Yellowstone.

E-mail David Perlman at dperlman@sfchronicle.com

'Revelations' recalls golden age of pseudo - documentaries

http://www.courier-journal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050423/SCENE03/504230330/1011/SCENE

By Vince Staten
Special to The Courier-Journal

The high ratings for NBC's critically panned "Revelations" and the out-of-nowhere mega-success of the book "The Da Vinci Code" reminded me that it wasn't so long ago that we went through this.

It was three decades ago that NBC -- the same network that is giving us "Revelations" -- kicked off the phenomenon of pairing fact and speculation with the airing of a documentary called "In Search of Ancient Astronauts." Rod Serling lent his voice, and his credibility, to this conjecture that astronauts from other planets had landed on Earth thousands of years ago, passing on bits of wisdom that enabled our ancestors to perform such formidable tasks as building the Pyramids and the Sphinx and planting corn in unusual circles. Or something like that.

The documentary was based on a German documentary titled "Chariots of the Gods," which was based on a book of the same name by Swiss writer Erich von Daniken.

The ancient astronauts theory was a lot of fun. The show -- the official German version is on DVD; a bootleg of the NBC show is on eBay -- was like the story of 100 little Stonehenges brought together in one TV show. The TV show, like the book, was riddled with inaccuracies that were soon exposed by real scientists. But the pseudo-documentary craze had been launched.

And no one did it better than Sunn Classic Pictures, a Utah outfit whose specialties were family films ("Grizzly Adams," "Frontier Fremont") and half-baked pseudo-documentaries ("The Lincoln Conspiracy," "In Search of Historic Jesus").

Sunn Classic unfurled a half-dozen of these pseudo-movies, employing a new style of movie distribution called "four walling." In brief "four walling" means this small distribution house would arrive in town, rent a movie theater down to the "four walls," saturate the local airwaves with commercials, play its little movie and then get out of town with all the proceeds. After all, it had paid all the expenses itself.

Sunn Classic kicked off its entry into the paranormal with a trio of four-walled explorations, "The Bermuda Triangle" in 1975, "Mysterious Monsters" -- read Bigfoot -- in 1976 and "The Lincoln Conspiracy" in 1977. None of these three is currently in print on video, although I did find copies of "The Lincoln Conspiracy" on eBay.

Sunn reached its apex with its next documentary, my all-time favorite in this category, "In Search of Noah's Ark." Although the Bible never specifically notes the landing spot for Noah's boat, many have long thought the location was Mount Ararat. But because the mountain was located on the border between Iran and Russia, it was off limits for American film crews in 1977.

Sunn managed to splice together interviews with people who didn't speak English explaining the stories they had been told by people who were dead. All in all it makes for fascinating viewing for folks who will believe anything.

"In Search of Noah's Ark" is available on VHS, as is the last entry in Sunn's documentary foray, "In Search of Historic Jesus," which was released in 1980.

By then the pseudo-documentary had run its course and Sunn shifted to fictionalized versions of the same sort of material it had mined so successfully with movies such as "Hangar 18," also known as "Area 51," a dramatization about a downed alien spacecraft and government attempts to keep its discovery secret.

There have been other spurts of interest in pseudo-science since the Sunn Classic era, but none had taken off until the release of "The Da Vinci Code" two years ago. And now "Revelations," along with an NBC "Dateline" report on "The Da Vinci Code," has brought it all back.

Where is Sunn Classic when you need it?

Freelance writer Vince Staten's video column runs Saturdays. You can email him at vince@vincestaten.com

Mich. controversy on 'intelligent design'

http://www.sciencedaily.com/upi/index.php?feed=Science&article=UPI-1-20050422-23081200-bc-us-evolution.xml

ANN ARBOR, Mich., April 22 (UPI) -- A conservative Christian law firm has asked that two Michigan teachers be allowed to teach intelligent design alongside evolution in their science classes.

The Thomas More Law Center of Ann Arbor said it sent a letter to the Gull Lake Community School District's school board on behalf of two science teachers, Dawn Wendzel and Julie Olson, who had been barred by the district superintendent from teaching intelligent design alongside the theory of evolution in their seventh grade classes.

The letter written by Richard Thompson, the center's chief counsel, also protested the confiscation of 30 copies of the book "Of Pandas and People" the teachers had been using in teaching ID.

The center said future legal proceedings were possible and requested a response to the April 14 letter within 14 days.

ID asserts that intelligent causes are necessary to explain the complex structures of biology and that these causes are empirically detectable. This theory is generally dismissed by mainstream scientists. In 2002, the American Association for the Advancement of Science adopted a resolution saying "the lack of scientific warrant for so-called 'intelligent design theory' makes it improper to include as a part of science education."

Ed Brayton of the Michigan Citizens for Science, which opposes teaching ID and has worked to resolve the dispute for several months, said at one point a committee formed by the school -- which included the two teachers -- voted 5-2 that ID should not be taught.

Copyright 2005 by United Press International

Evolution: the new Pope weighs in

In the Beginning...: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall

'...The great projects of the living creation are not the products of chance and error… (They) point to a creating Reason and show us a creating Intelligence, and they do so more luminously and radiantly today than ever before. Thus we can say today with a new certitude and joyousness that the human being is indeed a divine project, which only the creating Intelligence was strong and great and audacious enough to conceive of. Human beings are not a mistake but something willed.

– Jospeh Ratzinger, 'In the Beginning: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall' (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1986), p. 54.

Paul W Harrison


Friday, April 22, 2005

Evolution vs. Creation

http://www.swdtimes.com/swdtimes/2005/042205/story1.html

By GEORGE DIEPENBROCK
Southwest Daily Times

LAWRENCE ­ Evolution supporters during a public meeting Thursday slammed teaching Intelligent Design in Kansas public schools and warned how the curriculum change could undermine a plan to increase biological and scientific jobs in the state.

The chairman of the state's science standards curriculum committee along with two moderate state board of education members were among those that spoke during the program that was conducted at the Plymouth Congregational Church in Lawrence.

A majority of the Kansas State Board of Education, six conservatives, likely favor making it possible for biology teachers in the state to cover Intelligent Design to supplement evolution.

The state board gained national attention in 1999 when it took a similar route by giving local boards the power to de-emphasize macro-evolution, a theory that states species can develop into other species over time. In the next general election, the board was again split between moderates and conservatives, and science standards again matched the previous curriculum.

During the 2004 election, conservatives regained a 6-4 advantage. Now, conservative board members, including a three-person subcommittee on science standards, have talked about not accepting a recommendation from the 25-person panel that revises science standards every three years.

Dr. Steve Case, who chairs the curriculum revision committee, gave the keynote speech at Thursday's event in Lawrence to about 50 audience members and stressed the importance for producing "biologically literate" students in Kansas. Case said thoroughly understanding evolution was a necessary component of a biological education, while including Intelligent Design, which he said had no "practical application" would harm the scientific learning process.

Intelligent Design is a theory developed during the last three decades in opposition to macro-evolution. Design states that a more intelligent force designed the universe.

