NTS LogoSkeptical News for 2 September 2005

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Friday, September 02, 2005


Metroplex Institute of Origin Science

Hear David Menton, Ph.D.

Present: Feathers & Fur

Dr. Menton has a B.A. in Biology from Mankato State University and a Ph.D. in Cell Biology from Brown University. He is Professor Emeritus of Anatomy at Washington University School of Medicine where he was Associate Professor of Anatomy for over 30 years.

This video presentation is one of the most obvious and dramatic demonstrations of design that one could ever imagine. It directly addresses many of the absurd misrepresentations of evolutionists, especially those relating to the origin of birds. It is highly entertaining, effectively educational and absolutely devastating to evolutionary theory.

Bunky Auditorium
Medical Office Building
2126 Research Row, Dallas, TX

Tuesday, September 6th, 7:30 PM

What's New Friday September 2, 2005

WHAT'S NEW Robert L. Park Friday, 2 Sep 05 Washington, DC


Senator John McCain made it clear last week that he too can read polls. In an interview with the Arizona Daily Star, McCain said "all points of view" should be available to students studying the origins of mankind. WN was unable to reach Senator McCain for clarification, but by "all" we think he means just evolution and intelligent design. Or maybe he hopes to corner the votes of those who worship "the giant frog from whose mouth the river of life flowed." McCain's appeal to evolution deniers came just four days after Senator Frist made a pitch to the scientifically challenged http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN05/wn082605.html.


The respected Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that 64% of Americans favor teaching creationism along with evolution in public schools. A scary 38% want to REPLACE evolution with creationism. The tiny glimmer of hope for civilization was the number of inconsistencies in the responses, suggesting confusion over the meaning of the terms. There is room for education.


Actually, no. The President didn't consult his science advisor about intelligent design because he doesn't have one. George W. Bush eliminated the job when he named John Marburger Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Previous OSTP directors held both titles, and WN always referred to Marburger as "Science Advisor." We were wrong, but not alone. We Googled "science advisor" and got 597,000 hits on a nonexistent job. As they used to say at Stony Brook when he was president, "this would never have happened if Jack Marburger was alive."

THE CHIMP: COMPLETE GENETIC MAP CONFIRMS DARWIN'S THEORY. Scientists at MIT and Washington University, St. Louis, announced Wednesday that they have determined the precise order of the 3 billion bits of genetic code needed to make a chimpanzee. There is only a 1 percent difference from the human genetic code. But for that 1 percent, chimpanzees would have a seat in the UN. Robert Waterston, who led the Washington University team, was quoted in yesterday's Washington Post saying, "I can't imagine Darwin hoping for a stronger confirmation of his ideas."


Opinions are the author's and not necessarily shared by the University of Maryland, but they should be.

Archives of What's New can be found at http://www.bobpark.org


The following press release (Amherst, NY, July 22, 2005) is from the Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health regarding a follow-up study to a clinical trial on the efficacy of prayer therapy.

by Nathan Bupp,
Director of Public Affairs,
Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health

A study on the healing power of remote prayer in the current issue of the medical journal Lancet may help correct misleading statements that the lead author made about the preceding pilot study. Thanks in part to this misinformation, the earlier study continues to be widely cited as scientific evidence of the efficacy of prayer.

Dr. Mitchell Krucoff, a cardiologist at Duke University Medical Center, in Durham, NC, is the lead author of the Lancet study as well the pilot study that was published in the November 2001 issue of the American Heart Journal. Much misinformation about the apparent efficacy of prayer therapy has come from the author's misleading statements to the news media, says Andrew Skolnick, executive director of the Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health.

"If you compare what Dr. Krucoff told the news media with the actual results of the pilot study, you should be quite surprised," Skolnick says.

Both the pilot and Lancet studies investigated the effects of "noetic" therapies on heart patients undergoing treatment to unclog their coronary arteries. Noetic therapies are treatments that don't involve drugs, surgery, or other tangible intervention. The therapy receiving the most attention were prayers delivered remotely by people unknown to the patients.

The current study in the July 16 issue of Lancet reports the findings of the MANTRA II trial (MANTRA stands for Monitoring and Actualization of Noetic TRAinings), which was launched to confirm the findings of the much smaller MANTRA I trial.

In news interviews following its publication, Dr. Krucoff claimed he and his co-authors saw "impressive reductions in all negative outcomes" -- including congestive heart failure and death -- among patients who received remote prayer treatment, compared with those who were not treated with prayer.

"If one takes the trouble to read the MANTRA I study," says Skolnick, " one can see that the prayed-for group of patients had one more death than the patients in the group who received only standard care. Contrary to what Dr. Krucoff told the news media, there was no difference, impressive or otherwise, in the number of patients who suffered congestive heart failure."

In the pilot study, 30 patients undergoing conventional therapy to unblock their coronary arteries unknowingly received prayers from people they did not know. A variety of clinical results from these patients were then compared with those of 30 patients who received conventional care, but no prayer therapy. While no patient in the conventional care group died, one patient in the prayed-for group died during the six-month study period. In addition, no patient in either group suffered congestive heart failure.

Nevertheless, in an interview for the Discovery Channel, Dr. Krucoff states:

We saw impressive reductions in all of the negative outcomes -- the bad outcomes that were measured in the study. What we look for routinely in cardiology trials are outcomes such as death, a heart attack, or the lungs filling with water -- what we call congestive heart failure -- in patients who are treated in the course of these problems. In the group randomly assigned to prayer therapy, there was a 50 percent reduction in all complications and a 100 percent reduction in major complications.

Similarly, in an article in the August 2000 issue of Massachusetts Medical Society's publication Hippocrates, Dr. Krucoff claims,

Adverse outcomes in the prayer group were 50 percent to 100 percent fewer than in the standard therapy group. In the patients who received any of the noetic therapies, including prayer, we found a 30 percent reduction for every adverse outcome we measured.

In a recorded interview with Skolnick in July 2004, Dr. Krucoff claimed there was "no difference" between the number of deaths among the prayed-for patients and the patients who received only conventional care. When Skolnick pointed out that the authors' published data show one patient died in the prayer group while none died in the control group, Dr. Krucoff answered, "Well the difference between zero and one in a cohort of 30 people is no difference."

"That answer defies logic," Skolnick says. "One death clearly is different from no deaths. Even more inexplicable was his claim that one death is a 'reduction' from zero deaths."

The Lancet study included many more patients than the MANTRA I study and involved eight medical centers in addition to the Duke University Medical Center. It concludes that prayer therapy had no detectable effect on the health outcomes measured in the study. While Skolnick says he hopes these results will finally correct the misinformation about the earlier study that continues to circulate, he fears they may be spun to support the claim that intercessory prayer is effective medical therapy.

"Five years ago," Skolnick says, "Dr. Krucoff told Hippocrates that he and his colleagues were designing 'a definitive trial to confirm the finding' of the MANTRA I study. The results of that trial has now been published, but it is no longer being called definitive."

In a July 14 Duke University press release, Dr. Krucoff says,

While it's clear there was no measurable impact on the primary composite endpoints of this study, the trends and behavior of pre-specified secondary outcome measures suggest treatment effects that can be taken pretty seriously when considering future study directions.

An accompanying editorial in Lancet appears to echo this spin:

Could a more restricted denominational approach have influenced the outcome? Does the number of those praying matter? Or the timing and duration of prayer? Would it have been more fruitful to have used a battery of subtler qualitative endpoints?

Those questions, the editorial says, "provide a basis for further inquiry."

"So obviously it was not a definitive study," Skolnick says.

It seems that for some, the medical benefits of remote prayer may be a non-falsifiable hypothesis that can always be rescued with new hypothesis to explain away the lack of confirmatory results. As such, it's a subject more appropriate for pseudoscience than science.

CSMMH is an international group of distinguished researchers, academics, and healthcare practitioners who are dedicated to promoting and defending science-based standards in medical care and mental health practice. The Commission sponsors two scientific journals, The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine and The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice.


"Music, imagery, touch, and prayer as adjuncts to interventional cardiac care: the Monitoring and Actualisation of Noetic Trainings (MANTRA) II randomised study," by Krucoff, MW et. al., Lancet. July 16, 2005; 366:211-217


Duke University Medical Center news release


"Can Prayer Heal? A Duke cardiologist's controlled trials advance the debate," by Nancy Waring, Hippocrates, August 2000,


The eSkeptic newsletter is published (almost) weekly by the Skeptics Society, ISSN 1556-5696. Contact us at skepticmag@aol.com. Contents are Copyright (c) 2005 Michael Shermer and the Skeptics Society. Permission to print, distribute, and post with proper citation and acknowledgment. www.skeptic.com

Intelligent design doesn't belong in the classroom


By Brenton Kenkel Published: Thursday, September 1, 2005

Last month, President George W. Bush said that schools should teach intelligent design along with evolution so that students can learn about both sides of the "controversy" and decide between the two. Perhaps, in the same spirit, we should start teaching astrology along with astronomy, voodoo along with chemistry, and numerology along with math. The medical schools could even add departments of tribal witch medicine. Since science has clearly lost its meaning, why not just have some fun?

Intelligent design, in case you haven't followed the contrived "controversy," is the passive-voice form of creationism. It doesn't claim that "God designed life on Earth," but rather that "life on Earth was designed." The identity of the designer is left ambiguous.

Here's another parallel to Bush's proposal. Gravity, like evolution, is a theory - a well-supported, rigorously refined theory that constitutes a major element of its discipline, but a theory nonetheless. Physicists still debate the working details of gravity, as do biologists about evolution. And the existence of gravitons, a major element of most quantum explanations for gravity, has never even been directly confirmed.

So here's my intelligent-design-style solution to the problem with gravity: Something more than the laws of nature must be at work here. After all, if gravitons existed, scientists would be able to find them, right? So there must be an intelligent gravitator responsible for the force we observe as gravitation. And since I've brought a legitimate scientific controversy to the fore, students should be able to learn my side in school and decide for themselves.

The problem with my logic is that what I've devised really isn't a scientific controversy. To say that something is too complicated to understand and then use intuition to explain it is mere superstition.

Even if you take intelligent-design advocates at their word about their supposedly nonpolitical, nonreligious motives, their brand of science emerges as a pitifully defeatist enterprise. While traditional biologists search for answers to difficult problems, the intelligent designers sit in their corner and moan that it can't be done. Is that the scientific attitude we want to teach in schools?

Of course, there's actually no reason to assume intelligent- design advocates' motives aren't religious. There are two possibilities as to the identity of the designer: highly intelligent extraterrestrials, or a supernatural deity. Presumably, the extraterrestrials who designed us would be even more biologically complex than we are; thus, using intelligent-design logic, there's absolutely no way they simply evolved naturally.

As you keep following this string of logic back, you come inevitably to the real designer: God, or at least some omnipotent deity. So, yes, the theology of intelligent design is less offensively explicit than that of creationism, but it's theology nonetheless.

And that's the real problem with intelligent design: not that it calls for theology to be taught in public-school science classrooms - which scores of knowledge-haters have advocated for centuries - but that it shrouds its theology in the veil of legitimate science.

If you don't want students to learn evolution, fine - but don't teach them fake science or a fake controversy.

Brenton Kenkel is a political science and philosophy sophomore. E-mail bkenkel@kykernel.com.

The Student Newspaper at the University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky 2001 Kernel Press, Inc.

Intelligent design efforts likely to fail


Posted on Thu, Sep. 01, 2005


Guest columnist

The current Supreme Court interpretation of the separation of church and state has allowed the public schools to ignore the long-held belief by most Americans that God is the Creator.

Now the same separation views are used to limit the access of intelligent design views to our public school children.

Many Christian families over the next few years will vacate the government schools due to such intransigence and hostility toward Christianity and toward traditional beliefs as advocated in the column in The State on Aug. 8, "The Intelligent Design End Run," by Sheryl McCarthy.

Justice Hugo Black, a one-time member of the Ku Klux Klan, authored the Supreme Court's Everson opinion in 1947, which first used separation of church and state in Supreme Court jurisprudence, a phrase not in the text of the Constitution. This phrase was lifted from Thomas Jefferson's letter of 1802 to the Danbury Baptist Association to answer their concerns that the federal government would sponsor a single Christian denomination.

There have been more than a dozen cases since 1947's Everson case based partially on Hugo Black's reasoning. This case has proven to be one of the most socially, academically and constitutionally destructive cases in U.S. history. To use Ms. McCarthy's terminology, it was Justice Hugo Black who used this then-novel interpretation of the separation of church and state to make an "end run" around the Constitution.

This view has been used to make Christians' beliefs such as creationism or intelligent design second-class or unworthy ideas in public education. It was also used to exclude prayer and Bible reading in 1962 and 1963 Supreme Court cases.

Yes, all Christians believe that the government and church must be administratively distinct, but neither the U.S. Constitution nor the founders intended to set up a secular state that did not acknowledge God. The Judeo-Christian cast of our laws and founding is incontrovertible.

Many Christians view evolutionism not as science, but as religion or dogma, and also the foundation for such destructive social and political ideologies as racism, fascism and Marxism. Christianity and creationism teach that all men are created equal and in the image of God; all mankind has a common ancestor and origin, thus rendering evolutionism as foundational to racism.

