NTS LogoSkeptical News for 20 July 2005

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

CULTURE DIGEST: Top cardinal critiques evolution; megachurch moves into Rockets' old arena; 'meth orphans' grow in prevalence


Jul 20, 2005
By Erin Curry

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--A prominent cardinal has created a stir within the Roman Catholic Church after expressing discontent over the way some Catholics have misrepresented the church's position on evolution in order to support the idea of a random process.

Christoph Schonborn, archbishop of Vienna and a close friend to Pope Benedict XVI, wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times July 7, saying defenders of Darwinian evolution have often invoked Pope John Paul II's 1996 statement that evolution was "more than just a hypothesis" when defending their theory as compatible with Christianity.

"But this is not true," Schonborn wrote. "The Catholic Church, while leaving to science many details about the history of life on earth, proclaims that by the light of reason the human intellect can readily and clearly discern purpose and design in the natural world, including the world of living things."

While evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, he argued, evolution in the sense of an "unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection" is not.

Schonborn also defended John Paul's stance on the issue, saying the late pope's "rather vague and unimportant" remarks did not properly convey his position, which was to assume that a Creator must have overseen the complex organization of living things.

And Schonborn, as the lead editor of the official 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church, noted that the profession of faith states: "Human intelligence is certainly capable of finding a response to the question of origins. The existence of God the Creator can be known with certainty through his works, by the light of human reason ... We believe that God created the world according to his wisdom. It is not the product of any necessity whatever, nor of blind fate or chance."

Kenneth Miller, a professor at Brown University and a Catholic who wrote a book called "Finding Darwin's God," told The Times that Schonborn seemed to equate belief in evolution with disbelief in God, which is alarming.

"It may have the effect of convincing Catholics that evolution is something they should reject," he said.

But Bruce Chapman, president of the Discovery Institute in Seattle, which supports intelligent design, told The Times the cardinal's essay "helps blunt the claims" that the church "has spoken on Darwinian evolution in a way that's supportive."

In response to the essay, three scientists -- two of them Roman Catholic biologists -- have requested that Pope Benedict XVI clarify the church's position on evolution, but no answer has yet been given.

MEGACHURCH MOVES INTO ROCKETS' OLD ARENA -- A recent cultural phenomenon occurred in Houston when a fast-growing church moved its services to a 16,000-seat arena that the local NBA team once called home.

Lakewood Church, a 30,000-member nondenominational congregation led by Pastor Joel Osteen, signed a 30-year lease on Houston's former Compaq Center and then spent $95 million renovating the structure -- replacing locker rooms with nurseries and concession stands with a unified food court.

When the church held its first service in the new facility July 16, the place was packed. Pulsing music, swirling lights and thunderous applause kicked off the Saturday night event as Osteen, his family and Texas Gov. Rick Perry entered the arena, The Houston Chronicle reported.

"I look out, and I almost don't know what to say," Osteen told the crowd. "I just want to say, 'I love you.'"

The church started out with just 90 people in 1959, when Osteen's father, John Osteen, planted it in a working-class neighborhood. Now it's the largest church in America, and Joel Osteen is a widely watched televangelist with several best-selling motivational books.

Lakewood's new 606,050 square foot arena features interactive areas for children and youth, a pulpit platform surrounded by two waterfalls using 200 gallons of water each, eight giant video screens and an orchestra pit that can be raised and lowered hydraulically, according to The Dallas Morning News.

The Houston Rockets vacated the building when they moved into the new Toyota Center, and the city wanted to bar whoever took over Compaq from competing with the new arena for events such as concerts, The Dallas Morning News said. Lakewood seemed like a good fit, so the church paid $11.8 million for the three-decade lease with an option to renew for another 30 years at $22 million. The church raised $45 million for the renovations and borrowed the rest.

Osteen is often criticized for preaching a prosperity gospel, where suffering and sin are minimalized and the focus is on how much God wants to bless Christians. He generally stays away from addressing political and doctrinal issues, causing some to characterize his approach as "Christianity lite."

'METH ORPHANS' GROW IN PREVALENCE -- Methamphetamine has become the No. 1 illegal drug problem in the nation, according to law enforcement officials, and now agencies that care for children from broken homes have seen a dramatic rise in the number of cases related to the widely used narcotic.

In Oklahoma, the number of foster children in the state is up 16 percent from a year ago. In Kentucky, the numbers are up 12 percent, which means 753 more children in the system, according to a New York Times feature on the subject July 11. Officials in Oregon reported an increase of 569 and said the caseload would be half that number if the methamphetamine problem was conquered. Tennessee saw 300 more children enter foster care in 2004 than 2003, largely because of meth.

The problem is being compared to the crack baby epidemic of the 1990s, though officials say methamphetamine's potent and destructive nature coupled with the fact that it can be manufactured in a home around kids sets it apart from other drugs.

"It has become harder to attract and keep foster parents because the children of methamphetamine arrive with so many behavioral problems; they may not get into their beds at night because they are so used to sleeping on the floor, and they may resist toilet training because they are used to wearing dirty diapers," The Times reported.

Often, parents will cook up the drug -- which can be made from basic ingredients like cold medicine or fertilizer -- in the kitchen while their children play nearby. Then they'll smoke or inject the drug and eventually pass out for extended times following a rush, never taking care of the children. The Drug Enforcement Administration reported that over the past five years, 15,000 children were found at meth labs, The Times said.

"People always ask, what can they do about meth? The important thing you can do is become a foster parent because we're just seeing so many kids being taken from these homes," North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem told The Times.


Come out, come out, wherever you are


Hunting for intelligent life in specks of cosmic dust
July 20, 2005

By DENNIS OVERBYE The New York Times

In astronomy, the race is on to the bottom.

Teams of astronomers are staying up all night in the breath-fogging cold of the high-altitude desert of Chile and in the oxygen-starved heights of Hawaiian volcanoes, deciphering downloaded pixels from the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes over soggy pizza, and then upstaging one another's news conferences, all in the search for the smallest, dimmest crumbs of creation, the most mundane specks of dust that may be circling some garden-variety star.

It is here, in boring, peaceful meadows of the galaxy, far from fountains of lethal high energy particles, swarms of killer comets or hungry black holes, we are told, that we should look if we want to find habitable abodes and possibly life.

And that, of course, would be the most exciting and wonderful result in the history of science, one of the few in astronomy that would probably rebound beyond science, affecting our view of our own status as tenants in this strange house of stars.

Last spring, the quest ratcheted another notch downward (or upward) when a team of astronomers announced the detection of a planet only seven times the mass of the Earth circling a dim star named Gliese 876 in the constellation Aquarius. This was the first alien planet that astronomers were unabashedly able to identify as a ball of rock, like the Earth, rather than a bag of gas like Jupiter or Neptune.

Its discoverers estimated that the new planet was made of iron and silicate and was about 70 percent larger in diameter than Earth. Moreover, as in our own solar system, there are larger Jupiter-size planets orbiting Gliese 876 at greater distances.

Never mind for the moment that it was so close to its home star, Gliese 876, that you could bake a lasagna on its surface. The planet was hailed as yet another sign that the cosmos was basically friendly and that sooner or later planet hunters would find worlds as small as Earth out there, another step on the road to finding out whether or not humanity is alone in the universe.

"We are beginning to find our planet's kith and kin among the stars," said Geoffrey Marcy of the University of California, Berkeley, leader of the team that discovered the Gliese planet.

And the joy of family reunion has resounded throughout the cosmos of astronomers for more than 10 years now.

It was on the night of July 4, 1995, that Michel Mayor and his student Didier Queloz woke up their wives at 4 a.m. to drink Champagne and eat raspberry pie at an observatory in the south of France. The astronomers, based at the University of Geneva, had just confirmed that an invisible object about half the mass of Jupiter was sailing around the star 51 Pegasi, tugging it to and fro every four days. It was the first planet ever discovered around another sunlike star.

Mayor and his student were using a humble, little-used reflector a mere 76 inches in diameter, way small compared with the 320-inch behemoths then being planned and built for cosmology. Their rivals, Marcy and Paul Butler, professors at San Francisco State, had to make do with similarly unglamorous circumstances at Lick Observatory.

"We were typically assigned only two nights per year, exactly when the Moon was full and no one wanted the telescopes," Marcy recalled in an e-mail message.

Most of the 150 so-called exoplanets subsequently discovered have been found using the "wobble" technique that Mayor's group and Marcy's group pioneered. This consists of looking for a to-and-fro motion in the star, induced by the gravitational tug of an orbiting planet.

In retrospect, it seems only natural that the first planetary systems these astronomers discovered were psychotic beasts unlike anything previously imagined. The more massive a planet is and the more tightly it circles its star, the bigger the wobble and thus the easier it is to detect. As a result, the first planets were so-called "hot Jupiters," orbiting their suns in a matter of days instead of years, lethally searing and dense.

As time has gone on and they gather more data on various systems, the observers have been able to detect smaller planets and ones that are farther and farther from their stars, an effect astronomers refer to as "drawing back the curtain."

Last week, astronomers announced the discovery of a planet with three suns, in a configuration the theorists had thought was unlikely, if not impossible. Marcy said in an interview that when the dust finally settled he expected that planetary systems with architectures like our own — with Jupiter-mass planets in circular outer orbits, leaving space for smaller planets in closer orbits protected from comet showers — would be rare, "but not that rare."

Whether those planets will be suitable for life and intelligence is a different matter, however, and one that reaches beyond astronomy into metaphysics and theology. The requirements for Life As We Know It, some astronomers argue, are so exacting that Goldilocks planets like Earth might be rare or even nonexistent.

The list of astronomical requirements for life gets longer and more exacting every year: the home star has to be far enough from the galactic center to be away from lethal black hole pyrotechnics, for example, but not so far into the galactic sticks that stellar evolution has not yet produced enough of the heavier elements like oxygen and iron needed for planets and life.

Among other things, its planet has to have liquid water, a magnetic field to keep away cosmic rays, plate tectonics to keep things stirred, a giant outer planet to keep away comets and asteroids and perhaps a big moon to stabilize its rotation axis.

Of the 200 billion or so stars in the galaxy, what fraction have the lucky combo to win this cosmic lottery? Faced with the same paltry data, different astronomers get vastly different conclusions, ranging from hundreds of thousands to one, namely our own.

Among the various members of the planetary posse, Frank Drake, an astronomer at the SETI Institute and a pioneer of the practice of listening with radio telescopes for alien broadcasts, is one of the most optimistic.

"It may well be that there are far more habitable planets orbiting M dwarfs than orbiting all other types of stars combined," he said on the institute's Web site recently, referring to the dim red stars like Gliese 876. The SETI Institute is holding a conference this week on the habitability of planets belonging to such stars.

On the other hand are pessimists who argue that planets like the Earth and therefore even simple life forms are rare. One is Ben Zuckerman, an astronomer and exoplanet hunter at the University of California, Los Angeles, who admitted in an e-mail message, "Frankly, the correct answer remains anyone's guess, and the range of guesses is very wide indeed."

But, he emphasized, the question can actually be answered by future spacegoing experiments like the Terrestrial Planet Finder and Kepler, which will find and count habitable planets in our corner of the galaxy.

A null result would suggest that humans might be alone in the galaxy or the universe.

This would merely be an interesting academic argument except for a film that is going around, and which I recently viewed, called "The Privileged Planet," which suggests that the Earth's nice qualities are no accident.

The film, produced by Illustra Media in California, is based on a book of the same name by Guillermo Gonzalez, an astronomer at Iowa State, and Jay W. Richards, a philosopher and vice president of the Discovery Institute in Seattle.

It argues that Earth is so special and unlikely that it must be the work of an intelligent designer. "What if it's not a cosmic lottery?" Richards asks in the film.

The Discovery Institute advocates "intelligent design," a notion that posits the intervention by a designer, whether divine or not, in the origin and history of life, as an alternative to standard evolutionary biology. Illustra Media has produced a series of videos in support of this idea.

The showing of the film at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History last month exacerbated the worries of many astronomers that the Big Bang would be next on the hit list of creationists.

Thoughtful cosmologists have long wondered about the apparent friendliness of the universe to carbon-based life forms like us. The notion that the fix must be in from a creator, however, has always been rejected as unscientific thinking.

It's the job of scientists, after all, to pursue natural causes and explanations, not settle for supernatural ones.

One such explanation for the specialness of the Earth, for example, comes from theories of modern particle physics and cosmology, which seem to suggest that there have been many, many Big Bangs resulting in a plethora of universes. We live in one that is suitable for us the same way that fish live in the sea.

A prominent cardinal in the Catholic Church, Christoph Schoenborn, recently criticized this idea, along with evolution, in a July 7 article on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times. He said the church needed to "defend human reason" against "scientific claims like neo-Darwinism and the multiverse hypothesis in cosmology invented to avoid the overwhelming evidence for purpose and design found in modern science."

But the argument from design, many scientists say, is circular. Charles Stevenson, a planetary scientist at Caltech, said that it was no surprise that the Earth appears suited to our needs. "That's what Darwinian evolution tells us should happen. We are adapted to our world," Stevenson said.

Who knows what powers atoms in their collective and complex majesty have to respond to their environments over time?

Lacking anything approaching a final theory of physics, or of how planetary systems form, and of more than one example of life — the biosphere on Earth — scientists have no way of actually knowing how unlikely various properties of life and the universe are. In science the smart money is always on surprise.

Everybody agrees that intelligent technological life is a much greater leap, but it might be instructive to consider who is laying down bets on at least looking for it. Among the financial angels of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI, have been people like Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft; the late Barney Oliver, William Hewlett and David Packard, leaders of Hewlett-Packard; Gordon Moore, the founder of Intel; and the novelist Arthur C. Clarke, who invented the idea of the communications satellite.

