NTS LogoSkeptical News for 5 July 2005

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings


Tuesday, July 05, 2005

How Quantum Physics Can Teach Biologists About Evolution

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/05/science/05essa.html

By CORNELIA DEAN
Published: July 5, 2005

In the fall of 1900, a young German physicist, Max Planck, began making calculations about the glow emitted by objects heated to high temperature. In retrospect, it seems like a small-bore problem, just the task to give a young scientist at the beginning of his career.

But if the question sounds minor, Planck's answer was not. His work led him to discover a new world, the bizarre realm of quantum mechanics, where matter is both a particle and a wave and where the predictable stability of Newton gives way to probabilistic uncertainty.

As Dennis Overbye of The New York Times once put it in these pages, Planck had grasped "a loose thread that when tugged would eventually unravel the entire fabric of what had passed for reality."

Physicists reeled. But physics survived. And once they got over their shock, scientists began testing Planck's ideas with observation and experiment, work that eventually produced computer chips, lasers, CAT scans and a host of other useful technologies - all made possible through our new understanding of the way the world works.

Biologists might do well to keep Planck in mind as they confront creationism and "intelligent design" and battle to preserve the teaching of evolution in public schools.

Usually, when confronting the opponents of evolution, biologists make the case that evolution should be taught because it is true.

They cite radiocarbon dating to show that Earth is billions of years old, not a few thousand years old, as some creationists would have it. Biologists cite research on microbes, or the eye, or the biology of the cell to shoot down arguments that life is so "irreducibly complex" that only a supernatural force or agent could have called it into being, as intelligent designers would have it.

And when scientists named Steve (hundreds of them by now) decided to advance the cause of evolution in the classroom and honor the evolutionary theorist Stephen Jay Gould by forming "Project Steve," the T-shirts they printed said in part, "Evolution is a vital, well-supported, unifying principle of the biological sciences, and the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the idea that all living things share a common ancestry."

The battling biologists are right. But someone uneducated in the scientific method who listens to the arguments over evolution could be forgiven for thinking that they boil down to "my theory is better than your theory," with both sides preaching with theological fervor.

Scientists don't talk often enough or loud enough about the real strength of evolution - not that it is correct, but that it meets the definition of science.

It's not that they ignore the idea - the National Center for Science Education, sponsor of Project Steve, makes the point on its Web site, and organizations like the American Association for the Advancement of Science do, too. But biologists do not emphasize it as they might.

Science looks to explain nature through nature (the works of God rather than the words of God, as Darwin himself is said to have put it), and its predictions can be tested by observation and experimentation.

Scientists form hypotheses, devise ways to test them, analyze the data that they collect and then decide whether the results support or undermine their hypotheses.

This process has produced centuries of useful knowledge and fascinating discovery.

But it is messy, a mixed-up dance of two steps forward, one step back; dud ideas; blind alleys; and things that turn out to be not exactly what they seemed.

So it is hardly surprising that in the decades since Darwin developed the ideas he outlined in "The Origin of Species," other biologists have suggested modifications or new ideas about this or that aspect of his great idea. Still other researchers, making their own observations or conducting other experiments, have refuted them or tried to.

For example, biologists argue about the degree to which evolution moves smoothly or progresses in fits and starts, a Gould-ian theory called punctuated equilibrium. This intellectual turmoil is not evidence of the weakness of the evolutionary thinking, as some critics have said. It is proof of the robustness of the scientific method.

And if this messy process were to produce an alternative to evolution that better explains nature and better meets the tests of experiment and observation, biologists would have to revise their ideas or even scrap them.

That would be a stunning shock, comparable to the shock that swept physics in the post-Planck decades of the 20th century. But biology would deal with it. And whoever initiated this shock would be at least as big a figure in biology as Planck is in physics.

"The supposed 'data contradicting evolution' do not exist," a Steve, Dr. Steve Rissing, a biologist at Ohio State University, said in an e-mail message.

But if they did, Dr. Rissing added, "I sure would want to be the scientist publishing them. Think of it - the covers of Nature and Science, and Newsweek and Time, too!"

It is evolution's acceptance of nature as the only true scientific authority and its capacity to fall in the face of a more effective explanation that make evolution science, far more than its mere correctness.

That is the difficulty faced by advocates of creationism and intelligent design. It is possible to believe in evolution and believe in God. Plenty of biologists do. But their deity is not a creator or intelligent agent at work in the material world in ways that transcend nature and its laws. That would be a matter of faith, not science.

Torkelson: Scientology pitches its message

http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/news_columnists/article/0,1299,DRMN_86_3902577,00.html

July 4, 2005

Lylas Klasen grasped the two steel rollers and concentrated hard. Beside her, the pointer on a meter flew upward.

"I'm thinking of my daughter Naomi, who's a single mom," she explained to the earnest fellow hovering over the meter. "Of course, she's always in my thoughts."

Klasen, a Minnesota pastor's wife and mother of seven, had just experienced the electro- psychometer - the E-meter - a tool used by the Church of Scientology to measure stress. The fellow monitoring the meter was Becket Welles, 34, a Los Angeles-based Scientologist leading a national tour that stopped in Denver recently.

Klasen's stress over her daughter registered pretty high on the E-meter, so Welles produced a parenting book she might buy, and - indicating he didn't want to pressure her - said she could "feel free to look around." In the tent, 16th Street Mall strollers browsed through Scientology material, grasped E-meters or took part in a "touch assist" - a light touching method designed to pinpoint discomfort areas.

Scientology has been touring the U.S. since early 2004, and in coming months you'll see Colorado Scientologists pitching yellow tents around the metro area. (The next stop is July 23; for details call 303-789-7668.)

Volunteer ministers, as they're called, give E-meter stress tests, sell books and tapes, and answer questions about Scientology, the system developed 51 years ago by science fiction writer and renaissance man L. Ron Hubbard.

Local spokeswoman Patty Allread said it's part of an ongoing campaign to "address man as a spiritual being and giving people tools in their real lives to improve their conditions."

The stream of visitors last week (180 per day, Welles said) suggests a lot of folks are looking for improvement. The Klasens, in town for a Christian pastors conference, were strolling down the mall Saturday when Tom Klasen, under great pressure over a new job and his recently diagnosed Parkinson's disease, saw the "stress test" sign and suggested they stop in.

Only after browsing awhile did Scientology's role become clear. Then Klasen groaned good naturedly and said, "Oh no, what did I get us into?"

Scientologists hope folks will say, "a better life." In 1993, Scientology won a 39-year fight to be recognized as a tax-exempt church and now cultivates a missionary spirit. Disasters such as tsunamis and forest fires? Scientologists soon follow in the relief efforts.

Allread protested when I asked if the heightened social activism was intended to counteract longstanding images of Scientology as an esoteric cult society that attracts lawsuits and investigations, not to mention Hollywood stars such as John Travolta and Tom Cruise.

"We don't need to change our image; we're doing what we do," she said, but later added, "We are successfully debunking a false rumor about ourselves."

Today's Scientology? "It's practical, dealing with how do you address life," she said. Formulas for dealing with life traumas involve communication - "the solvent of any situation."

The helpful, everyman approach seems to work. Steven Smith, a passerby who stopped for the E-meter test, chuckled, "I think they're kind of looked at like a cult, but they haven't asked me for my new car or anything."

Mischievously, Smith held up a few Scientology books, adding, "I bought a couple of these."

torkelsonj@RockyMountainNews.com or 303-892-5055

Creationism, Supernova, & the Fate of the Universe

http://ds.redstate.org/story/2005/7/4/04856/95219

By: DS · Section: Diaries

Often lost in the cynicism of politics, it's all too easy to grow frustrated. This fine evening can I interest you in taking stock of some of the hopeful qualities in mankind? This story begins a long time ago, when a few clans of homo sapiens barely a few thousand strong living in Africa still shared their blue planet with Neandertals in ice-age Europe. The tale starts in a galaxy far, far, away, from those savannas, where a brash young star was paying the price for a life led too fast and too furious. The mighty sun had burned it's precious nuclear fuel with reckless abandon, shining more brightly than a thousand less well endowed stars, but the glory was fleeting. Working down the familiar hierarchy of increasingly heavier elements, the ruthless force of gravity finally conspired with atomic physics to put an end to the giant's gluttonous ways in a final cataclysm that would serve as both gravestone and funeral pyre. Jul 4th, 2005: 00:48:56, Rated: 1.00/2

The death notice would thread its way past other stars and planets, through dust clouds and softly glowing nebula, for ages. By the time the expanding edge of that ancient shockwave found the earth, those first modern humans had eliminated their less fortunate hominid cousins, and spread all over the globe. The signal, when it did finally arrive, would open a window on the universe we would not have imagined even a few short decades before, let alone have forseen in the late Pleistocene.

Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight ...

Colin Henshaw wasn't thinking about biology or anthropology, and certainly not about creationism, on a crisp night in 1987. The debate between science and religious fundamentalism was likely the furthest thing from his mind. The amateur astronomer was simply doing what he loved to do; admiring the stars. He was a teacher in Africa who lacked the expensive equipment of the professional, and he had never had a chance to run a proper observatory as had been his childhood dream, but what he lacked in money and formal training he made up for in passion, self education, and drive.

That fateful evening, looking at a faint hazy splotch in the southern hemisphere long known to astronomers as the Large Magellanic Cloud, a mere puff of stars hanging high above the blazing disk of the proud Milky Way, Henshaw saw something while peering through a modest pair of binoculars. Shining conspicuously in the dim nebula was a brilliant, blue-white, diamond point, so intense it almost hurt his eyes; and it hadn't been there before. Almost sheepishly he called up a local observatory. It's probably no big deal he told them, but maybe if they hadn't looked at it, they could check it out?

... Within a few hours of reporting the oddity, billions of dollars of the most hi-tech hardware from all over the planet as well as in space were trained on that tiny region. Lo and behold, there lay one of the most stunningly splendid and violent showcases of raw destruction our cosmos can present. And while the light fell silently on delicate instruments, the treasure those spectral rays had escorted through the trackless depths of space spoke volumes; as surely as the light was soundless, it was met by the staccato popping of champagne corks and loud clapping in observatories the world over. Super Nova 1987A had arrived, the nearest one recorded by humans in a millennium, and soon astronomy would never again be the same.

"How do you know how old the universe is; where you there?"

Well, in a word; Yes. Because of the finite speed of light, we have at our disposal a relativistic time machine. The time machine won't let us travel into the past, but we can observe the past directly through the portal it provides. And in terms of how physics treats those observations, when we look at a distant object, we're not just looking back in time, with respect to that image, we are back in time, space-time that is!

So, perhaps the easiest argument to make against YEC is the astronomical one. Let's examine how robust this one small part of the picture is ...

This ringed celestial jewel is the remnant of Super Nova 1987A. (The image was taken by Mr. Hubble's Space Telescope.) A super nova is the most dramatically explosive ending a star can hope for. For a few days after a large star goes nova, it can outshine the other billion plus stars in its galaxy! The doomed progenitor which gave birth to the remnant was a blue-white supergiant catalogued as SK-69 202, and is/was located in the Large Magellanic Cloud or LMC. The LMC is the nearest galaxy to our own Milky Way. The nova was seen in 1987, and was thus christened SN1987A, "SN" for supernova, and "A" meaning the first of the year.

As you can see SN1987A has two offset double rings of faint material, and a single, bright ring called the primary gas ring. This thing is not static! That material in the rings is moving outward at a rate of 6 million miles per hour. So fast, that even from our galaxy we can see it move and change over a few months. The reddish object in the center is the surviving core of heavy matter where the actual star once shone. What's important for Young Earth Creationism is that the primary gas ring allows us to do a beautiful thing; we can directly calculate the distance of the object from our solar system using simple triangulation.

