NTS LogoSkeptical News for 22 September 2005

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Intelligent Design: An Ambiguous Assault on Evolution


By Ker Than
LiveScience Staff Writer
posted: 22 September 2005 12:42 am ET

Editor's Note: This article is the first in a special LiveScience series about the theory of evolution and a competing idea called intelligent design.

TODAY: An overview of the increasingly heated exchange between scientists and the proponents of intelligent design.

COMING FRIDAY : Proponents argue that intelligent design is a legitimate scientific theory, but a close look at their arguments shows that it doesn't pass scientific muster.

Science can sometimes be a devil's bargain: a discovery is made, some new aspect of nature is revealed, but the knowledge gained can cause mental anguish if it contradicts a deeply cherished belief or value.

Copernicus' declaration in 1543 that the Sun and the heavens were not, in fact, revolving around the Earth and its human inhabitants was one such painful enlightenment. The publication in 1859 of Charles Darwin's book, "The Origin of Species," set the stage for another.

Darwin's truth can be a hard one to accept. His theory of evolution tells us that humans evolved from non-human life as the result of a natural process, one that was both gradual, happening over billions of years, and random. It tells us that new life forms arise from the splitting of a single species into two or more species, and that all life on Earth can trace its origins back to a single common ancestor.

Perhaps most troubling of all, Darwin's theory of evolution tells us that life existed for billions of years before us, that humans are not the products of special creation and that life has no inherent meaning or purpose.

For Americans who view evolution as inconsistent with their intuitions or beliefs about life and how it began, Creationism has always been a seductive alternative.

Creationism's latest embodiment is intelligent design (ID), a conjecture that certain features of the natural world are so intricate and so perfectly tuned for life that they could only have been designed by a Supreme Being.

Real or apparent design?

"The question that we're facing in biology is that when we look at nature, we see design," said Scott Minnich, a microbiologist at the University of Idaho and an ID proponent. "But is it real design or apparent design? There are two answers to the question and both are profound in terms of their metaphysical implications."

In an August interview with National Public Radio, Republican Senator and ID supporter Rick Santorum stated exactly what he believed those implications were for evolution. Asked why he, a politician, felt compelled to weigh in on what was essentially a scientific debate, Santorum replied:

"It has huge consequences for society. It's where we come from. Does man have a purpose? Is there a purpose for our lives? Or are we just simply the result of chance? If we are the result of chance, if we're simply a mistake of nature, then that puts a different moral demand on us. In fact, it doesn't put a moral demand on us."

The Players

Some of the key players in the science of evolution and the increasingly popular notion of intelligent design, and things they've said.

Charles Darwin

"It is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science."

The British naturalist who started it all. Darwin's theory of evolution forever changed how humans viewed themselves and their relationships to all other life on Earth.

Scott Minnich

"You're just asking, can unintelligent undirected, unpurposed laws of chemistry and physics, chance and time produce things that are more sophisticated than the combined intellectual capacity of our engineering community at present. I think that's a valid question."

Minnich is an Associate Professor of Microbiology at the University of Idaho and believes that certain structures in nature are so complex that they could only have been designed by a Supreme Being.

Lawrence Krauss

"These people aren't scientists, they're public relations people, and [ID] is a media campaign designed to convince the public that evolution is wrong."

Krauss is a physicist at Case Western Reserve University. Along with two other scientists, Krauss sent a letter to Pope Benedict XVI in July asking for a clarification of the church's position on evolution after a Catholic Cardinal wrote an op-ed piece stating that Catholicism and evolution were incompatible.

Phillip Johnson

"This isn't really, and never has been a debate about science. It's about religion and philosophy."

A retired UC Berkeley law professor, Johnson is considered by many to be the father of the Intelligent Design movement. Johnson is the author of "Darwin on Trial," in which he argues that modern science should allow for supernatural explanations.

Barbara Forrest

"Johnson presents this issue as though teaching evolution is tantamount to teaching atheism, and he's doing that because he wants to scare people to death."

An Associate Professor of Philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University, Forrest has drawn the ire of ID proponents for her pointed criticisms of ID.

Kenneth Miller

"We live at a time when this country's scientific preeminence is being challenged all over the world. The last thing that we want to contemplate is anything that would further drive our young people away from science."

Miller is a biologist at Brown University in Rhode Island and also a devout Roman Catholic. He is the author of Finding Darwin's God and believes that evolution and a strong belief in God are not mutually exclusive.

By adding morality to the equation, Santorum is giving the scientific theory of evolution a religious message, one that does not come on its own, said Kenneth Miller, a biologist at Brown University in Rhode Island.

Like Santorum, Miller is a devout Roman Catholic, but he believes evolution can only explain how life arose and how it diversified. Why there is life at all is another question entirely, one that Miller believes is outside the realm of science.

Lawrence Krauss, a physicist at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, expressed a similar sentiment. "The questions of purpose are not part of science," Krauss said. "How you interpret the results of science is up to you, and it's based on your theological and philosophical inclinations."

The ID nerve center

The ID movement is orchestrated by the Center for Science and Culture (CSC), a subdivision of the Discovery Institute, a conservative Christian think tank based in Seattle.

The CSC strategy for countering evolution is twofold: challenge its soundness as a scientific theory, then replace it with ID.

The CSC is using a campaign called "Teach the Controversy" to carry out the first part of the strategy. The campaign is aimed at public schools and teachers are urged to expose students to the "scientific arguments for and against Darwinian theory." It exploits disagreements among biologists, pointing out gaps in their understanding of evolution in order to portray evolution as a "theory in crisis."

Selling ID as a viable alternative to evolution, however, is proving more difficult. In modern science, a theory must first undergo the gauntlet of peer-review in a reputable scientific journal before it is widely accepted.

Measured by this standard, ID fails miserably. According to the National Center for Science Education, only one ID article by Stephen Meyers (Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, 2004) has passed this test and even then, the journal that published the article promptly retracted it. The journal also put out a statement that said "there is no credible scientific evidence supporting ID as a testable hypothesis to explain the origin of organic diversity."

Straddling the fence

The ID movement's greatest strength lies in its ambiguity. It makes no claims about who the designer is or the steps taken to create life. ID does not say whether the designer intervened in the history of life only once or multiple times or even whether the designer is still actively guiding the destiny of life on Earth.

The ambiguity is intentional and part of what Phillip Johnson, a retired law professor from the University of California, Berkeley and one of the ID movement's lead strategists, calls his "big tent" strategy.

By paring the origins debate down to its most essential questionÑ"Do you need a Creator to do the creating, or can nature do it on its own?"ÑJohnson has managed to create a tenuous alliance between various groups of skeptics and conservative Christians, including Young Earth CreationistsÑthose who believe that the Earth is only a few thousand years oldÑand Old Earth Creationists.

In front of mainstream audiences, ID proponents refuse to speculate about the precise nature of the designer. Regarding this crucial point, ID proponents are agnostic. It could be God, they say, but it could also be a superior alien race.

Even if an ID version of science were to prevail, the designer's true identity may still never be revealed, Minnich said.

"I think it's outside of the realm of science," Minnich said in a telephone interview. "You can infer design but the science isn't going to tell you who the designer is. It has theistic implications, and then its up to the individual to pursue that out of interest if they want."

When speaking or writing for Christian audiences, however, ID proponents are more candid. Some have openly speculated about who they think the wizard behind the curtain really is.

"The objective is to convince people that Darwinism is inherently atheistic, thus shifting the debate from creationism vs. evolution to the existence of God vs. the nonexistence of God," Johnson wrote in a 1999 article for Church and State magazine. "From there, people are introduced to 'the truth' of the Bible and then 'the question of sin' and finally 'introduced to Jesus.'"

The 'Wedge'

Also in 1999, a fund raising document used by the Discovery Institute to promote the CSC was leaked to the public. Informally known as the "Wedge Document," it stated that the center's long-term goals were nothing less than the "overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies," and the replacement of "materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God."

The means for achieving these goals was explained using a simple metaphor: "If we view the predominant materialistic science as a giant tree, our strategy is intended to function as a 'wedge' that, while relatively small, can split the trunk when applied at its weakest points."

In a 1999 interview with Insight Magazine, Johnson explained why he singled out evolution when his real target was all of modern science: "Evolution is a creation story and as a creation story, it's the main prop of the materialist explanation for our existence."

Yes, Evolution is a Theory. It's Religion and Politics that are the Problems

Human Affection Altered Evolution of Flowers

Study Suggests Human Brains Still Evolving

Moral Debate: Procedure Risks Making Monkeys More Humanlike

After watching and analyzing the CSC's strategy for years, Barbara Forrest, a philosopher at Southeastern Louisiana University, was reminded of another metaphor, one she used for the title of her book, "Creationism's Trojan Horse."

Like the hollow wooden horse the Greeks used to enter the city of Troy, ID is being used as a vehicle to sneak Creationism into public schools.

"They know that if you can get [ID] into a school, you're going to have some teacher who's going to present it as religious creationism," Forrest told LiveScience. "They know that, but they can't admit that until they get their foot in the door of the classroom."

The writers of the Wedge Document laid out a comprehensive roadmap for the CSC that included 5- and 20-year goals and strategies to achieve them. To date, nearly all of those goalsÑincluding the publication of books, engaging evolutionary scientists in public debates and getting media coverageÑhave been achieved. All except for one.

"It was supposed to be their first goal and the foundation of the whole strategy and that's doing science," Forrest said. "They haven't done any because you can't do science in such a way as to test for the supernatural."

Although their arguments have been flatly rejected by the majority of mainstream scientists, ID proponents have managed to successfully pitch their idea to the public.

"They're really exploiting their own audience," Forrest said. "They're taking advantage of the fact that Americans like to be fair, but its really grossly unfair. They haven't done any science, and you don't have the right to argue that anything you've done should find its way into a classroom unless you've done the hard work that other scientists are required to do."

The Darwinist religion

While denying that ID is religiously motivated, ID proponents often portray evolution as its own kind of religion, one that is atheistic and materialistic, whose converts no longer cast their eyes towards heaven but who rather seek to build heaven here on Earth using their scientific knowledge.

The implication is that by destroying the idea that Man is the paragon of God's creation, evolution robs life of meaning and worth. And by limiting God's role in creation, evolution opens up the terrifying possibility for some that there is no God and no universal moral standard that humans must follow.

Forrest thinks this is just silly. "Where did immorality come from before Darwin figured out natural selection?" she asked.

Far from robbing life of meaning, Forrest believes that it is because of evolution that we are capable of living meaningful lives.

"It's evolution that gives us the advanced nervous system we have so that we can interact with our environments at a highly conscious level," Forrest said.

Miller thinks such claims are also self-fulfilling. "You have essentially told people that if that Darwin guy is right, there is no God, there is no morality, there is no law you are obliged to obey," Miller told LiveScience. "I don't know of any evolutionary biologists who would say that, but I do hear a lot of people on the other side saying it."

What's at stake

On its website, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) stated that allowing ID into public schools will "undermine scientific credibility and the ability of young people to distinguish science from non-science."

Miller thinks the stakes are much higher than that.