The smart money isn't always right, but this is certainly smart money.



Release Date: July 19, 2005

By Steven Stocker, Contributing Writer
Health Behavior News Service

Although many HIV-infected people use herbal medicines, particularly in developing countries, there is not enough evidence to show they actually work, a review of previous studies concludes.

Investigators at the National Research Center in Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the University of Tromso in Norway looked at nine randomized clinical trials in which herbal medicines were compared with no intervention, placebo or anti-HIV drugs in patients with HIV infection, HIV-related diseases or AIDS.

The trials tested eight herbal medicines, some of which were extracts from a single herb and others formulations composed of as many as 35 herbs. In all, 499 individuals with HIV infection or AIDS were included in the analyses.

The review appears in the July issue of The Cochrane Library, a publication of The Cochrane Collaboration, an international organization that produces systematic reviews of healthcare interventions, based on the content and quality of existing clinical trials on the topic.

Researchers were looking for evidence of HIV disease progression, indicators of immune system status, and HIV concentration in the blood. Also under study were measures of quality of life, such as psychological status, ability to work or function in life, and the degree to which HIV-related symptoms bother the patient.

The study found insufficient evidence to support the use of herbal medicines for treating HIV infection and AIDS. "There may be several reasons for this," says lead author Dr. Jianping Liu. "One is that the different trials used different herbs. Only one herbal preparation was tested more than once."

"Another is that the different trials treated different types of patients," says Liu. "In some, the HIV-infected participants were asymptomatic; in others, they were symptomatic. Some trials looked at symptoms induced by AIDS, such as diarrhea."

Liu is a visiting professor at the University of Tromso. His main appointment is at the Beijing University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, where he is head of the Evidence-Based Chinese Medicine Center for Clinical Research and Evaluation.

The review did identify three trials showing small to moderate positive effects of herbal medicines. A Chinese herbal formulation called IGM-1, composed of 31 herbs, improved overall satisfaction with life and reduced symptoms for HIV-infected patients. SP-303, a compound isolated from the Amazonian plant Croton lechleri, reduced abnormal stool frequency in patients with AIDS and diarrhea. And combining a Chinese herbal formulation called SH, containing five herbs, with two anti-HIV drugs led to greater antiviral activity in HIV-infected patients.

"Unfortunately, these trials have problems," says Liu. "For example, they have small sample sizes and not enough treatment follow-up, so we cannot reach any firm conclusions. We suggest that these compounds be studied further in large, well-designed trials." He says that he expects that herbal medicines are more likely to show benefit in quality of life measures, much as IGM-1 appears to do, rather than antiviral activity.

Dr. Chun-Su Yuan, director of the Tang Center for Herbal Medicine Research at the University of Chicago, says that he agrees with Liu about the clinical evidence regarding herbal medicines. "There is no strong evidence from controlled trials showing that herbs are effective against HIV," he says. "In general, though, these studies are not well-designed." He says that herbal medicines may eventually prove useful for countering side effects of HIV medications, such as nausea, vomiting, and fatigue.

Yuan is impressed with one Chinese herbal medicine that so far has been studied mostly in the laboratory. The plant is called Scutellaria baicalensis Georgi, otherwise known as Huang qin or Chinese skullcap.

One of the active ingredients in this medicine is a chemical called baicalin, which has been shown to inhibit the activity of the HIV enzyme reverse transcriptase, which helps HIV infect the DNA of target cells. Laboratory studies done in Japan have shown that baicalin inhibits HIV replication in immune cells from asymptomatic HIV-infected individuals. Liu says that Scutellaria baicalensis Georgi is currently being tested in a clinical trial with HIV-infected patients in South Africa.

In some developing countries, herbal medicines are used as primary treatments for HIV infection, largely because of the high cost of anti-HIV drugs.

The review was funded by the Ministry of Education in China, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine in the United States and the National Research Center in Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Norway.

Liu JP, Manheimer E, Yang M. Herbal medicines for treating HIV infection and AIDS. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2005, Issue 3

The Cochrane Collaboration is an international nonprofit, independent organization that produces and disseminates systematic reviews of health care interventions and promotes the search for evidence in the form of clinical trials and other studies of interventions. Visit http://www.cochrane.org for more information.


Health Behavior News Service: (202) 387-2829 or www.hbns.org.

Center for the Advancement of Health
Contact: Ira R. Allen
Vice President of Public Affairs

Years to alternative health rules, says FG


20/07/05 By Evelyn Ring

IT will be years before alternative medicine practitioners are subject to regulation, Fine Gael claimed yesterday.

FG spokesman on health Dr Liam Twomey said there were plans to regulate allied health professionals such as physiotherapists, chiropodists and psychologists, but not alternative practitioners.

Currently, general practitioners who engage in alternative medicine must be able to show that what they were doing had an appropriate basis under current Medical Council guidelines and will be struck off the register if they fail to do so.

Clare GP Dr Paschal Carmody was struck off last year after being found guilty of professional misconduct.

Two of the cases on which he was judged related to his involvement in the provision of an alternative light therapy to treat a patient with advanced cancer and the use of chelation therapy to treat a patient who suffered from angina.

And Mayo man Paul Howie, who died from a tumour in his throat, was treated by Mineke Kamper, an alternative therapist in Mulranny, Co Mayo.

The dead man's wife, Michelle Howie, claimed Ms Kamper discouraged her husband from seeking medical help. Ms Kamper is believed to be still practicing after being sharply criticised over the man's death.

Dr Carmody, who was previously prosecuted by the Irish Medicine's Board (IMB) on charges of supplying unauthorised medicines, had a series of similar charges struck out in Tralee District Court on Monday because the IMB was unaware that the matter was before the court.

It is understood that the IMB is now seeking to have the charges re-entered.

A national working group, set up more than two years ago by former Health Minister Micheál Martin to advise on strengthening the regulatory environment for "complementary therapists/alternative practitioners", has yet to complete its work.

The 14-member group is expected to report to Tánaiste and Health Minister Mary Harney before the end of this year. Ms Harney said she intends introducing "appropriate measures" to strengthen the regulation of complementary therapists as soon as she receives the group's report.

In the meantime, she has asked the department's Health Promotion Unit to explore the "possibility" of running a public information campaign aimed at providing guidance to people contemplating complementary therapy services.

Getting straight with God


The Rev. J. Grace Harley used to be a lesbian who posed as a man to marry a woman. Now she has overcome cocaine and "little hot-to-trot women" and is speaking out to save homosexual sinners.

By Mark Benjamin

July 20, 2005

The Rev. J. Grace Harley is a kindly, big-boned, middle-aged black woman with gentle eyes and an obvious wig. She thanks God that she arrived safely at work. Harley is the founder of Jesus Is the Answer Ministry, one of more than 100 Christian ministries across the country that seek to turn homosexuals into heterosexuals. On her Web site, Harley describes herself as "the manifestation of Christ Jesus' truth on homosexuality (2 Corinthians 4:2) which describes same sex attraction disorder (S.S.A.D.D)." She hosts a local cable TV show, "God's Will and Grace," in Washington, and meetings for Homosexuals Anonymous and Overcomers Ministries, two programs that help gays and lesbians get straight with God.

On a recent Wednesday night, Harley is sitting behind a desk in a barren community center, located across the street from the Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church in Northeast Washington. She is not supposed to host the Overcomers Ministries meeting that night, but given that the regular leader is late for some reason, she will take charge. The only people in the audience are me and a young, soft-spoken African-American man, a student at a local university. He is toting a tattered Bible and a book bag. The regular leader never does show. We pray for him later.

Earlier this summer, I interviewed six gay men who had spent months or years in what is called "reparative" or "conversion" therapy, programs run mostly by Christian conservatives that allegedly help homosexuals become heterosexuals. Each of the men, trapped between their religious beliefs and sexual orientation, told me reparative therapy had only made them depressed. All of them recovered by coming out of the closet. Still, the religious right claims that efforts to change gays stem from "compassion, not bigotry," according to the Family Research Council. I decided to see for myself. I told Harley I was gay, although I am straight and married. I used a fake name.

Standing in front of the room like a schoolteacher, Harley assures us that it is possible to overcome the sins of homosexuality and offers herself as an example. She confesses that she is a former lesbian who dressed and lived as a man for 18 years. She registered as a man on a Maryland marriage application and wed another woman. At the time, the "J" in her name stood for Joe. When the marriage ended, it was "the worst day of my life," she says. But it ended because of her own infidelity, fueled by what she describes as a voracious appetite for sex with other women. And a voracious appetite for cocaine.

Harley once overdosed on cocaine while partying with a lesbian lover, she says. "The woman I left my wife for, she used to like to smoke crack and freebase. We were doing all kinds of stuff. I almost died once on cocaine, and she dragged me to the bathroom. Just so many times I nearly lost my life. And so today I am a radical, radical Christian."

Ever since she was 15, Harley says, she has had more sexual experiences with men and women than she can count, including an affair with a male pastor, who "was taking me to bed every chance he could." Harley started cleaning up her life 13 years ago.

"For me to go from age 15 to age 40 and always have a person in my bed, or always have a person I am screwing, to suddenly not having anybody but a spirit -- it's hard," she says. "I loved walking the streets with a cute little honey that all the men were looking at, and I'm rubbing on her butt. I always had the little honeys, you know, the little lipstick lesbians they call them, those little hot-to-trot, hoochie-mama-looking women."

The good reverend tells us the best way to overcome our own homosexuality is to imagine Jesus as a gay man. "The love and the passion that you feel for another of the same sex, try to see Jesus and try to give him that same passion and love and desire," she says. "He can handle it. He takes it, and he will rework it and give you the deepest, greatest love affair." She whispers: "Jesus is a man. What if he were a gay man and he desired you, and he wanted your body totally for himself? Whoa! What if?"

Jesus appeared to Harley at a church service, she says, sparking her healing process. She credits her relationship with God as the bedrock of her recovery. But the end of the world is coming, she says, when we must face God. "These are end times and it is up to us to get it together," Grace tells us, heating up like a Baptist preacher. "We are going to stand one-on-one naked before God. How is he going to judge us for the actions of our bodies, which is his dwelling place? Every time we go down into the filth, we take Jesus with us!"

Harley cools down. Politically correct people do not understand that gay people "taint" others around them, she says, and so gays should be barred from the Boy Scouts of America. "Birds of a feather flock together," Harley tells us. "It's not in the Bible, but it's true. You can't have a homosexual buddy and think you are going to be buddy-buddy and nothing [will get] off on you. You will become tainted and corrupted. Why do you think they have commercials on television? If you watch any commercial on television long enough, you are going to buy the product even if you don't like it. It is just in you, and that is what the spirit of homosexuality is about -- it's just in you."

The three of us stand in a circle. We hold hands and pray. Harley put her hands on our shoulders. She asks God to help us feel better.

About the writer

Mark Benjamin is a national correspondent for Salon based in Washington, D.C.

My gay therapy session


To find out how "reparative therapy" works, I pretended to be gay. My licensed Christian therapist explained to me why homosexuality is a mental disorder, what the "Wizard of Oz principle" is, and why kids who can't "hit the ball or fire the gun" are more likely to be gay.

By Mark Benjamin

July 19, 2005

Barry Levy, a Christian counselor and licensed clinical social worker, is explaining to me what causes homosexuality. "Take the young boy who is more sensitive, more delicate, who doesn't like rough-and-tumble, who is artistic," he says. "He can't hit the ball, fire the gun or shoot an arrow. There is a high correlation between poor eye-hand coordination and same-sex attraction."

I am sitting in an overstuffed chair in Levy's office in suburban Rockville, Md. The metal blinds are mostly shut. Tissues are at hand on a small coffee table. Levy is a middle-aged white man with a gentle voice. He wears a button-down Oxford shirt and pleated khakis hiked a bit too high. He stares at me serenely across the beige carpet, his legs crossed, giving me a warm smile.

I was referred to Levy by the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family, which claims on its Web site that homosexuality can be treated and prevented. "While the Bible clearly states that homosexuality runs contrary to God's plan for relationships, those who struggle with homosexual feelings are still God's children, in need of His forgiveness and healing," the group states. Conservative Christians say curing gays comes from loving them. "Compassion -- not bigotry -- compels us to support the healing of homosexuals," says the Family Research Council.

Levy practices what is called "reparative" or "conversion" therapy, which allegedly helps homosexuals become heterosexuals. The theory that homosexuality is a mental disorder that needs to be cured is the moral underpinning of the Christian right's crusade against gay marriage, sodomy laws, gay adoption and sex ed curriculums in schools. While all major modern mental health professions say conversion therapy is baseless and potentially dangerous, I wanted to experience for myself what is going on behind counselors' closed doors.

When I arrived in Levy's office, I was asked to fill out roughly 15 pages of questions about myself and my family. Mostly the questions centered on how I got along with my folks. In a section about my problems, I wrote "possible homosexuality." The fact is, I'm straight, I'm married to a woman, and I have a 3-year-old daughter and a son due in October. I wrote on the form that that I was married with a kid. But I lied and said I was also living a secret life, that I harbored homosexual urges.

According to the Bible, Levy says, homosexuality "is not consistent with the manufacturer's desire. It is not what the body is for. It is not what procreation is for. It is not what life energy is for. I am going to draw you out of that because the people around you are into that." To receive God in his holiness, Levy tells me, to experience the ultimate happiness for which God created men and women, a person needs to overcome any homosexual feelings.

