NTS LogoSkeptical News for 23 July 2005

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Business Groups Focus on Math, Science


By BEN FELLER AP Education Writer

July 26, 2005, 1:53 PM EDT

WASHINGTON -- Arguing for more urgency, businesses with tens of millions of workers are hoping to prod the nation into improving its math and science education.

Covering every sector of the U.S. economy, the business coalition aims to convince policymakers and the public that America's place in the world is at stake -- "the leadership of our country, our ability to compete on a global basis, and our ability to create jobs for American workers," said John Castellani, president of the Business Roundtable.

Castellani's group, an association of chief executive officers from major U.S. corporations, will lead a campaign to be launched publicly on Wednesday. Other prominent members of the effort include the U.S Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and TechNet, a network of technology CEOs from leading firms.

Although the United States remains a dominant force in innovation, a series of indicators, from academic scores to flagging interest in science careers, spell trouble. The problem is on the radar of the White House, Congress and state leaders, but business leaders say the nation's efforts are piecemeal and lacking a compelling sense of attention.

Thomas Donohue, president of the Chamber of Commerce, said the emerging campaign will aim to show people how declining science performance undermines everyone.

"Do you want your kids to get a decent job?" Donohue asked Tuesday in a group interview with The Associated Press. "Do you want them to have a high quality of life and opportunity? Do you want them to live in a good house?"

Without a renewed U.S. commitment in science and math, he said, even successful students may never get those things "because they're going to be operating in a system that's falling behind in the global economy."

The business groups hope their effort will shift attention toward a set of goals they culled from a mounting body of reports on U.S. math and science.

The priorities center on improving the nation's public schools, including more support for teachers and incentives for students to become scientists and engineers. The groups also back more research funding and faster security clearances for foreign scholars.

Another central goal: doubling the number of bachelor's degrees awarded in science, technology, engineering and math by 2015, from roughly 200,000 a year to 400,000.

Even creating accurate and timely measures of how students are performing is essential, said John Engler, president of the National Association of Manufacturers. The country's data on such matters as graduation rates and enrollment data are often seen as flawed or dated.

The business leaders plan to begin by lobbying lawmakers and governors and by helping their millions of employees understand how they and their kids can access science and math. Other efforts in coming months will be targeted at parents, teachers and students outside their businesses.

The design of the outreach effort has not been completed. The coalition is leaning against advertisements or public service spots, fearing those would be ignored, but will try to learn from whatever model appeals to students -- even video games, Castellani said.

The coalition's report, "Tapping America's Potential," differs from previous calls for action because of its scope, said Lezlee Westine, president of TechNet and a former political adviser to President Bush.

"It makes clear that all of us -- those of us in industry, the educators, the citizens, the policymakers -- have a role to play in this effort," Westine said.

Business Roundtable: http://www.businessroundtable.org/
Copyright © 2005, The Associated Press

Phillip Johnson's Assault Upon Faith-Based Darwinism


From eastbayexpress.com
Originally published by East Bay Express 2005-07-27
©2005 New Times, Inc.

A modern monkey trial isn't what Phillip Johnson expected when he wrote a critique of evolution that launched intelligent design -- or was it?

By Justin Berton

When fevered creationists gather outside a Dover, Pennsylvania, courtroom this fall, Berkeley's Phillip E. Johnson will probably shake his head in disapproval. Like many East Bay residents, the emeritus Boalt Hall law professor will watch uneasily if people waving Bibles make an intemperate attack on evolution in support of the doctrine known as "intelligent design."

The September trial promises to be a historic moment for the intelligent-design movement -- conceivably as important as the infamous Scopes "Monkey Trial" of 1925 was to the teaching of evolution. Last October, in the first case of its kind, the Dover Area School Board required science teachers to read ninth graders a short statement about Darwin's theory of evolution. The statement included the following:

"Because Darwin's theory is a theory, it is still being tested as new evidence is discovered. The theory is not a fact. Gaps in the theory exist for which there is no evidence. ... Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view. The reference book Of Pandas and People is available for students to see if they would like to explore this view in an effort to gain an understanding of what intelligent design actually involves. As is true with any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind."

Dover area biology teachers refused to read the words. Eleven parents sued the school board, claiming its action violated the Constitution's prohibition against laws "respecting an establishment of religion," which courts have ruled forbids the teaching of creationism.

Supporters of the school board claimed its action was not religiously motivated. But press coverage of the board's deliberations puts the lie to that claim. The York Daily Record quoted one board member as saying, "This country wasn't founded on Muslim beliefs or evolution. ... This country was founded on Christianity, and our students should be taught as much."

The board also betrayed its true intentions by entrusting its defense to the Thomas More Law Center, a public- interest law firm "dedicated to the defense and promotion of the religious freedom of Christians, time-honored family values, and the sanctity of human life." Attorney Richard Thompson says his client's message to ninth graders was merely designed to promote critical thinking. Yet he willingly imagines the sort of thinking it might promote: "After considering intelligent design, the student may ask, 'Who is the designer?' And the student may come to the conclusion the designer is God."

Back in Berkeley, all this talk of God and intelligent design disturbs Phillip Johnson. Yet his is not the discomfort of a creationism opponent. Instead, his unease stems from being the very father of the movement on trial in Dover.

In 1991, Johnson published Darwin on Trial, the book that served as catalyst for the intelligent-design movement. The volume was a rhetorically persuasive work of scientific criticism aimed at debunking what Johnson called "the scientific orthodoxy of today, which is that all living things evolved by a gradual, natural process -- from nonliving matter to simple microorganisms, leading eventually to man."

As one would imagine, Johnson was heavily critical of naturalistic evolution, a doctrine he prefers to call Darwinism. But he hardly wrote at all about God. "I am not a defender of creation-science," he wrote, "and in fact I am not concerned in this book with addressing any conflicts between the Biblical accounts and the scientific evidence." In fact, he pointedly disavowed creation-scientists in his book, calling them "biased by their precommitment to Biblical fundamentalism."

Consequently, Johnson is not at all involved in the first big legal challenge to the doctrine he helped launch, despite his role as the movement's popularizer and his status as its eminent legal theorist. In fact, he looks down his well-read nose at the spectacle in Dover. He insists that he would rather see the intelligent-design debate remain purely academic. "All of these local controversies are opened up by local people pursuing their own agendas," he says. "They may have in their mind they are furthering the intelligent-design movement, but that isn't necessarily the case and it isn't at our urging that they're doing it."

Getting a read on Johnson's true designs can be a challenge. While he insists he has no control over local skirmishes such as the Dover flap, in the past his fingerprints appeared on the movement's most clear-cut effort to shape classroom curriculum. The question now is whether Johnson truly disagrees with the Dover school board's goals, or if he merely believes there is a more effective way to make the case for creationism.

On the walls of Johnson's Berkeley living room, framed political cartoons make light of his famous fight with evolution. One of the caricatures shows the stout, bespectacled law professor arguing with a massive gorilla. Johnson, who is 65, gets the best of the primate -- not by strength, but through the power of rhetoric.

Usually, though, the joke is on Johnson. In debates about intelligent design, he tends to remain calm. But his opponents sometimes resort to condescending comments that suggest the old man believes the world is flat. "I play the straight man," he chuckles. "I let them score the easy points, go for the laughs."

On the larger scorecard, Johnson is still gaining ground. Intelligent design has had a good year. It found a place on national magazine covers, is routinely considered on editorial pages, and earned a nod in the movie War of the Worlds and a flat-out endorsement in the popular Matrix trilogy. Currently, eighteen bills in thirteen states are challenging the teachings of evolution. Intelligent-design clubs are popping up at universities (Stanford) and high schools (San Diego), and local school boards across the country are asking: Is evolution the only story for man's existence?

Perhaps most notably, in a development seen as a major doctrinal shift away from evolution by the Catholic Church, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn recently wrote in The New York Times that "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 archbishop used language so reminiscent of Johnson's arguments that he could have been quoting from Darwin on Trial.

The rough outlines of intelligent design are far from new, and have been kicking around in philosophy classes for hundreds of years. According to William Dembski's 1998 essay The Intelligent Design Movement, the most famous early argument came with the 1802 publication of William Paley's Natural Theology. Paley posited that if you found a watch in a field, the device's obvious suitability for telling time would be a clear sign that its design was the product of an intelligence, and not simply the output of undirected natural processes. Paley suggested that the same was true of life on Earth.

The theory was perhaps first presented as science in 1989, when Percival Davis and Dean H. Kenyon published Of Pandas and People, a biology textbook that offered an alternative to evolution. Although Davis and Kenyon pointedly used the term "intelligent design," their book struck evolutionists as a creationist ploy to get inside classrooms.

But the event that really put intelligent design on the map was the 1991 publication of Johnson's Darwin on Trial. "If it weren't for him, the intelligent-design movement would not exist," says Michael Behe, the microbiologist whose 1996 book Darwin's Black Box attempted to give the doctrine a scientific underpinning. "We'd be separate, scattered skeptics at isolated institutions."

Far from advancing a God-created-the-universe-in-six-days creationism, Johnson's brand of intelligent design was a straight-up critique of evolution's weaknesses. He attacked the theory by exploiting its missing links. He accepted evolution where he could see it: that is, where fossil evidence existed. But where evolutionary biologists couldn't point to evidence connecting the dots from one species to another, Johnson found evolution's intuitive leaps unconvincing.

For instance, where his book addressed the notion that amphibians evolved into reptiles, Johnson wrote, "No satisfactory candidates exist to document this transition." And just because the human eyeball is similar to that of a squid, Johnson is unwilling to imagine an evolutionary link between the species, absent other evidence of common genetic inheritance. "The point here is not that Darwin is altogether wrong," he says, "but that it seems to be true only within a very narrow range rather than in the great creative story which is told about."

Some readers of Johnson's book allege that he played very fast and loose with his facts. In an online critique at TalkReason.org titled "The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth? Why Phillip Johnson's Darwin on Trial and the 'intelligent design' movement are neither science -- nor Christian," writer Brian Spitzer called the book "perhaps the ugliest and most deceptive book I have ever seen." Spitzer maintained that Johnson misrepresented the work of eminent evolutionists in dozens of separate instances. On the other hand, physicist and atheist Steven Weinberg described Johnson as "the most respectable academic critic of evolution" in his 1992 book Dreams of a Final Theory.

What Johnson admittedly admires about Darwin's theory is its persuasiveness. After all, the fossil record is rife with gaps and missing links, yet somehow Darwin managed to use these shortcomings to prove his point. "What he claims and what he delivers upon are two different things," Johnson says. "What Darwinism is, is a wild extrapolation from limited data. ... The claim Darwin made was that we have design but no designer. We know you don't need a designer to do the designing because natural selection can do the job working on random variations."

If Johnson is going to make a leap of faith, he'd prefer it to be a religious one. "I am a philosophical theist and a Christian," he wrote in Darwin on Trial. "I believe that a God exists who could create out of nothing if He wanted to do so, but who might have chosen to work through a natural evolutionary process instead."

Darwin on Trial is not just an attack on evolution, but on the very modern principles of science. Johnson believes Galileo and his descendants worked to solve the questions of our existence based on science, not faith, but that for several centuries since then, men of reason -- astronomers, mathematicians, philosophers -- have conspired to purge God from the handiwork of the universe. By the time Darwin published Origin of Species in 1859, the fatal blow had been cast.

"The very persons who insist upon keeping religion and science separate are eager to use their science as a basis for pronouncements about religion," he wrote. "The literature of Darwinism is full of antitheistic conclusions, such as that the universe was not designed and has no purpose, and that we humans are the product of blind natural processes that care nothing about us."

Johnson suggests that evolution has become a faith-based movement in its own right. He maintains that biologists have become so invested in the Darwinian worldview that they have ceased looking for contradictory evidence. "As the creation myth of scientific naturalism, Darwinism plays an indispensable ideological role in the war against fundamentalism," he wrote. "For that reason, scientific organizations are devoted to protecting Darwinism rather than testing it, and the rules of scientific investigation have been shaped to help them succeed."

Johnson regards scientists as today's reigning priesthood -- a monklike discipline that controls our culture's story of creation and protects its orthodoxy as ruling paradigms have done for centuries. "They are jealous of their power," he says. "They will do anything to protect it. If that means labeling someone like me as a Bible-thumper, then that's what they'll do. They'll say, 'You don't agree with evolution, therefore you believe in the Bible's account! You read Genesis literally!' Of course, that's the stereotype they want to preserve."

Evolutionary biologist William Provine is one member of the "priesthood" who has publicly debated Johnson. Provine has his Cornell University students read Darwin on Trial and has invited Johnson in for quizzing. After class the two men have shared cocktails. Provine considers Johnson "a very worthy opponent."

But Provine lambastes Johnson's notion that the universe has been put together with outside help. "Phil has never persuaded me to change one of my views on evolution, ever," says Provine, a no-doubt-about-it atheist. "I do admire his clear-cut focus on assumptions -- Phil is one smart cookie, and his mental apparatus in his head -- whoa, man -- he's got some great mental power. ... But intelligent design is complete and utter bullshit. ... By the end of the semester, I believe he's made more evolutionists than I have."

In spite of their disagreements, Johnson's academic pedigree gives him a lot in common with the men of reason he challenges. He grew up in a mostly secular household in Aurora, Illinois, and attended Sunday school with little enthusiasm. He entered Harvard after his junior year in high school and left with a degree in English literature. After attending law school at the University of Chicago, where he graduated first in his class, he headed off to Washington, DC, to clerk for Earl Warren, chief justice of the United States Supreme Court.

Johnson's time with Warren, a former governor of California and graduate of UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law, gave him a close-up view of a legendary contrarian at work. "A remarkable person with great qualities," he says, noting drily that Warren also was an ahead-of-the-curve thinker -- albeit on racial equality and the rights of criminals. "Most of his positions came to be consensus viewpoint down the road."