That distance is 168,000 light years. Which incidentally is a good thing, because if an event of this magnitude were to occur only a few light years away from our sun, the resulting wave of heat and radiation would probably cook off most of the air and water on earth! We also know the light from 1987A has not slowed down significantly during transit because if it had, among other enormous problems for particle physics, events on 1987A would be in 'slow motion' and they're not.

SK-69 202 blew up 168,000 years ago. It doesn't sound like much to those of us who read of geological eras and the tenures of dinosaurs or mammals, does it? But 168,000 years neatly covers most of the entire history of our species on earth. When the blue-white giant SK 202 cut loose, mitochondrial Eve had yet to walk the earth, to lend every living human today their unique genetic heritage. The first crude cave wall drawing in charcoal was a hundred thousand years in the future. Not a single piece of jewelry had, as yet, been crafted.

It's also about 160,000 years before Young Earth Creationism claims the universe existed. Simply put we know the universe is older than 6,000 - 10,000 years, because in 1987 we observed the light of a super nova which actually occurred in 166,000 BC. And Super Nova 1987A is only one of many billions of objects we can observe which utterly refutes any possibility of Young Earth Creationism.

Another fascinating observation gleaned from that light forever lays a classic claim of Young Earth Creationism to rest. One-hundred and fifty years ago a well known science writer was asked to provide an example of something which could in principle be known, but which would always remain hidden to mankind. The columnist chose the chemical composition of distant stellar objects. We would never travel the immense distances required to obtain a laboratory sample the writer reasoned, thus we would never know for sure what they were made of ... never say never when it comes to science. Just a few years later the revolutionary field of quantum mechanics was born, and soon came an application from that discipline that would handily contradict that prediction.

A spectra is obtained by breaking light into its constituent colors, as in a rainbow. Those wavelengths, it turns out, are as specific as a fingerprint to chemical elements. Because of this, modern astronomers can be far more confident about the exact chemical make-up of a luminescent Quasar 5 billion light years away than they are about the composition of a nearby asteroid. Spectral analysis is so accurate that it is now the preferred method for determining the chemical make-up of unknown substances here on earth.

When the star SK-69 202 went supernova, it created exotic, short lived substances such as Nickel 55 or Cobalt 56. These isotopes decay quickly into other elements over the course of a few weeks or months. Thus, through spectral analysis, the transformation from one substance to another via this decay process can be observed to a high degree of precision in the light of SN1987A; we're talking to within a few thousandths of a percentage. That data unequivocally shows that radiodecay rates in the remote past are identical to those observed in the present, and follow exactly the theoretically predicted models developed from atomic theory. So not only does SN1987A tell us directly the universe is older than Young Earth Creationism time frames, it also allows us to observe that radiodecay rates were the same in the remote past as they are here and now in the present. This is direct, visual evidence that radiometric dating methods are reliable indications for the antiquity of our mother world and the vast array of extinct life which has been nurtured by her.

The story above, about how this one distant object can teach us lessons about Creation that thousands of brilliant men and women speculating on theological matters could not resolve in two-thousand years, is just the tip of the iceberg for SN1987A. The most stunning revelation we have learned from this remote object has nothing to do with debates over Young Earth Creationism; for most scientists that tale is merely an anecdote, and a moot point.

SN1987A went on to become the most studied star outside of the Milky Way Galaxy, logging more observation time than the planet Saturn. Because of research on super nova, much of which would never have happened so quickly if not for SN1987A, new insight into different types of super novas and their remains was developed. One of those insights led to a brand new methodology of measuring the distance and speed of extraordinarily distant galaxies using a special type of super nova to obtain a degree of precision previously unavailable. Once that method was used to create a large scale map of the galactic clusters in our universe together with their Hubble Redshifts, it knocked astronomers off their feet in surpise. The technique brought to light the most astonishing discovery in cosmology since Hubble first found the universe was expanding. We now know that the universe is not just expanding, it's accelerating. And this knowledge has led to an entirely new field of physics which was completely unpredictable, utterly unknown just ten years ago, and which may shed light on the most fundamental questions of space, time, matter and energy: That discovery is called Dark Energy.

This mysterious heretofore completely unsuspected force comprises fully two-thirds of the mass of our cosmos! What we previously thought of as our 'universe', the familiar baryonic matter and energy that stars, planets, nebula, and galaxies are made out of, is but a light frothing, a mere afterthought, on a mighty sea of dark matter and dark energy. The gut feeling among cosmologists is that if and when science starts to get a handle on the nature of Dark Energy, our understanding of the cosmos will move ahead in a breathtaking leap rivaling the year when Isaac Newton got conked on the head by the proverbial apple. (The same data solved an outstanding problem in cosmology which some Young Earthers had also used to ridicule modern astronomy. A straight line regression of the observed expansion rate into the past converged on an age for the universe which happened to be slightly younger than some of the oldest stars in it. That was obviously no good! In an accelerating universe however, one could extrapolate that in the past the universe had been expanding at a slower rate, which meant the universe was a bit older than a decelerating model would predict). This unexpectedly momentous discovery is the true legacy of SN1987A.

The body of science often grows along a wondrous vein of serendipity in directions that cannot be foreseen. An ordinary guy, a pair of binoculars, a dab of reason and research, and we see revealed a story as old as man in an ancient star that lived fast and died young, rather than burning out and fading away. Isn't it awe inspiring to contemplate that this star, which once shone with bold, unwavering, confidence long before we appeared on the evolutionary scene, and passed away at the start of our human tenure on earth, still reaches out to us across the eons, illuminating a key piece of the cosmic puzzle, guiding our appreciation of what the universe may look like trillions of years in the future, and hints to us of phenomena as novel as when Galileo first pointed his crude telescope to the heavens? Can you imagine what we would have missed had the Young Earth Creationists been in charge of decreeing science policy during the time period in which SN1987A was discovered?

Some may feel that defending science is not as critically important as other struggles against the forces of ignorance and theocratic/dogmatic thuggery we have faced down as a nation and as a species. I disagree only in that I think it's all tied together; the integrity of science, the integrity of the nation, the core liberties we all hold dear, etc. It's all part of the same platform and it's all under assualt by the same extremists both here and abroad. Overseas the creationists have won in some parts of the world. For Old Testament Literalism one need only look at the Islamic Nations to see the stifling influence of creationism. The Hindu version is gaining ground in India.

I feel science is worthy of our chaperone, and for a lot more reasons than the production of nifty new gadgets.

Isn't creationism the obvious truth?

http://www.timesargus.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050704/NEWS/507040306/1022

July 4, 2005

Although Mr. Klimenok and Mr. Ryan's letters to the editor (June 29, 2005) are moving and passionate, they are also disturbing, because they try so hard to write so convincingly about evolution.

This is disturbing because creationism is portrayed as a "blatant fairytale." Interestingly, the Holy Bible says in Psalm 14, "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God."

Especially in the classroom both evolution and creation should be presented. The evolution theory (and it is a theory) is shoved at us as if it is truth and we're fools not to embrace it. Why isn't creationism given the same spotlight? Simply because many evolutionists reject God, period.

They reject the idea of a loving God in the beginning creating the heavens and the earth for people to enjoy. They reject the idea that due to man's sin, God sent Jesus to die as payment for our sins. They reject the resurrection and the idea that anyone who believes it will have eternal life. Whether science is on the side of evolution is questionable but God is definitely on the side of creation.

God gave us an amazing brain and abilities but we can't make the sun come up every morning. We cannot determine exactly when a child will be born. We can't control the tides. In short, the two choices for the earth's coming to be are evolution and creation. Personally, I'll pass on the "poof, the big bang theory, evolution" and choose creationism, based on infallible proofs that God created it all. I haven't seen the end of the movie, but I've read the end of the book and it's not too pretty for those who reject God and His plan. But for those who do, well, they live happily ever after.

Debbie Ausmann

Barre


Monday, July 04, 2005

We're not alone in universe, says Tom Cruise

http://today.reuters.com/News/newsArticle.aspx?type=entertainmentNews&storyID=2005-06-29T140218Z_01_N29450876_RTRIDST_0_ENTERTAINMENT-GERMANY-CRUISE-DC.XML

Wed Jun 29, 2005 10:02 AM ET

BERLIN (Reuters) - Hollywood actor Tom Cruise not only battles creatures from outer space in his latest film "War of the Worlds," he also believes aliens exist, he told a German newspaper on Wednesday.

Asked in an interview with the tabloid daily Bild if he believed in aliens, Cruise said: "Yes, of course. Are you really so arrogant as to believe we are alone in this universe?

"Millions of stars, and we're supposed to be the only living creatures? No, there are many things out there, we just don't know," Cruise, 42, said in the interview published in German.

Cruise is a follower of the Scientology church founded by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, and his recent willingness to discuss the faith has raised eyebrows in the media.

Most controversially, Cruise criticized actress Brooke Shields for revealing she had taken antidepressants. An official Scientology Web site argues that people should live drug-free.

Cruise also dismissed psychiatry as a "pseudo science," invoking the ire of the American Psychiatric Association that called the remarks "irresponsible."

But many scientologists feel they are unfairly criticized, arguing that although many believe in the concept of aliens, it is not such an unreasonable proposition, and that the side effects of some medication are not fully understood.

Cruise's new film "War of the Worlds" is based on British writer H.G. Wells' 1898 story of the invasion of Earth by Martians.

On Autism's Cause, It's Parents vs. Research

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/25/science/25autism.html June 25, 2005

By GARDINER HARRIS and ANAHAD O'CONNOR

Kristen Ehresmann, a Minnesota Department of Health official, had just told a State Senate hearing that vaccines with microscopic amounts of mercury were safe. Libby Rupp, a mother of a 3-year-old girl with autism, was incredulous.

"How did my daughter get so much mercury in her?" Ms. Rupp asked Ms. Ehresmann after her testimony.

"Fish?" Ms. Ehresmann suggested.

"She never eats it," Ms. Rupp answered.

"Do you drink tap water?"

"It's all filtered."

"Well, do you breathe the air?" Ms. Ehresmann asked, with a resigned smile. Several parents looked angrily at Ms. Ehresmann, who left.

Ms. Rupp remained, shaking with anger. That anyone could defend mercury in vaccines, she said, "makes my blood boil."

Public health officials like Ms. Ehresmann, who herself has a son with autism, have been trying for years to convince parents like Ms. Rupp that there is no link between thimerosal - a mercury-containing preservative once used routinely in vaccines - and autism.

They have failed.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, the Institute of Medicine, the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics have all largely dismissed the notion that thimerosal causes or contributes to autism. Five major studies have found no link.

Yet despite all evidence to the contrary, the number of parents who blame thimerosal for their children's autism has only increased. And in recent months, these parents have used their numbers, their passion and their organizing skills to become a potent national force. The issue has become one of the most fractious and divisive in pediatric medicine.

"This is like nothing I've ever seen before," Dr. Melinda Wharton, deputy director of the National Immunization Program, told a gathering of immunization officials in Washington in March. "It's an era where it appears that science isn't enough."

Parents have filed more than 4,800 lawsuits - 200 from February to April alone - pushed for state and federal legislation banning thimerosal and taken out full-page advertisements in major newspapers. They have also gained the support of politicians, including Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, and Representatives Dan Burton, Republican of Indiana, and Dave Weldon, Republican of Florida. And Robert F. Kennedy Jr. wrote an article in the June 16 issue of Rolling Stone magazine arguing that most studies of the issue are flawed and that public health officials are conspiring with drug makers to cover up the damage caused by thimerosal.

