Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings
Chip Morningstar, Electric Communities
"Academics get paid for being clever, not for being right." -- Donald Norman
This is the story of one computer professional's explorations in the world of postmodern literary criticism. I'm a working software engineer, not a student nor an academic nor a person with any real background in the humanities. Consequently, I've approached the whole subject with a somewhat different frame of mind than perhaps people in the field are accustomed to. Being a vulgar engineer I'm allowed to break a lot of the rules that people in the humanities usually have to play by, since nobody expects an engineer to be literate. Ha. Anyway, here is my tale.
It started when my colleague Randy Farmer and I presented a paper at the Second International Conference on Cyberspace, held in Santa Cruz, California in April, 1991. Like the first conference, at which we also presented a paper, it was an aggressively interdisciplinary gathering, drawing from fields as diverse as computer science, literary criticism, engineering, history, philosophy, anthropology, psychology, and political science. About the only relevant field that seemed to lack strong representation was economics (an important gap but one which we don't have room to get into here). It was in turn stimulating, aggravating, fascinating and infuriating, a breathtaking intellectual roller coaster ride unlike anything else I've recently encountered in my professional life. My last serious brush with the humanities in an academic context had been in college, ten years earlier. The humanities appear to have experienced a considerable amount of evolution (or perhaps more accurately, genetic drift) since then.
Randy and I were scheduled to speak on the second day of the conference. This was fortunate because it gave us the opportunity to recalibrate our presentation based on the first day's proceedings, during which we discovered that we had grossly mischaracterized the audience by assuming that it would be like the crowd from the first conference. I spent most of that first day furiously scribbling notes. People kept saying the most remarkable things using the most remarkable language, which I found I needed to put down in writing because the words would disappear from my brain within seconds if I didn't. Are you familiar with the experience of having memories of your dreams fade within a few minutes of waking? It was like that, and I think for much the same reason. Dreams have a logic and structure all their own, falling apart into unmemorable pieces that make no sense when subjected to the scrutiny of the conscious mind. So it was with many of the academics who got up to speak. The things they said were largely incomprehensible. There was much talk about deconstruction and signifiers and arguments about whether cyberspace was or was not "narrative". There was much quotation from Baudrillard, Derrida, Lacan, Lyotard, Saussure, and the like, every single word of which was impenetrable. I'd never before had the experience of being quite this baffled by things other people were saying. I've attended lectures on quantum physics, group theory, cardiology, and contract law, all fields about which I know nothing and all of which have their own specialized jargon and notational conventions. None of those lectures were as opaque as anything these academics said. But I captured on my notepad an astonishing collection of phrases and a sense of the overall tone of the event.
We retreated back to Palo Alto that evening for a quick rewrite. The first order of business was to excise various little bits of phraseology that we now realized were likely to be perceived as Politically Incorrect. Mind you, the fundamental thesis of our presentation was Politically Incorrect, but we wanted people to get upset about the actual content rather than the form in which it was presented. Then we set about attempting to add something that would be an adequate response to the postmodern lit crit-speak we had been inundated with that day. Since we had no idea what any of it meant (or even if it actually meant anything at all), I simply cut-and-pasted from my notes. The next day I stood up in front of the room and opened our presentation with the following:
The essential paradigm of cyberspace is creating partially situated identities out of actual or potential social reality in terms of canonical forms of human contact, thus renormalizing the phenomenology of narrative space and requiring the naturalization of the intersubjective cognitive strategy, and thereby resolving the dialectics of metaphorical thoughts, each problematic to the other, collectively redefining and reifying the paradigm of the parable of the model of the metaphor.
This bit of nonsense was constructed entirely out of things people had actually said the day before, except for the last ten words or so which are a pastiche of Danny Kaye's "flagon with the dragon" bit from The Court Jester, contributed by our co-worker Gayle Pergamit, who took great glee in the entire enterprise. Observing the audience reaction was instructive. At first, various people started nodding their heads in nods of profound understanding, though you could see that their brain cells were beginning to strain a little. Then some of the techies in the back of the room began to giggle. By the time I finished, unable to get through the last line with a straight face, the entire room was on the floor in hysterics, as by then even the most obtuse English professor had caught on to the joke. With the postmodernist lit crit shit thus defused, we went on with our actual presentation.
Contrary to the report given in the "Hype List" column of issue #1 of Wired ("Po-Mo Gets Tek-No", page 87), we did not shout down the postmodernists. We made fun of them.
Afterward, however, I was left with a sense that I should try to actually understand what these people were saying, really. I figured that one of three cases must apply. It could be that there was truly some content there of value, once you learned the lingo. If this was the case, then I wanted to know what it was. On the other hand, perhaps there was actually content there but it was bogus (my working hypothesis), in which case I wanted to be able to respond to it credibly. On the third hand, maybe there was no content there after all, in which case I wanted to be able to write these clowns off without feeling guilty that I hadn't given them due consideration.
The subject that I kept hearing about over and over again at the conference was deconstruction. I figured I'd start there. I asked my friend Michael Benedikt for a pointer to some sources. I had gotten to know Michael when he organized the First International Conference on Cyberspace. I knew him to be a person with a foot in the lit crit camp but also a person of clear intellectual integrity who was not a fool. He suggested a book called On Deconstruction by Jonathan Culler. I got the book and read it. It was a stretch, but I found I could work my way through it, although I did end up with the most heavily marked up book in my library by the time I was done. The Culler book lead me to some other things, which I also read. And I started subscribing to alt.postmodern and now actually find it interesting, much of the time. I can't claim to be an expert, but I feel I've reached the level of a competent amateur. I think I can explain it. It turns out that there's nothing to be afraid of.
We engineers are frequently accused of speaking an alien language, of wrapping what we do in jargon and obscurity in order to preserve the technological priesthood. There is, I think, a grain of truth in this accusation. Defenders frequently counter with arguments about how what we do really is technical and really does require precise language in order to talk about it clearly. There is, I think, a substantial bit of truth in this as well, though it is hard to use these grounds to defend the use of the term "grep" to describe digging through a backpack to find a lost item, as a friend of mine sometimes does. However, I think it's human nature for members of any group to use the ideas they have in common as metaphors for everything else in life, so I'm willing to forgive him.
The really telling factor that neither side of the debate seems to cotton to, however, is this: technical people like me work in a commercial environment. Every day I have to explain what I do to people who are different from me -- marketing people, technical writers, my boss, my investors, my customers -- none of whom belong to my profession or share my technical background or knowledge. As a consequence, I'm constantly forced to describe what I know in terms that other people can at least begin to understand. My success in my job depends to a large degree on my success in so communicating. At the very least, in order to remain employed I have to convince somebody else that what I'm doing is worth having them pay for it.
Contrast this situation with that of academia. Professors of Literature or History or Cultural Studies in their professional life find themselves communicating principally with other professors of Literature or History or Cultural Studies. They also, of course, communicate with students, but students don't really count. Graduate students are studying to be professors themselves and so are already part of the in-crowd. Undergraduate students rarely get a chance to close the feedback loop, especially at the so called "better schools" (I once spoke with a Harvard professor who told me that it is quite easy to get a Harvard undergraduate degree without ever once encountering a tenured member of the faculty inside a classroom; I don't know if this is actually true but it's a delightful piece of slander regardless). They publish in peer reviewed journals, which are not only edited by their peers but published for and mainly read by their peers (if they are read at all). Decisions about their career advancement, tenure, promotion, and so on are made by committees of their fellows. They are supervised by deans and other academic officials who themselves used to be professors of Literature or History or Cultural Studies. They rarely have any reason to talk to anybody but themselves -- occasionally a Professor of Literature will collaborate with a Professor of History, but in academic circles this sort of interdisciplinary work is still considered sufficiently daring and risquÝ as to be newsworthy.
What you have is rather like birds on the Galapagos islands -- an isolated population with unique selective pressures resulting in evolutionary divergence from the mainland population. There's no reason you should be able to understand what these academics are saying because, for several generations, comprehensibility to outsiders has not been one of the selective criteria to which they've been subjected. What's more, it's not particularly important that they even be terribly comprehensible to each other, since the quality of academic work, particularly in the humanities, is judged primarily on the basis of politics and cleverness. In fact, one of the beliefs that seems to be characteristic of the postmodernist mind set is the idea that politics and cleverness are the basis for all judgments about quality or truth, regardless of the subject matter or who is making the judgment. A work need not be right, clear, original, or connected to anything outside the group. Indeed, it looks to me like the vast bulk of literary criticism that is published has other works of literary criticism as its principal subject, with the occasional reference to the odd work of actual literature tossed in for flavoring from time to time.
Thus it is not surprising that it takes a bit of detective work to puzzle out what is going on. But I've been on the case for a while now and I think I've identified most of the guilty suspects. I hope I can spare some of my own peers the inconvenience and wasted time of actually doing the legwork themselves (though if you have an inclination in that direction I recommend it as a mind stretching departure from debugging C code).
The basic enterprise of contemporary literary criticism is actually quite simple. It is based on the observation that with a sufficient amount of clever handwaving and artful verbiage, you can interpret any piece of writing as a statement about anything at all. The broader movement that goes under the label "postmodernism" generalizes this principle from writing to all forms of human activity, though you have to be careful about applying this label, since a standard postmodernist tactic for ducking criticism is to try to stir up metaphysical confusion by questioning the very idea of labels and categories. "Deconstruction" is based on a specialization of the principle, in which a work is interpreted as a statement about itself, using a literary version of the same cheap trick that Kurt Gðdel used to try to frighten mathematicians back in the thirties.
Deconstruction, in particular, is a fairly formulaic process that hardly merits the commotion that it has generated. However, like hack writers or television producers, academics will use a formula if it does the job and they are not held to any higher standard (though perhaps Derrida can legitimately claim some credit for originality in inventing the formula in the first place). Just to clear up the mystery, here is the formula, step-by-step:
Step 1 -- Select a work to be deconstructed. This a called a "text" and is generally a piece of text, though it need not be. It is very much within the lit crit mainstream to take something which is not text and call it a text. In fact, this can be a very useful thing to do, since it leaves the critic with broad discretion to define what it means to "read" it and thus a great deal of flexibility in interpretation. It also allows the literary critic to extend his reach beyond mere literature. However, the choice of text is actually one of the less important decisions you will need to make, since points are awarded on the basis of style and wit rather than substance, although more challenging works are valued for their greater potential for exercising cleverness. Thus you want to pick your text with an eye to the opportunities it will give you to be clever and convoluted, rather than whether the text has anything important to say or there is anything important to say about it. Generally speaking, obscure works are better than well known ones, though an acceptable alternative is to choose a text from the popular mass media, such as a Madonna video or the latest Danielle Steele novel. The text can be of any length, from the complete works of Louis L'Amour to a single sentence. For example, let's deconstruct the phrase, "John F. Kennedy was not a homosexual."
Step 2 -- Decide what the text says. This can be whatever you want, although of course in the case of a text which actually consists of text it is easier if you pick something that it really does say. This is called "reading". I will read our example phrase as saying that John F. Kennedy was not a homosexual.
Step 3 -- Identify within the reading a distinction of some sort. This can be either something which is described or referred to by the text directly or it can be inferred from the presumed cultural context of a hypothetical reader. It is a convention of the genre to choose a duality, such as man/woman, good/evil, earth/sky, chocolate/vanilla, etc. In the case of our example, the obvious duality to pick is homosexual/heterosexual, though a really clever person might be able to find something else.
Step 4 -- Convert your chosen distinction into a "hierarchical opposition" by asserting that the text claims or presumes a particular primacy, superiority, privilege or importance to one side or the other of the distinction. Since it's pretty much arbitrary, you don't have to give a justification for this assertion unless you feel like it. Programmers and computer scientists may find the concept of a hierarchy consisting of only two elements to be a bit odd, but this appears to be an established tradition in literary criticism. Continuing our example, we can claim homophobia on the part of the society in which this sentence was uttered and therefor assert that it presumes superiority of heterosexuality over homosexuality.
Step 5 -- Derive another reading of the text, one in which it is interpreted as referring to itself. In particular, find a way to read it as a statement which contradicts or undermines either the original reading or the ordering of the hierarchical opposition (which amounts to the same thing). This is really the tricky part and is the key to the whole exercise. Pulling this off successfully may require a variety of techniques, though you get more style points for some techniques than for others. Fortunately, you have a wide range of intellectual tools at your disposal, which the rules allow you to use in literary criticism even though they would be frowned upon in engineering or the sciences. These include appeals to authority (you can even cite obscure authorities that nobody has heard of), reasoning from etymology, reasoning from puns, and a variety of word other games. You are allowed to use the word "problematic" as a noun. You are also allowed to pretend that the works of Freud present a correct model of human psychology and the works of Marx present a correct model of sociology and economics (it's not clear to me whether practitioners in the field actually believe Freud and Marx or if it's just a convention of the genre).