Readers should examine social Darwinism's views to confirm this. These views have been used to demean ethnic minorities for centuries by dogmatic social Darwinians. Evangelical Christians, traditional Catholics and orthodox Jews accept evolutionism as neither a valid science nor as a beneficent social policy.

The evolutionary dogmatists are unlikely to bend since they have the power, the media and Supreme Court decisions since the Everson case to assure their continued control of public education. Orthodox Christians are wasting time asking for equal time for intelligent design in the public schools. George Bush cannot help on this.

Over the next decade, millions of children, with the assistance of their churches, will relocate to a whole new Christian and home-school system, where both evolution and creationism will be taught fairly and objectively.

Mr. Moore is director of Exodusmandate.org, a ministry to assist home-schooling and Christian schools. He lives in Blythewood.

Florida Billboard Supports Teaching 'Intelligent Design' in Schools


Stupidity run amuck

To: State Desk

Contact: Chip Rohlke, Christ is Creator.com, 321-773-4020, ChipRohlke@aol.com

MELBOURNE, Fl., Sept.1 /Christian Wire Service/ -- Christ is Creator.com Ministries of Melbourne Florida has been supporting the teaching of "Intelligent Design" in schools for 20 years.

The recent announcement by President Bush on this subject shows how important and timely this issue has become. The ministry has held evolution vs. intelligent design debates on college campuses as well as billboards on major public highways to bring this issue to the forefront of our national debate.

The ministry plans to put up 300 billboards nationwide as the funds become available.

Revival of the 'intelligent design' debate raises many questions


By Stephen Vicchio Originally published September 1, 2005

PRESIDENT BUSH was asked at a recent news conference if he would reveal his "personal views" on "the theory of intelligent design." Proponents of intelligent design argue that their view is an alternative to evolutionary theory.

Mr. Bush reminded the reporters from Texas newspapers that when he was governor of Texas, he suggested that local school districts should decide if they teach evolution or creationism. Then he added, "I felt like both sides ought to be properly taught."

Ron Hutcheson of Knight-Ridder newspapers responded, "Both sides ought to be taught?"

"Yes," Mr. Bush replied, "so people can understand what the debate is about."

Mr. Hutcheson followed up: "So you accept the validity of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution?"

"I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought. ... You're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, and the answer is yes," Mr. Bush replied.

Mr. Hutcheson began to try one more time. "So we've got to give these groups," at which point the president cut him off, "Very interesting question, Hutch." That provoked laughter.

Mr. Bush has brought back to the public realm a debate that we have not seen since President Ronald Reagan advocated the teaching of creationism in the early 1980s.

There are, nevertheless, a number of important questions to be raised about this new incarnation.

First, note that Mr. Bush never answered Mr. Hutcheson's question. Does the president think that intelligent design should be accepted as an alternative to evolution? Why did he not explicitly respond to this question? The question he did answer is very different from the one he refused to answer.

Second, the theory of intelligent design - that an organism's complexity is evidence for the existence of a cosmic designer - has existed in the history of philosophy since the late 18th century.

William Paley, an English philosopher, suggested that the universe is like a watch. In the same way a watch implies a watchmaker, the orderliness of the universe, he argued, implied a universe maker. This argument in philosophical circles came to be called the teleological argument, or the argument from design.

Third, the teleological argument was convincingly done in by Immanuel Kant and David Hume with devastating arguments against the theory in the late 18th century. Indeed, since the time of Kant and Hume, the argument from design has been accepted by few Anglo-American philosophers as a valid one.

Fourth, creationism and intelligent design are not the same theory. It is unlikely, for example, that the advocates of intelligent design believe that the universe is only 6,000 years old, as the many proponents of biblical creationism believed. Creationism and intelligent design may be compatible theories, but they need to be explored more fully to determine that.

A final observation involves the amount of sheer, physical, scientific evidence that Charles Darwin was right. A corresponding amount of evidence could not possibly exist for intelligent design, for scientific theories are not proved, they can only be falsified. To show that gravity is a competent scientific theory, we would have to show one example where it did not work or devise a plan by which we could show it is not true.

With intelligent design, we do not have a scientific theory because there is no way of showing how it could be false.

Stephen Vicchio teaches philosophy at the College of Notre Dame.

Copyright 2005, The Baltimore Sun

Poll finds: Public divided about creationism, 'intelligent design'


Posted on Thu, Sep. 01, 2005


Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Americans are divided over whether humans and other living things evolved over time or have existed in their present form since the beginning of time, according to a new poll.

People on both sides of that argument think students should hear about various theories, however.

Nearly two-thirds of those in a Pew Research Center poll, 64 percent, say they believe "creationism" should be taught alongside "evolution" - a finding likely to spark more controversy about what is taught in the schools.

That controversy could be related to the difficulty of measuring public sentiment about teaching evolution, creationism or the more recent concept of "intelligent design," a Pew official said.

"We acknowledge there may be some confusion about the meaning of these terms," said Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. But Lugo said the findings suggest widespread support for teaching students different ideas about how life began.

"Intelligent design" is a movement among some scholars over the past 15 years that says Charles Darwin's theory of evolution - that natural selection caused gradual biological changes over time - cannot fully explain either how life originated or how extremely complex life forms emerged. An undefined "intelligence" must therefore have been involved, they contend.

In the poll by the Pew Research Center, 42 percent of those surveyed held strict "creationist" views that "living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time."

Almost half, 48 percent, said they believed humans have evolved over time. Some of those people, 26 percent of all those polled, said they believe evolution occurred through natural selection, and 18 percent of all those polled, said evolution was guided by a supreme being.

The poll of 2,000 adults was conducted July 7-17 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points. www.people-press.org

Teachers debating intelligent design


The dispute started when the Rio Rancho Board of Education on a recent vote passed Science Policy 407

By Susie Gran
Tribune Reporter
September 1, 2005

Los Lunas High School teacher Rick Cole taught evolution and intelligent design side-by-side for 11 years until his science department chairman ordered him to stop.

A single phone call from an atheist family last school year triggered the order, Cole said.

"They objected to it as religion."

What he'll do this year depends on what his 11-member science department decides. He does not have a biology class until spring.

"We want to be in agreement as a department," said the former science department chairman. "We're working on that."

Across the state, science teachers are debating the introduction of theories other than evolution into their classrooms.

Their debate echoes the national one over intelligent design, the idea that living organisms are too complex to have developed through evolution, suggesting that a higher power had a hand in creation.

The local debate was sparked when the Rio Rancho Board of Education on a recent 3-2 vote passed Science Policy 401, which opponents claim opens the door to religion in the science classroom.

Opponents are threatening lawsuits to overturn the policy. And, they are on the lookout for teachers like Cole, who they claim violate state policy that requires the teaching of evolution and bans creationism and intelligent design from the science curriculum.

Rio Rancho High science teachers most likely won't follow in Cole's footsteps, based on their collective groan over their board's new policy.

Dan Barbour, head of Rio Rancho High School's SciMatics Academy, said 15 of the 20 science teachers have voiced opposition.

"I have teachers who are very nervous and need guidance," he said. "I'm nervous about bringing this into the classroom."

He said he would be consulting with his colleagues this week on ideas for implementation of the new policy. Their ideas will be forwarded to Rio Rancho schools Superintendent Sue Cleveland, who is developing guidelines.

Meanwhile, teachers are dealing with repercussions of the policy, he said.

A student debate over evolution and intelligent design recently dominated an anatomy and physiology class, Barbour said. In a chemistry class, a student brought in a Bible and wanted to talk about it. In another class, a student brought in the Book of Mormon.

"I can't tell you what their motivation is," he said of the students. "Kids are reading about this in the papers."

Before Rio Rancho's new policy was passed, students were not making an issue of their beliefs, although they did ask questions "that our teachers handled very respectfully."

Barbour said the teachers typically explain to students that they are required to teach the scientific view, not alternate theories. Typically, the evolution lesson is taught in sophomore biology classes and spans seven to 10 days, Barbour said.

Families who don't want their children to study evolution may opt out of the lesson. "Occasionally, I'll get a call," Barbour said. In a school of 2,500 students, three have opted out that Barbour knew about.

But he fears many more teachers will opt out of intelligent design if they have to teach it - by job hunting.

"I will probably lose a majority of my staff," he said.

The teachers have backing from scientific groups and the American Civil Liberties Union, which are urging the Rio Rancho board to rescind its policy.

The policy is "a subtle loophole for the introduction of nonscientific ideas" and could be detrimental to Rio Rancho's business community based in science and technology, said Jayne Aubele of the New Mexico Academy of Science in a two-page statement.

The ACLU threatened to sue, characterizing intelligent design as a Trojan horse for introducing creationism.

Proponents defend the policy as a way to allow classroom discussion on alternative theories to evolution and ensure students are following principals of critical thinking.

Leading the debate in favor of the policy is Rio Rancho school board member and Rio West Community Church pastor Don Schlichte. He wrote the policy with his fellow board member - and fellow church member - Marty Scharfglass, a retired teacher. They say the policy does not force teachers to teach intelligent design and that it is not a vehicle to bring religion into the science classroom.

But the president of the Rio Rancho school board fears the policy deviates from state policy.

Lisa Cour voted against the policy, saying discussion of alternative theories to evolution belongs in philosophy classes, social studies or churches.

The state policy requires teachers to teach evolution and does not allow creationism or intelligent design in the science curriculum, according to the state Public Education Department authors and consultants.

But state department officials say they will not challenge Rio Rancho's policy. They said local boards can supplement required standards as long as they teach state standards, in this case, evolution.

The Rio Rancho policy does not say teachers must teach specific alternative ideas to evolution, only that discussions "acknowledge that reasonable people may disagree about the meaning and interpretation of data."

Forty miles away in Los Lunas, teacher Cole said he is watching the Rio Rancho developments closely. So is a science teacher network, he said.

Through the network he's learned "a lot of teachers ignore the topic (of evolution) entirely," to avoid the very controversy he weathered.

Cole said in his 11 years his classes "studied the origins of life critically. We looked at it thoroughly - what's proven and not proven. My students learned to be very analytical and critical.

"There is growing research in intelligent design and it's an issue we need to deal with. Since there's so much speculation, that's all the more reason for a healthy debate. Let's not leave out anything."

Cole was the New Mexico Science Teacher of the Year in 2001 after teaching intelligent design for seven years. He was lauded for building the Los Lunas High science fair program from nonexistent to an award-winning level in seven years. This year, he predicts the school will set a record for the number of projects in its fall fair.

"I want to teach the origins of life from both sides and several on the staff want to, too. Others don't," he said. "We'll need to come to a consensus."

TANZANIA: Some local healers help relieve AIDS; others are charlatans


01 Sep 2005 11:56:32 GMT

Source: IRIN

DAR ES SALAAM, 1 September (IRIN) - Government health officials in Tanzania acknowledged on Wednesday that services provided by many of the 75,000 registered local healers were beneficial to people living with HIV/AIDS, but the officials also warned that some healers were making false claims that they could cure the condition.

"We understand that there are some herbs that can treat opportunistic diseases like coughing, skin rashes, vomiting and diarrhoea but so far there is no HIV/AIDS cure," Hussein Mwinyi, the deputy health minister, told local healers rallying at the western town of Shinyanga for African Traditional and Alternative Medicine Day.

"The law and the government recognise your services but some of you cheat, give false hopes and operate in circumstances clouded in superstition," he said at the rally.

The rally followed a three-day exhibition on traditional and alternative medicine held under the auspices of the UN World Health Organization (WHO).

Seven percent of Tanzania's two million people are HIV positive, according to a recent survey by the Tanzania Commission for AIDS. Many of them do not have access to health care.

Speakers at Wednesday's rally praised the healers for their knowledge and skill. "We must work together in research for an HIV/AIDS cure, documenting plants and other concoctions that have medicinal value and if possible patent them," Edwin Mg'ong'o, a senior official in Tanzania's Ministry of Health, said at the rally.

Is God Removing His Hand Of Protection From America?


[Skeptics, wake up! I have just learned we are the cause of this massive tragedy. We need to change our ways immediately.

No, wait. Maybe the following is just the ranting of another idiot, the reason the NTS exists in the first place.

Read on. Editor.]

By Chuck Baldwin

Food For Thought From The Chuck Wagon

September 2, 2005 Amidst the horrific aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is a question hardly anyone wants to ask (including Christian leaders), "Is God removing His hand of protection from America?" It is, perhaps, the greatest question that must be answered. For many reasons, I believe the answer is yes.

From the inception of our great country, Americans have constantly acknowledged the overriding providence of Almighty God. For example, during the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin said, "I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth-that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?"

In his inaugural speech given April 30, 1789, George Washington said, "It would be peculiarly improper to omit, in this first official act, my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes."

Washington also said, "No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the United States."

Thomas Jefferson said, "God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that His justice cannot sleep forever."

However, it seems that most Americans, including Christians and pastors, no longer believe God judges people that rebel against Him. Yet, if the Bible teaches anything, it teaches that both individuals and nations are accountable to God.

The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 should have been a wake up call for America. They weren't. We have continued our sinful ways as a people and as a government. Washington, D.C., is intoxicated with power, the American people are intoxicated with pleasure, and churches and pastors are intoxicated with prosperity. What is worse, virtually no one is calling America to repentance.

