Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings
Psychologists at The University of Manchester are investigating the idea that out-of-body experiences, commonly thought of as paranormal phenomena, may in fact have their roots in how people perceive and experience their own bodies.
Around 10% of the population have an out-of-body experience (OBE) at some time, typically involving a sensation of floating and seeing the physical body from the outside. It isn't uncommon for people to have more than one OBE, and they may also occur as part of the wider near-death experience some report experiencing in life-threatening circumstances.
Despite the high incidence of OBEs however, there is still a great deal scientists don't know about the phenomenon.
The University of Manchester study, funded by the Portuguese Bial Foundation which supports the scientific study of the physical and spiritual nature of Man, will use an online questionnaire on body perceptions and experience to examine differences between those who have and have not experienced OBEs. The survey will also gather details on the different kinds of OBEs people have, to categorise these experiences more precisely.
David Wilde, the researcher running the project, said, "There are several theories as to why people have OBEs. A common link between them is the idea that in certain circumstances the brain somehow loses touch with sensory information coming in from the body. This triggers a series of psychological mechanisms which can lead to someone having an OBE.
"In this study we aim to take the theory a stage further, by looking at the way people see and experience their bodies, and how - through perfectly ordinary psychological processes - these images and experiences may create the impression of seeing their bodies from the outside."
The research team hopes to capture data from at least 500 members of the public from anywhere in the world. Both people who have had an OBE and those who have not are encouraged to take part.
The survey can be seen at www.freeresponse.org/muobe2005/index.aspx and will be linked to from parapsychology websites across the world. It will be available for the next six weeks, and a summary of the results, which should contribute substantially to psychologists' understanding of the phenomenon, will be posted to the site in the autumn.
- ENDS -
NOTES FOR EDITORS
The study 'Body perceptions of people who do and do not have an out-of-body experience' has been approved by the Central Manchester Local Research Ethics Committee. Please quote the Ethics Committee reference number 254/04 alongside appeals for participants.
The University of Manchester (www.manchester.ac.uk) is the largest higher education institution in the country, with 24 academic schools and almost 36 000 students in 2005/6. Its Faculty of Medical & Human Sciences (www.mhs.manchester.ac.uk) is one of the largest faculties of clinical and health sciences in Europe, with a research income of over £37 million.
The School of Psychological Sciences (www.psych-sci.manchester.ac.uk) was founded in 2004, and comprises the oldest Psychology department in the UK together with Human Communication and Deafness and Clinical Psychology divisions. All were rated 5/5 in the last higher education Research Assessment Exercise.
For further information please contact:
Jo Nightingale on 0161 275 8156 or firstname.lastname@example.org (Mon - Weds am), Mikaela Sitford on 0161 275 2111 or email@example.com (Weds - Fri).
Last updated: Tue, 23 Aug 2005 13:52:40 BST
By Jim Brown August 23, 2005
(AgapePress) - The head of a biblical creationism museum sees a major worldview shift on the academic level from neo-Darwinism to intelligent design.
The debate over evolution vs. intelligent design is as hot as it has ever been, and one creation scientist believes now is the perfect time for Christians to enlighten the culture about their belief in God's creative work recorded in the Book of Genesis. Dr. Thomas Sharp, founder of both the Oklahoma-based Creation Truth Foundation and the Arkansas-based Museum of Earth History, cautions that all intelligent design theorists are not biblical.
"The biblical view is that we don't hesitate to identify who the intelligence is," he explains. "[But] the unfortunate problem with intelligent design across the board is that it's not all biblical."
Still, intelligent design provides an "incredible support base for the biblical view," he explains, "because obviously the wisdom and super-intelligence of the Almighty God was the logos, or the concept, behind the creation of life and everything in the universe."
Sharp contends that if Christians in America are able to "step up" and answer the questions about the hope that is within them, a spiritual awakening could occur in the United States.
"We have the possibility in the near future, if the church in America can prepare herself and will engage the culture with biblical reality, that we can have an awakening in this country," he asserts, "because we're seeing a transition in worldview at the academic level. There's a great shift taking place from Darwinism to intelligent design."
A young Earth creationist, Sharp is at odds with intelligent design theorists who believe the Earth is millions of years old. Despite that, he says intelligent design is a prediction from the biblical creation model that life, universe, and man are products of intelligent design.
Jim Brown, a regular contributor to AgapePress, is a reporter for American Family Radio News, which can be heard online.
© 2005 AgapePress
Columnists - opinion
Don't allow Intelligent Design to cloud your credibility
By REKHA BASU
August 24, 2005
Who says Iowa isn't on the cutting edge? As a national controversy rages over what's science and what's religion, a prominent proponent of Intelligent Design on the Iowa State University faculty is bringing the issue to a boil there.
One-hundred-nineteen faculty members, worried that a public institution specializing in science and technology will allow what amounts to religious belief to be taught as science, have signed a statement rejecting any efforts "to represent Intelligent Design as a scientific endeavor." It will be delivered Friday to university administrators.
They're worried because an ISU astronomy professor, Guillermo Gonzalez, is a national leader in the Intelligent Design movement, and has said publicly he wants to find a graduate student to pursue that line of study.
Gonzalez didn't return my calls.
Opponents say Intelligent Design is nothing more than old-fashioned creationism dressed up in new clothes. Its adherents say evolution theory doesn't adequately explain life so there must be an intelligent creator - otherwise known to believers as God.
Fine, but keep that belief in church, opponents argue. The statement by ISU professors says that "views regarding a supernatural creator are, by their very nature, claims of religious faith, and so not within the scope or abilities of science."
Gonzalez wrote a pro-Intelligent Design book called "The Privileged Planet," which was made into a film funded by the Discovery Institute, a pro-Intelligent Design think tank. The respected Smithsonian Institution agreed to screen the film and accepted a $16,000 donation from the Discovery Institute, then was challenged by leaders at seven science organizations. They said the Smithsonian shouldn't be promoting a film that blurs the distinction between testable science and faith.
The Smithsonian ended up refunding most of the Discovery Institute's money but screened the film anyway, with a disclaimer.
National scientific journals are skeptical about Gonzalez. According to Physics Today, he's unusual as "a working scientist who has allied himself with an organization that most major science societies hold in low regard." Geotimes quoted him in a question-and-answer session that followed a film screening as saying he hopes to have a graduate student look for evidence of purpose in the universe.
He's also been quoted as saying Intelligent Design isn't creationism. But ISU religion professor Hector Avalos says that's exactly what it is, just marketed differently: "I know religion when I see it," said Avalos. "I'm a Biblical scholar."
Though he doesn't know if Gonzalez is teaching Intelligent Design in his classes, Avalos notes there's a movement afoot to place advocates of Intelligent Design in universities without revealing their true agenda. "I am afraid this has happened at ISU," he said, referring to Gonzalez.
If so, it would be a serious breach of academic integrity.
Asked to comment, a university spokesman sent a written statement about academic freedom, saying it's up to faculty to determine course content, but that students and faculty have the right to challenge material they think is inappropriate.
This isn't an academic-freedom issue. To give Intelligent Design an equal footing with scientific theories implies it has equal credibility, when it's not provable or researchable.
Avalos says he has tried unsuccessfully to get Gonzalez to debate this, and wants the university to address it in a forum.
Even a religious university understands the difference between science and religion, he says. After the Christian Baylor University in Texas established a center for Intelligent Design research in 1999, the faculty passed a resolution saying it should be taught as religion, not science, and the center was disbanded.
ISU can't afford to let its curriculum be polluted this way. As it is, the United States lags behind other countries because of our scientific illiteracy. Now if pseudo-science is taught as science, we're at serious risk. What's more, a state university has no business promoting religion, no matter what it's called.
There's much at stake but a simple way to handle it. The university should issue its definition of what constitutes science, and make sure faculty uphold it.
NEW YORK CITY (BP)--The debate over whether students should be taught about the controversy surrounding evolution, which may include a discussion of the emerging Intelligent Design theory, was spurred on recently by President Bush's endorsement of such teaching and by the Kansas State Board of Education's decision to allow instructors to "teach the controversy." Now the debate has made its way to the front page of The New York Times.
In a series it called "A Debate over Darwin: Squaring God and Evolution," which started Aug. 21, The Times examined the debate over the teaching of evolution and the "politically astute challenge led by the Discovery Institute."
The first installment focused on the genesis of the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank leading the national discussion about Intelligent Design, which contends that some features of the natural world are best explained as the products of an intelligent cause rather than an undirected process such as natural selection.
"After toiling in obscurity for nearly a decade, the institute's Center for Science and Culture has emerged in recent months as the ideological and strategic backbone behind the eruption of skirmishes over science in school districts and state capitals across the country," The Times said, adding that the Discovery Institute is making the debate over evolution more an issue of academic freedom than a confrontation between biology and religion.
The Times noted that a "scattered group of scholars" are at the intellectual core of the institute and have propelled "a fringe academic movement onto the front pages." President Bush even "embraced the institute's talking points" during a roundtable discussion in early August by saying students should be exposed to different views regarding evolution.
Discovery Institute scholars are intentional, though, about treading careful ground in their push to educate the public, The Times said, urging schools simply to include criticism of evolution rather than actually teaching Intelligent Design.
Jay W. Richards, a philosopher and a vice president at the institute, told The Times the hits they have been taking from evolutionists in the public spotlight lately are expected.
"All ideas go through three stages -- first they're ignored, then they're attacked, then they're accepted," he said. "We're kind of beyond the ignored stage. We're somewhere in the attack."
Discovery Institute was founded 15 years ago as a branch of the Hudson Institute and named after the H.M.S. Discovery, a vessel that explored the Puget Sound in 1792, The Times noted. Its president, Bruce Chapman, once served as director of the Census Bureau in the Reagan administration. Grants and gifts to the institute grew from $1.4 million in 1997 to $4.1 million in 2003 -- an example of its growing popularity. Donors include conservative religious billionaires and also people like Bill and Melinda Gates, The Times said.
The second story in The Times' series carried the headline "In Explaining Life's Complexity, Darwinists and Doubters Clash" and featured commentary from representatives on each side of the controversy.