You get maximum style points for being French. Since most of us aren't French, we don't qualify for this one, but we can still score almost as much by writing in French or citing French sources. However, it is difficult for even the most intense and unprincipled American academician writing in French to match the zen obliqueness of a native French literary critic. Least credit is given for a clear, rational argument which makes its case directly, though of course that is what I will do with our example since, being gainfully employed, I don't have to worry about graduation or tenure. And besides, I'm actually trying to communicate here. Here is a possible argument to go with our example:
It is not generally claimed that John F. Kennedy was a homosexual. Since it is not an issue, why would anyone choose to explicitly declare that he was not a homosexual unless they wanted to make it an issue? Clearly, the reader is left with a question, a lingering doubt which had not previously been there. If the text had instead simply asked, "Was John F. Kennedy a homosexual?", the reader would simply answer, "No." and forget the matter. If it had simply declared, "John F. Kennedy was a homosexual.", it would have left the reader begging for further justification or argument to support the proposition. Phrasing it as a negative declaration, however, introduces the question in the reader's mind, exploiting society's homophobia to attack the reputation of the fallen President. What's more, the form makes it appear as if there is ongoing debate, further legitimizing the reader's entertainment of the question. Thus the text can be read as questioning the very assertion that it is making.
Of course, no real deconstruction would be like this. I only used a single paragraph and avoided literary jargon. All of the words will be found in a typical abridged dictionary and were used with their conventional meanings. I also wrote entirely in English and did not cite anyone. Thus in an English literature course I would probably get a D for this, but I already have my degree so I don't care.
Another minor point, by the way, is that we don't say that we deconstruct the text but that the text deconstructs itself. This way it looks less like we are making things up.
That's basically all there is to it, although there is an enormous variety of stylistic complication that is added in practice. This is mainly due to the genetic drift phenomenon I mentioned earlier, resulting in the intellectual equivalent of peacock feathers, although I suspect that the need for enough material to fill up a degree program plays a part as well. The best way to learn, of course, is to try to do it yourself. First you need to read some real lit crit to get a feel for the style and the jargon. One or two volumes is all it takes, since it's all pretty much the same (I advise starting with the Culler book the way I did). Here are some ideas for texts you might try to deconstruct, once you are ready to attempt it yourself, graded by approximate level of difficulty:
Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and The Sea
Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers
James Cameron's The Terminator
issue #1 of Wired
anything by Marx
Mark Twain's Huckleberry FinnAdvanced:
the Book of Genesis
Francois Truffaut's Day For Night
The United States Constitution
Elvis Presley singing Jailhouse Rock
anything by Foucault
Edmund Spenser's The Faerie QueeneTour de Force:
the Great Pyramid of Giza
Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa
the Macintosh user interface
Tony Bennett singing I Left My Heart In San Francisco
anything by Derrida
James Joyce's Finnegans WakeSo, what are we to make of all this? I earlier stated that my quest was to learn if there was any content to this stuff and if it was or was not bogus. Well, my assessment is that there is indeed some content, much of it interesting. The question of bogosity, however, is a little more difficult. It is clear that the forms used by academicians writing in this area go right off the bogosity scale, pegging my bogometer until it breaks. The quality of the actual analysis of various literary works varies tremendously and must be judged on a case-by-case basis, but I find most of it highly questionable. Buried in the muck, however, are a set of important and interesting ideas: that in reading a work it is illuminating to consider the contrast between what is said and what is not said, between what is explicit and what is assumed, and that popular notions of truth and value depend to a disturbingly high degree on the reader's credulity and willingness to accept the text's own claims as to its validity.
the San Jose, California telephone directory
IRS Form 1040
the Intel i486DX Programmer's Reference Manual
the Mississippi River
anything by Baudrillard
Looking at the field of contemporary literary criticism as a whole also yields some valuable insights. It is a cautionary lesson about the consequences of allowing a branch of academia that has been entrusted with the study of important problems to become isolated and inbred. The Pseudo Politically Correct term that I would use to describe the mind set of postmodernism is "epistemologically challenged": a constitutional inability to adopt a reasonable way to tell the good stuff from the bad stuff. The language and idea space of the field have become so convoluted that they have confused even themselves. But the tangle offers a safe refuge for the academics. It erects a wall between them and the rest of the world. It immunizes them against having to confront their own failings, since any genuine criticism can simply be absorbed into the morass and made indistinguishable from all the other verbiage. Intellectual tools that might help prune the thicket are systematically ignored or discredited. This is why, for example, science, psychology and economics are represented in the literary world by theories that were abandoned by practicing scientists, psychologists and economists fifty or a hundred years ago. The field is absorbed in triviality. Deconstruction is an idea that would make a worthy topic for some bright graduate student's Ph.D. dissertation but has instead spawned an entire subfield. Ideas that would merit a good solid evening or afternoon of argument and debate and perhaps a paper or two instead become the focus of entire careers.
Engineering and the sciences have, to a greater degree, been spared this isolation and genetic drift because of crass commercial necessity. The constraints of the physical world and the actual needs and wants of the actual population have provided a grounding that is difficult to dodge. However, in academia the pressures for isolation are enormous. It is clear to me that the humanities are not going to emerge from the jungle on their own. I think that the task of outreach is left to those of us who retain some connection, however tenuous, to what we laughingly call reality. We have to go into the jungle after them and rescue what we can. Just remember to hang on to your sense of humor and don't let them intimidate you.
August 28, 2005
'Intelligent design" may sound like an ad for Scandinavian furniture. But this phrase, coined by a growing movement that opposes the theory of evolution, has become part of a rancorous national debate over the teaching of biology in public schools.
It is turning into an attack on science and the way science is taught to the nation's students. That is deeply disturbing to scientists, and it ought to be of equal concern to parents, teachers and officials who approve public school curricula.
This debate, pivoting on whether a quasi-religious metaphysical concept - intelligent design - should be taught as real science in biology class, has gained political weight, thanks to recent comments made by President George W. Bush and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.)
"Both sides ought to be properly taught so people can understand what the debate is about," Bush said, referring to intelligent design and the theory of evolution. "I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought."
Echoing similar sentiments, Frist last week said intelligent design should be taught in public schools alongside evolution. Superficially, there is nothing wrong with either leader's statement. Hashing out an important intellectual debate is part of education. The critical question, implicit in Bush's careful phrasing, is how both sides of this debate should be "properly taught."
It's fine to expose students to the opposing views of proponents of intelligent design vs. evolutionary theory - in a social studies class where political issues belong. That's the "proper" - to use Bush's word - venue for such discussions. It's not "proper" to teach intelligent design alongside the theory of evolution in a science class, where students are schooled in the roles of physical evidence, and the replicable proof of experiments, not metaphysical concepts that by their very nature cannot be proved but only accepted on the basis of faith.
A quick primer on the two concepts:
Evolution. The theory of evolution has generated controversy since Charles Darwin published "The Origin of the Species" 147 years ago. In that seminal work, Darwin laid out exhaustive evidence to assert that organisms adapted to their environment through random mutations, which accounted for the evolution of species into ever more advanced life forms, including humans.
Intelligent design: It is the idea that the complexity of living beings can be best explained as the result of a conscious design by an intelligent entity as opposed to evolution by natural selection. It is a nuanced version of creationism, the belief that the Bible's descriptions of the world's origins are literally true.
The injection of politics into this intellectual debate was cynically opportunistic. Bush, and then Frist - a Harvard-educated physician - stoked this incendiary argument by injecting themselves into it. Then again, the Bush administration has shown its anti-scientific bent over and over, from its opposition to funding stem-cell research to its devaluing of data supporting global warming.
Back to the past
It appears that American society is entering another anti-scientific phase on evolution. Some education boards, in Pennsylvania and Kansas, among others, include intelligent design as a critique of evolutionary theory in biology classes already. This comes at a time when the nation is slipping badly, compared to its Asian and European rivals, in developing enough young scientists, including biologists.
Bush and Frist come close to pandering to the part of their core constituency, the religious right, that deeply believes in creationism, which attributes the development of life and all species to God alone. But far more unfortunate is the attack on science that lies behind the push for intelligent design to be taught in school.
Unlike creationism, which has been denied a place in public classrooms by two separate Supreme Court decisions hinging on the separation of church and state, intelligent design does not attribute divinity to the "intelligent designer." It doesn't even call the designer God, or a "creator," but simply an "entity" or "agency."
The irony is that ardent creationists, among them Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), reject intelligent design as a subject to be taught in schools because it does not attribute the creation of life to God.
A historic slugfest
There is nothing new in the clash between creationists, who insist on literal Biblical explanations for the start and development of life, and scientists, who accept the validity of the theory of evolution.
The clash resulted most famously in the so-called "monkey trial" of 1925, in which teacher John Scopes was convicted of violating Tennessee's ban on the teaching of evolution in public schools. Back then, two other states, Florida and Oklahoma, also prohibited the teaching of Darwin's theory in biology classes. All such laws, however, were invalidated by a Supreme Court decision in 1968, which allowed evolution to be taught.
In response, several states quickly resorted to requiring that "creation science" be taught alongside evolution. But that stratagem failed, too. The Supreme Court ruled, in 1982 and 1987, that teaching creationism in public schools, even alongside evolution, violated the First Amendment's principle of the separation of church and state because creationism was based on religious rather than scientific principles.
That should have put an end to the controversy. But it didn't, and now the debate surges again, in a more sophisticated form through which creationism creeps under the quasi-scientific cloak of intelligent design. The concept, put forward by a group of scientists who are ardent Christians, hinges on the idea that living organisms show a degree of complexity so exquisite that it cannot be explained through random mutation and natural selection. To devise such finely complex organisms, they argue, requires the intervention of an "intelligent agency."
To be sure, proponents of intelligent design never buy into the literal Biblical interpretations dear to creationists. To many, this is an appealing idea. It purges the debate of the notion of divinity, which would put it squarely in violation of Supreme Court rulings.
But the problem is that there is no way to prove, in a scientifically valid way, the existence of an intelligent designer. That's a metaphysical concept that can only be accepted on faith. Instead, the bold assumptions that Darwin made on the inheritability of variations based on natural selection are constantly supported by new data in genetics, physics and biochemistry. Although, clearly, there is a limit to what science can explain - that is where metaphysics does come in.
Giving intelligent design a place in biology classes alongside evolution would only muddle the minds of young people who will question the validity of the scientific method when confronted with an explanation that has no scientific validity but masquerades as science.
Let's not go down the road to another Scopes trial. The nation will be the worse for it.
August 28, 2005
By DANIEL C. DENNETT
Blue Hill, Me.
PRESIDENT BUSH, announcing this month that he was in favor of teaching about "intelligent design" in the schools, said, "I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought." A couple of weeks later, Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Republican leader, made the same point. Teaching both intelligent design and evolution "doesn't force any particular theory on anyone," Mr. Frist said. "I think in a pluralistic society that is the fairest way to go about education and training people for the future."
Is "intelligent design" a legitimate school of scientific thought? Is there something to it, or have these people been taken in by one of the most ingenious hoaxes in the history of science? Wouldn't such a hoax be impossible? No. Here's how it has been done.
First, imagine how easy it would be for a determined band of naysayers to shake the world's confidence in quantum physics - how weird it is! - or Einsteinian relativity. In spite of a century of instruction and popularization by physicists, few people ever really get their heads around the concepts involved. Most people eventually cobble together a justification for accepting the assurances of the experts: "Well, they pretty much agree with one another, and they claim that it is their understanding of these strange topics that allows them to harness atomic energy, and to make transistors and lasers, which certainly do work..."
Fortunately for physicists, there is no powerful motivation for such a band of mischief-makers to form. They don't have to spend much time persuading people that quantum physics and Einsteinian relativity really have been established beyond all reasonable doubt.
With evolution, however, it is different. The fundamental scientific idea of evolution by natural selection is not just mind-boggling; natural selection, by executing God's traditional task of designing and creating all creatures great and small, also seems to deny one of the best reasons we have for believing in God. So there is plenty of motivation for resisting the assurances of the biologists. Nobody is immune to wishful thinking. It takes scientific discipline to protect ourselves from our own credulity, but we've also found ingenious ways to fool ourselves and others. Some of the methods used to exploit these urges are easy to analyze; others take a little more unpacking.
A creationist pamphlet sent to me some years ago had an amusing page in it, purporting to be part of a simple questionnaire:
Do you know of any building that didn't have a builder? [YES] [NO]
Do you know of any painting that didn't have a painter? [YES] [NO]
Do you know of any car that didn't have a maker? [YES] [NO]
If you answered YES for any of the above, give details:
Take that, you Darwinians! The presumed embarrassment of the test-taker when faced with this task perfectly expresses the incredulity many people feel when they confront Darwin's great idea. It seems obvious, doesn't it, that there couldn't be any designs without designers, any such creations without a creator.
Well, yes - until you look at what contemporary biology has demonstrated beyond all reasonable doubt: that natural selection - the process in which reproducing entities must compete for finite resources and thereby engage in a tournament of blind trial and error from which improvements automatically emerge - has the power to generate breathtakingly ingenious designs.