"We're not looking like a fringe group anymore," said Becky Lourey, a Minnesota state senator and a sponsor of a proposed thimerosal ban. Such a ban passed the New York State Legislature this week.

But scientists and public health officials say they are alarmed by the surge of attention to an idea without scientific merit. The anti-thimerosal campaign, they say, is causing some parents to stay away from vaccines, placing their children at risk for illnesses like measles and polio.

"It's really terrifying, the scientific illiteracy that supports these suspicions," said Dr. Marie McCormick, chairwoman of an Institute of Medicine panel that examined the controversy in February 2004.

Experts say they are also concerned about a raft of unproven, costly and potentially harmful treatments - including strict diets, supplements and a detoxifying technique called chelation - that are being sold for tens of thousands of dollars to desperate parents of autistic children as a cure for "mercury poisoning."

In one case, a doctor forced children to sit in a 160-degree sauna, swallow 60 to 70 supplements a day and have so much blood drawn that one child passed out.

Hundreds of doctors list their names on a Web site endorsing chelation to treat autism, even though experts say that no evidence supports its use with that disorder. The treatment carries risks of liver and kidney damage, skin rashes and nutritional deficiencies, they say.

In recent months, the fight over thimerosal has become even more bitter. In response to a barrage of threatening letters and phone calls, the centers for disease control has increased security and instructed employees on safety issues, including how to respond if pies are thrown in their faces. One vaccine expert at the centers wrote in an internal e-mail message that she felt safer working at a malaria field station in Kenya than she did at the agency's offices in Atlanta.

An Alarm Is Sounded

Thimerosal was for decades the favored preservative for use in vaccines. By weight, it is about 50 percent ethyl mercury, a form of mercury most scientists consider to be less toxic than methyl mercury, the type found in fish. The amount of ethyl mercury included in each childhood vaccine was once roughly equal to the amount of methyl mercury found in the average tuna sandwich.

In 1999, a Food and Drug Administration scientist added up all the mercury that American infants got with a full immunization schedule and concluded that the amount exceeded a government guideline. Some health authorities counseled no action, because there was no evidence that thimerosal at the doses given was harmful and removing it might cause alarm. Others were not so certain that thimerosal was harmless.

In July 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Public Health Service released a joint statement urging vaccine makers to remove thimerosal as quickly as possible. By 2001, no vaccine routinely administered to children in the United States had more than half of a microgram of mercury - about what is found in an infant's daily supply of breast milk.

Despite the change, government agencies say that vaccines with thimerosal are just as safe as those without, and adult flu vaccines still contain the preservative.

But the 1999 advisory alarmed many parents whose children suffered from autism, a lifelong disorder marked by repetitive, sometimes self-destructive behaviors and an inability to form social relationships. In 10 to 25 percent of cases, autism seems to descend on young children seemingly overnight, sometime between their first and second birthdays.

Diagnoses of autism have risen sharply in recent years, from roughly 1 case for every 10,000 births in the 1980's to 1 in 166 births in 2003.

Most scientists believe that the illness is influenced strongly by genetics but that some unknown environmental factor may also play a role.

Dr. Tom Insel, director of the National Institute for Mental Health, said: "Is it cellphones? Ultrasound? Diet sodas? Every parent has a theory. At this point, we just don't know."

In 2000, a group of parents joined together to found SafeMinds, one of several organizations that argue that thimerosal is that environmental culprit. Their cause has been championed by politicians like Mr. Burton.

"My grandson received nine shots in one day, seven of which contained thimerosal, which is 50 percent mercury as you know, and he became autistic a short time later," he said in an interview.

In a series of House hearings held from 2000 through 2004, Mr. Burton called the leading experts who assert that vaccines cause autism to testify. They included a chemistry professor at the University of Kentucky who says that dental fillings cause or exacerbate autism and other diseases and a doctor from Baton Rouge, La., who says that God spoke to her through an 87-year-old priest and told her that vaccines caused autism.

Also testifying were Dr. Mark Geier and his son, David Geier, the experts whose work is most frequently cited by parents.

Trying to Build a Case

Dr. Geier has called the use of thimerosal in vaccines the world's "greatest catastrophe that's ever happened, regardless of cause."

He and his son live and work in a two-story house in suburban Maryland. Past the kitchen and down the stairs is a room with cast-off, unplugged laboratory equipment, wall-to-wall carpeting and faux wood paneling that Dr. Geier calls "a world-class lab - every bit as good as anything at N.I.H."

Dr. Geier has been examining issues of vaccine safety since at least 1971, when he was a lab assistant at the National Institutes of Health, or N.I.H. His résumé lists scores of publications, many of which suggest that vaccines cause injury or disease.

He has also testified in more than 90 vaccine cases, he said, although a judge in a vaccine case in 2003 ruled that Dr. Geier was "a professional witness in areas for which he has no training, expertise and experience."

In other cases, judges have called Dr. Geier's testimony "intellectually dishonest," "not reliable" and "wholly unqualified."

The six published studies by Dr. Geier and David Geier on the relationship between autism and thimerosal are largely based on complaints sent to the disease control centers by people who suspect that their children were harmed by vaccines.

In the first study, the Geiers compared the number of complaints associated with a thimerosal-containing vaccine, given from 1992 to 2000, with the complaints that resulted from a thimerosal-free version given from 1997 to 2000. The more thimerosal a child received, they concluded, the more likely an autism complaint was filed. Four other studies used similar methods and came to similar conclusions.

Dr. Geier said in an interview that the link between thimerosal and autism was clear.

Public health officials, he said, are " just trying to cover it up."

Assessing the Studies

Scientists say that the Geiers' studies are tainted by faulty methodology.

"The problem with the Geiers' research is that they start with the answers and work backwards," said Dr. Steven Black, director of the Kaiser Permanente Vaccine Study Center in Oakland, Calif. "They are doing voodoo science."

Dr. Julie L. Gerberding, the director of the disease control centers, said the agency was not withholding information about any potentially damaging effects of thimerosal.

"There's certainly not a conspiracy here," she said. "And we would never consider not acknowledging information or evidence that would have a bearing on children's health."

In 2003, spurred by parents' demands, the C.D.C. asked the Institute of Medicine, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the nation's most prestigious medical advisory group, to review the evidence on thimerosal and autism.

In a report last year, a panel convened by the institute dismissed the Geiers' work as having such serious flaws that their studies were "uninterpretable." Some of the Geiers' mathematical formulas, the committee found, "provided no information," and the Geiers used basic scientific terms like "attributable risk" incorrectly.

In contrast, the committee found five studies that examined hundreds of thousands of health records of children in the United States, Britain, Denmark and Sweden to be persuasive.

A study by the World Health Organization, for example, examined the health records of 109,863 children born in Britain from 1988 to 1997 and found that children who had received the most thimerosal in vaccines had the lowest incidence of developmental problems like autism.

Another study examined the records of 467,450 Danish children born from 1990 to 1996. It found that after 1992, when the country's only thimerosal-containing vaccine was replaced by one free of the preservative, autism rates rose rather than fell.

In one of the most comprehensive studies, a 2003 report by C.D.C. scientists examined the medical records of more than 125,000 children born in the United States from 1991 to 1999. It found no difference in autism rates among children exposed to various amounts of thimerosal.

Parent groups, led by SafeMinds, replied that documents obtained from the disease control centers showed that early versions of the study had found a link between thimerosal and autism.

But C.D.C. researchers said that it was not unusual for studies to evolve as more data and controls were added. The early versions of the study, they said, failed to control for factors like low birth weight, which increases the risk of developmental delays.

The Institute of Medicine said that it saw "nothing inherently troubling" with the C.D.C.'s adjustments and concluded that thimerosal did not cause autism. Further studies, the institute said, would not be "useful."

Threats and Conspiracy Talk

Since the report's release, scientists and health officials have been bombarded with hostile e-mail messages and phone calls. Dr. McCormick, the chairwoman of the institute's panel, said she had received threatening mail claiming that she was part of a conspiracy. Harvard University has increased security at her office, she said.

An e-mail message to the C.D.C. on Nov. 28 stated, "Forgiveness is between them and God. It is my job to arrange a meeting," according to records obtained by The New York Times after the filing of an open records request.

Another e-mail message, sent to the C.D.C. on Aug. 20, said, "I'd like to know how you people sleep straight in bed at night knowing all the lies you tell & the lives you know full well you destroy with the poisons you push & protect with your lies." Lynn Redwood of SafeMinds said that such e-mail messages did not represent her organization or other advocacy groups.

In response to the threats, C.D.C. officials have contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation and heightened security at the disease control centers. Some officials said that the threats had led them to look for other jobs.

In "Evidence of Harm," a book published earlier this year that is sympathetic to the notion that thimerosal causes autism, the author, David Kirby, wrote that the thimerosal theory would stand or fall within the next year or two.

Because autism is usually diagnosed sometime between a child's third and fourth birthdays and thimerosal was largely removed from childhood vaccines in 2001, the incidence of autism should fall this year, he said.

No such decline followed thimerosal's removal from vaccines during the 1990's in Denmark, Sweden or Canada, researchers say.

But the debate over autism and vaccines is not likely to end soon.

"It doesn't seem to matter what the studies and the data show," said Ms. Ehresmann, the Minnesota immunization official. "And that's really scary for us because if science doesn't count, how do we make decisions? How do we communicate with parents?"

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Does God Have Back Problems Too?

http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-barash27jun27,0,5530701.story

June 27, 2005

COMMENTARY

The illogic behind 'intelligent design.'

By David P. Barash, David P. Barash, a professor of psychology at the University of Washington, is coauthor of "Madame Bovary's Ovaries" (Delacorte Press, 2005).

In 1829, Francis Henry Egerton, the eighth Earl of Bridgewater, bequeathed 8,000 pounds sterling to the Royal Society of London to pay for publication of works on "the Power, Wisdom, and Goodness of God, as Manifested in the Creation."

The resulting "Bridgewater Treatises," published between 1833 and 1840, were classic statements of "natural theology," seeking to demonstrate God's existence by examining the natural world's "perfection."

Current believers in creationism, masquerading in its barely disguised incarnation, "intelligent design," argue similarly, claiming that only a designer could generate such complex, perfect wonders.

But, in fact, the living world is shot through with imperfection. Unless one wants to attribute either incompetence or sheer malevolence to such a designer, this imperfection — the manifold design flaws of life — points incontrovertibly to a natural, rather than a divine, process, one in which living things were not created de novo, but evolved. Consider the human body. Ask yourself, if you were designing the optimum exit for a fetus, would you engineer a route that passes through the narrow confines of the pelvic bones? Add to this the tragic reality that childbirth is not only painful in our species but downright dangerous and sometimes lethal, owing to a baby's head being too large for the mother's birth canal.

This design flaw is all the more dramatic because anyone glancing at a skeleton can see immediately that there is plenty of room for even the most stubbornly large-brained, misoriented fetus to be easily delivered anywhere in that vast, non-bony region below the ribs. (In fact, this is precisely the route obstetricians follow when performing a caesarean section.)

Why would evolution neglect the simple, straightforward solution? Because human beings are four-legged mammals by history. Our ancestors carried their spines parallel to the ground; it was only with our evolved upright posture that the pelvic girdle had to be rotated (and thereby narrowed), making a tight fit out of what for other mammals is nearly always an easy passage.

An engineer who designed such a system from scratch would be summarily fired, but evolution didn't have the luxury of intelligent design.

Admittedly, it could be argued that the dangers and discomforts of childbirth were intelligently, albeit vengefully, planned, given Genesis' account of God's judgment upon Eve: As punishment for Eve's disobedience in Eden, "in pain you shall bring forth children." (Might this imply that if she'd only behaved, women's vaginas would have been where their bellybuttons currently reside?)