Michael J. Behe, a professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University and a leading Intelligent Design theorist, told The Times a biological marvel such as the cascade of proteins that cause blood to clot is indicative of a designer.
If any one of the 20-plus proteins required for clotting is missing or deficient, he said, clots will not form properly. Such a complex system could not have developed through evolutionary change, Behe told The Times.
But Russell F. Doolittle, a professor of molecular biology at the University of California, San Diego, said at some point a mistake in the copying of DNA in a more simple system resulted in the duplication of a gene that led to the more complex blood clotting system known today.
Stephen Meyer, director of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute, told The Times the design approach may be compared to the work of archaeologists investigating an ancient civilization.
"Imagine you're an archaeologist and you're looking at an inscription, and you say, 'Well, sorry, that looks like it's intelligent but we can't invoke an intelligent cause because, as a matter of method, we have to limit ourselves to materialistic processes," he said. "That would be nuts."
"Call it miracle, call it some other pejorative term, but the fact remains that the materialistic view is a truncated view of reality," Meyer added.
The Times also quoted William A. Dembski, a mathematician who recently joined the faculty of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary as the Carl F.H. Henry Professor of Science and Theology. He has worked on mathematical algorithms that purport to tell the difference between objects that were designed and those that occurred naturally, The Times said.
Dembski told The Times that designed objects, like Mount Rushmore, show complex, purposeful patterns that point to the existence of intelligence. Mathematical calculations like those he has developed could detect such patterns and distinguish Mount Rushmore from Mount St. Helens, for example.
Discovery's Chapman welcomed the exposure his institute received in the first two articles of The Times' series but said they still didn't get the story exactly right.
"The New York Times' successive two front page, above the fold articles on Discovery Institute and Intelligent Design were better than we feared, which means we moved from the 90 percent negative view long evident on the Times' editorial page and the comments of executive editor Bill Keller to, oh, about 60 percent negative, 40 percent positive in these two unprecedented analytical news articles," he said in a news release Aug. 22. "This is progress."
The third article in The Times' series, published Aug. 23, examined whether a person could "be a good scientist and believe in God." It's a typically held view that most scientists do not believe in God, but The Times said "disdain for religion is far from universal among scientists."
"And today, as religious groups challenge scientists in arenas as various as evolution in the classroom, AIDS prevention and stem cell research, scientists who embrace religion are beginning to speak out about their faith," The Times reported.
The newspaper quoted Francis S. Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, who believes that religious beliefs and scientific theories can coexist. Until relatively recently, Collins said, most scientists believed in God.
"Isaac Newton wrote a lot more about the Bible than the laws of nature," Collins told The Times.
But Steven Weinberg, a physicist at the University of Texas, said "the experience of being a scientist makes religion seem fairly irrelevant. Most scientists I know simply don't think about it very much. They don't think about religion enough to qualify as practicing atheists."
And those scientists who do believe in God, Weinberg posited, believe in "a God who is behind the laws of nature but who is not intervening."
Collins said he believes some scientists are reluctant to profess faith in public "because the assumption is if you are a scientist you don't have any need of action of the supernatural sort," The Times reported. Other scientists are simply unwilling to confront the big questions religion has tried to answer.
"You will never understand what it means to be a human being through naturalistic observation," Collins told The Times. "You won't understand why you are here and what the meaning is. Science has no power to address these questions -- and are they not the most important questions we ask ourselves?"
I was asked to appear on the CNN Larry King Live Show Tuesday night to participate in a debate on intelligent design versus evolution. Since television time is always limited, I thought I would post my views on this topic on this blog. I will follow up with another post on this subject tomorrow.
It is disturbing to see that the current debate over evolution has become us-versus-them. To say that Nature displays intelligence doesn't make you a Christian fundamentalist. Einstein said as much, and a fascinating theory called the anthropic principle has been seriously considered by Stephen Hawking, among others. The anthropic principle tries to understand how a random universe could evolve to produce DNA, and ultimately human intelligence. To say the DNA happened randomly is like saying that a hurricane could blow through a junk yard and produce a jet plane.
It's high time to rescue "intelligent design" from the politics of religion. There are too many riddles not yet answered by either biology or the Bible, and by asking them honestly, without foregone conclusions, science could take a huge leap forward.
If anyone here is interested in placing this debate on a higher plane than us-versus-them, I think the main issues are these:
1. How does nature take creative leaps? In the fossil record there are repeated gaps that no "missing link" can fill. The most glaring is the leap by which inorganic molecules turned into DNA. For billions of years after the Big Bang, no other molecule replicated itself. No other molecule was remotely as complicated. No other molecule has the capacity to string billions of pieces of information that remain self-sustaining despite countless transformations into all the life forms that DNA has produced.
2. If mutations are random, why does the fossil record demonstrate so many positive mutations -- those that lead to new species -- and so few negative ones? Random chance should produce useless mutations thousands of times more often than positive ones.
3. How does evolution know where to stop? The pressure to evolve is constant; therefore it is hard to understand why evolution isn't a constant. Yet sharks and turtles and insects have been around for hundreds of millions of years without apparent evolution except to diversify among their kind. These species stopped in place while others, notably hominids, kept evolving with tremendous speed, even though our primate ancestors didn't have to. The many species of monkeys which persist in original form tell us that human evolution, like the shark's, could have ended. Why didn't it?
4. Evolutionary biology is stuck with regard to simultaneous mutations. One kind of primordial skin cell, for example, mutated into scales, fur, and feathers. These are hugely different adaptations, and each is tremendously complex. How could one kind of cell take three different routes purely at random?
5. If design doesn't imply intelligence, why are we so intelligent? The human body is composed of cells that evolved from one-celled blue-green algae, yet that algae is still around. Why did DNA pursue the path of greater and greater intelligence when it could have perfectly survived in one-celled plants and animals, as in fact it did?
6. Why do forms replicate themselves without apparent need? The helix or spiral shape found in the shell of the chambered nautilus, the center of sunflowers, spiral galaxies, and DNA itself seems to be such a replication. It is mathematically elegant and appears to be a design that was suited for hundreds of totally unrelated functions in nature.
7. What happens when simple molecules come into contact with life? Oxygen is a simple molecule in the atmosphere, but once it enters our lungs, it becomes part of the cellular machinery, and far from wandering about randomly, it precisely joins itself with other simple molecules, and together they perform cellular tasks, such as protein-building, whose precision is millions of times greater than anything else seen in nature. If the oxygen doesn't change physically -- and it doesn't -- what invisible change causes it to acquire intelligence the instant it contacts life?
8. How can whole systems appear all at once? The leap from reptile to bird is proven by the fossil record. Yet this apparent step in evolution has many simultaneous parts. It would seem that Nature, to our embarrassment, simply struck upon a good idea, not a simple mutation. If you look at how a bird is constructed, with hollow bones, toes elongated into wing bones, feet adapted to clutching branches instead of running, etc., none of the mutations by themselves give an advantage to survival, but taken altogether, they are a brilliant creative leap. Nature takes such leaps all the time, and our attempt to reduce them to bits of a jigsaw puzzle that just happened to fall into place to form a beautifully designed picture seems faulty on the face of it. Why do we insist that we are allowed to have brilliant ideas while Nature isn't?
9. Darwin's iron law was that evolution is linked to survival, but it was long ago pointed out that "survival of the fittest" is a tautology. Some mutations survive, and therefore we call them fittest. Yet there is no obvious reason why the dodo, kiwi, and other flightless birds are more fit; they just survived for a while. DNA itself isn't fit at all; unlike a molecule of iron or hydrogen, DNA will blow away into dust if left outside on a sunny day or if attacked by pathogens, x-rays, solar radiation, and mutations like cancer. The key to survival is more than fighting to see which organism is fittest.
10. Competition itself is suspect, for we see just as many examples in Nature of cooperation. Bees cooperate, obviously, to the point that when a honey bee stings an enemy, it acts to save the whole hive. At the moment of stinging, a honeybee dies. In what way is this a survival mechanism, given that the bee doesn't survive at all? For that matter, since a mutation can only survive by breeding -- "survival" is basically a simplified term for passing along gene mutations from one generation to the next -- how did bees develop drones in the hive, that is, bees who cannot and never do have sex?
11. How did symbiotic cooperation develop? Certain flowers, for example, require exactly one kind of insect to pollinate them. A flower might have a very deep calyx, or throat, for example than only an insect with a tremendously long tongue can reach. Both these adaptations are very complex, and they serve no outside use. Nature was getting along very well without this symbiosis, as evident in the thousands of flowers and insects that persist without it. So how did numerous generations pass this symbiosis along if it is so specialized?
12. Finally, why are life forms beautiful? Beauty is everywhere in Nature, yet it serves no obvious purpose. Once a bird of paradise has evolved its incredibly gorgeous plumage, we can say that it is useful to attract mates. But doesn't it also attract predators, for we simultaneously say that camouflaged creatures like the chameleon survive by not being conspicuous. In other words, exact opposites are rationalized by the same logic. This is no logic at all. Non-beautiful creatures have survived for millions of years, so have gorgeous ones. The notion that this is random seems weak on the face of it.
I don't know who will bother to read all these points, which I have had to truncate. But if you think the answers are in safe hands among the ranks of evolutionary biologists, think again. No credible scientific theory has answered these dilemmas, and progress is being discouraged, I imagine, thanks to fundamentalist Christians. By hijacking the whole notion of intelligent design, they have tarred genuine scientific issues with the stain of religious prejudice.
In my next post I will offer a picture of how these questions might be answered.
In June 2001, the EPA announced that the proposed storage facility in Nevada would be approved only if additional radiation exposure to nearby residents would not exceed 15 millirem annually during the first 10,000 years. Normal background radiation exposure amounts to approximately 360 millirem annually .
In April 2001, Milloy and his Cato Institute colleague Michael Gough released a study purporting to show that radiation levels at the Capitol were 65 times higher than the proposed standards for Yucca Mountain. The conclusion of the study read as follows:
We measured radiation dose rates inside the U.S. Capitol building and outside the Library of Congress' Thomas Jefferson Building to be substantially greater than the dose rates associated with background radiation, radiation from nuclear power production, ongoing worldwide radiation exposures from the Chernobyl accident and the radiation protection standards proposed by the EPA for the high-level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain. Potential exposures to these radiation sources may increase the risk of fatal cancer by as much as 0.5 percent based on EPA risk assessment practices.
