NTS LogoSkeptical News for 18 August 2005

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Intelligent Design not science


Wednesday, August 17, 2005


The recent suggestion by President Bush that intelligent design should be taught alongside evolution in biology classes has rekindled debate about the appropriateness of teaching alternatives to evolution to explain the origin and diversification of life on Earth.

The proponents of teaching either creationism or intelligent design usually argue that schools should be teaching the strengths and weaknesses of evolution as an explanation for the diversity of life on Earth. For some reason, usually having to do with religious beliefs, they single out evolution from the myriad of other scientific fields for this criticism.

It takes a foundation in the basics of any discipline to be able to grasp the subtleties at the cutting edge of a field, so it is understandable that in high school science classes, the focus is on learning the basic facts and theories along with learning how scientists go about their inquiry to understand nature.

Students learn (or should learn) that theories are devised to explain observations in nature and that from theories, hypotheses are developed that can be tested by carefully constructed experiments.

Experiments may lead to the rejection of hypotheses and subsequent modification or rejection of the theories on which they are based, but can never "prove" a theory true.

Later, in the college or university, a student's background becomes sufficiently well developed to begin to probe the edges of our knowledge and see how theories and experiments mesh to push back frontiers in specific ways. Still later, if a student has become sufficiently intrigued, he or she may go on to pursue a Ph.D. and take responsibility for formulating hypotheses and constructing experiments that expand our understanding of the natural world.

This approach to science education is equally important in particle physics, cell biology, astronomy and evolution and helps develop a mind that is capable of thinking critically about science and life in general.

The continuing debate about teaching intelligent design is woefully misplaced in this context of science education.

Science classes should teach alternate scientific theories wherever competing theories collide. However, for a theory to be "scientific," it must provide the basis for testable hypotheses. Scientists and philosophers agree -- if a theory is not amenable to testing, it doesn't belong in a science classroom.

Intelligent design offers no testable hypotheses and, instead, offers only an explanation for observations of complex structures and phenomena in biology that must be taken on faith. As such, it offers less to a science class than does "flat-Earth theory" or "Earth-as-the-center-of-the-solar-system theory," both of which led to testable hypotheses and, ultimately, their rejection as predictive explanatory theories. If we were to consider intelligent design a "theory," the advances in genetics and developmental biology that have provided explanations for the origin of many complex structures in recent years would lead us to reject it along with flat-Earth theory and geocentrism.

The science of evolutionary biology embodies a broad body of theory (not a single theory, as so often depicted by opponents) and scientists have now tested hypotheses derived from these theories for 150 years. In that time, many hypotheses have been tested and rejected. For example, Darwin didn't understand the role genes and chromosomes play in inheritance, so his theories about inheritance have been replaced by new ones that offer more explanatory power. In fact, many of Darwin's ideas about evolution have been greatly modified in this way. Just as our understanding of physics has been altered dramatically since Newton, by the discoveries of Einstein and other physicists, so has our understanding of evolution been altered by the advances in biology since Darwin.

Yet biologists, from all their many disciplines, still find evolution to provide a unifying perspective from which to pursue a greater understanding of life. As one of the 20th century's most famous geneticists, Theodosius Dobzhansky, wrote, "Nothing in biology makes sense, except in the light of evolution."

Richard Olmstead is a professor in the department of biology at the University of Washington and curator of the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture.

Life in an Unfinished World


Evolution is unfinished business in American society. Consequently, a few words from the President vaguely in support of making schoolchildren aware of the notion of intelligent design are sufficient to spark the latent hullabaloo. Of particular interest, when the topic arises from only faint prodding, are the attempts of anti-ID zealots to explain their visceral and very directed anger in a way that accords with the more-reasonable image that they put forward.

A piece by Charles Krauthammer in Time magazine that may have played a role in the question's being posed to the President offers the bottom-line explanation: "To teach [intelligent design] as science is to encourage the supercilious caricature of America as a nation in the thrall of religious authority." A variation of the same sentiment presented in a letter to the Providence Journal allows for an intriguing ambiguity: "The United States is the only country in which people still fight over evolution."

The letter's author, Michael Berry, quickly specifies that "Americans look like fools to the rest of the world," but one could just as easily read his previous sentence with a complimentary tone: "The United States is the only country in which people still fight over evolution."

The difficulty that evolutionists would likely have imagining that such a quality could be something of which to be proud indicates the inconsequentiality that they attribute to religion as a contributor to comprehension of reality. The same indication can be found in the space that they condescend to find for religion. Intelligent design, many argue, belongs in religion curricula — never mind that credulous religious education is banned from public schools. At best, blended with philosophy or secularized by the adjective "comparative," religionesque classes are relegated to lists of electives.

Even pretending, however, that the separate-classes resolution were workable, it would not represent a constructive compromise. Just as intelligent design is not simply retooled creationism, it does not seek to fill "gaps" in evolution with the all-encompassing investigation-ender of God. Rather, the motivation of those with an interest in intelligent design is to work under different assumptions than the typical secular scientist about aspects of the universe on which science cannot comment. It may be that we are coming to a tier of scientific knowledge — particularly as we incorporate human behavior into models of the universe — in which the assumption of a Creator allows advances that insistence on undirected forces would preclude.

Of more immediate importance is the possibility of asserting ethical boundaries to science. Put another way, it is crucial that generations being introduced to modern science understand that there are aspects of the universe on which it cannot comment; that there are complementary disciplines through which to understand our place therein. And teachers of students who are still learning how to learn do well to examine the space in which such topics as evolution drift across their boundaries.

That space is dangerously abandoned territory, as evidenced in a reader's letter that John Derbyshire shared on National Review Online:

If one is willing to concede that one area of inquiry is unsuitable to scientific study, then what is to say that science will provide any useful insight into any other area? If an Intelligent Designer is the answer to one question, how are we to know that it isn't the answer to all of them?

A similar extrapolation can be posited in the opposite direction: If science offers an explanation for how and why life began, how are we to know that it doesn't offer an explanation for how we should live or how we should handle the lives of others? If the limits of science — not its "gaps," but its culturally as well as methodologically defined limits — are unsuitable for discussion within science class, then what will shape conclusions drawn from its mechanisms?

Charles Krauthammer apparently appreciates the role of public religious expression in the United States. It might interest those who share that appreciation to explore the ways in which science and religion already complement each other in our society. If it is true that the United States is the only country in which people still fight over evolution, then we must ask ourselves whether it is our scientific ability or our openness to religious faith that must be protected. I'd suggest that what sets us apart is our strategy for mixing the two in such a way as to resist intellectual fads and address the world as we believe it to be.

Justin Katz writes for the blogs Dust in the Light and Anchor Rising .

What Do You Know?


Commentary: The quarrel over intelligent design is about this: whether we should discount the scientific method on which modern society rests.

By Bernard Wasow

August 17, 2005

The conflict over the role of divine creation (creationism, or, in its new clothes, intelligent design) in school curricula reveals a fundamental failure of American education. The issue is not simply one of science curriculum; it is about how we know anything.

Today's world is built on a foundation of scientific exploration. Our wealth, our health, and much of our work and our leisure are based on advances in technology, which in turn result from the practice of the scientific method.

The scientific method is not democratic, based on majority consensus, nor is it based on peer review by fellow scientists. In science, the validity of an idea or hypothesis is not determined thorough an election, or by polling the peers of the scientist who made the particular claim; those methods are best reserved for answering questions such as how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

Scientific method is based on the comparison of predictions to data. It is fundamentally skeptical of any claim until the implications of that claim have been borne out by observed phenomena.

When Einstein first advanced his theory of relativity in 1905, he announced that his own commitment to those ideas would depend on three sets of observations that he predicted based on his theory. For the next fourteen years, the ideas were hotly debated, but only when the solar eclipse of 1919 provided an opportunity to confirm two of Einstein's predictions did his ideas take deeper hold. (His third prediction was confirmed in 1923.)

Plenty of scientific ideas have been greeted by ridicule from the claimants' peers, only later to be widely adopted after data have accumulated consistent with those ideas. For example, in the past half-century, the theory of continental drift and the theory that birds are descendants of dinosaurs both have gained support as data have confirmed their detailed predictions.

So what about intelligent design, the idea that God created everything as it is? How does that stack up to the theory of evolution? The first observation one might make is that God could just as well have designed dynamic processes as a fixed set of creatures. God could have created evolution, as He presumably created a weather system that produces ice ages and tropical interludes. But creationists are hostile to evolution, and do not discuss whether or not evolution itself could have been created by God.

Very well, what data can we look at to compare the ideas of evolution and intelligent design? Here is a smattering of the evidence:

  1. The world is remarkably complex and harmonious, with humans the most self-aware creatures.
  2. The fossil record suggests that over the eons, various creatures have existed that today are not present.
  3. The development of drug-resistant strains of pathogens as well as new viruses and plagues suggests that new creatures are arising all the time.
  4. Similarly, changes in larger species (such as darkening of some moths' coloring in England during the industrial revolution) suggest that existing creatures are changing over time.
  5. As Darwin predicted, and subsequent observation has confirmed, there are nocturnal creatures (moths) that are counterparts to diurnal creatures (hummingbirds), feeding similarly.
  6. Human selection has managed to create hundreds of varieties of domesticated animals and plants that are profoundly different from their wild ancestors, and this in a time frame one millionth or less of the time that natural selection is theorized to take.
  7. The bible tells us how the world was created.
  8. The first of these phenomena is consistent both with the theory of evolution and intelligent design. For many people, it is hard to believe that the richness and complexity of the natural world and human intelligence could have arisen from an unguided process of natural selection, so, for them, divine creation is certainly a plausible explanation for the complexity of the world.

The trouble begins when we introduce observations 2 through 6, all of which deal with the overwhelming evidence that the set of living things is continually in flux. How does creationism explain the change in the mix of living things, as well as the fact that there is no evidence of creatures on land, to say nothing of evidence of modern man, for billions of years of the earth's history?

Which brings us to the last "phenomenon," the teachings of the bible. This evidence is inherently unscientific in that it has nothing to do with phenomena. There are no data or empirical observations that could in principle come into conflict with the claim of biblical truth.

And this is the scary part of the evolution-creationism debate. It is not about a particular set of ideas, with each one being tested for validity; it is about whether we should discount the scientific method on which modern society rests. It is about whether we should abandon skepticism, use of evidence, and the willingness to modify one's ideas in light of evidence.

It seems that our education system has produced a citizenry that would be as comfortable if their children debated how many angels could dance on the head of pin in science class rather than whether continental drift is a plausible theory.

The foundation of modern civilization in the United States appears to under attack, with a majority out of touch not simply with contemporary science but with the method of knowing that undergirds science. If a social earthquake were to knock down the intellectual peaks from which the advances that propel our civilization originate, would the remaining society, including the political establishment, regress to the pre-scientific era, where belief is based on stacks of words, unchecked against phenomena?

Originally published by The Century Foundation at www.tcf.org.

Bernard Wasow is a senior fellow at The Century Foundation.

Teach An Appreciation Of Science, Creationism


Published on 8/17/2005

Letters To The Editor:

Science classes should touch on the subject of creationism vs. Darwinian evolution, if only to help get an appreciation that "true believers" can take on the cloak of science as well as religion.

The history of science includes the history of the scientific community viciously attacking anyone or anything that threatens current scientific orthodoxy. It was the academic professors who prevailed on the Roman Catholic Church to force Galileo to recant his theories.

