NTS LogoSkeptical News for 9 October 2005

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Darwin unchallenged in state's classrooms


By ALBERT McKEON, Telegraph Staff mckeona@telegraph-nh.com

Published: Sunday, Oct. 9, 2005

While a federal court considers whether some Pennsylvania public schools can discuss the concept of intelligent design, no visible movement exists to bring the controversial theory into New Hampshire's classrooms.

Educators, legislators and observers can't say with certainty why intelligent design hasn't drawn visible support here. But some suspect the concept's backers want to see how the Pennsylvania court resolves the matter before deciding to push intelligent design here.

Others suggest those on both sides of the issue have taken to heart lessons from a high-profile public battle 10 years ago when the Merrimack School Board considered the teaching of creationism.

"I don't think it's much of an issue in the state of New Hampshire," said state Rep. Michael Balboni, a Republican from Nashua and a member of the House Education Committee.

As an example, Balboni said even if parents in Nashua want the school system to consider intelligent design, board members already have their hands full with funding and other matters.

A small group of scientists and a larger collection of religious people promote intelligent

design, or ID, as an alternative to Darwinism. ID questions how natural selection – the linchpin of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution – can account for complex organisms.

But mainstream scientists point to more than a century of research to validate the foundations of evolution. They object to the mere mention of ID, calling it creationism in new clothing. They think it undermines evolution and brings religion, a matter of faith, into the realm of hypothesis, experimentation and logic.

Evolutionists and ID supporters are watching the Pennsylvania case closely, mindful that it could have implications for school boards nationwide.

A federal court is reviewing whether the Dover, Penn., school board can require public school teachers to mention ID. Science teachers would have to say Darwinism isn't factual and has gaps, and then refer students to an intelligent-design textbook for more information.

New Hampshire does not have a centralized school system. Individual school boards determine curriculum. Local cultural and political considerations can play into a board's thinking in any potential discussion of intelligent design.

Theodore Comstock, executive director of the New Hampshire School Board Association, said if a school board considers intelligent design, it would have to define its particulars: how it would be delivered and discussed in the classroom.

School boards have to reflect on the entirety of their communities, Comstock said. A board has the right to propose ID, but it would have to balance the rights of those who don't want it taught, he said.

Boards might also consider Merrimack's public clash in 1995. Three school board members considered placing creationism in the curriculum, drawing national attention and strong local opposition. Creationism holds that the earth and man were created in a span of just six days about 6,000 years ago, a view taken directly from the Gospel.

Although in the majority, the school board members withdrew their proposal, but not before pitting, in some cases, neighbor against neighbor.

Different views

Intelligent design accepts parts of modern science but claims only a higher power could have started human life on Earth – that, for instance, only an intelligent force could have created the eyeball, with all its intricate workings.

ID essentially offers its supporters an alternative to years of scientific study and research based on Darwinism.

Shelly Uscinski would like New Hampshire schools to discuss intelligent design. She was one of the Merrimack board members who backed the creationism proposal.

"It takes more faith to believe in evolution than intelligent design," she said. "With students, we talk about enlightening minds. We should show them there's more."

Not all intelligent-design proponents reject evolution out of hand. Many recognize the work of mutation and natural selection in some organisms. And some advocates accept that all species have a common ancestor, the central principle of evolution.

But they consider evolution flawed in other areas, especially when it comes to what in particular conceived human beings. Intelligent design accounts for these beginnings, however, through a considerate and sometimes simple study of how complex structures came to be, its supporters say.

"We practice it every day," said Mark Hartwig, a fellow at the Center for Science and Culture, a wing of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute that encourages schools to teach intelligent design. The institute has the signatures of more than 400 scientists expressing skepticism in evolution.

"We see a stereo. We recognize that it could never come from natural sources. We look at Mount Rushmore; that's not erosion. You're not making that argument from an absence of knowledge. You're making that argument from experience. Anytime you can look at a specified object and clearly establish its history . . . that's intelligent design."

Intelligent design applies those thoughts to nature, Hartwig said. Although ID lacks the information to say life's origins are a direct product of God, it can put forward that they result from an intelligent designer, he said.

"Now, we're not talking about little green men here," he added.

Opponents of ID hear in that statement a reference to God. They thus see ID as a repackaging of creationism, basically couching an old story in high science. But no amount of scientific rigor can prove "the higher power" argument of ID, evolutionists say.

"They say it could be some form of intelligence, but that's evading the issue," said Eric Meikle, an outreach coordinator for the National Center for Science Education, an Oakland, Calif., nonprofit that defends evolution teaching in public schools.

The first question a 15-year-old student will ask, when presented with the higher-power theory, is, 'Is that God?' " Meikle said. Teachers will have to devote time to a discussion that should be limited to a philosophy class, he said.

Meikle acknowledges that science makes mistakes and is not all encompassing. But despite its faults, he said, it should not be placed alongside ID.

"The idea that there's only two possibilities and you have to choose one or the other, it's not true," he said. Many scientists have religious faith but recognize they must use scientific reason to draw conclusions, he said.

David Banach, a Saint Anselm College associate professor of philosophy, sees why people want to reconcile science and faith. But, "As a religious person, I wouldn't be putting all my eggs in the ID basket," he said.

Banach, a critic of ID who thinks some of its components will in the next five years be scientifically studied and disproved, said its theories mirror creationism in that God has to intervene and violate the laws of nature.

He considers the intelligent design push nothing more than a political move. "The aim of many of the people who call themselves ID technicians is they want to win the culture war," he said.

Is it science?

Brenda Grady also served on the Merrimack board when it proposed creationism, but she rejected its teaching. She teaches biology at Nashua High School North, and warns that a community that considers ID may suffer the same civic divisions Merrimack did.

"I hope the situation in Merrimack, as difficult as it was back then, will show this is an idea that's not that popular," Grady said. "It will be fought vigorously for what it is. It doesn't belong in science class."

Evolution is the underpinning of biology, genetics and medicine, Grady said. Science teachers don't take evolution lightly, she said. Many students pursue careers in science, so they should know the difference between it and the "pseudo psychology" of intelligent design, she said.

But Balboni, who represents Nashua, thinks students should see the flaws of science and that another view exists. Balboni, who has college degrees in science, predicts support for ID will grow as more people re-examine natural selection.

"In science, you are never really assured what is the truth," Balboni said. "If science is discovery, and trial and error, you don't necessarily know it's true. It may explain things.

"I have no problem, as a scientist, to teaching youngsters how scientists think, but as a Christian, it's perfectly valuable to look at what people wrote. They wrote a creationist story."

Albert McKeon can be reached at 594-5832 or mckeona@telegraph-nh.com.

The Hand Of Science


Faith In 'Intelligent Design' Can't Refute DNA's Messages

Published on 10/9/2005

When scientists announced last month they had determined the exact order of all 3 billion bits of genetic code that go into making a chimpanzee, it was no surprise that the sequence was more than 96 percent identical to the human genome. Charles Darwin had deduced more than a century ago that chimps were among humans' closest cousins.

But decoding chimpanzees' DNA allowed scientists to do more than just refine their estimates of how similar humans and chimps are. It let them put the very theory of evolution to some tough new tests.

If Darwin was right, for example, then scientists should be able to perform a neat trick. Using a mathematical formula that emerges from evolutionary theory, they should be able to predict the number of harmful mutations in chimpanzee DNA by knowing the number of mutations in a different species' DNA and the two animals' population sizes.

"That's a very specific prediction," said Eric Lander, a geneticist at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, Mass., and a leader in the chimp project.

Sure enough, when Lander and his colleagues tallied the harmful mutations in the chimp genome, the number fit perfectly into the range that evolutionary theory had predicted.

Their analysis was the latest of many in such disparate fields as genetics, biochemistry, geology and paleontology that in recent years have added new credence to the central tenet of evolutionary theory: That a smidgeon of cells 3.5 billion years ago could — through mechanisms no more extraordinary than random mutation and natural selection — give rise to the astonishing tapestry of biological diversity that today thrives on Earth.

Evolution's repeated power to predict the unexpected goes a long way toward explaining why so many scientists and others are practically apoplectic over the recent decision by a Pennsylvania school board to treat evolution as an unproven hypothesis, on par with "alternative" explanations such as Intelligent Design (ID), the proposition that life as we know it could not have arisen without the helping hand of some mysterious intelligent force.

In a Harrisburg, Pa., courtroom Sept. 26, a federal judge began to hear a case that asks whether ID or other alternative explanations deserve to be taught in a biology class. But the plaintiffs, who are parents opposed to teaching ID as science, will do more than merely argue that those alternatives are weaker than the theory of evolution.

They will make the case — plain to most scientists but poorly understood by many others — that these alternatives are not scientific theories at all.

"What makes evolution a scientific explanation is that it makes testable predictions," Lander said. "You only believe theories when they make non-obvious predictions that are confirmed by scientific evidence."

Lander's experiment tested a quirky prediction of evolutionary theory: that a harmful mutation is unlikely to persist if it is serious enough to reduce an individual's odds of leaving descendants by an amount that is greater than the number one divided by the population of that species.

The rule proved true not only for mice and chimps, Lander said. A new and still unpublished analysis of the canine genome has found that dogs, whose numbers have historically been greater than those of apes but smaller than for mice, have an intermediate number of harmful mutations — again, just as evolution predicts.

"Evolution is a way of understanding the world that continues to hold up day after day to scientific tests," Lander said.

By contrast, said Alan Leshner, chief executive of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Intelligent Design offers nothing in the way of testable predictions.

"Just because they call it a theory doesn't make it a scientific theory," Leshner said. "The concept of an intelligent designer is not a scientifically testable assertion."

Asked to provide examples of non-obvious, testable predictions made by the theory of Intelligent Design, John West, an associate director of the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based ID think tank, offered one: In 1998, he said, an ID theorist, reckoning that an intelligent designer would not fill animals' genomes with DNA that had no use, predicted that much of the "junk" DNA in animals' genomes — long seen as the detritus of evolutionary processes — will someday be found to have a function. West said it is up to Darwinists to prove ID wrong.

"Chance and necessity don't seem to be good candidates for explaining the appearance of higher-order complexity, so the best explanation is an intelligent cause," West said.

The controversy that has periodically erupted around evolution can be attributed at least in part to the fact that it is both simple to understand and hard to believe.

Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, working independently in the early- to mid-1800s, each came up with the concept of "natural selection." Each sought to explain the astounding diversity of life he found in exotic places, Darwin in the Galapagos Islands and Wallace in Brazil.

Their idea was this:

By some accident of nature whose workings neither man could explain, an organism may exhibit a variation in shape, color or body function new to the species. Although most of these new traits are damaging — probably lethal — a small fraction actually help. They may make it easier to hide from predators (like a moth's coloration), exploit a food source (an anteater's long tongue) or make seeds more durable (the coconut's buoyant husk).

If the trait does help an organism survive, that individual will be more likely to reproduce. Its offspring will then inherit the change. They, in turn, will have an advantage over organisms that are identical except for that one beneficial change. Over time, the descendants that inherited what might be termed the "happy accident" will outnumber the descendants of its less fit, but initially far more numerous, brethren.