"This view is a scientific-stopper. It says, 'Why bother if we are never going to get it?'" Case said.

During a panel discussion, Leonard Krishtalka, a paleontologist and director of the Natural History Museum at the University of Kansas, warned that Kansas would be the only state ridiculed if the curriculum change were to include ID.

"Kansas will be tarred-and-feathered by the media as a 'hay seed' state," he said.

Several on the panel also echoed sentiments that a change in curriculum would undermine the bi-partisan effort that overwhelmingly passed the legislature to increase the state's economic development within scientific and biological industries.

Jack Krebs, a high school science and math teacher and a member of the curriculum revision committee, presented a portion of the meeting titled "Intelligent Design Creationism." Krebs said ID was meant to "overthrow materialism" and natural explanations through science by those who still believe in God.

Krebs also said the call for a boycott on the hearings before the state board subcommittee meant to pit ID versus evolution is the only way for the pro-evolution camp to respect its position, because ID has much less support in the scientific world.

"We're accused of forfeiting the debate, but Intelligent Design is forfeiting by the failure to show up in the world of scientific research. They just haven't done it," he said.

When Krebs accepted questions from the audience, John Covington, a supporter of ID in Kansas, criticized Krebs for what he felt was an inaccurate presentation on ID and also mentioned how evolution supporters had refused to debate those that support ID.

Also during the questions, an audience member, who said he had a doctorate in astrophysics and did not believe in evolution, asked where the two sides could reach "common ground" to open a discussion. Krebs said the man's position of creationism based on the Bible was not supported by scientific evidence.

Bill Wagnon, a moderate member of the state board of education who represents the Topeka and Lawrence districts, also criticized the majority's plan for the hearings next month.

"The objective is to bring window-dressing in order to justify raw political power," he said.

Keep open mind on intelligent design

http://ydr.com/story/letters/66195/

Friday, April 22, 2005

It appears that many people opposing the mention of intelligent design in our schools are biased and are unaware of the fact that more than 300 scientists from Yale, Princeton, MIT and Smithsonian signed a public statement declaring that they were "skeptical of claims for the ability of random and natural selection to account for the complexity of life" and encouraged careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory.

Not only does the No Child Left Behind act require that we help students understand the full range of scientific views, but our state and national legislators are currently considering legislating the requirement that intelligent design be mentioned without any religious references. We would all do well to have an open mind.

ALVIN GROVE
RED LION

School Bans 'Intelligent Design,' Faces Possible Lawsuit

http://www.cnsnews.com/ViewCulture.asp?Page=%5CCulture%5Carchive%5C200504%5CCUL20050422b.html

By Nathan Burchfiel
CNSNews.com Correspondent
April 22, 2005

(CNSNews.com) - A conservative legal group is threatening to sue a Michigan school district over the administration's confiscation of several copies of a science book that teaches the theory of intelligent design in tandem with the theory of evolution.

The Gull Lake Community School District in Ann Arbor, Mich., ordered that seventh grade science teachers only present the theory of evolution and that copies of "Of Panda and People," be confiscated, according to the Thomas More Law Center.

According to the center, which has filed a complaint with the school district, two science teachers presented the intelligent design theory alongside the theory of evolution and discussed the differences in class until district school superintendent Richard Ramsey confiscated the books.

The intelligent design theory is based on the idea that because the universe is so complex, it must have been set in motion by a higher being. The intelligent design theory does not point to a religious deity, but adopts views of creation similar to those in the Bible.

The center, in its complaint filed April 14, requested that the books be returned to the teachers, and that they be allowed to discuss the two theories again. It gave the district 14 days to respond, threatening to file a lawsuit in federal court.

The complaint describes the Michigan case as the reverse of the famed Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925. In the Scopes trial, the state of Tennessee attempted to prevent school teacher John Scopes from teaching scientific material that negated the scriptural accounts of creation.

"Now that Darwinism has achieved dominance," said Thomas More Law Center president Richard Thompson, "it is being forced on all teachers regardless of gaps in the theory or the scientific evidence to the contrary."

Thompson said the school district is violating the teachers' academic freedom and denying students "important information on the growing controversy surrounding the theory of evolution."

He warned that the confiscation of the intelligent design textbook placed the Gull Lake Community School District on "a slippery slope to book burning."

Superintendent Richard Ramsey's office referred all inquiries to the school district's legal counsel, Lisa Swem, who said the actions taken did not amount to a "confiscation." The removal of the textbooks was "a prudent move by the superintendent to just remove them at this point while it's being studied," she added.

Swem said that while the textbooks were removed from the classroom and are being stored on campus, one remains available at the school's library, where all students have access to it. She said she wasn't sure if the district was allowing teachers to use their lessons to encourage students to check out the book.

Swem said the process of discussing the legitimacy of the intelligent design theory is "ongoing." The superintendent, she said, has already commissioned a committee to study the issue and make a recommendation to the local board of education. The advisory committee includes the two teachers who were previously discussing intelligent design theory with their students.

"It is anticipated that the committee will have a recommendation to the board of education before the end of this school year," Swem said, adding that once the recommendation has been submitted to the board, the decision is the board's to make.

She said that litigation from the Thomas More Law Center will "complicate matters," but said that "the school district is going forward as planned, convening the committee, finalizing so they can make a recommendation and a threat of a lawsuit is not going to interfere with that careful, considered, deliberative process."

But Thompson said the school's advisory committee, which was formed in December, is a deception. "This committee has been told they're not going to make a decision until there is a consensus which means that our clients have to agree not to teach intelligent design," Thompson told Cybercast News Service.

The committee is "a total pretext to ... prevent the study of intelligent design," Thompson said. It's "a facade that is not going to get anything done, has not gotten anything done and it's been a pretext under which they have confiscated the books and have told our clients you can't teach intelligent design."

Thompson said the school district is restricting the teaching of the intelligent design theory because it is religious and is not supported by science. But the teachers and Thomas More Law Center say that "it is a credible science and there are scientists that uphold that theory."

He added that intelligent design is not inherently religious because "what we are looking at is scientists coming to the different scientific conclusions based upon empirical data, not Holy Scripture, not the Bible, not liturgy, but scientific data."

Thompson said the Thomas More Law Center will file the lawsuit against the district if unless the teachers in question are allowed to resume their classroom discussions of intelligent design by April 28. Swem said she is currently drafting a response to the center but did not offer details of the reaction.

"Either the students are going to be made aware of the controversy" between the theory of evolution and the theory of intelligent design, Thompson said, "or there will be a lawsuit."

Scientists Gear Up to Battle Intelligent Design

http://sciencenow.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/2005/422/1

LAWRENCE, KANSAS--Scientists and educators in Kansas are taking a new economic tack in their ongoing battle with the state board of education over intelligent design (ID). They kicked off their new strategy yesterday at a meeting called to counter an upcoming push by ID supporters on the board.

"Intelligent" debate. Scientists focused on the economic consequences of teaching intelligent design at a public meeting in Kansas yesterday.