In the accompanying press release , Milloy was quoted as saying: "We hope that Sen. [Harry] Reid [D-NV] will act immediately to protect Capitol building visitors, employees and future generations from this radiation hazard."
When a constituent contacted a member of Congress about Milloy and Gough's alarming findings, the architect of the Capitol (AOC) requested that the U.S. Public Health Service investigate the claims. But the public health officials' survey found only "normal background radiation" in the Capitol, according to an April 16, 2001, Roll Call article. The AOC communications officer, Bruce Milhans, surmised that Milloy and Gough "must have been measuring something they brought with them."
When confronted with the Public Health Service findings, Milloy disputed the apparent discrepancy and backed off from his characterization of the radiation levels as a "hazard." "I'm sure that the Architect measured the same levels of radiation that we did," Milloy said. "If you look at the study closely, I don't really think there's anything dangerous at the Capitol at all." These comments suggested that the radiation Milloy and Gough measured was, in fact, normal background radiation -- not the additional radiation that would be emitted by nuclear waste.
In a May 4, 2001, column on the Fox News website, however, Milloy repeated his misleading comparison of radiation levels at the Capitol and exposure standards at Yucca Mountain: "If radiation dose rates up to 65 times higher than those planned for Yucca Mountain aren't dangerous to Capitol building employees and visitors, what is the point of even more stringent standards for Yucca Mountain?"
But if the radiation rates Milloy measured at the Capitol merely represent the average "background radiation" experienced all over the world, then his argument is based on a flawed comparison -- between average background radiation and the additional radiation emitted at Yucca Mountain. The EPA's intent in setting the radiation standards at Yucca Mountain, after all, is to protect Nevada residents from radiation exposure beyond what they would normally encounter.
Nonetheless, in a one-on-one interview with guest host Jim Angle on the August 10 edition of Special Report, Milloy revived his debunked study of radiation levels on the Capitol to argue that the EPA's Yucca Mountain standards are "ridiculous." The interview focused on the EPA's recent announcement of its revised standards for the Nevada facility, which include the original 15 millirem exposure limit for the first 10,000 years, as well as a 250 millirem limit over the following 990,000 years. But Milloy again set up a false comparison between background radiation levels and the additional radiation that will be emitted by the nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, claiming that "someone who works at the Capitol eight hours a day is going to be exposed to 20 times the radiation -- 20 times the radiation -- that comes out of Yucca Mountain."
From the August 10 Special Report with Brit Hume:
MILLOY: Well, we think these standards are really ridiculous. They're very low. As a matter of fact, so low, we went over to the Capitol to measure the radiation --
ANGLE: The Capitol behind --
MILLOY: -- the Capitol building, coming out from statues and all the granite and marble. You know, it's naturally occurring radiation.
We found that someone who works at the Capitol eight hours a day is going to be exposed to 20 times the radiation -- 20 times the radiation -- that comes out of Yucca Mountain in a year.
ANGLE: Wait a minute. Hold on, hold on. Congress is arguing over these standards, and we've got all these court cases, and you're saying somebody who works in the Congress gets 20 times more in a day?
MILLOY: Over the course of a year.
ANGLE: Over the course of a year, than you would if you were living next door to Yucca Mountain?
MILLOY: And Yucca Mountain, right. And you really can't even measure the amount of radiation you get out of Yucca Mountain, because it's within the natural -- it's so far within the margin of natural radiation exposure we get, it's really unmeasurable.
Later in the interview, Milloy suggested that the 260 millirem of radiation he and Gough found at the Capitol was a separate phenomenon from the "natural background exposure":
MILLOY: Well, the standard at Yucca Mountain is -- it's kind of technical -- 15 millirems per year. You go over to the Capitol, you're going to be exposed to as much as 260 millirems per year. The natural background exposure is about 350 millirems. So you can see, though, Yucca Mountain is very small in there.
Milloy has a long history of conducting scientific studies that benefit powerful corporate lobbies -- a strategy described as "sound science." The practice has been described in the American Journal of Public Health as "sophisticated public relations campaigns controlled by industry executives and lawyers whose aim is to manipulate the standards of scientific proof to serve the corporate interests of their clients."
Proponents of "sound science" purport to expose so-called "junk science," which Milloy has described as "faulty scientific data and analysis used to advance special and, often, hidden agendas" of personal injury lawyers, social activists, government regulators and the media." This description, as well as the Capitol radiation study, appears on www.junkscience.com , a website Milloy founded in 1996 in association with a nonprofit organization called The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC). As journalist Chris Mooney explained in a February 29, 2004, Washington Post op-ed , the idea of "sound science" originated at TASSC:
That use of the term goes back to a campaign waged by the tobacco industry to undermine the indisputable connection between smoking and disease. Industry documents released as a result of tobacco litigation show that in 1993 Philip Morris and its public relations firm, APCO Associates, created a nonprofit front group called The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC) to fight against the regulation of cigarettes. To mask its true purpose, TASSC assembled a range of anti-regulatory interests under one umbrella. The group also challenged the now widely accepted notion that secondhand smoke poses health risks.
Milloy currently writes a regular "Junk Science" column for the Fox News website. In recent columns, he has argued that global warming represents "flawed science ," that pesticide use in schools poses no threat to students , and that "radical environmentalists" are the "real energy problem."
In addition to letting Milloy's viewpoint go unchallenged, Angle ignored other issues related to radiation exposure at Yucca Mountain. While providing a platform for Milloy's four-year-old Capitol radiation study, Angle failed to mention the recent revelation that government scientists may have falsified safety studies related to the storage facility in order to meet quality assurance standards. Emails written by the scientists suggest that they altered documents pertaining to how quickly radioactive material stored at Yucca Mountain would travel outside the boundaries of the repository. Both the FBI and Congress are investigating the allegations.
Angle also stated during his interview with Milloy that the "whole issue" surrounding Yucca Mountain "is about exposure for people living near the site." But the potential exposure created by the regular transport of nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain from facilities nationwide is also a major concern.
Posted to the web on Friday August 12, 2005 at 12:07 PM EST
Although the debate over whether intelligent design should be taught concurrently with the theory of evolution is not new, it didn't receive as much attention until President Bush suggested that it should. Not only did the comment draw sharp criticism from the press, the Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean quickly labeled the president as "anti-science." Now it's not only a question of science or education, it's a political issue, as well.
Intelligent design opponents contend it is creationism. While these challengers of the concept attempt to couple the two theories, they also are busy trying to separate evolution from Darwinism, which is taught to our children as scientific fact. I believe that's where the real problem exists.
A primary thesis against intelligent design offers that it is not theory because claiming that nature was designed explains nothing about nature. Of course, it is easier for the evolutionist to accept that we are all a result of some natural process beginning with pre-historic swamp scum. Many of the science textbooks used today present as fact a starting point in addition to a process of evolution. Again, that's part of the problem.
We are often told "real" scientists have not provided evidence that might support intelligent design. They suggest it is only disguised creationism. I would expect nothing less from anyone who worships Darwinism. But, they are negligent when they ignore the growing number of "real" scientists who find value in the theory of intelligent design.
For an insight, read the works of Jonathan Wells, a biologist with two PhDs. Wells contends Darwinian evolution is a theory in crisis that distorts the truth to maintain its influence over scientific education.
We can look to Michael Behe, professor of biology at Lehigh University, who wonders if dogged opponents of intelligent design have something on their minds other than pure science. Or, we could ask either University of Georgia biology professor Russell Carlson or William Harris, professor of medicine at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. They have both argued that Darwinism is scientifically controversial. A growing number of scientists believe that the complexity of the cell cannot be accounted for in evolution by natural selection.
I am told that science is a connecting of theoretical and factual claims that are often revised and where one change can produce a multitude of additional modifications. I also understand that theory is merely explanation based on scientific study and reasoning, not necessarily fact. With this in mind, both Darwinism and intelligent design are theories. Shouldn't our children know that?
Students who are exposed to only one side of an issue remain in the dark. Let's give our children the choice of debate and the opportunity to use their intelligence, regardless of whether you believe that intelligence is a result of created design or random selection.
David Gillis lives in St. Clair. Community columns normally appear on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays.
Originally published August 24, 2005
Tom Teepen, Cox News Service
August 23, 2005 TEEPEN0823
Last update: August 22, 2005 at 7:01 PM
It was no great offense when George W. Bush recently suggested that evolution and "intelligent design" should be taught equally in the schools. Intelligent design is the notion that Earth and its life were created, and their development was pushed along by some purposeful but unnamed and invisible intelligence.
The president was responding to a question and wasn't exactly hawking the idea. The answer no doubt reflected his personal convictions and, handily, served to reassure his large claque of conservative Christians that he is still in their corner.
But whether Bush meant for them to or not, his comments gave a strong push to the accumulating momentum behind the multimillion-dollar campaign to foist "intelligent design" off on the nation's science classes.
The matter becomes immeasurably more serious when legislators begin falling for the con, as convert by testifying convert, a growing number are doing. Now, no less than Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has signed up.
Frist knows better. He's a surgeon, for goodness' sakes. You can't learn and practice that craft without a working knowledge of the scientific method. That, after all, was how medicine got where it is. Without it, Frist would be dancing half-naked around his patients and chanting incantations.
But the majority leader has presidential ambitions. You can't win a GOP nomination these days if you don't jolly up the Christian fundamentalists and Frist, in a rare lapse into intellectual honesty, recently infuriated them by declaring for expanded embryonic stem cell research. Intelligent design promises a way back into at least their provisional graces.
Perhaps Frist, while he's at it, would like to promote the idea that medical schools should teach both germ theory and the belief, widely held in a variety of forms, that disease is caused by evil emanations.
Intelligent design is the latest and cleverest gimmick for wedging religion into public schools. Attempts to teach Genesis ran afoul of the Constitution's church-state separation. So did the next iteration -- creationism. Intelligent design is basically the same faith-based premise, absent only the word "God," although that's who or what the proclaimed intelligence only thinly masks.