Take the development of the eye, which has been one of the favorite challenges of creationists. How on earth, they ask, could that engineering marvel be produced by a series of small, unplanned steps? Only an intelligent designer could have created such a brilliant arrangement of a shape-shifting lens, an aperture-adjusting iris, a light-sensitive image surface of exquisite sensitivity, all housed in a sphere that can shift its aim in a hundredth of a second and send megabytes of information to the visual cortex every second for years on end.
But as we learn more and more about the history of the genes involved, and how they work - all the way back to their predecessor genes in the sightless bacteria from which multicelled animals evolved more than a half-billion years ago - we can begin to tell the story of how photosensitive spots gradually turned into light-sensitive craters that could detect the rough direction from which light came, and then gradually acquired their lenses, improving their information-gathering capacities all the while.
We can't yet say what all the details of this process were, but real eyes representative of all the intermediate stages can be found, dotted around the animal kingdom, and we have detailed computer models to demonstrate that the creative process works just as the theory says.
All it takes is a rare accident that gives one lucky animal a mutation that improves its vision over that of its siblings; if this helps it have more offspring than its rivals, this gives evolution an opportunity to raise the bar and ratchet up the design of the eye by one mindless step. And since these lucky improvements accumulate - this was Darwin's insight - eyes can automatically get better and better and better, without any intelligent designer.
Brilliant as the design of the eye is, it betrays its origin with a tell-tale flaw: the retina is inside out. The nerve fibers that carry the signals from the eye's rods and cones (which sense light and color) lie on top of them, and have to plunge through a large hole in the retina to get to the brain, creating the blind spot. No intelligent designer would put such a clumsy arrangement in a camcorder, and this is just one of hundreds of accidents frozen in evolutionary history that confirm the mindlessness of the historical process.
If you still find Test Two compelling, a sort of cognitive illusion that you can feel even as you discount it, you are like just about everybody else in the world; the idea that natural selection has the power to generate such sophisticated designs is deeply counterintuitive. Francis Crick, one of the discoverers of DNA, once jokingly credited his colleague Leslie Orgel with "Orgel's Second Rule": Evolution is cleverer than you are. Evolutionary biologists are often startled by the power of natural selection to "discover" an "ingenious" solution to a design problem posed in the lab.
This observation lets us address a slightly more sophisticated version of the cognitive illusion presented by Test Two. When evolutionists like Crick marvel at the cleverness of the process of natural selection they are not acknowledging intelligent design. The designs found in nature are nothing short of brilliant, but the process of design that generates them is utterly lacking in intelligence of its own.
Intelligent design advocates, however, exploit the ambiguity between process and product that is built into the word "design." For them, the presence of a finished product (a fully evolved eye, for instance) is evidence of an intelligent design process. But this tempting conclusion is just what evolutionary biology has shown to be mistaken.
Yes, eyes are for seeing, but these and all the other purposes in the natural world can be generated by processes that are themselves without purposes and without intelligence. This is hard to understand, but so is the idea that colored objects in the world are composed of atoms that are not themselves colored, and that heat is not made of tiny hot things.
The focus on intelligent design has, paradoxically, obscured something else: genuine scientific controversies about evolution that abound. In just about every field there are challenges to one established theory or another. The legitimate way to stir up such a storm is to come up with an alternative theory that makes a prediction that is crisply denied by the reigning theory - but that turns out to be true, or that explains something that has been baffling defenders of the status quo, or that unifies two distant theories at the cost of some element of the currently accepted view.
To date, the proponents of intelligent design have not produced anything like that. No experiments with results that challenge any mainstream biological understanding. No observations from the fossil record or genomics or biogeography or comparative anatomy that undermine standard evolutionary thinking.
Instead, the proponents of intelligent design use a ploy that works something like this. First you misuse or misdescribe some scientist's work. Then you get an angry rebuttal. Then, instead of dealing forthrightly with the charges leveled, you cite the rebuttal as evidence that there is a "controversy" to teach.
Note that the trick is content-free. You can use it on any topic. "Smith's work in geology supports my argument that the earth is flat," you say, misrepresenting Smith's work. When Smith responds with a denunciation of your misuse of her work, you respond, saying something like: "See what a controversy we have here? Professor Smith and I are locked in a titanic scientific debate. We should teach the controversy in the classrooms." And here is the delicious part: you can often exploit the very technicality of the issues to your own advantage, counting on most of us to miss the point in all the difficult details.
William Dembski, one of the most vocal supporters of intelligent design, notes that he provoked Thomas Schneider, a biologist, into a response that Dr. Dembski characterizes as "some hair-splitting that could only look ridiculous to outsider observers." What looks to scientists - and is - a knockout objection by Dr. Schneider is portrayed to most everyone else as ridiculous hair-splitting.
In short, no science. Indeed, no intelligent design hypothesis has even been ventured as a rival explanation of any biological phenomenon. This might seem surprising to people who think that intelligent design competes directly with the hypothesis of non-intelligent design by natural selection. But saying, as intelligent design proponents do, "You haven't explained everything yet," is not a competing hypothesis. Evolutionary biology certainly hasn't explained everything that perplexes biologists. But intelligent design hasn't yet tried to explain anything.
To formulate a competing hypothesis, you have to get down in the trenches and offer details that have testable implications. So far, intelligent design proponents have conveniently sidestepped that requirement, claiming that they have no specifics in mind about who or what the intelligent designer might be.
To see this shortcoming in relief, consider an imaginary hypothesis of intelligent design that could explain the emergence of human beings on this planet:
About six million years ago, intelligent genetic engineers from another galaxy visited Earth and decided that it would be a more interesting planet if there was a language-using, religion-forming species on it, so they sequestered some primates and genetically re-engineered them to give them the language instinct, and enlarged frontal lobes for planning and reflection. It worked.
If some version of this hypothesis were true, it could explain how and why human beings differ from their nearest relatives, and it would disconfirm the competing evolutionary hypotheses that are being pursued.
We'd still have the problem of how these intelligent genetic engineers came to exist on their home planet, but we can safely ignore that complication for the time being, since there is not the slightest shred of evidence in favor of this hypothesis.
But here is something the intelligent design community is reluctant to discuss: no other intelligent-design hypothesis has anything more going for it. In fact, my farfetched hypothesis has the advantage of being testable in principle: we could compare the human and chimpanzee genomes, looking for unmistakable signs of tampering by these genetic engineers from another galaxy. Finding some sort of user's manual neatly embedded in the apparently functionless "junk DNA" that makes up most of the human genome would be a Nobel Prize-winning coup for the intelligent design gang, but if they are looking at all, they haven't come up with anything to report.
It's worth pointing out that there are plenty of substantive scientific controversies in biology that are not yet in the textbooks or the classrooms. The scientific participants in these arguments vie for acceptance among the relevant expert communities in peer-reviewed journals, and the writers and editors of textbooks grapple with judgments about which findings have risen to the level of acceptance - not yet truth - to make them worth serious consideration by undergraduates and high school students.
SO get in line, intelligent designers. Get in line behind the hypothesis that life started on Mars and was blown here by a cosmic impact. Get in line behind the aquatic ape hypothesis, the gestural origin of language hypothesis and the theory that singing came before language, to mention just a few of the enticing hypotheses that are actively defended but still insufficiently supported by hard facts.
The Discovery Institute, the conservative organization that has helped to put intelligent design on the map, complains that its members face hostility from the established scientific journals. But establishment hostility is not the real hurdle to intelligent design. If intelligent design were a scientific idea whose time had come, young scientists would be dashing around their labs, vying to win the Nobel Prizes that surely are in store for anybody who can overturn any significant proposition of contemporary evolutionary biology.
Remember cold fusion? The establishment was incredibly hostile to that hypothesis, but scientists around the world rushed to their labs in the effort to explore the idea, in hopes of sharing in the glory if it turned out to be true.
Instead of spending more than $1 million a year on publishing books and articles for non-scientists and on other public relations efforts, the Discovery Institute should finance its own peer-reviewed electronic journal. This way, the organization could live up to its self-professed image: the doughty defenders of brave iconoclasts bucking the establishment.
For now, though, the theory they are promoting is exactly what George Gilder, a long-time affiliate of the Discovery Institute, has said it is: "Intelligent design itself does not have any content."
Since there is no content, there is no "controversy" to teach about in biology class. But here is a good topic for a high school course on current events and politics: Is intelligent design a hoax? And if so, how was it perpetrated?
Daniel C. Dennett, a professor of philosophy at Tufts University, is the author of "Freedom Evolves" and "Darwin's Dangerous Idea."
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
August 23, 2005
by Mark A. Chancey
Chances are you have never heard of the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools or its textbook, The Bible in History and Literature. But if you are a member of a school board, you may be hearing about it soon. Over 1,000 schools in 308 school districts in 36 states from Alaska to Florida currently utilize the curriculum, and over 175,000 students have taken courses based on it, according to the NCBCPS Web site (www.bibleinschools.net). It's not a huge number, but it's on the increase, says president and founder Elizabeth Ridenour. Seven years ago, only 71 school districts were using the curriculum.
The NCBCPS has not listed the schools using the curriculum so its geographic impact is difficult to measure. Over a fifth of the schools are in Texas and Louisiana, and it's likely most of the others are in the rural south and midwest.
The NCBCPS's list of advisers reads like a Who's Who list of religious, social and political conservatives. It includes two U.S. representatives, the chaplain to the U.S. Senate, and two of Time magazine's "25 Most Influential Evangelicals"— Joyce Meyer and David Barton. The group has been endorsed by Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, the Eagle Forum, Focus on the Family and a host of similar groups and figures. The NCBCPS uses such organizations to advertise, and then looks to grassroots supporters to push the curriculum in their school districts.
That's what happened this past spring in Odessa, Texas, where the NCBCPS registered 6,000 signatures in support of the cause. The debate there drew attention from the national media. One of the people voicing concern was David Newman, an English professor at Odessa College and father of a 12-year-old student. Newman is Jewish, and he told the Dallas Morning News that his daughter already was occasionally made uncomfortable with questions from classmates. "They'll ask her why 'your people' killed Jesus. Or if she knows that Jesus is her savior. . . . I don't think it's hate. It's just kids being kids. But I worry what will happen if a pronounced Christian viewpoint is taught in the class."
The school board unanimously approved offering a Bible course, reportedly receiving a standing ovation from the audience. The board has apparently not finalized its choice of curriculum. Many in the city advocate using NCBCPS materials.
Courts have ruled clearly that teaching the Bible in a nonsectarian manner is legal and appropriate in public schools, and the NCBCPS insists that its course is indeed nonsectarian. "The program is concerned with education rather than indoctrination of students," says the Web site. "The central approach of the class is simply to study the Bible as a foundation document of society, and that approach is altogether appropriate in a comprehensive program of secular education."
Ryan Valentine of the Texas Freedom Network takes a different view: "Academic study of the Bible in a history or literature course is perfectly acceptable," he says, "but this curriculum represents a blatant attempt to turn a public school class into a Sunday school class. Even that may be giving it too much credit—this curriculum wouldn't even pass muster in most churches I know."
The curriculum does make occasional efforts to be evenhanded. It nowhere urges students to become Christians. A separate CD offers perspectives from multiple religious traditions. Some pedagogical components are quite helpful, such as map exercises, reading comprehension questions, quizzes and recommendations of classic musical works inspired by biblical stories. Creative activities include preparing foods that are traditionally associated with Passover and writing a monologue describing Jonah's inner feelings. The book is well illustrated and parts of it are visually appealing.
Nevertheless, the curriculum does present a distinct theological perspective. Discussions of science are based on nonscientific literature, Jesus is presented as the fulfillment of "Old Testament" prophecy, and archaeological findings are cited as evidence of Bible's complete historical accuracy. Almost an entire unit of the curriculum is devoted to depicting the U.S. as a historically Christian nation, with the strong implication that it should reclaim that purported heritage.
The Protestant Bible is the course's norm, and the Bibles of Judaism, Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy receive scant attention. The first page highlights the King James Version as "the legal and educational foundation of America." Christian theological claims are sometimes explicitly affirmed and a Christian audience presupposed, as in statements like: "The tabernacle of the Old Testament was a 'shadow of things in heaven.' Hebrews 8:1-5 tells us that the real Tabernacle is in heaven. This is where Jesus himself is our high priest (Heb. 8:2)."
There are occasional surprises: the book does not insist that Job was written by its namesake, and it even presents a brief overview of the synoptic problem. But it generally advocates traditional views of biblical authorship, early datings of biblical books and the historicity of biblical reports. Students are asked to describe the impact of Noah's flood on world history. The Exodus is confidently dated to 1446 BCE, with no other views represented. An inscription is cited as confirmation of the accuracy of the Tower of Babel story. Stories of miracles and divine intervention are portrayed as historically accurate —an approach that might be unproblematic in many religious schools, but which the courts have explicitly ruled out for public school settings.