As a result, America has sown to the wind and is now beginning to reap the whirlwind! Look no further than New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast to see an example of what a whirlwind can do. I, too, tremble for my country!

Chuck Baldwin

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One side can be wrong


Accepting 'intelligent design' in science classrooms would have disastrous consequences, warn Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne

Thursday September 1, 2005 The Guardian

It sounds so reasonable, doesn't it? Such a modest proposal. Why not teach "both sides" and let the children decide for themselves? As President Bush said, "You're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, the answer is yes." At first hearing, everything about the phrase "both sides" warms the hearts of educators like ourselves. One of us spent years as an Oxford tutor and it was his habit to choose controversial topics for the students' weekly essays. They were required to go to the library, read about both sides of an argument, give a fair account of both, and then come to a balanced judgment in their essay. The call for balance, by the way, was always tempered by the maxim, "When two opposite points of view are expressed with equal intensity, the truth does not necessarily lie exactly half way between. It is possible for one side simply to be wrong."

As teachers, both of us have found that asking our students to analyse controversies is of enormous value to their education. What is wrong, then, with teaching both sides of the alleged controversy between evolution and creationism or "intelligent design" (ID)? And, by the way, don't be fooled by the disingenuous euphemism. There is nothing new about ID. It is simply creationism camouflaged with a new name to slip (with some success, thanks to loads of tax-free money and slick public-relations professionals) under the radar of the US Constitution's mandate for separation between church and state.

Why, then, would two lifelong educators and passionate advocates of the "both sides" style of teaching join with essentially all biologists in making an exception of the alleged controversy between creation and evolution? What is wrong with the apparently sweet reasonableness of "it is only fair to teach both sides"? The answer is simple. This is not a scientific controversy at all. And it is a time-wasting distraction because evolutionary science, perhaps more than any other major science, is bountifully endowed with genuine controversy.

Among the controversies that students of evolution commonly face, these are genuinely challenging and of great educational value: neutralism versus selectionism in molecular evolution; adaptationism; group selection; punctuated equilibrium; cladism; "evo-devo"; the "Cambrian Explosion"; mass extinctions; interspecies competition; sympatric speciation; sexual selection; the evolution of sex itself; evolutionary psychology; Darwinian medicine and so on. The point is that all these controversies, and many more, provide fodder for fascinating and lively argument, not just in essays but for student discussions late at night.

Intelligent design is not an argument of the same character as these controversies. It is not a scientific argument at all, but a religious one. It might be worth discussing in a class on the history of ideas, in a philosophy class on popular logical fallacies, or in a comparative religion class on origin myths from around the world. But it no more belongs in a biology class than alchemy belongs in a chemistry class, phlogiston in a physics class or the stork theory in a sex education class. In those cases, the demand for equal time for "both theories" would be ludicrous. Similarly, in a class on 20th-century European history, who would demand equal time for the theory that the Holocaust never happened?

So, why are we so sure that intelligent design is not a real scientific theory, worthy of "both sides" treatment? Isn't that just our personal opinion? It is an opinion shared by the vast majority of professional biologists, but of course science does not proceed by majority vote among scientists. Why isn't creationism (or its incarnation as intelligent design) just another scientific controversy, as worthy of scientific debate as the dozen essay topics we listed above? Here's why.

If ID really were a scientific theory, positive evidence for it, gathered through research, would fill peer-reviewed scientific journals. This doesn't happen. It isn't that editors refuse to publish ID research. There simply isn't any ID research to publish. Its advocates bypass normal scientific due process by appealing directly to the non-scientific public and - with great shrewdness - to the government officials they elect.

The argument the ID advocates put, such as it is, is always of the same character. Never do they offer positive evidence in favour of intelligent design. All we ever get is a list of alleged deficiencies in evolution. We are told of "gaps" in the fossil record. Or organs are stated, by fiat and without supporting evidence, to be "irreducibly complex": too complex to have evolved by natural selection.

In all cases there is a hidden (actually they scarcely even bother to hide it) "default" assumption that if Theory A has some difficulty in explaining Phenomenon X, we must automatically prefer Theory B without even asking whether Theory B (creationism in this case) is any better at explaining it. Note how unbalanced this is, and how it gives the lie to the apparent reasonableness of "let's teach both sides". One side is required to produce evidence, every step of the way. The other side is never required to produce one iota of evidence, but is deemed to have won automatically, the moment the first side encounters a difficulty - the sort of difficulty that all sciences encounter every day, and go to work to solve, with relish.

What, after all, is a gap in the fossil record? It is simply the absence of a fossil which would otherwise have documented a particular evolutionary transition. The gap means that we lack a complete cinematic record of every step in the evolutionary process. But how incredibly presumptuous to demand a complete record, given that only a minuscule proportion of deaths result in a fossil anyway.

The equivalent evidential demand of creationism would be a complete cinematic record of God's behaviour on the day that he went to work on, say, the mammalian ear bones or the bacterial flagellum - the small, hair-like organ that propels mobile bacteria. Not even the most ardent advocate of intelligent design claims that any such divine videotape will ever become available.

Biologists, on the other hand, can confidently claim the equivalent "cinematic" sequence of fossils for a very large number of evolutionary transitions. Not all, but very many, including our own descent from the bipedal ape Australopithecus. And - far more telling - not a single authentic fossil has ever been found in the "wrong" place in the evolutionary sequence. Such an anachronistic fossil, if one were ever unearthed, would blow evolution out of the water.

As the great biologist J B S Haldane growled, when asked what might disprove evolution: "Fossil rabbits in the pre-Cambrian." Evolution, like all good theories, makes itself vulnerable to disproof. Needless to say, it has always come through with flying colours.

Similarly, the claim that something - say the bacterial flagellum - is too complex to have evolved by natural selection is alleged, by a lamentably common but false syllogism, to support the "rival" intelligent design theory by default. This kind of default reasoning leaves completely open the possibility that, if the bacterial flagellum is too complex to have evolved, it might also be too complex to have been created. And indeed, a moment's thought shows that any God capable of creating a bacterial flagellum (to say nothing of a universe) would have to be a far more complex, and therefore statistically improbable, entity than the bacterial flagellum (or universe) itself - even more in need of an explanation than the object he is alleged to have created.

If complex organisms demand an explanation, so does a complex designer. And it's no solution to raise the theologian's plea that God (or the Intelligent Designer) is simply immune to the normal demands of scientific explanation. To do so would be to shoot yourself in the foot. You cannot have it both ways. Either ID belongs in the science classroom, in which case it must submit to the discipline required of a scientific hypothesis. Or it does not, in which case get it out of the science classroom and send it back into the church, where it belongs.

In fact, the bacterial flagellum is certainly not too complex to have evolved, nor is any other living structure that has ever been carefully studied. Biologists have located plausible series of intermediates, using ingredients to be found elsewhere in living systems. But even if some particular case were found for which biologists could offer no ready explanation, the important point is that the "default" logic of the creationists remains thoroughly rotten.

There is no evidence in favour of intelligent design: only alleged gaps in the completeness of the evolutionary account, coupled with the "default" fallacy we have identified. And, while it is inevitably true that there are incompletenesses in evolutionary science, the positive evidence for the fact of evolution is truly massive, made up of hundreds of thousands of mutually corroborating observations. These come from areas such as geology, paleontology, comparative anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, ethology, biogeography, embryology and - increasingly nowadays - molecular genetics.

The weight of the evidence has become so heavy that opposition to the fact of evolution is laughable to all who are acquainted with even a fraction of the published data. Evolution is a fact: as much a fact as plate tectonics or the heliocentric solar system.

Why, finally, does it matter whether these issues are discussed in science classes? There is a case for saying that it doesn't - that biologists shouldn't get so hot under the collar. Perhaps we should just accept the popular demand that we teach ID as well as evolution in science classes. It would, after all, take only about 10 minutes to exhaust the case for ID, then we could get back to teaching real science and genuine controversy.

Tempting as this is, a serious worry remains. The seductive "let's teach the controversy" language still conveys the false, and highly pernicious, idea that there really are two sides. This would distract students from the genuinely important and interesting controversies that enliven evolutionary discourse. Worse, it would hand creationism the only victory it realistically aspires to. Without needing to make a single good point in any argument, it would have won the right for a form of supernaturalism to be recognised as an authentic part of science. And that would be the end of science education in America.

Arguments worth having ...

The "Cambrian Explosion"

Although the fossil record shows that the first multicellular animals lived about 640m years ago, the diversity of species was low until about 530m years ago. At that time there was a sudden explosion of many diverse marine species, including the first appearance of molluscs, arthropods, echinoderms and vertebrates. "Sudden" here is used in the geological sense; the "explosion" occurred over a period of 10m to 30m years, which is, after all, comparable to the time taken to evolve most of the great radiations of mammals. This rapid diversification raises fascinating questions; explanations include the evolution of organisms with hard parts (which aid fossilisation), the evolutionary "discovery" of eyes, and the development of new genes that allowed parts of organisms to evolve independently.

The evolutionary basis of human behaviour

The field of evolutionary psychology (once called "sociobiology") maintains that many universal traits of human behaviour (especially sexual behaviour), as well as differences between individuals and between ethnic groups, have a genetic basis. These traits and differences are said to have evolved in our ancestors via natural selection. There is much controversy about these claims, largely because it is hard to reconstruct the evolutionary forces that acted on our ancestors, and it is unethical to do genetic experiments on modern humans.

Sexual versus natural selection

Although evolutionists agree that adaptations invariably result from natural selection, there are many traits, such as the elaborate plumage of male birds and size differences between the sexes in many species, that are better explained by "sexual selection": selection based on members of one sex (usually females) preferring to mate with members of the other sex that show certain desirable traits. Evolutionists debate how many features of animals have resulted from sexual as opposed to natural selection; some, like Darwin himself, feel that many physical features differentiating human "races" resulted from sexual selection.

The target of natural selection

Evolutionists agree that natural selection usually acts on genes in organisms - individuals carrying genes that give them a reproductive or survival advantage over others will leave more descendants, gradually changing the genetic composition of a species. This is called "individual selection". But some evolutionists have proposed that selection can act at higher levels as well: on populations (group selection), or even on species themselves (species selection). The relative importance of individual versus these higher order forms of selection is a topic of lively debate.

Natural selection versus genetic drift

Natural selection is a process that leads to the replacement of one gene by another in a predictable way. But there is also a "random" evolutionary process called genetic drift, which is the genetic equivalent of coin-tossing. Genetic drift leads to unpredictable changes in the frequencies of genes that don't make much difference to the adaptation of their carriers, and can cause evolution by changing the genetic composition of populations. Many features of DNA are said to have evolved by genetic drift. Evolutionary geneticists disagree about the importance of selection versus drift in explaining features of organisms and their DNA. All evolutionists agree that genetic drift can't explain adaptive evolution. But not all evolution is adaptive.

Further reading

User-friendly guide to evolution

Critique of Intelligent Design movement, published in New Republic

Climbing Mount Improbable
Richard Dawkins (illustrations by Lalla Ward), Penguin 1997

Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design
Barbara C Forrest and Paul R Gross, Oxford University Press, 2003

Richard Dawkins is Charles Simonyi professor of the public understanding of science at Oxford University, and Jerry Coyne is a professor in the department of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago

Richard Dawkins' book 'The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life ' is published by Phoenix in paperback today priced 9.99.

Water figures into Mars' past


Spirit finds new view after long climb to hilltop
Mark Carreau, Houston Chronicle

Friday, September 2, 2005

Houston -- After a challenging 14-month climb, NASA's Spirit rover has crested a Martian hilltop and encountered a new panorama, one that may shed fresh insight on the planet's violent geologic past and suggest that water played a role in shaping the terrain, scientists said Thursday.

Spirit and its robotic twin, Opportunity, descended onto opposite sides of Mars by parachute in January 2004, initiating what was to have been a three- month search for evidence that the cold, dry planet was once warm and wet enough for some form of life. By March 2004, Opportunity had found evidence of an ancient shoreline in a bedrock formation within 35 feet of its landing site.

Spirit's search has been more difficult.

Last week, Spirit reached the 279-foot-high summit of Husband Hill, a rocky peak 3 miles from its landing site within Gusev Crater, ending a climb that began in June 2004.

On Thursday, scientists displayed images of the new vistas from Spirit's perch that suggest the six-wheel rover may be close to matching Opportunity's achievements.

"Spirit has given us a wonderful window into the very ancient past of Mars," Steve Squyres, the principal investigator for the $850 million rover mission, said at a Washington news briefing. "It was a violent place, a place where meteorite impacts, volcanic explosions happened frequently, where hot stuff was raining from the sky."

Gusev Crater is a nearly 100-mile-wide depression that scientists believe was once a giant lake.

To their initial disappointment, the surroundings close to Spirit's landing site turned out to be volcanic lava deposits layered over what may be the lake bed. That made Squyres and his colleagues all the more eager to reach seven low peaks that jutted out from the lava plain in the distance.

NASA named the formations the Columbia Hills in honor of the astronauts who perished in the 2003 shuttle tragedy. The tallest, Husband Hill, was named for Columbia's commander, Rick Husband.