There are two important consequences of this mechanism.

The first is that organisms will tend to adapt to their environments. If the planet's atmosphere contains lots of oxygen but very little methane gas, living things are going to end up tolerating oxygen — and possibly even depending on it. But do not expect to see many methane-breathers.

This appearance of "perfect fit" makes it seem as if organisms must have been the product of an intelligent force. But this appearance of perfection is deceiving. It gives no hint of the numberless evolutionary dead ends — lineages that, according to the fossil record, survived for a while but then died out, probably because changes in the environment made their once-perfect designs not so perfect anymore.

The second result of Darwin and Wallace's mechanism is that over time it will create species diversity. As additional "happy accidents" alter an organism's descendants over millions of years, those descendants will come to look less and less like other organisms with which they share a common ancestor. Eventually, the descendants will be able to mate only with each other. They will be lions and tigers — each a distinct species, but both descended from the same ancient cat.

What is hard to understand about this process is that it is essentially passive. The mechanism is called "natural selection" because the conditions at hand — nature — determine which accidents are beneficial and which are not.

Giraffes do not decide to grow long necks to browse the high branches above the competition. But a four-legged mammal on the savannah once upon a time was endowed with a longer neck than its brothers and sisters. It ate better. We call its descendants giraffes.

That a mechanism driven by random events should result in perfectly adapted organisms — and so many different types — seems illogical.

"Even today a good many distinguished minds seem unable to accept or even to understand that from a source of noise, natural selection alone and unaided could have drawn all the music of the biosphere," Jacques Monod, a French biologist and Nobel Prize winner, wrote in 1970 in the book "Chance and Necessity."

Natural selection was really hard to accept in Darwin's day. But it has become easier with the discovery of genes, DNA and techniques that have made it possible to watch natural selection happen.

DNA is a stringlike molecule made up of paired beads called nucleotides. It carries the instructions for making proteins and RNA, the chief building materials of life. Individually, these instructions are called genes.

The random changes Darwin knew must be happening are accidents that happen to DNA and genes. Today, they can be documented and catalogued in real time, inside cells.

Cells sometimes make errors when they copy their DNA before dividing. These mutations can disable a gene — or change its action. Occasionally cells also duplicate an entire gene by mistake, providing offspring with two copies instead of one. Both these events provide raw material for new genes with new and potentially useful functions — and ultimately raw material for new organisms and species.

One of the more exciting developments in biology in the past 25 years has been how much DNA alone can teach about the evolutionary history of life on Earth.

For example, genome sequencing projects have shown that human beings, dogs, frogs and flies (and many, many other species) share a huge number of genes. These include not only genes for tissues such as muscle but also the genes that go into basic body-planning (specifying head and tail, front and back) and appendage-building (making things that stick out from the body, such as antennae, fins, legs and arms).

As scientists have identified the totality of DNA — the genomes — of many species, they have unearthed the molecular equivalent of the fossil record.

It is now clear from fossil and molecular evidence that certain patterns of growth in multicellular organisms appeared about 600 million years ago. Those patterns proved so useful that versions of the genes governing them are carried by nearly every species that has arisen since.

These several hundred "tool kit genes," in the words of University of Wisconsin biologist Sean Carroll, are molecular evidence of natural selection's ability to hold on to very useful functions that arise.

Research on how and when tool kit genes are turned on and off also has helped explain how evolutionary changes in DNA gave rise to Earth's vast diversity of species. Studies indicate that the determination of an organism's form during embryonic development is largely the result of a small number of genes that are turned on in varying combinations and order. Gene regulation is where the action is.

"The mechanisms that make the small differences between species are the same ones that make the big differences between kingdoms," said Carroll, author of a book, "Endless Forms Most Beautiful," that describes many of these new insights.

Although the central tenets of evolution have done nothing but grow stronger with every experimental challenge, the story is still evolving, Carroll and other scientists acknowledge. Some details are sure to be refined over time. The question to be answered in Harrisburg is whether Intelligent Design has anything scientific to add for now, or whether it belongs instead in philosophy class.

Some say science, faith not at odds


Compatibility sought between evolution and intelligent design


Last Updated: October 9, 2005, 05:57:47 AM PDT

A biology professor at a Christian college, Jeffrey Schloss is a sought-after voice in the national discussion on intelligent design vs. evolution — which, broadly put, seems to pit God against science.

Until last week, Schloss studiously avoided giving interviews to the news media, choosing to discuss his involvement with intelligent design only in professional conferences or in written commentary.

"I thought the issue was so polarized, I just didn't want to get caught," said Schloss, who teaches at Westmont College in Santa Barbara and is a noted thinker on the intersection of science and theology.

Then Schloss realized that unless people like him spoke up, the public never would get to hear more moderate ideas on the subject — such as the notion that evolution and God are not mutually exclusive; that scientists are not by definition godless nor religion advocates brainless; and that extremists on both sides have been responsible for fueling a feud that need not exist.

"There are polemical extremes that are getting more hostile to each other," Schloss said.

"I'm sad to see that in my own (religious) tradition. I do understand what they're responding to. There are aggressive unbelievers. There are scientists who firmly believe that you can't be a scientist and you can't do science if you are a religious person."

At the same time, Schloss and others say, there's a growing willingness in society to explore the common ground between science and spirituality — as evidenced, he said, by the more than 300 classes in North American universities and colleges today on science and religion.

For that reason, many scientists who believe in God, and theologists who believe in science, lament the either-or tenor of the evolution debate.

"It's setting back the cause," said Robert Russell, founder and director of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.

Russell said he would much rather talk about what he sees as more important ethical issues in science, such as genetic engineering and cloning, species extinction and global warming.

"There are such huge, huge issues out there, that to get sidetracked (on this topic) ... to me, it's just tragic, frustrating, hopeless," said Russell, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ with a doctorate in physics.

The long-simmering evolution debate moved to the front burner last month with the start of a federal court trial in Harrisburg, Pa.

The lawsuit was filed by a group of parents from Dover, Pa., who are challenging a school district requirement that high school biology students hear about alternatives to evolution, including the concept of intelligent design.

Proponents hold that life's complexity cannot be explained by the genetic mutations and natural selection forces that drive evolution, and instead point to an "intelligent designer."

Leading proponents of intelligent design, such as the public policy group Discovery Institute in Seattle, maintain that intelligent design is not about God. But many observers — including people who believe in some form of intelligent design — say that it is inevitably about a creator.

A variety of scientific organizations formally oppose presenting intelligent design as a theory on par with evolution, arguing that it simply isn't scientific.

"Science is the study of the natural world by means of mechanisms in the natural world," said Donald Strong, a professor of biology in the Department of Evolution and Ecology at the University of California at Davis.

As such, he said, science does not and cannot address a metaphysical question such as, "Is there a God?"

Where does discussion belong?

That kind of questions is the purview of philosophy, he said, suggesting that differing beliefs on the origin of life may appropriately be raised in the public schools but not in science class.

"I think it would be an extremely important discussion to hold in a current-events class," Strong said.

Many scientists and philosophers interviewed for this article agreed that the issue belongs outside of science.

Charles Townes, a UC Berkeley astrophysicist who believes in God, said scientists should be — and increasingly are — open to trying to detect an intelligent plan in the workings of the universe.

"This is a very unusual universe," said Townes, who won a Nobel Prize in 1964 in quantum electronics for work that led him to co-invent the laser.

"The laws of science have to be exactly as they are for us to be here at all. It's very striking and fascinating," he said.

"Why did it happen? ... We recognize more and more that it's highly improbable that it turned out this way."

Although Townes believes in intelligent design, he deplores the current debate. In his view, "intelligent design is the reason we have evolution, perhaps. Evolution is part of the design, you see," he said.

Two theories may be compatible

Like Townes, Schloss believes science can contribute something to the question of whether the nature of the universe is accidental or purposeful.

That's why the Westmont College biology professor was an early supporter of the Discovery Institute, founded in 1990.

Explaining the institute's basic proposition on intelligent design, Schloss said that when visitors walk into Disneyland and see the flowers planted in the image of Mickey Mouse, they intuitively understand that someone arranged the flowers that way. They don't think, he said, that the wind randomly blew the seeds in to resemble Mickey.

"Is there a way we can formalize (that understanding) and make it scientifically rigorous rather than intuitive?" Schloss said. "I think that's a fully legitimate question."

Schloss said that while he supports science applying its tools to the question, he disagrees strongly with the institute's stance against evolution.

"I think evolutionary theory is compatible with faith."

In the end, the debate over evolution and intelligent design is about neither science nor religion, but rather political, said James Griesemer, a philosopher at UC Davis specializing in the philosophy of biology.

"I think the reason it's so polemical is because the dispute is a political dispute," he said. "That's not to denigrate it — these are important matters. But this is really a political dispute about a clash of values."

Many private schools taking vouchers teach creationism


By S.V. Date

Palm Beach Post Capital Bureau

Sunday, October 09, 2005

TALLAHASSEE — Even though Florida's public school standards require the teaching of evolution and not creationism, millions of dollars in state money goes to teach the story of biblical creation, thanks to the state's voucher programs.

Schools taking public money from any of the state's three voucher programs are not bound by the Sunshine State Standards, which all public schools must follow and be graded on each year with the FCAT.

"Many of the parents bring their kids here because they want a Christian education," said Frederick White, principal at Mount Hermon Christian School, where about a dozen of the 115 students are using vouchers. "And a Christian education does not include evolution."

About 25 percent of voucher-taking schools are nonreligious, and others are religious schools that apply the state's science standards, including instruction in evolutionary biology. But many — perhaps even most — of the 1,100 participating schools are of evangelical Christian denominations that teach the biblical story of creation in six days as literal truth.

The state does not track the curricula used by voucher-taking schools. In a survey conducted by The Palm Beach Post of voucher schools in 2003, 43 percent of the religious schools that responded indicated that they used either the A Beka or the Bob Jones curriculum, both of which teach that evolutionary biology is false and that God created all species on Earth.

If that percentage is applied to the statewide total, it would mean that about 375 voucher-taking schools, educating about 8,700 students, use Bob Jones, A Beka or both.

A Potter's House Christian Academy in Jacksonville, one of the biggest voucher-taking schools in the state with 200 voucher students, reported in The Post survey that it uses both the A Beka and Bob Jones curricula. It also reported that 90 percent of its parents chose the school primarily for religious reasons.

A Beka, a Pensacola publisher affiliated with Pensacola Christian College, prints an eighth-grade book titled Matter and Motion in God's Universe that ends, according to the company's Web site, "with a chapter on science versus the false philosophy of evolution."

A Beka's sixth-grade science book, Observing God's World, teaches "the universe as the direct creation of God and refutes the man-made idea of evolution."

A seventh-grade Bob Jones science book, Life Science for Christian Schools, has a subchapter titled "How Biological Evolution Supposedly Took Place." The book explains: "The Bible tells us that God directly created all things (John 1:3). The Bible contradicts the theory of evolution. In doing so, the Bible does not contradict true science, since evolution is not science."