Current scientific orthodoxy embraces an utterly materialistic view of life and the physical universe. This is really just bad science; one pictures "scientists" literally tripping over abundant evidence of man's spirituality while explaining everything away.

I don't know which is more hopeless: trying to reason with a religious fanatic that evolution does occur or trying to get one of these so-called "scientists" to see that maybe there is something else going on than pure materialism.

Despite the materialistic dogma being taught under the subject of "science," a Gallup poll found as many Americans believe in ghosts as not and even that one out of four Americans believed in reincarnation. The same type of personalities that attacked Copernicus, reviled Harvey and ridiculed Alfred Wegner — who proposed Earth's crust was made up of plates — now hammer at any who might shake the true belief in materialism.

There are scientists who are really smart and technology has greatly improved our quality of life. However, some scientists seem to become unscientific at the idea of spirits. School boards should enjoin a curriculum that enables students to access the strengths and weakness of the current scientific establishment.

Ben Atwood

Cave Thinkers

How evolutionary psychology gets evolution wrong.
By Amanda Schaffer
Posted Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2005, at 4:16 AM PT

This spring, New York Times columnist John Tierney asserted that men must be innately more competitive than women since they monopolize the trophies in­hold onto your vowels­world Scrabble competitions. To bolster his case, Tierney turned to evolutionary psychology . In the distant past, he argued, a no-holds-barred desire to win would have been an adaptive advantage for many men, allowing them to get more girls, have more kids, and pass on their competitive genes to today's word-memorizing, vowel-hoarding Scrabble champs.

Tierney's peculiar, pseudo-scientific claim­ not the first from him ­reflects the extent to which evolutionary psychology has metastasized throughout public discourse. EP-ers' basic claim is that human behavior stems from psychological mechanisms that are the products of natural selection during the Stone Age. Researchers often focus on how evolution produced mental differences between men and women. One of EP's academic stars, David Buss, argues in his salacious new book The Murderer Next Door that men are wired to kill unfaithful wives because this response would have benefited their distant forefathers. Larry Summers took from EP this winter after his remarks about women's lesser capacity to become top scientists. And adaptive explanations of old sexist hobbyhorses­men like young women with perky breasts and can't stop themselves from philandering because these urges aided ancestral reproduction­are commonly marshaled in defense of ever-more-ridiculous playboys .

Evolutionary psychologists have long taken heat from critics for overplaying innate characteristics­nature at the expense of nurture­and for reinforcing gender stereotypes. But they've dismissed many detractors, fairly or no, as softheaded feminists and sociologists who refuse to acknowledge the true power of natural selection. Increasingly, however, attacks on EP come from academics well-versed in the hard-nosed details of evolutionary biology. A case in point is the new book Adapting Minds by philosopher David Buller, which was supported by a research grant from the National Science Foundation and published by MIT Press and has been getting glowing reviews like this one (paid link) from biologists. Buller persuasively argues that while evolutionary forces likely did play a role in shaping our minds, the assumptions and methods that have dominated EP are weak. Much of the work of pioneers like Buss , Steven Pinker , John Tooby , Leda Cosmides , Martin Daly , and Margo Wilson turns out to be vulnerable on evolutionary grounds.

EP claims that our minds contain hundreds or thousands of "mental organs" or "modules," which come with innate information on how to solve particular problems­how to interpret nuanced facial expressions, how to tell when someone's lying or cheating. These problem-solving modules evolved between 1.8 million and 10,000 years ago, during the Pleistocene epoch. And there the selection story ends. There has not been enough time in the intervening millenia, EP-ers say, for natural selection to have further resculpted our psyches. "Our modern skulls house a Stone Age mind," as Cosmides' and Tooby's primer on evolutionary psychology puts it. The way forward for research is to generate hypotheses about the urges that would have been helpful to Stone Age baby-making and then try to test whether these tendencies are widespread today.

What's wrong with this approach? To begin with, we know very little about the specific adaptive problems faced by our distant forebears. As Buller points out, "We don't even know the number of species in the genus Homo"­our direct ancestors­"let alone details about the lifestyles led by those species." This makes it hard to generate good hypotheses. Some EP-ers have suggested looking to modern-day hunter-gatherers as proxies, studying them for clues about our ancestors. But this doesn't get them far. For instance, in some contemporary African groups, men gather the bulk of the food; in other groups, women do. Which groups are representative of our ancestors? Surely there's a whole lot of guesswork involved when evolutionary psychologists hypothesize about the human brain's supposedly formative years.

In addition, we are probably not psychological fossils. New research suggests that evolutionary change can occur much faster than was previously believed . Natural selection is thought to effect rapid change especially when a species' environment is in flux­precisely the situation in the last 10,000 years as humans learned to farm, domesticate animals, and live in larger communal groups. Crucially, Buller notes, in order for significant change to have occurred in the human mind in the last 10 millennia, evolution need not have built complex brain structures from scratch but simply modified existing ones.

Finally, the central, underlying assumption of EP­that humans have hundreds or thousands of mental problem-solving organs produced by natural selection­is questionable. Many cognitive scientists believe that such modules exist for processing sensory information and for acquiring language. It does not follow, however, that there are a plethora of other ones specifically designed for tasks like detecting cheaters. In fact, considering how much dramatic change our forebears faced, it makes more sense that their problem-solving faculties would have evolved to be flexible in response to their immediate surroundings. (A well-argued book from philosopher Kim Sterelny fleshes out this claim.) Indeed, our mental flexibility, or cortical plasticity , may be evolution's greatest gift.

So, if evolutionary psychology has so many cracks in its foundations, why is it so stubbornly influential? It helps that EP-ers like Buss and Pinker are lively, media-friendly writers who present topics like sex, love, and fear in simple terms. More to the point for scientists, EP's conclusions can be quite difficult to falsify. Even if its methods of generating hypotheses are suspect, there is always the possibility that on any given topic, an EP-er will turn out to be partly right. That forces critics to delve into the details of particular empirical claims. Buller does this in the latter part of his book and successfully dismantles several major EP findings.

For instance, EP-ers have asserted that stepparents are more likely to abuse their stepchildren than their own sons and daughters because in the Stone Age, the parents who selectively devoted love and resources to their own progeny would have had a leg up in passing on their own genes. The proof is data that purport to show a higher rate of modern-day abuse by stepparents than by parents. When Buller dissects the data, however, this conclusion begins to fall apart. To begin with, most of the relevant studies on abuse do not say whether the abuser was a parent or stepparent. The EP assumption that the abuser is always the stepparent creates an artificial and entirely absurd confirmation of the field's hypothesis. In addition, research has shown that when a stepfather is present, a child's bruises are more likely attributed to abuse rather than to accidents, whereas when a biological father is present, the opposite tendency exists. Buller has to wade in deep to unravel this, but the effort pays off.

Ultimately, the biggest problem with EP may be that it underestimates the power of evolutionary forces­both to tinker continually with the human brain, and to have created ingenious and flexible problem-solving structures in the first place. There's a nice irony here, since for years EP-ers have ridiculed opponents for not appreciating evolutionary theory's core tenets. Buller goes so far as to note an eerie resemblance between EP and intelligent design , which also treats human nature as fixed and complete. The more persuasive claim is that there is no single human nature, and that we're works in progress.


Most scientists agree that the major human brain structures and their principle subdivisions are tightly controlled by genes. But this need not be true of the functionally specialized circuits that adults use to solve many cognitive problems. Much cognitive development occurs through "proliferation and pruning," as neuroscientists have called the process: That is, an initial overabundance of neurons and connections are whittled down in response to environmental stimuli and to the brain's own activity. As cells compete with each other, some connections are lost. This is a good thing, essential to mental maturity.

As Buller explains, the pruning process can result in "information process structures" that may resemble the modules postulated by EP. But they are "environmentally shaped, not genetically specified outcomes of development." In other words, the human brain evolved to be plastic in important ways, and its ability to reorganize brain circuits and to learn is a biological adaptation.

Amanda Schaffer is a frequent contributor to Slate.

Article URL: http://www.slate.com/id/2124503/


By Jason Rosenhouse

In a privately published volume entitled The Evolution of Man Scientifically Disproved, in Fifty Arguments, the Reverend William A. Williams, writing in 1925, offered the following thought:

The evolution theory, especially as applied to man, likewise is disproved by mathematics. The proof is overwhelming and decisive. Thus God makes the noble science of mathematics bear testimony in favor of the true theories and against the false theories.

This refrain has been a mainstay of creationist literature ever since.

Claims of mathematical disproof of evolution typically make use of probability theory. The idea is to show that it so improbable that a given complex biological structure, such as the vertebrate eye, could have evolved gradually that it is effectively impossible for it to have done so. Frequently this argument will include actual calculations purporting to place the assertion on a rigorous mathematical footing.

As a professional mathematician, I am well aware of how impressive such calculations can appear to people untrained in probability. Math is unique in its ability to bamboozle a lay audience, which helps explain why creationists find it so appealing. Happily, though, you do not need to slog through the details of such a calculation to know that it is not correct. Probability theory is a major branch of mathematics that finds countless applications in a variety of sciences, but it is not powerful enough to support the sweeping conclusions creationists are trying to draw. To understand why, let us consider the basic elements of the subject.

To Read More of This Column Visit: http://www.csicop.org/creationwatch/

Comments on the column should be address to Jason Rosenhouse at rosenhjd@jmu.edu

Jason Rosenhouse is the author of EvolutionBlog , providing commentary on developments in the endless dispute between evolution and creationism.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Evolution debate may play out in schools


August 17, 2005

Backers of 'intelligent design' say Darwin's theory shouldn't go unchallenged

Disputes over evolution have hit home in Indiana

• April 2005 -- Two School Board members in the Kouts-based East Porter County school district, about 33 miles southeast of Gary, raise concerns that new biology textbooks make no reference to creationism. They ask that students be taught other theories. Ultimately, the board votes 6-1 to approve new books that refer only to evolution.

• February 2002 -- More than 1,300 people sign a petition requesting that the Columbus-based Bartholomew Consolidated Schools give creationism equal time with evolution. School officials develop a new social studies class, Topics in Social Science: Human Origins. It encourages students to evaluate the differing theories on the origin of man.

• August 2001 -- A high school chemistry teacher at Lafayette's Jefferson High School is reprimanded for what the school district describes as teaching religion through creationism. Supporters rally around the teacher, who asks that the reprimand be removed. But board members stand firm, and the teacher resigns for a job in another school district.

Sources: National Center for Science Education, Lafayette Journal and Courier, The Times of Northwest Indiana, The Republic

How creationism has fared in court

• 1925 -- Scopes "Monkey Trial" lays groundwork A Tennessee law forbade public schools from teaching any theory that denied the biblical creation story or asserted that humans evolved from lower animals. Teacher John T. Scopes willingly tested the law and was convicted. The Tennessee Supreme Court upheld the law on appeal but set aside the conviction on a technical matter.

• 1968 -- Bans against teaching of evolution struck down Arkansas had a version of the Tennessee law used to prosecute Scopes. A biology teacher in Little Rock challenged the law, and the U.S. Supreme Court struck it down, saying a prohibition against teaching evolution violated the First Amendment.

• 1987 -- Requirements for equal time for creationism rejected Louisiana had a law that forbade the teaching of evolution in public schools unless it was accompanied by instruction in "creation science." The Supreme Court said creationism was a religious belief and violated the First Amendment's prohibition against the establishment of religion.

