NTS LogoSkeptical News for 4 May 2005

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Now evolving in biology classes: a testier climate


Some science teachers say they're encountering fresh resistance to the topic of evolution - and it's coming from their students.

By G. Jeffrey MacDonald | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Nearly 30 years of teaching evolution in Kansas has taught Brad Williamson to expect resistance, but even this veteran of the trenches now has his work cut out for him when students raise their hands. That's because critics of Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection are equipping families with books, DVDs, and a list of "10 questions to ask your biology teacher."

The intent is to plant seeds of doubt in the minds of students as to the veracity of Darwin's theory of evolution.

The result is a climate that makes biology class tougher to teach. Some teachers say class time is now wasted on questions that are not science-based. Others say the increasingly charged atmosphere has simply forced them to work harder to find ways to skirt controversy.

On Thursday, the Science Hearings Committee of the Kansas State Board of Education begins hearings to reopen questions on the teaching of evolution in state schools.

The Kansas board has a famously zigzag record with respect to evolution. In 1999, it acted to remove most references to evolution from the state's science standards. The next year, a new - and less conservative - board reaffirmed evolution as a key concept that Kansas students must learn.

Now, however, conservatives are in the majority on the board again and have raised the question of whether science classes in Kansas schools need to include more information about alternatives to Darwin's theory.

But those alternatives, some science teachers report, are already making their way into the classroom - by way of their students.

In a certain sense, stiff resistance on the part of some US students to the theory of evolution should come as no surprise.

Even after decades of debate, Americans remain deeply ambivalent about the notion that the theory of natural selection can explain creation and its genesis.

A Gallup poll late last year showed that only 28 percent of Americans accept the theory of evolution, while 48 percent adhere to creationism - the belief that an intelligent being is responsible for the creation of the earth and its inhabitants.

But if reluctance to accept evolution is not new, the ways in which students are resisting its teachings are changing.

"The argument was always in the past the monkey-ancestor deal," says Mr. Williamson, who teaches at Olathe East High School. "Today there are many more arguments that kids bring to class, a whole fleet of arguments, and they're all drawn out of the efforts by different groups, like the intelligent design [proponents]."

It creates an uncomfortable atmosphere in the classroom, Williamson says - one that he doesn't like. "I don't want to ever be in a confrontational mode with those kids ... I find it disheartening as a teacher."

Williamson and his Kansas colleagues aren't alone. An informal survey released in April from the National Science Teachers Association found that 31 percent of the 1,050 respondents said they feel pressure to include "creationism, intelligent design, or other nonscientific alternatives to evolution in their science classroom."

A troubled history

These findings confirm the experience of Gerry Wheeler, the group's executive director, who says that about half the teachers he talks to tell him they feel ideological pressure when they teach evolution.

And according to the survey, while 20 percent of the teachers say the pressure comes from parents, 22 percent say it comes primarily from students.

In this climate, science teachers say they must find new methods to defuse what has become a politically and emotionally charged atmosphere in the classroom. But in some cases doing so also means learning to handle well-organized efforts to raise doubts about Darwin's theory.

Darwin's detractors say their goal is more science, not less, in evolution discussions.

The Seattle-based Discovery Institute distributes a DVD, "Icons of Evolution," that encourages viewers to doubt Darwinian theory.

One example from related promotional literature: "Why don't textbooks discuss the 'Cambrian explosion,' in which all major animal groups appear together in the fossil record fully formed instead of branching from a common ancestor - thus contradicting the evolutionary tree of life?"

Such questions too often get routinely dismissed from the classroom, says senior fellow John West, adding that teachers who advance such questions can be rebuked - or worse.

"Teachers should not be pressured or intimidated," says Mr. West, "but what about all the teachers who are being intimidated and in some cases losing their jobs because they simply want to present a few scientific criticisms of Darwin's theory?"

But Mr. Wheeler says the criticisms West raises lack empirical evidence and don't belong in the science classroom.

"The questions scientists are wrestling with are not the same ones these people are claiming to be wrestling with," Wheeler says. "It's an effort to sabotage quality science education. There is a well-funded effort to get religion into the science classroom [through strategic questioning], and that's not fair to our students."

Teaching that humans evolved by a process of natural selection has long stirred passionate debate, captured most famously in the Tennessee v. John Scopes trial of 1925.

Today, even as Kansas braces for another review of the question, parents in Dover, Pa., are suing their local school board for requiring last year that evolution be taught alongside the theory that humankind owes its origins to an "intelligent designer."

In this charged atmosphere, teachers who have experienced pressure are sometimes hesitant to discuss it for fear of stirring a local hornets' nest. One Oklahoma teacher, for instance, canceled his plans to be interviewed for this story, saying, "The school would like to avoid any media, good or bad, on such an emotionally charged subject."

Others believe they've learned how to successfully navigate units on evolution.

In the mountain town of Bancroft, Idaho (pop. 460), Ralph Peterson teaches all the science classes at North Gem High School. Most of his students are Mormons, as is he.

When teaching evolution at school, he says, he sticks to a clear but simple divide between religion and science. "I teach the limits of science," Mr. Peterson says. "Science does not discuss the existence of God because that's outside the realm of science." He says he gets virtually no resistance from his students when he approaches the topic this way.

In Skokie, Ill., Lisa Nimz faces a more religiously diverse classroom and a different kind of challenge. A teaching colleague, whom she respects and doesn't want to offend, is an evolution critic and is often in her classroom when the subject is taught.

In deference to her colleague's beliefs, she says she now introduces the topic of evolution with a disclaimer.

"I preface it with this idea, that I am not a spiritual provider and would never try to be," Ms. Nimz says. "And so I am trying not ... to feel any disrespect for their religion. And I think she feels that she can live with that."

A job that gets harder

The path has been a rougher one for John Wachholz, a biology teacher at Salina (Kansas) High School Central. When evolution comes up, students tune out: "They'll put their heads on their desks and pretend they don't hear a word you say."

To show he's not an enemy of faith, he sometimes tells them he's a choir member and the son of a Lutheran pastor. But resistance is nevertheless getting stronger as he prepares to retire this spring.

"I see the same thing I saw five years ago, except now students think they're informed without having ever really read anything" on evolution or intelligent design, Mr. Wachholz says. "Because it's been discussed in the home and other places, they think they know, [and] they're more outspoken.... They'll say, 'I don't believe a word you're saying.' "

As teachers struggle to fend off strategic questions - which some believe are intended to cloak evolution in a cloud of doubt - critics of Darwin's theory sense an irony of history. In their view, those who once championed teacher John Scopes's right to question religious dogma are now unwilling to let a new set of established ideas be challenged.

"What you have is the Scopes trial turned on its head because you have school boards saying you can't say anything critical about Darwin," says Discovery Institute president Bruce Chapman on the "Icons of Evolution" DVD.

But to many teachers, "teaching the controversy" means letting ideologues manufacture controversy where there is none. And that, they say, could set a disastrous precedent in education.

"In some ways I think civilization is at stake because it's about how we view our world," Nimz says. The Salem Witch Trials of 1692, for example, were possible, she says, because evidence wasn't necessary to guide a course of action.

"When there's no empirical evidence, some very serious things can happen," she says. "If we can't look around at what is really there and try to put something logical and intelligent together from that without our fears getting in the way, then I think that we're doomed." What some students are asking their biology teachers

Critics of evolution are supplying students with prepared questions on such topics as:

The origins of life. Why do textbooks claim that the 1953 Miller-Urey experiment shows how life's building blocks may have formed on Earth - when conditions on the early Earth were probably nothing like those used in the experiment, and the origin of life remains a mystery?

Darwin's tree of life. Why don't textbooks discuss the "Cambrian explosion," in which all major animal groups appear together in the fossil record fully formed instead of branching from a common ancestor - thus contradicting the evolutionary tree of life?

Vertebrate embryos. Why do textbooks use drawings of similarities in vertebrate embryos as evidence for common ancestry - even though biologists have known for over a century that vertebrate embryos are not most similar in their early stages, and the drawings are faked?

The archaeopteryx. Why do textbooks portray this fossil as the missing link between dinosaurs and modern birds - even though modern birds are probably not descended from it, and its supposed ancestors do not appear until millions of years after it?

Peppered moths. Why do textbooks use pictures of peppered moths camouflaged on tree trunks as evidence for natural selection - when biologists have known since the 1980s that the moths don't normally rest on tree trunks, and all the pictures have been staged?

Darwin's finches. Why do textbooks claim that beak changes in Galapagos finches during a severe drought can explain the origin of species by natural selection - even though the changes were reversed after the drought ended, and no net evolution occurred?

Mutant fruit flies. Why do textbooks use fruit flies with an extra pair of wings as evidence that DNA mutations can supply raw materials for evolution - even though the extra wings have no muscles and these disabled mutants cannot survive outside the laboratory?

Human origins. Why are artists' drawings of apelike humans used to justify materialistic claims that we are just animals and our existence is a mere accident - when fossil experts cannot even agree on who our supposed ancestors were or what they looked like?

Evolution as a fact. Why are students told that Darwin's theory of evolution is a scientific fact - even though many of its claims are based on misrepresentations of the facts?

Source: Discovery Institute

Testimony on science shortened


Posted on Tue, May. 03, 2005

Scientists who back teaching evolution in the classroom won't participate


The Kansas City Star

The hearings that begin Thursday in Topeka will be shorter than expected, because scientists who defend evolution will not testify, an attorney for those scientists said Monday.

The Kansas Board of Education had scheduled the hearings for from Thursday through Saturday and from May 12 through May 14.

The first three days were reserved for proponents of intelligent design, a theory that says the universe is too complex to be explained by natural causes alone. The last three days were reserved for evolution defenders.

The hearings will go on as scheduled this week. But attorney Pedro Irigonegaray of Topeka said he expected to wrap up the side for the scientists May 12 after introducing exhibits and giving closing arguments.

"I have joined thousands of scientists worldwide who recognize these hearings to be no more than a showcase for intelligent design and to be rigged against mainstream science," Irigonegaray said in a statement. "I support their refusal to participate."

The state board periodically reviews standards for every area of the curriculum. It is reviewing the science standards now. The standards are the basic tenets of what every student should know and be able to do.