The campaign to wreck biology classes is being honchoed by the Discovery Institute, created to push intelligent design and bankrolled by a cluster of foundations that regularly back right-wing causes. It slyly plays to the American sense of fair play by arguing that, hey, it's only fair that both sides get an equal airing.
But that isn't fair. Science is based on hard evidence and testable theory. Its findings and assertions are rigorously peer-reviewed. Intelligent design is faith, which is fine in its own right -- indeed, many scientists are devout -- but its imitations of science can't pass for the real thing.
This flap adds a new curlicue to the Bush administration's already busy contempt for science. From the environment to sex education, stem cell research, contraception and more, this administration distorts or simply ignores the plain science of issues to suit its political interests.
There's intelligent design at work here, all right. It is made up of electoral algebra and the chemistry of politics.
August 23, 2005
By CORNELIA DEAN
At a recent scientific conference at City College of New York, a student in the audience rose to ask the panelists an unexpected question: "Can you be a good scientist and believe in God?"
Reaction from one of the panelists, all Nobel laureates, was quick and sharp. "No!" declared Herbert A. Hauptman, who shared the chemistry prize in 1985 for his work on the structure of crystals.
Belief in the supernatural, especially belief in God, is not only incompatible with good science, Dr. Hauptman declared, "this kind of belief is damaging to the well-being of the human race."
But disdain for religion is far from universal among scientists. And today, as religious groups challenge scientists in arenas as various as evolution in the classroom, AIDS prevention and stem cell research, scientists who embrace religion are beginning to speak out about their faith.
"It should not be a taboo subject, but frankly it often is in scientific circles," said Francis S. Collins, who directs the National Human Genome Research Institute and who speaks freely about his Christian faith.
Although they embrace religious faith, these scientists also embrace science as it has been defined for centuries. That is, they look to the natural world for explanations of what happens in the natural world and they recognize that scientific ideas must be provisional - capable of being overturned by evidence from experimentation and observation. This belief in science sets them apart from those who endorse creationism or its doctrinal cousin, intelligent design, both of which depend on the existence of a supernatural force.
Their belief in God challenges scientists who regard religious belief as little more than magical thinking, as some do. Their faith also challenges believers who denounce science as a godless enterprise and scientists as secular elitists contemptuous of God-fearing people.
Some scientists say simply that science and religion are two separate realms, "nonoverlapping magisteria," as the late evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould put it in his book "Rocks of Ages" (Ballantine, 1999). In Dr. Gould's view, science speaks with authority in the realm of "what the universe is made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory)" and religion holds sway over "questions of ultimate meaning and moral value."
When the American Association for the Advancement of Science devoted a session to this idea of separation at its annual meeting this year, scores of scientists crowded into a room to hear it.
Some of them said they were unsatisfied with the idea, because they believe scientists' moral values must inevitably affect their work, others because so much of science has so many ethical implications in the real world.
One panelist, Dr. Noah Efron of Bar-Ilan University in Israel, said scientists, like other people, were guided by their own human purposes, meaning and values. The idea that fact can be separated from values and meaning "jibes poorly with what we know of the history of science," Dr. Efron said.
Dr. Collins, who is working on a book about his religious faith, also believes that people should not have to keep religious beliefs and scientific theories strictly separate. "I don't find it very satisfactory and I don't find it very necessary," he said in an interview. He noted that until relatively recently, most scientists were believers. "Isaac Newton wrote a lot more about the Bible than the laws of nature," he said.
But he acknowledged that as head of the American government's efforts to decipher the human genetic code, he had a leading role in work that many say definitively demonstrates the strength of evolutionary theory to explain the complexity and abundance of life.
As scientists compare human genes with those of other mammals, tiny worms, even bacteria, the similarities "are absolutely compelling," Dr. Collins said. "If Darwin had tried to imagine a way to prove his theory, he could not have come up with something better, except maybe a time machine. Asking somebody to reject all of that in order to prove that they really do love God - what a horrible choice."
Dr. Collins was a nonbeliever until he was 27 - "more and more into the mode of being not only agnostic but being an atheist," as he put it. All that changed after he completed his doctorate in physics and was at work on his medical degree, when he was among those treating a woman dying of heart disease. "She was very clear about her faith and she looked me square in the eye and she said, 'what do you believe?' " he recalled. "I sort of stammered out, 'I am not sure.' "
He said he realized then that he had never considered the matter seriously, the way a scientist should. He began reading about various religious beliefs, which only confused him. Finally, a Methodist minister gave him a book, "Mere Christianity," by C. S. Lewis. In the book Lewis, an atheist until he was a grown man, argues that the idea of right and wrong is universal among people, a moral law they "did not make, and cannot quite forget even when they try." This universal feeling, he said, is evidence for the plausibility of God.
When he read the book, Dr. Collins said, "I thought, my gosh, this guy is me."
Today, Dr. Collins said, he does not embrace any particular denomination, but he is a Christian. Colleagues sometimes express surprise at his faith, he said. "They'll say, 'how can you believe that? Did you check your brain at the door?" But he said he had discovered in talking to students and colleagues that "there is a great deal of interest in this topic."
Polling Scientists on Beliefs
According to a much-discussed survey reported in the journal Nature in 1997, 40 percent of biologists, physicists and mathematicians said they believed in God - and not just a nonspecific transcendental presence but, as the survey put it, a God to whom one may pray "in expectation of receiving an answer."
The survey, by Edward J. Larson of the University of Georgia, was intended to replicate one conducted in 1914, and the results were virtually unchanged. In both cases, participants were drawn from a directory of American scientists.
Others play down those results. They note that when Dr. Larson put part of the same survey to "leading scientists" - in this case, members of the National Academy of Sciences, perhaps the nation's most eminent scientific organization - fewer than 10 percent professed belief in a personal God or human immortality.
This response is not surprising to researchers like Steven Weinberg, a physicist at the University of Texas, a member of the academy and a winner of the Nobel Prize in 1979 for his work in particle physics. He said he could understand why religious people would believe that anything that eroded belief was destructive. But he added: "I think one of the great historical contributions of science is to weaken the hold of religion. That's a good thing."
No God, No Moral Compass?
He rejects the idea that scientists who reject religion are arrogant. "We know how many mistakes we've made," Dr. Weinberg said. And he is angered by assertions that people without religious faith are without a moral compass.
In any event, he added, "the experience of being a scientist makes religion seem fairly irrelevant," he said. "Most scientists I know simply don't think about it very much. They don't think about religion enough to qualify as practicing atheists."
Most scientists he knows who do believe in God, he added, believe in "a God who is behind the laws of nature but who is not intervening."
Kenneth R. Miller, a biology professor at Brown, said his students were often surprised to find that he was religious, especially when they realized that his faith was not some sort of vague theism but observant Roman Catholicism.
Dr. Miller, whose book, "Finding Darwin's God," explains his reconciliation of the theory of evolution with his religious faith, said he was usually challenged in his biology classes by one or two students whose religions did not accept evolution, who asked how important the theory would be in the course.
"What they are really asking me is "do I have to believe in this stuff to get an A?,' " he said. He says he tells them that "belief is never an issue in science."
"I don't care if you believe in the Krebs cycle," he said, referring to the process by which energy is utilized in the cell. "I just want you to know what it is and how it works. My feeling about evolution is the same thing."
For Dr. Miller and other scientists, research is not about belief. "Faith is one thing, what you believe from the heart," said Joseph E. Murray, who won the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1990 for his work in organ transplantation. But in scientific research, he said, "it's the results that count."
Dr. Murray, who describes himself as "a cradle Catholic" who has rarely missed weekly Mass and who prays every morning, said that when he was preparing for the first ever human organ transplant, a kidney that a young man had donated to his identical twin, he and his colleagues consulted a number of religious leaders about whether they were doing the right thing. "It seemed natural," he said.
Using Every Tool
"When you are searching for truth you should use every possible avenue, including revelation," said Dr. Murray, who is a member of the Pontifical Academy, which advises the Vatican on scientific issues, and who described the influence of his faith on his work in his memoir, "Surgery of the Soul" (Science History Publications, 2002).
Since his appearance at the City College panel, when he was dismayed by the tepid reception received by his remarks on the incompatibility of good science and religious belief, Dr. Hauptman said he had been discussing the issue with colleagues in Buffalo, where he is president of the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute.
"I think almost without exception the people I have spoken to are scientists and they do believe in the existence of a supreme being," he said. "If you ask me to explain it - I cannot explain it at all."
But Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary theorist at Oxford, said that even scientists who were believers did not claim evidence for that belief. "The most they will claim is that there is no evidence against," Dr. Dawkins said, "which is pathetically weak. There is no evidence against all sorts of things, but we don't waste our time believing in them."
Dr. Collins said he believed that some scientists were unwilling to profess faith in public "because the assumption is if you are a scientist you don't have any need of action of the supernatural sort," or because of pride in the idea that science is the ultimate source of intellectual meaning.
But he said he believed that some scientists were simply unwilling to confront the big questions religion tried to answer. "You will never understand what it means to be a human being through naturalistic observation," he said. "You won't understand why you are here and what the meaning is. Science has no power to address these questions - and are they not the most important questions we ask ourselves?"
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
William F. Buckley, Jr.
August 23, 2005, 1:26 p.m.
On religion, science, church, and state.
Much time (and space) are being given to the question of religion and science. There is continuing preoccupation with it, and the question is parsed week after week in different theaters: Is God admissible in purposive thought? Some say that the rejection of religion is a primary step in intelligent thought. Contenders on both sides of the issue will sometimes find themselves retreating into caricature. They will say, for instance, that belief in God and belief in science are mutually exclusive, that the renunciation of one is required in order to subscribe to the other. But these caricatures are undermined from within, as when one finds Dr. Kenneth Miller of Brown University, a scientist of high professional esteem who, on Sundays, attends church and professes his faith.
A recent survey in the New York Times spoke of the eminent C.S. Lewis. He grew up a skeptic. But in his twenties, he gradually admitted the evidence in favor first of the existence of God, then of the divinity of Christ. In his book Mere Christianity, Lewis argues that the idea of right and wrong is universal, a moral law that human beings "did not make and cannot quite forget even when they try."