• 2005 -- Textbook disclaimers questioning evolution illegal The Cobb County, Ga., school district in 2002 began placing stickers on science textbooks stating that evolution is "a theory, not a fact." A federal judge in January ordered the removal of the stickers, reasoning that they were an unconstitutional endorsement of religion because they were created to appease religious objections to evolution. The district is appealing.

• 2005 -- "Intelligent design" in the curriculum A school district in Dover, Pa., said in October 2004 that it would include teaching on intelligent design in its ninth-grade science curriculum. Eight families filed suit in December, claiming it violates the separation of church and state. The case is pending.

Sources: Associated Press, Indiana Department of Education, Wikipedia

Key points of theories on how life began

Here's a quick look at the competing theories on the origin of life:

• Evolution: Maintains humans and all other organisms have a common ancestry, beginning with one-celled creatures almost 4 billion years ago. Differences in organisms are a result of mutations and the process of natural selection, where desirable traits are passed on to future generations.

• Creationism: Maintains a supreme being or deity created the universe, the Earth and human beings. Many variations exist under that umbrella. Young-Earth creationists say the Earth is a few thousand years old and came about as described in the Bible's Book of Genesis. Old-Earth creationists agree that God created the universe but say the Bible can't be taken literally when it comes to details such as the age of the Earth. They generally accept what astronomers and geologists say about the Earth's age.

• Intelligent design: Maintains an intelligent cause rather than the random process of natural selection and mutation best explains some features of the natural world, particularly in certain organisms that are "irreducibly complex" and that could not have existed in a simpler form. Identifying the intelligence behind the design is not a prerequisite, but many supporters point to God.

Sources: American Association for the Advancement of Science, Discovery Institute, Wikipedia

By Robert King

When some residents in Columbus petitioned the School Board three years ago to give the Bible's creation account equal time with evolution, school officials came up with a novel response.

They created a new class -- under the heading of social studies -- that examines all the theories on human origins. Not only did the class cover evolution and creationism, it also surveyed Navajo beliefs, the Hindu creation story and a host of other perspectives.

Greg Lewis, the social studies chairman at Columbus East High School, figured a skeptical public would put his Human Origins class under the microscope. "Teaching the course was like walking a tightrope," he said.

In the end, the dissection Lewis expected never came. The course's treatment of the issues seemed to soothe the population to the point that, after two semesters, so few kids were interested in the subject there weren't enough to fill a course section.

Such a quiet resolution is unusual in this red-hot front in the culture war. The debate has been re-energized by President Bush's recent remark that public schools -- now almost exclusively the turf of Charles Darwin and evolutionary theory -- should also teach "intelligent design."

Intelligent design is the theory that there is evidence of a guiding hand in the way the natural world has developed.

The confrontation is evident in Fishers, where a fledgling advocacy group is threatening to sue Hamilton Southeastern Schools if the district fails to give a "balanced and nonpartisan" view of the origins of life -- in other words, to let Darwin's critics get equal time.

The group -- headed by Delaware County resident Alex P. Oren -- has a stated mission to stop "the influence of atheism and immorality" in public schools. While his faith motivates his effort, Oren insists he isn't seeking equal time for God, just the arguments against evolution.

"This is not science versus religion," he said. "This is science versus science."

An evolving debate

Oren chose Hamilton Southeastern to file a notice of intent to sue because he sees the school system as a growing, progressive district in suburban Indianapolis. A win there, he hopes, will ripple across the state.

Nearly 150 years after Darwin proposed that life evolved through natural selection, evolution has become the bedrock for modern science. But it is clear that many people remain unconvinced that it is the ultimate explanation for life.

In fact, a Harris poll conducted in June found that nearly two-thirds of Americans believe human beings were created directly by God. A majority said public schools should teach evolution, creationism and intelligent design.

As put by Geeta Nevrekar, whose son Vikram is an incoming freshman at Hamilton Southeastern High: "You have to know both sides. It is better to know, and then the kids will have to decide which they think is the right one."

Vestiges of evolutionary theory show up in Indiana science lessons in early grades. But Hamilton Southeastern officials say evolution comes up specifically in ninth-grade biology.

Karen Rogers, the science curriculum program director for the Indiana Department of Education, is willing to accept intelligent design or creationism in classes such as religious studies. But she said it has no place in science classes because it simply is "nonscientific."

Evolution, she said, is more than what the street use of the term "theory" conveys. Rather than just a guess about who is going to win the Super Bowl, it is something that has been "tested and retested and continues to be supported by the evidence," Rogers said.

She contends that intelligent design fails in this regard. "It can't be tested," she said. "So to pretend that it could be would not be helping students see the distinction about what is science and doing what science truly entails."

Repackaged creationism?

Conflicts between evolution and creationism have tended to arise after concerted efforts to bolster science education in America, said Glenn Branch, deputy director for the National Center for Science Education, a not-for-profit group based in Oakland, Calif., devoted to keeping the theory of evolution in public schools.

The landmark Scopes trial in 1925 came after a push for improved education following World War I, Branch said. When America went on a science binge following the Soviet launch of Sputnik, similar controversies arose.

The current catharsis, Branch said, is a response to the standards-based education reforms that have shifted control of curriculums from local schools to the state and national levels -- including through Bush's own No Child Left Behind Act.

"When you get competent educators together to write standards, they are going to include evolution," Branch said.

He insists intelligent design must show that it is more than "repackaged" creationism by producing scientific papers that can be subjected to peer review. Instead, Branch said intelligent design's case is built only on publicity.

"There's been no significant challenge to evolution," Branch said.

William Dembski, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and a leading advocate of intelligent design, disagrees. The Seattle-based institute promotes what it calls a "positive vision of the future" on a wide variety of issues.

Dembski, who also is the head of the Center for Science and Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said the idea of evolution through a purely natural selection requires its own leap of faith.

There are examples in nature of organisms that have so many interrelated parts they couldn't possibly have existed in a reduced form, he said.

"We need engineering concepts to understand these systems," he said. "Evidence for trial-and-error tinkering is just not there to account for them."

Intelligent design has enough support in Kansas that it appears likely to wind up in the state's science curriculum. A school district in Pennsylvania made intelligent design a part of the curriculum and was promptly sued. That case is pending.

The revolt against evolution, however, goes beyond schools.

A Cincinnati ministry called Answers in Genesis is raising money to build a creation museum as an alternative to natural history museums. A group in Tulsa, Okla., narrowly lost a bid to set up a creation display in the public zoo based on similar concerns.

Here in Indiana, Oren freely acknowledges that his challenge to Hamilton Southeastern is motivated by his belief in the biblical account of creation. And for him, the stakes in the fight for public schools couldn't be higher.

"For many kids, this is where it begins," he said. "The choice between God or no God often comes right here."

Call Star reporter Robert King at (317) 444-6089.

Evolutiion losing ground


Wednesday, August 17, 2005

In an article by Dr. Steven Meyer, a Cambridge-trained senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, evidence is running against evolution. One example is the Cambrian explosion. It contained the abrupt appearance of most major animal groups without any transitional forms up the line to the end species. The fossil records show an almost instant appearance with no evolutionary ancestors. That's science.

Aldous Huxley, who zealously promoted evolution, stated, "In profession of a confessed atheist, I had motives for not wanting the world to have meaning. Consequently, I assumed it had none, I was able without difficulty, satisfying reasons for this assumption, for myself and without doubt with most of my contemporaries the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation. The liberation we desired was simultaneous liberation from a certain economic and political system, and liberation from certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual morals." That's philosophy.

I know the difference, do you?

Sidebar to Craig Rapp (letter, Aug. 7): In 10 to 20 years, evolution will be an anachronism, according to Tom ReRosa, executive director of Creation Studies Institute, "Evolution is being seriously challenged in various science venues and is rapidly losing ground."

Perhaps Craig's ancestors swung through trees, but mine didn't.


Evolution goes under microscope



HARVARD University is planning a scientific study of how life emerged on Earth, thrusting one of America's most prestigious universities into a growing and politically-charged debate over alternatives to Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

Opponents of evolution theory said the university's research project showed that science had yet to disprove alternative theories, including the idea of "intelligent design" - such as the hand of God - which is popular with America's religious conservatives.

Proponents of intelligent design argue that nature is so complex that it could not have occurred by random natural selection, as held by Darwin's 1859 theory of evolution, and so must be the work of an unnamed "intelligent cause".

The US president, George Bush, entered the fray earlier this month when he said he believed intelligent design should be taught in schools along with evolution theory so people could better understand the argument between the two sides.

At Harvard, the "Origins of Life in the Universe" study will call on the expertise of various disciplines including biology, chemistry and astronomy to seek scientific answers to long-standing questions about evolution, according to a Harvard official.

The university tried to downplay the timing of the project, saying it was not in response to the debate over intelligent design theory, which has attracted so much attention in the US that it was the cover story of Time magazine earlier this month.

Harvard spokesman B D Colen said they were attempting to tackle the fundamental issues about life, the universe and everything.

"The origins of life in the universe initiative was started several years ago, before questions about the existence or non-existence of some kind of intelligent design became part of the national debate," he said.

"This is a long-term, purely scientific exercise looking at questions about the basic chemical molecular beginnings of life. It's a project that began because scientists are seeking answers to some of the biggest questions ever posed."

But opponents of evolution theory, who have been highly vocal in the US, said the project seemed to indicate that science has yet to fully prove Darwin's theory and claimed it showed there was still room for doubt.

John West, a senior fellow at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, a think-tank that backs intelligent design theory, jumped on the announcement of the research.

"This is... a stunning admission that the current theories do not explain it, and it has not refuted the idea that things are the product of intelligent cause," he said.

The Discovery Institute advocates that schools should teach scientific criticisms of Darwin's theories.

The Harvard project, which is still in its early stages, will receive some initial funding from the university and also raise money from other organisations. Harvard declined to comment on how much it planned to spend on the project, but the Boston Globe newspaper reported that the bill would be in the region of £550,000 annually over the next few years.

Professor David Liu, of Harvard's chemistry department, was sanguine about the claims by supporters of intelligent design. While living systems are complex, he said, science should eventually provide the answers.

"My expectation is that we will be able to reduce this to a very simple series of logical events that could have taken place with no divine intervention," Professor Liu said.

Raphael: Bible study: Can we leave beliefs out of it?



Wednesday, August 17, 2005

An American-Statesman headline from earlier this month might have made you scratch your head: "Clergy group attacks Bible study course in schools." Why would clergy attack a Bible course? Isn't that the ACLU's job?

The Texas Freedom Network, a non-sectarian religious freedom organization, had issued the report on a textbook for elective Bible courses in public high schools. Professor Mark Chancey, a biblical scholar at Southern Methodist University, found that the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools' textbook advances religious claims — and not just any religious claims, but those characteristic of conservative Protestantism.

The controversy raises the question: Can the Bible be taught in a purely academic manner?

Of course it can. Biblical scholars do it all the time. How? And is any Bible course acceptable if it is non-sectarian? Non-sectarian indicates the absence of religious doctrines specific to one sect, but it does not ensure academic quality.

The U.S. Supreme Court's distinction between teaching religion and teaching about religion points to how any academic matter is framed.

The academic frame is empirical and public. It deals with human experience, by methods that are also within human experience. Who wrote the Gospel of Mark, and when? The question is historical. It's the same kind of question as who wrote "Hamlet" and when. To answer it, we look at documents, references to historical events citations in other sources, the stage of the language and similar matters.