The curriculum's appeal to archaeological materials aptly illustrate its emphases and its shortcomings. A summary statement cites a claim by a "respected scholar, Dr. J. O. Kinnaman," that "of the hundreds of thousands of artifacts found by the archaeologists, not one has ever been discovered that contradicts or denies one word, phrase, clause or sentence of the Bible, but always confirms and verifies the facts of the Biblical record."
J. O. Kinnaman is not a name well known in contemporary academic circles. He has argued (in Diggers for Facts: The Bible in Light of Archaeology) that Jesus and Paul visited Great Britain, that Joseph of Arimathea was Jesus' uncle and dominated the tin industry of Wales, and that he himself personally saw Jesus' school records in India. According to an article by Stephen Mehler, director of research at the Kinnaman Foundation, Kinnaman reported finding a secret entrance into the Great Pyramid of Giza, in which he discovered records from the lost continent of Atlantis. He also claimed that the pyramid was 35,000 years old and was used in antiquity to transmit radio messages to the Grand Canyon. Kinnaman might not be the best figure on which to base material for a public school textbook.
The book's treatment of the Dead Sea scrolls is equally problematic. Most scholars will be startled to learn that the "scrolls contain definite references to the New Testament and, more importantly, to Jesus of Nazareth"; that fragments of New Testament books were found in the Dead Sea caves; that one scroll mentions the crucifixion of Jesus; and that some Jews at Qumran accepted Jesus as the Messiah. They will be even more puzzled by claims that the Dead Sea scrolls prove that the Hebrew text underlying modern translations "was identical with the original text as given to the writers by God and inspired by Him." In light of such claims, it is perhaps not surprising to encounter these study questions on the scrolls: "Describe the impact of this discovery on those who do not accept the authenticity of the Bible" and "Determine the evidence from the Dead Sea scrolls confirming the claims of Jesus as the Bible describes him."
In discussing scientific issues the book argues that biblical writers accurately described the global water system and wind patterns. The claims are based primarily on a book by evangelist Grant R. Jeffrey, The Signature of God (Frontier Research Publications, 2002). The cover of at least some editions of this book proclaims it as "Documented Evidence That Proves Beyond Doubt the Bible Is the Inspired Word of God."
In several instances, the curriculum advises teachers to use resources from the Creation Evidence Museum in Glen Rose, Texas, an organization that believes in a six-day creation, a 6,000-year-old earth, and the simultaneous existence of humans and dinosaurs. The material also presents an urban legend as scientific fact. Students are told to "note in particular the interesting story of the sun standing still" in the book of Joshua. "There is documented research through NASA that two days were indeed unaccounted for in time (the other being in 2 Kings 20:8-11)." A Web site is provided for an article titled "The Sun Stood Still" about the alleged NASA discovery. The "Ask an Astrophysicist" section of the Web site of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center dismisses this story, and folklorist Jan Harold Brunand has documented the evolution of the legend.
Much of the course appears to be designed to persuade students and teachers that America is a distinctively Christian nation—an agenda publicly embraced by many of the NCBCPS's advisers and endorsers. One need not even open the book to find this agenda. The cover is decorated with a photograph of the Declaration of Independence and an American flag. The title pages of most units depict similar images. A consideration of the Ten Commandments draws students' attention to the possibility of instituting biblical law in America.
A unit titled "The Bible in History" relies heavily on the thought of David Barton, founder and president of WallBuilders, an organization based in Aledo, Texas, that argues against the separation of church and state. His views prompted considerable controversy when the Republican National Committee hired him to stump for President Bush at churches in 2004.
Even something as seemingly innocuous as a dictionary recommendation reflects a theological agenda. The book recommends the 1828 edition of Noah Webster's American Dictionary of the English Language and provides contact information for its publisher, the Foundation for American Christian Education (FACE). A visit to FACE's Web site reveals that this edition contains "the greatest number of biblical definitions given in any reference volume." An advertisement there reads, "This dictionary is needed to Restore an American Christian Education in the Home, Church, and School."
Perhaps most shocking of all, however, is the way the curriculum reproduces nearly verbatim lines, paragraphs and even pages from its sources. Though it occasionally notes its sources, nowhere does it explicitly acknowledge that it quotes them directly. In addition, many passages are virtually identical to ones in uncited sources. In one unit alone, 20 pages are almost identical to uncited online materials. All in all, the wording of nearly 100 pages of the curriculum—approximately a third of the book—is identical or nearly identical to the wording of other publications.
The NCBCPS wants to reach many more school districts. Ridenour has recently announced efforts to expand the use of the curriculum. It may be coming to a school district near you.
Mark A. Chancey teaches biblical studies at Southern Methodist University. His report on the NCBCPS is available online at www.tfn.org.
A society of nonbelievers questions the official version
August 28, 2005
Anyone who types the words "9/11" and "conspiracy" into an online search engine soon learns that not everybody buys the official narrative of what took place on Sept. 11, 2001. As a professor emeritus at the Claremont School of Theology, 66-year-old David Ray Griffin would seem to have more affinity for leather elbow patches than tin hats, yet after friends and colleagues prodded him into sifting through the evidence, he experienced a conversion. Now he's spreading the bad news. Griffin compiled a summary of material arguing against the accepted story that 19 hijackers sent by Osama bin Laden took the aviation system and the U.S. military by surprise that awful day in his 2004 book "The New Pearl Harbor" (published by Interlink, a Massachusetts-based independent publisher covering areas including travel, cooking, world fiction, current events, politics, children's literature and other subjects). He recently followed up with the book "The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions" (Interlink), a critique of the Kean commission document in which he suggests that a chunk of the blame for the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil lies closer to home than the caves of Afghanistan. We contacted him at his Santa Barbara-area home for a report on his journey from mild-mannered scholar to doubting Thomas.
How did you join the ranks of those questioning the official account of the 9/11 events?
I was rather slow getting on board. For the first year and a half I just accepted the conventional view, really the blowback thesis, that this was blowback for our foreign policy. When a colleague suggested to me about a year after 9/11 that he was convinced our own government or forces within our own government had arranged it, I didn't accept that. Then several months later another colleague sent me [a link to] a website that had a timeline. Once I started reading that and saw all those stories drawn from mainstream sources that contradicted the official account, I decided I needed to look into it more carefully, and the more I looked, the worse it got. I considered it an obligation to kind of organize, compile the evidence and put it out there for the public.
The Internet is full of 9/11 conspiracy theories. What have you contributed to the discussion?
My main contribution has been the second book, [showing] that the 9/11 commission report is not worthy of belief, and the implication of that is that they were covering up the government's own guilt.
What would constitute a "smoking gun" against the official 9/11 account?
There are many. By just ignoring them, the 9/11 commission implicitly admitted they couldn't answer them. The towers coming down into a pile only a few stories high is a smoking gun. Many laws of physics had to be violated if the official story about the collapses is true. [The collapses] had all the earmarks of a controlled demolition by explosives. One of those is total collapse into a small pile of rubble. The fact that Building 7 [a skyscraper near the towers] collapsed when it had not been hit by an airplane, and collapsed in seven or eight seconds, that's a smoking gun. The fact that standard operating procedures were not followed that morning, and we've gotten three different stories now by the U.S. military as to why they did not intercept the planes, that's a smoking gun. The Secret Service leaving the president and themselves wide open to being attacked by [not responding immediately], that's a smoking gun. I can't say one is bigger than the other. You've got six or seven that are equally big.
Critics of the official 9/11 account seem to draw sinister inferences from instances where people, buildings or physical objects didn't react or behave as one might expect in theory. For example, if the hijackers were devout Muslims, why were some drinking, eating pork chops and cavorting with lap dancers? Doesn't real life unfold inconsistently, even bizarrely?
That's true, but the 9/11 commission simply ignored those questions. They're creating this image of fanatics who were so devout and convinced of the truth of their religion that they were ready to meet their maker, yet here's all this evidence that suggests they were not devout at all. [The commission] simply ignored evidence.
Dissenters also seem to find it suspect that in a dire emergency, individuals and agencies bumbled, fumbled, delayed, dropped the ball or choked. Won't that occur in any emergency?
Well, of course, that is the official theory. It's a coincidence theory that just happened to be that on those days, everybody became terribly incompetent. Take the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration]. They've got these standard procedures: If a plane goes off course, if you lose radio contact or lose the transponder, you call the military. On this day we're told these FAA officials hit the trifecta. They got all three of these things, and yet they would stand around debating, "Should we call the military? No, I don't think so." And when they finally call, the people at headquarters won't accept their calls because they were in conference or wouldn't pass the call on. They have roughly about 100 hijack warnings a year where planes have to be scrambled, but suddenly they become just all thumbs. The whole thing is just implausible. The other thing is, if you've got accidents, screw-ups, some ought to go one way and the others the other way. Here everything goes the same way. Everybody fails to do their jobs in relation to something to do with 9/11.
With others, you have alleged that inconsistencies, omissions or lies in the 9/11 record point to a cover-up, or even collusion or orchestration, by the American government. What would motivate such a scenario?
You've got liberal Democrats and Republicans and Independents who are appalled by what Andrew Bacevich [a professor of international relations at Boston University] called "the new American militarism" in the book "American Empire." New meaning, qualitatively different than before. This post-9/11 push to a new level has made the world an enormously more dangerous place. Many people apart from thinking about 9/11 as an inside job have decided that the United States is doing what [Princeton University emeritus international law professor] Richard Falk calls a "global domination project." Chalmers Johnson [Japan Policy Research Institute president], a previous conservative, now says that we have become a military juggernaut intent on world domination.
Have you followed polls on what the public believes about 9/11?
There was a Zogby poll in New York. The question asked was, do you believe the government had advance knowledge of the attacks and consciously let them happen? Forty-nine percent in New York City said yes. I believe it was 43% statewide. That is a pretty remarkable figure. In this country there has not been a poll that asked, do you believe the government actually planned and orchestrated the attacks? The question has been raised in Europe and Canada and has gotten to somewhere around 20%. It would be interesting to have such a poll in the United States.
Conspiracy theorists are often dismissed as marginal types. Where do your views on 9/11 place you in the eyes of your peers in academia?
One thing to point out is, the official account itself is a conspiracy theory. It says that 19 Arab Muslims under the influence of Osama bin Laden conspired to pull off this operation. The question is not whether one is a conspiracy theorist about 9/11. It's which conspiracy theory do you find most supported by the evidence?
Does your role as a 9/11 dissenter depart from your life's work as a scholar and theologian?
At first glance it may seem strange, but the task of a theologian is to look at the world from what we would imagine the divine perspective, [which] would care about the good of the whole and would love all the parts. [So] 9/11, if it was brought about by forces within our own government for imperial reasons, is antithetical to the general good.
Evil has been a subject of your academic writing. It's also been a recurring theme in administration rhetoric. Is that strange?
In these politicians' mouths, it's used to describe certain groups and organizations when it's politically convenient to do so, and then to overlook even greater evil when it's politically convenient to do so. If you understand the divine as an all-powerful and wrathful creator who seeks vengeance, and uses overwhelming power to destroy its enemies, why then, if you've got the political power, you're probably going to think you're acting like God if you do that. The [Christian] church during the early centuries was anti-empire. Rome was the enemy. With Constantine, the empire accepted Christianity, and Christianity started accepting empire and all that entailed. There has been a long history of support for militarism, so from that perspective, it's not so strange.
Prior to your 9/11 work, did you have an anti-establishment streak?
I never burned my bra. I was fairly critical like a lot of Americans are, but I don't think people would have looked at me and said, "There's an anti-establishment guy."
Do you get hate mail?
I've had a few people suggest I need to see a psychiatrist, and one psychiatrist in L.A. even kindly offered his services.
Copyright 2005 Los Angeles Times
SYDNEY, August 29, 2005 (LifeSiteNews.com) - After decades of teaching the theory of Darwinian evolution as though it were established fact, school boards in Australia may rethink their approach. The Intelligent Design (ID) theory is making inroads with formerly skeptical members of the scientific community now that the mathematical improbability of the random and spontaneous generation of life has been more thoroughly analyzed.
Australian Federal Education Minister Brendan Nelson told reporters earlier this month that ID would have a place with Darwinism should parents or schools be interested. This announcement coincides with an attempt by researchers at Harvard University to debunk the Intelligent Design theory, which is seen by many committed anti-religious secularists as a threat to their hold on the scientific community.
Some secularists are furious at the threat to their religious dogma that God could not have created the universe. Those scientists who have dared publicly to examine the case on its merits have faced severe professional sanctions, in some cases amounting to witch hunts.
A US-produced video used in Australia features Dr. Dean Kenyon, a Stanford trained biophysicist, who was censured by his departmental colleagues at San Francisco State University for allegedly teaching religion in his introductory biology course. Kenyon, no naïf in the academic world with postgraduate work at UC Berkeley, Oxford, and NASA, said that he lost his job for the mere mention that there were other theories than pure Darwinian random evolution. He fought the decision and has been reinstated.