On to men. It is simply deplorable that the prostate gland is so close to the urinary system that (the common) enlargement of the former impinges awkwardly on the latter.

In addition, as human testicles descended — both in evolution and in embryology — the vas deferens (which carries sperm) became looped around the ureter (which carries urine from kidneys to bladder), resulting in an altogether illogical arrangement that would never have occurred if, like a minimally competent designer, natural selection could have anticipated the situation.

There's much more that the supposed designer botched: ill-constructed knee joints that wear out, a lower back that's prone to pain, an inverted exit of the optic nerve via the retina, resulting in a blind spot.

And what about the theological implications of all this? If God is the designer, and we are created in his image, does that mean he has back problems too?

The point is that these and other incongruities testify to the contingent, unplanned, entirely natural nature of natural selection. We are profoundly imperfect, cobbled together rather then designed. And in these imperfections reside some of the best arguments for our equally profound natural-ness.


Sunday, July 03, 2005

Evolution has science on its side

http://www.timesargus.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050629/NEWS/506290317/1022

Article published Jun 29, 2005

This is a response to letters by William Reed, Angelo Tillas, and Thomas Prindiville, who all commented on my letter about Darwin and evolution. Reed has a misconception of how evolution works when he says that the "incredible design around us [could not have come] about by random undirected processes."

Biochemists have learned how primitive nucleic acids and other building blocks of life could have formed and organized themselves into self-replicating and self-sustaining units. While chance does play a part in evolution, natural selection harnesses nonrandom changes by preserving "desirable" (adaptive) features and eliminating "undesirable" (non-adaptive) ones. Structures that appear to be designed, but which were directed by natural, chemical processes, can develop in a surprisingly short amount of time.

One important tenet of evolution is that a new species originates when a small subpopulation of that species becomes isolated, acquires new traits by genetic changes, and diverges fairly quickly from the original species. Although it is statistically unlikely that many fossils of these transitional forms will be found, several hundred have been discovered. The archaeopteryx, which has a few bird characteristics and several reptilian ones (it had teeth), is one example. The precursors of whales had four legs and walked on land. Primates and humans have been traced back to a kind of arboreal squirrel that existed 70 million years ago.

Tillas hypes the book, "A Case for the Creator" by Lee Strobel. His approach is to interview "authorities." Virtually all of the doctorate-level people that he chose are members of the Discovery Institute, a pro-creationist/"intelligent design" group. One member, Dr. Jonathan Wells, a molecular and cell biologist, claims that the idea that all life evolved from a single ancestor "is a very, very shaky hypothesis." That would be big news to most biologists, paleontologists, microbiologists and geneticists if it were true.

Even Dr. Michael Behe, who is quoted extensively by IDers to support their cause, states in his book, "Darwin's Black Box:" "I find the idea of common descent … fairly convincing and have no particular reason to doubt it."

Others Strobel interviewed do not appear to be qualified or competent to talk about biology and evolution. Tillas quotes Stephen Meyer: "Scientists know less today than they did 50 years ago about the origins." That Tillas believes this absurd statement explains much about the contents of his letter. I encourage him to read some books about evolution written by evolutionists. One particularly good one is "Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea," by Carl Zimmer.

Prindiville believes that ID is a valid, alternative theory to evolution. However, ID cannot explain vestigial features, like organs that are of little or no use to modern organisms. Evolution understands them as remnants of earlier life forms from which the organisms evolved. Moreover, there are many anatomical features in organisms that do not show efficient designs that one would expect from an intelligent designer. Instead, they testify to the forces of nature that produce designs that work, which are not necessarily the best designs. An intelligent designer would create only successful species. However, more than 99 percent of all species that have existed on earth are now extinct. Evolution explains extinctions as the failure of a species to compete in the struggle for food or to adapt to a changing environment.

Those of us "who support evolution" do not "have a degree of religious fervor in its defense" (Prindiville) because there is nothing to defend. Evolution explains a vast array of observations about organisms and is supported by the large majority of scientists in the world today. Creationists and IDers fail to meet even the most fundamental elements of rational inquiry because they resort to invoking the supernatural when they are unable to solve a mystery. In the final analysis, then, creationism and ID are religious beliefs masquerading as science.

John Klimenok

Barre

An expanding universe

http://www.nydailynews.com/front/story/324820p-277473c.html

Scientology believes in aliens – & in buying lots

By ADAM NICHOLS
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER

W. 48th St., Manhattan

E. 125th St., Harlem

Tom Cruise's leap of faith into Scientology is a visible example of the religion's hold on its followers - but the Church of Scientology already has a multimillion-dollar grip on Manhattan. The controversial group, now blitzing the media after Cruise became its most outspoken advocate, has a massive city empire used by tens of thousands of devotees.

And New York's church president the Rev. John Carmichael said, "Interest is increasing markedly."

Its huge seven-story city headquarters was opened last year at W.46th St. and Eighth Ave. More than 10,700 supporters marked the event.

They also have a Harlem church in a Third Ave. storefront, which will soon to move to a six-story building on E. 125th St., now undergoing major renovation.

In addition, the group has a seven-story townhouse on W. 48th St., houses offices that control Scientology's reach across the Northeast.

And on E. 82nd St., a plush six-story townhouse off Park Ave. is used as a Celebrity Center, catering specifically for wealthy, famous Scientologists.

The church is reportedly eying new premises for its celebrity home, now that a deal for a $12.4 million, 16,000-square-foot E. 69th St. townhouse recently fell apart - apparently because it was too small.

The property portfolio is worth tens of millions of dollars - and is tax exempt because of the church's status as a religious institution.

Scientology, called by some a persecuted religion and by others a dangerous cult, was devised in the early 1950s by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard.

It teaches that individuals are spiritual beings that have picked up trauma over years of reincarnation. This trauma affects their behavior.

People can live happier, more fulfilled lives, Hubbard claimed, by ridding themselves of those traumas through a process called auditing - a kind of counseling. It relies on a crude lie detector machine and a series of personal questions - some of which are published in the summer edition of Radar magazine.

Scientologists at more advanced stages also are introduced to a belief that the souls of aliens brought to Earth millions of years ago are attached to humans, and must be shed. "I am, by my religion, not permitted to talk about it," said Carmichael about the alien story. "But it's not a core teaching of the church."

Accurate estimates of the number of practicing Scientologists in New York are difficult to make, Carmichael said.

But he noted that about 35,000 people had taken courses in the city since the church established a presence here in the 1950s. Weekly services in the W. 46th St. building are attended by about 80 Scientologists.

"Scientology provides practical answers for people to use in their lives and, because they find they work, they tell their friends," he said.

"That's why we expand."

Scientology's reach expanded after high-profile work following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Carmichael said, "We got some good press, but it was the interaction we had, the fact we were there trying to make things better, that people noticed.

"The renovation of the 46th St. building was funded largely by friends around the world who heard about what was going on here after 9/11."

Hundreds of volunteer ministers passed out food and supplies and offered counseling during the first days following the tragedy.

About 120 firefighters took part in a detoxification program at a Fulton St. clinic called Downtown Medical, bankrolled by Cruise and, though not officially part of the church, dedicated to Scientology's teachings.

The church's help was praised by many, including New York Police Chief Joseph Esposito and Dr. Stephan Hittman, CEO of the 9/11 Foundation.

But others voiced suspicion assistance was given as part of a church recruitment drive. "It was a promotional ploy, in my opinion," said Rick Ross, founder of the New Jersey-based Ross Institute which monitors fringe religious groups.

The church has long been subject to accusations that it is a dangerous group that uses brainwashing techniques and extortion.

Ross said, "I get weekly calls from people concerned about Scientology. "[Auditing] paralyzes critical thinking and replaces it with a type of group mind-set, which can be likened to brainwashing."

Carmichael countered: "Scientology frees people. It helps them see things for themselves. It wakes people up, unhypnotizes people. That's what it's designed to do."

Ross said he also gets complaints about the church's constant demands for money - courses taken by members eager to "clear" their souls cost up to $12,000.

"We have to pay the rent," Carmichael said.

"We do have things that cost substantial amounts of money. If you want to receive all the counseling, it might cost as much as a college education.

"I would say it is worth far more than that."

Creationism's blind eye

http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/news/special_packages/sunday_review/12042633.htm

Posted on Sun, Jul. 03, 2005

Richard Dawkins is Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University.

Science feeds on mystery. As my colleague Matt Ridley has put it, "Most scientists are bored by what they have already discovered. It is ignorance that drives them on." Science mines ignorance. Mystery - that which we don't yet know; that which we don't yet understand - is the mother lode that scientists seek out.

Mystics exult in mystery and want it to stay mysterious. Scientists exult in mystery for a very different reason: It gives them something to do. Maybe we don't understand yet, but we're working on it. Each mystery solved opens up vistas of unsolved problems, and the scientist eagerly moves in.

Admissions of ignorance and mystification are vital to good science. It is therefore galling, to say the least, when enemies of science turn those constructive admissions around and abuse them for political advantage. It is worse than galling. It threatens the enterprise of science itself. This is exactly the effect creationism or "intelligent design theory" (I.D.) is having, especially because its propagandists are slick, superficially plausible and, above all, well-financed. I.D., by the way, is not a new form of creationism. It simply is creationism disguised, for political reasons, under a new name.

It isn't even safe for a scientist to express temporary doubt, as a rhetorical device before going on to dispel it.

"To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree." You will find this sentence of Charles Darwin quoted again and again by creationists. They never quote what follows. Darwin immediately went on to confound his initial incredulity. Others have built on his foundation, and the eye is today a showpiece of the gradual, cumulative evolution of an almost perfect illusion of design. The relevant chapter of my Climbing Mount Improbable is called "The fortyfold path to enlightenment" in honor of the fact that, far from being difficult to evolve, the eye has evolved at least 40 times independently around the animal kingdom.

The distinguished Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin is widely quoted as saying that organisms "appear to have been carefully and artfully designed." Again, this was a rhetorical preliminary to explaining how the powerful illusion of design actually comes about by natural selection. The isolated quotation strips out the implied emphasis on "appear to," leaving exactly what a simplemindedly pious audience - in Dover, Pa., for instance - wants to hear.

Deceitful misquoting of scientists to suit an antiscientific agenda ranks among the many un-Christian habits of fundamentalist authors. But such Telling Lies for God (book title of the splendidly pugnacious Australian geologist Ian Plimer) is not the most serious problem. There is a more important point to be made, and it goes right to the philosophical heart of creationism.

The standard methodology of creationists - indeed, all their arguments are variants of it - is to find some phenomenon in nature which, in their view or even in reality, Darwinism cannot readily explain. Darwin said: "If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down."

Creationists mine ignorance and uncertainty, not as a spur to honest research but in order to exploit and abuse Darwin's challenge. "Bet you can't tell me how the elbow joint of the lesser spotted weasel frog evolved by slow gradual degrees!" If the scientist fails to give an immediate and comprehensive answer, a default conclusion is drawn: "Right, then, the alternative theory, 'intelligent design,' wins by default."

Notice, first, the biased logic: If theory A fails in some particular, theory B must be right! We are encouraged to leap to the default conclusion without even looking to see whether the default theory fails in the very same particular. I.D. is granted (quite wrongly, as I have shown elsewhere) a charmed immunity to the rigorous demands made of evolution.

Notice, second, how the creationist ploy undermines the scientist's natural - indeed, necessary - rejoicing in uncertainty. Today's scientist in America dare not say: "Hmm, interesting point. I wonder how the weasel frog's ancestors did evolve their elbow joint. I'm not a specialist in weasel frogs; I'll have to go to the university library and take a look. Might make an interesting project for a graduate student."