Were Mark or Shakespeare divinely inspired? To answer that, we would have to stand outside experience and observe God at work. Academic biblical studies doesn't claim to do that.

Academic study also avoids foregone conclusions — one that puts the cart before the horse. Instead of investigating all relevant evidence, weighing it fairly, and considering alternatives, the advocate of a foregone conclusion selects only what fits what he already believes. This mistake cuts us off from real knowledge and imprisons us within our opinions.

Biblical scholars don't set out to debunk the Bible. Nor do they set out to prove its inerrancy. Debunking and proving are both foregone conclusions: one assumes before investigation that the Bible is always wrong, and the other that it's always correct. No Bible curriculum that assumes inerrancy can be truly academic — not because the subject is the Bible, but because academics never get to assume the inerrancy of anything.

Someone who removes the Bible from inquiry advocates a double standard — one set of rules for one thing, and another for another, when the things in question are of the same type. In some places, the U.S. Constitution acknowledges the existence of slavery, and in another place it prohibits it.

What would a Martian archaeologist think? If her society also has laws, she would probably infer that these Americans had changed theirs. The Torah (Pentateuch) in one place allows earth altars and in another bans all worship outside of a central shrine. Same inference: worship practices changed. That conclusion may unsettle some religious beliefs, but intellectual honesty demands that we don't change the rules for our favorites.

Here I warn of two red herrings. First, this debate is not about whether people have the right to believe anything in particular. Americans can believe whatever they want, no matter what the experts think. We are also free to embrace faith claims that go beyond what any academic inquiry can demonstrate. But liberty doesn't guarantee academic legitimacy. Anything taught in schools must meet a higher standard than merely falling within the scope of our liberties.

Finally, this debate is not about whether the Bible is worth studying. Biblical scholars spend years mastering languages, history and scholarship, then devote their careers to teaching and research in the Bible. Of course we want people to study it. It's one of the foundational texts of Western culture, on the short list of books that any educated person should know.

Even more, the Bible is the hardest book to read because it's the hardest to see: People open it and see only themselves and whatever beliefs they hold dear.

Academic study of the Bible, with its focus on close reading and empirical argumentation, can ameliorate this biblical narcissism. Once we know that the Bible is not our magic mirror telling us that we're rightest in the land, we become aware of our activity as interpreters. And once we know that interpretation is active, not passive, then we are morally responsible for how we read.

Raphael is an assistant professor of religious studies at Texas State in San Marcos.

Evangelical Scientists Refute Gravity With New 'Intelligent Falling' Theory


The Onion August 17, 2005

KANSAS CITY, KSAs the debate over the teaching of evolution in public schools continues, a new controversy over the science curriculum arose Monday in this embattled Midwestern state. Scientists from the Evangelical Center For Faith-Based Reasoning are now asserting that the long-held "theory of gravity" is flawed, and they have responded to it with a new theory of Intelligent Falling.

"Things fall not because they are acted upon by some gravitational force, but because a higher intelligence, 'God' if you will, is pushing them down," said Gabriel Burdett, who holds degrees in education, applied Scripture, and physics from Oral Roberts University.

Burdett added: "Gravity which is taught to our children as a law is founded on great gaps in understanding. The laws predict the mutual force between all bodies of mass, but they cannot explain that force. Isaac Newton himself said, 'I suspect that my theories may all depend upon a force for which philosophers have searched all of nature in vain.' Of course, he is alluding to a higher power."

Founded in 1987, the ECFR is the world's leading institution of evangelical physics, a branch of physics based on literal interpretation of the Bible.

According to the ECFR paper published simultaneously this week in the International Journal Of Science and the adolescent magazine God's Word For Teens!, there are many phenomena that cannot be explained by secular gravity alone, including such mysteries as how angels fly, how Jesus ascended into Heaven, and how Satan fell when cast out of Paradise.

The ECFR, in conjunction with the Christian Coalition and other Christian conservative action groups, is calling for public-school curriculums to give equal time to the Intelligent Falling theory. They insist they are not asking that the theory of gravity be banned from schools, but only that students be offered both sides of the issue "so they can make an informed decision."

"We just want the best possible education for Kansas' kids," Burdett said.

Proponents of Intelligent Falling assert that the different theories used by secular physicists to explain gravity are not internally consistent. Even critics of Intelligent Falling admit that Einstein's ideas about gravity are mathematically irreconcilable with quantum mechanics. This fact, Intelligent Falling proponents say, proves that gravity is a theory in crisis.

"Let's take a look at the evidence," said ECFR senior fellow Gregory Lunsden."In Matthew 15:14, Jesus says, 'And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.' He says nothing about some gravity making them falljust that they will fall. Then, in Job 5:7, we read, 'But mankind is born to trouble, as surely as sparks fly upwards.' If gravity is pulling everything down, why do the sparks fly upwards with great surety? This clearly indicates that a conscious intelligence governs all falling."

Critics of Intelligent Falling point out that gravity is a provable law based on empirical observations of natural phenomena. Evangelical physicists, however, insist that there is no conflict between Newton's mathematics and Holy Scripture.

"Closed-minded gravitists cannot find a way to make Einstein's general relativity match up with the subatomic quantum world," said Dr. Ellen Carson, a leading Intelligent Falling expert known for her work with the Kansan Youth Ministry. "They've been trying to do it for the better part of a century now, and despite all their empirical observation and carefully compiled data, they still don't know how."

"Traditional scientists admit that they cannot explain how gravitation is supposed to work," Carson said. "What the gravity-agenda scientists need to realize is that 'gravity waves' and 'gravitons' are just secular words for 'God can do whatever He wants.'"

Some evangelical physicists propose that Intelligent Falling provides an elegant solution to the central problem of modern physics.

"Anti-falling physicists have been theorizing for decades about the 'electromagnetic force,' the 'weak nuclear force,' the 'strong nuclear force,' and so-called 'force of gravity,'" Burdett said. "And they tilt their findings toward trying to unite them into one force. But readers of the Bible have already known for millennia what this one, unified force is: His name is Jesus."

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Acupuncture May Improve Sperm Quality, Say Researchers


by John C. Martin Article Date: 08-16-05

Acupuncture may be beneficial for men who have certain types of infertility, suggests a new preliminary study.1 But after some inconsistent findings, the research team also stressed that more study is necessary before this can be applied in the clinical setting.

"The use of traditional or complementary/alternative medicine (CAM) for health care has been increasing, including the use of acupuncture for the treatment of infertility," wrote Jian Pei, PhD, of Christian-Lauritzen-Institut in Ulm, Germany, who led the study, and his colleagues.

Encouraging results from other studies prompted Pei and his team to find out if acupuncture could improve the structure of sperm in men with infertility.

An Ancient Approach

The use of acupuncture dates back more than 2,000 years in China, but became more common in the United States in the early 1970s. The approach involves stimulating anatomical parts of the body using a variety of techniques. The more common approach used in this country involves penetrating the skin with thin, metallic needles that are manipulated by a practitioner's hands or through electrical stimulation.2

The use of acupuncture has surged in popularity in the United States in the past 20 years. According to a government survey, about 8 million American adults reported that they had used acupuncture at some point in their lives, and an estimated 2 million reported they had used the approach in the previous year.3

Achieving and Maintaining a Balance

Based on traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the body comprises two opposing yet inseparable forces: yin and yang. Yin represents the cold, slow, passive principle, while yang represents the hot, excited, active principle. Acupuncture is designed to maintain a balance between these two states, which disease tends to disrupt, according to TCM principles. Creating this imbalance blocks the flow of qi (chee), according to Chinese medicine. The blockage occurs along pathways known as meridians, and more than 2,000 points on the human body connect with these meridians.2

While it's not completely understood how or why acupuncture works, studies have suggested that it helps regulate the nervous system, which results in the production of pain-killing biochemicals like endorphins,4 or it may alter brain chemistry by releasing beneficial chemicals that target the nervous system.5

Does Acupuncture Benefit Infertile Men?

Male patients were recruited for this study from a group of infertility patients who were seeking treatment at the researchers' medical institution. All study participants underwent a complete workup, which pointed to an unknown male factor responsible for each couple's infertility. Each man in the study was assigned at random to a group receiving acupuncture therapy for a total of 5 weeks, or a group receiving no treatment. Then, outcomes of both groups were compared.

A semen sample was collected from each patient before the study began, and then again after the study concluded. After separating the sperm from the semen, the researchers determined whether their structure was normal or not. To eliminate the possibility of bias, none of the researchers knew whether the sperm they were observing were from men who underwent acupuncture or no treatment.

More Healthy Sperm Reported

When sperm were analyzed before the study began, the researchers noted that the numbers of healthy sperm in all patients were very low, "confirming the presence of male factor infertility." However, after five weeks of acupuncture therapy, the numbers of healthy sperm in the men receiving treatment significantly improved, Pei's group wrote. The average percentage of healthy sperm improved by about a quarter percent following acupuncture, they noted.

Next, the study team wanted to know which parts of the sperm directly responded to acupuncture therapy. They did this by comparing the structure of certain sections on the sperm before and after treatment.

They found that the normal position of the acrosome (AK-roh-sohm), a membrane-enclosed section on the head of the sperm that contains enzymes used in fertilization, improved an average of about 8% in the sperm from men who underwent acupuncture. That compares to about a 6% improvement, on average, in the sperm from men who received no treatment.

The normal shape of the acrosome also improved up to 38%, on average, Pei and his colleagues reported.

Inconsistent Findings

Other measures of sperm structure varied, however. In some cases, there was an improvement in certain structural defects in the sperm from the men undergoing acupuncture, but in other analyses, no differences were found between the treatment or non-treatment groups.

Despite the non-congruent results, Pei's group concluded that the use of acupuncture may improve sperm quality. However, further research is necessary to confirm these findings. "Our future aim is [to] strengthen our findings by enlarging the study group for more investigations," they wrote.

1. Pei J, Strehler E, Noss U et al. Quantitative evaluation of spermatozoa ultrastructure after acupuncture treatment for idiopathic male infertility. Fertil Steril 2005 Jul;84(1):141-7.

2. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). National Institutes of Health (NIH). Get the Facts: Acupuncture. Available at: http://nccam.nih.gov/health/acupuncture/#2. Accessed August 9, 2005.

3. Barnes PM, Powell-Griner E, McFann K, Nahin RL. Complementary and alternative medicine use among adults: United States, 2002. CDC Advance Data Report #343. 2004.

4. Hsu DT. Acupuncture: A review. Reg Anesth 1996 Jul-Aug;21(4):361-70.

5. Chen GS. Enkephalin, drug addiction and acupuncture. Am J Chin Med (Gard City NY) 1977 Sprin;5(1):25-30.

John Martin is a long-time health journalist and an editor for Priority Healthcare. His credits include overseeing health news coverage for the website of Fox Television's The Health Network, and articles for the New York Post and other consumer and trade publications.

Scientist's complaint backed


By Joyce Howard Price
August 16, 2005

A preliminary federal investigation supports a government scientist's complaint that he was shown bias by Smithsonian Institution colleagues after a science journal he edited published a report on the theory of "intelligent design."

However, the Office of Special Counsel informed the complainant, Richard Sternberg, that it is ending the probe into the case because of jurisdictional questions and the Smithsonian's refusal to "voluntarily participate in any additional investigation" into his grievance.

"They will legally challenge our jurisdictional authority," James McVay, principal special assistant to the special counsel, told Mr. Sternberg in an 11-page letter dated Aug. 5. Mr. McVay added he does not think Mr. Sternberg could win that fight.