Kenyon, co-author of the book, Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins, speaks of how his own research on the chemical origins of life and his examination of the fossil record caused him to question the naturalistic assumptions that allow most evolutionary scientists to ignore and reject all evidence of intelligent design in the universe.
Kenyon says on the video, "We have not the slightest chance of a chemical evolutionary origin for even the simplest of cells, so the concept of the intelligent design of life was immensely attractive to me and made a great deal of sense."
But the possibility of any religious influence has enraged the secularist scientific establishment and is seen as enough to condemn a researcher to the crank gallery. A senior lecturer in evolutionary biology at the University of New South Wales, Rob Brook, said that the presence of religious ideas automatically discredits a researcher.
About Kenyon, he said, "I don't really know what is it that's motivating him, and I don't think that we're told publicly what it is that's motivating him, but a lot of the prime people in the intelligent design movement appear to have had religious conversions of some type or another."
"They all seem to be people of deep religious faith," said Brook in an interview on Australian Public Radio, "so one has to argue, is it their religious faith that's driving the agenda, or is it their science and the scientific process? And I'd say it's the former."
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By Jo Chandler August 27, 2005
JOURNALISM'S loss was science's gain, for which humanity's fragile immune system can only be deeply grateful.
Professor Peter Doherty, the boy from the Brisbane suburb of Oxley — better known for producing Pauline Hanson than for spawning one of only a handful of Australian Nobel laureates — was toying with taking a cadetship on The Courier-Mail when he attended an open day at the University of Queensland school of veterinary science.
"My interest was immediately piqued by the demonstrations in embryology, anatomy and pathology, and by the rather scatty, sexy, chain-smoking young laboratory technician who looked after the displays. In the hot Brisbane summer she wore a white laboratory gown and not much else." What better analogy for the power of raw biology?
Professor Doherty recounts the anecdote in the introduction to his new book The Beginner's Guide to Winning the Nobel Prize — a book "about science and how it is done. What a life in science is like."
It is part memoir, part science text and part polemic, ruminating on the intersection of science with politics, religion, philosophy and commerce.
Being a Nobel prize winner becomes a life-long job description, he observes, especially in a hemisphere where they are so very thin on the ground. And when his qualification is in an area like immunology — humanity's defence against nature's invisible, lethal assaults — interest never wanes.
The question he is most asked now is whether bird flu is going to cross over to humans and become the killer pandemic many scientists fear.
Here science fails. It's a roll of the dice, he admits. He quotes figures estimating that 70 million lives could be at risk if the virus does mutate to allow rampant human to human transmission — a circumstance many of his peers fear is inevitable.
The toll was at least 40 million when the last flu pandemic struck in 1918, when the world population was about a third of its present size and did not have aircraft to help its spread.
He suggests people should consider asking their doctor for a script for the antiviral flu medication Tamiflu — the drug governments around the world are stockpiling against a catastrophic influenza outbreak.
He always has his vial of Tamiflu — his $56 "insurance policy" — on hand. Should everyone be hoarding a stash? "It depends how scared you are. But if the flu epidemic hits, the Tamiflu will run out fast."
Professor Doherty is optimistic about the preparedness of most First World communities, and many Asian nations, to cope. The SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) scare of 2003 provides some comfort, he says. Within weeks of the new virus being identified, scientists "knew what to do about it and ended the epidemic. It was a fantastic example of how well science can work if you have a well-organised international network, a lot of high-quality science and a real problem."
"Most (scientists) in the field expect it will happen. We've got all the conditions — a lot of infected birds, and people getting infected with different flu viruses, and a lot of this is happening in countries which don't have the resources to vaccinate."
He also spends a chapter examining the collision of science and religion. But having observed the recent debate on intelligent design theory — that evolution alone cannot explain the complexity of life — he is now thinking of devoting an entire book to matters of faith, evidence and reality.
"You cannot tell science teachers to teach ID — that would be obscene," he says, commenting on an observation by Education Minister Brendan Nelson that parents might want to have the theory taught alongside evolution in schools.
"Science isn't about belief, but about evidence. If someone gets real evidence for ID, then publish it in the science literature," he says.
"If you look at any genetic system, any system at all, it doesn't look designed. It's more like a street person who picks up various molecular mechanisms from around the place and carries them around in shopping bags rather than an Armani or Versace model.
"If someone wants to believe intelligent design as part of their religion, I have no quarrel with it. My quarrel is with people who want to teach it in science classes."
Professor Doherty is also worried about Catholic church hierarchy "making some noises about embracing ID as science — if they do that, they could be making as big a mistake as when they condemned Galileo …"
For Professor Doherty, part of his Nobel baggage is to encourage understanding, funding, respect and pursuit of science, especially among the young.
"Fresh young minds that are not loaded down with what went before will see a particular set of data, or a possible opportunity, from a new and interesting perspective," he says.
He tells of a chance conversation at a conference between Misty Jenkins, a doctoral student in his Melbourne laboratory, and another young scientist. The two are now exploring an exciting new approach to a common concern.
"Will it tell us anything new? We don't know yet, but it sounds intriguing and that's often the way that something different and exciting gets off the ground."
HOW TO WIN A NOBEL PRIZE
A selection of Peter Doherty's tips: "It won't guarantee a trip to Stockholm or Oslo, but, with a little luck, it could lead to something worthwhile."
¦ Try to solve major problems and make really big discoveries
¦ Be realistic and play to your strengths
¦ Acquire the basic skills, and work with the right people
¦ Learn to write clearly and concisely
¦ Work in an appropriate field
¦ Focus and don't be a dilettante
¦ Talk about the problem
¦ Tell the truth
¦ Take care of yourself and live a long time. "It might take 50 years to be recognised by the Nobel committee, so keep off the booze and don't go bungee jumping."
August 27, 2005
SOMETIMES IT seems like secular intellectuals just can't win. In the 1980s and '90s, they were attacked by the right for their "relativism" — an alleged refusal to accept the existence of absolute truth. Today, they're under attack once more, only this time the right is mad because secular intellectuals aren't relativist enough.
At any rate, that appears to be the charge put forward by conservatives who advocate the teaching of so-called intelligent design.
These are not your daddy's creationists. When scientists and other members of the reality-based community declare that evolution is the only valid and provable account of our planet's natural history, intelligent design boosters don't cite the Bible. Instead, they earnestly insist that no one ought to claim a monopoly on truth, and that in the interests of intellectual and moral pluralism, "alternatives" to evolution should get a fair hearing in schools.
This week, Arizona Sen. John McCain became the latest Republican politician to urge that "all points of view" be presented to students studying the origins of life. He joined President Bush and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), who argued recently that intelligent design should be taught alongside evolution because people in "a pluralistic society should have access to a broad range of fact, of science, including faith."
It's the new relativism: when scientific truth can't be squared with your religion or ideology, wax eloquent about the value of pluralism and intellectual diversity.
The new relativism marks quite a shift from the arguments normally employed by the right. Remember the "culture wars" of the late '80s and early '90s, when conservatives in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, such as William Bennett and Lynne Cheney, inveighed against the "relativism" that allegedly dominated the thinking of American intellectuals?
Their critique drew on the work of prominent conservatives in the academy, including the late University of Chicago philosopher Allan Bloom, who condemned multiculturalism, postmodernism and relativism in his influential 1987 book, "The Closing of the American Mind." And, speaking to American students in 1987, Pope John Paul II denounced academic pluralists who think that "ultimate questions about human life and destiny have no final answers or that all beliefs are of equal value."
In the United States, prominent evangelical Christian authors such as Frank Peretti and Chuck Colson also joined the chorus, warning that relativism would undermine American society.
So it's a tad ironic that conservatives and the religious right are now arguing that intelligent design should be taught on the grounds of intellectual pluralism. Needless to say, from the perspective of virtually all reputable scientists, evolution isn't just one theory among many, it's the only scientifically proven account of the origin and development of life on Earth. Denying evolution isn't merely "another perspective." It's like insisting that the sun revolves around the Earth, or that the moon is inhabited by little green guys. Whatever happened to truth?
Of course, maybe we secular types are wrong to keep resisting the right's new relativism. What would happen if we embraced it? Sure, we'd have to tolerate a lot of claptrap about intelligent design in the classroom, but think of the potential benefits.
If the right is sincerely dedicated to supporting pluralism and openness, surely they'd have no further objection to sex education classes that urge condom use, for instance, as long as abstinence-only arguments get equal time. And presumably they wouldn't mind if teachers tell kids that homosexuality is a legitimate form of human behavior, as long as teachers also explain that some people consider it a sin. Nor would conservatives have any basis to object to education about abortion rights, as long as their perspective is also represented.
Granted, there are problems with this approach. For one thing, the school year would need to be lengthened to accommodate all the new curricular material. Because if intelligent design must be taught just because a few crackpot scientists are on board with it, we'll also have to teach about the UFO landings at Roswell and the numerous Elvis sightings that occur each year.
We also would have to brace ourselves for the long-term consequences of the free-for-all ushered in by the right's new relativism: the hospitals that would guarantee equal employment opportunities to faith-based cardiac surgeons who eschew anatomy classes for prayer, and the airlines that would allow faith-based aeronautics to replace modern physics during the design phase of their aircraft.
Never mind. For now, I'm going to stick with old-fashioned thinking. At least when it comes to science, there is such a thing as absolute truth.
August 28, 2005 By HELEN FISHER
''THE sight of a feather in a peacock's tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick,'' Darwin confided to his son Francis some time before writing ''The Origin of Species.'' Darwin felt this cumbersome, apparently useless accouterment undermined his theory that all species' traits evolved via natural selection to help individuals survive. Not until he developed his corollary theory of sexual selection did he realize that such apparently nonfunctional characteristics evolved to win the mating game. Those peacocks with the most flamboyant tail feathers attracted more peahens and sired more young, passing on their genes for this outlandish ornament.
Like peacocks, women (and men) have evolved a host of ornaments. In ''The Naked Woman: A Study of the Female Body,'' the zoologist Desmond Morris gives us a guided tour of female body parts, often with Darwin's principle of sexual selection in mind. Many of these feminine trimmings, he reports, evolved at least in part to attract a mate. Morris starts with scalp hair, which grows much longer than that of all other primates. These tresses can signal health, age, status or affiliation in both sexes, but women more regularly use their locks for sex appeal. Moving downward to ears, eyes, mouth, neck, hands, breasts, belly and so on to feet, Morris explores the biology, evolution and functions of each feminine feature, illustrating his arguments with the customs of the ancient Egyptians, classical Greeks, modern Americans and many other peoples around the world.
Take a woman's lips. These puffy, everted organs are unique among primates, Morris tells us. But while men's lips become thinner in adulthood, more like those of monkeys and apes, women's remain pillowy and everted throughout the childbearing years, when they serve as sexual signals. During sexual arousal they become redder, engorged and sensitive, mimicking the genital labia.
Women throughout history have highlighted their lips for sexual purposes, from classical Greeks who applied lip colorings of dyes mixed with human saliva, sheep sweat and crocodile dung to contemporary Americans who pay surgeons to enlarge their lips by inserting synthetic material, freeze-dried skin or body fat.
Women's everted lips are a good example of neoteny, the extension of childlike characteristics into adulthood, an evolutionary process Morris returns to frequently throughout the book. Women have more neotenous physical traits than men do. For example, pound for pound the average adult woman has about twice as much body fat, an infantile trait, as the average man. Women also have higher, more childlike voices and smoother, more finely boned baby faces, traits that Morris maintains evolved to elicit protective responses in their male mates.
Morris brings not just his scientific curiosity to his subject, but also his sense of justice. Filming an American television series on the human sexes a few years ago, he became ''disturbed and angry . . . with the way women were being treated in many countries.'' So when he was asked to prepare a new edition of his 1985 book, ''Bodywatching,'' he decided to devote the work to the female. The result, ''The Naked Woman,'' incorporates only a small portion of the text from the original book.
He describes women's most dramatic maltreatment in his chapter on female genitals. The clitoris, he notes, is a bundle of some 8,000 nerve fibers, the most sensitive region of the female body. But today some 100 million women in more than 20 countries, largely in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, have suffered painful genital mutilation. In its most extreme form, a girl's outer labia, inner labia and clitoris are scraped or cut off. Her vaginal opening is sewn up with silk, catgut or thorns, leaving a minute passage for urine and menstrual blood. Then her legs are tied together to make sure scar tissue forms, permanently altering the genital region. Her husband will forcibly reopen her vulva, but if he travels, it may be sewn up again. These operations often cause severe infections, even death.
For all its heartfelt advocacy, ''The Naked Woman'' has its faults. Morris sometimes repeats old material, and he gets some facts wrong. For example, in discussing our long past as hunter-gatherers, he says, ''In ancient times, the great deity was always a woman.'' Although this is a popular belief, anthropologists have no hard evidence for it. For the most part, however, ''The Naked Woman'' lives up to the high standard Morris set for himself in many of his more than 30 previous books, including ''The Naked Ape.'' He champions the current data suggesting that women are by nature more fluent in speech than men, better at handling several tasks at once and more manually dexterous. In fact, after noting that most exceptional pianists are men, he writes, ''If a slightly smaller keyboard was made . . . female pianists would easily outplay their male counterparts.'' In an age when many educated people resist the voluminous data on the biological variations between the sexes, Morris's unapologetic description of myriad gender differences is refreshing.