But interestingly enough, some of Warren's most famous consensuses were forged in opposition to the nation's religious establishment. The court that he presided over issued two rulings that helped banish God from public school classrooms. Engel v. Vitale (1962) forbade a New York school board from requiring students to recite a "nondenominational" prayer in schools, and Epperson v. Arkansas (1968) ruled that it was unconstitutional for the state to forbid schools and universities from teaching "that mankind ascended or descended from a lower order of animals." These cases, and others like them, form the legal backdrop for the struggle Johnson wages today.

After his Supreme Court clerkship ended, Johnson had the choice of teaching at Yale or Boalt; he chose Warren's alma mater because he liked its relaxed academic culture. Johnson arrived in Berkeley in 1967. He was as agitated by the Vietnam War as many of his peers, and recalls participating in one peaceful march. But as the protests became aggressive, he became unsympathetic. When the movement turned to lawlessness, Boalt's resident criminal law expert drew the line.

"The constant atmosphere of protest, and strident claims and denunciations, grew tiresome after a while," Johnson recalls. "Part of what bothered me about the left ... was quite consistent with what bothered me later about Darwinism. It's the dogmatism, the insistence that everybody believe as they did."

Johnson published some of the country's leading textbooks on criminal law and torts, and became renowned for his rhetorical skills. His reputation as a fierce debater was held in high regard. "If you disagreed with Phil Johnson in criminal law, look out," recalls friend and Boalt professor Jim Gordley. "He had a way of bludgeoning his opponents without embarrassing them -- too much."

But as Johnson's work at Boalt began to earn him an international reputation, he underwent personal turmoil at home. His first wife, an artist, moved to the left, and was persuaded by what he refers to as "the ideas that were going around in the '70s." After she left, Johnson felt a loss of faith in his materialistic ideals. "I felt somewhat unsatisfied," he recalls. "I felt the ideas and philosophies I was professing were missing something, were inadequate. I became skeptical of the utilitarian and rationalist philosophy that I had picked up on the way through college and law school and the academic career, and I became skeptical of the rationalist orthodoxy of the high university environment."

In search of a new faith, Johnson turned to Christianity. He attended the First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley, where he later met his second wife, Kathie; today he has been a member for twenty years. Through gradual study and research, he recalls, he attempted to test whether faith in Christianity was real or imagined. As he told the Christian magazine Touchstone in 2002, he wanted to see whether "I would be throwing my brains out the window and adopting a myth because it suited my personal needs."

Johnson figured evolution was a good place to begin. In 1987, while on sabbatical with Kathie in London, he read Richard Dawkins' book-length defense of the theory, The Blind Watchmaker, along with Michael Denton's Evolution: A Theory in Crisis. The latter book, particularly, nudged Johnson's thought process in a new direction. Johnson dug further into Darwin's work. He eventually concluded that the naturalist's greatest accomplishment had been to deliver what the rationalists most wanted: a world without God.

"When I studied the matter, it seemed to me all a matter of assumptions and wishful thinking," Johnson says. "And the desire was to be able to explain life without recourse to a Creator or any sort of outside force. The only test Darwin had to pass is that it is more plausible than any other explanation. The Creator is disqualified from the outset because the Creator would be something outside of science, and unobserved."

This was the eureka moment for Johnson and his wife. "I was hesitant at first of his ideas," Kathie says. "But then I went down to a London bookstore one day and picked up Isaac Asimov's Guide to Science." She recalls that the book devoted more pages to bashing creationism than it did to proving evolution. The overkill read like an agenda to squash dissent rather than advance evolution as a theory. "I knew then he was on to something," she now recalls.

As Johnson sat down to pen his own assault on evolution, his colleague Gordley was surprised by his friend's new interest. "I think if you would have told him, 'Phil, you're going to write about evolution' two years earlier, he wouldn't have believed you. ... He'd mastered criminal law. He'd mastered torts. At his age, you're supposed to settle in and say, 'Yes, I'm the established scholar of this area,' and relax a little. The last thing you do is launch yourself into a field of this magnitude."

Yet Johnson found his skills as a lawyer applicable to his new-found passion of prosecuting the case against Darwinism. "Perhaps what I understand best is how people reason, how people argue and how they reach their conclusions," he says. "This is where I find the Darwinian people so disappointing. ... It is often believed in intellectual circles, especially in the Darwinist circle, the people I'm debating, that the world is divided into two people: the people who have faith and the people who just reason. But this is a completely false idea about the world. Everybody reasons and everybody has faith."

Gordley says Johnson knew he was spoiling for a fight: "Once he got into it, he knew they'd try to discredit him. He knew they'd say, 'But you're a Christian.'"

Still, Johnson refused to exempt himself from the debate simply because of his own religious beliefs. "One of the ironies of the whole controversy is that it's a stock in trade for the Darwinists to say, 'The critics are religiously motivated and they believe in God and they're throwing their religion at us and they shouldn't be doing that, and they should keep that out of science,'" he says. "But being religious or antireligious is the same thing: It's a position about religion and God, and it goes beyond the evidence and into very confident assertions that are based more on personal convictions than they are scientific testing."

Johnson believes his opponents take great joy in cramming those convictions down the throats of the believers.

One of Johnson's most prominent opponents works out of a small Oakland office lined with skulls marking the stages of man's evolution. Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, works daily to keep evolution as the reigning public school curriculum about life's origin. Branch and his crew of ten part-time staffers read through textbooks, lobby against proposed legislation, and track down talking heads for newscasts. But still they have a hard time convincing Americans they're right.

More Americans have come around to accepting evolution in the eighty years since the Scopes trial, but yet not even a majority embraces the doctrine today. In a November 2004 Gallup poll, 1,200 random participants were asked, "Do you think that Charles Darwin's theory of evolution is a scientific theory that has been well supported by evidence?" Some 35 percent said evolution was well supported, but another 35 percent said it was not. The remainder said they didn't know enough to offer an opinion.

Creation-friendly school districts remained loath to teach evolution long after the Scopes trial, Branch says. The foot-dragging continued until 1957, when space travel forced their hand. Sputnik was launched that year, and as the US government scrambled to match Soviet advances in the sciences, new rounds of federal funding were pumped into high school programs. The national Biological Sciences Curriculum Study was released, which advocated evolution. The creationists fought back with a version of their own curriculum, which they called "creation-science."

For decades, the two sides battled at local school board elections, sometimes appealing their cases into federal courts. But the Supreme Court's 1987 ruling in Edwards v. Aguillard ended the dispute, striking down a Louisiana law that would have allowed equal treatment of evolution and creation-science, banishing all Biblical accounts from the classroom, but leaving the door open to "alternative scientific theories." The ruling cemented Darwin's place in the public schools.

Since then, Branch believes, creationists have attempted to disguise their efforts to get around Edwards v. Aguillard. "Creationism watchers know well that 'intelligent design' has primarily been a legal strategy from the very beginning," a statement on his center's Web site says. "It emerged shortly after the catastrophic defeats of 'scientific creationism' in the courts during the 1980s."

Branch elaborates on this suspicion: "Intelligent design is a weakened and airbrushed version of creationism. Anti- evolutionists appear in cycles. Right now, intelligent design is their big-tent strategy, a chance to round up all [creationists] by presenting this as a 'new idea.' But it's nothing new. It's meant to pass constitutional scrutiny."

Two years after the court barred creation-science from the classroom, the biology textbook Of Pandas and People embraced the term "intelligent design" in an effort to comply with the court's alternative theory clause. The book was blasted as a weak attempt by creationists to infiltrate the schools.

Branch coyly refers to intelligent design as "hardly scientifically ready" for the classroom, but he's actually much less charitable than that. He points out that the movement has not published a single peer-reviewed article in a scientifically regarded journal, compared to the tens of thousands on evolution's side. In fact, in a recent demonstration outside a Kansas school board flirting with the concept of intelligent design, evolutionist supporters showed up pushing wheelbarrows loaded with papers to symbolize their published advantage.

To opponents such as Branch, intelligent design is nothing more than the latest attempt to wedge God back into public school classrooms. "Phillip is a smart guy," Branch says. "He's got a twinkle in his eye and he writes pretty well. ... He's also a fundamentalist creationist."

Darwin on Trial recharged Johnson's intellectual machine. His new life's passion was denouncing evolution and organizing like minds to do the same. An impressive paper trail of subsequent articles and interviews helped to flesh out his ideas. He followed Darwin on Trial with other books, Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds and The Wedge of Truth: Splitting the Foundations of Naturalism. To serve as an organizational locus for like-minded academics, he helped found the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture at the Christian think tank the Discovery Institute.

He also actively advanced another controversial theory at odds with the scientific establishment, challenging the widely accepted notion that HIV causes AIDS. Johnson belongs to a group that argues that although HIV and AIDS usually occur in conjunction with one another, the existence of AIDS sufferers who don't test positive for HIV suggests that the virus may accompany the disease, but does not cause it.

Johnson retired from Boalt Hall in 2000, and until a few months ago, he traveled the nation frequently, lecturing and debating biologists as his movement's chief spokesman. He has survived two strokes -- the last one earlier this year -- yet he still processes information quickly, a lecturer whose answers can last up to five minutes. He gets out for daily walks in his North Berkeley neighborhood near Gilman Street, and visits the gym a few times a week to loosen up his stubborn left shoulder and arm. But since his second stroke he has been reduced to the role of long-distance adviser, organizing via e-mail and phone calls from his home office.

Still, it isn't just his health that keeps Johnson far from the pending trial in Dover. He characterizes Dover's effort to require discussion of intelligent design in classrooms to an error in judgment. As a professor for 38 years, he opposes required curriculums because he believes in academic freedom for teachers. Even so, he would prefer that instructors treat evolution as theory rather than fact.

Johnson also fears that a loss in federal court could open the door to a broader court ruling that bars the teaching of intelligent design in public school classrooms, effectively leaving Darwinism as the uncontested orthodoxy of our time.

But in spite of his reservations, Johnson's ideas keep inspiring his followers to take action. "When Phil Johnson wrote his book, he wasn't writing to the university crowd," argues Richard Thompson, attorney for the Dover Area School Board. "It was written for the community at large to read and understand. There might be strategic and tactical reasons why they don't want the battle to go forward, but once they let the genie out of the bottle, people were going to take it to heart and try and develop a curriculum around their ideas.

"People read books," he adds. "And ideas are the consequences."

Perhaps Johnson's biggest concern about Dover is that he believes too much emphasis on religion is tactically unwise for his movement. Johnson has spoken and written of the importance of presenting intelligent design in language that can be safely spoken in the academic world.

"What I'm not doing is bringing the Bible into the university and saying, 'We should believe this,'" Johnson said in a talk transcribed on the Web site of Coral Ridge Ministries. "Now, bringing the Bible into question works very well when you're talking to a Bible-believing audience. But it's disastrous when you're talking, as I am constantly, to a world of people for whom the fact that something is in the Bible is a reason for not believing it. If they thought they had good evidence for something, and then they saw it in the Bible, they'd begin to doubt. ... That's what's got to be kept out of the argument if you're going to do what I want to do, which is focus on the defects in their case -- the bad logic, the bad science, the bad reasoning, the bad evidence. In fact, it's my debating opponents in the university world who want to talk about the Bible."

What troubles debating opponents such as Provine most about Johnson, is that they view him as intellectually dishonest when he says intelligent design is not creationism. Such discussions inevitably lead to someone pressing Johnson about what his designer might look like, or what kind of plan the designers had intended. Answering such questions at length usually leads Johnson down a road his critics view as evasive, but he contends is intellectually consistent. If you can't prove scientifically that a designer does not exist, why is he forced to prove scientifically that one does?

"When you ask a Darwinist, 'What evidence do you have for your mechanism that random variation and natural selection can actually do any creating?' the Darwinist will say, 'Well, tell me what God looks like,'" Johnson says. "'Why did he do this or that? I want you to show me God doing the creating because if you can't show me that, we can get rid of God or the creator and what's left is Darwinism, so it's got to be true.' It's the variation of, 'This is the only thing that could have happened, so it doesn't have to be demonstrated, it can just be assumed to be true.' And anyone who doubts that it could be true has to provide ironclad proof and justification for an alternative."

Johnson has a name for his strategy of cleaving talk of evolution's scientific merits from any discussion about God. He calls it "the wedge," and despite its emphasis upon questioning the materialistic basis of science, he said in the Coral Ridge Ministries talk that it is "inherently an ecumenical movement." The wedge strategy's greatest success to date came with the 2001 passage of the school-funding bill that eventually became No Child Left Behind. Republican Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania tacked on an amendment that stated the following, according to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia:

"It is the sense of the Senate that (1) good science education should prepare students to distinguish the data or testable theories of science from philosophical or religious claims that are made in the name of science; and (2) where biological evolution is taught, the curriculum should help students to understand why this subject generates so much continuing controversy, and should prepare the students to be informed participants in public discussions regarding the subject."

A bill containing the amendment originally passed by a vote of 91-8, but ultimately was left off the final version of the act.

Johnson wrote the amendment, which is strikingly similar in several respects to the Dover school board's message to ninth graders. Might the intelligent-design movement's factions agree about more than meets the eye? Comments Johnson has made elsewhere seem to suggest so.

"Our strategy has been to change the subject a bit, so that we can get the issue of intelligent design, which really means the reality of God, before the academic world and into the schools," Johnson was quoted in the National Post, a Canadian newspaper. As he said in the Coral Ridge Ministries address, "You have to start someplace, and you have to prepare minds to hear the truth. You can't give it to them all at once."

His critics consider such comments as proof that intelligent design is really just politically savvy creationism. For instance, Wikipedia's entry on Johnson states: "Since Johnson is considered by those both inside and outside the movement to be the father and architect of the intelligent-design movement and its strategies, Johnson's statements validate the criticisms leveled by those who allege that the Discovery Institute and its allied organizations are merely stripping the obvious religious content from their anti-evolution assertions as a means of avoiding the legal restrictions of the [US Constitution.]"