Spirit's trek is bearing scientific fruit, Squyres said. The rocks in the Columbia Hills as well as the formations revealed by the robot's cameras in the vistas beyond appear to have been unearthed by violent geologic processes and meteorite impacts. Scientists believe water, in not-yet-understood ways, shaped them and altered their chemistry.

"Water was involved in practically every one we have seen so far," said Washington University planetary geologist Ray Arvidson, the mission's deputy principal investigator. "The water may not have been standing water. It may not have been running water -- probably water that was in the ground."

Though designed to operate for 90 days, Spirit and Opportunity continue to function well. NASA has funded their research into late 2006.

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Thursday, September 01, 2005

The whole truth


Red and Blue staters fight over religion, moral values and the culture. But philosopher Simon Blackburn sees something deeper -- a war over the very nature of truth

By Andrew O'Hehir

Aug. 30, 2005 | Beneath all the divisions of contemporary society -- between, say, the religious and secular worldviews, red-state conservatives and blue-state liberals, the bicoastal "cultural elite" and the heartland "moral values" set -- philosopher Simon Blackburn sees something deeper. These are all distorted manifestations, he thinks, of a "war of ideas and attitudes" that underpins the way contemporary human beings view their world. This is a war over what we know, or think we know, and how we know it. It's a war over the nature of truth.

All human societies -- and all individuals, Blackburn argues -- must confront the problem of truth. Although common-sense reasoning is a useful part of our armature (unlike some philosophers, Blackburn defends it), it isn't entirely sufficient. Can we say with certainty that things we think are true really are? Is the earth really a sphere 93 million miles -- or 150 million kilometers, if you prefer European truth -- from the sun? Is democracy a superior form of government, and capitalism its necessary corollary? Are slavery and female genital mutilation morally wrong? Did the Red Sox really win the World Series?

Or are these and all other so-called truths merely cultural and political constructs, more or less useful fictions we blind and feeble animals create as we stumble through an unknowable universe? To quote the great American philosopher William James (as Blackburn does often), "Objective evidence and certitude are doubtless very fine ideals to play with, but where on this moonlit and dream-visited planet are they found?" To quote your stoned sophomore-year roommate, "How do we know any of this is real, man?"

By now you may be nodding sagely, or you may be flinging your half-decaf latte across the room in a white-hot rage. But whichever side you're on, and even if your impulse is to stake out some kind of pseudo-agnostic middle ground, Blackburn's lively new book "Truth: A Guide" will challenge and surprise you. Furthermore, Blackburn wants to turn your political assumptions about this dispute upside down. He is clearly a leftist and an opponent of the Iraq war, who uses any opportunity to take gratuitous digs at George W. Bush and Tony Blair. But he believes the left has damaged itself irreparably because of its postmodern refusal to talk about truth and its avoidance of the open disagreement such claims inevitably bring. Meanwhile, the right wing has waged crusade after crusade while wrapped in the mantle of absolute truth, despite the fact (he argues) that its notion of truth is a slippery, cynical one.

Contrary to the impulses of some conservatives, the conflict Blackburn describes did not begin with the 1960s, or result from the invasion of American and British universities by incomprehensible Frenchmen. Those were symptoms, rather than causes, of a conflict that goes back to the beginnings of philosophy as a discipline. The two opposing camps in this war have had various names and shifting loyalties over the centuries. One could speak, Blackburn writes, of "traditionalists versus postmodernists, realists versus idealists, objectivists versus subjectivists, rationalists versus social constructivists, universalists versus contextualists, Platonists versus pragmatists." While admitting that these contested sets of labels are by no means all equivalent, Blackburn insists these dogs are fighting over the same bone: an absolute view of truth vs. a relative one.

Blackburn is clearly sympathetic to the absolutist cause. Indeed, the opening passage of "Truth" thunders like an absolutist call to arms: "There are real standards. We must fight soggy nihilism, skepticism and cynicism. We must not believe that anything goes. We must not believe that all opinion is ideology, that reason is only power, that there is no truth to prevail." This should surprise no one; Blackburn is a distinguished figure in Anglo-American analytic philosophy, with a long teaching career at Oxford, North Carolina and Cambridge (his current home). He skates past Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault and Jean Baudrillard, the dragons of Continental postmodernism, with scarcely a sideways glance.

Relativists, Blackburn tells us, sneer at notions like truth, reason and objectivity. They "see nothing anywhere that is plain, unvarnished, objective, open, transparent or unfiltered. They debunk and deny ... They insist upon the universal presence of happenstance, brute contingencies of nature or culture or language or experience, that shape the way we see things." Emblazoned on the relativist coat of arms we find Nietzsche's famous pronouncement: "There are no facts, only interpretations."

Yet Blackburn is too slippery a fish to be caught in his own net. As he writes, his book is likely to make dogmatic adherents of both positions unhappy. (His opening passage, it turns out, is something of a rhetorical device.) He does indeed believe that there is "something diabolical in the region of relativism, multiculturalism or postmodernism, something which corrupts and corrodes the universities and the public culture." But he isn't coming at this question the way you might expect, by literally or figuratively thumping the Bible and proclaiming the death of morality and decency. His disdain for Christianity (and for religious zealotry of all kinds), in fact, is only matched by his disdain for what he sees as the opportunism of the political right.

Among the prominent relativists of our time, he suggests, are George W. Bush and Tony Blair and their cynical supporters. The relativist rolls with the political tide, he writes, and understands reality as existing only inside its ebbs and flows. (The relativist, for instance, might constantly change his story about why invading another country was a good idea.) It is the absolutist who believes that laws like the Patriot Act, which trample on basic rights of due process, are not legitimate laws at all, "but only the commands of a gang that happens to have gained power."

Furthermore, while it's unfair to give away the ending of the story, let's just say it's not easy to summarize exactly where Blackburn comes down. Yes, he is morally and intellectually drawn toward absolutism, but he concludes that absolutists have ceded so much philosophical ground over the years that it's not clear they can claim any kind of victory. In his crisp and vigorous history of the debate, he argues that both sides have scored some telling hits and that, contradictory as it may seem, in the final analysis the truth -- that is, the truth about truth -- lies somewhere in between.

The conflict between absolutists and relativists goes back at least 2,400 years, to the day when Socrates confronted the followers of Protagoras in the Athenian marketplace (as recounted in Plato's dialogue "Theaetetus"). Blackburn thinks it was already an old feud by that time. Protagoras had written a volume called "The Truth" (now lost), which famously argued that man is the measure of all things, "of those that are, that they are, of those that are not, that they are not." As Blackburn notes, there isn't much consensus among later philosophers as to what was meant by this cryptic utterance, but Socrates reads it as a relativist doctrine, an argument that "truth and falsity are dependent upon individual impressions."

Naturally Socrates (and Plato) set out to demolish this, pointing out to Theodorus, one of Protagoras' acolytes, that the premise is self-refuting. Since most people believe in objective truth, and Protagoras suggests that truth lies with the individual, Protagoras is in effect "conceding the truth of the opinion that he is wrong." Theodorus of course relents, and the authority of absolute, independent reason and truth -- what the Greeks called "logos" -- is restored. (Blackburn takes a moment to muse on what the Socratic dialogues look like without Socrates' speeches -- a succession of comments like "You've got me there, O Socrates" and "There's no resisting that, O Socrates.")

As Blackburn explains, Socrates is using a classic "'recoil' argument" employed against relativists to this very day. Sometimes the self-refutation of relativist principles is obvious; Blackburn cites as an example the statement "In recent years, historians have discovered that there is no historical truth." (Really? And when was that?) More generally, the idea is that those who reject absolutism must resort to some notion of reason or truth, even in the act of denying that truth exists. If Foucault or Paul Feyerabend argue that science, history and all other areas of human knowledge are nothing but contingent expressions of political power and a specific cultural moment, do they claim to stand outside those processes?

But the recoil argument wasn't enough to refute relativism. Blackburn argues that Socrates is, as usual, spinning his opponent's argument in an especially unfavorable light in order to present a Manichaean choice between reason and anarchy: If we don't accept "logos," with its guarantee of fixed and immutable truth, we descend into the maelstrom. But from Protagoras to Hobbes to Nietzsche to Richard Rorty, the relativist camp has never argued that concepts such as truth and falsity were meaningless. Instead, they've pointed out the ways in which our understanding of these things is variable and subjective -- and is more a matter of practical consequences than of ultimate authority.

Essentially, the relativist argument boils down to the idea that words such as "rational" and "true" are useful and meaningful in certain contexts, but that the concepts behind them are always "socially constructed." If the absolutist wants a "special validation" for his opinions -- the confidence that he is speaking absolute truth -- the relativist insists that no such thing exists. If we believe that murder is wrong, or that the earth revolves around the sun, those are the norms of our society, and we shouldn't make assumptions about what philosophers call their ontological status.

Blackburn is right that both sides will groan at his summary of their arguments (and still more at this summary of his summary), but the great achievement of "Truth" is to encapsulate the major lines of argument on this intractable question within the covers of a book you can read in a day or two. His chapter on Nietzsche, the fountainhead of modern philosophy and the patron saint of relativism, is worth the price of admission by itself, whether or not you buy Blackburn's view of the great mad German as a skeptical, Darwinian pragmatist.

The tour also includes brief visits with Berkeley, Locke, Kant and Heidegger (for whom Blackburn can't conceal his dislike). In our own time, Donald Davidson, Thomas Nagel and Hilary Putnam fail to rescue the absolutist cause, while the arch-pragmatist Rorty is seen as abandoning any workable notion of truth and lending solace to "the relativistic postmodernists and their ilk, the 'bullshitters' of the academy." Most important, though, is Blackburn's eccentric pair of philosophical avatars, the thinkers he sees as attempting to collapse this dispute and define a habitable middle ground: David Hume and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

But before getting to Hume and Wittgenstein -- and in fact before getting to Socrates and Protagoras -- Blackburn begins with an obscure 19th century debate over the nature of religious belief between William James and the mathematician William Clifford. It's a peculiar and puckish opening chapter, in which Blackburn seems to delay his central discussion in order to mount an attack on the validity and power of religious faith. "'Faith' is a word with a positive ring to it," he observes acridly, "although of course it rings really positively when it means 'faith like ours' rather than the conflicting faiths of others."

Taking Clifford's side in his dispute with his illustrious opponent -- who defended the private, "passional" nature of religious belief -- Blackburn finds an argument that underpins the rest of "Truth." Clifford was no atheist, but he contended that there was "a duty to believe carefully, in the light of reason alone." Reason could be identified not by its results but by its method: It consists "not in propositions or statements which are to be accepted and believed on the authority of the tradition, but in questions rightly asked, in conceptions which enable us to ask further questions, and in methods of answering questions."

Blackburn goes on from here to suggest that people animated by religious ideas of truth do not literally believe in the power of Jesus or Mohammed, or at least not in the same way they believe in more mundane categories of truth, like the necessity of gasoline or mortgages. There may be something to this if we're talking about bourgeois Westerners and "mainline" religions, but Blackburn seems almost unaware of the possibility that for some people religious belief can be even more potent than belief in the everyday world. Given the history of the 21st century so far -- and given the fact that Blackburn spent several years living and teaching in the American South -- this is a bizarre oversight.

Religion may be Blackburn's biggest bete noire, and arguably his biggest blind spot (although many readers will also question his cranky and unsophisticated reading of French-fried postmodern philosophy). After a hilarious and patently unfair riff on Bertrand Russell's parody of Christianity-- in which Russell imagined a world religion that worships a flying teapot, which cracks and then becomes whole again -- Blackburn moves on with his real mission. This is to connect Clifford's faith in the methodical asking and answering of questions to the problem of truth. Blackburn sees both Hume, the hardheaded 18th century Scotsman, and Wittgenstein, the 20th century Viennese dreamer, as embracing an empirical approach to truth and rejecting supernatural and metaphysical modes of philosophy. (He does not elide the differences between them: Hume was openly hostile to religion, whereas Wittgenstein respected religious belief and was attracted to religious rituals -- he even considered becoming a priest -- but thought they had nothing to do with reason.)

Most important, neither Hume nor Wittgenstein can confidently be defined as an absolutist or a relativist. Both are more concerned with how we think and talk than with whether what we say reflects any outer reality, so in that light both are relativists. Hume believed that reason did not lie at the root of human thinking, and Wittgenstein saw all of human philosophy and science as a "language game," in which judgments of absolute value become impossible.

But within Hume and Wittgenstein's shared rejection of any Platonic ideal of "logos," Blackburn finds room for a notion of truth as something more than a fragile social agreement. Both saw the natural and physical sciences as inherently different from more abstract realms of thought; Hume admitted that we could see consistent patterns in the world around us, and Wittgenstein said that physics or mathematics, unlike philosophy, involved propositions that could be borne out or disproved by reality.

Put simply, both these eminent philosophers were pretty happy with the common-sense idea that the world exists, and that if we can never be totally confident that we're observing it the way it really is, we can be clear about certain categories of truth, within appropriate limits. One aspect of this is the doctrine called "minimalism," which holds that we can respond to certain kinds of truth claims by responding only to the specific questions they raise, and deliberately ignoring all bigger puzzles and conundrums. For a minimalist, as Blackburn writes, "It is the issue that is the issue."