Homosexuality, Levy asserts, is a mental disorder, a certifiable neurosis. "The psychoanalytic perspective has always considered homosexuality and same-sex attraction to be a neurosis. They still do and they still treat it." (In fact, mental health associations do not consider homosexuality a neurosis and do not "treat" patients for it. Dr. Douglas Haldeman, president of the Association of Practicing Psychologists, a group affiliated with the American Psychological Association, says it is wrong to identify homosexuality as a neurosis. "There is no scientific evidence of that, and there is no mainstream mental health organization or profession that supports this ancient, discredited theory," he says.)

Levy informs me that homosexuality is difficult to treat because it is about more than sexuality -- it is about a way of life. "I want to make a distinction between same-sex attraction and being gay," he says. "That is a whole ideology. It is a lifestyle. It becomes the locus, or organizing principle, of the identity of the human personality." Reparative therapy focuses on getting gays and lesbians to stop talking or walking "gay." One "ex-gay" program in Memphis, Tenn., Refuge, bars men from wearing jewelry, donning Calvin Klein clothes and listening to secular music.

The causes of homosexuality, Levy explains, are many, but childhood loneliness figures prominently. "When a child is neglected -- if not abused, then neglected or isolated -- loneliness is often experienced as genital tension," Levy says. "When kids are understimulated, they play with themselves, and the source of greatest stimulation is obviously your genitals or your mouth." I tell Levy I did not think I was a lonely kid. "There are more reasons," he responds. "I got more."

He suggests that I may lack confidence and am turning my admiration for bold and masculine men into sexual desire for them. "I call it the Wizard of Oz principle," he says. "The lion wants courage so he can be the most courageous one on the journey. Some people call it the 'cannibal compulsion.' Cannibals will eat people, but only the enemies they admire. If their enemies are courageous, cannibals will eat their heart. If they are strong, they'll eat their muscles. There is a compulsion to take into yourself the qualities you feel you're lacking and someone else has. Eroticization is one of the ways to do that."

He turns to a central theory of reparative therapy, which is that a son's unrequited love for an emotionally unavailable father gets transferred into sexual desire for men. Homosexual feelings can arise, Levy says, "when a boy is not affirmed in his gender by the father, who might be mean, who might be cruel, who might be absent. Often, there is a highly conflicted relationship where the mother disparages the father. She misidentifies with the marriage and might even start to identify with the son." Under those circumstances, Dr. Joe Nicolosi, president of the National Association for Research and Treatment of Homosexuality, later tells me, "temperamentally sensitive" boys become vulnerable to homosexuality.

Levy says reparative therapy is effective, but that a cure for homosexuality takes at least two years of weekly counseling. (My one hour cost Salon $140.) He says that if I stay in therapy, I will either turn straight or get "significant relief."

The success or failure rate for changing gays is difficult to quantify. One study, often cited by conservative groups like Focus on the Family, shows incremental success from reparative therapy. But critics point out that the study was based solely on interviews with subjects arranged by ex-gay ministries; in fact, many of them worked at the ministries.

Levy tells me that reparative therapy can be a lonely business. "There are not a lot of us who do this work," he says. "It is politically incorrect. And it is difficult." He also admits that "not everybody who starts down this road gets cured. This is not a sure-fire cure. I wish I could tell you that it is, but it is not." But he remains committed.

Homosexuality "is not just another flower in God's garden," Levy says. "This is something that happens to people that can be fixed. And if someone comes seeking relief from this suffering, we would be wrong not to offer them relief."

About the writer

Mark Benjamin is a national correspondent for Salon based in Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Another rap at Darwin


Article published Tuesday, July 19, 2005

CARDINAL Christoph Schonborn, archbishop of Vienna, is far removed from Dayton, Tenn., the scene of the Scopes "monkey trial" of 80 years ago, but he's right in there pitching.

The archbishop, who doesn't have to worry too much about placating militant creationists, offered some new thoughts on the subject of Darwinian evolution, which holds that natural selection of the fittest organisms is the key to, among other things, the ascent of man and other biological phenomena. Creationists say it is but one of many theories about the origin and development of life on earth.

Mark Ryland, a vice president of the Discovery Institute in Seattle, had urged the cardinal to write the article, which contains this passage: "Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense - an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection - is not."

The Austrian churchman is on the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education. He has said he does not intend to issue new rules of guidance to Catholic teachers, but his words surely will place a heavy thumb on the scales of Catholic education.

Many scientists simply have given up any efforts to debate with ardent proponents of creationism, which in its newest guise is called "intelligent design."

Meanwhile, many biology teachers find it expedient to omit or pare down teaching on evolution, even though Darwin's formulations are widely accepted in the scientific community. Many scientists also are practicing Christians who see no conflict between biblical teachings and evolution, though many will assert that there is no way that intelligent design - the notion that a divine Creator set the universe in motion - can be tested scientifically.

The cardinal is not a scientist, and although his beliefs may sway many Catholics, they also will drive a wedge between the church and many of its members who see no conflict between evolution and the intervention of a divine creator. His words could do genuine harm when many children are growing up as scientific illiterates.

Perhaps the issue is not really widely debated in his homeland of Austria, but his words could have the effects of grenades in the United States where a sizable percentage of churchgoers, whether they know much about the subject or not, profess to reject Darwinian thinking.

Surely, the cardinal has not forgotten that his church once taught that the Earth was the center of the universe, a fallacy dispelled by the calculations and observations of Copernicus and Galileo.

Creation Summer Camp


July 19, 2005

Live from the 2005 Creation Mega-Conference
Ronald Bailey

Lynchburg, VA— Most of the 2,000 peole at the 2005 Creation Mega-Conference , being held here at Liberty University this week, appear to be middle and upper middle class; the conferees are overwhelmingly white and many have brought along their whole families. When organizers poll the audience for "Christian leaders," about 200 people stood up; a poll of attendees with "graduate degrees" brings another 300 or so to their feet. Participants hail from as far away as Alaska and California, and cars in the parking lot are tagged from New York, Michigan, Iowa, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Alabama and Texas. The attendees are clearly engaged, enthusiastic, and sincere.

Keynote presentations in Liberty University's Vines basketball arena are professionally produced using a wide array of high tech gadgets; they're far more slick than the presentations I usually see at scientific conferences. The presenters know they are speaking to the already converted; the emphasis is on cheerleading and providing ammunition for the good fight against the purveyors of godless materialistic evolutionism. The chief impresario of the Mega-Conference is Ken Ham , president of the Answers In Genesis (AiG) ministry headquartered across the river from Cincinnati in Hebron, KY. The purpose of AiG is to uphold the authority of the Bible from the very first verse. And lest you think that no one's paying attention, Ham notes that AiG's website gets 1.6 million visitors per month.

The creationists here at the Mega-Conference make it crystal clear that they are no namby-pamby Discovery Institute intelligent designers nor are they mere progressive evolutionists. As David Dewitt , associate professor of biology and head of the Creation Studies Center at Liberty University succinctly explains, "We believe that Adam and Eve were real people and that God created everything in six 24 hour days."

Romanian geologist Dr. Emil Silvestru "debunks" the notion that the earth had existed for millions of years in his talk "Rocks Around the Clock: The Eons That Never Were." In place of the scientific view that the earth is around 4.5 billion years old Silvestru offers a six thousand year "young Earth" chronology:

Creation—six 24-hour days
Lost World—1700 years—no big mountains, no plate tectonics
Flood—370 days—creation of high mountains, deep oceans, sedimentary rocks, plate tectonics form continents
Ice Age—1000 years
Post Ice Age—3000 years and counting.

Fossils are explained by Flood hydrology which covered over billions of animals and plants during the global inundation. Christian musician (and dinosaur sculptor) Buddy Davis even sings a praise song in the evening that sums up the situation. The chorus goes like this:

Billions of dead things
Buried in rock layers
Laid down by water
All over the earth. Well, there really was
A world wide flood
Just look at
The stoney curse
With billions of dead things
Buried in rock layers
Laid down by water
All over the earth.

In addition to his musical offerings, Davis is sculpting 40 different dinosaurs for AiG's Creation Museum which is slated to open in 2007. Dinosaurs play a surprisingly big role in modern creation science. For example, AiG's opening webpage features a graphic of Apatosaurus dinosaurs mingling with a herd of modern antelopes. Apparently, the comic strip featuring the prehistoric cave man Alley Oop chasing after dinosaurs was actually a precise look into humanity's past. In fact, AiG's president Ken Ham has written a lavishly illustrated children's book Dinosaurs of Eden (2001) which shows Adam and Eve and Noah and his kin frolicking with all manner of dinosaurs. One particularly charming illustration shows Flintstones-style ancient humans saddling up dinosaurs and camels as pack animals. Relying on local legends, the book even suggests that dinosaurs survived as "dragons" in England as late as 1405 AD.

I was surprised to learn from the theologian John Whitcomb , co-author of the seminal creationist book, The Genesis Flood (1961), that Noah's ark carried 1,000 different kinds of dinosaurs as well as all of the other species. Whitcomb's book has sold more than a quarter of a million copies in English. The conferees revere Whitcomb—he is the only speaker so far who has merited standing ovations.

Whitcomb doesn't just take godless evolutionists to task; he is also critical of Christians who accept progressive creationism or intelligent design. Progressive creationism as represented by Dr. Hugh Ross fails because Ross accepts (1) the Big Bang; (2) that animals were supernaturally and periodically created over many millions of years; (3) that Adam's rebellion did not introduce death into the animal kingdom for the first time; and (4) that the Flood was local to Mesopotamia.

Whitcomb reproaches the leaders of the intelligent design movement for believing that evolutionism can be defeated without any reference to the Bible or the Creator of the World. He agrees with them that tax supported schools need to be purged of the errors of evolutionism, but he then rhetorically asks a very pointed question: "Are people believing in Christ their Lord and Savior as a result of hearing the message of intelligent design scholars?"

Like Whitcomb, Ken Ham brooks no compromises and dismisses the soft-headed idea that "you can believe in millions of years so long as God was involved." Why not? Again because that implies that death and disease occurred before there was "sin." In Genesis, Adam and Eve and all the animals were vegetarians (Genesis 1:29–30) and there was no death or disease. God pronounced his Creation "very good." It was perfect. Then Adam and Eve sinned by eating the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 3:6) thus introducing death and disease into the universe for the first time. (I can't help but note that it might have been better had the pair eaten the fruit of the Tree of Life before snacking on fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.)

Ham also rejects the Big Bang. Why? Because Genesis explains that God created the waters and the Earth on the third day of Creation (Genesis 1:9 ) and THEN the sun, moon and stars on the fourth day of Creation (Genesis 1:16). In a sly rhetorical move, Ham then notes that the New Scientist recently published an article about how some secular scientists are beginning to question the Big Bang hypothesis for the beginning of the universe. "I thought I was reading a creationist article," quips Ham to an appreciative audience. "The Big Bang is presented as fact in our public schools, yet secular scientists are beginning to question it."

As a historical note, the Big Bang was devised by Jesuit scientist Georges Lemaitre in 1927. Two years later astronomer Edwin Hubble confirmed that most galaxies are flying away from one another. Lemaitre thought the Big Bang cinched the argument for a universe created at a specific time by God. Whether or not the Big Bang holds up under scrutiny is a scientific question. The nature of science is skepticism—if solid new data calls into question the theory, then the theory will have to be revised.

Scientific creationists have a different understanding about the proper way to interpret facts and phenomena. In his talk "What's the Best Evidence that God Created," Carl Kerby explains, "You should allow the Word of God to drive your understanding of the evidence." Ham tells a story of how, during one of his lectures at a college, a professor yelled out "The Bible is not a science textbook." To which Ham replied, "I'm glad the Bible is not a science textbook because science textbooks change every year." What he doesn't mention is that they change because human knowledge advances and old theories are replaced by better ones.

However, the longer I listened the clearer it became that creationism is not about science. It's about morality. Specifically, creationists worry that biological evolution undermines people's moral beliefs, leading to lawlessness, family breakdown, homosexuality, pornography, and abortion. The real heart of creationism is existential dread.

Philip Bell , former British cancer researcher and now fulltime creationist, in his talk "Ape Men, 'Missing Links' and the Bible," explains, "If Adam is your ancestor then you were created specially and have a purpose in life. If evolution is true, we are descended from ape-like animals with no morality, no aesthetic sensibility and no soul." If evolution were true, Bell tells the conferees, then "you would have no purpose for your existence."

In his welcoming remarks, the Reverend Jerry Falwell similarly declares, "If we don't understand the young earth and how God created it in six 24-hour days, then our values are skewed. If we believe that we evolved from a blob of protoplasm, we have zero values then... If we evolved, then there was no Fall in the Garden and there is no sin and no need for redemption and Christ's death was unnecessary and meaningless."

But there is hope according to Falwell, "I recall the election in 2004. Hollywood was against us. The media were against us. The universities were against us. And despite them all the church of Jesus Christ put George W. Bush back in the White House. We're on the winning side; we are going to win because we have the truth. We have the inerrant word of God. We have the Genesis account of Creation. The biblical account is the believable one. The creation debate is being won."

Given recent polls , I fear that the Reverend Falwell may well be right.

Tomorrow I will report on such topics as "Hubble, Bubble, Big Bang in Trouble" and "Fossils, the Flood and the Age of the Earth."

Ronald Bailey is Reason's science correspondent. His book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution is now available from Prometheus Books.

Scientists Challenge Evolutionary Theory


Scientists who challenge evolutionary theory will hold an ''uncommon dissent forum''

Tuesday, Jul. 19, 2005 Posted: 8:11:31AM EST

Fitting with the current debate over evolution and creation, scientists who challenge Darwin's theory of evolution will convene in South Carolina in August for an open forum to both inform and discuss the theory.