CREDIT: Mike Yoder/Journal-World

Intelligent design, the idea that a higher intelligence played a role in creating life, has been a political hot potato in the Jayhawk state since 1999, when the Kansas State Board of Education revised the school's science standards to make room for ID. The topic was removed in 2002 after some of the conservatives on the board lost their seats in statewide elections. But ID supporters reclaimed a majority of the 10-member panel in November 2004, and this year board chair Steve Abrams is leading a three-member committee that will "investigate the merits" of evolution and intelligent design at two sets of 3-day hearings next month.

The scientific community has boycotted those hearings, viewing them as a "kangaroo court" trying to confer legitimacy on intelligence design. Instead, they flocked to a half-day event organized by a local investor, John Burch, that is part of an effort to build a broad coalition behind Darwin's teachings.

Yesterday's meeting focused on the economic consequences of downplaying evolution in school curriculums. "Most industries today want workers with analytical skills," says microbiologist Charles Decedue, executive director of the Higuchi Biosciences Center at the University of Kansas (KU), which is dedicated to the development and transfer of bioscience technologies. "ID does not foster analytical thinking because its arguments are faith-based." Leonard Krishtalka, an evolutionary biologist who directs the Biodiversity Institute at KU, predicts that ID instruction would also turn away potential investors.

Don Covington, a vice president of the Intelligent Design Network in Shawnee Mission, Kansas, is unimpressed with those arguments. "Corporate executives don't discuss Darwinism," says Covington, who was one of a half-dozen ID supporters in the audience. And he believes ID-instruction will be a magnet for many families. "When kids find out that they are going to learn the truth," he says, "they might be excited to come here." Burch hopes to hold other meetings with industry researchers soon.

--YUDHIJIT BHATTACHARJEE

WHAT'S NEW

Robert L. Park Friday, 22 Apr 05 Washington, DC

EVOLUTION: DISCOVERY INSTITUTE FINDS A SCIENTIST TO DEBATE.

The National Press Club in Washington, DC is a good place to hold a press conference. If a group can make its message look like an important story, it can get national coverage. The message of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute is simple: "Intelligent Design is science." That's bull feathers of course, but that's why they have PR people. Science is what scientists do, so they gotta look like scientists. Nothing can make you look more like a scientist than to debate one. Scam artists all use the "debate ploy": perpetual-motion-machine inventors, magnet therapists, UFO conspiracy theorists, all of them. They win just by being on the same platform. So, the Discovery Institute paid for prominent biologist Will Provine, the Charles A. Alexander Professor of Biological Sciences at Cornell, to travel to Washington to debate one of the Discovery Institute's "kept" PhDs, Stephen Meyer, at the National Press Club on Wednesday. It was sparsely attended. Most were earnest, well-scrubbed, clean-cut young believers, who smiled, nodded in agreement and applauded at all the right times. The debate was not widely advertized. I'm not sure they really wanted a lot of hot-shot reporters asking hard questions. The only reporter was from UPI, which is owned by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon and the Unification Church, a spiritual partner of the Discovery Institute. The next day I searched on Google for any coverage of the debate. The only story I could find was in the Washington Times, a newspaper owned by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon.

THE UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND.
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
To subscribe, send a blank e-mail to: join-whatsnew@lists.apsmsgs.org

Creationism debate at Gull Lake Community School District

http://www.woodtv.com/Global/story.asp?S=3247654&nav=0RceYzU9

(Kalamazoo County, April 22, 2005, 12:26 p.m.) A controversy is brewing in the Gull Lake Community School District in Kalamazoo County.

Two seventh grade teachers want to teach a specific theory called Intelligent Design, which contends that the universe was created by an unspecified higher power. But critics say the theory is a version of creationism, and violates the separation of church and state.

The Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor has given the district 14 days to allow the teachers to use the theory. Officials with the law center say if it doesn't change, they plan to sue.

24 Hour News 8 will get the school district's response and have more on this story coming up in later newscasts.


Thursday, April 21, 2005

The Scopes Monkey Trial

http://www.courttv.com/archive/greatesttrials/scopes/index.html

The Greatest Trials Of All Time examines the battle -- more than 70 years ago -- over the teaching of evolution in public schools. Legendary criminal defense lawyer Clarence Darrow is pitted against famous Christian fundamentalist William Jennings Bryan in a riveting courtroom drama that polarizes the nation. This historic trial focuses Americans' attention on freedom of speech, separation of church and state and due process and brings to the surface issues that are still hotly debated today.

Coalition urges state board to cancel science hearings

http://www.zwire.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=14385613&BRD=1459&PAG=461&dept_id=155725&rfi=6

By: Elaine Bessier, Staff Writer April 21, 2005

A coalition of four organizations "dedicated to quality education" has requested that the State Board of Education cancel all special opportunities for the Intelligent Design minority to present their views.

"We especially urge the board to cancel the so-called 'science hearings' scheduled in May," a group statement issued Monday said.

The group held a public meeting Tuesday in Topeka, prior to a planning meeting of the board science hearings committee.

"The minority proposals were considered and rejected by a two-thirds majority of the science standards writing committee," the coalition statement said. "The BOE should accept that and give the minority group no further special privileges."

The coalition includes the Kansas Academy of Science, Kansas Citizens For Science, Kansas Families United for Public Education and Mainstream Coalition.

Steve Abrams, chairman of the hearings committee, said Tuesday that the committee would not cancel the hearings.

The minority side will be presented May 5-7 and the evolution side will be presented May 12-14. The hearings will be from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Memorial Hall, 120 Southwest 10th St., Topeka.

The committee established the process for the hearings Tuesday, including how each attorney will question those who testify.

Attorney John Calvert, Lake Quivira, will represent the authors of the science standards minority report, which favors bringing intelligent design into Kansas science classrooms.

Attorney Pedro Irigonegaray, Topeka, will represent the majority of the 26-member committee, which favors evolution.

"Each side can call as many witnesses as they want," Abrams said. "They will be limited only by the time."

The minority side has 24 witnesses coming from all over the world. The majority side has one possible witness but that person had not been confirmed by the Sun deadline.

Committee Co-Chairman Steve Case declined to recruit witnesses to testify for the majority, saying to do so would be a conflict of interest for him as the chair. In his absence, Department of Education staff have fulfilled that duty, department spokeswoman Kathy Toelkes said. But they have been hampered by scientists who are boycotting the hearings.

"Scientists around the nation are supporting the boycott, refusing to participate in what they consider a 'kangaroo court' in which the outcome is a foregone conclusion: science standards which do not support teaching evolution as it is understood and used around the world," the coalition statement said.

The science, religious and educational communities will not remain silent, however. The coalition plans events to present their views outside the hearings process.

"Kansans should refuse to allow our children to be left behind," a coalition position paper said. "Science is becoming increasingly important to economic growth in Kansas and nationwide. Our children need a good solid science education in order to compete in the global marketplace."