In this view, our opening question about the Red Sox and the World Series is answerable in ordinary terms, without engaging the paranoid theories of Yankee fans or approaching the question of whether baseball really exists or is, as Baudrillard might have it, a "simulacrum" designed to drain off political or revolutionary impulses. (Whether the event in question possessed epistemological and even theological consequences for those who witnessed it is quite another matter.)

When it comes to the sun's distance from the earth, of course most of us don't really know whether it's 50 miles or 93 million. But we're likely to accept Clifford's notion of method: We believe astronomers have asked the right kinds of questions carefully enough, have double-checked their math and have had their theories picked over by rivals at other universities. So a minimalist accepts the number as true, with the usual scientific asterisks attached: It's only an approximation (the real distance is always changing, thanks to the planet's elliptical orbit), and it's always possible somebody else will come along with a better answer. The point is that the question demands a Google search of astronomy Web sites, not second-order speculation about whether the universe is a delusion or our standards of measurement are hopelessly flawed.

So far so good. Minimalism can produce widespread agreement on questions most of us view as straightforward and factual, and it stands mute, as Hume and Wittgenstein variously do, before huge metaphysical questions. But it can do nothing, Blackburn says, "to diminish the chance of moral conflict" or "to reassure us about the moral truth, the right normative order, the operating manual of the universe." When the question is about democracy, or capital punishment, or genital mutilation, minimalism leads to disagreement rather than consensus. To Blackburn, this is entirely healthy.

In fact, Blackburn thinks, such open conflict is the way out of the moral swamp of postmodern relativism, in which his opinion of these issues, like George W. Bush's or Osama bin Laden's, is just another contingent subject position (or whatever the current jargon would say). Blackburn clearly believes the left has lost the courage of its convictions in the age of persistent and corrosive relativism. Afraid of offending others in this pluralistic, multicultural age -- regardless of how barbaric or ill-informed the opinions of others may be -- liberals become increasingly incapable of standing on any moral principle whatever. Once upon a time the Democratic Party was clearly in favor of unionizing the workforce, protecting the environment, legalizing abortion and ending the death penalty. Is any of that true today?

This comes close to a modern heresy, although Blackburn is merely preaching something most of us practice: No matter what we think, or what we think we think, there is always a bottom line. It is soggy thinking to argue that we must show respect and tolerance for those who support suicide bombings against civilians, or executing juvenile defendants, or forcibly removing the sexual organs of young women. If we don't agree with Hamas or Tom DeLay or whoever, then the whole point of our position is that we do not tolerate either their views or their actions. We want to defeat them, and that requires stating confidently that our position is right -- something that philosophical relativism, at least in this account, makes almost impossible.

Blackburn also rejects the unhappy postmodern notion that we are hopelessly trapped in our cultural and historical moment, unable to judge or appreciate the perspectives of other places and other times. He shares Hume's Enlightenment faith that we can find enough uniformity beneath the world's diversity to treat other people as "conversible," as our potential economic and political partners. When we encounter "otherness," in this view, it becomes gradually less alien to us; we change it and it changes us. (Many scholars, it should be said, would cast Hume's analyses of history in a harsher light.)

You might say that Blackburn thinks the relativists have won all the battles but lost the war. In driving off "logos," with its "underlying foundational story," they have done us all a favor, and they remind us that the question of whether to tolerate alternative truth claims or oppose them harshly is always a difficult moral calculus. If we've lost absolute truth, we never really needed it -- our best efforts at anchoring our beliefs in reason, like Clifford, will have to do.

About the writer
Andrew O'Hehir is a senior writer for Salon.

A growing state of mind that needs a firm rebuttal


Conspiracy theories provide easy answers, but rarely much insight

Polly Toynbee Wednesday August 31, 2005


The following correction was printed in the Guardian's Corrections and clarifications column, Thursday September 1 2005

In the article below, we said that the co-editor of the Oxford Shakespeare is Professor Stanley Webb, which is incorrect. It is Professor Stanley Wells.

Conspiracies are profoundly satisfying. They solve every problem, explain everything difficult and give form and shape to things that are otherwise untidily complicated. They provide the easy answer. Why did something bad happen? Because bad people conspired against the good who would otherwise have conquered. Usually, the theory reverses an incontrovertible but (to the conspiracy theorist) inconvenient fact.

Several plots a day arrive in my email. Favourite at the moment are those that explain how Tony Blair organised the London bombs. Cui bono? Why Blair, of course. The bombs rallied the country to his faltering leadership and let him bring in tough new laws against Muslims and their imams. No, I won't bother unpicking this particular madness.

Conspiracy theory journalism also abounds, assuming anything gleaned through a keyhole or leaked document reveals more truth than the big picture staring you in the face. Healthy scepticism easily tips into the conspiracy mindset, where dark motives lie behind everything. It is a worldview that, at its extreme, lets the malevolent feed the gullible such monstrosities as Holocaust denial. If no fact, history or official record can be trusted, then anything might be true and the world ceases to make sense or to be governable by common consent.

It is a growing state of mind that, once it takes hold, spreads easily from small things to big beliefs. It needs a firm rebuttal, even when it invades relatively unimportant-seeming things - such as was Shakespeare really Shakespeare?

As it happens, half the cabinet took on holiday The Da Vinci Code, an excruciatingly bad book that owes its popularity to the idea that the Catholic church has indulged in a gigantic conspiracy since the days of St Peter, and that Opus Dei will murder to keep the dark secret safe. As tourists flock to the book's holy places, it is plainly believed. (Though it hardly needs arcane conspiracy to decode the damage done by the Catholic church.)

Another kind of literary conspiracy, almost as popular, turns on its head the life works of a great writer (or artist) by "discovering" secrets, usually about sex, sometimes about politics. As with "Walter Sickert was the Ripper", it is usually written by amateur sleuths following private obsessions. Of all writers, Shakespeare has been subjected to the treatment most often.

This week the latest sample arrives with great media fanfare. Viscountess Clare Asquith's book Shadowplay: the Hidden Beliefs and Coded Politics of William Shakespeare - featured on the Today programme, no less - promotes the conspiracy theory that Shakespeare used his plays secretly to promote the outlawed Catholic faith. If the Da Vinci Code strikes at Catholicism, here the Catholics strike back by laying claim to the greatest writer of them all.

Wife of the British ambassador to Moscow some years ago, Asquith got the idea from observing how subversive messages could be transmitted from the stage over the heads of unwitting Soviet censors. So she detects code words and riddles in imagery that she interprets as symbols for Catholicism. The sun itself, anything with five in it (Christ's five wounds) and all references to constancy in love, turtle doves and red roses are secret references to the true faith. This is a game played with Shakespeare texts over and over, finding allegories to prove almost any preconceived theory.

However, claiming Shakespeare for the Pope stirs up intense indignation among those who regard him as the most humanist of writers, notably thin on religious references, sentiments, ideas or ways of thought.

Shakespeare scholars just sigh and consign the book to the great pantheon of "revelations" about the real Shakespeare. Professor Stanley Webb, scholar and editor of the Oxford Shakespeare, says the author came to consult him. "I am accustomed to fanatics who get a funny look in the eye when they come to speak to me about how the Earl of Oxford or Marlowe really wrote the plays. She spoke rationally, and it's an intelligently readable book, but it floats way above the facts, as I told her."

Shakespeare, Prof Webb says, was, as Keats described, the "chameleon" poet whose views changed with his subject matter: suicide was made noble in the Roman plays, but condemned in King Lear. The travesty in all such books lies in the attempt to nail that great magnificence down to some narrow religio-political plot.

All such Shakespeare conspiracies are built on imaginary mystery. They start with the premise that we know little about him. Many indulge the snobbish notion that he must have been an aristocrat: no mere Stratford grammar school could have nurtured such genius. Both these, say the scholars, are false. More is known about Shakespeare than most of his contemporaries, and his school curriculum, plus the popular texts circulating at the time, amply cover his breadth of reading. Asquith is another "he must have gone to Oxford" author. Prof Webb says not one academic has ever doubted the overwhelming evidence that the man who wrote the plays was the same actor/writer born and educated in Stratford.

Another Shakespeare scholar has just taken a majestic swing at all such stuff. With wit and a heavy boot, Brian Vickers in the Times Literary Supplementary demolishes a clutch of the latest Bacon/Marlowe/Earl of Oxford-wrote-Shakespeare books, with devastating effect. So much is known and documented, he says, that it would have taken a cover-up on a huge scale to disguise his true authorship at the time. Marlowe and Oxford died so long before Shakespeare that they would have to have hidden the plays away for years. Bacon was an immensely busy administrator and prolific writer with no motive to hide his genius under a jobbing actor's cloak. But none of that deters those who inhabit a world where nothing is what it seems.

This stuff has been debunked time and again in learned tomes, less eyecatching than the decoders', mystery solvers' and riddle-makers' offerings, which reduce great writings to sudokus. People yearn to know more than can be known and to explain the inexplicable, searching for a man only knowable through his works. It is the same passion that sends theologians combing every word of holy books for more: obsession with texts can breed delusions. So when the religious study Shakespeare with the same devotion, it isn't a surprise if they find exactly what they seek: their own religion.

Scholars conclude that no rebuttal about Shakespeare will put a stop to it. Fascination will forever breed wild invention. Most comes from the frame of mind that undermines reason and ignores the value of fact - dangerous, even in the gentle art of Shakespeare interpretation.


Guardian Unlimited Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005

Teaching of Creationism Is Endorsed in New Survey


August 31, 2005 By LAURIE GOODSTEIN

Correction Appended

In a finding that is likely to intensify the debate over what to teach students about the origins of life, a poll released yesterday found that nearly two-thirds of Americans say that creationism should be taught alongside evolution in public schools.

The poll found that 42 percent of respondents held strict creationist views, agreeing that "living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time."

In contrast, 48 percent said they believed that humans had evolved over time. But of those, 18 percent said that evolution was "guided by a supreme being," and 26 percent said that evolution occurred through natural selection. In all, 64 percent said they were open to the idea of teaching creationism in addition to evolution, while 38 percent favored replacing evolution with creationism.

The poll was conducted July 7-17 by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. The questions about evolution were asked of 2,000 people. The margin of error was 2.5 percentage points.

John C. Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum, said he was surprised to see that teaching both evolution and creationism was favored not only by conservative Christians, but also by majorities of secular respondents, liberal Democrats and those who accept the theory of natural selection. Mr. Green called it a reflection of "American pragmatism."

"It's like they're saying, 'Some people see it this way, some see it that way, so just teach it all and let the kids figure it out.' It seems like a nice compromise, but it infuriates both the creationists and the scientists," said Mr. Green, who is also a professor at the University of Akron in Ohio.

Eugenie C. Scott, the director of the National Center for Science Education and a prominent defender of evolution, said the findings were not surprising because "Americans react very positively to the fairness or equal time kind of argument."

"In fact, it's the strongest thing that creationists have got going for them because their science is dismal," Ms. Scott said. "But they do have American culture on their side."

This year, the National Center for Science Education has tracked 70 new controversies over evolution in 26 states, some in school districts, others in the state legislatures.

President Bush joined the debate on Aug. 2, telling reporters that both evolution and the theory of intelligent design should be taught in schools "so people can understand what the debate is about."

Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Republican leader, took the same position a few weeks later.

Intelligent design, a descendant of creationism, is the belief that life is so intricate that only a supreme being could have designed it.

The poll showed 41 percent of respondents wanted parents to have the primary say over how evolution is taught, compared with 28 percent who said teachers and scientists should decide and 21 percent who said school boards should. Asked whether they believed creationism should be taught instead of evolution, 38 percent were in favor, and 49 percent were opposed.

More of those who believe in creationism said they were "very certain" of their views (63 percent), compared with those who believe in evolution (32 percent).

The poll also asked about religion and politics, government financing of religious charities, and gay men and lesbians in the military. Most of these questions were asked of a smaller pool of 1,000 respondents, and the margin of error was 2.5 percentage points, Pew researchers said.

The public's impression of the Democratic Party has changed in the last year, the survey found. Only 29 percent of respondents said they viewed Democrats as being "friendly toward religion," down from 40 percent in August of 2004. Meanwhile, 55 percent said the Republican Party was friendly toward religion.

Luis E. Lugo, the director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, said: "I think this is a continuation of the Republican Party's very successful use of the values issue in the 2004 election, and the Democrats not being able up until now to answer that successfully. Some of the more visible leaders, such as Howard Dean and others, have reinforced that image of a secular party. Of course, if you look at the Democratic Party, there's a large religious constituency there."

Survey respondents agreed in nearly equal numbers that nonreligious liberals had "too much control" over the Democratic Party (44 percent), and that religious conservatives had too much control over the Republican Party (45 percent).

On religion-based charities, two-thirds of respondents favored allowing churches and houses of worship to apply for government financing to provide social services. But support for such financing declined from 75 percent in early 2001, when Mr. Bush rolled out his religion-based initiative.

On gay men and lesbians in the military, 58 percent of those polled said they should be allowed to serve openly, a modest increase from 1994, when 52 percent agreed. Strong opposition has fallen in that time, to 15 percent from 26 percent in 1994.