Titled "Uncommon Dissent Forum, Scientists Who Find Darwinism Unconvincing," the conference features a panel of nine scientists who will air their criticisms of evolution.

Coordinator Lewis Young commented, "Since the science behind Darwin's speculations is questionable, we're making available to the public an accomplished panel of thinkers and researchers in the scientific community who have an open mind toward the evidence and who want to stimulate debate."

Among the panelists are biochemist and author of Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, Dr. Michael Behe, and the author of Icons of Evolution: Why much of what we teach about evolution is wrong, Dr. Jonathan Wells.

Young consulted with the Seattle-based Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, known as a national think-tank for intelligent design. Intelligent design is one of the most recent theories challenging evolution and states that the world is so complex, there must be a divine creator.

With the support of over 350 scientists, the Discovery Institute issued a "Scientific Dissent from Darwinism" that says, "We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life."

Such views are the focus on the upcoming conference, to be held in Greenville, South Carolina from August 4-6.

"This conference will benefit anyone interested in free inquiry regarding theories and facts about evolution and the origins of life," said Young.

State legislators will take up the issue when the new session begins in January. Senator Mike Fair (R-Greenville) filed a bill on June 1 that would require the State Board of Education to set new science standards requiring the teaching of alternatives to evolution in public schools.

Although a great proportion of the state's population is deeply religious, so far few have brought up the issue of the teaching of evolution in schools. This may be due to the problems faced in other states when the issue is opened up.

In Pennsylvania, preliminary hearings were heard last Thursday regarding a lawsuit filed against the Dover Area school district for the teaching of intelligent design in ninth-grade biology classes. In Kansas, efforts to introduce intelligent design into the science curriculum resulted in heated debates in May. State officials are currently deciding on whether or not to alter science standards to incorporate intelligent design.

In both cases, challenges were brought against the school boards for violation of the First Amendment, which prohibits the teaching of creationism in public schools. Fair's bill does not specifically talk about intelligent design, but would require that "the full range of scientific views" on evolution be taught in science classes.

Susan Wang

80 Years After Scopes Trial New Scientific Evidence Convinces More Scientists That Darwinian Evolution is Deficient


Tuesday July 19, 3:50 pm ET

Modern Scientific Discoveries and Developments Raise Doubts About Veracity of Darwin's Theory

SEATTLE, July 19 /PRNewswire/ -- More than 400 scientists have signed onto a growing list from all disciplines who are "skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life."

"Darwin's theory of evolution is the great white elephant of contemporary thought," said Dr. David Berlinski, a mathematician and philosopher of science with Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture (CSC). "It is large, almost completely useless, and the object of superstitious awe."

Discovery Institute first published its Statement of Dissent from Darwin in 2001 and a direct challenge to statements made in PBS' "Evolution" series that no scientists disagreed with Darwinian evolution.

"The fact is that a significant number of scientists are extremely skeptical that Darwinian evolution can explain the origins of life," said Dr. John G. West, associate director of the CSC. "We expect that as scientists engage in the wider debate over materialist evolutionary theories, this list will continue to grow, and grow at an even more rapid pace than we've seen this past year."

In the last 90 days, 29 scientists, including eight biologists, have signed the "Scientific Dissent From Darwinism." The list includes over 70 biologists total.

The most recent signatories are Lev V. Beloussov and Vladimir L. Voeikov, two prominent, Russian biologists from Moscow State University. Dr. Voeikov is a professor of bioorganic chemistry and Dr. Beloussov is a professor of embryology and Honorary Professor at Moscow State University; both are members of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences.

"The ideology and philosophy of neo-Darwinism which is sold by its adepts as a scientific theoretical foundation of biology seriously hampers the development of science and hides from students the field's real problems," said Professor Voeikov.

"Lately in the media there's been a lot of talk about science versus religion," said West. "But such talk is misleading. This list is a witness to the growing group of scientists who challenge Darwinian theory on scientific grounds."

Other prominent biologists who have signed the list include evolutionary biologist and textbook author Dr. Stanley Salthe, Dr. Richard von Sternberg an evolutionary biologist at the Smithsonian Institution and the National Institutes of Health's National Center for Biotechnology Information, and Giuseppe Sermonti, Editor of Rivista di Biologia / Biology Forum. The list also includes scientists from Princeton, Cornell, UC Berkeley, UCLA, Ohio State University, Purdue and University of Washington among others.

Visit Discovery online: www.discovery.org.

Source: Discovery Institute

Ebonics suggested for district

By Irma Lemus Staff Writer
July 17, 2005

SAN BERNARDINO Incorporating Ebonics into a new school policy that targets black students, the lowest-achieving group in the San Bernardino City Unified School District, may provide students a more well-rounded curriculum, said a local sociologist.

The goal of the district's policy is to improve black students' academic performance by keeping them interested in school. Compared with other racial groups in the district, black students go to college the least and have the most dropouts and suspensions.

Blacks make up the second largest racial group in the district, trailing Latinos.

A pilot of the policy, known as the Students Accumulating New Knowledge Optimizing Future Accomplishment Initiative, has been implemented at two city schools.

Mary Texeira, a sociology professor at Cal State San Bernardino, commended the San Bernardino Board of Education for approving the policy in June.

Texeira suggested that including Ebonics in the program would be beneficial for students. Ebonics, a dialect of American English that is spoken by many blacks throughout the country, was recognized as a separate language in 1996 by the Oakland school board.

"Ebonics is a different language, it's not slang as many believe,' Texeira said. "For many of these students Ebonics is their language, and it should be considered a foreign language. These students should be taught like other students who speak a foreign language.'

Texeira said research has shown that students learn better when they fully comprehend the language they are being taught in.

"There are African Americans who do not agree with me. They say that (black students) are lazy and that they need to learn to talk,' Texeira said.

Len Cooper, who is coordinating the pilot program at the two city schools, said San Bernardino district officials do not plan to incorporate Ebonics into the program.

"Because Ebonics can have a negative stigma, we're not focusing on that,' Cooper said. "We are affirming and recognizing Ebonics through supplemental reading books (for students).'

Beginning in the 2005-06 school year, teachers will receive training on black culture and customs. District curriculum will now include information on the historical, cultural and social impact of blacks in society. Although the program is aimed at black students, other students can choose to participate.

The pilot program at Rio Vista Elementary and King Middle schools focuses on second-, fourth- and seventh-grade classes. District officials hope to train teachers from other schools using the program as a model.

Board member Danny Tillman, who pushed for the policy, said that full implementation of the program at all schools may take years, but the pilot program is a beginning.

"At every step we will see positive results,' Tillman said.

Tillman hoped the new policy would increase the number of black students going to college and participating in advanced courses.

Teresa Parra, board vice president, said she worried the new program would have an adverse effect.

"I'm afraid that now that we have this the Hispanic community, our largest population, will say, 'We want something for us.' Next we'll have the Asian community and the Jewish community (asking for their own programs). When will it end?'

Parra said the district should focus on helping all students who are at risk.

"I've always thought that we should provide students support based on their needs and not on their race,' Parra said.

Tillman disagreed with Parra, saying programs that help Latinos already exist in the district. He cited the district's English- as-a-second-language program.

Texeira urged people not be quick to judge the new program as socially exclusive. She said people need to be open to the program.

"Everybody has prejudices, but we must all learn to control that behavior,' Texeira said. She said a child's self confidence is tied to his or her cultural identity.

She compared the low performance of black students to starvation. "How can you be angry when you feed a family of starving children?'

Ratibu Jacocks, a member of the Westside Action Group, a coalition of black activists, said they are working with the district to ensure the policy is implemented appropriately.

"This isn't a feel-good policy. This is the real thing,' Jacocks said.

Jacocks said he didn't believe the new policy would create animosity. He said he welcomed the idea of other ethnic groups pushing for their own programs.

"When you are doing what's right, others will follow,' Jacocks said. "We have led the way before the civil-rights movement opened the door for women's rights and other movements.'


District to 'affirm' Ebonics

'It should be considered a foreign language'

July 18, 2005

A school district in Southern California approved the "affirmation and recognition" of Ebonics into its curriculum as a way to help black students improve academic performance.

The San Bernardino Board of Education says a pilot of the policy, known as the Students Accumulating New Knowledge Optimizing Future Accomplishment Initiative, has been implemented at two city schools, according to the daily San Bernardino Sun.

Ebonics, a dialect of American English spoken by many blacks, was recognized as a separate language by the Oakland, Calif., school board in 1996.

Mary Texeira, a sociology professor at Cal State San Bernardino, believes the program will be beneficial to students.

"Ebonics is a different language, it's not slang as many believe,' Texeira told the Sun. "For many of these students Ebonics is their language, and it should be considered a foreign language. These students should be taught like other students who speak a foreign language."

Texeira acknowledged there are African Americans who disagree with her.

"They say that [black students] are lazy and that they need to learn to talk," she said.

The program, which will be implemented gradually, begins this fall when teachers receive training on black culture and customs. The district curriculum will include information on the historical, cultural and social impact of blacks in society.

Len Cooper, coordinator of the pilot program at the two city schools, said Ebonics won't actually be incorporated into the program, because of its "stigma."

"We are affirming and recognizing Ebonics through supplemental reading books for students," he explained.

Although the program is aimed at black students, other students can choose to participate, the Sun reported.

Board member Danny Tillman told the paper he pushed for the policy because he hoped it would increase the number of black students going to college and participating in advanced courses.

But Teresa Parra, board vice president, worries other minority groups, including Hispanics, will want their own programs.

"I've always thought that we should provide students support based on their needs and not on their race," she said.

Ratibu Jacocks, a member of a coalition of black activists - the Westside Action Group - said they are working with the district to ensure the policy is implemented appropriately.

"This isn't a feel-good policy. This is the real thing," said Jacocks.

He welcomes the idea of other ethnic groups lobbying for their own program.

"When you are doing what's right, others will follow,' Jacocks said. "We have led the way before the civil-rights movement opened the door for women's rights and other movements."


'The Hugging Saint' Draws Thousands to Crystal City


By Libby Copeland Washington Post Staff Writer Friday, July 15, 2005;

Of all the places for 3,000 people to receive healing energy from a woman many regard as an Indian saint, there are probably few less auspicious than the Hyatt Regency Crystal City.

It's all glass and drab carpet. You have to ride an escalator down to the bowels of the hotel, where enlightenment may be found but there isn't any cell phone reception.

You take off your shoes and you receive a token. If it is early, your number is in the low hundreds, and if it isn't, you didn't get your hug until early yesterday morning.

She is Amma, known as "the hugging saint," and she lives in India but travels the world, offering hugs to blissed-out yoga teachers, massage therapists, Indian families with small children. The tiny babies she clutches to her cheek with special tenderness. People think her arms offer a healing power. They suggest that she is so full of the loving spirit, that you might -- with her perfume filling your nostrils and her hot breath chanting mantras in your ear -- see something less like a basement hotel ballroom and more like God. Some people weep and some people say they feel a great peace.

And if not, the hug is at least free.

Amma, 51, whose nickname means mother and whose full name is Mata Amritanandamayi, grew up poor in a fishing village, a low-caste woman destined for a humble domestic life who instead became a revered figure all over the world.

She is a humanitarian who has built a hospital in India and thousands of houses for the poor. At the moment, her assistants say, she's working on homes for survivors of the tsunami. She spends so many of her days sitting in a low chair, receiving hordes of supplicants on their knees, that she discusses blueprints for charitable homes and gives an interview through a translator while people's heads are pressed to her shoulder.

Amma has been known to offer hug after hug for more than 20 hours straight, according to her followers. Her spokesman says that once in Southern India he watched her give hugs to 45,000 people in one stretch.

Asked how much she sleeps, Amma shrugs and says in Malayalam, "I never think about it." Asked again, she says, "One hour." (A female assistant adds softly, "Sometimes two.")

But if her charitable works are what her followers stress, it's the hugs Amma is known for. This week was her ninth visit to the Washington area. She stopped off for three days, wrapping up yesterday, before continuing her tour in New York. One follower at Crystal City describes Amma's embrace as "true contentment," and another calls it "bliss . . . absolutely pure love." They hand her apples or pears or flowers as they fall into her arms. Some say that afterward, they feel peaceful. Some say they wake up in the middle of the night "feeling a presence." One woman says Amma's hug healed her leg pain. One man says Amma solved his digestive problems by making him regular.

The room is hot with so many people, most sitting on the floor, all raptly watching her. You can buy a chair massage or get a henna painting on your hands. There are Amma books and CDs; you can even buy clothes and jewelry Amma has worn.

Amma sits in a low wooden chair decorated with flowers; there are rose petals by her feet. She is surrounded by female assistants in white, and male swamis in orange. Many of Amma's followers are seekers who consulted other gurus before. There's a middle-aged psychologist from Pittsburgh who once studied to be a Methodist minister. There is a religion professor from Denver who gave up tenure to live on Amma's ashram in Southern India and be Amma's personal videographer.

Amma is nearly always smiling -- the almost goofy smile of a child. She considers herself mother to simply everyone, and when she's asked if the hugs ever become a burden, she says the mother never tires of her child.

She will even hug a reporter. She clasps one's head to her shoulder. Does it last a minute? Longer? (And where does one put one's hands? And how does one forget the whole room is watching?) Her breath is hot in the ear; her voice is gravelly. She says "Daugh-ter, daugh-ter, daugh-ter," and something else, something the huggee cannot understand. It is not like hugging a friend, but it is not like hugging a stranger, either. Then Amma lets go and puts two prasads -- blessed gifts -- into one's hand. Of all things, a Hershey's Kiss, and an apple.