The board is considering two drafts of the standards. The first is from a 26-member committee appointed by Education Commissioner Andy Tompkins. It updates the standards but makes no significant changes.

The second draft, called a minority report, is from eight members of the 26-member committee. It calls for changing the definition of science and for students to study evolution from a more critical point of view. The proposal was put together by supporters of intelligent design.

The state board held hearings in February on the first draft. The board's conservative majority decided to hold the upcoming hearings to learn more about intelligent design. The hearings will be before a three-member board subcommittee, chaired by board Chairman Steve Abrams, a conservative Republican from Arkansas City.

Two dozen supporters of intelligent design from across the nation are expected to testify this week. They will be questioned by John Calvert, founding director of the Intelligent Design Network of Shawnee Mission. He was instrumental in writing the minority proposal.

Kansas Citizens for Science had called for scientists to boycott the hearings when they were announced earlier this year. At the time, just one scientist said he might participate.

After evolution defenders across the nation declined to participate, the state Department of Education asked Irigonegaray to represent them. He is doing so for free. He has little science background and says he does not plan to engage in any debate on evolution. However, he will be free to question this week's witnesses.

To reach Diane Carroll, call (816) 234-7704 or send e-mail to dcarroll@kcstar.com.

It's official: acupuncture really works


Study reveals health benefits of ancient healing art

Jo Revill, health editor
Sunday May 1, 2005
The Observer

Judith Ritchie slowly eases a fine steel needle into the back of her patient at a point marked out in felt-tip ink. As the needle is gently tapped, Judith explains: 'This point lies over the organ I want to strengthen, her liver. I want to improve the quality of her blood and her yin, which affects the energy balance.' Acupuncture relies on a different language and different tools from Western medicine, but however strange it seems at first, this patient, Louise Shelver, is a convert. For years she has had debilitating migraines and pre-menstrual tension.

'The doctor told me that I could go on the Pill or have anti-depressants,' said Shelver, from Reading, Berkshire, who is treated fortnightly. 'I didn't want that, so I came here and it has totally altered my life.

'The migraines come maybe every three months now, but they are not so bad and I feel like a different person. My husband has noticed a huge change because I don't get so low. Some days I feel on top of the world.'

Controversy has raged for years over whether acupuncture has only a placebo effect that makes people feel psychologically and physically better but changes nothing physiologically.

However, this weekend a new study reveals for the first time that it provokes a specific response in the brain, shedding light on how it might affect the body's pain pathways. This helps to explain why both patients and health professionals trained in Western medicine are increasingly turning to this ancient form of Chinese healing.

Ritchie is a qualified children's nurse who has spent the last nine months learning this complementary therapy.

'I began to realise acupuncture's use goes far beyond pain relief. In the West you treat a disease. With acupuncture you're treating the whole person - the root of the problems, not just the symptoms.

'I can spend an hour or more with a patient. In the NHS you never get that time. Acupuncture can benefit so many adults and children.'

More than two million treatments will be given this year. Most practitioners work in private clinics, charging around 30 a time.

Increasingly, however, acupuncture is becoming mainstream, and it is being offered in the NHS because of patient demand. The profession is heading towards self-regulation on the recommendation of a House of Lords committee. This will protect patients more by preventing just anyone calling themselves acupuncturists.

The latest study is from researchers at Southampton University and University College London, who devised a clever trial to determine whether acupuncture worked by carrying out brain scans on patients receiving it.

The patients, all with painful osteoarthritis in their thumbs, were divided into three groups. The first group were touched by blunt needles which did not pierce the skin and had no therapeutic value.

The second had 'sham acupuncture' they believed was real. Their scans showed that one area of the brain associated with the production of natural opiates lit up.

In the third group, who received real acupuncture, the scans showed that, as well as the opiate centre, another region of the brain, the ipsilateral insular, was activated. This region appears to be involved in pain modulation.

Dr George Lewith, a research team member from Southampton, said: 'This shows us that real acupuncture produces a demonstrable physiological effect over and above a simple skin prick.

'We still don't fully understand how pain works, but we do know that after patients receive acupuncture there are changes in the way they manage their problems that last for up to two years.'

Acupuncturists believe there are 12 energy pathways in the body, each associated with a different organ, and the treatment re-establishes the energy balance in organs when it goes awry.

To treat an illness, practitioners take a full view of the patient, asking how their body functions, about their character and even their childhood. Treatment is varied accordingly. Fine needles are inserted into different points, either to stimulate or reduce the flow of energy along pathways.

It is said to work for an increasing number of conditions. Its worth for depression, migraines, chronic pain, rheumatism, eczema, multiple sclerosis and high blood pressure has been subjected to clinical studies. Yet a growing number of patients have it simply because they say that acupuncture makes them feel happier and more fulfilled.

The patients' profile is also changing. Gwyneth Paltrow and Cherie Blair are at the celebrity end of the scale, but such patients as retired firefighter John Thurston show how widespread acceptance of the therapy has become.

Thurston, at 79, is one of the oldest patients at the College of Integrated Chinese Medicine in Reading, Berkshire, where he has been treated fortnightly for several months.

A stroke last year left him with difficulty in walking, numbness in one hand and unable to lift one of his arms. 'It has made a remarkable difference,' said a delighted Thurston. 'I can dress myself now, whereas after the stroke I couldn't do a button up. I used to find it hard to lift my left leg up and I'm now walking more or less straight. I have got a lot more movement back.

'When the doctors signed me off at the hospital, they said cheerio and that was it. I did have a a bit of physiotherapy, but it's coming here that has really helped. I wish everyone could have it. It's done me a world of good.'

Pinpoint prowess

Researchers in Sweden have found that acupuncture is effective at relieving pelvic pain, a common complaint during pregnancy. Another clinical trial at Stanford University in the US showed it could help alleviate depression in pregnant women.

A study in the British Medical Journal showed that patients with osteoarthritis in the knee who received acupuncture a well as an anti-inflammatory painkiller suffered less pain and stiffness than those who received the drug plus sham acupuncture, where the needle did not penetrate the skin.

Children with hay fever and nasal allergies had fewer sneezing bouts and congestion after acupuncture compared with a placebo group, in research carried out in Hong Kong.

A study of rats showed that acupuncture lowered their blood pressure by as much as 50 per cent. Researchers in California are trying to establish if the technique will have the same effect on humans.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Evolutionary war


In the ongoing struggle between evolution and creationism, says philosopher of science Michael Ruse, Darwinians may be their own worst enemy
By Peter Dizikes | May 1, 2005

CREATIONISM IS ON the march in America. In states from Alabama to Pennsylvania, supporters are attempting to restrict the teaching of evolution - and introduce their current favorite theory, Intelligent Design, into the classroom. Darwinian evolution, they say, cannot account for the complexity of life, which can only be explained with reference to some kind of creator. And such efforts may be having an effect. According to a Gallup survey released last November, only about a third of Americans believe that Darwin's theory is well supported by the scientific evidence, while nearly half believe that humans were created in more or less their present form 10,000 years ago.

What accounts for this revival? Some observers point to the increasing political influence of the religious right. Others point to decades of well-funded creationist efforts to chip away at evolution's stature, reducing it to just one in a range of competing theories. But Michael Ruse has a different explanation: He lays much of the blame at the feet of evolution's most famous advocates.

Ruse, a philosopher of science at Florida State University, occupies a distinct position in the heated debates about evolution and creationism. He is both a staunch supporter of evolution and an ardent critic of scientists who he thinks have hurt the cause by habitually stepping outside the bounds of science into social theory. In his latest book, ''The Evolution-Creation Struggle,'' published by Harvard University Press later this month, Ruse elaborates on a theme he has been developing in a career dating back to the 1960s: Evolution is controversial in large part, he theorizes, because its supporters have often presented it as the basis for self-sufficient philosophies of progress and materialism, which invariably wind up in competition with religion.

While scientists and creationists often square off over the scientific evidence for evolution, the source

of the ongoing dispute is deeper. ''This is not just a fight about dinosaurs or gaps in the fossil record,'' says Ruse, speaking from his home in Florida. ''This is a fight about different worldviews.''

The tendency to apply ideas about organic evolution to society and philosophy, Ruse claims in his new book, dates to the Enlightenment, but it really took flight in the aftermath of Charles Darwin's 1859 publication of ''The Origin of Species.'' While Darwin himself, in Ruse's view, largely abstained from gratuitous social theorizing, many of his fellow scientists, such as the English biologist T.H. Huxley, as well as nonscientists like Herbert Spencer, enthusiastically used the general notion of evolution to argue that society was moving forward through history. While their ideas varied, writes Ruse, ''progress was the backbone of it all'' - even though that value, he believes, cannot be wholly justified, or properly derived, from actual evolution by natural selection.

As Ruse sees it, this trend continued in the 20th century, when even important biologists like the Englishman R.A. Fisher held eugenicist views about human perfectibility. Julian Huxley, evolution's most famous British advocate in the 1950s and 1960s, emphasized his own secular vision of ''evolutionary humanism'' in his writings, while his American counterpart, George Gaylord Simpson, spoke of the impossibility of compromise between evolution and religion.

Virtually every prominent Darwinian in recent decades has eschewed social Darwinism, and most believe that evolution itself, while responsible for the increased complexity of organic forms over time, cannot be regarded as a linear process driving toward a particular endpoint. But Ruse asserts that popular contemporary biologists like Edward O. Wilson and Richard Dawkins have also exacerbated the divisions between evolutionists and creationists by directly challenging the validity of religious belief - Dawkins by repeatedly declaring his atheism (''faith,'' he once wrote, ''is one of the world's great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate''), and Wilson by describing his ''search for objective reality'' as a replacement for religious seeking.

All told, Ruse claims, loading values onto the platform of evolutionary science constitutes ''evolutionism,'' an outlook that goes far beyond the scientific acceptance of evolution as a means of explaining the origins and development of species. Provocatively, Ruse argues that evolutionism has often constituted a ''religion'' itself by offering ''a world picture, a story of origins, and a special place for humans,'' while its proponents have been ''trying deliberately to do better than Christianity.''