In contrast, public students by the eighth grade are supposed to know "that the fossil record provides evidence that changes in the kinds of plants and animals have been occurring over time." By the 12th grade, the Sunshine State Standards require students to understand "the mechanisms of change (e.g. mutation and natural selection) that lead to adaptations in a species." Both are considered critical components of evolutionary biology.

Creationism concerns shadow Florida's new top educator


By Kimberly Miller

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Cheri Pierson Yecke began her job as one of the most powerful educators in the state last week with little fanfare, receiving her office keys and e-mail address and meeting in a two-day retreat with Department of Education staff.

But the reputation of Florida's new chancellor for kindergarten through 12th grade, second only to Education Commissioner John Winn, preceded her with more flourish — and fear from some.

Science can be interesting, intriguing and even fun. Let Stacey Singer show you.

Yecke, 50, who served most recently as Minnesota's top educator, is a conservative, a believer in creationism, a critic of teachers unions and a strong proponent of President Bush's education reform programs, some of which she helped write.

She was forced out as Minnesota's education commissioner last year by a Democrat-controlled Senate.

She then worked as a senior fellow at the conservative think tank Center of the American Experiment, where she wrote articles blaming childhood obesity on the "liberal media" and said "liberal criminal sentencing laws" make streets unsafe for kids.

Yecke's supporters said her ouster in Minnesota was not her fault.

She was caught in a political perfect storm — forced to dismantle the state's traditional education program to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind Act while dealing with a dwindling Democratic majority less concerned about her performance than about sending a message to the Republican governor.

"All of my research on Cheri's nonconfirmation tells me that it had little to do with education substance and a lot to do with partisan politics and payback," Winn said.

But it's Yecke's belief in creationism, and criticism that she subtly tried to infuse it into Minnesota's science curriculum, that concerns some Florida educators.

Science guidelines in the Sunshine State are up for review and revision next year.

Gov. Jeb Bush said last week that neither evolution, Darwinism nor creationism were in the current standards.

The standards for middle school and high school, however, do include evolution, although the word itself is never mentioned. Eighth-graders are expected to know that the fossil record provides evidence that changes in the kinds of plants and animals have been occurring over time.

And high school students are expected to understand genetic mutations and how natural selection ensures that those who are best adapted to their surroundings survive to reproduce — the two fundamental concepts underlying evolutionary biology.

When told this, Bush responded: "Well, that's different from what the (education) commissioner told me and what he's said publicly. I like what we have right now. And I don't think there needs to be any changes. I don't think we need to restrict discussion, but it doesn't need to be required, either."

But as the debate about adding creationism and intelligent design — the belief that a higher power is responsible for the evolution of life — heats up across the nation and in a Pennsylvania courtroom, education watchers say Florida, with Yecke at the helm, is ripe for the discussion.

Scripps, creationism at odds

Already, state Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, has waged a preemptive strike with a newspaper editorial against using creationism or intelligent design in science classes.

University science professors and a national group that had concerns about how science curriculum was rewritten in Minnesota say it's ironic that Florida would spend hundreds of millions of dollars to woo The Scripps Research Institute to the state, yet hire a top educator who does not accept Darwinian evolution — something Scripps scientists say they prove every day in their experiments.

"It's inconsistent," said Wesley Elsberry, information project director for the National Center for Science Education and a critic of Yecke. "Essentially, if a creationist curriculum passed, the people graduating from Florida public high schools will be at a disadvantage to get into colleges and into programs that would help them get jobs at Scripps."

Yecke said she has no plans to introduce creationism into the curriculum revision and will follow the lead of Gov. Bush and the commissioner. Winn said he would make recommendations on the science curriculum "that further student learning and achievement in science."

Rewrites drew critics

Other state Republican leaders may be more willing to bring up the ideas of creationism and intelligent design.

Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, chairman of the House Education Council, said that although he does not expect legislation this year dealing with religious theory on how life was created, he believes "different schools of thought" should be discussed in the schools.

That sentiment also was expressed by President Bush, who said earlier this year that intelligent design and evolution should be taught in school "so that people can understand what the debate is about."

Yecke, the new chancellor, said her personal beliefs have nothing to do with what she advocates teaching in the schools. The best way she's heard about teaching evolution was from a teacher in Minnesota who tells his students the following: "Today we are going to learn about evolution, and I know you have many different beliefs, and I will respect them. I'm asking you to learn about it, not believe it."

Yecke said her priorities in Florida include middle school reform, closing the achievement gap between minority and non-minority students and finding solutions to the teacher shortage.

Yecke said that in Minnesota she had to institute controversial standardized testing and rewrite state curriculum in accordance with the No Child Left Behind Act. Rewrites of the social studies and science curriculums drew criticism from people who said Yecke was putting her own political and religious beliefs into the coursework.

In social studies, Yecke said Christopher Columbus did not make a deliberate decision to destroy native peoples. She followed by saying that some current social studies standards follow a "hate America agenda."

Elsberry, of the National Center for Science Education, said that during the science rewrite in Minnesota, drafts of curriculum included "maybes" and "possibles" whenever evolution was mentioned. Elsberry said Yecke also gave the committee assigned to rewrite the curriculum a version of the No Child Left Behind Act that included a failed amendment referring to alternative theories to evolution.

Yecke said she gave the committee versions of the science curriculum given high ratings by the Fordham Foundation and Achieve. The Fordham Foundation is a conservative-based education think tank. The Web site of Achieve, an education improvement organization formed in part by state governors, says it is nonpartisan.

"While wondering why the Florida reporters are so obsessed with creationism, this thought hit me: My confirmation hearing was nine hours long over two days, and the issue never came up," Yecke wrote in an e-mail to Winn. "It was a nonissue here, except for a few vocal folks, and wasn't even addressed by the Senate."

States test high court ruling

Claes Wahlestedt, a researcher at The Scripps Research Institute who studies the human genome, said he does not understand what the debate concerning intelligent design and creationism is about.

"I'm European, and these are not issues we deal with in Europe," he said. "All of our work at Scripps constantly gives evidence of the existence of evolution. Evolution is so firmly established, it's not even questioned in Europe."

The biggest debate in the schools now is being waged in Pennsylvania, where a group of parents is suing a school district to stop science teachers from referring students to the book Of Pandas and People, which includes intelligent design.

Intelligent design holds that life on Earth is so complex that it must have been the product of some higher force. It has been pushed to the forefront of the evolution debate since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that states could not force schools to balance the teaching of creationism and evolution. Opponents of the concept say intelligent design is simply creationism stripped of overt religious references.

Last year, Georgia school officials restored evolution and other key scientific concepts to proposed curriculum standards after initially taking them out. In Missouri, a bill was proposed that would require equal treatment for intelligent design and evolution, starting next year.

In Florida, Rep. Baxley's failed Academic Freedom Bill attempted to keep university professors from "persistently" introducing controversial subject matter into the classroom. Baxley said too many conservative college students were being demeaned by liberal college professors.

But Rep. Gelber said the bill would have "clearly brought intelligent design into the classroom."

"(Baxley) talked about intelligent design when he presented the bill," Gelber said. "I asked him about it, and he said, 'Freedom is a difficult thing, Mr. Gelber.' "

Not in science class

Nathan Dean, dean of Florida Atlantic University's Charles E. Schmidt College of Science, said he's concerned about Florida's getting sucked into the intelligent design debate.

The idea of intelligent design and creationism may have a place in schools, he said, just not in the science class. Science is what can be proved through scientific theory. Ideas are tested and confirmed or dismissed.

The idea of God's creating the universe cannot be tested scientifically, Dean said.

"God is, by nature, not measurable or testable," he said. "Somehow, you have to keep God and science separate. Science should be taught in a science class. Creationism can be taught in a religious class, not biology."

Doctor licensing under scrutiny


Critics seek audit of homeopathy board

Robbie Sherwood
The Arizona Republic
Oct. 9, 2005 12:00 AM

A California doctor spent five years in prison for performing thousands of unnecessary eye surgeries before being allowed to practice homeopathic medicine in Arizona.

A New Mexico doctor illegally borrowed hundreds of thousands of dollars from more than 100 of his own patients before becoming a homeopathic physician in metropolitan Phoenix, a crime that recently resulted in felony convictions.

Over the past five years, the Arizona Board of Homeopathic Medical Examiners has licensed four doctors who have been convicted of felonies in other states and six others who have lost their licenses or been disciplined elsewhere. A review of public records shows that homeopathic physicians rarely face sanctions from the board, even in instances when prescribed remedies reportedly caused serious harm or, in one case, death. advertisement

Thousands of patients in Arizona have turned to homeopathy, a technique that uses diluted amounts of substances to treat symptoms, for an alternative to traditional medicine.

But unlike other Arizona medical boards, the homeopathic board has not been audited for 20 years. Some homeopathic physicians and former board members are questioning what they consider a lack of proper regulation. Carolyn Allen, chairwoman of the state Senate Health Committee, called Wednesday for an audit by the state Auditor General's Office of the board before it faces a 10-year "sunset review" in 2006. The review will determine whether the board will continue, be disbanded, or face reforms.

"I absolutely believe that an audit is warranted; 20 years is too long," Allen said. "There have been a lot of allegations about this board, but the key word is 'allegations.' We need to, hopefully through an audit, see if the allegations have any merit. I'm not necessarily digging for any unethical behavior, but after 20 years, I think we should take a look."

Because the homeopathic board is relatively small, with only 113 licensees, a state lawmaker has to specifically request such a review for it to be carried out. The board passed a 10-year sunset review in the mid-1990s without a performance audit.

The technique

Homeopathy is based on the medicinal value of diluted substances: Believers say that if bee venom, for example, can cause pain and swelling, then very small amounts of the substance can reverse the symptoms. Advocates consider it essential to the well-being of patients whose symptoms have not responded to traditional forms of medicine. Skeptics say any benefits are the result of a placebo effect: Patients feel better simply because they believe the treatment will help them.

The technique is not generally covered by insurance in Arizona.

Members of the homeopathic board say they have welcomed doctors to Arizona who have been disciplined unfairly in other states and whose skills could benefit patients seeking alternative remedies. Until recently, a Web page operated by the Arizona Homeopathic and Integrative Medical Association urged homeopathic doctors to come to Arizona if they have been "oppressed" by medical boards elsewhere.

"There are doctors that have been enlightened as far as natural cures that have been around for hundreds of years, and their medical boards take them up on charges," said Dr. Bruce Shelton, former Arizona homeopathic board chairman. "Those doctors are welcomed here to practice integrative medicine."

Critics say board members have acted against the best interest of patients in many cases. Those critics include a pair of longtime public board members who said their concerns went unheeded because they were outvoted by the four licensed homeopaths on the board. The six-member board consists of four homeopaths and two members of the public.

"There have been doctors that they've licensed that I wouldn't send my worst enemy to," said Anna Prassa, who spent six years as a public member of the board and who is now one of its sharpest critics. "They just want one more boy in the band. They don't care."

Prassa said she believes in homeopathic medicine and still uses it but is concerned about the number of troubled doctors licensed by the board. Former public board member Joan Heskitt agreed and said the board should have more laypeople as members.