Such an epiphany won't get you too far in Christian taxonomy, but it is a step in that direction. The crowning reservation of the man seeking to believe wholly in science may be that, in the scrawny hands of the evolutionists, too much is left unexplained. The Christian religion depends very heavily on revelation for its acceptance, and revelation acknowledges the interventionist finger of God, on which we cannot rely, but which we cannot dismiss. Skeptics who incline away from any belief in divine intervention can nevertheless find themselves pondering questions of right and wrong which issue from moral divisions in which science plays no part. One such is cited in the New York Times essay. Dr. Joseph Murray, who won the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1990 for his work in organ transplantation, once divulged that when he was preparing for the first-ever human organ transplant, a kidney that a young man was donating to his identical twin, he and his colleagues consulted a number of religious leaders to inquire whether they were doing the right thing. "When you are searching for truth you should use every possible avenue, including revelation," Murray said. He has described the influence of his faith on his work in a memoir, Surgery of the Soul.
In the United States, the battlefront is in the schools, on the question of evolution and creationism. If a 14-year-old student is introduced to the contingent possibility that life evolved as it did because its creator so willed it, which of the following risks, from the hard-line evolutionists' point of view, is that student taking? 1) His intellectual disqualification by admitting creationism, for which there is no scientific no warrant, into his thinking? 2) A lifelong intellectual confusion, perhaps disabling in its consequences, which will keep him from prevailing as a responsible thinker and actor? Or perhaps, 3) a lifetime as an agent of teleological confusion, with the result that he will not only mislead himself, but also mislead others?
In Iraq, the national assembly that has met to devise a new constitution appears to be stalled on several points, one of them being the nature of the new Supreme Court. Should it be a secular body, or should four of the nines seats be reserved for clerics? Will civil law prevail, or will the court be charged with ruling on whether any proposed measure conforms to the sharia? Thus the question of women's rights would become not a question of positive law, but a question of Koranic fidelity.
There are factions, Kurdish, Sunni, and even Shiite, which argue against such distribution of power, but there is no denying the strength of those who argue that only adjudications traceable to divine warrant have the authority to prevail. There has never been a neo-society so desperately in need of the idea of a division of church and state.
The president supports ''intelligent design'' teaching of natural history
Updated: 1:51 p.m. ET Aug. 23, 2005
The level of distortion of science is becoming quite high. The game of pushing a Christian agenda through public institutions is both terribly disingenuous and yet front and center. President Bush is seemingly sincere that his religious conversion and perspective is the right one. His born-again experience is public knowledge, as is his policy of breaking the barriers to religious influence in governmental programs. In Bush, the evangelical political movement got just the partner it wanted in the Oval Office.
Recently, speaking to his Texas constituency from the heart of the White House, Bush stepped over the line by announcing his support of ''intelligent design'' in the teaching of natural history. Said the president: ''Both sides ought to be properly taught ... so people can understand what the debate is about.'' He added, ''You're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, and the answer is yes.''
The ''intelligent design'' Bush is talking about begins with the biblical story of Genesis; it follows the particular story of the Christian biblical creation, with its inherent and particular logic. The hop from the parent concept of ''creationism'' to the concept-child named ''intelligent design'' is short indeed. The president's public testimony as a born-again Christian, following a long struggle with alcohol, is his foundational and inspirational driver for deepening the fundamentalist message from the bully pulpit.
The battle is an old one: religious conservatives, certain of their beliefs, argue that the opposite of their certainty is simply secular ''relativism,'' which they portray as believing that all philosophies are equally valid. The hard-edged pundits on the right blast this charge constantly at the ''wishy-washy'' liberals. Since the established science of evolution challenges directly the suppositions and timeframes of the biblical story, it becomes the object of attack - no matter how irrational, anti-scientific and utterly foolish the argument.
© 2005 Indian Country Today.
The debate over evolution vs. creationism - or "intelligent design" as proponents are now calling it - seems to have skipped over the Bennington County area which probably says something about how local school curricula are intelligently designed.
This is not to disparage anyone's religious beliefs. Many scientists and many of those who oppose teaching intelligent design are deeply religious.
However, despite strenuous efforts that have been made recently to blur the line between church and state, we believe that there are important reasons for the distinction to remain clear.
The theory of evolution is one that was arrived at as we would expect scientific theory to be created: Through observation of evidence presented in a way that could be duplicated by other unbiased researchers.
Intelligent design, however, sounds frighteningly like the logic that led Greeks and Romans to create their god myths: We don't understand how the sun moves through the sky, we can't create lightning ourselves, therefore it must be the work of the gods or higher beings than ourselves.
Those who believe in intelligent design may be completely correct. The reason that all living creatures are the way they are may be because a creator designed it that way but until there is some evidence that is not faith-based we would prefer to see school's stay with long-established scientific theory. And while some say that intelligent design does not equal creationism - which gets around some of the stickier parts of Genesis like the creation of the Earth in seven days and the introduction of human life in a way that doesn't allow for other earlier life like dinosaurs - it seems that it's less a scientific theory than a throwing up of hands and admitting that our current scientific understanding does not have an explanation for everything.
As influential as school can be, any parent knows that children learn a great deal in their formative years that does not come from a teacher's lessons.
Perhaps, one of the most damaging arguments against the "need" to teach intelligent design is the prevalence of influence in American political life of what has been loosely called "faith-based" voters. It seems that teaching evolution has done little to dissuade Americans from finding a prominent place for religion in their lives.
In fact, schools may teach some lessons in socialization and civic responsibility but they cannot and should not be teaching values. That needs to come from parents who can teach their children according to whatever Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu - or even atheist - beliefs the parents may hold dearest.
Only with that solid foundation from parents and unblinkered exposure to science in school can a child's own spiritual views be intelligently designed for his or her own self.
Aug 21, 2005 -- 03:16:29 PM EST
As a teacher, I believe in exposing children to as many ideas as possible. Although intelligent design does not fit the definition of a theory, I allow students to engage the idea and discuss it if they bring it up in my classroom. I don't believe in suppressing ideas, but I myself do not offer it as a comparison to evolution, especially when discussing issues related to human social behavior. Evolution offers a reasonable explanation why, for instance: Women have better connected brains and are able to recognize facial expressions better, while men have a keener sense of direction and tend to be more aggressive. Think hunter and gatherer and it all makes sense. The arguement that somehow we need to expose students to Intelligent design theory, just for the sake of them being aware of different ideas does not hold water. If that is the reasoning, then why are we not introducing classes on Socialism? Shouldn't there be a cautionary sticker on text books that "warn" student that capitalism is just one theory??? Please, someone pitch that one to the school board, I need the entertainment. I do not advocate the teaching of socialism but I am concerned that we are going to get into a discussion of "why should this be taught" before pointing out the hypocrisy of the argument. Evolution is to biology what the constitution is to a U.S. government class just like Capitalism is to Economics.
As a teacher as well, I know we try to expose students to many ideas. But any good teacher evaluates ideas before presenting them - who would offer "the moon is made of green cheese" as a competing idea? ID has no more place in a science classroom than "green cheese" does.
Any good curriculum is a collection of conscious choices made by experienced professionals, well-informed in the field. We do not, and should not, present every idea as being equally deserving of consideration - because they're not.
August 22, 2005
By Terry Phillips
An, as yet, private report may take officials at the Smithsonian Institution to task for humiliating one of their scientists. The Washington Post reported on Friday that a government agency has concluded that Dr. Richard Sternberg was unfairly treated after he allowed an alternative to Darwin 's theory to be presented in a Smithsonian journal called "Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington." John West of the Discovery Institute says the Darwinian community at the Smithsonian was enraged.
"Really, what we're seeing is the modern equivalent of witch-burning."
Sternberg holds two doctorates in evolutionary biology and was appointed to a prestigious research position at the Smithsonian five years ago. His editor's position was unpaid; his real job at the Smithsonian was that of staff scientist. West quotes the message the Post article says was conveyed to Sternberg by the investigating agency.
"The conclusion of the federal investigation was "it's also clear that a hostile work environment was created with the ultimate goal of forcing you out of the SI, which is the Smithsonian Institution."
If true, the question becomes "why would the Smithsonian act that way?" Dr. Ray Bohlin of Probe Ministries says it is due to the influence of frightened evolutionists.
"They know that once you start to teach students there are indeed weaknesses and challenges, scientific challenges to Darwin 's theory, people will begin to question it."
According to Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis, evolutionists respond to any questioning with ridicule, or worse.
"They often try to equate creationists with someone like Hitler or they'll try to equate us with flat-earthers."
As one observer put it, "evolutionists just can't allow a divine foot in the door."
By Abdul - Kadir Etuazim
August 21, 2005
It is amazing, and at times shocking, to witness how useful energy is dissipated over resolvable issues. The row over evolution or intelligent design in science classes, on the origin of life, is as amusing as it is disconcerting. Man is adept at creating a problem out of a seeming innocuous incident or state of affairs. Of all the worries of the 21st century, the debate might seem to be inconsequential.
However, extrapolating the impact of the result on man's future necessitates input from all. Scientifically minded and deeply religious heads must be turning in their graves. The two sides to the debate adopt a black or white position. They are not interested in stepping back and dispassionately appraising the other side's points. In other words, grey areas are inexistent.
We are at the threshold of losing all the gains made with the coming of the age of reason. Conversely, there is also a high risk of returning to an age of anything goes, because the deterrence of accountability to a higher force would have been jettisoned. Either way, the outright victory of any side is disturbing. Unchecked, the product of any of the scenarios would make the present war on terrorism a child's play in the next 50 years.
It is no longer possible for any group of religionists – no matter how powerful – to impose divinely inspired explanations/interpretations on everyone. There are enough persons willing and quite capable of countering such moves at every turn. Similarly, the pinhead logic of rejecting any thesis not backed by empiric evidence ought to be viewed more with pity than annoyance.
Accordingly, the stance of either evolution or intelligence design is preposterous. There is a middle ground. It is this: evolution and intelligent design, together, offer reasonable insight into the origin and continuing development of life. This has no bearing with political correctness or faith induced acquiescence. Rather, the position would stand on its four when subjected to analysis by any reasonable person.