To be sure, Ruse acknowledges, some biologists are religious, while a significant portion of religious believers are willing to accept the concept of evolution at least to some extent. But, he argues, the way evolutionists have often linked their science to progressive politics has, in recent decades, become anathema to many believers, especially fundamentalist Christians whose biblical literalism leads them to believe that worldly change will only arrive with the Second Coming. The advocates of evolution, Ruse argues, have thus been ''competing for space in the hearts and minds'' of many religious believers without even realizing it - much to the detriment of their cause.

Ruse, a native of England who emigrated first to Canada before coming to Florida State five years ago, is used to raising the ire of fellow Darwinians. Last year, when he co-edited a book, ''Debating Design,'' with William A. Dembski, a leading advocate of Intelligent Design, leaving him open to charges that he was giving creationists credibility and a platform.

Ruse says he expects a similarly heated response to his latest book. ''Some colleague or another is going to go through the roof on this,'' he says, with a hint of enthusiasm. He predicts ''a range of reactions from the irritated to the livid. And if I don't get that I'm going to be a very sorry person.''

If the book raises hackles, though, it also raises critical questions. Given the inherent conflict between evolution and a literal reading of Genesis, does it really matter what evolution's advocates say? Or are creationists bound to attack evolutionary science regardless? And to what extent does Ruse's own approach, as the in-house critic of evolution's advocates, help or hinder his cause?

On the first count, some historians of science agree the social theorizing of evolutionists has helped motivate creationists. ''If you go back to the 1950s and '60s, you can find people reacting to Julian Huxley's grand statements about the meaning of evolution,'' says Edward J. Larson, a historian at the University of Georgia and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning ''Summer for the Gods'' (1997), about Tennessee's famous 1925 Scopes Trial, in which a schoolteacher was accused of violating state law against the teaching of evolution. More recently, University of California law professor Phillip E. Johnson, a champion of Intelligent Design, has claimed to be responding to Dawkins's declarations of atheism.

Ruse, a self-identified agnostic, acknowledges the ''thrilling quality'' of Dawkins's writing but says he objects to adamantly anti-religion statements coming from a scientist. ''I don't have any more belief than Dawkins,'' he says. ''But I do think it matters that he is making it very difficult for those of us who care about evolution to put forward a reasonable face to the reasonable portion [of the public] in the middle.''

By focusing on scientific superstars, though, Ruse may be downplaying the social and institutional factors which have fueled the emergence of organized opposition to evolution. While Darwinian evolution has faced fierce critics ever since 1859, American resistance to it has often become most concerted in response to broad societal developments. The Scopes Trial itself occurred not long after a significant increase in high school attendance, which made the question of what students were learning there more pressing. And the widespread adoption in the 1960s of a textbook on evolution produced by the Biological Science Curriculum Study group, a Colorado-based educational publishing company, spurred the organization of well-funded anti-evolution groups that remain active today, such as the California-based Institute for Creation Research.

''Certainly the presence of the BSCS textbooks in the 1960s became the rallying point for the creationists,'' notes Larson. And the recent growth, he adds, in the number of theologically conservative evangelical Christians, at the expense of mainline Protestant denominations that have traditionally been more receptive to evolution, has only given the anti-evolution movement more momentum.

Ruse acknowledges this dynamic. But he says that precisely because scientists ''are plunged into a situation not of their own making,'' they should change tactics, and seek out religious moderates who might be willing to accept evolution if it were presented in a more diplomatic manner.

Other science supporters agree there is a middle ground where minds, if not hearts, can be won. ''There are many people in religious communities, who if they were given information on evolution in an objective, careful way, would not have a problem believing in evolution,'' says Albert H. Teich, director of science and policy programs for the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The AAAS will release a new guide to evolution this summer, which it hopes will have broad appeal.

While Ruse claims the writings of evolutionists have had unintended consequences, his own work has not been immune from that problem. Some creationists who cite his work to support their position have ignored his distinction between ''evolutionism'' and evolution. In 2000, for instance, Tom Willis, president of the Creation Science Association for Mid-America, claimed that ''Michael Ruse ... recently stated that evolution is a religion and always has been.''

Ruse accepts such incidents as an occupational hazard. ''What am I supposed to do?'' he asks in response. ''I'm an academic. I believe in freedom. I believe the most important thing you can do is criticize your own ideas.''

Colleagues do not entirely agree. ''If you deal in this area, you have to word things carefully,'' says Eugenie C. Scott, an anthropologist who is executive director of the National Center for Science Education, an evolution advocacy group in Oakland. ''And sometimes it may be necessary to forego the snappy line, just so it's not easy [for a creationist] to take your thoughts out of context.''

Adds Scott: ''I'm a hell of a lot more careful than Michael. I personally prefer not to provide ammunition for the opposition.''

Scott believes that in previous books Ruse has done ''a nice job'' debunking Intelligent Design. As for those who criticize him for collaborating with Intelligent Design advocates like Dembski, Ruse says, ''If you sup with the devil, it's legitimate for people to take shots at that.'' He did it because ''I think it's a bad mistake to ignore the other side.''

Ultimately, Ruse says, ''Evolution is true. Evolution works.'' But as he sees it, the traditional ways of presenting evolution have hurt as much as helped.

''If everything were going well, you could sit back and say, 'Ruse, don't rock the boat,''' he says. ''But it's awful. If Bush gets one or two more Supreme Court Justices, we'll have Intelligent Design in the classroom.'' (In 1981, Ruse testified in a case in which an Arkansas judge ruled that creation science - which the state had tried to introduce in schools - was not valid science but an unconstitutional attempt to teach religion in the classroom. The Supreme Court upheld the decision in 1987.)

That's why he will continue to insist that many religious believers who currently reject or remain indifferent to Darwin can come to accept it - as long as they are presented strictly with scientific facts, and given less reason to think evolution could be a threat to their social and spiritual values.

''Am I going to convert Phillip Johnson?'' asks Ruse, referring to the anti-Darwinian Berkeley professor. ''Absolutely not. Are we going to find a way to reach people in the center on these things? Sure.''

Peter Dizikes is a journalist living in Arlington.

Hearings will put evolution to test


Published Sunday, May 1, 2005

Intelligent design proponents seek to amend standards

By Barbara Hollingsworth
The Capital-Journal

John Tollefson's sophomore biology students measured model skulls last week to better understand how humans evolved.

When the Kansas State Board of Education voted in 1999 to de-emphasize the teaching of evolution, Tollefson resolved to put even more effort into helping students understand Darwin's theory. But more than ever, his Highland Park High School students ask him if it is even legal for him to teach evolution -- a result he thinks comes from the current state debate over science curriculum standards and hearings that begin Thursday.

"I don't know if they see it as an enemy or not," he said of evolution, "but some of them think it's something we can't teach."

In reality, the debate isn't about making evolution illegal to teach. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down such laws decades ago.

The fight has changed some since the state board's 1999 decision, which was overturned after the next round of elections, when board members deleted references to macroevolution, the age of the Earth and the Big Bang Theory.

This time, critics from within the "intelligent design" movement seek to add criticisms of evolution to the standards. The goal, they say, is for students to learn more about evolution and the origins of the world and life. Among the curriculum benchmarks they suggest students master is one that says science can negatively influence culture, and established theories can "blind" scientists to needed revisions. Modern science, their revisions say, can be abused by scientists and policy-makers.

William S. Harris, one of those promoting the changes, has this vision for science classrooms: "The dogmatic view that all this happened by natural processes, undirected, unguided, unplanned natural processes and it was essentially an accident -- that view would be challenged by a significant amount of other data that is currently not presented that conflicts with that view."

It is a concept that resonates well with Americans in polls, and the evolution debate has played out in several states' schools, courts and legislatures. Several of Tollefson's students -- even those who believe that the theory of evolution has the story correct -- said they would be happy to argue their beliefs in class.

"Don't decide what we are going to be taught and believe in," advised sophomore James Dawdy.

"You've just got to lay your cards on the table and hope you win the hand," said sophomore Michael Blake.

But teaching good science isn't about winning a popularity contest, others argue, and students need to learn science that has undergone rigorous scrutiny and won approval in the scientific community. The latest detractors of evolution lack scientific credibility, argues Steve Case, chairman of the Science Standards Writing Committee.

"If there were any science to this stuff these people would be winning Nobel prizes," Case said. "If you overthrow a core theory of science, you are rewarded."

Intelligent design

While leaders in the intelligent design movement will play a key role in the upcoming debates, they don't specifically call for teaching intelligent design. However, their suggested changes are consistent with intelligent design.

Intelligent design holds that life is too complicated to have been created by accident and aspects of the natural world may show signs of being designed.

Take Mount Rushmore, Harris said -- "That's an object in nature that you don't have any trouble deciding was designed. That's not a religious conclusion." Similarly, he said, scientists can look to certain objects in nature and see that they were designed.

"It really gets back to the question when we talk about the origins of life and the diversity of life: Can we say we know it happened by a natural or unguided process?" he asked, asserting students are only taught that the process is unguided.

Harry McDonald, president of Kansas Citizens for Science, argues that science can't attempt to prove or disprove an intelligent designer or God. Such beliefs and faith fall outside the realm of science, and he brushes off claims that intelligent design can be proved scientifically.

"Science isn't in the game of confirming beliefs," said McDonald, who taught high school science for 32 years.

Groups supporting intelligent design say it isn't a religious assertion, and they don't claim that the concept can identify the designer.

"Nor does it claim that the intelligent cause must be a 'divine being' or a 'higher power' or an 'all-powerful force,' " according to the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which will have witnesses at the hearings.

Still, religious concerns bring added weight to the debate.

"Origins science," notes Harris, "is a very, very narrow, very philosophical, very religiously charged piece of science."

In the classroom

Larry Wall, chairman of the science department at Seaman High School, has 30 years of teaching experience. He said he didn't alter his teaching to conform to the state board's 1999 changes and is unlikely to change the way he teaches evolution based on this year's talks.

"I think it would be impossible to teach science without the discussion of evolution," he said.

Case said changes to the state's standards could have a big effect on school districts.

"In the old days we could jokingly say, 'Nobody read the standards anyway,' " Case said.

That has changed as the federal No Child Left Behind Act puts more weight on how well students score on state assessments, which are based on the state standards.

In Auburn-Washburn Unified School District 437, Sherry Reed, curriculum coordinator for secondary programs, said the district will align with the state's standards.