In addition to sowing confusion about what constitutes proper science, ID has the potential to drive people away from science. If classrooms are allowed to become theological battlegrounds, then schoolchildren will basically be told that science is hostile to new ideas and that scientists believe in a ludicrous theory that negates the very existence of God.

"Evolution is not opposed to religion unless people make it so," Miller said. "The message of evolution is that we are just as Genesis told us, we are made out of the dust of the Earth and that we are united in this web of life with every other living creature on the planet, and I think that's a fairly grand notion."

Top 10 Creation Myths
Poll: Public Divided on Evolution
Nobel Prize Winners Speak Up to Support Evolution
ACLU Sues Pa. School District Over 'Intelligent Design' Curriculum
District Loosens 'Intelligent Design' Rule

Dover Intelligent Design Trial Showcases ACLU's 'Orwellian Efforts' to Stifle Scientific Inquiry, Says Discovery Institute


HARRISBURG, Pa., Sept. 22 /PRNewswire/ -- "While Discovery Institute opposes efforts to mandate the teaching of intelligent design in public schools, it even more strongly objects to the ACLU's Orwellian efforts to shut down classroom discussions of intelligent design through government-imposed censorship," said Dr. John West, Associate Director of Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, the nation's leading think tank sponsoring research on intelligent design.

The case of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District will open in federal court in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on Monday, September 26. The ACLU is suing the school board of Dover, Pennsylvania for adopting a policy that requires students to listen to a three-paragraph statement about the theory of intelligent design. The ACLU alleges that the Dover policy violates the separation of church and state.

Discovery Institute strongly disputes the ACLU's effort to make discussions of intelligent design illegal. At the same time, the Institute opposes on policy grounds the science education policy adopted by the Dover School District. Discovery holds that a curriculum that aims to provide students with an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of neo- Darwinian and chemical evolutionary theories (rather than teaching an alternative theory, such as intelligent design) represents a common sense approach that all reasonable citizens can agree on.

"Attempts to require teaching about intelligent design only politicize the theory and hinder a fair and open discussion of its merits among scholars and within the scientific community," said West, adding that most teachers currently have not been trained enough about intelligent design to teach it accurately and objectively.

"The courts should not be used to censor scientific ideas or instruct scientists and educators in what are legitimate avenues of scientific research," said West. "Whether the ACLU likes it or not, advocates of new scientific theories must be allowed to critically examine reigning ideas if scientific progress is to ever take place.

"It's a disturbing prospect that the outcome of this lawsuit could be that the court will try to tell scientists what is legitimate scientific inquiry and what is not," added West. "That is a flagrant assault on free speech and free and open scientific inquiry. The debate over evolution should be decided through scientific discussion and debate, not by gag orders imposed by the courts."

SOURCE Discovery Institute
Web Site: http://www.discovery.org

Issuers of news releases and not PR Newswire are solely responsible for the accuracy of the content.
Terms and conditions, including restrictions on redistribution, apply.
Copyright © 1996-2005 PR Newswire Association LLC.

SHARE Is Ready to Respond to Hurricane Rita

We here at the Center for Inquiry are deeply distressed by what appears to be another impending disaster as yet another devastating hurricane approaches the Gulf coast.

As Hurricane Rita prepares to bear down on the Texas coastline, affecting Galveston and Houston, SHARE stands ready to collect your contributions to help alleviate the human suffering that will most surely result from this storm . SHARE is the leading explicitly secular humanist charity in North America.

As before, we will continue to forward all monies collected to AmeriCares.

AmeriCares is a nonprofit aid and relief organization that coordinates distribution of medical supplies in response to natural disasters and for long-term humanitarian assistance programs.

The address of SHARE is PO Box 664, Amherst, NY 14226, or as before, you may make any contributions to SHARE through our secure online server at https://secure.ga3.org/05/donate_to_help_katrina_victims.

All contributions are tax exempt.

Interfaith Coalition Unveils a Public School Bible Course Designed to Avoid Disputes


By Richard N. Ostling The Associated Press

Published: Sep 22, 2005

The nonprofit Bible Literacy Project of Fairfax, Va., spent five years and $2 million developing "The Bible and Its Influence." The textbook, introduced at a Washington news conference, won initial endorsements from experts in literature, religion and church-state law.

American Jewish Congress attorney Marc Stern, an adviser on the effort, said despite concern over growing tensions among U.S. religious groups, "this book is proof that the despair is premature, that it is possible to acknowledge and respect deep religious differences and yet still find common ground."

Another adviser, evangelical literature scholar Leland Ryken of Wheaton College, called the textbook "a triumph of scholarship and a major publishing event."

The colorful $50 book and forthcoming teacher's guide, covering both Old and New Testaments, are planned for semester-long or full-year courses starting next year.

The editors are Cullen Schippe, a retired vice president at textbook publisher Macmillan/McGraw-Hill, and Chuck Stetson, a venture capitalist who chairs Bible Literacy. The 41 contributors include prominent evangelical, mainline Protestant, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Jewish and secular experts.

Religious lobbies and federal courts have long struggled over Bible course content. To avoid problems, Bible Literacy's editors accommodated Jewish sensitivities about the New Testament, attributed reports about miracles to the source rather than simply calling them historical facts and generally downplayed scholarly theories - about authorship and dates, for example - that offend conservatives.

Educators know biblical knowledge is valuable - 60 percent of allusions in one English Advanced Placement prep course came from the Bible - and that polls show teens don't know much about Scripture. Yet few public schools offer such coursework, partly due to demands for other elective classes, partly over legal worries. The U.S. Supreme Court's 1963 decision barring schoolroom Bible recitations said that "the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities" if "presented objectively as part of a secular program of education."

The textbook follows detailed principles in a 1999 accord, "The Bible and Public Schools," brokered by Bible Literacy and the First Amendment Center, a nonpartisan program of the Freedom Forum devoted to constitutional liberties. That accord is endorsed by seven major educational organizations and Christian, Jewish and Muslim groups.

Stetson said "the important thing was not to compromise on peoples' beliefs. They are what they are." To Schippe, the key to effective education is respect for the biblical text, constitutional law, scholarship, various faith traditions and divergent interpretations.

The new textbook was tested in two high schools. Bible Literacy will offer online teacher training through Concordia University in Portland, Ore.

The First Amendment Center's Charles Haynes told the news conference that public schools constantly ask him for advice on what Bible course material to use but he's had nothing he could recommend - "nothing, that is, until now."

Haynes says the only previous textbook, decades old, was inadequate because it treated the Bible only as literature, slighting its religious significance.

Another program, favored by evangelical groups and used in hundreds of schools, comes from the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools of Greensboro, N.C. It provides a teacher's outline with the Bible itself as the textbook.

On the Net:

Bible Literacy Project: http://www.bibleliteracy.org

AP-ES-09-22-05 1520EDT

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Swiss doctor brings alternative medicine out of closet


BEIJING, Sept. 21 -- Dr Eduard Klarer's practice, in the Swiss mountain town of St Moritz, is modern, minimalist and pristine.

On his desk sits a preserved seahorse in a jar of formaldehyde.

Klarer is one of a rare species: a Western practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).

In Zhengzhou city of China's Henan Province, Klarer studied intensively for three years at the Henan College of Chinese Medicine.

Under the special tutelage of Dr Si Fuchun, he completed courses in both herbology and acupuncture, and is now a fully qualified practitioner of TCM.

During his years of training, and in regular return trips to Zhengzhou, Klarer has spent a lot of time on duty in the university hospital.

As a Westerner, practising in a Chinese hospital was not easy. Patients were reluctant to see him initially, he recalled.

"'Look at his nose,' they said, 'he can't possibly be a good doctor!' "

Hard work and time, however, proved Klarer's skill, and eventually Chinese patients were asking for him.

Back in Europe, he is having to start again in winning the confidence of his patients. Swiss patients are also somewhat wary of what Klarer has to offer. There is rising interest in TCM, but certain aspects of it are taking time to get used to.

A TCM cure often involves a wide range of ingredients. Here in China, TCM pharmacies are stuffed with strange fungi, dried geckos and seahorses, but as yet, Klarer cannot prescribe these; Swiss patients would refuse to take them.

What he gives to his patients are ingredients in granulated form, that are completely unidentifiable.

"Sometimes I put things into the recipes without telling people, like scorpions, which are very good for rheumatism. They don't see it and they think it's OK. For me, that's fine as long as I see them getting better."

"Another reason for the granules is that they are soluble: add a teaspoon to a cup of hot water and your medicine is ready."

In China, the patient has his work cut out once he arrives home with his bag of ingredients. Remedies typically require lengthy preparation, with boiling and steaming, at the end of which the entire house is infused with often unpleasant smells. Chinese medicine is notoriously offensive often bitter to the taste buds.

In Switzerland, this is out of the question, said Klarer. "People would say, 'You're crazy, what about my neighbours?'"

Certain traditional therapies such as acupuncture are also having problems gaining acceptance.

Klarer recollected problems he has had using the ancient technique of guasha. This is a treatment so commonplace in China that it is mostly done at home by a family member. It involves gentle rubbing of the skin with a smooth object.

For a patient suffering from too much heat in the body, this produces red patterns on the skin which are totally painless and disappear after a short time, but which can look quite dramatic.

Klarer related how this can provoke a violent reaction when people aren't used to it: "Once, a lady I treated with guasha said that her husband hadn't spoken to her for two days after the treatment. He thought she had been beaten!"

Now he always shows pictures to patients before starting the treatment, and makes sure they know what will happen.

Despite the obstacles, demand for TCM in Switzerland is rising, as more and more Swiss consider it as a serious alternative to Western medicine. His own small ward manages to supply around 80 per cent of Klarer's patients.

On the professional level, Klarer and other practitioners of TCM are still facing some resistance.

Better understanding

Klarer has found that his experiences in China have put some distance between himself and his colleagues in Western medicine. Learning the concepts of Chinese medicine gradually came to change the understanding of the world that he had learned from life and study in Europe.

Klarer initially qualified as a psychiatrist in Switzerland. He has carried out an extensive study of psychology in Switzerland, and has also learned the basics of Western medicine.

Surveying the two medical traditions, he remarked, "Chinese medicine is thousands of years old, it is built upon experience. Western medicine is built on science."

"My Western colleagues here in Switzerland think very analytically, whereas the Chinese are holistic. They try to find the balance."

The balance Klarer refers to is that between yin and yang, the omnipresent opposing but complementary forces of ancient Chinese philosophy, and a pivotal concept of Chinese medicine.

"When you understand yin and yang, you understand Chinese medicine," he said.

Klarer has found in Western culture equivalent concepts to yin and yang, and explains them in terms of Logos and Eros from classical Greek philosophy: the head and the heart, or the left and right brain.

He applies this to his understanding of society. Existence in Western culture, Klarer believes, is dominated by the activity of the Logos, or yang. People think a great deal, giving little space to their emotions, and have strong creative and controlling impulses.

The importance of methodical thought and explanation in Western medicine renders some of Chinese medicine's important concepts, such as yin yang and qi, too abstract to be acceptable to Western physicians.