Perhaps most important, Morris reiterates an anthropological tenet: for millions of years humankind lived in societies where women and men were regarded as different but largely equal. Today women in many cultures are gradually returning to their ancient human status. And in a time when some people question the concept of evolution, Morris's book gives an elegant view of nature's timeless evolutionary processes and one of its most sophisticated creations: woman.
Helen Fisher, an anthropologist at Rutgers University, is the author of ''Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love.''
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
Buttars threatens public referendum on the issue
By Jennifer Toomer-Cook
Deseret Morning News
The state school board's proposed position statement on teaching evolution doesn't give an inch for a state senator's "intelligent design" concepts.
That bothers Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan. He wants the board to insert language saying humans didn't evolve from any other species.
If the board doesn't, he'll carry a bill that could require intelligent design be taught in public schools to counterbalance human evolution discussions. Or he may go for a public vote on the issue.
"Maybe the way to go is a referendum, and put it on next year's ballot, and let the people tell the schools what to do," Buttars said Friday. "Once again, they could stop this whole mess if they would add something as simple as the line I (propose)."
The State Board of Education is scheduled to vote on the document next Friday. Chairman Kim Burningham says he likes what he sees so far.
"It says that evolution is accepted as a principle by the scientific community, it should be taught in science classes, it's got credible evidence behind it, but questions still related to it, (and) religion and other methods of knowing . . . should be studied elsewhere," Burningham said. "My first impression is, I'm comfortable with it."
Intelligent design holds that life is far too complex to be explained solely by Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection and evolution. Some backers, including Buttars, say the concept should be taught alongside human evolution in public schools. But critics say it's a thin veil for God and creationism, which can't be taught in public schools under a 1987 Supreme Court ruling.
The inclusion of intelligent design has been supported by some local school boards across the nation. In Kansas it has been implemented statewide. Districts in some states, including California and Pennsylvania, have been sued over the issue.
In light of the controversies, Burningham, also president of the National Association of State Boards of Education, asked the Utah board to take a stand on teaching evolution of species — a central part of Utah's high school biology core curriculum.
The proposed position statement was created by a committee of about 25, including state school board members and science educators from the State Office of Education, universities and public school classrooms, state curriculum director Brett Moulding said.
Its contents were revealed in a school board agenda the Deseret Morning News received this Friday.
"As a fundamental scientific concept, evolution is a necessary part of science classroom instruction, and it will continue to be taught and progressively refined as a key scientific principle," the 1 1/2-page document states.
"Teachers should respect and be nonjudgmental about (student) beliefs, and teachers should help students understand that science is an essential way of knowing. Teachers should encourage students to discuss any seeming conflicts with their parents or religious leaders."
The document also defines the weight of theory in scientific context, cites evidence that the universe and life have changed over time, and notes other ways people glean understanding, such as historical analysis, art, religion and philosophy, which rely upon "other ways of knowing, such as emotion and faith.
"While these ways of understanding and creating meaning are important to individuals and society, they are not amenable to scientific investigation and thus not appropriate for inclusion in the science curriculum," the document states.
Buttars believes the document should include new language: "There is not generally accepted agreement in the scientific community or (evidence) that has stood up to scientific scrutiny regarding the evolution of man from any other species."
"That's all they have to do to make this an acceptable article," Buttars said. "I doubt they'll do it."
Moulding believes the document touches on Buttars' concerns.
"Sen. Buttars is concerned about children not having their beliefs questioned in public schools," he said. "If you notice there, we have made it very clear that beliefs students bring from home or church should be respected by teachers teaching evolution concepts in biology."
But the document makes no mention of requiring biology students to take philosophy or humanities class where intelligent design can be discussed, as Buttars has suggested.
Thursday, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. told reporters he believes intelligent design should not be taught in science classes, and that the time to talk about other concepts comes largely at home or in religious settings.
"If it comes up in sociology or philosophy as differing views on creation, I think that's appropriate," Huntsman said. "But that doesn't happen until college or maybe later in high school."
Buttars has asked to address the school board Friday.
So have a couple of Brigham Young University professors, who may share views opposing Buttars', Burningham said.
© 2005 Deseret News Publishing Company
Saturday, August 27, 2005 RELIGION/ETHICS Mike McManus Religion/Ethics columnist
Second of two parts
TIME magazine's cover story, "Evolution Wars," asserts that "The push to teach 'intelligent design' raises a question: Does God have a place in science class?"
The magazine may be asking the wrong question. Many advocates of intelligent design I've interviewed do not want to put God in the classroom. These scientists are making a more "modest claim," according to Jonathan Wells, author of "Icons of Evolution."
"We infer from the evidence that some features of the natural world are better explained as the result of an intelligent design rather than an unguided natural process," which is advocated by Darwinists. "Intelligent design works from the evidence not from Scripture."
''Not everything is the result of intelligent design. For example, the breeding of domestic animals has been around for thousands of years, in which existing species changed over the years." For example, cows which produce more milk are chosen for reproduction, not those with little output. In this case, it is the intelligence of man which is doing the designing.
Darwinists claim that entire new species evolved from earlier species by natural selection. The anti-Darwinsts argue that the scientific evidence points in a different direction. For example, Wells cites bacterial flagellum, "which could not have been produced by Darwin's thesis of gradual change."
He is speaking of a protrusion of bacteria that performs like a rotary propeller, says Michael Behe, a biochemist. The flagellum is long and whiplike, that "can spin at ten thousand revolutions per minute." It is an example of "irreducible complexity," a highly complex biological machine, that simply could not have evolved, as Darwinists allege. The world's most efficient motor is tiny, about 1/20,000 of an inch, most of which is the flagellum.
It has sensory systems that tell the flagellum when to turn on or off, so that it guides the cell to food, light or whatever it is seeking.
Darwin himself wrote in his "Origin of the Species," "If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down."
Let's consider two other examples which appear to refute Darwinism:
1. The Big Bang is how the universe began, according to most cosmologists, scientists who study this issue. However, the assumption of scientists for centuries was that the universe is an unchanging eternal entity.
The discovery that this was an error first came from Albert Einstein who was shocked to find that his theory of relativity did not allow for a static universe. In 1929, Edward Hubble concluded that the galaxies are moving away from us at enormous velocities.
Even atheistic scientists concede the universe had a beginning, such as Kai Nielson who adds, ''It's a stunning confirmation of the millennia-old Judeo-Christian doctrine of creation out of nothing."
The first words of Genesis are, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth."
But advocates of intelligent design put it this way. "A cause of space and time must be an uncaused, beginningless, timeless, spaceless, immaterial, personal being endowed with the freedom of will and enormous power. And that is a core concept of God," says William Lane Craig.
2. DNA: Every cell has the now-famous double helix of deoxyribonecleic acid, where the "language of life" is stored.
For 50 years, scientists have studied ''the six feet of DNA that is tightly coiled inside of every one of our body's one hundred trillion cells," writes Lee Strobel in his best-seller, "The Case for a Creator."
However, some scientists who do believe in evolution, also see God's hand in it.
Francis Collins who announced he had mapped the 3 billion letters of our own DNA instruction book, is quoted by TIME as saying, "I see no conflict in what the Bible tells me about God and what science tells me about nature. Like St. Augustine in A.D. 400, I do not find the wording of Genesis 1 and 2 to suggest a scientific textbook, but a powerful and poetic description of God's intention in creating the universe.
"The mechanism of creation is left unspecified. If God, who is all powerful ... chose to use the mechanism of evolution to create you and me, who are we to say that wasn't an absolutely elegant plan?
"Science's tolls will never prove or disprove God's existence. For me, the fundamental answers about the meaning of life come not from science but from a consideration of the origins of our uniquely human sense of right and wrong, and from the historical record of Christ's life on earth," Collins concludes.
The current battle in the ongoing war over the teaching of evolution can be seen as yet another in a series of dangerous thrusts by religious conservatives. And it can scare a lot of people.
But it can also be seen as much ado about very little. The anti-evolution people seem to have adopted the premise that the way to achieve a goal is to adopt a terribly modest one.
"Teach the controversy." That's the cry of the side that used to be known as the creationists. (The vocabulary is different now.) The cry is catching on. It's popular in the polls, and it's been adopted by the president and, sort of, by Ohio.
Says the other side: There is no scientific controversy about the validity of evolution; there are just deniers. The deniers don't submit any findings to peer review, the heart of the scientific process. And, while they sometimes have academic credentials, they are funded overwhelmingly by organizations that make no secret about their motives being religious.
The issue for many educators has been one of principle: let's preserve science classes for teaching science. And "science" means what the scientists say after having participated in the scientific process. Let's leave religion for elsewhere.
The issue gets a little muddied by the Discovery Institute in Seattle, the operation behind the "Teach the controversy" strategy. The institute doesn't talk much about the Bible, preferring to keep its pitch secular. But that, transparently, is just a tactic. It derives partly from the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court has said government may not tell schools to teach creationism, because creationism is a religious perspective, and government may not further a religious perspective.
Now "creationism" is replaced by "intelligent design." And religious motives are downplayed.
Does the obvious presence of religious motives mean that all who believe in evolution should work to exclude "intelligent design" from science classrooms?
From a committed evolutionist's perspective, what's wrong with the following lesson plan:
Teach evolution. Then say, OK, we have told you what science says. But now there's a group pushing "intelligent design." ID holds that, while evolution happens, it can't explain the development of such a sophisticated organism as the human; so some intelligence must be at work. Evolutionists respond as follows. (The response mentions the methods and motives of the ID people.) And the ID people respond to those criticisms as follows
That sequence might not be what the ID people want. But one political asset they have now is the surface appeal of the "teach the controversy" pitch, the apparent modesty and fairness of it. Offer them the above kind of deal, and if they reject it, then they are back on the defensive.
And there's this: Half of Americans reject evolution; multiple polls have shown that. For all anybody knows, a treatment of "the controversy" in science classes would result in more people seeing the evolutionary light. The evolutionists might want to consider whether the status quo is worth protecting.
Some people say that all mention of intelligent design should be in religion classes or social studies. But ID could be a useful example for science teachers of what science is, and what it isn't.
Worth noticing here is what the intelligent design people are not asking for. They are not against teaching evolution; indeed, they have criticized moves in that direction. They are not even, at this stage, at least, proposing an intelligent design curriculum. They say they aren't ready for that.
When their movement came to Ohio, they got what was widely treated as a (rare) victory. But the Ohio plan doesn't mention "intelligent design." It just calls for "critical analysis" of evolution. It's odd that evolution is singled out for such scrutiny. And, yes, this requirement could reasonably be seen as a foot in the door. But whether it has resulted in many outrages against learning is unclear.
One might reasonably suspect that, in asking for relatively little, the disguised creationists are building toward something bigger. But, on the other hand, maybe they simply feel obliged to restrain themselves if they want to keep money flowing from as many sources as possible.
The intelligent design movement is looking a lot like the movement to ban "partial-birth" abortions. A ban doesn't save any fetuses, because the abortions end up being done in other ways. But the fight allows advocacy groups on both sides to raise lots and lots of money for the fight.
In pushing school systems to "teach the controversy," the intelligent design people seem unlikely to save many souls from the evolutionists. But they'll raise lots of money for the fight.
Martin Gottlieb is an editorial writer and columnist for the Dayton Daily News.
mgottlieb@DaytonDailyNews.com Cox News Service
Posted on Sun, Aug. 28, 2005
Hamilton Southeastern Schools targeted
By Robert King
INDIANAPOLIS – When some residents in Columbus petitioned the school board three years ago to give the Bible's creation account equal time with evolution, school officials came up with a novel response.
They created a new class – under the heading of social studies – that examines all the theories on human origins. Not only did the class cover evolution and creationism, it also surveyed Navajo beliefs, the Hindu creation story and a host of other perspectives.
Greg Lewis, the social studies chairman at Columbus East High School, figured a skeptical public would put his human origins class under the microscope. "Teaching the course was like walking a tightrope," he said.
In the end, the dissection Lewis expected never came. The course's treatment of the issues seemed to soothe the population to the point that, after two semesters, so few kids were interested in the subject there weren't enough to fill a course section.
Such a quiet resolution is unusual in this red-hot front in the culture war. The debate has been re-energized by President Bush's recent remark that public schools – now almost exclusively the turf of Charles Darwin and evolutionary theory – should also teach "intelligent design."
Intelligent design is the theory that there is evidence of a guiding hand in the way the natural world has developed.
The confrontation is evident in Fishers, where a fledgling advocacy group is threatening to sue Hamilton Southeastern Schools if the district fails to give a "balanced and non-partisan" view of the origins of life – in other words, to let Darwin's critics get equal time.