Asked to comment on Mr. McVay's findings, Michele Urie, spokeswoman for the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, said, "We've heard nothing from the Office of Special Counsel."

Intelligent design challenges the Darwinian theory of evolution, contending that the origins of life forms are better explained by an unspecified intelligent agent than by such unguided processes as natural selection and genetic mutation.

Mr. Sternberg, a research associate at the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History, said he was "singled out for harassment and threats" by others at the Smithsonian, who viewed him as a "creationist" after the publication of the intelligent design article last year.

Mr. Sternberg said Mr. McVay "found strong support for my complaint" and cited "concrete examples" of where Smithsonian personnel demonstrated "discrimination" against him for perceived religious and political views.

Mr. McVay cited e-mail in which Mr. Sternberg was described as a "creationist." He said one message asserted that Mr. Sternberg had "extensive training as an orthodox priest" and that the paper he published was a "sheer disaster," which made the institution a "laughingstock."

Mr. Sternberg, 41, who holds two doctorates in evolutionary biology, is employed at the National Center for Biotechnology Information, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). As part of his duties there, he does research at the Smithsonian.

As Mr. McVay pointed out, Mr. Sternberg is classified as a Title 42 scientist -- a federal classification that, under a recent ruling, is denied "protections offered under the offices of" the Office of Special Counsel.

In addition, Mr. McVay said the initial probe "supports the [Smithsonian's] contention that you are not an employee" and therefore are not covered "under the jurisdictional statutes imposed upon OSC."

From December 2001 until last fall, Mr. Sternberg served as managing editor of the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. In the August 2004 issue of the journal, Mr. Sternberg published an article on intelligent design written by Stephen C. Meyer, a fellow at the Discovery Institute in Seattle.

In his complaint with the special counsel, Mr. Sternberg said he was belittled by a Smithsonian supervisor and other employees after the article appeared. He said museum authorities contacted his employers at NIH, seeking his ouster.

Harvard denies study is a response to creationism


Polly Curtis, education correspondent
Tuesday August 16, 2005

Harvard University today dismissed reports that it was stepping into the politically charged debate about the origins of life by conducting a major scientific investigation into how the world came to be.

American newspapers and the international news agency Reuters today reported that the university was planning a new research project entitled "origins of life in the universe" in a move which propelled the university into the conflict over the teaching of creationism in schools.

America is gripped by the row, which stems from moves by religious groups to campaign for schools to teach alternatives to the scientific evolutionary version of how the world came about. Some have argued for the teaching of the religious version, creationism, which argues that God created the world.

The latest move has been to have schools teach "intelligent design" a theory which argues that the world is too complex to have come about from the natural selection theory of evolution alone. The US president, George Bush, has backed the teaching of intelligent design.

The Harvard project is a cross-discipline project bringing chemists, biologists and physicists together to re-examine the scientific basis of evolutionary theory.

B D Colen, a spokesman for the university, told EducationGuardian.co.uk: "The origins of life in the universe initiative was started several years ago before questions about the existence or non-existence of some kind of intelligent design became part of the national debate and this is a long-term purely scientific exercise looking at questions about the basic chemical molecular beginnings of life."

"This is ... a stunning admission that the current theories do not explain [the origin of life], and [have] not refuted the idea that things are the product of intelligent cause," John West, a senior fellow at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, a thinktank that backs intelligent design theory, told Reuters.

Unintelligent Design


August 16, 2005, 8:26 a.m.

Hostility toward religious believers at the nation's museum.

By David Klinghoffer

The Smithsonian Institution is a national treasure of which every American can legitimately feel a sense of personal ownership. Considering this, I'd imagine widespread displeasure as more Americans become aware that senior scientists at the publicly funded Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History have reportedly been creating a "hostile work environment" for one of their colleagues merely because he published a controversial idea in a biology journal.

The controversial idea is Intelligent Design, the scientific critique of neo-Darwinism. The persecuted Smithsonian scientist is Richard von Sternberg, the holder of two PhDs in biology (one in theoretical biology, the other in molecular evolution). While the Smithsonian disputes the case, Sternberg's version has so far been substantiated in an investigation by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC), an independent federal agency.

A lengthy and detailed letter from OSC attorney James McVay, dated August 5, 2005, and addressed to Sternberg, summarizes the government's findings, based largely on e-mail traffic among top Smithsonian scientists. A particularly damning passage in the OSC letter reads:

Our preliminary investigation indicates that retaliation [against Sternberg by his colleagues] came in many forms. It came in the form of attempts to change your working conditions...During the process you were personally investigated and your professional competence was attacked. Misinformation was disseminated throughout the SI [Smithsonian Institution] and to outside sources. The allegations against you were later determined to be false. It is also clear that a hostile work environment was created with the ultimate goal of forcing you out of the SI.

Meanwhile, on the basis of the "misinformation" directed against him, Sternberg's career prospects were being ruined.

Offensive Proceedings

What exactly was his offense? Some background is in order. In a January Wall Street Journal op-ed, I reported the story of how Sternberg, a Smithsonian research associate, suffered as a result of his editing a technical peer-reviewed biology journal, The Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington.

The journal is housed at the Smithsonian, though it's nominally independent. For his part, formally, Sternberg is employed by the National Institute of Health, though his agreement with his employer stipulates that he may spend 50 percent of his time working at the Smithsonian. So when the August 2004 issue of the Proceedings appeared, under Sternberg's editorship, Sternberg's managers at the Smithsonian took a keen interest in a particular article — the first paper laying out the evidence for ID to be published in a peer-reviewed technical journal.

The article was "The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories," by Stephen Meyer, a Cambridge University PhD in the philosophy of biology. He's currently a senior fellow at Seattle's Discovery Institute. In the essay, Meyer reviewed the work of scientists around the world — at places like Oxford, Cambridge, Yale, and the University of Chicago — who have cast doubt on whether Darwinian evolution can explain the sudden infusion of genetic "information" and the resulting explosion of between 19 and 34 new animal phyla (body plans) about 530 million years ago — the Cambrian Explosion. Meyer argued that perhaps an unidentified designing intelligence played a role in the event.

No Way to Treat a "Respected Scientist

However strong you think the argument is for Intelligent Design — and I'm no scientist — most reasonable people would agree that an ID theoretician should, without fear of retaliation, be allowed to state his case for the consideration of fellow scientists. This was the view held by Sternberg, who isn't himself an advocate of ID. However, according to the OSC's investigation, when the Meyer article was published, Sternberg's managers were outraged and a number of them sought a strategy that would make him pay.

Writes the OSC's McVay: "Within two weeks of receiving the Meyer article in the Proceedings, four managers at the SI and NMNH [National Museum of Natural History] expressed their desire to have your access to the SI denied." A typical internal e-mail on the subject fumed, "I hope we are not even considering extending his access to space." (All quotations from e-mails given here are taken from the OSC's letter to Sternberg.) Another expresses frustration that a good pretext for dismissing him had so far not been identified: "As he hasn't (yet) been discovered to have done anything wrong,... the sole reason to terminate his appt seems to be that the host unit has suddenly changed its mind. If that's OK w/NMNH, let me know and I'll send him a letter stating so." One manager huffed, "Well, if you ask me, a face-to-face meeting or at least a 'you are welcome to leave or resign' call with this individual is in order." The same e-mail indicated that a manager had been compiling trivial offenses by Sternberg that could be cited in telling him to get out. Among other things, the Smithsonian staffer had gone over Sternberg's library records. He "has currently 50 books checked out from the SI library (I checked this with the library)."

One bright idea was to tear apart the traditional veil of secrecy concerning the identities of the scientists ("peers") who had reviewed and approved Meyer's article before publication. The "serious effort" to do this, as the OSC document relates, would represent an unprecedented and unethical act within your [Sternberg's] field. They also assumed that you [Sternberg] violated editorial regulations of the Proceedings because you were the primary editor of the article. These comments were made to and by SI and NMNH managers and were published to several outside organizations. It was later revealed that you complied with all editorial requirements of the Proceedings and that the Meyer article was properly peer reviewed by renowned scientists. As an aside, the information received by OSC does not indicate that any effort was made to recall or correct these comments once the truth was made known.

One disturbing element in the affair concerns Sternberg's allegations that his supervisor, Zoology Department chairman Jonathan Coddington, called around the museum to check out Sternberg's religious and political affiliations. After I wrote about this in Wall Street Journal, Coddington, who had repeatedly ignored my telephone calls asking for his side of the story, responded on a favorite website of Darwinists.

Coddington wrote: "As for prejudice on the basis of beliefs or opinions, I repeated and consistently emphasized to staff...that private beliefs and/or controversial editorial decisions were irrelevant in the workplace...that [Sternberg] was an established and respected scientist, and that he would at all times be treated as such."

The OSC investigation directly contradicts this: "...at the same time many other actions were taken during the uproar over the Meyer article, your [Sternberg's] supervisor was questioning your friends about your personal political and religious background."

The investigation also contradicts Coddington's assertion that no actions were ever taken against Sternberg: "At no time did anyone deny him [research] space, keys, or access." According to the OSC, "they denied your access by taking your master key." The museum "prevented you from having the same access to the research specimens," access "given to others [who] do not have the same hindrances."

No Culture of Truth

Whether, in the end, Sternberg's legal rights were violated remains unclear. Owing to what the OSC's McVay describes as a "complicated jurisdictional puzzle," it turns out that because Sternberg is employed by the National Institute of Health he is "effectively remove[d]..from the protections granted under the auspices of OSC." So the OSC investigation is being closed.

Whether or not Sternberg's Smithsonian managers broke the law, the OSC's preliminary investigation certainly opens a window on the culture of the Smithsonian, a venerated institution where the unfettered search for truth is supposed to be the rule, and where, one also hopes, the people who fund that search would be respected.

And yet, quite apart from Sternberg's treatment, the e-mail traffic at the Smithsonian gives ample evidence not of respect for ordinary Americans but of contempt, especially if those Americans are religious believers. One senior SI staffer commented ruefully about the Meyer article in an e-mail quoted in the OCS document: "We are evolutionary biologists, and I am sorry to see us made into the laughing stock of the world [by publishing Meyer's article criticizing Darwinian theory], even if this kind of rubbish [that is, Intelligent Design] sells well in backwoods USA." One e-mail generously granted, "Scientists have been perfectly willing to let these people alone in their churches." Another from a scientist at the museum told of how, after "spending 4.5 years in the Bible Belt," the writer had learned how to deal with religious Christians. For example, he described the "fun we had" when "my son refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance because of the 'under dog' [meaning presumably the 'under God'] part."

The Smithsonian is indeed a treasure, beloved by millions of Americans who visit it from across the country. How sad that some of the scientists who work there feel this way about the people who pay their salaries. Whether that observation is more or less troubling than the way the same scientists apparently feel about the search for truth is a question every taxpayer will have to decide for himself.

— David Klinghoffer, a former NR literary editor, is a columnist for the Jewish Forward. His most recent book is Why the Jews Rejected Jesus: The Turning Point in Western History. His website is www.davidklinghoffer.com.

Life's origin: Darwinism fights it out with dogma


By Gareth Cook in Boston
August 17, 2005

Harvard University is launching an initiative to discover how life began, joining an ambitious scientific assault on age-old questions central to the debate over the theory of evolution.