©The Johnson County Sun 2005

Scientists gather in church setting to discuss evolution

http://www.ljworld.com/section/stateregional/story/202580

By Scott Rothschild, Journal-World

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Evolution was at home today in the oldest church in Kansas during a forum about the controversy of science standards for public school students.

"There is no conflict between evolution and the Christian faith," said the Rev. Peter Luckey, the senior pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church, which is in downtown Lawrence at 925 Vt. St.

Scientists gathered at the forum, designed to promote the teaching of evolution as essential for Kansas students to understand science and to compete for jobs in the growing bioscience industry.

About 75 people were in attendance during today's forum at the church, which traces its roots to Lawrence's pre-Civil War days. Today's meeting was expected to feature no speakers from the Intelligent Design side of the science standards conflict.

Next month, a subcommittee of the Kansas State Board of Education has planned hearings to listen to both proponents of Intelligent Design and to scientists who say teaching about creation has no business in science classrooms.

For more on this story, see the 6News reports at 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Sunflower Broadband's channel 6 and pick up a copy of Friday's Journal-World

Lawsuit Threatened Over Confiscation of Science Books on Intelligent Design, Order That Teachers Teach Evolution as A Fact

http://releases.usnewswire.com/GetRelease.asp?id=46217

4/21/2005 12:09:00 PM

To: National Desk, Education Reporter

Contact: Dan Costanzo of Thomas More Law Center, 734-827-2001; Web: http://wwww.thomasmore.org

ANN ARBOR, Mich., April 21 /U.S. Newswire/ -- A simmering yearlong dispute over the Gull Lake Community School District superintendent's order that seventh grade science teachers teach Darwin's theory of evolution and his confiscation of thirty copies of the book Of Pandas and People, which the teachers had been using for the past two years as a supplemental text supporting the theory of intelligent design, may soon end up in a federal court.

For the past two years, science teachers, Dawn Wendzel and Julie Olson, have been spending part of their classroom instruction teaching the theory of Intelligent Design alongside the theory of evolution. However, this past Fall they were told that they could no longer teach intelligent design, they could not teach the controversy between the theory of evolution and intelligent design and that they could only teach the scientific evidence for evolution.

The Theory of Intelligent Design, accepted by a growing number of credible scientists, holds that "intelligent causes" are necessary to explain the complex information- rich structures of biology and that these causes are empirically detectable.

The Thomas More Law Center, a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on April 14, 2004, sent a six-page letter ( http://www.usnewswire.com/attach/gull_lake.pdf ) to the school board asking that the books be returned to the classrooms and that the teachers be allowed to teach the theory of intelligent design as they had been. The school board has been given fourteen days to respond.

Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Law Center commented, "This may turn into the Scopes Monkey trial in reverse. Now that Darwinism has achieved dominance, it is being forced on all teachers regardless of gaps in the theory or the scientific evidence to the contrary. The actions of the Gull Lake superintendent not only violates the academic freedom of teachers to teach their subject, but also the freedom of their students to receive important information on the growing controversy surrounding the theory of evolution. Confiscation of the books the superintendent doesn't like smacks of "book burning."

Continued Thompson, "This is not a case of science versus religion, but science versus science."

Since the late 1950s advances in biochemistry and microbiology, information that Darwin was not privy to in the 1850's, have revealed that the machine like complexity of living cells - the fundamental unit of life- possess the ability to store, edit, transmit and use information so as to regulate biological systems. This suggests that the theory of intelligent design offers the best explanation for the origin of life and living cells.

The Thomas More Law Center is already defending a Dover, PA school district, which adopted a policy to make students aware of Intelligent Design, against an ACLU lawsuit.

The Thomas More Law Center defends and promotes the religious freedom of Christians, time-honored family values, and the sanctity of human life through education, litigation, and related activities. It does not charge for its services. The Law Center is supported by contributions from individuals, corporations and foundations, and is recognized by the IRS as a section 501(c)(3) organization. The Thomas More Law Center may be reached at 734-827-2001 or on the Web at: http://www.thomasmore.org .

http://www.usnewswire.com/

/© 2005 U.S. Newswire 202-347-2770/

Inside the Mind of a Creationist

http://www.metroactive.com/papers/metro/04.20.05/creationism-0516.html

In the last year, Silicon Valley has been a center of a showdown over religious beliefs in public schools. Meet the other side.

By Najeeb Hasan

LYNN HOFLAND often talks faster than he thinks. For Hofland, it seems the circumstances demand it. A creationist, he happily espouses a point of view that mainstream culture considers ridiculous and unenlightened.

The earth, according to Hofland, is about 6,000 years old. God created it in six 24-hour days. And, of course, evolution is just a theory.

Most people around here will shake their heads and wonder how anyone could think that in this day and age. But for Hofland, it's a basic foundation of his belief system.

And his belief system came to the South Bay in a big way last fall when Stephen Williams, a fifth-grade teacher at Stevens Creek Elementary School in Cupertino, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Cupertino Union School District (and against Stevens Creek Elementary's principal), claiming he had been discriminated against because he was Christian. Williams, backed by the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal organization engaged in contesting cultural issues across the nation, said that his principal stopped him from handing out historical materials in class that referenced God. After an initial Drudge Report headline about the Declaration of Independence being "banned" at a California school, Williams' case was egged on by right-wing radio and blogs. Sean Hannity, of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, brought his show to the Flint Center in Cupertino for a special "Take Back America" broadcast.

Mark Thomas was one of the panelists for that broadcast. Thomas, the president of the Atheists of Silicon Valley (www.godlessgeeks.com), believes everything that Hofland does not. He believes men came from monkeys. He believes the animate sprung from the inanimate; the concept even has a scientific-sounding word for it: abiogenesis.

Thomas has met Hofland on more than one occasion; he even went so far as to give Hofland the floor during one of his atheist meetings held bimonthly in the community room of his townhouse complex in Mountain View. But the truth is, he thinks Hofland is a kook. Or, if Hofland's not a kook himself, that his ideas about the origins of life are definitely kooky.

"It's rather irritating to get into these conversations about the origins of life with him," says Thomas. "You keep coming back with God did this, God did that. The problem is for him there are no contradictions because he's right. In some ways you can't refute him. God could have created the world a hundred years ago with everything looking as though it were ancient. You can't disprove it. God could have created the universe a day ago with everything, including people's memories intact. You can't disprove that."

Evolution of an Anti-Evolutionist

Hofland may think the world was created in six days, but it took him a lot longer than that to arrive at that belief—30 years and then some, in fact. Born in Montana, near Missoula (he still mixes Montana wheat into homemade breads and waffles), Hofland, now 50, has always had a Midwestern sensibility. He graduated from high school (his mother was his eighth-grade biology teacher), but flunked out of college after a year and a half. Then, he did a six-year stint in the Navy, floating around the South Pacific on a nuclear submarine.

"My background," he admits, "did not lend itself to me being a creationist."