Holding on to evolution, while discounting any role of intelligent design, omits a vital link in the chain of the theory. What is responsible for the various life forms to structure; separate; multiply; and exhibit other predictable tendencies? It is not enough to launch a nuclear option to forcibly win this argument. The essence of reason should not be to benchmark all phenomenon on empiric evidence alone. There is another aspect waiting to be explored and understood.
The context of the argument – academic – should be very clear to all. Proponents of evolution are yet to explain the force(s) behind all the activities of the process they present as the only position. It is not enough to gloss over inexplicable or unexplored experience by deploying obscure language. For example, what programmed and ensures the continued workings of all cell life? Why is there so much order in the movement of planets in our universe?
Brandishing religious texts as the only source of authority on the debate evokes memories of the past when religious hierarchies hectored the public into accepting illogical thoughts as unquestionable truths. Time was when the church decreed the earth to be stationary and the sun orbiting it! It is also on record that the earth was also decreed to be anything but spherical. It is an affront on the provisions of the holy books to ban the right to ask questions.
The intelligent design protagonists cannot explain a logical link between their theory of creation and the reality that there are Asians, Africans, Europeans, Arabs and others on earth. In addition to a landscape of different animals and plants God created two human beings only. How can this be logically explained without borrowing a little from evolution?
Invoking the religious fiat of faith is not tenable in this argument. With a prevalence of such outlook, the successes recorded in science and technology would have been stuff of fiction series only. Beliefs alone should be confined to the domain of religion. The issue at stake goes far into molding future generations that would be charged with surmounting life's challenges.
Consequently, a symbiotic version of both schools of thought should be imparted in schools. It is high time we stopped creating divisions based on unnecessary zero sum game approach to debates. There is no need to convince anyone opposed to the existence of a force in nature to the contrary. Equally, it will be futile to induce an implacable intelligent design guru to the merits of the evolution theory.
Monday, August 22, 2005
By JODI WILGOREN THE NEW YORK TIMES
When President Bush plunged into the debate over the teaching of evolution this month, saying "both sides ought to be properly taught," he seemed to be reading from the playbook of the Discovery Institute, the conservative Seattle think tank that is at the helm of this newly volatile frontier in the nation's culture wars.
The institute's Center for Science and Culture has emerged in recent months as the ideological and strategic backbone of the skirmishing over science in school districts and state capitals across the country.
Financed by some of the same Christian conservatives who helped Bush win the White House, the organization's intellectual core is a scattered group of scholars who for nearly a decade have explored the unorthodox explanation of life's origins known as intelligent design.
"We are in the very initial stages of a scientific revolution," said the center's director, Stephen Meyer, 47, a historian and philosopher of science recruited by Discovery after he protested the punishment of a professor who criticized Darwin in class.
"We want to have an effect on the dominant view of our culture."
For the institute's president, Bruce Chapman, intelligent design appealed to his contrarian, futuristic sensibilities -- and attracted wealthy, religious philanthropists such as Howard and Roberta Ahmanson at a time when his organization was surviving on a shoestring. Chapman embraced the evolution controversy as the institute's signature issue precisely because of its unpopularity in the establishment.
"When someone says there's one thing you can't talk about, that's what I want to talk about," said Chapman, 64.
Proponents of intelligent design challenge Darwin's theory of natural selection by arguing that some organisms are too complex to be explained by evolution alone, pointing to the possibility of supernatural influences. Intelligent design is shunned as heresy in mainstream universities and science societies as untestable in laboratories.
Nuancing public policy
From its nondescript office suites here, the institute has provided a home for the dissident thinkers, pumping $3.6 million in fellowships of $5,000 to $60,000 a year to 50 researchers since the science center's founding in 1996. Among the fruits are 50 books on intelligent design, many published by religious presses, and two documentaries that were broadcast briefly on public television. But the institute has staked out safer turf in the public policy sphere, urging states and school boards to include criticism in evolution lessons rather than actually teach intelligent design.
Since the presidential election last fall, the movement has made inroads, and evolution has emerged as one of the country's fiercest cultural battlefronts.
Discovery leaders have been at the heart of the highest-profile developments: helping a Roman Catholic cardinal place an opinion article in The New York Times in which he sought to distance the church from evolution; showing its film promoting design and purpose in the universe at the Smithsonian; and lobbying the Kansas Board of Education in May to require criticism of evolution.
These successes follow a path laid in a 1999 Discovery manifesto known as the Wedge Document, which sought "nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies" in favor of a "broadly theistic understanding of nature."
Detractors dismiss Discovery as a fundamentalist front and intelligent design as a clever rhetorical detour around the 1987 Supreme Court ruling banning creationism from curricula. But the institute's approach is more nuanced, scholarly and politically adept than its Bible-based predecessors in the century-long battle over biology.
A closer look shows a multidimensional organization, financed by missionary and mainstream groups -- the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provides $1 million a year, including $50,000 of Chapman's $141,000 annual salary -- and asserting itself on issues as varied as local transportation and foreign affairs.
But even as intelligent design has helped raise Discovery's profile, the institute is starting to suffer from its success. Lately, it has tried to distance itself from lawsuits and legislation that seek to force schools to add intelligent design to curricula, placing it in the awkward spot of trying to promote intelligent design as a robust frontier for scientists but not yet ripe for students.
The group is also fending off attacks from the left. Concerned about the criticism, Discovery's Cascadia project, which focuses on regional transportation, created its own Web site to ensure an individual identity.
Origins of an institute
Founded in 1990 as a branch of the Hudson Institute, based in Indianapolis, the institute was named for Capt. George Vancouver's HMS Discovery, which explored Puget Sound in 1792. Chapman had been a liberal Republican on the Seattle City Council and candidate for governor, but he moved to the right in the Reagan administration, where he served as director of the Census Bureau and worked for Edwin Meese.
In late 1993, Chapman clipped an essay in The Wall Street Journal by Meyer, who was teaching at a Christian college in Spokane, concerning a biologist yanked from a lecture hall for discussing intelligent design.
Then in the summer of 1995, Chapman and Meyer had dinner with a representative of the Ahmansons, the banking billionaires from Orange County, Calif., who had previously given a small grant to the institute and underwritten an early conclave of intelligent design scholars. Meyer, who had grown friendly enough with the Ahmansons to tutor their young son in science, recalled being asked, "What could you do if you had some financial backing?"
So in 1996, with the promise of $750,000 over three years from the Ahmansons and a smaller grant from the Maclellan Foundation, which supports organizations "committed to furthering the Kingdom of Christ," according to its Web site, the institute's Center for Science and Culture was born.
"Bruce is a contrarian, and this was a contrarian idea," said historian Edward Larson, who was an early fellow at the institute but left in part because of its drift to the right. "The institute was living hand-to-mouth. Here was an academic, credible activity that involved funders. It interested conservatives. It brought in money."
Help from religious groups
The Discovery Institute would not provide details about its backers "because they get harassed," Chapman said. But a review of tax documents on www.guidestar.org, a Web site that collects data on foundations, showed the institute's grants and gifts jumped to $4.1 million in 2003 from $1.4 million in 1997, the most recent and oldest years available. The records show financial support from 22 foundations, at least two-thirds of them with explicitly religious missions.
By far the biggest backers of the intelligent design efforts are the Ahmansons, who have provided 35 percent of the science center's $9.3 million since its inception and now underwrite a quarter of its $1.3 million annual operations. Ahmanson also sits on Discovery's board.
The Ahmansons' founding gift was joined by $450,000 from the Maclellan Foundation, based in Chattanooga, Tenn.
"We give for religious purposes," said Thomas McCallie, its executive director. "This is not about science, and Darwin wasn't about science. Darwin was about a metaphysical view of the world."
The institute also has support from secular groups such as the Verizon Foundation and the Gates Foundation, which gave $1 million in 2000 and pledged $9.35 million over 10 years in 2003. Greg Shaw, a grant maker at the Gates Foundation, said the money was "exclusive to the Cascadia project" on regional transportation.
But the evolution controversy has cost it the support of the Seattle-based Bullitt Foundation, which gave $10,000 in 2001 for transportation, as well as the John Templeton Foundation in Pennsylvania, whose Web site defines it as devoted to pursuing "new insights between theology and science."
Charles Harper Jr., the senior vice president of the Templeton Foundation, said he had rejected the institute's entreaties since providing $75,000 in 1999 for a conference in which intelligent design proponents confronted critics.
"They're political -- that for us is problematic," Harper said.
Money for teachers
Since its founding in 1996, the science center has spent 39 percent of its $9.3 million on research, Meyer said, underwriting books or papers, or often just paying universities to release professors from some teaching responsibilities so that they can ponder intelligent design.
The 40 fellows affiliated with the science center are an eclectic group. Their credentials -- advanced degrees from Stanford, Columbia, Yale, the University of Texas -- are impressive, but their ideas are often ridiculed in the academic world.
"They're interested in the same things I'm interested in -- no one else is," Guillermo Gonzalez, 41, an astronomer at the University of Iowa, said of his colleagues at Discovery. "What I'm doing, frankly, is frowned upon by most of my colleagues. It's not something a 'scientist' is supposed to do."
Most of the fellows, like their financiers, are fundamentalist Christians, though they insist their work is serious science, not closet creationism.
"I believe that God created the universe," said Gonzalez. "What I don't know is whether that evidence can be tested objectively. I ask myself the tough questions."
A life of its own
One sign of any political movement's advancement is when adherents begin to act on their own, often without the awareness of the leadership. That, according to institute officials, is what happened in 1999, when a new conservative majority on the Kansas Board of Education shocked the nation by dropping all references to evolution from the state's science standards.
"When there are all these legitimate scientific controversies, this was silly, outlandish, counterproductive," said John West, associate director of the science center and chairman of the Department of Political Science at Seattle Pacific University, who said he and his colleagues learned of that 1999 move in Kansas from newspaper accounts.
"We began to think, 'Look, we're going to be stigmatized with what everyone does if we don't make our position clear.' "
Out of this developed Discovery's "teach the controversy" approach, which endorses evolution as a staple of any biology curriculum -- so long as criticism of Darwin is also in the lesson plan. That satisfied Christian conservatives but also appealed to Republican moderates and, under the First Amendment banner, much of the public.