Some homeopathic physicians contacted by The Republic said they believe the board is doing a good job and does not need to be scrutinized. Other practitioners said that while they strongly believe in the principles of homeopathic and holistic medicine, they want to share their concerns with lawmakers about the board's approach to licensing. The doctors include a licensed homeopathic physician and the director of a homeopathic school that trained two of the current board members.

"I'm very motivated to see the Legislature and the Auditor General's Office be fully aware of some of the decisions the board has made and some of their methods," said Amanya Jacobs of Chandler, who directs a school of homeopathy.

The board

The Arizona Board of Homeopathic Medical Examiners was created in the early 1980s to help ensure that patients seeking alternative cures get the best possible treatment. The board is considered necessary in part because traditional homeopathy is just a small part of what licensees are allowed to do in Arizona. They may prescribe any drugs, do minor surgery and practice a wide variety of alternative medical treatments. Those include chelation, an intravenous injection of substances designed to rid the body of heavy metals such as mercury.

One of those alternative treatments allegedly resulted in the death of a New York man whose homeopathic physician in Patagonia injected him with adrenal fluids from a cow. The patient's family sued for malpractice in 2001, saying the injections resulted in a deadly gangrene infection. The doctor denied liability, but the case was settled out of court. The homeopathic board later concluded that the man died of other causes, and the board rejected a complaint against the doctor's license.

To practice homeopathic medicine in Arizona, a licensee must have an unrestricted osteopathic or medical license obtained in any state. Some of the homeopaths with disciplinary problems in other states either had their licenses restored in at least one state or were granted their Arizona licenses before their home-state medical board took action. Additionally, doctors must pass a 40-hour course in homeopathy, or they may have 90 hours of "approved homeopathic training." They must pass a written exam and then give an oral case history before the homeopathic board. If a doctor has enough experience in alternative medicine, the board can waive the written exam.

Outside of those who have encountered legal problems, many of the licensed homeopaths who have had disciplinary troubles in other states were investigated for offering alternative therapies that are legal in Arizona, said Board Chairman Charles Schwengel.

"Frequently, when a doctor is under investigation, it's for doing things that benefit the patient but are not in the scope of their practice," Schwengel said. "For example, giving vitamin B-12 shots."

The public records

The Arizona Republic examined detailed records of the board's meetings and actions over the past five years. The Republic also obtained information about licenses that have been revoked since the board was created.

While dozens of homeopaths have let their licenses lapse in Arizona, the board has revoked only two licenses in its 23-year history. One of those stripped belonged to its co-founder and former chairman, Dr. Harvey Bigelsen, who held the first homeopathic license ever granted in the state.

Bigelsen wrote the law that created the board in 1982 and was appointed by Gov. Bruce Babbitt as the first chairman. But 10 years later, a federal grand jury indicted him on 63 counts of Medicare fraud, 44 counts of mail fraud and eight counts of obstruction. In a plea bargain, all but three of the counts were dropped and he was sentenced to five years of probation. Bigelsen surrendered both his medical and homeopathic licenses and opened a cancer clinic in Mexico.

The board's other co-founder, Dr. Abram Ber of Scottsdale, had one disciplinary hearing before the board in a case in which a patient was allegedly injured. Ber was brought up two years ago on a complaint that his treatment hurt a patient, but it was dismissed with a non-disciplinary "letter of concern."

A patient of Ber's who lived in Florida had to have a large part of her intestine removed after swallowing an experimental Russian device called a "Sputnik" that Ber had prescribed over the telephone to kill parasites in her colon.

The board found neither a record of consent from Ber's patient nor a record of an examination. The woman needed surgery to remove the device.

Ber said that he was wrong to send the Sputnik to the woman with no examination and that he thought the warning from the board was the appropriate action.

"The point is I admitted I did something wrong, and it was for a friend of mine," Ber said. "This board is meticulous. The people on this board are the most respected holistic physicians in the U.S., not just in Arizona. While it may look lax to you, you are talking about an elite group of people. They are doing a great job."

Convicted felons

Arizona law says medical doctors and homeopathic physicians may have their licenses revoked for a felony conviction, but the law does not absolutely ban such doctors from practicing in the state.

Those who came to practice homeopathic medicine in Arizona after being convicted of crimes include Dr. Jeffrey Rutgard, a once phenomenally successful eye surgeon from San Diego. He served five years in prison for bilking Medicare by performing thousands of "medically unnecessary" procedures on mostly elderly patients in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In November 2004, Rutgard applied for and received an Arizona homeopathic license.

Attempts to locate Rutgard were unsuccessful. Rutgard is believed to be in California and has not yet come to Arizona to practice, although he told board members in 2004 that he intended to relocate here.

Other felons licensed by the board include Dr. Rick Shacket of San Diego and Dr. Robert Rowen, also of California. Both were convicted in tax cases. Dr. Joseph Collins of New Mexico was facing accusations of illegally borrowing money from more than 100 patients when licensed in Arizona, though the board granted the license during a window when his case was temporarily thrown out of court. Prosecutors appealed and Collins was convicted earlier this year in New Mexico of multiple securities fraud felonies.

A loss of inhibition

Troubled physicians licensed by the board include Dr. Charles Crosby, who obtained his Arizona homeopathic license in May 2004 despite revealing to the board that he had been ordered to have counseling for a "perceived loss of social inhibition" in his home state of Florida. It later became known that Crosby had been accused of fondling patients and of having a breast fetish. A report on the case in Florida said Crosby had developed "a special technique of manipulating women's breasts to treat pain in other areas of their body."

The suspension of Crosby's license in Florida triggered a inquiry before the Arizona homeopathic board in July. At the meeting, Schwengel, the board president, said he did not find any specific examples that showed Crosby had acted unprofessionally, according to meeting minutes.

Other members expressed concern about Crosby's behavior, but they did not suspend his license, instead giving him until November to undergo an independent mental evaluation to determine if he is competent to practice here.

A second chance

Board members said they believe doctors who have gotten in trouble but who have "paid their debt to society" deserve a second chance to make a living, especially when they may have spent thousands of dollars on medical training.

"We can always take a doctor's license, but let's assume that we live in a country in which, if you've paid your debt to society, that you can be rehabilitated," said longtime board member Dr. Gary Gordon.

The Arizona homeopathic board has worked under the legal guidance of the Arizona Attorney General's Office. Veteran board members believe they have done an outstanding job of protecting patients and the public, as well as promoting the benefits of homeopathy and alternative medicine.

"What we look at is, do we want to try and resurrect a troubled physician and keep them under control, or do we want to throw them away and let them dig ditches?" Gordon said. "Once you take a doctor's license away, they don't really have a particular skill that they're qualified to do."

Dismissed complaints

The homeopathic board has dismissed at least five complaints against its own members over the past five years, including one in which a patient suffered kidney failure after treatment, as well as an alleged incidence of sexual harassment.

The complaint involving kidney failure was lodged against board member Dr. Annemarie Welch in March 2003. The woman who lodged the complaint fell ill after seeking treatment from Welch for an infected blister on her toe. Welch treated the infection with "vitamin C therapy," according to board meeting minutes.

After the woman suffered "acute renal failure," she filed a complaint against Welch with the Arizona Medical Board, which also licenses Welch.

The homeopathic board argued for primary jurisdiction of the Arizona Medical Board complaint against Welch, arguing that she had primarily used homeopathic procedures. Once the homeopathic board had control of the case, it dismissed the complaint.

According to meeting minutes, board members did not believe there was a correlation between the vitamin C therapy and the patient's kidney failure. They also noted that the patient didn't comply with Welch's treatment recommendations. Welch pointed out the Medical Board also found no wrongdoing in its investigation.

A Phoenix woman lodged a sexual harassment complaint against board member Gordon in May 2001. The woman said he had spontaneously kissed her on the mouth after she stopped to speak with him at his booth at a medical trade show.

The homeopathic board dismissed the woman's complaint because she did not show up to the May 2001 meeting at which her complaint was scheduled to be heard. She apparently had a family emergency and wrote to the board that she could not make it. Board members questioned Gordon about the allegation, which he denied. The woman did show up at the next board meeting and asked to refile her complaint, but board members voted 2-2 against it.

Other boards

Other medical boards have faced criticism in recent years for their approach to regulating doctors. A March 2004 review by the state Auditor General's Office, for example, questioned the dismissal of five complaints against traditional doctors by the Arizona Medical Board. A similar review of the Board of Osteopathic Examiners in April 2001 said that board needs to make improvements to its complaint investigation process as well as its record-keeping.

But the homeopathic board has not faced such scrutiny from the Auditor General's Office since 1985. Recent questions about the board's performance have come from a small group of homeopathic doctors and former board members who have expressed concerns about leniency when it comes to disciplinary actions. Current board members say that, generally, those critics have an ax to grind. One of the doctors, for example, had multiple fee complaints before the board.

The homeopathic board's realm is much smaller than the state Medical Board. Only about 113 homeopaths are currently licensed in Arizona, and 163 licenses have been granted during the board's history, compared with more than 16,000 traditional medical doctors. The homeopathic board has conducted an average of 15 to 20 investigations each year since 2000, compared with about 1,000 a year by the Medical Board.

Only two other states, Nevada and Connecticut, license homeopathic physicians, but Arizona allows the widest range of alternative medical practices. Advocates say doctors and patients alike benefit from Arizona's integrative approach. Board members have also begun encouraging patients to embark on an aggressive letter-writing campaign to lawmakers based, in part, on The Republic's investigation.

Linda Heming of Sun City is one of those patients. She says her life literally depends on the Legislature renewing the homeopathic board for 10 more years. Heming, 61, is a longtime patient of board co-founder Ber. She said he treats her for free because she has gone through hard financial times, and she credits him with curing her of cancer, congestive heart failure, Lyme disease and a host of other ailments when traditional approaches failed. Heming said she has "not slept in two weeks" because of worry that recent criticism might persuade lawmakers to disband the board and strip homeopathic licenses.

"If they take away my right to his treatment, I could die," Heming said. "This is very upsetting to people whose lives have been saved by alternative medicine."

Without the license, the traditional over-the-counter homeopathic remedies would still be available, but other alternative treatments would not.

More scrutiny

Shelton said he expected some scrutiny when the board came up for its 10-year sunset review, and he thinks the board will come out looking good in the end. It is considered unlikely that legislators would disband the board, leaving the state without regulation of homeopaths, but reforms are considered a possibility.

"I believe that we meticulously protected the patients and the public's rights in all cases," Shelton said. "I used to go home feeling like I did the right thing."

Prassa, the public member, said she used to go home from board meetings with a very different feeling. "You don't know how many times I left that meeting and wanted to call a reporter and say somebody needs to look at this," Prassa said. "I don't know why I didn't. I was busy with my business, and I didn't want to be a tattletale and cause trouble."

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Differences between creation and evolution explained


October 8, 2005

By Jaime North The Daily Item

MIDDLEBURG — Approximately 60 people, many who were residents of the Midd-West School District, listened to a presentation Friday night at the Midd-West High School on the differences between creation and evolution, conflicting theories for explaining the beginning of life.