Klarer has often found that his Western colleagues are wary of what he does, and are reluctant to refer their patients to him, warning them to be careful.

What exacerbates the problem, according to Klarer is that the study of TCM is still not taken seriously enough. Many Swiss are now choosing to learn it at home, through weekend or correspondence courses, and the level of proficiency they can reach by doing this is not high.

Klarer believes that trying to learn the science of TCM away from its natural context is a hopeless endeavour. It is important to be absorbed by Chinese culture if you are to really understand the philosophical outlook behind Chinese medicine, he explained.

Potential development

TCM may not yet have really taken off in Switzerland, but it is by no means a trivial phenomenon.

According to the Swiss Professional Organisation of Traditional Chinese Medicine (SPOTCM), there are currently around 550 qualified practitioners of Chinese Medicine in Switzerland, and around 500 more in training, and this is in a country of 7.5 million people.

Many of those practitioners are of Swiss origin, but there is also a significant number of Chinese origin. The International Centre for Traditional Chinese Medicine operates a programme in collaboration with the Chinese Ministry of Health, which brings experienced Chinese practitioners to Europe.

TCM treatments are no more expensive than Western treatments in Switzerland, moreover thanks to the efforts of SPOTCM, there are now three out of 26 cantons in Switzerland where TMC treatment is available on insurance, and the organization hopes that this will be the case in all cantons before long.

For Klarer, it is almost certain that TCM will soon undergo rapid growth in Switzerland, for the simple fact that it works.

TCM cannot provide the right cure for every disorder, of course; Klarer recognizes that there are many cases, such as clogged arteries, which require the more invasive techniques of Western medicine.

Klarer pointed out that in China, the two approaches are now happily coexisting. The fact that this is not yet the case in Switzerland, he attributes to the way society functions there.

"In China, they are more open to change. When they come across a concept that they like, they adopt it overnight," he said.

"Here, we have to look, think, analyze, we take a much longer time."

For now, Klarer will continue to administer prescriptions in powder form, and keeps his preserved seahorse in the cupboard when there are patients around.Enditem

(Source: China Daily)

Creationism repackaged


Alan Eder columnist

By Alan Eder
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, September 21, 2005

More than 500 years ago, Copernicus postulated a "crazy" idea - that the Earth rotated around the sun and not vice versa. Religious scholars opposed this theory, clinging to the long-held view that the Earth was at the center of the universe.

It was not until after his death that Copernicus' heliocentric theory was finally published and until many years of dispute later that it was finally accepted as a scientific fact. This debate struck right at the heart between science and faith, pitting scientific inquiry against philosophical and religious views that held otherwise.

Currently, a parallel debate involves the never-ending discussion between evolution and faith.

Just last week, 38 Nobel Prize laureates asked the Kansas Board of Education to reject standards regarding evolution as a seriously questionable theory (the move intended to expose students to more criticism of the theory), claiming that the measure is intended by proponents of intelligent design to "politicize scientific inquiry."

Intelligent design is a relatively new theory that, in contrast to evolution, posits that life is too complicated and too beautiful to be explained.

According to www.intelligentdesignnetwork.com, intelligent design "holds that certain features of the universe and living things are best explained by an intelligent cause rather than an undirected process such as natural selection."

In other words, the creation and development of life needs the guiding hand of a supernatural being. Proponents argue that this strain of thought should be taught as science in the classroom, in competition with evolution.

However, there is danger in teaching intelligent design as a science, considering it lacks a clear methodology and is untestable. As George Will, a writer for Newsweek, puts it: "The problem with intelligent-design theory is not that it is false, but that it is not falsifiable: Not being susceptible to contradicting evidence, it is not a testable hypothesis. Hence it is not a scientific, but a creedal tenet - a matter of faith, unsuited to a public school's science curriculum."

Intelligent design boils itself down to a simple phrase: God did it. Consequently, intelligent design is nothing more than a form of repackaged creationism. Rather than contribute to further scientific study of our world, unfortunately intelligent design is now being used as a guise to teach religion, specifically creationism, in schools.

While intelligent design operates under the premise of science, it simply tries too hard to discredit and degrade evolutionism. In doing so, it does a disservice to itself - taking potshots at natural selection does little to justify a separate branch of methodological thought.

By constituting itself more as a response to evolutionism rather than as a distinct theory that stands alone, it fails to justify itself as a credible theory. Thus, it merely operates as a new buzzword to once again politicize the education of religion and morals in public schools.

While there is value in teaching competing theories to evolution, intelligent design should be taught in the context of the humanities and philosophy, rather than the sciences. The UA offers science and theology courses, and science and religion are not necessarily in two different universes of discourse, but intelligent design, in its current form, does not belong in the same realm as evolution.

While evolution is also a theory, it offers tangible, compelling evidence, not evidence based on faith. Herein lies the distinction: If intelligent design is to be taught as a science, it must focus on its own processes of scientific inquiry rather than simply attacking the methodology of evolution.

In response to the laureates' claims, Board of Education Chairman Steve Abrams, a conservative Republican who supports the proposed standards, contends that nothing should be taught as dogma. In this case, under the same logic, should Copernicus' heliocentric theory be regarded as questionable?

Copernicus arrived at his conclusion through a verifiable scientific and mathematic process, not faith. Would it now be dogma to state that the Earth revolves around the sun?

Eighty years after the Tennessee v. John Scopes "Monkey Trial," which opened up the teaching of evolutionary theory in public schools, the debate refuses to end over evolution's role in education.

America is currently challenged with how to balance evolution, its faith and the First Amendment. In this case, there is nothing wrong with approaching the origin and development of life in both scientific and spiritual inquiries, but the two pursuits should remain separate in light of the above distinctions.

Alan Eder is a senior majoring in Spanish and political science. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu

Bush, Frist fuel science attack


President Bush and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist have both called for our schools to "teach the controversy" between creationism and evolution, thus suggesting to the American people that creationism deserves equal intellectual status with evolution while implicitly casting doubt upon evolution as "just a theory."

There is no such controversy within the scientific community; there is only the religious controversy stirred up by the quasi-scientific efforts financed by the ultra-conservative Discovery Institute and Bible-thumping fundamentalists attempting to paste a scientific face on creationism by putting a lab coat over its barely concealed clerical robes and calling it "intelligent design."

They argue that certain organs and cellular and big-chemical processes are simply too complex to have arisen without the hand of a creative intelligence. This explanation may be comforting to those of faith, but it is of little use to science since it cannot be tested experimentally nor be used to make predictions – save perhaps that, if widely adopted, our students would become the laughing stock of the world scientific community.

Kansas, Ohio, New Mexico and Minnesota are considering the adoption of creationism-intelligent design in their curricula. The University of California is being sued by creationists for bias in rejecting students who have come from schools where C-ID is taught as part of the biology curriculum. Take heart, in the future, when you're on the operating table, you can rest assured that your surgeon will have received the best C-ID training from Bob Jones University and the surgical team involved will all join hands and pray that the operation will be a success.

By attempting to cast doubt on the evidence of over a century of collecting, testing, revising and retesting by thousands of biologists, paleontologists, geologists, chemists and physicists, supporters of creationism-intelligent design hope to insert religion into the very marrow of science. They seek to substitute revelation for the incredibly hard work of winnowing out answers from nature which requires the submission of findings and theories to the review and testing of peers and the discipline of double-blind tests to distinguish cause from chance and bias.

Creationism-intelligent design, if true, would have a lot to answer for as the old problem of evil rears its ugly head. Why would an intelligent designer design Guinea worm, elephantiasis, yellow fever, malaria, cancer, Siamese twins, gangrene, hydrocephaly -- name your evil. Apparently the designer either wasn't benevolent and favored a world where things preyed on each other or we are the victims of -- you can see where this must lead -- original sin. None of these unanswerable questions of theology will cure cancer or advance the welfare of mankind.

There might be more charity and tolerance in this world if we left the theologians to wrestle with their age old problems and were less militant and more content and at peace with ourselves in our faith.

Roger C. Thompson of Mattapoisett is the author of the historical novel, "Savages: A Tale of the Great New England Indian War." He served as secretary of the New York Senate and was a professor in the College of Environmental Science and Forestry at Syracuse University.

This story appeared on Page A12 of The Standard-Times on September 20, 2005.

Challenged by Creationists, Museums Answer Back


September 20, 2005 By CORNELIA DEAN

ITHACA, N.Y. - Lenore Durkee, a retired biology professor, was volunteering as a docent at the Museum of the Earth here when she was confronted by a group of seven or eight people, creationists eager to challenge the museum exhibitions on evolution.

They peppered Dr. Durkee with questions about everything from techniques for dating fossils to the second law of thermodynamics, their queries coming so thick and fast that she found it hard to reply.

After about 45 minutes, "I told them I needed to take a break," she recalled. "My mouth was dry."

That encounter and others like it provided the impetus for a training session here in August. Dr. Durkee and scores of other volunteers and staff members from the museum and elsewhere crowded into a meeting room to hear advice from the museum director, Warren D. Allmon, on ways to deal with visitors who reject settled precepts of science on religious grounds.

Similar efforts are under way or planned around the country as science museums and other institutions struggle to contend with challenges to the theory of evolution that they say are growing common and sometimes aggressive.

One company, called B.C. Tours "because we are biblically correct," even offers escorted visits to the Denver Museum of Science and Nature. Participants hear creationists' explanations for the exhibitions.

So officials like Judy Diamond, curator of public programs at the University of Nebraska State Museum in Lincoln, are trying to meet such challenges head-on.

Dr. Diamond is working on evolution exhibitions financed by the National Science Foundation that will go on long-term display at six museums of natural history from Minnesota to Texas. The program includes training for docents and staff members.

"The goal is to understand the controversies, so that people are better able to handle them as they come up," she said. "Museums, as a field, have recognized we need to take a more proactive role in evolution education."

Dr. Allmon, who directs the Paleontological Research Institution, an affiliate of Cornell University, began the training session here in September with statistics from Gallup Polls: 54 percent of Americans do not believe that human beings evolved from earlier species, and although almost half believe that Darwin has been proved right, slightly more disagree.

"Just telling them they are wrong is not going to be effective," he said.

Instead, he told the volunteers that when they encounter religious fundamentalists they should emphasize that science museums live by the rules of science. They seek answers in nature to questions about nature, they look for explanations that can be tested by experiment and observation in the material world, and they understand that all scientific knowledge is provisional - capable of being overturned when better answers are discovered.

"Is it against all religion?" he asked. "No. But it is against some religions."

There is more than one type of creationist, he said: "thinking creationists who want to know answers, and they are willing to listen, even if they go away unconvinced" and "people who for whatever reason are here to bother you, to trap you, to bludgeon you."

Those were the type of people who confronted Dr. Durkee, a former biology professor at Grinnell College in Iowa. The encounter left her discouraged.

"It is no wonder that many biologists will simply refuse to debate creationists or I.D.ers," she said, using the abbreviation for intelligent design, a cousin of creationism. "It is as if they aren't listening."

Dr. Allmon says even trained scientists like Dr. Durkee can benefit from explicit advice about dealing with religious challenges to science exhibitions.