"However, it may not change practice in our classrooms," Reed said.

Some districts will reject the changes, McDonald asserts. But he said he recently worked with a school district that was still operating under the short-lived 1999 science standards.

"It's really hard to predict," he said.

Steve Abrams, chairman of the state board and one of the three people who will hear testimony this week, said he suspects evolution is handled in a variety of ways, from not being taught to being taught as "factually dogmatic."

"I'd like to see much of what we have but also to add that students be able to critically analyze the theory of evolution also," he said.

Barbara Hollingsworth can be reached at (785) 295-1285 or barbara.hollingsworth@cjonline.com.

Copyright 2005 CJOnline / The Topeka Capital-Journal


What: Kansas science curriculum standards debate

When: From 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday to Saturday and May 12 to 14

Where: Memorial Hall, 120 S.W. 10th St.

Who can attend: The public is invited, but only 140 seats will be available.

Intelligent design theory argues for a designer of life


Posted on Sat, Apr. 30, 2005

Not by chance


The Kansas City Star

A central question in the growing debate over the intelligent design movement is this:

What's religion got to do with it?

As is often the case when science and religion clash, some of the answers, though offered with certainty, are polar opposites.

"This is all about Christian theology," says Niall Shanks, author of God, the Devil and Darwin: A Critique of Intelligent Design Theory .

Not so, says John Calvert, a managing director of the Kansas City-based Intelligent Design Network Inc. "What we (intelligent design advocates) are doing is taking religion out of science."

Even if the religion question isn't asked directly, it will be at the heart of upcoming hearings by the Kansas Board of Education, which is debating science curriculum.

Single-cell complexity

Proponents of modern theories of evolution propose that something as microscopic as a single cell has evolved over billions of years in a completely unguided way into something as complex as, say, a human being.

Instead, supporters of intelligent design say that some things in the universe - things even as tiny as that single cell - are far too complex in design to be a result of time and random chance. They say such design required thoughtful engineering.

To demonstrate this, they often refer to something called the bacterial flagellum. The flagellum, which can be seen only with an electron microscope, appears to be a long tail that helps bacteria move about.

Upon examination, it looks like a biological machine with a high-speed rotary motor made up of at least 40 interlocking components. Intelligent design backers believe these tails were present in the very earliest bacteria, billions of years ago. They also contend these tails won't work unless all parts are present at once.

They refer to the tail and its multipart motor as an example of what they call "irreducible complexity." The presence of all these parts, they conclude, means the tail couldn't have assembled by accident but must have been designed.

Such complexity suggests that from its earliest origins, life results from a guided process, these advocates say, and scientists can discover this irreducible complexity by looking for patterns in nature that aren't likely to happen by chance.

"The argument I present is based completely on physical data," says Michael Behe, a leading intelligent design proponent and a Lehigh University biochemist. "It's based on the structures of things we find in the cell and on pretty straightforward logic of how we recognize design. It's not based on any dogma."

While some advocates of intelligent design say outright that the "designer" will turn out to be the God of Christianity, the theory itself does not say who or what the designer may be.

Code word: 'Designer'

Does this sound plausible?

Not to George Gale at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

"There is no such thing as irreducible complexity," says Gale, executive director of the Philosophy of Science Association, "(intelligent design advocates) are saying there never is going to be a time when we could explain this. If you're a betting person, you'd never put money on that."

He gives this example: In the year 1200 no one could explain how a nail rusted, but by the late 18th century, scientists could.

"Science is like a leaky boat they're constantly rebuilding in mid-ocean," Gale says. "Scientists like it that way. Religionists don't." So just because scientists may not offer a good explanation now of something like that tail, which appears to be irreducibly complex, it doesn't mean they won't be able to as knowledge increases.

"(Intelligent design supporters) appear to be reasonable," says Gale, who teaches philosophy at UMKC, but "they sucker in the unscientific schlub who thinks there's a legitimate debate going on."

Gale thinks that the term "intelligent designer" is a code word for God and that the intelligent design movement's refusal to acknowledge it is "ill-willed dishonesty."

"The thing that bothers me about most of these guys (is) they're Christians who don't observe the Ninth Commandment (against false witness). There's so much dishonesty."

Author and philosopher Shanks is just as critical.

"Intelligent design theory is most assuredly not scientific theory," says Shanks, philosophy professor at East Tennessee State University. "It would be a mistake to call it philosophy. What it is, is bad theology repackaged as science."

His opposition to intelligent design, he says, is "not a prejudice against nonmaterial explanations. If there is evidence, science is open to it. The trouble is, there is not a shred of evidence of intelligent design."

A basic tenet of science is that the validity of theories must be testable through experiments and observations. Shanks says that means intelligent design theorists should be offering ways to investigate whether the "designer" has the materials, resources and knowledge needed to construct something like a bacterial flagellum.

But they haven't done so, he says.

Meanwhile biologists say there are ways bacterial flagella could have evolved, meaning they had no need of a designer. They, too, might not be able to say exactly how just yet. But as Gale of UMKC says, science is a work in progress, changing constantly as scientists make new discoveries.

Science, in theory

If theorists of intelligent design are being accused of trying to sneak God into the lab, they criticize Darwinian evolutionists for trying to keep out the idea of an intelligent designer.

"Science has to be theoretical," Calvert says. "Religion is dogmatic. It's doctrinaire. And when you move from the theoretical to the doctrinaire, you're putting religion into science."

That's what Calvert and other intelligent design backers say traditional evolutionary biology has done, though they describe biology's religion as nontheistic, or without a god. And they insist that when the scientific establishment refuses to consider the possibility of intelligent design, it's following its own godless religion.

"Evolution clearly furthers an atheistic, materialistic worldview, and that's every bit as religious as Christianity and any other theistic faith," says William A. Dembski, a leading intelligent design advocate and Baylor University mathematician.

Calvert adds: "In origin science, we're addressing questions fundamental to religion - where did we come from? So they (evolutionary biologists) say, 'OK, we're going to do that science with a (no-design) bias.'

"I think the institutions of science (such as universities, peer-review journals and scientific organizations) are wrong when they say that we have to ignore that (design) hypothesis."

The intelligent design movement, however, insists it is different from the various forms of scientific creationism and their explicitly religious pleadings. That's because most creationists look for scientific evidence that backs the Genesis creation accounts, whereas intelligent design proponents say they are unable, through their science, to answer who the intelligent designer is.

Where some roads lead

Evolution has been debated inside religious institutions since Darwin first published his theories, and there's no universally accepted religious conclusion about it.

In 1996 the late Pope John Paul II, in a message to his Pontifical Academy of Sciences, said supportive things about evolution, a theory the church has never condemned.

"Fresh knowledge," he said, "leads to recognition of the theory of evolution as more than just a hypothesis." Similarly, last year, the Vatican's International Theological Commission said science "furnishes mounting support for some theory of evolution to account for the development and diversification of life on earth."

The commission mentioned critics of Darwinism who "point to evidence of design" and then seemed to support the charge of intelligent design proponents that some evolutionary biologists are biased. It said "neo-Darwinians" who conclude that "evolution is absolutely unguided are straying beyond what can be demonstrated by science."

Proponents of the design theory say they're in for the long haul.

Intelligent design is "perceived as being strong enough to be dealt with by the scientific establishment," Behe says. "I'm encouraged by that. I'm very optimistic that the progress of science itself will continue to throw up more evidence pointing toward design. Things are not getting simpler, they're getting much more elegant."

Dembski says parents and school boards "are tired of being bullied. I think these issues are not going to go away. If anything, they'll be intensified."

But Gale believes intelligent design has no long-term future: "They're very good at raising questions in areas of ignorance: 'You can't explain this, therefore it's intelligent design.' You can't just put God into our gaps in knowledge."

To reach Bill Tammeus, call (816) 234-4437 or send e-mail to tammeus@kcstar.com. Visit his Web log at billtammeus.typepad.com.

To reach Alan Bavley, call (816) 234-4858 or send e-mail to

abavley@kcstar.com. Related Links
The Star - The evolution vs. intelligent design debate: Story, chart, education instruction and other government documents
The Kansas City-based Intelligent Design Network
William Dembski's description of intelligent design
The American Association of the Advancement of Science resolution criticizing intelligent design
A Public Broadcasting System list of hundreds of publications about evolution

Friday, April 29, 2005


Reverend Michael Dowd preaches the wonders of evolution

- David Ian Miller, Special to SF Gate

Monday, April 18, 2005

The evolution-versus-creationism debate is one of those perennial hot-button issues, like abortion and school prayer, that almost invariably leads to polarization. It seems as if you either think there's a place for teaching a biblical perspective in the schools, as many fundamentalist Christians contend, or you believe evolution, grounded in scientific fact, is the only paradigm worth exploring.

Michael Dowd is an itinerant preacher who believes he has found a middle path that transcends and includes both camps. For the past three years, Dowd, a nondenominational Christian minister, and his wife, science writer Connie Barlow, have been driving across the country, stopping at Christian and Unitarian Universalist churches, Jewish synagogues, Quaker meeting houses and Buddhist meditation centers to teach religious audiences about evolution. Their goal is to present a story of the universe, which they call the "great story," in a way that people -- whatever their spiritual orientation -- can embrace.

Dowd spoke with me on Friday from Sonoita, Ariz., where he stopped for a few days before hitting the road again. He'll be in Los Angeles later this week.

You're an itinerant preacher. Where do you actually live?

For the last three years, my wife and I have lived all over North America. We don't have a home. We don't have a storage bin. We don't even have an RV -- we've got a van. So we stay in people's homes while we're teaching and preaching.

What's it like being on the road all the time?

We stay with amazing people. Most of them are committed to a just, healthy, sustainable world, and so we learn from them and share what we learn from others. Often, they introduce us to their favorite places in nature -- waterfalls, meadows, streams, what have you. You wouldn't know about these places unless someone local gave you directions.

You're teaching about evolution in churches, which is kind of a radical concept. According to a Gallup poll from November, more than a third of Americans believe in the story of creation found in the Bible. Why would they listen to you?