"They have packaged their message much more cleverly than the creation-science people have," said Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education, the leading defender of evolution.
"They present themselves as being more mainstream. I prefer to think of that as creationism light."
Jack Begg, David Bernstein and Alain Delaqueriere contributed reporting for this article.
By KENNETH CHANG
At the heart of the debate over intelligent design is this question: Can a scientific explanation of the history of life include the actions of an unseen higher being?
The proponents of intelligent design, a school of thought that some have argued should be taught alongside evolution in the nation's schools, say that the complexity and diversity of life go beyond what evolution can explain.
Biological marvels like the optical precision of an eye, the little spinning motors that propel bacteria and the cascade of proteins that cause blood to clot, they say, point to the hand of a higher being at work in the world.
In one often-cited argument, Michael J. Behe, a professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University and a leading design theorist, compares complex biological phenomena like blood clotting to a mousetrap: Take away any one piece - the spring, the baseboard, the metal piece that snags the mouse - and the mousetrap stops being able to catch mice.
Similarly, Dr. Behe argues, if any one of the more than 20 proteins involved in blood clotting is missing or deficient, as happens in hemophilia, for instance, clots will not form properly.
Such all-or-none systems, Dr. Behe and other design proponents say, could not have arisen through the incremental changes that evolution says allowed life to progress to the big brains and the sophisticated abilities of humans from primitive bacteria.
These complex systems are "always associated with design," Dr. Behe, the author of the 1996 book "Darwin's Black Box," said in an interview. "We find such systems in biology, and since we know of no other way that these things can be produced, Darwinian claims notwithstanding, then we are rational to conclude they were indeed designed."
It is an argument that appeals to many Americans of faith.
But mainstream scientists say that the claims of intelligent design run counter to a century of research supporting the explanatory and predictive power of Darwinian evolution, and that the design approach suffers from fundamental problems that place it outside the realm of science. For one thing, these scientists say, invoking a higher being as an explanation is unscientific.
"One of the rules of science is, no miracles allowed," said Douglas H. Erwin, a paleobiologist at the Smithsonian Institution. "That's a fundamental presumption of what we do."
That does not mean that scientists do not believe in God. Many do. But they see science as an effort to find out how the material world works, with nothing to say about why we are here or how we should live.
And in that quest, they say, there is no need to resort to otherworldly explanations. So much evidence has been provided by evolutionary studies that biologists are able to explain even the most complex natural phenomena and to fill in whatever blanks remain with solid theories.
This is possible, in large part, because evolution leaves tracks like the fossil remains of early animals or the chemical footprints in DNA that have been revealed by genetic research.
For example, while Dr. Behe and other leading design proponents see the blood clotting system as a product of design, mainstream scientists see it as a result of a coherent sequence of evolutionary events.
Early vertebrates like jawless fish had a simple clotting system, scientists believe, involving a few proteins that made blood stick together, said Russell F. Doolittle, a professor of molecular biology at the University of California, San Diego.
Scientists hypothesize that at some point, a mistake during the copying of DNA resulted in the duplication of a gene, increasing the amount of protein produced by cells.
Most often, such a change would be useless. But in this case the extra protein helped blood clot, and animals with the extra protein were more likely to survive and reproduce. Over time, as higher-order species evolved, other proteins joined the clotting system. For instance, several proteins involved in the clotting of blood appear to have started as digestive enzymes.
By studying the evolutionary tree and the genetics and biochemistry of living organisms, Dr. Doolittle said, scientists have largely been able to determine the order in which different proteins became involved in helping blood clot, eventually producing the sophisticated clotting mechanisms of humans and other higher animals. The sequencing of animal genomes has provided evidence to support this view.
For example, scientists had predicted that more primitive animals such as fish would be missing certain blood-clotting proteins. In fact, the recent sequencing of the fish genome has shown just this.
"The evidence is rock solid," Dr. Doolittle said.
Intelligent design proponents have advanced their views in books for popular audiences and in a few scientific articles. Some have developed mathematical formulas intended to tell whether something was designed or formed by natural processes.
Mainstream scientists say that intelligent design represents a more sophisticated - and thus more seductive - attack on evolution. Unlike creationists, design proponents accept many of the conclusions of modern science. They agree with cosmologists that the age of the universe is 13.6 billion years, not fewer than 10,000 years, as a literal reading of the Bible would suggest. They accept that mutation and natural selection, the central mechanisms of evolution, have acted on the natural world in small ways, for example, leading to the decay of eyes in certain salamanders that live underground.
Some intelligent design advocates even accept common descent, the notion that all species came from a common ancestor, a central tenet of evolution.
Although a vast majority of scientists accept evolution, the Discovery Institute, a research group in Seattle that has emerged as a clearinghouse for the intelligent design movement, says that 404 scientists, including 70 biologists, have signed a petition saying they are skeptical of Darwinism.
Nonetheless, many scientists regard intelligent design as little more than creationism dressed up in pseudoscientific clothing. Despite its use of scientific language and the fact that some design advocates are scientists, they say, the design approach has so far offered only philosophical objections to evolution, not any positive evidence for the intervention of a designer.
'Truncated View of Reality'
If Dr. Behe's mousetrap is one of the most familiar arguments for design, another is the idea that intelligence is obvious in what it creates. Read a novel by Hemingway, gaze at the pyramids, and a designer's hand is manifest, design proponents say.
But mainstream scientists, design proponents say, are unwilling to look beyond the material world when it comes to explaining things like the construction of an eye or the spinning motors that propel bacteria. What is wrong, they ask, with entertaining the idea that what looks like it was designed was actually designed?
"If we've defined science such that it cannot get to the true answer, we've got a pretty lame definition of science," said Douglas D. Axe, a molecular biologist and the director of research at the Biologic Institute, a new research center in Seattle that looks at the organization of biological systems, including intelligent design issues. Dr. Axe said he had received "significant" financing from the Discovery Institute, but he declined to give any other details about the institute or its financing.
Stephen C. Meyer, director of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute, compares the design approach to the work of archaeologists investigating an ancient civilization.
"Imagine you're an archaeologist and you're looking at an inscription, and you say, 'Well, sorry, that looks like it's intelligent but we can't invoke an intelligent cause because, as a matter of method, we have to limit ourselves to materialistic processes,' " Dr. Meyer said. "That would be nuts."
He added, "Call it miracle, call it some other pejorative term, but the fact remains that the materialistic view is a truncated view of reality."
William Paley, an Anglican priest, made a similar argument in the early 19th century. Someone who finds a rock can easily imagine how wind and rain shaped it, he reasoned. But someone who finds a pocket watch lying on the ground instantly knows that it was not formed by natural processes.
With living organisms so much more complicated than watches, he wrote, "The marks of design are too strong to be got over."
Mainstream scientists say that the scientific method is indeed restricted to the material world, because it is trying to find out how it works. Simply saying, "it must have been designed," they say, is simply a way of not tackling the hardest problems.
They say they have no disagreement with studying phenomena for which there are, as yet, no explanations.
It is the presumption of a designer that mainstream scientists dispute, because there are no artifacts or biological signs - no scientific evidence, in other words - to suggest a designer's presence.
Darwin's theory, in contrast, has over the last century yielded so many solid findings that no mainstream biologist today doubts its basic tenets, though they may argue about particulars.
The theory has unlocked many of the mysteries of the natural world. For example, by studying the skeletons of whales, evolutionary scientists have been able to trace the history of their descent from small-hoofed land mammals. They made predictions about what the earliest water-dwelling whales might look like. And, in 1994, paleontologists reported discovering two such species, with many of the anatomical features that scientists had predicted.
Nowhere has evolution been more powerful than in its prediction that there must be a means to pass on information from one generation to another. Darwin did not know the biological mechanism of inheritance, but the theory of evolution required one.
The discovery of DNA, the sequencing of the human genome, the pinpointing of genetic diseases and the discovery that a continuum of life from a single cell to a human brain can be detected in DNA are all a result of evolutionary theory.
Darwin may have been the classic scientific observer. He observed that individuals in a given species varied considerably, variations now known to be caused by mutations in their genetic code. He also realized that constraints of food and habitat sharply limited population growth; not every individual could survive and reproduce.
This competition, he hypothesized, meant that those individuals with helpful traits multiplied, passing on those traits to their numerous offspring. Negative or useless traits did not help individuals reproduce, and those traits faded away, a process that Darwin called natural selection.
The finches that Darwin observed in the Galápagos Islands provide the most famous example of this process. The species of finch that originally found its way to the Galápagos from South America had a beak shaped in a way that was ideal for eating seeds. But once arrived on the islands, that finch eventually diversified into 13 species. The various Galápagos finches have differently shaped beaks, each fine-tuned to take advantage of a particular food, like fruit, grubs, buds or seeds.
Such small adaptations can arise within a few generations. Darwin surmised that over millions of years, these small changes would accumulate, giving rise to the myriad of species seen today.
The number of organisms that, in those long periods, ended up being preserved as fossils is infinitesimal. As a result, the evolutionary record - the fossils of long-extinct organisms found preserved in rock - is necessarily incomplete, and some species appear to burst out of nowhere.
Some supporters of intelligent design have argued that such gaps undermine the evidence for evolution.
For instance, during the Cambrian explosion a half a billion years ago, life diversified to shapes with limbs and shells from jellyfish-like blobs, over a geologically brief span of 30 million years.
Dr. Meyer sees design at work in these large leaps, which signified the appearance of most modern forms of life. He argues that genetic mutations do not have the power to create new shapes of animals.
But molecular biologists have found genes that control the function of other genes, switching them on and off. Small mutations in these controller genes could produce new species. In addition, new fossils are being found and scientists now know that many changes occurred in the era before the Cambrian - a period that may have lasted 100 million years - providing more time for change.
The Cambrian explosion, said David J. Bottjer, a professor of earth sciences at the University of Southern California and president of the Paleontological Society, is "a wonderful mystery in that we don't know everything yet."
"I think it will be just a matter of time before smart people will be able to figure a lot more of this out," Dr. Bottjer said. "Like any good scientific problem."
Intelligent design proponents have been stung by claims that, in contrast to mainstream scientists, they do not form their own theories or conduct original research. They say they are doing the mathematical work and biological experiments needed to put their ideas on firm scientific ground.