As further evidence of the movement's real intent, critics often point to a six-page paper called "The Wedge Strategy" that was evidently leaked to intelligent-design critics. The document, which apparently originated within the Discovery Institute but not with Johnson, explicitly states that the institute's goal is to promote intelligent design and insert it as the "dominant perspective in science" within twenty years. It further stated that the movement's goal is to "replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God."

Johnson himself points to other reasons for keeping religion in the background. Religious-based discussions of evolution inevitably end up focused on the Old Testament account of the Earth's creation, he believes, and that tends to divide religious people rather than unite them. "The Jewish people don't see it as their issue. "They say, 'Well, we don't read the Torah quite that way,'" he said in the Coral Ridge talk. "The Catholic people say, 'Well, that's a Protestant issue. We're not worried about the details of Genesis. We're worried about the teaching authority of the Church.' The Eastern Orthodox people say something similar. The Protestants are divided between liberals and conservatives, and the conservatives are divided between Old Earthers and Young Earthers. In short, it's a very divided situation. So when the people of God are divided, the way is open for agnostics to say, 'We should put all of this aside and say that we don't deal with any of those God questions. We explain the world without regard to God. '"

But in spite of his stated desire for the movement to remain appealing to people of many faiths, Johnson remains certain that intelligent design will ultimately draw people to Jesus. "The objective is to convince people that Darwinism is inherently atheistic, thus shifting the debate from creationism vs. evolution to the existence of God vs. the nonexistence of God," he wrote in a 1999 article. "From there, people are introduced to 'the truth' of the Bible and then 'the question of sin' and finally 'introduced to Jesus. '"

Perhaps Johnson's nonreligious critics have trouble taking him at his word because they don't understand the extent to which he believes that open intellectual inquiry will ultimately lead people to Christianity. Johnson believes this fundamentally: "We don't have to fear freedom of thought, because good thinking done in the right way will eventually lead back to the church, to the truth -- the truth that sets people free, even if it goes through a couple of detours on the way," he said in the Coral Ridge talk. "And so we're the ones that stand for good science, objective reasoning, assumptions on the table, a high level of education, and freedom of conscience to think as we are capable of thinking. That's what America stands for, and that's something we stand for, and that's something the Christian Church and the Christian Gospel stand for -- the truth that makes you free. Let's recapture that, while we're recapturing America."

And recapturing America they appear to be, at least if Archbishop Schönborn's recent words about the relationship of Catholicism to evolution spoke for the new pope. "This was helpful to us," Johnson says. "But the drawback is that any article penned by a bishop will be viewed as another salvo in the religion vs. science debate. And that's not what we want. We want 'Is evolution good science?' debate."

Johnson knows it will take time to reframe the debate in those terms. The arc of man's understanding of the universe's creation is long, and in an era in which breakthroughs seem to arrive almost every day, it's moving faster than ever. Today, we rely on evolution. Maybe in the 25th century, it will be intelligent design.

"If that's the case, then it will be time for somebody like me to come along and attack it as a hidebound, dogmatic thing," Johnson says, "And that's alright, too."

The evolution of George Gilder


The author and tech-sector guru has a new cause to create controversy with: intelligent design

By Joseph P. Kahn, Globe Staff | July 27, 2005

CREATIONISM: Ascribes creation of all matter and species to the work of a divine agency such as God.

EVOLUTION: Theorizes that plant and animal species developed from earlier life forms by a process of random mutation and natural selection.

INTELLIGENT DESIGN: Asserts that life is too complex to be explained by purely natural processes, and therefore some agent or agents of higher intelligence played a role in its creation.

TYRINGHAM -- Crank. Con artist. Blithering ignoramus. Dishonest hack bent on corrupting the education system.

George Gilder has absorbed shots before, from feminists, Democrats, liberal economists, and angry investors, among others. Yet even Gilder, seemingly a lightning rod for the socioeconomic controversy of the moment, was blistered by the comments posted on a University of Minnesota biologist's weblog last fall, language so heated Gilder's daughter felt obliged to rush to his defense.

''It is the personal attacks I find incredibly offensive," wrote Nannina Gilder, 19, painting her dad as an ''idealist" who occasionally gets lost inside his ideals.

Rather than return fire (''Thanks for provoking Nannina's beautiful indignation," he wrote), Gilder might have ignored the attacks altogether had they been aimed at his tax-policy pronouncements or stock-picking skills. In the late 1990s, after all, thousands of subscribers to his newsletter lost their shirts when the telecom bubble imploded, plunging Gilder into near bankruptcy and tarnishing his reputation as a tech-sector Yoda. His speaking fees have since plummeted, his ownership stake in The American Spectator is gone, and his newsletter is barely breathing these days.

But tax cuts and investment strategies were not driving the weblog discussion, tartly titled ''The sanctimonious bombast of George Gilder." The issue was ''intelligent design," a challenge to the teaching of orthodox Darwinism that is infuriating and frustrating much of the scientific establishment these days -- and causing some 40 states and school districts to reconsider how biology and evolution should be taught. Derided by some critics as ''creationism lite," intelligent design -- which posits the existence of a power greater than nature having played a role in life's creation -- has become the latest battleground in a culture war dividing the nation along several fronts, from the purely political to the resolutely religious.

As an outspoken advocate of ID, and among the few with a resume that includes best-selling author and ex-White House adviser, Gilder has been drafted into a war he claims to have little appetite for -- yet is finding increasingly hard to avoid.

''I do have a thick skin by now," Gilder says when asked if being called a con artist, or worse, bothers him.

''I'm sorry my daughter got dragged into this," he continues, picking up a conversation that begins in his rustic Berkshires home, overlooking the bucolic dairy farm where he grew up, and resumes over lunch at a nearby Stockbridge restaurant. ''But I really think those guys" -- meaning the scientists who attacked him on the weblog -- ''are pretty crazy."

Gilder pokes at his spinach salad and smiles wanly. ''They must feel very vulnerable," he muses. Then he warns that if biologists don't take information theory seriously enough -- information theory and not Christianity being the basis for Gilder's embrace of intelligent design -- then they'll be the ones branded fools in the long run. Not him.

''To parallel 'Inherit the Wind,' " Gilder says, in response to the inevitable Scopes trial question, ''it's the materialists who are the religious fanatics this time. They want to stomp on their critics."

In conversation, Gilder is something of a rhetorical hummingbird, darting from topic to topic so rapidly it's difficult to get a word (much less a question) in edgewise. Each topic arrives with its own set of footnotes, reference texts, and unvarnished -- some might say unhinged -- opinions. Predictable Gilder is not, however. On balance, it's much easier to peg him as a hip-shooting contrarian than a cookie-cutter conservative or raving holy roller.

At maximum conversational velocity, he waves his arms as though battling through nylon netting to get to the next point. And battle he does, with the energy of a 65-year-old man who runs 5 miles daily and could outtalk either Al, Franken or Sharpton, at the drop of a hat. Have you read this?, he asks frequently during a two-hour interview. Looked into that? Sixty-codon alphabets, amino-acid source codes, low-entropy carriers: Hey, check them out. Although a PhD in electrical engineering might be helpful, too.

Addressing the stereotype of ID proponents as scientific illiterates and Bible-thumping boobs, Gilder can barely restrain himself. The media-spun image is just that, he fumes: a cartoon version of people like himself.

''There's no biblical literalism -- none -- to the ID movement," he says flatly. ''So presenting us as troglodytes who believe in Noah's Ark is quite bizarre. If people want to attack me that way, fine. It's quite exhilarating, actually, to be shot at and totally missed."

For all that's been said about Gilder, good and bad, few have accused him of avoiding big ideas -- politically correct or otherwise.

During the 1960s and early '70s, not long out of Harvard College and writing speeches for Republican leaders (Richard Nixon, Nelson Rockefeller), Gilder took on the women's movement in a series of articles and books that questioned feminism's fundamental tenets. For his chutzpah, he was named Male Chauvinist Pig of the Year by the National Organization for Women, a distinction Gilder once impishly called ''a triumph I could not exceed."

With his 1981 book ''Wealth and Poverty," however, Gilder reached new heights of influence and affluence. Championing supply-side economics and entrepreneurship as the purest expressions of capitalist virtue, ''Wealth" made Gilder the guru of the fast-growth, free-market set during the go-go Reagan years. In Silicon Valley, meanwhile, he became acquainted with many of the visionary researchers and company founders leading the high-tech revolution.

More books followed, the latest of which, this year's ''The Silicon Eye," narrates the story of Foveon, a Valley-based firm perched upon the cutting edge of digital photography. By the mid-'90s, Gilder was confidently touting ''telecosm" (the convergence of communications systems and computers) as the next big thing -- and making a fortune giving speeches and investment tips. Telecom stocks soared whenever Gilder flashed them a thumbs-up, a market phenomenon that became known as the Gilder Effect. He was earning $100,000 a speech, and his company was being groomed for a $200 million public offering. Then the roof caved in, as hundreds of telecom companies went bust overnight.

''Most subscribers came in at the top of the market," Gilder recalls of those dark days, when even his chief financial officer filed a lawsuit against him. ''So the modal experience of the Gilder Technology Newsletter subscriber was to lose virtually all of his money. That stigma has been very hard to overcome."

So has the hole he dug himself. When one ex-business partner slapped a lien on Gilder's property, Gilder was forced to pay $10,000 a month or lose it. He'll be working off the debt for another 17 years, or so he calculates.

Meanwhile, two primary influences began nudging Gilder toward intelligent design.

One was the work of Claude E. Shannon, which Gilder discovered through his interest in the science behind the computer chip. Shannon is regarded as the father of information theory, a branch of mathematics that combines probability theory and statistics and is used by communication engineers to orchestrate how information bits are transmitted.

The more the inner workings of the cell are understood, according to Gilder, the more Shannon's theory is useful in deconstructing life itself. Given the cell's complexity and capacity for information exchange, Gilder and other ID proponents maintain, it seems improbable that life could have evolved haphazardly. It's not that Darwin is wrong or irrelevant, they contend, or that processes like genetic mutation and natural selection play no role in how species evolve. But these processes cannot explain everything that biologists ascribe to them. Ergo, some form of higher intelligence -- call it God, a Supreme Programmer, or whatever -- must have played a role, they say.

''Physics and chemistry alone cannot account for the complexity of the genome," Gilder asserts. ''It's like trying to understand how basketball is played by studying the rules. There's far more to the game than that."

Though a conservative Christian by upbringing and temperament, Gilder insists his belief in ID is not a faith-based proposition.

''The analogy between Shannon and codes in biology isn't something that sprang from my belief in God," he says, shaking his head. Information theory and Christianity are not deeply entwined for him, he says -- ''except maybe on some deeper or more transcendent level." Using Darwin to explain how life began, he adds, ''isn't even remotely feasible in information-theoretic terms. Something else has to be posited. What that additional factor is, how this intelligence emerges in the universe, I don't know and isn't for me to say. But nobody else does, either."

Gilder is also cofounder of the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank established in 1991. The institute, which promotes a conservative public-policy agenda, has occupied a lead role in the ID movement recently, most notably through its Center for Science and Culture, which boasts a number of leading ID proponents among its fellows and advisers. The institute is headed by Bruce Chapman, Gilder's former college roommate, coauthor, and Reagan White House colleague.

As a senior fellow at the institute, Gilder primarily focuses on telecom policy. Yet the controversy over ID, recently reflected in the Smithsonian Institution's decision to screen an ID-friendly documentary titled ''The Privileged Plant: The Search for Purpose in the Universe," has brought the issue to Gilder's front doorstep.

And for an old culture warrior like Gilder, there's no ducking this fight, either.

''I'm not pushing to have [ID] taught as an 'alternative' to Darwin, and neither are they," he says in response to one question about Discovery's agenda. ''What's being pushed is to have Darwinism critiqued, to teach there's a controversy. Intelligent design itself does not have any content."

So is there a unified field theory to Gilder's work? Some thread that connects his interest in everything from supply-side economics to stay-at-home moms? Yes, says Gilder, looking beyond his balcony and across the verdant valley adjoining the farmland he still calls his own. There is.

''Much of what I've written about has been in reaction to the materialist superstition," he says, ''the belief that the universe is a purely material phenomenon that can be reduced to physical and chemical laws. It's a concept that's infected the social sciences as well."

And, he adds, ''it's preposterous."

Joseph P. Kahn can be reached at jkahn@globe.com.

© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Light Touch in the Operating Room


What Is Reiki, an Alternative Energy Therapy, Doing in a Mainstream Medical Institution? That's Just What Researchers Hope to Learn

By Matt McMillen
Special to the Washington Post
Tuesday, July 26, 2005; Page HE01

When Steve Raichelson, 58, of Annapolis, voiced anxiety last year about his upcoming quadruple bypass surgery, his cardiologist made an unusual suggestion: Have the operation at George Washington University Hospital and sign up for a session or two of reiki therapy there first.

Raichelson's cardiologist was not suggesting that reiki -- a form of alternative medicine that uses light touching -- would cure his heart. Instead, she knew that GWU Hospital's clinical director of cardiology, Joel Rosenberg, was collaborating with the hospital's Center for Integrative Medicine (CIM), on a six-month pilot reiki program. Patients about to undergo cardiac catheterization, in which a thin tube is threaded through a vein and up to the heart for a final diagnostic test prior to surgery, were invited to first have a session of the Japanese energy therapy to see if it lessened their anxiety.

An hour before his catheterization, Raichelson lay down on a table fully clothed but shoeless and let "reiki master" Luann Jacobs gently touch him as soothing music played. There was no pressure or muscle manipulation -- just a light laying on of hands.

"It helped me go through the procedure and relieved the pre-procedure stress," said Raichelson. "I'd do it again in a heartbeat, pardon the pun." His successful bypass surgery took place the next day.