"There is an art, a script that is very, very helpful," he said.

A pamphlet handed out at the training session provides information on the scientific method, the theory of evolution and other basic information. It offers suggestions on replying to frequently raised challenges like "Is there lots of evidence against evolution?" (The answer begins, simply, "No.")

When talking to visitors about evolution, the pamphlet advises, "don't avoid using the word." Rehearse answers to frequently asked questions, because "you'll be more comfortable when you sound like you know what you're talking about."

Dr. Allmon told his audience to "be firm and clear, not defensive." The pamphlet says that if all else fails, and docents find themselves in an unpleasant confrontation, they excuse themselves by saying, "I have to go to the restroom."

Eugenie C. Scott, who directs the National Center for Science Education and is conducting training sessions for Dr. Diamond's program, said that within the last year or so efforts to train museum personnel and volunteers on evolution and related topics had substantially increased. "This seems to be a cottage industry now," Dr. Scott said.

Robert M. West, a paleontologist and former science museum director who is now a consultant to museums, said several institutions were intensifying the docents' training "so they are comfortable with the concepts, not just the material but the intellectual, philosophical background - and they know their administrations are going to support them if someone criticizes them."

At the Denver science museum, the staff and docents often encounter groups from B.C. Tours, which for 15 years has offered tours of the museum based on literal readings of the Bible. The group embraces young-earth creationism, the view that the earth and its plants, animals and people were created in a matter of days a few thousand years ago.

"We present both sides from an objective perspective and let the students decide for themselves," said Rusty Carter, an operator of the group.

Mr. Carter praised the museum, saying it had been "very professional and accommodating, even though they do not support us." A typical group might have 30 or 40 people, he added.

Kirk Johnson, a paleontologist who is the chief curator at the museum, was philosophical about the group. "It's interesting to walk along with them," he said.

Participants pay the admission fee and have as much right as anyone else to be in the museum, Dr. Johnson said, but sometimes "we have to restrain our docents from interacting with them."

John G. West, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, whose researchers endorse intelligent design, said he was not aware of organized efforts to challenge museum exhibitions on evolution. He added, "It is not unheard of for museum exhibits to be wrong scientifically."

Dr. Scott, who trained as a physical anthropologist, said that in training docents she emphasized "how the public understands or misunderstands evolution and some of the misconceptions they come in with." She hopes to combat the idea that people must choose between science and faith - "that you are either a good Christian creationist or an evil atheist evolutionist."

"It's your job," she told docents, "not to slam the door in the face of a believer."

At the American Museum of Natural History, which is about to open what it describes as "the most in-depth exhibition ever" on Darwin and his work, curators and other staff members instruct volunteer "explainers" on the science behind its exhibitions, according to Stephen Reichl, a spokesman. If visitors challenge the presentations, the explainers are instructed to listen "and then explain the science and the evidence."

Sarah Fiorello, an environmental educator at the Finger Lakes State Parks Region who took part in the Ithaca training session in August, said she was now prepared to take the same approach. When she describes the region's geological history on tours of its gorges, visitors often object - as even a member of her family once did - that "it does not say that in the Bible."

Now, she said, she will tell them, "The landscape tells a story based on geological events, based on science."

Dr. Durkee also said she found the session helpful. "When you are in a museum, you can't antagonize people," she said. "Your job is to help them, to explain your point of view, but respect theirs.

"I like the idea of stressing that this is a science museum, and we deal with matters of science."

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

American Astronomical Society Supports the Teaching of Evolution in United States Science Classes and States That 'Intelligent Design' Is Non-Scientific and Should Not Be Taught to the Nation's Children


WASHINGTON, Sept. 20 /PRNewswire/ -- In a statement released today (and included in its entirety below), the American Astronomical Society, the largest professional scientific association for astronomers and astrophysicists in the United States, supports the teaching of evolution in K- 12 science classes. While endorsing the teaching of evolution the American Astronomical Society reminds the public that a scientific theory is the strongest form of scientific understanding of our world and not a mere speculation or guess. Theories are always open to revision, but represent our current best understanding of how nature and the universe work. Focusing specifically on recent actions by proponents of so-called "Intelligent Design," the statement released today points out that "Intelligent Design" fails to meet the basic definition of a scientific idea or theory containing no testable way to verify its central ideas. The President of the American Astronomical Society, Dr. Robert P. Kirshner of Harvard University said, "Science teachers have their hands full teaching the things that we actually know about the world we live in. They shouldn't be burdened with content-free dogma like Intelligent Design." Dr. George Nelson, Education Officer of the American Astronomical Society and former astronaut agreed, saying, "Anti-science movements like Intelligent Design, however disguised, seriously undermine the already difficult task of educating the next generation to be science literate. And a science literate citizenry is necessary if America is to continue to thrive." The AAS statement was adopted by the Council of the American Astronomical Society, the elected governing board of the association. It is given below in its entirety. Supporting references and additional information are available on the Society's website at http://www.aas.org.

American Astronomical Society Statement on the Teaching of Evolution

20 September, 2005

The American Astronomical Society supports teaching evolution in our nation's K-12 science classes. Evolution is a valid scientific theory for the origin of species that has been repeatedly tested and verified through observation, formulation of testable statements to explain those observations, and controlled experiments or additional observations to find out whether these ideas are right or wrong. A scientific theory is not speculation or a guess -- scientific theories are unifying concepts that explain the physical universe.

Astronomical observations show that the Universe is many billions of years old (see the AAS publication, An Ancient Universe, cited below), that nuclear reactions in stars have produced the chemical elements over time, and recent observations show that gravity has led to the formation of many planets in our Galaxy. The early history of the solar system is being explored by astronomical observation and by direct visits to solar system objects.

Fossils, radiological measurements, and changes in DNA trace the growth of the tree of life on Earth. The theory of evolution, like the theories of gravity, plate tectonics, and Big Bang cosmology, explains, unifies, and predicts natural phenomena. Scientific theories provide a proven framework for improving our understanding of the world.

In recent years, advocates of "Intelligent Design" have proposed teaching "Intelligent Design" as a valid alternative theory for the history of life. Although scientists have vigorous discussions on interpretations for some aspects of evolution, there is widespread agreement on the power of natural selection to shape the emergence of new species. Even if there were no such agreement, "Intelligent Design" fails to meet the basic definition of a scientific idea: its proponents do not present testable hypotheses and do not provide evidence for their views that can be verified or duplicated by subsequent researchers.

Since "Intelligent Design" is not science, it does not belong in the science curriculum of the nation's primary and secondary schools. The AAS supports the positions taken by the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Science Teachers Association, the American Geophysical Union, the American Chemical Society, and the American Association of Physics Teachers on the teaching of evolution. The AAS also supports the National Science Education Standards: they emphasize the importance of scientific methods as well as articulating well-established scientific theories.

References Cited

An Ancient Universe: How Astronomers Know the Vast Scale of Cosmic Time.
Published by the American Astronomical Society. It is also available as a PDF on the Society's webpage at http://www.aas.org/education/publications/AncientUniverseWeb.pdf.

SOURCE American Astronomical Society
Web Site: http://www.aas.org

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Intelligent design promoters should try testing their concept


Posted on Mon, Sep. 19, 2005

The question of whether there is an intelligent designer is untestable using the methods of science, and therefore is not a scientific claim.

In science, a theory is a rigorously tested statement of general principles that explains observable and recorded aspects of the world. A scientific theory, therefore, describes a higher level of understanding that ties "facts" together. A scientific theory stands until proven wrong — it is never proven correct.

In the 150 years since Darwin proposed the theory of evolution by natural selection, a mountain of evidence has accumulated to support the theory. A greatly expanded fossil record since Darwin's time, the discovery of DNA and the process of genetic replication, an understanding of radioactive decay, observations of natural selection in the wild and in laboratories and evidence in the genomes of many different organisms, including humans, have all bolstered the validity of the theory of evolution.

Opponents of evolution point to gaps in the fossil record as proof that the theory is invalid. They say the fossil record fails to show what are called "transitional forms," generally the in-between stages as one type of creature evolved into another. The fossil record certainly has gaps, mostly because the conditions required to create fossils have been rare ever since life began on Earth.

Nonetheless, we have many fossils that illustrate evolutionary transitions between fish and amphibians, between reptiles and mammals, between dinosaurs and birds. And new fossils continue to reveal transitional forms that some said didn't exist.

Teaching intelligent design alongside evolution would imply that it is as rigorously tested as evolution and supported by scientific evidence, and it is not.

Perhaps intelligent-design promoters should devote their time and efforts to these studies, which would give them recognition, rather than to influencing politicians.


March of the Penguins Supporting Intelligent Design Theory


Posted: Tuesday, September 20 , 2005, 13:49 (UK)

Christian conservatives have claimed that March of the Penguins, the documentary of emperor penguins by Luc Jacquet, is a film that support Intelligent Design.

The film, narrated by Morgan Freeman, distributed by Warner Independent Pictures, is a real-life documentary which follows a flock of emperor penguins in the Antarctic for a year as they journey 70 miles in harsh winds and freezing cold temperatures by foot, going through the harshest conditions in the struggle to survive - all to find true "love" and to find a mate and reproduce. This new French documentary follows them throughout the entire 9-month mating period.

The film beings with penguins jumping out of the water and starting their journey. The penguins journey to the breeding ground and travel in a single file line, walking nearly the entire way, to a distance seventy miles from their starting point.

Once all of the penguins finally reach the destination, they begin to pair off. Some fights occur as there are less males than females, but eventually they are paired off as best as possible.

After the female lays the egg, the egg is passed from female to male. The male protects the egg while the mother makes the 70 mile journey back to the water to eat. While the mother is away, the father shields the egg from the freezing weather conditions.

When the mother returns, the father makes the journey to find feed for itself as well. The chick hatches while the mother is away, so she sees her chick for the first time upon her return. They continue to go back and forth over the entire summer to provide food for themselves and their offspring. Due to harsh conditions, most of the young chicks do not survive.

The film takes viewers in a breathtaking entertaining educational experience. "The complexity of the penguins' lifestyle testifies to a Divine Creator," said one commentator.

"To think that natural selection or even the penguins themselves could come up with the idea to migrate miles and miles multiple times each year without their partner or their offspring is a bit insulting to my intellect. How great is our God!"

The successful film which was released in US in June, is set to hit the screens in the UK in December.

Jennifer Gold

Creation & Intelligent Design Watch


By Jason Rosenhouse

[_read Part One here_ (http://www.csicop.org/intelligentdesignwatch/probability-one.html) ]

Arguments based on probability theory are a mainstay of creationist literature. There you can find elaborate calculations purporting to measure the probability that a given complex biological structure (an eye, say, or a hemoglobin molecule) could have evolved by natural processes. Such calculations invariably include a tiny number at the end, and from this number we are meant to conclude that evolution has been refuted. We saw last time that all such arguments fail. There are two reasons for this. First, the probability of evolving a given biological structure over long periods of time is affected by so many immeasurable variables that there is no way of carrying out a meaningful calculation. Second, learning after the fact that something terribly improbable occurred provides no reason for inferring design.