The group, headed by Delaware County resident Alex P. Oren, has a stated mission to stop "the influence of atheism and immorality" in public schools. Although his faith motivates his effort, Oren insists he isn't seeking equal time for God, just the arguments against evolution. "This is not science versus religion," he said. "This is science versus science."
Oren chose Hamilton Southeastern to file a notice of intent to sue because he sees the school system as a growing, progressive district in suburban Indianapolis. A win there, he hopes, will ripple across the state.
Nearly 150 years after Darwin proposed that life evolved through natural selection, evolution has become the bedrock for modern science. But many people remain unconvinced it is the ultimate explanation for life.
A Harris poll conducted in June found that nearly two-thirds of Americans believe human beings were created directly by God. A majority said public schools should teach evolution, creationism and intelligent design.
"You have to know both sides," said Geeta Nevrekar, whose son Vikram is an incoming freshman at Hamilton Southeastern High. "It is better to know, and then the kids will have to decide which they think is the right one," she said.
Karen Rogers, the science curriculum program director for the Indiana Department of Education, is willing to accept intelligent design or creationism in classes such as religious studies. But she said it has no place in science classes because it simply is "non-scientific."
Evolution, she said, is more than what the street use of the term "theory" conveys. Rather than just a guess about who is going to win the Super Bowl, it is something that has been "tested and retested and continues to be supported by the evidence," Rogers said.
She contends that intelligent design fails in this regard. "It can't be tested," she said. "So to pretend that it could be would not be helping students see the distinction about what is science and doing what science truly entails."
Conflicts between evolution and creationism have tended to arise after concerted efforts to bolster science education in America, said Glenn Branch, deputy director for the National Center for Science Education, a non-profit group based in Oakland, Calif., devoted to keeping the theory of evolution in public schools.
The landmark Scopes trial in 1925 came after a push for improved education after World War I, Branch said.
When America went on a science binge after the Soviet launch of Sputnik, similar controversies arose.
The current catharsis, Branch said, is a response to the standards-based education changes that have shifted control of curriculums from local schools to the state and national level, including through Bush's own No Child Left Behind Act.
"When you get competent educators together to write standards, they are going to include evolution," Branch said.
He insists intelligent design must show that it is more than "repackaged" creationism by producing scientific papers that can be subjected to peer review.
"There's been no significant challenge to evolution," Branch said.
William Dembski, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and a leading advocate of intelligent design, disagrees. The Seattle-based institute promotes what it calls a "positive vision of the future" on a wide variety of issues.
Dembski, who also is the head of the Center for Science and Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said the idea of evolution through a purely natural selection requires its own leap of faith.
There are examples in nature of organisms that have so many interrelated parts they couldn't possibly have existed in a reduced form, he said.
"We need engineering concepts to understand these systems," he said. "Evidence for trial-and-error tinkering is just not there to account for them."
Intelligent design has enough support in Kansas it appears likely to wind up in the state's science curriculum. A school district in Pennsylvania made intelligent design a part of the curriculum and was promptly sued. That case is pending.
In Indiana, Oren freely acknowledges that his challenge to Hamilton Southeastern is motivated by his belief in the biblical account of creation. And for him, the stakes in the fight for public schools couldn't be higher.
"For many kids, this is where it begins," he said. "The choice between God or no God often comes right here."
When the religious Right adopts the epistemology of the multicultural Left -- that truth is relative -- there goes the Enlightenment, writes Noam Scheiber
August 29, 2005
IN 1993, journalist Jonathan Rauch published a book called Kindly Inquisitors , in which he catalogued contemporary threats to the Enlightenment tradition of seeking truth through logical or empirical discourse.
One of Rauch's points was that, while this (classical) liberal system for amassing knowledge appeared to be under attack from both the religious Right and the multicultural Left, in fact the two groups were making a version of the same argument: mainstream science didn't accord their beliefs the respect they deserved, whether it was creation science on the one hand or feminist or Afro-centric science on the other.
Rauch's book has held up remarkably well in the 12 years since it was published.
This is particularly so in light of the debate in the US over intelligent design (ID) -- the idea, popular on the Right, that life is too complex to have resulted from random variation. Even US President George W. Bush has suggested, as the creation scientists (and multiculturalists) of the 1980s and 1990s did before him, that both sides of the supposed debate be treated as legitimate in public school curricula.
But there was one thing Rauch didn't anticipate. At the time, he suggested that even though creationists had adopted the tactics of the academic Left -- the demand for equal time -- they still believed in objective truths. They just didn't think all of these truths were discoverable by science.
By contrast, today's IDers have gone further and adopted the epistemology of the Left -- the idea that ostensibly scientific truths may be relative.
The animating principle of the postmodern Left is the notion that truth follows from power and not from its intrinsic rightness.
It's a conceit that began in the humanities but eventually spread to hard sciences like physics. "The point is that neither logic nor mathematics escapes the contamination of the social," as postmodern pooh-bah Stanley Aronowitz has put it.
What makes this approach so radical is its implication that the way to win intellectually is to win politically.
The postmodernists rely heavily on the work of historians of science such as Thomas Kuhn. It was Kuhn who famously argued that scientific knowledge proceeds as a sequence of "paradigm shifts" -- revolutions in the way we understand the world -- and that the shifts occur not simply when the evidence in favour of the new paradigm becomes overwhelming, but when the people invested in the old paradigm are in some sense defeated (which may not occur until long after they're proved wrong).
Mainstream science has taken from Kuhn the belief that evidence and logic are necessary, if not quite sufficient, conditions for a paradigm shift and that, in the long run, successive shifts bring society closer to objective truth. Where the postmodernists go awry is in their emphasis on Kuhn's relativism.
Unfortunately, these postmodernist ideas have become a staple of the ID movement.
According to a strategic memo produced by the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, the leading backer of intelligent design, "Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud portrayed humans not as moral and spiritual beings, but as animals or machines who inhabited a universe ruled by purely impersonal forces".
There was nothing particularly objective about this view, according to the IDers. Instead, applying the same reading of Kuhn that the postmodernists embrace, they argue that it was simply the result of a political struggle between insurgents and the establishment.
Probably the clearest example of this comes courtesy of Discovery Institute president Bruce K. Chapman. "All ideas that achieve a sort of uniform acceptance ultimately fall apart, whether it's in the sciences or philosophy or politics, after a few people keep knocking away at it," he recently told The New York Times.
But that's nuts. Germ theory, relativity, the idea that the earth is round -- the fact that all have withstood the occasional challenge suggests that truth counts for something.
Chapman might protest that he's simply proposing a more accurate alternative to evolution, the same way Darwin proposed a more accurate alternative to creationism.
But ID isn't a new theory, just a new attempt to advance an old one, with some new empirical claims thrown in for good measure. Scientists can discredit ID using the exact same evidence they used to debunk creationism.
Once you realise this, it's no longer possible to interpret Chapman as echoing the belief in a steady progression toward truth.
Like all conservatives, of course, the IDers claim to decry relativism and to embrace absolutes. But for them, the claim is logically incoherent in a way it wasn't when it came from their creationist predecessors.
When a proposition is empirically false, as both creationism and ID (to the extent that it makes empirical claims) are, you're free to assert its truth; you just can't call it science.
The creationists had no problem with this; they just rejected any science that contradicted the Bible.
But the IDers aspire to scientific truth. Unfortunately, the only way to claim that something empirically false is scientifically true is to question science's capacity for sorting out truth from falsehood, the same way postmodernists do.
Conservatives were quick to point out the danger of this view in the 1980s and 90s. They argued that a science that rejected the idea of truth was vulnerable to the most inane forms of intellectual hucksterism. And they were right. It's not hard to imagine scams such as cold fusion or the Scientologist critique of psychiatric drugs gaining ground in a world where science's ability to identify knowledge has been undermined. (Among other monuments to postmodern thought was the idea that E=mc2 might be a "sexed equation" that "privileges the speed of light over other speeds", as Belgian-French theorist Luce Irigaray once asserted.)
Americans don't like thinking of themselves as backward. As a result, the risk from science-rejecting creationists hasn't been particularly acute in recent decades. But most people don't have very strong views on the philosophy of science. If, unlike the postmodern Left, the ID movement can enlist mainstream conservatives in questioning science's capacity to produce objective truth, then it's by no means clear the effort won't succeed.
In that case, it will end up threatening a whole lot more than just evolution.
The New Republic
© The Australian
Posted on Sun, Aug. 28, 2005
VOICES | R. PAUL KERCHER
Science offers a clear look at the wonder of God's awesome works
Two sentences in the introduction to last Sunday's sermon by the Rev. Wallace Johnson, pastor of Hickory's First Presbyterian Church, prompted me to think further about the subject. The comment was, "Continuing debate about evolution and creationism is pointless and unnecessary. God is the one who created evolution and has been at work with that process for eons."
There has been much recent debate about this subject: creationism, evolution, intelligent design, etc. What are we to make of all this?
I believe there has been mass confusion about this subject and stonewalling at either end -- the creationist at one end and the so-called evolutionist at the other. And I believe that the standoff is the result in many cases of misunderstanding.
Charles Darwin himself was an Anglican and, in fact, feared that his hypothesis of evolution would result for some in a godless philosophy.
If you start from the premise that God exists, and that God is a giving God, it would follow that everything is his creation, however it came to be. If God chose to bring about creation as we know it today over millions of years (scientists now put the age of Earth at 4.5 billion years) and by a slow process (evolution) or if one believes in spontaneous creation, so be it.
God chose the way he wanted to generate his creation, and as time goes on, scientists continue to learn more and more about how it all happened.
As Christians, we are exhorted to seek the truth, and "the truth shall make you free." So we must be open to the truth, whatever its source, including science. Truth from science sets us free from ignorance in that sphere.
The major obstacle for many religious people is the literal interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis, the six-day scheme of creation that supposedly happened about 4004 B.C.
But until one realizes that these early chapters of Genesis -- 1-11 (up to Abraham, the first person for whom we have historical and archaeological evidence) -- is etiology (explanation of causes by primitive man, albeit in the context of theistic faith), one would never be able to move from a primitive, pre-scientific and unscientific view of reality.
I believe that some religionists and other sincere-thinking people try to force us into a false juxtaposition of either creationism or evolution. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist recently stated that evolution and creationism should be taught side by side in the public schools. Why can't one be a creationist-evolutionist?
God is still God, God is still sovereign; we simply allow our God to be God and do things the way he chooses. And as science progresses, we will learn more about the genesis of things.
However one thinks it all happened, the key question is whether there was and is the Prime Mover, the First Cause, the Intelligent Designer. For me, this question is answered intellectually by common sense, and theologically by faith. In fact, I would be proud if my epitaph read: "I continue to be in awe of God's marvelous creation."
R. Paul Kercher is a retired Presbyterian minister living in Hickory.
Saturday, August 27, 2005 · Last updated 11:03 a.m. PT
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
LOS ANGELES -- A group representing California religious schools has filed a lawsuit accusing the University of California system of discriminating against high schools that teach creationism and other conservative Christian viewpoints.
The Association of Christian Schools International, which represents more than 800 schools, filed a federal lawsuit Thursday claiming UC admissions officials have refused to certify high school science courses that use textbooks challenging Darwin's theory of evolution. Other rejected courses include "Christianity's Influence in American History."
According to the lawsuit, the Calvary Chapel Christian School in Murrieta was told its courses were rejected because they use textbooks printed by two Christian publishers, Bob Jones University Press and A Beka Books.
Wendell E. Bird, a lawyer for the association, said the policy violates the rights of students and religious schools.
"A threat to one religion is a threat to all," he said.
UC spokeswoman Ravi Poorsina said she could not comment, because the university had not been served with the lawsuit. Still, she said the university has a right to set course requirements.
"These requirements were established after careful study by faculty and staff to ensure that students who come here are fully prepared with broad knowledge and the critical thinking skills necessary to succeed," Poorsina.
Giant roadside dinosaur attractions are used by a new breed of creationists as pulpits to spread their version of Earth's origins.
By Ashley Powers Times Staff Writer
August 27, 2005
CABAZON, Calif. — Dinny the roadside dinosaur has found religion.
The 45-foot-high concrete apatosaurus has towered over Interstate 10 near Palm Springs for nearly three decades as a kitschy prehistoric pit stop for tourists.
Now he is the star of a renovated attraction that disputes the fact that dinosaurs died off millions of years before humans first walked the planet.
Dinny's new owners, pointing to the Book of Genesis, contend that most dinosaurs arrived on Earth the same day as Adam and Eve, some 6,000 years ago, and later marched two by two onto Noah's Ark. The gift shop at the attraction, called the Cabazon Dinosaurs, sells toy dinosaurs whose labels warn, "Don't swallow it! The fossil record does not support evolution."
The Cabazon Dinosaurs join at least half a dozen other roadside attractions nationwide that use the giant reptiles' popularity in seeking to win converts to creationism. And more are on the way.