After 2 a.m. yesterday, Amma rises. Her right shoulder is stained with sweat, tears and makeup. Her devotees crowd around the glass elevator and watch her shoot up into the upper reaches of the Hyatt Regency.

A woman comes over to envy the apple Amma bestowed. She rarely sees Amma give anyone an apple. Her name is Leela Dunn, and she is 33, a massage therapist from Tampa. She's been following Amma for three years, ever since she went to India and saw Amma's picture. The closest she has ever come to enlightenment, she says, was in Amma's arms. She's had a difficult year, so this night, in Amma's arms, she sobbed and keened, making a high-pitched and injured sound.

"Today I felt like I used to when I was in love with my ex-husband, before we got divorced," Dunn says.

A cab driver wants to know about this woman everyone has come to see tonight. He says, "I had a passenger who told me she was the one ."

Martin Wishnatsky letter: Intelligent design: Go where data lead


The Forum
Published Sunday, July 17, 2005

Keith Lockitch (Forum, Other Views, July 10) provides a good capsule survey of Intelligent Design theory. The whole point of the theory, as Lockitch well describes it, is to demonstrate that the only rational explanation of natural complexity is that a "supernatural" being created it. There is no reason not to accept such an explanation if the data led there (which they do), unless one has a dogmatic anti-religious ideology, which is typical of evolutionists.

As Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin stated: "It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door." New York Review of Books (Jan. 9, 1997).

Lockitch, like Lewontin, is so predisposed against a "supernatural" explanation, that he dismisses it as "metaphysical marijuana" rather than soberly accepting that if the evidence leads to God, so be it.

Martin Wishnatsky


Intelligent design doesn't hinge on world's perfection


Letters to the Editor
Published July 17, 2005

Re: Oh, His aching back! July 10.

Professor David Barash begins by referring to a 172-year-old publication, which overstated a position by referring to the world's "perfection." This, however, is certainly not the foundation upon which the current intelligent design model is based. The modern ID movement simply points out ample evidence of design (vs. chance or randomness), not perfection (vs. imperfection).

We know from biblical passages like Romans 8 that the entire creation is "groaning" for the time in the future when things will be set right (perfect) once again. The Bible never makes the claim that our present bodies would be free from pain or deterioration. But the biblical text does speak of "new bodies" that God will provide, which will be perfect.

If the existence of pain and minor flaws are the "best arguments" for the evolution model, as Barash claims, then, the theory is in even worse shape than I imagined.

-- Gary Ripple, St. Petersburg

Clues are in the complexity
Re: Oh, His aching back, July 10.

David Barash has erroneously equated the modern theory of "intelligent design" - which specifically refers to the empirical evidence that points to the very high probability that a "mind" was at work sometime in the creation of life - with "optimal design," which involves some people presumptuously passing judgment on its creator and thereby being able to convince themselves, and those who are less informed, that a creator could not exist.

The irreducible complexity of life, as is evidenced by the numerous interdependent molecules, cells and organ systems, each of which cannot function without the other (for this is the basis of medical science), points to the intelligent design of life and away from what is promoted by Barash, i.e., all life having come about exclusively by the random forces of nature.

The author's lead in, which purposely misrepresents the modern intelligent design movement, combined with his puerile theological reflection, makes one realize that he is trying to bring down a straw man.

-- Howard Glicksman M.D., Spring Hill

A rational belief
Re: Oh, His aching back!

It is evident from reading David Barash's column that he either does not understand what intelligent design theory is, or he is simply dogmatically opposed to it since it relies on the existence of God.

We intelligent design adherents believe that God created the universe billions of years ago, and that the natural world is following physical laws that were "thought" of by something we will never understand. Evolution is simply the way God went about developing a self-aware creature that can study and ponder all that's been created.

Nor do we believe that the human body is perfect. It has been cobbled together. Like Thomas Edison or any great inventor, there were many trials and errors before there was success.

Intelligent design appeals to intelligent people who have a rational belief in God.

-- Stuart Berger, Clearwater

Flaws are part of the plan
Re: Oh, His aching back!

One would think that those who believe in divine creation must also believe that the creator has a purpose for his creations. Indeed, there must be a divine plan and our flaws and weaknesses are part of that plan.

Our bodies were not meant to last forever. What sense would there be in making us physically perfect and with the ability to procreate? The earth is only so big.

We are on earth to be tried and tested and to gain experience. We are flawed and imperfect because we need to learn from these things. We must know pain so that we may appreciate pleasure. We must experience sorrow so that we may better understand joy.

Nowhere is this law of opposites more evident than in the pain of childbirth. Indeed it is painful, but from that pain is born a never-ending love. I have personally experienced it three times. Sacrifice teaches us love. The harder we work for something the more we appreciate it.

Our bodies were designed to age and eventually to wear out. It is part of a loving creator's plan to place challenges and obstacles in our path and then to help us overcome them so that we may become stronger, wiser and better. It is also part of the plan that when we have completed our task here in this life we should then move on to the next step in our progression.

One would think that those who believe in a creator would sees these "flaws" as proof of his divine purposes.

-- Paula Smith, St. Petersburg

Darwin's evolution theory attacked anew in classroom


Article Published: Saturday, July 16, 2005 - 7:07:37 AM PST

By Ben Feller Associated Press

Every time Lisa Marroquin teaches biological evolution, she knows some students will show up ready to talk creationism, a religious doctrine of how life came to be. So she finds a way to satisfy their curiosity without straying from science, the fundamental theory that species evolved over millions of years through natural selection.

"I allow them to be creative thinkers, because that's what we're driving the kids to do -- be intelligent, analytical thinkers," said Marroquin, who teaches at Downey High School in a Southern California district she describes as conservative. Yet evolution is a key part of California science standards, and she tells students they must learn it even if they don't like it, because "they've got to live in the real world."

Marroquin's challenge in teaching Darwinian theory reflects a re-emerging issue in public education. In local communities and state legislatures, evolution is being contested anew, prompting rebukes from scholars who fear politics and religion are eroding established science.

This debate of ideas, normally welcome in a classroom environment, is not embraced by instructors such as Terry Uselton, a high school science department chairman in Knoxville, Tenn.

"It's not about education or science, it's about politics," Uselton told The Associated Press during a group interview of teachers at the National Education Association's annual meeting. "That's the problem, and that's what we have a hard time separating out. Part of it doesn't have anything to do with the science being right or wrong."

In rural Pennsylvania, a school board has ordered that biology students hear about a competing theory of life called "intelligent design," prompting a court fight. In a Georgia county, officials placed disclaimers about evolution on textbooks before a judge overruled the move. In Kansas, officials might alter science standards to step up the criticism of evolution.

In Washington state, when students ask teacher Faye Haas about the role of a higher being in the origin of life, she tells them: "That's religion, that's a belief, it's not science theory."

"The thing about a (scientific) theory is it's supported by a large body of evidence," said Haas, a former biology instructor who teaches high school chemistry in a suburb of Seattle. "To spend half the time talking about things that speak against it doesn't make any sense."

Yet proponents of alternative views say they want young learners to hear critiques of evolution, and that science should be able to withstand the scrutiny.

Their push has been aided by the election of conservative lawmakers, and polls show that many adults are open to the teaching of criticism of Darwinism or creationist theories in class.

The beliefs of creationist groups vary widely, but the doctrine's principle is that a supernatural being created the universe and living things. Biological evolution refers to the process of change in which species formed from pre-existing species through the ages.

Religious accounts of life's creation are not permitted in public schools under the First Amendment, the Supreme Court has ruled. Another theory fueling debate, intelligent design, asserts that some features of the natural world are so ordered and complex that they are best explained by an intelligent cause. Critics call that a rehashed version of creationism, stripped of overt religious references, a claim that intelligent-design researchers vigorously dispute.

The Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank that represents many scholars who support intelligent design, is not seeking to require schools to teach the theory. Nor is it out to diminish the teaching of evolution, said Bruce Chapman, the institute's president.

"We want the scientific evidence for and against Darwin's theory taught. That's it," Chapman said. He said intelligent design is not sufficiently developed to be required teaching, but he points to more than 400 researchers who have signed on to a scientific dissent of Darwinism.

National science leaders are alarmed by these renewed questions about evolution. Bruce Alberts, a cell biologist and immediate past president of the National Academy of Sciences, recently wrote all of its members to warn of the "growing threat" to the teaching of science.

At the college level, the American Association of University Professors has deplored any efforts to force public-school teachers or higher-education faculty members to teach theories of the origins of life that are "unsubstantiated by the methods of science."

Meanwhile, Uselton, the Tennessee teacher, fears that the political feuding over evolution will turn off students and drive them into other disciplines. He encourages students to embrace the fact that science doesn't have all the answers, with hopes they'll see it as an opportunity.

"Like I tell my kids," he said, "somebody's got to be out there filling these gaps."

On the Net:

National Education Association: www.nea.org

Discovery Institute: www.discovery.org

National Academy of Sciences: www.nasonline.org

Monday, July 18, 2005

Alleged hacker: U.S. defense sites poorly secured


Published: July 13, 2005, 7:11 AM PDT
By Colin Barker
Special to CNET News.com

A British man facing possible extradition to the United States says poor security was a major factor in his ability to have wandered through the IT systems of some key defense establishments.

Gary McKinnon, who is accused of hacking and causing damage to federal defense systems, also said that his actions, far from intending to cause harm, all started as an innocent attempt to prove that the U.S. Defense Department knows of the existence of extraterrestrials. Later he was driven by suspicions about federal policies and actions in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Gary McKinnnonIn an interview with ZDNet UK, McKinnon, who is out on bail pending an extradition hearing later in July, said that he was "frightened" to find U.S. defense systems were open to "people from all over the world."

He claims that in one system he found that the local administrator's password was blank. Those in charge of the system, McKinnon said, had used "image-based installation techniques where most of the machines have the same BIOS, the same hard drive, the same hardware specification" just applied across different systems.

"So you don't even need to become domain administrator," he said. "That's 5,000 machines all with a blank system-level administrator password."

McKinnon said that there was no malicious intent in anything he did. "They might say that my installing a remote control program opened them up," he said, "but it didn't. The access was already there. I didn't even have to crack passwords."

McKinnon faces charges alleging "fraud and related activity in connection with computers" and covering the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and NASA. Some of the most serious allegations are that he did "intentionally cause damage without authorization by impairing the integrity and availability of data, programs systems and information," which possibly cost the authorities $35,000.

If extradited and convicted, McKinnon could be sentenced to up to 70 years in jail.

McKinnon now faces a long battle to stay out of the U.S. courts, but he says he is starting to receive a lot of support.

"For a few days (after the extradition attempt was announced in June), it was very dark. But I am feeling quite up now," he said. "We have been talking to Boris Johnson (a Conservative member of Parliament), who is leading an early-day motion against the 2003 Extradition Act along with the (NatWest Three)...so together we are trying to get a judicial review going and to change the law."

The NatWest Three is a group of former workers at U.K.-based NatWest Bank who are fighting extradition to the United States on charges related to the Enron financial scandal.

Previous Next While others are fighting on McKinnon's behalf, he is left to do what he can at home--without the use of the Internet, as this would violate his bail conditions.

He was first investigated under the U.K.'s Computer Misuse Act in 2002 and released without being charged. McKinnon maintains that he has done nothing wrong with computers ever since. He maintains that the U.S. charges relate to activities he engaged in before he was investigated by the U.K. authorities.

Click here to read the full interview, including details McKinnon said he found of UFO evidence and antigravity technology.

Colin Baker of ZDNet UK reported from London.

Scientists to Challenge Darwinism at Public Forum in South Carolina


Contact: Lewis Young, 864-288-3456, 864-346-9427, lewisyoung@piedmonttravel.com

GREENVILLE, S.C., July 18 /Christian Wire Service/ -- People interested in hearing firsthand from scientists who question Darwin's theory of evolution will soon have the opportunity at a conference in Greenville, S.C., to be held on Aug. 4, 5 and 6.

The conference, entitled "Uncommon Dissent Forum, Scientists Who Find Darwinism Unconvincing," will convene a panel of nine presenters including biochemist Dr. Michael Behe, author of Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, reviewed by the New York Times and more than 100 other periodicals, and Dr. Jonathan Wells, author of Icons of Evolution: Why much of what we teach about evolution is wrong.

"Since the science behind Darwin's speculations is questionable, we're making available to the public an accomplished panel of thinkers and researchers in the scientific community who have an open mind toward the evidence and who want to stimulate debate," said Lewis Young, conference coordinator. "This conference will benefit anyone interested in free inquiry regarding theories and facts about evolution and the origins of life."

The Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture in Seattle has served as consultant for the conference, said Young. In its "Scientific Dissent from Darwinism," signed by 350+ scientists, the institute purports, "We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life." Director of the institute, Stephen Meyer, was quoted in Newsweek (Feb. 7, 2005), "'There is ambiguity about the evidence for evolution. We think students should know that.'"

In National Geographic (November 2004), the cover article on Darwinism stated that "the fossil record is like a film of evolution from which 999 of every 1,000 frames have been lost on the cutting room floor."

"Since Darwin's theory asks people to accept a premise for which 99.9 percent of the data is missing, the presentation of statistical evidence through a conference such as this one is significant and timely," Young added.

Registration cost is $95 for teachers/students, and $125 for the public. The conference will be held at Greenville's Palmetto Expo Center, and space is limited.

For more information or to register, visit www.PiedmontTravel.com (click on Eunoia). Or call 864-288-3456.

Issuers of news releases and not the Christian Communication Network are solely responsible for the accuracy of the content. Terms and conditions, including restrictions on redistribution, apply.