CIM director John Pan said alternative therapies aren't necessarily an odd match with mainstream medicine. To treat a patient, he said, technical expertise is not enough. "We are realizing we need to pay attention to the patient, to the patient's emotional response." A relaxed patient, he said, is an easier patient to treat.

But hospital staff needed persuading.

A major hurdle "was getting physicians to be proactive in recommending it," said Rosenberg, who developed the pilot program in collaboration with Pan. "Many don't buy into this type of care. What we're involved in here is a cultural change. . . . We're trying to help health care providers appreciate the value of this. If patients have a better experience, the institution does better."

Did the experiment produce evidence that reiki helped patients? Not enough to be conclusive. The study did not include a comparison group, and only 36 of the 266 patients who underwent reiki were interviewed after catheterization. While a report on the pilot program noted some apparent, self-reported benefits, such as increased confidence and reduced anxiety, the paper stated that the patient questionnaires "did not elicit any clear findings."

But Does It Work?

GWU Hospital is not alone in its interest in reiki. A number of respected medical institutions including the Cleveland Clinic, the University of Michigan Health System and the Albert Einstein Healthcare Network in Philadelphia, are conducting clinical studies of reiki. Researchers at the University of Michigan Integrative Medicine program (UMIM) have just completed a study of reiki's effectiveness in reducing pain and increasing the ability to exercise among diabetic patients at risk for heart disease. The research was funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), part of the National Institutes of Health. UMIM director and cardiologist Steve Bolling said journal rules bar him from discussing the study's findings prior to publication, which is scheduled for this fall. But he predicted that reiki will catch on in more hospitals.

"Many patients are looking for a kinder, gentler medicine," Bolling said. "[They are] certainly more open-minded than us white coats. People want this."

But that doesn't mean it works. According to a 2004 NCCAM review of reiki and similar light-touch modalities, there is "impressive anecdotal evidence [of benefit] but none has been proven scientifically to be effective."

Part of the problem is that there are no national standards or licensing for reiki practitioners, who may be judged ready to practice after only several hours of training. Becoming a reiki master requires an additional one to two years and is undertaken in order to be qualified to teach reiki to others.

"Standardization?" asked Bolling. "I wouldn't know where to start. If you've got four reiki [practitioners in a study], how do you know they are equal?"

Another complicating factor is the difficulty of determining whether a patient's response is attributable to reiki or just to personal attention: "If you are nervous and here for cardiac catheterization, no one will argue that [having] someone standing by your bed is bad," said Bolling. "People call it the grandmother effect. No matter who you are, your grandmother makes you feel better when she's around. . . . But it's hard to parse out the different effects of someone just standing there and a reiki person."

Researchers are approaching the problem in different ways.

In one NCCAM-funded study that has recently begun recruiting prostate cancer patients at the Cleveland Clinic, some participants will receive two reiki sessions a week for four weeks from reiki practitioners "trained to perform in the same way," said study leader Eric Klein, professor of surgery and chief of urologic oncology at the clinic. Meanwhile, a control group will receive an equal number of sham reiki sessions. A third group will get no reiki at all. The study will investigate reiki's ability to relieve anxiety while also measuring any impact it may have on the biology of tumors in patients with newly diagnosed prostate cancer.

"It's an honest attempt to evaluate reiki scientifically," said Klein. "My expectation is that those who get reiki will be more relaxed. The outside hope is that it will modify the biology of tumors." But, Klein continued, "that's 'out there.' "

Gala True, an NCCAM-funded researcher at Albert Einstein Healthcare Network's Center for Urban Health in Philadelphia, is investigating the use of reiki in reducing anxiety and depression while increasing quality of life among those with HIV and AIDS. In her study, patients are divided into two groups. Both continue to receive their standard medication, while one group also receives reiki. "There is no sham reiki [in this study]," said True. True acknowledges the difficulties of designing a trial that can satisfactorily measure reiki's effect.

"It's an interesting problem with [complementary and alternative] therapies," she said. "When you find a method for control, someone will disagree with it."

But like Bolling, she had no trouble recruiting patients. "We basically had a waiting list of HIV patients who wanted reiki. . . . It's been much harder to recruit for other studies." ·

Matt McMillen is a Washington area freelance writer.

A prayer for health


Scientists attempt to measure what religions accept on faith

By Alice Dembner, Globe Staff | July 25, 2005

In nearly every faith, for thousands of years, congregations have regularly gathered to pray for the sick. In the United States, prayer is the most frequently used form of alternative medicine.

While many believers accept on faith that such prayers help patients get better, scientists are increasingly attempting to measure the effect of prayer on patients' health. Several major studies of prayer are underway or recently completed, including some funded by the federal government. One of the most scientifically rigorous studies yet, published earlier this month, found that the prayers of a distant congregation did not reduce the major complications or death rate in patients hospitalized for heart treatments.

But some scientists and members of the clergy find this growing area of research ludicrous. Many of the studies attempt to separate the effect of prayer from a placebo effect by not telling patients whether they are being prayed for. The scientists who criticize this approach say it is irrational to think that a stranger's prayers could have any effect if the patient is unaware of the prayers. Meanwhile, some clergy say science doesn't have the tools to measure the effects of prayer.

''You can't study something like faith or God that by definition is inconsistent with the way science works," said John Chibnall, a psychologist at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, who has written on faith in medicine.

But scientists who research prayer maintain that, while difficult, the studies are important.

''This is the most ancient, widely practiced therapy on the face of the earth," said Dr. Mitchell Krucoff, a professor of medicine and cardiology at Duke University Medical Center, who led the recent study on prayer for cardiac care. ''We need to know if we can offer better health care if we pay attention to it and understand it better."

In the Catholic Church, for example, prayers for intercession are part of every Mass and those attending often ask the congregation to pray for the health of someone who is sick or hospitalized. For Judaism, a prayer for the sick is a regular part of services, and members of the synagogue may either call out the names of individuals who are ill or ask the rabbi to announce them. In the Muslim faith, members of the congregation may ask the imam to say a special prayer at the end of daily services for a person who is sick, with the congregation affirming the prayer by saying Ameen.

A national survey conducted by the federal government and published last year, found that 43 percent of Americans prayed for their own health and 24 percent reported that others were praying for their health. Prayer for health dwarfed all other practices the survey researchers considered ''alternative or complementary medicine." Nineteen percent of people said they used natural products, for example. The survey did not ask whether people prayed for others' health.

Because of those numbers, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a branch of the National Institutes of Health, is funding several studies on prayer, and spent $878,530 on five studies of prayer or spirituality in healing in 2004, according to spokeswoman Shea Buckman. The center is particularly interested in trying to determine the mechanisms by which prayer might affect health, according to Catherine Stoney, a program officer there. Some suggest that prayer may lessen stress or strengthen patients' immune systems.

In the Duke University study, the researchers studied 748 patients who were undergoing heart procedures such as angioplasty or cardiac catheterization. Congregations of various religions at locations outside the hospital were randomly assigned to pray for half of the patients, without the patients or their doctors knowing which group they fell into.

The patients weren't told because the researchers wanted to separate any impact of prayer from any placebo effect. The prayers followed the traditions of the congregation involved, and continued for five to 30 days. The congregations were told the name, age, and illness of the patient.

Over a six-month period, the study found no difference in serious side effects, death rate, or readmissions between the patients who had received prayers and those who did not.

Krucoff cautioned against concluding that prayer doesn't work based on his study. Nearly 90 percent of all the patients participating said someone was praying for them separate from the prayers commissioned by the researchers. So the study, in effect, measured whether distant prayer provided an added benefit to personal, local prayer, he said.

The study offers no evidence about bedside prayer by patients themselves or their loved ones. Krucoff said he did not attempt to look at that question because of ethical and logistical problems.

''Nobody has built a prayer-proof room and we would think it unethical to tell patients or relatives not to pray," he said. ''So, you cannot have a zero prayer control group."

Krucoff and his colleagues say there are other difficulties in conducting these studies. Nobody knows, for example, whether the number of people praying, the timing, or the duration of prayers might matter.

Chibnall argued that the design of the study was flawed because prayer only works if people know they are being prayed for, but Krucoff noted that many congregations of different faiths pray for patients even when they are unconscious.

But critics question whether scientific studies of prayer can really say anything at all.

''Prayer is definitely working," said the Rev. Linda J. Knight, a chaplain at Massachusetts General Hospital. ''They're trying to put the scientific blessing on it. But the measurable outcomes are not ones that might show up on a blood pressure screen or a scan. They simply didn't have the right measurements."

Knight, who often prays with patients said, ''I have heard patients say after prayer that they feel so much better . . . Or their face lights up. Or they breathe easier. It does help the healing process by restoring hope."

There are also questions, raised by the editors of the journal Lancet in an editorial, about whether prayer needs scientific justification. And although Krucoff's study was funded by private foundations and nonprofit medical centers, some, such as Chibnall, question whether the government should be funding other studies of prayer.

One ongoing study funded by NIH is looking at whether ''distant healing," including prayer, helps healing in women who had breast reconstruction surgery. The study is being conducted at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco.

A review of 17 past studies of ''distant healing," published in 2003 by a British researcher, found no significant effect for prayer or other healing methods.

The largest studies have focused on cardiac care. In one study of 990 cardiac patients conducted at Saint Luke's Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., and published in 1999, researchers found prayer did not affect hospital length of stay, but did improve health based on a composite score of measures that the researchers created for the study. A study of 799 patients at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., published in 2001, found prayer made no difference in the outcomes of patients after discharge from the cardiac care unit. The study looked at the number of deaths, cardiac arrests, and repeat hospitalizations, among other outcomes.

But Susan Misselbeck is sure that prayer helped her daughter Courtney Ridd, when she underwent a liver transplant 10 years ago after battling a rare liver disease. Misselbeck, who is now assistant to the executive director at Temple Israel, said her Jewish friends said prayers in their synagogues. People of different faiths across the country -- many of whom Misselbeck did not know -- heard about Courtney's illness and took up her cause in their prayer groups. Courtney, now 28, is doing fine.

''Did it help her to get better? Absolutely," said Misselbeck. ''Would she have died? How are you going to test something like that?

''All that powerful energy gave us a sense of peace. It felt like a nice warm blanket, wrapping us in it, saying it's going to be OK."

Alice Dembner can be reached at Dembner@globe.com.

© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Catholic experts urge caution in evolution debate


Issue Date: July 29, 2005

Scientists, theologians take issue with Schönborn's op-ed article


A recent article by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn in The New York Times, asserting that “unguided, unplanned” evolution is inconsistent with Catholic faith, should be read with caution warn a number of Catholic scientists and theologians, including the head of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

Most of the experts interviewed said the article can offer a useful alert if taken at a theological level. Evolution, they point out, has sometimes been invoked to justify atheism, as well as immanentism (that God is a vague life force) or deism (that God set the universe in motion and has nothing more to do with it).

To the extent Schönborn’s point is that Christianity cannot accept a universe without an active, personal God, they say, there’s little to dispute.

If taken as a scientific statement, on the other hand, these observers warn that Schönborn’s insistence on seeing “purpose and design” in nature could steer the Catholic church towards creationism in the bitter cultural debate, especially prominent in the United States, between evolution and intelligent design. Doing so, they say, risks overstepping the bounds of the church’s competence, as well as reopening a divide between science and the Catholic church that had seemed largely overcome.

Several said Schönborn’s July 7 piece should be read in the context of a 2004 document of the International Theological Commission, an advisory body of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the most recent Vatican document to treat evolution.

The document, titled “Communion and Stewardship,” argues that Catholic theology does not commit the church to one side or the other in the strictly scientific dispute between evolution and design. Even if evolution appears “random” and “undirected” from an empirical point of view, the document asserts, it could still be part of God’s providence.

That view is welcomed by many Catholic scientists, who say the problem with evolution is not so much the theory itself, but the philosophical applications some make of it.

“The theory of evolution can be disturbing to Christians because it seems to clash with the idea of divine creation,” said Nicola Cabibbo, president of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, a 78-member body of academics who advise the pope on scientific matters. Cabibbo is a professor of particle physics at Rome’s La Sapienza University.

“However, this clash is false. What clashes with divine creation is an extension of the theory of evolution into materialistic interpretations, so-called ‘evolutionism,’ ” Cabbibo told NCR July 18. “That’s not science, it’s metaphysics.”

This distinction between evolution as a scientific hypothesis, and “Darwinism” or “neo-Darwinism” as a philosophical system, is crucial, observers say, to understanding Catholic thought on the subject.

Long history of compatibility

Cabibbo’s confidence in the compatibility of evolution with Catholic faith reflects a long history.

In 1950, Pope Pius XII, in his encyclical Humani Generis, signaled acceptance of the basic principles of evolutionary theory.

“The church does not forbid that… research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from preexistent and living matter,” Pius wrote.

Commenting on the creation accounts in Genesis during a 1986 general audience, Pope John Paul II extended this idea.

“The theory of natural evolution, understood in a sense that does not exclude divine causality, is not in principle opposed to the truth about the creation of the visible world as presented in the Book of Genesis,” the pope said.

John Paul went further in a 1996 message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, referring to evolution as “more than a hypothesis.”

“It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge,” John Paul wrote. “The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favor of this theory.”

Yet in conservative Catholic intellectual circles, critics for some time have been questioning this formula. They argue that it is not so simple to separate evolution from its philosophical applications -- that atheism, in effect, may be part of the genetic code of evolutionary theory.

One voice making that argument has been Philip Johnson, a law professor at the University of California in Berkeley. Though a Presbyterian, Johnson’s work has been featured in First Things, an influential journal of American Catholic opinion.

“It is the alleged absence of divine intervention throughout the history of life -- the strict materialism of the orthodox [Darwinian] theory -- that explains why a great many people, only some of whom are biblical fundamentalists, think that Darwinian evolution (beyond the micro level) is basically materialistic philosophy disguised as scientific fact,” Johnson wrote in First Things in 1997.