But we also considered the possibility of enhancing our argument from improbability in the following way: While it is true that improbability by itself provides no reason for suspicion, it is possible that the combination of improbability with a clearly recognizable pattern does provide such a reason. Tossing one hundred heads in a row would make us suspicious in a way that tossing a random jumble of one hundred heads and tails would not, though the two sequences are equally improbable.

To Read More of This Column Visit:


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

Jason Rosenhouse is the author of EvolutionBlog (http://evolutionblog.blogspot.com/) , providing commentary on developments in the endless dispute between evolution and creationism.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Dangling Particles

September 18, 2005
Dangling Particles

Cambridge, Mass.

SCIENCE plays an increasingly significant role in people's lives, making the faithful communication of scientific developments more important than ever. Yet such communication is fraught with challenges that can easily distort discussions, leading to unnecessary confusion and misunderstandings.

Some problems stem from the esoteric nature of current research and the associated difficulty of finding sufficiently faithful terminology. Abstraction and complexity are not signs that a given scientific direction is wrong, as some commentators have suggested, but are instead a tribute to the success of human ingenuity in meeting the increasingly complex challenges that nature presents. They can, however, make communication more difficult. But many of the biggest challenges for science reporting arise because in areas of evolving research, scientists themselves often only partly understand the full implications of any particular advance or development. Since that dynamic applies to most of the scientific developments that directly affect people's lives - global warming, cancer research, diet studies - learning how to overcome it is critical to spurring a more informed scientific debate among the broader public.

Ambiguous word choices are the source of some misunderstandings. Scientists often employ colloquial terminology, which they then assign a specific meaning that is impossible to fathom without proper training. The term "relativity," for example, is intrinsically misleading. Many interpret the theory to mean that everything is relative and there are no absolutes. Yet although the measurements any observer makes depend on his coordinates and reference frame, the physical phenomena he measures have an invariant description that transcends that observer's particular coordinates. Einstein's theory of relativity is really about finding an invariant description of physical phenomena. Indeed, Einstein agreed with the suggestion that his theory would have been better named "Invariantentheorie." But the term "relativity" was already too entrenched at the time for him to change.

"The uncertainty principle" is another frequently abused term. It is sometimes interpreted as a limitation on observers and their ability to make measurements. But it is not about intrinsic limitations on any one particular measurement; it is about the inability to precisely measure particular pairs of quantities simultaneously. The first interpretation is perhaps more engaging from a philosophical or political perspective. It's just not what the science is about.

Scientists' different use of language becomes especially obvious (and amusing) to me when I hear scientific terms translated into another language. "La théorie des champs" and "la théorie des cordes" are the French versions of "field theory" and "string theory." When I think of "un champs," I think of cows grazing in a pasture, but when I think of "field theory" I have no such association. It is the theory I use that combines quantum mechanics and special relativity and describes objects existing throughout space that create and destroy particles. And string theory is not about strings that you tie around your finger that are made up of atoms; strings are the basic fundamental objects out of which everything is made. The words "string theory" give you a picture, but that picture can sometimes lead to misconceptions about the science.

Most people think of "seeing" and "observing" directly with their senses. But for physicists, these words refer to much more indirect measurements involving a train of theoretical logic by which we can interpret what is "seen." I do theoretical research on string theory and particle physics and try to focus on aspects of those theories we might experimentally test. My most recent research is about extra dimensions of space. Remarkably, we can potentially "see" or "observe" evidence of extra dimensions. But we won't reach out and touch those dimensions with our fingertips or see them with our eyes. The evidence will consist of heavy particles known as Kaluza-Klein modes that travel in extra-dimensional space. If our theories correctly describe the world, there will be a precise enough link between such particles (which will be experimentally observed) and extra dimensions to establish the existence of extra dimensions.

Even the word "theory" can be a problem. Unlike most people, who use the word to describe a passing conjecture that they often regard as suspect, physicists have very specific ideas in mind when they talk about theories. For physicists, theories entail a definite physical framework embodied in a set of fundamental assumptions about the world that lead to a specific set of equations and predictions - ones that are borne out by successful predictions. Theories aren't necessarily shown to be correct or complete immediately. Even Einstein took the better part of a decade to develop the correct version of his theory of general relativity. But eventually both the ideas and the measurements settle down and theories are either proven correct, abandoned or absorbed into other, more encompassing theories.

The very different uses of the word "theory" provide a field day for advocates of "intelligent design." By conflating a scientific theory with the colloquial use of the word, creationists instantly diminish the significance of science in general and evolution's supporting scientific evidence in particular. Admittedly, the debate is complicated by the less precise nature of evolutionary theory and our inability to perform experiments to test the progression of a particular species. Moreover, evolution is by no means a complete theory. We have yet to learn how the initial conditions for evolution came about - why we have 23 pairs of chromosomes and at which level evolution operates are only two of the things we don't understand. But such gaps should serve as incentives for questions and further scientific advances, not for abandoning the scientific enterprise.

This debate might be tamed if scientists clearly acknowledged both the successes and limitations of the current theory, so that the indisputable elements are clearly isolated. But skeptics have to acknowledge that the way to progress is by scientifically addressing the missing elements, not by ignoring evidence. The current controversy over what to teach is just embarrassing.

"Global warming" is another example of problematic terminology. Climatologists predict more drastic fluctuations in temperature and rainfall - not necessarily that every place will be warmer. The name sometimes subverts the debate, since it lets people argue that their winter was worse, so how could there be global warming? Clearly "global climate change" would have been a better name.

But not all problems stem solely from poor word choices. Some stem from the intrinsically complex nature of much of modern science. Science sometimes transcends this limitation: remarkably, chemists were able to detail the precise chemical processes involved in the destruction of the ozone layer, making the evidence that chlorofluorocarbon gases (Freon, for example) were destroying the ozone layer indisputable.

How to report scientific developments on vital issues of the day that are less well understood or in which the connection is less direct is a more complicated question. Global weather patterns are a case in point. Even if we understand some effects of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it is difficult to predict the precise chain of events that a marked increase in carbon dioxide will cause.

The distillation of results presented to the public in such cases should reflect at least some of the subtleties of the most current developments. More balanced reporting would of course help. Journalists will seek to offer balance by providing an opposing or competing perspective from another scientist on a given development. But almost all newly discovered results will have some supporters and some naysayers, and only time and more evidence will sort out the true story. This was a real problem in the global warming debate for a while: the story was reported in a way that suggested some scientists believed it was an issue and some didn't, even long after the bulk of the scientific community had recognized the seriousness of the problem.

Sometimes, as with global warming, the claims have been underplayed. But often it's the opposite: a cancer development presented as a definite advance can seem far more exciting and might raise the status of the researcher far more than a result presented solely as a partial understanding of a microscopic mechanism whose connection to the disease is uncertain. Scientists and the public are both at fault. No matter how many times these "breakthroughs" prove misleading, they will be reported this way as long as that's what people want to hear.

A better understanding of the mathematical significance of results and less insistence on a simple story would help to clarify many scientific discussions. For several months, Harvard was tortured by empty debates over the relative intrinsic scientific abilities of men and women. One of the more amusing aspects of the discussion was that those who believed in the differences and those who didn't used the same evidence about gender-specific special ability. How could that be? The answer is that the data shows no substantial effects. Social factors might account for these tiny differences, which in any case have an unclear connection to scientific ability. Not much of a headline when phrased that way, is it?

EACH type of science has its own source of complexity and potential for miscommunication. Yet there are steps we can take to improve public understanding in all cases. The first would be to inculcate greater understanding and acceptance of indirect scientific evidence. The information from an unmanned space mission is no less legitimate than the information from one in which people are on board.

This doesn't mean never questioning an interpretation, but it also doesn't mean equating indirect evidence with blind belief, as people sometimes suggest. Second, we might need different standards for evaluating science with urgent policy implications than research with purely theoretical value. When scientists say they are not certain about their predictions, it doesn't necessarily mean they've found nothing substantial. It would be better if scientists were more open about the mathematical significance of their results and if the public didn't treat math as quite so scary; statistics and errors, which tell us the uncertainty in a measurement, give us the tools to evaluate new developments fairly.

But most important, people have to recognize that science can be complex. If we accept only simple stories, the description will necessarily be distorted. When advances are subtle or complicated, scientists should be willing to go the extra distance to give proper explanations and the public should be more patient about the truth. Even so, some difficulties are unavoidable. Most developments reflect work in progress, so the story is complex because no one yet knows the big picture.

But speculation and the exploration of ideas beyond what we know with certainty are what lead to progress. They are what makes science exciting. Although the more involved story might not have the same immediate appeal, the truth in the end will always be far more interesting.

Lisa Randall, a professor of physics at Harvard, is the author of "Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe's Hidden Dimensions."



From an Oz list.

A major Israeli paper carried an article attacking ID. It was along the same lines as many such articles, but it included an amusing analogy for the posterior logic employed by promoters of ID (which I'll translate culturally rather than literally):

Joe has been working at a bank as a teller for 17 years. Two years ago, he purchased a half acre waterfront property in Sydney. The ATO was obviously suspicious, and they sent an investigator to talk to Joe. The investigator's question was simple: how did you get the money?

Joe had an immediate answer: at midnight on Ash Wednesday, Jesus came to me in a dream and said to me: Joe, my son, rise now and take a shovel; At midnight on Easter Sunday, go to the Sydney Cathedral; Circle it 7 times, then take 13 steps South and 666 steps West. At the spot where you then stand, dig to a depth of 7 feet, and you will find an old crate. Open it, and say three times "in the name of the father, and the son, and of the holy spirit"; and with that, he disappeared. I did as he said, and as I stood there with the open box, it suddenly filled with $2 million in crisp $100 notes.

"And what proof do you have of this tale?" asked the investigator, to which Joe answered: "Is the waterfront property not proof enough?"

Barry Williams
the Skeptic of Oz
h2>Not So Fast: Why Your Doctor Is Skeptical September 16, 2005

By Robert H. Shmerling, M.D.
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

* Is Your Doctor a Skeptic?
* Are You a Skeptic?

Perhaps this has happened to you: There's a news report in the paper about a new drug that sounds great, seems safe, works well and is intended for symptoms you have, such as arthritis, heartburn or allergies. At your next doctor's visit, you bring in the article, fully expecting to get a prescription for it.

Not so fast. Your doctor raises one eyebrow and seems unimpressed and begins a speech that sounds like it's been delivered many times before, about why that drug isn't for you, how an older, generic medicine might work just as well, or how you really don't need a medication at all. And so you wonder: Are you getting the latest and best treatment? Why was your doctor reluctant to prescribe the medicine?

Is Your Doctor a Skeptic?

For every true medical advance or "breakthrough" reported in the news, literally hundreds of promising stories never make a significant impact on the health of those hearing or reading them. In other words, while medical research is vitally important, it tends to happen in fits and starts, with many dead ends. Even after a drug is approved, it may not have any major advantage over older drugs with a much longer track record.

Other factors also may play into your doctor's reaction to medical research:

* Generalizability — The findings of a study may not apply to your particular situation. For example, a drug found to lower the risk of stroke among people with high blood pressure may not provide any benefit for people with normal blood pressure.