The reason many conservatives reject evolution is that they've never been exposed to a way of thinking about it that makes sense and validates their spiritual insights. But one of my basic beliefs is that the person with the best story wins. So, when I speak to religious conservatives, the first thing I say is, "You're absolutely right to have rejected evolution." Because the only version of evolution that most of us have been exposed to is a chance, meaningless, purposeless, mechanistic process.

That's not a version I'm talking about. What I say to them is, "If you'll allow me to, what I'd love to do is share with you a God-glorifying, sacred understanding of evolution." And, at that point, they let me speak.

What, in your view, makes evolution sacred?

Evolution is sacred when it's told in a way that edifies traditional religious traditions yet also stretches them to a new place. I see the entire 14 billion-year story of the universe as the story of God's creativity. It's the story of God's love, of God's grace. I mean, which makes more sense -- that God would have stopped communicating truth that is vital to our well being and destiny 2,000 years ago when people thought the world was flat or that God [has] continued speaking all along? When the Bible speaks about God forming us from the dust of the ground, and breathing into us the breath of life, that's a true story. It matches what science is telling us.

As [cosmologist] Brian Swimme says, "Four billion years ago, the Earth was molten rock, and now it sings opera." But rather than believing that the really important revelations from God happened 2,000 years ago, I believe that God's revelations are happening all the time and will continue to happen. That's the sacred story of evolution.

Other than the Bible, how else do you think those revelations are communicated?

The primary way that God has always communicated is through feelings, circumstances and relationships. God uses whatever technologies and communication tools we have at any given moment. Before there was written language, people communicated through stories. So God communicated with humans through stories, rituals and rites of passage. When writing came into existence, God could then inspire people to write things down. And when science developed as a way of organizing written language, then God was able to use science to communicate.

What do you think God is?

When I use the word God, what I'm referring to is the whole of reality -- seen and unseen, transcendent and immanent, measurable and nonmeasurable. An analogy that I often use is nesting dolls -- you know, the Russian nesting dolls?

That's a small doll that fits inside a larger doll inside of an even larger doll, and so on?

Yeah. There's a fundamental truth about the nature of the universe, about reality itself, which is like these nesting dolls.

What view is this?

It's the idea that reality consists of nested forms of creativity and intelligence. That is, we have subatomic particles within atoms, atoms within molecules, molecules within cells, cells within organisms, organisms within planets, planets within galaxies. And, at every level, there is an intelligence that the other levels don't have access to. I mean, no matter how smart my kidney cells get, they're never going to fully comprehend the wisdom and intelligence of my body, because they're a part of it.

What does that have to do with God?

If this idea of nested intelligence is a fundamental truth that we can agree on, then what shall we name the ultimate reality, the only form of intelligence that's not a subset of some larger reality or creativity? Traditional names for that ultimate reality have been the Goddess, or God, or Allah, or, as the Greeks refer to it, Kosmos. We realize that we have different names and understandings of this ultimate reality because we're a subset of it.

How does science fit into that view?

If God is a sacred name for the whole of reality, then scientists are empirical theologians -- that is, everything we learn about the nature of reality, we're learning something about the divine.

I want to ask you about your own personal story. For a while, you were an anti-evolutionary fundamentalist. How did that happen?

I was raised a Catholic but then had a born-again experience when I was a teenager, and that's when I became a fundamentalist. I would stand outside where people were teaching about evolution and pass out pamphlets. I used to argue with anybody who thought the world was more than 6,000 years old.

What changed your view?

I embraced evolution for two reasons. One was that most of the faculty at Evangel University, a Christian school where I was a student, believed in evolution. So I couldn't write them off as being demonically possessed. I mean, these were very godly men and women. Another reason was that I met a Buddhist Christian who became my teacher. He literally was the most Christ-like man I've ever encountered. And yet his theology was so liberal. My theology said that he was going to hell, and that I should get him saved, but my heart said, "Ask him to mentor you." So my world expanded. I ended up pastoring three churches over about a decade.

And while I was at my first church, I was introduced to the work of Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme. They wrote the book "The Universe Story," which provides a big-picture history of the cosmos that bridges the gap between science, religion and the humanities. The first night that I heard their message, about 45 minutes to an hour into the program, I had goose bumps up and down my arms, I started to cry and I realized, "Oh, my God, this is what I'm going to spend the rest of my life doing, popularizing this perspective."

After that, I started waking up at 4 a.m. and studying cosmology, biology and evolution, and learning more about how to tell the universe story in a way that reached people.

If you look at what's going on in this country right now, you see fundamentalists working very hard to keep the study of evolution out of the classroom. Does that concern you?

Not really. I see this as normal -- to me, it's right on schedule. Right now, the way evolution is being taught is not meaningful. It's part of the disconnected set of raw scientific facts that don't show people how evolution can connect with their God concepts, with their religion.

Do I wish that creationism be taught in school? No, absolutely not. But it feels like a natural growth process that is going to swing back the other way. We're seeing a conservative backlash, which just completely makes sense to me, given where we are evolutionarily. When you look at the history of evolution, you realize it is constantly filled with setbacks. The things that drive evolutionary creativity and transformation are chaos, breakdowns and bad news.

What do you mean?

The dinosaurs are the biggest, easiest example of what I'm talking about. The world was filled with these amazing, majestic beasts, but their level of intelligence could only go so far. The dinosaurs died out in a major catastrophe, and yet mammals would not have been able to flourish had that not been the case. So, that's an example of chaos -- really bad news catalyzing and allowing for new creative possibilities.

But how much time do we have for creative possibilities? If we don't do something soon about, say, global warming, we're in trouble, right?

Global warming is something that we will not be able to avoid. It will force us to make changes at a faster rate, and on a larger scale, than we ever dreamed possible. But here's the interesting thing: When you look at evolution, complex adaptive systems can respond faster the more complex they are. And human beings, like it or not, are interconnected in some profound and complex ways all over the world. I believe we will make changes in the next 30 to 60 years that we can't even fathom. And it will be the bad news, it will be the stupidity, the chaos, the George Bushes of the world, that end up catalyzing some of that change.

How do you see Bush helping the cause of evolution?

I didn't vote for him, but I thank God for George W. Bush, because he is helping catalyze the rest of the world. I mean, how many millions of people were united for peace for the first time in human history, thanks to George? I have a lot of faith in chaos, especially the more complex we become. Ultimately, I'm not an optimist, because an optimist is somebody who believes that it doesn't matter what we do; things will get better and better. I don't believe that. I'm an ameliorist: I believe that what we do is going to make a huge difference. There is no guarantee one way or the other, but when I look at these long-term and short-term trends, I am very hopeful.

During his far-flung career in journalism, Bay Area writer and editor David Ian Miller has worked as a city hall reporter, personal finance writer, cable television executive and managing editor of a technology news site. His writing credits include Salon.com, Wired News and The New York Observer.

URL: http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/g/a/2005/04/25/findrelig.DTL

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Intelligent design: Who has designs on your students' minds?


Geoff Brumfiel1

Nature 434, 1062-1065 (28 April 2005) | doi: 10.1038/4341062a

Geoff Brumfiel is Nature's Washington physical sciences correspondent.

Top of pageAbstractThe intelligent-design movement is a small but growing force on US university campuses. For some it bridges the gap between science and faith, for others it goes beyond the pale. Geoff Brumfiel meets the movement's vanguard.

For a cold Tuesday night in March, the turnout is surprisingly good. Twenty or so fresh-faced college students are gathered together in a room in the student union at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, the state's largest public university. They are there for the first meeting of Salvador Cordova's Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) club.

"I have a great deal of respect for the scientific method," Cordova tells his attentive audience as he outlines the case for intelligent design. Broadly speaking, he says, the concept is that a divine hand has shaped the course of evolution. The arguments are familiar ones to both advocates and opponents of the idea: some biological systems are too complex, periodic explosions in the fossil record too large, and differences between species too great to be explained by natural selection alone. Cordova who holds three degrees from the university, the most recent one in mathematics argues that the development of life on Earth would be described better if an intelligent creator is added to the mix.

Most scientists overwhelmingly reject the concept of intelligent design. "To me it doesn't deserve any attention, because it doesn't make any sense," says Bruce Alberts, a microbiologist and president of the National Academy of Sciences. "Its proponents say that scientific knowledge is incomplete and that there's no way to bridge the gap except for an intelligent designer, which is sort of saying that science should stop trying to find explanations for things."

But despite researchers' apparent lack of interest, or perhaps because of it, the movement is catching on among students on US university campuses. Much of the interest can be traced to US teenagers, more than three-quarters of whom believe, before they reach university, that God played some part in the origin of humans (see graphic). But others are drawn to the idea out of sheer curiosity.

"Students are in the challenge-authority mode at that time in their life, and I think they're intrigued," says Stephen Meyer, director of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute, the nation's largest intelligent-design think-tank in Seattle, Washington. Since the first IDEA club began at the University of California, San Diego, in 1999, more than 20 chapters have opened on college campuses around the country. In addition, a small number of academics have begun to offer courses on intelligent design (see 'Cast out from class').

Relative unease

Darwinists are divided in their response to the idea's growing profile on campus (see 'Natural divisions'). Many feel that the very presence of intelligent design in universities is legitimizing the movement and eroding the public's perception of science. "Intelligent-design advocates want to split open the public's understanding of science and convince people that you can call on the supernatural for a scientific explanation," warns Barbara Forrest, a philosopher at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond and co-author of Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design.

But others feel that the movement deserves an airing at the university level, even if they oppose its teaching in public schools. "I think that college is a place for experimentation," says Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education, a group based in Oakland, California, that promotes the teaching of evolution in public schools. If intelligent design is gaining ground on college campuses, she adds, then scientists are as much to blame as anyone. "I think college professors can do a better job of teaching evolution," she says.

Back in the student union, Cordova is carefully pointing out what intelligent design can, and can't, do. The concept makes no attempts to verify the creation myth or other major biblical events, such as the flood, he says. Nor does it worry about whether Earth is a few thousand years old, as most creationists believe, or four-and-a-half billion years old, the current geological estimate. Intelligent design, Cordova notes, does not even attempt to prove the type of deity involved, it just points to some sort of supernatural intervention. In other words, he says: "Intelligent design doesn't have any theology to it."