"We're putting evolutionists on notice: We're taking the dinosaurs back," said Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis, a Christian group building a $25-million creationist museum in Petersburg, Ky., that's already overrun with model sauropods and velociraptors.
"They're used to teach people that there's no God, and they're used to brainwash people," he said. "Evolutionists get very upset when we use dinosaurs. That's their star."
The nation's top paleontologists find the creation theory preposterous and say children are being misled by dinosaur exhibits that take the Jurassic out of "Jurassic Park."
"Dinosaurs lived in the Garden of Eden, and Noah's Ark? Give me a break," said Kevin Padian, curator at the University of California Museum of Paleontology in Berkeley and president of National Center for Science Education, an Oakland group that supports teaching evolution. "For them, 'The Flintstones' is a documentary."
Tyrannosaurus rex and his gigantic brethren find themselves on both sides of the nation's renewed debate over the Earth's origins and the continuing fight over whether Charles Darwin's "The Origin of Species" or Genesis best explains the development of life.
Science holds that dinosaurs were the Earth's royalty for about 160 million years. Their reign ended abruptly, possibly after a meteorite smacked into the planet, but they're considered the forebears of birds.
Unearthing dinosaur bones that are millions of years old "doesn't prove evolution, but it shows the Genesis account doesn't work," said Nick Matzke, a spokesman for the National Center for Science Education.
Drivers who pull off Interstate 10 in Pensacola, Fla., are told a far different story at Dinosaur Adventure Land. Its slogan: "Where Dinosaurs and the Bible meet!"
The nearly 7-acre museum, low-tech theme park and science center embodies its founder's belief that God created the world in six days. The dinosaurs, even super carnivores such as T. rex, dined as vegetarians in the Garden of Eden until Adam and Eve sinned — and only then did they feast on other creatures, according to the Christian-based young-Earth theory.
About 4,500 years after Adam and Eve arrived, the theory goes, pairs of baby dinosaurs huddled in Noah's Ark, and a colossal flood drowned the rest and scattered their fossils. The ark-borne animals repopulated the planet — meaning that folk tales about fire-breathing beasts are accounts of humans battling dinosaurs, who still roamed the planet.
Kids romping through the $1.5-million Florida theme park can bounce on a "Long Neck Liftasaurus" swing seat; launch water balloons at a T. rex and a stegosaurus, and smooth their own sandbox-size Grand Canyons, whose formation is credited to the flood. A "fossilized" pickle purports to show that dinosaur bones could have hardened quickly. Got an upcoming birthday? Dinosaur Adventure Land does pizza parties.
"Go to Disneyland, they teach evolution. It's subtle; signs that say, 'Millions of years ago' " said evangelist Kent Hovind, the park's founder. "This is a golden opportunity to get our point across."
Carl Baugh opened his Creation Evidence Museum in the 1980s near Dinosaur Valley State Park in Glen Rose, Texas, where some people said fossilized dinosaur tracks and human footprints crisscrossed contemporaneously. The Texas museum sponsors a continuing hunt for living pterodactyls in Papua New Guinea. Baugh said five colleagues have spotted the flying dinosaurs, "but all the sightings were made after dark, and we were not able to capture the creatures."
Organizers at Creation Research of the North Coast in Humboldt County, Calif., dream of building their own reptile park but lack funding and acreage. So do leaders at Project Creation in Mount Juliet, Tenn., who would need to raise about $1 million to assemble 30 to 50 pterodactyl and brachiosaur replicas to mingle with live chickens and goats.
At the Institute for Creation Research museum in Santee, a San Diego suburb, officials plan to enlarge its paleontological offerings.
"We like to think of [dinosaurs] as creation lizards, or missionary lizards," said Frank Sherwin, a museum researcher and author.
A 50,000-square-foot Answers in Genesis museum and headquarters is under construction near the Ohio-Kentucky border, where the group hired a full-time dinosaur sculptor. When the facility opens in 2007, the lobby will spotlight a 20-foot waterfall and two animatronic T. rexes hanging out with two animatronic children dressed in buckskins.
The creation museums are riling mainstream Christian denominations that believe the Earth is billions of years old and that God uses evolution as a tool. This conviction makes modern science compatible with their faith in a creator.
"Taking the Bible as astronomy or physics is blasphemy. They're treating it as an elementary textbook and it's not," said Francisco J. Ayala, a UC Irvine evolutionary biology professor and ordained Dominican priest.
"We believe that God created the world…. They misread, misquote and misuse the Bible, but they will lose out to science," said Ayala, a past president of the American Assn. for the Advancement of Science.
Hugh Ross, an astrophysicist and founder of Reasons To Believe ministry in Pasadena, frets that "young-Earth theologians" damage the credibility of scientists who are Christian and push intellectuals away from religion.
"I'd put them in the same category as flat-Earth people and the people that think the sun goes around the Earth," he said. "They think they're defending the truth, but the young-Earth model has no scientific integrity."
Advocates of the intelligent design idea, who assert that certain features of life are best explained by a creative intelligence, bristle at being lumped in with young-Earth creationists. There's little question that the Earth is billions of years old, said John West, senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a public policy think tank in Seattle that is critical of Darwinian theory.
"Critics would rather tar everyone with the brush of creationism," said West, who teaches political science at Seattle Pacific University. "I think the idea that Genesis provides scientific text is really farfetched."
Creationists defend their dinosaur museums and attractions as a way to teach a grander purpose: If the Bible's history is accurate, then so is its morality.
"If [evolutionists] convince people that dinosaurs are exotic, strange creatures, they've won right there, and the Bible looks like a book of Jewish fairy tales," said Sean Meek, executive director of the Tennessee group Project Creation.
In Cabazon, it was the apatosaurus' underbelly that first enticed an Orange County developer a decade ago.
Gary Kanter had driven to the desert to size up Dinny the dinosaur and the 60 surrounding acres of scrubland, with the idea of expanding the adjacent truck stop.
While gawking up at the dinosaur's tummy, Kanter imagined the beast's tree-trunk legs lumbering across the barren plain.
"He's like a movable Golden Gate bridge," he recalled thinking when he reached his epiphany: Dinny was the perfect pitchman for a higher power.
Kanter's development company bought the site from the family of the late Claude K. Bell for $1.2 million.
Bell, an ex-sculptor at Knott's Berry Farm, crafted Dinny from discarded steel and concrete in the 1960s.
The mayor of Cabazon at the time called the reptile an eyesore. The apatosaurus once sheltered two dozen people during a snowstorm and starred in an ad for an air-conditioning company that bragged about cooling the beast.
Bell eventually added Mr. Rex, a 65-foot-tall tyrannosaurus. The creatures' red eyes glare in tandem at nighttime drivers and on postcards that show Mr. Rex chomping a freeway sign. In 1985, actor Paul Reubens climbed inside Rex for the film "Pee-wee's Big Adventure," peering through 50 spiky teeth.
Kanter and his wife, Denise, are Christian home-schooling advocates who are hosts on a DVD titled "How to Home Educate with Ease." After the gift shop vendor's lease expired, Denise Kanter posted an essay on the Christian website Revolution Against Evolution, seeking volunteers for the attraction.
"Our national museums (that we fund through our taxes) leave millions of people with information that they are no more than an evolved rock," she wrote. "The destruction of millions of souls has been devastating."
Pastor Robert Darwin Chiles offered to transform the Cabazon Dinosaurs from tourist stop to place of worship.
The pastor and the Kanters now hope to turn Mr. Rex's innards into exhibits about cryptozoology — the study of speculative creatures, such as Bigfoot — and creationism. They will somewhat mirror those in Santee, which takes visitors from Genesis to modern times with placards that say Darwin "came at just the right time to be the catalyst for a revival of ancient paganism" and that evolution birthed Communism, racism and Nazism.
"It's what we call marketplace ministry. I bring the Gospel to the people," said Chiles, who runs a nondenominational church at the attraction, inside Bell's rickety old home.
Kids flock to the huge statues. "And it's not like they're crying, 'Oh, mommy, take me out, I'm scared.' They're drawn to it," Chiles said. "There's something in their DNA that knows man walked with these creatures on Earth."
The Kanters intend to spend $2 million to $3 million to add a giant sand pit where kids would rummage for fossils, a center that would contrast creation and evolution arguments, a maze and a replica of Noah's Ark. All that alerts visitors now is a cryptic sign that asks, "Is evolution true?"
Parents glanced past it on a recent afternoon as their children raced toward the growling dinosaurs. Boys wedged their heads between a smaller carnivore's teeth, or smacked its mouth with toy swords. Toddlers hugged Dinny's legs while one family crowded under his tummy in party hats, unwrapped presents and bonked a stegosaurus piñata.
Douglas Bant and his wife ushered their kids from gift shop to minivan for the trip back to Scottsdale, Ariz. The couple teach their children about Jesus, but Bant was miffed about a dinosaur trying to do the same.
"Who thinks, 'I'm going to open a gift shop and convince people this is church'?" he said. "Why would you turn a toy for kids into some sort of religious crusade?"
Corina Shreve had pulled off the highway with her son and daughter.
The family, from Westminster in Orange County, drops in on Dinny maybe twice a year. Shreve said a staffer recently piled pamphlets about creation onto her 6-year-old son Aeron's hands and told him to pass them to friends.
When Aeron asked his mom during this year's visit for a T-shirt, Shreve balked at buying the only one in his size. It read "By Design and Not By Chance."
Copyright © 2005, The Los Angeles Times
By Michael Casey Associated Press Writer
Published: Aug 27, 2005
CIKEUSAL, Indonesia (AP) - Holding her 2-year-old son, Sari listens intently in a ramshackle health clinic as the medical staff assures her and other villagers about the safety of the vaccine being used to fight Indonesia's first polio outbreak in a decade.
But the impoverished mother of two remains unconvinced. She hints she will not participate in Tuesday's nationwide immunization campaign because of unfounded rumors that a neighbor's child contracted polio after being given the oral vaccine earlier this year.
"I'm afraid. Maybe my boy will get paralyzed," said Sari, who was among 62 percent of parents in her village who refused to get their children vaccinated in June during a regional campaign on Java, the main island where most of the nation's 226 polio cases have occurred.
Such fears are threatening the biggest public health exercise ever mounted in Indonesia, whose rising caseload has the World Health Organization worried that the virus could spread throughout Southeast Asia.
Indonesian leaders are pulling out all stops to win over a public skeptical about the drive to vaccinate 24 million children under age 5 on Tuesday and then again on Sept. 27.
The two largest Muslim organizations in the world's most populous Islamic nation are endorsing vaccinations in TV ads, and busloads of soap opera stars and singers are making the rounds to promote a $24 million campaign comparable in preparation to a general election.
More than 750,000 vaccinators will be on hand Tuesday at 245,000 posts set up at health clinics, bus depots, rail stations and airports. The army and police will help deliver vaccine - by plane, boat, bicycle and foot - to some of Indonesia's 6,000 inhabited islands.
"The biggest challenge is public trust," said UNICEF's Claire Hajaj.
She works on the U.N. agency's global campaign to eradicate polio in the six countries where it remains endemic, as well as in Indonesia and 16 other nations that recently have been re-infected.
"The key is that community fears get addressed and they don't turn into widespread vaccine avoidance," Hajaj said.
A 20-month-old diagnosed with polio in March was the country's first case since 1995. Authorities believe the child caught it from a migrant worker or tourist who was infected in Africa or the Middle East.
Polio spreads when unvaccinated people come into contact with the feces of those with the virus, often through contaminated water in places with poor hygiene or inadequate sewage systems. It attacks the nervous system in children under 5, causing paralysis, muscular atrophy and sometimes death, although only about one in 200 of those infected ever develops symptoms.
The potential for the virus to spread beyond Indonesia's 210 million people has prompted East Timor, the Philippines and Thailand to launch smaller vaccination campaigns.
"If this virus continues to spread, we are talking potentially hundreds more Indonesians becoming paralyzed," said Arun Thapa, who is overseeing WHO's polio eradication campaign in Southeast Asia and visited Indonesia this past week.
Indonesia's polio outbreak first prompted authorities to vaccinate as many as 6.5 million children in Java province during two rounds earlier this year.
But officials missed 1 million children in the second round after parents were scared off by media reports that three children died from taking vaccine - later proven unfounded - or rumors that the vaccine violates Islamic law because it was produced using monkey kidney cells.
The rumors mirrored those that spread across the West African nation of Nigeria in 2003, where polio vaccinations were suspended for several months after radical Islamic preachers told parents they were dangerous and part of a U.S. plot against Muslims.
Islamic leaders in Indonesia sought to put such rumors to rest by issuing a fatwa saying the vaccine does not violate Muslim dietary law. But in provinces like West Java, which has 58 polio cases, that and other rumors persist.
Confusion also lingers among health workers over basic policies, such as whether sick children can be vaccinated. UNICEF says they can.
"Everything is going well, but we are still worried people won't take the vaccine," said Dr. Agus Gusmara, who heads the campaign in Serang district. "We have still have bad memories of the last two rounds."