Copyright © 1999-2005 Christian Communication Network

Sunday, July 17, 2005

State senator renews call to expand evolution teachings


By MICHAEL KERR Associated Press Writer

July 16, 2005

State Sen. Mike Fair has found little success so far but is again sponsoring legislation that he says would simply expand theories taught on origin.

A bill filed June 1 - one day before the Legislature adjourned for the year - calls for the State Board of Education to implement science standards that teach "the full range of scientific views" for controversial topics, including evolution.

"If they're talking about natural selection, it is a fact," says Fair, R-Greenville. "If they're talking about a molecule becoming a man over a kazillion years, the probabilities are so, so, so remote, that it is, in fact, scientifically impossible. Scientists have said that, not ministers."

Despite South Carolina's deep religious leanings, lawmakers have been slow to try to open debate on evolution in schools.

The state probably is reluctant to consider legislation that broaches creationism because of problems in other states, said Dave Woodard, a Clemson University political scientist.

In rural Pennsylvania, a school board ordered that biology students hear about a competing theory of life called "intelligent design," prompting a court fight. Officials in one Georgia county placed disclaimers about evolution on text books before a judge overruled the move. In Kansas, officials may alter science standards to step up the criticism of evolution.

"It's a whole controversy surrounding the evolution-creation debate," Woodard said.

While the religious right has been pushing for changes in how evolution is taught and the inclusion of creationism in classrooms, it's not a movement that has swept the country, Francis Marion University political scientist Neal Thigpen said.

"You would think South Carolina is tailor-made to fit it," he said. "I just think this would be one issue that even the most conservative Republicans would be careful in handling."

Fair's bill probably will garner sympathy from a few legislators when they return to the Statehouse in January, but most will shy away from the issue, Thigpen said.

Statistical consultant Roan Garcia-Quintana teaches mathematics and computer languages at the private Greenville High Academy and worked for the state Education Department for 18 years. He doesn't understand why it's acceptable to debate theories in subjects such as geometry and statistics but taboo to question evolutionary theories.

"We mathematicians don't have a problem talking about theories and don't get chastised for looking at other theories," Garcia-Quintana said. "We can have a dialogue and not make it as personal as in what appears to be the case here."

Closing the door on discussion is "counterintuitive and counter to anything scientists should be about," he said.

Lewis Young, who is coordinating a conference titled "Uncommon Dissent Forum, Scientists Who Find Darwinism Unconvincing" in Greenville next month, said he wants to open debate about evolution, especially among students.

"I believe very strongly in education. I'm a product of the public education system in this state," Young said. "The only thing I'm interested in seeing is the opportunity for students to engage in questioning the process, for them to be able to raise questions and get valid answers."

State Education officials haven't examined Fair's bill closely, but "it's not immediately clear what it aims to accomplish," said Jim Foster, the agency's spokesman.

The bill calls on the State Board of Education to implement science curriculum, Foster said, but the day-to-day curriculum is left up to local school boards while the state focuses on broader standards.

This isn't Fair's first attempt to address evolution through legislation. Last spring, he proposed an amendment dealing with the teaching of origin sciences and attached it to legislation concerning text books.

A Senate Education subcommittee moved forward with the text book bill without Fair's amendment in part because the proposal could have made the bill too difficult to pass, said subcommittee Chairman Wes Hayes, R-Rock Hill.

Professors from several colleges attended two meetings to discuss the amendment. "It was hotly debated," Hayes said. "It will be hotly debated."

Fair said some professors who opposed the amendment accused him of trying to interject religion into legislation and he expects more people to raise that objection next year.

"My motives will be looked at because I claim to be a Christian," he said. "It comes with the territory. I'm not offended."

The Supreme Court has ruled religious accounts of life's creation are not permitted in public schools under the First Amendment. Another theory fueling debate, intelligent design, asserts that some features of the natural world are so ordered and complex that they are best explained by an intelligent cause. Critics call that a rehashed version of creationism, stripped of overt religious references, a claim that intelligent design researchers vigorously dispute.

Fair says his new bill deliberately steers clear of origin or alternatives to evolution.

"It has nothing to do with alternatives, with teaching alternatives, because that's a dead end street," he said.

Fair is "not out of the mainstream in terms of what's happening now," Woodard said. "I think there's sort of been a rethinking of it in some ways."

It appears that by introducing the legislation now, Fair is trying to capitalize on that new line of thinking, Woodard said.

Hayes gives the bill a 50 percent chance of being passed, and said the Senate will probably be its biggest hurdle.

"I support Mike's effort," Hayes said. "I think that part of education is learning different ideas and how they interact. I see no problem with that."

It's surprising, Fair said, that questioning aspects of evolution, namely origin, would be so difficult in South Carolina.

"I have no explanation for it, except that people are fearful," he said. "People are afraid. Some people who are Bible believers are fearful of the subject. Believers and nonbelievers alike are afraid. That's not setting a good example for students. We should not be afraid of the truth."

Evolution education update: Cardinal creates controversy; stickers nixed in Beebe AR; Scott's book in paperbac

Cardinal Schoenborn's op-ed in The New York Times created a sudden controversy over the Catholic view -- or views -- of evolution, while the evolution warning stickers are on their way out of Beebe, Arkansas, science textbooks, and the paperback edition of Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism is on its way to bookstore shelves.


In "Finding Design in Nature," published on the op-ed page of the July 7, 2005, issue of The New York Times, Christoph Schoenborn, the Roman Catholic cardinal archbishop of Vienna, undertook to refute "defenders of neo-Darwinian dogma [who] have often invoked the supposed acceptance -- or at least acquiescence -- of the Roman Catholic Church when they defend their theory as somehow compatible with Christian faith." On the contrary, he argued, in the Catholic view, "[e]volution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense -- an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection -- is not." Deprecating Pope John Paul II's 1996 letter to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences as "rather vague and unimportant," Schoenborn instead cited statements from John Paul II and Benedict XVI that endorse divine providence as opposed to materialistic philosophy as evidence that the Catholic Church opposes "neo-Darwinism."

Schoenborn's op-ed promptly raised the question of whether the Catholic Church was changing its position on evolution -- a question investigated by Cornelia Dean and Laurie Goodstein, whose "Leading Cardinal Redefines Church's View on Evolution" appeared in the July 9, 2005, issue of the Times. According to the article, the Discovery Institute's Mark Ryland took credit for urging Schoenborn to write the op-ed, and it was submitted to the Times by the Discovery Institute's public relations firm. (Unaware of those connections when interviewed, NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch nevertheless surmised their existence, and the Times quoted him as wondering "How did the Discovery Institute talking points wind up in Vienna?") Francis Collins, the head of the Human Genome Project and an evangelical Christian, described the op-ed as "a step backwards," and Francisco Ayala, a professor of biology at the University of California, Irvine, and a former Dominican priest, described Schoenborn's dismissal of John Paul II's letter to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences as "an insult" to the late pope.

In a commentary entitled "Darwin, Design, and the Catholic Faith," Kenneth R. Miller summarized the problem: "As Cardinal Schoenborn quite properly points out, the Catholic Church is staunchly opposed to any view of life that would exclude the notion of Divine purpose and meaning. ... But the Cardinal is wrong in asserting that the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution is inherently atheistic." A professor of biology at Brown University, a Supporter of NCSE, and the author of Finding Darwin's God, which eloquently argues for the compatibility of evolutionary biology with Christian faith, Miller was unsurprisingly outspoken about Schoenborn's op-ed, telling the Times that while "random" and "unguided" are terms that may be applied by a biologist to evolution, they are not intended to have theological connotations: "Science cannot rule it out. Science cannot speak on this." Miller also expressed concern that the op-ed might deter Catholics from accepting evolution.

The significance of Schoenborn's op-ed remains to be seen. Schoenborn told the Times that although he spoke to Pope Benedict XVI (before his election as pope in April 2005) about his desire for the church to clarify its stance on evolution, his essay was not approved by the Vatican. He also said that although he thinks that students should be taught that evolution is just one of many theories, the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education had no plans to issue new guidance about evolution to teachers in Catholic schools. Writing in Slate, Keelin McDonell reports, "[t]heological experts think that Schoenborn's essay likely has more to do with Pope Benedict XVI's desire to caution Catholics against relativism than to change the church's thoughts on evolution." A Catholic News Service article reports a number of remarks by Schoenborn and his spokesperson intended to clarify the op-ed.

Seeking authoritative clarification on the Roman Catholic Church's position on evolution, Miller, Ayala, and Lawrence M. Krauss, a professor of physics at Case Western Reserve University, submitted a letter to the Pope. (Krauss is not a Catholic, but his May 17, 2005, essay in the Times about the compatibility of evolution and faith apparently helped to motivate Schoenborn to write his op-ed.) They wrote, in part: "It is vitally important ... that in these difficult and contentious times the Catholic Church not build a new divide, long ago eradicated, between the scientific method and religious belief. We are writing to you today to request that you clarify once again the Church's position on Evolution and Science, that you reaffirm the remarkable statements of Pope John Paul II and the International Theological Commission, so that it will be clear that Cardinal Schoenborn's remarks do not reflect the views of the Holy See." The Times reported that a copy of the letter is also en route to Schoenborn.

To read Schoenborn's op-ed in The New York Times, visit: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/07/opinion/07schonborn.html

To read "Leading Cardinal Redefines Church's View on Evolution" in The New York Times, visit: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/09/science/09cardinal.html

To read Kenneth R. Miller's commentary "Darwin, Design, and the Catholic Faith," visit: http://www.millerandlevine.com/km/evol/catholic/op-ed-krm.html

To read Keelin McDonell's "What Catholics Think of Evolution" in Slate, visit: http://slate.msn.com/id/2122506/

To read Krauss, Ayala, and Miller's letter to the Pope, visit: http://genesis1.phys.cwru.edu/~krauss/papalletttxt.htm


At its meeting on July 11, 2005, the Beebe, Arkansas, School Board voted 3-2 to remove stickers describing evolution as "controversial" and mentioning an "intelligent designer" as a possible explanation of the origin of life from the district's science textbooks. The stickers, which were apparently placed in the textbooks in the early or middle 1990s, seem to have gone unnoticed until 2005, when the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas urged the school district to remove the stickers, citing the recent decision in Selman v. Cobb County, in which similar stickers used in Georgia were ruled to be unconstitutional. The ACLU was initially told that the school district agreed to remove the stickers, but then the school board decided to delay any decision until the resolution of the appeal in Selman.

The board's decision to remove the stickers was reportedly prompted more by concerns over the expense and bother of defending against a lawsuit than by the scientific and pedagogical problems of the sticker. For her part, Rita Sklar, the executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas, was just glad to see the board do the right thing for whatever reason: "Of course, I wish it was out of respect for religious liberty and the separation of church and state," she told The Leader. "I'm also glad they are avoiding costly litigation that would only harm the students and the school district." In a press release, Sklar was also quoted as expressing concern "that these stickers may be present in textbooks around the state, as they are the latest attempt to undermine science and bring creationism back into public schools."

For the story in The Leader, visit: http://www.arkansasleader.com/2005/07/top-story-board-votes-to-remove.html

For the ACLU's press release, visit: http://www.aclu.org/ReligiousLiberty/ReligiousLiberty.cfm?ID=18707&c=139


Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction, by NCSE executive director Eugenie C. Scott, is now forthcoming in a paperback edition from the University of California Press -- just in time to be ordered as a textbook for college classes! The reviewer for Choice wrote that Evolution vs. Creationism is "notable for its coverage of the history of the creationist movement and its presentation of the past and current legal issues surrounding the controversy," and added, "With creationists continuing to mount court challenges to the teaching of evolution, the currency of this work is crucial for libraries trying to keep up with developments. ... Many libraries may not own creationist books or journals, so this new title is an excellent way to provide access to that literature while keeping it in a scientific, scholarly context." And the reviewer for Science Books & Films described it as "an insightful must-have for students and teachers from high school and beyond and a 'should-read' for interested laypersons."

For information about Evolution vs. Creationism, visit: http://www.ncseweb.org/evc/

If you wish to subscribe, please send:

subscribe ncse-news your@email.com

again in the body of an e-mail to majordomo@ncseweb2.org.

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


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

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


the email newsletter of the Skeptics Society

Friday, July 15th, 2005

To view this newsletter with graphics and formatting, visit:


In this week's eSkeptic, Kenneth W. Krause reviews The Psychological Roots of Religious Belief: Searching for Angels and the Parent-God by M.D. Faber (Prometheus Books, New York, 2004, ISBN 1591022673).

Kenneth W. Krause lives with his wife Cindy, along the Mississippi River in Wisconsin. He has earned degrees in Law, History, Literature, and Fine Art.


a book review by Kenneth W. Krause

"Surely infantilism is destined to be surmounted," wrote Sigmund Freud in his 1927 The Future of an Illusion. "Men cannot remain children for ever; they must in the end go out into the 'hostile life.' We may call this 'education to reality.'" Freud, of course, was referring to the "infantilism" of religion -- or as he so bluntly labeled it, "the universal obsessional neurosis of humanity."

In The Psychological Roots of Religious Belief, M.D. Faber (Professor Emeritus of English Language and Literature specializing in literature and psychology at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, and former Special Fellow at the National Institute of Mental Health in Washington D.C.) takes issue with Freud's ultimate conclusion. In the religious context, men and women apparently can and often do remain "children" forever, thanks in large measure to Abrahamic monotheism's reliance on the omnipotent "Parent-God."

Faber affirms that we are born fundamentally free from religious predilections, liberated to pursue a reasoned, constructive, and cooperative existence. How is it, then, that throngs of us slump into the swift stream of monotheistic superstition at every widening bend to be whisked away, perhaps forever, like so much like loose sand, despite our natural tendency toward firmly-grounded, rational thought? What is it about the human experience following the moment of birth that renders us so vulnerable to the Parent-God's charms?