Dr. Kent Hovind, a self-proclaimed authority on Creation Science, professed that evolution which is taught in public schools is a flawed theory with many loose ends.

"There is a lot of good science in textbooks," said Mr. Hovind, who spent 15 years as a public school science teacher before becoming a public speaker on creationism for the past 16 years. "There is also a little poison with it. Our students are being lied to, and I'm here tonight to show you those lies and how to practically get rid of them."

Creationism is a biblical-based view that credits the origin of species to God. Evolution is the theory that Earth is billions of years old, and that life forms developed over millions of years.

Mr. Hovind stated during the introduction that his intentions were not to eliminate evolution from textbooks or to include creationism, but his mission is to erase the lies that remain in present day teachings.

"I just want the lies taken out," Mr. Hovind said. "People can believe whatever they want. If the teaching is being funded by taxpayer money, then it should be taught accurately."

Mr. Hovind highlighted inaccuracies, he claimed, in existing textbooks around the subjects of the symmetry of early development of life embryos, creation of the Grand Canyon and the Big Bang theory.

"I've never seen a dog produce anything other than another dog," Mr. Hovind said. "Evolution says life came from rock. The earth started off as a ball of rock, then it rained, turned to soup and the soup became to life. Evolution says dogs are produced from rock."

Mr. Hovind argued that the Grand Canyon was created by a mass flood and not by gradual erosion from the Colorado River.

"I taught science for 15 years, so I may not be an expert but do have some common sense," Mr. Hovind said. "The top of the canyon plateau is at a higher elevation than the area where the river begins to enter the canyon," Mr. Hovind said. "As far as I know, rivers in Arizona don't flow up hill. How could the river cut into the land and create the canyon? It would flow downhill, not uphill. And where did all the dirt go, because there is no delta. There is a lot of dirt missing, but where did it go?"

A few students were in attendance, among the predominately adult crowd.

"I wanted to get more information about creation," said Melissa Hunsberger, 13, eighth grader at Middleburg Middle School. "You only hear about evolution in school, so I wanted to learn more about the other explanation."

Melissa said she wouldn't choose one theory over the other to be taught in school, but she would like to have both.

"It would then give you a choice to decide which you thought was real," Melissa said. "That is what a theory is, right?"

To teach creation in a public school setting would violate the constitutional right for separation of church and state. The Dover Area School District, in York County, is currently in a highly publicized litigation with a group of families over its school board's decision to have creation mention during the instruction of evolution.

Mr. Hovind's presentation had no affiliation with the Midd-West School District and was spurred on by a group of local citizens sharing strong Christian beliefs, according to Kurt Sprenkel, of Middleburg.

"We simply wanted the other side to be heard," Mr. Sprekel said. "We're not promoting creation to be included in our schools or trying to get rid of evolution. We just want both sides heard, and people aren't hearing the other side."

Sam Kelsey, 15, freshman at Midd-West High School, said he too would like more publicity for creation.

"I would like to learn more about it," Sam said. "If I had a choice, I would like to have both taught in school. I know that can't happen, but it would be nice to have the choice. That way the students would be to decide which theory to follow and not have just one being taught as the truth."

Mr. Hovind will speak again tonight at 6 p.m. at the Midd-West High School. The event is open free to the public.

"If you got a theory ... great," Mr. Hovind said. "If you got a good way to support it ... no, then you need to get a new theory."

'Intelligent Design' Trial Under Scrutiny


Science Educators Monitor Pa. Trial Over Including 'Intelligent Design' in Biology Curriculum

By MARTHA RAFFAELE AP Education Writer

HARRISBURG, Pa. Oct 8, 2005 — As a federal judge hears arguments over whether a Pennsylvania school district can include "intelligent design" in its biology curriculum, Dan Barbour fears the New Mexico high school where he works could face a similar showdown.

The school board in Rio Rancho, N.M., voted in August to allow the discussion of alternative theories to evolution in high school science class. Critics say that could mean intelligent design, and some faculty are averse to teaching a concept whose scientific validity has been questioned, said Barbour, the school's science and math director.

"The thing that makes me nervous is that in the classroom a teacher is to be unbiased, but students are allowed to express their opinions. Can a teacher remain unbiased? Can we keep it from becoming a preaching session?" he said.

Science educators around the nation are closely monitoring the trial, which involves eight Pennsylvania families who have sued to have intelligent design removed from the Dover Area School District's biology curriculum. They allege that it is essentially a religious concept akin to creationism, and teaching it violates the constitutional separation of church and state.

"If the door is open for non-scientific viewpoints to be addressed … I would imagine it would make some (teachers) rethink their profession," said Cindy Workoski, spokeswoman for the National Science Teachers Association in Arlington, Va.

Intelligent design supporters argue that life on Earth was the product of an unidentified intelligent force, and that natural selection cannot fully explain the origin of life or the emergence of highly complex life forms.

The school board policy in Dover requires students to hear a statement about intelligent design before classes on evolution. The statement says Charles Darwin's theory is "not a fact" and has inexplicable "gaps." The board's lawyers contend that the reading of the statement does not constitute teaching.

"Everything I do in my classroom is teaching," Dover biology teacher Jennifer Miller said when she recently testified in the ongoing federal lawsuit. She has refused to read it.

In evolution v. creationism debate, Anchorage is split down the middle


Friday, October 7, 2005 - by Bill McAllister

Anchorage, Alaska - Evolutionary theory versus the Biblical account of creation. It's one of the big philosophical struggles in America.

While the public schools in Alaska -- unlike their counterparts elsewhere -- have not been the battleground on which that argument has been fought, letter writers to the Anchorage Daily News have been sparring on the topic for months. Now a poll shows how Anchorage residents feel about the origin of life. The bottom line: they're decisively split down the middle.

Anchorage pollster Ivan Moore is puzzled by his own numbers. Moore's sampling of 500 adults in Anchorage in mid-September turned up a statistically insignificant difference in opinions on evolution and creation, with 42.8 percent leaning more toward the scientific theory and 41.5 percent favoring a religious interpretation.

Moore was inspired to ask the question because of a national poll earlier this year that showed 57 percent of Americans favor the Biblical account of creation over 33 percent who believe in evolution.

"I wanted to see how Anchorage kind of compared to that, and if anything, with Anchorage being a conservative town, I expected it to be in the ball park of those numbers, if not, probably, more towards a strong creationist edge. But actually it was tied," said Moore.

"I guess I'm pleasantly surprised that it is that evenly divided," said Jerry Prevo, Anchorage Baptist Temple.

Prevo says that evolution has become popular because of what he calls an anti-God movement.

"People don't want to recognize that there's a supreme creator, because if there is, then we're going to have to answer to him one day," said Prevo.

In the science curriculum at Anchorage Christian schools, creationism is taught and evolution is mentioned as a theory. But in the public schools, evolution is treated as fact.

"Evolution at its most basic means change through time. And there is no debate that evolution has occurred," said Texas Gail Raymond, ASD science coordinator (left).

"There's a whole bunch of people who believe both, that it's an evolutionary process but God is involved in it," said Moore.

On the biggest question about life, there is no majority opinion in Anchorage. One break-out result of the polling data collected by Moore surprised him perhaps even more than the overall results. Married men, typically the most conservative demographic, favored evolution by about 45 percent, to 37 percent who preferred creationism. Married women, on the other hand, went for creationism by a margin of nearly 49 percent to 38.5 percent.

Prevo explains creationism like this -- the Bible says God created Adam, and Prevo says it's reasonable to assume that Adam was not created as an infant, but as a mature man. Likewise, Prevo says the earth was created in a mature state -- from its inception, fully functional -- which he says from our vantage point makes it appear old.

Creationism: Is America going out of sense?


Name : Rob Date : 2005-10-08 20:39 View : 91 : 5 : 1

Many Americans now seem to believe that as Darwin?? evolution theory is not a proven fact, there must be an intelligent designer,supposedly the God, as the nature is so complex.

American religious bodies are now seeking to get the creationism taught in science classes, not in religious ones.??

Proponents of intelligent design and more extreme creationists, such as those who believe in the literal account of the Bible, reflect majority opinion in America. Surveys repeatedly show that most Americans prefer creationist versions of development of life rather than scientific ones.?? (Observer newspaper)

George Bush believes intelligent design should be taught in schools as part of science. The Observr paper also says: ??t was the powerful Christian conservatives who make up much of the Republican party base that helped propel Bush to win a second term in the White House.??

Perhaps no wonder we??e now seeing Americans fighting an effectively unwinnable war in Iraq, with Americans believing that democracy will be established in Iraq and the wider Middle East. With such belief it is highly unlikely the boys will be coming home before Dubya leaves the Oval Office in early 2009.

I feel sad whenever I hear that some American killed a doctor who was performing an abortion. Now I have another news that make me feel sad, because they sound so senseless, but it looks like I'll hear them for quite some time to come.

Rushdie denounces creationism


By Sophia Maines (Contact)

Saturday, October 8, 2005

Author Salman Rushdie returned Friday to Kansas University's campus, where he expounded on writing and reiterated his disdain for creationism and intelligent design.

Rushdie, whose latest book is "Shalimar the Clown," spoke to a group of students and others at the Kansas Union. The talk followed his Thursday night lecture to a packed house at the Lied Center.

Rushdie appeared exasperated at what he called "the self-evident foolishness of the argument" against evolution theory and in favor of creationism or intelligent design.

"There is no word for it other than stupidity," he said. "It's just a bunch of bigotries dressed up as a point of view."

He said such ideas didn't hold up to any intellectual vigor.

"Intelligent design is disproved by the people who believe it," he said.

Rushdie said intelligent design had its place: in theology class.

Rushdie, 58, published his first novel, "Grimus," in 1975. His second novel, "Midnight's Children," won the Booker Prize for Fiction. His third novel, "Shame," won France's Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger. His fourth novel, "The Satanic Verses," made him the target of a death sentence from the late Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran.

Rushdie deflected talk of the fatwa on Friday. He said he had refused to let the death sentence make him angry.

"I was very determined not to be made a creature of that event," he said. "Enough of it. That subject has been very well aired."

When asked whether his writing comes easily, Rushdie answered no.

"I cannot think of anything that is harder to do," he said. "That's the reason to do it."

Then he restated his point. Writing is not difficult, he said, but good writing is.

"The terrible thing is there is no rule (about how to write), and you learn very little through experience," he said.

Rushdie's visits were presented by The Hall Center for the Humanities.

Schools intelligently designed?


By Jacob Sullum October 8, 2005

In a trial that began Sept. 26, a federal judge in Harrisburg has been called upon to decide if intelligent design is a legitimate scientific theory. Once he has settled that controversy, perhaps he can tell us what killed the dinosaurs and whether there are civilizations on other planets.

The courts have to deal with some scientific issues, such as the reliability of DNA evidence and the side effects of arthritis drugs. But the origin of life, a subject that arouses strong emotions and implicates deeply held beliefs, has no obvious relevance to the guilt of murder suspects or the liability of pharmaceutical companies.