Another important contributor to a Catholic reappraisal of evolution is Michael Behe, professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University and author of Darwin’s Black Box, perhaps the most-read scientific challenge to evolutionary theory.

Behe is a Catholic, and a senior fellow at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, a think tank that supports the intelligent design argument. A public relations firm associated with the Discovery Institute, according to reporting in The New York Times, helped place Schönborn’s piece in the newspaper.

Schönborn’s July 7 article, therefore, did not come out of the blue.

“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,” Schönborn wrote.

“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. Any system of thought that denies or seeks to explain away the overwhelming evidence for design in biology is ideology, not science.”

Schönborn referred to the 1996 statement of John Paul II as “rather vague and unimportant.” He cited other statements of the pope to the effect that evolution presents an “internal finality” that leads one to suppose the existence of a creator.

Weighing Schönborn’s words

In the wake of the Times piece, some observers have noted that there are 181 cardinals in the world, which means that Schönborn’s views on evolution, while they may be interesting, are not determinative of the church’s stance. Indeed, just four days after Schönborn’s piece appeared, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington told an audience at the National Press Club that as long as scientists leave room for God in the evolutionary process, the church can “work with that and accept that in principle.”

Yet Schönborn is not just any cardinal. A polyglot intellectual, a Dominican, and the scion of old Bohemian nobility, he is widely regarded as one of the leading theologians at the senior levels of the church, and served as general editor of the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church. He is also a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the church’s doctrinal agency.

Perhaps more to the point, Schönborn is a close friend of Pope Benedict XVI. He did postdoctoral work with then-Fr. Joseph Ratzinger at the University of Regensburg in Germany in the late 1970s, and was one of the “grand electors” in the April conclave that made Ratzinger pope.

His views, therefore, could be influential in shaping the thinking of Benedict’s pontificate.

Charles Townes, a Nobel laureate in physics at the University of California in Berkeley, has been a member of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Science for more than 20 years. A Protestant, Townes told NCR July 18 that he found Schönborn’s piece “disappointing.”

“Some materialists may use evolution in the sense Schönborn talks about, but there’s no necessary connection,” he said.

Behe, however, disagreed.

“Most people don’t realize that Darwinian evolution makes a very radical claim,” Behe said.

“Not only does evolution work by natural selection, but it was totally unintended by anyone or anything. … I think that any Christian, any theist, would have to say that life was intended by God,” he said.

Behe hints at the key question -- does the theological affirmation that life comes from God also obligate Catholics to insist, as a scientific matter, that intelligent design is evident in nature?

Townes said that things are not so clear-cut. Even processes that appear random, he said, can have an underlying logic.

“The idea that calling something ‘random’ means that it’s without direction is a mistake,” Townes said. “In a gas, for example, random interaction among particles ensures uniform distribution and temperature. In other words, an unplanned process produces an orderly outcome.”

“Evolution,” Townes said, “is like that. It’s a random process that produces spectacular things.”

Jesuit Fr. George Coyne, head of the Vatican observatory, agreed.

“Chance is the way we scientists see the universe. It has nothing to do with God. It’s not chancy to God, it’s chancy to us,” Coyne said.

Coyne told NCR in a July 20 interview that far from implying atheism, evolution “can equally well be interpreted to the glory of God.”

“I see a God who caresses the universe, who puts into the universe some of his own creativity and dynamism,” Coyne said. Cabbibo said he would call evolution “self-directed” rather than “undirected.” The point is that random genetic mutation, coupled with natural selection, does not require anything external to direct the process.

This does not exclude, Cabibbo said, the faith conviction that God arranged things this way.

“As a scientist, what I can say is this: If the will of God was to create man, he certainly organized things in a beautiful way to do it,” Cabibbo said.

Some Catholic theologians point to “Communion and Stewardship,” issued with the approval of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, in 2004, as offering a different approach.

The debate between evolution and intelligent design, the document notes in paragraph 69, “involves scientific observation and generalization concerning whether the available data support inferences of design or chance, and cannot be settled by theology.”

“But it is important to note,” it says, “that according to the Catholic understanding of divine causality, true contingency in the created order is not incompatible with a purposeful divine providence. … Thus, even the outcome of a truly contingent natural process can nonetheless fall within God’s providential plan for creation.”

The document then warns against philosophical abuse of evolutionary theory.

“Any evolutionary mechanism that is contingent can only be contingent because God made it so,” it says. “An unguided evolutionary process -- one that falls outside the bounds of divine providence -- simply cannot exist.”

The document, according to experts such as Cabibbo, provides a basis for Catholics to accept evolution as it is understood by modern scientists, without thereby surrendering belief in God as the ultimate cause of life.

One Catholic scholar who worked on “Communion and Stewardship” agrees.

“There’s quite a strong element in the natural sciences who simply don’t approve of any transcendental cause as a matter of philosophy,” said Jesuit Fr. Shun ichi Takayanagi of Sophia University in Tokyo.

“That doesn’t mean, however, that evolution as such is incompatible with Christianity,” Takayanagi said in a July 17 phone interview. “We are not against evolution as such, but the materialist use of evolutionary theory.”

Even Behe, who believes the scientific data does not support evolution, nevertheless said he believes a faithful Catholic could accept evolutionary theory.

“I’m a biochemist, not a theologian,” he said. “But it seems to me that belief in mutation and natural selection is compatible with Catholicism, as long as the underlying premise is that God set it up that way. That seems to me an orthodox Catholic position.”

“I’m critical of evolutionary theory not because it’s unorthodox,” he said, “but because it can’t do what it purports to do.”

What does the pope think?

A final question about Schönborn’s piece is the extent to which it reflects the thinking of Pope Benedict XVI.

Schönborn told The New York Times that he wrote the article after being encouraged to look into the issue of evolution by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prior to his election as pope. Moreover, the new pope himself struck a note not dissimilar to Schönborn’s in the homily at his April 24 installation Mass:

“We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution,” Benedict XVI said. “Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.”

Yet “Communion and Stewardship,” which clearly distinguishes between a scientific and a theological analysis of evolution, was published in 2004 with Ratzinger’s authority. That permission was given in forma specifica, which generally means the one giving permission makes the conclusions his own.

Cabibbo also pointed out that as prefect, Ratzinger opened the archives of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to scientific research, and chose to announce the move during a meeting of a secular scientific academy in Italy. Moreover, Cabibbo said, Ratzinger himself had been a member of the Pontifical Academy of Science since 2003.

“He certainly seems to have an appreciation of science,” Cabibbo said. “I’m optimistic.”

In the end, Cabibbo argued, the trick is for both scientists and theologians to respect the limits of their competence.

“We know that God wanted to create man by revelation,” Cabibbo said, “but we don’t know how he did it. This is what science attempts to explain. There should be no clash between science and religion, because they do different things.”

John L. Allen Jr. is the NCR Rome correspondent. His e-mail address is jallen@natcath.org.

Keeping ‘divine causality’ in the process

Excerpt from the Vatican’s International Theological Commission document, “Communion and Stewardship: Human Persons Created in the Image of God.”

69. The current scientific debate about the mechanisms at work in evolution requires theological comment insofar as it sometimes implies a misunderstanding of the nature of divine causality. Many neo-Darwinian scientists, as well as some of their critics, have concluded that, if evolution is a radically contingent materialistic process driven by natural selection and random genetic variation, then there can be no place in it for divine providential causality. A growing body of scientific critics of neo-Darwinism point to evidence of design (e.g., biological structures that exhibit specified complexity) that, in their view, cannot be explained in terms of a purely contingent process and that neo-Darwinians have ignored or misinterpreted. The nub of this currently lively disagreement involves scientific observation and generalization concerning whether the available data support inferences of design or chance, and cannot be settled by theology. But it is important to note that, according to the Catholic understanding of divine causality, true contingency in the created order is not incompatible with a purposeful divine providence. Divine causality and created causality radically differ in kind and not only in degree. Thus, even the outcome of a truly contingent natural process can nonetheless fall within God’s providential plan for creation. According to St. Thomas Aquinas: “The effect of divine providence is not only that things should happen somehow, but that they should happen either by necessity or by contingency. Therefore, whatsoever divine providence ordains to happen infallibly and of necessity happens infallibly and of necessity; and that happens from contingency, which the divine providence conceives to happen from contingency” (Summa theologiae, I, 22,4 ad 1). In the Catholic perspective, neo-Darwinians who adduce random genetic variation and natural selection as evidence that the process of evolution is absolutely unguided are straying beyond what can be demonstrated by science. Divine causality can be active in a process that is both contingent and guided. Any evolutionary mechanism that is contingent can only be contingent because God made it so. An unguided evolutionary process -- one that falls outside the bounds of divine providence -- simply cannot exist because “the causality of God, Who is the first agent, extends to all being, not only as to constituent principles of species, but also as to the individualizing principles. ... It necessarily follows that all things, inasmuch as they participate in existence, must likewise be subject to divine providence” (Summa theologiae, I, 22, 2).

National Catholic Reporter, July 29, 2005

Copyright © The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64111

Monday, July 25, 2005

Evolution battle grows in schools


Michigan districts debate whether to teach intelligent design; critics call it disguised religion.

By Kim Kozlowski / The Detroit News

Religious views


There are varying degrees of creationism in Christianity, from literal translations of Genesis to evolutionary creationism. Evolutionary creationism allows interpretations consistent with both a literal account of Genesis and objective science, which allows that the events of creation occurred, but not in time as we know it, and that Adam was not the first biological human, but the first spiritually aware one.


The creation accounts in the Quran are vague and allow for a range of interpretations similar to those in other Abrahamic religions. Islamic creationists believe there are no random events but that everything happens according to God's will. Several liberal movements within Islam, which are generally partial to secular scientific thought, subscribe to evolution. However, even among Muslims who accept evolution, many believe that humanity was a special creation by God.


Jewish creationism includes a continuum of views on aspects including the origin of life and the role of evolution in the formation of species as debated in the creation-evolution controversy. Generally, the major Jewish denominations accept evolutionary creationism or theistic evolution (the belief that some or all classical religious teachings about God and creation are compatible with some or all of the scientific theory of evolution) with the exception of certain Orthodox Jewish groups. The contemporary general approaches of Judaism, except some Orthodox traditions, is to not take the Torah as a literal text, but rather as a basis for Jewish belief and practice.

Source: Detroit News research

Jeff Conner knew he had to talk to school administrators when he learned his daughter was shown a video in science class that said evolutionary researchers were not scientists, and when she was assigned an essay about her beliefs on evolution and creation.

At his daughter's middle school in Gull Lake, near Kalamazoo, two seventh-grade science instructors were teaching intelligent design -- a belief that the complexity of the universe is evidence of an intelligent cause behind it.

"I wasn't happy about it because they were teaching this as science and it isn't," said Conner, a Michigan State University professor who researches evolutionary science, and believes intelligent design is too close to creationism.

The case was one of several across the country that, 80 years after the Scopes trial, has renewed the passionate debate about what public schools should and should not teach about the origins of life.

Evolution is taught in many public schools, but the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987 made lessons in creationism unconstitutional.

Since then, the intelligent design movement has gained momentum and it, along with other critics of evolution, has caused controversy in public schools in 31 states, including Michigan.

Classroom instruction and textbook usage is under siege as school leaders, scientists, politicians and people of faith continue to debate the origin of life.

Meanwhile, a federal lawsuit stemming out of the schools in Dover, Pa., is testing a policy approved by the school board that requires teachers to inform students that there are alternative theories to evolution and let them know of an intelligent design reference manual in the school library. The suit, which is being defended by the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, could land before the changing U.S. Supreme Court.

Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the public interest law firm that is gaining prominence as a defender of moral causes, said the major attack is on Christians who support the movement.

"Our position is a policy that happens to coincide with a particular religious belief does not make it unconstitutional," he said.

For now, the fiery debates about life origins continue to erupt, observers say, because the topic cuts so close to the captivating question of where humans came from and some people struggle with the competing lessons they've learned in biology and theology.

"The idea of a purposeless universe ... is difficult to accept," said Loring Brace, a University of Michigan professor of anthropology.

Talk of designer avoided

Intelligent design emerged in the late 1970s and suggests there are certain aspects of the universe and nature that are best explained by an intelligent designer. But it avoids discussion of the designer, instead focusing on the complexity of life and the universe.

Proponents say that it is an alternative theory to evolution and has a place in public school classrooms because it fosters critical thinking.

"The theory of evolution has a lot of holes in it, and science students in our public schools should be given as much information to make intelligent decisions on their own to decide on the origin of the universe," said Rep. Jack Hoogendyk, R-Texas Township, a gubernatorial candidate who has considered introducing legislation to allow it to be taught in Michigan classrooms.

But critics of intelligent design counter that it is simply repackaged creationism without scientific basis that stays away from discussion of God or religion to avoid being outlawed as unconstitutional.

"They haven't done anything scientifically to warrant being in the classroom," said Ed Brayton of Michigan Citizens for Science. "Evolution is beyond a doubt one of the most well-supported theories as a result of a century and a half of painstaking research by literally thousands and thousands of scientists. Yet they are demanding equal time."

This month marks the 80th anniversary of one of the most famous trials in America, when the state of Tennessee put John Scopes, a teacher, on trial for teaching evolution despite a state law that barred schools from teaching anything other than the biblical account of God's creation. Evolution, the theory developed by Charles Darwin in 1859, is widely viewed by scientists to be a robust theory explaining life origins.

Despite the eventual victory for evolution in the Scopes case, the theory continues to be put on trial, said Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education.

Since the last presidential election, the center has received more anti-evolution reports than it ever has during a similar time period, a phenomenon she attributes to people of faith feeling empowered after polls showed they helped re-elect President Bush.

"Education is the perfect issue for them because it is local and they are very grassroots-oriented," Scott said. "This is where they can have a very big bang for their efforts. The schools are where children are socialized, so if you want your values to be passed on to the next generation, target your schools."