For example, William A. Dembski, a mathematician who drew attention when he headed a short-lived intelligent design institute at Baylor University, has worked on mathematical algorithms that purport to tell the difference between objects that were designed and those that occurred naturally.
Dr. Dembski says designed objects, like Mount Rushmore, show complex, purposeful patterns that evince the existence of intelligence. Mathematical calculations like those he has developed, he argues, could detect those patterns, for example, distinguishing Mount Rushmore from Mount St. Helens.
But other mathematicians have said that Dr. Dembski's calculations do not work and cannot be applied in the real world.
Other studies that intelligent design theorists cite in support of their views have been done by Dr. Axe of the Biologic Institute.
In one such study, Dr. Axe looked at a protein, called penicillinase, that gives bacteria the ability to survive treatment with the antibiotic penicillin. Dr. Meyer, of the Discovery Institute, has referred to Dr. Axe's work in arguing that working proteins are so rare that evolution cannot by chance discover them.
What was the probability, Dr. Axe asked in his study, of a protein with this ability existing in the universe of all possible proteins?
Penicillinase is made up of a strand of chemicals called amino acids folded into a shape that binds to penicillin and thus disables it. Whether the protein folds up in the right way determines whether it works or not.
Dr. Axe calculated that of the plausible amino acid sequences, only one in 100,000 trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion - a number written as 1 followed by 77 zeroes - would provide resistance to penicillin.
In other words, the probability was essentially zero.
Dr. Axe's research appeared last year in The Journal of Molecular Biology, a peer-reviewed scientific publication.
Dr. Kenneth R. Miller, a professor of biology at Brown University and a frequent sparring partner of design proponents, said that in his study, Dr. Axe did not look at penicillinase "the way evolution looks at the protein."
Natural selection, he said, is not random. A small number of mutations, sometimes just one, can change the function of a protein, allowing it to diverge along new evolutionary paths and eventually form a new shape or fold.
One Shot or a Continual Act
Intelligent design proponents are careful to say that they cannot identify the designer at work in the world, although most readily concede that God is the most likely possibility. And they offer varied opinions on when and how often a designer intervened.
Dr. Behe, for example, said he could imagine that, like an elaborate billiards shot, the design was set up when the Big Bang occurred 13.6 billion years ago. "It could have all been programmed into the universe as far as I'm concerned," he said.
But it was also possible, Dr. Behe added, that a designer acted continually throughout the history of life.
Mainstream scientists say this fuzziness about when and how design supposedly occurred makes the claims impossible to disprove. It is unreasonable, they say, for design advocates to demand that every detail of evolution be filled in.
Dr. Behe, however, said he might find it compelling if scientists were to observe evolutionary leaps in the laboratory. He pointed to an experiment by Richard E. Lenski, a professor of microbial ecology at Michigan State University, who has been observing the evolution of E. coli bacteria for more than 15 years. "If anything cool came out of that," Dr. Behe said, "that would be one way to convince me."
Dr. Behe said that if he was correct, then the E. coli in Dr. Lenski's lab would evolve in small ways but never change in such a way that the bacteria would develop entirely new abilities.
In fact, such an ability seems to have developed. Dr. Lenski said his experiment was not intended to explore this aspect of evolution, but nonetheless, "We have recently discovered a pretty dramatic exception, one where a new and surprising function has evolved," he said.
Dr. Lenski declined to give any details until the research is published. But, he said, "If anyone is resting his or her faith in God on the outcome that our experiment will not produce some major biological innovation, then I humbly suggest they should rethink the distinction between science and religion."
Dr. Behe said, "I'll wait and see."
Fla. institution promotes theory of young Earth
Knight Ridder Newspapers
Aug. 20, 2005 12:00 AM
MIAMI - From a musty office building stocked with woolly mammoth thigh bones, fossilized shark teeth and a crumbling sabertooth tiger skull, Tom DeRosa is waging war on evolution.
"This is evidence of a worldwide flood," he said, holding up a fossilized fish set in sedimentary rock. "This is a perfect example that the word of God is true."
When he is not on fossil digs along the Peace River, DeRosa gives presentations at churches, schools and colleges and heads the Creation Studies Institute, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based ministry that promotes young Earth creationism, the doctrine that God created the world in six days about 6,000 to 10,000 years ago.
Now the 17-year-old institute is seizing territory creationists once ceded to scientists. This fall, the institute will open the Creation Discovery Center, a museum with exhibits on Noah's flood, the past ice age and the dinosaurs (featured in the antediluvian room in a mural with Adam and Eve).
"Museums today have dethroned God," said DeRosa, standing next to a casting of a Tyrannosaurus rex head in the museum's unfinished entry hall. "They have substituted man and naturalism, instead."
The museum is emblematic of a gradual shift in the anti-evolution movement. More than ever before, creationists are supplementing Scripture with the trappings of science - founding museums and research institutes, writing their own biology textbooks and pushing "intelligent design" - the theory that the complexity of living organisms shows evidence of a designer.
Eighty years after the Scopes "Monkey Trial," a case that became an international spectacle when a Tennessee biology teacher was tried for teaching evolution, the fight over human origins continues with renewed fervor. Even President Bush joined the debate, saying this month that both evolution and intelligent design should be taught in schools.
Since January, 17 pieces of anti-evolution legislation have been introduced in 12 states, said Glenn Branch, deputy director for the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, a group that advocates teaching evolution in public schools. Just eight such bills were filed in five states in 2004, according to Branch.
Most bills are efforts to limit the teaching of evolution and include "alternative" theories in science classes, said Eugenie Scott, NCSE's executive director.
Scholars and scientists say intelligent design is simply creationism in disguise.
"The creationists had to come up with a new tactic, and the new tactic was intelligent design or what I call creationism light," said Michael Ruse, a philosophy professor at Florida State University and author of The Evolution-Creation Struggle (Harvard University Press). "I see this as a political battle as much as an intellectual exercise. At the moment, I think the intelligent design people have the upper hand."
While DeRosa and other conservative Christians preach young Earth creationism, a doctrine drawn from a literal reading of the Bible, most mainline Protestants and Catholics accept evolution but teach that God played a role. Many believe evolution describes humanity's physical development but doesn't explain the soul's origins.
The museum, on Calvary Chapel's sprawling Fort Lauderdale campus, will mainly serve as an educational center for believers. Christian kids will be able to dig for fossils in a sand pit and peer through microscopes in the museum's "modern" room.
Walking through the museum's brightly colored rooms, DeRosa explained how fossils will be dated according to a rudimentary biblical timeline: pre-flood, flood and post-flood. Most were collected along the Peace River in southwestern Florida, where DeRosa has taken more than 10,000 Christians on digs.
"We prefer to talk about where they fit in in terms of the Bible," DeRosa explained.
Using the Book of Genesis, young Earth creationists calculate the Earth's age at 6,000 to 10,000 years by adding up the life spans of Adam and his descendants.
Mainstream scientists say the Earth is more than 4 billion years old.
In a pre-flood panorama, Adam and Eve will be pictured alongside dinosaurs - illustrating the Bible's claim that God created all the Earth's creatures in six days.
(For those wondering why the mural won't picture T-rex devouring our biblical forbearers, DeRosa has a ready answer: Like Adam and Eve, dinosaurs were vegetarians before Adam and Eve were kicked out of Eden.)
Other exhibits will explain how the biblical flood precipitated the ice age and the extinction of the dinosaurs.
August 20, 2005
The Smithsonian Institution can't seem to disentangle itself from the clutches of the anti-evolution crowd. Earlier this year, the Smithsonian's natural history museum discovered to its dismay that it had agreed to be the host and co-sponsor of a movie intended to undercut the theory of evolution and make the case for "intelligent design," the idea that an intelligent agent had a hand in designing the universe. Only after intelligent-design proponents started chortling on the Internet about their stunning coup in co-opting the Smithsonian did museum officials reverse course and withdraw their sponsorship, while allowing the film to be shown.
Now comes word that a little-known government office has accused the Smithsonian of retaliating against a scientist who slipped an article promoting intelligent design into an obscure journal that has only very loose connections to the Smithsonian. That judgment, by the United States Office of Special Counsel, a federal agency set up to protect whistle-blowers, is the latest twist in a case that started with the publication of the article last year in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington.
The article contended that evolution theory could not account for the great proliferation of life forms during the so-called Cambrian explosion some 530 million years ago, and that an intelligent agent was the best explanation. It set off an uproar among evolutionary biologists and was later disowned by the professional society that published it.
The editor who authorized publication, Richard Sternberg, filed a complaint contending that he had suffered reprisals. In an 11-page letter not yet officially released, the Office of Special Counsel said it had found support for his complaint but was dropping the investigation because he was not an employee of the Smithsonian, just a research associate.
E-mail notes show that several scientists and managers at the Smithsonian were extremely embarrassed and eager to push Mr. Sternberg out of his research niche, and that some dug around for material to discredit him. That may lead critics of evolution to see Mr. Sternberg as a martyr.
But those who see no place for intelligent design in the realm of science - and that includes us - will ruefully give him credit for maneuvering a brief for intelligent design into a peer-reviewed scientific journal, although how rigorous that review was remains a point of contention.
Fri Aug 19,11:46 AM ET
BANGKOK (Reuters) - With Asian tourists still shunning its southern beaches, Thailand is calling in a revered Chinese sea goddess to ward off the restive spirits of the thousands who died in last December's tsunami.
A statue of Godmother Ruby, known as Mazu in Chinese, will be brought to the Thai island of Phuket from the Chinese coastal province of Fujian next month for ghost-clearing rites, said Suwalai Pinpradab of the Tourism Authority of Thailand.
"After the tsunami, Taiwanese, Hong Kong, Chinese and other East Asians dare not come because they don't want to visit places where mass deaths took place," Suwalai told Reuters on Friday. "It is inauspicious."
Mazu, a Taoist goddess of the sea, has a huge following among fishermen and shipworkers in coastal provinces of southern China and Taiwan.
Thailand's official death toll from the December 26 disaster stands at 5,395, of which 2,436 are believed to be foreigners. Of these, fewer than 50 were East Asians.