Of all things, it was a subsequent job at NASA, where he's still employed today, that led Hofland to discard the evolutionism he had grown up with. Watching NASA scientists taking lessons from the physiology of giraffes to develop gravity suits for astronauts (the thick-skinned giraffe boasts a unique blood pressure for mammals, which is especially helpful for outer-space modeling) eventually convinced Hofland to do his own research into the giraffe—an animal, as it turns out, that has been widely used in creationist arguments.

What he found, he says, converted him. The giraffe, he learned, has seven neck bones (the norm, for many mammals), even though, as far as he could tell, there's no reason why evolution wouldn't have demanded the number of the giraffe's neck bones increase with the size of its neck. Hofland was also amazed at the giraffe's capability to withstand extreme blood pressure (due to its height) in its legs, and to adjust the pressure when it bends its head down to drink water—without its reinforced artery walls, its collection of valves and a "web" of small blood vessels, intense pressure would reach the giraffe's brain every time it bends its head. Not to mention what Hofland considers the miraculous design of the giraffe's birthing process—the new calf, which drops into the world from a height of five feet, cannot fall neither head or feet first, as both positions would end up breaking its neck; instead, the giraffe maneuvers a "perfect" exit, hind feet first and supporting its flexible neck around its shoulders.

Before he learned all this, Hofland insists, he, always scientifically inclined, was very much an ardent evolutionist. But, after his study, he ended up penning an article which became the basis for a new creationist ministry he calls Stiffneck Ministries.

"I had to struggle with this, but when I did my homework, I was convinced the giraffe was created," he says. "And, if the giraffe was created, then I was created, and, if I was created, then I had some answering to do for my life."

Thomas, however, is hardly impressed by Hofland's conversion. "I'm very well aware of his Stiffneck Ministries and his giraffes," says Thomas, with an exasperated tone. "His arguments are false; they are completely false. Giraffes have evolved over a period of time, and it's not a very good system. Giraffes have a lot of problems, many babies die during birth because they have a long distance to fall, but it works well enough for them to survive."

Thomas has little patience for Hofland's logic. "What creationist and intelligent designers like to point out is, basically, 'Isn't X amazing? I don't understand how X could be. Therefore, there must be something else that designed X and that created X. I don't understand what this other thing is either, but it must exist, because I don't understand X. That's fallacious reasoning."

Tie For First: The way Lynn Hofland's neckwear pointedly quotes the opening of the Christian Bible leaves no doubt as to where he stands on the question of life's origin.

Putting God Into Schools

Hofland was in the audience for the Hannity special in Cupertino. For him, the hubbub was about nothing other than certain people—in this case, the elementary school's administrators and the concerned parents—being too "sensitive." The United States, Hofland likes to say, is largely a Christian nation, though Hofland's definition of what a "Christian" nation is seems to vary subtly with the context. Sometimes, as in the case of Cupertino's Williams, who Hofland argues was only distributing material that reflected the roots and realities of the United States, the nation's very Christian; sometimes it's not Christian enough.

Even the question of what "Christian" belief is in regard to creationism has shifted over time.

"The irony, of course, in all of this creation science stuff is that modern conservative Christians are not the equivalent of their 19th-century counterparts," says J. David Pleins, a professor of religion at Santa Clara University.

Pleins, who has written extensively about readings of Genesis, argues young earth creationism—Hofland's view of a 6,000-year-old history—wasn't always a traditional Christian perspective.

"In the 19th century, you people who we would today call fundamentalist or conservative Christians, who didn't think the earth was young. They were anti-evolution Christians; they were against Darwin, but they believed the earth was old because they believe that the science told us about all these ancient lost eras. And so you had conservative Christians who were committed to an old-earth creationism. That seems to be an option that's lost today, and it's lost not because of the Scopes trial."

Instead, Pleins contends that a book, The Genesis Flood, put young earth creationism on the map. "It argued that science, rewritten and interpreted differently, would validate a literal reading of the Bible, so with creation science, you get a commitment from all conservative Christians committed to a young earth reading of the text. That's new."

The reasons behind the shift in perspective are strikingly similar to the modern fundamentalist worries that Christianity would erode away if not somehow protected, which results in a defensive posture by the Christian right in the American culture wars. The book's authors, says Pleins, thought that "if you give away the literal reading of the Bible, you start giving up the biblical truth. Where would you stop?"

Similarly, Hofland wants to establish the Bible's authority in America's public schools.

"There's nothing wrong with the Bible being added as a reference text," he insists. "If the science classroom is asking questions about how old the earth is, then this"—Hofland pats a tiny blue Bible—"is as good of a reference as rocks in the ground."

Employing Hofland's logic, solutions for teaching evolution in public schools would, seemingly, become exercises in political correctness.

"Question number one," Hofland says, "could be according to the theory of evolution; question number two could be according to the theory of creation; question number three could be according to the Buddhism or whatever. Or something like that."

Hofland may seem to be far out of the mainstream, but his beliefs have made some inroads in popular culture, as seen in cases like that of the Atlanta school district that voted in 2002 to put stickers in biology textbooks which stated that evolution is "a theory not a fact." A federal judge ruled that the stickers had to be removed.

Others who criticize the way evolution is taught in public schools say they aren't necessarily creationists, but simply believe God has been pushed too far out of the debate over life's origins. In 1998, after receiving a letter co-signed by two widely respected religious scholars, Huston Smith and Alvin Plantinga, the National Association of Biology Teachers was forced to edit its definition of what to teach about evolution in schools. The association had described evolution as "unsupervised" and "impersonal"; Smith and Plantinga argued there was no scientific basis for those descriptors, and the association ended up agreeing, deleting the two words.

At NASA, Hofland often visits an artistic depiction of the origins of human life that has been put up in a building neighboring his workspace. The depiction, a colorful painting that, from left to right, shows the evolutionary stages of life through bold white lines. It begins with volcanoes exploding, moves on to micro-organisms in the oceans, to various kinds of mammals in the forests, to cave men, and finally to modern man driving along a highway.

"I did meet the artist, the original artist," he says of the painting. "At first, he told me they told him to paint all the volcanoes exploding. Then, they told him, Oh that was too much, that would cause a nuclear winter and shut everything down, so they only had two volcanoes that were exploding and the rest were dormant. And see, they keep changing their view of what happened."

State Legislature Debates Evolution, Creationism

http://www.nbc13.com/news/4399756/detail.html

Critics Call Bill Religion Disguised As Science

POSTED: 5:28 pm CDT April 20, 2005
UPDATED: 7:43 pm CDT April 20, 2005

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- The age-old debate over evolution versus creation began again in Alabama's state House on Wednesday.

Some lawmakers want the theory of creationism to be more freely taught in science classes, while critics said the belief has no place in textbooks.

The bill is called the Academic Freedom Act and was created to allow classroom discussions of creationism.

But when lawmakers in Montgomery discussed the issue in the state House on Wednesday, they were met with an outcry from critics who believe it incorrectly redefines science. The creationism versus evolution debate has become one of the most contentious issues in this legislative session.

Supporters of the bill want to give teachers the right to discuss creationism as a scientific alternative to teaching evolution. However, opponents believe it masks religious beliefs as a science lesson.