It has become a legal issue in Pennsylvania only because Dover parents are divided over how public schools should address it. Some say children should be informed about the weaknesses of Darwinian theory. Others oppose it as religious indoctrination in the guise of science instruction, which they argue amounts to an unconstitutional "establishment of religion."

Meanwhile, Sacramento attorney Michael S. Newdow, who has replaced Madalyn Murray O'Hair as America's most reviled atheist, has again challenged the Pledge of Allegiance. Straightforwardly applying U.S. 9th Circuit of Appeals precedent, a San Francisco federal judge recently ruled reciting the Pledge in public schools violates the Establishment Clause by imposing "a coercive requirement to affirm God."

Both cases are ostensibly about separation of church and state. But they also highlight the need to separate school and state.

When schools are run by the government, the details of ninth-grade biology classes, the propriety of patriotic rituals, and every other educational issue -- from how to teach math and reading to the contents of vending machines -- becomes a political issue. Even when the arguments don't end up in court, they generate acrimony and resentment that could be avoided if education were entirely a private matter.

I'm not suggesting parents would be completely satisfied with their children's schools if the government got out of the education business. No doubt they would always find something to complain about. But if they were not compelled to pay for government-run schools, they would be in a better position to choose schools that reflected their values and preferences. Their compromises would be voluntary, instead of terms imposed by the winning side of a political battle.

People on both sides of the debate about intelligent design theory -- which posits that certain aspects of life on Earth can't be explained by the combination of random mutation and natural selection because they are "irreducibly complex" -- implicitly acknowledge the problems created by a coercively funded, one-size-fits-all approach to education.

A senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, which promotes intelligent design theory, told the New York Times, "We oppose any effort to require students to learn about intelligent design because we feel that it politicizes what should be a scientific debate." One parent challenging Dover's decision to inform students about the intelligent design controversy regretted "there's no way to have a winner here" because "the community has already lost, period, by becoming so divided."

In addition to avoiding the sort of clashes that have torn apart communities such as Dover, the separation of school and state could, paradoxically, foster more rigorous and open discussion of controversial issues in the classroom.

I like the idea of incorporating intelligent design into the science curriculum as a way of teaching critical thinking, but I think it should go beyond Dover's lawyer-vetted, four-paragraph statement to include a serious examination of the theory's claims and its critics' rejoinders.

More generally, I would like to see a high-school curriculum centered around real controversies, not just in science but in history, law, economics and other fields of study. If enough parents felt the same way, a free market in education would offer that approach as one option among many.

In a government-dominated education market, by contrast, we get mass-produced curricula and textbooks that are notoriously dull because they're aimed at preparing students for standardized tests without offending anyone's sensibilities.

As for the Pledge of Allegiance, it strikes me as idolatrous, with or without mention of God. But I might be willing to live with it if I could find a school where the excitement came from intellectual engagement instead of political combat.

Jacob Sullum is a nationally syndicated columnist.

Hope in High Places


GUEST COLUMN | George Johnson

October 8, 2005

Except for the robes and the fact that each is addressed as "His Holiness", it would be hard to find much in common between Pope Benedict XVI and Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama. Yet both have recently expressed an unhappiness with evolutionary science that would be a comfort to the Pennsylvania school board now in a court fight over its requirement that the hypothesis of a creator be part of the science curriculum.

It's not just fundamentalist Protestants who have difficulty with the idea that life arose entirely from material causes. Look East or West and you can detect the rumblings from an irreconcilable divide between science and religion, with one committed to a universe of matter and energy and the other to the existence of something extra, a spiritual realm.

Sometimes compared to the Scopes "monkey trial" of 1925, Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District opened last week in Federal District Court in Harrisburg with scientists making the usual arguments against intelligent design — which holds that the complexity of biological organisms is evidence of a creator.

Opponents say they doubt that the theory's supporters, like the Discovery Institute in Seattle, are talking about a smart gas cloud or a 10 th — dimensional teenager simulating the universe on his Xbox. The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed suit against the Dover district, considers intelligent design a Trojan horse to introduce religion into public schools.

This time the anti-evolutionists won't be relying on the fundamentalist oratory moviegoers heard from the Fredric March character in "Inherit the Wind". Instead, the arguments may not sound so different from what one would hear if either the Pope or the Dalai Lama were called to the stand.

Neither of these men believes that a religious text, whether the Bible or the Diamond Sutra, should be given a strictly literal reading. Yet they share with evangelicals an aversion to the notion that life emerged blindly, without supernatural guidance. Particularly offensive to them is the theory, part of the biological mainstream, that the engine of evolution is random mutation.

In a new book, "The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality", the Dalai Lama laments what he calls "radical scientific materialism", warning that seeing people as "the products of pure chance in the random combination of genes" is an invitation to nihilism and spiritual poverty. "The view that all aspects of reality can be reduced to matter and its various particles is, to my mind, as much a metaphysical position as the view that an organizing intelligence created and controls reality." Both, he suggests, are legitimate interpretations of science.

Known for his enthusiastic interest in cosmology and neuroscience, the Dalai Lama was offering an opinion, not an agenda. But compare his words to those of the Discovery Institute in its call for the overthrow of scientific materialism — "the simplistic philosophy or world view that claims that all of reality can be reduced to, or derived from, matter and energy alone." The institute says it hopes "to reverse the stifling dominance" of this perspective and replace it with a "science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions." Whether whispered from Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama's home in exile, or expounded from the institute's headquarters, such a rejection of a purely physical reality is a proposition that the pope might well be comfortable with. At his installation this spring, he declared: "We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God."

Scientists who have tried to claim the Vatican as an ally against evangelical creationists were taken aback, but this was not a veering to the right by a conservative new leader. Cardinal Christoph Schφnborn, the archbishop of Vienna, sought to clarify the church's position in an Op-Ed article this past summer in The New York Times: "Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense — an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection — is not. Any system of thought that denies or seeks to explain away the overwhelming evidence for design in biology is ideology, not science."

He also quoted Benedict's predecessor, John Paul II, who had been considered particularly receptive to evolution. "The truth of faith about creation is radically opposed to the theories of materialistic philosophy," John Paul wrote. "These view the cosmos as the result of an evolution of matter reducible to pure chance and necessity."

The critics of intelligent design see it as primarily a repackaging of creationism. But the notion that you can embrace science without necessarily buying into the philosophy of materialism is an idea one doesn't find only among graduates of Jerry Falwell's Liberty University.

Ian Barbour, a theologian who holds a doctorate in physics, has long argued that science can be given a theistic spin. You can accept every detail of evolution through natural selection and still believe in a God who works silently behind the scenes. In his book, the Dalai Lama suggests that the apparent randomness of mutations could be some sort of "hidden causality" — an argument similar to the ideas of Keith Ward, a divinity professor at Oxford, and John Polkinghorne, a retired Cambridge physicist and ordained Anglican priest.

This kind of metaphysical maneuvering doesn't pose the threat scientists feel from the Discovery Institute. It is an optional interpretation that leaves the foundation of science unchanged.

But the intelligent design movement goes farther, insisting that the existence of a purposeful creator counts as a competing scientific theory. As a lawyer for Dover's schools said in his opening statement, gravity was also once thought to be a supernatural force until it was understood by physics.

So suppose there is a Great Intender, who mapped out the circuitry of living cells with the care an Intel engineer would bring to a new microchip. Where then did the creator come from? Was he created by another creator? Or did he evolve?

(The New York Times)

Intelligent design issue stirs debate




A controversial topic set to be debated today at the St. Louis Science Center is living up to its provocative potential.

The debate, sponsored by Washington University's Center for the Study of Ethics and Human Values, was originally titled, "Intelligent Design or Evolution: How did we get here?" - but was changed hastily Friday afternoon to "Should Intelligent Design be taught in our public school science classrooms?" It is scheduled to pit a physics professor against a supporter of intelligent design, the theory that the universe and life are so complex that they must be the work of a supernatural designer.

One of the participants was surprised Friday when told by a reporter that the debate, as promoted by Washington University and the Science Center, was about the scientific merit of intelligent design. "My understanding was that this was a symposium on teaching evolution in public schools," said Lawrence M. Krauss, director of the Center for Education and Research in Cosmology and Astrophysics at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

In a subsequent e-mail to the ethics center Friday afternoon, Krauss wrote: "It cannot be a debate entitled Evolution vs. ID: How did we get here? ... That gives a false notion that these are two competing scientific theories, which they are not, or that there is a scientific controversy, which there is not, and I will not be a part of any debate whose whole premise misinforms the public ..."

The intelligent design participant is John H. Calvert, managing director of the Kansas City, Kansas-based Intelligent Design Network.

Most scientists say intelligent design has no basis in science and many have refused to debate its promoters for fear of giving the theory credibility.

Alan R. Templeton, a professor of biology at Washington University, said the debate "creates a false impression with the public. There's no debate at all within the scientific community."

Calvert said the change of title for the debate "is the wrong question," but will debate it anyway. "What's so fascinating in the change of title and Larry's reluctance to address the original question is that it exhibits an unwillingness to engage in a public and scientific discussion of that question."

Friday's last-minute negotiations between the ethics center and Krauss illustrate the often contentious debate about the debate, which comes during the initial weeks of a Pennsylvania trial focusing on the teaching of intelligent design.

Doug King, president of the Science Center, which is donating its space for the event, said that while the science center did not believe this was a credible scientific debate, "it is also a huge social controversy that is being debated in the public arena ... the debate is not going away and to ignore it is not the right approach."

In a press release King said, "Our hope is that those on both sides of the issue - and, most importantly, those who are undecided and want to learn more - will come and listen for themselves."

But it is that very idea that there are two "sides" that has many scientists enraged. "This is miseducating the public, not educating them," said Templeton.

Stuart D. Yoak, executive officer of the ethics center, whose programming is funded by private donors, said the debate was the second in a monthly series of discussions begun by Washington University students interested in ethics.

"The center is non-partisan, not-for-profit and we never take a position," he said. "It's not our job to tell people what their ethics should be - we are about the study of values. It's important for us to educate and be educated."

ttownsend@post-dispatch.com 314-340-8221

Comment from SKEPTIC bibliography

From: edwards558@hotmail.com (Philip John Edwards)
Date: October 5, 2005 6:51:04 AM CDT
To: bibliographer@csicop.org
Subject: comment from SKEPTIC bibliography

To my mind there does not seem much in the way of evidence produced from the research, after all what have you got except a small control group of people who are definately known to have suffered from sexual abuse, too much like fixing the evidence, this same technique could be used to prove almost anything, just like the old saying statistics can prove anything. There is little more than gut feeling on display here. People often make such sweeping claims when talking about alien abductions, they say things like 90 percent of abduction reports are rubbish, in my view this is just to satify fears and an intellectual rebuff produced by the very nature of the alien reports such as aliens walking through walls etc and religion also comes into this. Has anyone ever studied 90 percent of all alien abduction reports, NO I think not. Alien abductions are real, I am an abductee you can read about my encounter at http://www.experiencers.net

I feel entitled to use similar gut feeling comments and say 90 percent of abduction reports are genuine and do not forget many people have been abducted and had their memories altered and one day those memories may return, indeed you may be one such person.


Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens



When Sιances and Science Boggle Equally

October 6, 2005 By JANET MASLIN

Mary Roach's journey into the occult takes her to as many strange places as she can scare up. Having written a humorous book about corpses ("Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers"), Ms. Roach has now ventured one step further into the unknown. On this new journey, she is supposedly searching for answers to life's great questions about the migration of the soul. But readers of "Stiff" know what to expect: the author is looking for quacks.

Those quacks are sitting ducks for Ms. Roach's fine-tuned sense of the absurd. So Ms. Roach studies ectoplasm, notes that it looks like woven material and learns of a researcher who in 1921 asked of disembodied spirits: "Have you a loom in your world?"

She visits India to look for firsthand evidence that spirits return. (This trip was worth it for the chapter title alone. It is called "You Again: A Visit to the Reincarnation Nation.") She finds scientists who have identified the weight lost by a dying person and notes that a recent movie title used the metric version of that figure, "21 Grams." ("Who's going to go see a movie called 'Point Seven Five Ounces'?" she asks.) She cites two Dutch physicists, J. L. W. P. Matla and G. J. Zaalberg van Zelst, and notes that one worked with a Ouija board. She hopes that "the question 'What is my full name and that of my partner?' was never posed." And she digs up the fact that Elizabeth Taylor claimed to have had a near-death experience but was sent back to the land of the living by one of her husbands, Mike Todd, then adds: "Whether this was done for her benefit or his is not clear."

How serious is Ms. Roach in wondering about life after death? Not very. She appears more concerned with comic effects than cosmic ones, and she is constantly on the lookout for entertainingly bizarre details and turns of phrase. In the index to a 17th-century medical text by a Paduan physiologist named Sanctorius, she finds "Phlebotomy, why best in autumn" and "Leaping, its consequences."

In "The Ordinances of Manu," a legal text based on Vedic scripture that dates to A.D. 500, she finds that a rogue Brahman may be forced to reincarnate as "the ghost Ulkamukha, an eater of vomit." Her survey of early homeopathic medicine yields the fact that chamomile was said to cause this symptom: "Cannot be civil to the doctor." Ms. Roach also finds out about a medium who relayed this news from the next world: "It's Florida without the humidity."

Obviously, Ms. Roach's gift for facetiousness serves her well here. "Spook" is dependably witty, especially when it ventures far into the ether (a zone that Ms. Roach describes as "a sort of floating reunion hall" for those who are - to use a favorite term in this field of research - discarnate). And it is populated by vividly evoked oddballs, like Duncan Macdougall, an early-20th-century theorist who supposed that the departing soul would be separated from its body with rapid speed.

Macdougall's unpleasant wife survived him by 35 years. "Depending on whether Macdougall was right or wrong about gravity's hold on souls, this could mean that when the missus' soul finally shed its earthly shell, Duncan's own soul would be 38 billion miles away," Ms. Roach writes. "To every cloud, a silver lining."

"Spook" has great appeal on the basis of Ms. Roach's droll research. But it is afflicted with the same problem common to its spirit-world subjects: insubstantiality. Although she does her best to avoid what the book calls "the Big Shrug," she is not always able to learn much from the string of research outings described here. And though it would be unreasonable to expect Ms. Roach to settle all mysteries connected with the afterlife, it's fair to hope that her stories come to some kind of conclusion. Sometimes she simply reaches a dead end.

After its prologue in India (a place of "glittery jackets and curly-uppy-toed slippers"), "Spook" proceeds more or less chronologically. It devotes separate chapters to the various fads and theories that have dominated ideas about life after death. And it points out that those who are most powerfully drawn to the subject have often lost loved ones and are eager to re-establish contact for personal reasons. A poignant footnote to this material is the great attention paid to the afterlife in the wake of World War I.

Ms. Roach makes herself a wry, enjoyable character throughout the book's escapades, whether doing research at a Cambridge library (where "the youth to my left is sacrificing his vision and social life to medieval land transfers") or attending an English school for mediums (where "spirits" is pronounced "spit-its") or actually asking questions. "Remember," she warns one scientist, "in replying to me, pretend you are talking to a seventh-grader."

Not quite. In "Spook," she makes a clever investigator and a thoroughly entertaining, if skeptical, tour guide. But in the end, despite her doubts, she winds up on the occultists' side. "The debunkers are probably right," she concludes, "but they're no fun to visit a graveyard with."


Seeing Creation and Evolution in Grand Canyon


October 6, 2005 By JODI WILGOREN

GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, Ariz. - Tom Vail, who has been leading rafting trips down the Colorado River here for 23 years, corralled his charges under a rocky outcrop at Carbon Creek and pointed out the remarkable 90-degree folds in the cliff overhead.

Geologists date this sandstone to 550 million years ago and explain the folding as a result of pressure from shifting faults underneath. But to Mr. Vail, the folds suggest the Grand Canyon was carved 4,500 years ago by the great global flood described in Genesis as God's punishment for humanity's sin.

"You see any cracks in that?" he asked. "Instead of bending like that, it should have cracked." The material "had to be soft" to bend, Mr. Vail said, imagining its formation in the flood. When somebody suggested that pressure over time could create plasticity in the rocks, Mr. Vail said, "That's just a theory."

"It's all theory, right?" asked Jack Aiken, 63, an Assemblies of God minister in Alaska who has a master's degree in geology. "Except what's in the Good Book."

For Mr. Vail and 29 guests on his Canyon Ministries trip, this was vacation as religious pilgrimage, an expedition in search of evidence that God created the earth in six days 6,000 years ago, just as Scripture says.

That same week, a few miles upriver, a decidedly different group of 24 rafters surveyed the same rock formations - but through the lens of science rather than what Mr. Vail calls "biblical glasses." Sponsored by the National Center for Science Education, the chief challenger to creationists' influence in public schools, this trip was a floating geology seminar, charting the canyon's evolution through eons of erosion.

"Look at the weathering, look at the size of the pieces," Eugenie C. Scott, the center director, said of markings in Black Tail Canyon. "To a standard geologist, to somebody who actually studies geology, this just shouts out at you: This is really old; this is really gradual."

Two groups examining the same evidence. Traveling nearly identical itineraries, snoozing under the same stars and bathing in the same chocolate-colored river. Yet, standing at opposite ends of the growing creation-evolution debate, they seemed to speak in different tongues.

Science unequivocally dates the earth's age at 4.5 billion years, and the canyon's layers at some two billion years. Even the intelligent design movement, which argues that evolution alone cannot explain life's complexity, does not challenge the long history of the earth.

But a core of creationists like Mr. Vail continue to champion a Bible-based theory of the canyon's carving. And polls show many Americans are unconvinced by scientific knowledge.

Though it did not ask specifically about the global flood or six-day creation, a November 2004 Gallup survey found that a third of the public believes the Bible is the actual word of God that should be taken literally and that 45 percent think God created human beings "pretty much in their present form" within the last 10,000 years.

Gallup found in another poll that 5 percent of scientists, and fewer than 1 percent of earth and life scientists, adopted the "Young Earth" view.

The twin rafting trips epitomize the parallel universes often inhabited by Americans with polarized positions. Members of both groups said they had signed up for these charters to be surrounded by like-minded people. Indeed, all the American adults on Mr. Vail's boats voted for President Bush last fall, while all but two on the evolutionists' rafts cast ballots for Senator John Kerry.

When not running the rapids, Mr. Vail's group, which included three pastors, sat in makeshift sanctuaries of sand and stone to offer psalms and prayers of praise for their surroundings.

Some were committed creationists and others were still asking questions. But all began with a literal interpretation of the Bible, seeking examples in the rocks to support its story that God did it all in less than a week.

When they made camp, Dr. Scott's rafters, nearly half with Ph.D.'s in science, had evening discussions of tidal patterns and plateau shifts, as well as tutorials on tactics in the evolution debate. Most of them ardently secular, a few practicing believers, they started with what they see as unchallengeable facts about the Earth's age, and dismissed creationism as unscientific. After each "geology moment," Dr. Scott play-acted the creationists, saying sarcastically of their evidence, "My part of the lesson is always a lot shorter and less detailed."

Mr. Vail, whose book on the Grand Canyon scientists tried to ban from park stores last year, describes this natural wonder as "Exhibit A" for Young Earth creationists. Dr. Scott calls it a scientists' Louvre.

To Kathryn Crotts, 56, a pastor's wife from Greensboro, N.C. , touching the canyon's basement rock was a spiritual moment.

"In the book of Genesis, it talks about God walking the face of the earth," Mrs. Crotts explained. "Maybe His footprints are there."

But to Charlie Webb, 58, an emergency-room doctor in Colorado Springs, it is evolution that answers "the great philosophical questions why are we here, where did we come from."

"Evolution is the basis of biology, biology is the basis of medicine," said Dr. Webb, dismissing the flood explanation as childish and pathetic. "You're messing with something important when you mess with evolution."

For eight days and 280 miles, with a reporter along for half of each journey, the groups relaxed on motorized rafts, hiked the hills, dined on Dutch-oven delicacies, frolicked in waterfalls and admired rainbows, each awed by what they see as truth.

Origins of Two Journeys

About 4.5 million people visit the Grand Canyon each year, peering over the rim and perhaps popping into a gift shop, where Mr. Vail's book, "The Grand Canyon: A Different View," ranked 17th among 800 products sold last year. Some 22,000 hardy souls raft its river.

Mr. Vail, 57, a former corporate computer manager, took his first trip in 1980, and soon "turned in my three-piece suit for a pair of flip-flops." He had been guiding full time a dozen years when a pilot celebrating her 40th birthday rode on his raft and whispered the Gospel in his ear.

That fall, in a tent in the Himalayas, he recited the Sinner's Prayer in the Bible she had sent with him, and, he said, "I came home a child of Christ."

Back on the river, Mr. Vail said, "I started asking, 'How does what I see here in the canyon relate to what I read in God's word?' " He attended creationist seminars, married the airline pilot, and in 1997 founded Canyon Ministries, which brings some 200 Christians to the river each year.

His 2003 book, a coffee-table-quality photo gallery with quotations from Scripture, has sold 40,000 copies, despite science organizations' protests of its sale in park shops.

Dr. Scott, 59, first chartered a canyon expedition in 1999. A former professor of physical anthropology, she has run the National Center for Science Education, a 3,800-member advocacy group based in Oakland, Calif., for 17 years.

Among the rafters on this year's trip were Susan Epperson, 64, a former high school biology teacher who was the plaintiff in the 1967 Supreme Court case that found Arkansas' law banning the teaching of evolution unconstitutional, and Ken Saladin, 56, a professor at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville who has been protesting any mix of church and state for 30 years.

"I won't defend evolution," Dr. Scott said in exasperation one evening. "We don't defend the spherical Earth. We need to stop defending, as they put it, Darwinism, and just make them show they have a scientific view."

At orientation, when the rafters wrote their names on mugs, Libbi Hendley, 52, who owns a newsstand in Boone, N.C., with her husband, marked hers with the Christian fish symbol. In the other group, Eric Hildeman, 34, a Milwaukee seminarian turned atheist accountant, wore a cap with the same symbol, filled with the word "Darwin."