No. The moment a scientist said something like that - and long before the student began the project - the default conclusion would become a headline in a creationist pamphlet: "Weasel frog could only have been designed by God."

I once introduced a chapter on the so-called Cambrian explosion with the words, "It is as though the fossils were planted there without any evolutionary history." Once again, this was a rhetorical overture, intended to whet the reader's appetite for the explanation that was to follow. Sad hindsight tells me now how predictable it was that my remark would be gleefully quoted out of context. Creationists adore "gaps" in the fossil record.

Many evolutionary transitions are elegantly documented by more or less continuous series of gradually changing intermediate fossils. Some are not, and these are the famous "gaps." Michael Shermer, the founder of Skeptics magazine, has wittily pointed out that if a new fossil discovery neatly bisects a "gap," the creationist will declare that there are now two gaps. But in any case, note yet again the unwarranted use of a default. If there are no fossils to document a postulated evolutionary transition, the default assumption is that there was no evolutionary transition: God must have intervened.

It is utterly illogical to demand complete documentation of every step of any narrative, whether in evolution or any other science. Only a tiny fraction of dead animals fossilize, and we are lucky to have as many intermediate fossils as we have. We could easily have had no fossils at all, and the evidence for evolution from other sources, such as molecular genetics and geographical distribution, would still be overwhelmingly strong.

On the other hand, evolution makes the strong prediction that if a single fossil turned up in the wrong geological stratum, the theory would be blown out of the water. When challenged to say how evolution could ever be falsified, evolutionary biologist J.B.S. Haldane famously growled: "Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian." No such anachronistic fossils have ever been found, despite discredited creationist legends of human footprints interspersed with those of dinosaurs.

The creationists' fondness for gaps in the fossil record is a metaphor for their love of gaps in knowledge generally. Gaps, by default, are filled by God. You don't know how the nerve impulse works? Good! You don't understand how memories are laid down in the brain? Excellent! Is photosynthesis a bafflingly complex process? Wonderful! Please don't go to work on the problem, just give up, and appeal to God. Dear scientist, don't work on your mysteries. Bring us your mysteries, for we can use them. Don't squander precious ignorance by researching it away. Ignorance is God's gift to Dover.

Richard Dawkins' latest book is "The Ancestor's Tale." Another form of this essay has appeared in the London Times.

Intelligent design should be tested

http://www.thekansan.com/stories/062805/opinion_0628050014.shtml

PUBLISHED: Tuesday, June 28, 2005

A thank you to the Kansan staff for placing Tim Conner's opinions on evolution and intelligent design on the religion section of the June 24 issue, not on the science page. His assumptions about science are far from what I have experienced during my career as a biologist. While a thorough critique of his comments is beyond the scope of a letter to the editor, here are a couple of observations.

First, the title of Conner's article asks, "Is the theory of evolution sacred?" The answer is, "no, never has been." The thing about science is that no principle is "sacred." Being skeptical of prevailing wisdom is part of the psyche of a good scientist. The whole point of scientific research is to discover new things about the natural world. Reputations of scientists are made by making discoveries that upset the status quo, and Nobel prizes are given for the most important of these. Such discoveries often challenge prevailing concepts, resulting in their modification. As in art, where no one becomes famous by painting a copy of the Mona Lisa, in scientific research the whole thing is to discover something that others have not found before.

Conner writes, "Criticism of evolution is disallowed in academic and scientific circles. We are supposed to take evolution on faith." My experience in science has been nothing like that at all. So, I am highly skeptical of shrill claims that there is a conspiracy of scientists to keep solid evidence for intelligent design out of print.

Secondly, Conner complains that the ideas of intelligent design creationism are not given greater credence by the scientific community. Having ideas is great fun; ideas are a dime a dozen. But just having an idea doesn't make it true however fervently one would wish it to be so. Don't confuse the various ideas about intelligent design creationism with hard experimental evidence for it. Solid research projects have to be constructed from the ideas, testing whether they hold water, i.e., whether the ideas agree with how nature actually works. Without that, it's not science.

Frankly, it is just not accurate, as Conner asserts, that research on intelligent design is "showing up everywhere." There is very, very little real scientific evidence in favor of intelligent design, certainly in comparison to the massive weight of evidence for evolution accumulated over the past 150 years. Don't believe me on this? Do your homework and find it out for yourself.

Here is a suggestion: Those people who think intelligent design is a grand concept should give their money to support scientific research projects that put these ideas to the test. I am confident that if such research yields data meeting the same scientific criteria applied to all other research, those findings will become part of the body of scientific knowledge. Look, if there is something to intelligent design, it might even win a Nobel Prize. So, go for it.

Wayne Wiens, professor of biology, Bethel College

Intelligent design? Stupid idea!

http://www.pww.org/article/articleview/7331/1/276

Author: Emile Schepers
People's Weekly World Newspaper, 06/30/05 10:29

Creationists are trying to shoehorn fundamentalist Judeo-Christian beliefs into the public schools and universities again. Their plan is to pressure school boards into accepting the teaching of "intelligent design" as an alternative to Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection.

A group called the Discovery Institute has been promoting "intelligent design." Their argument is that nature is too complex to have been brought into being by the blind, nonpurposeful process of Darwinian evolution, which depends, essentially, on the accidents of mutation and environmental change to explain changes in plants and animals and the emergence of new species, including ourselves. They say it would be simpler to believe that some great mind or intelligence has planned all of this.

There are two problems with this. The first is, if this great mind is so purposeful and intelligent, why on earth has he, she or it created such a bizarre array of species in nature? Recently I came across a web site, www.caudata.org, which tells me that scientists now recognize 85 different species of salamanders of the genus Bolitoglossa, which range from Mexico to the jungles of South America. But looking at photographs of these little critters, it is clear that they are mostly variants on a theme: Air breathing through skin (no lungs), short snout, popeyes, mushroom-shaped tongue, long tail, feet shaped like mittens, and a propensity to climb rather than stick to ground level like the orthodox and respectable northern two-lined salamanders in my backyard. The variation is in the color scheme and other details.

It is easier to imagine that the differences in environment in their huge range led the original Bolitoglossa to branch off and develop 85 different species, than to believe that some great universal mind suddenly woke up one morning and decided that there were too few species of mitten-footed salamanders in the world, and it was time to "intelligently design" some more. To me, it would have been more intelligent to design just a single species and make them infinitely tougher and more adaptable, say the size of crocodiles, with claws, poison fangs, fur (for cold snaps) and pterodactyl wings, instead of fragile little things that fit in the palm of your hand and that curl up and die if you leave them in the sun for two minutes. What's intelligent about designing them like that?

Another issue is that of Ockham's Razor. Thomas of Ockham (or Occam) was a medieval English philosopher who laid down the rule accepted by all scientists and philosophers today, that the best explanation of a phenomenon is the simplest one, or the one that requires positing the existence of the smallest number of entities and processes. When the promoters of "intelligent design" claim that it is better than natural selection because of its relative simplicity, they invoke Ockham's razor. But they cheat.

They cheat, because by introducing a vast, undefined "intelligence" as the explanation for everything, they are introducing a huge unexplained "entity" into the process.

We are not allowed to ask where this great intelligent mind came from, what its nature is, how to explain its decision-making processes, all of which would be even more complex issues than natural selection. So "intelligent design" actually is a more complex explanation for the variety of species than natural selection. Intelligent design flunks the rule of Ockham's razor.

True, scientists don't have explanations for everything, and every chain of scientific reasoning must be rooted in unproved assumptions at some point. But scientists always are ready to take that chain of reasoning one step further, and seek proofs or disproofs of those assumptions. To posit the existence of a vast intelligence and will behind nature, and then expect people to take this on faith, is a religious-mystical stance, not a scientific one.

As an educator, I have taught classes on human evolution (via physical anthropology courses) and on comparative religions. I will be glad to include the theory of intelligent design in my comparative religion class, as one more mystical or religious explanation of human origins.

But I will not waste the time of my physical anthropology students with any such thing.

Emile Schepers is a frequent contributor who teaches social sciences at the college level.

New History Reveals the Truth About the Fátima Incident

Authors say Famed Apparitions in 1917 were Close Encounters with Alien Beings

VICTORIA, BC - The Fátima incident was an important event in the history of religion. In 1917, three little Portuguese shepherds - Jacinta, Francisco, and Lúcia - suddenly encountered the Virgin Mary, illuminated in the splendor of heavenly lights, who told the children three secrets about the fate of the Earth. The contacts were followed by an unexplained aerial phenomenon, called "The Miracle of the Sun," in which the Sun was seen to dance in the sky by thousands of awestruck onlookers who flocked to Fátima.

The apparitions were presumed to be a case of divine intervention in human affairs, a sign from Heaven that the world war then raging in Europe should end. A shrine sprang up at Fátima that drew millions of believers, and a myth was invented that the secrets of Fátima would be revealed in the fullness of time - as a testament of faith in a secular age.

In Heavenly Lights (EcceNova Editions; July 2, 2005; $22.95), Portuguese historians Joaquim Fernandes and Fina d'Armada tell the true story of the apparitions of Fátima. The first history of Fátima to be written by Portuguese historians based on the original documents, Heavenly Lights is the result of a 25-year odyssey by the authors in search of the actual facts of the Fátima case. Fernandes and d'Armada began their investigation in 1978, when they were given access to secret archives held at the Sanctuary of Fátima.

The records of Sister Lúcia, kept at the archives since the incident, revealed that the children did not interact with an apparition of the Virgin Mary but with a hologram of an extraterrestrial projected on a beam of light from a spacecraft hovering high above them. The archives clearly showed that the entities encountered at Fátima were not deities from Heaven but rather alien beings visiting our planet from "elsewhere" in the vast Cosmos. This finding was supported by hundreds of other facts from the time of the apparitions. Fátima, the authors discovered, was the first major UFO case of the 20th century.

Heavenly Lights is certain to become a definitive history of the Fátima Incident of 1917. When it was first published in Portugal in 1995, entitled As Aparições de Fátima e o Fenómeno OVNI, the Jornal de Notícias, a leading Portuguese newspaper, heralded the work "a literary success without precedent in the field of Portuguese ufological studies."

Now the whole world can know the truth about the apparitions of Fátima. This new translation by American journalists Andrew D. Basiago and Eva M. Thompson offers a powerful argument for both UFO researchers and religious scholars alike to re-examine the actual evidence that at last explains the enduring mystery of the Fátima incident.

About the Authors

Joaquim Fernandes is Professor of History at the University Fernando Pessoa in Porto, Portugal. He directs the Multicultural Apparitions Research International Academic Network (Project MARIAN). His research interests include the history of science and the comparative anthropology of religion, with an emphasis on anomalistic phenomena.

Fina d'Armada holds a Master's degree in Women's Studies. She has written five books about the Fátima incident, all based on original documents held in the archives - three co-authored with Fernandes - and hundreds of articles. Her research interests include phenomenology, local history, the history of women, and the era of Portuguese discovery.

About the Book

Heavenly Lights: The Apparitions of Fátima and the UFO Phenomenon

By Joaquim Fernandes and Fina d'Armada

Translated and Edited by Andrew D. Basiago and Eva M. Thompson

Foreword by Jacques F. Vallée

EcceNova Editions
Publication Date: July 2, 2005
Price: US $22.95, CAD $30.95, ?14.99 ISBN: 0-9735341-3-3

For Publisher's Summary, Author Information, Jacket Photo, Excerpt, and Contact Details visit www.eccenova.com and follow the link to the Media Kit.