* Relevance — Reports of major breakthroughs are sometimes based on animal research. While that's often a critical step in discovering the cause of an illness or a new treatment, it may turn out to be irrelevant to humans.

* Power — In statistical terms, power refers to the ability of a study to detect differences between two groups. In general, the fewer people enrolled in a study, the less it is able to detect differences. Such a study is said to have inadequate power. This often comes up when the disease is rare (making it hard to study a lot of people) or the outcome is rare (such as a side effect of treatment). Because many studies lack power, a somewhat effective medication or a rare side effect easily could be missed. In fact, that is why rare side effects may become obvious only after a medication is approved and taken by thousands of patients.

* Chance — Almost any result can be observed just by chance. For example, imagine a study in which 10 people receive a new blood pressure pill and 10 others receive a sugar pill. If blood pressure drops in the first group, it would be tempting to believe that the medicine might make a good treatment for high blood pressure. Yet, because blood pressure normally varies, there could be lower blood pressure levels in the first group just by chance; in fact, the same study could be repeated with opposite results. This is particularly important when the outcome being studied tends to vary widely, or when a small number of people are included, so that just a few readings could sway the average result. Fortunately, statistical formulas are routinely applied to medical study results to calculate the possibility that results are due to chance. If you've ever read a medical journal, you've seen references to the "p value." The lower the value of "p," the lower the likelihood that the observed findings are the result of chance.

* Logic — Sometimes, results just don't "make sense." While we shouldn't rely entirely upon intuition, it pays to pay attention to common sense. For example, a person with high cholesterol might read a study about a low-carbohydrate, high-cholesterol diet for weight loss. Even if that diet were useful for weight loss, it probably wouldn't be a good idea to switch to a high-cholesterol diet when you already have high blood cholesterol. Researchers generally have to justify the logic of their research design to their peers, their supervisors, or to whomever is providing funding; otherwise, every outlandish idea could be studied (at great expense) with little hope of useful findings. While there are celebrated examples of important results that defied logic at the time (for example, the notion that bacteria cause stomach ulcers), the vast majority of accurate and useful medical research is supported by past, preliminary research and provides a logical extension of existing knowledge, backed by a reasonable understanding of why it might be so.

* Impact — Research may be flawlessly designed and executed, with dramatic and accurate results, but with findings that have very limited impact. For example, your doctor may not embrace a new test that predicts who will develop a rare disease that cannot be prevented or treated. While such research is interesting and eventually could lead to a better understanding of how the illness develops, getting the test will not necessarily be helpful to you. Therefore, the impact of the research may be low, at least for the time being.

* Predicting the future — A new treatment may be better than previously available options, but it takes considerable time for doctors to know what to expect. Many physicians don't want to "expose" their patients to something new before many people (as in thousands) have been treated, just in case there is a rare but important side effect. Such an approach may be even more likely if your doctor has had a bad experience treating patients in the past with a new drug.

Are You a Skeptic?

When you learn about something new, do you think about the source of information or do you tend to accept it as true, especially if it's on the news? While there are many reliable sources of information, there are also many ways to be misled, especially when the source is trying to sell something or convince its audience of a particular point of view.

It makes sense to think about where the information is coming from and whether there is any reason to think that balance and accuracy may be less than optimal. An example is a television advertisement for a prescription medication. While it may provide accurate and useful information about the condition, it's unlikely you'll hear much about treating the condition without medication or with a competitor's medication, even if those options are also effective.

It might seem like your doctor is stuck in the past, unwilling to learn "new tricks" of the trade. And you might be right. But sometimes a healthy dose of skepticism — both yours and your doctor's — can be good for your health.

Don't believe everything you read. In fact, feel free to challenge every point I've made! But, do the same thing when you read about medical news. You may be surprised at how often a preliminary or promising discovery winds up doing little to improve health — and it may even make things worse.

Robert H. Shmerling, M.D., is associate physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and associate professor at Harvard Medical School. He has been a practicing rheumatologist for over 20 years at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He is an active teacher in the Internal Medicine Residency Program, serving as the Robinson Firm Chief. He is also a teacher in the Rheumatology Fellowship Program.


Sunday, September 18, 2005

Big reptiles used to tout creationism


Last update: September 17, 2005 at 9:43 PM
Ashley Powers, Los Angeles Times
September 18, 2005 DINO0918

CABAZON, CALIF. -- Dinny the roadside dinosaur has found religion.

The 45-foot-high concrete apatosaurus has towered over Interstate Hwy. 10 near Palm Springs for nearly three decades as a kitschy prehistoric pit stop for tourists.

Now he is the star of a renovated attraction that disputes that dinosaurs died off millions of years before humans first walked the planet.

Dinny's new owners, pointing to the Book of Genesis, contend that most dinosaurs arrived on Earth the same day as Adam and Eve, some 6,000 years ago, and later marched two by two onto Noah's Ark. The gift shop at the attraction, called the Cabazon Dinosaurs, sells toy dinosaurs whose labels warn, "Don't swallow it! The fossil record does not support evolution."

The Cabazon Dinosaurs join at least a half-dozen other roadside attractions nationwide that use the giant reptiles' popularity in seeking to win converts to creationism. And more are on the way.

"We're putting evolutionists on notice: We're taking the dinosaurs back," said Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis, a Christian group building a $25 million creationist museum in Petersburg, Ky., that's already overrun with model sauropods and velociraptors.

"They're used to teach people that there's no God and they're used to brainwash people," he said. "Evolutionists get very upset when we use dinosaurs. That's their star."

The nation's top paleontologists find the creation theory preposterous and say children are being misled by dinosaur exhibits that take the Jurassic out of "Jurassic Park."

"Dinosaurs lived in the Garden of Eden and Noah's Ark? Give me a break," said Kevin Padian, curator at the University of California Museum of Paleontology in Berkeley and president of the National Center for Science Education, an Oakland group that supports teaching evolution. "For them, 'The Flintstones' is a documentary."

Tyrannosaurus rex and his gigantic brethren find themselves on both sides of the nation's renewed debate over the Earth's origins and the continuing fight over whether Charles Darwin's "The Origin of Species" or Genesis best explains the development of life.

Science holds that dinosaurs were the Earth's royalty for about 160 million years. Their reign ended abruptly, possibly after a meteorite smacked into the planet, but they're considered the forebears to birds.

'Doesn't work'

Unearthing dinosaur bones that are millions of years old "doesn't prove evolution, but it shows the Genesis account doesn't work," said Nick Matzke, a spokesman for the National Center for Science Education.

Drivers who pull off Interstate Hwy. 10 in Pensacola, Fla., are told a far different story at Dinosaur Adventure Land. Its slogan: "Where Dinosaurs and the Bible meet!"

The nearly seven-acre museum, low-tech theme park and science center embodies its founder's belief that God created the world in six days. The dinosaurs, even super carnivores such as T. rex, dined as vegetarians in the Garden of Eden until Adam and Eve sinned -- and only then did they feast on other creatures, according to the Christian-based young-Earth theory.

About 4,500 years after Adam and Eve arrived, the theory goes, pairs of baby dinosaurs huddled in Noah's Ark and a colossal flood drowned the rest and scattered their fossils. The ark-borne animals repopulated the planet -- meaning that folk tales about fire-breathing beasts are accounts of humans battling dinosaurs who still roamed the planet.

Children romping through the $1.5 million Florida theme park can bounce on a "Long Neck Liftasaurus" swing seat, launch water balloons at a T. rex and a stegosaurus and smooth their own sandbox-size Grand Canyons, whose formation is credited to the flood. A "fossilized" pickle portends to show that dinosaur bones could have hardened quickly.

"Go to Disneyland; they teach evolution. It's subtle; signs that say, 'Millions of years ago,'" said evangelist Kent Hovind, the park's founder. "This is a golden opportunity to get our point across." More...

Carl Baugh opened his Creation Evidence Museum in the 1980s near Dinosaur Valley State Park in Glen Rose, Texas, where some people said fossilized dinosaur tracks and human footprints crisscrossed contemporaneously. The Texas museum sponsors a continuing hunt for living pterodactyls in Papua New Guinea. Baugh said five colleagues had spotted the flying dinosaurs, "but all the sightings were made after dark, and we were not able to capture the creatures."

Organizers at Creation Research of the North Coast in Humboldt County, Calif., dream of building their own reptile park but lack funding and acreage. So do leaders at Project Creation in Mount Juliet, Tenn., who would need to raise about $1 million to assemble 30 to 50 pterodactyl and brachiosaur replicas to mingle with live chickens and goats.

At the Institute for Creation Research museum in Santee, a San Diego suburb, officials plan to enlarge the paleontological offerings.

'Missionary lizards'

"We like to think of [dinosaurs] as creation lizards, or missionary lizards," said Frank Sherwin, a museum researcher and author.

A 50,000-square-foot Answers in Genesis museum and headquarters is under construction near the Ohio-Kentucky border, where the group hired a full-time dinosaur sculptor. When the facility opens in 2007, the lobby will spotlight a 20-foot waterfall and two animatronic T. rexes hanging out with two animatronic children dressed in buckskins.

The creation museums are riling mainstream Christian denominations that believe the Earth is billions of years old and that God uses evolution as a tool. This conviction makes modern science compatible with their faith in a creator.

"Taking the Bible as astronomy or physics is blasphemy. They're treating it as an elementary textbook, and it's not," said Francisco Ayala, an evolutionary biology professor at the University of California, Irvine, and an ordained Dominican priest.

"We believe that God created the world. ... They misread, misquote and misuse the Bible, but they will lose out to science," said Ayala, a past president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Hugh Ross, an astrophysicist and founder of Reasons To Believe ministry in Pasadena, frets that "young-Earth theologians" damage the credibility of scientists who are Christian and push intellectuals away from religion.

"I'd put them in the same category as flat-Earth people and the people that think the sun goes around the Earth," he said. "They think they're defending the truth, but the young-Earth model has no scientific integrity."

Advocates of the intelligent design theory, who assert that certain features of life are best explained as being the products of a creative intelligence, bristle at being lumped in with young-Earth creationists. There's little question that the Earth is billions of years old, said John West, senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a public-policy think tank in Seattle that is critical of Darwinian theory.

"Critics would rather tar everyone with the brush of creationism," said West, who teaches political science at Seattle Pacific University. "I think the idea that Genesis provides scientific text is really farfetched."

Creationists defend their dinosaur museums and attractions as a way to teach a grander purpose: If the Bible's history is accurate, then so is its morality.

"If [evolutionists] convince people that dinosaurs are exotic, strange creatures, they've won right there, and the Bible looks like a book of Jewish fairy tales," said Sean Meek, executive director of the Tennessee group Project Creation.

War of ideas fought in the minds of state's youth


Sunday, September 18, 2005
Staff Writer

Creationism always has been accepted on faith at Tri-City Christian Academy in Somersworth.

The 300-student school, a steepled building with a white facade, stands on one side of a long-running cultural debate in America — whether research or revelation should be considered the foundation of knowledge.

The academy allows debate on evolution as an opposing view to creationism. But though students are exposed to both concepts, they're expected to see evolution is "only a theory," headmaster Paul Edgar said.