Worship in a Glorious Cathedral

"Isn't this a wonderful cathedral to meet in?" the Rev. Stephen Crotts, a pastor in Greensboro, N.C., asked the congregation encircling him on a Sunday morning.

The worshipers sat on the ground, many of them barefoot. The rushing river and canyon wrens accompanied the impromptu choir along with Mr. Vail's wife, Paula, on flute and 17-year-old Andrew Panes, who brought a guitar from England. The preacher had three days' growth.

"What is this place that God created saying to you and me?" asked Mr. Crotts, 55. "One of the things it says to me is I'm small and God and the world He created is huge. This is a man-dwarfing place."

Religion permeated Mr. Vail's trip, the group bowing heads before meals and hikes. At lunch one day, four women clustered in a tight hug, praying for one who had multiple sclerosis.

"We just need to talk to the only person who can do anything about it," said Linda Lomax, 58.

When Lucy Panes, 20, shouted, "Oh my God!" after a guide doused her with river water, she immediately covered her mouth, only to be admonished by her mother, Diana, "Please don't shout that."

Diana Panes began questioning evolution, which she had studied in school like most everyone else, seven years ago when Andrew came home from school asking whether Genesis was fable or history, and about dinosaurs dating back millions of years.

"I was gobsmacked," Mrs. Panes recalled.

So she started reading, attending lectures, watching creationist videos. "I don't want to believe in fairy tales. I'm interested in truth," Mrs. Panes said.

Convinced that Jesus himself believed the global flood and genealogy of Genesis were true historical accounts, "the whole thing becomes his reputation at stake," Mrs. Panes, 54, said of why she felt compelled to come to the canyon to see for herself. "For years there were huge areas I couldn't answer. My faith was devotional."

Of the explanations offered by Mr. Vail and other creationists, she said, "For me it was just the most immense relief that it didn't have to remain a mystery forever."

Questions and More Questions

But Brenda Melvin, 46, a nurse practitioner, was not so sure. "My Christian heart wanted to believe, but my scientific mind had questions," Ms. Melvin said. "I believe totally that God created heaven and Earth - I don't know how he did it, I don't know exactly when he did it. I don't know that we're ever going to learn the answers here."

Her pastor, Paul Phillips, also did not accept Mr. Vail's explanations of rock layers and fossil remnants without question. "Whatever he says, I'm just trying to think: There's a really smart person, there's tons of really smart people, that think the other side," he said.

For Mr. Phillips, 42, the most profound revelation came not about when the canyon was carved, but why: Genesis recounts the great flood as God's harsh judgment on a world filled with sin.

"If I'm a sinner, and this is the punishment for sin, then I might want to rethink my position before God," he said. "If you acknowledge a creator and a designer, then you have to deal with that entity. If it just happened, then I don't have to worry about an entity that ripped apart the earth."

Faith in Science

"I've always believed in evolution," Irene Rosenthal, 71, a semiretired psychologist, said over soup one night.

"Accepted evolution," interjected George H. Griffin, 58, a retired law enforcement officer in Colorado. "That's what Genie wants us to say," he said, referring to Dr. Scott. "Genie said anyone who said 'believed' would have to walk home."

Dr. Scott and others cringe at creationists' charge that Darwin's theories have become dogmatic faith, that creationism and evolution are just two parallel belief systems, equally plausible and unprovable. "We have faith in science, but it's not a religion," said Herb Masters, a retired firefighter. "It's a faith in a body of knowledge."

While the creationists sang hymns, Dr. Scott taught her crew a biologist's ditty about the amphioxus, a fishlike invertebrate in the human evolutionary line, to the tune of "It's a Long Way From Tipperary":

It's a long way from amphioxus - it's a long way to us.

It's a long way from amphioxus to the meanest human cuss.

Goodbye fins and gill slits,

Hello lungs and hair!

It's a long, long way from amphioxus,

But we come from there.

Most on the science trip were atheists or agnostics, dismissive and at times disrespectful of religion. Standing under a gushing waterfall, they joked about baptism. When a white dove appeared after a harrowing hike, Dr. Scott teased, "It's a sign!"

But six of the rafters said they belonged to churches or synagogues, four attending weekly. Alan Gishlick, with silver-painted toenails sticking out of his Tevas and a shoulder tattoo of a Buddhist word puzzle meaning "Knowledge makes me content," said he was a "devout Christian."

"Ultimately, creationism is not just bad science to me, it's bad Christianity, it's Bible worship," said Mr. Gishlick, 32, a paleontology Ph.D. "There's just no reason to look at these patterns of layered sediment, or in the fossil record, or at the stars, and think that what you're seeing isn't what you're seeing. God doesn't require you to be stupid, to deny what you see, to deny what you know."

Ms. Epperson, who sings in the choir at her Presbyterian church and brought her Bible along on the trip, said, "The more you learn about science, the more magnificent God is.

"I can look at a rainbow, and I know that white light can hit water droplets and it gets dispersed and the light spreads out and has lots of different colors," she said, "and I also say, 'Thank you, God, for the rainbow.' "

She said she asked God whether her role as an evolution advocate was meant to be her mission. "I say, 'God, if this is wrong, if I'm wrong, please strike me with lightning, because I don't want to be walking down the wrong path.' "

Same Object, Different Views

Walking along a path in the Redwall limestone, Mr. Vail splashed water on fossilized outlines of nautiloids, large aquatic critters that present one of creationists' chief complaints about standard canyon geology.

Mr. Vail said fossils preserved death without decay, suggesting catastrophe, and that huge numbers of nautiloids in a six-foot layer spreading some 5,700 square miles could only be the result of a massive flood.

Examining a vertical outline of a nautiloid, Mr. Vail ridiculed the geology explanation, saying it would have had to "stand there like that for tens of thousands of years while it got buried."

"Anybody want to buy that one?" he added.

A similar question came to the science group from a creationist student of Professor Saladin who had sent him a long e-mail message to ponder on his trip. Mr. Gishlick said scientists had not documented the billions of nautiloids creationists cite and had found no stunning pattern in their orientation, citing the very vertical fossil Mr. Vail had mentioned.

"These guys don't look like they were buried in something chaotic," he said. "They look like they floated down to the bottom."

Some around the circle complained about the credence being given to the creationist argument in order to answer it.

"I don't really care how they reconcile Noah's flood with scientific things - it's about religion," protested Mary Murray, 54, an artist from Laguna Beach, Calif., who came with her biology-professor husband. "We shouldn't be talking about religion at all in the public schools."

Through four days, Mr. Vail mentioned public schools only once, saying that 80 percent of Christians walked away from their faith when studying science that confounded the creation story. "It's foundational to our faith," he said, throwing a stick into the sand in frustration. "We're raising a generation of confused children, and it's the public schools that are doing it!"

That morning, Mr. Vail led his troops up a rocky overlook to scout Hance Rapid before running through its 30-foot drop.

"As you look at the rapid from up here, you can see the run," he pointed out. "You can see where the rocks are. You can see the bump - that's obviously somewhere you don't want to go. You can pick your way through the waves.

"When you're back on the boat, look at the rapid as you're coming into it and see how much you can see," he continued. "We can read God's word and we know what we're supposed to do. It's real clear up here what we're supposed to do."

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Complementary medicine study hit by credibility row


Staff and agencies Thursday October 6, 2005

A report commissioned by the Prince of Wales calling for more complementary therapies to be provided on the NHS has been hit by a row over its credibility. The study, launched today, found that there was a 30% drop in the number of consultations with GPs, and a saving of 50% on prescription drugs, when patients were treated with complementary and alternative medicines (CAM).

The key findings of the report, which was led by economist Christopher Smallwood, were that people suffering from chronic conditions such as back pain, anxiety, stress and depression, could benefit from CAM therapies.

But the report's credibility was attacked by Edzard Ernst, professor of complementary medicine at the University of Exeter's Peninsula Medical School.

He asked for his contribution to the report to be withdrawn and told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the draft of the report on the pilot study "wasn't really up to scratch".

"I am, of course, in favour of using complementary medicine but it needs to be backed up by good science and that wasn't good science," he explained.

"It looked to me as though the conclusions were written before the data were put in.

"These people admitted they were not experts in healthcare. They didn't understand anything of complementary medicine and, more importantly, they weren't even interested in learning," he said.

But Mr Smallwood, a former chief economics adviser to Barclays Bank, dismissed criticism of the report, stressing that Prof Ernst had not seen the final version.

"I would take his criticisms more seriously if he had read the report before he made them," he told the Today programme.

Mr Smallwood denied he had manipulated the data to fit certain conclusions, adding: "We have taken absolutely as fair-minded a view as we can of all the therapies."

The report also found that although some therapies offer the possibility of savings in terms of direct health costs, others are as expensive as conventional alternatives. However, they could still improve patients' health in a cost-effective way.

The benefits to the Exchequer and the wider economy could be considerable, the report found.

People with chronic complaints returned to work more quickly, leading to greater tax revenue and higher output. For example, back pain alone accounts for 200 million days lost from work a year, costing £11 billion in lost production.

There is a shortage of treatments such as acupuncture and osteopathy in poor areas, where they could be of particular benefit, the report also found.

Challenged on whether complementary therapies could save the NHS money, Mr Smallwood told the Today programme: "In some particular cases, the treatments would be cheaper.

"But overall we are not saying there would be sweeping savings to the NHS budget. What we are saying, however, is that many of these treatments are cost-effective."

Britons currently spend £130 million a year on complementary treatments such as acupuncture, herbalism and reflexology. It is estimated that this will exceed £200 million over the next four years.

In May, the Prince of Wales said the time was right for a shift in the way people view healthcare, towards a more holistic approach to medicine.

Speaking at a conference of medics on integrated health, he said orthodox and complementary methods should work in tandem, with patients being encouraged to take more responsibility for their own health.

A spokeswoman from Clarence House, on behalf of the Prince of Wales, said today: "Past research indicates that as many as 16 million people in the UK have used complementary treatments so there is a clear need for reliable information on this subject."

CAM therapies include a huge range of treatments, but the nine-month study focused on five - osteopathy, chiropractic, acupuncture, homeopathy and herbal medicine.

The report is calling for the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) to carry out a full clinical assessment of the cost effectiveness of those therapies identified in the report

Mr Smallwood said: "The weight of evidence we have examined suggests that complementary and alternative medicines could play a much larger role in the delivery of health care."

Acupuncture can be best used to treat back pain and post-operative nausea and pain, the report found. The manipulative therapies - osteopathy and chiropractic - were beneficial in relation to back, shoulder and neck pain.

Although homeopathy was reported as improving stress and depression, menstrual problems and pain, the study was inconclusive over its overall effectiveness. Some studies have suggested that homeopathy is no better than a placebo.

Herbal medicines were found to have success in treating arthritis, the common cold, depression, heart and circulatory problems.

Current News  News Back Issues

What's New | Search | Newsletter | Fact Sheets
NTS Home Page
Copyright (C) 1987 - 2008 by the North Texas Skeptics.