James Randi: QUALITY CONTROL DOWN UNDER

http://www.randi.org/jr/070105quality.html

July 1, 2005

Quality Control Down Under, Still Down Under, Moving a Bit East, Tom Cruise Actually Makes Some Sense, Magic Pouch, Serious Journalistic Lapse, Starch Detected in Shaw's Supermarket, Movie Review, Epiphany Time, Good Sense From Tulsa, It's All Relative, Waldorf/Steiner/Anthroposophist Schools in Norway, Ridiculous Claims, I'll Bet She Eats, Great Dowsing Experiment, Scolded Yet Again, Magic Mugs and Eggs, Smart University, Soul Innersole, About the Great "Carlos" and Zap-the-Scientist Show.

QUALITY CONTROL DOWN UNDER

Several readers in Australia have sent us to an alarming site: www.betterhealthchannel.com.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Homeopathy?OpenDo cument where we find at the top of the Better Health Channel (BHC) page this heading:

Reliable health information — quality assured by the Victorian government.

What follows is not reliable, and of poor quality. Someone in the government of the State of Victoria has okayed this without troubling to check any of the facts. But they say:

This article, like all articles on the Better Health Channel, has passed through a rigorous and exhaustive approval process. It is also regularly updated. For more information see our quality assurance page.

Just what does this "rigorous and exhaustive approval process" consist of? Going to that "quality assurance page," we find naive misrepresentations, statements such as:

Homoeopathic treatment strengthens a person's health, acting as a catalyst, stimulating and directing the body's ability to fight infection as well as resolving any underlying susceptibility to disease.

Then the article presents — without any discussion or evaluation — the notions of Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy, that:

Disease stems from a disturbance to the energy field of the body, which he called the "vital force." The best cure could be achieved by using "energized" medicine. As the size of the dose decreases, the potency of the substance increases.

Then they give another misleading statement:

Although conventional scientific methods cannot explain how they work, many clinical trials have found homoeopathic medicines to be effective in treating a range of disorders.

The "clinical trials" they refer to have all been conducted by homeopathic interests, and we note that at the close of this BHC article, they state that: "This page has been produced in consultation with, and approved by the Australian Homeopathic Association." What a surprise! Were any conventional experts — those strange fuddy-duddies who prefer facts and reality — brought into this "consultation" by the State of Victoria? We'd like to know!

And the BHC article manages, via the input of the homeopaths — not to our surprise — to bomb legitimate medical practices in favor of homeopathy:

According to the homoeopathic philosophy, conventional drugs that suppress symptoms are only driving the disease deeper into the body.

This is sheer fiction — not the "philosophy," but the assumption — and it's astounding that the BHC has allowed this to appear on their pages! Huge and dramatic successes are accomplished by "conventional" medicine every day, but that fact is ignored. And read what the BHC says about their usual practice in considering material that they publish:

All articles published on the Better Health Channel (BHC) have passed through a thorough and rigorous quality assurance procedure. This includes: Content development — content on the BHC is developed in consultation with content partners from reputable health organizations. These organizations specialize in specific health areas. Research, writing and editing — all articles are researched, written, edited and proofread by professional staff who have extensive experience in the health sector.

Verification (external) — all articles are checked and approved by staff from BHC content partner organizations. These people are specialists in their fields and include clinicians, academics and other allied health professionals.

Verification (internal) — all articles are checked by the BHC Editor in chief (former Victorian Chief Medical Officer) and referred to other areas of the Department as required.

Reviewing and updating — all articles are reviewed annually by content partners and referred to our internal reviewers if necessary.

Having examined what they say about homeopathy, we see that at least this section has escaped all five of these "procedures."

It says, above, that their articles are "also regularly updated." Well, this item on our web page should be part of the next update, BHC. We await its inclusion.

Sure.

Proving God's existence

For the enjoyment of the photography lover out there, and maybe even Dave Palmer himself, here's a bit of crank mail I just received:

Greetings Mr. Edis,

I came across information about your book on the web and read the sample chapter on your website. I have proof for you that the universe does not run by or did it come into existence by chance or accident as you and modern science believe. I invite you to visit my website at www.josephwall.org. The photograph I present there has not been retouched or manipulated in any way. The testimony I have written about it is true. You might be inclined to call it a statistical miracle, however, I must inform you ahead of time, that the Lord Jesus Christ has taught me much more than I have revealed there. The photograph is for your benefit; for the benefit of those I preach His Gospel to. Not mine. I already had 100% personal proof of the reality of God's existence years before I realised He had given me this photograph to assist me in my mission. "Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish." Isaiah 29:14. I would be interested in hearing your comments.

Sincerely,

Joseph Wall
josephwall@josephwall.org

So what, is this a Protestant version of seeing the Virgin Mary in water stains?

Taner

http://www2.truman.edu/~edis/


Saturday, July 02, 2005

CSICOP Online: Creation Watch Column: God's Gift to Kansas

Creation Watch:

GOD'S GIFT TO KANSAS

by Richard Dawkins

Science feeds on mystery. As my colleague Matt Ridley has put it, "Most scientists are bored by what they have already discovered. It is ignorance that drives them on." Science mines ignorance. Mystery - that which we don't yet know; that which we don't yet understand - is the mother lode that scientists seek out. Mystics exult in mystery and want it to stay mysterious. Scientists exult in mystery for a very different reason: it gives them something to do. Maybe we don't understand yet, but we're working on it! Each mystery solved opens up vistas of unsolved problems, and the scientist eagerly moves in.

Admissions of ignorance and mystification are vital to good science. It is therefore galling, to say the least, when enemies of science turn those constructive admissions around and abuse them for political advantage. It is worse than galling. It threatens the enterprise of science itself. This is exactly the effect creationism or 'intelligent design theory' (ID) is having, especially because its propagandists are slick, superficially plausible and, above all, well-financed. ID, by the way, is not a new form of creationism. It simply is creationism disguised, for political reasons, under a new name.

It isn't even safe for a scientist to express temporary doubt, as a rhetorical device before going on to dispel it....

To read more of this column visit: http://www.csicop.org/creationwatch/

Visit the web address below to tell your friends about this.

http://ga1.org/join-forward.html?domain=skeptical247&r=idLj5hF1nqi9

Evolution update: PA and NY legislative update; science still under siege in KS; happy 147th anniversary

The "intelligent design" bill in Pennsylvania receives a subcommittee hearing, while its counterpart in New York dies; the antievolution majority on the Kansas school board continues to try to undermine the place of evolution in the state science standards; and today, July 1, is the 147th anniversary of Darwin and Wallace's joint communication to the Linnean Society.

PENNSYLVANIA AND NEW YORK LEGISLATIVE UPDATE

The Pennsylvania House subcommittee on basic education held hearings on June 20, 2005, on House Bill 1007, which if enacted would allow local school boards to include "intelligent design" in any curriculum containing evolution and allow teachers to use, subject to the approval of the board, "supporting evidence deemed necessary for instruction on the theory of intelligent design." According to one of the bill's sponsors, Thomas C. Creighton (R-Lancaster), HB 1007 is necessary because "[t]he current [state education] code has a bias toward atheists who promote evolution theory." Speaking on behalf of the bill were John Calvert, head of the Kansas-based Intelligent Design Network; Samuel Chen, a recent high school graduate; and Michael J. Behe, the Lehigh biochemist and Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute, which subsequently sent a letter opposing HB 1007 as drafted but recommending a "teach the controversy" approach. Speaking against HB 1007 were Larry Frankel, legislative director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania; Janice Rael, president of the Delaware Valley Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, who described proponents of "intelligent design" as "activists who are struggling to impose their particular religious viewpoint on us all"; and Randy Bennett, associate professor of biology at Juniata College in Huntingdon. The Pennsylvania State Education Association also voiced its opposition to the bill. HB 1007's prospects are unclear: so far, the bill has not been referred to the education committee.

When the New York State Assembly's legislative session ended on June 24, 2005, Assembly Bill 8036 died in committee. If enacted, the bill would have required that "all pupils in grades kindergarten through twelve in all public schools in the state ... receive instruction in both theories of intelligent design and evolution." It also charged New York's commissioner of education to assist in developing curricula and local boards of education to provide "appropriate training and curriculum materials ... to ensure that all aspects of the theories, along with any supportive data, are fully examined through such course of study." Introduced late in the legislative session, poorly and vaguely drafted, and with only one sponsor, the bill was never thought to have a chance of succeeding; its sponsor, Daniel L. Hooker (R-Saugerties) was widely reported as explaining that his intention was more to spark discussion than to pass the bill. Referring to A08036 and a bill that would permit the posting of the Ten Commandments on public buildings and grounds, Hooker told the Albany Times-Union (May 31, 2005), "It's obvious that these are religious-based." James Conte (R-Huntington Station), a member of the education committee, told the Long Island Press that his office was deluged by e-mails opposing A08036, and Steve Englebright (D-East Setauket) -- a paleontologist by training and the founding director of the Museum of Long Island Natural Sciences at SUNY at Stony Brook -- described it as requiring "a waste of very precious class time to put forward thoroughly disputed ideas."

For the Associated Press's article (via CNN) on Pennsylvania's bill, visit: http://www.cnn.com/2005/EDUCATION/06/21/evolution.debate.ap/

For the Long Island Press's article on New York's bill, visit: http://www.longislandpress.com/?cp=38&show=article&a_id=4117

SCIENCE STILL UNDER SIEGE IN KANSAS

Following the widely criticized "kangaroo court" hearings on evolution in May 2005, the place of evolution in the Kansas state science standards remains unsettled. The hearings -- which reportedly cost Kansas taxpayers about $17,000 -- extended over four days in early May. Testifying before a three-member subcommittee of the board, a parade of witnesses expressed their support for the so-called minority report version of the standards (written with the aid of local "intelligent design" proponents), complained of repression by a dogmatic evolutionary establishment, and claimed to have detected atheism lurking "between the lines" of the draft science standards. (Recordings of the hearings are freely available from audible.com; transcripts of the hearings are available on the website of the Kansas Department of Education.) To nobody's surprise, the subcommittee subsequently decided to recommend that the board revise the standards to reflect the bulk of the suggestions of the so-called minority report. School board member Connie Morris reportedly also wanted to add a detailed list of criticisms of evolution, commenting that "I just feel like there needs to be more there because that is the crux of this effort: getting the criticisms of Darwinian evolution into the standards and into the classroom." Noting that the minority report's suggestions cater to a narrow set of sectarian interests, Topeka attorney Pedro Irigonegaray, who grilled the witnesses testifying during the hearings, warned of a potential legal challenge, and commented, "It's just a sad day for Kansas education."

The new minority report version was considered by the full board on June 14 and 15. "Your adoption of these standards will ensure that you are not presenting to the students of Kansas the best that science has to offer," Kansas Citizens for Science president Harry McDonald told the board on June 14. "You will be presenting what you, the self-admittedly scientifically unqualified, wish to personally impose on our children." The discussion leading to the vote was reportedly acrimonious: moderate board member Bill Wagnon told the conservative majority that they were "dupes" of the "intelligent design" movement and warned, "You have fallen into the trap of criticizing science based on misinformation," while conservative board member Connie Morris complained, "Each of you has said something this morning that was proven false in those hearings," and moderate board member Janet Waugh retorted by deploring Morris's personal attacks on her colleagues in a newsletter, produced at state expense, that criticized evolution as an "age-old fairytale" and described the moderate members of the board as rude, disruptive, and phony. The board finally voted 7-3 to send the standards, as revised by the subcommittee, to the original writing committee, although the chair of the original writing committee, Steve Case, expressed skepticism about the point of his committee's reviewing the standards, since it already considered and rejected the latest changes during the writing process. "I hesitate to waste people's time in the middle of summer for a day that's posture," he told the Wichita Eagle.