Known as the Origins of Life in the Universe Initiative, the project is likely to start with about $US1 million ($1.3 million) annually from the university, and will bring together scientists from fields as disparate as astronomy and biology, to understand how life emerged on Earth, and how this might have happened on distant planets.

The initiative begins amid increasing controversy over the teaching of evolution, prompted by proponents of "intelligent design", who argue that even the most modest cell is too complex to have come about without unseen intelligence.

The US President, George Bush, recently said intelligent design should be discussed in schools, along with evolution. Like intelligent design, the Harvard project begins with awe at the nature of life, and with an admission that, almost 150 years after Charles Darwin outlined his theory of evolution in On the Origin of Species, scientists cannot explain how the process began.

Now, encouraged by a confluence of scientific advances, such as the discovery of water on Mars and an increased understanding of the chemistry of early Earth, the Harvard scientists hope to help change that.

"We start with a mutual acknowledgment of the profound complexity of living systems," said David Liu, a professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Harvard. "My expectation is we will be able to reduce this to a very simple series of logical events that could have taken place with no divine intervention."

But opponents of evolution theory say the project seems to indicate science has yet to fully prove Darwin's theory.

"This is … a stunning admission the current theories do not explain it, and it has not refuted the idea that things are the product of intelligent cause," said John West, a senior fellow at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, a think tank that backs intelligent design theory.

The Discovery Institute advocates schools teach scientific criticisms of Darwin's theories.

The Harvard project, still in its early stages, will receive some initial funding from the university and also raise money from other organisations. The initiative is part of a dramatic rethinking of how to conduct scientific research at the university.

Many of science's most interesting questions are emerging in the boundaries between traditional disciplines such as physics, chemistry and biology, yet universities are largely organised by those disciplines.

Harvard's president, Lawrence Summers, is a proponent of the view that universities must develop new structures to encourage interdisciplinary science.

One of the central goals of the Harvard initiative is to understand the different ways that life might form, according to Dimitar Sasselov, a Harvard astronomer who is organising the university's origins-of-life project.

"There is no reason to think that biology would be the same from planet to planet, but physics and chemistry should be the same," he said. Professor Sasselov specialises in finding planets around other stars.

Within the next decade, NASA plans to launch the first of two terrestrial planet finders, space telescopes that pick out the flickering light of planets near the bright blaze of distant stars.

The Boston Globe



Theory: All organisms were created by the fiat of an omnipotent Creator, and did not gradually develop. Recently known as "intelligent design".

Compulsory reading: The Holy Bible's Book of Genesis.


Theory: A process of continuous genetic adaptation that results in inheritable changes in a population of organisms spread over many generations.

Compulsory reading: Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species .

Monday, August 15, 2005

Princely row over herbal GPs


Some 150 GPs have signed up as associates of Prince Charles' alternative medicine foundation, it was reported yesterday.

Associates of the Foundation for Integrated Health are expected to offer a range of herbal treatments and complementary medicines.

But the project was condemned by a leading researcher into alternative medicine.

Professor Edzard Ernst, of Exeter University, accused the foundation of putting out "dangerous and misleading information".

He told the Sunday Times: "If it enters the realm of general practice it seems to me more like an attempt to brainwash GPs and patients."

He added: "There is not a shred of evidence to clinically support using spiritual healing, craniosacral therapy (head massage) or acupuncture to stop smoking.

"This touch of royal support does complementary medicine no favours when we have a unique opportunity to place it on an evidence-based footing."

A spokesman for the foundation told the paper: "We believe that in time, by unifying like-minded doctors who want to integrate complementary healthcare into their practices, a wider range of treatments will be available to patients across the country."

Date: August 15th 2005

Intelligent design must be used in an intelligent way


Teach ID as a philosophy, not as a science

Because of one statement by the president at a recent news conference, we have not had so much talk about creation versus evolution since the Scopes "Monkey Trial."

Last week, in responding to a reporter's question about "intelligent design," President Bush stated, "Both sides ought to be properly taught... so people can understand what the debate is about." Bush added: "Part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought... You're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas and the answer is yes."

If one parsed the latter portion of the president's statement, it is hard to argue. There is nothing wrong with exposing people to different ideas. In fact, the lack thereof, in my opinion, has been one of the major failings of this administration. Unfortunately, this is not where the heart of the debate lies.

Is intelligent design to creationism much like what Henry Ford is to the assembly line? The more important question is not what is intelligent design, but where should it be taught.

I suspect that the narcotic of emotionalism, which has little use for systematic observations, data or critical thinking, fuels a portion of the debate on both sides.

Lest we forget, as recently as the 1960s teaching about evolution in schools was a crime in several states. Since the Supreme Court overturned such laws in 1968, there has been a campaign to get creationism back in public schools.

Several states, including the Kansas Board of Education -- which is reworking its biology curriculum to accommodate intelligent design -- have taken seriously to the notion of requiring teachers to provide "alternative theories" of evolution.

Intelligent design seems to be nothing more than a market-tested pseudonym for "creation science" that ascribes creation to an indefinable cosmic force that has all the great taste of the God of Genesis, but without the controversial separation of church and state.

What I find problematic is the attempt by which certain groups seek to fit the public at large into the narrow straight-jacket of their myopic world view.

Darwinism does not account for everything, but it has gone through the requisite rigors and examination. Advocates of intelligent design have been far more successful lobbying state legislatures than engaging in the scientific due diligence necessary to make their case.

Contrary to the public conversation, there is no conflict between evolution and creation. One is a theory of empirical development while the other is a declaration of divine meaning and purpose.

I do not want unsubstantiated theories to be placed on par with those who have completed the necessary work any more than I want scientists to assist the church in understanding why Genesis has two creation stories.

For all of the effort to place intelligent design in the public schools, would not such energies be better served to understand why the richest country in the world will have roughly 25 million children going to bed hungry tonight?

Intelligent design, as I understand it, depends on conjecture. That alone eliminates it as a science. It is extremely dangerous and cavalier to advocate that metaphysical approaches be interwoven into the physical disciplines.

This does not suggest that it should not be taught. The president is indeed correct that part of education is exposing individuals to different schools of thought.

Just as economic departments offer Marxist philosophy and creative writing courses may use works varying in style from F. Scott Fitzgerald to Gertrude Stein to Zora Neale Hurston, there is room for intelligent design. But not as a science.

If advocates of intelligent design merely want their views placed in the public conversation, why not teach it as a philosophy?

If that is done, students are free to make up their own minds while maintaining the principles of reason and critical thinking. This seems to be the only logical approach unless, of course, reason and critical thinking are what one is trying to eliminate. Byron Williams writes a weekly political/social commentary at Byronspeaks.com. Byron serves as pastor of the Resurrection Community Church in Oakland, California.

Advocates of intelligent design have been far more successful lobbying state legislatures than engaging in the scientific due diligence necessary to make their case.

(c) 2005, byronspeaks.com

Dean Sounds off on Intelligent Design


(CBN News) - Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean has criticized President Bush for suggesting that students should learn about intelligent design, in addition to the theory of evolution.

Intelligent design contends that life is too complex to have evolved by accident. Dean told CBS's "Face the Nation" that there is no factual evidence for intelligent design.

Dean said, "This is the most anti-scientific regime that I've seen in America in my lifetime. I'm a trained physician, as you are aware. I'm insulted by that. It's going to harm America."

Dean did concede that Albert Einstein thought there was some merit to intelligent design.

Childhood Vaccines Pose No Extra Risk for Diseases, Study Finds


By Rob Stein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 10, 2005; Page A10

Contrary to some fears, childhood vaccines do not appear to overwhelm the immune system and make youngsters prone to other infections, according to the largest study to examine the issue.

A Danish study found no increased risk for other infectious diseases among more than 800,000 children who received the standard set of vaccinations.

The findings, published in today's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, should be reassuring to parents, the researchers said.

"There has been a lot of speculation about this hypothesis -- that if you have a lot of these vaccinations, this could perhaps overwhelm or weaken the child's immune system," said Anders Hviid of the Statens Serum Institute in Copenhagen. "We found no support for that hypothesis."

Other experts said the study should help alleviate concerns about multiple vaccines.

"This clearly provides yet another piece of evidence that supports the safety of routine vaccines for children," said Marie McCormick of the Harvard School of Public Health.

Some parents have become concerned that their children could develop health problems if they received multiple vaccinations in the first few years of life. Most of the controversy has focused on thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative that had been used in some vaccines and that some researchers and parents suspect may increase the risk for autism.

But a number of public health organizations have found no link between vaccines and an increased risk for autism or other health problems.

Nevertheless, concerns have persisted. Skeptics said the new study does not address the biggest concern about vaccines: that they may increase the risk of developmental problems in children, such as autism or ailments caused by the immune system attacking the body, known as autoimmune diseases.

"It's not infectious diseases that parents are concerned about," said Barbara Loe Fisher of the National Vaccine Information Center, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Vienna. "They are concerned about learning disabilities and autism and asthma and diabetes."

Walter Orenstein, associate director of the Vaccine Center at Emory University in Atlanta, said the study is important because it was the largest to address the issue. "This is a very reassuring study," he said.

Hviid and his colleagues studied data collected on 805,206 children born in Denmark between 1990 and 2001 for their first five years of life, examining whether any of six standard vaccines children receive increased the risk for seven other major infectious diseases.

The vaccines were Haemophilus influenzae Type B, diphtheria-tetanus-inactivated poliovirus, diphtheria-tetanus-acellular pertussis-inactivated poliovirus, whole-cell pertussis, measles-mumps-rubella, and oral poliovirus. They found no significant increased risk of being hospitalized with the other infections: viral and bacterial pneumonia, bloodstream infections known as septicemia, meningitis, diarrhea, upper respiratory infections, and viral central nervous system infections.

"This is another study that should allay fears about vaccine safety," Hviid said.

Although the timing of childhood vaccinations in Denmark is slightly different than in the United States, the vaccines are the same.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Tax exemption under review


By Darren Barbee
Star-Telegram Staff Writer

The tax-exempt status of faith healer Benny Hinn's $6.5 million world headquarters in Grapevine is being examined by the Tarrant Appraisal District after a televangelist watchdog group this week questioned whether the property should be considered a church.

The review of the property at 3400 William D. Tate Ave., triggered by a request of the Dallas-based Trinity Foundation, is considered somewhat unusual, appraisal district officials said. But any request for a review is investigated as a matter of policy.

The ministry's 58,000-square-foot facility, with 235 employees, passed muster with the district in July 2003, when it was granted a property-tax exemption, according to the ministry and appraisal district documents.

Hinn is known for worldwide crusades in which believers are promised miracle healings. But Trinity contends that the ministry hides its spending from donors and uses donations to provide Hinn with a multimillion-dollar California parsonage and a seven-figure salary.

Ministry spokesman Ronn Torossian said that the Grapevine facility meets all requirements for its tax exemption and that the organization spends all of its money on spreading the gospel and providing for the needy. He lashed out at Trinity President Ole Anthony, calling him and his organization anti-Christian and anti-religious.

"They are on their crusade ... to harm Christianity, to harm religion," Torossian said in a telephone interview from New York. "And we find no credence in anything they say or do."

Anthony said that Trinity, a nonprofit religious organization, brought the matter to the district's attention because he wants to bring "integrity to the body of Christ."

But Anthony also said he opposes ministers "becoming fabulously wealthy on the backs of God's people."

The Grapevine building is used to handle the mail and phone calls of Hinn's ministry, according to Anthony and appraisal district documents. In a Wednesday letter, Anthony asked chief appraiser John Marshall to re-evaluate the gated property, in part because no public worship services are held there and only those with access cards or permission are allowed entry.