According to D. Andrew Kille, former pastor and lecturer in psychology and spirituality, and the author of "The Bible Made Me Do It" (in The Destructive Power of Religion, ed. J. Harold Ellens, Praeger Publishing, 2004), "Psychologists of religion have long recognized the close connection between early childhood development and later religious images and behavior. In the earliest experiences of mother and care lie the roots of God images and emotionally charged attitudes and reactions to spirituality and religious thinking." Such is the general theme of Faber's book, a theme he argues quite convincingly and in copious detail.

According to Faber, the caregiving parent begins laying the groundwork for the child's eventual religiosity shortly after birth during what Faber calls the "basic biological situation." Over and over, literally thousands of times per year, the needful infant cries out for and immediately receives nourishment, warmth, comfort, and care from the apparently omnipotent parent, usually the mother. The infant's crying, or supplication, in response to "crises" constitutes "proto-prayer." The omni-benevolent and all-powerful mother, in turn, becomes the child's "proto-deity."

According to Faber, "The basic biological situation gives rise at the implicit, unconscious level to the perceptual, emotional 'scheme' from which emanates our deepest emotional longings and perceptual inclinations." The pattern of supplication and provision becomes internalized, literally rooted into the neural fabric of the child's brain. Like muscles, synaptic connections grow stronger after repeated use. The pattern becomes permanently imprinted into unconscious memory. Faber identifies this process as "mnemonic priming" for eventual "mapping" onto the religious narrative and projection onto the illusionary Parent-God.

In most cases, neither the child nor the parent will ever comprehend what has occurred. The process is an entirely implicit one, relegated to the realm of what Freud dubbed "infantile amnesia." Later in life, in response to external religious stimuli, for example, these implicit memories of the basic biological situation will be cued, played, and repeated as efficiently as can be: "The religious realm into which the child gradually enters mirrors unconsciously, associatively, perceptually, and affectively the presubjective 'reality' that the child has been internalizing and installing neurally as the basis of his gradually emerging identity. The religious realm, in two words, corresponds implicitly to the child's mind."

During the earliest stages of development, the child conceives of no existence apart from its parent. It finds an image of itself only in the caretaker, and thus, it participates in the world only through the caretaker. "The child," writes Faber, "cannot at this stage say to the parent, 'You misunderstand me,' because no 'me' exists apart from the parent's understanding. Thus the 'reality' of the caregiver does not become a 'reality' for the child; it becomes the only 'reality,' the only 'place' in which he has existence." As such, the child attributes the provision of care and security not to the mother alone, but to itself as well. It is the child's heady estimation of its own omnipotence, then, that marks the "symbiotic phase," which peaks in intensity at about six to nine months.

Thereafter, as the child embarks on the process of separation from the caregiver, it will begin to implicitly suffer the terrifying loss of worldly hegemony. "This movement away," writes Faber, "is attended by powerful anxiety and by the irrational wish to have it both ways: separateness and symbiotic union."

During what some psychologists identify as the "practicing phase," eleven to fifteen months, the infant becomes more engaged in its burgeoning mental and physical world. Even so, it always returns to the mother for emotional refueling. At about thirty months, during the "rapprochement phase," the separation process culminates; the child begins to fully comprehend the solitary nature of its existence. The toddler will first demand attention from its parental caregiver and then turn to other persons, including the father, and to transitional objects, including toys, pets, blankets, etc., in an attempt to maintain emotional constancy.

Some have characterized the child's separation from the parental caregiver as "a life-long mourning process that triggers an endless search for replacement." According to Faber:

[T]he passing of the rapprochement crisis simply means that one is now in a position to act out among others this basic human dilemma... It means that one can now seek for omnipotence, fusion, and narcissistic gratification in the wider world... We have in this remarkable situation the living seed of the "faith-state," of the believer's hallucinatory, heartfelt conviction that his invisible, mysterious, "transmundane" Parent-God is there. Not only does the will to believe, to accept the veracity of religious narrative, push upward ineluctably toward consciousness from an inward source one affectively recognizes yet cannot directly detect, but the narrative's wishful, alluring core holds the promise of attachment to a loving provider, to a Spirit through Whom one may lessen the pain of precisely the separation just described... For most human beings the combination is irresistible, and its effects persist with varying degrees of intensity throughout the course of the life cycle.

The child's desire to have it both ways -- to separate, yet preserve emotional union or dependency on a caregiver -- is what eventually results in "the central motivational goal of the religionist's spiritual commitment." By the time religious narratives exert themselves, the child has "already been 'primed' and prepared for initiation into the divine, supernatural realm."

Implicit memories of these symbiotic and post-symbiotic states, then, are abundant and immediately accessible for stimulation by monotheistic narratives. Young children are encouraged, if not threatened and bullied, to conform their beliefs to such narratives before their rational faculties have ripened, before they can critically evaluate their churches' claims, before they can possibly fathom the overwhelming power of their unconscious minds.

Religion, in this theory, is anything but a passive recipient of immature minds. According to the author:

[Churches] strive to trigger state-dependent memories of the early period through formal, diurnal practices... [Religion] has shrewdly played into man's most childlike needs, not only by offering eternal guarantees for an omniscient power's benevolence (if properly appeased) but by magic words and significant gestures, soothing sounds and soporific smells -- an infant's world... Thus religion is a cunning, unconscious method of preserving the tie to the... original mother and father... We can play the game of life in two directions, staying put and moving on... And so it is with religion... Not only does one get the caregiver back, but one gets the caregiver back in an idealized form. One is not alone, and one has nothing to fear from a just and merciful God.

The basic biological situation, the implicit memories, the desperate anxiety associated with separation, and every church's deliberate and clever attempt to seduce innocent minds -- such factors travel a great distance in explaining monotheism's virtually irresistible attraction for humanity, including the most intelligent and educated among us.

Faber wisely stops short, however, of claiming that religiosity is inherent to the human condition:

The widespread notion that we are 'wired for God' or 'genetically endowed' with a 'need' for 'faith' emerges from our psychodynamic context as a misperception of human behavior -- an understandable, wishful, natural misperception to be sure, but inaccurate nonetheless. Are the many millions of people throughout the world who do not believe in God the products of faulty wiring? Has their elemental, primal nature been somehow distorted or suppressed? I don't think so.

Indeed, if any reasonable person were to compare the relative difficulties of two hypothetical tasks -- first, remaining utterly non-religious for one day, and second, remaining completely non-rational for but one minute -- such a person would surely conclude that humanity is naturally rational and not naturally religious. No conscious and able-minded person, after all, could possibly elude the process of collecting evidence, weighing it, and drawing conclusions based on that evidence -- even if the only conclusion she ultimately draws is that she remains safe where she is.

Freethinking adults have found the religious program "irrelevant or unengaging," argues Faber, largely because, by the time of religious exposure, that program has already been replaced "by other neural, perceptual connections, by other narratives, by other theoretical outlooks and conclusions." A rigorous and liberal education is critical, it would appear, if parents wish for their children the rewards of a rational life.

Nevertheless, people of reason have abundant cause to be hopeful. The situation is not irremediable. Because all humans are inherently rational and freedom loving, they possess every tool required in the effort to resist the mapping process. If and when they do, according to Faber, "both flock and earthly shepherds are apt to disappear." Faber affirms our ultimate hopes without reservation: "Because religion must confront the realm of reason through its truth claims, it, religion, is not merely vulnerable but mortal: it can die."

Yet, regrettably, Faber is unable to resist at least one of his own irrational vices. Without conveying a legitimate basis for doing so, Faber shamelessly panders to desperate monotheists by offering them a rusty hook upon which to hang their tattered hat: "The entire psychological pattern I am working to depict here may have been conceived and initiated by a supernatural Almighty and Ultimate First Cause."

Is this Faber's way of implying that anything is possible? What would be the point of such a meaningless gesture? The issue, after all, is not the existence of some abstract and undefined entity that we might characterize as a god if we were ever to encounter it. The real issue concerns the idiosyncratic gods of Abrahamic monotheism, which, according to logic and a clear preponderance of all available evidence, simply does not exist. Rather than compromising himself for the approval of a substantial but unreasoned audience, Faber should have remained true to his principal scientific arguments.

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The eSkeptic newsletter is published (almost) weekly by the Skeptics Society, ISSN 1556-5696.

An exchange on science, evolution and intelligent design


16 July 2005

On June 20, 2005 the World Socialist Web Site published an article on the decision by the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History to show a documentary put out by the Discovery Institute. The Discovery Institute is the country's foremost advocate of Intelligent Design, a quasi-religious view that aims to attack the theory of biological evolution. [See "An attack on science: Smithsonian Institution to show film on Intelligent Design"].

In response to that article, we received a number of letters from WSWS readers, including one critical letter from reader PK, questioning the scientific validity of the theory of evolution. [See also, "Letters on Smithsonian Institution and Intelligent Design"]. Below is PK's original letter, a reply to PK's letter from a reader DK, followed by a response from Walter Gilberti, one of the authors of the original WSWS article.

I am definitely not a believer in intelligent design, but I take issue with the quote: "The Seattle-based Discovery Institute is the country's most prominent advocacy group for the 'theory' of Intelligent Design, a quasi-religious teaching that seeks to undermine the science of evolution." Science is based in the fundamental belief that a reaction or behavior or physical principle is observable, explainable, measurable and most of all, able to be reproduced. Evolution does not meet a single one of these requirements and so it is, and will always be, merely a theory entrenched in the same kind of dogma that surrounds religious fundamentalism. Show me a biology professor at a major university who questions Darwinism and I will show you a person on his or her way to the unemployment office.


20 June 2005

The debate on the scientific validity of the theory of evolution has long since been closed. For example, the term "theory" does not mean a set of hypotheses ready to be overturned at a moment's notice. It is more like the expression "the theory of relativity," which, whatever its limits, has been demonstrated in practice to be valid.

Therefore, I think that when prominent figures in Congress advance medieval views, and when the thoughts of these "thinkers" find an echo in, of all places, the Museum that is supposed to express the scientific achievements of the nation, then views such as those expressed by the writer PK should be carefully dealt with.

PK wrote, "Science is based in the fundamental belief that a reaction or behavior or physical principle is observable, explainable, measurable and most of all, able to be reproduced. Evolution does not meet a single one of these requirements..." This is false. The principle of evolution is observable, measurable, and capable of reproduction. In fact, all of these preceded Darwin's publication of "Origin of Species": the direct enforcement of species alteration by humans had long been known. There are significant species which cannot exist without human intervention, such as the grain corn (the edible form), and, with respect to plants and animals, humans are definitely a reinforcing element of the environment!

Lest PK think that this somehow excludes from "test" all species change save those induced consciously by humans, the fossil record does not exist in a vacuum. It is strongly correlated with geological change, so that it is possible to extrapolate the principle observed, measured, and repeated by humans to a response to overwhelming changes in nature. Finally, less noticeable changes, by reasoning from the principles influencing current animal populations (and hence, measurable and, to some extent, repeatable) also enable finer elements of the operation of the same principle of natural selection.

Thus PK is left to quote, from standard anti-evolutionary texts: "Show me a biology professor at a major university who questions Darwinism and I will show you a person on his or her way to the unemployment office."

The use of the term Darwinism tells us that PK has learned from someone with their thinking stuck in the debates of the late nineteenth century. For it did not end with Darwin. The biochemical basis of mutation, uncovered fully only with the comprehension of the DNA molecule, supplemented the principle voiced by Darwin and practiced prior to Darwin by breeders, with an explanation of how species alteration can happen at all.

Therefore, the situation is quite the contrary of what PK states: it is not a dogma to accept the conclusions of the theory of evolution, particularly in its current form. It is only by employing dogma, by employing "knowledge" garnered from some immaterial, inexplicable source that one can reject these conclusions!

If representatives of the wealthy are found to expound this dogma, and if they seek to foist it on the general population then there must be an explanation. In fact, there seem to be two: first, those who will blindly believe will comprise the "social dust," as Trotsky put it, which goes into the making of a fascist movement. That is alarming enough.

At the same time, it throws up a fog around the understanding of what science is, and, unfortunately, PK, appears to be momentarily lost in this fog. As a social crisis develops, the capitalist class fears the acquisition by workers of a scientific comprehension of the world. The fight for socialism is also a fight to clear this fog away!


27 June 2005

Walter Gilberti responds:

The lively and important discussion that has been generated by our article raises some fundamental questions, namely: What is science? What constitutes scientific knowledge, and how is that knowledge generated? What is a scientific theory?

PK writes that science "is based in the fundamental belief that a reaction or behavior or physical principle is observable, explainable, measurable and most of all, able to be reproduced." He continues by saying, "Evolution does not meet a single one of these requirements and so it is, and will always be, merely a theory entrenched in the same kind of dogma that surrounds religious fundamentalism."

Before dealing specifically with the question of evolution, it is necessary to consider a more basic misconception contained in reader PK's remarks, one that involves the origin of science and the nature of scientific inquiry. It should, however, be pointed out that the late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould often made a point of distinguishing between the fact of evolution—the recognition that all currently living organisms are the result of a long process of change and transformation from extinct forms—and the theory of evolution through natural selection as advanced by Charles Darwin.

However, Gould would be quick to point out that in science the word "theory" means something quite different than the generic use of the term. In science, an explanation about a particular set of phenomena becomes a theory only after being verified again and again through observation, the testing of hypotheses and the accumulation of overwhelming evidence.