The original writing committee will review the latest draft of the standards in early August. Later in August, the board will consider the standards again in light of the original writing committee's comments, and decide on a final version, which will then undergo external review. After the final version returns from its external review, the board is expected to take a final vote in September. Commentators are already beginning to speculate about how far the board is prepared to go. The Johnson County Sun's opinion page editor offered a summary of the situation on June 16 -- "In recent months members of the 6-4 right-wing majority of the state board have made a mockery of the issue, notably by staging unneeded hearings that cost the state precious dollars -- dollars that could have been better spent on classroom teaching. And what purpose did the hearings serve? The six conservatives have the votes to shove through any changes they want in the way evolution is taught in Kansas schools." -- but was cautious not to predict a backlash at the next election, citing recent changes in the state's political landscape. Meanwhile, supporters of evolution education in Kansas are bracing for a repeat of 1999's debacle. Interviewed for Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, broadcast on PBS on June 10, Kansas biology teacher Ken Bingman poignantly remarked that the effect of the manufactured controversy in Kansas over evolution would be to discourage teachers from teaching evolution, lamenting, "it's giving students less than a quality education when we do that."

For the Wichita Eagle's story on the June 15 vote, visit: http://www.kansas.com/mld/kansas/news/local/11904583.htm

For the Johnson County Sun's editorial, visit: http://www.zwire.com/site/news.cfm?BRD=1459&dept_id=155728&newsid=14701517&PAG=461&rfi=9

For the Religion & Ethics Newsweekly story, visit: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week841/cover.html

HAPPY 147TH ANNIVERSARY

July 1, 1858, is a historic day for evolutionary biology, for it was then that Darwin and Wallace's joint communication about natural selection was read to the Linnean Society. As Adrian Desmond and James Moore tell the tale in their Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist (Warner Books, 1991), the Linnean Society was selected because "the Geological Society was inappropriate and anti-theoretical, [Richard] Owen held court at the Zoological, and that only left the Linnean, fresh in its premises in Picadilly. [Joseph] Hooker was still trying to revive the venerable old lady, and a controversial communique by Darwin and Wallace would be a shot in the arm." Hooker and Charles Lyell added the communication to the meeting's agenda at the last minute, and on July 1, the secretary of the society duly read extracts from Darwin's 1844 essay, part of his 1857 letter to Asa Gray, and Wallace's Ternate paper of 1858 to about thirty members of the Linnean Society. The impact was not immediate: Desmond and Moore write, "[N]o fireworks exploded, only a damp squib. The meeting was overlong, the talks rushed, and the whole was greeted in silence, although listeners left muttering 'with bated breath'"; the president of the society later commented that 1858 was not "marked by any of those striking discoveries which at once revolutionized, so to speak, [our] department of science." But Darwin himself was "more than satisfied," and began work on July 20 on preparing a fuller statement of his theory, which was eventually to become On the Origin of Species.

For Darwin and Wallace's joint communication on the Linnean Society's website, visit: http://www.linnean.org/contents/history/dwl_full.html

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

Sincerely,

Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x305
fax: 510-601-7204
800-290-6006
branch@ncseweb.org
http://www.ncseweb.org

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

Mystery Scientology Theater

Orange County Weekly

http://www.ocweekly.com/ink/05/43/film-winter.php

July 1 - 7, 2005
by JESSICA WINTER

The ominous tagline in early trailers for the alien invasion blockbuster War of the Worlds was "They're Already Here"-but any learned Scientologist could have told you that long ago. As you may have heard, WOTW star Tom Cruise is a 20-year veteran of the Church of Scientology, which reportedly teaches that human beings contain clusters of "body thetans," or spirits of aliens who died 75 million years ago in an intergalactic purge of overpopulated planets by the evil overlord Xenu.

In Scientology-speak, these "BTs" adversely influence our thoughts and behavior, and must be "cleared" through "auditing," a form of confessional therapy. For Scientologists (whose Hollywood ranks now include John Travolta, Kirstie Alley, and Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart Simpson), battling creatures from space isn't just the stuff of allegorical multiplex spectacle-it's nothing less than the path to self-fulfillment.

War of the Worlds is hardly Cruise's Battlefield Earth, but Steven Spielberg's film does make one Scientology-friendly tweak to H.G. Wells's 1898 novel of Martian attack (the aliens' war-making infrastructure has been implanted on earth for millions of years), and it's no wonder Cruise chose the movie as his first production to benefit from an on-site Scientology tent.

"The volunteer Scientology ministers were there to help the sick and injured," Cruise told Der Spiegel, like a battle-weary soldier extolling the Red Cross; no word on whether the film's agon incited sympathetic revolts of BTs among cast and crew, though we can all cross our fingers that Katie Holmes's resident aliens, unbound by earthling non-disclosure agreements, will one day pen a tell-all book.

Look to the light, Tom

If the founding myth of Scientology sounds torn from the yellowed pages of a science fiction pulp, it's because late leader L. Ron Hubbard (1911-86) once plugged away as an SF hack, contributing to journals such as Unknown and Astounding Science Fiction. In 1940, Astounding serialized Hubbard's book Final Blackout, a topical dystopia of lawless post-war Europe; according to Russell Miller's 1987 Scientology expos=E9 Bare-Faced Messiah, the novel "led to hopeful comparisons with Jules Verne and H.G. Wells."

Like any aspiring SF scribe of his era, Hubbard had to shadowbox with the anxiety of Wells's influence, which penetrated not only Hubbard's stories and novels but his self-help methodology-laid out in the 1950 bestseller Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health-and the eventual Church of Scientology's extraterrestrial tenets. (The first published article on Dianetics ran in 1950 in, where else, Astounding Science Fiction.)

In his 1902 lecture "The Discovery of the Future," Wells endorsed the forward-thinker, who "thinks constantly and by preference of things to come," just like the "Clear" in advanced Scientology, who has rid himself of "engrams," or disabling imprints of past traumas.

In Wells' War of the Worlds, Martians labor incessantly, with no apparent need for sleep or sex, and communicate telepathically; the Scientologist has a Calvinist work ethic, keeps his motor clean, and having reached the rarefied "Operating Thetan" levels Cruise is allegedly an "OT6"), can learn to read minds.

According to Hubbard, ailments ranging from the common cold to leukemia could be classified as merely psychosomatic; in Wells, the Martians have eliminated illness entirely. Were Wells' aliens the proto-Scientologists?

One of the more ironic aspects of Hubbard's-and now Cruise's-crusade against psychiatry is that Dianetics simply repackaged the basic Freudian concept of psychic determinism, whereby conflicts within the unconscious spill out into the open through irrational behaviors and psycho-somatic symptoms.

Dianetics differentiates between the unconscious or "reactive" mind-"a single source of all your problems, stress, unhappiness and self-doubt"-and the "clear" mind, scrubbed of neuroses, with an enhanced IQ and near perfect recall. (Perhaps Katie will be able to remember exactly where and how she met her fianc=E9 once she's further along in her auditing sessions.)

A Scientologist reading of Wells would identify a sadly asymmetrical battle between Reactives and Clears, as wailing herds of hysterical humans respond to alien predation with mass panic while their cerebral, workaholic visitors calmly go about irradiating them.

Wells' narrator observes of the Martians, "The immediate pressure of necessity has brightened their intellects, enlarged their powers and hardened their hearts"-three for three on the Hubbard scoreboard. The Nation's 1950 review of Dianetics worried over "its conception of the amoral, detached, 100 percent efficient mechanical man," because such unaffiliated self-sufficiency "does not exist except in a psychotic state" (cf. Cruise's character in Collateral).

Such concerns were apt regarding Hubbard, who would later declare that perceived enemies of the notoriously litigious Scientology organization could be "tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed," and who once wrote that a solution to low scorers on the Dianetics "tone scale" would be "to dispose of them quietly and without sorrow"-a notion Wells, a sometime advocate of eugenics, may not have found altogether abhorrent in other contexts.

On Hubbard's battlefields, you are either with us or against us, but the most grievous attacks are usually launched from within; paranoia is endemic, a perpetual night of a thousand engrams.

In conjuring the angry viral ghosts called body thetans and mutating sci-fi into Scientology, Hubbard might have taken inspiration from Wells' shell-shocked narrator at The War of the Worlds' end, wandering a scorched and ruined London: "About me my imagination found a thousand noise-less enemies moving."

Evidence for a young world

Forwarding permission was given by William R. Corliss

http://www.science-frontiers.com

SCIENCE FRONTIERS, No. 160, Jul-Aug 2005, p. 3

GEOLOGY

The Creationist scenario for the earth's history proclaims a recent beginning---very recent; thousands of years ago rather than a few billion. Any scientific observations supporting a *recent* creation scenario gets a knee-jerk rejection from science. Nevertheless, the creationist publications can and do point out a few observations embedded in the science literature that support their young-earth contention. An honest anomalist cannot discard these arbitrarily.

D.R. Humphries, a professor of physics at the Institute for Creation Research, has published and adequately referenced a list of 14 such potential anomalies. Seven of these we file under geology and herewith present these to readers of Science Frontiers for their serious consideration, amusement, or automatic rejection.

Not enough mud on the sea floor. Each year about 20 billion tons of dirt and rock are deposited on the ocean floor. Subduction and other recognized processes remove only about 5% of this each year. The present sediment inventory on the oceans' floors could have accumulated in only 12 million years. If the earth is billions of years old, ocean sediments should be kilometers deep!

I would like to see where the figure of 12 million years comes from. Most ocean floor is older than that but it is much younger than billions of years old. Less than 200 million years old from memory. Also, a lot of sediment accumulates near suduction zones (since they are near the continents), and most is removed by accretion to the continent and not by subduction. Has this creationist never heard or accretionary wedges (rhetorical question). Also, a lot of sediment accumulates in oceanic sedimentary basins such as in the Gulf of Mexico, and, during the Jurassic, between Australia and Antarctica (as just two examples)

I suspect their "maths" uniformally spread the sediments over the whole seafloor and expect a "uniform" removal.

Not enough sodium in the sea. A similar situation occurs here. Rivers and other sources dump 450 million tons of sodium into the ocean annually. Only 27% is removed. The present sodium content of all the oceans could have accumulated in just 43 million years.

Ahh. So our creationist has never heard of spillitisation of basalts at spreading ridges. This is where sodium is removed from sea water and incorporated into the basalts. No doubt there are other buffering reactions going on.

Once again, where is the 27% value from, and how old is the data.

The earth's magnetic field is decaying too fast. Its half life is only 1,465 +/- 165 years. [Young earth or oscillating field?]

Oscillating, of course. This isn't rocket science. Just look at any magnetic geophysical image of the earth and you will find rocks that preserve magnetic field 180 degrees to the current one. Several of the basalt plugs around Emerald-Sapphire (responsible for the sapphire gems in the area) show this quite nicely. Some are normal, and some are reversed.

The Therese Creek Volcanics about 100km north of Sapphire also preserve a reversed magnetic field. At the end of the first day of working on them I tried plotting my bedding dips, and flow directions, only to find they were totally different than what I expected (it was my first job as a geologist...pardon me for not noticing on the outcrop!!). The next day I went back to check and found that the preserved magnetic field rotated my compass by up to 40 degrees up to 30m from the outcrop.

Many strata are too tightly bent. Strata thousands of feet thick are folded into sharp hairpin shapes. Such small radii of curvature could only have happened without cracking if the strata were young and pliable; that is, just thousands of years old rather than billions.