"This bill says that teachers must teach the state course of study, but then they can bring in any other information they want to," said Susan Lockwood, a spokesperson for school superintendents. "We don't believe that's appropriate for children."

Many educators worry that the "freedom" in the bill would allow teachers to use unapproved class curricula to teach theories of life.

On college campuses like the University of Alabama at Birmingham, education majors hoping to be teachers are divided about what the measure could mean for their future in the classroom.

Julanda Sandlin wants lawmakers to stay out of her lessons to children.

"I just want to be an educator, you know. I want to make a difference in their lives, so their lives can be better than ours," said Sandlin.

But Lindsey Cunningham worries that without a legal limit, some teachers will push their own personal beliefs about the origin of life.

"I think there should be a law. I think you're going to have to draw a line on everything you teach, and so I think it's important they step in and take charge," said Cunningham.

A similar academic freedom act has failed before, and this one has little time left for a vote this year. It comes up for a committee vote next week then heads to the full house with only six meeting days left this session.

Copyright 2005 by NBC13.com.

A self-styled prophet, a legion of followers, and a 'Promised Land' in Florida

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/local/southflorida/sfl-thykingdomcomeapr16,0,2772610.story

By Todd Lewan
The Associated Press
Posted April 16 2005, 10:50 AM EDT

LAKE CITY -- In the beginning, there was an elderly widow who owned a modest brick house in the most heavenly part of town. One year she decided to put her "home place'' on the market, and along came a dapper gentleman and his adoring wife, cash in hand.

The gentleman, who was 67, must have been a preacher, it was rumored, for he often could be seen strolling about his new yard in a funereal suit and necktie, even on the muggiest of summer days, with a countenance of serenity and beneficence that could belong only to a servant of the Lord.

But there was something disquieting about this man, too, something inexplicable that made his neighbors uneasy whenever he greeted them by politely touching the brim of his fedora.

By every measure, the old man and his wife were model citizens. They were early risers. They didn't cuss, drink, smoke, pry or gossip. They drove a gleaming, burgundy Cadillac (with gilded trim and hubcaps).

So, as months passed, the suspicions faded, dismissed as a small town's old-fashioned discomfort with outsiders.

After all, as the neighbors could plainly see, this couple was quite beloved. Cars with tags from South Dakota, Illinois, Indiana, Montana and Texas arrived at all hours, and out stepped the cleanest-cut, most sharply tailored couples imaginable, and their winsome children, too, so cutely awkward in their Sunday clothes and shoes. In no time, they set about remodeling the dwelling of the preacher, whose name was Charles Meade.

For weeks, the hammering and sawing did not cease. New rooms were added. To the roof were affixed cedar shingles in red, rippling waves, until the crown of Meade's home looked like a gingerbread house. At the head of the driveway rose two great stone columns and an iron gate.

Along the boundaries of Meade's property, evergreens were planted, three rows deep. And then, when all was primped and tidied, a triple-layered privacy fence went up around the 2.44-acre lot.

It was topped off with three strands of razor wire.

The year was 1984, and property in Southwood Acres, the subdivision where Meade's house was located, didn't fetch the dollars it does today. But members of Meade's flock, dribbling in from the Midwest to join him, were willing to pay almost anything for a house in the subdivision. The closer the lot to the old man's residence, the more they were willing to shell out.

A real estate agent named Charles Sparks, one of the first of Meade's followers to move to Lake City, made the rounds in the neighborhood, knocking on people's doors and offering to sell their homes for them -- regardless of whether they had any intention of moving.

Finally, a few longtime residents approached these newcomers. What, they asked them, was so special about their little corner of the universe to merit such offers?

The answer they got was this:

Lake City was the Promised Land. It was holy ground for the world's true Christians -- meaning the lucky few whom Meade had chosen to follow the teachings of his End Time Ministry.

They had come to establish God's perfect community on Earth, to prepare for Armageddon, which, their leader had warned them, was imminent. Those who followed Meade would be saved. Unbelievers would be banished to eternal damnation.

Why, though, should anyone believe him?

Meade had told them he'd walked with God along the Milky Way and heard the Lord's very word.

Lake City stands on the hill country of northern Florida, where the surrounding Columbia County countryside, with its drooping live oaks and meadows ablaze in redbud and phlox, is more Deep South than tropical.

By reputation, it seemed an unlikely location for the Promised Land. Here, Doc Adams, a numbers racketeer, was killed by his mistress (who was also the wife of his rival); college football coaches had been known to treat their players to the "Big House,'' a parlor of sporting ladies; Ted Bundy, the serial killer, picked up a sixth-grader near her school and never took her home.

Back in 1984, most homes were one-story affairs. The older ones, dating to the Civil War, had deep, wraparound porches festooned with gingerbread. The men, many of them, wore plaid shirts, bow-brimmed caps, and heavy-soled boots. The little money that was made came from the exploitation of quick-growing pine, peanut farming, and by serving drive-thru visitors and truckers whose gas tanks and stomachs needed filling.

Inhabitants of the county, who numbered 36,000, seemed content with the lives they'd built: to work, go to church, swim in glassy ponds, and spend hours waiting for a twitch at the end of a fishline.

But since the summer of that year of Orwell, little has been the same for the people of Lake City. Over the next 20 years, their habits, their economy -- their community -- would be transformed by Charles Meade's brand of Christianity and the End Time empire he willed into being.

The End Timers would bring energy, ingenuity and an entrepreneurial spirit. But they would also bring something else. Soon, neighbors would come to demonize one another, not wave to one another. Townies would characterize the newcomers as weird, even dangerous; End Timers would dismiss the locals as sinful and intolerant.

In the end, Lake City would find itself more prosperous but badly divided -- a place awash in mistrust and suspicion.

In the months after the Meades settled in Lake City, about 50 End Timers from the Midwest joined them. They kept coming. By 1989, Meade's Florida flock numbered 700, according to the local newspaper, the Lake City Reporter, which had begun publishing articles on the newcomers -- "ETs,'' as the locals now called them.

By 1989, the End Timers owned no fewer than 39 businesses in town and had a substantial chunk of the market in roofing, landscaping, lighting, electronics and pool installation.

Sparks, who was Meade's son-in-law, cornered the real estate market in Southwood. Though some "ETs'' rented apartments in town, half of the 60-odd homes in Southwood Acres were occupied by sect members by 1990, county records show. Before long, according to residents, only End Timers wanted into the neighborhood, but they wouldn't buy unless Sparks brokered the sale.

He was the End Time version of Donald Trump -- sharp, intuitive, with an air of prosperous thrift. Before long, he would become one of the most powerful men in the county, a broker, investor and lender whose face would stare down from billboards all over town.

Although the people of Lake City didn't realize it, what was happening to their town had happened before and would again: a religious sect migrating to a small community and reshaping its economy and its way of life.