Gull Lake district axed topic

In Gull Lake, the school district put together a task force that spent eight months discussing the role of intelligent design in the curriculum. It also surveyed school districts and universities across the state to see what they thought about teaching the theory in science classes.

"We couldn't find a science department in any public university in Michigan that thought it was a good idea," said Gull Lake Superintendent Richard Ramsey.

The school board decided last month to end teaching intelligent design in science classes, but it may be moved to the social science curriculum in the future.

School officials also are investigating whether intelligent design is being taught in a Rochester Community Schools middle school, where a parent has complained to Michigan Citizens for Science. The parent declined an interview because she wants the matter to be resolved by the administration, according to Robert Pennock, president of the citizens group.

"For them it is not just a matter of legality, but of personal relationships and the school atmosphere," Pennock said. "It puts one religious view above others among the many religious views of students."

Rochester Hills school officials declined to discuss the matter, other than to say it was an issue that was being investigated.

Tim Greimel, vice president of the Rochester school board, said he is unaware of intelligent design being taught in the school district or any administrative review. But he said he is opposed to it being taught, despite his Christian views.

"In my view, evolution is a question of empirical science, and the existence of an intelligent designer is a question of faith," he said. "Our schools should teach matters of empirical science and leave matters of faith to people's worship center."

Means of fostering debate

Ashley Morgan, a 20-year-old student at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, wishes she would have learned more about alternatives to evolution, such as creationism, while she was in public schools.

"The kids deserve to know the truth," said Morgan, who is working over the summer at Lake Ann Baptist Camp near Traverse City.

Kelly Edwards, 17, went so far as to petition the school board in Grand Blanc, near Flint, to include creation instruction in biology classes two years ago because she thought evolution wasn't being taught as a theory. No formal action has been taken on her petition, but she has noticed a few things happened afterward.

"I'm not sure how connected it is, but next fall (the high school) will be offering a Bible as Literature class," Edwards said in an e-mail from Mexico, where she is on a mission trip. "Also, I took (advanced placement) biology this past school year and the program was already more sensitive to treating evolution as a theory and not a fact. I believe publicity like this is another way God is getting his truth out."

Many intelligent design theorists differ from creationists in that they say they don't want public school students to learn about God, and they are not interested in mandating the teaching of intelligent design. Instead, they are more interested in seeing schools focus on the strengths and weaknesses of evolution as a theory, said Seth Cooper, an attorney and policy analyst for the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, the nation's leading research organization on intelligent design.

"We recognize that the theory of intelligent design is still an emerging scientific theory," Cooper said.

For now, the center supports decisions of Ohio, Minnesota and New Mexico to adopt standards requiring students to learn about scientific theories critical of evolution.

States like these won't necessarily pave the way for intelligent design to wind up in the classroom, Cooper said.

"The scientific evidence is what will lead the way," Cooper said. "It won't be political maneuvering."

You can reach Kim Kozlowski at (313) 222-2024 or kkozlowski@detnews.com.

Professor believes cyborgs are people, too


By WILLIAM WEIR, The Hartford Courant

Published: Sunday, Jul. 24, 2005

HARTFORD, Conn. – Sitting in his office at Trinity College, James Hughes explains his vision of a family gathering a couple of hundred years from now: One family member is a cyborg, another is outfitted with gills for living underwater. Yet another has been modified to live in a vacuum.

“But they will all consider themselves as descendants of humanity,” he says.

At no point in the interview does Hughes peel off his face to reveal a set of wires and blinking lights. Nor does he roll up his sleeves to expose super-strong mechanical limbs. Bearded and bespectacled, he looks pretty much the way you might expect a professor of health policy to look.

But as executive director of the World Transhumanist Association, he’s one of the leaders in a movement that sees, in the next 50 years, a world where flesh fuses with mechanics and brains with circuitry. He recently published “Citizen Cyborg” (Westview Press, $26.95), a book that has made waves in academic circles and urges the need to prepare for this future.

Transhumanism, a theory that has been kicking around for a few decades, envisions a “post-human” phase where technology will bring us beyond human capabilities. Intelligence-boosting brain chips, extended life spans and even immortality are all part of this vision.

The movement has split into a number of factions, some of which take on a quasi-religious tone. The World Transhumanist Association, based in Willington, Conn., is one of the largest organizations and offers what Hughes calls a “more mature and academically respectable” take on the philosophy. According to its Transhumanist Declaration, the organization seeks “personal growth beyond our current biological limitations.”

It’s an idea that covers a lot of ground. Walking canes and eyeglasses are a basic form of transhumanism. And then there’s uploading one’s mind and living as sheer consciousness on a computer.

The organization was founded in 1997 by Nick Bostrom while he was a philosophy professor at Yale. Hughes says it has more than 30 chapters worldwide, including recent additions in Somalia and Uganda.

While transhumanism was long relegated to the scientific fringe, it has edged closer to the mainstream in the past few years.

“I believe part of it is that these technological possibilities, five or 10 years ago, seemed like science fiction,” says Bostrom, now director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University. “Just the general progress that we’ve made makes it easier for people to see it happening.”

It has gained enough prominence to attract the attention of some well-known critics. One of them, political scientist Francis Fukuyama, recently nominated transhumanism as the “world’s most dangerous idea” in Foreign Policy magazine. His fear is that enhanced versions of the human being will threaten the sense of equality that societies have been working toward for centuries.

Much of what the transhumanists talk about is timely, topics including genetic engineering, cloning and the use of steroids and

other performance-enhancing technologies in sports. But they also talk about things such as civil rights for artificially intelligent beings and animals whose learning and speaking abilities have been artificially enhanced.

Much of which informs one of the main questions transhumanism tries to answer: What makes a person? Hughes says “human” no longer works as a definition. A person, as Hughes sees it, would be any being with a certain level of self-awareness and intelligence, including robots and talking animals. Then, we would need to determine what rights these enhanced creatures have in our society.

“What are we going to say, ‘I’m sorry, you’re not human – you shouldn’t have the right to go to school and get an advanced degree’?” he says.

The image of gorillas sitting in a college classroom discussing the Bronte sisters might cause some people to dismiss transhumanists as science-fiction fanatics whose imaginations have gotten the best of them. But take a look at what’s happening now, Hughes says: Scientists at IBM plan to build a computer model of a human brain; chips are being implanted in the brains of paralyzed people; MRI can be used to read thoughts. How many people 50 years ago, Hughes says, thought any of this was possible?

“I don’t know how anyone who pays attention can’t see how quickly things change,” he says.

As an example of how quickly things change, Hughes points to a recent road race where runners objected to competing against an amputee with a mechanical leg. The prosthetic leg, they said, gave him an unfair advantage.

“When the cyborg athlete can out-perform the nondisabled athletes, that’s transhumanism,” he says.

Hughes describes himself as a “techno-optimist” and believes that human enhancements can lead to better lives. Others aren’t so sure. Objections range from overpopulation to the possibility of hacking into people’s brains.

Wesley J. Smith, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a think tank in Seattle best known for advocating “intelligent design” as the basis of evolution, worries about what a transhumanist future would mean for humanity. If you listen to Hughes and other transhumanists, he says, we are nothing but “so much meat on the hoof.”

“They’re saying that being human does not have intrinsic value, that we have to earn our moral value by having requisite capacities, generally cognitive capacities,” he says. And if merely being human loses its value, he says, legal distinctions will be made as to who and who doesn’t deserve certain rights.

Hughes calls Smith, Fukuyama and other critics “bio-Luddites” – people who expect only the worst from science. You can’t stop scientific advancement, he says. But you can make sure it is pursued responsibly. There have always been crime and suffering, he says, but as societies advance, the better they become at protecting their citizenry. He says a post-human future will follow this pattern and most likely increase personal freedom.

“The tendency in our world is for an increased respect for personal rights,” he says. “We will increasingly become masters of our own fate. We will be making decisions on what kind of person we want to be.”

Intelligent design critic hired at Wichita State


Posted on Sun, Jul. 24, 2005

Associated Press

WICHITA, Kan. - At East Tennessee State University, Niall Shanks became a prominent defender of evolution, writing a book opposing intelligent design and debating several of its proponents.

Now the man who wrote the 2004 book "God, the Devil, and Darwin: A Critique of Intelligent Design Theory" has moved from the state that put the teaching evolution on trial 80 years ago to Kansas, which currently is in the midst of its own debate about how evolution should be taught in public schools.

Shanks recently took a job at Wichita State University, filling an endowed professorship that focuses on the history and philosophy of evolution.

Shanks' first began debating the merits of evolution in 1996, when Tennessee considered allowing school boards to fire teachers who presented evolution as fact. Shanks debated Duane Gish of the El Cajon, Calif.-based Institute for Creation Research, on the university's campus.

It wasn't the first time evolution had been an issue in that state's public schools. During the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tenn., teacher John Scopes was convicted of violating a law against teaching evolution.

"Most scientists hide in the corner, but he was willing to take on the creationists," Jeff Gold, chairman of East Tennessee State's philosophy department, said of Shanks. "He always did so really, really well."

But Michael J. Behe, a biochemistry professor and proponent of intelligent design, which holds that the some features of the natural world are so ordered and complex that they're best explained by an intelligent cause, is critical of some of Shanks' tactics. Behe, author of "Darwin's Black Box," has debated Shanks.

"His book does have some ill-advised comments that do portray us as proponents with an agenda, rather than people trying to make sense of the world, as he is," Behe said.

Another intelligent design proponent Shanks has debated is less critical.

Paul Nelson, a philosopher and fellow of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute, recalled that the pair went out for beers after debating on National Public Radio's "Justice Talking."

"A little bit of the rhetoric is off-putting since it distracts from the arguments," Nelson said. "He takes a number of pokes at Christianity in particular. But when I met him I began to understand his sense of humor. I like how blunt he is. He says what he thinks. I found that admirable."

While Shanks disagrees with intelligent design advocates, he does take them seriously. Some of its defenders testified before members of the State Board of Education earlier this year, advocating for changes to science standards that would expose students to more criticism of evolution. But mainstream scientists boycotted the hearings as rigged against evolution, which Shanks says was "a huge, stupid mistake."

"Not debating people is a very dangerous tactic," he said. "Then they go unchallenged."


Wichita State University: http://www.wichita.edu

Information from: The Wichita Eagle, http://www.wichitaeagle.com

Creationism is a devious lie


July 25, 2005

After reading Debbie Ausmann's response ("Isn't creationism the obvious truth?") to my recent letter, I am beginning to understand why approximately 45 percent of the U.S. population believes in creationism.

Ms. Ausmann claims that evolution is just a theory and that creationism should be considered its equal. A scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that incorporates facts and tests hypotheses. The theory of evolution meets all of these requirements. However, creationism is not a theory because it attempts to fit facts to the creation account given in Genesis. That procedure is not science, but rather religion.

All sciences rely on indirect evidence. Physicists cannot see subatomic particles directly, but they verify their existence by watching for telltale tracks that they leave in a cloud chamber. Although no one observed the evolution of life forms directly over the last few billion years, the indirect evidence in the fossil record is clear, unambiguous and compelling. In that respect, evolution is a fact.

Creationism relies on people's faith because it has little else to support it. The sequence of the creation of life as given in Genesis does not agree with what the fossil record shows. Moreover, the order in which Earth, sun and our moon formed, as verified by geological and astronomical evidence, is not consistent with the Genesis account.

Ausmann opines that creationism is not "given the same spotlight" because "many evolutionists reject God, period." While it is true that many evolutionists are atheists or agnostics, the reason that they, and believers alike, reject creationism is that it has been thoroughly discredited. A Christian's beliefs in God and the deity of Jesus, and their acceptance of the fact of evolution are not mutually exclusive. I think that she would find "Perspectives on an Evolving Creation," edited by Keith B. Miller, to be enlightening. The authors of this book explore evolution from a Christian perspective.

Science is not an egalitarian method of study. Only the best theories are accepted by the scientific community and promulgated by the academic community. Creationism is not one of them. Consequently, creationism has no business being taught alongside evolution. Schools should teach science, not faith, and should remain a forum for education, not indoctrination.

If creationism advocates really believe that their "science" explains the fossil record and the similar genetic blueprints found in all life forms better than evolution, then it is time for them to present their ideas in a peer-reviewed science journal. Those creationists who claim that evolution is still controversial within the scientific community are disobeying the Ninth Commandment by bearing false witness.

Some fundamentalist preachers who are sources of disinformation, gross distortion of the facts and outright lies concerning evolution are attempting to destroy the advancement of science in this country by implanting powerful, psychological deterrents to independent thought in their congregations. Not only is creationism not the obvious truth, it is a devious lie.

John Klimenok


Kreationism in Kansas



Sometime later this year, Kansas public school students will become subject to new science standards that have a distinctly creationist spin. And that's fine with a majority of their parents, who, according to a recent poll, want creationist views taught in the state's biology classes.

The gutting of Kansas's evolution curriculum is inevitable, because the religious right controls a majority on the state Board of Education. But the Board is prolonging the agony with an extended process of "study" and "public comment".

A key event was a three-day hearing in Topeka in early May that showcased theories promoted by the Intelligent Design Network of Shawnee Mission, Kansas. ("Intelligent design" is a mutant form of creationism that attempts to mimic biological research.)

The enemies of evolution are on the march. They may not have any decent science to back them up, but, sadly, it's not good science that settles an issue like this. The decisive battlegrounds are religion, politics, and economics, and there, the creationists have a big edge in firepower.


Kansas' scientific community boycotted the Topeka hearings, but a hardy group of its representatives, led by Kansas Citizens for Science (KCFS), was present outside the hearing room to rebut the weird science being presented inside. Several of the scientists were outraged at the claim by the hearing's organizers that to teach evolutionary theory is to teach atheism.

A significant portion of the KCFS membership is made up of theistic evolutionists. Their position is compatible with that of the almost 5500 signers of the Clergy Letter Project, who "believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist."