Obviously our cretinist is not familiar with the data that shows that with temperature and pressure it is easy to bend rocks over long periods of time. Is he claiming that the "rocks" became lithified after deformation? Is he aware that geologists can tell the difference between Soft Sediment Deformation and Tectonic Deformation. Also, is he aware that most folding is at the scale of several kilometers? You can't fold soft sediments on such wavelengths. The only way to do it is to deform it at relatively high temperatures and pressures over long periods of time.

Biological material decays too fast. DNA theoretically should not survive normal environments more than 10,000 years.

Ooooh!!! So now they accept a "theory".

Yet, it has been recovered from dinosaur fossils.

Reference please!! (I realise you are repeating this and may not have the data)

Dinosaur bones have also yielded soft tissue and blood cells despite being millions of years old in the standard view.

Pffftttt! Soft tissue has been recovered from many fossil, some much older than dinosaurs. Most spores, pollens, acritarchs and dinoflagellates despite being up to 100s of millions of years old are still "soft tissue" though usually a bit carbonised. In a few special places the Graptolites have preserved their chitonous skeletons so well that they are still flexible.

Organic molecules are damn tough despite what the creationists say

Too much helium in minerals. Example, zircon crystals in Precambrian rock.

Helium can be produced by radioactive decay, and although creationists concentrate on diffusion out of crystals, if there is external sources of Helium, they ignore the fact that Helium can diffuse back into a crystal. I wonder why they do that?

Too much carbon-14 in deep strata. The half-life of C-14 is only 5,700 years and should not be present in rocks over 250,000 years old, but it is found in rocks millions and even billions of years old.

Carbon 14 is produced by radiation. It commonly occurs in old rocks where other radioactive decay is going on. Why do we find no isotope with a really short half life that are not produced by another decay series (such as I referenced in my comments on the debate)?

Pondering the spiritual contradictions of intelligent design

http://www.grandforks.com/mld/grandforks/news/nation/12032564.htm

Posted on Fri, Jul. 01, 2005

BY RON GROSSMAN

Chicago Tribune

(KRT) - Scientifically speaking, there's no great novelty to the theory of intelligent design, the Bible Belt's latest alternative to Darwin.

The greatest of the medieval theologians, St. Thomas Aquinas, taught that the order we see all around us proved God's existence. But intelligent design does frame with renewed clarity a philosophical question that has haunted humans ever since they developed a capacity for wonderment: Why does evil exist?

If the universe is governed by a benevolent power - call it God or the dialectic or Mother Nature or whatever - why are we tormented by disease, famine, cruelty and war?

Intelligent design envisions a universe in which impeccable logic reigns.

Evolution is predicated on blind chance. Darwin reasoned that many a litter or seedpod contains oddballs whose differences give them a leg up in coping with their environment. They prevail over siblings, and from those myriad small changes the infinite variety of living creatures evolve, from amoebas to modern man.

Especially in this country, churchgoers can be troubled by that picture.

In England, Darwin's homeland, and in Europe, even the more conservative denominations have long since made peace with evolution. But the idea that apes and men have a common ancestry still troubles a broad swath of Middle America, where people take a simple and straightforward piety to Sunday services.

To them, evolution bespeaks a godless world and, by extension, a world without ethical moorings. The Creator of the Old Testament account goes about his work logically, making land for Adam to stand on, adding a companion in Eve, and giving them food to eat.

With parallel rigor, Jehovah establishes ethical limits, all those "thou shalt not" injunctions of the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy. But if the cosmos is the product of accident and chance, wouldn't "good" and "bad" be arbitrary?

Some believers think they've found a way out of that ethical cul-de-sac via a hole they perceive in evolutionary theory. Virtually no scientists agree with them, but for the moment, let's look at it from their perspective.

Intelligent design's partisans argue that life is too complex to be the product of accident intersecting with environmental advantage. Humans depend upon dozens of organs, each made up of numerous smaller systems, all of which have to mesh perfectly.

There wouldn't have been enough time, even in the billions of years the universe has been around, for all of that to evolve by trial and error, Darwin's opponents argue. Therefore, there must have been a blueprint for life - and thus a designer to bring a cosmic T-square and triangle to it.

On an intuitive level, intelligent design has a certain appeal.

Recall a gorgeous sunset over a bucolic landscape. Beholding the scene, it's hard to resist thinking that such beauty must have been created for humans to take pleasure in. Think of little kids squealing with delight as they go down a slide. Could it be only happenstance that a playground's potential so perfectly coincides with a child's sense of fun?

Now consider a more problematic example, say, a cancer ward in a children's hospital.

If the world is the product of a blueprint, then it must have contained the specs for suffering no less than it did pleasure.

In at least 21 states, legislators and school-board members have demanded that intelligent design have a place in the science curriculum. Before a judge nixed the project, a suburban-Atlanta board of education required biology textbooks to have a sticker affixed, cautioning:

"This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered."

Yet if the same cosmic plan produced not just joy but pain, shouldn't Sunday school books carry a disclaimer: "Caution, studying intelligent design can lead to moral relativism."

Intelligent design's sponsors are careful not to spell out exactly who or what it might be. They know that if their pet theory were overtly associated with the biblical God, the constitutional provision for separation of church and state would deny their ideas access to public schools.

For rhetorical simplicity, let's here dub the cosmic planner the "Designer" and assign he/she/it the pronoun "he."

If the Designer created not just sunsets but also infants starving in Sudan, what kind of example is he to hold up to schoolchildren?

Thinking about the horrors the Designer committed, impressionable young people might conclude that they are similarly unbound by any ethical limits.

In fact, that's a vexing question for all streams of religious thought, but especially for monotheistic ones. Polytheistic systems can slide by the problem.

The ancient Greek pantheon had lots of gods, depicted by Homer as a divine and dysfunctional family. Some of the Olympians favored one group of humans, the Greeks, while other gods sided with the Trojans.

So the escalation of earthly disputes into war, and the suffering it brings even to noncombatants, is hardly surprising. It goes with the territory of being human.

The ancient Persians confronted the problem of evil head-on. They posited the existence of two gods. One is a god of good, the other is a god of evil. The world is a kind of playing field where the two gods struggle for supremacy, the battle now going one way, then the other.

Humans are caught in the middle, which is why our lives are a mixture of pleasure and pain.

That Persian dualism so neatly corresponds to experience that the Romans almost adopted it when they went shopping for a faith to replace the polytheism they'd inherited from the Greeks. But in the end, the Romans converted to Christianity, a monotheism with the built-in problems of a one-god universe.

Preachers of monotheistic faiths sometimes explain evil's existence by shifting the burden to mankind. Their arguments are usually variations on a theme: We each create our own hell. Roughly, the thesis is that God created a good universe, but humans muck it up with their misdeeds.

Now, I am willing to accept my share of the blame, according to that formula.

I suspect others can too.

Many adults recognize how often they have screwed up, and thus we could understand evil that befalls us as being the product of our own shortcomings.

But come back to the example of infants with terminal diseases.

What possible misdeeds could they have committed in their foreshortened lives to warrant such painful punishments?

French writer Albert Camus posed that question in his novel "The Plague."

It is the story of a town subject to a devastating epidemic, a kind of rerun of the Black Death of earlier times. At first, the local priest explains the experience as divine retribution for sin. But after witnessing a child's death, Father Paneloux can't hold on to that easy argument.

"No, we should go forward, groping our way through the darkness, stumbling perhaps at times, and try to do what good lays in our power," he says in a revised sermon. Beyond that, he can only urge that Christians must trust that, in some mysterious way, a benevolent God hovers over the universe where they suffer.

Intelligent design, though, takes away that option.

In an attempt to rid the universe of Darwinian accident, it winds up ridding it, as well, of divine mystery. Its very logic leaves no metaphysical wiggle room - ironically, since its sponsors are otherwise highly vocal Christians.

They honor the Old Testament, whose creator is far from a coolly detached Designer.

Jehovah makes no secret of his personality traits.

"For I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God," he says. The Old Testament creator knows that his awesome power can paralyze humans with fear. After destroying his first creation with a flood, he put rainbows in the sky, so Noah's heirs wouldn't cringe with every raindrop.

Those nuances have made the Bible a perennial best-seller, an ethical chapbook upon which generations of children have been raised.

But this newfangled notion of a Designer who lays it out, once and forever, with no possible revisions, who utters not one word of explanation, who drafted a blueprint, and by his silence says: Take it or leave it?

That's not the kind of Creator I want my children and now my grandchildren to learn about.

When it comes to taking religion out of the public schools, it could make the ACLU seem like pikers.

(Ron Grossman is a Chicago Tribune staff reporter.)

© 2005, Chicago Tribune.

Alternative Medicine Becoming Mainstream

http://health.dailynewscentral.com/content/view/0001181/31/ Contributed by Jai A. Dennison| 01 July, 2005 14:56 GMT

Chiropractic was ranked ahead of all conventional treatments, including prescription drugs, by readers with back pain.

Patients and doctors alike are warming toward alternative medicine, according to a new Consumer Reports survey of more than 34,000 readers who ranked the treatments that worked best for them.

Hands-on treatments, such as chiropractic, worked better than conventional treatments for such conditions as back pain and arthritis, according to survey respondents. Chiropractic was ranked ahead of all conventional treatments, including prescription drugs, by readers with back pain.

Readers also indicated that chiropractic treatments provided relief for neck pain. However, Consumer Reports does not recommend it, saying neck manipulation can be risky.

Deep-tissue massage was found to be especially effective in treating osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia. While readers suffering from back pain deemed acupuncture and acupressure less effective than chiropractic and massage, one-fourth of readers who had tried these therapies said they helped them feel much better.

Of all the hands-on alternative therapies, acupuncture has the most scientific support.

Tepid Reaction to Supplements

Exercise also provides good results, according to the survey -- not only for such conditions as back pain, but also for allergies and other respiratory ills, anxiety, rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, depression, insomnia and prostate problems. a d v e r t i s e m e n t

Those results are consistent with a broad range of clinical studies of treatments for all of those conditions, except allergies and respiratory ailments.

Popular herbal treatments -- such as echinacea, St. John's wort, saw palmetto, melatonin, and glucosamine and chondroitin -- did not earn high marks. Readers reported that alternative treatments were far less effective than prescription drugs for eight conditions: anxiety, rheumatoid arthritis, depression, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, insomnia, prostate problems, and respiratory problems.

Interpreting results of the reader survey is somewhat difficult, Consumer Reports notes, because the US regulates alternative and conventional medicines differently.

Federal laws ensure that a bottle of prescription or over-the- counter pills contains the amount and kind of medicine stated on the label, and dosages are standardized, but no such standards apply to dietary supplements. Moreover, there are no standard recommended dosages.

Choosing the Alternative Route

In general, Consumer Reports makes the following recommendations for utilizing alternative therapies:

Ask your doctor. Many doctors will refer patients to preferred alternative practitioners. And your doctor may be able to steer you away from potentially hazardous alternative treatments. a d v e r t i s e m e n t

Do your own research. Objective online references include the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the US National Institutes of Health; Medline Plus, for plain-language medical information; and Consumer Reports Medical Guide, which rates treatments, including alternative treatments, for several dozen common conditions. It costs $24 per year or $4.95 per month; the others are free.

Consult other reliable sources. If your doctor doesn't have a referral list of practitioners, check with a local hospital or medical school. You can also turn to national professional organizations, many of which have geographic search functions on their Web sites.

Check your health plan. Many cover some alternative therapies.

Check the practitioner's credentials. Make sure your practitioner has the proper license, if applicable, or check for membership in professional associations, which require minimum levels of education and experience. Some also make practitioners pass an exam.


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