It is that distinction that has helped propel the small community of intelligent-design proponents to the forefront of US politics. In 1987, the US Supreme Court struck down a Louisiana law that mandated teaching 'creation science' in schools because the premise of the research was based on biblical texts. As intelligent design does not draw directly from biblical sources, Christian fundamentalist groups have seized on it as a possible way to force creationism back into the classroom. Last October, a school board in Dover, Pennsylvania,voted to include intelligent design in its local curriculum. And similar plans are now being considered in at least six states including Kansas, Mississippi and Arkansas. These plans include giving teachers new guidelines, and placing stickers on biology textbooks that question the scientific status of evolutionary theory.

Intelligent-design advocates have mixed reactions to the Christian right's support of their work. On the one hand, the movement is largely dependent on funding from wealthy conservative philanthropists. That, according to Meyer, is why a 1999 funding document from the Discovery Institute argued that intelligent design had "reopened the case for a broadly theistic understanding of nature", and would eventually lay the groundwork for a series of debates and legal challenges over what should be taught in America's classrooms.

Although Meyer is willing to promote such perceptions, he concedes that they can cause problems. For intelligent-design researchers who would like to see the concept peer-reviewed and accepted by the scientific community, the politics are frustrating, and potentially dangerous. The political goals associated with intelligent design lead many scientists to reject it outright as little more than creationism in a cheap tuxedo. "Some of the policy proposals that have been made, for example the Dover case, are frankly, from our point of view, distracting," says Meyer. "We want to focus on intelligent design as an emerging research programme."

Even considered on its research merits, scientists mostly agree that intelligent design rests on shaky foundations. For one thing, Alberts points out, the concept often makes its claims based on gaps in the current body of scientific knowledge. "The whole history of science is that these gaps are always filled," he says. For example, one common argument used by intelligent-design advocates is that the bacterial flagellum, a whirling tail that some bacteria use to move around, is too complex to be explained by evolution alone. "I'm quite sure that within a decade or two we'll understand where it came from because we're sequencing more and more bacterial genomes," Alberts says. "But to give up now is totally ridiculous."

Crisis of faith

Perhaps surprisingly, many theologians are equally upset by intelligent design. "The basic problem that I have theologically is that God's activity in the world should be hidden," says George Murphy, a Lutheran theologian, PhD physicist, and author of The Cosmos in the Light of the Cross. Murphy says Lutherans believe that God's primary revelation came through Jesus Christ, and many find it distasteful that additional divine fingerprints should appear in nature. Catholics, for their part, have accepted evolution based on the idea that God could still infuse the natural human form with a soul at some point in the distant past. And even the evangelical Christians who make up the backbone of intelligent design's political supporters sometimes object to its inability to prove whether Christianity is the true religion.

And yet the students listening to Cordova's lecture seem intrigued. Everyone in the room is Christian, and half are working towards degrees in science, medicine or engineering. It seems perfectly natural to them to mix science and faith. Many are also frustrated by the exclusively secular tone of their science classes, and to these students intelligent design offers an appealing alternative that puts God squarely back in the centre of things.

Others, including Cordova himself, arrived at intelligent design from almost the opposite direction. Over a coffee earlier that day, he explains how intelligent design helped him resolve his own spiritual crisis five years ago. Since high school, Cordova had been a devout Christian, but as he studied science and engineering at George Mason, he found his faith was being eroded. "The critical thinking and precision of science began to really affect my ability to just believe something without any tangible evidence," he says. The breaking point came in 2000 when a woman from his Bible study group put her faith before her personal safety travelling to Afghanistan as part of a covert Christian mission in a country that was, at the time, a militant Islamic theocracy. He felt unhappy accepting the promotion of such activities unless he could be sure Christianity was a true faith.

Scientific vacuum

So Cordova turned to his scientific training in the hope of finding answers. "If I could prove even one small part of my faith through purely scientific methods that would be highly satisfying intellectually," he says. He has since read a stack of books on cosmology and intelligent design, and has become a major advocate for the movement representing the idea at public debates, challenging evolutionary theory in online chats and starting clubs at George Mason and several other Virginia colleges.

Cordova's story is more common than many scientists might think, according to Keith Miller, a geologist at Kansas State University in Manhattan who is an evangelical Christian. "I think a lot of students go through a period of being very conflicted about their faith, especially if they have an innate interest in science," Miller says. He knows a number of students who have fallen away from their beliefs as a result of their university experience. "They've so identified their faith with a particular view of what creation means, that it becomes an all-or-nothing kind of thing," he says. "I do think intelligent design offers an alternative, although I would argue it's not a good one."

But university lecturers are rarely able to offer students other alternatives that allow them to reconcile faith and science. Part of the problem has to do with time constraints, says Larry Rockwood, a population ecologist at George Mason. "The pressure is to work with the graduate students, do your research and teach your classes," he says. "What's the reward for working with undergraduate student clubs? Not much."

More fundamentally, most lecturers are unsure of how to handle the concerns of deeply religious students, says Jo Handelsman, a plant pathologist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. "When I talk to these students individually I don't feel it's my place to replace what their families or churches have taught them," she says. "There's a lot of confusion about where the line is, and how much it's OK to offend your students."

Darwinist Eugenie Scott rejects intelligent design on scientific grounds whereas Lutheran George Murphy (above) rejects it for theological reasons.

Scott, who is perhaps the nation's most high-profile Darwinist, is frustrated by the scientific community's inability to grapple with the issue. "The point here is that Americans don't want to be told that God had nothing to do with it," she says. "And that's the way the intelligent-design people present evolution." Scientists need to do a better job of explaining that science makes no attempt to describe the supernatural and so has no inherent conflict with religion, she argues. "College professors need to be very aware of how they talk about things such as purpose, chance, cause and design," she says. "You should still be sensitive to the kids in your class."

Back at George Mason, Cordova is wrapping up his lecture, and planning his next steps for promoting intelligent design on campus. According to a survey he commissioned from the Campus Freethinkers an atheist student group 75% of students would be interested in taking a course on intelligent design if it were offered. Cordova says he hopes the poll will help convince college administrators to offer such a course. "I would love to see an intelligent-design class on one of these campuses," he says. "I don't want to indoctrinate the students; I would just like them to get to know the theory."

As for his personal future, Cordova adds that he would like to continue pursuing a career in science. Next year, he plans to apply to study cosmology at graduate school.

Teaching of evolution is a hot-button issue again for Kansas school board




Students in Lisa Volland's advanced biology class examine flowers, lemons and corn under the microscope, pondering how the plants evolved over time to improve their chances of survival.

Volland, who teaches at Topeka West High School, does not discuss the biblical story of creation or "intelligent design," just "the big E-word," as she jokingly calls it.

"I don't think you can talk about living organisms without talking about evolution," she said. "We don't talk about religion."

Classrooms such as Volland's have come under scrutiny - again - in Kansas' ever-changing debate over the teaching of evolution.

Discussion could heat up over the coming weeks, with Kansas' State Board of Education expected to revise its science standards in June.

In 1999, the board deleted most references to evolution in the standards, bringing international ridicule and wisecracks from the late-night comedians. Elections the next year made the board less conservative, resulting in the current standards describing evolution as a key concept for students to learn.

Last year's elections gave conservatives a majority again, 6-4. A subcommittee plans six days of hearings in May, and advocates of intelligent design plan to put more than 20 witnesses on the stand to critique evolution.

National and state science organizations plan to boycott the hearings, saying they are going to be rigged in favor of intelligent design.

"We are concerned that the hearings will be an attempt to give scientific credibility to a nonscientific concept," said Alan Leshner, the chief executive of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Evolution says that 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 that there is evidence that the universe was designed by a higher power.

At a minimum, conservative groups such as the Discovery Institute want to see science lessons in Kansas include more criticism of evolution.

"We don't think any textbook is good in presenting the scientific weaknesses," said John West of the Discovery Institute, which is based in Seattle.

Scientists say they fear that it will open the door eventually to incorporating intelligent design and creationism.

Similar debates have happened in the past few years in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Ohio's state school board adopted lesson plans last year that were praised by supporters of intelligent design.

Ginkgo beneficial for multiple sclerosis symptoms, OHSU study


28 Apr 2005

When it comes to her health, Janice Winfield of Portland, Ore., does her research.

That's why the stay-at-home mom, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in July 2000, was willing to turn to popular, over-the-counter herbal supplements like ginkgo biloba to deal with memory problems, fatigue and occasional muscle pain.

"I'm definitely interested in alternative medicine," said Winfield, 49, whose form of the neurological disease - relapsing-remitting MS - is characterized by frequent symptom flare-ups. Ginkgo "is not only given to someone like me with MS. There's benefit to anyone taking it."

Findings by scientists in the Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine's Department of Neurology and the OHSU MS Center of Oregon appear to back up that claim. A study presented this month at the American Academy of Neurology's 57th Annual Meeting in Miami Beach, Fla., suggests that ginkgo may be effective in improving attention in MS patients with cognitive impairment. Side effects also were minimal.

The study's lead author, Jesus Lovera, M.D., a research fellow and instructor in neurology, OHSU School of Medicine, said those receiving ginkgo "performed better on a test that measures a person's ability to pay attention and to sort conflicting information."

Of 39 patients completing the study, 20 received ginkgo biloba and 19 received placebo. Researchers found there were no differences in results between the two groups in the areas of gender, education, type of MS, years since onset, or baseline performance on a battery of neuropsychological tests.

But the ginkgo group was four seconds - about 13 percent - faster than the placebo group on a timed color and word test that measures attention and such "executive functions" as planning, decision making, and controlling goal-directed behavior and execution of deliberate actions.

During the test, called a "Stroop," patients are shown colored boxes and asked to name the colors. They are then shown the names of colors printed with different-colored inks, such as the word "green" printed in red, and asked to read the word. Finally, patients are asked to describe the ink used for each word.

Lovera said the differences in the Stroop result would be comparable to differences in scores between healthy people ages 30 to 39 and those ages 50 to 59.

Ginkgo appeared to be more beneficial for MS patients having specific problems in the Stroop, so "we would like to do another study in which we choose patients that are impaired in this particular test," Lovera said. "We would also like to test it at higher doses."

Ginko biloba is among several complementary and alternative medicine therapies being investigated by OHSU's Department of Neurology for their effects on symptoms of neurological disease. Studies have ranged from clinical trials of lactoferrin for treating Alzheimer's disease to the use of yoga as a therapy for MS fatigue.