But what theistic evolutionists don't say, and what the creationists fear, is this: Once you realize that the bewildering diversity of life on this planet has evolved through natural processes, it's much, much easier to discard religious belief altogether.

If intelligent design is responsible for life on earth, then belief in a Supreme Being is mandatory. If life evolved through natural selection acting on naturally occurring variation, such a belief is entirely optional. That is why big slabs of the religious right are so obsessed with attacking evolutionary theory.

In his 2004 book The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, Sam Harris notes that humans' unceasing desire for knowledge has always presented religions with a problem: "Every religion preaches the truth of propositions for which it has no evidence. In fact, every religion preaches the truth of propositions for which no evidence is even conceivable. This puts the 'leap' in Kierkrgaard's leap of faith."

And there's nothing like a good miracle to put some spring into that leap. In the struggle among religions to claim hearts and minds, those with the most and the best miracles have a big leg up.

Creationism is particularly effective, instantly providing the believer with at least 13 million miracles (a conservative estimate of the number of species on earth, each of which, according to most versions of intelligent design, was specially created).

The creationists know that the more complex our knowledge of the universe becomes, the easier it is to keep the scientific waters muddied. Doing so allows them to "see" physical evidence of God's handiwork -- the so-called "irreducible complexity" of, say, the cell or the bacterial flagellum -- and that makes it impossible not to believe.

In contrast, even if the theistic evolutionists' God has the power to perform crowd-pleasing miracles such as pulling bunny rabbits or butterflies out of thin air, He doesn't indulge in them. His miracles lie in the distant past, sometime between the origin of the universe and the origin of life on Earth.

He's had to make do with less flamboyant miracles, building into the initial conditions of the universe such marvels as the half-life of ytterbium, the freezing point of water, and the possibility of transposable genetic elements. Not the sort of stuff people come to hear about on Sunday morning.

And if the God of evolution has indulged in any macro- or micro-management of the tree of life since that time, then He's not really that easy to distinguish from the God of intelligent design.

(Suppose, say, that He effected a change in George W. Bush's heart so dramatic that Bush halted logging in Northwestern forests, which, in turn, saved a certain species of bird from extinction, and that species went on a few hundred millenia from now to found a whole new branch of the avian evolutionary tree. Wouldn't that count as a supernatural influence on the origin of species?)

Whether it's associated with theistic evolution or intelligent design, a miracle's a miracle. Having accepted supernatural intervention in earthly events, a true believer can't be blamed for thinking, "Well, in for a penny, in for a pound" - or maybe "In for a nucleotide, in for a redwood tree."


Since William Jennings Bryan and the Scopes trial of 80 years ago, creationism has shone with a populist aura, and that was never so true as it is today.

The creationist lobby in Kansas, as everywhere, marches under the banner of classroom democracy. Its troops want, they say, to free students to explore all theories of life. That sticks scientists with what looks like the elitist position: "We're the experts, and we say you shouldn't discuss intelligent design."

In an era in which we all can't be experts on everything, people are rightly wary of a scientific priesthood being empowered to dictate school curricula. The trouble is that very few of the parents of Kansas schoolkids are equipped to weigh the claims being made by the Intelligent Design Network or other creationist outfits.

Few parents had the chance to learn much about evolution (or biology in general) when they were in school, while all their lives, most of them have been learning more than there is to know about the Creator. And no tweed-wearing, ivory-tower egghead scientist is going to tell their kids they can't discuss "alternatives" to evolution.

Now, let's pause to note that what's the matter with Kansas is what's the matter with the country, including both blue coasts. In June, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. hosted a screening of a creationist documentary entitled The Privileged Planet. The film was a product of an intelligent design think-thimble called the Discovery Institute, located in so-sophisticated Seattle.

And creationists are currently marching through the blue states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and California as well.


At the Topeka hearings, a parade of witnesses testified that if Darwin or evolutionary theory had never existed, they, as good scientists, would still be more than capable of operating their own research labs exactly as they do today. Their counterparts in KCFS tried to fight back, arguing that scientific and economic progress rely heavily on evolutionary theory.

Here again, the creationists come out ahead, at least if we go by the definition of "progress" that both sides appeared to employ. A scientist need not know the first thing about sympatric speciation in order to develop the next generation of antidepressants or more flexible plastics or retina-scanning technology.

For turning out products to brighten people's lives as we hurtle down the high-consumption road to ruin, the study of evolutionary biology probably is a luxury we can do without. Go-for-broke capitalism rests easily alongside most of this country's religious sects, and in such an economic system, evolution just doesn't matter much.

In an attempt to beef up their claim of economic relevance, pro-evolution scientists at the hearing also asserted that companies involved in the so-called "life sciences industry" will probably be reluctant to locate in Kansas if they think it's populated by a bunch of fundamentalist yahoos who can't understand simple science.

Well, as a reason for keeping religion out of the public schools, the prospect of bringing biotech and ag chemical factories to town doesn't seem all that enticing.


If we want Homo sapiens to have a chance at another 10,000 years or so of civilization, we can no longer afford a global economy that's dependent on heavy resource extraction and trashing of ecosystems. In that world, an appreciation of evolution will be essential.

As fossil fuels and other industrial inputs become more and more scarce, we earthlings will rely more and more on the ecosphere for sustenance, as we did (if not all that well) for most of the 10,000 years since the dawn of agriculture. To do better the next time around, we will have to depend increasingly on knowledge of ecology and evolution.

I have argued before that it's not backward religious beliefs but all-too-ambitious economic doctrines that have brought a proliferation of global ecological crises. But causation can run the other way: As we figure out how to survive as a species -- as we start confining human activity within the planet's ecological limits -- we'll learn that we can no longer afford to substitute ancient superstition for knowledge of how the planet really works.

If we succeed, we will have created a society in which know-nothing religion and intelligent design's supernatural biology have withered away on their own.

Stan Cox is a plant breeder and writer in Salina, Kansas. He can be reached: t.stan@cox.net

Letters | Intelligent design is not the same as creationism


Posted on Mon, Jul. 25, 2005

Re: Mark Franek's July 14 commentary, "A flawed design in schools":

The author's comments were typical of the abounding ignorance held by some of what the theory of intelligent design really is. Mr. Franek likened intelligent design to creationism and religious indoctrination when truly it is neither.

Creationism states that the universe is only 10,000 years old and every living thing on Earth was created individually, instantaneously, and out of nothing by God. That is not what intelligent design teaches.

Intelligent design - like evolution - is based upon scientific discoveries and analysis. It has support in the scientific community.

Intelligent design does not contradict evolution. Rather, it addresses some gaps in that theory and points to the huge number of nearly impossible coincidences in the building blocks of matter and the laws of physics.

These gaps suggest that the universe and its products - including the process of evolution - may have been designed from the ground up to allow matter, stars, and eventually a variety of living creatures to come to be.

Intelligent design is not creationism and it is not religious indoctrination.

Contrary to the author's assertion that intelligent design can be taught in five minutes, I could discuss the scientific aspects of it for days (and I'm not a professor).

More than a dozen states are working on legislation to get it into classrooms - a fact that demonstrates its growing popular support.

John Bodnar Jr.

West Caln


A design pioneer

I wish that more school districts were like Dover in its inspiring spirit to pioneer the intelligent-design view in schools.

Mr. Franek mentioned that "most educated religious authorities affirm that belief in God and evolution is not in conflict." How can this statement be true if it leaves God (creator) out of the picture in creating man? God says he created man in his own image in Genesis, the first book of the Bible.

How is it that scientists can examine a rock specimen from Mars and "affirm" that there was once water on Mars (which has no water), and look at our planet, which is 70 percent water, and declare that there is no evidence of a worldwide flood?

Scientists and religious authorities are, indeed, fallible.

Mary Cantell



Was it Sasquatch? DNA test will tell


Lab to examine hair found after reported Bigfoot appearance in Canada

Reuters Updated: 6:53 p.m. ET July 25, 2005

VANCOUVER, British Columbia - The debate over the existence of Sasquatch, a k a Bigfoot, an ape-like creature said to haunt the wilderness of western Canada, among other places, has entered the world of modern DNA testing.

A laboratory will test hair samples that several residents of Teslin, Yukon, say were left when the large, but so-far mythological creature made a late-night run through their community in early July.

University of Alberta wildlife geneticist David Coltman, who agreed to do the tests as a favor to a colleague, said Monday that scientists have cataloged the DNA of nearly all large animals in the Yukon such as bears and bison.

“So we’ll compare it to all of that, and if it doesn’t match anything, then it’s potentially interesting,” said Coltman, who suspects the hair was actually left behind by a much more mundane Yukon bison.

“If Sasquatch is indeed a primate, then we would expect the sample to be closer to humans or chimpanzees or gorillas,” Coltman said.

The legend of a large, hairy, two-legged creature lurking in the mountains of western Canada and the United States dates back to before Europeans settled the continent. This was the second report of the creature near Teslin in just over a year.

In the latest sighting, a group of Teslin residents told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. they heard branches cracking and saw a large human-like creature run by a house. It left behind large footprints, they said, and the hair tufts that were given to wildlife officials.

Coltman expects to have his results Thursday and said that even if the hair turns out not to be from a Sasquatch, the process should serve as a good way to get students interested in the field of DNA testing.

“It’s sort of like a wildlife CSI story,” he said.

Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited.
© 2005 MSNBC.com

URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/8704462/

Butterfly unlocks evolution secret


By Julianna Kettlewell BBC News science reporter

Why one species branches into two is a question that has haunted evolutionary biologists since Darwin.

Given our planet's rich biodiversity, "speciation" clearly happens regularly, but scientists cannot quite pinpoint the driving forces behind it.

Now, researchers studying a family of butterflies think they have witnessed a subtle process, which could be forcing a wedge between newly formed species.

The team, from Harvard University, US, discovered that closely related species living in the same geographical space displayed unusually distinct wing markings.

These wing colours apparently evolved as a sort of "team strip", allowing butterflies to easily identify the species of a potential mate.

This process, called "reinforcement", prevents closely related species from interbreeding thus driving them further apart genetically and promoting speciation.

Although scientists have speculated about this mechanism for years, it has rarely been witnessed in nature.

"The phenomenon of reinforcement is one of the very few mechanisms that has natural selection playing a role in speciation," said Harvard co-author Nikolai Kandul. "It might be very widespread but it is hard to find good evidence of it."

Geographical isolation

For speciation to occur, two branches of the same species must stop breeding with one another for long enough to grow apart genetically.

The most obvious way this can happen is through geographical isolation.

If a mountain range or river divides a population of animals for hundreds of generations, they might find that if they meet again they are no longer able to breed.

But geographical isolation is not enough to explain all speciation. Clearly, organisms do sometimes speciate even if there is no clear river or mountain separating them.

The other mechanism that can theoretically divide a species is "reproductive isolation". This occurs when organisms are not separated physically, but "choose" not to breed with each other thereby causing genetic isolation, which amounts to the same thing.

Reproductive isolation is much hazier and more difficult to pin down than geographic isolation, which is why biologists are so excited about this family of butterflies.

Butterfly clue

The Harvard team made the discovery while studying the butterfly genus Agrodiaetus , which has a wide ranging habitat in Asia.

The females are brown while the males exhibit a variety of wing colours ranging from silver and blue to brown.

Dr Kandul and his colleagues found that if closely related species of Agrodiaetus are geographically separate, they tend to look quite similar. That is to say, they do not display a distinctive "team strip".

But if similarly closely related species are living side-by-side, the researchers noticed, they frequently look strikingly different - their "teams" are clearly advertised.

This has the effect of discouraging inter-species mating, thus encouraging genetic isolation and species divergence.

"This butterfly study presents evidence that the differences in the male's wing colouration is stronger [when the species share a habitat] than [when they do not]," said the speciation expert Axel Meyer, from Konstanz University in Germany.

"This pattern would therefore support the interpretation that it was brought about by reinforcement, hence natural selection."

The reason evolution favours the emergence of a "team strip" in related species, or sub species, living side-by-side is that hybridisation is not usually a desirable thing.

Although many of the Agrodiaetus species are close enough genetically to breed, their hybrid offspring tend to be rather weedy and less likely to thrive.

Therefore natural selection will favour ways of distinguishing the species, which is why the clear markings exist.

"For me, this is a big discovery just because the system is very beautiful," said Dr Kandul. "As much as we can we are showing that [reinforcement] is the most likely mechanism."

This research was published in the latest edition of Nature magazine.

Story from BBC NEWS:


Published: 2005/07/24 11:19:20 GMT


West: Darwinists take a look in the mirror


Monday, July 25, 2005

John G. West Guest column

SEATTLE – Eighty years ago this month, high school teacher John Scopes was convicted in a stifling Dayton, Tenn., courtroom of teaching students about Darwin's theory of evolution contrary to state law.

Made famous by the play and film Inherit the Wind, the Scopes trial has become an icon in the continuing battle for free speech and scientific inquiry.

Unfortunately, it's an icon that has become sorely out of date as the politics of the evolution controversy have changed.

While teachers and scientists used to face attacks for expressing support for evolution, today growing numbers are being punished for expressing skepticism, as Darwinists have assumed the role of persecutor that used to be played by Biblical fundamentalists.

Some of the worst abuse has been directed toward scientists who advocate a new concept known as intelligent design. Intelligent design proposes that some features of the natural world are best explained as the product of an intelligent cause rather than chance and necessity.

Intelligent design is not creationism. It isn't even anti-evolution, depending on how one defines “evolution.”

That hasn't stopped evolutionists from pummeling scientists who are open-minded enough to give intelligent design a fair hearing.

At the Smithsonian Institution, biologist Richard Sternberg, the former editor of a respected biology journal, says he faced discrimination and retaliation after accepting for publication a peer-reviewed article supportive of intelligent design last year.

The same intolerance applies to any scientist who publicly criticizes Darwinism. At the Mississippi University for Women, chemistry professor Nancy Bryson was removed as head of the division of natural sciences in 2003 after presenting scientific criticisms of biological and chemical evolution to a seminar of honors students.