An article yesterday about a poll on Americans' views on the teaching of creationism misstated the margin of error of findings taken from a smaller sample of respondents who were asked about religion and politics, government financing of religious charities and gays in the military. It was 3.5 percentage points, not 2.5.

Evolution education update: Evolutionapalooza in The New York Times

The big news from last week was the major three-part series in The New York Times, running August 21-23, 2005, devoted to the ongoing evolution/creationism struggle in the political, the scientific, and the religious sphere. Accompanying the series in addition were a William Safire "On Language" column investigating the etymology of "intelligent design" and "neo-creo" and a marvelous editorial column by Verlyn Klinkenborg on deep time and evolution. (In a further acknowledgement of the importance of the issue, the Times's website now has a special section devoted to its evolution coverage.) Overall, despite a number of minor errors, the series succeeded in portraying "intelligent design" as what it is: a religiously motivated, politically active, and scientifically bankrupt assault on the teaching of evolution in the public schools.


First, on August 21, Jodi Wilgoren's "Politicized Scholars Put Evolution on the Defensive" appeared on the front page of the Sunday Times, focusing on the Discovery Institute and its Center for Science and Culture (formerly the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture), described as "at the helm of this newly volatile frontier in the nation's culture wars." After sketching the history, tactics, and composition of the Discovery Institute, Wilgoren comments, "But even as intelligent design has helped raise Discovery's profile, the institute is starting to suffer from its success. Lately, it has tried to distance itself from lawsuits and legislation that seek to force schools to add intelligent design to curriculums, placing it in the awkward spot of trying to promote intelligent design as a robust frontier for scientists but not yet ripe for students."

Following the money, Wilgoren also writes that the Discovery Institute receives "financial support from 22 foundations, at least two-thirds of them with explicitly religious missions," such as the Crowell Trust, which describes its mission as "the teaching and active extension of the doctrines of evangelical Christianity," and the Stewardship Foundation, which seeks "to contribute to the propagation of the Christian Gospel by evangelical and missionary work." Although the Discovery Institute also receives funding for work unconnected with antievolutionism from secular foundations such as the Gates Foundation, its antievolution efforts are apparently unwelcome to the Templeton Foundation and the Bullitt Foundation, whose director was quoted as describing Discovery as "the institutional love child of Ayn Rand and Jerry Falwell."

According to the article, "Since its founding in 1996, the [Center for Science and Culture] has spent 39 percent of its $9.3 million on research, [Stephen C.] Meyer said, underwriting books or papers, or often just paying universities to release professors from some teaching responsibilities so that they can ponder intelligent design. Over those nine years, $792,585 financed laboratory or field research in biology, paleontology or biophysics, while $93,828 helped graduate students in paleontology, linguistics, history and philosophy." Wilgoren failed to report what the scientific payoff in terms of published results in the peer-reviewed scientific literature of Discovery's funding was, but the science journalist Carl Zimmer (author of Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea) provided the details on his blog, concluding: "Someone's not getting their money's worth."

Perhaps because of the scientific sterility of "intelligent design," the Discovery Institute turned instead to the "teach the controversy" slogan -- teaching evolution, that is, in such a way as to instill scientifically unwarranted doubts about it. NCSE executive director Eugenie C. Scott commented, "They have packaged their message much more cleverly than the creation science people have ... They present themselves as being more mainstream. I prefer to think of that as creationism light." Yet not all of the Discovery Institute's supporters have received the message: for example, "this spring, at the hearings in Kansas, [Discovery Institute's president Bruce] Chapman grew visibly frustrated as his supposed allies began talking more and more about intelligent design." And it was not teaching "the controversy" but "intelligent design" that President Bush's remarks seemed to endorse.

Although the article initially misdescribed Ohio, New Mexico, and Minnesota as having "embraced the institute's 'teach the controversy' approach" in their state standards, a correction was later issued. The article also contends that fellows of the Discovery Institute "successfully urged changes to textbooks in Texas to weaken the argument for evolution" during the textbook adoption process, a claim rejected by Texas Citizens for Science, whose president Steven Schafersman writes, "The DI 'urged' the textbook changes, but they weren't successful, since the Texas SBOE voted 11-4 to adopt the biology textbooks explicitly WITHOUT the changes demanded by the DI. The DI worked very hard indeed to diminish and distort the evolution content in the biology textbooks that were adopted, but they failed, and the textbooks were uncompromised."

To read "Politicized Scholars Put Evolution on the Defensive," visit: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/21/national/21evolve.html

For NCSE's article on the Center for Science and Culture's change of name, visit: http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/articles/8325_evolving_banners_at_the_discov_8_29_2002.asp

For Carl Zimmer's survey of "intelligent design" in the scientific literature, visit: http://www.corante.com/loom/archives/2005/08/21/the_big_picture.php

For NCSE's article on President Bush's remarks, visit: http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/news/2005/US/926_more_on_bush39s_remarks_on__8_8_2005.asp

For a discussion of the Times's error about state science standards, visit: http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2005/08/new_mexico_scie.html


Second, on August 22, Kenneth Chang's "In Explaining Life's Complexity, Darwinists and Doubters Clash" appeared. Beginning with a sketch of Michael Behe's familiar comparison of a mousetrap and the vertebrate blood clotting cascade, the article makes it clear that "while Dr. Behe and other leading design proponents see the blood clotting system as a product of design, mainstream scientists see it as a result of a coherent sequence of evolutionary events," and devotes half a dozen paragraphs to explaining how "scientists have largely been able to determine the order in which different proteins became involved in helping blood clot." Russell Doolittle, a professor of molecular biology at the University of California, San Diego, and a recognized expert on protein evolution, summarizes: "The evidence is rock solid."

Not quite so solid is Chang's distinction between "design proponents" and creationists: he writes, "Unlike creationists, design proponents accept many of the conclusions of modern science. They agree with cosmologists that the age of the universe is 13.6 billion years, not fewer than 10,000 years, as a literal reading of the Bible would suggest. ... Some intelligent design advocates even accept common descent, the notion that all species came from a common ancestor, a central tenet of evolution." While individual "design proponents" may indeed accept the scientifically ascertained age of the universe and of the earth and the thesis of common descent, those are issues on which the "intelligent design" movement prefers not to take a stand. The diversity of opinion of the "intelligent design" witnesses at the "kangaroo court" hearings in Kansas is instructive.

In addition to the argument from "irreducible complexity," the article also discusses the "it just looks designed" approach, premised on the idea that mainstream science arbitrarily excludes design while considering explanation of natural phenomena. The Discovery Institute's Stephen C. Meyer commented, revealingly, "Call it miracle, call it some other pejorative term, but the fact remains that the materialistic view is a truncated view of reality." But, Chang reports, "Mainstream scientists say that the scientific method is indeed restricted to the material world, because it is trying to find out how it works. Simply saying, 'it must have been designed,' they say, is simply a way of not tackling the hardest problems." And he notes that evolutionary biology's scientific record is stellar, yielding "so many solid findings that no mainstream biologist today doubts its basic tenets, though they may argue about particulars."

In the remainder of the article, as with Behe and Doolittle on blood clotting, Chang allows proponents of "intelligent design" to present what are presumably their best cases and then provides refutations from mainstream scientists: William Dembski versus unnamed "other mathematicians (although David Wolpert, Jeffrey Shallit, and Jason Rosenhouse, among others, spring to mind); Stephen C. Meyer versus David Bottjer on the Cambrian explosion; Douglas Axe versus Kenneth R. Miller on protein formation. The net effect is to provide impressive support for what Chang earlier reported as the view of "intelligent design" held by many scientists: "little more than creationism dressed up in pseudoscientific clothing. ... only philosophical objections to evolution, not any positive evidence for the intervention of a designer."

As if to reinforce the point, the final section of the article begins by recognizing that "[i]ntelligent design proponents are careful to say that they cannot identify the designer at work in the world, although most readily concede that God is the most likely possibility. And they offer varied opinions on when and how often a designer intervened." S uch vagueness, in the eyes of mainstream scientists, makes "intelligent design" unfalsifiable. As a possible falsification of "intelligent design," Behe offered that if "anything cool" were to be reported from Michigan State University's Richard E. Lenski's long-running observations of E. coli evolution, then he might be convinced. Lenski was quoted as replying, "If anyone is resting his or her faith in God on the outcome that our experiment will not produce some major biological innovation, then I humbly suggest they should rethink the distinction between science and religion."

To read "In Explaining Life's Complexity, Darwinists and Doubters Clash," visit: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/22/national/22design.html

For the Talk.Origins Archive's annotated transcript of the Kansas hearings, visit: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/kansas/kangaroo.html

For the cited mathematicians critical of Dembski, visit:


Third, on August 23, Cornelia Dean's "Scientists Speak Up on Mix of God and Science" appeared, focusing on scientists who -- contrary to a stereotype common both among scientists and among the public -- embrace religion. "Although they embrace religious faith," Dean writes, "these scientists also embrace science as it has been defined for centuries. That is, they look to the natural world for explanations of what happens in the natural world and they recognize that scientific ideas must be provisional -- capable of being overturned by evidence from experimentation and observation." Dean adds, perceptively, "[T]his belief in science sets them apart from those who endorse creationism or its doctrinal cousin, intelligent design, both of which depend on the existence of a supernatural force."

A case in point is Francis S. Collins, the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, who speaks freely about his Christian belief (and who, according to the article, is working on a book about his religious faith). "[A]s head of the American government's efforts to decipher the human genetic code," Dean writes, "he had a leading role in work that many say definitively demonstrates the strength of evolutionary theory to explain the complexity and abundance of life." Referring to the comparison of the human genome with the genome of other organisms, Collins told the Times, "If Darwin had tried to imagine a way to prove his theory, he could not have come up with something better, except maybe a time machine. Asking somebody to reject all of that in order to prove that they really do love God -- what a horrible choice."

Not all scientists are religious, of course, and some are even decidedly antireligious. Dean's article opens by juxtaposing Collins with Herbert A. Hauptman, who was awarded a Nobel Prize in chemistry, reported as saying that religious belief is not only incompatible with good science but also "damaging to the well-being of the human race," and Steven Weinberg, who was awarded a Nobel Prize in physics, is later quoted as saying, "I think one of the great historical contributions of science is to weaken the hold of religion. That's a good thing." Toward the end of the article, the zoologist and popular writer on evolution Richard Dawkins is quoted as contending that religious scientists stop short of claiming that their faith is supported by evidence: "The most they will claim is that there is no evidence against ... which is pathetically weak."

Yet in a previous section of the article, Dean notes, "For [Kenneth R.] Miller and other scientists, research is not about belief." A practicing Roman Catholic who teaches biology at Brown University (and a Supporter of NCSE), Miller told the Times that "he was usually challenged in his biology classes by one or two students whose religions did not accept evolution, who asked how important the theory would be in the course. 'What they are really asking me is "do I have to believe in this stuff to get an A?,"' he said. He says he tells them that 'belief is never an issue in science.'" In the same vein, his fellow Catholic Joseph E. Murray, who was awarded a Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine, commented, "Faith is one thing, what you believe from the heart," but in scientific research, "it's the results that count."

Earlier in the article, Dean observed, "disdain for religion is far from universal among scientists," and later cited the results of Edward J. Larson and Larry Witham's 1996 survey among natural scientists as to their beliefs in God and immortality, with 39.6% of respondents agreeing with "I believe in a God in intellectual and affective communication with mankind, i.e., a God to whom one may pray in expectation of receiving an answer" (and about 45.5% disagreeing and 14.9% expressing agnosticism). According to Witham's Where Darwin Meets the Bible (Oxford University Press, 2002), 42.5% of the responding biologists agreed, 43.5% disagreed, and 14% expressed agnosticism. It is interesting to compare Larson and Witham's data with William A. Dembski's reported estimate "that only one or two percent of biological scientists believe in God."

To read "Scientists Speak Up on Mix of God and Science," visit: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/23/national/23believers.html

For a paper by Collins published in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, visit: http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/2003/PSCF9-03Collins.pdf

For a interview from April 2005 of Richard Dawkins in Salon, visit: http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2005/04/30/dawkins/index_np.html

For a condensed version of Larson and Witham's report on their survey, visit: http://www.beliefnet.org/story/1/story_193_1.html

For Dembski's reported misunderestimation, visit: http://headlines.agapepress.org/archive/1/52005b.asp


Additionally, William Safire's "On Language" column in the August 21 issue of the Times -- entitled "Neo-Creo" -- looked at the etymology of "intelligent design." The Discovery Institute's Stephen C. Meyer credits Charles Thaxton with reviving the term "intelligent design" in 1988, claiming, "We weren't political; we were thinking about molecular biology and information theory. This wasn't stealth creationism." (Contrast Meyer's claim with the recent report that the word "creationism" in early drafts of the "intelligent design" textbook Of Pandas and People, of which Thaxton was the "academic editor," was replaced with the phrase "intelligent design.") As for the titular "neo-creo," Safire credits it to the Columbia University philosopher (and NCSE Supporter) Philip Kitcher, in his on-line exchange on Slate with "intelligent design" impresario Phillip Johnson.