"Any Christian school worthy of the name teaches that God's revelation ... is the foundation for all true instruction and learning," he added.

The school, which has students in grades ranging from prekindergarten to 12, also presents intelligent design, a concept asserting the existence of a thinking creator, as "just another name" for creationism, Edgar said. Students begin debating evolution in the academy at the middle school level.

None of these explanations for the existence of life ever can be proved, Edgar said.

Students aren't forced to believe in creationism, he added.

"We teach truth, but we don't create faith," he said.

The topic of the origin of life "stays always present as a potential controversy," said Eric Meikle, outreach coordinator for the National Center for Science Education based in Oakland, Calif. The issue, he said, seeks answers to humanity's "most elemental and basic questions."

The center is a non-profit organization that defends the teaching of evolution in public schools.

Meikle called intelligent design an idea rather than a theory. He said it argues that some aspects of the biological world are so complicated or intricate they couldn't have occurred by chance, but had to be planned or designed.

Its supporters, he said, are trying to limit the teaching of evolution because they oppose all or part of it.

"There's an agenda," Meikle said. "There's a very definite agenda."

One advocate of teaching intelligent design alongside evolution is the Discovery Institute, headquartered in Seattle, describes itself as a promoter of ideas. It has launched the Center for Science and Education, which maintains websites that call on schools to "teach the controversy" and "debate it."

Many teachers refuse to answer that call.

"It's simply not science," said Brenda Grady, a biology teacher and science department head at Nashua High School North. "As much as they say it's not creationism, it is."

She called intelligent design "the evolution of the creationism movement," saying that each time courts deal a setback to teaching creationism in public schools, supporters have developed another tactic.

"They truly have evolved," she said.

Grady is a former member of the Merrimack school board, which considered a proposal to include creationism in its curriculum in the mid-1990s. It was in her second term that the proposal initiated by a local church "created a horrendous problem," Grady said.

Though some board members supported it, Grady vocally opposed it. Hundreds of residents were present to watch a scheduled vote, but the proposal was withdrawn at the last minute.

The side-taking, she said, "absolutely fractured the town."

Many residents also began to doubt the school district's quality for having considered the proposal at all, she added.

University of New Hampshire philosophy professor Duane Whittier expressed a similar position, calling intelligent design "a totally meaningless expression."

Students who learn intelligent design in science classes are at a disadvantage when pursuing careers in the sciences, he said. Whittier added that scientific theories must explain the steps in a natural process, detailing how a phenomenon occurred.

But intelligent design, he argued, only offers an explanation of "who," not "how." It lets students neglect answering fundamental questions, teaching them "bad habits," he said.

Debra Caputo, a high school science teacher at Laconia Christian School, said teaching the topics of creationism and intelligent design is important in a Christian education. Students' parents are telling them there is a god, she said, while evolution alone would tell them there isn't.

"The Christian world view is weaved into everything we do and learn," Caputo said. The school has no specific denomination.

The school, which has 170 students in grades ranging from kindergarten to 12, has a science curriculum suggesting that all things point back to an intelligent designer. But there's a lot of discussion about people who have influenced science with their ideas, including Darwin, Caputo said.

Pastor W. Roy Reynolds, principal of Seacoast Christian School in South Berwick, Maine, said the school takes a Christian approach to science education from preschool through high school. The school is Baptist-affiliated and has more than 200 students.

Its curriculum is based on the Bible, Reynolds said. Teachers freely use the word "God," with whom people who use the phrase "intelligent design" don't have a relationship, he added.

The school does refer to intelligent design in its lessons, but asserts that "God is the intelligent designer," he said.

"It's impossible for this world to have come into being by chance," Reynolds added. "It's ludicrous."

Portsmouth Christian Academy in Dover, which calls itself New England's largest independent Christian school, advertises a physical science course on its website which has a goal of giving students "a greater sense of awe and appreciation for God's creativity and the complete control He has of His creation."

Whittier said while scientists can believe in God, taking it a step further and teaching intelligent design in science class undermines the sciences.

There is a place for intelligent design and creationism in schools, but the topics belong in social studies classes, he said. He suggested the controversy could be settled with a simple philosophical discussion.

"Everything can be explained simply if somebody really understands it," he said.

The theory of evolution does not imply that there is no God, and Darwin believed in God, he said. Whittier also said evolution says nothing about the creation of the universe or the origin of life, with Darwin focusing instead on the progression of life forms.

The theory does, however, conflict in some ways with the Bible. Fossil evidence, for example, shows the Earth is older than the Bible suggests. But Whittier said such parts of the Bible shouldn't be taken literally.

"Intelligent design" debate takes center stage in federal court


By MARTHA RAFFAELE The Associated Press

HARRISBURG, Pa. - The latest chapter in a long-running legal debate over the teaching of evolution in public schools is about to unfold here in federal court.

In a civil trial set to begin Sept. 26, the Dover Area School District will defend its policy requiring ninth-grade students to hear about "intelligent design" in a preamble to biology lessons on evolution.

Intelligent design, a concept some scholars have advanced over the past 15 years, holds that Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection causing gradual changes over time cannot fully explain the origin of life or the emergence of highly complex life forms. It implies that life on earth was the product of an unidentified intelligent force.

Critics say intelligent design is merely creationism - a literal reading of the Bible's story of creation - camouflaged in scientific language, and it does not belong in a science curriculum. Eight Dover families are suing the school district, alleging that the policy violates the constitutional separation of church and state.

"The intelligent-design movement is an effort to introduce creationism into the schools under a different name," said Eric Rothschild, a Philadelphia attorney representing the families. "Our objective is to demonstrate that the prior (legal) precedent, which forbids the teaching of creationism, applies here as well."

The history of evolution litigation dates back to the famous 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, in which Tennessee biology teacher John T. Scopes was fined $100 for violating a state law that forbade teaching evolution. The Tennessee Supreme Court reversed his conviction on the narrow ground that only a jury trial could impose a fine exceeding $50, and the law was repealed in 1967.

In 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned an Arkansas state law banning the teaching of evolution. And in 1987, it ruled that states may not require public schools to balance evolution lessons by teaching creationism.

Dover is believed to have been the first school system in the nation to require students to hear about the concept under the policy adopted in October 2004. But the clash over intelligent-design is evident far beyond this rural district of about 3,500 students 20 miles south of Harrisburg.

In August, the Kansas Board of Education gave preliminary approval to science standards that allow intelligent design-style alternatives to be discussed alongside evolution.

President Bush has also weighed in, saying schools should present both concepts when teaching about the origins of life.

Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, which is defending the school district, says Dover's policy takes a modest approach.

It requires teachers to read a statement that says intelligent design differs from Darwin's view and refers students to an intelligent-design textbook, "Of Pandas and People," for more information.

"All the Dover school board did was allow students to get a glimpse of a controversy that is really boiling over in the scientific community," Thompson said.

The Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank that represents many scholars who support intelligent design, opposes mandating it in public schools. Nevertheless, it considers the Dover lawsuit an attempt to squelch voluntary debates over evolution.

"It's Scopes in reverse. They're going to get a gag order to be placed on teachers across the country," said institute senior fellow John West.

To help build their respective cases, each side is enlisting a battery of academic experts.

Expert witnesses for the defense include biochemist Michael Behe of Lehigh University, who defended intelligent design in his 1996 book, "Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution."

Behe declined an interview request by The Associated Press, citing his involvement in the trial. However, in testimony before a state legislative panel in June on a bill to allow the teaching of intelligent design in Pennsylvania, Behe cited the bacterial flagellum - a whiplike appendage that enables bacteria to swim - as an example of intelligent design at work.

"Whenever we see such complex, functional mechanical systems, we always infer that they were designed. ... It is a conclusion based on physical evidence," Behe said.

Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, which supports the teaching of evolution in public schools, said the controversy has little to do with science because mainstream scientists have rejected intelligent-design theory.

Intelligent design supporters "seem to have shifted virtually entirely to political and rhetorical efforts to sway the general public," Scott said. "The bitter truth is that there is no argument going on in the scientific community about whether evolution took place."

On the Net:

Dover Area School District: http://www.dover.k12.pa.us

Discovery Institute: http://www.discovery.org/

National Center for Science Education: http://www.ncseweb.org

Martha Raffaele covers education for The Associated Press in Harrisburg.

September 18, 2005 11:30 AM

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Evolution education update: Kitzmiller trial to begin 9/26, widespread criticism for Kansas BOE, Project Steve:

The trial in Kitzmiller v. Dover is scheduled to begin later in September, while the Kansas board of education is taken to task by the AAAS, a group of Nobel laureates, and the mayor of Lawrence, and NCSE's Project Steve attains its 600th signatory.


The trial in Kitzmiller v. Dover, the first legal challenge to the constitutionality of teaching "intelligent design" in the public schools, is scheduled to begin in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on September 26, 2005. The United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, where the bench (non-jury) trial will be held, now has a website for the trial, including a docket with selected pleadings, orders, and opinions, and information for those wishing to attend the trial. NCSE also now has a section of its website that provides information on the case.

As expected, the defense's motion for a summary judgment in the case was denied; in his memorandum and order dated September 13, Judge Jones wrote, "After a careful review of the record and viewing the facts and all inferences to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, as we must at this juncture, we hold that genuine issues of material fact exist regarding whether the challenged Policy has a secular purpose and whether the Policy's principal or primary effect advances or inhibits religion, despite Defendants' arguments to the contrary."

Richard Thompson of the Thomas More Law Center, which is representing the defendants in the case, told the York Daily Record that he was disappointed but not surprised by the judge's ruling. "That this very modest proposal is in fact a violation of the [First Amendment's] establishment clause is ridiculous," Thompson told the paper. His description of the offending policy as "modest" amusingly contrasts with the Thomas More Law Center's declaration, in a press release issued on January 18, 2005, that "a revolution in evolution is underway" in Dover.

For the court's website for Kitzmiller, visit:

For the section of NCSE's website for Kitzmiller, visit:

For the story in the York Daily Record, visit:


Speaking at the monthly meeting of the Kansas board of education on September 13, John Staver, a professor of science education and the director of the Center for Science Education at Kansas State University, delivered a message from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, of which he is a Fellow. He told the board, "AAAS is deeply concerned about the changes that have been made in the Kansas Science Education Standards in order to discredit the theory of evolution," citing both the redefinition of science in the section on the nature of science and the addition of "examples of facts that supposedly provide evidence against evolutionary theory, and statements that encourage students to distrust science." "Some of these are inaccurate," he explained, "and others are simply irrelevant or misleading." The full text of his statement is contained in a press release from the AAAS.

The board was also taken to task for its attempts to compromise the place of evolution in the state science standards by a group of thirty-eight Nobel laureates headed by Elie Wiesel. The letter deplores "efforts by the proponents of so-called 'intelligent design' to politicize scientific inquiry" and describes "intelligent design" itself as "fundamentally unscientific because its central conclusion is based on belief in the intervention of a supernatural agent." Evolution is described in the letter as "the foundation of modern biology," and the letter expresses concern about the board's recommendation to adopt standards that include scientifically unwarranted criticisms of evolution. Among the signatories are recipients of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Physics, and Medicine or Physiology, the Nobel Peace Prize, and the Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel.