“Students at my college got the message very clearly: Do not ask any questions about Darwinism,” she explained.

Students at other educational institutions are getting the same chilling message.

Rather than defend the scientific merits of evolution, evolutionists have become obsessed with denouncing their opponents as dangerous zealots hell-bent on imposing theocracy.

Defenders of evolution who fear blind zealotry should look in the mirror. The new Darwinian fundamentalists have become just as intolerant as the religious fundamentalists they despise.

Such intolerance is unhealthy for science and a free society.

In the words of John Scopes, “by respecting the other man's views and by protecting his liberties, we gain respect for our own views and we protect our own liberties.”

Darwin's current defenders would do well to heed those words.

John G. West is associate director of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute and an associate professor of political science at Seattle Pacific University.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Globules against bioterror


Ask Wayne B. Jonas why the scientific foundation he directs is funding research into the effects of prayer, and the use of homeopathy to fight bioterrorism, and he offers a straightforward answer: Science is the way to determine whether they work

Sandra G. Boodman

The scientific foundation Wayne B. Jonas directs is funding research into the effects of prayer, the use of homeopathy to fight bioterrorism and whether magnetic devices can heal orthopedic injuries.

“We’re trying to stimulate good-quality research,'' said Jonas, a former chief of the Office of Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health who directs the nonprofit Samueli Institute for Information Biology (SIIB) in Alexandria. “There is a good case for looking at these things scientifically, because we don't know a lot about them.”

But, the 51-year-old board-certified family physician and retired Army doctor adds, “it's difficult to walk the scientific fence” — dodging criticism from “the hard-core skeptics” who dismiss alternative medicine as quackery and the “hard-core advocates” who accept it uncritically.

Jonas has headed the institute — named for its principal benefactor, California philanthropist Susan Samueli —since its inception in 2001. What began as a two-person foundation has grown into a research organization with four offices and a staff of 15. It has an annual budget of about $4 million provided by the Samueli family, and an additional $5 million in contracts from the Department of Defense (DOD) to study alternative treatments. Currently the institute is funding about 50 projects, awarding grants ranging from $20,000 to $250,000 to researchers in the United States, Europe and Asia.

Among the DOD-related projects, which are a collaboration with the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, the military medical school in Bethesda, where Jonas is a clinical professor, are several to determine whether the use of extremely diluted poisons, including cyanide and botulinum toxin, might protect soldiers from higher doses to which they could be exposed in biological warfare.

“The work in this area is in its earliest stages but has some promising characteristics,” said Iris R. Bell, director of research for the integrative medicine program at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. “The Samueli staff are open-minded scientists, they are not taking anything as dogma. They are asking the bigger questions, such as what are the assumptions of science? I would expect the work they do and the work they fund is going to be controversial.”

Critics of the institute say that while they support rigorous research into alternative medical treatments, Samueli is not doing it. “There is nothing of scientific value they're doing that I'm aware of,” said Wallace Sampson, editor of the Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine and clinical professor emeritus of medicine at Stanford. “They’re all ideologues trying to prove something that doesn’t exist.”

Homeopathy, a treatment invented in the late 1700s, is predicated on the belief that “like cures like” and that illnesses can be treated by stimulating a healing response through the ingestion of highly diluted substances such as herbs, heavy metals or poison ivy, which would cause harm at larger doses. In most cases no single molecule of the substance remains.

Sampson and other critics of Samueli’s work also question use of terminology not found in science, such as “information biology”, which Jonas defines as “the interaction of information with biological systems”; and “salutogenesis”, which he says is the process of healing and the opposite of pathogenesis, the process of disease. Bruce Flamm, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California, summed it up: “We have to keep an open mind, but not an open mind to nonsense.”

Report on the 2005 Creation Mega Conference, Part Three

Posted by Jason Rosenhouse on July 23, 2005 02:13 PM

As should be clear from the previous entries in this series, I am providing an account of the conference presentations that I attended, in the order in which I attended them. I attended nine talks at the conference, out of forty that were available (not counting devotionals). I mention this because a commenter to one of my previous entries rattled off a list of talks he challeneged me to provide scientific refutations to. Sadly, most of the talks he mentioned were ones that I did not attend. Such scientific content as there was in the talks I did attend was of such low quality that I am not optimistic about what was presented in the remaining sessions. I will discuss some specific scientific assertions made in the talks as I go, but the only one that I am planning to go into great detail on is the one by Werner Gitt, entitled “In the Beginning was Information.” That will come in part five of this series.

Now, back to the conference!

Monday, July 17. Afternoon.

Carl Kerby's talk was followed by a two hour lunch break. I fled the classroom, emerged into the humid Lynchburg weather, and went searching for a place to eat lunch. I eventually settled for a nearby Mexican restaurant. Ordered a fajita burrito. It was really, really, good. Felt better.

I finished lunch with more than an hour and a half to spare before the next talk. Since I was close to my hotel, I decided to relax there for a while before going back to campus. Got to the hotel, went back to my room, laid down the bed. Grew contemplative.

I am often asked why I do this. Why would I spend so much time, and a not inconsiderable chunk of money, hanging out with people whose views I obviously have little respect for? Actually, I often ask myself the same question. There are a couple of reasons why I do it, with no one reason taking precedence over another.

Partly my interest is as a journalist. Especially for those of us who live in the red states, the pernicious influence of religious fundamentalism is a simple fact of everyday life. Someone has to keep an eye on what these folks are doing and saying.

Partly I feel morally obligated to do it. Nonsense has to be confronted. A short drive from my home, some two thousand people are gathering to listen to a series of frauds and charlatans impugn the characters of my colleagues and tell lies about what scientists believe and why they believe it. How could I live with myself if I didn't do what little I could to challenge it? Frankly, I think it should be a requirement of every science PhD program in the country that students attend a conference such as this. Let them see first-hand the ingorance, the anti-intellectualism, the anti-science propaganda, the anti-anything that doesn't conform to their idiosyncratic interpretation of the Bible attitude. Maybe then people on my side of this would wake up, and stop acting like it's a waste of time to pay attention to these folks.

Partly I think I can do some good. In other conferences of this sort that I have attended there have always been opportunities to ask questions after the talks. Merely by asking a polite but challenging question I knew I could count on having a large crowd around me afterwards. In those forums you have a chnace to plant a few seeds. Merely by letting them see a calm, patient, articulate (if you'll forgive the immodesty) defender of science you can do a lot to undo the stereotypes the speakers are presenting. I have no illusions about how much good one person can do, but imagine if my challenging question was followed immediately by another, and another. These people crumble when their arrant nonsense is confronted with simple common sense. (Incidentally, you can read about some of my experiences at past creationist/ID conferences here and here. Both links are in PDF format. The first article appeared in Skeptic, the second in BioScience.)

Yet another reason is anthropological. From the time I've been old enough to think about these things, religion has always struck me as pretty silly. And fundamentalist religion of the sort being preached at this conference has seemed downright delusional. Yet I am also aware that most people do not agree with this view (well, not the first part anyway). A commenter to one of my previous entries suggested that perhaps I am searching for something. Indeed I am. I am trying to understand why things that seem obvious to most people (that there is a God, for example), seem obviously wrong to me. Over the years I've tried praying, reading the Bible, studying theology, talking to believers, attending religious services, and reading more books and articles than I can list attempting to prove that God exists. My hostility towards religion has only grown as a result. But most people have come to a different conclusion. So I keep searching. And I keep thinking that one day it will suddenly become clear to me what it is that people find appealing or plausible about the theistic view of the world.

And let's not overlook my last reason. I enjoy it. I like seeing poeple who are fired up about big questions, and I like a good argument. And since having the Earth open up and swallow them whole doesn't seem to be an option, I might as well engage them.

Enough contemplation. Back to the conference.

My choices were “How to Defend the Christian Faith in a Secular World,” by Ken Ham in the basic track, and “Rocks Around the Clocks: The Eons That Never Were,” by Emil Silvestru in the advanced track. Having had my fill of Ham, I elected for the rocks.

Big mistake. Silvestru's talk was a typical creationist snow job. Look! Here's a tree buried thorugh many layers of sediment. Look! Here are some preserved dinosaur eggs. Look! Here's a Sequoia fossil in the Arcitc. In most cases the examples went by far too quickly to digest what their importance was supposed to be. Frequently the logic seemed off. For example, why are preserved dinosaur eggs supposed to be a problem for evolution? If I understood Silvestru correctly it is supposed to be because for an egg to be preserved, it must be covered in sediment very quickly. But preserved dinosaur eggs come from all over the world and are from roughly the same time period. Such rapid burial could only have been caused by a major catastrophe. And this catastrophe would have had to be global to explain the distribution of eggs. So Noah's flood is real. QED.

I am open to the suggestion that I have misunderstood Silvestru in some way, because the argument as I currently understand it is just too dumb. These eggs may date to the same geological era, but they surely were not literally buried during the same few days. And it's not as if the globe was pock-marked with droves of dinosaur eggs. It was not at all clear why several local “catastrophes” could not explain the data Silvestru was attributing to a global event.

And those multi-layer tree fossils are likewise a big nothing .

But mostly I didn't pay too much attention to Silvestru, since he was uttering one howler after another every time he brought up evolution. For example, he argued that the rates of evolution as documented by the fossil record spell the death knell for the theory.

In the notes accompanying the lecture Silvestru expresses the point this way:

Thus the Archean represents 47 percent of the Earth's age, the Proterozoic 40 percent and the Phanerozoic the remainder of 13 percent! Yet it is during the Phanerozoic that the vast majority of evolution is claimed to have unfolded, with human evolution (the most complicated of them all!) taking the shortest time of all! There is definitely a strange correlation between time and evolution since our planet is believed (by evolutionists) to have taken a quarter of its entire age before the first form of life evolved, 62 percent of its age all it accommodated was single-celled creatures (protozoans) but then it surely caught up with its completely random goal, evolving the absolute majority of all known life forms in just 13 percent of its age!

I'm not kidding.

Then creationists wonder why we don't take them seriously.

I've been staring at my screen for about five minutes now trying to decide if its worth trying to correct everything that's wrong with that paragraph. I think I'll follow my mathematical instincts and leave it as an exercise for the reader.

There were other howlers as well. He opened his talk with the assertion that there were basically two models for the history of the Earth: The creation model, which is based on science, and the evolution model, which is mased on natural laws. You figure out what that means.

He then argued that we must test these models against the evidence. No problem with that. An example of a prediction made by the Creation model is that we will find no transitional forms in the fossil record. By contrast, evolution predicts that we will find many such forms. Wow, I'm still with him. And then he simply asserted that there are no transitional forms and so the Creation model wins.


Enough of Silvestru.

Next up was Phillip Bell in the Basic track discussing, “Ape Men, Missins Links, and the Bible,” and Douglas Kelly on “The Importance of Chronology in the Bible,” in the advanced track. I went Basic this time. It was after Bell's talk that I worked up the nerve to confront the speaker after the talk. Stay tuned!

To Be Continued

Trackback URL: http://degas.fdisk.net/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.cgi/1242

Paul Krassner on Scientology


Tom Cruise may consider himself educated about the negative aspects of psychiatry, but I suspect he doesn't know jack shit about the dark side of Scientology, the source of that education.

In 1971, I announced in an ad the features that would be included in the 13th-anniversary issue of The Realist. Among them, "The Rise of Sirhan Sirhan in the Scientology Hierarchy." The Church of Scientology proceeded to sue me for libel; they wanted $750,000 for those nine words, the title of an article that I had not yet written.

What's relevant here is the paranoid mindset of Scientology, as revealed in this excerpt from their complaint:

"...Defendants have conspired between themselves and with other established religions, medical and political organizations and persons presently unknown to plaintiff. By subtle covert and pernicious techniques involving unscrupulous manipulation of all public communication media, defendants and their co-conspirators have conspired to deny plaintiff its right to exercise religious beliefs on an equal basis with the established religious organizations of this country."

I published their complaint in The Realist and told my attorney, James Wolpman (now an OSHA judge), that I wanted to fight the lawsuit in court on a First Amendment basis.

But when Scientology learned that (a) The Realist had no assets, and (b) that I was in the habit of publishing satirical articles, they offered to settle for $5,000. I turned 'em down. Then they offered to drop the suit altogether if I would publish an article by Chick Corea, a jazz pianist and member of Scientology. I explained that this was not how I made my editorial decisions, and again I refused to settle. They dropped the suit.

I cultivated a source inside Scientology (Deep E-Meter) and found out that their records showed that under the heading "Operation Dynamite"—their jargon for a frame-up—a memo read: "Got CSW from SFO not to do this on Krassner. I disagree and will pass my comments on to DG I US as to why this should be done. SFO has the idea that Krassner is totally handled and will not attack us again. My feelings are that in PT, he has not got enough financial backing to get out The Realist and other publications and when that occurs, will attack again, maybe more covertly but attack, nonetheless."

I finally finished writing "The Rise of Sirhan Sirhan in the Scientology Hierarchy" in 2003, and it will be included in my upcoming collection, One Hand Jerking: Reports from an Investigative Satirist.

Hey, maybe Tom Cruise could play me in the movie version.

Volume 18, Issue 29


Vampire fraudsters take bite of Sicilian's savings


Sat Jul 23,11:37 AM ET

PALERMO, Italy (Reuters) - An Italian couple stole 50,000 euros (34,700 pounds) from a woman in the Sicilian city of Palermo after convincing her they were vampires who would impregnate her with the son of the Anti-Christ if she did not pay them.

The man, a cabaret singer, and his girlfriend took the money from their victim over four years by selling her pills at 3,000 euros each that they said would abort the Anti-Christ's son.

Police uncovered the fraud after the 47-year-old woman's family became concerned when they discovered she had spent all her savings, local news agencies AGI and ANSA reported.

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