Finally, Verlyn Klinkenborg -- a member of the Times's editorial board who specializes in agriculture, environment, and culture -- contributed "Grasping the Depth of Time as a First Step in Understanding Evolution" as an "editorial observer" column in the August 23 issue. Beginning with a vivid articulation of "the difficulty of comprehending what time is on an evolutionary scale," Klinkenborg suggests, "Nearly every attack on evolution -- whether it is called intelligent design or plain creationism, synonyms for the same faith-based rejection of evolution -- ultimately requires a foreshortening of cosmological, geological and biological time." He adds, "Evolution is a robust theory, in the scientific sense, that has been tested and confirmed again and again. Intelligent design is not a theory at all, as scientists understand the word, but a well-financed political and religious campaign to muddy science."

To read Safire's column, visit: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/21/magazine/21ONLANGUAGE.html

For NCSE's story on "creationism" in early drafts of Of Pandas and People, visit: http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/news/2005/PA/986_fte_seeks_to_intervene_in_dove_7_22_2005.asp

For the exchange between Philip Kitcher and Phillip Johnson, visit: http://slate.msn.com/id/33241/entry/33286/

To read Klinkenborg's editorial, visit: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/23/opinion/23tue3.html


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


Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
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Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism is now available: http://www.ncseweb.org/evc

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Intelligent Design Proponent Says Peers' Intolerant Petition Targets Him


By Jim Brown August 31, 2005

(AgapePress) - An astronomy professor at Iowa State University who is nationally known for his research on intelligent design says the school has a phony view of diversity when it comes to the subject of the origin of life.

More than 120 ISU faculty members -- about seven percent of the faculty -- have signed a petition opposing the teaching of intelligent design as a scientific fact. "Whether one believes in a creator or not," reads the petition, "views regarding a supernatural creator are, by their very nature, claims of religious faith, and not within the scope or abilities of science." The petition continues, urging all faculty members to "uphold the integrity of our university of science and technology, and convey to students and the general public the importance of methodological naturalism in science and reject efforts to portray Intelligent Design as science."

The petition is being circulated by Hector Avalos, who is an associate professor of religious studies at the Ames, Iowa, school. Astronomy prof Guillermo Gonzalez says because he is the only intelligent design proponent on campus, the petition is a "thinly veiled attack" on him -- and he claims it has resulted in a hostile work environment for him.

"At the very least, it's non-collegial," Gonzalez adds, "and they also try to take their case to the local media. So they've written stories in local papers, letters to the editor, and done interviews spreading lies and rumors about me and about intelligent design."

Gonzalez, author of the book The Privileged Planet, says he and Avalos have a history when it comes to the subject of intelligent design. And the petition, he says, is just the latest attempt by Avalos to try to silence him and his intelligent design research.

"It's very interesting that this professor of religious studies, who's by the way the most prominent atheist in all of Iowa ... has been very intolerant of my ideas and my research into intelligent design," the astronomy professor explains. "I just view it as rather ironic -- and if the tables were turned, I'm sure things would be quite different."

Gonzalez admits to seeing a bit of a double standard in the debate. "If a professor were doing this against another professor in any other discipline, they would probably be reprimanded for it."

But in an interview with the Des Moines Register, Avalos said he is concerned about the university's reputation. "We don't want to be known as the 'Intelligent Design University,'" he said. "We don't think this is science."

And Avalos claims to have invited Gonzalez more than once to participate in a public forum on the topic. But Gonzalez says he does not approve of Avalos' tactics, and therefore is unlikely to attend an upcoming forum on intelligent design at ISU if Avalos is involved because Avalos, he says, is "intellectually dishonest."

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

2005 AgapePress

Cerritos profs weigh in on intelligent design


Diona Carrillo

Four Cerritos College science instructors join in the recent debate between the theory of evolution and the concept of intelligent design and its effects on education.

"Intelligent design is a philosophy, it is not a theory, it's not a scientific theory, it's not even a scientific hypothesis; it's a belief," Constance Boardman, biology instructor said.

Like Boardman, the other instructors, Monica Bellas, anthropology; John Boyle, biology and Michelle Lewellen, psychology, agree that the idea of intelligent design is not a science and therefore should not be taught in schools as a theory or a science.

"I find the idea of intelligent design untestable from a scientific viewpoint," said Bellas, "It is, at base, an explanation for the complexity of life based on untestable hypothesis."

Boyle explained that he very firmly believes that people can believe whatever they want, but doesn't think intelligent design should be taught as a science because "it's not a science."

"If you're gonna teach it (intelligent design) teach it in a context like teaching the Bible as literature or something where you analyze it as a religious dogma and you bring in the philosophy of other religions," he added.

Lewellen reacted to promoters of intelligent designs' argument on how the "holes" in evolution are best explained by intelligent design.

"Intelligent design is not an explanation, it's an idea. It may sound great as an explanation but there is no evidence for it. If there are holes, it's just possible that we (scientists) haven't found that evidence yet. The same way that intelligent design hasn't found its evidence yet, but without evidence you cannot teach it."

From the Scopes Monkey trial in 1925 and in 1999 when the Kansas Board of Education decided to delete references to evolution from Kansas science standards in 1999 to today when President Bush is promoting the teachings of intelligent design, evolution has always been challenged by concervative religious followers.

"I think it (Bush's support of intelligent design) is just another indication of his lack of understanding of science. There are other areas too where he doesn't strike me as someone who values science or understands it," Boardman said.

In the book "Of Pandas and People", by Percival Davis and Dean Kenyon, it states that "Intelligent design means that various forms of life began abruptly through an intelligent agency, with their distinctive features already intact - fish with fins, and scales, birds with feathers, beaks and wings, etc."

Speak your mind on the origins debate.
Participate in our forums and give us your two cents!

The above statement is part of the arguement anti-Darwinists use against evolution.

An emphasis on weaknesses or "holes" and gaps in evolution, is the heart of the intelligent-design movement.

Boyle reacts to the argument by saying, "In science there are some very complicated metabolic pathways where one chemical becomes another and another and intelligent design people say something that complicated couldn't have arisen step-wise a pattern, but it's that science just hasn't worked it out and science will work it out if there are holes, of course there are holes, but no one in science doubts the process."

Bellas argues that, "Creationists have a bad habit of pointing at the exceptions to the rule and stating those exceptions invalidate the entire enterprise. If we all did that, then based on the comments the Rev. Pat Robertson made earlier this week about assassinating the democratically elected president of Venezuela, we should denounce Christianity."

Another instructor believes that the holes in science are not a reason to give up on science.

"Scientists don't say 'I can't figure out this problem so God must have done it, or I can't figure out this problem so a supernatural force must have caused it.' If we did that then we wouldn't understand how DNA works, we wouldn't understand how cells work, we would have just given up a long time ago. There are lots of things we don't understand yet, but the key is yet," Boardman said.

When the theory evolution is taught in classes, it is normal for students who believe in creationism to question or argue against it, but instructors explain the differences and why evolution is being taught to carry on with their lectures.

"I teach evolution in my classes and so you get some comments about religion in there but I usually stop it very quickly especially in regards to intelligent design and creationism. The most important thing you have to have in science is observation. If God is not observable then we have to assume he doesn't exist...It doesn't mean he doesn't exist, that just means as long as we're in the science laboratory we cannot use God as part of our empirical study," Lewellen said.

Other instructors are even questioned about their own personal beliefs for teaching evolution.

"Many people believe that one cannot be a both a scientist and a Christian. I always get questions from my students about how I can subscribe to the theory of evolution and still be a Christian. Science and religion are not mutually exclusive -- they are simply two ways of looking at how the world works. One is not better than the other; they're just different. I think it would truly astonish the general public if they knew how many scientists do hold religious beliefs," Bellas said.

A dose of herbal reality


Wednesday, August 31, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

By Kyung M. Song

Seattle Times staff reporter

Do you reach for echinacea instead of NyQuil when you get the sniffles? Have you been taking ginkgo biloba faithfully to keep your memory sharp? Do you think St. John's Wort can alleviate your depression as well as Zoloft or Paxil can?

If so, you're among the millions of Americans who use natural and herbal products for health reasons. In 2002, nearly one in five American adults bought natural supplements to treat everything from arthritis and anxiety to hypertension, menopause and insomnia.

But for some natural products, medical claims are based more on folklore than fact. And unlike drugs sold by prescription or over the counter, natural and herbal supplements can be sold without any proof of safety or effectiveness. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates dietary supplements, does not verify what's actually in them. It can take action only after an unsafe product reaches the market.

Results of testing by other agencies sometimes give pause. For example, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, an arm of the National Institutes of Health, funded a 2001 study that found most ginseng supplements contained less than half the potency advertised. And a 2003 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine reported that about half the 59 echinacea products analyzed did not contain the species listed on the label.

"With the lack of regulation and standardization, how can a patient be sure that the gingko biloba on a store shelf even contains ginkgo at all, much less in what dosage?" asks Dr. Jonathan LaPook, an internist and gastroenterologist at Columbia University Medical Center in New York.

Yet even when supplements contain what the labels say they do, and even when they are taken in the recommended dose, they might not deliver the desired medical benefit. Many herbal and natural supplements haven't been tested through rigorous clinical trials to measure their effectiveness.

Complementary medicine information

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health, acts as the federal government's clearinghouse of information about non-conventional medicine: www.nccam.nih.gov

Dietary Supplement Education Alliance, an industry and academic group that promotes responsible use of herbs, vitamins, minerals and other supplements (Bastyr University, the Kenmore-based natural-health sciences school, is a member of the board of trustees): www.supplementinfo.org

American Botanical Council, an independent group that promotes herbal medicine: www.herbalgram.org

University of Washington School of Medicine's Department of Family Medicine: Contains quick reviews of two dozen popular herbs and supplements: www.fammed.washington.edu/predoctoral/cam/herbsupp.html

For instance, a mini physician's guide to herbs and supplements published by the University of Washington's Department of Family Medicine notes that such popular products as milk thistle, chamomile and feverfew lack significant data to back up their purported health benefits.

One instance where rigorous testing made news was last month when the New England Journal of Medicine published the results of a large federally funded study that found echinacea, the top-selling herbal medicine in the U.S., was no more effective in preventing and treating colds than a placebo.

The study's authors concluded that numerous previous studies failed to demonstrate echinacea's effectiveness and that the herb should be considered an ineffective remedy for colds until proven otherwise.

A history of herbal use

Herbs have been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years far longer than conventional drugs and generally they have good safety records, said LaPook, co-author of The Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons Complete Home Medical Guide (Crown Publishers, 1995).

Lack of rigorous testing doesn't necessarily mean herbal remedies are ineffective or unsafe, but that they haven't been proved otherwise.

Some herbal remedies mature to become recognized in the world of conventional medicine. Aspirin, after all, was derived from a compound in willow bark, and digitalis, a key ingredient in drugs that control heart rate, was derived from the foxglove plant.

More and more American physicians are incorporating alternative therapies into their practices. LaPook said he often recommends ginger for patients with nausea.

But dangers can arise when patients don't tell their doctors they're taking herbs and supplements. Ginger and garlic, for instance, can interfere with blood clotting. That's why, to prevent excessive bleeding, LaPook orders patients to stop all herbs and supplements before he performs a colonoscopy.

A 1993 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that a third of Americans used unconventional therapy in the previous year, but 72 percent of them did not tell their medical doctor they were doing so.

"It is crucial to remember that herbs are medicine and therefore can have side effects," LaPook said.

Supplement cautions

Even practitioners of alternative medicine, though they prescribe herbal remedies, recommend consumers seek professional advice before taking them.

Kathie Golden, a naturopathic doctor at Bastyr Center for Natural Health in Wallingford, a teaching clinic for Bastyr University, said botanical or natural products can be a gentler alternative to conventional drugs. For example, Golden said, patients who take goldenseal, an herb with antiseptic properties, might avoid upset stomach and other side effects associated with antibiotics.

Golden said she conducts quality reviews for products sold at Bastyr's dispensary in Wallingford. Consumers elsewhere may want to check for one of several independent "seals of approval" for supplement quality. One such stamp, called the Good Manufacturing Practices seal, is issued by The National Nutritional Foods Association, a trade group, for products that meet standards for truth in labeling and ingredient quality.

Medical experts say pregnant and nursing women, children, the elderly and patients undergoing surgery should be extremely careful about taking herbal or natural products or shouldn't take them at all.

Golden recommends that patients interested in supplements consult naturopaths, who receive formal training in nutrition and botanical medicine that most conventional physicians lack.

"A person shouldn't be making decisions about what dose (of herbal supplements) to take any more than they should decide what dose of penicillin to take," Golden said.

Kyung Song: 206-464-2423 or ksong@seattletimes.com

Copyright 2005 The Seattle Times Company

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Keep Atheistic Religion Out Of Schools


Posted by PHX - Jack Salley on Tuesday August 30, 2005 at 12:03 pm MST

In a correctional facilities case, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled August 19, 2005, that atheism should be considered a religion under the law and the facilities may not prevent groups of prisoners from forming groups to study atheism.

In its decision, the court reasoned that preventing these meetings would infringe upon the inmates' First Amendment right to freely exercise their religion. The court said, "Atheism is [the inmate's] religion, and the group that he wanted to start was religious in nature even though it expressly rejects a belief in a supreme being."