"Designating this organization as a church would be tantamount to naming Interstate Batteries, General Motors, the Dallas Cowboys and other for-profit corporations as churches because they hold periodic Bible studies on their premises," Anthony wrote.

Vinita Tribble, the district's support services director, was part of a team that initially examined the property for tax-exempt status.

"What we're doing at this time is re-examining the evidence that we have," Tribble said. She said the district has an obligation to investigate any allegations that an exemption was granted in error.

"It will stay under continual review as the situation develops," she said.

By law, a religious property-tax exemption may be granted if a property is regularly used as a place of worship, she said. That can mean anything from individual meditation to a group ceremony to religious education.

The district approved the ministry's 2003 request for an exemption only after asking for several documents, including the ministry's bylaws and its authorization from the secretary of state to do business in Texas. District officials also asked for a detailed explanation of how the property is used primarily as a place of regular religious worship.

In April 2003, the ministry responded that:

All employees are Christians and have "some form of organized worship, fellowship, prayer and biblical study at the Grapevine property on almost every business day."

The property has a sanctuary devoted to religious worship.

Call-center operators pray with callers and take tithes and offerings.

In addition, Tribble said, the property was granted a certificate of occupancy from Grapevine that described the facility as a church.

"The evidence that I was provided with the application was sufficient ... to bring it within the property-tax exemption statute," she said.

The ministry's attorneys acknowledged to the district that the building does not offer public worship services. And in 2000, a ministry spokesman told the Star-Telegram that the building would be "a traditional corporate office facility. ... There will be no facilities to accommodate the general public."

But not every inch of a property must be devoted to worship to qualify as a church, Torossian said.

"Our underlying religious purpose at our property in Grapevine is that of a church religious organization with religious beliefs and religious services, which are performed," he said.

The case for intelligent design


Ethics and Religion by Michael J. McManus

TIME magazine's cover story, "Evolution Wars," asserts that "The push to teach `intelligent design' raises a question: Does God have a place in science class?" The magazine may be asking the wrong question.

Many advocates of intelligent design I've interviewed do not want to put God in the classroom. These scientists are making a more "modest claim," according to Jonathan Wells, author of "Icons of Evolution".

"We infer from the evidence that some features of the natural world are better explained as the result of an intelligent design rather than an unguided natural process," which is advocated by Darwinists. "Intelligent design works from the evidence not from Scripture."

"Not everything is the result of intelligent design. For example, the breeding of domestic animals has been around for thousands of years, in which existing species changed over the years."

For example, cows which produce more milk are chosen for reproduction, not those with little output. In this case, it is the intelligence of man which is doing the designing.

Darwinists claim that entire new species evolved from earlier species by natural selection. The anti-Darwinsts argue that the scientific evidence points in a different direction.

For example, Wells cites bacterial flagellum, "which could not have been produced by Darwin's thesis of gradual change."

He is speaking of a protrusion of bacteria that performs like a rotary propeller, says Michael Behe, a biochemist. The flagellum is long and whiplike, that "can spin at ten thousand revolutions per minute".

It is an example of "irreducible complexity," a highly complex biological machine, that simply could not have evolved, as Darwinists allege. The world's most efficient motor is tiny, about 0,000 of an inch, most of which is the flagellum.

It has sensory systems that tell the flagellum when to turn on or off, so that it guides the cell to food, light or whatever it is seeking.

Darwin himself wrote in his "Origin of the Species": "If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down."

Let's consider two other examples which appear to refute Darwinism:

1. The Big Bang is how the universe began, according to most cosmologists, scientists who study this issue. However, the assumption of scientists for centuries was that the universe is an unchanging eternal entity.

The discovery that this was an error first came from Albert Einstein who was shocked to find that his theory of relativity did not allow for a static universe.

In 1929 Edward Hubble concluded that the galaxies are moving away from us at enormous velocities.

Even atheistic scientists concede the universe had a beginning, such as Kai Nielson who adds: "It's a stunning confirmation of the millennia-old Judeo-Christian doctrine of creation out of nothing."

The first words of Genesis are: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." But advocates of intelligent design put it this way.

"A cause of space and time must be an uncaused, beginningless, timeless, spaceless, immaterial, personal being endowed with the freedom of will and enormous power. And that is a core concept of God," says William Lane Craig.

2. DNA: Every cell has the now-famous double helix of deoxyribonecleic acid, where the "language of life" is stored.

For 50 years, scientists have studied "the six feet of DNA that is tightly coiled inside of every one of our body's one hundred trillion cells," writes Lee Strobel in his best-seller, "The Case for a Creator". However, some scientists who do believe in evolution, also see God's hand in it.

Francis Collins who announced he had mapped the three billion letters of our own DNA instruction book, is quoted by TIME as saying: "I see no conflict in what the Bible tells me about God and what science tells me about nature.

"Like St. Augustine in A.D. 400, I do not find the wording of Genesis One and Two to suggest a scientific textbook, but a powerful and poetic description of God's intention in creating the universe. The mechanism of creation is left unspecified. If God, who is all powerful, chose to use the mechanism of evolution to create you and me, who are we to say that wasn't an absolutely elegant plan?"

Science's tolls will never prove or disprove God's existence.

For me the fundamental answers about the meaning of life come not from science but from a consideration of the origins of our uniquely human sense of right and wrong, and from the historical record of Christ's life on earth," Collins concludes.

Intelligent design


Originally published on Friday, August 12

When President Bush advocated the teaching of intelligent design, he was endorsing a pseudoscience that should be confined to religion and philosophy classes, not the science curriculum.

ID, as proponents call it, is not science. Intelligent design proposes that the world's complexity is best explained as resulting from an unseen intelligent force, such as God, rather than as a result of Darwinian evolution.

Bush and anyone else is free to believe in intelligent design. The problem is that it's predicated on ideas untested and untestable by scientific research. It's faith disguised as science. A dressed-up version of creationism, to paraphrase one scientist. ...

Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch

Intelligent Design Advocate Optimistic About New Science Standards in Kansas


By Jim Brown
August 12, 2005

(AgapePress) - An intelligent design advocate in Kansas believes the state's new science standards will open up classrooms to discussion of weaknesses in the theory of evolution.

The Kansas Board of Education recently voted 6-4 to include a more comprehensive discussion of evolution in its science standards. The standards are used in developing state tests for fourth-, seventh-, and tenth-graders, though local schools have the final say on what is taught in their classrooms. Students will be tested on the new standards in the 2007-2008 school year. Following an outside review of the standards, the board is expected to vote on final approval in October.

John Calvert represented critics of evolution at the state board's hearings in May. Calvert, who heads the Intelligent Design Network -- based in Shawnee Mission, Kansas -- says scientific criticism of evolutionary theory is currently suppressed in that state's classrooms. New standards, he says, should alleviate that.

"It will remove some of the fear and the apprehension on both sides, both the teacher and the pupil," he explains. "Polling data both in Kansas and throughout the country show parents want a dialogue about this subject that unavoidably impacts religion. They want a more open dialogue."

The Intelligent Design Network leader says the new standards will likely pass the outside review scheduled before the vote this fall.

"We have had a number of expert witnesses vet these changes, looking at them very, very carefully, and they've all testified as to their validity," Calvert says. "And so, for that reason, I would be surprised if there is a change. I know that the board itself is not about to adopt something that's not scientifically valid or educationally appropriate."

Calvert believes teachers are uncertain and apprehensive about how to teach evolution in classrooms, and sometimes are reassigned, disenfranchised, or even disciplined for discussing with students the controversy surrounding evolution.

Jim Brown, a regular contributor to AgapePress, is a reporter for American Family Radio News, which can be heard online.
© 2005 AgapePress all rights reserved

Scientists ask pope to clarify stance on evolution


01:00 AM EDT on Saturday, August 13, 2005

Knight Ridder Newspapers

PHILADELPHIA -- American Catholic educators are not changing how science is taught in Catholic schools even though a prominent Austrian cardinal has said evolution is incompatible with the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

But three leading American scientists are so concerned that an essay by Christoph Schonborn, archbishop of Vienna, could signal a shift in the Catholic Church's long-standing support for evolution that they have asked Pope Benedict XVI to clarify the church's position.

"It has been very important that the Catholic Church has been supportive of evolution," said Lawrence M. Krauss, a physics professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland who wrote the letter.

Schonborn set off the rippling controversy last month with an opinion piece in the New York Times that stated evolution proponents had wrongly claimed that the writings of Pope John Paul II say evolution is compatible with church teachings.

Although the essay was not submitted on behalf of the Vatican, Schonborn told the Times that he had discussed it with Pope Benedict XVI shortly before then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected pope in April.

Schonborn, a member of the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education, has said there are no plans to issue new guidelines for teaching science in Catholic schools, although he believes that students should also learn about other theories.

CATHOLIC EDUCATORS are monitoring the debate but do not expect changes.

"Evolution should be taught as one of many theories," said Louis P. DeAngelo, who oversees curriculum for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. "But the one true principle above all is there's one creator."

Karen Ristau, president of the National Catholic Educational Association, which represents Catholic schools, does not expect a shift in science instruction "unless this changes from theory to dogma."

Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo of Richmond, Va., chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Science and Human Values, said Schonborn was reiterating that the Catholic Church has always linked evolution to God.

The bishop said the essay did not contradict a December letter to U.S. bishops in which DiLorenzo advised: "Assured that scientific truth and religious truth cannot be in conflict, Catholic schools should continue teaching evolution as a scientific theory backed by convincing evidence."

DiLorenzo wrote the letter as the debate over teaching intelligent design in public schools was heating up.

Intelligent design maintains that natural selection alone cannot explain the universe. Proponents say the intricacies of life suggest the presence of an intelligent, purposeful designer. The designer is not identified, but opponents say intelligent design is creationism in a new guise. President Bush has endorsed teaching the theory of intelligent design in classrooms.

Meanwhile, three scientists -- two of them Catholic -- have asked the Pope to clarify the church's position. "We hope very much that the Vatican would issue some form of clarification," said Kenneth Miller, a biology professor at Brown University who signed the letter.

Miller -- a Catholic and the author of Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution -- said the church had long held that evolution could be seen as part of God's plan.

The Discovery Institute in Seattle, a leader in the intelligent-design movement, publicized Schonborn's piece on its Web site. An institute official had encouraged the cardinal to write the essay, a spokesman said.

SCHONBORN TOLD the Times that his essay was a response to a piece that Krauss had written for the newspaper in May and that had said: "Popes from Pius XII to John Paul II have reaffirmed that the process of evolution in no way violates the teachings of the church."

Schonborn told the Times that he had been "angry" for years that many writers and theologians had "misrepresented" the church's position. In his essay, he dismissed Pope John Paul II's widely quoted letter to the Pontifical Academy as a "rather vague and unimportant 1996 letter about evolution."

Schonborn 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."

Miller, the biologist at Brown, said Schonborn was wrong to say the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution must be atheistic. He said the church's support for evolution in a God-centered context had been affirmed over the years. Most recently, he said, that view was set forth by the Vatican's International Theological Commission in a long document released in July 2004. Pope Benedict XVI headed the commission.