It has happened in Schell City, Mo., with the Church of Israel; in Spindale, N.C., with the Word of Faith Fellowship; in Hildale, Utah, with the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; in Abilene, Texas, with the House of Yahweh; in Bellevue, Wash., with the Life Tabernacle Church; in Grants Pass, Ore., with the Foundation of Human Understanding; in Attleboro, Mass., with The Body.

In each case, the outsiders were able to exert influence through hard work, ingenuity, a bit of intimidation, and lots of money, says Steven Hassan, the author of two books on controversial sects -- what he calls "destructive cults.''

"The pattern is for the leaders of these sects to move their followers all at once into areas that are sparsely populated, low-income, on hard times,'' Hassan says. "Then they buy up real estate or cottage industries on the cheap, making them power players in that county overnight.''

Since the Internal Revenue Service classifies them as non-profits, member donations are tax-exempt, he says. So it doesn't take them long to accumulate millions, and the leader can use his followers' money as he or she wishes.

As a group, the End Timers sure did look successful. Different, though, just the same.

End Time women wore ankle-length dresses and never used makeup. (Meade cautioned them to beware of the "lipstick spirit.'') The men didn't grow facial hair or wear digital wristwatches. (Mustaches, according to Meade, were of the "homosexual spirit,'' and anything containing a digital chip was evil.)

And nobody ever saw an End Timer with a pet. (Animals, even pictures of animals, harbored demons, Meade told his followers.)

As it turned out, there were quite a few objects of evil in the world of Meade: newspapers, TV, chewing gum, earrings, even Dr. Seuss books. Illness, Meade preached, was the work of the devil, best healed not by doctors but by faith. All holidays, including Christmas and Easter, were banned as pagan rituals.

Meade and his followers, locals observed, were creatures of pattern. Often their movements around town could be timed to the minute.

On Monday mornings, tellers at Community National, State Exchange and First Federal Savings could expect to see Meade in one of his Armani suits, looking much like Lawrence Welk, on line to make his weekly deposit.

He would stand self-assuredly, as though smiling to himself, and when his turn came he would stride to the counter with multiple bank bags, each stuffed with $3,000 to $11,000 in cash, checks and rolled coins, according to eyewitnesses and bank employees. (In later years, he switched to briefcases and went straight into the vault.)

To the people of Lake City, Meade was the mysterious stranger; they knew little of his past.

Public records show that he was born in Kentucky in 1916, quit school in the seventh grade and served with honor in World War II, earning eight Bronze Stars. Three years after the war, he stabbed a man in Indiana and was given a suspended sentence after pleading guilty to assault with intent to commit murder.

He worked for years as a shipping clerk in an Indiana glass factory, but he'd been unemployed for some time when he joined a Pentecostal group in the late 1960s. A few years later, he started his own church, recruiting college students from Illinois, South Dakota and Montana. Meade's teachings weren't that different from other Pentecostal preachers' until he began making some unusual claims.

"I've soared into the heavens in the supernatural,'' he declared during one taped sermon. "God's picked me up many times. I've been in the heavens. I've looked down over the Earth!''

Meade did not respond to two requests for an interview sent by registered mail. Sparks, whom former members speculate is next in line to lead the ministry, said no End Timer would agree to be interviewed; turns out, he was right.

As Meade's dwelling continued to mushroom in size, he withdrew from his neighbors. He no longer stopped to shake their hands, and his drapes and blinds were usually drawn.

According to residents and former End Timers, sentinels appeared behind Meade's triple fence, studying passing cars through binoculars. Sometimes, men in khakis stood posts around the neighborhood. They whispered into walkie-talkies, packed 9 mm pistols.

Cars that slowed near Meade's driveway were tailed; roadblocks went up at Southwood's two entrances. Men with flashlights would wave cars to a stop, shine a beam in the drivers' eyes, and ask where they were headed, and why.

The sheriff ordered a halt to the roadblocks, but no arrests were made.

Sunday nights, large numbers of End Timers could be seen gathered around four heart-shaped fire pits on "The Land,'' a park Meade had created along Rose Creek. There, they would sing and listen to Meade preach about the apocalypse.

Lake City's mayor at that time, T. Gerald Witt, didn't share other residents' growing unease. "Really,'' he told a reporter in 1990, "I don't see much difference between them and Christian Scientists.''

Others did.

Some reported seeing 200 End Timers lining the roadside in front of Meade's house, holding hands and waiting for their leader to return from a journey.

Then, one morning in 1989, a stray dog was found in a trash bin, headless.

In the weeks following, several other canines turned up in people's yards, stiff as logs. Poisoned, several residents, including Judy Ayers and her daughter, Laurie, said. Sandra Smith, who had spoken out in the local media against the End Timers, said she walked out her front door one morning to see her five kittens beheaded on the walkway.

Complaints were filed at the sheriff's office, residents said, but no one was arrested. (Records of complaints are routinely destroyed after five years, local officials said.)

Meanwhile, night after night, trucks rumbled through Southwood, stopping to unload crates. Judy Ayers, who lived a stone's throw from the Meade residence, recalls how End Timers would renovate their homes through the wee hours.

"We'd wake up to this loud pounding,'' she says, "and there they'd be, up on roofs or scaffolding or ladders, hammering and sawing with these blinding, white lights shining on them. It went on for months and months and months.''

TO BE CONTINUED…

Part II: The End Timers thrive in Lake City, but what goes on behind their walls and fences is not always so pretty

http://www.tallahassee.com/mld/tallahassee/news/breaking_news/11418857.htm

Posted on Sun, Apr. 17, 2005

TODD LEWAN

Associated Press

LAKE CITY, Fla. - Of late, Judy Ayers had been on edge. She'd noticed some peculiar things around her neighborhood: armed sentinels watching motorists through binoculars; brown-suited men fixing up homes into the wee hours.

She had tried to shrug these things off as eccentricities, coincidences. But then, while driving into town one fall afternoon in 1987, she spotted her 21-year-old son, Eric, cornered in an Amoco lot by two angry men in khaki jumpsuits.

Ayers swung her car to a stop. She yelled: "What's going on here?"

One of the men snapped back: Eric had been trespassing.

Eric, pallid as scraped bone, spoke up. All he'd done, he said, was take a picture of the house of Charles Meade, the leader of a doomsday sect whose followers had been moving into Lake City in increasing numbers.

He hadn't even gotten out of his car; but the moment he'd snapped the picture, which he wanted for his college architecture class, he had heard the squeal of tires. Two cars had chased him and forced him off the road, and now these men were demanding his camera.

Tell your boy not to trespass anymore, the men told Judy Ayers. Then they threw her an angry glare and drove off.

That evening, the family filed a complaint at the sheriff's office, but that's as far as it went. There was no evidence of wrongdoing, no injuries, no property damage, the officer told Ayers.

Word of the episode raced through Lake City, and it didn't take long for other stories to make the rounds.

A homeowner on Little Road told of looking out her window one morning to see an End Time woman with a bucket on her head. Her husband, dressed all in white, was pulling her around by the bucket handle, she told the Sun-Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale, which published her account.