Repeating the arguments of creationists, including the proponents of Intelligent Design, PK speaks of evolution as "merely a theory," hoping that the use of the word "theory" will somehow cast doubt on its scientific validity and place it in the same category as Intelligent Design. In fact, putting aside for now Gould's distinction, evolution is a theory, but it is a theory that is supported by a vast mountain of evidence. Intelligent Design, on the other hand, does not deserve to be described as a theory, for it does not offer a material explanation for observable phenomena, but instead resorts to mystical, unverifiable and absolutely unsupported speculation about some "intelligence" being responsible for the biological world.

What about PK's charge that evolution "cannot be reproduced" so is not a science? Here again PK holds a fundamental misconception of the nature of science and the scientific process. Too often science is presented, especially in the schools, as already proven results—the reproducible laboratory practices of people in white coats, whose results are verifiable beyond a shadow of doubt. What is usually left out is the history of the development of a scientific comprehension of natural phenomena—the trials, the observations, the questions, the theorizing, and the development of concepts—the stuff of real scientific practice.

The late evolutionary biologist, Ernst Mayr, summarized the importance of this point when he wrote: "One can take almost any advance, either in evolutionary biology or in systematics, and show that it did not depend as much on discoveries as on the introduction of new concepts.... Those are not far wrong who insist that the progress of science consists principally in the progress of scientific concepts."

Science is more than the sum total of knowledge gained through the re-creation of testable phenomena in a laboratory, even when this immediate verification illuminates our understanding of underlying principles (e.g., the behavior of gasses). Science is first and foremost a recognition that the objective world of nature is comprehensible on its own terms, without recourse to phantoms, spirits or inexplicable forces. Biological science throughout the nineteenth, and even into the twentieth centuries, has developed primarily by ridding itself of the last vestiges of vitalism—the idea that life emerged spontaneously, and inexplicably, from inorganic matter.

The emergence of science has been a protracted process that, in essential ways, records the whole history and progress of our species. From the first ideas about how fire, instead of being feared as a destructive force, could be used to our advantage, and then, made and controlled, our ancestors were unknowingly embarking on the first inquiries of a scientific nature. More recently, despite inquisitions and the persistent promoting of superstition and mysticism by the purveyors of religion, scientific inquiry from Copernicus to Einstein has overthrown the notion of the immutable universe.

The development of experimental science during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was certainly important, and resulted in major discoveries especially in physics and chemistry. But this in no way exhausts the essential forms of scientific practice, which also include scrupulous observation and inference based on cross-disciplinary evidence and the comparative method, leading in the end to the real work of science, the development and refinement of scientific concepts.

According to PK's logic, it is necessary to throw out entire scientific disciplines as dogma because the phenomena they describe cannot be recreated by experiments in a laboratory. Is it necessary for humans to create stars in a laboratory in order for us to develop a science of cosmology? What about the geological history of the earth? Must we reject the theory of plate tectonics because the movement of the earth's crust cannot be reproduced? Of course not. Like evolution, these historical processes take place across vast expanses of space and time, but this does not mean that there is no observable evidence for their validity. The fact that the continents have moved great distances over the course of thousands and thousands of years is confirmed by great quantities of evidence, including fossil evidence.

This brings us to the question of evolution and the monumental work of Charles Darwin.

Frankly, Darwinian evolution, or what is now known as the Synthetic Theory of Evolution owing to developments in genetics, molecular biology and paleontology, is a scientific theory whose level of veracity, to coin an oft-used basketball phrase is, "a slam dunk." The Synthetic Theory is a conceptual advance unparalleled in its ability to give a rational explanation for the phenomena of the biological world.

The notion that all currently existing organisms are the result of a long process of descent through modification is confirmed by a preponderance of evidence. As other readers have correctly pointed out, the evolution of life on this planet can be traced by the evidence in the fossil record of transitions of many types of organisms over the vastness of geological time, making evolution in that sense measurable. Moreover, Darwin's elaboration of the workings of natural selection provides a compelling explanation for the emergence and diversification of life on this planet.

Finally, evolution is occurring even as we communicate, both in nature and in the laboratory. I am not here referring to such experiments as the well-known attempt by Stanley Miller in the 1950s to recreate the conditions of the early earth's atmosphere, an experiment that resulted in the chemo-synthesis of amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. Rather, I would refer PK to the ongoing evolutionary "arms race" between medical science and microbial organisms—the continuous battle to keep pace with the emergence of pathogens resistant to antibiotics, a process driven by natural selection. Humans are, after all, part of the natural environment.

The immense quantity of evidence for Darwin's theory cannot be understated. Darwin was a brilliant observer. But he did not simply concoct his theory from his observation of Galapagos finches, as important as these were. He certainly compiled a mountain of evidence from his five-year voyage on the Beagle, but he was also a skilled experimenter and researcher. The vast amounts of data Darwin accumulated through a lifetime of work as a skilled and knowledgeable selective breeder, and in his exhaustive examinations into the anatomy, physiology and behavior of barnacles, a type of crustacean, enhanced the refinement of his concept of evolution through natural selection.

In addition, Darwin was greatly influenced by the work of others—geologist Charles Lyell in understanding the Earth's great antiquity, Thomas Malthus on the characteristics of populations, and Alfred Russell Wallace, whose work in the East Indies led to the elaboration of a theory of evolution similar to Darwin's. The final result, the publication of On the Origin of Species in 1859, was a crowning work of scientific inquiry and genius.

PK makes the assertion that Darwinism is dogmatic, in the manner of the creationism of the fundamentalists. How so? Creationism and its slightly more sophisticated variant, Intelligent Design, are in fact dogmas because they are bereft of even a shred of evidence, neither observable nor provable from any experimental or other methodological standpoint, and are laden with sophistries and outright absurdities. As is the case with the religious opponents to evolution and the scientific world view in general, proponents of this ideology attempt to insert it into the cracks in our knowledge of the objective movement of the natural world.

Centuries ago, the work of scientists such as Redi overthrew the dogma of spontaneous generation. When Copernicus, and later Galileo and others, demonstrated that our solar system is not earth-centered, they drove the first nails into the coffin of the dogma of the immutable, unchanging universe. The work of Darwin and the subsequent discoveries in both the physical and natural sciences have moved this process toward completion. The richness of this knowledge gained over the last two centuries has rightly placed the synthetic theory of evolution as the foundation theory of the biological sciences.

PK advances a kind of a "plague on both houses" approach regarding evolution and creationism, without elaborating an alternative, but then issues the standard "persecuted minority" complaint of the fundamentalist opponents of evolution that educators who disagree with Darwinism will find their way to the "unemployment line." However, it is hardly the defenders of biological evolution who are relentlessly seeking to insinuate their ideology into the teaching of science in the public schools.

Quite the contrary! The continuing onslaught against science will have a chilling effect on both the teaching and the practice of science in the United States. The two incidents at the Smithsonian cited in the article are an indication of the relentlessness of the assault on all scientific thought by right-wing forces in and around the Bush administration. While I do not believe that Richard Sternberg should lose his job over the publication of the journal article that advances an Intelligent Design perspective, the circumstances surrounding its publication remain clouded. Sternberg's actions, however, whether conscious or merely confused, are deserving of contempt by all scrupulous scientists.

Parenthetically, I don't believe that Lehigh University professor Michael Behe, one of the chief exponents of Intelligent Design who has been repeatedly been given a forum for his views in the New York Times, will be losing his job any time soon.


Walter Gilberti, for the WSWS

Copyright 1998-2005 World Socialist Web Site

Clearwater, Fla., is the capital of Scientology


Posted on Sat, Jul. 16, 2005

By Cara Buckley


CLEARWATER, Fla. - In the crushing noontime heat, the downtown of this waterfront city is eerily devoid of pedestrians. Cars jam intersections along Cleveland Avenue, a main thoroughfare, their reflections rippling across the long, glass line of vacant storefronts.

Suddenly, a great mass of uniformed people appears. They spill from a corner building, wearing belted green, navy or russet pants and crisp white and pale-blue shirts. No one jaywalks, and when the light turns, they cross the intersection in purposeful strides, round an alleyway and disappear.

In their idling cars, residents barely glance up. Such apparitions have become everyday fare since the Church of Scientology made Clearwater -- unbeknownst to the city then -- its world spiritual headquarters 30 years ago.

Interest in the secretive religion has been piqued after the recent media antics of one of its most famous adherents, actor Tom Cruise. In Clearwater, though thousands of far less glamorous Scientologists have long become an indelible, if still mysterious, part of city life.

The church's founder, science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, chose Clearwater because it was sunny, close to an airport and near the water. Each year, 15,000 Scientologists from every continent study at the opulent Fort Harrison Hotel, a city landmark that the church secretly bought under an assumed name in 1975.

"This is, quote-unquote, our Mecca," said Pat Harney, a church spokeswoman. "Everyone at some point will come here for advanced religious services."

Relations between the city and the church, which the IRS officially recognized as a religion in 1993, can broadly be described as peaceful, if tense. City leaders attend events at Fort Harrison -- unheard of until recent years -- and Scientologists are increasingly part of the Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary Club and the Boy Scouts.

This fledgling mutual acceptance, born of a fractious past, was forged partly by necessity. The church estimates 12,000 Scientologists live in Clearwater, population 110,000, and surrounding Tampa Bay. Those numbers are certain to mushroom, as Scientologist developers are building hundreds of condo units near downtown.

The church is also building a massive "Flag" or "Super Power" building across from the Fort Harrison Hotel where new, advanced "power" courses will be taught. At 380,000 square feet, it easily will dominate Clearwater's skyline, a testament to Scientology's permanence in a city that remains a reluctant host.

"They have a very large presence, an enormous investment, but sentiment is very mixed," said Frank Hibbard, Clearwater's mayor. "Some folks have accepted them, but some citizens have an inherent mistrust that's been around for decades."

For all the church's newfound openness, opinions across Clearwater remain wildly mixed.

Locals credit Scientologists with cleaning up Clearwater's once-decrepit downtown, which, while largely empty, at least looks pristine. But there is a prevailing opinion that non-Scientologist retailers and passersby avoid downtown because of the church's dominance there.

"They control the city legally, politically. They get on all the boards," said Fred Thomas, a former city commissioner and longtime Scientology critic. "It's not a vibrant city in terms of regular families, the way it used to be. It's a vibrant Scientology city. They've conquered us."

Others strongly resent the hefty tax write-offs the church is allowed. It paid nearly $440,000 in taxes last year -- the most for a business downtown -- but was exempt for $34 million of its $52 million worth of property. Still, those taxes will jump once the church converts Fort Harrison into a full-time hotel, albeit one for Scientologists alone.

Others say Scientology's detractors are uninformed, clinging stubbornly to the past. Like it or not, they say, Scientologists are a permanent fixture.

"It's not a cult. Those are ignorant hate words," said Phil Strom, a local yacht broker and Methodist who has Scientologist friends. "They changed a ghetto into a very nice clean neighborhood. That's what Scientology has done. So what if they wear gray pants and white shirts? They're just doing their job."

Scientology organizations

Scientology operates several drug rehab, education and anti-psychiatry organizations.

Narconon: The church's drug-rehabilitation-program was founded 35 years ago. It has 145-centers in 38 countries. Narconon is based partly on Scientology's belief that drugs accumulate in body fat.

Crimonon: A prison-program founded in 1972 that draws on Scientology principles to rehabilitate prisoners. The program-rejects traditional mental-health care. Hubbard-believed Scientology could help rid the planet of crime.

Citizens Commission on Human Rights: Established in 1969 as an anti-psychiatry organization, CCHR promotes Hubbard's teachings against modern psychiatry. It charges that psychiatry has no scientific foundation, that psychiatric drugs cause violent behavior and that chemical imbalances have never been proven.

Source: Scientology brochures, interviews and www.cchr.org.

Healing Power of Prayer Doubted in Patient Study


Researchers say people benefited from bedside therapies like music and touch before surgery, but congregations' blessings had no effect.

By Brad Wible, Times Staff Writer

Prayers from distant congregations did not affect patients' recovery from coronary artery procedures, but bedside therapies using music and touch before surgery reduced stress and offered a slight advantage in survival, scientists reported Friday.

The study, published in the Lancet medical journal, looked at 748 patients at nine U.S. medical centers.

Patients were randomly chosen to receive off-site prayer, bedside therapy, both treatments or none.

"This is a test of whether medicine can help people do what they've already been doing for thousands of years in virtually every culture in the world," said Dr. Mitchell W. Krucoff, a cardiologist at Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina and the study's lead author.

Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist congregations were given patients' names and prayed for them for five to 30 days.

Survival rates did not differ among those who received prayer and those who did not, the study found.

Krucoff said the study was "not a disproof of prayer," noting that most of the patients — whether or not they received prayers from the congregations — had friends and relatives praying for them.

The bedside therapy given to patients included listening to music, imagining favorite places, practicing yoga-like breathing and being touched by practitioners of alternative medicine.

Researchers said the therapeutic benefit could have resulted from the presence of a caring individual who helped reduce patients' preoperative anxiety. Stress reduction could affect physiological processes and improve survival, Krucoff said.

Bigfoot Allegedly Spotted In Canada's Yukon Territory

Several people in Canada's Yukon Territory say they've spotted a Sasquatch, and some claim to have evidence.

In one case, a chunk of alleged Bigfoot hair has been sent to Vancouver for DNA testing.

Also, an extra large set of footprints was found in the woods.

"My Uncle Doug, he's been in the bush, he says it's not a bear track or anything he's ever seen," said resident Trent Smarch.

Some claim to have even seen one of the animals.

"When I looked up, it was just standing there, like watching me," said resident Roger Smarch.

Residents say that tree branches in the area have been broken off at the 10-foot level.

In all, about nine people claim to have had a very close encounter with Bigfoot.


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