Kansas Moves to Stem Role of Evolution in Teaching


By Carey Gillam
Reuters Aug 12, 2005

KANSAS, USA: Jonathan Wells PH.D., a Senior Fellow at the Center for Science & Culture at the Discovery Institute and a supporter of Inteligent Design puts on a presentation about Darwin's Theory of Evolution. (Larry W. Smith/Getty Images)

The 10-member board must still take a final vote, expected in either September or October, but a 6-4 vote Tuesday that approved a draft of the standards essentially cemented a victory for conservative Christian board members who say evolution is largely unproven and can undermine religious teachings about the origins of life on earth.

"We think this is a great development ... for the academic freedom of students," said John West, senior fellow of the Discovery Institute, which supports intelligent design theory.

Intelligent design proposes that some features of the natural world are best explained as products of a considered intent as opposed to a process of natural selection.

The board is sending its drafted standards to a Denver-based education consultant before a final vote, planned for either September or October.

If they win final approval, Kansas will join Minnesota, Ohio and New Mexico, all of which have adopted critical analysis of evolution in the last four years.

The new science standards would not eliminate the teaching of evolution entirely, nor would they require that religious views, also known as creationism, be taught, but it would encourage teachers to discuss various viewpoints.

Critics say the moves are part of a continuing national effort by conservative Christians to push their views into the public education process.

"This is neo-creationism, trying to avoid the legal morass of trying to teach creationism overtly and slip it in through the backdoor," said Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education.

Kansas itself has been grappling with the issue for years, garnering worldwide attention in 1999 when the state school board voted to de-emphasize evolution in science classes.

That was reversed in 2001 with new members elected to the school board. But conservatives again gained the majority in elections in 2004, leading to the newest attacks on evolution.

The science standards the board is revising act as guidelines for teachers about how and what to teach students.

In May, the board of education sponsored a courtroom-style debate over evolution that saw lawyers for each side cross-examining "witnesses" and taking up issues such as the age of the earth, fossil records and beliefs that humans and are too intricately designed to not have a creator.

The hearings came 80 years after evolution was the subject of the famous "Scopes" trial in Tennessee in which teacher John Thomas Scopes was accused of violating a ban against teaching evolution.

Copyright 2000 - 2005 Epoch Times International

Psychic's crystal ball burns down his flat in unforeseen blaze


August 12, 2005

By Alan Hamilton

IF HERVE VANDROT, a French amateur psychic, took out a warranty on his crystal ball, he may soon be claiming on it. Instead of predicting that his flat would catch fire, the fortune-telling device was the cause of the blaze.

M Vandrot, 24, who is studying botanics at Edinburgh University, left the ball on his windowsill while he visited the city's Royal Botanic Garden. By the time he returned, the ball had destroyed his own and two other flats, and had left several others uninhabitable.

The student, who uses the ball for psychic purposes, suffered blistering to his hand when he burst into his burning top-floor flat in the city's Marchmont area in an effort to rescue his university course work. He was removed from the building by some of the 35 firefighters who had arrived to tackle the unforeseen inferno.

Marchmont's streets of elegant Victorian tenements are popular with students. M Vandrot had moved in only two weeks ago.

M Vandrot, released from hospital after a night having his hand treated, denied that his crystal ball had been the cause of the blaze. "I don't think it is capable of doing that. I think it was an electrical fault; the plug of my computer was melted."

Edinburgh's firefighters disagreed, and roundly blamed the ball. "Strong sunlight through glass, particularly if the glass is filled with liquid like a goldfish bowl, concentrates the sun's rays and acts like a magnifying glass," a spokesman said. The fire had been started by the ball concentrating a ray of sunshine on a pile of washing, he said.

One of M Vandrot's friends, who was helping him to sift through the debris yesterday, said: "I don't think it was the crystal ball. I have had crystal balls on my windowsills for years and nothing happened."

One neighbour said: "I think he and his friends are all into fortune-telling and crystal-healing stuff. But I didn't realise the crystals could have that effect. It was a terrible night for us."

Cars and the Stars: Your Astrological Road Report


By the Astrocenter Team

Did you know that the power of the planets zooms into every aspect of your life, down to your car's horsepower? Beyond romance, career choices, and money matters, the astrological forces play out in your personal preferences in surprising ways - even down to the car you decide to buy, and how you drive it!

Knowing the nature of your Sun Sign helps you to understand the basic seat of your personality. Your Sun Sign represents who you are on a core level, and offers clues to how you think about yourself, and how you relate to the world around you. And yes, this includes your driving habits and vehicle choices.

Check out the Sun Signs below for your astrological road report. Find out how the stars inspire our taste in cars and why we drive the way we do on the cosmic highway of life!

Aries: (March 21 - April 19)
The racy Rams are the folks to be wary of on the road. Aries are impatient drivers who don't like to sit at red lights. When they approach an intersection and see the light turning yellow, they'll hit the gas instead of the brake. They are in such a big hurry to get where they're going, so it would not be the least surprising to find them driving a fast, red sports car like a BMW or Porsche. For the more outdoorsy types who need to charge off-road into the wilderness, it seems natural that the perfect choice is the Dodge Ram, named after their ruling archetype.

Taurus: (April 20 - May 20)
Taureans are all about luxury and style. They want a posh, comfortable, smooth ride. And, they want to be seen in a car they are proud of. Taureans love comfort and aren't afraid to spring for heated leather seats, automatic windows, and air conditioning. On the road, they are safe, steady, and defensive drivers. Concerned about security, it isn't surprising to learn that most car alarms are in cars with Taurus owners. They want to protect their investment - especially since they are the ones who have saved up for a new Mercedes Benz or Rolls Royce. While they are saving, the Bull can't go wrong by riding in their namesake, trusty vehicle, the Ford Taurus.

Gemini: (May 21 - June 20)
If you see someone driving haphazardly while talking on his or her cell phone, chances are good you've got your eyes on a Gemini driver. Geminis love to multitask, and they also adore communicating. Being on the road and talking on the phone simultaneously is like heaven for the Twin. These are two great passions for these folks, and they aren't afraid to put to the two together - even if it means driving around like a mad person. Geminis are quick and often can't make up their mind. Be aware of frequent lane changes from these folks. To support their need to whiz around, look for them in a VW Jetta, or zippy Miata.

Cancer: (June 21 - July 22)
Cancers don't like to leave home, but when they do, they feel more secure and comfortable if their car resembles their home. Special keepsakes and trinkets will line the dashboard of many Cancerian vehicles. Their lucky rabbit's foot will dangle from the review mirror and a picture of their kids will be tucked in the overhead sun visor. Cancers like a vehicle they can virtually live in when they're on the road. That is why the VW Vanagon fits them perfectly. An RV, Dodge Caravan, or any large station wagon would also do quite nicely.

Leo: (July 23 - August 22)
Leos are a proud bunch that likes to own the road. They need a large or flashy vehicle that warns other drivers that they are in charge. When merging onto a freeway, the Lion driver is not likely to yield with complacency. They would prefer to have all other drivers yield to them - regardless of who actually has the right of way. A large SUV or monster truck with big tires suits these folks quite well, giving them a nice high vantage point from which to rule the road. Let's not forget Leo's association with big cats; the ultimate luxury car for them is a Jaguar.

Virgo: (August 23 - September 22)
Virgos are practical and budget-oriented. They need a car that will get them from A to B without any special bells and whistles. These folks are champions of good car maintenance and will keep clear, detailed records of oil changes, tire rotations, and fluid levels. They need a car that is reliable, modest, and gets great gas mileage. Give them a Honda Accord or Toyota Tercel and they'll be happy as clams. It's also natural to see them driving a Ford Mercury, named after their ruling planet.

Libra: (September 23 - October 22)
Do you ever wonder about the people who are doing their makeup or fixing their hair while driving? Well, these are the Libras - the kings and queens of fashion and beauty. Their rearview mirror is more often pointed toward themselves instead of toward the back of the car. Who needs to know what's going on behind you when the more pressing concern is how you'll look when you arrive at your destination? Libras are into style and luxury, and they aren't afraid to spend a little extra to get the car that fits them perfectly - a Lincoln, Acura, or Audi.

Scorpio: (October 23 - November 21)
Scorpios like to live on the edge. They are the extremists of the zodiac, and they aren't afraid to drive in the same manner. Have you ever been buzzed by a car going about 130 MPH on the freeway, going so fast that you couldn't even make out the kind of car it was? Well, that was your Scorpio buddy in their new Corvette or Ferrari. Perhaps he or she was outrunning the police - or more likely - an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend. These intense folks are also prone to love motorcycles and like to be wild and free with their hair blowing in the wind.

Sagittarius: (November 22 - December 21)
Ruled by Jupiter, the planet of long-distance travel, these folks are born road warriors. Archers love to travel, explore new places and people, and let the road lead the way. There's no need for a map when you have a Sagittarian on board. Remember that Sag is half human and half horse, so it's natural to see them in a Mustang, their trusty steed. In addition, they'll delight in an adventuresome tour vehicle that holds up well in the Great Outdoors like a Ford Explorer or Toyota Land Cruiser.

Capricorn: (December 22 - January 19)
Sea Goats are drivers with a plan. Before they leave the house, they have their exact route carefully structured and mapped. They may have even cross-referenced a couple Internet sources to get the most efficient directions possible. Capricorns have half the trunk filled with emergency gear like jumper cables, toolkits, extra maps, cases of oil, windshield-washing fluid, and perhaps even a couple flares and a GPS system. Look for them in a safe, practical vehicle like a Subaru, Volvo, or Saturn (the car named after their steady ruling planet).

Aquarius: (January 20 - February 18)
Aquarians are the great humanitarians, so the more they can incorporate planet-saving policies into their driving practices, the happier they are. That's why you'll see your Aquarius neighbor down the street collecting used vegetable oil from restaurants and turning it into bio-diesel for the '68 pickup they rescued from the salvage yard. The city-dwelling Aquarians with no access to a big garage for science projects will rely on a hybrid or purely electrical vehicle for transport. You'll see them using the carpool lane and at rallies and demonstrations promoting development of solar powered cars and alternative-fueled or hybrid vehicles, like the Toyota Prius.

Pisces: (February 19 - March 20)
These folks are in a dream world for most of their waking hours, including the time they spend on the road. They are more apt to be gazing at the distant scenery or up at clouds than at the cars in front of them. Such space cadet Fishes are better suited in a boat than in a car. Look for them behind the wheel of cars that seem like boats on the road - a large Grand Marquis or Crown Victoria. These people are also the ones who pilot the novelty amphibious boats that take people on land and water tours. Other than that, you might catch them driving an aptly named Infiniti, for Pisces are the ones most closely connected with the universal flow of life.

Caught On Tape: Alleged Supermarket Ghost


Lithuanian Store May Be Haunted

POSTED: 1:55 pm CDT August 8, 2005
UPDATED: 1:59 pm CDT August 8, 2005

BIRZAI, Lithuania -- Security cameras at a Lithuanian grocery store have captured images of an alleged ghost lurking in its warehouse.

The video shows fast-moving shadows in the store's supply room recorded in the middle of the night last month.

A shadow appears on the right of the screen, disappears, and then reappears on the left.

The image moves so fast that it's only visible when the tape is slowed down.

The manager of the supermarket says he's sure the shadow is a ghost, but hopes it's a friendly ghost that won't wreak havoc at the store.

The store's customers have mixed opinions on the apparent apparition.

Some said they would need to touch the ghost to believe it, while others said it must be a ghost if the cameras caught it on tape.

Meanwhile, the supermarket is investigating the haunting images, which have been recorded several times.

Distributed by Internet Broadcasting Systems, Inc.

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