Ginkgo is derived from the leaves of the ginkgo tree, one of the oldest species of trees, and has been used for thousands of years by the Chinese as an herbal remedy for a variety of ailments. It contains potent antioxidants called flavoglycosides that have been shown to have neuroprotective effects in animal models of spinal cord injury. It also has terpene-lactones that block a substance known as platelet activitating factor, which is important in regulating blood vessel function as well as the mediating inflammation and the sticking of inflammatory cells to blood vessels.

Many MS patients have long suspected that ginkgo improves disease symptoms. In a recent survey of 1,913 patients in Oregon, 20 percent reported using the supplement and 39 percent found it to be beneficial. However, until now, there was no evidence the supplement had any effect on memory.

"It has been shown to be of benefit in Alzheimer's, but we did not know if it would work for MS," Lovera said. "We wanted to see if there was any suggestion that it could help patients with MS that are having cognitive problems."

Lovera said the study results demonstrate that ginkgo shouldn't be discounted for treating MS, but its safety and efficacy must be tested in much larger clinical trials before doctors should recommend it to their patients.

"The study suggests that for cognitive problems, it may only help a certain group of patients," he said. "We need to study this further."

And for MS sufferers like Winfield, who participated in the ginkgo study, the herbal supplement will remain one of the many weapons in her arsenal for fighting the disease.

"I would do it again," she said of taking ginkgo. "It could have a benefit for me that I didn't have before." But she emphasizes that "every MS is different, so what might work for me may not work for anybody else. But when it comes to alternative medicine, I'm all for that."

The study was supported by the National MS Society, the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Nancy Davis Center Without Walls.

To access all OHSU news releases, visit http://www.ohsu.edu/news

Contact: Jonathan Modie
Oregon Health & Science University

There is No "Alternative" to Science-Based Medicine

April 2005

Dear Friend of the Center for Inquiry,

As you probably know, science and reason are under attack in virtually every area of society. Nowhere is this more dangerous than in matters of public health.

The Center for Inquiry is dedicated to free and scientific inquiry. You share these goals and you are likely to be as worried over the epidemic of irrationalism, pseudoscience, and quackery that is invading medicine and mental health practices as we are. Now you can do something about it.

Former New England Journal of Medicine editors Marcia Angell, M.D., and Jerome Kassirer, M.D., said, "It is time for the scientific community to stop giving alternative medicine a free ride. There cannot be two kinds of medicine -- conventional and alternative. There is only medicine that has been adequately tested and medicine that has not, medicine that works and medicine that may or may not work."

On April 14, defenders of science-based medicine suffered another major setback when a U.S. District Court in Utah overruled the Food and Drug Administration's decision to ban the sale of potentially deadly herbal remedies that contain the powerful stimulant ephedrine. After collecting a decade of evidence linking ephedra-containing supplements to more than 150 deaths, the FDA banned these products as a danger to the public. Despite this evidence, the court ruled that federal law prohibits the FDA from banning a dietary supplement based on weighing its risks against its benefits.

Many hospitals and medical centers have jumped on the lucrative alternative and complimentary-medicine bandwagon to offer therapies that aren't supported by scientific evidence, while medical schools are integrating irrational and pseudoscientific practices into their curricula.

The mental health fields are also in crisis. The public's perception of mental health practice is shaped far more today by self-help books, radio psychologists, and sensational media stories of dramatic "cures" than by objective scientific evaluations. Self- proclaimed gurus are often heralded in the mass media, even though their treatments have not been submitted to scientific study.

In response to this alarming epidemic of antiscience in medicine and mental health practice, CFI established the Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health (CSMMH) in November 2003. The Commission began by taking over sponsorship of the CFI's two peer-reviewed publications, The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine (SRAM) and The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice (SRMHP).

Click here to learn about current projects of CSMMH --
http://ga1.org/ct/71Lj5hF1Vq50/ -- and future plans --

It's time to start holding alternative medicine accountable. You can help stop the erosion of the scientific foundations of medicine and mental health practices. We are outmanned, outgunned, and clearly out-funded.

Demonstrate your concern by joining us and making the most generous contribution that you can to support our investigations, programs, and publications. We need to keep health care practitioners and YOU (the public) informed of the danger of "New Age" therapies now flooding the market.

It's easy and so important. Just click here to learn how you can make a gift that will truly make a difference -- http://ga1.org/ct/u1Lj5hF1Vq5R/ -- or feel free to mail a donation to us at: CSMMH, Center for Inquiry, P.O. Box 741, Amherst, NY 14226. Or, if you prefer, call us at 1-800-335-1095 and speak to us about additional giving opportunities. However you decide to give, please do so today, so we can continue to make a difference tomorrow.

Thank you very much for all your past, present, and future support.

With best regards,

Andrew Skolnick
Executive Director
Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health

P.S. -- We are a non-profit receiving no government funding ... our main source of income comes from informed and interested people like you.

For other examples of how the public is being endangered by alternative medicine, click here -- http://ga1.org/ct/7pLj5hF1Vq5Q/

Click here to learn more about the threat to mental health -- http://ga1.org/ct/77Lj5hF1Vq5P/

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Kansas Board Taking Up Evolution Debate


The Associated Press
Tuesday, April 26, 2005; 2:49 PM


TOPEKA, Kan. -- Students in Lisa Volland's advanced biology class examine flowers, lemons and corn under the microscope, pondering how the plants evolved over time to improve their chances of survival.

The Topeka West High School teacher does not discuss the biblical story of creation or "intelligent design," just "the big e-word," as she jokingly calls it.

"I don't think you can talk about living organisms without talking about evolution," she said. "We don't talk about religion."

Classrooms like Volland's have come under scrutiny _ again _ in Kansas' seesawing battle between left and right over the teaching of evolution.

The battle could heat up over the coming weeks, with Kansas' State Board of Education expected to revise its science standards in June.

In 1999, the board deleted most references to evolution in the standards, bringing international ridicule and wisecracks from the late-night comedians. Elections the next year made the board less conservative, resulting in the current standards describing evolution as a key concept for students to learn.

Last year's elections gave conservatives a majority again, 6-4. A subcommittee plans six days of hearings in May, and advocates of intelligent design plan to put nearly two dozen witnesses on the stand to critique evolution.

National and state science organizations plan to boycott the hearings, contending they are going to be rigged in favor of intelligent design.

"We are concerned that the hearings will be an attempt to give scientific credibility to a nonscientific concept," said Alan Leshner, chief executive of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Evolution 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 that the universe was designed by some kind of higher power.

At a minimum, conservative groups like the Discovery Institute want to see science lessons in Kansas include more criticism of evolution.

"We don't think any textbook is good in presenting the scientific weaknesses," said John West of the Seattle-based organization.

Scientists fear that that will open the door eventually to incorporating intelligent design and creationism.

Similar battles have been waged in the past few years in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Ohio's state school board adopted lesson plans last year that were praised by intelligent design supporters.

Some Kansans are uneasy about evolution because of their religious faith and want to see alternatives given equal time in the classroom.

"Students ought to be given the opportunity to hear both sides," said Angel Dillard, the mother of two Wichita girls.

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

In Volland's Topeka district, for example, little or nothing is said about creationism and intelligent design in biology classes.

Similarly, at Blue Valley Northwest High in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, teachers do not have to mention alternative theories, but biology teacher Jeremy Mohn did so anyway this spring, in addition to spending a month talking about evolution, including why peacocks have long tails.

At Topeka West High, Stephanie Bailey, a 14-year-old who previously attended a Lutheran school, is skeptical of evolution, particularly the notion that man and other animals have common ancestors. "Scientists don't have all the answers," she said.

But Emily Hane, a 17-year-old in Volland's class, said: "If you don't understand evolution, you don't really understand biology."

In any case, she said, creationism has, in fact, come up in school _ in history class, when the topic was the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, in which a Dayton, Tenn., teacher was convicted of teaching evolution.

"We're being exposed to ideas other than evolution," Hane said.

On the Net:

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

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

New entry for SKEPTIC Bibliography (Ronson: Goats)


The Men Who Stare At Goats

Jon Ronson


2005, Simon & Schuster; 272p.

"This is a true story." That is the first line in the book, and it is an entirely necessary one. The rest of the book is just too weird to be believed, and is worth many laughs. But each laugh is sad, for Ronson details goony beliefs among those in power, those whom the government is paying to do our will. They feel that "America, the great superpower, needed to be defended by people who actually had superpowers." Ronson has met with many of these warriors, found some who wanted to tell their stories and even brag about them, and with wonderful reportorial detachment has laid out the results. If you have an ounce of common sense, you will be dismayed to learn that our taxes are going to military and intelligence officials who are making sincere attempts to walk through walls, turn invisible, stop an animal's heart by just staring at it, warp brains by subliminal stimulation, and more. The waste is stupid enough, but Ronson shows how the doctrines have been part of the reason for the debacles at Waco and Abu Ghraib.

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

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

Taner Edis, SKEPTIC bibliographer

Monday, April 25, 2005

Paul Z. Myers: Pseudoscience would waste teaching time


Paul Z. Myers
April 24, 2005 MYERS0424

Intelligent design (ID) has failed to meet even the minimal standards of evidence and scholarship we should expect of the science we teach our children. Teaching it steals time from more vital subjects in which our kids should be grounded.

Science is a conservative process. Most college-level introductory textbooks contain only material that has stood the test of time and has been confirmed independently.

ID proponents have not only failed to provide any evidence for their thesis, they aren't even trying. There are no labs doing research on this subject; all the papers the Discovery Institute has tried to publish are exercises in spin, in which they try to distort biology researchers' work to fit their preconceptions.

With no established body of results, no current work and no promising prospects for future research, why should ID be supported? It's a dead end. It is absurd to propose that our kids learn about a subject that no legitimate scientists are pursuing and that has no utility.

With no track record to earn the respect of scientists and educators, ID is attempting to circumvent the accepted standards of testing and validation to sneak into our schoolrooms -- it's cheating.

It takes a great deal of hard work and persistence and time and evidence to establish a scientific idea, work that should not be shirked by taking the easy route and asking the government to legislate a concept into the schoolrooms.