Over back fences and along telephone lines, even wilder tales spread like a cold through the nervous populace: End Timers were tapping people's phones, burning cats and dogs alive at Sunday night sing-alongs, burying crates of rifles in their backyards.

Tom Tramel, the sheriff at the time, tried to stamp out the scuttlebutt. The wild talk was stirring up nastiness.

Tire tracks and trash had been found across the lawns of End Timers, and longtime residents were complaining that Meade's followers were vandalizing their mailboxes and car windshields.

Still, the people of Charles Meade had much for which to be thankful during their first seven years in their Promised Land.

As yet, there had been no great drought, no famine. Nor had a gigantic, steaming sheet of rock spread over the fields and streets of northern Florida. The sky had released no lightning or lava, and no fountains of the great deep had burst forth - although, as their leader dutifully reminded them, such an apocalypse could occur at any hour.

Instead, the End Timers had acquired property, were fruitful, and had become numerous.

The most fortunate of Meade's followers lived near him, in a subdivision known as Southwood Acres. In their backyards they had ponds with gazebos, rock gardens with cascading waterfalls, pools with gurgling fountains. Their homes, large by Lake City standards, were always being expanded, beautified.

Only seven years earlier, homes in the woodsy neighborhood went for $75,000; now, a half million dollars wouldn't buy the time of day.

What was going on inside those homes, the townsfolk soon discovered, was not always so pretty.

On March 11, 1989, Michael David Boehmer was born at home. Mothers who followed Meade's teachings about faith healing did not give birth at hospitals.

A day later, Michael's nose began to bleed and did not stop.

His parents tried to stanch the bleeding with cotton. They tried and tried and tried - until, finally, Michael's lungs filled with blood.

He had lived four days.

Word of Michael's death, announced from church pulpits and printed on the front page of the Lake City Reporter, sent a shiver through the county. The dismay, shading into horror, produced in the townspeople two questions: Why hadn't that little boy seen a doctor? Could his death have been avoided?

An opinion on the latter came from two physicians who testified at a medical examiner's inquest in Jacksonville: an injection of vitamin K, standard in hospital births, would have clotted Michael's blood and saved his life.

The case went before a judge, who was to decide whether the End Time couple should be charged with murder or criminal negligence. The doctors' testimony was damning. And yet, the judge noted, the parents had tried to resuscitate the boy. They had called 911 when they saw Michael approaching death.

In the end, the judge ruled that the Boehmers not be convicted of anything.

That didn't sit well with a lot of townies.

According to former End Timers, Meade did not explicitly order his followers to avoid medical care.

In fact, he urged them not to allow members to die at home of an untreated illness, says Joni Cutler, who was once married to one of Meade's top disciples. But this wasn't because he had doubts about faith healing, she says.

"The idea," Cutler says, "was to protect Charles Meade and the leadership from investigation or prosecution."

In one tape-recorded sermon, Meade had declared: "We're earthen vessels filled up with God. There really shouldn't be any affliction in this body at all ... Truly down deep, we're not supposed to be sick."

Tom Pearson, 57, who quit the sect in 1993 after more than a decade, says End Timers "felt all this pressure to be perfect all the time. If you stubbed your toe, cut your hand, got sick, then you were, according to Meade, out of God's will."

Meade's first wife, Marie, followed the faith-healing doctrine to her grave.

For at least two years, she refused medical treatment for breast cancer, says Cutler, who left the ministry in 1986 after 12 years in the sect.

Marie Meade died on Oct. 24, 1985, at age 63. On her death certificate, the cause of death was listed as "probable carcinoma of the breast." Twenty-eight days later, Charles Meade, then 68, married Marlene Helen Malthesen, who was 20 years his junior, according to their marriage license.

Cutler says she will never forget the last time she saw Marie Meade. "She was over our house for a visit," Cutler says, "and I noticed blood from her lesions running down her arm."

Columbia County lies within the Bible Belt, as evidenced by the number of churches - more than 200, by one pastor's count. Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians and Roman Catholics predominate, but there are Mormons, Muslims, Hindus and Pentecostals, too.

It was uncommon in the early '90s for anyone here to cast a judgmental eye on a neighbor's religion. To do so was to invite criticism of one's own - a prospect that left many in the worshipping populace profoundly uncomfortable. But when word of other episodes involving children of End Timers reached the general citizenry, an exception was made.

It was common knowledge that End Time children were forbidden to play with "normals," go to school outside their homes, or do things like entertain the notion of Santa Claus. However, when former sect members began telling how End Time youths were paired off and married by their 18th birthday, the indignation grew to a rolling boil.

County marriage records show that Meade and his second wife, Marlene, married off clusters of 17- and 18-year-old End Timers in Lake City and at Florida beach resorts throughout the '90s.

According to several former End Timers, the preacher selected the future marriage partners of children as young as age 12. On Sundays - "Choosing Day" as it became known - Meade would hold bonfire picnics in a meadow near Rose Creek, which he had deemed holy ground. As his people sang, he would stroll like a king among them, wave his arms over young boys and girls and declare, "These two look good together."

Then, in the earliest hours of Sept. 27, 1990, something else happened inside one of the stately homes in Southwood Acres.

Sonia Hernandez, 4, was never a healthy child. A brain disorder left her nearly deaf and blind, vegetative, and prone to fevers and infection.

Shortly after midnight, wearing her pink pajama top and white socks, Sonia died of pneumonia in her mother's arms.

Five hours later at the hospital, the emergency ward physicians looked gravely on what they saw: the body of the 4-year-old weighed a mere 14 1/2 pounds - about what a 4-month-old baby might weigh.

According to Sonia's medical records, as well as a deposition by her 21-year-old sister, Socorro, the child had not been to a doctor in at least two years - about the length of time her parents, Guillermo and Luz Hernandez, had been members of End Time Ministry.

A jury subsequently found the Hernandezes guilty of one count of felony child abuse. The verdict, however, was overturned on appeal.

As the case snaked its way through the Florida legal system, another child abuse case involving End Timers broke into the local headlines. This one involved a 16-year-old named Will Meyers.

On Oct. 22, 1990, he was rushed to Shands Hospital in Gainesville by his parents and, upon arrival, was found to be suffering from a heart tumor, kidney failure and a swollen liver. Will's condition had gone untreated for seven months, Columbia County court records show.

The tumor had made it difficult for the boy to hold down food, and his weight had dropped from 135 pounds to 90 pounds. The swollen liver had given his skin a yellowy hue, and his feet were so infected he had been dangling them off the end of a couch to let the pus drip into buckets.

A heart operation saved the boy's life, and he eventually recovered. His parents pleaded guilty to felony child abuse in March 1991, and were placed on five years' probation.

With the eyes of the town fixed sternly on them, the End Timers kept largely silent - except for the preacher's wife, Marlene Meade, who observed in her disapproving neighbors an intolerance inconsistent with the principle of religious freedom.

"If a Lutheran dies," she asked a reporter from the St. Petersburg Times, "does everyone come around asking his church about how he lived his life?"


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