The U.S. Supreme Court cited secular humanism as a religion in the 1961 landmark case of Torcaso v. Watkins, and now the 7th Circuit's atheistic religious ruling stands until the Supreme Court overturns the decision.

In the case of Edwards v. Aguillard (1987), the Supreme Court banned the teaching of biblical creationism in public schools because it was said to, "advance a religious belief." Since then, the federal judiciary has prevented science teachers from offering competing theories of the origins of mankind.

Today, any science that borders on religious claims is kept out of the classroom, then Charles Darwin's theory of evolution should be kept out of the classroom, too, because it is little more than a glorified presentation of the atheistic religion.

Charles Darwin's "Origin of the Species" gave rise to the atheist religion of Darwinism that ultimately morphed from religion into a so-called scientific fact, but even as a theory is has now rapidly falling into discredit.

Through DNA evidence, scientific advancements continue to discredit the theory of evolution. Science has determined a single strand of DNA is a biological 'computer' so advanced and a single human cell can carry more data than all the volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica. The theory of evolution is in decline because unlocking the human genome (DNA) has demolished any argument that favors random chance and that that humans share a heritage with primates (apes and monkeys).

Americans reject the idea that we "evolved" from a simpler species and nearly half of college graduates today support creationism. Sixty-four percent of Americans believe that "human beings were created directly by God" as opposed to the random chance theory of evolution.

To keep atheistic religion out of schools, the courts should also ban Darwin's theory of evolution from the classrooms.

Oh, my.

By encephalon on Tuesday August 30, 2005 at 2:33 pm MST (#74255)

Whether you consider atheism a religion or not isn't really relevant to whether evolution should be taught in science classes. What *is* relevant is the question, "Is evolution science?"

Yes, evolution is science.

Darwinism does not rely upon (or imply) atheism, it relies upon naturalism--as does all of science.

The only thing that evolution contradicts regarding religious belief is a literal interpretation of the Bible(or any other religious text explaining origins). Many Christians feel that there is no contradiction between their faith and evolution. The solution is simple: God created evolution along with the rest of the natural world and its processes. To imply that a non-literalist Christian is an atheist is simply willful ignorance.

Science is concerned with *natural* processes. There are the laws of the natural world. Anything theological in nature is not within the domain of science.

ID and creationism advocates seem to promote this idea that evolution is a flawed theory, yet seem to greatly lack an understanding of it. For example, the author implies that evolution somehow includes a "random chance" theory of the origin of life. But evolution is concerned with what happened after life got started, not how it started. That is a separate area of study.

There are a great deal of unsubstantiated, and simply *wrong* claims made in this article. For example, the claim that the study of the human genome has damaged the credibility of evolution in general, or the theory of our primate ancestry, is simply *wrong*. Our study of the human genome has only added to the evidence supporting evolution. If you are going to make an incredible claim like that, you should back it up with some sort of reference(to a study, for example).

That is not to say that we are done with our study of evolution--there are still things we don't fully understand. But the amount of evidence for the process of evolution is staggering and there is no alternative theory that comes close to being credible(including ID, which isn't even a scientific theory, but merely poor philosophy).

If evolution is flawed, scientists would be investigating and publishing alternative theories.

While evolution is controversial among some people, it is not controversial among scientists. It is one of the most well-confirmed theories in biology--just as quantum mechanics is one of the most well-confirmed theories in physics.

Schools file suit against UC: Creationism discrimination


L.C. Greene, Staff Writer

High school seniors graduating next June from the Calvary Baptist Schools in La Verne, and from other Christian academies, will have an unfairly tougher time getting accepted at a University of California school, Calvary Baptist's principal said Monday.

The university system has essentially blacklisted some Christian school textbooks, including biology texts that emphasize creation more than evolution, and are forcing college-bound Christian high school graduates to pull down higher scores than their public school counterparts on college entrance exams, Calvary Baptist principal Taylora Dial said.

"They just want to strangle us out," she said.

Calvary Baptist is a member of the Association of Christian Schools International, which last week filed a federal lawsuit in California's Central District against the University of California system for making admission more difficult for Christian high school graduates.

The association represents more than 800 Christian schools in California. It includes private Christian high schools in Rancho Cucamonga, Upland, Chino, La Verne, Claremont, Redlands, San Bernardino, Riverside and Lake Arrowhead.

The lawsuit contends the university system, with new admissions rules, has arbitrarily and unconstitutionally targeted the Christian viewpoint, while allowing viewpoints of other religions or cultures, said Wendell E. Bird, an Atlanta lawyer representing the association.

"This is a First Amendment case," he said.

The suit was filed on behalf of the Calvary Chapel Christian School of Murrieta and several of its students.

The University of California system rejected that school's coursework in biology, physics, history, government and English because of the texts used in the courses. The texts were published by Bob Jones University Press or A Beka Book, or both, Bird said. Both are conservative Christian publishing companies.

According to a University of California position statement about the publishers' science textbooks, the books "discount the scientific process and the scientific conclusions validated by a wealth of scientific research ... ."

The position statement adds, "The texts in question are primarily religious texts; science is secondary."

However, Dial said the biology texts and coursework at her school do touch on evolution, and therefore should meet the university's criteria. Regarding creation, "We teach it. (Creation) is our belief," she said.

In the past, graduates of Calvary Baptist have gone on to the University of California and other state schools and have succeeded, Dial said.

With the textbooks and courses rejected, Christian high graduates will have the value of their grade point averages discounted and will be required to score in the 96th percentile on their SATs or in the 98th percentile on the ACT, Bird said.

This puts the Christian grads at an unfair disadvantage, he said.

Regarding the admissions requirements, UC spokeswoman Ravi Poorsina said, "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."

L.C. Greene can be reached by e-mail at l_greene@dailybulletin.com or by phone at (909) 483-9337.

'Intelligent Design' Is a Placeholder for any Religion


by Jozsef Ludvig

"There is absolutely no hint of a proof in Darwin's work or biography for the idea that Darwin used an atheist premise."

Mr. David Plyler presents an inconsistent view in his letter. He says:

"Intelligent Design does not postulate a God and is not about religion."

But in reality, by leaving the name and identity of the designer unknown, ID becomes a placeholder for any religion while narrowly escaping the definition of a religion itself. But it can still not pose for science because it starts with the premise that a supernatural force had to be involved in the creation of life from inorganic matter. In order to prove this premise it then invents the non-empirical device of irreducible complexity which is just a typical God-Of-The-Gaps and cannot explain anything by itself. The resulting negative inference of a supernatural force from empirical ignorance is, by definition, neither a scientific subject nor consistent with the scientific method. Thus ID is not science.

The only scientific version of ID possible would involve a natural designer, but such a space alien hypothesis fails to have any attributes that could be of interest for anyone but members of the Raelian sect.

After having set up such a transparent deception, he continues with with an obvious lie:

"Darwinism begins with a premise of atheism....Darwin began his concept of naturalistic explanations in order to refute religion with atheism."

There is absolutely no hint of a proof in Darwin's work or biography for the idea that Darwin used an atheist premise. Maybe Mr. Plyler could point us to his historical evidence?

And even if he had such proof, it would not make the least of a difference for the modern theory of evolution, which is a perfectly scientific theory supported by overwhelming evidence. But he conveniently fails to mention that. To him, an invented historical lie extinguishes any trace of physical evidence.

Darwin, in his work as a scientist, was a naturalist. At the heart of Mr. Plyler's split tongue argument is the notion of many religious people that naturalism, simply because it fails to mention God, is an atheist construct. But this is absolutely incorrect.

Naturalism is the belief that nature is completely self-contained and self-consistent. Where atheism makes an explicit statement about gods, naturalism does not. If one logically negates any possible statement of naturalism, it will still not contain anything about super-natural beings. But if one negates atheism, one has to end up with the basic tenet of any religion that there are supernatural beings, thus where atheism is essentially anti-religion, naturalism is simply logically disjoint.

Ultimately, the inconsistency in his argument lies in the belief of ID not being religious because it does not mention ANY PARTICULAR supernatural being, while he accuses Darwinism, which does not mention God at all, of being atheist.

His other musings about micro- vs. macro- evolution and the missing fossil record are desperate fantasies to keep his belief in his own inconsistent premises alive. They are hardly worthy of a reply.

Copyright 2005 The Baltimore Chronicle

Intelligent Design: Meek case at best


Posted on Tue, Aug. 30, 2005

By Martin Gottlieb

The current battle 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 religious motives.

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.

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 (mgottlieb@DaytonDailyNews.com) is an editorial writer and columnist for the Dayton Daily News.

Religious Right evolves tactics to fight Darwin


August 30, 2005

By Tom Baldwin A creationist with a lurid past is putting up a more subtle case to win over children at US schools

CONNIE MORRIS took LSD at her high school graduation, posed nude as a model and frolicked in free love before suffering sexual abuse and descending into drug addiction. Then she found God. "My life would have been better anyone's life would have been better if I had committed to Christ earlier and followed His way," she said.

Mrs Morris has positioned herself firmly on the front line of the latest battle being waged by America's religious Right against the forces of secularism and liberalism. Her lurid account of how she escaped from a personal hell is relevant because it gives a flavour of the born-again passion with which the war is being fought.

She is an elected member of the Kansas State Board of Education, which is seeking to change the school science curriculum so that children are taught criticism of evolution. This autumn the board is expected to approve new standards that describe Darwin's theory on the origin of the species as "controversial . . . based on inferences from indirect or circumstantial evidence".

More than twenty similar challenges to scientific orthodoxy are being mounted in state legislatures and on school boards across the country. In Cobb County, Georgia, disclaimer stickers have been placed on textbooks stating that evolution is "theory, not fact".

Earlier this year President Bush threw his weight behind such efforts, saying that he thought lessons should include arguments for and against natural selection, "so people can understand what the debate is about".

This seemingly fair-minded approach is known as "teach the controversy" and is buttressed by studies from the Discovery Institute in Seattle. The think-tank has been proposing "intelligent design" as a middle way between Darwin and those creationists who still believe that the world was made by God just a few thousand years ago.

In the same way that Mrs Morris, 43, recognises that she made "past mistakes", so has Discovery realised that a literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis is not going to get very far. It has gone to great lengths to present scientific rather than religious arguments, saying that Darwin cannot explain how life began or how it got to be so complex. It claims that some biological features, such as the mutual dependency of the proteins needed for blood clotting, are just too amazing to be explained without acknowledging at least the possibility of intervention by a higher supernatural hand.

This debate is not raging on university campuses, where the overwhelming majority of scientists reject the intelligent design thesis. They regard it as a part of an assault by the US Right on science in general: other fronts including stem-cell research, climate change and Nasa's space-exploration budget. Instead, the intelligent design "controversy" is apparent mainly in state legislatures on education and local school boards.

People such as Mrs Morris are not scientists, they are politicians thrown up by the US system of holding direct elections for almost everything. She recently made plain her feelings towards evolution in a letter to her constituents in rural west Kansas describing Darwinism as "biologically, chemically, metaphysically and, etc, wildly and utterly impossible".

In an interview with The Times Mrs Morris said: "I've read stacks of stuff . . . which refutes evolution." She confirmed that, along with two-thirds of the US public according to a recent opinion poll, she believed that mankind was created directly by God. How long ago 5,000 years? "I'm not sure that matters," she said.

Creationism has never really gone away in America. In 1925 John Scopes, a biology teacher in Tennessee, was successfully prosecuted, during the so-called Monkey Trial, for introducing evolution into classrooms. That was overturned by the US Supreme Court only in 1968. Attempts to teach "creation science" alongside evolution were banned by subsequent rulings in the 1980s on the ground that they violated the Constitution's first amendment, which separates Church and State.

It is Kansas that has been in the vanguard of recent attempts to circumvent the law. In 1999 the education board tried to remove all references to evolution from its books before being booted out of office. Mrs Morris is one of a second wave of conservatives, elected in 2004, who have learnt to box cleverer than her predecessors. Critics suggest that the intelligent design argument may itself be evidence that the creationists are evolving.

Mary Viveros is the principal of Sumner Academy in Kansas City, which was rated one of the 100 best high schools in America by Newsweek magazine. "This is a thinly veiled attempt to impose a literal interpretation of the Bible on the wider world. I was a biology teacher myself and I can't ask other teachers to do this," she said. "It's ludicrous. It might be part of our theory of knowledge lessons but intelligent design cannot be part of a science lesson."

She is worried for her largely Baptist students because the curriculum being proposed by the education board will not "prepare them for the outside world". Dr Viveros, a Catholic, suggested that schools could ignore the instructions. "I suspect we'll all be too busy to get around to implementing anything new like this in the curriculum," she said.

Mrs Morris said that such views were the result of media distortion. "This will help students to be more intelligent and more critical and that will help them in life God is pleased when we are successful and intelligent," she said.


Creationism: The belief that the Universe was created by a supreme being or deity, as described in the Book of Genesis or the Koran

Darwinism: explains life exclusively through natural processes, such as random mutations and natural selection

Intelligent design: Movement born out of opposition to the theory of evolution. Proponents, essentially creationists, believe that some parts of the Universe were made by an intelligent cause or agent and that it was not an undirected process.

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