Closer to home, the Lawrence Journal-World reports (September 13, 2005) that Boog Highberger, the mayor of Lawrence, Kansas, publicly complained that the efforts of the creationist majority on the state board of education is hurting the reputation of the state. Speaking to the Lawrence Rotary Club about the city's vision for the future, Highberger reportedly commented, "Lawrence has this vision thing down ... I wish I could say the same thing about our state board of education. I don't think some of its members understand the national damage they are doing to our reputation." Lawrence is home to the main campus of the University of Kansas, whose provost David Shulenberger recently told the Journal-World that the debate over the place of evolution in the state's science standards was damaging the university's national reputation and its ability to attract the top faculty and students.

For the AAAS statement delivered by John Staver, visit

For the letter from the Nobel laureates, visit:

For the story in the Lawrence Journal-World, visit:


With the addition of Steve Trigwell on September 12, 2005, NCSE's Project Steve attained its 600th signatory. A tongue-in-cheek parody of a long-standing creationist tradition of amassing lists of "scientists who doubt evolution" or "scientists who dissent from Darwinism," Project Steve mocks such lists by restricting its signatories to scientists whose first name is Steve (or a cognate, such as Stephanie, Esteban, or Stefano). About 1% of the United States population possesses such a first name, so each signatory represents about 100 potential signatories. ("Steve" was selected in honor of the late Stephen Jay Gould, a Supporter of NCSE and a dauntless defender of evolution education.)

Although the idea of Project Steve is frivolous, the statement is serious. It reads, "Evolution is a vital, well-supported, unifying principle of the biological sciences, and the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the idea that all living things share a common ancestry. Although there are legitimate debates about the patterns and processes of evolution, there is no serious scientific doubt that evolution occurred or that natural selection is a major mechanism in its occurrence. It is scientifically inappropriate and pedagogically irresponsible for creationist pseudoscience, including but not limited to 'intelligent design,' to be introduced into the science curricula of our nation's public schools."

Steve #600 joined just in time for Project Steve to be mentioned in Andrew O'Hehir's glowing review of Chris Mooney's The Republican War on Science (Basic Books, 2005) in the on-line journal Salon.com (September 14, 2005). After describing the Discovery Institute's list of scientists who "dissent from Darwinism," O'Hehir wrote: "This list has become Exhibit A in the argument that genuine scientific controversy exists over evolution, and to the layperson it certainly looked impressive. Bush and Santorum are not likely, however, to mention the National Center for Science Education's hilarious response. The NCSE began gathering names of scientists who agreed that evolution was 'a vital, well-supported, unifying principle of the biological sciences' -- but restricted membership to those whose names were Steve, Stephanie or some other variation of Stephen."

Thanks in part to the reference in Salon.com, there was a sudden wave of scientists named Steve interested in signing the Project Steve statement, and as of today, September 16, 2005, the Steveometer is at 615. Meanwhile, the Discovery Institute's roster of scientists who "dissent from Darwinism" is shorter by one. Bob Davidson is a doctor and a retired professor of nephrology at the University of Washington's medical school; he is also a devout Christian who was attracted to the Discovery Institute's purported embrace of both science and religion and who agreed to be listed. But now, he told the Seattle Times's columnist Danny Westneat (August 24, 2005), "I'm kind of embarrassed that I ever got involved with this."

"When I joined I didn't think they were about bashing evolution," Davidson said. But he was shocked when he realized that the Discovery Institute was calling evolution "a theory in crisis," according to the Times. "It's laughable: There have been millions of experiments over more than a century that support evolution," he said. "There's always questions being asked about parts of the theory, as there are with any theory, but there's no real scientific controversy about it." Finally, Davidson said, "It just clicked with me that this whole movement is wrongheaded on all counts."

For information about Project Steve, visit:

For O'Hehir's review of Mooney's The Republican War on Science, visit:

For the Seattle Times's story about Bob Davidson's disillusionment, visit:

If you wish to subscribe, please send:

subscribe ncse-news your@email.com

again in the body of an e-mail to majordomo@ncseweb2.org.

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
510-601-7203 x305
fax: 510-601-7204

Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism is now available: http://www.ncseweb.org/evc

Northwest hosts 'intelligent' debate on curriculum proposal


By Tom Long, Staff Writer 09/16/2005

Surrounded by shelves of books in Northwest Area High School's library, the debate began.

God against Darwin. Religion against the American Civil Liberties Union. Free discussion against rigid scientific dogma. Science against pseudoscience.

Evolution against intelligent design.

Exactly what the debate is depends on who's framing it, but it was clear at Thursday night's curriculum board meeting that to parents, teachers and residents, the debate over how the origin of life should be taught in the Northwest Area School District extends beyond simple curriculum matter.

Board member Randy Tomasacci brought up adding intelligent design, a view that says life is too complex to be explained by evolution and natural selection, but requires the existence of an "intelligent designer." Critics say the theory is a spin-off of Creationism. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that forcing the teaching of Creationism alongside evolution in public schools violates First Amendment separation of church and state.

The same issue Northwest is debating is set to come before federal courts in Harrisburg starting Sept. 26, according to The Associated Press. The Dover Area School District added intelligent design to its science classes and was quickly sued by a group of parents.

Tomasacci feels prohibiting discussion of intelligent design is equal to censorship. He says Northwest Area will move slowly through discussions, and everyone will have a chance to be heard at future meetings. About 15 residents attended Thursday's meeting.

Intelligent design says it's science and not religion, but many biologists - and several people at the meeting - say the theory doesn't meet the standards of scientific reasoning.

"How do you test that sort of question in the laboratory or the environment?" asked David Wasilewski, a district resident who teaches mathematics at Luzerne County Community College.

"I can't answer that," Tomasacci said.

"I don't think there is an answer because it's not a scientific question," Wasilewski said.

Science wasn't the only question, though. Terri Muhlenberg has two children in the district and two that graduated from Northwest Area. She doesn't like that her kids are taught only evolution, which she doesn't believe. At the very least, Muhlenberg "would like to seem them (evolution and intelligent design) taught back to back," getting equal class time.

Muhlenberg said intelligent design seemed to be the same thing as Creationism, which she teaches her children at home.

"It is the same thing," she said. "In my opinion, it's the politically correct."

The meeting lasted more than an hour, and aside from Tomasacci's short explanation of intelligent design, it was all discussion.

Northwest physics teacher Mark Rieber answered questions about evolution and scientific theory. Rieber said he thought teaching intelligent design without implying God as the designer would be almost impossible.

"Never can science refer to the supernatural," Rieber said. "You may think that's bad, but that's science."

Superintendent Nancy Tkatch said she doesn't think intelligent design fits into science classes, either. She'll talk to her staff, and support her teachers before the board. The final decision, though, won't be hers.

"Personally I do not believe (intelligent design) can be included in a scientific curriculum," the superintendent said.

At least one board member, Charles Brace, said adding intelligent design to a philosophy class is an option. There isn't a plan on where intelligent design would be added to the curriculum, if the board approves it.

Tomasacci said if the district adds intelligent design, he expects a lawsuit, like in Dover. He didn't want the threat to stop the discussion, though.

Solicitor David Lipka stressed the legal risk. The attorney's fees alone could bring financial hardship if the district were to lose a civil rights case. Lipka and Tomasacci both said they'll be keeping a close eye on Harrisburg as intelligent design's first court test unfolds.

©The Citizens Voice 2005

Creationism: Asking the Obvious Questions


by Cathryn Sykes


Whenever I see or read an interview with someone who advocates teaching creationism in the public schools, I always hope to hear someone—reporter, editor, educator—ask that person the oh-so-obvious questions.

It hasn't happened yet.

So—in my humble opinion, here is the way the interview should go—and never does.

EVANGELICAL: Evolution is just a theory. Creationism is an alternate theory, once that should also be taught in our public schools.We also think that that public school children should be exposed to the teachings of the Bible—

INTERVIEWER: Excuse me, but I'm a little puzzled. Have all the churches shut down?


INTERVIEWER: The thousands of churches in this country. Have they all shut down? Has someone abolished Sunday School? Has a law been passed prohibiting parents from reading the Bible to their children at home?

EVANGELICAL: No, of course not, but—

INTERVIEWER: Isn't it the responsibility of parents and houses of worship to teach religion?

EVANGELICAL: Well, yes, of course, but creationism isn't a religion, it's an alternative scientific theory—

INTERVIEWER: Who did the creating?


INTERVIEWER: Who or what did the creating? Who is the creator?

(A long pause.)

INTERVIEWER: Isn't it God? And isn't creationism therefore a matter of religion?

EVANGELICAL: You don't understand. We're talking about a scientific theory here. The point of intelligent design—

INTERVIEWER: Who or what is the designer?


EVANGELICAL: Who is the designer in 'intelligent design?'

EVANGELICAL: Well, we haven't defined that—

INTERVIEWER: Perhaps some kind of alien?

EVANGELICAL: No, of course not!

INTERVIEWER: Then who is the designer? Whose is the intelligence?

EVANGELICAL: Almighty God!

INTERVIEWER: And isn't the church, or the synagogue or the temple or the mosque the place to teach people about God?

EVANGELICAL: We need religion in the schools! Children should be exposed to moral teachings! And the Bible is the source—

INTERVIEWER: So it's a only a question of teaching morals?


INTERVIEWER: So you'd have no objection to the moral precepts of the Koran being taught in public schools?


INTERVIEWER: Or the moral philosophies of the ancient Greeks? Or those contained in the Torah? Or those in the sacred writings of Hinduism? Taught in the public schools and posted in public buildings?

EVANGELICAL: No, no! There's no way we'd allow those heathen writings in our schools!

INTERVIEWER: Just the Bible?

EVANGELICAL: Yes! The Bible! The sacred word of God. That alone should be taught in every school in this country! And the Ten Commandments should be on the walls of every public building!

INTERVIEWER: In other words, you want taxpayers to subsidize your attempts to convert everyone in this country to Christianity.

EVANGELICAL: This is a Christian country!

INTERVIEWER: If so, I'm puzzled. Aren't the Christians going to church? Don't they learn about the Ten Commandments in church? Don't they already read the Bible?

INTERVIEWER: The people who aren't Christian need to learn about the Ten Commandments. The non-Christians and the secularists need to read the Bible! The Bible should be taught in every public school! Everyone in this country should be judged by the word of God as set down in the Bible!

INTERVIEWER: So you want want America to be a theocracy, instead of a democracy?

EVANGELICAL: No, of course not! That's not it at all! (Deep breath.) Look, we just want balance. If you're going to teach evolution, you should also teach intelligent design, okay? If you teach one theory, you should teach the other! That's only fair!

INTERVIEWER: So balance is the goal? Fairness is the goal?


INTERVIEWER: So you'd have no problem also teaching Darwinian evolution in Sunday school?

EVANGELICAL: (shrieking) Burn in hell, you —!

Cathryn Sykes is an essayist and freelance writer who lives near Springtown, Texas.

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