Yet this is exactly the strategy ID proponents are following: spreading propaganda to persuade school boards and state education departments to insert the ideological dogma of ID into classrooms.

Contrast ID with how legitimate scientific work gets into the curriculum. There is an active ferment of new ideas, new experiments, and new evidence constantly bubbling up in the scientific literature. Many controversies work themselves out in the pages of Nature or Science or other journals, and prompt hypothesis testing and the gathering of new evidence.

If an idea is well-supported by the evidence, it gains wider currency within the scientific community, and eventually works its way into the science textbooks. Biology books are written by biologists, not by the hodge-podge of lawyers, philosophers, theologians, rhetoricians and rare scientists willing to abandon scientific principles found in the ID movement.

Textbook content should accurately reflect the general opinion of the scientists who do real work in a field.

And what is the state of modern evolutionary biology? Thriving, growing and more productive than ever. In paleontology within the last year, we've had the amazing discoveries of Homo floresiensis, the Indonesian "hobbit," and remarkable finds from Dmanisi, Georgia.

The human genome project, and genome projects analyzing other organisms, has been yielding research dividends. We are beginning to tease apart the genetic differences that make human brains different from those of chimpanzees.

Molecular studies of protists are revealing the roots of multicellularity. We study oncogenes, genes that when damaged can cause cancers in humans. Epidemiologists study looming disease threats, such as bird flu and the Marburg virus, using evolutionary principles.

My own discipline of developmental biology has been revolutionized in the last few decades as we've embraced evolution more fully than before; new papers in the rapidly growing field of evo-devo, or evolutionary developmental biology, pile up on my desk faster than I can read them.

This is a genuinely exciting time to be studying biology. When students ask me about the hot fields that promise great careers, I steer them toward evo-devo (and developmental biology in general), bioinformatics, proteomics and genomics, all fields in which knowledge of evolution is indispensable.

Note that I do not and cannot recommend anything to do with ID, whose proponents spend their time lobbying school boards, producing nothing new, and with no promise of new ideas for the future.

I want my incoming students to be well versed in the fundamentals of biology, which includes evolution but not the pseudoscience of ID, so that we can move to the real excitement of modern biology ... which is almost entirely informed by the concepts of evolution.

Paul Z. Myers is an associate professor of biology at the University of Minnesota-Morris. He also operates a science-oriented blog, pharyngula.org.

Evolution debate hits Gull Lake schools


Sunday, April 24, 2005

Ann Arbor law center may sue unless teachers are allowed to include alternative to Darwin.

By Tim Martin / Associated Press

LANSING -- A Christian-oriented law center says it may sue Gull Lake Community Schools unless two middle school science teachers are allowed to include an alternative to Darwin's theory of evolution.

The specific theory involved is called "intelligent design," which holds the universe is so complex it must have been created by an unspecified higher power. Critics say that is a secular version of creationism, which regards God as the creator of life. They say teaching the theory in public schools violates the separation of church and state.

The Ann Arbor-based Thomas More Law Center says that for two years teachers Dawn Wendzel and Julie Olson included intelligent design theory in seventh-grade classes that also featured Darwin's evolution theory. But this school year, the center says, the district superintendent ordered the teachers to stop teaching intelligent design.

Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of Thomas More, said Thursday that violates academic freedom to teach and students' right to learn about controversy over evolution theory. He wrote a letter to the district's school board last week and said he will go court if the district does not respond or take action by Thursday.

The center has said comparing intelligent design to Darwin's theory pits science against science, not religion.

"Just because a theory happens to be harmonious with religion does not make the theory unconstitutional," Thompson said.

The American Civil Liberties Union disagreed in a lawsuit filed last year against a school district in Dover, Pa. The center also is defending the Pennsylvania district.

The science of design


Sunday, April 24, 2005

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

Intelligent design (ID) is grounded on the observation that the world looks very much as if it had an intelligent source. The late Nobel laureate Francis Crick, co-discoverer of DNA's structure and an outspoken critic of religion, remarked, "Biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed but rather evolved."

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

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

ID theorists contend that living organisms like the cell appear designed because they are designed. And they've developed rigorous new concepts to test their idea.

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

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

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

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

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

To see how this applies to biology, consider the little outboard motor that bacteria such as E. coli use to navigate their environment. This water-cooled contraption, called a flagellum, comes equipped with a reversible engine, drive shaft, U-joint and a long whip-like propeller. It hums along at a cool 17,000 rpm. And flagellum is integrated into a sensory/guidance system that maneuvers the bacterium toward nutrients and away from noxious chemicals a system so complex that computer simulation is required to understand it in its entirety. That system is meshed with other systems.

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

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

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

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

Of course, what's important here is not what we conclude about the flagellum or the cell, but how we study it. Calling design theorists religious is just a cheap way to dodge the issues. The public and our students deserve better than that.

Mark Hartwig has a Ph.D. in educational psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara, specializing in statistics and research design. He was an early organizer of the intelligent design movement.

Cochise College Geology Home Page


Roger Weller, geology instructor

copyright 2005-R.Weller

Geology Educational Resources

"Geology is an intensely visual science." Click here for Photo of the Month

Educators may wish to use the following photo collections with a multimedia projector in place of showing slides. All sites are best viewed with Internet Explorer.

If you ever get lost on these web pages, just click on "Geology Home Page". Number of photos: 3768 Last edited: 4/17/05 Number of organized links: 10,000+ Sites with some Spanish translations are indicated by # sign.

Textbook bill aimed at teaching creationism, too


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

Student offers compatability theory


Your voice: Dennis Furia

After reading Richard Cohen's column "Odd, sad fight over evolution continues," (April 13) it has become apparent to me that many myths and misunderstandings are being allowed to prevail in the creationism vs. evolution issue. Several of the subjects in his article are either mis- or half-represented.

First off, all of the many aspects of evolution, adaptation, and natural selection have been lumped under the vague phrase "evolution," giving rise to the myth that creationism stands in opposition to evolution. This is not true. Evolution within a species (that is a species adapting to its surroundings through survival of the fittest) is supported by science and fits well into creationism. However, species to species evolution (i.e. cows evolved into manatees and reptiles evolved into birds) finds little to no grounding in science. The genetic complexity and blind chance required for species to species evolution to occur on even the smallest scale makes it highly improbable, if not imposable. This is the form of evolution that creationism justifiably refutes.

The second area in which creationism and evolution contradict is the origin of the universe. Mr. Cohen suggests several times in his article that the respective theories are compatible or even "all the same" and wonders "that many Americans do not accept evolution at all." This again is a baseless simplification of the truth. Science does nothing to disprove a created universe; in fact it sometimes suggests a divine presence. On the other hand, many evolutionary theories on the origin of the universe are shaky at best under scrutiny. (I challenge readers to type in "disproving the Big Bang" on Google. You may be surprised.)

Finally, Mr. Cohen makes acknowledging creationism in public schools sound like an affront to education. This is not true. Creationism is well based in science and does not deserve to be completely ignored. To Mr. Cohen's statement that the proposals to acknowledge creationism are "nothing less than proposals to inject religion into the curriculum," I would say that teaching creationism "injects" religion no more than teaching evolution "injects" atheism. These proposals do not "force" religion into the curriculum, they simply advocate a balanced look at theories that carry equal weight.

I have merely brushed the many common misunderstandings that surround the issue of creationism vs. evolution, and I encourage readers to look into it for themselves. Many arguments for both sides can be accessed through the Internet or at libraries.

Dennis Furia is a junior at Mason High School.


House Committee to Hear Bill Testimony on Tuesday (April 26)

April 25, 2005

AUSTIN - A lawmaker's comments reported this weekend reveal that the true purpose of legislation before a House committee this week is to permit State Board of Education members to edit textbooks for political and personal reasons, the president of the Texas Freedom Network said today.

"The agenda behind these bills is out in the open for all to see now," TFN President Kathy Miller said. "State board members should not be allowed to change textbook content based on their personal beliefs. Otherwise, the 'facts' our children learn will simply change with whatever majority controls the board."

A Fort Worth Star-Telegram article on Saturday noted concerns that the bills would permit the SBOE to require any textbook changes a majority demands, such as removing discussions of evolution from biology textbooks. A sponsor of one bill, Rep. Charlie Howard, R-Sugar Land, acknowledged that his clear intent is to allow personal beliefs to influence textbook content.

"I don't believe in evolution - I believe in creation," Rep. Howard told the Star-Telegram. "Some of our books right now only teach evolution, [but] if you're going to teach one, you ought to teach both." The House Public Education Committee will hear testimony on two textbook bills on Tuesday (April 26): H.B. 220 by Rep. Howard and H.B. 2534 by Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa. Those bills and H.B. 973 by Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, would allow state board members to change textbook content for a number of reasons, such as correcting "errors of omission or commission" and "viewpoint discrimination."

The Legislature voted in 1995 to limit board authority over textbook content. That vote came one year after the SBOE demanded that publishers make more than 1,100 changes to new health textbooks. Legally, the board may today review textbooks to ensure only that the books conform to state curriculum standards, are free of factual errors and meet manufacturing requirements. Even so, the SBOE has often ignored the law. In 2001 the SBOE rejected the only proposed advanced placement environmental science textbook, criticizing it as "anti-Christian" and "anti-Western." Board members tried unsuccessfully in 2003 to water down the discussion of evolution in biology textbooks by including information about a religious concept known as "intelligent design." The board has also targeted social studies, health and other textbooks for censorship. "The State Board of Education has often demonstrated that, given the opportunity, it will edit and reject textbooks based on the personal beliefs of the majority," Miller said. "Yet these bills lift any legal limits that protect our schoolchildren from censorship."

It is not too late to testify against these bad textbook bills. Contact Heather Alden for more info. Call 512-322-0545 or heather@tfn.org.

The Texas Freedom Network advances a mainstream agenda of religious freedom and individual liberties to counter the radical right.

To make a donation, go to www.tfn.org/donate/

To subscribe to TFN News Clips, Alerts or Action Teams, use the form at www.tfn.org/subscribe/. Subscribers may choose to receive News Clips on a daily or a weekly basis.

To unsubscribe, send an e-mail to tfn@tfn.org.

Texas Freedom Network
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